No simple tale of psychopathic yuppie greed, The Fuck-Up is a thriller with a literary soul set in the pre-chic lower east side. The narrative follows a nameless hero from the girlfriend who kicks him out for a most minor infidelity, to dismissal from his minimum wage usher job at a movie theater, to a literary friend's couch in Carroll Gardens, and back to Manhattan for a short-lived squat in a plush Soho loft and an entirely unorthodox management position in a gay porn theater. As he makes this emotional and socio-economic odyssey through New York's colorful if uncaring landscape, rarely with more than enough change for a cup of coffee at a Blimpie, he becomes embroiled in affairs and relationships build on mutual deceit and predicated on misinformation. The result is a descent into the world of the truly fucked up, a semi-delirious and amnesiac wandering that finds an end not in some predictable and cuddly redemption but in the solace of shared disillusion.
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Arthur Nersesian is the author of nine novels, including The Sacrificial Circumcision of the Bronx, The Swing Voter of Staten Island, Suicide Casanova, Manhattan Loverboy, East Village Tetrology, the cult-classic The Fuck-Up (more than 100,000 copies sold), and dogrun. He lives in New York City.
Perhaps the price of comfort is that life passes more rapidly. But for anyone who has lived in uneasiness, even for a short, memorable duration, it's a trade-off that will gladly be made. When I was in my teens, I made an appraisal of how comfortable my life could turn out when I became the age I am now. Because of a mechanical failure, the prediction was inexact. Things reversed. I ended up living somewhere I once avoided, with a woman whom I genuinely once disliked.
Recently we celebrated our seventh anniversary together with a decent dinner and a not dreadful film. I got out of work early that evening and took the F train to Forty-second Street. I crossed Fifth Avenue toward the Main Branch of the Public Library, but paused in the middle of the crosswalk. It was filling up with the evening rush hour crowd: men in trench coats, secretaries in tennis shoes, cabs in the crosswalk, cars honking, leviathan buses zooming inches, braking, zooming again, and bike messengers slicing through it all. The last time I was in that spot, seven years ago, there wasn't a person in sight.
Seven years ago that day, as dawn rose, I remember standing in roughly the same spot watching as the traffic signals hanging over each intersection slowly turned yellow then red. Cars zoomed forward, headlights still on, staying ahead of the changing lights; at dusk they could make it all the way down without a single red light.
At rush hour, the entire avenue was gridlocked. But I could still faintly make out the small white crown of the Washington Square Arch at the very end. The anniversary of my relationship coincided with that dawning, and although that morning marked something that eluded celebration, it couldn't be forgotten either.
Something honked at me, so I crossed the street, reboarded the packed F train, and returned to Brooklyn for the anniversary dinner.
Before I got canned from my first job, back in the early eighties, I had relations with a waitress who subsequently became a girlfriend. I was a prep cook, at one of those West Village singles dives, and I think the boss was jealous over Sarah; she was one of the last waitresses there whom he hadn't screwed. She lived in the East Village, near the Saint Mark's Cinema, which is currently the site for the Gap. Soon after my dismissal from my prep cook job, I moved in with her. It was about a week after my new-found residency, while passing the Saint Mark's Cinema, that I noticed a sign written in a distressingly angular cursive. It read: "WE NEAD USHER!" I entered the theater and had a quick dialogue with Stan, the manager on duty, who hired me on the spot and wanted me to start that evening.
The only lasting memory of that virgin shift was the ejection of a wino. Pepe, the owner, quickly pointed to a bum as he was barging through the back door. Trying to impress the boss on the first day, I ran toward him and unintentionally locked elbows; we swung about in a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn, as if in a square dance. When I broke loose, he propelled himself back out into the night with his own momentum. After the incident occurred, Pepe embarrassed me by mentioning that while we were spinning around he couldn't tell who was who. The derelict possessed my basic features: my age -- twenty-two; my height -- five feet, ten inches; and my weight -- a hundred and fifty-five pounds. By the time the first year of ushering had come to a close, I was the longest surviving employee. Pepe had fired everyone.
One night, toward the end of that summer, for want of anything better to do, I jotted down a misconduct list composed of all that I had witnessed there: seven reported pocket-pickings, four robberies, one slashing (it barely broke the skin), and a pistol drawn (it wasn't fired). I couldn't begin to count the unnatural acts and unreported molestations. Despite these offenses, the most heinous crime in the myopic eyes of Pepe was smoking.
I took as many weekday matinee shifts as possible. These we called "lawnchair shifts" because the audience was largely composed of neglected old folks who took advantage of the pre-five o'clock senior-citizen rates. At the opening of the shift, each usher was issued a flashlight, and since we weren't allowed to leave the auditorium -- that was what Pepe called the theater -- I'd read by flashlight.
So that was my day: opening the theater with the manager, helping the geriatrics into their fold-out seats, starting the film, making sure the image was good and that no one was smoking or being too enthusiastic. Then I would read. During the intermission I would mop the lobby, clean out the ashtrays, tour the aisles -- politely awakening all the dozing grandparents just to make sure they hadn't died -- and when the film started, I would read again. Only once did I try to wake someone up and fail. He was a nice old guy that would shake a lot, and it seemed sad that his long life had come to an end in the middle of Turk 182. After a year, I had read The Education of Henry Adams, The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, and the first four books of Remembrance of Things Past, all with the films of 1982 as a backdrop. I didn't even realize how much subconscious seepage had occurred until some time later when I was watching a rerun of On Golden Pond -- I kept conjuring up strange images of young Henry Adams studying in Heidelberg.
The Saint Mark's was a second-run house. The patrons were basically from the neighborhood, and so were the employees. When Pepe first took over the theater in the early seventies, the neighborhood was different; it was rougher but things were cheaper. By '82, the East Village, at least as far east as Second Avenue, where the theater was located, had become gentrified.
Perhaps because the neighborhood was becoming ritzier and Pepe was elevating the performance standard, or perhaps because one gets disgusted with minimum wage quickly, there was a large turnover rate. After two months, enough Angels were fired to populate a heaven. Two Jesuses were also dismissed: one was apparently too "brusque," the other was "obtuse," according to the ever idiosyncratic Pepe. When someone was fired for an Anglican reason, he was usually fired by Pepe. He did most of the firing, and I always wondered where he got his language. Then one Sunday I watched "Masterpiece Theatre" and heard Alec Guinness call someone "opaque." The next day, someone else was fired with the same word. No one ever knew what the words meant and they were either too proud or too lazy to look them up, so they submitted quickly and retreated back eastward.
By the close of my first year at the theater, Pepe had slowly replaced the Puerto Rican locals with NYU students. It was during the NYU drive that a freshman from the film school was hired. Her name was Eunice. Like me she was from the Midwest, I think Indiana -- and I was in love. She was from the America beyond the oceanic Hudson. She had apple cheeks and spoke with a twang. Sarah, on the other hand, was strictly New York, right down to her Eastern European via Lower East Side roots. Eunice was accommodating; she would laugh at my jokes, or smile when she caught me staring at her. She was a Red Delicious transformed into an Ivory Snow girl. She had a natural innocence, a kind of perpetual virgin quality, as if she didn't know of the demon genitals that secretly dwell between the legs of all, waiting to spring.
At first she balked at my advances but she didn't make me feel like the deceitful swine that I was. She knew I had a girlfriend and she didn't dismiss me because of it. By the first month of our acquaintance we were dating frequently. These dates were usually long cold walks lined with progressively luring questions posed by me. At times she would giggle dismissively. During the walks I would lose myself and ask questions that would reach out like oily fingers into concealed and tender areas of her past. As much as love meant striving, an always-approaching-yet-never-reaching titillation, I was for the first time in love.
This was during Sarah's final month in college. She was vigorously battling incompletes, preparing for that last barrage of finals, and scouting around for a graduate school. She was grateful for my mysterious absences and quickly accepted that I was working late. That January unraveled into thirty-one long days, and each of the evenings stretched far and thin like taffy. The art of courtship is a patient one, and I was getting an indelible chill from the many strolls. My own limited Midwestern experiences broke the ritual of dating into two stages: the initial part was taking the girl to some kind of spectacle -- like a movie or roller-skating. This was the ice-breaking stage, where a passing of time would allow a familiarity, an understanding of priorities, incidental touching, the cultivation of ease. The second part was trickier. It usually required the use of some enclosure, a car or an apartment, and some kind of narcotic was helpful. The point was getting laid. At best, it was a seamless series of subtleties. But Eunice was far-sighted and conditions were never very good. She could see the dark brambles beyond the sunlit pathway, so usually all she would politely allow were those damned walks. One evening, after a particularly tedious promenade that left me feeling painfully raw and primitive, I told her what I wanted. She sweetly and neatly explained that she would not compromise, indicated that it was late, and suggested that perhaps I had better look elsewhere. Both of us in a huff, I left her in the lobby of her dormitory.
At home that night, I felt as swollen and feverish as a blister. Lying next to the sleeping Sarah, I turned and twisted. I was beaten but not defeated. The next morning Sarah was at school early and I spent the day rallying myself for that night's assault. In a week's time, though, the unexpected occurred: Sarah graduated. I took the day off to watch the commencement, and then after congratulating her with a big kiss I rushed to work to pick up Eunice for our nightly walk. Sarah's sudden freedom gave her an added awareness, though. For the first time, she wondered about my nightly delirious state and the extra care I had recently invested in my attire. I learned later that she had followed me one night and spied on me and Eunice slurping on a soda, two straws in the same cup. When I returned home that night, exhausted and frustrated, I lay quietly next to Sarah, who was probably playing possum. She was not confrontational and apparently didn't know how to approach me. The next day, I awoke late and Sarah was already up.
"I want to talk with you," she quietly muttered.
"'Bout what?" I asked as I quickly tugged on last night's clothes.
"About us." Her voice remained hushed and her eyes were fixed to the ground.
"Later," I replied as I raced out the door. It was a Tuesday and the only day when Eunice and I worked together. After opening the theater, the people came in and the show started. The day manager was working upstairs so I was able to sneak out to the candy stand and talk with her.
"Why are your clothes so wrinkled?" she asked me. I explained that I hadn't had time to change from the previous night.
"But it's more than that." She reached out and took a pinch of the fabric, "I've noticed this about everything you wear."
"All your clothes are old."
"Well, how am I supposed to buy a wardrobe on minimum wage?"
"Minimum wage? How long have you been working here?"
"Almost a year."
"I think that's longer than anyone else."
"It is," I assured her.
"Well, you should get a raise."
"I probably should but this isn't a real job."
"Well, if you can't even afford to buy clothes, then you should find a real job. Clothes are a necessity."
"All right," I replied to close the issue, "I'll ask for a raise." And then we changed the subject and talked until the manager came back downstairs. I went back into the theater and forgot about the conversation until the intermission, when Pepe walked into the theater. He was about to vanish into his office when Eunice yelled over the counter to him, "The usher would like to speak to you."
After a year of working there, the only communication Pepe and I ever had was an occasional nod. I found him petty and undeserving, and he probably didn't notice me at all. Suddenly there he was, looking at me, attention undivided.
"Come on up."
I followed him up to his office. He offered me the seat across from him.
"Well, Pep," I began nervously, wondering if I should bring it up, "I just finished a year of working here."
"Yeah, so I worked here for years, what else is new?"
"Well, you own the place."
"What are you getting at?"
"Well, I was wondering about a raise?"
"A raise? You mean a monetary raise?"
"I've never given a raise before. This isn't that kind of job, kid. It's minimum wage; the President gives you a raise here."
"Well, I was wondering, under these circumstances, if you might give me one."
"Look, kid, I wouldn't want anyone making a career out of this. How can I put this -- it's the kind of job one takes when going through troubled times. Nestor, for example, he just got out of Riker's Island -- in fact he's here on a work-release program, and Neville was just released from Bellevue."
"Yeah, but both of those guys were fired. In fact, most of them were fired, and you can rely on me to be here during the rough times."
Pepe nodded his head, pursed his lips, and looked out the window a moment. "This comes as a complete surprise to me, kid. But all right, I'm experimental, maybe it'll supply incentive." As he said this, he typed figures into the old-style calculator on his desk, and finally, pushing a tally button, he calculated. "I'll give you a raise of twelve point eight cents an hour, take it or leave it."
I thanked him and then the phone rang. How the hell he came up with twelve point eight I'll never guess, but without saying goodbye to me or hello to the phone, he held the phone to his ear and silently started feeding figures into that calculator in the center of his desk. As I returned to my post in the theater, I figured that now I could buy a Snickers candy bar every three and a quarter hours without having to dig into my preestablished income. When I proudly told Eunice how I had won my twelve point eight cent increase, she sneered and said that I had mishandled it.
"What do you mean? Twelve point eight cents?" I responded. "What do you call that?"
"What the hell can you do with twelve cents?"
"What was I supposed to do?"
"You should've threatened to quit." She went on to say that I was spineless and needed to learn to be more assertive.
"That's right," she said, and then revealed a bit of herself. "Back home in Gary the Mormons taught a person to have fortitude when they were in the right."
"Well I'm sorry but there were no Mormons upstairs in Pepe's office to help me with this one."
"Well, you might consider joining a church," she remarked. When I smiled, she added, "Oh go ahead and snicker, but it could build a little character."
"Fuck you," I replied and marched back into the theater, where I felt like a moron. As the film played I thought about Sarah. She would exert a calm pressure when she wanted to improve my quality of life; additionally she would have sex with me. I had turned into an infidel with Eunice. After the film ended and I performed my usherly duties, I apologized to Eunice. She too said she was sorry.
"Listen, this is hard to explain, but this relationship is causing me a lot of hostility and anxiety. I'm doing things that I wouldn't normally do, so I think that we shouldn't see each other anymore."
"What?" She looked concerned....
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Descripción Estado de conservación: Brand New. Book Condition: Brand New. Nº de ref. de la librería 97818884510301.0
Descripción Akashic Books, 1997. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Nº de ref. de la librería P111888451033