< valparaíso chile seen for the horrible place it is (pt 2)
In the winter the couch in the living room builds up static, clicking electrically, but in the summer it is okay. It sags. The springs were broken when we bought it; we intended it to be a temporary couch, before we began to like it and use it as our hangout or ‘chill’ couch, at least in the summer, when it didn’t shock us. It crackles like cereal and milk in the winter. It sits beneath a wall of movie posters, which mostly Julia and I buy from one place up north that gives us discounts because we are valued clientele, except for the biggest and most central poster, which is J.C.’s, and depicts the third Iron Man movie. It is colorful and in a retro style even though the movie did not come out that long ago. Tony Stark as Iron Man is zooming across a pale cornflower backdrop, his suit composed of tightly inter-fitting red and gold pieces or plates, more like floating blocks of color than real metallic pieces of hardware; the poster’s central focus is his suit’s glowing eyes, behind which, the poster seems to imply, must be the man. Iron Man was sort of a hero of mine, back in high-school, because he was constantly fighting against death with irony, wit, and capitalism. He plays the game. He might be a womanizer. J.C. inherited the poster from her uncle, who used to sell weed around campus before he got heart-attacked and died.
“Where do you get this stuff?” I ask Julia, gesturing to the weed. I hadn’t bought any weed in a long time, since back when J.C.’s uncle used to be my guy.
“Yeah. Or I mean, I think. Might not be his real name.”
“I know, right? Why would you use your real name?”
“I mean, it’s also not a big deal now. Why wouldn’t you use your real name?”
“I mean, true. Though dealing is not not a big crime, these days. We’re impressionable, innocent youth. Using a fake name might also be like admitting a sort of guilt, too. Nothing to fear nothing to hide, and stuff.”
Julia mumbles something about Roosevelt. She slowly and expertly rolls a slim joint. She could be folding a small pastry or baked-good: it’s that delicate. She leans down between her legs, toes curling over the edge of the wooden coffee table, which actually does have a paper cup of old coffee on it, meaning I cannot make the joke about how coffee tables never seem to have coffee on them, just oversized books about crafts and the life work of artists who escaped dictatorial regimes. She is using the table, hanging on with her toes, as stabilizer for the most critical moments of joint rolling. It is like watching surgery. She is wearing cutoff jean shorts that have been acid washed. Her legs are the color of toasted milk and are chromically warm in comparison to the cutoff jean short’s relative chromic coolness, the contrast the same, in a way, to the sunset over the sea. Her toenails are painted sparkly but it’s flaking. I think everyone finds sunsets beautiful, no matter who you are.
Julia licks somewhere clever on the paper and seals it shut very intricately. She sights down its length like it is a gun or newly smithed dagger, performing tweaks and twists with her fingers, which are long and seemingly clever. She is working practically blind. It reminds me of the books I sometimes read about master craftsmen, often found on coffee tables, which are of a genre at the perfect intersection of interesting and commercially viable: everything they do is intuitive and sub-logical, the result of their intense practice being that more attention, paradoxically hinders or encumbers the natural ease and flow of their work: the product it is bent on creating. I latch onto this idea because I feel like I have very little control over what I create, or how other people see it, which seems to be a popular take. It is sad, but I can also send electronic mail around the world at the depress of the return key, so why should I complain? I think there is a real possibility that Julia has discovered some slice of this master-craftsman ease or confidence and made the jump from virtual or literary to actual, although I don’t want to jinx it by saying so.
“He’s working on it again. Trying to workshop it around,” she says, without looking up. We’re back on this topic.
“What’s the consensus?”
“It doesn’t matter what the consensus is. It’s still trying to narrativize it.”
I consider, sucking at my lower lip, “So what? It’s not her. We know that. She’s slipped those surly bonds.”
Julia has lit the joint, taking experimental puffs, “Because it hurt, man, when it happened.” She says, “Like she’s an entirely different person than how he thought of her, and it’s like he missed the mark big time, looking at his stuff: like they were on different sides of a desert planet. And so yeah, duh it’s not her, but that is the point, because it’s also intending to be her and speak for her. Encapsulate her. I’ve spoken to her about this. He is still trying to narrativize it, which isn’t something he is allowed to do. It feels so fucking precious too, besides, you know? That’s almost the worst part. Like a greeting card. Glitter and shit.”
Julia insists on using a Zippo for lighting joints. Its flame is low and buff, the way Zippo flames are. I say, “Maybe that’s how he’s going to get to his own truth and peace.”
“Fuck his truth.”
I chew my cheek for a bit, “Bojack isn’t the stupidest person to ever be, Julia. Also, truth is a concept.” I swallow. “You can’t fuck a concept.”
“But he is insensitive and artless. And I know what’s a concept and what’s not, and I know what can be done to them, too! Workshopping it, shit, like he’s some cutesy Brown MFA bullshit shit.”
The weed has not done its job, not quite yet. Julia closes her eyes while it generates fuzzy ropes of smoke. The air is so still in the room that the smoke can bee-line straight to the ceiling. It is eerie and very abnormal. I can see her, the smoke, and the movie posters, and it is very complex and picturesque even if the situation is not ideal or even getting better from here. It is better though now overall, I think, for Clara, as if we all have become battle-hardened, compared to the first and second time Bojack shopped out his zine detailing the events leading to his breakup with her. Bad pastiches, honestly, in my opinion, with poor name changes and clumsier allusions. Overall relatively bad. But like amputee soldiers in convalescence, some of us can’t see anything but the fight when we close our eyes, while others take up knitting in the hospital and never tell their children what it’s like to run a teenager through with a bayonet. Some of them fuck nurses, too. I like the idea of us having been to war, because it is overblown but comic and unchangeable and most of us have been to the hospital anyway, though no dice with the nurse thing. The philosophy of his zines over the many drafts has gotten tighter, I agree, and the art a little more clear or telegraphing of facial emotion and sentimental import, but the tell-all feeling or tone of the piece, piece as invective, piece as revelation, piece as accusation as much as self-excoriation, has remained, and Julia sees it as an attack on Clara’s agency. Her side of the story. And she is mostly right about this, though that doesn’t mean Bojack doesn’t hurt. It is tough to stop the presses when the presses are Bojack’s cousin’s basement Xerox.
“Hey, Julia. I want to say two things: fuck him, but also let’s be chill and work on this when we can and not worry about it when we can’t. Nothing is going anywhere and this whole apartment is going to work on helping ameliorate this shit.”
Julia is flicking ash, “Really? J.C. is going to help fix this?” she says, as if J.C. never did anything.
“That, or you’re going to pass out railing on her.”
“I take my meds, man.”
“And also, by the way,” I say, “J.C. does actually care about the harmony or success of this apartment, however it looks. It’s not my fault her politics are a little different.”
“This is not the time to have this conversation.” She says.
“You ever been outside her room at night? You ever heard what she says in her sleep?”
“You know, hit this, please,” she says, offering the joint, “or I really am going to narcoleptize myself right now.”
“Is that the verb?”
“It's a verb.”
“The intention of that statement was that you—”
“I don’t see you taking a fat rip of that—”
I take a deep hit, keeping eye contact. I had forgotten how easily talking with Julia could quickly make me feel much more alive or full, even if our egos rub a little when weed is involved. That being said, our conversations always seem to center on people other than us, Clara and J.C. being the obvious candidates. But maybe it’s selfish or unrealistic to talk about us, as if we are not the avatars of the ideologies of people we know. J.C. and Clara seem to be the doers or transmitters or sources of the apartment, while we are the watchers or receivers or sinks. But I don’t mind being an antenna.
Julia is currently working on a book on the poetics of rejection, although recently she has been in a tough or stuck spot. I think she thinks it is because she has not witnessed rejection firsthand enough times. She doesn’t front-brain believe that you have to experience something firsthand to probe and exposit its seamy underbelly, to get down to the earth of the earth and the fact of the fact, but she does secretly worry this. And I understand this fear, I really do. I am a grand canyon of logical fissures. Her most recent chapter, which she has told me she wants to send to a local magazine to gather capital for the big push to publish the whole enchilada from the local university’s press, is a collection of messages by diners written to their servers on their receipts detailing why they will not be providing a gratuity. Some of them are scathing and very difficult to read. Some of them are racist and so pretty easy to stomach because we've all seen that before, but other ones leave inexplicable haunting feelings when read. They have real unknown power. But the going has been slow, mostly because of confidentiality concerns. Julia’s big dream though, and projected keystone or soul of her future book is a chapter on suicide notes: what she sees as the rejection of life simultaneous to an embrace of the otherwise facile idea of literature as a way to outlive oneself. She thinks it is saleable but also important. It will be on coffee tables for generations. Julia bluetooths her phone to the speakers and plays us music.
About forty-five minutes pass and it feels like we are the couch, too. Its dark blue fabric has corduroy ridges, which I slip my fingers in-between. Julia presses both hands to her face to cover her eyes. Her cheeks are smushed. We begin to hear the sounds of kissing and shuffling from J.C.’s room, when the music quiets in between songs, these noises eventually becoming part of the transition from song to song. J.C. has embraced the online dating world even more wholly than I have, or think I might be able. Part of this is her trust in people, being able to see good in them, but another, equal part of her success is that she can immediately identify and point out the flaws of her dates. We talk about them sometimes at night when she makes her nightly Panini sandwich in our household’s communal Panini press. J.C. grew up in a suburb of Chicago, which is why we can use her parent’s car for things that are really important, urgent, or heavy. Her go-to is ham and cheese with Miracle Whip mayo, white bread. I get stories about how her mother would pack her four peanut-butter sandwiches for the school day up to and including her high-school years. J.C. is big in the way the Midwest grows people big. She could beat me up and I would enjoy it, which I am not afraid to say! and has very pale hair and eyebrows. I sometimes wonder whether this paleness is a medical condition, or some extreme but technically normal variation. J.C. usually charms the skinny art-school boys, who come in cuffed jeans and loose shirts, and are always stone silent when I try to talk to them at breakfast the morning after. Half the time they don't take eggs when I offer them. It is like they don’t care that J.C. is a part of a family, which is how I phrase my apartment to myself when tasked with the question of what exactly we are.
“Did you see J.C. come in with anybody?” I ask Julia.
“No. I’ve been in my room all afternoon.”
“So, who do you think it is?”
She lays her head back, “Sure. I want names.”
I think for a while. “It could be Johnny Depp.”
“You think J.C. is making out with Johnny Depp behind that wall.”
“I mean, you know she likes Johnny Depp.”
“True. Very true. And also I hear Jonny Depp is currently enrolled in a local art school.”
“Jeez. No need to be so pessimistic. Maybe he’s a ‘visiting artist’ or something, has a nice cushy office, got onto the online dating scene, and wanted to re-experience his youth.” Julia’s increasingly glassy eyes look up and through the ceiling. “Anyone can download those apps.” I remind her.
She says, putting her hands out and spreading her arms, as if indicating a lit marquee, “Johnny Depp: reconciling with his inner child.”
The noises from the room have become increasingly hardcore. There is no way to get closer emotionally to someone faster than by listening to sex with them. That said, letting onto this fact or realization certainly does not do a good job of closing social gaps. It comes off as creepy. It’s one of the many things that’s got to be accepted rather than actively sought. I turn my head and raise my eyebrows, ever so slightly, carefully, puffing out a single, perfect smoke ring. I think to myself: damn, look at me, I’m so cool. Julia’s eyebrows are also high on her tall forehead. Her forehead is smooth and reflective. She smirks. I’ve done it. No one is saying anything in J.C.’s room, just making noises. A couple minutes pass. Julia drops the last bit of ashy paper into our Santa Claus ashtray. We cannot be sure whether it is Johnny Depp in there or not.
We have moved to the dining room table and are discussing all the fruits Julia has tried when J.C. finally comes out of her room. The boy following her is not, in fact, Johnny Depp, but some art school kid, tall compared to anyone except for J.C. Even though he is fully clothed, he seems to hunch inward, as if trying to cover his body with other parts of his body. I perceive this as self-doubt. Julia and I both offer one hand raised in greeting. J.C. steps into the bathroom to take a shower, and I can see a small amount of panic in the boy’s widened eyes at having been left with us. It is just a little bit delicious.
“Okay, so strawberries?” I ask Julia. The shower sputters and spits from inside the bathroom, muffled by what used to be my door.
Julia gags slightly.
“You’ve got something against grapes?”
“No, I’m just methodical. And I don’t have a neutral disposition to things I haven’t tried yet. Grapes just seem really, fleshy.”
I ask the boy standing outside the entrance of the bathroom, acting as if he were the one who just had to listen to his own (brief) embrace with J.C., whether he thinks grapes are ‘fleshy.’ He moans a little. I don’t know where J.C. finds these guys. I gently gesture him to sit down with us. He does not move. I turn back to Julia, and she tells me that she ‘works up’ to trying a new fruit, and that the ones she has had so far have been fulfilling or worthwhile, so there’s really no need to expand her palette when it comes to the fruit front. She guesses that probably most fruits are just bad derivatives or recombinants of other fruit essentials. I ask about bananas and I get another involuntary gag. Julia then starts telling me about baking vegan cakes and other pastries, which is a complex and exact science. Unlike so many people, she does not shy away from delivering the details of a task, acting as if to summarize was to perform a disservice. Eventually J.C. steps out of the shower, steam nipping playfully at her ankles, the drape of the towel not obscuring that she is absolutely built. The art boy tries to lean back, all cool, like he had just happened to be walking by when she came out, which I have a real urge to call bullshit on, but don’t. Julia gives me a side-eye though, as if to cool me down and prevent my embarrassing the art boy, and I realize she has been seeing a lot more about me than I have been thinking she could, which puts me into a cold sweat. The art boy is clearly intrigued and excited about this toweled, gently steaming body that is not some glassy-eyed crop-topped ‘I’m a foodie’ string-bean. I do not have the heart to tell him he is not the prettiest art boy I have seen in this apartment this year. This month. I lean toward Julia and tell her I do not have the heart to tell this boy he is not the prettiest art boy I have seen in this apartment this month.
J.C. announces, shoring up her towel, “I’m getting pretty tired.” A damning utterance. It only takes a couple minutes for the art boy to gather his things and leave, saying that he understands, she needs her sleep, and he really enjoyed the experience. Would be happy to hang. Julia and I both offer one hand raised in farewell. We awe at the expediency of J.C.’s social maneuvers.
J.C. begins to assemble the ingredients for her classic Panini sandwich. White bread, sliced ham stored in natural juices, american cheese, and Miracle Whip mayonnaise. I am not sure if Miracle Whip is real mayonnaise or not, though the name would suggest they moved mountains or parted seas to create it. Or cured leprosy. J.C. holds the jar under her left arm, sticks a knife deep into it using her right hand, and smears the paste onto the bread, on which she lays modest portions of ham and cheese. The cheese almost glows. The Panini press has been heating up, and when its indicator light turns from red to green J.C. places the top bread, inverting it deftly, onto the bottom of the sandwich, which is laden with the meat and dairy. She puts the whole parcel into the press, which elicits a hissy scream, a secondary, equal but different scream happening when she presses the heated, ribbed upper plate to the sandwich, bringing the two plates together. J.C. sits at the table with us, pouring herself a small plastic cup of brandy. Late at night we often find ourselves in counsel.
“You guys seen Clara today?” J.C. asks, sipping from the cup. We only have brandy and three bottles of triple-sec, and I think grenadine.
“Not since last night,” says Julia.
“Not since yesterday toward lunch,” I add, unhelpfully. The obvious utility of J.C.’s question is to find out who saw her last.
“What, is something up?” Julia asks, immediately pushing the envelope.
“No, I mean. I don’t know,” J.C. adds. “It’s just, you know, sometimes she gets into moods, and I thought it might not be easy this week.”
“Might not be easy?” I ask.
“Shit.” Julia says.
“What?” I ask.
“J.C., what day is it?”
“The 16th, in about an hour.”
And then it hits me and I remember that it is the day of the month Clara met Bojack, and the day she now reserves to feel any emotions relating to him. In a way I think she is strong for commanding herself to do this: to feel all she wants or can on only one day, otherwise bringing on a scourge of focus and functionality. It is hard, though. Last month, she just ate, for the whole night. We had a small dinner and she continued to cook and eat food, steaming a whole bag of frozen dumplings from the freezer, using half a pack of tortillas to make wraps, cooking a pot of beans and rice, eating pita filled with chickpea everything. We all tried to hold conversation, normalize and pass-over her overconsumption, project that it was just a dinner party, but Clara became more and more silent, reticent, self-absorbed. We went to go watch the newest Avengers movie together in our living room, but Clara only stayed for the beginning. We watched the rest of the movie listening to her vomit in the bathroom. Tony Stark said snarky things and in his comedic pauses we could hear her vomit profusely, implying a huge volume. It feels irresponsible for us not to have prevented this in some way although, when I look back on it, I do not see a way we could have helped. It was her day. This is sort of the genius and terribleness of her monthly schedule: her appointments with sadness. Sadness here as emetic. But in other months it has been sadness as depressant, intoxicant, simulant, abradant, expectorant, conflagrant, or fulgurant. We heard the shower turn on, a boiling sound, but we just watched the rest of the Avengers movie, not being able to hear whether or not Clara was crying or otherwise okay. When she came out, after the credits had rolled and the screen was empty and blue, displaying the filler data of a DVD, stuff never meant to be seen, her skin was puffy and slick.
“When did you see her last?” I ask J.C.
“This morning. She took her bike. Said she was going for groceries.”
“You know she doesn’t buy groceries.” Julia says, blankly. “J.C., you know that.”
“I know, but sometimes in the past she’s tried to get back into it.” J.C. intakes breath and half chuckles like when she’s nervous. “I just thought it could be that she was trying again.”
Julia looks at me, into me, as if trying to communicate something. I feel stupid that I can’t immediately intuit. Like I am disabled. In a way, though, I am less concerned with figuring out what she wants to say than why she has turned to me to say it. Why J.C. can’t also know.
Julia asks, after a silence broken only by the smell of Panini, “So we find her?”
“You know where she is.” J.C. says.
“And that means you’re coming with?” Julia asks.
J.C. puts her hands up her to eyes. “It’s just, if we make it a thing, then it’s a thing, you know.” She continues to cover her eyes. J.C. is a firm believer that things are not totally set if you are not watching them. “If we follow her,” she says, “then it means she was expecting us to follow her, and is doing something that requires being followed. But if we don't—”
Julia is seemingly caught between two worlds, still miming with some body movement I cannot pin down, maybe her eyebrows or hands or lips, that I need to know something and that J.C. cannot be let in on it at whatever cost. It is not as if we were arguing against J.C.’s own flavor of determinism, which we have heard many times before, and hasn’t steered us wrong despite our gut feelings otherwise. J.C. has been in the hospital more than any of us, which means she has wisdom about a world that doesn’t follow the rules.
I stand up, and say I need to go back to writing an important email, but when I look at Julia’s face, I append to my own statement that I need to buy some soda first. It piggybacks on what I meant to say, and I realize the power of Julia's minute facial expressions. And when Julia volunteers to come with me, calmly and naturally, and we are standing in the open doorway of our apartment, looking back at J.C., and the moon is a flaming white disk in the unnaturally cool and black summer sky, it is clear J.C. knows exactly what we’re doing. But to say it would be to make it real.
I will have to get back to my email some other time.