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The Monster, the Work
We call the Kiosk, ‘the monster,’ but it is tamer than us, taller maybe, wider, inhumanly still, yes, but it doesn’t drink or yearn. My name is Takudzwa. My name tag says Ku. If someone asks and I am in a mood I’ll say, like the Klux. There is a girl at my work. I want to steal her from the monster, the work. I try to make her laugh with my inability to do my job, but it’s only funny to me.
We work all afternoon and the crowd really comes in the late afternoon and into the evening. There is a pop at 7 and I get my first survey. I get it the same way I got the last one and all of them. Monica gives it to me. Monica snares more than one again and a man walks up to me and points to her and says “she told me to come here.”
He looks maybe 35. He is darker than me and wears his pain in his resting expression, but his smile is big when he gives it to me.
-Overall, how was your movie watching experience?
-You have the options available, Excellent, Satisfactory, Passable, or Unsatisfactory.
-Unsatisfactory doesn’t do it justice. It was shitty.
-I only have these available options.
-Do you want my input?
-Yeah, but it’s multiple choice.
-If you want my input, it was shitty, whole thing, front to back, the second the Closer Look began to the last credit of the feature, shit, but my life is such that I must thank god for the opportunity to be transported, escape, so to speak, to this other equally shitty reality, it was a privilege, no doubt, but if you want any honesty, it was shitty.
-No. Write that in. I see the box, where you can write shit in, write it in. I want to be heard.
He repeats what he said while I touch each letter of the touchscreen keyboard into the additional comments section.
The next page is about the protagonist.
-Oh the dude? Always tripping on leaves and running into open doors, I couldn’t stand that dude.
I write it in.
The next page is about the leading woman. I ask him about the female lead.
His girlfriend approaches with a box of Milk Duds. She offers him one and he takes it. He chews it, basks in the silence and the crunch that breaks it.
-The female, the chubby chinese girl tryna sabotage the mission?
His girlfriend hits him in the shoulder.
-What? This is for democracy. That chubby chinese girl had a beautiful voice, when she sang in the shower in that one scene, got-damn! And she’s my type too, baby you might have to watch out, she might be the next one.
He alone laughs.
-But she is tryna sabotage the mission because her father was killed by the main guy’s grandfather? How many times do we have to see chinese people fighting generational battles? If they are throwing discus, it’s because their great-grandfather almost made it to the olympics, but his wife went into labor, and he missed the qualifier and settled for a family and always thought about what kind of life he could have provided his daughter if he had made it to that discus qualifier. Do you know anyone fighting a generational battle right now? Did your great-grandfather work for the Nielsen rating company?
The question is rhetorical. He waits.
-So this isn’t your generational battle?
He wants a call and response. He wants to be in control.
-So why would her job be hers?
-That’s a good point.
I touch my chin and speak.
-Maybe my job is my generational battle. Maybe she is used as an, albeit obvious and overused figure to show that we are all fighting generational battles, maybe even to say that it is honorable to admit the overarching generational battles that we fight and when we do that, we can come to a more nuanced understanding of ourselves, not to mention the challenges of the older generation.
-Boy, this ain’t a conversation. She was my type though, chubby and loyal. Write all that. We gotta go baby, Friday Night Fights.
She rolls her eyes, takes his elbow with hers, says something in his ear about his braggadocio and leaves. The survey still needs his last name, address, email, zip code, a couple pages about the length of the film, the diversity, and if the ending was lacking in any way.
I exit the survey and the kiosk asks me if I am sure I want to leave an unfinished survey and then asks me again, and I click yes and yes. Without a last name, phone number and zipcode he is nothing.
I bum a cigarette from Monica and take a smoke break. I tell her about how I tried to move to New York once…
-When I was there, I auditioned for the play, Suddenly, I feel OK, on the day I became homeless, but I have since learned that you can’t finding meaning in the day you become homeless in New York, it happens so much to so many, it might as well be finding a horoscope that says today is the day for you!
The audition was routine. I walked into this Manhattan building, sweating, tumbling into the clear double doors, hoping that those double doors are the last double doors that I would sweat for. I carried everything that I owned. The ceilings were high.
The receptionist belonged in a tall glossy book in a public libraries’ art section. She was made out of marble had little Henry Ford assembly line fingers. She didn’t breathe. She looked at me without using her eyes. She said ‘4th floor.’
I had on three layers of clothes, the bottom layer the only one laundered. I came close to the counter to whisper my hope that she might help me. I caught a whiff of her and under the lavender, she smelled like me.
I chuckled a little.
-Uh. I’m here for the uh, thing on the fourth, you’re right, but I have all this stuff on me. I am going through something, you know, not to get into it, but I just need a place to put it.
The marble fell off of her, she crumpled into human, the corners of her mouth pulled down, her body slumped with the pressure I gave her and it told me everything. She would have helped me if she could, if she wouldn’t be risking her job and by proxy her apartment to end up in my same pleading situation.
-I can’t really…I don’t really-
-It’s ok, its alright, its alright, don’t worry about it.
We shrugged at each other, individuals under capitalism.
I rolled my suitcase to the elevator, unbuttoned the top button of my Dad’s jacket. She said good luck and it felt as earnest as the city’s principles, as if just that I had gotten her to say good luck to me meant that I was destined for my New York story, the one where we meet again in happenstance, sometime in the future, her still behind a counter, me snapping and telling some sweaty bagboy to fetch my bags from the limo and throwing a twenty into the poor guys palm, then leaning over the counter this time to inquire about the speed of the internet, not willing to settle for less than a GB a minute, I get a whiff of her and she of me and we both know whatever it is people know when they look at each other and just, know.
I went up to the fourth floor. The elevator was empty, the hallway was crowded and held no light. The Sun was in the maze of buildings, crawling in earnest from the horizon, looking for us actors. A crowd of more attractive replicas of me looked down into their headshots and sides.
There was one white dude. There weren’t any white characters in the play but, more power to him, I thought. Making a hail mary pass at the two minute warning. I might do same if I were him, living here long enough.
The audition was for the main character, Lance. Everyone had main character haircuts and main character clothes and main character. I rolled my suitcase and said excuse me.
Two ladies sat behind a low table and pointed at a box where I should write my name. It was too small for a single word much less two African words. My name refers to gods, the box had space for particles of speech. The box couldn’t write its name in the space it gave.
I criminally scrunched it in, knowing when they called they would simply pause and squint until I stood up knowing it could be no one else. I noodled to a seat. My suitcase hit a couple people’s feet, or both of one person’s feet. They were cool about it. I said ‘my bad,’ they said ‘my bad.’ I picked up my bag and went to one of the folding chairs on the wall and got my headshots out of my suitcase. They were buried deep in there. I hadn’t used them since I got to New York. This was my first audition. They were wrinkled, but pretty good I thought.
I was up against a brick wall, smiling a real toothy smile in one of them, crossing my arms in one, crouching comically in the next one, even in a suit sitting behind a desk, but the suit and the desk were both too big for me, and there was a gavel on the table for some reason. I took both of my jackets off and got to blending in with the other Lances. One of them looked just like Don Lemon. I nudged the dude next to me, and said ‘is that Don Lemon?’ He didn’t laugh or respond or anything.
They fumbled through my name, which I figured was better than silence and nodded to the lady.
It was me. With my suitcase and backpack on my right and two jackets on my left I looked to the guy next to me to see if he’d look at my stuff while I was gone.
He didn’t take and the lady looked at me like time being of the essence was a foreign concept to me. I was carrying everything I owned, of course time is of the essence. If it’s not for me, it’s not for anyone.
I decided to take my stuff, and it felt like suicide, like in a war where a soldier does something just a little too brave and runs out into the forbidden zone, and his bunkmate, his whole postwar life ponders whether it was worth it to do something like that, to die and take a few with him with a grenade he threw from a vantage point he didn’t have from the safety of the trenches. The bunkmate gets to think back with a bad conscious, asking himself why he didn’t have the same kind of guts and if he really believed in the fight against tyranny why didn’t he fight with that kind of passion. It would haunt him the rest of his life, but he was there, alive, getting another chance to love, growing old in his cowardice and as he humps his second wife he forgets about that courageous young boy, his dead counterpart, his beloved bunkmate, crazy Kev.
In the room I see the director and the PA and a couple of others. There was a camera on a tripod, the same model my mom has.
I managed to walk in confidently and shake the director’s hand. I handed him the headshots and he pointed to a pile at his right. All of New York must have auditioned for Lance. I put them on the pile, which tilted in its reach for the ceiling.
-Reading for Lance?
-Do you have a monologue prepared.
– Whenever you are ready.
I breathed and took my time through the words to Ice Cube’s monologue at the end of Boyz N Tha Hood. I sat on the stool and I could feel the heat of the stoop and the hits of helicopter blades and I thought I did a good job. In the middle of it I breathed and realized that bringing all of my belongings was playing for me. I delivered it real slow, looking at my Dad’s gray jacket on top of my Dad’s gray suitcase.
After I was done, someone said whoa.
My Dad lives in Wheaton and I went to a white school.
Before I felt good about it, a voice in my head said there are probably people in the hallway that did the same monologue. People from the city. I read for Lance, the one page. I read it like a book. I wasn’t good. I could feel it. As I read the words I was afraid that the real Lance would come off the pages, backhand me and ask me where I was from.
I ask for another cigarette.
-So you were homeless and talentless, then what?
-I bought a bus ticket back to my Dad’s place. It was 40 dollars. I had enough money for a sandwich at my old favorite vietnamese place. Then applied to work here.
I light the little cylinder. I breathe. I let go my breath and I see the evidence drifting up into the foreground of the cinema intersection.
The Cinema is in the middle of a square of pseudo downtown space. People shuffle on the streets, the smell of roasted nuts comes and goes with the wind, and there are even people out in the middle of the square, near the pavilion, dancing with a stereo and a hat upside down cardboard laid out like it is New York and if someone woke up from a coma and stumbled into this intersection, still emerging from the deep dream of prolonged unconsciousness, they might think that Midtown had cleaned up the place and got blacker. This little piece of Silver Spring tries to be a replica, a small fish tank, to its cousin, the lake, a little brother of the same northeastern family, the one that took the cookies and got caught. The lobby of the cinema is too empty to be New York, the escalator ride ends too quickly to be New York, the young women in sweatpants that ride down the escalator would get murdered by the style police, even in an outer borough. They open their mouths to laugh and aren’t hushed by the endlessness of the city and the world. It is not New York.
It occurs to me that I don’t deserve the job or the cigarettes, both the option to kill yourself.
-When you are trying to get a person to do the survey, try not to be so shy.
-I am not shy.
-Ok, you are not shy.
It is hard to say why shy hurts a man. I am not loud enough, I am not big enough. Deer want to eat out of my pillow hands. Maybe I really am small enough for that terse assessment, shrinking me with its monosyllable. I couldn’t simply accept it. Since the audition in New York everything seems to be whispering that I was never an actor, that I didn’t have whatever I needed to have, that I lied to my Mom when I told her that I was worth believing in, that she lied to me when she said it was worth it to believe in myself.
The smoke from her cigarette and mine merge with the smoke of the roasting peanuts and the smells merge too, and the experience overall is pleasant. It doesn’t escape me that I am on the clock, absorbing the crisp air, the dropping sun of twilight, collecting pennies to do nothing but breathe.
We smoke in silence. I flick the gray off my cigarette and the flakes fall to the sidewalk and remind me of my first girlfriend with eczema. She was cute. Best I have ever had maybe.
She went by her middle name and she walked knowing she was beautiful and I think of her. Down the street someone yells. The sound crescendos.
I don’t look up. It must be the territory.
We are taught that someone else’s violence is not your business, violence is as intimate as sex, public pain, is like a nip-slip, have some decency, look away.
If you intervene, you are a target and someone will start swinging on you and then they are a target and someone starts swinging on them, and that’s how riots break out. If you hear a yell down the street you ask yourself did you do something that would provoke a yell, and if the answer is no, you don’t look up like you’re Clark Kent.
I focus down on my diminishing stick of style and death.
I might have been able to dodge it, the elbow that goes up against my neck. It knocks the cigarette from my lips, sending sparks to the sidewalk and a face that must have been holding some metaphysical opposition to saying it as opposed to spraying it, pins me to the double glass doors. His features crunch to the center of his face and he gives me an amharic beating, the words come out like individual fists, little servants of his mind and lips that land even in their lost translation.
I recognize this face. I know who owns this face. I want to turn to Monica, who is putting out her cigarette, backing away in embarrassment for the both of us, and tell her that when I moved to New York, I was running away.