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Armed Love

by

Elia Katz


 

Chapter 1

New York

November 20.

Rateyes and I met her on 86th Street, at two or three in the morning. We did not know at first she was a whore. She appeared to be around fourteen years old. In a cold wind, in a cold pocket on the downslope of 86th Street, she was looking into the window of an appliance and novelty store. In this window were tiers of grass that were wet with dew and shone in the sun bulb that was also there. There were toasters and electric toothbrushes and vibromassage dildos landscaped on these tiers of grass. Julia was small and gorgeous; the sun in the window shone on her face, which was pale Puerto Rican, sharp and slouchless. Every price was slashed in this window and everything was special that Julia was studying there. Rateyes and I had as little to say to one another as any two boys who feel like getting laid and aren't about to get laid and who are keeping each other company. There are times when two friends will walk around in New York saying to each other, wouldn't it be amazing if two amazing chicks showed up and they really felt like getting laid? Then there are times past these times when two friends will be walking together each feeling he would be doing a lot better on his own. We were in one of these times, Rateyes and I. 86th Street has a lot of whores on it. At the time of morning when this was there are no girls on that street except whores. Nevertheless, even with desire and the right to expectation right there at the fronts of our brains, we did not suspect she was a whore. We thought she was a fourteen-year-old girl who needed a toothbrush. We passed her by after only the shortest time of animating our faces at her. When we were past her we turned around, not as a team, but each in his own private pride, and she was looking at us. She was smiling and we felt, each in his own private pride, that she was in love with us. Back we rolled, a little up the hill, and surrounded her as only two friends who are trying to beat each other out of a girl can do. "What are you doing looking in this window," said Rateyes, in a mockingly stern tone that referred to her apparent age, which was fourteen, and her father's voice, which was stern. Rateyes thought he had himself a little nymphomaniac, right from the lies his older brother always told him. "I'm workin'," Julia said.

New York is the center of the Empire. The disintegration of the Empire is the fissures that start in New York. Rateyes and I know about this and can get vibrations from a walk down the street anywhere in Manhattan. And at this time, when we found out that the impossible hadn't happened, that there wasn't a beautiful baby girl on a freezing street in the dead of night who waited and was waiting for love, at this time another finger was stuck in the Jello and the Empire quivered from the center outward, closer than it had ever been to collapse. Rateyes said, "Holy shit, you have to do that, huh?" and nodded like a weak old man. I guess everyone has to do something. Rateyes was very understanding, and he absolved her, as he had only last night absolved a black man who pulled a gun on him in the elevator of his building, by saying, "It's too bad you have to do this to get bread, man. Here. I wish I had more." And then, when this black man had responded to the kindness in Rateyes's face and said he hated holding people up and he hoped he would never have to shoot anyone, but he needed the money for heroin, Rateyes had said, "Look, take care of yourself. You're a good man and it won't be long before we're on the same side." Rateyes had left the elevator glowing like danger and pleasure, with the feeling he had made his first contact with the army he would soon come to lead. When he told me about the guy in the elevator there was such a sense of new friendship in the things he said I asked if he had taken the thief's phone number, just in case they ever wanted to get together again.

I thought that the reductions in price of the things in this window were incredible, as incredible as they said they were. I am not interested in prostitutes because I am afraid of disease. Rateyes, on the other hand, has always been interested in prostitutes, but lately he has come to believe that to pay a prostitute for sex is to become a part of the bullshit oppressive hierarchy of exploiters and panderers. He is disgusted with the formal oppression society daily forces us to engage in and he is trying to break out of it whenever he can. He tried to talk her into doing it for free. "Look, do you ever just feel like doing it, you know, without all this money hassle? I mean do you ever just meet a cat and say, 'What the fuck, I'm just gonna do it'? I'd like to know." She said no, except for her boyfriend. She said she needed the money for heroin. "I got a habit, wow, you know?" Rateyes knew all right. "Look at that, Elia. Isn't this the center of the fuckin' Empire! Well, how much do you think you would need like to do your thing?"

She said twenty dollars.

Rateyes (pseudonym of respect and affection, referring to the constant laser glow of ratty quick desire in his eyes) stared at her with kindness. "You must have a pretty heavy habit, huh? Shit, they really have ways to fuck you up…. They really fuck you up. "…You need twenty bucks, right?"

Julia was no fourteen and has bargained with every tone of voice there is on 86th Street. "What about seventeen? Wow, man, I have to have it."

Rateyes shrugs. "Look Elia, do you have seventeen bucks? You know, I was robbed yesterday." We hustled her into a cab and tried to talk: to her about some things. We tried to talk to her about the Panthers, Eldridge Cleaver, The Young Lords. She had never heard of any of these things. Right here in the center. Right here. We said, "Look at what they do to them," and we knew what we meant. Even Julia seemed to know what we meant. She said, "Yeah, man, I hate this fuckin' city, man. Wow I wish I was in the country, man. Wow I wish I was." This was a very tough night for her. She had been kicked out of her hotel so she didn't have a place to take men.

We took her to l02nd Street, where Rateyes's brother Stewart lives. This is an ugly apartment, with catshit and newspapers all over the floor. Rateyes is crashing here for a couple of weeks and he has put his sleeping bag over a mattress on the floor. There is a pound of grass in the foot of his sleeping bag and Rateyes crawls in after it head first. While he is there in the dark he decides he doesn't want to screw Julia after all. He comes out with a big grin and a fistful of loam. "Look, this is bullshit. We're friends. We don't have to get into this sex thing right in the middle of nothing." Rateyes and I begin to roll joints. We both feel like the just prince. Rateyes and I feel like talking to Julia. There is a disgusting thing that the radical children of the middle-class get into when they are left alone with members of the lower classes. This thing you have probably seen or done yourself. In a way, it is pumping for information; in a way it is the baldest condescension. Telling a cab driver in New York it must be tough to drive a cab in New York is one way to do this thing. Another way is to use foul language in friendly conversation with a handyman, on the assumption that he is more comfortable with you if you speak like that. We wanted at that time to get into that very thing with Julia. We wanted a glimpse and a closeness in a different world.

Julia, on the other hand, is panicking. We have had moods and our moods change and will change and are changing, but Julia needs twelve dollars immediately so she can score on 116th Street or she will "get sick." No matter what Rateyes or I say to her, she says "You don' wanna fuck? Wow, man." Finally we get it. I give her the money and some for a cab. We ask her to come back. She can fix here. Without her hotel room and not wanting to fix at her mother's house, location is a big problem for her. Or else it is certain she would not return. We are getting very stoned and listening to records and already do not really care if she comes back. We now know that she is twenty-five and has a child who is cared for by her mother, and we can see that while her face and neck above, and her legs below, are young and beautiful, her torso is already sacklike. She scratches a lot, and where she scratches forms of life are set free. However, Rateyes and I are still aware that this is the center of the Empire and we are very stoned and we feel the greatest need to do the greatest good for all prostitutes and drug addicts. We have promised her the moon and freedom, and we do hope she will return to claim these promises, to show us that she values them.

The first thing we have promised her is free dolaphine, which she needs to kick her habit. She is certain she will kick her habit if she can only get some of these and Rateyes says he has a friend who is a doctor.

The second thing we have promised her is a trip to the country. She is certain she will be able to kick her habit if she is in the country. She has said this. It is the city that bothers her. We will get her a big bucket of dollies and then we'll take a ride to New Hampshire and live for a few days in a cabin which Rateyes and I know of there. She will be our ward. The just princes know how to make you happy. In this way we do wish that she will return, valuing our promises and believing that she will benefit from having met us.

When Julia goes to score, she leaves with us a brown paper bag which contains everything she kept with her in her hotel room: a pair of Arabian slippers, a towel, a toothbrush, soap in a plastic case, and a pair of stockings. While she is gone Rateyes rifles through the bag looking for cigarettes.

She does return. She is already getting sick. She is nervous when she takes her works out of her purse, which is ivory with stitched pink flowers. After that Rateyes and I are alternately staring at her arm and jerking our heads left and right to avoid her arm. We are repulsed by the sight of her hitting up. Her face is as dour as a seamstress. Her arm is muscular with veins like insulated electrical wires. The whole scene is too much like frogs' legs and electric prods for Rateyes and me to watch. Occasionally we look at each other and register amazement. Such a show! Right here in the center, in the center of the center, where we are stoned and catshit smells like the earth, the clean earth. Here among us the real true lives of the real true people are revealed to Rateyes and me, and we are thinking stick with me and the most amazing amazing things will happen…right in front of you…. How are we watching her now? Is it like we watch an accident or a fire? No, this is the way we have watched subtlety and perfection, perfect things being perfect before us and astounding us. That is the way we are watching her.

After the difficulties of finding a vein and keeping her eyedropper from slipping off the rubber-hard cord she wanted to puncture, she carefully replaced her works and made herself comfortable to nod along with the record that was playing. Every now and then her mouth would move as though she were singing along, but she was not singing along. Once she stopped her head from dropping onto the table and once she let it drop to the table. A half hour later she got out of her chair and attempted to dance to a song. When the record stopped she walked to the records lined up on the floor and bent down to find one. Ninety minutes later she had still not found one. She had, in fact, not moved a muscle. Her hands were on a record, her head was down near the floor, her ass was in the air. I said, "Julia, Julia, what are you doing?" She said, "I'm lookin' for a record, man." Then she went to the bathroom and we did not see her for six hours. Rateyes and I left the apartment for something to eat, got some newspapers, came back and read them, dozed off for a little while and woke up. She was still in the bathroom. We didn't know what to do. We giggled in helplessness. Finally, Rateyes's brother Stewart got up and desired to use the bathroom. We didn't say anything, hoping the situation would correct itself. He pushed at the bathroom door but there was something in the way. We told him to push harder. He did. It opened a little and he looked in to see Julia sitting on the toilet. Her eyes were half open and she was looking at a magazine which was spread over her lap. Stewart said, "What the fuck is going on in the fuckin' bathroom?" We told him to try to get her out. Rateyes was pretending to sleep in his sleeping bag. Stewart was getting angry. He threatened to take a piss on her if we didn't get her out of the bathroom. Actually, we had been avoiding the situation these six hours because we suspected that she had died of an overdose, and we wanted to be a little straighter before we decided what to do with the body. Rateyes had said, when we went for breakfast, that we would probably have to leave her on the roof. We couldn't call the police because Stewart's apartment was such a political apartment. A political apartment is one where the occupants feel themselves to be watched by the FBI and suspect that their phone is tapped. "They're just looking for an excuse to bust Stewart."

I went to the bathroom and said, "Hey, Julia. Get up Julia!" She didn't move. Rateyes had his head hidden in his sleeping bag. I reached in through the crack in the door and tapped her on the shoulder. She didn't move. Finally I decided to shake her hard and scream at her. She made startled motions and looked at me angrily. She was offended that the door was open. "Hold it man. Give me a chance to take a shit."

I said, "Julie, you've been in there for six hours." "No…bullshit, man."

"You have. Six hours."

"No…bullshit man…shit, man." Then I told her we had thought she was dead. She shifted to a dreamy stoned voice. "Yeah?…Wow, yeah, that happens to me when I get high, man. My boyfriend he gets mad, he don't like me to get so high, man. You find me on the Floor, man, I don't know I'm there sometimes. Wow, you know, that ever happen to you?"

We would have closed the door while she arranged herself for joining us in the living room, but we were afraid she would nod again. Each of her minutes is like hours in complexity and change, but she can let thousands of them go by without noticing their passing. We took her out of the bathroom and we did not any longer feel the desire to help her. It was the middle of the morning and Rateyes and I wanted to split for downtown, and Stewart had to go to work, and the night was over. What we wanted was for Julia to stay awake. After the bathroom she stiffened twice more, once with her fingers on the zipper of her pants and again in a cold chunk of air from the refrigerator. Rateyes and I tried talking to her to keep her awake. Having no experience with junkies we didn't know if she was acting in the proper and customary manner or if she had OD'd and was on the way to dying. Stewart said we had better get her out of his place and that we must have been crazy to bring her there. "This is a heavy place, man."

I sat down in a chair and Julie sat on my lap, all lumps and folds. She told me again how much she wanted to go to the country. I said I was sure we'd all go out to the country together, probably in a week or ten days. "I hate this fuckin' city, man, it's the city, man, that makes me do this shit." She seemed to be miserable and tired. I knew she was tired in the face of changeless things which she was thinking about. I did not want her to go to sleep, though, in the face of changeless things. I shook my knees and sang in her ear. newyork newyork it's a hell of a town/the bronx is up and the battery's down/the peepul ride in a hole in the ground/newyork newyork is a hell of a town. She liked that very much. She laughed with special glee when I said the people ride in a hole in the ground. I sang the same words again and she laughed more. When I was done the second time her voice trailed softly after like smoke. "Hole in the ground, man, wow…shit, wow…" I did some disc-jockey rousers for her: "WO MOMMO WO MOMMA IT'S ONE TOWN WO MOMMA GOT TO SAY…GOT TO GET IT SAID MOMMA…" She was laughing like a girl. Rateyes and I were crazy about her. Rateyes said the city was sure a fucker and he couldn't wait till we all got out next week to spend the winter in the cottage in New Hampshire. "newyork newyork it's a hell of a town the peepul ride in a hole in the ground," Julia tried to sing along, but she was trailing. She was considering each pure word by itself in her mind, going over them slowly alone and grooving on how good they were, especially the part about the hole in the ground.

After that she wanted to fix again, so she got out her works from the purse. Rateyes and I were impatient by that time and nervous about watching her do it again. This time she couldn't find a vein, and seals of blood spread over her forearm below her stocking which was wound tightly there. She was taking too long and Rateyes and I thought this time she might overdose, she had come so close the last time, so we said, "Look, Julia, we got to leave. Why don't you fix out here in the hallway." She was disappointed, but said OK, put her things back into her Campfire-Girl purse, and came out of the apartment with us. Rateyes and I waited for the elevator. Rateyes said Julia would have more privacy if she fixed on a higher floor, so she started up the tile steps. We asked her if she had forgotten anything. She made inventory of her brown paper bag and her pocketbook. "No, I got everything. Thanks. I'm gonna call you about those dollies, OK? When do you think your friend can give them to you?" Rateyes said he'd talk to the doctor today and he should know by tomorrow. He asked her how many she needed. He said he could probably get her a couple of hundred without any trouble. That made her very happy.

We told her to get ready to go to the country pretty soon. She said, "I will, man. I was lucky to meet you, you know I sure was lucky." The elevator came. When it opened I said it smelled like piss inside and I held my nose. Julia laughed. Wow, jesus…. She went up the stairs, stained marble steps of an old building, cracked tablets that wobbled when she walked down on them.

Going down in the elevator Rateyes said it was lucky we didn't leave her in the apartment by herself. He said, "Not that she would do anything like, but all they have to do is pick up a phone and in five minutes three friends can be over there, taking out Stewart's stereo, the TV. There's some things in there they could sell." I said that was true.

We didn't have any place to go, so we went into a candy store to have coffee and read the papers. One of the best things there are to do with a friend is to read the papers together and read each other articles. That day there was a lot of bullshit in the papers. Sometimes when Rateyes is confronted with the massive bullshit in the papers he will start shouting, wherever he is, "Cocksuckers! Fuckers!" and he will give the finger to the general mass of newsworthy events and personalities.

We killed an hour in this way, until it was time to go downtown and see a publisher, Bantam Books, to try to get money to do this book about communes. We walked down, talking about how they were trying to fuck us over and how we were going to fuck over them, and about the senselessness of writing a book and also the necessity of writing a book. We weren't clear in our heads about anything, because we were tired and had been tripping a long time. Every now and then, as we went down Broadway and then went east at 57th Street, watching all the models and secretaries go to work, we thought about Julia, and Rateyes kept saying, "Remind me to call that doctor about those dollies," and we considered taking her with us around the country, but after a while we forgot about all that. There were other things on our minds. The people were flooding the streets, cold, tired, dressed up, going to work.

A couple of months later we found out that Julia had called Stewart's two or three times about the dollies, but since he couldn't get hold of us and we had forgotten to tell him what was up, he couldn't help her out.

 

***

Didn't I know right from the start how many books there are with these assholes traveling across the country? Starting in New York and going to Berkeley, or starting in Berkeley and going to New York. Hitching, taking buses, walking; boozing, brawling, thrilled, robust, oversized American American men. All getting fucked, all pondering the national character, all rollicking, free, hung up on death and cars, and self-satisfied.…Well sure I knew this, and so did Rateyes, and we had no intentions in the world of going across this continent, not even to force ourselves into little encounters with local color, local repression, the American Way of Life, not even for the vistas of America, the visitavision, vistasensational vistadistances of a wide senseless place, full of effort, full of pigs, hippies, roads, trouble, meetings, weather, earth, and bullshit, not even for money. We had a better idea—yes. If you want to know about the USA then read Life and look at the pictures. If you want to write a book, then go to a hotel and do it. So that is what we did.

***

We spent the next week in New York, at the Hotel Albert on 10th Street, in various attempts to create the national commune experience on dark blind tape, humming, glossy, out of our mouths onto the tape. Rateyes would talk, then I would talk, stupidly, fervently, creating American sunshine, American landscapes, mountains, trees, rivers, American men and women, parties, adventures, adding, adding, always adding, data and data, stolen from pamphlets and magazines, made up-—like maniacs in deepest dreamy dreamland—to make a mental America, a place that was poured from out of ourselves, taped, given existence. Ours.

The room was green, small and comfortable like the inside of an unopened gift. The furniture was painted with light green-flecked paint, the beds were covered with beige poplin spreads, all stained, ripped, soft, moist, and the hotel smelled like a hospital and had signed photos of rock and roll bands that have stayed there and failed, some long ago, some recently (determined from the hairstyles of the groups—before the Beatles, after the Beatles) all preserved above the front desk, over the mailboxes, the way some delicatessens have their pix of comedians. To this place we brought our new pound of grass, five hundred dollars' worth of cocaine, our wholesale-bought tape recorders and blank cassettes, and we made every effort, every effort. Our idea was to finish this book in a week, hold it for a couple of months, bring it back to the publisher and get the rest of the advance. Isn't that grotesque? We interviewed each other. I was us and Rateyes was the young hippie chick; Rateyes was us and I was the guru; I was us and Rateyes was an ex-Green Beret in the Berkeley Hills, teaching his commune how to shoot guns. Didn't I know right from the start that the standardization of even our newest, our purest American humans and their newest, purest ways, has already started, and didn't I know that the spirit of my times, my era, my years, was already dealt out and distributed among a society of born and raised mimics, hippie types, pig types, college types-—and don't you know it, too—that the thoughts and feelings that made my generation unique, amazing, for its short time, have already dropped from our minds down to our clothes and out to our possessions—stereos, moccasins, motorcycles—being diluted, lost, in being displayed so much, admired so often, until finally the demand among us for these unique thoughts and feelings became so great that they had to be manufactured as fashions and wallposters, and that now we are dressed in and sitting on and adorned by them—and they are so weak they are gone, these feelings of tremendous confidence energy resistance to America—Well of course I knew that, I could see that, and I had no desire at the start to see this country.

No, all I wanted to do, and all my friend Rateyes had in mind, was to snort this cocaine and sail through the streets of the Village, walking long, fast, puffing, feeling like two important men of the coming revolution. No one knew we were in the city. No one had any idea what we were doing. And this made us feel that we were up to something secret that would have far-reaching consequences and would help to bring down the American Empire. Long walks. Powerful urban monsters, myself and Rateyes. And it was not so strange to me when after a couple of days, for no reason, Rateyes began to slip into doorways and alleys when he saw the police. At first I said, "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" but he would close his eyes and motion me to join him with a jerk of his head, like a man selling stolen watches. "Lookit, Elia," Rateyes said, "the pigs aren't fucking around. The way to look at it, we're in training, you know? The way I look at it, there is no fuckin' reason we should let the pigs know where we are at every moment. They could take us out man. You know? They could decide to just take us out." I agreed. Rateyes was dead right. Because what did we look like, braiding dogwise in and out of the streets, Rateyes and myself, Rateyes a speedy hawkeyed Rasputin, with a nose and black beard reproducing the same bent curve off the surface of his face, with his Indian headband around his hair and forehead, with his triangle suede jacket and romantic muffler, myself a strange giant with a cute big face, long black hair full of filthy corners, knots, a heavy black wool coat coming down like a circular shower curtain around myself, who was motionless top to bottom except for darting booted feet, what did we represent? What did we look like, chain smoking Camels, leaning forward as we went, eyes either dead or huge and wet with drugs, talking, moving our arms, smashing into other people, what were we?

Guerrillas. Rateyes knew it; I knew it. When we got dressed in the morning and we hit the streets, again, again, in daylight, in darkness, we were the representatives wherever we went of the world-wide anarchic impulse. Potential trashers, potential trouble, always almost what we felt ourselves essentially to be, always potential, looking dangerous.

And then back again upstairs with bags of food and soda to the green interior, green tape, creating a mental America with minds full of jaundice and without details, where imaginary runaways are finding homes in this or that commune we made up, and the crops are doing great in one place and another place supports itself with handicrafts, and everyone is sharing, giving, having babies, full of consciousness, full of words, and some places are armed to the teeth and some have gone out on missions, and so on. And there is no difference between this book here—the one I am writing—and those tapes, except that this book is, of course, 100 percent true and those tapes are 100 percent lies. In every other way they are the same. Everything is exactly as you imagine and have always imagined it to be. Everything is exactly as Rateyes and I imagined it to be, also. If you know five people at this time, you are already in possession of enough data to create your own mental America. You need no instructions and you can't be wrong. Armed love in the sniveling metropolis, armed love on the baked plains, armed love in every town and village. And what after all is this thing called Armed Love? It is the condition of total war that exists before advertising breaks down, the condition in which the country has existed for several years now, and it bears the same relation to war that the Golden Years bear to death.

But finally the thought: All these words, all this crap, spun out of two New York heads. And Rateyes and I had to find the actual, the real and physical country, get away from ourselves and our minds that were all around us, reproduced in the objects of the city, sloppy, sloganized, fast, insensitive, useless. And even though I was aware of the formlessness and unsatisfactory mass that so many people have found in this country, I decided there was nothing to do but to go into it, go to the communes, find my friends, and all and only for the purpose of discovering my true community, of course among the proliferated hippies, the freaks of America, of course in the communes and wherever we are collecting ourselves, of course with the hope of changing myself, giving myself up, descending from privacy into a community for which I could feel trust, of course not satisfied with the ways of living and acting in America and looking for a better way. Face the nation…get going. And Rateyes and myself, full of all this potential decided to leave the Hotel Albert, leave New York, get going, pack up our tape recorders, buy ourselves some sleeping bags, hiking boots, leather pants, survival books, another pound of grass, and go. The following is essentially a list, place after place, thing after thing, little moment after little moment, abstracted from the eternal unobservable explosive instances of bodies and minds as they move and meet, abstracted so I could list them here, one after the other, in the fullness of their equivalence, none more or less important than the others, only following one another because they happened in time, sequence, a list listed, beginning with the story of Julia in New York and ending with the story of Iris in Baltimore, which is not far to go, and in between, as you will see, a series of events that are in an unbelievable way exactly like the first event and the last event in the list…


END OF SAMPLE



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