A fragment from Isolate Flecks: An Anatomy
Sixth in a Series: Parts 1-5 Published in the Brooklyn Rail, February-June 2012
43 St. Nicholas Ave.
Dramatis Personae: Margot Margolis, Malachi Moore, Shorty Andrews, Murphy.
Yeah, so, I used to have this job, right, writing ad copy for sex workers. I would like go online to find these reviews of other sex workers—you could always tell the real johns, who wrote about exits and off-ramps and discreet parking—and then I’d basically steal the parts I liked, you know, maybe use my imagination a little, but try to stick to facts pretty much.
The job. Sounds fun. Or funny.
I don’t know, I got sick of it. It’s like totally parasitic and voyeuristic. I kind of felt like it was better to like, do it myself.
You know, generate my own content. I mean, I like sex, mainstream porn is soooooo boring, half the time it’s disgusting, too, you know, all that ass-to-mouth crap, it’s like what a turn-on, change the fucking channel, please? Then I saw one of Johanna Angel’s movies, with like all those tats, and zits on her ass, and the guys were like totally punk, and I was like fuck! I could do that.
So that’s how you made Shorty’s acquaintance.
Well, yeah, I read on this blog that he had a studio here, and I knew some of the bands he was producing, so…anyway, is this some kind of interview? A profile of me for Rolling Stone?
No, I’m sorry, I didn’t…
It’d be cool if you were. You write about music, right?
Yeah, mostly reggae and dub, though. I mean I don’t write about jazz. Or film.
Oh. But you write books, too. What are they about? I should read one.
I don’t know. It’s sheer delirium, really. A form of exorcism. Not sure I can recommend them.
I don’t mean to, like, pry or anything, but why did you become a writer? I mean, now? Everyone is into other stuff, you know? Music, film, video, comics, design, fashion, cartoons, drawing, stuff you can share with your friends on Facebook or your iPhone, not that I’m into that, but I’m saying, lots of people are. I guess they used to be into, like, books and poetry, but a long time ago, like before Bob Dylan. So I mean, how did you decide that was what you were going to do?
Is this an interview for Caballeros Ilustres?
Just kidding. But seriously. Like a lot of writers from the country of my birth, I was a compulsive liar and a compulsive thief as a kid, and in that case the only thing you can do to be rewarded instead of punished is make up stories, frequently stories you have stolen from others, close friends even, who may or may not be present at the time of re-telling. Tall tales, you see? Ownership is an open question. That’s why I think I would like to be a D.J. Serial appropriations of the work of others.
You’re weird. I like you. Plus you’re famous.
I see people reading your books on the subway. Yours and that other guy, Arturo Belano.
Wait until next season—it will be someone else’s books.
You could get permanently famous, like Paul Auster or Dermot Trellis.
Heaven help me.
See, that’s what I mean. You’re weird. Most people? They’d be so psyched if they got that famous. Cause it’d be good for their careers. Seriously? Writers, graphic novelists, actors, directors, designers, producers, singers, musicians, performance artists, fashionistas; everyone wants to be a celebrity. Why else would you come here?
Why does everyone wish to be famous here?
I don’t know, because I guess it’s like if you are, everyone loves you all the time, or they hate you really intensely, but like, people actually care what you do. If I go to Africa, who fucking cares? When Brangelina go to Africa, with like, all those fucking kids, some people want to see them dead and others want to be like them. But no one’s like, oh whatever, who cares? Celebrities matter to everyone. Anyway, that’s a pretty weird question.
Well, I want to be famous. Definitely. Underground is cool, for like, I don’t know, awhile, but then you gotta blow up to get anywhere. I mean in the industry.
Adult films, films, cable…
Yeah, but without selling out or anything. Like I said, generating my own content.
I know, I’ve seen some of it, Shorty’s like a proud father…
About as proud as my real father, I bet. But did you like it?
Oh, yes, it was very…authentic.
Yeah, that’s the idea, I mean, I can’t fake it for the camera. Well, I can, but I don’t like to, it should be natural, you know, like eating or talking. If someone turns the camera on, are you going to start eating differently, or talking all strange? No, you just act natural. Why should sex be different?
But you liked it?
How no? That’s what I’d say in Spanish.
You’re sweet. But I bet you say that to all the girls.
Not really. Most of them don’t talk to me.
You mean you don’t talk to them.
It’s ok, I used to be too. You’ll overcome it.
I’m not sure I want to.
Weird weird weird. Let me guess? Something about writers from your country?
No, no, writers from my country are like the Irish, anything but shy, especially after a pint or two, they never stop talking, and if there are cameras or journalists? No, it’s just me. I’m used to being shy. So is everyone else. Except people who know me.
I don’t know you and you don’t seem so shy. Maybe a little.
That’s because people like you engage me.
Like me? You mean alt porn stars?
But don’t you play the bass, too? I could be referring to music and musicians. But I meant extroverts, they engage me when there’s no one else for them to talk to. That’s why I liked Dublin, people always talking unprompted to strangers—or at least to me.
It’s all about attitude, you know? I mean, what’s shy? What’s outgoing? Difference is attitude.
What song is this?
Da rarest tune, mon: de only tune dat put Alton Ellis togeddah wit Lee Scratch y’know.
Huh. Alton Ellis.
Yah mon. Along wit Al Campbell, a singer oo never really got is rightful recognition, but dey had some big tunes.
There were two Al Campbells. Not the Al Campbell who voiced tunes for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One, but da one who work wit Phil Pratt, cuttin dem sides for Greensleeves. Gonna run some Al Campbell, let me ave a look in da archive ere.
Who did this painting?
ZuZu Jefferson y’know.
Really? How did you get it? I understand her work fetches high prices these days.
Strictly barter, fair trade y’know, I&I wit da collie weed, black black roses in my garden, I got ta water dem.
Fair trade maybe, but you got the better of it. No matter how much weed she got, she’ll smoke it all eventually, and they’ll be nothing left but the resin in her lungs. Whereas this painting is of relative permanence: you can pass it on to your descendants as part of your collection. Same goes for the signed copy of my book. You have relics.
I&I take good care ah dese artifacts, invest dem wit da positive vibrations from da herb runnins, a cosmic interchange y’know, everything flow to I&I like water an wine, like milk an oney.
More like up in smoke. But you’re gonna make me a star, right?
Guaranteed big time.
Margot and Malachi converse with Shorty on his black leather couch. They do not seem to understand each other, though that may be the least relevant of details. In front of the couch, a Moroccan rug purchased nearby, on Suydam and Wyckoff: “In co-operation with the Brooklyn Community Credit Cooperative, Kantara Crafts curates rugs, textiles, jewelry, and embroidery imported directly from womens cooperatives. By cutting out the middlemen, our curators empower women artisans, bolstering their financial independence and their creative freedom. By fostering the development of their personalities and the possibilities for democracy and human rights, while spurring growth and development in rural regions of Morocco, we make change that matters. Please put your money to work.”
The carpet is perhaps too complex to describe. It’s 4’11” long and 3’7” wide, but that’s mere measurement. Colors of many hues: ochre, cobalt, rust, azure, salmon, blood red, coffee, cloud white, black cat, rosebud. Shapes, too: trapezoidal, rhomboid, triangular, rectangular. Vertical stripes, horizontal stripes. Checkerboard. At once distorted, lacking all proportion, and flawless, perfectly fit together in an irregular geometry. I don’t know anything about textiles, except what little I learned in Bolivia, but I’m guessing some of the shapes represent mountains, valleys, plains, rivers, domestic animals, buildings, boats. Some kind of map or landscape portrait.
It’d be better if I could show slides. Make this a picture show.
On the rug, a clear glass coffee table with books—Beatdown Boogie: A Graphic History of Breakdancing in the South Bronx, Make it New: Writing and Revising Screenplays, Tattooing in Tahiti, In Awe of the Ancients: Excavating Mayan Art and Architecture—and magazines—Dub Risin’, My Times, Abiding Jive—a two-foot glass bong with a tiny red neon sign halfway up the stem flashing “Open 24 Hrs,” as well as a heart-shaped box of Thuya burlwood, also from Morocco, with papers, paperclips, and four or five medium-sized buds inside. Behind the couch, matching flags, Jamaican and Ethiopian, above a portrait, 10” x 10”, oil on canvas, the paint thickly layered in primary colors, garishly dressed white men in blackface playing jazz before a white crowd: Postcard: New Orleans, 2006.
In front of the couch, separated by two meters of carpet and hardwood floor, the flatscreen where Malachi first saw Margot. File cabinet sized speakers. To the right of these, a rubber tree taller than the speakers, next the spiral staircase, iron winding down to Shorty’s bedroom, bathroom, and art-yoga studio below. To the right of the couch, roughly parallel to the staircase, an inlaid shelf painted bright yellow with Shorty’s desktop and some of his 45’s, framed photos of Shorty with old heads like Glen Adams and Ansel Cridland, a black and white wedding photo of his parents, and multiple icons of the Buddha gathered on an Asian tour: Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam. To the right of the shelf, facing the couch, next to the speakers, a black leather massage chair in which Shorty, having returned from the kitchen, sips his coffee—fair trade from Honduras—as he strokes Murphy’s head.
I started looking into the art scene in Bushwick—the people who live in the buildings I flipped—and you’ll never believe what I found. I couldn’t make this shit up: Shorty and Murphy are in their milieu here. No wonder Carm keeps a sharp eye out, since every artist you’ve never heard of is out here. There are people who curate for free, artists who exhibit but don’t sell, dealers who are actually heads of non-profits—looking to recuperate the pioneer spirit that brought Monk Mulligan back to his native Williamsburg before it became an art cemetery.
I could give you a rundown, but I think pictures speak louder than…I mean a lot of this stuff you have to see for yourself. I could have Shorty, Malachi, and Margot go on an Artwalk to all these places, but trust me, this is better. It won’t take long.
Ideas about Self-Fashioning, Design, and Saving the Planet
I am a professional agent provocateur, renegade, castaway, peasant farmer, and eco-fiber artist residing in NYC and Austral-Asia. My ecotextile and artfarm hemp plantations help create sustainable solutions and visual links to the global challenges we face collectively, as well as connectivity among otherwise dispersed modal nodes of existence. I-we am-are part of the solution. Are you? I am also a mother of Siamese twins and a recovering alcoholic.
I love the imagined qualities of the thing behind the actual artist run social space, Pocket Utopia. I have been unable to get off the farm for an actual opening, given all the chores and such, but this Friday’s show with Brece Honeycutt, Audra Woloweic, and superstar dog artist Murphy, is the purest sort of seductive temptation. Austin Thomas just keeps cultivating the most interesting artists and ideas on the scene, whether canine or human. It really seems as if Thomas is plowing a whole new field—read: genre-generation-species—of wildflower art or media-resistant grass, not to mention puppies and poppies.
Visit the Pocket Utopia website for further details or to make donations.
Public Art Project:
The Green Bomb
The Green Bomb Project brings native species (Columbine flowers from the Colombian Amazon) and Native Americans—specifically the Mohawk and the Lenape—back to Brooklyn through guerrilla gardening, the building of teepees, and the collection of wampum in Jamaica Bay.
The idea, ideally at least, is for the public—and especially Native Americans—to visit a teepee, and pick up some wampum or a ‘bomb’ at Pocket Utopia, located at 1037 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn. They will then drop the ‘bomb’ in any location deemed fit: preferably somewhere sunny to partly-sunny or overcast with a slight chance of rain, in an area where there is adequate water, sewage treatment, and drainage-runoff; some place like Staten Island. There will be a map at the gallery for guerilla gardeners to pinpoint the location of their guerrilla plants. As for wampum, it can be used in place of money by those who have a Pocket Utopia i.d. card, excepting the Mohawk and Lenape, who don’t need it and would prefer cash.Gardeners and wampum users are highly encouraged to visit the teepees, take photos, and post it to http://greenbombs.livejournal.com/. Write to email@example.com.
Bodega Bar. 24 St. Nicholas Ave.
Dramatis Personae: Malachi Moore, Margot Margolis, Shorty Andrews, Murphy, Austin Thomas, Andrew Jason.
Yeah, see, the thing is, we don’t want to be another Williamsburg; not at Norte Mar, not at Storefront. We can do without the hype and the tourists. Keep it authentic. If you think about how it worked in the old days, SoHo, East Village, Billyburg, that’s what galleries did: they showed art. It was about showing, not about selling. Nobody had money.
Totally, that’s why I opened Pocket Utopia. The art market is about money, not artists, so I was like, fuck it, we need to do this ourselves. We need to put the artists back into the equation.
Especially with sales dropping of the cliff, we need another model that’s more sustainable and integrated into the community. That’s the whole idea behind the rooftop ballet.
Yeah, you should come. I mean, obviously it’s seasonal.
Yeah, and because we don’t have to worry about money, we can show what’s coming down the road, before it gets here.
Cuttin’ edge y’know.
Exactly. That eight-foot macramé-ish piece of yarn we hung? You know, the one by Ellie Murphy?
Or the butcher-bought hanging lamb organs punctured with needles?
So this way there’s just more consciousness, you know, about working together to make a community, cooperating instead of competing. More experimental, more conceptual.
More freedom, more flexibility.
And we can make the kind of transformative change we need through the whole participatory structure.
Wait, but why don’t you have to worry about money? Doesn’t everyone worry about money, even rich people? And isn’t transformative change revolutionary? You’re not revolutionaries, are you? Sorry, I didn’t mean to ask so many questions.
Well I work for Anton Harley, the conceptualist, so I have a day job…
Yeah, and I work at Fake Estate.
Carmen usband y’know. Known im fi long time, back round the yard.
Oh, yeah, sure, of course, he comes in with Omar sometimes. And for exhibitions. Anyway, we try to bang on all eight cylinders.
Yeah, no, I totally feel the same way about our films, right Shorty?
Sorry. And you are?
Margot. Margot Margolis?
Wait? You mean, from…
Cum on My Tatoo 2? Yeah, that’s me. And this is Malachi Moore, the writer.
Wow! Enlightened Whores I’m Austin.
And I’m Andrew. Nice to meet both of you. So I guess Shorty knows everyone in this town?
Yah mon, a patron a de arts.
An artist in his own right more like.
Used to be, used to be, my bred’ren, now strictly producin n’ cultivatin. Murphy de artist, now.
Yes, she is. What a great name! What made you think of it?
Like to pay respect to da eldahs ya know, strictly roots. Me fadder mudder, my granmuddah y’know, she come upon da boat from County Kildare fi New York inna 1913. Maiden name Murphy.
Wow, how fabulous. I knew with a name like that and paintings like those, we would go somewhere.
Give tanks an praise fi true lovers, da true patrons, of art an music, in da presence of da most high.
And you, too, Malachi. Also a great name. How’d you get it?
My parents are from Buenos Aires, and…
That is so cool, Buenos Aires is like, the coolest. I went there last January—loved it!
I’m like, so jealous. I’ve never been.
Oh, honey, you have to go. It’s like New York, but cheaper. Anyway, Malachi, you were saying?
My mother’s Jewish, and so am I, my father’s family British—me? More Irish. I went to school in Dublin. Trinity College.
Yes. That’s where I wrote Putas ilustradas that Margot mentioned. But I grew up in Barcelona, mostly.
Yeah, very cool. You know they have great stouts and porters here?
That’s what Shorty said, yes.
Yessir, milk an honey, milk an honey.
Northeast Kingdom. 45 Wyckoff St.
Dramatis Personae: Malachi Moore, Margot Margolis, Shorty Andrews, Murphy, Leo Kaufman, Catalina Arbelaez, Bartender.
¡Hola Shorty, hola Murphy! ¡Tan bonita! Y ¿cuándo nos va a hacer la visita Murphy?
Big up to da family, one love y’know, one love. Buenas noches, señorita.
Shit, cuz, long time; what, like three months? And we live around the fucking block from each other! Work and kids, man. Work and kids. What’s your excuse?
And don’t forget marriage!
Yeah, can’t forget that, mi amor. Kids with Catalina’s sister, so we goin out tonight!
Ave been meanin to get roun dere an see da wee bunnies a oppin, but no rest for da workers a da world.
Ain’t that the truth. Sorry, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Leo.
And I’m Catalina.
Margot. Nice to meet both of you.
Hi, I’m Malachi. Nice to meet you.
Malachi, sweet name, dude.
Um, thank you.
And how do you guys know Shorty?
Well, yeah, I like, act in some of the movies, and help with the writing, the editing, art direction, set design, casting, you know, pretty much whatever.
Well, probably the most famous one…
Wait, don’t tell me… don’t tell me… you’re the girl from… Cum on My Tattoo 2?
You guessed it. I’m impressed.
Thanks, you know, we try to stay current, right mi amor?
Oh yes, because like I said before, can’t forget about the marriage just because of the kids. Movie nights.
Yeah, sex comes first in our household. Reproduction a distant second.
Congratulations to both of you. That’s just like, so cool when you meet married people who are still totally into sex. Even with kids.
Thanks. Are you guys going to eat, or just here for drinks?
I&I come fi fill we belly wit nourishment.
And more drinks.
Shit! Make a brother thirsty, yo. Shorty, you gotta try some of this new shit …
And I had this cocktail, Penny Candy.
I don’t even know. Excuse me? Excuse me? Hi, I have a question for you, what is it in that drink I order from you?
Penny Candy? That’s root beer liquer, Tahitian vanilla infused bourbon, Hawthorne Valley cream. Another for you?
What else do you have?
You mean cocktails? We have Crush, which is Brooklyn gin, limoncello, mint infused orange juice, ricard, and sparkling float, as well as Sparkling Theresa, which is sparkling vouvray, prickly pear pureé, and rose water. Finally, we have Hemingway in Vermont, which is blueberry ginger puree, flor de caña rum, and star anise simple syrup.
Better another Penny Candy.
What about you ladies and gentlemen? Drinks? Menus?
Shorty, what’s up? Hi Murphy.
Drinkin n dinin, y’know.
And what can I get you, sir?
Can I have a Guinness and a shot of Paddy?
Um, we don’t have either. But I do recommend Locke’s 10-year madeira finish single malt, or the Connemara sherry finish peated single malt, maybe with one of the Six Points, Sweet Action or Crisp Lager. We also have the Back in Black IPA and Captain Lawrence’s Liquid Gold.
Ok, I’ll have that, the Liquid Gold, with a shot of Bushmills. You have that, right?
Yeah. How do you want it?
Margot, a Bloody Geisha?
With an extra shot and extra horseradish.
Just for you, superstar. Shorty, the usual?
Yuengling with Maker’s it is. And let me tell you about tonight’s specials quickly: for appetizers we have asparagus soup with torn croutons, truffled crème fraiche, or organic bulgur wheat salad with parsley, mint, peas, asparagus, labne, and togarashi. We also have crispy duroc pork terrine, grilled miche, arugula, pickled turnip, and ramp mustard. For our main courses, we have pork pâté with cornichons or pan-fried squab with crisp pumpkin, orecchiette pasta and French raclette, and for desert we have a keffir lime and ginger panna cotta with spring berries.
Da tots, mon, da tots.
Dis place have da tastiest tater tots in da ole city.
You want those as an appetizer or with the main course?
Jes bring da tots, mon, da tots!
Tandem. 236 Troutman St.
Dramatis Personae: Malachi Moore, Margot Margolis, Shorty Andrews, Murphy, Barbara Tarkington, Audra Woloweic, Bartender.
So yeah, before I became a farmer, textile weaver, frontierswoman, and eco-fiber artist/shaman, I ran some plantations in Mendocino, but that was before I moved to New York and became an urban horticulturalist and outdoorswoman, in like, ’79.
Wow, so you’re like totally old school?
Or just getting old. That’s what I love about Austin and Pocket Utopia, about Audra and the Green Bomb Project: these girls keep me young. Like motorcycles and yoga.
Awww, thanks, hon. We try to keep it fresh, you know, with the teepees and the wampum and the Mohawks and the Lenape and the plants. Guerrilla tactics.
Me question bout da yoga: you know da gurus? Like, da real gurus, y’know?
Tinkin bout openin a ganja yoga studio, y’know, with da legal medical inna New Jersey. Me faddah im a doctor, im a elp me wit da paperwork, y’know, got a cousin him a lend a hand wit da ole operation. Dedicate meself to da ealin arts.
What about Murphy? Would she want to move to Jersey for ganja yoga? I mean, doesn’t she feed off the urban vibes here—the kind you don’t get in Jersey? Doesn’t she need them to be creative?
Abby, another Hot Buttered Rum?
Aw hell, why not? Fuck it.
Oo say I&I move fi Jersey? We a stay put y’know, putting down roots, part a da Bushwick renassaince. Jersey jes a bidness ting y’know, Natty wait til da day dey legalize da medical ere inna New York. Open me ganja yoga studio right ere.
Well, plus, that way Murphy can remain a role model for all the hungry, artistic little dogs coming up here in Brooklyn. Cause it’s not just about us humans, you know? There’s nature, the animal kingdom…I mean the whole planet is art and life.
Don’t forget bugs.
Can’t forget bugs.
A question of consciousness.
Has anyone tried the grass-fed beef meatballs with tomato-ginger chutney? Or the pumpkin-squash lasagna with brown sage butter and bruised kale salad?
Can I get you guys some drinks? I recommend the Dark and Stormy, with Gosling’s rum and homebrewed ginger beer. That’s our house specialty. Or the PBR tall boy with a whisky shot for six.
I’ll have a shot of Bushmills… and… a Guinness.
Give me the Garden Bloody Mary, extra shot, extra horseradish, extra homegrown pickled vegetable, easy on the beet juice.
Ot Toddy fi me, mon, Ot Toddy.
All characters in this piece have been fictionalized.
FORREST HYLTON is an Associate Professor of History at the Universidad de los Andes, and the author of a bi-lingual novel, Vanishing Acts: A Tragedy, along with several books on Latin American history and politics. Beginning in September 2012, he will be a post-doctoral fellow at NYU's Tamiment Library, where he will be completing research for a book entitled 'Doing the Right Thing': Labor, Democracy, and Organized Crime on the Brooklyn Waterfront During the Cold War.