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--- M A R K   W I S N I E W S K I

Failure seemed imminent for every business on 30th Avenue in Astoria, Queens, including several furniture stores loaded with black leatherette sofas, black lacquer waterbed headboards, and those ugly floral print armchairs grandparents have: until I’d seen those stores, I had no idea you could buy chairs like that new. It was depressing, and knowing my goal was to find a place to live in Astoria, by dusk, made it all the more pathetic. I waited for a DON’T WALK sign and considered getting on the N and riding it to Brooklyn to try to rent something there, but I’d been to Brooklyn and it’d struck me as roughly the same, except a shout or two more harsh. Frank and Francine had said Astoria was a haven for artists, and as I gained distance from their duplex, I thought: Where are the artists? Because all I saw were droves of immigrants and scrappy white people walking toward the N in pilled cotton-blend clothes that told the world they slaved nine to five in Midtown high rises but that, no matter their devotion, they’d never get paid enough to afford the city. That’s when I decided that, if I did find a place of my own in Astoria, I’d never work in Manhattan, because employment there would only remind me of where I wanted to be. Still, I also decided that, haven for artists or no, if I lived in Astoria I would draw the cris-crossed fire escapes framed by the window at the end of the hall where I’d roomed before: in an apartment in the Village, with a woman named Sarah—where I’d lived until she forced me to move, so she could shack up with a guy who was delaying his PhD at NYU to await a professorship in Vermillion, South Dakota. If I could get those fire escapes down on paper so that they’d convey the peace I’d found in them, I might (I hoped) be considered as hip as the best artists in the Village, and maybe someone would buy what I’d drawn, and I’d use the proceeds to draw those same fire escapes from a new angle. And if I could get that angle down, I might try another, and if those drawings sold, I might believe there were thousands of hip angles left, and at some point, if I sold enough, I might be able to quit the job in Astoria I’d have taken to cover rent, then use some of my money to live where I wanted, which might be Manhattan or might not.

      This compulsion to draw propelled me up 30th Avenue and onto Steinway Boulevard, which Frank and Francine had, before they made their pass at me—a mere nine hours after they “rescued” me from being ousted from Sarah’s place—talked up as if it were the Madison Avenue of Queens. In the reality I observed, Steinway Boulevard offered even more of those irksome storefronts, though it did have a Gap and a pet store with dachshunds behind its windows—adolescent puppies making hay of shredded newsprint—and a shop that sold futons, and, more crucial, a realtor’s office with yellow and pink 4 x 6 cards in its window describing apartments for rent. Those cards stopped me in my tracks and even, I'll admit, shocked me, not only because I needed my own apartment and there it very well was, but mostly because my harried search for a place in Manhattan (after Sarah declared her preference for the wannabe professor) had led me to believe that any unoccupied living space was the Holy freaking Grail.

      Plus: these places were cheap. At least relatively speaking. I mean, they weren’t Kankakee-Illinois-cheap, but one studio was going for $650 a month. Actually that place was in the basement of some Greek guy’s house (he’d made it a point to mention he was “of lineage from Thebes”) with no separate entrance, which meant you’d likely have to walk past his baklava or whatnot if you brought someone home from a club. Then this mug appeared behind the window, belonging to a guy taping up more 4 x 6 cards. Normally I don’t use the word mug to refer to a face, but in this case it’s the only way to do justice to what this man’s genes had bestowed. His eyes drooped at the corners, and his lips were a sharp slant, and his nose reminded me of one you’d see on a two-bit gangster in a Woody Allen film. And he must have thought of it as a mug, because, even though he and I were inches apart, he pretended not to notice me, which must have meant he felt self-conscious, because here I was, a decent-looking woman obviously mesmerized by the apartments on his cheerfully colored cards, which should have meant to him that, either financially or sexually, I meant business.

      So I gave him a break by backing off a few steps, and I noticed, in my reflection in the window, that my hair was sticking out in a high number of directions (and not at all stylishly), an undeniable proclamation that I’d just up and left a bed and didn’t care if I looked like yesterday’s oatmeal. No, my looks didn’t let on that I’d left that bed so to escape the silent duplex of a married couple who’d approached me sexually before I’d slept, but I was flustered enough by the sight of myself that I pretended not to notice him as I turned and faced Steinway’s traffic to smooth my hair down repeatedly, then repeatedly hard. Finally I resorted to what one might call salivary assistance, which, I was well aware, makes your head stink, and I walked into his storefront, and he said, “Ma’am,” and from then on, nothing that had happened at his window seemed to matter, since he was my apartment-finding “friend.”

      Because almost every other sentence he used either began or ended with that word. He’d say, “Let me open this book of listings, friend,” or “Friend, did you want a studio or a one-bedroom?” or “Here’s one that just came in yesterday, friend.” Now and then he’d also work it into the middle of a sentence, for example after I’d explained that all I had to my name was $1,800 and he’d described a $700-a-month “one bedroom studio in a pre-war building” that still needed paint on one ceiling and polyurethane on its floor, and he said, “I’ll tell you what, friend: you won’t find a better place for that kind of money unless you go to New Jersey.”

      At which point I realized that, as odd as he looked, he was a slickster. So I asked, “What do you mean, ‘one bedroom studio’?”

      “It’s got a bedroom. But it’s also kind of a studio.”

      “And which war do we mean when we say ‘pre-war’?”

      “You know what, friend? I’m not even sure. Maybe Viet Nam?”

      “Can I see the place first?”

      “Friend, there we have a problem. Because I’m the only one here today. Not to mention the apartment is month-to-month, so if you don’t take it, I’ll guarantee you the next person who walks in here will take it unseen. I’m telling you, friend, it’s that good of a deal. In fact you give me fourteen hundred for the first month and security, I’ll call the manager there and talk her into waiving the up-front last month’s rent.”

      “She’d do that?”

      “She and I go back a long way,” he said.

      Meaning you slept with her, I thought.

      “That leaves you $400 to fill your refrigerator,” he said. “And buy your shower curtain.”

      And art supplies, I thought, though I couldn’t shake the suspicion that, one way or the other, if I gave him the fourteen hundred, I’d be scammed.

      “It’s not the Taj Mahal,” he said, a concession that somehow both made him seem honest (enough) and hooked me into the whole I-want-to-draw-so-I-should-live-in-a-dump mentality. Then he said, “But unlike that place for six-fifty, where you’d need nineteen-fifty up front, it would be all yours,” and he opened the top drawer of his desk, rummaged through dirty rubber bands, pulled out a key ring with two keys on it, and tossed it onto his desk.

      “How do I know those aren’t just any old keys?” I asked.

      “Look at me,” he said, and he pointed to his nose, which hung down almost as far as his permanently angled lips. “And be honest with yourself. With a face like this, would I lie to you?”

* * *

I grew up believing the American Dream meant splendid reward for hard work, but let’s face it, these days the gist of everyone’s nine-to-five is to screw one’s fellow citizens out of as much money as possible. Take for instance how bags of vending machine pretzels have grown not only progressively expensive but also smaller by such tiny fractions of ounces that no one but me when I’m starved, it seems, has noticed. Or how everything in Manhattan, after you’ve lived there awhile, obviously shortchanges people, like the three-card monte games that disappear as police approach, and the hotdog stands that seem fun until you read about how the vendors don’t change the water your hotdog lives in until it’s tweezed out onto your bun, or the restaurants that charge the sky for meals that leave you hungry—my point is, go ahead and screw me if you want, but to then try to convince me that I’m cross-stitched if I don’t trust, as a matter of course, is pushing, as it were, the envelope.

      That’s why I was confused. I mean, despite my cynicism, I trusted Mr. Mug, even after I’d given him my $1,400 in cash and retraced my steps along Steinway to meet the pre-war building’s manager. More befuddling still, my trust seemed to grow the farther I walked from him. Was this because his face was hopelessly asymmetric? Or because he’d said my place wouldn’t be the Taj Mahal?

      Then I was on 38th Street, and I saw my supposed building, a five-story orange brick complex that had four different addresses and commanded two-thirds of the block, a kind of cousin of the projects you’d see in the Bronx except plopped onto a street in Queens, and I trusted Mr. Mug all the more, which now exhilarated me. Looking back on it, I must have been so jazzed about having my own place I swallowed my fear about exchanging my cash for those keys—because I’d never lived by myself anywhere, not when I was a kid in a house with my father; not in college when I had roommates in dorms; not when, after college, I moved in with Thom, my only serious boyfriend, and we’d endured a series of apartments in Kankakee thinking we’d marry; not with Sarah in the Village; and not for my eighteen-hour stint with Frank and Francine. Looking back on it, I’d say that, as I approached the orange building, I didn’t trust Mr. Mug because I’d been coaxed by reason. I trusted him because I needed a place to live—and a place where I could be alone—immediately.

      I’m not saying I was completely antisocial that morning, just that I was on an independence kick. This might have owed itself to my need to recharge the social batteries after Frank and Francine’s unconsummated overture, but I think it was more so because I truly wanted to draw those fire escapes and I believed I couldn’t without solitude. I’d tried to draw now and then in my thirty-four years, but either my father or some friend or Thom had shown up and complimented me in a way that sapped my fizz. You know: people who've said they love you see you doing something off the path, like drawing or playing an instrument (once I bought a guitar and taught myself a thirteen-note stretch of Mark Knopfler), and this "new you" throws them for a loop, so they compliment you in a hollow way that makes you wonder if you're wasting your time.

      Anyway I found a management office on the building’s first floor, and inside was a giant (and I don’t mean tall) woman whose knees etched a note in my mind not to eat any of the Greek pastries I’d seen on 30th Avenue, and she said Mr. Mug had said “good things” about me, which relieved me of the fear that I’d paid most of my savings for nothing. She grabbed two form leases from a stack on the floor and took me to the apartment: two rooms, one with the entire kitchen on one wall, the other a bedroom with a closet that had been converted into what had to be the narrowest bathroom in Queens. The walls of the place were all right, but the ceilings were crusty, though she said she’d have them painted the next day, so I signed the leases, and she took one, wished me good luck, and left.

      Then I re-read what I’d signed and saw that I was committed for twelve months rather than the month-to-month Mr. Mug had promised, and I broke out in a sweat because I had gotten screwed: as much as I’d wanted my own place, a year in Astoria felt too much like a prison term, especially since, now that I was finally alone in a place that was mine and no one else’s, it became all at once obvious that the ceilings had crusted because they leaked, a reality punctuated by the fact that, as I sized up a water stain, a drop fell into my eye. After I ran to the bathroom mindful of the wisdom to flush it out immediately with water, I learned that the bathroom faucet neither dripped nor ran. The kitchen faucet, I learned after I ran there, was fine. My eye felt out of danger soon enough, only to help me notice that the manager had signed the wrong line on my version of our lease, which could mean that nothing legal prevented her from evicting me on a spot, though given how things were coming along, that hardly felt like the end of the world.

      Because what counted most was art supplies. I had to get some. I also had to move my belongings from Frank and Francine’s duplex, but I had just moved all that crap the day before, so I felt an inertia on its behalf, which could have been my own laziness--or ambition if I considered moving belongings as second priority to getting my drawing career on track. And I don’t know if anyone cares, but I decided right then that it was fine to use “art” in the phrase “art supplies,” but that I should always use “drawing” otherwise, because if there were one thing I couldn’t take when I’d lived in the Village, it was people who’d used the expression “my art.” Not to mention the crush of performance artists in the Village who, let’s face it, can’t make it as actors or comedians so they try to do both at once, only to bug the patience out of anyone who lacks the wit to leave before such a performance begins. I’d also met a guy twice in a club just off Avenue B who, both times I met him, said his pottery (which he kept photos of in his wallet and looked like a kindergarten ceramics project) was “art,” and that his “talent” to make it was a “gift.” Once he’d even said, “I’ve got the gift; I don’t know where it comes from,” and I’d thought he was poking fun at the numerous posers around us, but he was serious. My point is: if you draw or paint or act or do anything well out of bounds from the All-American job (typing, selling insurance, or otherwise staring at a monitor), you should avoid the kind of self-praise that makes people think you're an ass.

      Nothing, I decided, is art until someone offers to pay for it. And I wanted to get my supplies immediately, if for no other reason than my overall dearth of trust suggested I might never draw a thing, not to mention my apartment felt as if the mediocrity of Astoria had been concentrated into its 450 square feet. So I left, locking my deadbolt even though I had nothing behind it to lose. As soon as I’d locked it, I turned and saw a woman who lived directly across the hall unlocking hers, and I sensed she noticed me out of the corner of her eye, which in Manhattan would have meant she’d ignore me, but she spun around, stuck out her hand, and said, “Sandy. I guess we’ll be neighbors.”

      Shaking hands with her reminded me of the handshake Frank had milked as he and Francine had pulled me into their bedroom, but Sandy proved to be quite unlike them, because, while she did seem to carry the Burden of the Insecurity of Everyone Who Lives in Astoria, she did it far more straightforwardly than they, yet somehow almost shyly; as she and I got to know each other, she kept squeezing her doorknob as if she wanted to escape me, but also talked on about herself as if I were her only friend. Her hair was coppery red, and she was thin but not from exercise, and she wore frumpy clothes and vinyl shoes and had the kind of general paleness (not restricted to her face) that suggested she hadn’t been outside much in a quarter of a century, and besides those twenty-five years, her age was anyone’s guess: she could have been thirty or fifty. She told me she worked as a “claims fairness oversight officer” for some state bureaucracy, and she went on about that, but I didn’t care enough about government then to try to understand exactly what she did. I think she made sure car accident victims got back what they deserved, which meant her nine-to-five was aimed at making sure people didn’t get screwed, but even though she worked against insurance companies, she still dealt with insurance, so I didn’t consider her kindred enough to tell her that, for as long as I could, I’d spend my time drawing fire escapes.

      Still, she was nice, and, as I mentioned, very straightforward. After three minutes tops, she said I looked like a cross between Meg Ryan and Kathy Bates, which is about as close to perfect honesty anyone can muster to say you’re cute but could lose fifteen pounds, one of those facts about me I always have in the back of my mind but try to ignore. She’d also been a psychotherapist (before her ‘claims fairness oversight’ gig), and she went to town about that, telling me about maybe six of her clients, including a retired construction worker who was hooked on antidepressants because, when he’d been single, he’d been too hung over to make sure a girder of a skyscraper in Manhattan was perfectly level, then later in life had all these nightmares about this skyscraper tipping and crashing into his daughter’s apartment two blocks away; as well as a twenty-six-year-old adopted Korean woman who’d grown up in Marin County and pledged celibacy (because her parents, who were hippies, had performed acrobatic sex acts in front of her), then left California to give Shiatsu massages in Manhattan for twice the money and didn’t want to be a prostitute but gave guys hand jobs since, somewhere along the line, she’d become a sex addict; as well as an ancient transsexual who’d been a man before she’d had the sex change--but then wanted another sex change because men control everything. I kept wanting to ask her (Sandy) if some kind of law forbade her from telling people like me the details of her clients’ problems, but I didn’t because she seemed so honest I hated to throw tacks in front of her tires.

      She also listened well, and I don’t just mean with repeated nods and utterances of “yes” and “uh-huh”; she actually made you feel as if she cared about you, and I’m not sure how she did this. Maybe it had to do with how, when you broached something generally too personal to tell someone you’d just met, she’d divert her eyes to take the pressure off. Altogether she qualified so well to be a friend for life I couldn’t help but remember (as I told her about Sarah’s choice to live with the guy who wanted to be a professor in Vermillion, South Dakota) how, on my first night away at college, my roommate Tess and I had lain in our parallel beds and talked so long I was sure we’d be friends for life, but a week into the semester, after I’d met rowdier students and this Tess met what she called “folks in campus ministry,” we hardly talked at all until the end of the semester, when she requested a new roommate and I felt so estranged I didn’t feel hurt.

      Anyway I told Sandy about how I’d kissed the guy who wanted to be a professor in Vermillion (which Sandy couldn’t believe I did, even after I explained I’d done it before I was sure that Sarah wanted to live with him), and then, just after we laughed about how I’d probably take a month to call my father about my new address, her face grew sort of plastic, and she asked, “Michelle, why are you angry?”

      Which is a question that always strikes me as misdirected, because everyone who claims to know about how “healthy” people are supposed to feel always tells you anger is the worst thing to have in your heart, whereas, if you ask me, there are at least two things that are far worse than anger: hatred and how you get stuck when you feel nothing at all.

      Compared to those two things, anger, to me, is a picnic. Anyway my answer to Sandy was, “Who said I’m angry?”

      “No one,” she said. “It’s just that you’re so cynical.”

      “Then I’m cynical,” I said, my stock response to that observation about me, and she didn’t answer, which might have meant she was backsliding into therapy mode. In any case I wanted to explain to her that cynicism is more about happiness than it is about anger--because cynics are nothing if not saps who burn to be happy--but I didn’t, because my desire to draw was spiking.

      “That’s cool,” she said, which didn’t sound like her, though I figured that, for decades, millions of people have said those two words for any of several reasons.

      “Hey, I gotta get...breakfast and stuff,” I said.

      “Don’t let me stop you,” she said. “Knock on my door whenever. We’ll share a bottle of Chianti.”

      “Sounds good,” I said, and those words came out so naturally I almost believed we’d actually sit in her apartment and drink Chianti, though I knew that was well off the unlikeliness scale, because, for one, Chianti, if I’m not mistaken, was big in the seventies, which told me she was probably past her mid-forties and therefore her candor would eventually grate, and, two, I wasn’t up for drinking that day and didn’t imagine I would be until I’d finished at least one drawing I wouldn’t trash. Then we said good-bye, and she stepped inside her apartment as I began down my newest flight of stairs, and it killed me how many times in my thirty-four years I’d gotten along with people but kept cruising toward being alone.

      Maybe, I told myself, you’ve always wanted to draw, and when I got outside, Astoria didn’t seem as dire as it had an hour earlier. It appeared more expansive, and I hardly felt bothered when, six doors ahead of me, a guy walking a pit bull let the thing sniff a tire on a parked Town Car, chomp on it, then clamp down so hard that, by the time I reached the tire, it was flat.

      Something to draw, I told myself, and I continued toward Steinway Boulevard, where an art supply store seemed as likely as me ever living in Manhattan again, but where I was sure that, if it came down to it, the owner of some dusty drugstore would sell me a school-supply notebook and a pack of those no-nonsense ballpoint pens, the kind that seem to have less ink in them every time you trust pens enough to buy one.

* * *

I found magic markers, the ones that don’t make you high on their fumes but also don’t bleed through paper to betray amateur status, as well as an actual drawing pad. I found them at a 99 Cents Store where, to economize, I also bought five off-brand colas and as many seriously off-brand boxes of sourdough pretzels so that, for approximately thirteen dollars (those places should be called 99 Cents-Plus-Tax Stores), I could ingest caffeine without the financial burden of cappuccino, as well as eat pretzels if I got on a drawing roll and didn’t want to leave to eat. Then I stopped off at a bodega, bought a carton of cigarettes, went home, lit up, dropped the pad on the middle of the main room’s parquet floor, knelt in front of it, sat on my ankles, and drew. This required that I support my torso with my left hand, which kept my cigarette just close enough, and I convinced myself not to expect the results of the first day to be all that hot, but part of me hoped the lines on the first page would mirror those fire escapes in the Village, so after the first two lines defied the word parallel, I sat up and glared at them and smoked. Then I opened a bottle of cola, damning myself because the 99 Cents Store had stocked huge plastic drinking cups for forty-nine cents (and I hadn’t thought to buy one due to excitement about the drawing pad), and I swigged straight from the bottle, a move I found disgusting but would tolerate until I returned to the 99 Cents Store, which I didn’t want to do. Return there, that is. I knew that, if I stopped drawing to shop for as much as a cup, I’d buy the cup, then wander down Steinway to the Gap and waste precious cash re-joining the average Americans who spend time shopping as an excuse not to do something as horrifying as teaching yourself to draw.

      The decision to swig from the two-liter might seem insignificant, but it wasn’t, because after I lit up again and alternated swigs and drags until the bottle was a third empty and the apartment full of smoke, I felt the atmosphere I needed to draw parallel lines, and to complete them without freezing halfway and leaving that little mark.

      Then I flipped to page two—but didn’t draw. And I realized my cash reserves (or the scarcity thereof) might have explained why my lines weren’t parallel: I was nervous because my inner clock was ticking toward the day I’d need a job for rent, and if that day arrived and I hadn’t drawn anything solid, the job I’d get might absorb the time (and nerve) I’d need to draw long enough to have my results matter. The whole situation felt beyond a Catch-22, because I needed time to improve but also needed to beat the clock before I needed to work in order to afford the apartment—where I needed to take my time.

      Relax, I thought, and I stood, crushed out my cigarette in the kitchen-wall sink, lit another, dragged on it twice, balanced it on the edge of the rusty stainless steel sink (ash-end in, so if it fell, it would land in the basin), shook my right hand to relax at least it, then forced myself to address page two. This time all I did was make uninterrupted lines, one after another, without thinking about parallelism or how often I’d gazed at those fire escapes when I’d roomed with Sarah, thinking only about how I was attacking the problem of the little mark, and now my lines ran so long most flew off the pad and landed as streaks on the floor, which hardly mattered because, if they didn’t wash off, the place was a dump anyway. After maybe fifty lines at unplanned angles, I had the problem of the little mark licked, and page two looked infinitely unlike any pair of fire escapes--but was better than page one. I wouldn’t say it was worth keeping, but it seemed less fearful, not exactly nervy, but a step, or maybe two, toward nervy.

      Or so you think, I thought.

      Then I let my hand do page after page of whatever it wanted, letting it curve what I’d thought might be straight, letting it wave instead of zigzag, allowing ovals instead of squares, and it wasn’t until page seventeen that I acknowledged hunger and opened a box of pretzels and ate three and finished my first bottle of cola and reviewed. On four of the pages, I’d drawn nothing but curves and imperfect ovals, and, if you used your imagination, you could isolate sections that looked like eyes. Not to mention that, if any page were a keeper, it was among those four. Then I remembered that, at the 99 Cents Store, I’d seen a stack of watercolor sets, the kind in those black metal cases you shut with a muted snap, and I wondered if dabbing paint in the eyes to make them look more (or less?) human was merely a dodge of my inability to render even a single fire escape, or only my body’s way of reminding me that my eye still felt scotched from the water drop that fell.

      Then I thought: What do you want to do? If I switched to watercolor eyes, I might have wasted the time I’d spent working toward magic marker fire escapes, which could have been a signature to put in all my drawings, or at least a step toward entire landscapes of Manhattan, not typical skylines or stretches of well-known streets such as Central Park West, but the cooped-up fire escapes and fences you see in the semi-private spaces behind buildings. There was something about those spaces I adored, probably how they never made it onto postcards tourists bought and sent home.

      Still, the eyes were winning. Because they’d come out well. Or relatively well. Eyes, I thought. I’m into them. Why this meant my eyes needed to be painted was something I didn’t think through until I’d left my building and bought a set of watercolors at the 99 Cents Store and returned and ran the kitchen faucet to moisten the skinny brush that appeared used despite how the perfect ovals of colors seemed untouched. Even after I thought it through, the only reason I conjured was because I wanted to, which, I imagined, had been the rationale of the guy in the Village who made that god-awful pottery.

      But he’s a poser, I told myself. Whereas you live in Astoria. And I touched the yellow oval with moistened bristles, mixed that much yellow with green, and made the white of my first eye something close to chartreuse.

      Then I tore out the seventeen pages and set them in rows on the floor along the non-kitchen walls and painted one after another. As I painted, I tried to be thoughtful, and though my results failed to convey mastery, on certain eyes I had a decent thing going with yellow and green, as well as with blue and black. For a while, I wondered if it were too obvious that yellow, green, blue, and black meant fear, envy, sadness, and death. What got me most, though, was that red had been my favorite color when I’d been a kid but now stayed untouched in its oval.

      Then I noticed it was dark outside, which meant I’d spent as many as ten hours painting, possibly more, because this darkness seemed more settled than the one I’d noticed when I looked out Frank and Francine’s bedroom window as they’d proposed we attempt a “three-way,” and I realized that, from their point of view, I’d been rude not to call them all day to say I’d found my own place and therefore wouldn’t need their guest room, thank you very much.

      So I told myself to go out and find a payphone, but after I unlocked my door, it hit me I’d left their number, along with my belongings, at their duplex itself, which meant I should probably at least walk there to “check in,” but I didn’t want to see them just then. I convinced myself it would be more rude to knock on their door if it were past eleven than it had been not to call them all day, though a niggling inside insisted it wasn’t past eleven, though I couldn’t bank on that since I didn’t have a clock, and I began to like not having one. For a moment or two, I wondered if I’d drawn and painted all day to avoid Frank and Francine’s libidos, as well as to avoid having to move my possessions from their place to mine, but even if those were the reasons that pushed me forward, there were worse reasons to draw and paint. The main thing had been that I’d worked as long as I had: if I’d ever be skilled enough to show anyone something I’d done, I had catching up to do. There were impulses, and there were results, and there was the need to know which of the both to abandon and which to trust.

      Then I decided that, when I would see Frank and Francine, I’d try not to tell them my new address, because now that I had a place of my own, I didn’t want to see them again ever, other than to get my stuff. Which meant I’d used them out of desperation for a place to stay, which had arisen because Sarah had kicked me out of her apartment (which had happened, I finally admitted to myself, because I’d slept with her wannabe professor even though intuition told me she loved him), but then again Frank and Francine had tried to sleep with me, and I pictured my stuff piled in their living room and considered one question: What if you just never go back there?

      Screw your stuff, I thought.

      And I re-locked my door. Leaving my things with Frank and Francine. Which, I’ll also admit, sounds irresponsible, but I had more than enough responsibility, since I was now focused on my seventeen paintings, or, to be more precise, the next seventeen or seventy (or more) I’d need to begin and finish before anything worthwhile came of what a woman like me could do with nerve, four signature colors, and the cheapest used brush in all of Astoria, Queens.

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