Before I moved to New York from Albany, I wrote out a careful, step-by-step plan:
1) Rock out.
2) No more data entry.
But one month into my stay in the East Village I had found no rocking. I was a guitarist without a guitar. A drummer who forsook his drums because the landlords of New York, in their greed, had created apartments too small for those drums to fit. A vocalist who could only sing in the shower, because Carl’s roommate Keith hates my voice, and his dachshund Harris Glenn Milstead, Jr. barks at me whenever I use my pipes. From triple threat, to zero threat. Damn.
Every conversation with my increasingly unwilling roommates followed this form:
Carl: How’s it going?
Gary: It’s good.
Carl: Any luck with the apartment?
Gary: Bro, I’m trying, but this city, you know?
Carl: Yeah, I know. But you’ll feel a lot better when you’re not sleeping on my floor.
Gary: You know, if I just had my drums, I could rock out, and I bet I could get some gigs, make it work.
Carl: Yeah, but temp work is a lot more reliable. Where are you looking? What about Queens?
Queens—Queens is Albany east of the Hudson. I could not compromise. It was Williamsburg, or the East Village. And no matter how much I explained to potential roommates that the minute I had a place, things would start happening, and the security deposit would be there, they just looked at me without any belief.
Some hipster in a loft: Dude, without a security deposit I really can’t make it work.
Gary: Dude, I thought Craigslist was about community.
Keith clearly wanted me out, but he simply sneered a lot and shook his head in my presence. He refused to let me use his stereo. Iron and Wine were banned. The Mountain Goats: verboten. Keith, whose favorite Beatle is George Martin denounced my copy of the Grey Album. So I lived in a music-less, cashless void, my few resources dwindling.
But while Keith rarely spoke to me, Harris Glenn Milstead, Jr. made sure I knew how he felt. I tried every bit of persuasion available on that dog, turned on the Benchley charm, snacked him up at every opportunity. And he accepted my snacks in brotherhood, only to turn on me. It was a metaphor for my entire journey: I would lean over for a dropped fork and find his teeth tearing into Benchley skin. Once, in the shower, as I belted out the new Death Cab, he leapt in with me and began to tear at my ankles. I brought my talent to this city only to have it attack me at my weakest point.
Finally the phone rang, and it was for me. Not a reply to my Craigslist apartment posting. Not a landlord calling back. But Excelsior Temps.
Gary: What do you need me to do?
Temp drone: It’s a data entry job. It says you can type?
Gary: [soul leaving] Yes.
It turns out that this is a terrible time to rock, but a terrific time for data entry, because all of the companies that outsourced to India and Ghana and fired all their people still have work that needs to be supervised here. Yes, never working in data entry was my #2 goal. But I reasoned: hypocrisy or Albany, and chose hypocrisy.
Two and a half 50-hour weeks later I had $2,000 in my pocket and sore typing fingers. So I gave 1/3 to my roommates to ensure that I could stay a little longer, put away 1/3 to pay down on an apartment in this faithless city, and took a bit for myself. I bought some groceries. I made some long-distance calls to tell everyone how hard I was rocking out in New York. I bought some hair care products. I tousled the legendarily rich and full Benchley coif, and went to Pianos with a friend from college named Jake.
It was some reading series at Pianos, and words are not rock. I didn’t need to hear anyone else’s sad story. So we headed down around the Manhattan Bridge to a place that Jake knew about, one of those bars that doesn’t have a name, or if it does, it’s there in 12-point type in the bottom left of a dark window.
Jake lusts but does not carp the diem and I decided that he needed to witness my technique in action. The Benchley charm, once it’s turned on, is a magical force, and you must see it to understand. It has no fear of rejection. It has no worries at all. In Albany, a river runs past an auditorium shaped like an egg. The entire city appears to be ovulating. It is a fecund place, a powerful place, even if it is a musical desert. And I was raised there, and women know it.
Yes, there was snubbing. Two attempts at conversation failed, and Jake laughed. But that was just as well, because I need to get the juices flowing. The charm I have is not like a light switch, but more like a vintage tube amp. You turn it on, and let it warm up, and then it sings like an angel. And so it was with Alyssa Illeander, the most pure expression of the feminine in the place, who listened as I told her of my plans, my goals, my life, and laughed at my excellent jokes, and repeatedly poked my shoulder as Jake turned orange with jealousy. And then she said, a little drunk, maybe even drooling slightly, sure, but still beautiful, ‘You love the Postal Service? I have to kiss you.’ And I gave a secret prayer of thanks to Davidbowiemarkbolaniancurtisloureediggypop, the five-headed, ten-named God of Indie Rock.
She gave me her phone number. A phone number, I reasoned, is a numerical form of rocking. A phone number is like a lottery ticket that’s almost guaranteed to win, a mystical code that unlocks the safe to your future. A future that might involve fellatio. And now I knew why I had to get my own apartment. Because without my own place, I could not be fellated while listening to Cat Power. Somehow, I had forgotten this.
It was last call, right as someone had put the Dream Academy’s cover of ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ on the jukebox. A perfect moment. So at three a.m. I left that bar, and Alyssa (Jake had sulked away an hour before) and I took a cab back up to the apartment. It was quiet when I walked in. I flopped drunk into my air mattress, the phone number safely in my wallet, the light from the streetlamps coming in through the bamboo blinds, and I thought: I can make this work. There are many forms of rocking. Data entry is a path, not a destination.
I did what was natural and true. I whispered Alyssa Illeander’s name to the ceiling, and stroked and fondled the Benchley Beast, reaching a beautiful ecstatic peak, my body at one with New York City. I threw back the sheets and spanked drunkenly into the night, as if I was Eddie Van Halen and my penis was a guitar. And right at the moment of ecstastic release, as my pleasure was maximized and my mind was filled with the image of Alyssa’s tender lips opening to accept my pearls of truth, Harris Glenn Milstead, Jr. leaped onto my penis, capturing it in his mouth, and viciously twisted his tiny head back and forth, growling furiously, and drawing blood.
It was a noisy, angry moment, and a minute later Keith came out to find me in the bathroom, doubled over the sink gripping my private area. Benchley blood dripped onto the linoleum, and my pants were around my ankles.
Gary: Your fucking dog bit my dick!
Keith: What were you doing to him?
Harris Glenn Milstead, Jr.: Bark!
Gary: [to Harris] Fuck you!
Keith: No, fuck you! Don’t yell at my dog!
Gary: He bit my dick!
Harris: Bark! Bark!
The rest of the night was long, and painful, and I do not need to write about it. I thought about the morning bus from Port Authority, going north and home. And in the morning, when Harris sat at my feet begging for some of my eggs, as if we were old friends, I put my hand over my crotch and thought again of leaving.
But you cannot stop Gary Benchley. I am not going north. I am staying here, and this city is going to know who I am, no matter how much data I have to enter, no matter how many people try to stop me from rocking, and no matter how many dogs savage my penis.