I arrive in the early morning, after driving all night from Terre Haute in the wood paneled AMC Eagle that serves as both transport and my residence currently. I haven’t been to the city in fifteen years, not since I had been drawn to a place that even its denizens described as the ‘armpit of Indiana.’ It appeared during my years of exile there that there was no shortage of competition for this degrading title and that Hoosiers had contentious debates regarding this matter. The university where I worked had to put up signs around the dormitories exhorting students not to defecate in the shower and try to stomp it down. This helped maintain Terre Haute as the forerunner in my mind. I pull off of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway onto McGuiness Boulevard and stop to get gas. I try to quiet my mind as I watch the numbers climb on the pump. Didn’t we start a war to deal with this?
The car won’t start as I try to pull away. I am chastised in broken English before several other strange foreigners materialize to push the car while I guide it into an empty parking space. I feel like it would be pointless to ask them where to get another starter. I debate asking them to help me push start it, but I am deterred by thoughts of the barrage of irritated protests that would emerge. I crawl under the car and bang the starter with a tire iron, but it dawns on me that someone else needs to be trying to turn over the engine as I do this. I grunt and worm out and set out on foot towards an area that I remember from many years before as having a preponderance of mechanics shops and warehouses that seemed to deal in nothing but piles of disorganized metal trash. I walk West towards Williamsburg. I skid my boot through yellow dog poo on the sidewalk. I look for some leaves of grass where I can wipe it off, but everything is fenced or paved. I walk to Bedford Avenue.
The prostitutes and drug addicts are gone, but what remains? The poverty still seems palpable in the cacophony of competing buskers that occupy each block. There appears to be little work as men and women alike lean against buildings exhaling smoke. Young men listlessly shamble through the streets wearing pubic beards and tattered clothes. Several women pass me with a radiant pallidity and muscle tone that leaves me thinking of color inverted National Geographic photos from the fringes of the Sahara. Many enter and exit blighted industrial buildings that do not appear fit for human habitation.
I overhear two striplings speaking a barely intelligible language.
‘We went to this new space that just arrived in Gpoint. It has no name and they aren’t even on yelp yet. It is called 455 Noname. It is an orgogastropub with walls decorated in flea market fare and artisanal art. Standard, right? But every night there is a different band playing Tuscan Noisegrass.’
I see piles of cars in varying degrees of disassembly – most of them similarly from the late seventies and early eighties – inside a rollup garage door in an old warehouse. My Eagle is an ’84 and I figure this bodes well. There are rusted parts littered everywhere and an overwhelming smell of gasoline.
I approach a counter and am greeted with a glare from a man with the hair shaved off of one side of his head and a veritable suit of black leather. He drums immaculately clean nails on the counter top. I am strangely obsessed with hands. Bitten nails, dirty finger nails, calloused hands, scars, knuckles shaved by a slipped wrench…soft supple office hands.
‘Uhm… I am trying to find a starter for my AMC Eagle.’
‘We have Americanos, macchiatos, breves and lattes. It is all microroasted.’ I struggle to hear him over the grating electronic music.
‘Yeah… I just need a rebuilt one from an AMC, a pulled one, anything to get it out of the gas station on McGuiness before someone steals the fake wood panels for firewood.’ I am confused, so I just repeat myself and hope that will smooth things over.
‘You can get a tall, venti, or grande.’ He rolls his eyes.
‘Do you know where I can just get a normal starter for a 1984 AMC Eagle?’
‘No, look you are holding up the line.’ He moves his tapping fingers from the countertop to a small handheld computer. There is nobody behind me.
I walk back out onto the street and find myself stopping in front of a strange piece of graffiti that hooligans have made advertising Rayban sunglasses.
‘Where did you get those patches?!’ I turn around to see a guy and his girlfriend staring at me.
‘Uhm… at an outdoor store. I slept next to a fire and some embers burned holes in the jacket.’
‘Amazing. It is beautiful. I don’t do any camping, but I love outdoor fashion. I shoot men for a living.’
‘Can I take your picture?’ Some light is shined on the previous sentence at this moment.
“Can you stand with your arms crossed? So I can see the patches better. Oh amazing!’
I walk on. I realize that I haven’t eaten anything in hours and look around. I had seen half a dozen natural, organic, whole food type markets in the past two blocks and I find myself serendipitously standing across the street from a leafy green neon sign that reads ‘Natural Organic Land.’ I cross the street and enter through the chrome doors.
The isles seethe with shoppers, eyes roaming and scanning for edibility. I feel self-conscious as ravenous eyes greedily survey me. I am not sure where the checkout line begins and the shopping ends, nor what I would like to buy. I wonder if there a natural disaster looming? I grab a few items swaddled in plastic and stare at labels proclaiming pastoral simplicity, wholesomeness, and naturalness. Boutique Brazillian coffee syndicates, Belgian chocolatiers, pink seasalt evaporating schemes, black pepper merchants of Malabar. While stuck in my reverie, a few shoppers repeatedly elbow and ram into me, ostensibly on purpose, while muttering apologies. I begin walking in a rapid frenzy to simulate what the other shoppers are doing; I am trying to exude purpose and importance. Mindlessly I grab a box of Monkey O’s and get in line. The box informs me that 10% of the proceeds from each sale are actually directly handed, in cash, to Marmoset Monkeys in Madagascar to recompensate them for habitat destruction.
I breathe deeply as I exit the frenzy and quickly ram my hand into the box of cereal. I absentmindedly stuff fistfuls into my mouth and walk until a massive pile of junk catches my eye. I enter through the gate of a boarded up, rusted out rat den. There is a sure to be a starter that would work amongst the scrap heaps that loom on either side of the path as I walk towards the entrance. A cheap one. I see a man welding a gas lamp onto a 35 foot tall penny-farthing while wearing a vintage brass scuba helmet. He looks up as I approach and opens to door of the mask to greet me.
‘Hey. Osiris. What do you need?’
‘Uh.. yeah… I am Alex…. I am looking for a starter for my 1984 AMC Eagle? I thought maybe you could help me since it looks like you have a pretty good junkyard.’
The curls of his mustache burst forth as he raises the helmet over his head. I think of the circus.
‘Wait is it a real AMC Eagle? Or is it a replica?’
‘It is definitely real and really not starting right now.’
‘It has the original PlastoPine panels?’
‘Yep. Hopefully they are still there when I get back.’
‘I need to make a call real quick. Gimme a sec.’ He walks around behind a what appears to be a small zeppelin that is connected to a tank of hydrogen. I can barely hear his conversation as it bounces off the bricks and iron.
‘…Yeah… Yeah…A real Eagle… He looks like a vintage dealer. He has some pretty nice threads and definitely knows what he is sitting on.’ I am wearing my dad’s jacket that I found in his apartment after he passed away, and an old pair of corduroys.
‘Look…I’ll give you ten.’
‘I just need one.’ Repetition seems to be the key with these difficult people.
‘Ah… Oh… Nobody has one of those anymore. It is a such a time piece. It is moving art.’
‘I do and I don’t even want to imagine myself in it.’
‘Alright. Twenty thou.’
We went back and forth, me wanting a starter and him wanting the car. Eventually we came to an understanding and I sold the AMC Eagle that had served as my home for the past few months. I used the money to buy a house outright in Detroit where the Eagle was produced thirty years ago. Osiris wrote me a letter thanking me for my generous support and letting me know what became of the car. He installed the car in a gallery in Soho, without even cleaning the cigarette butts out of the ashtray, before selling it for $200,000 to an investment banker who made a fortune betting heavily against the Lesotho deep sea fishing industry.