An Absolutely Remarkable Thing Page 2

And I’m sure that’s the direction Maya and I would have gone in, but Andy was intolerably stubborn and somehow convinced us both that we would be building the visual identity of “Bubble Bum,” a butt-flavored bubble gum. At first his arguments were silly, that we weren’t going to be doing fancy cool shit when we graduated, so we might as well not take the project so seriously. But he convinced us when he got serious.

“Look, guys,” he said, “it’s easy to make something cool look cool, that’s why everyone picks cool things. Ultimately, though, cool is always going to be boring. What if we can make something dumb look amazing? Something unmarketable, awesome? That’s a real challenge. That takes real skill. Let’s show real skill.”

I remember this pretty clearly because it was when I realized there was more to Andy.

By the end of the project I couldn’t help feeling a little superior to the rest of our classmates, taking their skinny jeans and craft breweries so seriously. And the final product did look great. Andy was—and I had known this but not really filed it as important—an extremely talented illustrator, and with Maya’s hand-lettering skills and my color-palette work, it did end up looking pretty great.

So that’s how Maya and I met Andy, and thank god we did. Frankly, we needed a third wheel to even out the intensity of the early part of our relationship. After the Bubble Bum project, which Kennedy loved so much he put it on the class website, we became a bit of a trio. We even worked on some freelance projects together, and occasionally Andy would come over to our apartment and force us to play board games. And then we’d just spend the evening talking about politics or dreams or anxieties. The fact that he was obviously a little bit in love with me never really bothered any of us because he knew I was taken and, well, I don’t think Maya saw him as a threat. Somehow, our dynamic hadn’t fractured after graduation and we kept hanging out with funny, weird, smart, stupid Andy Skampt.

Who I was now calling at three o’clock in the morning.

“The fuck, April, it’s 3 A.M.”

“Hey, I’ve got something you might want to see.”

“It seems likely that this can wait until tomorrow.”

“No, this is pretty cool. Bring your camera . . . and does Jason have any lights?” Jason was Andy’s roommate—both of them wanted to be internet famous. They would stream themselves playing video games to tiny audiences, and they had a podcast about the best TV death scenes that they also filmed and uploaded to YouTube. To me it just seemed like that incurable ailment so many well-off dudes have, believing despite mountains of evidence that what the world truly needs is another white-guy comedy podcast. This sounds harsh, but that’s what it seemed like to me back then. Now, of course, I know how easy it is to feel like you don’t matter if no one’s watching. I’ve also since listened to Slainspotting and it’s actually pretty funny.

“Wait . . . what’s happening? What am I doing?” he asked.

“Here’s what you’re doing: You’re walking over to Gramercy Theatre and you’re going to bring as much of Jason’s video shit as you can and you’re not going to regret it, so don’t even think about going back to whatever hentai VR game you’re playing . . . This is better, I promise.”

“You say that, but have you played Cherry Blossom Fairy Five, April May? Have you?”

“I’m hanging up . . . You’re going to be here in five minutes.”

I hung up.

Several people who weren’t Andy walked by as I waited for him. Manhattan is less legit than it once was, for sure, but this is still the city that never sleeps. It is also the city of “Behold the field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it and see that it is barren.” People gave the sculpture a quick glance and kept on walking, just as I had very nearly done. I tried to look busy. Manhattan’s a safe place, but that doesn’t mean a twenty-three-year-old woman by herself on the street at 3 A.M. isn’t going to get randomly harassed.

For the next few minutes I got to spend a little time with the structure. Manhattan is never really dark, there was lots of light around, but the deep shadows and the sculpture’s size made it difficult to really understand it. It was massive. It probably weighed several hundred pounds. I took my glove off and poked it, finding the metal surprisingly not cool. Not warm either, exactly . . . but hard. I gave it a knock on the pelvis and didn’t hear the bell ring I expected. It was more of a thunk followed by a low hum. I started to think that this was part of the artist’s intentions . . . that the goal was for the people of New York to interact with this object . . . to discover its properties. When you’re in art school, you do a lot of thinking about objectives and intent. That was just the default state: SEE ART → CRITIQUE ART.

Eventually, I stopped my critique and just took it in. I was starting to really love it. Not just as a creation of someone else, but the way that you love really good art . . . just enjoying it. It was so unlike other things I’d seen. And brave in its “Transformerness.” Like, I would be terrified to do anything that visually reflected mecha robots in any way . . . No one wants to be compared to something that’s mainstream popular. That’s the worst of all possible fates.

But there was much more to this piece than that. It seemed to have come from a completely different place than any work I’d ever seen before, sculptural or not. I was pretty caught up in the thing when Andy snapped me out of it.

“What the absolute fuck . . .” He was wearing a backpack and three camera straps and holding two tripods.

“Yup,” I replied.

“That. Is. AWESOME.”

“I know . . . The awful thing is, I almost walked right by it. I just thought, ‘Well, there’s another fucking cool New York City thing,’ and kept on walking. But it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard or seen anything about it, and since, y’know, you’re always in search of your big viral hit, you might want to get the scoop. So I’ve been guarding it for you.”

“So you saw this big, beautiful, muscular piece of art and who sprung into your mind but ANDY Skampt!” His thumbs were digging into his bony chest.

“LOL,” I said sarcastically. “In fact, I figured I’d do you a favor, and here it is, so maybe just appreciate it?”

A little dejected, he handed me a tripod. “Well, let’s start getting this shit set up then. Gotta work before Channel 6 drunkenly stumbles by and steals our scoop.”

In five minutes the camera was set up, a battery-powered light was glaring, and Andy was clamping the mic to his lapel. He didn’t look as dopey as he had in school. He’d stopped wearing stupid ball caps, and he’d given up on his unruly (or just uncommon) haircuts in favor of a short-wavy thing that complemented his face shape. But despite the fact that he was eight inches taller than me and almost exactly my age, he still looked about five years my junior.

“April,” he said.


“I think maybe it should be you.”

I probably replied with some kind of confused grunt.

“In front of the camera, I mean.”

“Dude, this is your dream, not mine. I don’t know shit about YouTube.”

“It’s just . . . I mean, well . . .” Looking back, I think it’s possible, though I’ve never asked him, that he had some idea that this would actually be a big deal. Not as big a deal as it would turn out to be, of course, but big.

“Hey, don’t think you’re going to win my favor by giving me internet fame. I don’t even want that.”

“Right, but you have no idea how to use this camera.” I could tell he was making an excuse, but I couldn’t figure out why.

“I don’t know how to do behind-the-camera stuff, but I also don’t know how to do in-front-of-the-camera stuff. You and Jason talk to the internet all day long, I barely have a Facebook.”

“You have an Instagram.”

“That’s different.” I smirked.

“Not really. I can tell you care about what you post on there. You’re not fooling anyone. You’re a digital girl, April, in a digital world. We all know how to perform.” God bless Andy for being blunt. He was right, of course. I tried not to care about social media, and I really did prefer hanging out in art galleries to hanging out on Twitter. But I wasn’t as disconnected as I made myself out to be. Being annoyed by carefully crafted internet personas was part of my carefully crafted internet persona. Even so, I think we could both feel Andy stretching for a point that wasn’t 100 percent there.

“Andy, what is this actually about?”

“It’s just”—he took a deep breath—“I think it would be better for the artist if it were you. I’m a fucking goof, I know what I look like. People aren’t going to take me seriously. You look like an artist with your outfit and your cheekbones. You look like you know what you’re talking about. You do know what you’re talking about, and you talk it good, girl. If I do this, I’m going to make it a joke. Plus, you’re the one who found it, I think it just makes more sense for you to be in front of the camera.”

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