An Absolutely Remarkable Thing Page 3

Unlike most of my classmates who graduated with design degrees, I thought a lot about fine art. If you’re wondering what the difference is, well, fine art is like art that exists for its own sake. The thing that fine art does is itself. Design is art that does something else. It’s more like visual engineering. I started school focusing on fine art, but I decided by the end of the first semester that maybe I wanted to someday have a job. So I switched to advertising, which I hated, so I switched a bunch more times until I caved and went into design. But I still spent way more time and energy paying attention to the fine art scene in Manhattan than any of my design-track friends did. It was part of why I desperately wanted to stay in the city. This may sound dumb, but just being a twenty-something in New York City made me feel important. Even if I wasn’t doing real art, at least I was making it work in this city, a long ways away from my parents’ literal dairy-supply business.

Ultimately, Andy wasn’t showing any signs of giving up and I determined that this wasn’t actually that big of a deal. So I ran the mic up the inside of my shirt . . . The cord was warm from Andy’s body. The light shined in my eyes and I could barely see the lens. It was cold, there was a little breeze, we were alone on the sidewalk.

“Are you ready?” he said.

“Give me that mic,” I said, pointing at an open bag on the ground.

“Your lav is speeding, you don’t need it.”

I had no idea what that meant, but I got the gist. “No, just as a prop . . . so I can . . . interview it?”

“Ah . . . cool . . .” He handed me the mic.

“OK,” I said.

“’K, I’m rolling.”


’K, I’m rolling.”

You’ve heard Andy say those words . . . if you’re a human who’s ever been near enough to an internet connection to hear them. Whether or not you speak English. Whether or not you’ve ever owned an electronic device in your life. If you’re a Chinese billionaire or a Kiwi sheep farmer, you’ve heard it. Militant rebels in Nepal have heard it. It’s the most-viewed piece of media of all time. It’s been viewed more times than there are humans on earth. Google estimates that “New York Carl” has been watched by 94 percent of living humans. And by this point, I suppose, a fair number of dead ones.

After Andy edited the video . . . this is roughly what we had:

I’m a mess. I’ve been awake for twenty-two hours. I’m barely wearing makeup and the dress code at work was basically “whatever looks like you care the least,” so I’m wearing a denim jacket over a white hoodie and my jeans have holes in the knees, which isn’t helping me keep warm. My black hair is loose around my shoulders, the light is glaring in my eyes, and I’m fighting to keep from squinting, but considering all that, I don’t look so bad. Maybe I’ve just watched the video enough times that I’m over the embarrassment. My eyes are dark enough that they look all pupil even when the sun is out. My teeth are shining in Jason’s LED light. Somehow, I seem chipper. The giddiness of lack of sleep has taken over. My voice is croaky.

“Hello! I’m April May, and I’m here at 23rd and Lexington with an unannounced and peculiar visitor. He arrived sometime before 3 A.M. today, guarding the Chipotle Mexican Grill next door to the Gramercy Theatre like an ancient warrior of an unknown civilization. His icy stare is somehow comforting, it’s like, look, none of us has our lives figured out . . . not even this ten-foot-tall metal warrior. The weight of life getting you down? Don’t worry . . . you’re insignificant! Do I feel safer with him watching over me? I do not! But maybe safety isn’t what it’s all about!”

A couple, headed home after a long night, walk by while I say this, looking over their shoulders more at the camera than at the giant freaking ROBOT.

The camera angle changes abruptly. (This was after a few seconds of me mumbling around for something to say and sounding like an idiot and Andy assuring me that he’d edit out the parts where I sounded like an idiot.)

“His name is Carl! Hello, Carl.” Here I hold the dummy mic to Carl . . . standing on my tiptoes. I’m a small person, five foot two—this makes Carl look even bigger than he is. Carl says nothing.

“A robot of few words, but your appearance speaks volumes.”

Another cut, now I’m staring back at the camera. “Carl, immovable, solid, and somehow warm to the touch, a ten-foot-tall robot that New Yorkers appear to think is not particularly interesting.”


“What do they think he is? An art installation? A pet project evicted from his apartment along with a deadbeat tenant? A forgotten prop from a nearby film shoot? Has the city that never sleeps become the city that’s too cool to notice even the most peculiar and astounding occurrences? No, wait! One young man has stopped to see, let’s ask him what he thinks.”


Now Andy shares the fake mic with me.

“And you are?”

“Andy Skampt.” Somehow Andy is more nervous than me.

“And you can confirm that there is a ten-foot-tall robot standing outside of Chipotle?”

“I can.”

“And can you confirm that this is in fact not fucking normal?”


“What do you think it means?”

“I don’t know, actually. Now that I’m thinking about it, Carl kinda terrifies me.”

“Thank you, Andy.”


“And there you have it, citizens of the world. A giant, stately, terrifying, slightly warm robot man has arrived in New York City and, through his inaction, has somehow become only interesting enough for a one-minute-long video.” All of this is said over close shots of the robot, his immobility teeming with movement, energy glistening just below the surface.

The whole time I was in front of the camera, I was thinking of the artist. A fellow creator who had poured her soul into something truly remarkable that might simply be ignored by the whole world. I was trying to get in her head. I was trying to figure out why she had created this thing and, in the same breath, calling out the world for its callous ignorance of beauty and form. CALLING ALL NEW YORKERS! APPRECIATE HOW COOL SHIT CAN BE! I wanted people to wake up and spend a few moments looking at the exceptional amazement of human creation. Hilarious in hindsight.

* * *

    “Is that good?”

“Yeah, great, fantastic, you’re adorable and smart and the internet is going to love you.”

“Oh, just what I’ve always wanted,” I deadpanned. “I am suddenly extremely tired.”

“Yeah, well, that makes sense. Why are you even awake right now?”

“Aside from the giant robot? You know, another day, another ‘all hands on deck’ crisis.”

“At least you have a job.”

Andy was trying his hand at freelance, which is what you do when you don’t have to worry about paying student loans because your dad is a filthy-rich Hollywood lawyer.

And just like that Carl was out of the conversation. Andy grabbed a few close-up shots while I whined about work and he told me about a new client who wanted their logo to look more “computery.” I even got on Andy’s shoulders to get as close to the robot’s face as I could, trying to hold the camera steady for B-roll. But we were just talking about work and life and then it was almost 4 A.M.

“Well, this has been super fucking weird, April May, thank you for calling me out into the chill of the night to make a robot video with you.”

“And thank you for coming, and no, I’m not coming over to watch you edit a video. I’m going to bed. If you call me before noon, I’m going to impale you on that spiky thing Carl’s got on his head.”

“Always a pleasure.”

“See you tomorrow.”

On the subway ride home I set my phone to Do Not Disturb mode. That night was probably the best night’s sleep I had until after I died.


I woke up at 2 P.M. I hadn’t even woken up when Maya got out of bed. She came into the room doing that “knock softly while you open the door” thing, which was somehow both annoying and endearing. She was carrying a cup of coffee. The room was, for my tastes, pleasantly cluttered. A couple items of clothes on the floor, one too many cups on the desk, way too many books on the nightstands.

I don’t really understand people who keep everything around them constantly neat. It’s way more efficient to do occasional dedicated cleanups than constant maintenance. Plus, my mind likes clutter. It’s almost like I need to make the world around me messy to make my art and ideas neat. Simplicity in design, complete disaster in everything else. It was an entire ethos I was working on. Of course, Maya kept me from going completely off the rails.

Maya was far more personally put together than I was, but neither of us were neat freaks, which helped make the roommate thing work. She had clearly been up for hours; her locks were in some fancy updo that remained mostly magical to me. That meant she was probably doing something important later. She’d probably told me about it, but I couldn’t remember what it was if she had. Meeting a client for work, maybe? She was the only one of us who had gotten work at a real design firm. It didn’t pay great, but it was a foot in the door. Her makeup was already done.

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