My story is an arrangement of an ancient dream (although I would have you believe I conjured it on a glistening beach in Rio while playing chess with Isaac, whose only distinguishing feature is a single silver hair, two inches in length, sprouting from his sunburned neck). The critic will hail it as “raw and heroic, an autobiographical indulgence.” The astute reader will recognize its irrelevance. The homme de lettres, who incidentally no longer exists, will cry, “Derivative!” Neither of these appraisals would have made much of an impression on the hero of my story, and they need not concern us either.
After several desultory years in The Department of 21st-Century Cultural Studies and Remergent Media, years spent dabbling with the pre-antiquated concepts of simulacra and posthumanism in dimly lit rooms that smelled of inexpensive brandy and the skin of methamphetamine addicts, Xan Jenkins had come to believe, in fact, that nothing makes much of an impression unless one wishes it to, and thanks to his newfound optimism, he resigned from The New York City Corporation For Higher Learning, Inc. carrying a not insubstantial debt, student loans at that time being as easy to acquire as they were necessary.
Upon submitting his resignation, Xan Jenkins’ first order of business was to become unapologetically drunk at Cool, a brand new hotspot in the space formerly occupied by L’espace, a lounge. Cool’s owner, one Richard Fateplew, had shown a great deal of acumen by running L’espace for only a month, then closing it down, reopening it as Cool. He was an old acquaintance of Jenkins, was, they said, profiting handsomely, and his permanently glossy face shone. It managed to manifest in a single look the eyes of a stock broker, the mouth of a supermodel, and the nose of shaved rat. It was, in short, what the more insightful ladies in the club referred to as “mysterious.” Fateplew had never really enjoyed the company of Jenkins, whose social connections among the nightlife reviewers of Doing Time In New York made free drinks an unpleasant obligation for the club owner. “Besides,” Fateplew reasoned at the corner of the bar, as he watched Xan negotiating with Endz the doorman who also spins at Cool on Tuesday nights, “it’s not like I’m short of cash right now.” Indeed, he was not. He crossed the crowded room with a casual but determined stride appropriate to his wealth, which at this moment consisted of a cylinder of bills equal in size to the cardboard tube inside a roll of toilet paper. Richard Fateplew never folded his money flat, preferring to have on his person a more tangible, objective reassurance of his success. As Dick swept up next to Endz the doorman who also spins at Cool on Tuesday nights, cocking his head to hear through the music, Jenkins extended a bony arm and patted the cylinder through Fateplew’s sparkling vest and said to no one in particular, “Dick, would you like to introduce me to your bouncer?” Richard Fateplew would have liked to see Endz hoist Xan over his head by the belt loops, and he punned with apparent disinterest, “Endz, Xan, Xan, Endz.” Jenkins asked Endz about his moniker. Because he did not hear the question or because he was busying himself with the next person in line, Endz the doorman who also spins at Cool on Tuesday nights did not answer, and Jenkins began the tedious task of crossing the dance floor from door to bar. “Excuse me. Sorry. Excuse me. Sorry, would you mind if I slipped by you? Sorry.” Through the red lenses of the goggles he had just donned, Dick followed Xan back along his path from bar to door; before setting after him, Dick congratulated himself on having designed Cool’s interior in such a way that people who wanted to drink had to fight their way through the people who wanted to dance. Now this was the most cherished aspect of his evenings, and he grinned involuntarily each time a nubile, as he called the women who came to Cool, bumped into him. Xan’s attire, a pair of black denim pants and a white shirt so worn as to be nearly transparent, stood out among the crush of nubiles and dancers. “Dude has no style,” Dick said. But no one heard him.
“This is come on in,” she slurred. Xan Jenkins realized that he had failed to extinguish his cigarette before entering the building, had in fact smoked through the lobby, into the elevator, and down the hall. He drunkenly considered his violation of Penal Code 2011.b an act of heroism. The maximum sentence for his conviction, supposing the building had security cameras, would be one week of hard labor. He shrugged to himself. Judging from the neighborhood, it was not likely that this building was equipped with surveillance. But then if the street cameras recorded him entering the building with a lit cigarette. The need for an ashtray derailed his thought train, and he started scanning the room as surreptitiously as possible. “There are never enough ashtrays in the world” was one of Jenkins’ lifelong refrains, and he repeated it to himself now, as a mantra, a way of keeping himself from swaying too much as he moved forward two steps into her tiny studio apartment. Bathroom door, old computer, window, futon, sink, girl, stove, small refrigerator, stove, sink, girl, futon, window, old computer, bathroom door. He was going to have to ask for an ashtray.
In my never-ending tidying up of the eleven-year-high rubble pile known as the contents of my computer, I discovered a folder entitled "false starts," and it contained a terribly great many things that I no longer remember writing at all. Unable to recall the origins or intentions of these "false starts" or even to recognize them as mine, I return the documents to the rubble pile for future excavation – except this thing above, "Drop Out," which was evidently written by me in October 2000, which seems just crazy.