Told Between Puffs, October 2014
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
In which our hero explodes.
V.V. picked out a strand of tobacco hanging off the end of his cigarette and flicked it into the street. A crumpled styrofoam cup stamped with a Pepsi label caught his eye as he scanned the gutter–profound. How long had it lain there? This cup, ground into the the asphalt, might endure longer than the shops, the pavement, the other supposed “fixtures” of Morningside Heights— longer than Morning 2 Midnight certainly. More or less explicitly, all of it was trash.
“The refuse machine,” V.V. uttered wryly, gesturing at the scene around him: the intersection of 115th and Broadway, gray and parched in the October sun. It shone coldly and revolted our hero, who pulled his wool collar snugly to his cheek. “Damn filthy century!” he shrieked, “Trinket worshiping hogs!” He was in a rare state.
Over his many years at Columbia College, V had seen the neighborhood change a great deal. He’d cultivated a sort of detachment toward the inevitable turn-overs, hardly shedding a tear when Card-o-Mat and Il Cibreo closed their doors. Never, though, did he think he would witness a transformation so titanic as the construction of a high rise apartment in the northern yard of St. John the Divine.
A glass box, perfect for all sleek, quotidian purposes; a gleaming iPhone hulking over the cathedral.
V had always considered St. John a kindred soul in architectural form, which is why our hero was undertaking to build a series of pipe bombs. One night in the coming week he would plant them rakishly in the construction site, strewing them without concern for his own safety, and send their “project” to the pit of hell. Should he survive, he would spend his years in prison writing a poem cycle about nobility and leading a ring of rag-tag urchins.
So much had been decided. But V.V. had yet to master the mechanics of bomb construction. He dragged romantically on his cigarette as he descended into Riverside and took a seat on a hillock, pulling Basics of Bombs and Explosive Contrapsions, a prim handbook published by an anarchist in 1868 that Verily found in Butler, out of his satchel.
Our hero was so captivated by the thought of his life in jail, however, that he could hardly read for ten seconds without sighing. “Why is it,” V.V. wondered aloud, “that even in my darkest hour, when vulgarity surges around me, I cannot give up on the strength of my own story. Is this life? Art? The will to power?”
A blue jay popped over from the other side of the bench. “Verily,” it chirped, “the world is simpler than you realize.”
“What do you mean, little bird?”
“You can be a hero without a bomb in your hand, without a band of idealistic thieves behind you.”
“You’re a wise thing, jaybird. But how can I suffer to live in a world of ready-made trash?”
“By surrendering your body to nature! Nature is ancient and unchanging–it is never exchanged or improved. What you need is the wind at your back and rain in your eyes. Run with me, Verily, and live as my bride!”
V.V. considered it. “But what about the cathedral?”
“That building I defecate on every day?”
The bird and the boy exchanged dry looks.