Melanie Farkle

from Melanie Farkle


by Katherine Arnoldi



Melanie is looking for a sign. She sees a woman in a huge white dress with mirrors all over it and a mirror on her forehead. She sees a woman wrapped from head to toe in gauze and wearing a helmet. She sees a man throwing boomerang aluminum dishes and tying his sculpture to fences. Everywhere she goes, Melanie is looking for a sign.


At Ray's, she buys Nickey ice cream and meets Junior, ex-mayor of Tompkins Square Park, he says.


"Everything is in disarray," he says.


"Hereafter," he says, "Did you ever think about it? Here. After."


He shows her a shack on 9th Street, where he says she can live.


"Just until I get my feet on the ground," Melanie says.


"They forget it was the disenfranchised who started this country," Junior says, "They had a vision."


"That's what I'm waiting for," Melanie says, "A vision. I'm supposed to have a vision."


"You got vision, don't you? I mean, you can see, can't you?"


"I mean a vision that will tell me what to make."


"Just don't think too much," Junior says, "Thinking can mess you up, seeing-wise. You know what I'm saying?"


But Melanie can't stop thinking about it. She visits the Whitney, the Museo de Barrio, the Museum of Modern Art. She goes to the Metropolitan, the Museum of the American Indian, the Frick. She takes Nickey to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, to see the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History. At night she sits out at the sidewalk tables at Life and looks up at the sky.


"Show me a sign," she says, "Or even a star." But there are no stars.


"I don't even know who Charlie Christian is," Melanie says, one night at Life. It is slow, her one table on desert, but the bar is crowded.


"Charlie Christian?" a man in a raincoat and dark glasses that are askew says. "Only the best jazz guitarist ever."


"The best?" someone else says, "The first."


The man in the raincoat puts his head down and starts singing notes. He makes his feet move like he is trying to remember something by dancing to it again.


Then they all start in yelling about what tune that is and, yes it is, no it isn't and you don't know anything and you got your head up your ass, everyone knows what tune that is but fool you.


The man keeps singing, "Boop bop sha do ba."


"What's that?" Melanie says.


"Charlie Christian," the man says, "I thought you asked about Charlie Christian?"


"Does everyone in New York know who Charlie Christian is?"


"They may not all know they know him, but they know of him. When'd you blow into town?" he says.


"A month ago." Melanie says.


"Oh, you new," he says, "Why on earth did you come to this neighborhood with these degenerates." He waves his hand over the crowd yelling about how old Charlie Christian was when he died, where he died and what he died from.


"I heard a voice."


"A voice?"


"Yes. A voice told me to come here. It was, like, out of the blue, like from above, but it didn't sound holy, exactly."


"What did it say?"


"I'm too embarrassed to say."


"You can't be doing that embarrassed shit in New York. Embarrassed is for where you came from, not here."


"It said that I would be a famous artist, a painter. That I would be rich if I came to New York. That he would show me a vision of what to paint."


"Case closed," he says, "That's all, then. David. David. Come here and meet the best goddamn painter on the Lower East Side. What's your name?"


"Melanie Frazzle."


"That's hip. I'm Steve. This is David and that piece of shit over there is John and this is Butch, Jameel, and Jose." Melanie shakes hands with the best goddamn artist, poet, trumpet player, saxophonist and the best goddamn human being in New York.



"You're not a painter," John says, "If you don't have any paintings."



Then Melanie pulls the gates closed at Life, puts the chairs on top of the tables, does all her side work and, finally, after the bartender starts to flick the lights on and off, Steve and his group all leave arguing in one big noisy mass down Avenue B.


Melanie puts Nickey on her hip and starts after them. "Hey, wait up," she says, "Wait up."


Then, there they are, flying down Broadway. Melanie in her prom dress, her striped black and white leggings, her green gloves, her evening jacket, with Nickey on the handlebars, wrapped in sweaters and a jester's hat. There among the yellow cabs, the smells of peanuts roasting and sauerkraut and hot dogs and people who take nothing from nobody and people who take whatever they can get from anyone and people who stand so still that they draw a crowd, a crowd in disbelief that these are real human beings, and the traffic takes off from the red light like horses held back at the gate and dancers move in blue light in a parking lot and poets sell poems for a dollar and saxophonists play with an open case waiting for tips and tap dancers drum their feet on plywood floors laid down right there on Broadway, and a guitarist cries, cries, cries through an amp and a man covered in brown rags says, "I won't lie, I want a quarter for wine," and in front of the card games on top of cardboard boxes someone yells, "Check it out, check it out," until the cops come and knock the boxes down with their sticks and a couple entwined in a nook of a building, are dry humping, kissing, groping, and stopping to look in each other's eyes, never once looking away at all of this, even if they're bumped by the crowd navigating by, never looking at what New York is at this one second on Broadway when Melanie and Nickey flyby like a blip in the middle of more and more movement.


"We're on Broadway," Melanie says, "We're on Broadway."