Jody Azzouni

Excerpt 2 from "The Short Life of Colors."


Can I get out to look? That’s what I ask. When we’ve reached the water, when the bubblecraft stops near the water. I wouldn’t if I were you. That’s what the bubbledriver says to me. Because it’s not entirely safe. So I just look around from inside the vehicle. Not many people around. A handful of bubblecrafts, really. Is it always like this? That’s what I ask. No, he says, it depends on the time of day. Sometimes it can get pretty busy. Not real busy. There are a lot of borders, he says, a lot of borders to the water. And he points to what look like tollbooths. At each end of the big sloping parkway into the water. About thirty or forty feet away from us. Robots, he tells me. There are robots in there. In case something happens, in case there’s trouble. To take pictures. To act as witnesses. Oh, I say. It’s one of the few places you’ll find actual robots in New York. That’s what the bubbledriver adds. And then I realize that the ones on Tucker’s estate that I saw, that no doubt they’re really expensive, that all robots are probably really expensive. So you don’t see many around. Around here, anyway.


We’ve driven right up to the water. To my left I see a couple of other bubblecrafts in other lanes that have done the same thing, driven up close to the water. And in one lane there’s actually a short line. Of three bubblecrafts. The yellow lines of the path we’re in go right into the water. As far as I can tell. Because the asphalt itself slowly slopes into the water. And it changes color too, gets lighter as it gets closer to the water. I try to lean forward to see how steep the asphalt is. Once it’s in the water. But I can’t tell. Because the water is so murky because it’s so brown. The bubblecraft is partially in the water now, that’s what I realize. And I look to my right, to the bubblecraft on my right. Because it’s easier to tell what’s going on with the bubblecraft I’m in by looking at another bubblecraft. It’s moved partially into the water. And its front wheels are starting to disappear, up into its body. Then it shoves itself further into the water, using its backwheels I guess. It’s sort of floating now, almost floating. I can’t see what’s happening to the wheels anymore. But we’ve shoved forward too. By that point. And the bubblecraft I’m in has started vibrating.


I look out into the water. It’s water as far as I can see. With stuff sticking out of it. Buildings I mean. Things that are sort of like buildings. It’s really weird. When I get closer, when the bubblecraft is in the water, I get a better idea of what’s going on. That the buildings on the ends of the blocks and maybe in the middle too are supporting trusses. In some cases, trusses that extend the entire length and width of a block. One public roof. For a lot of buildings that are hung from that roof, from the block-truss. I can tell because some of the buildings in the middle don’t reach the water, they hang above the water, above the sidewalks or docks or whatever. That’s what it looks like from the front, as I go by. When I’m actually in one I learn that the construction is a little more complicated, how these newly constructed buildings hang from trusses, and how the trusses are supported. That it’s a network of trusses. In some cases.


From where I am now, I can’t see how far down into the water they extend, how far the buildings extend. I can tell that they aren’t very big buildings, that they don’t extend very high above the water. Five or six stories is as far as any of them seems to go, that’s as high as these new buildings seem to reach.


And this is important too. That the water is brown, that it really is. It’s not blue, it’s not blue at all. And there’s a dirty rain falling. Almost all the time. Later. When the bubblecraft is traveling on the water it’s a light rain that’s falling, that’s puckering the water just a little. But almost always this rain is falling and almost always it’s like this.


So we’re cruising on the water. Through the water actually. Which is pretty cool. I’m watching the structures as we go by. Because we go by them pretty slowly. I’m trying to look down into the water too but I can’t see anything. It’s really brown and it always looks like there’s stuff floating by. All kinds of stuff. A lot of it we bump into, just push aside. What is all this shit? I ask the bubbledriver. What’s all what shit? That’s what he says. This stuff, this stuff floating in the water.That’s what I say. It’s all sorts of stuff, he replies. It’s rubble and it’s sewage. Dissolved shit. Other stuff too. A lot of trash. Whatever. There’s really no sanitation anymore. Out here. Not much sanitation anyway. Then he pauses for a moment and laughs. We don’t recycle anymore. That’s what he tells me.


I can stare directly up through the top of the car. Which helps me to see a lot. I realize that there are poles spaced down the center of the canal we’re going along. With wires with thick wires strung on them, and with what looks like aluminum tubing, really thick aluminum tubing hung on them too. And the wires and tubing run off the poles to the houses. What’s that? I ask. Pointing up at the wires and aluminum-looking tubing, pointing up through the roof of the bubblecraft. I’m hoping he answers me. He does. Electricity and water. That’s what he says, that’s all he says.


When I look at the buildings, I realize that they’re not exactly up against the water. Or that it’s just hard to tell. Because there are sidewalks or docks or something like that around the buildings, that are just about at water level, a little above water level really. And they have various kinds of fences around them, what looks like metal or plastic or wood. All different kinds of fencing. So that it’s hard to climb onto them from the water. Like they’re protecting themselves from what might come out of the water. That’s what it looks like. Most of them have greyish grillwork. By the water. So people don’t fall off of the docks into the water. By accident. Maybe that’s their purpose. And that’s when I realize that these really are sidewalks, they’re what sidewalks have mutated into anyway. Down here, in the water. And sometimes there are little bridges from each group of buildings to the next group of buildings. From one group of buildings clumped together to the next group of buildings clumped together. And that cements the impression that I’m looking at blocks of buildings. And that we’re navigating down streets. Even though a lot of the buildings are missing. Even though sometimes the sidewalks stretch across areas where there are no buildings at all, or just what looks like islands of rubble jutting up out of the water.


These sidewalks are sometimes supported by piles that go into the water, or at least I can sometimes see the piles. Or that’s what I think, because I can’t really see how they’re being supported because they’re usually too close to the water. They’re just about on top of the water. And other ones seem to be like shelves that are attached directly to the buildings. These are all sidewalks, that’s what I realize. Even though I rarely ever see anyone walking on them. Over the next few days I mean. Whenever I’m outside in New York, in a bubblecraft, looking at them. Usually it’s only teenagers, what look like teenagers. That are lounging around on these sidewalks. Or walking along. Groups of them usually. Almost never an isolated person, a single person by himself. Or herself. But this is later that I see this, after we’ve been traveling in the water for a while. This is when I get these impressions.


These arches. Or bridges. That go between blocks of buildings, that connect the sidewalks against some of the blocks of buildings to the sidewalks attached to other blocks of buildings. The arches that stretch across the canals. That look like they’re made of metal. And sometimes there are no arches connecting groups of buildings. So you have to get across in some other way. That’s what I realize. Call a bubblecraft to get you across. Which is more reason to think there’s a monopoly going here. Unless you just paddle across or something. In a raft or a small boat. I see small boats. Docked I mean. Or going about in the water. As well as bubblecrafts, of course. Nothing very big seems to be moving around here. The small boats usually have one or two people in them. Who just seem to be trying to get from one place to another. They’re not fishing or anything, they’re not idling in the water. Because you don’t want to hang out. Not on this water.


I realize that many of the sidewalks aren’t made of cement, that maybe that none of them are. They’re made of other things. Different things. Some look like they’re made of wood. Other ones look like stone or something. Plastic, I’m betting that most of them are made of plastic. Because of what the driver told me. When he was still talking. And something else too, that a lot of them seem to be made of, this floppy rubber raft material that’s attached to the building. I see that a lot. And a tree once in a while. On a dock. Or plants of some sort. Bushes maybe.


It’s odd. I don’t see that many boats. Of any sort. Occasionally I see them. Docked against a sidewalk, attached by a rope to the sidewalk. But not many. You’d think there would be a lot of boats around. That’s what I say. Trying to get the driver to say something. And it works. For a few minutes anyway. People take chances. Using boats. That’s what the bubbledriver tells me. Because if they keep their boats tethered against a sidewalk, like those boats over there, things can happen to them. Things? That’s what I ask. You know, they get damaged. Or stolen. That’s what the driver tells me. Oh, I say. And they’re hard to hide or keep indoors. That’s what he adds. And then he goes silent again. He wants to talk to me, I can tell. He likes answering questions. But he’s conflicted. Because he’s also really pissed off at me. That’s what I realize.


I’m also thinking he’s not telling me all he knows about this. Because maybe his organization works hard to keep their monopoly going. And without a navigation system, the navigation system of the taxi and limousine commission maybe it’s dangerous to be in a boat. Because stuff moves, the stuff in the water. Mysteriously. And then you hit it. The bubbledriver does tell me at one point, days later I mean, when he’s talking about crime. That if you see someone in a boat at night, you take them out. That’s what he tells me. Because they’re probably up to no good. Because they’re almost surely up to no good.


One thing I realize, I’m surprised that it doesn’t strike me immediately, but it doesn’t. That there’s hardly any windows. None at all, really. In the new buildings. And in the old buildings you can see that the windows have been boarded up, bricked up, cemented up. If people are living in the old buildings I mean. If the buildings aren’t dead. There are always lots of holes in dead buildings. And not just where the windows and doors used to be.


These buildings and canals. That people are actually living in, that people are actually taking care of. They only last a few blocks. At least along the route we’re taking. Then it’s just deserted buildings, rotted buildings. That go on and on and on. Blocks and blocks and blocks. Out into the water. And that nevertheless rise pretty high above the water. Higher than the living buildings I mean. Because some of it is old skyscrappers, that’s what I realize. I’m looking up when I realize that stuff is falling. Not a lot. Only occasionally, actually. But I see it happen. Stuff falling off of the buildings. Into the water. And there’s nothing else for blocks and blocks. Nothing except for deserted buildings that are jutting up in blocks out of the water. Other bubblecrafts pass us by. I only see bubblecrafts out here, not any other boats. And then we’re crossing the water where there’s no buildings at all. Just floating debris. For maybe a half hour. I realize that we must be heading towards Brooklyn now, that we must be crossing the river between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Because I can see in the distance where the buildings start up again, coming out of the water. And always there’s stuff floating in the water. It looks like trash, it looks like wood, like twisted metal, like rusting metal piles of gravel and broken cement. Nails, there are amazing numbers of nails. Sticking out of things that are floating along. Rusting. And there’s a lot of what looks like chunks of broken cement. What probably are chunks of broken cement. Everywhere sticking up from the brown water. Even out here. And the driver keeps zigzagging the bubblecraft. Because we’re avoiding underwater obstacles I bet. The navigation system he’s using, I keep thinking it must be expensive and really sophisticated, it must involve very unusual technology.


And then the bubblecraft comes to a stop. Because we’re here. That’s what the driver tells me. I don’t believe him, I don’t believe José. When he says that we’re here, when he says that we’re at the address I gave him. Because there’s nothing here, where we’ve stopped. There’s just water, brown water. We’re not even near any dead buildings. The nearest blocks of deserted buildings start some distance away. Like a couple of blocks away, like what used to be a couple of blocks away. Rubble is sticking up here and there. Up out of the water. What looks like the same twisted steel and broken cement that I’ve been seeing all along. Green, always with tinges of green. And brown. Rust colored, some of it. And stuff growing out of it, kind of mossy stuff. Plants, plants will grow anywhere. Plants are just amazing that way. These plants anyway, these ugly plants. And lots of trash floating around. Always the trash floating to the surface. That’s what I realize.


We’re here, you’re home sweet home. That’s what the bubbledriver says to me. How can you tell? There’s nothing here. That’s what I say. GPS tracking, he replies. Don’t worry, I’m not wrong about this. We’re right above it. The building that used to have your address. I told you it was gone. We’re floating right over where it used to be. Happy?


I ignore his sarcasm. I’m trying to look over the edge of the car, I’m trying to look straight down into the water. But I can’t see anything. Pop the top. That’s what I tell him, that’s what I tell the bubbledriver next. What? That’s what he says. It’s not a question. Hey, I say, I want to touch the water that’s over my home, the water that’s covering where I used to live. Why do you want to do that for? That’s what he asks me. That just makes no sense, that’s what he adds. This whole thing makes no sense. You’re not going to see anything. Not in this water. And it’s disgusting. In case you haven’t noticed.


I insist, I keep insisting. And for some reason he goes along with me. Who knows why. Because we sometimes do dumb things I guess. All of us, I mean. Maybe because there’s no one nearby, no one that’s even close. Not even the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s what I realize later. That there’s no Brooklyn Bridge anymore, that there’s no Manhattan Bridge. That there are no bridges at all, no big bridges I mean. There’s rubble, a lot of rubble, big rubble. What happened to the bridges is complicated. I learn about it later, that they didn’t fall down, nothing like that. That they got taken down. And that it was political.


So he pops the top, and it rises up. Maybe he does it because he’s thinking, I’ll do this and then after I get rid of this asshole at the hotel I’ll make sure I never see him again. Probably he’s thinking that. He pops it up enough that I can lean out over the edge of the car. He tells me to be careful, not to move too fast, because he really doesn’t want to get any of that ugIy water into the car. Even so, the car rocks a little as I stick my head out. It’s brown, totally brown. The water. You can’t see into it at all, it’s totally opaque. And there’s all sorts of unrecognizable shit floating in it. And the stench of the water. And maybe I see an arm floating. I realize later that it wasn’t an arm that I was seeing, that it couldn’t have been, because of its shape. When I think about it later. But I’m reacting funny. To the fact of where my home is now, and where the Van Lorgan home is now. And I start to retch. Close the bubbletop, I yell. While gagging at the same time. No way, he yells back, you’re not heaving up in here. Keep your head over the side, okay? And he starts up the motor, the bubblecraft starts to move. While I watch the water. While I retch. Without vomiting. I’m trying so hard not to vomit. For some reason. I don’t even want my vomit falling into that water.