There are days when Mark Cohen wakes up and he is fucking freezing. No amount of blankets oh-so-generously donated by Mrs. Cohen provide any warmth, and wind is blowing in through the chinks in the walls because New York in the winter is cold and windy and almost desolate (albeit in a highly bustling fashion), and the glass panes in the loft windows seem to emit cold more than keep out snow, and Mark can’t feel his face.
On these days he gets dressed under the blankets, stalks through the main room of the loft (where Roger is most likely bitching – he’s always bitching, it seems like) and into the bathroom, where he grabs the sink with both hands, drops his head, and tries not to put a hole in the wall. You went to Brown, for god’s sake, he thinks. On these days Collins’ rhetoric about the creativity-sucking machine that is the American university system falls on deaf ears as Mark thinks longingly of the degree he would have by now.
Sometimes on these days he goes over to Maureen and Joanne’s apartment (a sprawling place in the West Village where Maureen can afford to be as bohemian as she wants, because she’s got heat) and curls up on their vast couch, drinking endless cups of black espresso and talking to Joanne about anything that isn’t Art or Expression or the Oppression of the Artist by the Bourgeoisie. He needs, sometimes, to think about other things, and Joanne, with her power suits and real job with real checks that allow her to buy luxuries like heat, hot water, and an apartment without tiny bewhiskered tenants who won’t even chip in for the rent, is the perfect companion.
Sometimes he thinks he and his friends are a pack of raging fucking hypocrites. One of the tenets of their lifestyle is a lack of pretension, but doesn’t their complete dismissal of an entire chunk of society constitute its own twisted brand? Benny – who Mark misses more than he has the words for, though he can’t say that out loud – was dropped by them without a second thought because of his marriage. This bothers Mark. It bothers Mark a fucking lot, and not just on these days, because if Maureen can have Joanne then why the fuck can’t Benny have Alison? He knows, in the part of him with room left to be rational, that Benny isolated himself from the group and it really is partly his own fault that they turned on him, but didn’t he do it to protect himself? Didn’t he do it because he was afraid they’d turn on him? Mark is still licking his wounds when it comes to Benny, and all the logic in the world holds no sway. Sometimes he wants to punch Benny for not trying harder and letting his fear rule him. Sometimes he wants to choke Roger and Collins because the fact is, Benny was probably right – they would have spurned him no matter what. Mostly he wants to punch himself for not reaching out more and reminding Benny that his old boyfriend was still his friend.
But he didn’t, and that’s a hard truth he has to live with. He let Benny slip away, and he did it because he was completely fucking terrified of what Collins and Roger would say if he didn’t. Would they have stopped speaking to him? Would they have thought he, too, was just another boot-licking suburbanite brainwashed by the middle and upper classes? Oh, the boho boys have pretension all right, and it lies cheek by jowl with their elitism. No art is art that hasn’t been suffered for. No person is a person who even entertains the thoughts that Mark entertains regularly – in private, inside his head, where no one can touch them. Where he can pretend that they don’t actually exist and that he, too, is unequivocally thrilled to suffer and starve and freeze for his art.
Mark grew up well – that is, better than most of them. His parents were loving, if a tad (he winces inside whenever he uses this word) plebeian, and wanted nothing but the best for their son. When he wanted to go to Brown to study film, they supported him. When he wanted to drop out of Brown to make films, they supported him. He knows he could have better than the loft if he wanted it, better than no money, better than a rewired ATM. He knows that if he went back to them (humbly and respectfully) they would lend him whatever money he needed to get on his feet. He knows this, and some mornings it makes him want to break things.
Not all morning are like this. Sometimes he wakes up happy, strokes his camera, and strokes whatever lover happened to fall into his bed. Sometimes Mark is even content. But he’s also not nineteen anymore, and the ideal-driven utopian lifestyle that seemed so appealing then has lost some of its luster. On these days, Mark thinks that there’s nothing cool about being hungry and nothing exciting about being cold. On these days, Mark looks at the homeless people on the streets and knows what a hypocrite he is – what hypocrites they all are, and he knows how the homeless people see them, and it makes him feel small and awful.
On these days, Mark thinks about calling Benny.
These days are coming faster and harder since Angel and Mimi died, and sometimes Mark wonders whose death will send him running back to the TV stations. Sometimes he takes out the business cards his freelance work has gotten him, sits on the edge of the bathtub and just stares at them, as though they contain the answers to all his questions.
But usually he stands in the bathroom, head down, until it all passes. He waits for the urge to break something to fade. It usually does. At this point he can lie to Roger’s face about how he feels and what he’s thinking, and can usually even manage to banter before he leaves. He takes his camera, and goes outside, and looks, and waits for something to happen.