Welcome to the first in a series of excerpts from No Easter, a novel that tells the story of Gene Gumellis, a 22-year-old janitor whose life is given meaning when a 700-foot-tall monster attacks New York City in the 1980s. Illos by the great Stephen E. Lewis.
Before the monster there was nothing. We almost blew it, almost came stumbling up to the millennium looking like the biggest bunch of jerks anybody could ever talk shit about in a history book, but the monster saved us. With its flaming breath it shed light on the dawning of the new era. It taught me things no schoolteacher would ever admit to, it fought the battle I’d always dreamed of fighting but never had the strength. When it was finished, after the last of the missiles had been deployed, none of us would ever look at the ocean the same way again.
I remember the last night of what can be called the “before” chapter of my life, sitting there on a 7 train to Queens, watching a Hispanic man in a beaten army jacket empty a can of gold spray paint into a plastic bag and then suck on it until his eyes danced like fuzzy dice in the windshield of a long-gone Chevy. Laughing and screaming, he’d stalk the train from end to end, words falling out of his mouth like broken teeth. I named him the Alchemist, for no particular reason.
“I’m goin’ uptown to meet God tonight. Gonna tell that motherfucker He’s out of a job, yo. Tonight I am the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
It was late—five, six a.m. Before the monster, I had my own rituals, one of them being these nightly rides with no specific destination on the subway. I rolled back and forth between the four corners of my world—from Far Rockaway to the Bronx Zoo, from 179th St. in Jamaica to Times Square. If it was up to me I’d have been sitting on a mountain somewhere in Tibet, digging the wisdom of men in funny clothes, but this was the only travel within my means.
“Thirteen people I killed for them,” The Alchemist proclaimed as he peeled the bag from his golden face. “Thirteen people and they tell me I can’t sleep on the subway… I tell ya, that’s the last time I volunteer for anything.” He stumbled the length of the car and back, his head darting from left to right like he was back in the rice patties surrounded by Charley. Occasionally he’d get into a heated argument with one of the empty seats and start kicking it with his steel-toed boots.
Soon the monster would give clarity to these moments. I’d learn not to judge other people’s journeys at first glance, but back then I was down to my last few delusions and the abyss that existed beyond that point was a very real thing to me. When you’re a kid, you can’t imagine failure. You see yourself at forty with a big house, a beautiful wife—you give yourself the benefit of the doubt. By the time you hit your twenties, though, you’re close enough to the edge to realize that what you’ve been waiting for all those years is not going to be there at the bottom of the ditch.
The Alchemist sat down next to me and filled his bag again, only this time instead of inhaling, he thrust it into my hand with a smile.
“Go ahead man, zay hello to Jesus.”
All my life people have been offering me their ideas on enlightenment, they've tried to get me to embrace the spiritual tools they believed I would need along the road to a happy death. I tell you. they're always full of shit.
“Thank you,” I said and gave the Alchemist back his gas. He held his fist up in solidarity to me and stomped off to victimize someone else.
A B-boy-looking kid in baggy clothing was sitting with his girlfriend, cracking up at the whole scene, catching the Alchemist’s attention. The kid was at least 6’ 2” and 250 pounds and the Alchemist was either blind or suicidal because he stumbled up to them. With the spray can dangling in his right hand he looked like a drunken bandito out of an old Bogart movie, muttering about stinking badges and ready to draw.
The Alchemist looked at the kid and the kid shot the look back to him at about ten times the strength. There was a tense silence that the Alchemist broke. Pointing to his own heart with a wet, golden finger he said, “Yo soy dios.”
“You gonna be saying adios to your face in a minute you crazy old man,” the kid replied.
“Izzat what you think I am, a crazy old man?” Proudly, the Alchemist stumbled back and beat his heart with his fist. “Jesus ain’t crazy…” Swaying from foot to foot, he started rolling up his shirt. “You ever seen somebody fuckin’ die?” He flashed the train his chest, revealing an inch-thick scar that ran from his neck to his abdomen and across from nipple to nipple. “I’m Jesus Christ,” he said to the kid, “and you can’t kill me because I’m already dead.”
You couldn’t argue with that and the kid let it go. The Alchemist started back toward me, laughing with gold snot rolling out of his nose and into his mustache.
The train shot out of the tunnel into daybreak and the light surprised us all. I stared out the window to see if some small part of that storybook America I’d always heard about had materialized overnight, but I did not see majestic purple mountains or amber waves of grain, all I saw were more windows—hundreds of them. They stared out at me, I stared out at them, and none of us had the answer.
Forgoing the bag, the Alchemist began spraying the paint straight into his nostrils. It didn’t take more than a couple attempts like this before he was laid out on the floor with the spray can stuck to his hand by a gold, hardened enamel.
The train was moving fast and the illusion of going somewhere felt good. Beneath us people were dreaming in sleep, yelling at their children… soon they’d be driving to work in their third-choice cars, and busses would be picking off the stragglers by the side of the road. The Alchemist and me, we’d given that workaday world crap up a long time ago. No need for money when the only thing you’ll ever own on this earth is your death.
They had big plans for me down there, complete with dirty boots and workman’s gloves. The monster arrived just in time.