Rachel Kushner

When I had first moved to New York from Reno, I found an apartment on Mulberry Street and planned to make films with the camera I never returned to the art department at the University of Nevada, a Bolex Pro. I arrived with the camera, my savings from selling my motorcycle, and a phone number for Chris Kelly, my single contact. I was twenty-one. I figured I’d wait to call mythical Chris Kelly, a UNR student I had known only slightly. He had been shot in the arm by Nina Simone when he tried to make a film about her. I’ll get situated first, I thought. I’ll have some sense of what I’m doing, a way to make an impression on him. Then I’ll call. I knew no one else, but downtown New York was so alive with people my age, and so thoroughly abandoned by most others, that the energy of the young seeped out of the ground. I figured it was only a matter of time before I met people, was part of something.


My apartment was about as blank and empty as my new life, with its layers upon layers of white paint, like a plaster death mask of the two rooms, giving them an ancient urban feeling, and I didn’t want to mute that effect with furniture and clutter. The floor was an interlocking map of various unmatched linoleum pieces in faded floral reds, like a cracked and soiled Matisse. It was almost bare, except for a trunk that held my clothes, a few books, the stolen or borrowed Bolex, a Nikon F (my own), and a man’s brown felt hat, owner unknown. I had no cups, no table, nothing of that sort. The mattress I slept on had been there when I rented. I had one faded pink towel, on its edge machine embroidered pickwick. It was from a hotel in San Francisco. I knew a girl who had cleaned rooms there and I somehow ended up with the towel, which seemed fancier than a regular towel because it had a provenance, like shoes from Spain or perfume from France. A towel from the Pickwick. The hat was a Borsalino I’d found in the bathroom of a bar. I wrapped my jacket around it, rather than giving it to the bartender. It decorated the empty apartment. Each morning I went to a coffee shop near my apartment, the Trust E on Lafayette, and sat at the counter. The same waitress was always there. The men who came into that coffee shop tried to pick her up. She was pretty and, perhaps more importantly, had large breasts framed in a low-cut waitressing smock.

“Hey, what’s your name?” a man in a yellow hard hat said to her one morning as he stared at her breasts and dug in the pocket of his work overalls to pay his check.

She glanced at the radio behind the counter. “My name is ... Zenith,” she said, smiling at him with her slightly crooked teeth.

That was the precise moment I wanted to be friends with Giddle—her actual name, or at least the one I knew her by.


Click here to read Kushner’s art portfolio on the images that inspired The Flamethrowers.

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