Read an Excerpt from the Novel 'Lurid & Cute'


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Read an Excerpt from the Novel 'Lurid & Cute'

Tales of suburban sex and violence from Adam Thirlwell.

that records our hero's
unbound freedoms
From my future perspective, I guess I was not as in control of events as I believed. And yet it did not seem that way. After two or three bottles of bourbon our choices became freer—whether borrowing my parents' car to deliver fresh peanut-butter cookies to friends and local stores, or accompanying people to their employment tribunals and addiction treatments after Hiro had befriended them on the street. That's the beauty of the mind-altering and the world-historical. One minute you're in a peignoir, the next you're on the metro with your replica gun in a canvas bag, just one of your many possessions—even if admittedly you're also enjoying this new accessory, but only the way you might enjoy a new sneaker or mascara. In that way we visited the city's sights—the parks and avenues, the museums of banking and heavy industry—and felt very gleeful that with us was this object, like our surreptitious pet. Or we simply visited the stores and monuments of our locale and barriada, supplementing beer with various bottles of vodka, sometimes smoking 14 or so joints while strolling with the dog in a happy small miasma. This really is the beauty of the mind-altering—it alters everything in the picture. For in non-real life you always would have the option of transforming into a zombie or some other animal or superfreak. Whereas in life what happened previously continues to happen, just maybe worse—like watching a movie, where all the fascinating business of getting from scene to scene is the seamless concern of someone else. Elsewhere, the season was at last beginning to disintegrate. Remote-controlled bees were being flown clumsily among the lavenders and other bushes. In the background you could ever so faintly hear the old dialogue continue: Mrs. Death! Mrs. Death! The sky was heavy and gray, as if the sky had some consciousness of its own farewell, and although I had written back and asked them to stop, sometimes I still received odd messages on my phone. But I insisted on feeling carefree because it's so easy to delete a message, it's as if it never happened, and so I did. And if I suddenly had this purchase on the world, I think only the hardest-hearted reader will begrudge me at least a small amount of exhilaration. I would not be downcast, even if among the bird reserves and estuaries the general monsoon murder rate was very high.


beginning in a café
The place we were in was one of the cafés beside the ice wharf and the canal. We had ordered blueberry clafoutis with cardamom ice cream on the side, or other delicacies. In my cup there was coffee, and beside us light illuminated the narrow perspective. There was one solitary person writing in a notebook, and I looked indulgently on her, for I had my own small experience of her tribulations, scribbling signs and messages everywhere. But otherwise this place was empty. Peacefulness was everywhere. And for a while this was how I liked it. You could hear the barges and the bicycles drift past with their different noises, and then the sound the general noise made, too, the surrounding noise of the city. There was a waiter who seemed to be loitering, just doing nothing but observing the general scene. But the problem with feelings is how quickly they develop, and I think that at this time a general time pressure and impatience was something I could feel almost every day. We were talking very gently about what we might do next, because as I said, the need for ready money was very present. We had been talking about this recently very much, and in Hiro there was a worry that our criminal mobster antics were no future.

—Is no career, said Hiro.

—What? I said.

—Stealing from people, said Hiro. —As a life.

And while I understood that perhaps we did not have the heart for it, to make the criminal a way of life, since to do that you need to use the most severe aspects of your personality, and also encourage a will to succeed that it was possible we did not quite have, still, I was more in favor of this pursuit and wanted to convince him. Because really—when you've done something once, then the possibility just becomes much easier. And so while I was always ready to follow Hiro into whatever endeavor he wanted, I also tried to encourage him into thinking that the street could still be a place for moneymaking. And I was pleased because he was not totally opposed. If I had this passion, he thought, then it was important to respect it. And yet to decide which precise location to apply our energies next was not so easy, for there were many competing options, either repeating the same exploit, or venturing into more recondite territory, like warehouses or factories, and as always we tended to lose ourselves in these reflections, like this lackluster afternoon, watching the way the light developed on the stagnant metal water.


with a waiter in the background
Late Capitalism! Late! It had only just got started! The atmosphere was definitely lacking—like the city or epoch had just remembered another appointment and had left you alone with its distracted PA. I mean, did anyone ever choose the café culture? I do not think so. I think the whole bohemian vibe is just what happens when nothing else is happening, when you would much prefer there to be great events and meetings and appointments. The bohemian is a very noble aspect of making do. And so the sudden sense of freedom I now possessed was very enticing. More privately, perhaps, I was stuck—

(—But what can I do? I said.

—Well, said Hiro. —You need to be with Candy, or with Romy, or with someone else like—

—But I can't do any of those, I said.)

—but this only meant that the general inner freedom I now possessed was all the more welcome and convincing. The problem is in finding ways to express this inner freedom, in imposing your effect on the world at large, and this seemed to be a problem for me now. We had been waiting in this restaurant for a long while, and still there was no sign of our blueberry clafoutis. There were only these coffees that were making me as always just a little hyper. I tried to catch the eye of the waiter but he did not acknowledge me, he was just texting or talking to the barista, just lost in his little social cloud. And I thought this showed a problematic lack of respect—for if you are to work in this business, where your job is to serve other people, I think you should be pleased to do that, and take pride in your subservience. Whereas it was obvious that he wanted to signify to me that he felt humiliated, that he did not feel this was a worthy job for him—and even that he wanted to prove to me that in a moral duel between us, he was the higher being.


—Hey, cool, man, said Hiro, or other soothing words.

But I did not want to be soothed. When it concerns a matter of principle, I don't think one should be ashamed of making a scene. I learned this very early from my mother. I was only small, she would tell me, but that was no reason why anyone should ignore or overlook me. I had to stand up for what was rightfully mine. And so I always wanted to, but with maybe little success. Now, however, I felt more in charge of my own person. For why in the end should one always be made to feel guilty? I mean, guilty for being served? Always we had people cleaning our house, as well as the people in restaurants and department stores who were there to help me in my choices, and that always felt very natural. For the point of employing someone isn't for them to hate you; the point is to form an extra family, to have people around you who care for you and admire what you strive to do. That's certainly how it was when I was growing up. Always there were people in the background—and definitely without background you are lost, or are nothing—people who wished me well, and wanted me to fulfill my entire potential. Whereas here there was this man who did not care about me at all, as if he were animated by some much grander sense of privilege than I had ever known, and it distressed me very much.

who frightens our hero
with his disregard
At first therefore I tried to wave at him, without too much wanting to make it look like I was trying, since I did not want to be observed by the girl writing in her notebook—I mean, observed in failing to make my presence felt. I could think of nothing worse. In the sycamore and orchid trees, pigeons were hiding their faces under one silvered wing. The world was as paused as that, and kept on pausing. I tried staring, or then ignoring him. It was as if the entire principle of a café as a place of refreshment had been just ever so calmly abandoned. Yes, this pause in which we waited was lasting longer than I had ever known, and it was making me almost frightened. That always happens for me if anything is just not the right size. I see in this nothing unusual. In the end everything we think is dependent on length and size. Meerkats for instance might seem very charming, but you only need to think of them enlarged to the size of even a cow or flamingo to realize how this charm is very much a category of their reduced dimensions. In the same way, a pause in a café that is not the right length can become debilitating or even worse. It can make you very fearful. And fear, I think, has this way of making everything seem different, so that all the usual behavior seems less available when you maybe need it most.


which leads to improvised
violent decisions
For instance, in my sense of disorientation, I decided to confront the waiter directly. I walked up to him and asked if we could have the bill.

—You don't want the food? he said.

—We did want the food, I said.

—But it'd be terribly sad if you left without eating, he said.

I suppose I should have not let myself be persuaded, but I always do want to see the good in people. So defeated I went back to my table, where Hiro was waiting for catastrophe. Then behind me came the waiter, with two plates of food. Except this was not the food we had ordered. Where we had wanted blueberry clafoutis and cardamom ice cream, there was instead a tempura of market greens, and mint sorbet—or roughly that, the precise details are not important. And it seemed to me that this was not at all something we should have to bear without any redress. To be insulted in this way was very sad. And absolutely, in retrospect I do now see these ugly feelings as not just pure, but also caused by other things, I mean not just the waiter's rudeness or indifference but also for instance the desolation I was trying not to think about when alone in the house with Candy. But then, this is the problem with motivations, they are free-floating and difficult to locate, or locate at the true location, which is why it's always important to be super-vigilant like a desert patriarch alone in his monastic cell observing all his reflections—because if you don't reveal all your thoughts to yourself at every moment then they can rise up against you. To be super-vigilant is basically to be super-vigilant of all the demons ranged against you, like inside your little self there are pupae with their individual moths folded up inside, waiting to unfurl, like pale umbrellas. And then these things do unfurl, after all. And one of these, I think, was this worry about my machismo and general influence. I was perhaps never as sure of my machismo as I might have liked—and I think that was visible in what happened next. As I looked at my tempura or mint sorbet, and thought that this was not at all what I had ordered, not at all what I had been excitedly imagining, I also remembered that, as usual, in our bag under the table was a very convincing gun. That's definitely a way of offering you more options in your everyday interactions. Also it seemed to me, when we had been discussing our future options, that everything we did should be done as morally as possible, because if you don't act like that, why bother? And here, it seemed, was one such opportunity. To take action against this locale was not at all an immoral act: It was instead a way of defending a certain ideal, for a world where niceties are not observed is not a world worth inhabiting. And while certainly I wanted to propose this to Hiro as a suggestion for him to approve, I also thought that there was very little time to act, since if the moment was lost then it would necessarily be lost forever.


but improvisation is
a difficult method
Unsteadily therefore I stood up with our gun. It wobbled in my grasp unsteady too, like a divining rod. I was not sure I was the man to choose for such a moment, being as it was devised without the meticulous planning we had previously employed. Still, one thing my schooling offered me was to put everything into the fight. I stood there with the gun and with much ferocity stared at the waiter, and did the usual thing of demanding money. And yet as I did so I was also aware that first there was the problem of what to do with the girl who had been solitary and engrossed with her scribbling and her notebook, since at this moment she was moving to the door, and I was not sure we should be allowing her escape, considering the possibility of police and other security measures. And yet I had no prepared way of forcing her to sit down, since I had no wish to harm or even scare her. Therefore I offered her more time.

—I'm going to count to three, I said, —and by three you need to be sitting back down.

It seemed a reasonable offer, but she said nothing to me. She just looked at me, and I found that unnerving but I continued to count to three, nevertheless, since if you have made a threat you must always try to fulfill it, that's the basic rule of society, whether gangster or gallerina, and I was relieved to see that as I did so she began to sit back down.

—No, said the waiter to her. —You should go.

I admit I was definitely surprised. He had such assurance, and I would have been full of admiration, had it not been also such a delicate moment, and also had it not been one more moment where my authority was being questioned. It made the situation, I thought, much more difficult than was necessary, and wistfully I considered once again how onerous is any form of work. There's no end to the complications. The same feeling must occur everywhere, not just for me or the editor of some local diario besieged by a violent mob but also the collector of rare spiders and the assistant in a hospice. No one is exempt. But most of all I felt a righteous rage. Here was this man, without any sense of duty, with no sense of respect, and once again he was treating me as if I posed no threat. So that, as if to contradict him, I found myself close to him, and pointing the gun in his face. And this was a very different feeling to what I had felt before, in the nail salon, where I had been anxious as much as possible to preserve everyone's calm, and not invade their moral space, the transparent envelope that I had assumed enveloped everyone. It was as if I had previously thought that everyone had this moral space around them, like in the grandest cable car or Ferris wheel, but what—this was the question now being presented, in a very violent form—if that wasn't true? What if everyone's available to everyone? I don't mean that's a world I love but that may well be the only one that exists, or at least that was how it seemed, with this sudden invasion I was performing of another person. As I said, I think that I was less in control of events than I might have thought. I could see the gun shaking in my hand and I knew that I was running out of methods to assert myself.

if it is to end well
But to be in a duo is always very restful—it enables each person to help the other out, and in many ways this duo I formed with Hiro was the best society I ever knew. He always moved very deftly, and behind me I could sense him moving with purpose and a gentle grace toward the counter. I was trying to hold the eye of the waiter. I had no idea if other people were present, presumably there must have been a chef to produce the mismatched food, but I could not see him. There was just this Wild West idyll, while Hiro took the money and beckoned me to follow him to the door. Just for a moment I still paused, however, because I was momentarily shaken by the violence of my feelings and was in a stalled confusion. The woman's notebook was open on her table with the pen beside it, and I imagined it soon to be dark with her panicked writing. I think I wanted to apologize or at least show that I could calm down and was not a monster, because the expression on this man's face was not an expression I ever wanted to see, it was sickly and with all the pain of something melted or gone awry, the way a shoulder looks awry when it's been dislocated. I knew that I had caused this kind of pain and I wanted to assert that to do so was way beyond anything I had ever intended, but of course in these situations you do not get the opportunity for interviews and retrospective summations. Do the clothes you wear express you, as the underwear models and character actors believe? Do your actions prove anything at all? I had never quite thought they did—but now that I was outside in the fluorescent light it did seem I might have been wrong. And yet I wanted to still maintain that I had only meant very well. The ideal, and it was an ideal, was of a noble restitution—where we would assert our variety of justice, with no violence done to anyone. And should one really abandon an ideal, just because of local problems? I know my rages very well. They're like a pet that people fear, but where the owner smiles encouragingly to other people—because she knows it will not scare, will do no harm. But also I can understand the arguments against that.