Part 1: Cop A Feel For All Your Sins

So he went to the Levi Jeans Store in SoHo, where Spring Street hit and run Broadway to buy a cut called Premium Offender. He’d seen them on a website of a store he could never bring himself to visit, and was all provoked by the scandal of such a low rise. Imperial Teen was playing on the iPod, fake an interest, seven inch. In a booth with a full-length mirror, separated from the others by a red curtain he tried them on. The mirror knew his secret: that he took off his briefs even though the store had a sign up saying not to do so. He pulled the jeans up slow, knowing if they passed his knees they would fit and fell in lust with a new idea of himself. He’d never worn anything that rose lower than his pubic hairline. Don’t get too excited. The jeans sausaged him skinny, forcing bulges to park in tight spaces.
He wore his Offenders all over New York City, but never the Bronx because Jamaica lived there. He wore other pants to the Downtown 6 Subway stop at Gun Hill Road, and came off in Union Square. He dashed into the men’s toilet at Barnes And Noble, ditched briefs and changed pants. Fifth Avenue to Brooklyn, strutting offence with a blue “Stereolab Switched On” T-shirt tucked in front and left to show that he spent a lot of time bothering to look as if he couldn’t be bothered. Imperial Teen was on the iPod again singing Copafeelia. One of the things to be thankful for—the iPod inherited the walkman’s genius for creating private space simply by recognizing that it’s the ears not the eyes that need to be closed off.
Walking down Avenue Of The Americas, he caught himself in office windows and a stranger looked back. Stop. Take your chest out of your diaphragm, squeeze your abs, and stand up straight. Widen your stride but bounce like Travolta in the opening credits to Saturday Night Fever. Better yet, hum “Staying Alive” right now; let it bounce from one end of Tompkins Square Park to the other. At night he would go back to Barnes and Noble before they closed, put back on his non-pervert jeans and jump on the Uptown 6 for the Bronx.
He wore Offenders not to stand out but to blend in and vanish. New York demanded a higher level of common, a greater grade of generic. That you be one in eight million nations of one; people bland in their funky uniqueness. He wore all of summer in those jeans. The version of himself that he had met in the changing room mirror was the one he now felt the closest to. All that damn tightness was forcing his favourite self to bulge out.
But he was no longer in New York. He remembered reading an issue of Entertainment Weekly on the plane, an article about that homely policewoman from Reno 911! that the reviewer called a Virginal Slut. That shit rang a bell and he hated that fucking shit. If all that mattered about sex was orgasm then he was as much an adult as anybody else. Why were men who had to make their selves never as confident as self made men? This was not the kind of thought that would have jumped him in New York. But he was not in New York.
He was at the 17th floor, climbing to the 20th of the Marriott, Downtown Miami. November 17, 2005. Make something out of nothing; pretend, conjure. To be black is to myth-make. Offend in Every Way; a lesser tune from the White Stripes will soon birth itself as his theme, but not yet. He rose in the elevator and tried on metaphors for size. Rising above everyday fuckery. Rising to a new level. Rising to a new level of existence. Rising out of these jeans. Rising out of oneself. Rising but not like some spirit. Rising above leaving Jamaica below, the island and the concept, in Offender jeans with the 7-inch low rise. In Jamaica these would have been faggot pants. In Miami he remembered Brooklyn; going to a book reading. Days later he found himself on Flickr where he was dismayed to find himself so much fatter than his author photo, twenty more pounds of anxiety packed onto his face.
The last time he saw Florida, New York had two towers. He found that he couldn’t stop himself from using New York as a point of reference, even when he was in Jamaica. He had been to Miami before. In the mid nineties he was there almost every other month, going to South Beach whenever Andrene would call up shouting to get his fucking ass here. It was another version of himself, not the New York version in tight jeans but still one he liked more than the others, mainly because this version never asked him if he was happy.
One Christmas Andrene called at 6 in the morning and by midnight he was leaving the Miami Airport, to meet her and her friend Brian (that he knew she wasn’t fucking) and some other woman. All Jamaicans. All living long enough in the US that only around Jamaicans could their accents burst open. His was tired and his contacts lens glaucomic, but he went with them to the club anyway, and it took him a while to realize that the go-go girl had a really flat chest and a really huge swinging bulge for a chick. And that not every boy in every club rubbed boys’ knees, and kissed boys’ earlobes and disappeared with other boys down corridors that were always lit blue, even in movies. Where are we? He asked Andrene and she laughed. He felt the rest of the night that she would be searching for a glance of recognition, a you-know-why-I-brought-you-here look, so he spent the night not looking at her. Instead he watched gay porn on the monitors, the first time he ever watched one with another human in the room and was relieved that all he felt was distance.
All you really needed was distance. He was so good at distance that at any given moment he was miles away from himself. But he wasn’t at the gay club, he was at the Marriott. And the gay club was 1995, ten years before. Here in 2005 he had run out of versions of himself and inventing a new one just took too much time. But in Miami rooms 25 floors up have balconies, and balconies have ledges, and though he would never consider himself suicidal, at least not right now, when there are so many magazines bought at the airport to be read, he is looking down to the pool below and he’s thinking that like Dr. Faustus he is glutted with the conceit of it.

Front page image by cdsessums.

Read Part Two, I Am Planet Fuck, Planet Fuck, here.

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Marlon James

About the Author

Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1970. He is the winner of the 2015 Man Booker award for his third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. His first novel, John Crow's Devil (Akashic Books, 2005) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and was a New York Times Editors' Choice. The novel was published in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy in 2008. His second novel, The Book of Night Women (Riverhead 2009), won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The NAACP Image Award, and The Minnesota Book Award, and was New York Magazine's third best book of the year. Marlon was Go On Girl! Book Club's 2012 Author of the year.
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Marlon James