About this title:
“Maggie Estep is the bastard daughter of Raymond Chandler and Anaïs Nin. Her prose is hard-boiled and sexy; she turns a good phrase and shows some leg. Love Dance of the Mechanical Animals is one hell of a great book! By the way, when Chandler and Nin left her at the orphanage, she was adopted by Charles Bukowski and Dick Francis.”
About the Author:
—Jonathan Ames, author of What’s Not to Love?
Charting Life at Its Most Bizarre . . .
is an obsession for Maggie Estep, and in Love Dance of the Mechanical Animals this obsession reaches a fever pitch that is as readable and as entertaining as it is strange.
Here is your chance to experience the world according to one of our most original and honest voices. Love Dance of the Mechanical Animals showcases some of the best of what Maggie Estep has to offer. Here, gathered together for the first time, are Maggie’s infamous spoken word pieces—including “Sex Goddess of the Western Hemisphere,” “Hey Baby,” and “I’m an Emotional Idiot,”—that landed her on MTV and HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. This varied collection also brings together a myriad of writing styles, such as diary-style magazine columns, articles highlighting Estep’s friends and heroes—from punk godfather Iggy Pop to Permanent Midnight author Jerry Stahl—and short stories that feature Maggie’s own brand of original fiction.
From her many smoking relapses, to her obsession with horses and horse racing, to her manic love life, to her motley assortment of friends, to her battles with an onslaught of killer attack “biker” fleas, to an epistolary short story that is a collaboration with Rick Moody, Maggie Estep offers a humorous if twisted view of reality in Love Dance of the Mechanical Animals.
MAGGIE ESTEP is the author of the novel Diary of an Emotional Idiot, Soft Maniacs, a short story collection, and the mystery Hex. A celebrated spoken word artist, she has performed in venues all over the United States and Europe. Her writing has appeared in the Village Voice, The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, Spin, and on Nerve.com. She lives in Brooklyn.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Writing for Shout was a happy accident. I hadn't heard of the magazine when Afarin Majidi, then editor, contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in writing a column. She sent me a few copies of the magazine. It was a glossy monthly featuring the typical interviews with rock bands and minor movie stars. It seemed geared at hipster twenty-somethings living in New York City. At first glance, it wasn't that distinctive. But I noticed that Jerry Stahl, infamous author of the memoir Permanent Midnight, was a regular contributor as was Reverend Jen, a performance artist/playwright known to travel the entrails of New York City wearing a pair of large plastic elf ears. In short, the magazine was a little idiosyncratic. I was interested. At the time, I was working on The Angelmakers, a sprawling historical novel about nineteenth-century female gangsters. I was consumed by the book and didn't have the time or inclination to write anything else, even for much needed cash. I offered to give monthly excerpts from the novel in progress and Afarin agreed, and for the first four months this is what I did. Eventually, though, the book became an albatross. There was no end in sight and I was running out of money. I shelved it. But I still wanted to contribute to Shout. At that time, my personal life was fairly dramatic. My on-again, off-again boyfriend, a writer from Chicago, was moving to New York. We were going to live together in Brooklyn. Having lived on the Lower East Side for ten years, for me moving to Brooklyn was like moving to Indonesia. Frightening and exotic. Which I guess is what gave me the idea to start writing journal-like vignettes about it all. I presented one of these to Afarin to run as a possible column. I'd call it "Mating Habits" and detail the ups and downs of a monogamous relationship between moody writers. Afarin was delighted. The confessional column was launched. I started getting favorable reports from friends and acquaintances who would pick up free copies of Shout at movie theaters and restaurants. A few months into the column, the boyfriend moved out and my own mating habits became erratic. Which made for good copy. If and when I had a slow or dull month on the romantic front, I'd document the mating habits of my eccentric girlfriends. Or I'd just write about one of my great loves: horse racing. Sadly, a couple years into my tenure at Shout, Afarin was fired and things were never really the same afterward. I didn't have much rapport with the new editor, and he ended up asking me to either write a political column or resign. Since my feeling for and knowledge of politics is limited to strong opposition to war and deep suspicion of anything and everything structured, I resigned.
The columns serve as good companion pieces to the rest of my work since they nakedly show the birth of most of my obsessions (racetracks, pianos, deviant hussy friends), but, more importantly, my friends love these pieces and want them all in a book. So here they are.
Infested with Love
"Oh what the hell," Jack said, "let's just do it."
"What if we kill each other?" I said.
"Then we'll be dead and nothing will matter," he said.
"Oh. Okay," I said, and the next day I started looking for a place for me and Jack to shack up. I'd volunteered to renounce New York for his native Chicago, but since my ancestors were libidinous Spaniards who lived in the south of Spain and never dealt with cold I am definitely not genetically equipped to cope with the wind and freezing rain that shower Jack's place up there on the lips of Lake Michigan. So Jack graciously agreed to move here. But since my one-room hovel on the Lower East Side wasn't big enough for two, I had to find us a new place. I went trundling through Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn with pipe dreams of reasonably priced real estate. I encountered sociopathic realtors and abominable living conditions. Closets, basements, stinking dusty attics. All were too expensive. I was depressed and tired and ready to kill myself one evening as I walked toward the F train in Brooklyn. Nearing the subway stop, I passed a real-estate place. Its window was festooned with photos of luscious-looking apartments. Tender abodes with tall ceilings and handsome floors. Taunting me. Mocking me and my thin freelancer's budget.
I stared at the photos then bravely walked into the real-estate place.
A compact woman with wild hair and big glasses looked up from an overflowing desk. "Yes?" she said with an accent.
"Uh, I need an apartment," I ventured.
"Ah," she said, looking back down at her desk--which was clearly much more interesting than me and my pathetic need for shelter.
I stared at the top of her head, then cleared my throat and pointed at one of the luscious apartment photos and said, "How much?"
"Three thousand a month," she said in an accent that I now decided must be French.
"Oh," I said, hanging my head, visions of a swell new apartment vanishing like specks of powdered plague in the wind.
"Are you French?" I asked suddenly.
This startled her. She looked up. "Yes," she said.
And so, I spoke French to her.
When I was a kid, I lived in France for a few years and my French is still pretty good, though I only use it under extreme duress. Like the time me and my artist friend, Terry, a vitamin fanatic, got stopped in Paris customs. The zealot customs officers searched all our bags and even anal-probed my friend and were convinced that because we looked a little disheveled Terry's vitamin pills were barbiturates and his drawing chalk was crack. Finally, in exasperation, I started speaking my rusty French to the customs guys. It was magic. "Vous parlez francais?" They suddenly beamed, ready to embrace me and have me over for croissants and follies a deux. I explained that yes, in fact I had even lived in France as a child. And then all was well. They stamped our passports and gave us their blessings to frolic through their homeland.
And now, my French was working its buttery magic once more. No sooner had I started speaking French to the real-estate lady than she suddenly remembered a reasonably priced apartment near the Manhattan Bridge. I immediately went to look at the place. It was beautiful. Roomy. An old building with its character intact. No track lighting. No hideous new fixtures. Lots of eccentric arches and cavernous closets. View of Manhattan. Some slightly wackball downstairs neighbors who seemed to have a lot of Harleys and pets, but that was fine.
I called Jack in Chicago and we both endeavored to scrape together documentation stating that although we're both freelancers we aren't horrible people and probably would actually pay the rent.
A few days later, having miraculously passed the financial inspection, I went to visit the Frenchwoman and signed a lease. The following day I moved in with my eighty-five-year-old piano, thirty-five boxes of books, a futon, and my two cats. Jack moved in a week later, arriving from Chicago toting only his laptop and one suitcase of clothes. He'd gotten rid of all other possessions. He didn't want to be burdened by past baggage—literal or figurative.
Our first night, after having sex forty-five times, we lay on the futon in our big, mostly empty apartment, marveling at our good fortune. We were a little worried that the place was too good to be true. And, we soon found out, it was.
First, I notice that my very large diabetic cat, Stinky, is scratching excessively. Within a few hours, he's scraped all the fur off his neck and has oozing sores from clawing himself. Later that day, I'm getting ready to step in the shower when I notice a weird black spot on my upper thigh. Like any right thinking individual who once did too many drugs and screwed somewhat indiscriminately--but blessedly escaped disease--I have health paranoia. My heart is pounding as I examine this dot on my thigh which is doubtless some new breed of Ebola. When I go to touch the Ebola, it jumps. And I realize it's a flea.
I inspect both cats and find little black dots of flea feces blemishing their backs. We're infested. I instantly drop everything and rush to the nearest pet store to stock up on flea powder and flea collars. As Jack looks on, confused and scratching, I bathe the cats in flea dip then rub raw garlic all over them since, according to the homeopathic cat book, fleas hate garlic. Jack cooks up a huge batch of heavily garlicky pasta sauce and we eat it until we're sick. We start popping Benadryl to quell our itching. We rub ourselves in anti-itching unguents mixed with mashed raw garlic. We writhe around in bed, greasy and scratching and stoned on Benadryl as Stinky and Lulu twitch and scrape off what's left of their fur.
A few days pass but our fleas seem to be growing, not dying.
They're getting more brazen. They gambol all over the cats' backs. They frolic in the fruit dish. I go downstairs to ask the neighbors--who, it appears, have at least ten cats--if they know anything about the infestation. They deny it. A little too vehemently.
I call up the French realtor who is also the building manager. She pretends not to understand. I search my memory banks for the French word for flea and eventually remember: puce.
I say, "Nous avons des puces." The French realtor laughs and makes vague noises about an exterminator. Someday.
Jack and I go buy flea bombs. We pack up the cats and vacate. We come home, air the place out, wash all the sheets, vacuum, and scrub and a few hours later start scratching again.
By now the cats are totally bald and Jack and I don't look so good either.
I start trying to view it in a new light. I think of the passage in Jim Carroll's book Forced Entries where he and his girlfriend find they have crabs, and rather than run shrieking and horrified to the nearest clinic they hold crab races. They befriend ...
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