Last year a loose sense gathered in me of what could follow my MFA manuscript. I had been reading more unconventional prose than I had before: Renee Gladman, Bhanu Kapil, Sean Bonney, Kathy Acker; I would soon be reading Samuel R. Delany, Gail Scott, F.S. Rosa, lots of scifi. The sense stuck to a phrase, “Oedipus Apartment Complex.” I had moved amid housing crisis to Oakland, CA a year and a half before with a partner and soon began as volunteer receptionist at a Tenants’ Rights Clinic. At the clinic, as a tenant in Oakland, I’ve found it rare that only one tenant of a multi-unit apartment building has landlord problems. But tenants’ uneven relations with one another often trouble their solidarity. To “Oedipus Apartment Complex” I have appended “Tenants’ Association.” A tenants’ association mediates tenant relations and collectively struggles for livable conditions by, among other things, antagonizing shared landlords and other enemies of livable housing. Oedipus Apartment Complex Tenants’ Association (OACTA) will narrate the life of a complex’s tenants’ association, on the compressed building scale of four units and through the compressed formal scale of a novella, drawing on conversations with fellow tenants in and out of the clinic and the strategic trajectories and tactical repertoires described in tenants’ movement histories and handbooks. Included here are a page of notes with a drawing and a draft of the first chapter of OACTA, as well as an excerpt from the narrative “Late Rent,” which is probably not part of OACTA itself but has been preparatory work for it (its writing preceded the draft chapter).
From Oedipus Apartment Complex Tenants’ Association
“Well, if you can have juice, have juice,” a tenant thinks aloud, coming out of reverie. They pick up a coffee jar, stand from a cushioned wooden chair at a wooden table in the middle of a dining living room kitchen, walk over off-white tile floor to a sink, rapidly fill and swirl the jar with tap water, pour it out, set the jar on a wooden counter, open a refrigerator, move aside something in front of a carton of orange juice, reach and take hold of the orange juice, close the refrigerator, twist off a cap from the juice, pour juice into the cup, twist on the tap to the juice, open the refrigerator, put the juice back, move something back in front of the juice, close the refrigerator, walk back to the chair they had sat it, sit again, take a juice sip, and type two sentences. They take another, longer sip of juice. The tenant thinks, these sentences aren’t the right ones, but they were hard enough to make so I guess I won’t delete them. Then they shut a beginning Spanish textbook and print the homework, walk over to a desk, squat to a printer underneath the desk and wait as two pieces of paper print, watching with excitement increasing up to the moment when the printer pulls back each piece of paper to print on its second side. The tenant stands up with the paper, reaches behind some items on the desk for a stapler, staples the paper and sets it and the stapler down on the desk. They walk back to the table, bring from it the juice, walk up to and open a door, pull a spliff from behind an ear and place its tip between their lips, pull a lighter from a pocket in black jeans they’re wearing, light the spliff, put the lighter back in the pocket, walk through the door inhaling, close the door, exhale.
At the bottom of stairs the tenant walks down from the door just shut is another tenant stands.
“Hey! How are you?” the first tenant says.
“Ok, I guess. We just got a notice from Rex that the rent is going up. Was about to come up to tell you.”
“Oh, huh? Us too.” The first tenant draws from the spliff, holds it out to the second tenant.
“I shouldn’t, I’m already pretty high, I’ve got work soon.”
The first tenant still holds out the spliff, but the second tenant doesn’t take it. The first tenant shrugs and draws again, leaves the spliff between their lips, exhales, bogarts it.
“It’s ok. I have a lot of homework but I can’t get myself to do some of it unless I’m high since its so boring. I can’t wait until I’ve covered requirements; don’t mind having to take a language though. I should have studied Spanish in high school, but no one liked the teacher so I didn’t take it. You know, I read on the internet if you study for a test high then you’ll do better if you take the test high.”
“That makes sense.”
“Yeah, it does make sense. How’s work?”
“Same, pretty much. For deliveries, I like to be high so the time passes, but for driving people I get better tips if I can more closely attend to what the passenger wants and needs if I’m sober.”
“What are we going to do about this rent?”
“My cousin’s landlord gave them a big rent increase last year, I think they were able to fight it. Want to go out for a drink with us when you get off work and we can ask questions about what they did?”
“Yeah okay. Well actually, tonight is my night with the kids, but let me check in with my partner to see if they can and want to go. I think they had plans to get a drink with a friend, but since this is pretty important maybe they would both want to meet up with y’all.”
“Cool. Have them text me. What about our other neighbors? Do you know if they got increases too?”
“I haven’t really gotten to know them so much yet, since they don’t smoke and we keep different hours, but I rang their doorbells earlier to see if they were around, but they weren’t. Wanna try them a little later and see if they wanna join?”
I wonder if they’ll actually do that, thinks the second tenant. It’s okay, at least for tonight, if they don’t; we’ve got two months before the increase comes into effect.
“See you soon,” says the second tenant to the first.
The two look at each other for a moment, then the first tenant spreads their arms and the second nods, spreads their arms and approaches. They hug, hold, release.
The second tenant steps back, turns away, withdraws a mobile from a pocket, walks up a slightly hilly arterial street in front of the width of Oedipus Apartment Complex. They tap to their encrypted message app, tap a label that says “Partner” and relay a version of the conversation just had. At the top of the hill, they turn right and approach the drivers’ door of a car parked on the corner, open the door with a key from a ring clipped to jeans they’re wearing, and drive off in the direction they had been walking as ascending the hill in front of OAC.
When the Tenant got off the bus, they walked along the sidewalk a short ways before turning right. Then up the stairs onto an open, street-facing walkway – above a rather small parking lot – that crossed in front of 6 second floor apartments. As the Tenant walked along they heard a car leap over the crest of the hill (that was also an intersection) at the bottom of which their apartment complex was constructed. The car hurried past in the direction contrary to that which was being walked. The feel of the car’s wake: on the Tenant’s arms and torso raised and tightened their shoulders; in their ears raised and tightened their eyebrows.
Too often I raise and tighten my shoulders and eyebrows at events in the world, thought the Tenant, I need to get back to regular meditation. Many things reminded the Tenant that once they had regularly sat, sometimes on cushions, on floors for at least ten minutes, sometimes twenty, nearly every day. The Tenant, when reminded, would think, if the point of the sitting is nothing, then I can and do live that same nothing already every moment, so it is okay that I am out of the habit of sitting. It is probably less okay, now my back and knees and legs are so often sore, that I am out of the habit of stretching.
At the door of the Tenant’s apartment hung a long plastic bag. The Tenant grabbed the bag off the door and pulled out a piece of paper that read at the top THREE DAY NOTICE TO PAY OR QUIT. They unlocked the deadbolt and went inside.
A day later.
I began the day in our apartment, bestooled at what several websites of the home improvement genre call a breakfast bar. Sitting beside soiled cups, dishes, utensils voluminous enough to have crept from sink and sink adjacent countertop onto the bar, I read posts and follow links to what booksellers and reviewers had said about Renee Gladman’s Calamities.
On the other side of the bar, at the sink, I think a little about this but, midway through the cup, dish, utensil pile, cleaning a jigger, begin to think about how standing there the night before Snap had convinced me that I would be pleased if I did go out to meet Crackle for drinks as Crackle and I had since Friday planned. It was Monday. I couldn’t tell if it mattered that, as I remembered, Snap and Crackle were somewhat repelled from one another by facts incident to the former having been, like me, for some time supervised by the latter when Snap and I taught after-school in another city, some time ago. Snap’s encouraging me to go see Crackle had, next to that repulsion, a kindness to it. And a little self-interest, I was interrupting his drawing.
Two days later.
I’ve never shot someone before and I feel as ambivalent doing it as some might think I would. Quickly I feel a little ill although relieved because now I can get that transfer to go through. Today is the nineth, it is now 4:35, I have just enough time to confirm the kill then transfer part of the deposit I’ll receive as payment to my landlord. I drive off after the transaction, leaving the car burning 5 miles away in a strip mall parking lot in front of a TJ Maxx and Starbucks. I already know from previous tests of the Fire Department’s response time that they won’t make it to the car in time to gather anything incriminating. I walk to the beach where I take off my shoes and get high while walking in the sand and looking at the waves. Then I call a taxi-substitute.
The other person with whom I share the ride is reading Moby Dick. I tell them I never finished reading that and ask how far they are. They say Ishmael isn’t on the ship yet. I pull out my copy of Gladman’s Newcomer Can’t Swim and pretend to read but really just think about the real estate investing venture capitalist I just murdered so that he wouldn’t give evidence against the eviction lawyer that hired me, who currently faces charges of having killed his brother who was also an eviction lawyer, with whom he was in an inheritance dispute.
When I get out of the Prius at the intersection where our apartment complex is the lofts across the street are on fire and I can hear sirens. I see a body length mirror among a pile on the street on our side, which I grab before walking to and climbing up the stairs toward our apartment.
At home Snap looks up from her laptop and says “killer bod, killer abs, that workout is killer” and I flip through Architectural Record‘s 150th anniversary issue. After flipping through the magazine without digging in for probably the fifth time, I compile, type and revise all of this and then copy and revise these notes from yesterday:
I get to the cafe where I’m going to try doing things I’m supposed to already have done or otherwise be doing. Having biked here, I had lifted my cycle off the ground outside onto an elevated steel bike rack that comes off this platform with tables and chairs that the cafe must have a permit for since it takes up parking. There are on-ground bike racks with available room to lock-up to, but being on-ground, like the usual bike racks I deal with, their appeal pales in comparison to the aforementioned steel gimmick.
While waiting to begin or complete the exchange of credit for coffee I often look around at the magazine racks. Today, I do this too. To my right is a copy of Architectural Record, celebrating 150 years of their magazine. I know very little about architecture in any formal sense. But I have been thinking about the idea of it a lot since reading Gladman. The magazine cover is illustrated by Matteo Pericoli who once taught in New York’s Laboratory of Literary Architecture.
After getting my coffee I set up at a bar on the second floor overlooking the cafe. I get a call from my property manager telling me that he knows a lawyer that has a job that will pay the rent and then some. Following the call I finish revising a longish poem written from 15 slips of notes.
Young Neogy Reads Women’s Anthologies
phone or email or whenever
problems – many on, not on list
by women – a UC Berkeley student
signs a check over to someone @ ur
address; the video transfer of
Sisterhood is Powerful that we
set up the database to collect responses to
but grew up in Uganda; they
reach out to collect for mail fraud,
fishhooked of whiteness, patriarchy
all Librevox recordings are in the public domain
on my bulk, knowing that
“we prepared the field,” someone wrote
parts as we now do in pieces
folks, Tyrel can help with outreach
using digital audio recorders
and overaccumulation of audio also crisis
provide a list of valuables
and send her to go sell ads – Neogy is a
for whom i type notes on
Rising Tides – 20 the industry should look out for
~100 – with 50% parking, the email address
VYC members brought you to this for
in Britain his parents are Bengali-born
and if they have money to share,
in the cars that cut the
5 new minutes of an old episode
recorded @ UC Berkeley, sent to SF Public Library
do you think this needs to say what RAP stands for?
400-500 for space; confound
historic claims re: cycles of capital
anyone can fall in love with anthologies if they’re the right ones
the later black and of color women’s anthologies from the 80s?
Free Press Anthology of Women’s Poetry?
what is the info to communicate both
thru old minutes
if blocks were holes the waiting
at refracted founding acts, a chat
with waitstaff about costs of venue, hands, equip
Remember Our Fire – Anthology
Lowell been trying to get that since 1999-2003
this is a librevox recording
also perhaps crescendo
probs missing 2007-2011
thru back to future transcode
bike too would be obsolete
reading The Black Woman,
tells Neogy over her experience with
how it felt to make a list of anthologies
like an open thug is to yellow pages, thru
a “crowd source” campaign that brought in $
asking of the tapes, this will be audible in
languages I Had Been Hungry in all the
scholarship covered for us the whole thing
breaks blocks into pieces blocks
when put in budget, also update
our C&C inspection & petition
to write feedback to professor’s class
by applying for renters insurance with agents
full of Ugandan nationalism, decides
if conditions change the
complete & time entering
how many pages in a letter to
women’s poetry – ’75
the long twentieth century, what
years % an anthology of only women
compare to ones already gathered
valid vs invalid by censor
date, cost, bands, food, times, location
the music turned up on
lists; me and gaps in dream recall
would be wholes if it were up to
cold war Modernists
whose chosen date – location tba –
is middle class, Neogy comes to
fundraise to help affordability
of student journalism, & Neogy tells
us about eviction
young Neogy learns journalism at school
like this, adjacent block &
w/ old VFW
everyone would just crawl
for ~500 words on paws
aka how to do outreach; updates
to start a lit journal; partly
all day + into the night
around that whole surge of nationalism to share
a plot at a party where Valorie Hume
would have stayed if it weren’t for cars – i think
back & in an atmosphere
between Neogy & others in that crew at
office working on outreach + RSVPs,
at the crux of the youth council fb group
and there will be a box for change, just to cover
$40 for the mostly white reunion,
Matt, Yve, Amy + general population
to whom it seems expensive possibly
especially if we get the best list possible – randomly
charging $5 – at door
$40 – whole shebang, the
food, documentary and
300 of us for fond stick-and-pokes,