We’re happy to present an excerpt from Grant Maierhofer’s new novel The Persistence of Crows. Its plot? Let’s go to the official synopsis: “Henry Alfi is feeling lost. With relationships imploding and dissatisfaction on the rise, escaping his native Midwest could set everything right in his life. Along with fellow journalists from his college newspaper, Alfi travels to New York City. With nothing to lose, he embarks on an emotional odyssey through Manhattan and back home, desperate to alleviate the pervading sense of indifference and misery on the horizon. In his search he meets a girl who is also confused and desperate to find a better life. The two lovebirds thrive off the pulse of the big city and share their troubled pasts.” The Persistence of Crows will be out on October 8 on Tiny TOE Press.
The rain beat down on all of us. These youthful faces soaked in the same Hudson River breeze as the old folks arm in arm enjoying the bright lights of the city. I was surprised to see that even in the afternoon the lights shone as brightly as all of the photographs I’d seen of the city at night. When I turned the corner, all breath taken out of me. Any worry I had ever felt in my entire life up until that point turned into a sense of power as I stood there staring at the gray and red and silver world encircling me. I took a deep breath of it, feeling the rain seep into my clothes and touch my skin. I had finally arrived at a place completely my own, a place that made me feel like I belonged. I moved in a daze, staring up at the gigantic signs, the two towers on the left and right of gigantic advertisement screens, holding us all in the same place, trapped in this trance of money, and greed, and beauty, all of it created by men and women for men and women. I thought of Ayn Rand, how the world seemed to misunderstand her as someone completely hateful and resentful. At that moment I understood few things, but that was one of them, she wasn’t hateful or resentful, she just loved the potential she saw in gigantic obelisks, created by man for man, and she loved to see people passionate about things so much that she refused to accept a form of control that took that away and made something collective. But as I stared at the brilliant strip of Broadway for the first time in New York, where so many wild minds had come together in their own love and appreciation for beauty, I understood that there was a collectivity even in selfishness, that the minds who had created these humungous buildings and signs to the cold and windy left and right of me loved the world more than those people who sat in shacks meditating, Away from it all. They were separated from the world entirely, these people were a part of it. All of these tourists were the geniuses of the world, the pathetic fools with cell phones anchored high toward the sky and the first glimpse at beauty any of us had ever felt, they were the carriers of hope for society, not the preachers or priests, but the people in the street that felt a connectedness to the beautiful lights of Times Square. I was shocked at the amount of deep breaths I was taking, as though each time I was pumping the air and blood straight into my fingertips, completely reverent to the rest of my body like never before. I went with the crowds toward a pathway that led to a bright glowing set of red stairs. I took my time staring up at all the businesses, advertisements for fast food, for operas, for clothing, for movies, for cell phones, for plays, for cameras, all of it making up this veritable birthday party of the mind, a parade of love and joy set up just for me. I wasn’t walking toward the subway station. Technically, I was heading toward Central Park, but I didn’t know it then. I was simply lost in this feeling of exaltation, smiling up at the buildings as they blocked the clouds from sight, completely captivated in this manmade festival of lights.
As I walked past droves of businessmen and aggravated natives I was overcome with a pleasurable notion. New York gave me this terrific feeling that I may be stabbed at any moment; however each of these people surrounding me, the workers, the tourists, the men and women and children, the families, the losers, the punks, the crows and the depressed, the happy and the nonchalant, all of them were protecting me from it happening. It gave me a feeling of walking on lava, or rather skipping on it, because of some grand innovation that left me unable to be harmed by the burning liquid of criminals and filth in any city. I felt more free in those minutes in the rain than I’ve felt in my entire life. I skipped about, imagining myself as Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, before he commits his crimes, jumping around singing, I’m singing in the rain! What a brilliant depiction of the madness of the earth, the imbalance that dictates how close any of us are at any minute to complete and utter insanity, and yet he skips, yet the wet-haired boy skips through Times Square in total silence, smiling at the blondes, the brunettes, the redheads, embracing the moment as one of total serenity, things like that are seldom in life, and this place, the city, seemed to have it completely sewn up and distributable to any and all humans that required it. I thought of Bob Dylan, the boy from Northern Minnesota that slowly made his way to the Village in Manhattan, and thus went on to change the face of music and political rebellion for Americans and all worldly inhabitants. There is something magical about the place, something inaccessible to those that would see it as a means to some end, or a service station along the way to a better life. This place was an end in itself, a masterpiece painted over hundreds of years by people and environmental circumstances that would forge this metropolis out of steel, and rain, and pain, and the tears of thousands of immigrants that cried to paint the glass of the Empire State Building, or Rockefeller Center, and the angst in the intestines of thousands of workers that forged the outlines of the subway systems to take the children to work, and school, and to the plays and productions that make it here and go on to make the world shudder in its perception of things.Nothing exists like the old lust you can find in this place, and only few have seemed to truly appreciate it, yet millions burrow in her nest, awaiting the sweet winter breeze in front of the tree in the Rockefeller ice rink, or that perfect stroll through Central Park that inspires you so much you propose to your lover right then and there. It may seem like madness, or lies, the two seldom lay apart, but I felt all of those things in that instance, a flying feeling inside that let my brain happily think all of these thoughts of wonderment. I stared up at the skyscrapers, walking behind the large red steps to notice more of the streets and more of the people that make the dreaming so much more vivid. I looked up and noticed the signs proclaiming the stocks for that day, and it looked exactly how it was in the movies. I stood there feeling it melt into my eyelids in complete ecstasy knowing that yes, this is real. I watched the numbers for more than ten minutes, lost and in love with every single one.
I rubbed my hands over my face and eyes. Something in it was magical, powerful, connecting to me and I was connecting to it, this place, the water wanted to be a part of me, wanted me for all of the neglect I’d felt in my childhood, wanted somebody with a capacity for pain to appreciate her streets, someone who wouldn’t throw her away at the first chance of sadness or misery, that person was me, the momentary mayor that none of these people would know for a long time and likely forever, but it didn’t matter. I skipped toward 42nd street and the subway station in the rain, through the walkways of Manhattan and the rows of people chasing dreams of TV dinners and cereal, Coca Cola and famous children. They were what mattered, not my family or my friends anymore, I was connected to some small piece of my destiny and that was that, home would never be home again, because the only reality left and the only desire for comfort was now buried inside of my heart, in a place, a cave, where none of them could reach. I embraced myself, grabbed my coat tightly and pulled it around my midsection, this place was changing me and I embraced it.
I saw the subway station, a few blocks up. It was amazing, even the building for the subway, a rudimentary form of transportation, looked better and more thoughtful than any building in Wisconsin.
Inside the subway station it was chaos. Transit cops with blue windbreakers organized herds of people into small entryways, through the turnstiles that always hurt your hip a little too much. Gangs of workers were trying to make it from downtown to the outskirts, the boroughs of less money and cheaper housing. Some were probably making their way out to New Jersey, the result of having all that monetary brilliance packed so tightly into one section of town.
I got in line for a pass; the slow moving wet single file snake seemed too long to be real. I was standing behind a white couple that looked like they may be tourists; they were certainly dressed for comfort on a day that screamed for practicality. They were talking about the date they’d planned that night.
“So yeah… it might be ruined…” he said.
“No baby, don’t say that… it’ll be fine,” she said.
“Sure, sure, whatever you say.”
Everybody’s so in love, I thought. Every single person and animal on this planet seems to be in love, except for me.
After about ten minutes it was my turn to purchase my pass. I was able to afford a two-ride pass at four dollars, so I bought one and thankfully the wet dollar bills I had worked just fine in this gigantic industrial machine. The ticket came out and it was solid cardboard, as opposed to the flimsy piece of tissue paper I’d received for the plane ride over. I approached the metal teeth, manned by brutes in blue uniforms, and made my way through, showing them my pass.
I put my hands into the pockets of my coat as I descended the stairs, perhaps bracing against whatever reality awaited me. The stairs were tiled, I noticed, and looked extremely old-fashioned. It was quite comforting, and the warm air blowing down there was equally as serene. I followed the gangs of fools soaked to the bone and made my way past the first platform. It was a sort of halfway point between the ground and the trains. A pan flute band was playing a rendition of Scarborough Fair, with a large group of people standing around watching them and smiling, pointing, and taking pictures. Some people can get so happy about the smallest things; it just made me feel like a stranger.
Into the low-lit tunnel accompanied by an air of sheer terror, my boots clacking against the pavement; I thought for a moment about looking like an outsider. I hoped I didn’t, not out of some fear of robbery or something, but of not being accepted by these people I so envied. I wanted all of them to know that I hated the stupid tourists just like they did, that I was a member of the struggle in this glorious place, that I was a love-starved youth in the tunnels just like all of them. I looked at a large map to ensure I would be heading toward Staten Island on whichever train I boarded, and proceeded to sit down on a mildly soaked bench next to an old black man. We were waiting for the train on the right side of the tracks, heading South from there I supposed, toward the river and the brilliant statue. I was overcome with an extreme excitement about finally riding the subway. As far as I could remember into my childhood I had never been on a train. There is some memory of being overwhelmed by the size of a seat in a nice train with a mother and a father that do not however look like mine. I’m dressed in a small suit for a small boy and I’m smiling at everything around me, but perhaps it’s some illusion, something from a movie I saw once that I’ve stolen away into my head.
When the train finally came I was sick of waiting. My excitement had become something bothered; that was the problem with traveling, moments of excitement, then moments of arduous waiting, then excitement, then waiting, and waiting.
Grant Maierhofer is the author of Ode to a Vincent Gallo Nightingale and The Persistence of Crows. His work has appeared in Split Lip Magazine, Gesture, Brawler Lit, and We Feel Pretty. He’s a frequent contributor to HTMLGIANT and Delphian inc. He lives in Wisconsin.