For reasons that will become obvious, I find it difficult to write about Stewart. Well, I find it difficult to write about anything, God knows. But Stewart presents special problems. Do I speak of him as I later came to know him, or as he appeared to me before I learned the truth, before I stripped away the mask of normalcy he hid behind? For so long he seemed nothing but a footnote to my life, a passing reference in what I had imagined would be the story of my swift rise to literary stardom. Today he not only haunts every line of this statement but is, in a sense, its animating spirit, its reason for being.
We were roommates. I moved into Stewart Church's New York apartment in the fall after my graduation from the University of Minnesota. In his Roommate Wanted ad in the Village Voice, he had described himself as a "First-year law student at Columbia University," and he looked every inch of it: tall and thin, with a doleful, high-cheek-boned face, carroty hair cropped close against the sides of his narrow skull, and greenish eyes that seemed rubbed to dullness from the hours spent scouring the microscopic print of his casebooks. Not that any of this was exactly a bad thing. It was just that Stewart did not fit my initial idea of the kind of person I would end up living with in Manhattan. I was an aspiring author and thus viewed my every action and utterance with an eye to how they would appear when fixed in imperishable print. As such, I considered myself to inhabit a higher plane of existence than people like Stewart. He so clearly belonged to the trudging armies of nonartists, of mere human beings: the workaday drones who live out their unobjectionable lives, then pass, unremembered by all but their immediate families, into oblivion. But then, in a way, Stewart seemed to be exactly what I needed in a roommate: a cipher unlikely to distract me from what I thought would be my almost monastic absorption in the pursuit of literature.
Our apartment, a dark one-bedroom on the first floor of a prewar walk-up on West 173rd Street in Washington Heights, was obviously meant for a single occupant, or a childless couple. Both of us were broke at the time --- Stewart subsisting on a small scholarship, I toiling for minimum wage as a stockboy at Stodard's Books in Midtown. And so, with the resourcefulness common to twenty-three-year-olds in our era of diminished expectations, we devised a way to ensure each other a measure of privacy. I slept on a sofabed in the apartment's front room, an oblong chamber with a dirt-ingrained hardwood floor and chipped wall moldings; Stewart occupied the adjacent bedroom, a space almost identical to mine, with the same view out its windows of the back alley and the fire escapes of the neighboring tenement. The rest of the apartment --- a kitchen with small café table, a bathroom crammed with a claw-foot tub and a trickling toilet --- was communal.
There are only two conditions under which a pair of straight men can share such quarters: as buddies willing to overlook each other's peccadilloes, or as respectful strangers willing to stay out of each other's way. Stewart and I were the latter. Digging his way out from under what seemed an endless avalanche of essays and briefs, Stewart spent his time either shuttered in his room or squirreled away in the stacks of the law library. I, meanwhile, devoted myself to gathering the "material" that I hoped would one day comprise my autobiographical novel.
A word here about the womanizing that became my chief occupation during the two and half years that I lived with Stewart. I was not, in the accepted sense of the term, a sexual predator. For one thing, I was too poor for that. Unlike the double-breasted smoothies who used their gold cards and Rolexes to lure their quarry into cabs, I had nothing but my charm and what I can describe only as my sincerity to offer. My looks helped: an inch over six feet tall, panther-thin, with a strongly boned face softened by a tangled mass of black, Byronic locks, I had the kind of appearance that attracted all manner of females, from the lacquered gold diggers who bustled through the aisles of Stodard's Books to the porcelain-skinned, Amazon-limbed fashion models who slummed in East Village bars. Such women, who are the target of the true pickup artist, were never my first choice. No, it was the funky and bohemian artist girls who made my heart pound, the Cooper Union students with gesso-splattered shoes and Conté-rimmed fingernails who set me dreaming of a soul connection in lonesome New York. That these fierce, independent, talented girls would --- after an evening's talk about books, movies, paintings, music --- actually go to bed with me seemed, at first, too good to be true. Sure enough, it was. Although they would sleep with me once or twice, such women, I soon learned, had plans and dreams of their own, which emphatically did not include tying themselves down to one man. Again and again my efforts to convert one of these one-night stands into something long-term was met with rebuff. I continued to trawl the bars, but I could no longer kid myself that I was on a quest for permanent love.
I had worried, at first, that Stewart might take exception to the way I was conducting my romantic life. In this, he surprised me. He soon revealed a fascination with my adventures in New York nighttown. He first asked me about them one Sunday morning early in our roommatehood, after he had returned, flushed and sweating, from his weekly bike ride. Initially hesitant to offer up details, in case...
Excerpted from ABOUT THE AUTHOR © Copyright 2001 by John Colapinto. Reprinted with permission by HarperCollins. All rights reserved.
About the Author