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Out of State

What’s in a Name?
 Beau Brummell Social Club. Tucson, Arizona.

These days, you can monetise anything, or so the Internet has us believe. Natasha Stagg has a secret talent that might be profitable, if only she would stop giving it away for free.

I’ve been reading a lot about how money is really based on storytelling, just like cults and fashion and art. Money is simply a story that is being told about itself, these articles sort of say. This should help me to understand the economy, but it does not. It becomes ever more obscure to me, in fact, the more I know about it. Everyone involved in projecting the future of wealth has a personality disorder. They laugh at things I don’t find funny and don’t laugh at things I do find funny.

I sometimes fall asleep to Nemo’s Dreamscapes, a YouTube channel of hours-long loops. They are the sounds of “oldies playing in another room and it’s raining” or “you’re on the Spirited Away train with Chihiro and No-Face”: perfect mixes of muted, unstimulating music and white noise. Some of the loops play live, so you can see how many others are listening to them, a further comfort. There is even a chat section, where people discuss how effectively relaxing each track is. And, of course, there are several ways to donate to Nemo’s Dreamscapes. And people do, as part of our new tip-everything culture, wherein if you have an emotional response to something, you may help yourself move past it by pushing a pay button.

That someone has put so much time and effort into guiding us towards restfulness is enough to move me, to be honest, but there is a built-in system of monetisation on YouTube, so in a way, the tip is included with my free videoplay. I have to wonder how we’ve come to a place where people who remember buying CDs now feel guilt at not paying for marked-as-free items, items on platforms that pay their creators – so much guilt, in fact, that they’ll donate to these creators using another platform, profiting several middlemen in the process.

I’m getting very Larry David about it, says Kevin, who is visiting. Making raw juice, that warrants a tip. Handing me a Saran-wrapped sandwich? I don’t think so. Not everything is a product and a service. Some things are just a product or a service. We walk up Avenue C and he remarks on the beauty of an old building with an Art Deco façade and eighties glass bricks. I always notice it, of course, I say, but I’m pretty sure it’s empty.

The next day, Kevin texts me that by complete coincidence, his other visiting friend is staying there. The Art Deco building has two-story high apartment units and at least one is available on Airbnb, apparently. An hour or two later, we are there, having a glass of wine on a leather couch. The walls are so tall they feel bare, but because they are dissected by odd-shaped windows, we cannot come up with a solution to this interior design problem. That we are here, discussing this, has nothing to do with manifesting, since I was almost positive that I would never see the inside of this building. In effect, I was doing the opposite of manifesting.

 

My favourite bar name ever is IBT’s, which stands for It’s ‘Bout Time’s. This one’s free, I thought, as long as I get bragging rights.

 

Most things in New York don’t go away, if I’m comparing it to other cities that I know intimately, at least. I’ve just been looking at images of some recently demolished Tucson landmarks: The Bum Steer, which closed a while ago but was torn down last year (in this video, I can see that no one thought to rescue the covered wagon), and Duke’s Drive-In, home to the Beau Brummell Social Club and filming location for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. One article on the recently closed Meet Rack, one of my favourite places to take visitors, quotes the former owner as saying he might open another bar yet, one called the 13th Step, which is a great name. Other bars he’s run are the Pig Pen and Someplace Else (as in, “let’s go someplace else”).

At Paul’s Casablanca, which reopened with a lot of Morrissey songs, like when it was called Sway Lounge, I was introduced to a bartender who is planning to take over the bar that used to be Lucky Strike. What will it be called? I asked. There isn’t a name yet. Naming, my friends know, is something I’d like to excel at. Maybe even to be known for.

When I was living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I used to go to a gay coffee shop called Discussions, a gay bar called Diversions, and a gay club called Rumors. My favourite bar name ever is IBT’s, which stands for It’s ‘Bout Time’s. This one’s free, I thought, as long as I get bragging rights. Anyway, bars never hire namers, I’m sure. What about Strike Two? I suggested. I got a squint and a nod. I would keep this information to myself, but I kind of want it in writing, and besides, Kaitlin already tweeted about it.

I’ve turned the corner when it comes to people telling me to smile. I used to be so offended, when I was younger, that some stranger was trying to get my attention. It felt like everyone was trying to get my attention then, and for the sole reason of my being young. I’m older now, though, and people still tell me to smile. They must be projecting, which seems like a genuine impulse, not a manipulative tactic. Most of the time people are trying to be happy.

 

In 1980, the French newspaper Libération asked Marguerite Duras to write a chronicle for them over one year. The pieces could be as long or short as she liked, so long as she wrote every day. Duras said a year was far too long and proposed three months instead. “Why three months?” her editor asked. “Three months is one summer long,” she replied. “Agreed, three months, but every day!” the editor insisted. Duras didn’t have anything planned for the summer and almost gave in. But then she suddenly became terrified that she couldn’t plan her days as she wished. So she said: “No, once a week, about whatever I want.” The editor agreed.

Since 2017, Spike has invited Natasha Stagg to do the same: one text a week, of any length, on whatever she likes. A new installment of Out of State will be published online every Tuesday for ten weeks – one summer long. Last week, she wrote about New York's fitful return to normalcy.

NATASHA STAGG is a writer based in New York. She is the author of Sleeveless: Fashion, Image, Media, New York 2011–2019 (2019) and the novel Surveys (2016) both published with Semiotext(e).