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karen tyger’s new theory of human living
When you search 334 Higgins Street on the internet, the new, widespread technology will deliver you a photograph of a nondescript brick building. If you look closely, you can see the first floor neighbor, José, who has since passed away from Covid-19. The image has not yet been updated, so he’s still standing on the front stoop with his back turned at a three-quarter angle to the camera. He’s locking the front door of the building as he bends down to talk to his two Pomeranians, Sukie and Sake, but they are mostly obscured by a runner in a lime green athletic jersey, who also happened to be running past when the satellite snapped its memorializing photograph.
Last March, when José was still alive, was the first time I had lived alone or even had enough money to entertain the possibility of doing so. Now that I had enough, I finally felt like a real man. Also, a provider. And the provided-for person was me.
I had previously lived with my girlfriend, Ellen. Ellen was bossy but it turned me on. She would scream at me if I forgot to take out the garbage. Then I’d come back in from the trash cans and fuck her brains out, which seemed like a healthy method of conflict resolution at the time. But maybe I didn’t really love her.
So anyway, there I was on the top floor of 334 Higgins Street, taking out my very own trash on a Tuesday morning around 11am. I stepped out of my front door, onto my newly purchased welcome mat when I heard a voice. It was like being tapped on the shoulder by a sweet little bell.
“Hello. Is that your apartment?”
I wheeled around and saw a little pixie standing across the hall from me, in the doorway of my neighbors’ apartment. She looked very young, about twenty-two, but also twelve. She had the tiniest features.
“I’m Karen Tyger. Is that your apartment?” Her fingernails were also small and painted a pearly black, little fragments of obsidian. “Is that your apartment?” she asked again.
“So you’re a Karen? Am I in trouble or something?”
It was a really obvious choice to talk about her name. I didn’t need to talk to a girl at all, much less such a young one. Ellen and I hadn’t been broken up very long and I can’t trust myself anyway.
Karen snickered. “Yup. Let me talk to your manager.”
“I’ll film you on my phone.” I laughed, miming a camera.
“Oh yeah? We’ll I’m calling the police on you!” She rubbed her toe against the wooden floor boards. “Karen’s the only name I’ve got. My stupid parents didn’t even give me a middle name.”
“I’m Max.” I stuck out my hand. Karen took it, even though it was misty with trash juice, and she didn’t let go.
“Are you new? I’m new. This isn’t my apartment. I live down on the second floor, but I’m pet-sitting Mallory and Victor’s cat. Have you met Mallory and Victor yet? Do you have any cats that need pet-sitting?”
“It’s just me in here. But nice to meet you.” I retrieved my hand and turned to go down the stairs, afraid the bag might break open. Normally, I use industrial strength bags but I had run out. This was a measly drug store bag, doubled over on itself.
“Nice to meet you, too.” Karen’s voice hung in the air like an umlaut above a vowel.
I started down the steps.
“Do you want to get high?” she chirped.
I wasn’t sure. “This isn’t a trick, is it?”
“No.” Karen came forward out of the doorway, as though she didn’t want the cat inside to hear her. “I just, I wondered if you want to get high.”
“It’s 11am.” I grinned.
“Yeah.” She grinned back.
When I returned from the trash cans, Karen was waiting for me in front of her real apartment, which was on the second floor.
“This is my real apartment!” she peeped as she opened the door, “But I’m going to work my way up until I’m living on the top floor! The penthouse, if you will! Maybe I’ll live in your apartment, who knows! Or Mallory and Victor’s apartment!”
“Well.” I wasn’t sure what to say to that. “What makes you think that Mallory and Victor will ever move out?”
Karen led me through her entryway and into her large studio living room. “You never know! People’s lives change all the time. The winds of change are strong! Around this time last year, did you expect to move here? I know I didn’t.”
Karen was right. The previous year, Ellen and I had been fighting about what we should plant in our fire escape planter, what kind of planter we should purchase, what kind of soil would be best, would there be enough sunlight, would the sunlight be of the correct quality, and if not, should we try and plant a shaded garden, if so what would a shaded garden contain besides petits pois, and also why were we being so mean to each other, was that okay, did that mean we should go into couples’ counseling? I would stand out on the fire escape at night and think obsessively about these questions while smoking a cigarette. Then I would take a full-on shower in order to get back into bed with Ellen because she completely loathed the smell of cigarette smoke nearly as much as she loathed peanut butter on my breath. But in all of this, all of this, I never thought that our relationship would end. I just figured we would keep going like this until one of us died, either accidentally or of natural causes. Then, the remaining one of us would have to experience a change. Ah, change.
“Hellooooo!” Karen Tyger was waving her long, ectoplasmic fingers in my face. “Anybodyy hoooome?”
“This is a nice apartment,” I said, looking around at her various “Native American” Dream Catchers which dangled along on the walls. It was clear that Karen Tyger never cleaned.
“I wanted it to be homey.” Karen Tyger suddenly had a cup of tea in one hand, which she offered me. I declined. Then she set about setting up the marijuana while we talked. “Actually, I want our whole apartment building to be like one big commune! I have this vision, this vision of an intentional community right here in our building. Like from the outside, it looks like a regular old apartment building, but then from the inside, you see that a bunch of people live here together who have accepted each other for their flaws and have become a tribe!”
She had really fancy marijuana skills, an ancient, corporeal understanding of the leaves, as though she had been born with the plant in one fist and a rolling paper in the other. Now, it was time to smoke. “Karen,” I said, “I have to confess to you that I am not a Cool Guy. I have not smoked marijuana in over a year and a half and even when I have in the past, it has never been my own marijuana. For most of my life, it has been an illegal substance, so I have never bought it, and have only used it on rare occasions.”
“Relax.” Karen held the cigarette to my lips. “I think you’re a Cool Guy.”
And then we smoked it.
“When you bite, bite to draw blood. What’s the use of biting if you don’t leave your mark?” Karen Tyger was down on her hands and knees, demonstrating how to be an animal. “The human mouth is like a crocodile’s. Filthy and infected. The best and only way to clean a croc wound is to cover it with bleach. To disinfect it. It’s the most efficient way to go about mistakes you make with your mouth, too.” She roared and bumped against my leg like she was trying to start a fight with me. However, as a stoned person in a low armchair, it was all I could do to just try and keep it together. “Rooooaaaaaaaaarrr!” Karen Tyger’s eyes had flecks of gold in them, like a real tiger, like she was turning into one before my very eyes. She head-butted me again, rubbing her soft, short hair with its dyed patches of purple against my leg. Then, she head-butted my crotch. It was a mistake but it turned me on. I didn’t know what to do about that.
It is a very bad idea to be turned on by your neighbor. According to Karen Tyger’s New Theory of Human Living, your neighbor is in your tribe, which means they are related to you. I needed to put a stop to this incest, but I also liked looking at the top of Karen Tyger’s head between my legs. I wanted to take Karen Tyger’s head in my hands and keep her there. So I did. I cupped her head between my hands and squeezed. I wanted to crush her skull, but her head was like an egg. Have you ever held an egg in the palm of your hand and squeezed? To everyone’s amazement, Mother Nature’s geometry upholds the structure and prevents it from breaking. While Karen’s head kept its integrity between my hands, she twisted and snarled like a wild beast.
And then she bit me on the leg.
“You think you can control a tiger!” she howled. “Think again! I have magical powers! You’re in my tribe and I own you. We don’t need to speak to communicate. The language lives in our bones.” And then I was holding her, holding her until she stopped flailing around and she was peaceful again and we were still, sitting on the floor of her apartment, with its raggedy rug and its dirty walls, and the tea had spilled and made a dark bloody patch.
Karen Tyger invited me to come up to the roof of our building. She said that she wanted to scope it out, that she planned to host a building-wide costume party there come autumn, in order to kick off our intentional community. I made an excuse and tromped back up to my top-floor apartment, overwhelmed. I felt I had narrowly escaped a terrible situation.
As I lolled in my bed, trying to recover, I smelled that strange rubbery marijuana smell on my clothes. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see Karen Tyger’s head between my knees. Maybe if I had squeezed with my legs instead of my hands, I might have had a stronger effect. When I used to look down at my ex-girlfriend Ellen’s head between my knees, all I could see was her long, blond hair. Ellen was really civilized in those moments: every step was a process where A led to B led to C, a sexual transitive proof. And then in the end she went to Maui with that other guy.
I floated and I slept, a dream full of Hawaii, of aquamarine beaches and topless women wearing flowers around their necks and in their hair, these big-titted Disney princess-types who put pineapple on their pizzas. The ocean became a door, through which I eagerly walked and came out on the other side in a snowy clearing. Then I wandered amongst the pines, while trying to solve the Theory of Relativity, although the Theory of Relativity was recently disproven. This is very disappointing if you are an Einstein fan, as I happen to be.
“Maaaa-aaaax… Maaaaa-aaaaax!” A voice wafted through the pine forest. I woke immediately, but the voice, persisted. I hit my forehead with the flat of my hand and tried to shake the sound off, but it was Karen Tyger’s voice, that same sweet chord, as though she had crawled inside my ear. Her prophesy had come true: I was in her tribe now. There was nothing to be done.
I sank down, my head in my hands and began to cry. I covered my ears and the sound muffled. I removed my hands from my ears and heard it again. Covered, no sound. Uncovered, sound. Based on logic, this meant that the sound was coming from outside of my skull, rather than inside of it. Comforted, I wandered through the apartment towards the voice.
“Um…Karen?” I stuck my head out the window.
She was right above me, “Max! I’m trapped on the roof! Can you come get me?”
When I got to the roof, Karen Tyger beckoned to me from the edge.
“Welcome to the roof! Isn’t it majestic up here? Look, you can see all of the neighborhood. It truly is ours. It’s like the roof is the beach and everything else is the ocean, stretching out into Infinity! This was the spirit journey I needed to confirm that I am on the correct path.”
“Come on Karen, let’s get you downstairs.”
“I’m headed in the right direction,” she sang, “But I should be aiming higher than the penthouse floor. I should be aiming for the sky!”
“I can’t believe you got trapped up here, Karen.” I did my best impression of a father-figure, chastely putting my arms around her shoulders as I ushered her to the roof door.
“I didn’t get trapped, Max! You’re the one who’s trapped.” She grabbed my arm and scratched her fingers down it like a cat, dragging me towards the rim of the roof.
“Look over the edge, Max! Look into Infinity!”
We were high up, higher, it seemed, than the four floors of our building. I dug my heels into the tarry blacktop, but my body, under the power of Karen Tyger’s tremendous g-force, jerked ahead. I began to tip forward. Maybe Ellen would be sorry to hear that I ended my days brainless on a Brooklyn sidewalk all because she took exception to the way I alphabetized our books. I pictured the custom built-in shelves in our old apartment. The day that I moved out, Ellen rearranged her books according to color, that clichéd rainbow set-up that certain women enjoy. I was ready to fall, but at the last moment, Karen Tyger pulled me back.
“Stop struggling, Max!” She crooned in my ear. “You’re only doing this to yourself.”