A Routine in Every City

He liked going to foreign cities and immediately founding a routine. A daily pattern that established the same route, activities and surroundings. It was his constant experiment in proving that, no matter where you go, everything is banal. Some people like to travel to escape, to convince themselves that the place they’re living in is the problem, not they themselves. Julian Antonin, in stark contrast, was fully aware that it was his unwell mind that was (and remains) the problem. With this acceptance of knowing that he would never be able to eject himself from his body, Julian had to settle for the only other viable means of avoidance: being a constant voyager. When his friends questioned how he could afford so often to be on the move, he shrugged off their queries by saying, “I manage.” In truth, of course, he was too ashamed to tell them that he had been bequeathed with a massive inheritance after his grandmother, Iris, died a slow, painful death of lung cancer. Somewhere in the back of his mind, maybe Julian knew that being the only one ever to visit her would yield some sort of benefit down the line–“down the line” being after her demise. Plus, he had always known how to pander to her rather “high-strung” sensibilities, which was, of course, putting it mildly. She was a total bitch. Everything was a disappointment to her. No achievement among any member of her family was ever quite satisfying enough, and she could always find fault somewhere in it. For instance, when Julian’s sister, Angelika, got a short story published in The New Yorker called “Grandmother’s Virtue,” a tongue in cheek tale about how Iris had lied about her age back in the day in order to get married to her husband so that they could bang without judgment, Iris was not impressed. Yet rather than being scandalized by Angelika’s use of her life for the story, Iris was, instead critical of the prose style and colloquial vocabulary.

Or when Julian and Angelika’s father, Alexander, finally found it within himself to move on from his dead wife, Melinda, five years after her death via a twenty-first century terrorist attack. While walking through the crosswalk at Broadway near Union Square, Melinda was mowed down by yet another person screaming “Allahu Akbar” as he managed to pick off twenty-two people, Melinda included. When Julian delivered the news of his father’s bride replacement to Iris in her hospital bed, she practically grimaced. “Well, that’s certainly in poor taste isn’t it? Who is the little tart?”

Julian couldn’t bear to tell her that it was, in fact, Melinda’s longtime friend, Eva, who Alexander had taken a shine to these past few months and seeing as how, well, they had already known each other for so long, bothering with the formalities of long-term dating just seemed silly. So it was that Alexander had proposed to her while dining in the Upper East Side home he had helped to build with Melinda’s money (she, too, came from a wealthy family, and naturally all wealthy families prefer to align with one another so as to bolster a collective fortune for their progeny). For good measure, Julian and Angelika were expressly invited to be present for the meal. While Julian took the announcement in stride, Angelika began hyperventilating with rage, as though the spirit of Melinda herself might be possessing her. “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” she spewed with anger. “This isn’t right…this isn’t–of all the people…” She tossed her napkin away from her lap, letting it slither to the floor like an eel, and ran out of the house. Julian remained behind, intuiting somehow that his show of support and tolerance would likely also behoove his percentage allocation in the Will. It was as such that he ended up being the witness at their courthouse marriage, dressed in a slim-fit suit from The Kooples that he had just bought with the knowledge that he would be going on a trip again soon–to Berlin–and it would be important to look his best in order to attract the right element, specifically the right women. Angular, but still in possession of enough to grab onto. Intelligent, but not pedantic. That was the worst. And one always risked coming across that sort of ilk in Europe. At least in America, everyone was too much of a dilettante to ever risk being pompously didactic.

When the marriage had been made official, Julian shook his father’s hand and gave Eva a peck on the cheek. Without informing them of where he was going, he said he had an engagement and then went to Iris’ sick bed to tell her of the news, choosing to keep the information about Alexander’s new bride being Eva to himself.

“You know Julian, sometimes I think you’re the only one in this family born with any sense. Here, I want to have you something. Go to my cabinet and bring me the jewelry box.” Iris was legendary for her jewelry box, prone to accuse almost every nurse at one point or another of stealing something out of it from her. But each time it was double checked, the missing piece would always “reappear,” or so Iris said. Julian had been entrusted to open the box only a handful of times, and solely on occasions when Iris desired him to put a necklace or bracelet on her, so that she could for once “feel human again, not like some bedridden pauper.”

He brought the sacred object to her and placed it at her side. She stared at him wordlessly as she opened it, pulling out an item she seemed already to know the exact position of. Like a master fisherman, she caught it on the first try, handing to him a 24-karat emerald embellished tennis bracelet. “I want you to take this. Do with it what you will. Give it to whatever whore you’re seeing at the moment or sell it. It’s not my business. I just want you to know that I value you, Julian. You’re what makes me think my lineage might not go to waste. That the Antonin name has a purpose. The last man in our family to do anything worth a damn was your grandfather, you know. He’s the one that continued our fortune.”

“Yes, Iris. He was a real tycoon.”

“Well he was,” she said, vaguely choked. Or as choked as someone full of piss and vinegar as she could be.

In truth, all Alan Antonin had done was what any CEO of a ready-made successful pharmaceutical company did: show up. Julian had never especially warmed to him, but they engaged in small talk now and again, which is more than most relatives were able to accomplish with the steely-exteriored patriarch.

Heeding Iris’ instruction, Julian took the bracelet to be appraised at Sotheby’s, after which he left with a tidy sum to head to Berlin with, where, as it was noted previously, he quickly established a routine. It wasn’t as though this was his first time at the rodeo, or whatever Germans classified as a rodeo, making it even more einfach for him to do so.

Each day, he would walk from Cuvrystraße, the street he lived on in Kreuzberg (yes, such a cliche for a mere hanger-on of the artist lifestyle), and head to Where is Jesus? Temporary Space. It was a coffee shop, and as far as Julian could tell there was nothing temporary about it–it was certainly more permanent than his enjoyment of any brief novelty feeling of being somewhere outside of New York. After hours whiled away reading or scribbling in his notebook, he would return to his apartment to nap for a spell before readying for the night, commencing always at Club Lido, where he had exhausted the women there and was, therefore, re-visiting each of them all over again. Tonight, it was Lina, a raven-haired 24-year-old who had placed a deliberate streak of grey on her left tendril for a skunk-like effect. She was still naive enough to fall for his yarn, the bullshit apology about just being really confused about life, therefore skittish and prone to flightiness. She forgave him that night, and accompanied him home, furthering his standard pattern of waking up next to [insert female name here] and leaving her to her own devices with the Nespresso so that he could slink out to Where is Jesus? once again. Without fail, they would forgive him for his abrupt absence. Because rich, attractive New Yorkers weren’t so easy to come by. Poor, average-looking ones, sure. But rarely rich, attractive ones.

Like most of the cities he went to, Julian would never exhaust his stay beyond three months, at which time the routine had been so played it made him want to flee as fast as he could–suddenly home appeared all shiny and new again. And he would without fail return to New York to spend a month there before re-starting the process all over again.

His return to the city this time around, however, was riddled with many changes–more than he had ever previously encountered. For starters, Angelika had moved to Los Angeles, intent to become a part of the new, sexual harassment-free era of Hollywood cinema. Alexander and Eva had moved to a different apartment on the Upper West, where the essence of Melinda couldn’t haunt them so flagrantly. And then there was Iris. Hanging within an inch of her life.

When Julian went to visit her with a single iris in hand (she hated but loved the triteness of this gesture), she looked like even more of a wisp than before–utterly pallid and with overtly cracked and dry lips. She wasn’t long for this world.

“I’m glad I could see you again Julian. Did you enjoy Berlin?”

“Like every milieu, it became oppressive,” he sighed as he sat down in the chair next to her bedside.

She let her eyes roll back into her head instead of just rolling them. “How long do you plan to keep doing this? Isn’t it time you finally realized that this is your home? You don’t need to search anymore.”

He tickled her face with the iris. “If I didn’t stay in perpetual stagnant motion, I might go into a tailspin, Iris. Don’t you see? I’m not built for routine.”

“Yet you seek to install it wherever you go.”

“It’s my life’s work, Iris. Can’t you see? I just want to prove that wherever you go, there you are.”

“Oh Christ. You’re hopeless.” That was the last thing she said before switching locations, so to speak.

A couple months later, on the dime of his recently acquired inheritance, Julian headed for the Faroe Islands. His routine wasn’t so effortlessly established here. Although he had found a daily haunt called, fittingly, Nest, that served some rather shitty pizza, he hadn’t been able to navigate a way to fill his time in the same way he could in a city like Berlin, or even Kotor. The women were harder to penetrate, literally, and the judgmental face of puffins everywhere were giving him nightmares. And on the days when he was beckoned by his few male acquaintances to go whaling, well, these were the most varied and unsettling of all–making him yearn for the familiarity of simply languishing in a single place. The sight of the whales thrashing as blood poured out of their lanced orifices was enough to alter Julian’s previous take on insisting that everywhere you went, there you were. In truth it was this: everywhere you went, there was a vision of horror. It was just that, up until this moment, Julian was permitted the luxury of being blasé about his travels because he had never really seen anything affirming the detestability of humanity. That is, other than himself every day in the mirror.

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