Ozzie’s: The Quest Begins
On Tuesday, August 22nd, at 6:30 p.m., the founders of Construction magazine met at Ozzie’s, a coffee shop on 5th Avenue in Park Slope, to discuss the upcoming issue. They huddled around a small, round table near the window.
Masha Udensiva-Brenner was holding a legal pad, scribbling notes, and drawing some kind of symbol with points and stars. One of her notes said, “Web developer!”
David Plick sat back in his chair and counted the cookies in front of him. There were seven: three chocolate chip, two oatmeal raisin, and two white chocolate macadamia. He eyed the other founders suspiciously.
Domenick Acocella, who was just moments ago speaking rapidly about getting a tattoo (the Construction logo on his right bicep), was rummaging through his book-bag.
Nathan Schiller looked down at his muffin. “Why did I get this thing? I’m not even hungry.”
Masha shook her head. “You have to buy something,” she said. “This is a business.”
“Thanks, Moosha,” he said, glaring at her. “I thought it was the public library.”
“Guys!” Plick called out, moving to the edge of his seat. “Did you hear about Jonathan Bobbins’s new novel?”
“I love Jonathan Bobbins,” said Masha. “LOVE.”
“Well,” Plick said, “rumor has it that Bobbins is doing something completely new. It’s going to defy genre.”
Masha narrowed her eyes and looked at some point on the ceiling. “I remember when I read The Lilac. I had just moved away from New York to Michigan for college. I was so homesick and he just bottled my pain. The melancholy fall scenes, his descriptions of the Hungarian Pastry Shop, Riverside Park . . . he took me back to my neighborhood.”
“I want to interview him,” Plick said.
“Yeah, well, so do I,” said Masha, “I always have.”
“Are you serious?” Nathan crossed his arms. “You guys like that clown?”
“Like?” said Masha. “Like? No. Love. Love!”
“Love,” added Plick.
“Hmmm,” said Dom. He hadn’t found anything in his book-bag and was clearly confused. “Is that the guy who wrote Everything is the Thing . . . or The Something or Others?”
“Dom, are you kidding me?”
“Jonathan Bobbins is the reason why I started taking myself seriously as a writer,” Plick yelled. “He’s the reason why I do almost anything.”
Nathan started laughing. “The most overrated, overly-stylized, prosaic, formulaic, redundant, force-fed, Midwestern bullshit.”
“Seriously?” said Masha. “I’m so mad at you right now.”
“Yes. Saying you hate Jonathan Bobbins is like saying you hate the way I laugh. You hate the way I think.”
“Jesus Christ. It’s just a stupid writer who writes stupid books on Fourth Street.”
“Second Street,” corrected Plick.
Masha raised her eyebrows. “I thought he was on President?”
“Wait,” said Dom, “Bobbins lives in D.C.?”
“D.C.?” said Plick. “Come on, man!”
“So where does he live? Illinois?”
“Jesus, Dom, you gotta move to Brooklyn. You’re dying up there. How do you survive? Is there running water?”
“Riverdale . . . hello . . . there’s a fucking river!”
Masha was still glaring at Nathan.
“You don’t like Chabon!” Nathan turned to her. “He’s from Pittsburgh, he writes about my childhood, and you shit all over him!”
“Of course I don’t like him, his writing is cutesy bullshit. He thinks he’s so clever, but no one else thinks he’s funny.”
“Have you ever even read Chabon?”
“I don’t have to answer that.”
“Chabon is clever,” Dom said, “but the stories are gripping and he can write a sentence.”
“Anyway,” Plick said, “I’d really like to interview him. Now that we have Construction, I have an excuse.”
“No I want to interview him,” Masha whined. “Why should you be the one who gets to do it? And anyway I have a conn—”
Plick interrupted, waving his hand. “Fine, let’s both do it then, it’ll be a joint interview.”
Masha looked skeptical, but she uncrossed her arms and nodded her head.
Nathan grumbled to himself.
Dom took out a pen and started sketching.
“So, first we have to find out where he lives,” Masha said. “I heard there was a sculpture or something in front of his brownstone. Or wait, maybe that was Safran Foer . . .”
“That’s definitely Safran Foer,” Nathan said.
“Actually,” Masha said, scratching her head, “I think it might be Auster.”
Plick looked preoccupied. “So once we find him, what’s our angle? What are we gonna interview him about? Why would he care about us?”
“He won’t. He’s too pretentious to even consider it . . .” said Nathan.
Masha ignored him. “I know exactly what to do,” she said, smiling mysteriously.
“What?” asked Plick.
“You guys know Lev Vassilynikov, the absurdist short story writer?”
“Of course,” Plick said.
“Let me guess,” Nathan leaned forward. “He’s your ex-boyfriend.”
“Shut up!” Masha yelled, swatting at Nathan’s face. “I’m still mad at you. Now, listen, he’s kind of my distant second cousin. My grandma used to tell me all these stories about him when I lived in Moscow.”
“I love Vassilynikov . . . Wait a minute, you’re related to him?” Plick widened his eyes.
“Well . . . loosely speaking.”
“Now there’s a genius,” Dom said. Apparently, he had been following the conversation. “‘The Picture Window’ was my favorite short story for years. I taught it to my ELL students.”
“Yeah,” said Nathan , “that guy’s legit, a Russian with some true Soviet charm—find me someone who can read Extremely Cold Siberian Winters without changing their life’s philosophy, I dare you! I can’t believe Bobbins would even like him. They’re nothing alike.”
“Bobbins is best friends with Stoppard, Nathan, so why wouldn’t he like him? Anyway,”
Masha lowered her voice so that the lurking waitress and the other Ozzie’s customers couldn’t hear. “I know some things, some very personal things about Vassilynikov that Bobbins might like to know. I have access to archival information. Trust me, we can get this interview.”
At this, the table fell quiet.
“Let’s do it,” Plick finally said. “We’ll find him in the neighborhood. We’ll approach him—not like fans, but like peers, like colleagues—and we’ll talk to him about Vassilynikov.”
“You guys do whatever you want, but I’m staying out of it,” Nathan insisted.
Masha went to raise her voice, but Plick put up his hand and looked into Nathan’s eyes. “Listen, you have every right not to like him, and we can’t convince you otherwise. But if you do anything, think about the magazine. At the very least, it’s your obligation to help us find him.”
Nathan was about to say something, but Plick kept going.
“You’re the one always saying how if we get a big name, we’ll have the chance of making it. Making it? Making it? How many people do you think Google ‘Jonathan Bobbins’ every day? Thousands—it’s a fact. I’ve been Googling him for years . . .”
“Millions!” Masha cut in.
“Yeah, probably more like millions . . . and there are NO interviews—even The Paris Review hasn’t gotten to Bobbins, and it’s not because they don’t want him. This could be our chance to do something great.”
Nathan lowered his head, pursing his lips. He looked up, he looked down. Then he said, “I’ll think about it.”
Masha snickered. “You can either do it with us, or watch us do it.”
Plick gave her a look. “The bottom line is this,” he told Nathan. “You’re a part of Construction and you have to help us.”
“We need to find Jonathan Bobbins,” Masha added.
“Wait.” Dom scratched his chin. “Is Bobbins the one who wrote City of Smoke?”