The Spectators

1980–1985

A hundred thousand stories, all with the same ending. A triumph of plotting the Greeks would envy. So when, exactly, do we raise the curtain? Which narrative thread shall we pull to unravel a generation?


Say it began with the thing in Paulie’s mouth.

What sort of thing? we asked three times. Paulie was in the living room, practicing for an audition. This is when we heard it first: an odd, slurring distortion in his speech.

This was in the spring of ’82. Paulie was in a foul mood, due to the public boycott of his werewolf movie. City Council claimed it unfairly stereotyped the Forty-First Precinct.

“Too bad we don’t know anybody there anymore,” Brookie said, and winked at me.

“He was in the State Assembly. Hey, Paulie. Say that line again, will you?”

Paulie obliged, and we heard it once more—a strange sort of curl, like he was playing deaf, which we immediately accused him of doing.

“Because if you are, then it isn’t very good.”

“I’m not.

“It’s also very offensive.”

“I’m not,” he said, and we noticed that he’d answered. “It’s this cold sore.”

A cold sore?

“Or something. There’s this spot.”

We marched him to the kitchen and bent him over the sink. A flashlight was suggested and produced; batteries were sought and found. Then, one by one, we stared at it—this knurl of dark matter, crouching at the back of Paulie’s throat. Now, how did that get there? we thought and must have said out loud. The thing in Paulie’s mouth wasn’t large or particularly gruesome—yet it was so unlike anything we’d ever seen in a mouth. Something about it seemed both comical and ominous—a goose outside your airplane window, right before it’s sucked into the engine.

“This is bad timing,” said Paulie when we finally let him up. “I have to sing tomorrow.”

“You have to go to the doctor tomorrow,” we told him.

And miraculously, he agreed.

Perhaps in that moment we saw the plot run straight through to its ending—perhaps this was how it began for us.

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