The Lola Quartet
New York City was cold. It was early April, but in the world outside the apartment the rain was streaked with snow. When Gavin wasn't looking for jobs online or handing out résumés he was reading the papers - although not his paper - and everything was wrong: there were stories about people waiting hours to get into job fairs, increasing strains on the food-stamp program. There were suicides and lost fortunes, hungry children and people who had slipped down into new, previously unimagined dwellings: a van in the parking lot of a grocery store in Queens, a boat on the oil-bright surface of the Gowanus Canal, a relative's garage in Westchester County. He understood, reading these stories, how easy it was to sink.
Gavin had never been very good with money. He had several thousand dollars of credit-card debt that he'd been carrying around for a while, and it was growing at a rate that he wouldn't have thought possible. On the day he lost his job he'd already accidentally fallen a month behind on rent, a matter of forgetting to mail a check to the landlord - Karen had always taken care of this - and when his paychecks stopped coming he began paying credit cards off with other credit cards. His checking account balance was dwindling. He had no savings.
All of his friends had either been associated with the newspaper or he'd met them in journalism school. Gavin didn't try to contact them. He was aware that he was a disgrace to his profession. None of them called him, which was unsurprising but disappointing nonetheless. For the first time in his life he had too much time on his hands and he was afraid of it, the empty hours echoing all around him with nothing to think about but failure, so he went out of his way to establish a routine: he spent the day drinking coffee and searching for jobs online or sitting in the park and circling jobs he wanted to apply for in the classifieds, and then in the evening he boarded a southbound F train and traveled deep into Brooklyn to listen to music at Barbès, a narrow sliver of an establishment between a tanning salon and a sandwich shop.
Step inside and it was just another bar, all chatter and shadows and the faint smell of stale beer, but at the back of the room was a window, a red paper umbrella attached to a wall, a doorway covered by a velvet curtain. The window was almost soundproof. From the dark of the bar he would stand and look through into a brighter world, a small dim room with a lit-up sign that read Hotel d'Orsay and a few rows of people sitting on uncomfortable chairs. Under the Hotel d'Orsay sign musicians set up their instruments, plugged in their amplifiers, milled about drinking beer while the audience stared at them, tested the mikes at their leisure, eventually got around to settling down behind their instruments, and then played some of the best music Gavin had ever heard.
At Barbès he was at his best, his calmest and least desperate. He'd been obsessed with jazz in high school and listening to it again was like coming home. He'd had a friend in high school with a touch of synesthesia who saw light when he heard music, and he liked to think of this when he listened. He could lose himself in the music for a while and he sometimes felt that he was a part of something that mattered, a witness to evenings that might be written about later on.
He was there for Deval & Morelli's last performance, for example. They were a guitar duo who played the nine o'clock set on Mondays. Their last performance was on a cool night in May toward the end of things, some time after Gavin had run out of cash and had started paying for everything with credit cards. He didn't know if Arthur Morelli and Liam Deval were famous in any widespread, conventional way - there were so many gradations of fame now, it was hard to tell anymore what kind of fame counted and who stood a chance of being remembered later - but he thought they were brilliant and on the nights when they played the room was packed. Gavin went every week and stood at the back so he could duck out easily before the tip bucket for the musicians was passed around. He felt bad about this, but he had no cash anymore.
Excerpted from The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel. Copyright © 2012 by Emily St. John Mandel. Excerpted by permission of Unbridled Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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