The Star Cellar, also known as Kenya, is a long and aging greenhouse erected on the roof of my apartment block by former residents. It once grew communal produce, and it still stores stacks of trays and towers of old pots at the back. Stickers on the windows oppose light pollution, thanks to supporters of International Dark Skies. It is traditional to hold our monthly housing co-operative meetings purely by the light of six dark sky-friendly down-lanterns and dimmed laptops. Some say it helps to diffuse the atmosphere.
“Who is doing the minutes this month?” Júlia from downstairs was tending to perennials and long bloomers, buried in a woollen coat. I had arranged a double circle of folding chairs along the centre.
“That would be me.” Several other tenants filed in, and I offered them something from a flask.
“Beast from the east.” Gabor B shivered into his mug.
“Keeps it quick. Anyone object if I chair?”
“We’re not quorate.”
Eventually twelve tenants showed up and I read out a list of apologies and noted any non-apologists.
“Are we quorate?”
“Béla’s an Associate.”
“Hands please, Associates.”
“We have ten voting members this month. Eleven if Zelinke sits down. The handbook says twelve or eighty percent.”
“The eighty percent can include apologies. We voted that in.”
“I know.” Zelinke dropped herself onto a chair. “I also know that we never fully agreed on voting rights for non-apologies. They’re people too.”
“Because we couldn’t agree how to proxy.”
“They’re not here. Stuff them.”
“This is it. This is it. This is why we’re now two co-ops. Factions.”
Júlia closed her eyes and gestured circles at my minute-taking. “Strike that out.”
“Have we started?”
“Who made you chair?”
“I asked and no-one objected.”
“I was looking for biscuits. Point of order. Re-raise please.”
“Does anyone object if I get us back down to our apartments before sunrise?”
“I remember biscuits.”
“Beers are not just for the summer.” Zelinke twisted a can out of a pack she had brought with her. “Four packs are safe space.”
“If you can remember the ganja years raise your scarf.”
“We banned spliff politics in 1998.”
“Whatever happened to Harald?”
“He went back to Denmark when we banned spliff politics.”
“Didn’t he buy the block for weed?”
“Update on Membership.” Júlia ploughed on.
“Update from the Treasurer.”
“After paying the water bills and the plumbing in Gabor’s shower we have four million forint in the bank account. The handbook, I remind you, advises a margin of ten at all times.”
“Handbook has said that for years. Is it still accurate?”
“Action for the Treasurer.”
“You can’t just say ‘action for the Treasurer’ and throw a project at me. I’m at a chiropractor.”
“I have auditions.”
“Anyone who can look at this for the Treasurer?”
I didn’t really know what it entailed but I offered to do it.
“Taken by the Deputy Treasurer.”
“Since when?” I asked.
“Seconded.” Zelinke raised a finger.
“We have eight waged members and as long as it remains that way, I don’t see an immediate risk.” The Treasurer continued.
I hadn’t told the co-op about my employment situation. Just like grief, there are five stages of updating a curriculum vitae. I was past anger and onto bargaining. I read every vacancy knowing that I’d feel like a constipated plant in a pot. No-one had any need of the full me. In the evening I’d been running deeper searches into multiple engines.
“I’m tired living hand to mouth like this. Repair to repair.”
“Have an air biscuit. Join Development.”
“This is why there are two co-ops. People who stick to the founding principles and corporates who want us to grow.”
“We need to talk behaviour at these meetings. The atmosphere is toxic,” said Zelinke.
“There’s clearly four co-ops, in my opinion. The tolerant ambitious, the intolerant ambitious, tolerable spliff merchants, and Zelinke.”
“Strike any atmosphere from the minutes.”
“Whose side are you on? Keep it in. I prefer my abuse documented.”
“The chair is neutral and wishes only for respectful debate.”
“By redacting hate speech like it never happened. You are the problem.”
“Update from Maintenance.”
“‘My granny was vegan before it was called that’.” Zelinke mimicked someone who once said that.
“Update from Maintenance.”
“‘It doesn’t make you special, you know.’”
“Gabor sourced three quotes. The work was carried out last week.”
“Drip free and footloose. Thank you, co-op.”
“Can I have my gorilla tape back?”
“My mouse is back, chair.”
“Is it on the agenda?”
“Mice aren’t Maintenance.”
“If mice aren’t Maintenance, what are they?”
“Chair, what are mice?”
“Handbook doesn’t describe them.”
“They’re fellow creatures and no, you can’t have a glue trap from the bank.” Zelinke had already tapped my leg to offer me a beer, but I declined.
“I’d like to propose a co-op cat.”
“A cat? Where would it sleep?”
“The Star Cellar.”
“Birdy bloodbath. You can clean that.”
“With whoever needs the serotonin.”
“A rescue cat is a great idea.”
“Rescues don’t eat lab grown.”
“This is agenda creep. We defined this kind of thing.”
“Agenda item for next month.”
“Filed under how?”
My minute-taking was free-falling because I wasn’t hearing anything worth summing up and I was already reading into search results.
Fringebenefits.org, two years ago
“Welcome to this year’s preview, Márk. What is the last thing you do before you go on stage, apart from check your fly is up and for spinach between your teeth?
I check for spinach between my flies. Then I chastise my valet. I check his teeth for stolen diamonds. The audience just want my material.
What’s behind So-so Soulmate?
So-so social media. Here’s a leap forward like literacy, but we play games and employ masks. Intelligence takes us as far as identity and self-interest, policed by both liberals and libertarians. Go figure. I am you. You are me. So? SO?
What is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?
Trying to sound uncensored in an empty room. Ruining one or two relationships. Translating the Dirty Phrasebook sketch into Hungarian. Telling someone she regarded complex trauma as a competition.
Are you ambitious?
I want to be a spokesman for the nation no government dare condemn. Nothing less than fifth dimension.
Márk Németh’s Edinburgh festival debut So-so Soulmate is downstairs at the Lamb until 26th August every day at 5.25pm. For tickets go to >”
“Erzsébet, could you confirm if that was redacted?”
“Júlia, it wasn’t dacted to begin with.”
“Zsofia agrees to catch up five hundred per month.”
“Are we onto Arrears?”
The Treasurer looked at his laptop impassively. “Erzsébet. No rent showing.”
“It fell on a Sunday, I think. Mysterious. I’ll check my bank.”
The conversation rolled on, but my lies were loud and clear.
Helyi élet magazine, two weeks ago
Property tycoon attends sad son’s funeral. Struggling Pál Németh, left, remains composed as he comforts wife Bambi across the Farkasreti cemetery, following the funeral of ill-fated entertainer son Márk Németh. “Márk is at peace now. No father should have to do this.” Németh told an uneasy visitor near the family crypt, last week.
The housing co-operative began to stand and shake their mugs and talk about other things, filing slowly back through the fire escape to their apartments. Only Zelinke remained, sitting back on her chair, quietly plumbing a roll-up with weed.
“I need to finish this.” I lied a second time, looking up at the down-lanterns.
ViccesIdők.hu obituary, last week
Márk Németh had a line about dying suddenly. “Why does the report say ‘died suddenly’? All I want are the details. ‘Yeah, but what happened? What brand did he smoke? And did she have her brakes checked? Which mechanic signed that off? Name names.”
After charming the Edinburgh Festival two years ago with his solo show ‘So-so Soulmate’ Németh put in the required sofa-surfing across the States before going off-radar in New York. He returned to Europe a more acerbic and spontaneous satirist. Asked if he felt destined for an uneven career, Németh admitted “More success brought more temptation. Drugs appeared like magic. I forgot how my name was spelled. I had to ask God at one point.” Low key comebacks found him whip-smart and balanced. “The old advice is always to market yourself and show people what makes you different. Politically, the only return I want is to bring down some personal houses.”
Having witnessed this complex young man’s behaviour I’d be tempted to say that Márk Németh did not die suddenly. In reaching out for something unattainable, it was glacial and obvious. I heard things about him which made me uncomfortable. In his favour, I recall his eyes light up at a litany of edgy US satirists from the 60s and 70s. He believed that comedy made a difference, like rock music used to. Here’s dreaming, Márk.
The material world flooded back. “Is this the Development sub-group?”
“I’d say so.” Zelinke didn’t bother to offer me what she was smoking out the window. “You’re too straight edge to be real.”
“Good living — is what they say? I’ll forget how my name is spelled.”
“Life is sobering enough. We should be out squatting office blocks. Nobody needs them anymore. Well, I guess that’s Development covered.”
“Ever heard of Pál Németh?”
“Who is he?”
“Apart from a machine out to wreck or bend politicians and push people like us into the streets? Probably a loving family man.”
I ran some more searches, and I could feel her observe me reading.
“Looking at property websites is a quiet psycho ladyland, you know. For the crazy cat persons of capitalism.” She walked slowly along the greenhouse. “You’re feeding a bottomless love of pure potential looking at juicy walls.” She reached up to turn off one of the LEDs, to look outside. “They use paranoia, you know.”
“That lot. They’ll have you tears.”
I didn’t know where this was going.
“Pulling your weight. Slowing us down. Splitting us up. Bringing disrepute. It’s not alternative. The only difference is scale.”
“No, it’s still more human.”
Zelinke didn’t respond, like she wanted my own words to echo. She jammed opened the far window to watch the stars.
“Bodies. Pál Németh talks about tenants as ‘the bodies.’ Getting rid of them. I think he had enough, because he moved on to clean trophy stock worth God knows. Trading chips. Little to do with living.”
I folded my laptop and wound up my scarf and walked down the greenhouse, for my first and only inhale of her derealisation.
“I don’t need this.”
“Even better.” She didn’t strike me as triumphant.
“Are you joy, Zelinke?” I asked.
“Hell yeah. I’m the biggest joy around. Are you?”
“Go easy on the pure stuff. That’ll kill you.”
Back in my apartment I read an interview in the Negotiator magazine and listened to any video clips of Márk Németh that I could find.
The Negotiator magazine. September, last year
“I don’t do strained silences. You can get that at home.” Pál Németh seems to flit into the room. He flutters. You don’t notice him. And then he is the only thing you can see. “That’s the benefit of my kind of business. This is the real world.”
He appears behind his desk, looking over the József Nádor tér, in a building Immonémeth shares with the Minsk-based Private Bank, looking as diplomatic as a cherished news presenter, canny as a monsignor. His head seems transplanted onto his body, and his eyes are impish and sparkling. His tone, an undisguisable drilling.
“I was a tenement child. Gutter material. Born downtown, above a perverted 24-hour doctor. You can imagine the sickness I saw haunted me. Local gangs and every boot had my name on it. Sometimes I drive around that hole and dream of ripping its arse out.”
Pál Németh doesn’t laugh but, as he watches me, something like a laugh bubbles into his throat, something which he manages to quell. For twenty years Immonémeth has been doing just that. Responsible for driving the old County outpatients into a bomb-proof spa and awayday helicopter hire and ripping the Érdliget farmer’s market into sassy retail units. “Solar and responsible.”
Did his reputation for obsessive precision help? “Nobody wants the wild man of town planning. The Salvador Dali of air traffic control. Nobody.”
It’s a tough game. How does he handle losing key negotiators to a hungry competition? “I let them know that I grew them. Fed and watered them with my personal toil, and I’ll prune their heads if they cross me.”
When asked if he sees himself a social conservative, he turns to a pet subject. Pre-history. “Why do you bother asking? What are you getting at? We all are. Did you know that Scythian women had to remain virgins till they’d slain three adversaries? Train them mean, keep them keen. They were married off, and they gave up horseback. But would I marry one? Certainly.”
I tell him that I find this a strange response. “Family values are the only values I serve.” The force behind Immonémeth smiles patiently, spreading disproportionate hands, gently turning his face to the light outside.
Recorded Live at Andy’s Lark Factory, Denver
Hello, Andy’s. Hello, Denver. Why do singers walk on stage and say that? New York, make some noise. I’m not New York. I’m visiting my cousin. First time here. She had a spare ticket. Don’t call me Madison Square Garden. I’m not an amphitheatre, or a fire blanket. I’m a human being.
I’ll say goodbye to the leather jacket. I wear it because I feel, I don’t know, a middleman, you know. I think I should be more masculine. Or maybe find my feminine side. Do both. Whenever you’ve got a decision to make, do both. Should I be more sensitive or selfish? Do both. Should I be more ambitious, or give more to charity? Let me think. That’s a tough one.
At this point I should confess to being bisexual, but I confess to being so-so. A so-so lover. I think love should be so-so. My days of whispering ‘I would take a bullet for you’ to girls in my classroom are over. My days of backfiring silent treatment. ‘We were getting on really well for a while, Márk.’ The days of ‘if you really loved me you would’ insert a selfish whim here. Nobody is going to date my inner child, ever again. But we like it, Márk. Kinda turned us on. The constant despairing prayer to be left alone. That was cute.
I’m happily so-so. Bit of love, bit of lies. Bit of selfish, bit ‘he tries.’ Bit here. In a blind spot. Looking back. Likely not.
You would be waving lighters at this point. Where are my beats? The MP3 got put on the wrong plane, Márk. It’s at LAX. We’re working on it.
Comic causes WALKOUT at AMDEF Arms Expo, Dallas! Hilarious
Hi, everyone. How are we doing? Have we had a good weekend? Some satisfying keynote speeches? Been swung on a lot of deals? Nothing shady, I hope. We don’t do back rooms in Dallas. We nail it to the wall. Set it on the coals.
But as a soft European and hardening human being I have to tell you gentlemen that I have never NEVER felt so gay. There’s a room down the hall packed to the glass with robot dick pics. Fifty-foot cyborg cuck destructors. Somebody please explain God’s gloryhole to me. Can we try one later, after a bourbon? Get in, just Peter Pan across the suburbs?
Basically, I’m on stage while the barbecue fires up and because the Kay Bailey Hutchison Conference Centre can’t afford a live music license. So, you can sit down. Unless you want to hit me or duet. Both are contractually extra but I’m between agents.
Anyone got PTSD? You can dish it out, but you can’t take it, so? I stand with Veterans For Psilocybin Mushrooms. They’re the trail YOU leave behind. They told me to tell you. They’re selling mirtazapine onto retired police officers. They need it more than anyone. Quarantined memories are all anyone has. Flashbacks for a best friend. Six months training boys with rickets to run from the Taliban in a semi professional manner. Ended up an egg and spoon race, small intestines in their hands. You should hear them reminisce.
This gentleman is leaving for the bathroom. He’s going to inspect himself for rickets, aren’t you sir?
You are a goddamn disgrace.
I don’t speak rocket science.
I said you’re a goddamn disgrace.