I must offer a rare apology: my previous column, published two weeks ago, was inaccurate. Typos, inaccuracies, fabrications, and malicious lies have their place in my fiction and my journalism, but this is an error I must address: the Hoboken teenager Paul Colson wasn’t nearly as indifferent or anti-social as I made him sound. Nor was his surname “Colson”—it was Cartwright. In the interest of protecting the innocent, we artists must at times take liberties with what you normal people perceive as “the truth,” but which is really a carefully-constructed lie. This is why I haven’t had much interest in writing about the present recently. And so we journey back, once more, onto a snowy night in Manhattan, January 1996…
Paul Cartwright was a massive Smashing Pumpkins fan, but he loved dozens of bands with a secondary zeal that would—and often did—alarm others. His collection and knowledge of Nirvana bootlegs, from live recordings to rarities compilations like the Outcesticide series, was unrivaled, and his relatively recent discovery of Hüsker Dü (thanks to Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong) had already blossomed into a relationship that included all of their studio albums and most of their officially released EP’s, and a few singles. Just a few weeks before, while Christmas shopping in Manhattan, he found a VHS tape of a full live performance from Philadelphia on December 16, 1983.
That Hüsker Dü tape was all that Paul watched from the day he got it in mid-December to this day in early January 1996. His family was well-off, but they never spent any time together: after a few perfunctory gifts given under the tree on Christmas Eve, the holiday was over for the Cartwrights. Paul lived in his room. His dad wasn’t home often, and his mom didn’t seem to care if he lived or died. Whatever—it was easier to go into the city, easier to be a kid in the first years of helicopter parenting, easier to do so many things he didn’t then know would disappear completely in a few years. On that night in January 1996, Paul got onto the train into Manhattan and realized he was the only one there—the blizzard must’ve scared everyone off.
And then a girl walked in: blonde hair, black everywhere else: tights, skirt, parka, makeup. She looked at him as she got on the train on the opposite side of the car. Without saying a word, she sat down near the door, and the train ground forward into New York City. Paul tried to look without looking like he was looking, and Meredith keep to herself. She saw him when she walked in, she knew she wasn’t going to get mugged if she just looked straight ahead. She didn’t even think this kid would come up and bother her asking for her phone num— “Are you seeing The Smashing Pumpkins tonight?” Paul had walked over as she was trying to figure him out, and he stood above her waiting for her reply. “Uh…no…?”
“Oh.” Paul’s face sank. He hung his head and said nothing. “Do you want to sit down?” Meredith gestured to the seat across from her. “Yes, thank you. Sorry.” Paul sat down. “Don’t say sorry. What are you sorry for?” Paul shifted in his seat, shivering and blood red. “I didn’t want to bother you.” Meredith looked at him blankly. “Well no. I’m not seeing The Smashing Pumpkins tonight. I’m going to a horror convention.” Paul sat up, intrigued. “Like Friday the 13th?” Meredith smiled, trying not to laugh. “I like them, but this is for more obscure movies—I’m a big fan of Enzo B. Bucci.” Paul grimaced. “Isn’t that the teddy bear that can talk? On Nickelodeon?” Meredith grimaced. “No. He’s a genius. He directed Laura of Four Cobras. Orgy 2. Gash. The Gazebo with the Doe of Death. Heard of any of ‘em?”
Paul shook his head. “No.” Meredith inched forward in her seat. “Then we have a lot to talk about.”
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