Table of Contents here.
July 16, 2022 — Hopper walked up to the old brownstone church on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 20th Street. It had always been there. A banner draped over the porch announced that the church would be re-opening as a WeWork space next month. A poster displayed on the door read: “Get out of your house while you work from home!” Hopper recalled reading an article in The Economist last month about “the post-post-pandemic workstyle.” Employees in large cities were electing the WFH option; their employers were thrilled because of decreased overhead expenses. The commercial real estate market was converting office buildings to other uses, primarily as condominiums, but also cannabis farms and studios for people who wanted to up their TikTok game.
Even Hopper had changed pedagogical approaches with his students at the University of Chicago. He taught classes online but tutored vaccinated students (an enrollment requirement for his courses) in groups of two or three in his apartment. He rarely visited the campus. His peers referred to him as Hopper the Friendly Ghost. When visiting his department’s offices, he strove to be courteous, helpful when circumstances called for it, and charming when it was to his advantage. He believed there was an element of jealousy circulating among his colleagues. Hopper had been granted tenure at the tender age of 32 because of offers from Stanford and Columbia that followed the publication of his first book. That, and there was also the movie deal and the multi-book contract.
On the other hand, Hopper’s students wanted to grow up and be like him.
In their childhood Olympia had always called the church on Sixth Avenue by its original name, the Church of the Holy Communion. Olympia’s star burned brightly in those years. Sarah Jessica Parker had described Olympia as the “Chloe Sevigny of her generation.” She and her college boyfriend, Chasen Whitney, were described in Page Six as “a postmodern version of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.” In those days, Olympia thrived when she was surrounded by people, while Hopper always thrived when he was surrounded by words.
The only thing about Olympia that Hopper could understand or admire was what she called her “hobby” — identifying landmarks with compelling histories, learning about the intentions of the builders, and charting how the forces that shaped Manhattan ultimately changed the landmark. This hobby worked for her like a good parlor trick. Everyone was mesmerized by the stories Olympia told about Gotham City.
Back when she was still in college at Barnard, Olympia told him about the church, which was designed by Richard Upjohn in the Gothic Revival style and completed in 1852. “It was declared a landmark by the city in 1966 and has stood unmolested by developers,” she explained. “It was built in the 19th century as a Protestant country church, and in the 21st century it still looks like a Protestant country church.”
For more than a century, the church was known by its original name, but since the seventies, denizens of the neighborhood have known the church as the Lindisfarne Association, Odyssey House, the notorious nightclub Limelight, the even more notorious nightclub Avalon, the Limelight Marketplace, and now, WeWork. Through all the name changes, Olympia still referred to the building as the Church of the Holy Communion or, sometimes, simply CHC.
The only time Olympia succeeded in dragging Hopper inside CHC was during its Avalon phase. “A spectacular murder supposedly occurred here in the nineties,” she told him breathlessly. “A prig like you should possess at least a morbid curiosity about how a holy place of worship could transform into a such a profane place of sin.”
“I do,” he admitted.
“A friend of mine recorded an audio tour of the church,” she said. “You play a cassette tape, and you can follow along to learn about which popstars were discovered in which bathroom in the eighties, who fucked who in which bathroom in the nineties, and which drug dealer was arrested in which bathroom in this decade.”
“Fascinating,” he deadpanned.
“Hopper, the neighborhood is changing, and the church is dying,” she implored. “If you visit now with me, it will be like visiting the last days of Rome. Our city will never again sink to this level of degeneracy.”
Out of professional curiosity, Hopper scanned the WeWork QR code on the poster. He removed his mask featuring a pug so that he could wipe dry his nose and mouth. While sifting through the marketing language searching for a paradigm shift, he heard a man passing by call out his name.
“Hopper, right?” Hopper looked up from his phone to see the most beautiful man he had ever seen. His blue eyes pierced like laser beams. It was an old boyfriend of Olympia’s, Chasen Whitney. Their breakup had not gone well for Olympia.
“Chasen, good to see you,” Hopper responded as he felt himself falling back into automatic social habits. “It’s been years.”
Translation: You asshole. I should fuck you up right now.
“It has been years, Hopper,” he said. “By the way, most people call me ‘Blazes’ now.”
“Blazes. Why would they call you that?” Hopper asked. “Chasen is a perfectly serviceable name.”
Translation: What a stupid nickname.
“Dabber and I were asleep at my parents’ home in Southampton,” he began to explain. Dabber was the woman he married after dumping Olympia. “We were the only ones in the house when it caught fire. Old wiring. I woke up and Dabber was already overcome by smoke. I carried her downstairs and out of the house. The local newspaper reported that ‘the house went up in blazes, but not before a husband saved his wife.’ And so, everyone started calling me ‘Blazes’ afterwards.”
“That’s an amazing story,” Hopper deadpanned. “How is Dabber?”
Translation: My sister was too good for you. I feel sorry for Dabber.
“Christ, we’re divorced. Didn’t you hear?” Chasen/Blazes responded. “I’ve been seeing Dilly. You remember Dilly, right?”
Hopper was confused. “My high school classmate Dilly?”
Translation: Good for Dabber. What is Dilly doing with a loser like you?
“I think that I just saw her with her son in Abingdon Square.”
Translation: Are you tapping a married woman?
“No,” Chasen/Blazes answered. “Every Thursday morning, she meets with her gang. You know: Maggy, Boody, Katey, and their kids. You know them, right? Dilly married Simon after Oberlin. You remember Simon?”
“Yes. Dalton, right?”
Translation: I am living in a Whit Stillman nightmare.
“Yes, then he went to Brown. Dilly divorced him three years ago. No kids,” Chasen/Blazes said. “How’s Olympia? Is she still dating that Black guy from Georgetown?”
“Huey? No, she’s not dating him,” Hopper responded. “She dumped him. Last year he was murdered by the state police in Indiana, so there’s no chance of them getting back together.”
Translation: Racist fuck.
“Oh, yeah, I think maybe I heard something about that,” Chasen/Blazes said. “Honestly, I never should have dumped your sister.”
“Wow,” Hopper said. “Anyway, I’m meeting my editor for lunch. I’ll see you around.”
Translation: I have an editor. You probably have only an accountant. Who wins in that comparison? Also, you are not getting within a mile of my sister.
Hopper harbored a deep secret from that night he visited the church with Olympia. He tiptoed into The Avalon even though Olympia’s right hand had a stranglehold on his left hand. For him, it was the summer between his leaving college and entering graduate school. Olympia had just finished her second year at Barnard. She had just started dating Chasen, as he was known then.
Hopper had been to a few nightclubs and found them boorish. The Avalon was like the rest: a nightclub with loud music, light shows, and young people either wearing very little clothing or on their way to wearing very little clothing. Lots of posing and poseurs. Olympia waded through the crowd, kissing every third person on the lips and shouting introductions that no one heard or cared to hear. People looked at him and just smiled and nodded or frowned and shook their heads. It was all the same. The church seemed to absorb everyone and everything into its walls, ceilings, floors, and stained glass. Nothing seemed to matter. Everything seemed to matter. Until.
Eventually one group rose up in importance above all the others and absorbed Olympia through its membrane. She released her grip on Hopper’s hand and shouted incomprehensible words in his direction. Her eyes told him that he was on his own. Until.
Hopper wandered around the church, avoiding making physical or eye contact with the bodies surging around him. He plotted a route to the nearest exit that he estimated would draw as little attention to himself as possible. Until.
Until a woman blocked his path.
“I saw you walk in with that girl,” she said. “You’re not her boyfriend.”
“That’s correct,” Hopper said. “I am most definitely not her boyfriend.”
The woman was Asian. Hopper thought maybe she was Vietnamese. He knew some Vietnamese girls from school. She was a few inches shorter than him and slim. Not a lot of curves. She wore a short red dress. Shiny material. A studded choker. Rings on six fingers. Hoop earrings. Blonde wig. Hopper thought she was attractive, but older. He could not tell how much older, but she was definitely not in the same demographic as the rest of the bodies.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
Hopper felt as though heaven and earth changed places. A simple, three-word inquiry had him questioning all his assumptions. Inexplicably, he felt himself shaking. He was, much to his dismay, feeling aroused by this woman.
“Calm yourself down, cowboy,” she said. “All I asked was your name.”
“Hopper,” he whispered.
“Hopper!” he shouted. “My name is Hopper.”
“Hopper, you sure are cute,” the woman said.
She enfolded the fingers of her right hand around those of his left hand. Her hand felt strong, stronger even than Olympia’s. She began to walk back towards the crowd, taking Hopper with her. People parted. The two of them flowed through the humanity like a river of mercury until they reached an alcove. The music and the people and the lights faded away. Hopper and the woman were alone in the alcove while the pulse of the world beat steadily just a few feet away.
Hopper was not a virgin, and he was not a virgin to the sexual act the woman began to perform on him, but he had never engaged in a sexual act with a woman whose name he did not know. In fact, it was a rule of his to never engage in a sexual act with a woman until they had shared at least three meals on separate days and come to an understanding that the ending of the novel “Fight Club” was vastly superior to that of the film.
If this is the world Olympia inhabits, he thought, she can have it.
When Hopper was done, the woman put everything back in its place and zipped up his trousers.
“Your turn,” she said.
“My turn for what?” Hopper asked.
The woman lifted her dress to reveal that she was not wearing underwear and that she possessed a…penis.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t make you swallow.”
Hopper froze for a moment and then gathered himself.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“My name, honey? I thought you’d never ask,” the woman said, smiling. “They call me Lola.”
“Glad to meet you, Lola,” he said, “but I’m not doing that.”
“That?” Lola responded. She seemed disappointed more than angry. “Oh, I thought you were one of that girl’s queer boys.”
“Straight as Forrest Gump,” Hopper replied.
“Okay, Forrest, never mind,” Lola said, brightening up. “There are plenty of other cocks in this ocean. I’ll find someone else to suck me off. Nice to meet you, though.”
“Yes,” Hopper said. “Nice…to meet you, too.”
The next time Hopper met Lola, years later, she had just submitted a modest bid for his first book based on a slim proposal his mother’s agent had circulated to publishers. The agent had suggested that, if Hopper were to meet with this editor, the publisher might increase its offer. Hopper had forgotten the name Lola, but when he walked into her office, he immediately recognized her and froze. Apparently, Lola’s legal name was Daniel. No blonde wig, just a smart haircut with some streaks of silver showing. No hoop earrings, just studs. No dress, just khaki slacks, a rep tie, and a tweed sports coat. Rings on three fingers, not six.
Hopper had no doubt in his mind that this man reaching out to shake his hand was the very same Lola he had encountered years earlier in The Avalon.
“Hi Hopper,” Daniel said. “I am so glad to meet you.”
If Daniel remembered him, he betrayed nothing. They talked about Hopper’s book idea, his family, and the research he was doing with his graduate students. The next day, his mother’s agent called to say the offer had been increased. Hopper would be working with Daniel, but in his mind, his new editor would always be Lola.
Hopper never revealed to Olympia what had happened on the night he visited The Avalon. He had told only Ingrid, and not until they were married.
“I don’t think any less of you for your youthful indiscretions,” Ingrid responded. “It’s not like I didn’t blow a few guys in nightclubs back before I became a serious medical student.”
Hopper was to meet Lola for lunch in 30 minutes.
Continue to Chapter 5 here.