I arrive in New York from San Francisco, on a quick stop for a couple of meetings before going back to Milan. In my hotel, which is better than the kind in which I usually stay, there is an enormous world map cut out from cast iron attached to the wall behind the reception desk, dimly illuminated from behind. I’m speaking to the receptionist with that curt knowingness which I enjoy so much abroad, but I’m distracted and really looking up at this map. The lack of motion it expresses distresses me, the dumb muteness, completely fake, obviously an enormous joke - it’s a shock to my sense of self to have such a thing served up to me on a plate like that.
I laugh it off to myself gently – eyes in the back of their sockets, expressing nothing other than the impression that they’ve always been there, like that.
In Milan, before leaving this time, I’ve been waking up thinking to myself ‘I am the company – I’ve become the company, my voice is its voice.’ The thought reverberates. I now have full use of the brands cultural authority. Nobody seems to notice, it’s a quiet motion as the company shifts minds.
This is why I came here, as far as I can remember, to this city. To this empty city. With that explicit intention – to steal cultural authority.
My flat has come to resemble two corridors to me, nothing else, one for the bathroom and one for everything else. High ceilings, dark floors and white walls they appear to me to be empty thoroughfares, thoroughly scuffed.
On the days I’m certain that not even appearing older will obscure my intentions I shave my face extremely closely, very cleanly – glowing with absurd youth. I lean myself forward over the waistband of my underwear and in an old tic, grab at the flesh that bulges over on my stomach then lean backwards and see what remains in my hand, if anything.
‘All I’ll remember of this place afterwards’ I think ‘is how empty it all seemed: empty flat, empty puddles, empty airports, empty windows during the sunset’. Empty buildings all painted in greys and yellows and little flashes of green so they bleach into the light in summer and squat in the fog and cold drizzle in winter.
Some jetlagged mornings my piss is completely odourless and sounds exactly like black winter morning rain outside as it hits the side of bowl, casual but relentless.
In my head I’m thinking of what I said to a colleague a few days ago: FOR ME nothing remains of cycling, I’m finished, nothing remains of it, just staying thin, getting thinner, the feeling of not eating when you’re hungry, the cleanliness of being empty, I can’t remember NOTHING else about it. I can’t even remember the last time I trained, but still my legs are shaved – the light is glassy as I stand in the old chalky armchair-shaped bathtub contorting my leg, raising my arch, picking up the tendons with my eyes the way experts pick horses from a form guide.
At the airport in Milan I smirk a little as I hand over my Italian passport for inspection.
On the plane to New York I speak Italian exaggeratedly loudly, laugh like one of them, carry on like a foreigner at the back of the plane hanging around the toilets chatting obscenely for hours about the most quotidian things imaginable.
When the plane lands I drop them and the act.
I stare straight-ahead in the customs line, alone with my only luggage, a small backpack.
Exiting an airport, through sliding doors both reflective and opaque, down scuffed stairs and shiny handrails, is a series of voice-overs regarding self-definition. My feel for my superficial self is heightened in these situations. ‘He has arrived from Milan. He will claim he is Milanese even though he is not. He travels with a series of names that he considers ‘international’ – he knows he can speak as the brand if he wants to. He is wearing a black leather jacket. He is thinking to himself ‘I feel as though I’ve gained a sense.’
Travelling this way, for the Milanese brand, my vision feels different. Each object must berth place/culture at exactly the right point in order to maintain its appearance of absolute reality. I look at the city pin-pointing locations at which objects should surface, I culturally locate everything I can.
I treat myself the same way.
I dress accordingly.
I demand, immediately, a philosophical extreme from each place I visit.
Brands require that cities be full of ideas of something happening, an urban legacy, a revenge of place. Ideas to be compacted for subsequent digital communication/distribution.
Information is easy enough to come across the city, authority a little more difficult.
To begin with, on the trips, the answers I give to questions are whatever lie or truth comes most quickly, most invisibly – without effort; that’s my only prerogative. That’s the trick, I realize: to never move towards anything. My eyes feel like they never move from the back of my skull; nothing changes.
‘What are you drinking?
‘Oh this - I’m being careful I’m on a diet.’
‘Where are you from, you Italian?’
‘Yeah I’m Italian enough heh-heh.’
‘You’re pretty young aren’t you.
‘Yeah, but I’ve always been kind of fast at things, ha ha.’
‘Where you from?’
‘Oh me – I’m from Milan - ha.’
‘Yeah yeah yeah. What do you do there?’
‘Ahh – corporate espionage.’
‘Ehh, no – trend analysis.’
‘Why are you in Milan?’
‘A mistake. I mean I’m stuck there.’
My personality is alleviated of any bumps or stops. I dissolve myself into the presence of other people, they need to feel comfortable with me always being around.
Soon I start selling an expertise that always appears foreign to the customer: no matter where the customer may be from, I always appear have just about enough knowledge on the other side of a virtual geographic border to look like I’m in possession of something they can’t have, or at least need me to access for them.
At the point in which I arrive at the pitch, the tipping point, the moments where you feel something is about to happen, I’m like a luxury brand’s shopping bag, stamping cities into my name like they do after they open a flagship store in a major city: Milan – New York – San Francisco – London – Los Angeles – Tokyo. Place becomes the venue, in my pitch, of an absurd overload.
After New York I go meet Mike in SF.
The image Mike first used to advertise (just to advertise – in the most singular sense of the term - everything was so startlingly new then that he had just wanted to ‘make it’, ‘show it’, be the place where it was happening, make an image of the movement – it’s not as though the goals change later, with the advent of product, the logic is the same, the sequence of the actions identical) was a terrifying maze of tram tracks at what appeared to be the foot of an inner-city hill in San Francisco, with no rider visible other than in the remaining evidence of bike tyre skid marks over the patches of asphalt between the tracks, ‘MASH SF’ in logo form simply at the bottom.
This image was a hardcore sense of geography, it said: ‘In San Francisco ONLY, we are fucking ourselves up/making ourselves something else/becoming the city riding these suicide machines in the most authentic, sparse and essential way on earth.’
The image was a trendsetter. So many kids wanted to ‘MASH’.
When I get into the city I’m looking for more moments like that one, an idea of place which can be compacted into an extreme consumer object. In my head, unshakeably, I have what I imagine to be cool’s most un-repenting forms: t-shirts folded so tight you can’t touch them, big video screens of helmet cam footage playing all day and night in the window somewhere in the city, virtual racing in real places, nighttime meetings, concrete graphic design, the most vulgar and sculptural combination of styles – Velcro straps on classic machines for one, flu-o helmets resprayed matte black to dull the original, becoming scratched with time to reveal the process, another – all poetry, vulgar or subtle, abused by extreme logic: fear and more fear, basically, until you can hold it in your self constantly without concern.
I want to tell Mike about all this.
When we meet I tell him ‘the bike we made with you guys was an idea in motion, it made an idea travel in the city in real time, that’s why people went crazy over it.’
This is true and any deviation from the progression of this logic towards an even more severe poetry seems useless, besides the point and a waste of my time if I’m going to keep living by this.
At some point, in frustration, the conversation going nowhere, Mike using barriers of logic which have nothing to do with me, I excuse myself almost mistakenly, terrified at risking such a comment, it almost tumbles out of me saying ‘‘I can’t understand you because I’m not part of any community – your thoughts – and motivations - are completely alien to me.’
And to my surprise Mike replies ‘You’re right, that’s a good point.’
And this is how I ended up dealing in internationalism, and telling people too.
In the hotel in San Francisco I sleep with the windows open and a woollen hat and neck warmer on.
When I’m travelling the days are so long I can barely remember the motivations I had when I woke up.
City what city– the shining city I imagine – shining in my mind, a beacon, the silent glide at night - information jumps through portals from one urban density to another, cities are just for shittalking, I realise when I get back to Milan.
When I come out of meetings often I’m screaming to myself in my head ‘I NEVER MISS I NEVER FUCKNG MISS”.
‘Hustling is just getting off on your own performance’ I say over the phone, overseas, in the guise of advice, to my brother some 15 000km away.
On the flight back to New York I write advice to myself in a series of sentences in my agenda. Essential hoops to jump in the progress of a pitch – the bits you know will always stick.
‘My expertise is moving between cultures.’ I say in Italy, without a moment of doubt.
But in New York I don’t take that kind of risk, the pitch breaks down, multiplies itself in the moment, reflects on itself; it has to be all-controlling, leave them no time to think.
The first time I meet Brett and James upstairs on Wooster St I exaggeratedly articulate my knowingness, put parentheses around the situation.
James, the owner, comes in when I’m already speaking to Brett, he doesn’t sit down, so I stand up, he’s heard me speak already but I move my accent, as I turn around to talk to him; I try to keep my pronunciation as crisp as possible, scrubbed of place, overly hygienic.
‘I was just saying to Brett that it’s almost impossible for me to suggest anything not knowing you, not knowing your motivations, where you’re heading. I can only speak according to an aesthetic affinity with what I see – an understanding of the restraint.’
I pitch it this way, on the long run.
I ignore the fact my cheeks have been red for three days and even redder now, that I forgot to gel my hair and push it back in the airport mirror that morning.
Import, export – the trick is never showing who you really belong to, or better yet don’t actually belong to anywhere, permanently barely exist.
‘It’s a question, I suppose, of how international you want the look to be, what kind of cultures you want to let in, what unexpected use of the brands you want to potentially leave yourself open to, and where. This is what I’m thinking about.’
‘I’ve got this thing, I want to make it, but I can’t make it without you guys, it’s the snood, you know the neck tube with the drawstring which is also a hat? Footballers wear it a lot. You know Balotelli – no? You don’t know Balotelli! He’s the best looking guy in football right now, he’s this black kid adopted by Italians, tall, he’s till really young, 19 or 20, so he’s incredibly skinny, he has an orange Lamborghini, he’s having it flown over the Manchester where he plays now, where he says he doesn’t have any friends, he’s the most petulant bad boy, the kids in Italy love him, there are photos of him a the beach, with a bodyguard, just walking through it, all these girls looking at him, wearing American-style boardshorts, holding his wallet and keys and phones in his hand.
Anyway, it’s a tough object, I mean hardcore by tough, if you do it right, in the way that makes sense to do it now, this tube hat is too tough for my brand by itself, the irony is too ‘street’, to extract all the straight-faced piss-take out of this I need your cultural position - that’s why I want you guys to do it.
‘My brand has the sporting authority, the performance hardcore which can fake the reality of the object, keep it apparently functional.’
‘You guys have the ‘spot’ for it, and the smirk, the attitude - if you do it right it could be really mean. It looks weird as an object, obviously, it’s not an easy bestseller, its potential is entirely hardcore – but that’s what I like about you guys anyway – the way the clothes are always, at least in their idea state – before people buy them, but that’s irrelevant anyway – about pulling it off, getting away with it, never acknowledging what you’re doing, halting a system temporarily.’
And then I slow it down again, I hold the idea before them, in them, let the picture stick.
‘I know how sensitive a subject this is, how unrealistic and difficult it can be for somebody to pitch to you from the outside, not knowing your motivations for each collection, your goals, so really I understand completely if the suggestion is inappropriate, I won’t be offended of course.’
‘I know how difficult ‘good ideas’ are, how few of them there are, trust me – like you can see its not as though I came here with seven or eight – you asked if I had any and I worked really hard on this and all I came up with was one, this is the only idea I have, I don’t have any others, or maybe I just have some half-ones, some that need to be fleshed out in dialogue – but if you’re interested in the snood let’s talk, let me know what you think, we’ll develop it together, this is my one full idea for you guys.’
Sometimes I wonder what will happen if something real ever happens to me. If I’ll react the same way, with the same cool with which I seem to be sliding through everything now. I wonder if I really am the detached nothingness I think I’ve become. But every situation I encounter allows me to continue to barely exist in the same way. Fear in the direct sense evaporates because I don’t know what life of mine is at stake. I am completely submerged in the places I am in, my motion, as I observe everything around me, continues to feel anonymous.
I don’t know if this constant nothingness is my fault, if I lack the tools to take it anywhere, to make anything of it, to throw myself into an active foreignness instead of this one. I spend hours on the internet reading the perversions of other people – it feels like there is a world I’m completely comfortable in but cut off from.
The trip ends. I’ve been masking my stink all day every day for ten days in coffee and a horse hide leather jacket which still stinks – on the last evening I try to come off it all, the constant coffee, with three quick beers – I feel it in my head, trying to relax my blood, for a moment the caffeine and alcohol mix in a high pitched fever – I’m shaky, sick feeling, paranoid – I still can’t shake the paranoia of illness abroad– then the fevered moment passes and I begin to relax into the reward of great fatigue.