Ziggi is a manic pixie dream girl that went on a bender and never recovered. At least, that’s what her bandmates think. Pink-haired with a moonbow on her butt, Ziggi is your average punk barista searching for meaning in suburbia. Too bad her artistic roommate Cyrus turns out to be an alien who, when not smoking weed, is busy manipulating Ziggi’s genome in order to accelerate humanity’s evolutionary conga line. Oh yeah, and he’s been at it for centuries, meddling with human biology so long the Sumerians started a religion after him. At least he makes a mean fettucine alfredo?
After a concert goes sour, Ziggi and Cyrus blast off into space in Cyrus’ VW Beetle when Ziggi tries to turn off the radio. Stranded on a spaceship suited for amphibians, not punks, Ziggi learns that her new tenant Cyrus, real name Enki, isn’t remotely human. Gone are his good looks, replaced by tentacles and, well, he basically looks like a sewer mutant. To complicate things, Enki is the heir to the Milky Way’s dysfunctional overlords, the Anunnaki: shapeshifters who feed off information. In order to sexually mature, Enki has to shepherd humanity into his parent’s galactic dictatorship via good old genetic manipulation. Too bad he would rather make trippy artwork or eat pot brownies. A leader Enki is not, thus he is stuck in perpetual puberty, with the crown always just out of reach. No wonder he likes to get high.
As Enki gives Ziggi a tour of his spaceship, she is thrust into a world of intergalactic intrigue where the universe is in turmoil, thanks to Enki’s ruthless parents. Opposed to Enki’s genetic tinkering is his sister Ishtar who, though against interfering with species’ evolution, will do anything to take the throne. Soon the Brood come, and Ziggi, Enki and Ishtar are sold to the highest bidder, who happens to have a personal vendetta against the Anunnaki. Assassination plots are hatched, space pirates abound, and Ziggi discovers her talent for survival. She’s not alone for long, however, as her bandmates soon wind up in space, stranded on an outlaw planet after they got caught in Enki’s tractor beam. Forced to battle in interspecies cage matches and entertain their captors, Ziggi and her friends struggle to find a way out of the gladiator ring. Their solution? Form a space band, Anunnaki included, and rock their way to freedom.
Music is Ziggi’s ultimate salvation, and soon entire galaxies are salivating over her riffs. But will her new supernova stardom be too hot to handle? What about Enki’s despotic family? And what will Enki do when he runs out of weed? In this spoof of alien conspiracies, all these questions, and more, are answered in this Bowie-inspired mix of Lilith’s Brood and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Enki ascends to the throne, having overthrown his parents, and Ziggi, now a cosmic rock star, can finally quit her job at Java Lava and move on to bigger, better things, namely a record deal.
“You’re full of shit, Ziggi. My new tatt doesn’t look like text from a crappy printer. It’s based on Otzi the Iceman’s ink. This stuff has history.”
I looked at the black bars on the back of Carlos’s neck. All I could think was lame. “This is like a step above tribal tatts, is all I’m saying.”
Carlos adjusted the volume on his bass. “Whatever. You have pink hair and a rainbow on your ass.”
“Hey,” I said. “My rainbow isn’t a rainbow, it’s a moonbow. That’s why it’s in black and white.”
“Would you two shut it? I’m trying to get in the zone,” Spike said. He twirled his drumsticks in the air.
I plugged my guitar into its amp. “Right.” I turned to Carlos. “Forget what I said. Your new tatt is cool.” (It wasn’t.) “We good?”
Carlos nodded, wary. “Whatever. I guess.”
On that discordant note, the Iguana Knees jammed.
Cyrus wandered in halfway through our set, smoking a pungent joint. He scoured the floor of Carlos and Spike’s garage. He found a rusty nail and a dented bottle cap.
“Would you guys mind if I kept these?” Cyrus yelled over the blare of my riff, pocketing his newfound treasures.
Carlos eyed Cyrus’ toned arms. I wasn’t exactly immune to them either.
“Sure thing, man,” Spike shouted over my solo, making a V with his drumsticks. “Mi casa es tu casa.”
Cyrus smiled his lazy smile and settled into the threadbare couch near the entrance. He closed his eyes and took a drag from his joint.
Set over, we packed up and parted ways. I ferried my stoned roommate back to our apartment, wondering the whole time if the tattoo on my ass really was just a rainbow.
At home, I floated through a sea of Cyrus’ junk to my room, determined to pen the final lyrics to our new set. I was just reaching the bridge, where the suburban dad from our concept album commits suicide with a George Foreman grill, when Cyrus’ drilling from his makeshift studio broke my concentration.
“Ugh.” I crumpled up the eleventh version of my lyrics and tossed it into the wastebasket.
The drilling continued. I banged my head against the desk, wondering how I would ever sleep with Cyrus working in a stoned haze on his newest art project.
I looked in the mirror hanging from my inspiration board and spoke to my baggy-eyed reflection: “Get it together. You’re days away from performing your new set. You’re a broke musician. Do the thing broke musicians do and write a killer song.”
Despite my best efforts, no inspiration came.
The drilling grew louder. The girl in the mirror was on the verge of breaking, ready to kick her roommate out, wondering why she had ever let him move in in the first place.
It began innocently enough. I was short on rent, and my old roommate had just joined one of those totally-not-legit completely white Buddhist monasteries, so I put up an ad on Craigslist for another occupant.
Cyrus was the first to respond: a tall, quiet twenty-something with long ringlets of black hair like something from a romance novel and skin like sandstone in shadow. I had initially liked him because he said he was an artist. It also helped that Cyrus, as I said, looked like something from a romance novel, one with like a millionaire sheik on the cover or hot Bedouin warlord. Maybe that was kinda racist, but that’s what I instinctively thought when I first saw him in all his glorious hotness. Harlequin had, after all, stolen my teenage years, besides the Beatniks.
Cyrus had proven soft-spoken and charming when we met up in the local library. His fingers had been stained with paint and he was dressed in all white, down to his Doc Marten’s. I thought his paint-spattered clothes an endearing quirk.
Things were roses for the first weeks – he kept to himself and his studio – but then I made the mistake of taking him to one of the Iguana Knees’ after-parties, where Carlos introduced Cyrus to weed.
From the moment Cyrus toked his first joint, he was hooked. The weed had a weird-ass manic effect: he scavenged for trash and channeled bursts of creativity into his found art. Me, it mellowed me out, but it turned Cyrus into a shinies-hoarding magpie. He would collect cast-off shoes from the gutter and cardboard from recycling bins, then go dumpster-diving for more materials. Come morning, the haphazard objects would be forged and soldered and sewn together into new creations and displayed in his studio at the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria. There were mice made of broken batteries and bits of cotton, whole dioramas of little puppets made from forgotten knickknacks that danced thanks to solar panels, even a life-sized panther built from scrap metal and tires that smoked water vapor when it growled like an automaton if you pet it.
Over the course of a few days, Cyrus had turned into a regular pothead, smoking joint after joint, stinking up our apartment. I had never seen weed work so quickly, not even that potent dispensary shit from Colorado. He worked furiously, so often that I never heard him pause for sleep. He welded, glued, sewed, and forged together new objects each day, crowding our apartment with his supplies. The living room was filled with boxes of broken things, our small kitchen near bursting with stacks of stuff.
Stuff was all I could call it. Stuff. I saw no potential in it and felt I was living with a hoarder, but Cyrus begged to differ (“It’s all material, man.”)
The night dragged, and the day dragged even more as I worked a double-shift at Java Lava. I managed to burn myself thrice on the coffee machine and was completely drained when I clocked out. After working the front counter all day, I could barely stand, let alone write a new song about a suburban relationship on the rocks. Potential lyrics taunted my mind, mocking me as the sky grayed.
It was a short march out to my grandmother’s hand-me-down Pinto, which was the exact color of manure. I grew up on a farm, so I knew what type of cow crap my Pinto was: it was the old shit left rotting in the fields, long after growing season was over. A car on its last legs that sometimes got stuck between gear shifts.
I’d named the Pinto Gerald because that seemed like the name of an old man with dementia. Gerald and me, we’d been through some rough patches, but I liked to think that in his senility, I was finally breaking him in.
I turned the key in the ignition. The engine sputtered. I drove down commuter-thick streets to my apartment, past cars full of young professionals making their way back from congested D.C.. Maybe I would be one of those commuters if I hadn’t studied music and dance at college – maybe I’d actually have a career in this stupid job market instead of working at Java Lava. Instead, my band never took off, I’d injured my ankle and ended any prospects of a dance career – so, lo and behold, I ended up stuck in a dead-end job, barely able to afford rent, not to mention ramen.
Truth be told, Java Lava was one of the few places that would hire me. Apparently pink pixie cuts and eyebrow piercings didn’t appeal to most employers. At least they couldn’t see the rainbow – no, moonbow – on my butt.
I lived in the run-down part of Centreville, which was basically the East Coast’s Koreatown besides Annandale closer in to DC, with an Asian mart every five blocks and a Korean megachurch every two. I loved the red bean pastries and the bulgogi was outta this world. People of all strains liked to crowd Costco at 10:00 in the morning, eating free samples and navigating their extended families through the warehouse aisles. I went there when I was bored and people-watched, mining the local community for album inspiration.
I was ruminating on the one time an elderly lady tried to force me to join her ballroom dance studio while I was in line for a $2 hot dog drink special when Gerald’s engine sputtered on the back road that led past the shabby park to the barrio. I knifed back to the present, pressing down on the accelerator to get over Gerald’s hiccup. The Pinto shuddered and began to slow down.
“Damn,” I said, shifting down a gear as smoke came from the Pinto’s hood. The engine whined as it died, and geriatric Gerald breathed his last.
I barely managed to pull over to the packed dirt side of the road, in the shade of a tulip poplar, when the car died. I slammed my hands on the wheel and cursed imaginatively.
“Gerald,” I pleaded, turning the keys in the ignition, “c’mon, you geezer, if Frankenstein’s monster can come back to life, you can too!”
Despite my tough love, Gerald gave no reply.
I called Triple A. Leaves rustled like bones rolling in a grave, and rain began to fall. They said a tow truck would be here in a few hours. I dialed Cyrus.
“Ziggi?” answered a voice like chocolate. “What a pleasant surprise. I was just washing my palette and listening to Prairie Home Companion.”
“Hey. My car broke down. Could you pick me up, Cy?”
“Oh. Sure. Where are you?”
I told him my location, and soon he arrived in a beat-up white VW beetle. He stepped out into the rain, ivory umbrella in hand, dressed in his usual – milky skinny jeans, a snowy blazer, and shiny Docs like ice. The rain didn’t even touch him. Cyrus smiled and tucked a loose black lock behind his ear. His hair was in a man-bun with a paint brush stuck in it, at the sight of which my heart palpitated. I adored man-buns. I adored art supplies. I didn’t adore Cyrus. He had an undercut which made it even harder not to be attracted to the walking weed joint.
If only I could use alchemy to transmute his consciousness into that of my ideal man’s and swap my soulmate’s mind for his. Then I could live in non-matrimonial bliss with his clone, because marriage was only for reptiles – cold-blooded ones that dress in human skin, have 2.5 children, and incubate their eggs in nursery rooms whose walls are color-coordinated with the bassinet. Reptiles with dead eyes that eventually ended up eating their mates. Or wait, was that spiders?
Cyrus knocked on the window. “You alright? You’re staring at me,” he yelled into the glass.
I shook my head like a wet dog. “Oh? Sorry. Just thinking. Don’t spiders eat each other?”
Cyrus opened Gerald’s door for me and handed me a spare umbrella. His lips quirked. “Only if they’re hungry. Must be hard to be a spider. How did the Itsy Bitsy Spider go? Perhaps I could rig a Rube Goldberg machine for my gallery based on that… with a spider made of sandpaper and titanium… spiders have always reminded me of something rough yet steely, I am not quite sure where I am going with this.”
The rain was a constant drip, like a leaky faucet. Cyrus’ car was hotboxed. I choked on the wafting smoke. It was cluttered with art supplies. A smoked joint rested in the cup holder, and several extras were already lit. Cyrus gave a goofy smile as he turned the keys in the ignition. I was in one of the less-serious levels of Hell – the one where dank hippies went.
We drove past the barrio to the end of the street, where our shabby apartment resided. Twisted trees grew around its perimeter. Cyrus parked.
“How long will it take to get your car fixed?” he asked.
I sighed, squeezing a soda can on the floor between my feet. “I think this is the end for Gerald. I’ll sell him for scrap and beg my parents for their old farm truck. No one uses it, so it should be fine.”
Cyrus nodded as we walked into the lobby, then took the elevator to the third floor. Cyrus unlocked our door.
“So, I think you’ll like the new piece I’m working on. It’s an interpretation of bee dances using cigarette butts I found on the sidewalk-”
I tripped over one of Cyrus’ sawed-off pipes and went flying across the living room, landing askew. I heard something snap, and my ankle throbbed. I rolled onto my side, taking pressure off my foot.
“Ow!” I clutched my ankle, which was beginning to swell.
Cyrus was by my side in a flash, his face strained. “Oh no. Oh, no no no. Sorry – let me see your foot.”
“No, ow. This is enough. I’ve had it with your stuff. It has to go.” I sobbed from the pain. “I think it’s broken.”
He ignored my warning and rolled up my pant leg, then pulled down my sock gingerly. “It’s not broken,” he said, his voice soft, and placed his hand on the joint where my foot bent at an odd angle.
“It is,” I whined.
Heat seemed to flow from his palm to my ankle. The swelling went down, and the pain vanished. My foot bent back to its natural degree.
“What did you just do?” I said.
Cyrus looked at me with stoned, blank eyes. “What do you mean?”
“My ankle was broken. Now it’s not. How – what – how did you do that?”
“Man, am I high. What just happened?” Cyrus gently rolled my sock back up.
“My ankle, Cyrus, you fixed it.”
“Jesus, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Like I said, your ankle was fine. You were just shocked. That’s all. Have some salvia.”
I narrowed my eyes. “No, I wasn’t.”
“Ziggi, Ziggi, relax man.” He smoothed my pant leg. “Everything’s about perception. It’s what I explore in my art. People’s beliefs about reality differ, and they’re challenged all the time. Reality is a shifting thing.”
“Look, I can’t deal with your pot-fueled bullshit. My ankle broke. I don’t care what you think you ‘perceived.’ It broke, and now it’s better. That doesn’t happen in any reality I know.”
“Whatever floats your coat – er, boat. Yeah, boat. A coat’s for when it’s raining, and I guess it could rain on the sea, but that’s where you humans float your boats.” He smiled faintly and helped me to my feet. “I made fettucine alfredo for dinner. Help yourself to it. It’s in the fridge.” He began to walk back to his room.
Before he could disappear, I grabbed his shoulder – an act so at odds with his graceful nature – and pulled him back to me.
“Cyrus,” I said, “what did you do?”
His smile faltered. All in white, he looked like a deflated swan. “Look, I have to finish up a piece for an exhibition this week. I promise I’ll clean up the apartment tomorrow.” He clasped my hand in his and held it for a moment. “Thank you for being so forgiving of my clutter. You’re a great roommate.”
My anger drained. How could I bitch at Cyrus when he was always a gentleman, despite his mess and 420 being his favorite number? “Thanks. But I could have sworn my ankle – never mind.”
Cyrus let go of my hand. “Maybe it’s the stress of your accident. I’ll be in my studio. Knock if you need anything.”
He left, whistling. I stared at my faded poster of Ziggy Stardust on the wall, at whose concert I had been conceived. My parents never grew tired of telling me that particular story.
My ankle was still hot, like it had been plunged into a sauna. I ambled over to the kitchenette, fixed myself a plate of cheesy fettuccine, and popped it into the microwave.