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The smell would not go away. They knew what it was, but there was nothing they could do, and people were coming over. They’d cleaned. They’d disinfected. They’d made many a bleach flambé. Rand had sprayed aerosol disinfectants, and Maddy had yelled at him about toxicity before burning all the incense she could find in the backs of their cluttered drawers and moving on to sage. Theirs was a neighborhood with an overabundance of organic-scented-product shops, but before the week was up, Maddy had exhausted these resources and had moved on to the West Indians on West Fourth Street, the Amish at Columbus Circle, and finally a woman named Mrs. Choi who lived in an eighth-floor walk-up on a nameless street down in Chinatown. Rand and Maddy hadn’t banked on the smell lasting this long. It was a smell too rotten to pinpoint—a sulfuric amalgam that could only be described as revolting. They’d each believed it would fade, certainly in time for today.
They could pinpoint exactly when it started. Last Saturday, Rand and Maddy rented out their backyard garden to the New York Times Magazine. They were fortunate to live in a desirable West Tenth Street townhouse, and they often rented it out—commercials in the sunny kitchen, independent feature films—it was, at least for Rand, kind of like giving a party; they’d always given good parties. Rand and Maddy had been giving parties for years. Also, no matter how they looked at it, the pay was too good to refuse. Sometimes, also, they were in the shoots—Rand, loping kindly in a flannel shirt sipping coffee for Folgers, or sleek in a suit sipping martinis; they loved Rand, the photographers did, and he always acted surprised, looking up from his crossword, from his conversation with the caterer—I’m sorry, Me? On camera? And then there was Maddy, with that dyed cherry hair at forty-one—a look created on her fortieth birthday as an adios to auditioning—a big punky personal fuck-you to her constant attempt at versatility—a look she couldn’t pull off the way she did when she was twenty, a look that had long since morphed into a phase beyond which she couldn’t quite move. There was Maddy always out of focus or in the background, which was (as she always made a point of saying) absolutely her preference. Believe it or not—she’d said to one director after he (it was always a he) had given a particularly irritating and snazzy apologetic smile—I’ve lent this face to a fair share of commercials over the years, and this must be hard for you to imagine, I know, but the glamour has worn pretty thin.
The Times shoot that last weekend was called “Asphalt Garden,” and it featured an up-and-coming West Village chef grilling lobsters and painting them sumptuously with butter. The smoke from the grill was the color of oysters against a bluish haze of sky. The chef stood six foot one—a milk-blond named Signe who was getting famous for her fish and was calm, so remarkably calm. There were ficus trees brought in through the foyer, a teakwood table, celadon plates, linen napkins, and the models actually ate.