Writing His Life Away
“Shouldn’t I be feeling guilty?” he asks himself and then rolls over and pulls the covers close. A couple of pillows stuffed under his head for support, and the alarm clock tossed into the dresser drawer to live with the socks.
This lack of concern first appeared a few days ago. Due, perhaps, to the new environment, or the recent demise of a one sided relationship, or his ceaseless contemplation on the behaviors of those around him, or all the above rolled into one prolonged state of fear.
San Francisco, once his happy home, was slowly turning on him, making life difficult. His former South of Market neighborhood had been ideal with its abundant space and low rents. But with all the new artist lofts being built and the existing buildings remodeled into condos, his tenancy became forfeit and he was forced to relocate to North Beach – a setting of decidedly less urban decline. Although much to his displeasure, and the source of endless comparisons, he found himself in the same situation as a majority of financially struggling San Franciscans – having to deal with roommates, and worse, pay more rent. But his new room was huge, if a bit cold, and the roommates pretty much kept to themselves.
A month ago he shopped for curtains for his bedroom window. More for keeping the warmth in, the sun out, the room dark, than for aesthetic aspirations or a noise repellent. Now that he’d moved the incessant honking of neglected car alarms, once his nocturnal lullaby, no longer keep him up at night. The junkies, crackheads, hookers, and speed freaks that used to be his neighbors – a faded memory, their faces forgotten.
Saturday nights, on the sidewalk below his new room’s window, drunk yuppies, wandering home from the bars on Grant Street, holler, curse, and cry, bemoaning their lot in life. Compared to the disquieting aftermath that follows a gunshot, the screams of the victim awaiting an ambulance, the mating call of hookers, sharp whistles from the Mexican dope dealer’s lookouts – the usual nightly noises of his former residence – this slight weekly intrusion is almost music to his ears.
The curtains he chose were brown, dark brown. There weren’t any black curtains available at the local drapery store. Although what he had really wanted was some kind of fur. Like a fake mink: dark, thick, warm. Make the tall ceilings and stark white walls of his bedroom more like a nest or an animal’s den. Only fur curtains didn’t seem to be available either. The saleswoman had screwed up her face. “Fur, did you say fur? I’ve never had anyone ask for fur curtains before,” and then, with a new found urgency, quickly turned away, pouncing on an elderly lady whose question regarding lace curtain stays she apparently found more palatable.
Yesterday, his phone rang while he was sitting aimlessly at his desk staring at the blank screen of his computer. It was the first time for his new landline, so it startled him when it did. It was the woman that often described herself as his girlfriend, although she was too self-absorbed to really be present. She was calling to see if he noticed she wasn’t there, and stated that maybe she should come over. He said he didn’t, and she shouldn’t. The slight click of him hanging up evolved into a dial tone before she realized he had said goodbye.
His upstairs neighbor, an investment broker, seems to be awake all night, watching television, pacing, conversing with friends, or maybe he’s just talking to himself. At 3am, as if adhering to a tight schedule, he abruptly turns the TV off, leaps down the front stairs to the garage, gets in his BMW, drives off and is gone for fifteen minutes or so. Then the automatic garage door opens, closes, footsteps on the stairs, the final drop of his body onto what must be the sofa, situated in the room above his bedroom, directly above his bed. In minutes he can hear the TV again. The broker, on the telephone, making deals in far away places, other time zones. A give away nasal tone accents his voice. A constant delicate chopping sound that rings of familiarity begins and stops with every exaggerated inhale. He had thought snorting cocaine passé. Besides, if you have money, can’t you get it delivered? Most people smoke crack instead of snorting. Meth is the current popular drug of choice, but maybe not for investment brokers. CNN, the sports network, echoes through the ceiling. Champion televised sporting events for an inebriated audience.
The broker’s BMW is starting to age ungracefully. It needs a good wash and wax, a touch up here and there on the paint job, some air in the right rear tire. Twice now the broker has knocked on the front door of the apartment asking for a jump start, the battery dead, the car, windows filthy, immobile, stranded in the middle of the garage. The last time this happened, while the broker fumbled with the jumper cables, he asked him what he was going to do that day. Like he had all the time in the world for leisure, the broker answered that he didn’t know, that he wasn’t sure.
“How bout you go get a new battery dude?” was all that was said. The accusation, the recrimination, the annoyance hung in the air as he walked out of the garage and went back to bed.
Lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, he thinks about writing. Thinks about something that happened last week and how it affected him. Was it worth writing about? Did he even care? Outside, the 39 bus, passes by groaning in first gear on its way up the hill. Down the block a trash truck grinds away as it picks up the containers left at the curb, the mechanical loaders dropping them back down to the sidewalk with a thud. It’s easy to throw blame the broker’s way. Expecting the broker to be something he’s incapable of being is like waiting for fur curtains to materialize while the sun shines in your face as you try to sleep.
The muffled beep of the alarm clock announces that the day has started; with or without you, it is going to go on, uninhibited. Ignoring what he feels is an intrusion he picks through his thoughts, a word here, a slice of syntax there. He’s got a clever sentence in his head. Over and over he rolls it through his mind. Something he’d like to tell the broker. Only it isn’t something that you just blurt out in everyday conversation. Saying it out loud he laughs at its simplicity.
The alarm’s beeping continues. The trash truck pulls to a stop in front of the building. Getting up he walks to the desk and searches for something to write with. In the Guinness pint glass with the scissors, pencils, and ballpoints he finds a Sharpie.
Pulling on a pair of sweats, a faded t-shirt, he opens the door to his room, walks barefoot into the hall. At the front door he fumbles with the lock, grabbing the door by the ornamental molding because the handle falls off in your hand if you try to pull it. Outside, on the porch, he turns, standing in front of the broker’s door he first looks over his shoulder into the street, then, kneeling, begins to write in big block black letters. A few minutes later, finished, satisfied, proud of his penmanship, he surveys his work like a craftsman admires a job well done. A stroke of his chin, a smile, a nod of his head, recapping the pen, he goes back inside.
There are two doors on the front porch. Both of them painted red, both of them with glass panes for the upper half. Written across the center of the one on the right: “The stench of dysfunction washes off easily once you become present in your own life.” The left, blank, pristine, untouched.
Back in his room, in bed under the quilts and blankets, he thinks about writing. He thinks about words, about sentence structure, grammar, and pronouns. It’s warm under the covers. It’s warm in his room. The curtains having done their job. Keeping the light out, the heat in. The alarm clock has stopped beeping. The batteries must have gracefully died. Thinking that there’s much to write about, he slips into a dream.
It will be a good day when he finally wakes up and sits at his computer.
Previously published in The Sylvan Echo, Volume 1.1 (2007)