Sep 14, 2014

IN TIMES OF WAR


The other day I had saw an old friend of mine and it was a terrible thing.  When I was sure it was him I took cover behind a tank that was constructed entirely with 12-packs of Mountain Dew, which was apparently sold best in tank form. 

I hid behind the thing like a cowardly deserter and was ready to set my basket right where I stood and casually beat it out of there.  My old friend drifted lazily away with his cart and I briskly left the store, cursing and looking back at the abandoned basket.

I had not wanted to talk to this friend because his well adjusted eyes had always seemed to see right through me and into my bank account.  The eyes are the windows to your savings.  I did not want him to see the lonely dollars that had gathered there. 

Back at my apartment I realized that the mission to get food and soda had been a critical one.  The snacks and caffeine would have provided a much needed morale boost to the dismal ranks that bunked in this shelter, which consisted of me and my roommate, who usually stumbled in around 2am, red as keg cup and sweating profusely from his cab ride home. 

He would come in with cans of undesirable food-like products: parcels that seemed to only existed to give supply children with jokes.  These edible oddities were moved to the cabinet where they could be properly ignored and appreciate in value .   Most nights he would come in with a hotdog from the gas station, one of the few, if only options for 2 AM sustenance

The hotdog would be invariably piled to the sky with foul-smelling condiments and waxy "fixins." 

 He would stumble into the apartment like he had arrived by sea, or space--his legs struggling to find a normal, logical rhythm.  He’d separate the relish and the tomatoes and whatever else into the paper boat the hotdog came in, wiping sweat from his brow with his sleeve like some battlefront surgeon.  When the extraction process was complete, he would place the finished salad bar into the fridge.   He would also bring home a 2-liter of Squirt soda, a more acidic version of Mountain Dew that he would make more affronting by pouring vodka in it. 

He would eat the hotdog, and then lay himself on the couch, which was this pitiful little thing from IKEA.  He would set up his computer on one end, and lay like a plank across the uncomfortable little thing.   He smoked relentlessly and tapped on his laptop, his eyes blurry, hacking and coughing violently in sustained bursts, occasionally getting up to force the demon out of him into the sink. 

By four he would fall asleep, clenching a book in front of his face, never turning a page but just staring into the center of it like he was hoping to drain all the words out of the thing’s core.  Other times he would fall asleep with his head inches from his laptop, which blared out endless discussions about God knows what.  From what I could decipher from the muffling filter of my door was that it was some kind of Libertarian round-table show, where people would blurt out lewd stories of double-sided dildos and let out cackling bursts of laughter.   Sustained madness, horrible, insatiable, blathering.  

I found myself going into the living room quite often to turn down the volume of these arguments or just turn them off completely.  An hour later I would hear the voices rise.  He had woken up just to turn the thing up to ridicules volumes, before promptly going back to sleep.  As if sleeping with some coked-up hipster talking loudly into your ear about the Apartheid was as soothing as an evening rain.  I imagined had he been born in England during the second world war, he would have had no problem sleeping through the Blitzkrieg; it would probably sound like bamboo wind chimes to him.

Speaking of the Blitzkrieg, he reenacted the historical event every night, as he was imbued with the memory of those that had died there, and serviced that memory by performance art.  The snoring was ungodly—or perhaps very godly if you worship Shiva, the bringer of death.  The sounds that emitted from the man were akin to someone revving a throaty v8 at a motor show, had the muffler been lined with snot.  The apartment trembled, and sometimes I thought his throat was going to cave in under from the force of his garbled nose-breaths.  I’d come out and look at him, out of pure scientific curiosity.   His head hung off the couch like he was getting his hair washed at a barber shop.  His face so red it almost lit the room.  

Sometimes the arrangement of his body would shift and allow the passage of air to come out in a nasally whistle, but then he would turn his head a degree and his head would rumble furiously.  This man is not long for this world, I thought.

He also had the habit of getting up in the middle of the night in fits of pain.  He would punch and squeeze his legs and run tap water over his head for long periods of time.  It was something to do with poor circulation, he would claim.  I once suggested that this could be a result of chain-smoking pall malls in hermetically sealed apartments, or drinking from noon to midnight every day, but these theories were dismissed under the problem of being too probable.  The problem, he deduced, was most likely hereditary. 

And so I slept through the Blitzkrieg night after night, as did my neighbors.  We all must make sacrifices in wartime. 

The following mornings were always surprising.  Around noon he would be up and about, hair slicked back with British pomade and donning a suit straight out of The Maltese Falcon.  Even the hot blaze of his face had simmered to a low warmth.  He would pace around and smoke, usually waiting for a cab to come whisk him away to his daily engagements at various booze holes.  He would talk to the dispatcher on the line as if he was ordering a fleet of limos for a wedding.  He called her “darling” and was often inclined to give either a positive review of last night’s cab ride, or damning proclamations against them, always followed with an apology.

Once I even heard him declare with conviction: “Madman, my complaint is that this driver who picked me up last time, treated me as if I were a sap, and I am no sap, dig?  He drove me up and down creation, and I am making a request that someone has a word with him because this simply will not fly.  He can’t be going around conning people like that…yes…thank you…of course…much appreciated…and you know I hate to have to complain, usually your service is amazing, but I felt like I just had to say something…yes…okay…yes 1450 York…and a good day to you darling…


He then explained to me what had transpired the night before.  This Ethiopian had damn near taken him to Aurora before coming out of his stupor as my roommate harangued him to adjust his course.  And when they finally arrived his meter looked like the national debt.

“I told him I would give him twenty dollars, which is exactly what it costs to get from there to here and he became fairly indignant,” he gave a sly smile at these last few words.  “I told him to invest in a map and hopped out at the gas station, since it seemed impossible for him to navigate me to this location.” 

“Did he chase you?”   I inquired.  I had been chased once or twice by Ethiopian cab drivers.

“No, if he had I would have given him a good stabbing,” he replied.

 I never was serious when he talked about puncturing people.  His last name was Scottish, and I recently had read that Scotland is the knife-wound capitol of the world.  Stabbing people was practically genetically encoded in him.

It seemed mildly unfair that he only hung around me when he wanted to wallow in agony.  When he took the form of a thriving human being, he couldn't stay around that coffin, “Ya dig man?”  He would then stroll out in the daylight, in his pressed suit, eyeing the sun through thick Wayfarers.  The day had primed him for life, all the demons and ghosts had been expelled in the Blitzkrieg, and the afternoon held all the promises of enjoyment for a likable guy.  

In Times of War

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