Who Stole My Country 106 – An Eight by Ten Room

With my writing fantasy now firmly in the gutter, what was I going to do?  I was forty-one years old without a prospect in the world.

Mr Frank was the last appointment of the day and I had nowhere to go and nothing to do.  I walked down Broadway feeling drained and defeated. I was afraid of getting nauseous again.  On 42nd street I slipped into a double feature for a dollar and a half. In my movie seat I experienced a feeling of relief. The next three hours were taken care of and then I could call it a day.  I had made it through another one.  I’d beat the reaper!

In one of the movies there was a scene depicting a presumed old Indian torture. The victim was tied between two wild stallions. The stallions were released and the man between them was pulled apart, his arms and legs torn from their sockets.

The scene appealed to me as a metaphor finally dramatic enough to encompass my situation.  “That’s it,” I almost shouted out in the theater. “I’m being torn apart by that old stallion ‘Culture’ and this new, upstart challenger, ‘Counter Culture.’  Two natural enemies. Two bitter foes, struggling in slow motion so that the whole torture was spread over weeks, perhaps months.“Half of me is still on the mountain where I learned to split wood, plow behind a mule, slaughter and butcher my own meat, deliver babies, make cheese, speak with the gods. To mention only a few things. The other half of me is on the pavements of New York looking for work. The pavements are very hard. The buildings rise above the concrete, tier after tier, brick and marble against glass and steel, up into small corners of smokey sky, comically inhuman and unnatural.

I had lost track of time during the movie and when I left the theater it was dark on 42nd street.  I took the subway up
Broadway to Richard’s apartment.
We had a drink together and then Richard left for the evening.  I could tell that he was getting tired of having me as a house guest. The silence, the emptiness of his apartment was oppressive.  I abandoned the glass and began gurgling Jimmy Beam out of the bottle. I washed the sweet smokey stuff down with cold bottles of beer.  I looked through Richard’s records, but there was nothing there for me. The cool, abstract Fifties jazz seemed to mock my suffering, seemed to smile disdainfully and say, ‘Hey, cool it man! Be groovy.’

“In my drunken imagination I am still on top of my mountain and I can see forever.  But I am not really on top of the mountain. I am in an 8 X 10 room at the bottom of an air shaft.  

“I listen to the hollow echoes of other people who live on the air shaft.  Someone is trying to learn Bob Dylan’s ballad to Hurricane Carter.  A man and a woman are screaming. She accuses him of insensitivity in a high pitched, strident voice of near hysteria. He says she is strangling him with her love.  A baby cries. A child is chastised. Toilets flush.”

Along one wall of the 8 X 10 room were the double doors of a closet and the door into the hallway. There was a bed, a small chest of drawers and an end table. The television set was on the dresser. The walls were bare and I thought idly about putting up some pictures, but it seemed to be an act of unwarranted faith, as if I really had a future in that room.

“The shade on the single window looking out on the air shaft is pulled down, but I can lie on the bed and look out through the crack along the bottom.

“I look across the air shaft at the brick wall and the drawn shades of a my neighbors. Not all the shades are drawn. In the apartment across from mine I see a young woman cooking something on the stove. I watch her perform the casual, intimate acts of domesticity as if I were her husband glancing up from his evening newspaper. She is that close to me.

“But I am not her husband. I don’t even know her. And when she becomes aware that someone is watching her, she glances nervously out the window, I look away and feel the guilty thrill of the peeping Tom.”

I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I remembered was waking up to an empty television screen of gray snow drops and the hum of unused electrical energy.

I undressed, turned off the TV set and light and climbed between dirty sheets. It  occurred to me that I should to do a laundry.

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