The Recluse

The man never left his apartment. I swear to you, he never left his apartment. I sat on the stoop that summer, drinking gin and tonics out of a mason jar, the squeezed lime languidly floating in the clear effervescent liquid. The ice rattled as I swirled the perspiring glass around, mixing the drink. The Domino’s pizza man would arrive, and knocking at his door, would flush out my prey, the skittish animal, only to be exposed a second, before scurrying back into his dark hole. It was interesting to watch this man as the heat pounded down on me, the sun circling high above and a listless wind barely twitching a leaf with its frail blow. I sat there, knowing it would be hours before the Chinese food delivery man would arrive, to feed him his nightly meal.

I noticed the first week living in my apartment that the man was a shut in. What first drew my attention to his apartment was the television that was constantly on. Now I don’t make it a habit of peeking into neighbors windows, but it drew my attention. His television was directly in line with the front window of his apartment, and with the blinds not up, but the slats opened, I noticed it was on 24/7 and on ESPN. I found this odd for a few reasons. First of all, have you ever been somewhere and ESPN was on the television, set as a neutral programing for people to watch. I admit it is a good choice. Not offensive, easy background noise, no politics, no debates, no guns or violence, I get it. But, what becomes torturous, what grates on me, is the constant sports update, which is not so much an update, as a 7 minute long repeat the whole day, on every 15 minutes. It is hellish, because hell is repetition. Another odd thing was the television was on, constantly, every day. Now I know it seems like a stretch, but there were many hours that I was up at odd times, and always noticed the electric glow beaming through those open slats. With all that ESPN watching, one must build up an appetite.

After a while I began to notice my neighbor’s eating habits. Always pizza at lunch. Always Chinese at night. Always delivered. I just assumed breakfast was leftovers or the meat from the frozen dead corpses in his basement freezer, I don’t know. All I know is, he ordered take out everyday I was there. It was like clockwork. The kind you could set your watch to. I began to wonder if these two establishments didn’t have standing orders to deliver. I can imagine, at these fast food restaurants, the employee taking his order, again, everyday, again. What must have gone through their minds, as they wrote down his order for the thousandth time? And the delivery driver, what did they think? They never seemed to linger long enough to have a conversation. You would think that constant repetition would build up something of a rapport between them, but money exchanged hands, and they were on their way in opposite directions.

It was as if the sun would kill him. As if the world would snatch him up and devour him whole. I don’t mock him, or pick on him, but curiosity gets the best of me, makes me wonder what kind of life did he lead. You see him, and become used to this. He becomes a regular, a frequent character in your mind, but you know nothing of him, so you begin to fill in the voids. Maybe he is a shut-in with a dramatic and heightened phobia of the world. That if he stepped foot outside he would crumple into a ball of fear and anxiety. Then you wonder, could it be he is in witness protection, and so afraid for his life, that he deems it better alive and inside, then outside and possibly dead. Or, maybe, he is such a sports fanatic, he is a famous sports blogger, who is obsessed with ESPN. So many other options swirl through your mind, but in the end you are left wondering, with no answer to the mystery. But then again, thank god for characters like him, to pass the time on a hot summer day with a gin and tonic in hand.

Clown Torture, or a Tortured Clown?

I found an odd and unsettling sense of serenity in that darkened room where the painted faced clown screamed at me. His repetitious impression of a spoiled child, supine, legs kicking in the air, his fists pounding the floor, screaming “No! No! No!” was, for some odd reason, comforting to me, in fact, enthralling. This video image looped on the silver screen, positioned flat against the wall, over and over again, his shining yellow and red striped satin paints, seeming to billow with every kick of his legs, and the white frill around his neck very old fashioned.

The walls of the room were black, so black they seemed to eat all light emitted from the projectors overhead and four small, nineteen inch tvs, two stacks of two, which projected the nightmarish images of painted faces and brightly colored gaudy outfits. Across the room from the paroxysmal clown, was the same clown, on a twelve foot by twelve foot silver screen, sitting on a toilet, his pants around his knees, fumbling with a newspaper, which kept falling from his hands. Wedged between the walls of a dirty public restroom stall, this clown shifted uncomfortably, constantly fumbling with a large newspaper, while the sounds of pedestrians entering the bathroom could be heard around him.

There was something soothing in those sounds.

I felt at home in the cinematographic lamp light, with the screams echoing through those darkened walls, images of brightly painted clowns, inundating me from all sides.

Bruce Nauman, what a genius?

There was something hypnotic about it, something confusing, yet enthralling. Fascinating, it was goddamn fascinating.

I wondered, what would it be like to walk into the Art Institue of Chicago, day after day, and sit in this room, bathed in the halogen lamp glow, watching screaming clowns. I wonder, would that be torture?

Occupations

The prostitute whistled back to her pimp, with every loud, echoing clap, of his cupped hands. Out the window I could see a dreary fog hanging in the sky, turning the streetlights into a twinkling luminescence. The neighborhood seemed quiet, an eery pall draped over the old, cobbled street. I could hear the click of her heels on the sidewalk with every step she took, like two wooden blocks being smacked together by a toddler at play. There was a slow rhythm to her gait, and the cadence seemed very methodical, very intentional, as if someone out for a slow, sauntering stroll. Her sundress swished in the moist night, as a cool, early autumn breeze, blew a few dry leaves in her direction. Her skin pimpled from the cold, she rubbed her arms for warmth, as each drop of moisture in the air floated listlessly, separated in the murky light.

A loud thunderous clap, thrice, came from around the corner of the street, and placing fingers to her lips, she whistled a shrill, ear piercing sound, twice, continuing her rounds. The hushed street, her office, and she strolled down the sidewalk, familiar with every crevice, every fissure, which frost had heaved in the concrete surface. Watching her, it was as if she floated down the street, with a subtle and hidden grace. Her feet moved deftly atop the concrete, her heels belying her height, and she moved as if on a fashion runway, toe to toe, head held high, yet she did not exude the confidence that models show. Her head, held high, her eyes gazed to the heavens with a wistful stare, as if she could somehow peer through the fog and twinkling lamplight, to see the celestial bodies above.

Her brunette tipped, blond hair, fluttered in the slight breeze, and bracing herself against the chill, she hugged her chest, rubbing her long bony fingers across her shoulders. She looked haggard, like a skeleton in a loose hanging skin suit, and in the tenebrous light, her eyes seemed to sink in her head, dark sockets void of any life. Jewelry hung from her spindly wrists, almost falling off her hands, the small bobbles and beads seeming to weigh down her spaghetti arms. Somewhere in the distance, masked by the fog, three booming claps reverberated through the mist. Her whole body heaved with an frustrated sigh, and she flung herself onto the concrete wall next to my apartment window. Cupping hands over her face, sobs broke their way through the glass, which separated the two of us. She did not whistle back, but instead, he did. This time a sharp, strident whistle came from the fog, one loud shrill blast. She uncupped her hands and clapped, thrice, and the night went silent.

She sat there for quite a while, the fog, a moist blanket embracing her body. Her hair hung straight and wet onto her shoulders, she sat there, still, in the cool brume of early autumn. Standing up, she slowly wiped her fingers under her eyes, wiping away the mascara, which smeared on her cheeks. With the same fastidious step as before, she moved down the block, a sharp click of each heel. As she moved away from the window, her figure began to dissipate into the fog, but before dissolving into the grey, she stopped under a streetlamp. The dull orange light basked a glow over her, and she seemed to take on a warm feature. From the abysmal night came three booming claps, and placing her fingers to her lips, she whistled to this unrevealed character, and wiping a tear away from her eye, she moved into the consuming darkness.

Her silhouette faded into the dark fume as she moved down the street. Eventually she faded into oblivion, her features all waning from my view. Occasionally, as I sat in that window seat, I could hear the loud, thunderous claps, followed by a shrill whistle. An empty, hollow, despondent whistle.

The Corner Bar

I sat at the bar. The dark, dank, smoke stained and saturated wood panel walls, create an atmosphere of comfort, and I languish in its embrace. Over the old, poly’d bar-top, hang three stained glass lamps, Schlitz mosaically emblazoned in blood red, against a field of green and yellow glass, held together by poorly soldered lead–small streaks of the poisonous metal trailing down shards of glistening colored glass. Encased by these hemispheres, dull, forty watt, yellowish bulbs, strain to brighten the room, but it is as if the lost hopes and damaged dreams of the patrons, swallow the light, which struggles against the stygian gloom. In the corner, an old, outdated, cigarette vending machine still occupies a space lost in time, as if a temporal vortex has opened up a conduit, a wormhole, transporting this bar space to the 1970s. The only update, that makes this machine modern, is the dollar changer, which is affixed to the wood veneered machine. The handle’s clear, molded plastic pull knobs, are no longer transparent, but yellowed with age, as if the  nicotine, which stains so many white mustaches of habitual smokers tawny, has jumped from their tobacco stained fingers, to the knobs themselves.

This bar, which lives in two times, torn between the old and the ever changing present–the quickening technology of this age–has a digital jukebox attached to a wall, down and across from the bar. Its blue digital light, simulating neon, encircles the device which spits out heavy metal, 80’s rock, hair bands, and the occasional indie rock song. The small confine of the bar space echoes the music louder, as there is one volume, excessive. The patrons, all lined up on stools at the bar, sitting along the wall, and standing in any open space, don’t seem to notice the deafening sound, and instead their stentorian voices commingle with the music, creating a cacophony of revolting conversation and death metal.

A ‘Gansett in hand, and cheap shot of Old Crow sitting next to it, my writing ambitions wane away. Like an hour glass, my zeal for literary pursuits are grains of sand, slowly sifting, dropping into oblivion, one astringent sip at a time. Pen in hand, and composition book open, I spill a drop of amber colored liquid, of what passes for whisky, onto the clean, virginal, white page, lined by a pale, cornflower blue. No words to spare, I tap my pen against the empty space, the void of memory, the dearth of prose, which builds a frustration inside me.

Tipping back the tallboy ‘Gansett, the bartender comes over. Her wrinkled hand touches mine as she seeks my attention.

“Nother, hun.”

“Sure thing.”

I turn my attention back to the bar. The couple sitting in the dark corner practically fucking, the hipster picking music off the jukebox, the older woman sitting next to me, her flaxen dry hair cut to a bob, they are all rich characters. These are my people, my characters, they inhabit the pages of my notebook, and find their way into my stories. They may never know it, but they will be immortalized in words, and their essence, even if it is a small, superficial bit, transferred to some literary persona. Their actions are fodder for my work, and farmed like potatoes plucked from the field, but that is for later. Tonight, I drink.

As I tip back the can, I converse with the woman next to me. We drink, we commiserate, and I find a character, the lonely barfly, the empty vessel, the lost soul, and then I wonder, what character will she play?