Tuesday, November 06, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day Six

Gerald had known squalor before, but always as a tourist, most notably on a trip to Nepal and two nights in Kathmandu. The city squalor was far worse than the kind of poverty in the country. He thought of dark corridors, peeling paint, disfigured limbs, the lost, the illiterate, begging, ever hungry, never satisfied souls in urban environments contrasted to the equally dirty, but proud, nay efficient, subsistence of country folk. Couscous boiling in an open air fire, pot suspended by a trio of sticks, a blanket laid out, a few clean bowls. There was a religious significance and soulful clarity to this poverty. The city kind reeked of desperation and crime.

It was silly to compare Kathmandu to America, much less to Bonneville, Gerald thought. My poverty is more affected. Parents are less than an hour away. There is no risk of starvation. No blind desperation. No sense of living on the edge. None of the romantic notions of addiction he'd read about in the works of Bukowski, Mailer, and Hubert Selby, Jr. No addictions at all, except to good coffee, which he ground himself and steeped in a French press. Ol' Buk never used a French press.

Gerald reached into his pocket, pulled out his leather wallet, a Christmas gift from his older brother Ament, who lived in Chicago and owned three condos in the city. There was no money in the wallet, just a blank check from Ament to cover the room rental. It wasn't the first time his brother had helped Gerald out. Ament had followed the fast track to career success, securing a job at an advertising firm in the city shortly after graduating in four years from the University of Illinois, and he had done very well in the corporate world, but without getting caught up in the false sense of self-importance that money brings.

Ament had, in fact, managed to retain a simple existence. While he owned properties all over Chicago, some of them outright, he shared a two bedroom apartment in Wicker Park, didn't own a car, biked to work, didn't have cable television at home, or even own his own furniture. One might call this kind of frugality and restraint a virtue, but to Ament it was just the way he lived. He hadn't a shred of materialism in his veins.

No, Gerald thought, rubbing an edge of the check between his fingers before replacing it in the wallet, to truly know poverty is to be without the support network of family and friends that middle class existence affords. So, even though he had no savings and less than $20 in a checking account, Gerald knew that someone always had his back. As long as he had some purpose and wasn't totally drifting aimlessly, he had the support of his family. It was okay to be broke. But laziness would not be tolerated. This was the reason Gerald was here. Graduate school was SOMETHING TO DO.

Gerald stood and took one last look out of the window. It was an idyllic early fall Midwest day. Yellow tints were showing in the tree tops, the verdancy looked a little faded, a little tired, but the weather was pleasant, the sunlight too on the edge of fading, late afternoon. Gerald looked at his watch. He had enough time for a short stroll before getting back to the property management.

He took one last look around the room, placed a hand on the edge of the chair, and said aloud to himself, "Yes, this will do. This will be my cell." He turned a small dial on the end of the door handle to engage the lock and shut the door behind him. He stopped to listen in the dark hallway, lit only by the red glow of exit signs at each end of the hall. Coughing, someone's television, a muffled conversation. He could faintly smell pipe smoke and, ever so slightly, the smell of cooking meat.

Just as Gerald got to the end of the hall and was descending the stairs to the main floor landing, a door opened to his right. A head peaked out, disheveled hair, plastic frame glasses, arms secured to the frame with black electric tape. It was Hosmi Abbaduba.

"Oh, hey, man," Hosmi said. "You got a smoke?"

"Sorry, man, I don't smoke." Gerald said.

He started to turn back towards the stairs when Hosmi opened his door all the way and stepped out into the hall. He was wearing pajama pants and a t-shirt. His eyes were crusty and watery, as if he'd just woken up. "Hey, man. You live here?" Hosmi said, pointing to Door 12, the red room.

"Yes. I mean, no. I am going to live here, but not in that room," Gerald said. "I'm going to take number 14 right down the hall."

"Well, hey, great, that means we'll be neighbors," Hosmi said. "Good thing you don't have this room." He shook his head.

"Why?" Gerald asked.

"Because it's haunted." Hosmi grinned as if even he didn't believe it. "Or so they say."


"Hey, look, man. I don't mean to scare you or anything. Just trying to figure out who did move in, you know, over there." Hosmi pointed again at door 12 and Gerald's gaze followed it. "I'm hearing some strange things coming from over there. Don't know if it's the new neighbor or, you know, spirits from the great beyond. If any paranormal shit goes down, man, hey, don't blame me."

"What kind of strange things are you hearing?" Gerald asked.

"Man, look, like, I was coming home from the bars the other night. It must have been, like two, and I'm like, you know, not in my right mind, of course, if you know what I mean, right? But as I'm messing around, looking in my pocket, trying to find the key, I hear all sorts of yelling coming from over there. I stop to listen, thinking maybe the fucker's complaining about me or something, but no. I couldn't make out exactly what he said, but I clearly heard this..." Hosmi looked up at Gerald for extra emphasis.

"He said, oh shit, I was going to do it like I heard it, but the guy may be home now. For all I know he's listening right now, his ear to the door." Hosmi lowered his voice to a whisper. "He... said... Beel ze bub. Except he didn't just say it but growled it, you know." Hosmi lowered his brow and gazed upward, effecting an air of being possessed by an evil spirit. "Beeeeel zeee bub."

Hosmi's voice regained its normal volume. He tapped Gerald on the arm. "Hey, man, hey, isn't that just like the craziest shit ever. You know, of course, that, you know, um, Beelzebub is the devil, right?"

Gerald nodded his head.

"Well, anyhow, man, I was hoping you were him," Hosmi said.

"Who? The devil?" Gerald said.

"Oh, shit, man, good one. No, I was hoping you were the guy in room 12. We're all trying to figure out who it is. The Colonel says he don't want no satan worshipping going on at the Country Acres."

"The Colonel?" Gerald said.

"Don't worry. You'll meet him soon enough. He's this old fart. Lives on the first floor. Dude'll hook you up if you ever want to get high. He can be as annoying as fuck sometimes, but shit, that's everybody, I guess."

"Oh, by the way," Gerald said, sticking out his hand. "I'm Gerald. Like I said, I'll be moving right down the hall."

Hosmi shook Gerald's hand weakly, grabbing just the fingers, looking down the whole time. "Nice to meet you man. Sorry, man, I didn't mean to scare you right off the bat. I'm sure you'll be fine."

"Well, hey, look, um, man," Gerald said. "I guess I'll be seeing you around, um, what's your name?"

"Oh, shit, sorry, man. I'm Hosmi. You know, like, 'has me,' but with an 'O' instead of an 'A.'"

"Nice to meet you, Hosmi. Don't let the ghouls get ya."

"Good deal, man. We'll see you."

As Gerald walked out the door and into the sunshine, a pair of eyes peeked out of slatted blinds and followed Gerald as he disappeared around a corner. Hosmi was right. The mystery occupant of room 12 had been listening at the door during the entire conversation between Hosmi and Gerald. He muttered something under his breath and paced back and forth, kicking up his sleeping bag, spittle flying from his mouth as he gestured violently with his hands.

"Must keep more quiet, must keep more quiet. Can't let them discover me. Can't get put away again. Can't let them get me. The rats and the blood and the listening listeners. Must keep more quiet. Must keep more quiet...."

Gerald took a long route to the property management office, across the Illinois State Normal University campus. He'd been attending classes just two weeks now, but commuted from his parent's house 90 minutes away. All three of his classes were evening courses meeting once a week. His anthropological methods course met tonight, so he would have even more time to explore after settling with the property management.

Walking the campus made him feel old, nostalgic for his undergraduate days. He longed for the company of "the Profligate Crew," his group of drinking buddies in college. They were nowhere to be found. Gerald knew nobody on this campus. Everyone seemed so young. Right when they got out of class, they connected to their devices, their cell phones and mp3 players. There were no cell phones, or at least not so prominently, during Gerald's undergraduate days in the mid-90s. He chuckled when a young man in skinny jeans rolled past on a skateboard. He was wearing a Nirvana t-shirt. "Kid was probably in Kindergarten when Nevermind came out," Gerald thought. "This is what Don Henley was talking about when he sang about seeing a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac."

Nostalgia only led to sadness. People talk about ghosts and the supernatural, but the only ghosts are those of the past, and they aren't living. They are fixed in space and time. And the unchanging nature of nostalgia only led to sadness because of the helpless inability to change it. But Gerald couldn't help himself. "Every new beginning was some other beginning's end." More nostalgia. Did they still play that song during last call at the bars anymore? Gerald couldn't remember the last time he'd closed a bar.

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