The memory box

With all my boxes in a stranger's truck, I knocked on the mumbling man's door. Sometimes he answers when you knock, and sometimes he just hides, but this morning he answered. 

"I'm moving out, Mumbles, but here's your key." I held it up and hoped he understood, and then slowly walked to the end of the hallway by the fire extinguisher. The carpet there is loose, and can easily be pulled up in the corner. I showed him, then put the key underneath, and let the carpet cover it. He might have smiled ever-so-slightly, or might have grimaced. 

Then I elevated down, and handed my room key to Mr Patel. "Mr P, you run a good place here," I told him, "but I hope I won't be back."

♦ ♦ ♦

Testing, one banana, two banana, three banana, four. Does this old clunker typewriter still type, after a wild ride in a gypsy mover's van? Hooray, it's okay…

The boxes are unpacked or stacked out of the way, everything important is accessible or plugged in, and I just killed the first roach in my bedroom, so I guess this is home. I've moved in with Pike, at the Mierda apartment on Mierda Street, in an unwelcoming corner of the Mission.

Bay windows, though. Well, singular — just one bay window, but I've never had a place with a bay window before. It offers a sweeping, panoramic view of lowriders parked and jacked on bricks the length of the sidewalk, and what looks like a drug deal going down outside the shattered phone booth at the end of the block.

Unexpectedly, at least at 10:44 AM, it's quieter in the slums than it would be at my old rez hotel. Even with the bay window open, all I hear is the upstairs neighbors arguing, but not ferociously, and people talking down the street, and the occasional sound of a car engine turning over, or not, in which case, try try again. And there's a boombox playing Mexican rock'n'roll, faintly, far in the distance. I expect the volume might go up after sunset.

At the old place, just off Powell Street, near Union Square in Tourist Town? I'd be hearing the constant rattle and roar of traffic, trucks and diesel buses pulling into and out of the stop in front of the hotel, throngs of tourists and other idiots on the sidewalk, with honks and yells always in the background. Almost hourly, there'd be the cacophony of the restaurant across the street running their giant trash compactor, and in the distance, the sound of beefeaters or whatever they're called — staffers from the overpriced St Francis Hotel, wearing silly frilly old-style outfits, tooting their giant kazoos to signal taxis for wealthy guests. And of course and always, the sound of beggars begging.

The beggars are what make it so obvious that America is a lie. We're told it's the richest country in the world, so we could help the victims of our powerhouse unfair economy, but we don't. Never have, never will. We toss 'em insults, tell 'em to get a job, and offer meager dole payments, but only to those savvy enough to fill out the forms and navigate the bureaucracy. How someone like Mr Mumbles survives, I do not know.

Here at my new dump, Pike is absent this morning, so I have the entire estate to myself. I've sprayed the kitchen with insecticide so it smells like Dachau and there are dead roaches everywhere in there, but not many live ones. The live ones fled to the other rooms, including mine.

♦ ♦ ♦

Among the boxes I've brought, there's one full of letters and photos and mementos from women long ago. Even after ridding myself of most of my possessions when I came to California, I kept the box. Call me sentimental.

In a fit of frustration a year or so ago, I threw away most of my memories of April, so now it's 75% a box of Maggie. Letters to Maggie, letters from Maggie, pictures of Maggie. Deeper in the box, there are memories of a few others.

Maybe it's time to toss the memories of Margaret, too. Most of them, anyway. Once upon a time a lady liked me. Now, let it go.

Here's a copy of a post card I sent her a year ago. This was the invitation that brought her to see me in San Francisco, a visit you may remember was a disaster. I photocopied the card because I liked what I'd written, and that was when it occurred to me to write my life as a zine. Which I guess makes this is a preview of Pathetic Life #1, which came out a few months later:

Dear Mags,

Walking home tonight, up from the BART station, I passed countless lost souls — dopers, drunkards, crackheads, slackers, the homeless and the mindless, lowlifes and other folks maybe like me. A prostitute came out of the shadows, and came on to me. Not interested, thanks — the Kaposi's lesions are sorta distracting.

All I want is a cheap burrito to go, to eat upstairs in my roach-infested room, watching Letterman, hoping to be asleep before it's time to wake up. That's all I ask. That's enough. That's the life.

And you're invited to join me in this paradise…

Well, she came to Frisco, and the rest is history, like Maggie is now — history and a memory, in the box.

♦ ♦ ♦

Checked the maildrop, and what was waiting for me among the zines and $3 zine requests? Two big boxes from Fred Woodworth! He spent seventeen dollars in postage, so they're BIG boxes indeed. Worked up a sweat hauling 'em back on the bus to my new home, wondering what was inside. To my amazement it's the biggest care package I've ever received. My mother doesn't send this much food when she sends food.

I'd written to Fred when I quit Macy's, and told him my plan — that I was hoping to make due with "anything legal" work. Guess I sounded desperate, but I never dreamed of this response. Thank you, Fred. 

There's powdered soup, macaroni & cheese, stuffing mix, mashed potato mix, canned veggies, and even junk food like peanuts, cocoa mix, and more. Maybe, maybe someone somewhere some time was this nice to me, but I can't think of who it might have been.

Then Pike came home, and with both of us unpacking and getting settled tonight, and Fred providing the peanuts and cocoa, we're having a little housewarming celebration here at the Mierda house. I can't even complain about how loud our asshole neighbors might be, because tonight the asshole neighbors are us. The rowdy rock'n'roll that's way too loud is coming from Pike's tapes, on my tape deck, and life is good.

From Pathetic Life #10
Tuesday, March 14, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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  1. Can I just say, damn it son, you can write.

    1. Ehhh, you can say it if you want, and it's appreciated but hard to hear.

  2. I agree with Scott that this is quite good. Question if you remember back: You hire a "gypsy mover" and put everything in his truck and then you go back into the building? Too much trust?!?!

    1. He was with me in the hallway, carrying the last of the boxes, as I did the key under the carpet thing.

      I was a worrier about things like that, though. Half in advance, half upon completion, etc.

    2. Do you still have a memory box? I am a sucker for your old romance stories, like the redhead at school today.

    3. I don't remember getting rid of it. Also don't remember looking at it since meeting my wife, who made all the memories moot.

      It might be in the basement, where there's a small room full of things we never use, and never unpacked when we moved here.


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