The rules, from the roof

Too tired and too busy to run to the maildrop as I'd planned, instead I went down to the corner to check my voice-mail. Nada.

When I came back, Mr Patel was at the front counter, so I asked him what the argument had been about, with that skinny schmuck yesterday afternoon.

Through his Indian accent, Mr Patel explained that the guy had been sneaking "too many visitors" into his room.

This really blew my mind, because eleven rules are neatly typed and posted on the wall at the counter, right where everyone pays their rent, and rule 6 and rule 9 are both basically "no visitors," just phrased differently. So I asked the landlord, how many no visitors are too many no visitors?

"Oh," he said cheerily, "ruless shmuless. 'No visitors' means, don't let me hear complaints about your loud visitors, but if you bring your girlfriend in—" was he smirking at the unlikeliness when he said that? "—I will not complain unless someone complains to me."

I nodded, and he continued, "That man in 410, I hear many complaints, he has several visitors at the same time, very loud and unruly."

Again I nodded, and I appreciate Mr Patel's attitude about rules, but my thought as I walked away was...

That motherfucker from yesterday lives in room 410? I'm in 403, so he's right down the hall from me. Pretty sure I've heard his visitors. Already knew I didn't like him, but now, knowing which room is his, there are suddenly all sorts of things I can do to make his life miserable.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Washed dishes at the bar, collected my pay, and Gary was fuckin' profane but also kinda fuckin' sweet. As a going away present, he wasted another exotic beer on me, but I only had a few sips, then discreetly poured it down the sink. And then Gary shook my fuckin' hand, and I walked out of that fuckin' bar forever.

Well, probably forever. I told him I'd help out again in an emergency, but since I have no phone and only check the voice mail a few times a week, 'forever' seems more likely than 'again'.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Home at the hotel at 3:00 in the morning, I climbed to the top of the stairs, jiggled the doorknob to shake loose the lock, and stepped out onto the tar.

It's against the rules — sorry, Mr Patel — but nobody knows, nobody will complain, and I love it on the roof, especially at night.

You can hear voices from the street, and once in a while a gunshot or a scream or a shout, but none of the words or conversations.

You can see the lights of the city to the north, south, east, and west, dark clouds above the streetlights, traffic below, and now and again a plane passing overhead.

It's all peacefully loud and beautiful.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Here's a thought that seemed profound from the roof at 3:15, perhaps less so when you read it a month later, but...

Many thousands of people were born today. A few will grow up fabulous, a few despicable, most in between, and some won't grow up at all.

The ones we'll think of as fabulous will be pampered and loved for their first twenty years, and go on to become scientists, composers, rock or movie stars or something. 

The ones destined to grow up despicable won't get that pampering and love. They're already being yelled at by their parents, and they'll be kicked around, ignored, get all the disadvantages.

It's never fair, but that's how someone becomes fabulous or despicable.

Thousands of people died today, too — people you never heard of while they were alive, and you'll never hear from them dead either. They weren't important enough for an obituary in the paper.

Like you and me and 99,999 out of 100,000, today's dead never made a headline, never made much of a difference except maybe to the people who knew them. They had some happiness or convinced themselves they had, and they had dreams that probably never came true and probably couldn't, and then they got shattered to blood and bone on the interstate. Now it's over for them, but it goes on for us, until it's our turn to die.

We are a few billion billiard balls rolling around on a planet-sized table, getting smacked by the cue and by all the other balls, and sometimes smacked hard. We imagine we're in charge of our trajectory, but the table is uneven and wobbly and threadbare, someone else holds the cue stick, and we drop into pockets not of our choosing. 

All of us live our lives as if we're in charge, but we're not. Not even close. Mostly it's fate and luck and who you know.

From Pathetic Life #24
Thursday, May 9, 1996

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.


  1. Its boring just saying to you that another piece is really good, but this is really good. I mean, REALLY good. Its writing better than I read from famous people, and I hope you have enough circulation and enough complements to know that it is appreciated.

    Pathetic Life benefited from you getting kicked out of Judith's house. Everything is up a notch since you moved back into the hotel. (yes I know it was a long time ago, I was there you might remember.)

  2. I agree with your second paragraph. The entries are definitely better at the hotel, at least temporarily. I haven't read into the future, though, so a return to suckage is possible.

    Yes, I do remember you — a long-time subscriber who never tried to meet me, and once sent me a box of a dozen Snickers bars. Thank you.

    And thanks for the first paragraph, too.

  3. What happens to this blog when you run out of PL reprints shortly?

    You mentioned moving back into the bowels of the city - now is the time!

    Pathetic Life #26 is waiting to be written, and you're the man to do it, Holland.

  4. I'm a lazy bastard. When Pathetic Life ends, I'll probably start re-reprinting it.

    But downtown Seattle beckons me, definitely. There's an essay half-written about looking for an apartment on Skid Row or in Pioneer Square...


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