Shut Up, Little Man!

From “South of Market” to Hollywood : Stories and anecdotes : Shut Up, Little Man!

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From “South of Market” to Hollywood —

I don’t know how many sets of keys Tom lost or how many sets of drunks the guy managed to put on, but usually one followed the other and the total amount of each was truly memorable. Several times I was awakened to the sound of whimpering outside my window. (The first time I thought it must have been one of Curtis’s prostitutes after a crack come-down.) When this happened, I would look out to see Tom softly crying, his teary face glistening in the moonlight, staring forlornly upwards at his room as if by drunkenly dreaming he could will his way upward like some tubby Peter Pan into his dark little attic room. All in all the boarding house was nothing less than outrageously disgusting. Dirty, shabby, stench-laden, sub-human. What would pass as a living room had a ragged weathered plaid couch that was pocked with cigarette burns where it wasn’t threadbare or hacked open. There was a television set that received but one and a half channels and had a picture tube that yellowed every image as if it was dunked in piss. I say one-and-a-half channels because one channel came in relatively clearly, but the only other was a half-blur of fuzziness like a permanent impressionist snow-scape. [Once, my dear friend Andalucia Weiss visited me from Manhattan. I dared to let her stay at my digs at the boarding house. She was a little shocked, anthropologically curious, and as usual able to roll with the weirdness of it all. As we went out one evening, she robustly asked the damaged Chess player Robbie what he had planned to do for the evening. He answered in a muted spectral voice: “I think. . . I think I’m. . . I think I’m going to try. . . to try to . . .finish watching TV.” We ran that phrase over in our heads all evening, not sure exactly what he meant, but then again certain that what he had said was an accurate reflection of his shattered psyche and a fair appraisal of what he intended to do with his evening.] One morning I was in the bathroom. Of all the rooms in the flophouse the prize for most disturbing space was granted to the bathroom. It was unspeakably hideous. I was certain that it was an experiment. It was so overrun with fungi that I considered inviting the Mycology Department from the University of Washington. It was nothing less than fascinating. Any given day sudden zones of fungi bloomed on the walls, counters, ceiling. The sink was scattered with little black curls from Curtis's over-processed balding head, and the faucet handles were so laden with Geri-curl that they were functionally inoperative. One day I was in the bathroom wrangling away at those same faucet-handles when I smelled something good wafting in from the kitchen. It smelled like sausage. Rarely did anyone use the kitchen for actual cooking, because it hadn’t been cleaned since the Nixon era. I came around the corner and saw Robbie standing there before the stove. I could hear something sizzling. Happy that something resembling functional human behavior was happening in the house, I called out in a cheery voice: “Hey, man. Good morning!” Robbie only half-cocked his head over his shoulder to acknowledge me: “Uh”. I moved forward toward him: “Whatcha cookin?” He looked away in a sort of confused distracted way: “Uhah.” I peered over his shoulder and then saw that ol’ Robbie wasn’t cooking sausage at all. He had a burner blazing red-orange on the stove and he was standing there with his hand sizzling directly on the burner. I quickly came to recognize that perhaps this boarding house was not a good place to recover from a nervous breakdown.

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