The Crack In The Bottom Of The Bowl
After the house burnt down, I moved into a hotel several miles outside town in the country. What furniture and kitchen equipment I was able to rescue looked pathetically lonely in the large, wallpapered room. The exposed plumbing at the ceiling served as a convenient and functional clothes rack. I managed to construct a makeshift dresser out of carboard and a piece of chickenwire I found out back where the locals dumped their garbage. This would do, I figured, until I could get some soda-box crates.
The bathroom was down the hall to the back of the two story building. There were two locks on my door, only one of which worked. I never knew which one it would be on any given day. They took turns.
The cockroaches didn't bother me much. I like animals. I gave up trying to kill them all and decided to name them instead. This seemed to humor them and so we settled down into a routine existence. They stopped rattling around in the paper trash bag at night. I had prayed to Saint francis for this; thank you, Saint Francis.
The rent was reasonable for that area, and the times, confusing as they were. The landlord, Mr. Guido Salvatore, would visit me occasionally to see how I was getting along and if I needed any work done on the room. I think he just needed somebody to talk to and a place to get away from it all. He always expressed interest in me, what kind of things I had done, where I came from, stuff like that. He usually didn't stay very long. He had the habit of peeling back the edge of the window curtain to look down at the street. He was worried about his car at night in the area, he said. I would always sympathize with him on this. The neighborhood had once been healthy and prosperous, but now, with unemployment at 47% and people having to feed their children wood by-products, it had turned ugly.
Mr. 'S' was a good man, a kind and benevolent gentleman. I remember one time in particular when, in exchange for an entire month's rent, all he wanted me to do was store several boxes of what smelled like coffee in my room for a few days. He knew he could trust me; we had that kind of respect for one another.
The other occupants of the hotel changed rather frequently, but, nonetheless, I figure there was about a hundred at any given time. That's a lot. Considering that there weren't half that many rooms, the degree of intimacy was pretty intense. We all got along well, however, even though there would be an occasional scream in the night. It sounded like someone was just having a bad dream so I'd offer up a prayer for whoever's well being.
The children were especially entertaining and playful. It wasn't uncommon to find a few of them trying on adult clothing and jewelry they had found in another's room. They were disoriented by the times. Occasionally, surprising as this may seem, even an adult would become disoriented and accidentally enter a room not his own. And, more often than you would imagine, would even forget who they were married to. Jesus. This was all very tragic and telltale of the stress and upheaval that others were going through during these crazy and, you know, confusing times. It worked to bring us together though; We were a family.
My job at the box factory was better than most of the other residents of the hotel. There had been a lot of new arrivals in the past week or two and some of them were kinda envious of my position, I figured. Mr. 'S' and a few of his friends brought as many as thirty new residents to the hotel in a dirty yellow bus, all wearing jeans and plaid shirts and very realistic cowboy hats. Others came in smaller groups of four or five, usually at night. I could hear them drive up and open the van doors. Otherwise, it was usually very quiet.
I had trouble communicating with most of these new people. They didn't know the language so we developed a kind of sign language and got along. Where they all slept was beyond me, but, I never saw anybody move out so I guess Mr. 'S' made room for them somehow. He was a good man, that Mr. 'S.'
I used to walk to work every day, seven miles; really great exercise. I had to leave pretty early in the morning but because of that I always got to see the sun come up; when it wasn't snowing, of course. A lot of folks don't get to see the sunrise, you know. I tried hitchhiking at first because I didn't know how long it would take, and I certainly didn't want to be late. But, I never got a single ride, not once; the times, you know.
My job was important to me but it must have also been even more important to Mr. Guandino, my employer. In fact, he once told me that if it wasn't for people like me he would probably have to move back to Colombia. I wouldn't want to see that even though Mr. 'G' apparently had quite a few relatives from that country. They came to visit him alot, and always brought gifts wrapped in plain brown paper; a poor country, no colorful wrapping paper like we have. I liked Mr. 'G' so I always worked extra hard.
He had put me in the back part of the cinder block, windowless building away from the incinerator. We had the biggest incinerator you ever saw, no kidding. it was always going. I don't know why it was always going, but it was. Mr.s 'G' didn't have any of his own trucks to deliver the boxes. I overheard him tell someone that he hired common carriers who picked them up at night. I thought that was very clever as there is much less traffic at that ime and their comings and goings would not interfere with the normal functioning of the factory.
The cardboard came by rail from Canada. It first went to a special factory in Miami, that's in Florida, you know, where they were treated with some chemical to preserve them. The cardboard was then shipped by truck to yet another warehouse just outside of Farleyville in corn growing country. There the chemcial was somehow extracted and replenished with fresh before being sent to us. I didn't understand why they bothered to send it to Miami in the first place if they were going to treat it again in corn country. But, I'm sure Mr. 'G' has his reasons.
I found all this out from my friend, Joe Bob. Joe Bob hasn't worked here for awhile now, Jeese, three weeks, I think. I went to visit him in the hospital just last week and he said he was thinking about leaving the country and going to Ireland to visit his mom. I thought he told me his mom died when he was a kid, but, I don't always remember right. I didn't even know he was Irish. But, he obviously cares about his mother. That's heartwarming, you know.
I can't get him to talk about what happened to him much; he says he doesn't remember but I think he's only embarassed. He said he went to the factory one night to find out what company was picking up the boxes for delivery and accidentally fell into a hole and broke almost every bone in his body. I never saw any holes in the factory but, from then on, I was cautious where I stepped, I'll tell you that.
I miss him at the factory. He's very smart and was always making up absurdly funny stories. Like the time he told me that all the boxes we make don't go anywhere, they just get burned up in our giant incinerator. Why, in God's name, would Mr. 'G' go to all that trouble and expense for nothing? It made no sense to me but, I still enjoyed Joe Bob, he was good company. But he sure doesn't seem to have very good luck.
One day, my landlord, Mr. 'S', showed up at the factory. He had gotten me my job there and knew Mr. 'G' and wanted to help him out, but I had never seen him there before. I had to use the washroom and while there overheard this incredible argument between them. I could only pick up a few words but it seemed that Mr. 'S' was upset with Mr. 'G' about his relatives from Colombia. Maybe that's why Mr.'S' had all that coffee in my room that time? They grow that stuff there, you know. It was all as confusing to me as the times themselves.
Mr. 'S' stormed out of Mr. 'G's' office carrying one of those brown paper packages I've seen with Mr. 'G's' relatives. He spotted me as he came down the stairs. Just then, a long black limosine, I think, pulled up fast and braked right behind Mr. 'S's' car. He stood frozen for a moment and seemed unsure of himself. I never saw him like that before and it made me feel kind of nervous and queezy. He turned to me and quickly walked over.
"Hi, how are you today, my friend?" he asked, friendly as ever. Before I got a chance to reply he pushed the package into my hands and told me to take it home and he would pick it up later. I owed him a great many favors so I agreed right away and stuffed it into my backpack.
Mr. 'S' then went outside to talk to the men from the limosine. He must have felt a little shaky, bad news maybe, because two of the men held each of his arms and helped him into their car. They then sped away.
When I got home I found out that Melinda had died. They said they couldn't keep her on instruments anymore, what with electricity costing what it does, so they pulled the plug. It's just as well. She was a good dog and I hated to see her suffer.
I felt very despondent, sitting in my room with the lights out, listening to the loud, confused voices and occasional breaking glass. It was friday night. Life didn't seem all that important anymore with my dog gone. Even though I didn't want to let Mr. 'G' down, I decided to quit my job and move away, far away, although I had no idea where I was going to go, or could.
I waited and waited for Mr. 'S's' arrival so I could give him his package. The responsibility was beginning to play on my nerves. But, he never showed. The next morning I phoned Mr. 'G' to tell him of my decision to quit. But somebody else answered and informed me that Mr. 'G' had taken an emergency leave because of family problems and so the factory was going to have to close down for awhile, maybe permanently. Jeese, poor Mr. 'G'.
Well, that was that, I thought. Just as well. I didn't have to quit, the factory quit me. I decided to move out that very day instead of waiting till the end of the month. At least the weather was warm; I could sleep on the ground, if I had to.
I planned on leaving the furniture and other stuff and take only my clothes and a few personal items, and Melinda's favorite toy. I had no room for Mr. 'S's' package and didn't know what to do with it. I tried phoning him but couldn't get through. Feeling a little bold due to my recent misfortunes, I decided he wouldn't mind if I opened it so as to maybe cram the contents into my pack somehow. I could phone him later and arrange a meeting, or maybe mail it to him from wherever I ended up.
Much to my surprise, consternation and not to mention near heart failure, I found stacks of money neatly separated into small packets with rubber bands around them.
Suddenly, there was a loud knock on the door. I quickly stuffed the cash under my bed, my heart racing. I opened the door and there stood two policemen. I must have looked scared because they reassured me that I was in no trouble. The reason they had come was to inform the residents of the hotel that it was going to close and everyone would have to move out. What timing, I thought.
"What about Mr. Salvatore," I asked.
"Mr. Salvatore is dead," one of them told me, matter of cold-hearted factly. The other had moved on to the next door. "We found his body floating in the river early this morning. So just take your belongings and move out as soon as you can. You don't want to get caught up in this, beleive me." I believed him. Mr. Salvatore dead? Jesus God, what a cruel world. He was such a nice man.
I was exceedingly depressed over the turn of recent events, to tell you the truth. So I decided to pull out right then and there. I stuffed Mr. Salvatore's money into my pack, threw it over my shoulder, put on my hat, went out the front door of the hotel, and down the street. Something must have snapped inside me when I got to the gravel road because, for the first time im my life I felt like saying, fuck it, to everything. My whole world had once again been shattered, so easily and completely, after feeling so secure and fulfilled. It wasn't fair. How could life be so tenuous and temporary? Isn't there anything to count on? Even when you think everything is going great, whammo, it can all come tumbling down like a card house in a gust of wind. I made up my mind, walking down the road, I was going to have a life, a life where I didn't try to hold onto anything, just live each moment as it came.
Something warm and unfamiliar told me in a cool, clear voice somewhere inside my head that Mr. Salvatore, being dead and all, would not care if I were to use his money to make people happy. I know, or at least I believe, he would have wanted it spent that way. Besides, I didn't know what else to do with it. I wasn't going to give it to the police, and I had no idea where to even begin to look for his relatives.
So, I went to find Joe Bob, at home now but still recovering from his accident, and told him of my plan. I lied about the source of the money so he wouldn't feel guilty, telling him instead that it was an inheritance. He laughed and laughed 'till tears rolled down his face. First time I'd seen Joe Bob laugh in a good long while. Together, we left for Ireland. I got another dog and even some horses, I like horses.
I'm grateful to both Mr. 'S' and Mr. 'G' for all their help, kindness and respect they showed me. Without it, who knows, I might have let myself drift into alienation, cynicism, rejection of all life has to offer. I learned how to appreciate the little things. They made me feel like family, I guess they just couldn't help it.