It was an early Saturday morning more years ago than I care to remember. I eased the car, overburdened with a U-Haul trailer, into the parking lot of an all-night convenience store south of Memphis. Things had reached a critical point; driving all night on top of the cumulative effects of several months of emotional and mental stress had left me dangerously fatigued. I did not even think to ask my passenger to drive, we had passed that point months ago. Never a coffee drinker, I had partaken liberally of that foul brew - but something more was needed. Not prepared to seek more effective - but also more illegal - remedies, I brushed past the copies of Elvis’s will for sale and purchased several packs of cigarettes. Never a smoker, I had hit upon the dubious idea that the best plan was to chain-smoke the rest of the way to Ohio. The decision was about par for the course - to quote Richard Brautigan, “I still can’t figure out what I meant by living the way I did in those days.”
In any event, all reached Ohio safely, car and passenger were dropped off, driver and passenger bidding each other
fond adieu. A blessed, but short night of sleep, an uncomfortable frazzled passive aggressive morning with the parents and two flight segments later I was back in Houston. Back where the next unsuccessful relationship, which had bumped up uncomfortably close to the end of the prior one, demanded attention at once on the far side of town. So it was an even more sleep-deprived, groggified shadow of a functioning human being that showed up Monday morning to go through the motions at work. But though the wheels of mindless work grind slow, they do in fact grind, and in time I headed home.
Home! Alone! The holy grail! “Home” at the time was a small apartment near downtown Houston into which I had moved but a short time earlier. Apart from the appliances belonging to the apartment people, it contained two lawn chairs, a mattress, clothes for one, a table made out of scavenged crates, books, records and a stereo. There was a can of peaches in the refrigerator - I hadn’t eaten well in a long time. But it was great! I was a king in his castle. I put a record on the stereo (I do wish I remembered what it was), cranked it up and plopped down on my lawn chair throne, exhausted and famished, but content. Mere minutes later a knock came upon the door. Getting up to answer it, I realized that my head really, really, really hurt, but I soldiered on. I opened the door to find two older women standing there. “Can you tell us where the manager’s …”, began one of them tentatively.
When I regained consciousness I found myself lying in the ashes of a small hibachi I kept outside the door. The two women were not in sight. If I had felt bad standing up, I felt ten times worse now, everything hurt. “I’m dying.” I thought. Vanity, stupidity and/or decency kicked in, and my immediate next thought was, “You can’t just die out here in public.” and I obligingly rolled into the apartment, reached up and slammed the door. I didn’t die of course, I recovered and went on to lead an appropriately consumero-normative lifestyle, thank God. But for a long time afterwards I would stop and ponder how the story read from the women’s point of view. I’m guessing that they abandoned the thought of seeking an apartment in that particular building, and I also suspect they didn’t look at anything too close by either. Did they feel any guilt at not staying around to help or see that I was OK? Maybe, who knows? (For all I know they got nervous and coldcocked me.) I don’t begrudge them their flight - well not too much anyway - I’m sure I looked the mess, appearing at the door with Jethro Tull? Pink Floyd? (I need to recover who the hell I was playing) booming in the background. I hope it didn’t modify their apartment search too radically, didn’t scare them back to one of the nameless suburban complexes which blighted vast swaths of Houston outside the I-610 loop. I don’t think about it too much anymore, but if I had died, then, boy would I have been pissed off.
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