An Amusement & Diversion for The Genteel Cyclist. Daily.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stories inspired by bike: Apartment Charles, part 1

Editor's note: Because of the overwhelmingly negative response I got to my monstrous 7-part Chequamegon "race report" (which was more like a status update on my longstanding bout with pre-, post- and mid-race irritable bowel syndrome, not clinically true, but metaphorically true ha ha), and because I'm a marginally masochistic citizen racer, I thought it would be especially off-putting to post a story from a dream inspired by a real incident obfuscated by a semi-apocalyptic vision of the near future in which cars are replaced by dog-pulled bikes. Also, I had another odd dream about my dear departed friend, the Egg Man, and it felt like a sign.



One year a man in a school tie and a velvet jacket stood out on the fire escape, looking like a visitor or possibly even the mysterious absentee landlord. Word spread. And then he threw up down onto the sidewalk, a long ribbon of vodka and orange juice, and everyone was relieved, knew he was an insider, drunk, wearing some sort of rakish outfit, and if you looked close you could see a flip to his hairdo, an unruly cowlick where his oiled hair was parted, and then you could see the costume fez down on the sidewalk sprinkled with puke. Word spread in our little town, everyone had heard about it within a few hours. He turned out to be a brother of some guy in shipping. He’d been drinking screwdrivers and canned beer all afternoon at the downstairs bar.

Naturally people assumed the Tibetan monk in a saffron robe was an early arrival to a costume party – or do Tibetan monks have relatives?-- but it turned out to be the beginning of a short era of actual Tibetan monk occupation, which only lasted for a year, owing (everyone thought afterward) to the constant interruption of friendly agnostics, Jews, Christians, lapsed Catholics and New Agers perhaps even the occasional Hindu making his way up the stairs and knocking on the doors drunkenly looking for a party after bar time, or (some speculated) the mysterious absentee landlord found it to be a failed experiment, that even though they were quiet and chaste and sober, Tibetan monks were also real sticklers about minor plumbing issues, broken counterweights in the window jambs, creaky floorboards. They were a bad match for a low-cost western apartment: demanding and physically inept, utterly unmechanical, and this led to a constant stream of calls from the property management firm authorizing various expenses and procedures.

It was the best apartment in the city, and groups of people formed to occupy it. Strangers ran around trying to cultivate relationships with other strangers, trying to insert themselves into a friendship with someone in the group that already lived there. It went on like that for generations. Until we got there.

Charles was our most gregarious friend, and within a few days of our group’s formation, Charles had targeted the best apartment in the city, before many of us even knew the direction to the food court or human resources or where to buy a drink. Charles had a nose for these things. He connected with people. They laughed at his strange self-deprecating jokes, his googly eyes, his early onset male pattern baldness, they trusted him, then they regretted trusting him, but they kept laughing, nervously. Charles knew where to get and how to use various stupefying agents, which he shared generously, saying things like “I am the Egg Man,” and somehow seeming profoundly correct when he said things like that, bulging his eyes out and puffing out his cheeks, and even after he threw a shoe and broke my bust of Schiller, we were all under his thrall.

So it seemed that the inevitable played out, and by Q2, Charles had insinuated himself with the current occupants and he’d replaced one of their group. He moved in. We knew he wouldn’t abandon us. When the rest of the current residents moved out, we’d move in, and our group would live together in the best apartment in the city, with its blistered glass and its catinlevered balcony overlooking Main Street, it’s garish iron fire escape, the cupola with curved glass like a huge cylinder or a lighthouse. When you looked at the building coming up Division, it looked like a proscenium stage. Just below the brick battlements, it said The Balto Building, and the year of its erection anno domini 1880.

I got the call like the other two. “They’re all gone,” said Charles. “Hurry.” I got into my jumpsuit and goggles, wheeled my singlespeed out of the garage, hooked up Edgar, and bombed down Olaf Avenue, almost faster than Edgar could run. Each telephone pole was still plastered, I noticed, with a handbill for a Stinky Toots show. I noticed this peripherally for an excellent reason. Two nights ago, I’d gone to the show. It was at a VFW on the outskirts of town. It had taken me two hours on my singlespeed to get there, since I’d given Edgar the night off. I’d left early, carefully selected an ensemble that accentuated my physical virtues and distracted from the blemishes. Edgar, his puppy ears all velvet, gave me a broken-hearted look. Oh, I’d pedaled. I did not want to be late. The Stinky Toots! Would I get in? The bikes and pulldogs leashed out front, even Charles doing his Egg Man dance, sneaking off somewhere with his lysergic agents. When I got to the address, I wished I’d written it down. There was no VFW at that place. It was a strip mall. The number on the door was correct, but it was a Vietnamese noodle shop. I rode my singlespeed around the neighborhood looking for one of those posters, but now I couldn’t find one. I went back to the noodle shop and cupped my eyes against the dirty glass door, and an old Vietnamese crone waved and smiled and then gave me the finger like a crazy person. I noticed some sort of gunk on the windows, the ghosted residue of an arc of letters that you could still make out if you focused at an intermediate focal length: VFW Post 950. When I got back to town and found one of the old playbills, I was still confused. I had the night and the address right. Finally it clicked in my brain: It had been exactly one year ago. No wonder Charles hadn’t mentioned it.

Tomorrow: The exciting conclusion!

5 comments:

decay said...

Just got back minutes ago from hearing Junot Diaz speak at the U of M, and he said that the writer needs to surrender to the subconscious and then use the conscious mind to decide how to organize the seemingly meaningless jumble that tumbles out. And then I read this...

Kyle said...

i love your blog!!!!!

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