Infidels

What’s A Sweetheart Like You Doing In A Dump Like This

In My Room
New Orleans ’70

The room had a double bed and was fairly clean with adequate ventilation. A stove and sink were in the corner of the room and the bathroom was off to the side of the facilities. I liked my room on the second floor of the house, but living with all the uninvited insects was not my idea of ideal living conditions. I found out later that in the South, even among the more respectable rent districts, living with insects was quite common. The cockroach came in all sizes, with the largest one being the most disturbing. I guess I never did get use to living with my roomies, although I did manage to put up with them.

I never did get a real job, but it wasn’t because I didn’t try. Just
thinking about the mileage I put on my shoes makes my feet hurt. I was finally humbled into taking a job selling encyclopedias. I
didn’t really want the job, but they promised good money and I was getting desperate. When it came to giving a sale’s pitch, I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. Actually, I was lucky to get the job. Many of the people didn’t get past the first day. After the interview, I was given a three page long dictation to memorize. On the following day, many of the other people didn’t have their lines memorized; they were dismissed on the spot. If it weren’t for the fact that I was bored at night, I wouldn’t have taken the time to memorize the shitty speech anyway.

With my books to keep me company, my nights were mostly spent
reading in my room. Having only a few dollars in my pocket and even fewer friends, painting the town was not an option. One night was worth remembering, barely. After a disappointing day job-hunting, I stopped by a local tavern. At the bar, I sat next to a pretty girl. I listened as she poured her life story out to the bartender. She was new in town and unattached. When she said she was from Huntington Beach, California, I thought to myself, “Now there’s a connection, I’ve been there and I can use that to begin a conversation with her.” Drinking my beer, waiting for the right moment to begin talking to her, a Dylan song popped into my head. In the song, the protagonist strikes up a conversation with a girl at a bar and discovers that both he and she share a common hometown and acquaintances. Letting the song play over and over in my head, made it easy to wait for the right opportunity to talk to the girl. Just as her conversation with the bartender was tailing off, in walked this guy who sat down on the other side of girl, and when he heard that she was from California, he asked, “Where in California?” As it turned out, both he and the chick happened to be from Huntington Beach, and they shared many friends in common. That could only happen to me!

Back in my room, I was not in a very good mood. I didn’t feel like
reading, but I needed to do something, so I sat down and started to write. I guess I wrote a poem. Well, maybe it wasn’t a poem. The only thing that really mattered is that it helped me get through the night.

I had arrived in New Orleans four weeks before Mardi Gras. The whole time I was there I could feel the excitement building. Every day the city was becoming more alive with its new decorations, fresh paint, and newly installed bleacher seats. Although I was looking forward to Mardi Gras, I didn’t figure on any surprises. The people in the French Quarter were already celebrating. The excitement of watching people throw beer cans, scream obscenities, and, in general, act like jerks, loses its appeal after awhile. I suppose I could be speaking out of envy, since I was not one of the good-time people, but I hope not. The week before Mardi Gras there was the pre-Mardi Gras party. Bourbon St. and Royal St. were awash in drunken celebrations. The highlight of the party came when this muscle bound peacock stopped traffic and tried to pick up a Volkswagen full of terrified tourists. Even with his drunken buddies cheering him on, he could not pick up the car.

The thing that turned me off more than anything else was the
indisputable prejudice that was all around me. Although the black
population got the brunt of the prejudice, there was more than
enough to go around. It seemed some of the people down here were still fighting the Civil War. Being from the north and a hippie, I was not immune from being the object of prejudice. Not one to back down, though, I would often walk through the black section of town and stop to swing on one of the swings in the playground reserved for black kids. Everybody, blacks and whites alike, gave me dirty looks. The anti-social stigma of being the wrong color in the right swing, or being the right color in the wrong swing, did not win me points among the locals. Fortunately, I wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. I just learned to swing with my eyes closed.

I stayed with my encyclopedia job for better than a week, and
learned all the sales pitches and promotion exercises. I was one day away from getting my first paycheck when I told the whole fucking establishment to kiss my ass. I couldn’t picture myself as a
salesman anyhow, but the real reason I got pissed had to do with the way they treated one of the girls who I became friends with. She was from Silver City, New Mexico and she was counting on her promised paycheck so she could buy a bus ticket home. The guy in charge found out that she wasn’t going to stick around and sell encyclopedias, so he fired her. She spent what little money she had on clothes and now she was out of money and a job. She was devastated. I felt sorry for her since I knew how she felt. I guess quitting my job wasn’t the best way to show my support for her, but the thought of working along side  garbage, like the guy who fired her, made my skin crawl.

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About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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One Response to Infidels

  1. bwinwnbwi says:

    Here’s a left out MV conversation–concluded under the next post. After kissing both the girl and my job good-by, my depression started to kick in. By the time I got back to my apartment, New Orleans was making me nauseous. I wanted to pack up and get out of town, but I had already paid the rent and my suit coat hadn’t arrived in the mail yet. Feeling out of control, I retreated to familiar territory; I bellied up to the nearest liquor store and bought myself a fifth. It was a pretty safe bet that I would see things differently from the bottom of a whisky bottle. Back in my room, before I got drunk and after putting the finishing touches on another poem, a voice interrupted my train of thought, MV as I liked to call it, was the voice of my insanity. And it had returned!

    “What the hell do you want?” I said. “I’m not in a good mood. Do yourself a favor and get the hell out of here.”

    “Manners! Manners!” came the retort. “That’s no way to treat your old friend. I want to help you and you treat me like a cockroach. Can’t you be more civil?”

    “I don’t feel civil,” I said, “in fact, I feel anything but civil. I don’t need you to spoil the one thing that gives me pleasure, getting drunk. Now leave me alone. I can drink this just fine without the likes of you around. Go away, please!”

    “You need me,” MV said, “someday, when I’m not needed I might go away. Would that make you happy?”

    “Overjoyed,” I replied, “But you’ve got it wrong. I don’t need you, especially now! All I need is a damn drink and I prefer to drink alone.”

    “Let’s see,” said MV, “you’re saying that getting drunk has left you bubbling over with joy. Right? Oh come now, this is no time for silence. How about sharing some of that joy, I could use a little ‘pick me up.’ Let’s see what you’ve written, correct me if I’m wrong. As I recall, it went something like this:

    Dark shadows fall,
    the echoes of my life.
    Worry, sadness, and pain,
    the never ending present.
    The emptiness of living is my plight.
    Life is in agony,
    my soul in chaotic drift.
    If only mercy killings
    were the fashion and
    I not such a coward.

    Yeah, now I’m happy. Happiness is contagious around a party animal like you. Be careful though, you’re liable to kill yourself with laughter. Are you sure you don’t need my help? I mean, anybody can dig their own gave, but to make it official you need to be buried and mourned. It appears you’ve mastered the first half. If you do not need my help, what do you need? I tell you true, I can give you more than you can imagine. Certainly, I can do enough so that you will never again feel compelled to write such drivel.”

    “What I need,” I said, “you will not, or cannot give me. I need you to go away. I need to know I am not loosing my mind.”

    “But we’ve been over that one before,” replied MV, “I am your mind. Lose me and your mind will surely be lost, the best part of it too. By the sounds of it, maybe you need the girl next door. I know I do!”

    “Oh,” I said, “the guy’s prostitute in the next apartment over must be back. It seems to be a once a week thing. Wait a few minutes and the walls will be vibrating.”

    “Nothing wrong with that,” said MV. “If you like, I can get you girls and they won’t even be prostitutes.”

    “Fine,” I said, “Bring me a girl and while you’re at it, bring me a girl I can love. Sex is always better if you at least like the girl you’re with and I imagine it’s great if you love her. Wait! Better yet. Bring me a girl that everybody would love to love. Shit! Why not have everybody love everybody! That’s it MV. How about it, can you do that? I want to look out my window and see nothing but loving and peaceful souls. Can you turn souls that hate into souls that love? That’s what I want MV. Can you do that?”

    “What you want is to turn the world into a Garden of Eden minus the apples. Right?” responded MV.

    “You’ve got it,” I said, “Now go and do it. Take your time, I’m patient!”

    “If I could grant your wish,” MV replied, “what would you do for me?”

    “You flatter me. What could I possibly do for you,” I said, “Be your slave?”

    “That’s not a bad idea,” MV responded, “If I could do the impossible, then yes, for services rendered, I could make you my slave. But, I cannot do the impossible, so I guess you’re safe for now. Besides, if you really knew what you were asking, you wouldn’t be asking.”

    “ What’s that supposed to mean?” I said.

    “It means you don’t know what you’re saying. If you did you wouldn’t say it,” responded MV. “You look out at the world and see black and white and good and evil. Those things are mere reflections of what’s really going on. In the real world it’s not possible for me to do what you ask. If it was, then all righteousness and goodness would, in a blink of an eye, cease to exist. You look at the world and see cruelty, suffering, injustice and, if I know you, a fiendish plot to turn all good things bad. But what if bad things were necessary in order for good things to happen? Would you still wish away the bad? Of course you wouldn’t! If an irremovable bond linked bad to good how would you feel then?”

    “Now who’s asking for the impossible,” I said, “there is no plan, no purpose to the world. It’s just what works that counts, and what works, unfortunately, is usually violent in nature. It all started with an exploding universe and now it’s come down to big fish eating the little fish. If you see reason and purpose in that, fine, but all I see is the strong and smart killing the small and weak and that’s called ‘survival of the fittest’ with lots of pain thrown in for good measure. Comprende?”

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