By Francis Scudellari
The shades rustled announcing the warm breeze about to carom through the cluttered room. Duke Ellington’s “In My Solitude” skimmed the current of fresh air. Jacob tapped his foot. He bopped his head to the saxophone’s sultry sway. His two index fingers kept rhythm on the cradled glass of brown-tinged tap water. A fly circled its lip, then flew off with a disapproving buzz.
The typewriter gathered dust in front of him. One Gregor examined the moldy crust at Jacob’s feet. Another crawled among the crumbs on the table. Jacob had surrendered. His muse had fled before ever arriving. Without her, it was pointless -- he had nothing to say. He would never be a writer. Not everyone had a destiny. Not all dreams went fulfilled. The world teemed with also-rans; it was rank with the unsuccessful. Soon, Jacob would have to start looking for a real job.
Jacob stared at the wall. Miles Davis, his musical idol, sat facing him. Precariously perched -- his knees together and legs twisted askance -- it seemed that Miles might slide off the low-backed orange chair. Always the embodiment of cool, even now as his horn rested carelessly against his thigh, still Miles's penetrating eyes fell like a rebuke on Jacob for giving up.
The knob turned and the door swung open, breaking the spell. Edom's large, tanned, woolly form adorned only in long black shorts and sandals, hovered in the door frame. He bounced a tennis ball on the floor to punctuate each sentence he spoke.
“Hey Jake, what’s the good news? You’ll never guess who I saw just now. Your goofy neighbors. I was coming up the stairs and there was short, bald Sluggo with fat, hairy Nancy. He was trying to unlock the door but he was having problems getting at his key because he had a bunch of junk in his arms -- old shoes, a broken radio, a golf club, a purse. It looked like they'd been rummaging through the dumpster in the alley.
"He got nervous when he saw me and dropped this tennis ball. It was pretty freaky. They opened the door and scurried into the apartment just as I was passing by. I heard them mumbling something behind the door; it didn’t sound like English. Hell, I’m not even sure if was human.”
“That’s a very interesting story Ed. Do you mind if I use it in my novel?”
“Just stopped by to say hello, pal. Maybe grab a beer. How’s the writing going? Doesn’t look like you’ve gotten very far.” Edom looked over Jacob’s shoulder at the white sheet of paper, then disappeared into the kitchen. Shortly after, the refrigerator door slammed shut.
“I give up, Ed. It’s not gonna happen. I can’t think of anything worthwhile. Everything I’ve written so far is garbage. I wrote about the neighborhood. I wrote about the trains. I even wrote about the cockroaches. It was all shit.”
“What about your customers at the bar? I thought you were gonna get lots of material from them?” Edom threw himself on the couch. A glass ashtray toppled on the floor spewing a cloud of gray ash that hung in the air. A stream of brown butts bounced on the floor, then rolled against the dark blue milk crate serving as an end table.
“They’re a waste of time. They don’t have any real stories to tell. Nothing exciting ever happens to them. They lead very dull lives. All they do is whine all night: ‘My job sucks. … My boyfriend is a jerk. … The boss is an asshole.’ Who cares? I don’t get paid to listen to that crap. Why don’t they go to a damn shrink and unload it all on him.” Jacob walked over to the window and lit a cigarette.
“Maybe you shouldn’t try to write about other people's lives. Maybe you should write about your own. Write about your childhood. Write about college. Write about an old flame. Something interesting must have happened at some point in your life.”
“Nothing’s happened to me that hasn’t happened to hundreds of thousands of others. I’m just your typical zero. Nice home. Nice parents. Good schools. No tragedies. No thrills. Just dull, tedious existence. Eat, drink, fuck -- if you’re lucky -- sleep, then die.
“I’ve always been on the outside looking in. Life's rich pageant passed by and I watched it from afar. I wanted to get a closer look. I wanted to get a better angle … a new perspective. That’s why I moved into the city. That’s why I rented this dump. That’s why I started drinking and stopped bathing. I wanted to endure some squalor … some poverty. I wanted to meet some new people. People who’ve had to struggle to survive. People who live on the edge. People who don’t worry about implications and consequences. People who think ‘tomorrow’ is an empty word. All the things I’ve only read about in books.
“Well, if such marvelous beings exist, I haven’t found them. Everyone I’ve met here is just a bland replicant. They’re in the bars. They’re in the cafes. They’re in the corner store buying a newspaper. Transplanted suburban kids trying to be hip -- spending a few years here acting irresponsible, as if on an extended vacation. Eventually they’ll return home to suburbia. They’ll settle into careers. They’ll find plastic spouses. They’ll buy comfortable houses. They’ll duplicate the shallow lives of their parents. They’ll breed more drab automatons like themselves, and the cycle will continue ad infinitum.” Jacob took one last drag from the butt and flicked it out the window.
“I’ve been deceiving myself, Ed. All of this is just a sham … an illusion. I might look different. I might smell different, but I haven’t changed. I’m still boring. My place is among the dull. I’m going to call my dad and ask him to help me find a job. Mom always said I looked good in a suit.”
“Come on Jake, don’t be stupid. Don’t do anything rash. You’re a little stir crazy, that’s all. You need to get out of here and clear your head. Go to the show with me tonight. Maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for there. Bunghole’s playing. I know the lead guitarist. We’re gonna get high before their set. You’ll do a couple hits with us. I’ll buy you a couple drinks. You’ll be a new man. What do you say?”
“Nah, I need to clean this place. It’s a pigsty. Besides, you know I don’t like that kind of music. It’s too loud. It’s just noise.”
“All you hear is noise because that’s all you want to hear. Give it a fair chance, Jake. Listen to it. Listen to the passion, the rage, the bitterness behind it.”
“I don’t want to listen to passion, rage and bitterness. I want to listen to music that helps me forget my problems. I want to listen to music that soothes.”
“This music is cathartic, Jake. It soothes after the fact. It’ll help you exorcise those demons. The songs are about real emotions. They're about the things you're feeling right now … the restlessness and self-doubt, the yearning and fear, the isolation and desire. Open your mind to it, just once.”
Hoping the enthusiasm might rub off, Jacob sat next to Edom on the couch. “Ok, make me a tape and I’ll check it out.” It was the only concession he was willing to make.
“You can’t just listen to a tape. This is something that’s got to be experienced, Jake. I can’t even describe it to you. It’ like youth: You’ve got to live it and you’ve got to live it now because you’ll never get another chance.” Edom’s eyes lit up.
“I don’t want to live like that. Not now. Not ever. Music is something very personal for me, Ed. I can’t listen to it while a hundred kids are slamming into me. I’m not into that whole mob mentality. Can’t you understand that? Is it such a difficult concept to grasp?”
“Yeah it is. I can’t figure you out. You complain about how dull your life is, but you don’t want to do anything about it.” Edom got up and walked toward the door. “I’ll tell you one thing Jake. You need to change your attitude. You’re really starting to piss me off. I don’t know why I keep coming over here.”
“Well, Ed, it might be the beer. It might be the food. But I like to think that it’s the witty repartee.” Jacob swallowed a sip of polluted water and winced.