In the last place I lived I had a bad upstairs neighbor. At all hours, they walking in circles and I could hear every step. Occasionally there would be rapid pounding, like they were banging a hammer on the floor. Since that building had a lot of crazies, I assumed they were an old creeper in rags pacing around and muttering all day, all evening, and all night, or at least two out of three.
Turns out my upstairs neighbor was actually 24 years of age and training to be a nurse. They were from the Caribbean and talked to family on his phone a lot, and he walked around his apartment while he was talking. The occasional pounding was his mother chopping onions! It made me less bitter to know the details, even though he continued to pace at all hours in a chain-gang rhythm for as long as I lived there.
In the last place I lived, I had no downstairs neighbor, so I was immune from worry about being a bad upstairs neighbor myself. I guess that let me acquire some bad habits. For this I sincerely apologize.
“Why did you give me twenty dollars?”
“Because I am on your side. And I need to get to the apothecary.”
“I rode my bike from the Dome and you’re the first person who would talk with me. I got to tell you man, I was thinking about ending my life.”
“That’s always the wrong choice. Come up here on the sidewalk, the bus is coming. Do you believe in God’s grace?”
“Put your hand on my chest like this. Spell ‘push’.”
“What does that stand for?”
“I don’t know.”
“Pray until something happens.”
“I see some blue lights up here.”
“I’m glad you said that.”
“All right let’s keep talking. We take this left and then we’ll get up to Gargle St. and I’ll show you how to get to the lake.”
“I told you I’m not from around here…”
“Yeah. And so I was thinking of stopping by this Vietnamese smoothie place on my way to the apothecary, I just noticed it the other day and so I got a mango frappé but they have a really huge menu and there are definitely a few things I have to try, I hope it’s still open…”
“I’m telling you, I know you’ll be safe if you cross here, ride up to Winthorp’s, cut through the playground south of Fester’s, and then take a right at Bryn Boru’s, take it to the Watlin bike trail, it’ll be smooth sailing as far south as you need to go. You should have a lot of options. The tooter riots are over.”
“Stay here on this corner and talk with me. So what you think of this election?”
“I like you, man.”
“I’m holding out for high crimes, or high misdemeanors, or something to cut it short…”
“All right man, thank you again. You don’t know what you just did for me. I’m really grateful, man. Like I told you, I just got out of the rink, I’m living with my wife again, I got my job at the Poor Historian, and there are people who could kill me for what I did, and I didn’t do nothing wrong. Bring it in.”
This woman I know
Let’s call her “Gina Gioventú”
Well I met her when she was on the street
Or at least the sidewalk in front of The Poor Historian,
Some friends of mine found her a place to stay,
But she preferred to live outside,
Because at that time, it was strange for a person’s
Behavior to be recorded on film,
And Gina was certain that her sisters
Had conspired with Bill Gates to place
Candid-cameras in any place she ever had to live in,
That was inside.
And so she slept on one of the big chairs,
And I had to wake her up:
“Gina, you know you can’t sleep here.”
She’d read my Tarot
With any deck of playing cards:
“You are on a search for self-mastery.”
She read me my poems in a low contralto
She told me I was full of wonder.
I was 18 and learning how to drink coffee while working overnight making mochas and proofing bagels and mixing chocolate powder with hot water,
And giving frat boys 75 cents change in their paws
Which I made them hold over the tip jar
Until they begged for their extra cream cheese.
“It’s fucking four in the morning. I just mopped the floor and you bros turned it into fucking Woodstock 2000 with your fucking Cincinnati Timberlands, you fucks. Drink your fucking steamers and trip out the front door and crack your teeth, all of you, please.”
The smell of steel tables, the smell of pine in the bottles of cleaner,
The too-easy slaughter of horse-flies with triggered tap water and rag-slaps.
“Gina, wake up.”
“Gina, come beat me at chess.”
“Gina, do you want the rest of the vanilla hazelnut? I am about to dump it out.”
Her name was Gina Gioventú and we ate bagels and drank vanilla hazelnut every morning for four years. And that was her name, Gina Gioventú.
Q:What did Socrates ever do?
A: He talked.
Q:No, what did Socrates do?
A:Normal stuff. All that matters now was that he talked.
Q:He never did anything, is what you’re saying.
A:Other people did stuff when he was talking.
Q:And he just let them do all the stuff while he was talking?
A:They talked too. All that matters now is that they listened and then they talked to each other, and then they wrote things down about what he had said and what other people said.
Q:What’s the good of that?
Q:What the good of doing anything besides eating shitting sleeping or fucking?
A:So you can make a living! We don’t all have the luxury to sit around talking every day, with little secretaries running around doing our bidding. Sure, we do a lot of talking, but if that’s all we did we would die!
Q:How would you die.
A:I guess we would starve to death.
Q:You know how Socrates died?
A:They killed him for talking to little shits like you.