by Grant Maierhofer
He walked to his room after that, changing into this holed-up denim shirt he always wore, looking over at the shelves of books he’d yet to read. The sad truth is that buying books is almost as addicting for the aspiring young scribe as reading them is in your late teen years. When X was younger it was all about going to the library and picking up Hemingway, or Hesse, or Hunter S. Thompson, and taking them home to devour them, and write notes, and read about the figures behind them online and really inhale the literature in vacant rooms at his father’s house. Now he probably read a book a week, and bought three or four. He’d go to bookstores around the city and see names he’d never heard of, or books he’d never heard of from names he’d known full-well his entire youth. Once he found The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas, and because he’d heard so much about his Musketeers, and Monte Cristo, he simply had to pick that one up out of sheer ignorance and the bliss that followed. He still has it sitting on his shelf and has yet to read it, has yet to even make a guess as to what it’s about, but the fact that it’s on the shelf does provide a certain comfort he cannot deny. Some people collect furniture; some collect sexual partners; some collect nights and nights of drinking and losing their minds in public. X happens to collect books.
He’d managed to pare the list down to mostly books he had at least the slightest interest in reading, and thus was slowly knocking them off one by one—upon finishing another book he’d place it on a shelf across from the room, which he referred to as his ‘Kill List,’ the place where, should he have been a hunter, he imagined his taxidermied deer would sit. He was currently reading Opium, and Past Tense, both essentially journals of Jean Cocteau. Cocteau was recently taking the place of his favorite author, and the more he read him—or read of him—the more X fell in love. Although he thought Opium a largely minor book, and his illustrations at the end serve as the most interesting content printed between its covers, his journaling in Past Tense, a diary he released intentionally at the end of his life as a sort of mea culpa, farewell to it all; X thought these superb.
His notes on Past Tense read:
“No man living or dead has written more logical dissertations on the pangs and tumult of the theater, nor of the drawling and incomprehensible language of Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time,’ and every night, after I go out walking, after I slow my mind enough to sit comfortably in bed and allow my thoughts to focus on one particular thing, I read him and become enamored with the world he enacts.”
When he walked back into Warren’s room X knew he wouldn’t last. This girl was sitting on one of his chairs sobbing about how fat she was and thus, it seemed, how lonely she was, and everybody in the room had no choice but to seem interested. Warren came over to X.
“Hey! How’s it going?” He beamed.
“Oh you know…” They laughed a bit, Warren’s eyes rolled, aware. For some reason the time with Emily now seemed like the funniest, most absurd thing on earth, and it didn’t just strike him as some tribal ritual—their laughter—it genuinely went from being this serious, quiet moment with Emily, to some hilarious account of human comedy. Warren bummed X a Parliament and, hesitantly, he walked over to sit in a chair next to his computer, putting on a song by Link Wray and settling in with a long drag on the smoke.
More conversations happened, but X was ready to get out of there, after talking to Gary a little bit more about the military and Hemingway he went into the kitchen and fixed a tall glass of ice water. He drank it then went back past Emily’s room out into the hallway, walking down the stairs and out the door into the cold midnight. It had started to rain a bit and gusts of water hit him softly in the face, he turned right and walked the long distance to an old theater that showed late night films.
It was later than he’d realized initially by the time he was close to the theater, so X stopped at an all-night coffee shop and grabbed a cup before continuing on. In the shop, students at their laptops writing papers; couples sat talking about the general condition of things he couldn’t understand; waiters and busboys and baristas shuffled around with drab looks in their eyes, like the end was slowly creeping up and life was now a matter of these menial actions until the rapture swallowed them whole.
In the movie theater an old man came out and played the organ before every show. The theater seated probably three hundred people at capacity, and the screen was draped in tall red velvet curtains that would be pulled back by ropes and real ushers before each movie started. The film they were playing that particular midnight was Maniac, by Bill Lustig. Lustig was actually in the theater to promote the movie, and before it showed gave the crowd a brief dissertation on his life and times.
The whole thing—film included—wound up being extremely touching to X. The movie would be classified as B trash these days, but Lustig himself was such an earnest fellow when he came out that X couldn’t help but think there was something deeper today’s audience would simply let slip through the cracks on the assumption that its themes weren’t nearly art-driven enough. The movie was, cinematically at least, on the same order as films such as Taxi Driver or Crusing. It hardly had the content to measure up to Scorsese’s masterpiece but the imagery—70s New York as seen through dingy cameras and vile characters—reminded X of it just the same. It traced the life of this murderer who walked the streets at night slashing people up with a knife covered in ketchup, something intended to instill fear in the audience. The audience in the theater that night found most of the film to be hilarious, and X supposed nobody’s ever completely wrong in their reaction to something, but he couldn’t help his sympathizing with its primary character. X was always looking past the characters into the actors that play them, and he always winds up seeming like a fool when it comes to cinema because of it. For instance, his favorite actor, has been for years and always will be, is Harry Dean Stanton. He’s hardly thrown into the same lot as Brando or James Dean, or even contemporary morons like Sean Penn, but all the same he ranks him even higher than his cohorts; to the extent that X considers him peerless. Harry Dean can see that real acting, good acting, comes when you simply are the characters you’re playing, nothing more, nothing less. Harry Dean Stanton’s greatest role, in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, to this day one of the most touching and invigorating performances of a lost man looking for something that can’t be found. That movie changed X’s life. He saw it once when he was much younger out of intrigue, and he’s probably seen it five times a year since then, mostly out of necessity because if he doesn’t reconnect with those characters he feels friendless, like he’s out on some island spending each day walking pathetically into the sun all by himself, alien. So as he sat there watching Maniac, and the crowd howled in laughter, X was touched; touched by the same mystique such men as Harry Dean Stanton in Paris and Michael Douglas in Falling Down possess, and Charles Bronson in Death Wish and Ben Foster in 30 Days of Night as well, the same quality. The outsiders trapped forever on the inside, using all their miserable chances, their long shots, to give viewers something more prophetic and human than X ever found in the Art House.
He walked home along Southport to Lincoln as he had hundreds of times late at night. He passed by the bars outside of Wrigleyville and Lakeview and the droves of howling faces and multitudes of femininity clad in sequined dresses with low-slung tops.
Young professionals would scream at him and inquire as to where he was going as he walked by, hands in his pockets. He thought about hitting just one of them square in the eyes. He thought about walking out in front of a bus and scaring them all half to death. He thought about taking one of their girls away and bringing her home so she could be with someone that’d listen. He thought of all these things, and walked on past the people that would never come to know him, never come to understand, or care. And as he turned onto Lincoln X began to whistle, excited now that he could go upstairs and have an easy night of conversation with a group of strangers before retreating to his quarters where he’d put on some old movie, or some TV show he enjoyed, and fall into a sleep that could last just as long as he needed. Such things are seldom offered in life, such sensations are only given to the very lucky, such an affirmative knowledge that if you should choose to, you could totally disconnect with the world for twenty-four hours and nobody would be the wiser because of it. He breathed it in, slid his key into the door and turned the abrasive lock, cutting his finger lightly on the corner of the door, and as he walked up the stairs whistled Singin’ in the Rain. X could hear Warren already playing songs of the 90s, and as he opened the door their place had never felt more like home.
The dreams he had then were largely influenced by a slew of medication X was taking, some simply to experiment, and some prescribed by medical professionals. He took Citalopram (more commonly Celexa) as an anti-depressant because he was very much depressed. He took Trazodone, a sleeping pill that initially functioned as an anti-depressant, because by and large he almost never got to sleep—he hadn’t taken the Trazodone for several months, however, because he no longer saw the point of sleep. He also took Melatonin, but only when five or so in the morning came around because he liked the effects it had on his infrequent dreams, and finally a mixture of multi-vitamins, each of which contained some crucial element of mental stimulation that X thought he needed. He wouldn’t actually take any of these at a consistent rate, he’d walk around with the Celexa in his pocket and take one or two when he started feeling down—knowing how ludicrous it was—and took the others most often before sleep, however there were many mornings when he’d take them as well, knowing he’d never get to sleep, but wanting some natural-ish bout of hallucination to kick in out of boredom.
The dreams that night all centered around his high school girlfriend, and her family. He was spending the day at their house and her mother and father were fighting intensely about something. He wound up in her mother’s SUV talking with her about her husband, how miserable he made her feel, how confused she was at the prospect of ever living her life without him, how outright angry he made her at times. Eventually X walked out into the driveway, where his girlfriend waited with open arms. He circled around her, for some reason peeling a large grapefruit and marveling at its size. Her father then circled around X and eventually they were all essentially orbiting each other marveling at the size of the grapefruit X held.
X takes certain stake in what a handful philosophers have to say, and he’s always admired Foucault and Camus to the extent of worship; but when the Freudians start rattling off about dreams he imagines showing them a digital projection of how fucked his actually are. The initial assumption from one of them might be that he’s extremely selfish, that even in high school he believed adults to be orbiting around him, waiting for him to say something else about the massive size of the grapefruit (a cock? somehow?) and that such cycles meant that he was doomed to live out similar relationships with little or no emotional pathos for the rest of his boring, and monotonous life.
And do you see it that way? Even as X woke up that day and stood, stretching out his legs and back and smelling the sweet, flat odor of his bedroom, do you see him as a repetitive bastard doomed to said repetition? Let’s take a minute and hope not. Let’s hope old Sigmund was, in effect, a Pop Psychologist, and that nobody on earth ever cared to kill their father, or bed their mother, and we’ll be just fine from here on in.
Warren sat in the cool light of morning at their table with his bathrobe on, a lit Parliament tucked between his pointer and middle finger on his left hand, and a weary-eyed, hung-over smile across his mouth that could break the most resilient of miserable bastards.
“How’d you sleep?” He asked, smiling yet wider. He was listening to Air, the soundtrack they performed for Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides a record he and X were both fond of, that always seemed to set days rolling in an ideal direction.
“Just fine, man. It’s hot as piss in that room though.”
“Yeah well. What are you gonna do?”
“Yep. What can you do?”
Grant Maierhofer is the author of ODE TO A VINCENT GALLO NIGHTINGALE (Black Coffee Press/Drunk Uncle Chapbooks), and The Persistence of Crows (Tiny TOE Press). His work has appeared in Gesture, Brawler Lit, Bright Stupid Confetti, HTMLGIANT and elsewhere. He lives in Wisconsin.