he wakes up. it's dark in his apartment - pitch black. it's the only way he can sleep. even still. he turns on the lamp next to the bed. it's 4:55 pm. he opens the shade to the last light of a short winter day. he just thought he'd try it at first. people were trying all kinds of crazy shit these days - like those kids he saw in the park yesterday. they were all spinning. spinning and spinning. and then they'd fall down and hyperventilate till they passed out. then they would do it again. and again and again, accompanied by a dj who played what could hardly be described as music. it was more like vibrations.
the whole nocturnal thing just began as an experiment. the city was looking for volunteers to become nocturnal, offering incentives like tax breaks, cheap apartments, jobs. he was used to it, having been a musician back when there was such a thing, so he volunteered. he had never actually switched completely to living only at night but he got used to it quickly and now he prefers it - way less people on the streets and it's just quieter. and he doesn't miss the sun. you can hardly go out in it anyway.
he makes himself some noodles on his hot plate. he has to make coffee before his neighbors come home and smell it. he opens his door and goes down the hall to the bathroom. his floor is empty and quiet. no one is home yet. he brushes his teeth and washes his face in the sink. his hair has been gone for a long time so he rarely showers. it's a luxury he can't afford with regularity anyway. back in his room he puts on some music. he looks at his saxophone in the corner collecting dust. since it became more lucrative to become nocturnal he doesn't practice much. the neighbors are always asleep when he's awake, anyway. he picks it up and fingers some lines and the holes open and shut that familiar hollow clicking and clacking sound. he sits down and has his breakfast. after awhile, he puts on his coat and goes out.
he likes living in the city again. if it wasn't for this nocturnal incentive thing he would still be living out in bay ridge in the same apartment he'd had for 25 years. it was nice and by the water but there wasn't much to do. since his wife had died and his daughter moved away he was prone to depression and was looking for a change. now he walks. he walks to the park. he walks river to river. he walks to his part-time job writing copy for the city. but mostly he just walks without having any particular destination in mind.
he stops at a food cart.
'buenos tardes, jesus,' he says.
'hola, amigo. usual?'
'si. nopales. dos.'
jesus opens up two flour tortillas and simultaneously fills them up with the cactus and some salsa. he's not looking at what he is doing and staring out into space says,
'por supuesto!' he loves cheese. even if it isn't really cheese.
jesus hands him the tacos and takes the money off the counter and tosses it in a can where it jingles for a second then settles.
'gracias,' he says after inhaling the tacos.
'de nada, amigo.'
he feels blanketed by the nite. it's cold but not too cold. restaurants are beginning to open and some are closing for the nite. he wishes there was somewhere to hear some music but he wouldn't be able to afford it even if he knew where to go. he tries a few subway stops before he finds someone playing music. not playing with instruments, they are singing a cappella - two ladies almost as old as him. they are singing a christmas carol. right. it's december, he realizes. this is not suiting his mood so he exits the subway and continues walking. he remembers the christmas times with his daughter - with his family. those were some happy times. not like these aren't happy times. there's a feeling of satisfaction that comes with making it this far in life that never goes away. he always has it to fall back on in the lonely times. it's been a good life, after all.
he sees a bar that looks like an old bar but couldn't be. mcsorely's is the only real old bar left and that's nowhere near here. he goes in and looking around the room notices a young girl at the bar. there are tables but something about an actual bar has always appealed to him. nothing will happen sitting alone at a table. anything can happen sitting at the bar. he walks to the end of the bar and sits down exactly two stools away from her - close enough to say something but far enough away to not be obvious. she is reading a book - an actual book. if she happens to look up, if their eyes happen to meet, then he will say something. it happens. she looks up to think about what she just read and looks right at him. she clearly goes from blank stare to focused recognition, so he says,
'a book. wow.'
she laughs and says, 'there are still books. lots of them.'
'i know. it just seemed like a funny ice-breaker.'
'ice-breaker?' she says and laughs again. 'you're funny.'
' what are you reading?' he asked. all books you ever saw outside the library had the same black cover so they looked like tablets.
'oh....nothing.' and she puts the book into her purse.
'no, really. i'd like to know.'
'it's not anything, you know, subversive. i just like books.'
'i wasn't saying that. i just....i like books, too.'
'i gotta go.'
she kills her beer, slings her bag over her shoulder and slaps a couple of coins on the bar kind of all in one graceful motion. and then she leaves without looking at him again.
'bye,' he says after she had left.
he turns down w. 28th st. he knows this block. it used to be lined on both sides with flower shops. there are some vendors on the street selling plastic flowers but all the shops are gone. all the old buildings are gone and in their place the same ultra modern boxes that have become the fashion - cheap to put up and very much in demand. the city was turning into a mondrian painting. he looks across the street and sees this guy in his cube sitting motionless behind his computer. it's 10pm. the sun has been down for hours and he's still working, or maybe just starting. the guy's apartment is on the first floor so he can see the whole thing - no kitchen, one couch behind him. the guy pushes himself back from the computer, takes off his glasses and stretches his arms over his head. he'll go to sleep and wake up and start all over again. and again and again.
he remembers how when he was a boy growing up in the suburbs of st. louis, he swore he would never live in an apartment building - like sardines in a can, his dad used to say. and lord knows you'd never buy one. it's like owning air in the sky. what if the building falls down? what've you got? it's like rent. you pay it and the money's gone forever - making some other guy rich or at least giving him the chance to have a life, to not be stuck in a box in the sky lighting a match to a bunch of cash every single month, year after year - having to work at anything you can do to keep the cash coming. but that's exactly what he ended up doing anyway, going off to the job he couldn't stand every day. he just got to live in a house that he owned. now there are only cities - urban centers. it's the only thing that makes sense. it was weird at first but people will adapt to anything. he'd been around the world and knew that first hand. people will live anywhere.
and so here he was. inertia had him. he swore he'd give new york city a chance for 10 years. he had come from san fran and was reluctant at first. but things change and 10 years turned into 20 and then turned into 30 and now he was nearly 70, old and alone. he coudn't leave now if he wanted to. but he's not sure he would if he could. you try but after awhile you give up. it's not defeat. it's enlightenment. and everything slows down.