Mike, the diabetic English boy who lived in Apartment One moved out, and Ken, the Ex Con moved in. Mike was going to San Francisco, he never made it, turned around somewhere in Oklahoma and moved back in with his parents when he returned to Greensboro.
I don't know what Ken was in Jail for.
But he was very intent on assuring everyone that despite the fact he'd been in Jail, he was a nice guy. He was a handsome, burly black guy. He burned a lot of incense, which came up through my floorboards, this was to disguise the smell of pot that was also rising up through the air, the combination was heady and fine.
By the time Ken moved in, I had a second cat. A little fat tabby that had belonged to a homeless guy -- my friend Billy was keeping him for the homeless dude and one night he called, "This guy is never going to get an apartment. He's a loser. And he's rough with the cat. I can't afford the vet bills. He's a nice stupid cat, can you take him?"
"Yeah, but . . ."
"Look, I'll tell the dope that I let the cat out and he never came back. He'll be sad for a day and forget all about it. And you get a nice stupid cat out of the deal."
3 o'clock the next morning, Bill shows up at my door with Marley, named for Marley's Ghost, not Bob Marley, "Sorry, here's his food, I had to bring him over now, otherwise the guy might have seen me leaving with him." He put Marley on the floor, Bill the Cat came down the hall and hissed. Two cats, now I had Two Cats.
One Sunday, I was blowin' off pre-exam jitters and I was running up and down and up and down the apartment . . . it was a shotgun apartment afterall, good for laps, and the cats were chasing me. I had the Talking Heads blasting . . . Psycho Killer, fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa . . . It was nine or ten at night. There was a furious knock on my door. I opened it, keeping the chain in place, and there was wide-eyed Nice ex-con Ken, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm great!" I was huffing and puffing and the cats were waltzing and taking swings at one another behind me. The music was blaring. "Why? . . . oh! I'm sorry, I guess I'm making alot a noise!"
"Well, its just I thought your boyfriend might be beating you up." Ken put his hand on his forehead, he was peering in the crook of the door.
"Oh no! He's not even here! And anyway, he NOT like that. I was just playing with the cats."
"You got cats?" He started to press his face inward on the door, I could tell he wanted me to invite him in. I didn't want company. It didn't matter if it was him or Pyro or whoever, I was just in my own world, I wanted to play with my cats and be alone.
"Yeah, I got cats, but don't tell Mr. Eddie. He's okay with one cat, but if he found out I had two, he might get sore at me."
"Well, if you ever need any help, just yell through the floor, okay?"
"Thanks Ken." I shut the door. A few nights later, he had a woman down there. His bedroom was right under mine and I heard her wailing and screaming all night. He kept turning up the music to drown her out. But the louder the music got, the louder she moaned. I finally took my sleeping bag out to the front room and slept on my Therm-a-Rest on the floor under the windows with Brian Eno's Music For Airports on repeat on the stereo . . . finally I went to sleep.
I survived final exams and I graduated from college with no fanfare . . . it was December graduation. No one came to the ceremony. I picked up my diploma at the Administrative Offices. They spelled my name wrong, I had to return it. They told me to come back after Christmas for a new, corrected Diploma. Four and a half years of hard work came down to a missing O.
Christmas came and Pyro and I went to NYC to celebrate my graduation. We stayed in my father's rent controlled apartment on Lexington Avenue, somewhere in the 70s. Pyro had never been to New York City. I took him to the Museum of Natural History and we had Christmas dinner with my grandparents in Connecticut. We flew back to NC on New Years Day.We hadn't slept the night before . . . we were still drunk when we boarded the airplane in Laguardia.
I returned to Silver Avenue to find Ken had two new roomates, actually, two and a half. A lesbian couple and their baby boy. I had been home for fifteen minutes when I heard the baby crying down in Ken's apartment. The cats were pacing. They didn't like the desperate screams of the child. And I was a bit unnerved by it too, but I put it up to holiday visitors. Two days later, the baby was still crying and I met one of the Mothers on the front stoop, she was bringing groceries in the building. She was wearing dark gray, grease covered CoverAlls with her name stitched in red script over her left breast ... Mandy it sang. "Hey" I said, and held the door for her, "You living with Ken now?"
"Yep, me and Terry. And our baby Lonnie. You wanna come in for a beer?"
"No, sorry, but thanks, I'm going to work."
"This time a night?" She cocked her big head at me. She didn't look like a Mandy, her hair was thick and dark and cut real short. Her shoulders were broad, she filled her CoverAlls with masculine bones.
"Yeah, I do the night shift at the library a couple of nights a week . . ."
"Oh yeah, over at the University."
"Sounds boring." She disappeared into the dark of Ken's apartment. The baby Lonnie wailed. The door shut.
Next day I met Ken on the steps, "So, you got roommates?"
"Yeah, wanna come over for a beer."
"Not really . . . um, the baby, it cries alot."
"I know, I think Terry is on Meth or somethin' -- Mandy's straight though. Hey if you need work on your car, Mandy can take care of it for you."
"No Ken, my car is fine. Um, so is Terry down there all day with the baby while Mandy's at work?"
"Yeah, they got a real Man and Wife relationship goin' -- Terry's the wife and Mandy's the bread winner."
"Oh . . ." I didn't care that they were Lesbians. But that baby sounded hungry and sad. My cats were getting more and more nervous by the day. Something about cats and hungry babies, have you ever noticed that?
Next night, there's a knock on my door. Its Terry. She's got the baby, and she's stoned out of her mind, on somethin', she's got one eye looking south and one looking west. The baby smells bad, hasn't been changed. Terry's one fisting two beers. She has short brassy hair, a permanent gone wrong, but there was something about her face, she was pretty once, I think to myself. I open the door wide for her and she practically falls into my living room, "Hey neighbor!"
"Hey." I close the door and shoo the cats to the back of the apartment.
"Sure, sure, um, why don't you have a seat?" I direct her to the only thing to sit on in the living room, a little second hand love seat I found on the street. She hands me the beers and I take them to the kitchen, fumble for an opener and return to find her with the baby slipping from her arms. I scootch the boy back into her grasp and hand her the beer. I was freaked out. Pyro was due to come over, I wanted him there right away. I didn't know what to do.
"So Mandy got mad at me tonight and left. She's out drinking, pickin' up sluts. And so I was lonely and thought I'd come up here and find out what yer deal is. Mandy says yer a Librarian?"
"Well, I work at the library, but I'm not a Librarian really."
"Wherez yer glasses?"
"Excuse me? Oh, you want a glass for your beer?"
"Naw, that was a JOKE -- glasses! Librarian! Get it?"
"Oh, no, oh, gosh, yeah yeah, sorry."
"That's okay. I guess yer real smart aren't ya?" She shifted the baby around like he was not a living thing. He belched and cooed and god, he smelled bad, poor little thing. And I didn't know anything about babies back then, still don't really.
"Smart? Oh I don't know, probably not. I mean I live here don't I? So that makes me . . ."
"Stupid! Ha, yer livin' with the stupid people!" She took a long draw on the beer and her head wobbled and then she sort of glared at me, "Do you know how I got pregnant with this boy?"
"Well, I have an idea, I mean . . . '
"Nah! I mean, Mandy ain't the father, although, she likes to claim she gotta d**k . . ."
"Oh, oh, well . . . um . . . " I squirmed, I drank the beer.
"Nah, I'll tell ya. About a year ago, I was roller skating . . . "
"Um, roller skating?" The thought of Terry on roller skates was hard to conceive of for me at that moment.
"YES! I was ROLLERSKATIN' home from my waitressin' job and these two guys hit me with their car and raped me."
"Yeah, really! Why? Don't you believe me?" Terry leaned forward and spilled her beer all over the floor. I grabbed the bottle and took it to the kitchen. I found another beer for her in the fridge and took it back to her. When I returned to the living room, she was up and stumbling for the door, "Listen, Miss, I ain't known you too long, but I want to ask you somethin." She held the baby Lonnie in one hand and had her pale thin hand on the door knob, "Will you loan me some money?"
"Um, well, no, sorry Terry, I don't have any money to loan you."
"That's bullshit and you know it."
"Really, Terry, I think you ought to leave now. I'm sorry I can't loan you any money."
"I'm gonna come up here one day when yer at work and kill yer cats."
She slipped through the door and I closed it. I listened to her stumble down the stairs. I hoped she would make it down the two flights without falling or dropping baby Lonnie.
Next morning, I knocked on Kimmie's door before I left for work. She came sleepily to the door. She was absolutely stunning beautiful even when she had just rolled out of bed . . . Kimmie rarely left her apartment, she was a movie star you see, "Wha, what is it, Wolfy, is everything okay?"
"Can you just check on my cats while I'm gone today? Here's my key."
"Are they okay? One of them sick?"
"No, just make sure no one kills them while I'm at the library."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'll explain when I get home, right now I'm late. I have twenty students to train how to shelve books today, I don't have any time."
"Okay . . . honey?"
"I'll just bring them over here for the day, they can play with Pussums."
"Great! See you tonight."