FROM CHAPTER 3
TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET
I awoke before dawn and took my place by the glass dividing inside from out. The great City lay beyond. I made motions as if to commence a customary activity, over and over, only to find myself again staring numbly out the window.
When I managed to dislodge myself, all attempts at action conspired to humiliate me. I sliced open my finger quartering an orange and spilled coffee on the buffalo rug. I closed my shirt buttons wrong, fumbled a dropped spoon a second time, tried again, and in consequence of rage at the repeated ineptitude, bungled into a third demonstration of the same. A conspiracy of mishaps tore at my dilapidated ego. As punishment, I imagined myself at a booting machine where I could yank on a rope to lever a wallop to my hapless butt.
Some lesson seemed to need learning, but what it was continued to elude me. I had to think and could not. My brain refused to comply. I was merely alive, an animal lost in a stare.
I well knew the unspoken standards of the industry: more than four or five months on the shelf, I’d be considered defective merchandise. A recession could take years, which meant I might never get back on the gravy train again, even if I managed to pay off the most pressing debts. Since Manhattan had been privatized, the stakes had risen with every passing year. For the likes of me, salary just covered rent. I had to trade my own account on the side to eat and dress. I was heading down and cheap digs far out in Brooklyn would be my first way-stop. At the bottom of the spiral awaited residence in some “trickle town” where trickle-down never reached. Some of these trailer parks had grown into trailer cities of the long term excommunicated. They were plagued with disease, crime, and conflagration. Those fallen from the Street had their own black market there among the millions fallen from past bubbles bursting. The poor ate the poorer in an endless struggle to survive.
Unless I could climb back in the saddle, and soon, I was finished with the top, finished with Empire City.
All residency was luxury on the Island. The Old Man decreed brutal rents which gave new meaning to what market would bear. My studio with kitchen digs commanded eighty-five percent of what I made at Merchant, more rent in a month than for similar digs elsewhere for a year. For some newcomers to the City envisioning a seat at this table worth any sacrifice, ninety-five percent was a common rental peonage, and of course roommates were forbidden in studios, I had to bear the rent alone. There was no margin for error.
Today there would be no plotting a course of action more future than my next breath, I knew well enough. I had no mind for it. The larger questions loomed with sad insistence, unspoken. I did not know what to do. I understood only that I was hurt and my wounds needed tending.
I don’t know how the day passed. I was clouded, tired, dumb with feeling and bereft of mathematics. I was nearly broken, utterly. Evening came, darkness a balm to my injuries. I should be out shivering alone in the winter woods for the truth of my circumstances, I thought, not here sipping whiskey in rare comfort.
Tomorrow would be time enough for higher brain functions. There was no reprieve from the sullen glare of consciousness but sleep that would not come.