by Tim Gilmore, 6/18/2012
As the mortgage clerk sat on the brick stoop in front of the 90 year-old brick foursquare apartment building with a Sam Adams beer in hand, and as the live oaks in front of the street-corner apartment block hung their Spanish moss in the cool evening air, even as he missed his children who spent the night westward in the city with his ex-wife, as he waited with a peacefully anticipatory patience for the night to come, and as the cars and the pickup trucks and gargantuan SUVs grumbled too fast down Post Street into Five Points proper or even faster away from Five Points proper and the downtown office jobs behind it toward the extensive and bland Westside of town and all the suburbs there that wore themselves out in a mere 20 or 30 years, and as the first guest arrived, a young half-grown poet who later tonight would read a poem about Jacksonville that seemed an angry address to Andrew Jackson, and as the tall Cuban poet and artist and musician arrived, a charismatic man with his heart in his eyes and his mouth who later tonight would play the guitar and sing a farcical serenade, and as the St. Augustine poet arrived with his wild bushy hair and his beard and his glasses who spoke so softly you could hardly hear his poems with their long lines and intricate descriptions within descriptions with side clauses significantly subordinating and subjunctive, and as the young woman arrived with her kind and intense eyes who would later read her gentle and almost Christlike story about one kiss, and as the uninvited reporter from the alternative weekly arrived with his dreadlocks and, because being progressive would be predictable, his ultraconservative rant about how women should get back to the 1950s, and as the wise and quiet black woman from New Orleans came and read a story that was designed to make everyone laugh before they realized they’d laughed at some racist stereotype and wished they could rescind their laughter, even as the moon put in an appearance over the oak trees and the top stories of old houses, even as he realized his invitations to all these writers and musicians ignored the emptiness of his upstairs leftside (if facing the building from the street) apartment, with its back bedroom consisting of nothing but a mattress on the floor where he slept and a computer where he wrote a novel that would never be published called Everything (the year before David Foster Wallace wrote [and had published] Everything and More—the bastard! six years before David Foster Wallace hung himself), and in front of the bedroom the bathroom and in front of the bathroom that tiny kitchen and in front of that tiny kitchen the fireplace and the books and the couch and recliner where his tiny daughters slept, and even, even, even as he felt all that guilt, all that shame shame shame that his daughters slept on a couch and a recliner in a noisy apartment building on a noisy street, even as he is ignorant of how one day the pictures of his daughters, in this tiny apartment where they lived when they were too young to remember, break his heart and bring back all that shame and guilt, the two year-old crying at night, screaming, screaming with such rage—how could such a small and dependent person exhibit such rage?—that he was sure the neighbors must have thought he was beating her, but what he did that was worthy of such shame was the violence of creating an existence for them in which they had to sleep through the night on a chair or on a hard and scratchy couch, even as he sat on the front brick stoop, even as he sipped the lager, even as the guests kindly began to arrive, even as they walked up the wooden stairs that separated sides of the building and the building’s floors, Apartment #3, corner of Post and Goodwin, as this woman arrived just to listen, when no one else arrived just to listen, and listening became an art form, and as he found himself watching her throughout the night, with her thick dark hair, and her deep eyes, and her olive skin, as the mortgage clerk found himself thinking throughout the night and the week and the months ahead of the Latina admissions director from the university, even as the next time he had this kind of gathering in the apartment, she could not come, she was out of town, and the second-story apartment windows were open, and it had been raining, and an enormous cockroach came through the window and flew in maddening ellipses in everyone’s faces around the room, so that people screamed, even then, yes, even then.
In the apartment below, the middle-aged balding man with the ponytail taught high school music and at night loudly practiced his Southern Rock cover band.
In the apartment across the landing lived a 22 year-old woman who dated a bodybuilder in his mid-40s, and when he visited, they screamed bloody murder at each other, and things crashed against the walls behind her door.
In the first-floor apartment on the other side of the building lived a young woman who drove a jeep and had long blond hair and never made a sound except for when she had friends stay the night and they laughed and giggled and howled all night long.