An empty city


“Basket Case,” Kiran said. “That song is my life right now.”

“Am I the the shrink or the whore?” I opened iTunes and typed in Green Day. No results. My harddrive crashed recently, amputating my music library.

“I dunno,” he answered. “Before you asked that, I would have said the shrink.”

I asked, “And now?” I left the room to rifle through my CD collection, grabbed two Green Day CDs: INTERNATIONAL SUPERHITS! and American Idiot.

“I dunno.”

Rip “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known. I don’t know where it goes.
I walk this empty street on the boulevard of broken dreams. The whole city sleeps and I’m the only one, I walk alone.

My song for while I was working the overnight shift for Allied Barton. Not that I listened to it while working there–I don’t even think I had it at the time–but I can’t listen to it now without thinking about that time.

In those hours boston was my city, those dark, starless hours of night, all the lights of Mass General were on and all the roads unused. I owned the city for a few lonely but potent moments. A civilization’s infrastructure at my disposal for no particular purpose: I did not have the wheels the concrete was placed down for; I had no use for the buildings around me.

Near 11pm, I would leave my rowhouse on Cambridge Street, and then I felt like Prufrock, awkward in my stiff short-sleeve Oxford and uncomfortable blackish uniform pants. One night some girls stopped to flirt with me, drunk enough to think a collared man in a hurry would make fair sport. Another night, an SUV drove by and a man leaned out the window and yelled URKLE at me. My hope is that he was drunk, too.

Left onto Blossom, and the Holiday Inn attendants always looked at me funny. I was the wrong color and income bracket to work an overnight security shift, and they all knew it. It took me a few years to realize it, but at its core Boston is a racist town, and I was taking a good job away from a black man who was likely in more need of regular money than me.

Do I need to defend these statements? All but two of my coworkers were black, one an overweight white man and one a Latina. My manager was black, as were his bosses. The only healthy whites I saw worked in corporate, where the color ratio was again established in a way I had seen before, white majority. Everyone at Hawthorne had worked the job for years, the young ones only four but the oldest among them for fifteen and twenty. I only stayed for four months, and I could see it in the Holiday Inn workers’ eyes that even they knew I wasn’t cut out for the work.

Hours alone in my little office. Close both windows and turn on the space heater; it’s the only way to get by in those Boston nights. The winter chill settled into Boston around one each night, though none of the daydwellers would ever know because the more comfortable fall weather came back with the morning sun. Do some homework. Get restless. Wonder why you don’t write, and then don’t. Wonder why you don’t, ad infinitum.

On my break at three o’clock, the city held a different story. Ashley liked me to come home on these breaks even though she had to wake up in the morning, so I would walk home. I lingered in the streets, daring cars to round the bend and give me a thrill of fear, but none ever did. Brick rose up as high as my limited perspective could see, and fluorescent lights flooded into the streets, and no one ever disturbed the windows.

I liked to walk through the hospital’s campus instead of around the corner with the gas station–the homeless didn’t go into those streets because of the private security patrol–but either way I had to pass the oxygen tanks, which for some reason reeked of death and fungus every night. Fog fell off them like a cheap movie stunt, which always put me in the mood for an adventure with a building caddycorner:

At one point a rowhouse, MGH had snatched it up and turned it into some research facility, the windows boarded up so no one could look in and yet things definitely went on in there. Someone had also posted a Biohazard sign near the door, RFID’d and coded rather than just locked. Now the building stood isolated on the corner of two small streets, surrounded on one side by a parking lot and the other by a parking structure. What exactly went on in that dilapidated building that they hadn’t just torn it down like the others for more parking space? Were there people in there now, as I passed by? Was the zombie apocalypse going to begin across the street from my home? Could this be the exact scenario by which writers come to write scary movies and zombie apocalypses? And then, because every night I would forget, a blast of warm and humid air smacked me in the face, and it smelled almost like exhaust against the cold and crisp night air. Every night with that fucking vent. And then I’d be at Cambridge Street and then home.

Only once did I disturb a man sleeping in my building’s entryspace. I opened the open door and reach my key out towards the lock on the closed door, and there underneath me was an apologetic man: I’m so sorry, he said as he scrambled to get something together on the floor, perhaps the never-attended-to and always-accumulating stack of Beacon Hill Times. Flustered, I told him, “It’s no problem,” but I had to wait for him to leave before I could move into the building. It made me sad when I came back down that night and he wasn’t there; I would not have begrudged him a night’s sleep.

Kalli would always hear me climbing up the four flights of stairs, and she would hop out of bed with a thunderous clomp as her long nails hit the wood floor. Then she would skitter in front of the door until I opened it like a young child capable of waiting with excitement at any time of day. Clip clip clip her nails would click, waking Ashley just enough so that when I came in she could say, “Hi, honey,” before turning over and falling back asleep. I would kiss her before going into the kitchen to reheat my dinner, and out of sympathy I would sit with my laptop in the living room and do something silent. Always during the day she would say she liked it better when I sat in the bedroom to eat.

When did I start playing World of Warcraft again? That job, that Allied Barton job, played a direct hand in it, as did Ashley wanting me to be awake on the weekends to spend time with her. At least twice per week I had to change my sleep schedule, and for a while TV was enough to stay up for thirty-six hours, but always after watching enough TV I’ll start playing video games: one is a much more engaging format than the other. And though Ashley knew the role WoW had played in the dissolution of my relationship with Sarah, her fight against it was minimal. Sometimes then, after scarfing dinner, I would watch quietly a TV show; later I would log into WoW and do part of the leveling to 80. On occasion I would jot notes that had filled my head while walking home.

**

Whew, that’s about as much as I can get down this morning. I hope it’s worth something to someone other than me, even if it’s not finished.

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1 Comment

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

One response to “An empty city

  1. Ashley

    I loved it! I can’t wait to read more… who knew you could turn that time in our lives into something beautiful, engaging, and at times exciting!

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