Rooming Houses

18 Mar

“Send out for scotch.”
I love that line. It’s from an old song called Peel Me a Grape. You probably won’t remember that one. Before your time. But listen, I’ve been telling you all these stories, all these years, and I think I’ve finally run out of them. And now I’m too old to go looking for new ones. I know, I know…but I’m not good at making up stuff I don’t know first hand. At least a little bit, you know. Oh yea, this one’s good too: “Some Argentines without means do it, people say in Boston even beans do it…” Cole Porter. “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love.” Before your time; the love part too.

They don’t have too many rooming houses anymore. You can still find a few in the city, but mainly they’re gone. I don’t know, there’s enough people out there who still need them, so I don’t know where they go. Streets, I guess. Or underground. In subway tunnels. I don’t know. There’s still one down on the Bowery called the Sunshine Hotel. It’s at 241 Bowery. I lived in that one for almost two years. I took photographs of all the people, but I ripped them up in winter of sixty-nine. I couldn’t stand looking at them. All those faces. They had no say in me taking their photos. It’s almost as if they were abused by that. And I couldn’t stand it. So I ripped them up and burned them outside in a trashcan. Made a fire you could see from three blocks down. Oh listen, this reminds me… you know what some artist did to the Sunshine Hotel a few years ago? She ran a PVC pipe outfitted with mirrors from street level to the second floor lobby. Passersby and hotel residents were able to have conversations through the tube. She created a conduit for interactions that otherwise would have been unlikely to occur. No one really wants to talk to these people. Just exploit them. That’s why I burned the photographs. People love to make art from others’ suffering. They love to show the faces filled with pain. What I know is, there’s no valor or gallantry in life. Nor death. There’s nothing in those. Nothing.

I had a neighbor when I lived at the Sunshine, he was an Indian. I think you call them Native Americans now. Big guy. Nicknamed Ridge. Drank like a fish. He first told me about Cheyenne Champagne. Years before anyone knew what in hell that was. Rubbing alcohol. That’s what they drank on the reservations, the Indians. They were too poor to get booze. So they drank rubbing alcohol. That’s what Ridge drank. Anyway, he had the best baritone you’d ever heard. We used to make him sing Puccini in the afternoons, before he got too tight. Best goddamned baritone. Got stabbed in the washroom one morning by some Italian guy on the third floor, over a room that had come empty which both were squatting over. They sent him to Bellevue on First Avenue, but he was back the next day with a big band-aid. That’s all they did for him. Believe that? Anyway, I know this is boring. Oh yea, this is a good one too: “And down by the shore an orchestra’s playing, and even the palms seem to be swaying…” It’s Begin the Beguine. Cole Porter, before your time.

Ridge got killed July 1, 1969. I remember that date because it was my thirtieth go ’round. It was no big deal. He slipped and fell in his room. Bashed his forehead and cut his throat on the pane of glass separating the little entryway from where he kept his bed. Some men came to get him out of there and the Italian on the third floor ended up getting Ridge’s room. I moved out the following month and went to live in a cardboard box in Atlanta, in a public park. Figured if I was gonna be a tramp, I might as well be somewhere where it’s warm.

It’s like I said, kid. There’s no valor or gallantry in life. Nor death. There’s nothing in those, no matter what others try to tell you; how they try to make it. There’s nothing in those. It’s just part of natural history. The earth don’t give a shit about any of it.

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4 Responses to “Rooming Houses”

  1. Slyboots 18/03/2008 at 7:32 PM #

    I got a William Kennedy vibe from this one. Only a little warmer, and it didn’t make me want to go put my head in an oven. I’ll take that. Probably the Cole Porter. Hard to completely give up when Cole Porter plays in your head. And he does in mine some times.

  2. (S)wine 18/03/2008 at 7:34 PM #

    Ah nice. Yes, I get the WK vibe too–but only now that you mention it. Interesting how stuff sounds to people. Always fascinated by that.

  3. Lazy 20/03/2008 at 4:51 AM #

    no medals for the heroism of everyday life eh, sunshine?

  4. (S)wine 20/03/2008 at 7:01 AM #

    None.

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