The elevator shuddered to a stop. The doors, after some consideration, squeaked slowly open on rusty hinges. I stepped into the lobby and pretended to ignore the eyes, those glassy globules that focused on me with hawklike intenstity the moment I exited the elevator. Rheumy eyes that belonged to old men with bad habits, who never washed, and dunked their cake in endless cups of coffee, thick fingers so covered with grime, it had embedded itself beneath the skin. A grime tattoo. They would sit at the bar for hours, drinking the insipid stuff, and dunking their cake, until about 5 O'clock- at which point they turned into pumpkins and mice, I assumed.
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Walking past this array of angry old age is like running a gauntlet with a perpetual case of the sniffles. The smell of medicinal treatments best left uninvestigated enters through the nostrils and pinpoints the consciousness centers in the brain, shutting them down one after another. Many an unwary tenant has blacked out under their influence, and woken to find himself lying on the corner of 42nd street, naked and smelling heavily of Tiger Balm. Best not to ask questions.
I nodded at the assembled elderly, who snarled back pleasantly behind pearly-white dentures. The lobby was very dim, and the fresh dentures gleamed like nightlights in the gloom. I swished my way through the thick shag carpeting, past the Charybdis of unguents- I was holding my breath- out the lobby doors, and into the street.
KA-POW! After the thick dimness of the lobby, the sun was blinding, a lighthammer, and for a moment I was exposed to attack by mugger, ghost, or senior citizen as I hunted blindly for my sunglasses. None took the opportunity, however, and I jammed the shades down over my eyes. Sunlight kills, anyone who knows anything knows that.
I stood there on the sidewalk, caught in the intertia of a particularly bright morning. Sunlight dampens the decision-making parts of the brain- morning sunshine more than most. You can sometimes walk the streets around 8 o'clock (9 in the winter) and see groups of posh urbanites just standing there, so irradiated with sunlight that their decision-making processes have frozen up at the prospect of getting a cup of coffee. In most cases, the affected parties come to understand the nature of their plight, and find tables to sit down at before considering anything. They call this communal sitting 'brunching'.
I turned right, and headed down Willow Street.
Men and women in creased brown suits and navy blue skirt-blouse combos that matched their faux-leather handbags metronomed here and there on shoes with hard, uncompromising soles. No one person walks the same, and you can tell a lot about a person by how they walk. It it confident, head held high? Slump-shouldered? It it work or stress? Are they in a hurry? I dared not analyze my own walk. I didn't desire to know about myself.
Open-air cafes played bad jazz and 'authentic' Chinese hymns, recreated on synth machines that could mimic high-pitched human voices with 70% accuracy, tuned just so as to winnow in under the conscious mind and jump into the forebrain the next time the unlucky cafeii strolled past a copy of the synth-machine operator's newest one-man orchestra's symphony in B minor. The right chords, when played in the proper order, could kill.
A hotdog vendor on the corner of Willow and Main looked at his sign, and I could tell that he was envisioning the words 'All Natural Soy Dogs - $2.00' instead of 'Hot Dogs - 99 Cents. An obese woman in a powder-blue pantsuit called out for someone named Mary, and a passing street-preacher, not yet devoid of his sanity or his teeth, tried to help her by reciting every passage of the Reconstructed Bible with the word 'Mary' in it. A scrawny brown dog vaulted the curb on the other side of the street and turned to look at me. I shrugged at him, and he continued on his way. A car stereo played 'Sledgehammer' with the bass too far up. Seven newspapers sat outside the front door of a white house, decaying. The house next to it had been bulldozed to the ground, sometime during the night.
At Main Street and Birch, the light turned red and I skittered across the street with the rest of the faceless. I turned, crossed the street again, and headed down the far side of Birch. Collie would just be taking in his all-in-one hangover cure: A pot of hot coffee with enough sugar to induce spontaneous attacks of diabetes in every other form of life known to civiized man. Collie himself was not human. I was convinced that he had been constructed entirely from synthetic materials. This was the only logical explanation for why Collie was still alive.
A brown brick house squatted between yards with tiny little gardens that sprouted dull, uninteresting flowers and weeds by the handfull. Houses stood, shaded by looming willow trees and not-quite-so-looming oak trees that did their best to hide the spot of land they'd been assigned to, but looked more embarassed than anything else. Collie told me that his father had left him the house when he died. If so, his paterfamilius was probably throwing fits in whatever afterlife he'd been consigned to. Collie had no respect for property, his own or anyone else's. From the outside, the house looked relatively normal, maybe in need of another coat of paint, sure, but...
When I arrived, the door was already open. Not unlocked, but thrown open, so that I, the neighbors, and all the world could see inside if it or we cared to. I wondered if Collie showered like that. I wondered if Collie showered. From inside, the sultry strains of Dire Straits poured out like liquid coffee, showering the street in uncouth sound. I didn't bother knocking, he wouldn't have heard behind the noise. Instead, I stood in the doorway and listened to the music and really didn't do much of anything until a voice from inside, like cherry-flavored doom, yelled out:
"Renton! You can't hide out there forever, man! Come inside, and DON'T shut the door! I'm trying to piss off the old lady across the street!"
I went inside.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.