|Illustration by Mike Lee|
AT 9 A.M., ESPECIALLY, IT WAS A HARD DRIVE TO THE self-storage facility on Olympic, where fragments of my life had been optimized in sector J-351, the farthest space from the elevator. J-351 was 10 feet deep, 5 feet wide and 9 feet high. I found parking beside the dumpster across from the loading dock — second-best spot in the lot — locked my '79 Honda and walked the plank to the front office, where, through a half-open Dutch door, facility manager Stanley Borowitz's television set revealed three smiling young women in fluorescent bikinis flirting with a skateboard-riding, beer-swilling dog.
Budweiser. At 9 a.m. Borowitz sat there preening his ridiculous mustache, staring at the transition from commercial back to what appeared to be football halftime festivities.
“Good morning,” I said, unable to recall Borowitz's name.
Borowitz half-stood and pushed a clipboard at me, his eyes still pinned to the marching band.
“Good morning,” said Borowitz. “How's it going?”
“Not bad,” I said, filling in the blank with J-351, then printing and signing my name. “Game on already?”
“It's a tape,” said Borowitz.
“Syracuse and Duke.” Borowitz snatched up the clipboard, reseated himself and raised the volume. “Good tight game so far. All tied up at 14.” He tapped his pencil three times and groomed his mustache with the back of his wrist. “But about 10 minutes into the second half, Syracuse pulls away and just dominates.”
“You've already seen it?”
“Yeah. I taped it last Saturday. Duke's quarterback gets creamed, and Syracuse recovers the fumble and scores, so then Syracuse gets all pumped up and wins by 17.” I didn't know what to say. Borowitz fast-forwarded until the teams ran onto the playing field. The crowd went nutz. “All right!” Borowitz barked at them. And, at me: “Take 'er easy.”
I backed into the elevator and punched the coordinates for J-351. It felt good to be moving again, even for a few seconds. I missed my bed.
The doors opened and thick, doughy smells wafted in. Spackle. Dry wall. Latex. Huge fans rumbled. I twisted the timer on the wall as far as it went, 45 minutes. The fluorescent hall lights sputtered for a few seconds, then came on all at once, revealing the dank modern catacombs. It reminded me of the haunted mineshaft at Silver Dollar City, Missouri. No windows. Just the pale-green light, the rumbling fans, the hollow clicks and thunks from sectors unknown.
Light spilled only about halfway into J-351. I'd defragmented my data in such a way that the path through the stacked-up boxes, rolled-up paintings, dismantled furniture and stretcher bars could accommodate the throughput of exactly one Dave. At the path's end, just beyond the chest of drawers, a threadbare upended mattress spanned precisely the width of J-351.
My bed: Seeing it there sheetless and vertical brought on, as it had each morning around 9 a.m. for the past few weeks, a familiar panic — a swollen attack of confusion bursting forth from nowhere within to unleash unfathomable turbulence throughout every cell in my brain. I couldn't swallow.
But I didn't really have time. Had to get to work. At the now-defunct Pence Gallery, one of the Colorado Avenue galleries in Santa Monica, where I earned $7 an hour, Tuesday through Saturday. Not enough, apparently, to rent horizontal bedspace.
Found a gallery-boy-style shirt, tie, slacks and even socks. And a pair of dark leather shoes. Dressed quickly, nearly falling into the hallway, and left.
Almost. Just inside the door was an old kettle grill. I removed the lid. Inside were a dozen or so tin pints of oil paints, dented and coated with fingerprints, drippings, sawdust, newsprint. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, savoring the vapors like a favorite meal.
And my swallow returned. Which was nice. But I was late. So I opened my eyes.
And closed the kettle, secured the J-351 padlock, walked quickly to the elevator, pressed the button, tapped a dark leather foot for a second or two, then — fuggit — ducked into the stairwell and hightailed it downstairs.
There, Borowitz's head appeared in profile through the half-open Dutch door. “Yes!” Borowitz barked and preened at the tape of the game that he'd already seen. “Yes! Yes! Yes!“
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