Image/Art by Anthony Clarkson from Mind Space Apocalypse
He returned from Chicago months, maybe a year, later. Atlanta does that with its vacuous suck, like a vortex you need light-speed to escape. There was a lot of back-and-forth, bars and pool halls and jobs and friends and parties. He must’ve called at some point. He had taken to wearing urban black, and carried his camera everywhere. The first thing I remember about his return is he was held and questioned after the Olympic bombing. Probably for running around with his camera carrying a suspicious backpack acting all Kramer and weird.
Our lives began to gravitate around the center of town. I don’t know that any of us lived anywhere in those days. We just worked at places during the day and wandered around all night. My bed was a couch in a college town two hours south of the city, so sometimes I just slept in the car and went swimming or took a shower at a friend’s house.
I met him on West Peachtree, on the sidewalk in front of the Middle Eastern diner and the entrance lobby to his mom’s condo building. He was on a pay phone.
“What do you want on your pizza?” he asked. He had these little slips of paper with credit card numbers on them. He forget something in the condo, so we went in and I said hello to his mom, a submissive redhead with freckles, and the bastard stepfather.
There was a pool deck on the 11th floor, where we would swim some nights, and he took pictures of the white bats that swarmed like satellites around the lights. Sometimes I drove around town. I don’t know where we went. Everywhere and nowhere. We drove past the Stardust drive-in on Moreland, where they sometimes had classic matinees, like a double feature of Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby on Mother’s Day. We drove past the federal penitentiary, tall and romantic and made of stone, where I imagined lost souls were watching us go by from black windows. Paul’s real dad was in the penitentiary.
“Do you remember him? What was he like?”
“Not really. I remember he lost me in a poker game when I was about three.”
“What? Is that true?”
“Yeah. I spent a couple days with a bald guy named Boss. He fed me and stuff. Then my mom found out and she came and got me.”
Not too much later he got kicked out. I found him one night roaming with this guy Hans. Hans had just come in on a Greyhound from the west coast. He was some kind of poet, with white-blond hair slicked back and silver rings in his ears, a stud in his tongue that flicked out between words. He talked and talked.
“I need to find my wife,” he said. “Tomorrow.”
“You have a wife?”
“Yah. She might be hanging around Little Five. I hope. I don’t know. I need to find her.”
My life was a copy of On the Road, and this was Dean Moriarty.
We sit in my car in the pitch black waiting for Paul to grab something else he left at his mom’s.
“So I started making these beaded necklaces out west and I’d sell them. One was yellow and pink. One was three colors, purple and green and yellow. This other one was really cool, silver and black…”. Hans went on like this about necklaces for ten minutes. “Then, I had saved enough money for a bus ticket, so I could go back to writing and quit making fucking beads.”
We hung out at the smoky IHOP uptown for a while, read and drew and drank coffee.
“Where are we going to sleep tonight?”
“What about your place?” Paul said.
“Peter is home. He might not like to wake up with people sleeping on the floor.”
“Who cares? He likes you. He lets you get away with everything. And you give him rides everywhere.”
“Too far anyway.”
“Yah,” Hans says. “I can’t leave the city. I have to find my wife tomorrow.”
“I know a place,” Paul says. “But first, I want to show you something.”
He slides in his key card and waves to the door guard at his mom’s building. We take the elevator to the top floor.
“Come on. Have to take the stairs the rest of the way.”
We climb this back stairwell and Paul opens a painted steel door. The roof is covered, high and peaked and too dark to see.
We fumble along in the dark to a slit of light. Paul climbs under the low overhang, and we follow. There is a concrete ledge, about 12′ by 8′, that is the roof of a row of plate glass windows that runs all the way down to the street. From the edge, you can see all the headlights squirming up West Peachtree, the orange ambience of the city where light touches smog, the Bank of America plaza building, the skywheel, I-75. A hot breeze that is cooler than the stagnant air whips my hair in my eyes. What if you were to fall, or fly, or make love at a place like this concrete and glass Everest?
On the fourth floor, Paul leads us to another door, part of the exterior deck that looks like a janitor’s closet. He swipes his card in the door crack and turnes the knob back and forth. It clicks open. He flips a light switch.
The room is massive, like a whole apartment, like a London garret with a peaked roof and a high window. Nice furniture and paintings are stacked against the wall.
“Welcome home,” Paul says.
“What is this place?”
Hans and I grab the blankets draped over some of the furniture and spread them out on the concrete. One of us turns out the light. It is hot, and the floor is hard, but ultimate freedom lies in discomfort sometimes.