If you’ve know me for any length of time, you’ve heard this story, but I’ve never committed it to writing And such things need to be remembered.
In my younger and more vulnerable years, I followed somebody else’s dream to the nightmare city of Indianapolis. We were there to open three gyms, and make our fortune. We succeeded in opening three gyms.
The early part of this tale was awash with money, as a young man of 24 (I think, I could have been 23) I had never seen the kind of cash that rolled into my checking account those first three months. I got a sweet apartment (well, “sweet” given the city I was living in – I came home once to find that a crazy old lady downstairs brandished a knife at police, and was gunned down), bought some clothes and was generally living high on the hog.
Then the money spigot went dry, in a few months I was facing eviction (bouncing paychecks make for tough financial planning). The dark architect of my new life, Mike, had bought a house (with the help of his wife’s income, we were in the same boat employment-wise) in a gentrifying neighborhood bordered by the white-trash hellscape that was 10th street. Oddly, I knew of this area from the Orson Welles film “The Magnificent Ambersons” which took place in this very neighborhood – Woodruff Place. Basically three parallel streets of once palatial homes, fallen on hard times (but bouncing back). Mike found me a place to live in one of the un-gentrified homes that had been split into apartments during the down times.
It wasn’t “bad”, but since it was part of my downward spiral I didn’t have a lot of fondness for it. Didn’t help that a family straight out of “The Hills Have Eyes” lived above me – the father was covered in boils, the mother was mad and looked like a witch from central casting, the son (in his mid-thirties) wore freshly pressed short-sleeved checked shirts and pressed pants a few inches too short (who I believed was a serial killer). There was a fourth, unseen family member who roamed the alleys after dark. I never saw my other neighbors, prostitution and heroin addiction tending toward non-traditional schedules. One day I said good morning to the Witch Mother, her reply was “my shoes don’t fit.” I wasn’t crazy happy, but I didn’t have a lot of choice.
The gym thing imploded, finding a job proved difficult (making me doubly psychotic because I was being rejected by toothless Hoosiers), eventually I took a pity job offered by the contractor who had worked on our gym renovation. He had a side business building cabinets for fish tanks, and had set up a small factory with about seven full-time staff. I became a factory cabinet maker, being a danger to myself and my coworkers due to my lack of skills, but eventually I caught on.
This is a story about a mouse (many mice actually, but there was one Magellan among them that will haunt me till I eat my last carrot cake). All this preamble was to let you know I wasn’t in the best headspace. The apartment itself was basically a square that was subdivided with walls. The kitchen was a thin rectangle (there wasn’t enough clearance for the oven door to be fully opened, it propped on the wall about an inch and a half short). There were built in shelves (an oddly extravagant touch) that shared a wall with a closet in which I kept my drafting table. The “living room” held the three piece sectional couch (forming a “U” shape) I inherited from my parents, which doubled as my bed. I had an old black and white TV on some shelves with my stereo. The only light fixture was a chandelier hanging in the center of the room, it held six bulbs but I could only afford one. The bathroom looked like the one in “Blade Runner”, a sink and a bathtub (no shower), black and white checked tiles.
Gradually, it became clear the place was infested with roaches. They had the high-wire habit of leaping from the chandelier onto the couch, like little acrobats. I once woke to use the bathroom, when I turned on the light I found three of them crushed and stuck to my chest. That I had become so blase to such horrors spoke more to my lack of options than personal fortitude. One night, I was reading a particularly terrifying passage of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary”, I’m not ashamed to say I was genuinely scared. I looked up from my book to see a six foot shadow of a roach – it was doing pantomime in front of a bare bulb on the other side of the room. So, that’s the roaches.
The mice, on the other hand, seemed rather frolicsome. They would run the perimeter of the room, like collegians running track. From time to time they would jump, as if in joy. They seemed content to stay in their border world, but this was just me being delusional, I once picked up the lid to a pot on the counter and had six of them scurry off like I was a cop breaking up a dice game.
Another bonus feature of this place was the hot water, it would trickle from the bathtub faucet like sap from a tree. This meant that if I wanted to have a bath at 4:00 am, I needed to get up at 2:30 or 3:00 to turn on the hot water. This would fill the tub about a quarter, and I would then add cold water until it was “just right”. It was an old claw-foot tub with an overflow drain, the holes cut in a teardrop pattern circling the center. I’m six-four, using a bathtub is a little persons game, I had to comically see-saw my body to get clean. Either my entire torso was exposed, or my legs. I’d plant my feet on the wall to get a luxuriously clean chest.
A vital point to remember is that I am blind as a bat, if I’m not wearing glasses or contacts, I live in a foggy world of mystery.
So, this fateful day, with my eyeglasses sitting next to the tub, I was going about my morning ablutions. I had my trusty plastic Tupperware container I used to dump water on my head, my feet were planted squarely on the wall, all was right with the world. I thought I saw movement in the overflow drain, but that’s silly, what could possibly be in an overflow drain? I continued my bathing, wait, there it is again. I reached over to grab my glasses, and in precise moment they brought the world into focus, a little greasy mouse squeezed through a teardrop, plopped in the water and began swimming straight for my exposed fun-parts. I seem to recall bolting out the front door, down the stairs and into the street buck naked. But this may be a false memory.
Needless to say, I never took a relaxing bath again. In order to function, while I bathed I kept one foot (draped in a washcloth) pressed firmly to the drain, a necessary evil.
I would leave a few inches of water in the tub when I left for the day, and would dutifully harvest the floating corpses when I came home (I was hoping they’d get the message that this was a deathtrap, but mice don’t seem big on abstract thinking). This went on for a couple of months. But from that day I was beaten, Indianapolis had won, it was all over but the crying. I came back to Virginia, tail tucked firmly between my legs, but a smile etched on my yap!