Number 8, Number 8

Smoky used to live at the Edwards, right next to Kay, the 90-year-old guy from Japan who used to be a bouncer at the Hotel Rex when it was a cathouse at the turn of the century. Kay gets this Japanese newspaper about twice a week, and he never had a wife, but Smoky drank and didn’t have either.

I used to see him when I’d pass down the hall, since being the Authority in the absence of the owners meant he collected the rent for them and swept the stairs. So he was a busybody and always knew what was going on; he’d be the one to tell you to turn the music down, this crotchety old man so drunk you didn’t want to fuck with him or make him mad. About half the time his door was open and one or another of the street Indians would be in there, and you could see this paleolithic face staring at the TV with Smoky, and a big old bottle on the table along with some beers for chaser. Smoky always had about forty bottles of pills right on the same table and I always wished he was corrupt enough to want to sell some of the good ones for booze money but you never got anywhere with these guys, these World War Two vets with their world war two ideas about morality: if the doctor gives you something to get wasted on, why, go ahead, but if it’s some punk-age kid, well, bullshit on that. Fuck.

Ed Gardner I asked about it, since I knew he had cancer, and he was some kind of crazy to boot, once got in hot water for rape or something, and used to bust up his little rooms on a regular schedule of hopeless rage until they got him hooked on every downer in the book and his teeth fell out. He used to hang around late, late at night because there isn’t (wasn’t) a single other person in this whole god-damned town that would talk to him for more than ten seconds… the waitresses being about it: “What’ll you have today, Ed.

But he never came through even with all the artful devices… he didn’t need the money, and it must have been some catholic upbringing in him (he told me the whole Mass in Latin one night, drool and all, in a transport of piety) that prevented this transfer of doctor-authority.

So Smoky was, beside Kay and Ben, the oldest guy there, who had been there the longest, and probably couldn’t have told you shit about all the different things and people he’d seen and known throughout his reign as the shadow-government of the Edwards. More like some rhythmical consciousness that comes to all these drunks: hospital is where it starts, when you wake up maybe, and then it goes in steps: money (somehow), familiar faces and street corners, red & blue lights, or vomit all over your face, and shirt, then bars on the door and back to the dry-out center. They get into the sacred when they break the stride, either when no money comes through and they see the faces only without being drunk — everybody is different! — or at the dry-out sessions, and both of ’em are hell-sacred, torture places. Smoky must have, since he didn’t go on binges… this slow, steady decline, like a scientist measuring it out to avoid the bumps… had a different rhythm; measured out by the people around him. Every year the owners went on vacation for awhile; every day Ben Jordan would be up early and in a foul mood unless he took his medication, in which case he’d be telling you baseball scores from 1920; every week some new drifter got a room with his last ten bucks and then vanished. In slower time, there would be all the reformed drunks who were trying to be Biblical scholars, like the one who had a Ph.D. on prehistorical middle east stuff, or these failed psychologists like Bob who get fired from dishwashing jobs; maybe some deaf old jerk who was a cook until he got his pension from the government and just doesn’t care about anything except expressing his contempt for everybody. These guys would stay a few months, maybe a year, and become part of the family, the anti-family of all black sheep.

So anyway, this guy Doug Smith that I know drifted through town and I told him the Edwards was the chapel door, if you wanted to be entered into the lowdown section you had to pass through a residence there. If you wanted to really earn your name you had to be kicked out, but since he took off before he had a chance to do this, he left a dead black cat in his freezer for the owners to discover.

Doug was in number eight, where Smoky used to have quiet parties. One day nobody saw him for awhile and they went up and knocked on the door but all they found inside was Smoky dead. Ben says his skin was all black. When Doug was there you never would have known some old worthless shit had pissed in the same bed, and then died there when some spirit came out of the same closet to cart off all the people fool enough to rent that room at that place, the last stop before hell or Sheridan if you’re gonna stay alive for a while. Nobody cared except the owners who had to clean up all the shit from twenty years of not sweeping under the bed, and Ben, who’s getting old, and maybe somebody who had to update his file at Social Security. Sorta weird, like the exact opposite of some king whose ministers would hide the body until they found somebody they could elevate immediately after the announcement, ant railroad it through the Senate.

Originally appeared in Inside Joke #27

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