Upon my arrival in the city I slammed my mattress down on the ground and tried to fall asleep, but the screeching of the elevated trains kept me awake, so I walked into an alleyway camera shop where I bought a threesome of cigarillos.
Next, I headed over to the Journal headquarters to see about any openings.
“Nothing here,” they told me.“Try the Tribune.”
But the Tribune, apparently, had been shut down. No more Tribune—just gold-grilled doors wrapped in chains, and water splashing about the front pavement.
I looked down the avenue and, in the distance, saw neon purple lights flashing HOSPITAL. I ran into a barber shop to use the restroom—the railroad chicken-gravy dinner had caught up with me and sent my stomach into a dyspeptic fit.
I left the barber shop feeling well, and went in search of a pocket clock. I entered a liquor store to buy one, but the man behind the counter pointed a rifle at my chest and informed me that they’d run out of timepieces months ago.
“Something strange is happening in this city,” I told him. “I like it.”
I journeyed downstairs to the subterranean avenue, hoping to find a steakhouse, and was met with a heaving sea of triangular men and women fighting over yellow taxis. It was too crowded to see anything else, so I walked down another level to the parking garages to inquire about an automobile.
A man in a clear plastic box told me through some holes that I’d need an identification card if I wanted to pick up a vehicle.
“There’s nothing we can do for you!” he shouted through the holes.
So I ran upstairs and looked south down the coast of the lake to try and track down a steel mill, sand dune, helipad, anything. I failed, and tumbled down a marble staircase inside of a bridge column and landed in an aluminum river taxi. I asked the driver to take me to the fish market. He dropped me off on a small island in the shadow of a moldering slaughterhouse. The island was packed with ferns, the air moist. I lay down upon a sweat plant and took a nap.
When I woke up, I found myself surrounded by a pack of children with coal-blackened faces and bright green parrots on their shoulders.
“What’s up?” the tallest child asked.
I told him I didn’t know, rolled off the sweat plant, and tried to find my way to an edge of the island to catch another river taxi back to the city. One particularly light-footed child trailed me and when I tried to brush him away with my newspaper he shoved a transistor radio into my back pocket. I thanked him, and he scurried up a 12-foot palm tree.
I stood on the edge of the island with my hand out. It had gotten a bit lighter outside at this point, it must have been dawn just then.
Near the brewery up ahead at the bend of the river I saw a large fire, and I couldn’t help but consider that the river taxi depot had been set ablaze, and that I would be stuck on the island forever.
“False teeth!” somebody yelled out from the city. A hooded old figure, standing at the base of a 50-storey mirror-glass building marked Insurance & Bank Agents, waved at me with a ragged mop.
“False teeth!” he cried again, this time throwing the mop down into the water. “Ride the mop! It goes!”
I hurled the transistor radio back into the body of ferns and hopped on the mop. I rode it like you would a stick horse, and made it across the way in no-time.
“Thanks, mister!” I yelled up at the hooded man.
“Don’t worry about that!” he returned.
I dismounted, stepping onto the slimy granite ledge of the city proper, and once again found myself on sub-level two, at the entrance to the parking garages.
Finally, I found a ramp up to sub-level one and happened upon a bustling lunch counter next to a row of dumpsters overflowing with the ribcages of steer and the shinbones of lamb. I ordered chicken soup and a cup of diced onions. While I waited for my breakfast I realized my pants were dripping severely, creating puddles on the floor. I apologized to the waitress, and she told me not to worry, that it happens all the time.
“Did you ride the mop?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am. I rode the mop.”
“Let me get you some towels then.”
She brought a total of three: one to wrap around each leg, and two more to create a rug below my stool to catch the drippings.
Following breakfast, I came upstairs to find the sun shining, the snow flurrying, and the streets filled with office workers pushing their way across the bridges and into the skyscrapers. I nearly fell down when a broad-shouldered, seven-foot man in a pin-striped suit with a crazy cherry twist about his face crashed into me and asked if I would like to sell peanuts in his lobby.
“Sure,” I told him.“I just landed in the city and am in need of employment.”
“Well then, come with me.”
He led me down the great avenue a few blocks and turned down a smaller street towards the lake. Then he shook his head, cursed, spat out a tooth, and walked me back to the great avenue, where a miniature hot-air balloon had just landed on a raised grate. A soldier walked out of the balloon’s basket and wiped the sweat off of his brow with a steaming leather towel.
“What are you looking at, kid?” the balloon man asked.
“Have a little respect,” said my employer, who grabbed my arm and pulled me into the Magazines & Advertisements Corporation building. He set me up by the elevators, in a wooden booth with a red-and-white-striped awning.
“All you have to do is say peanuts every five seconds, sell the peanuts, and give the people correct coin of change. You can do it?”
“Sure,” I said. “I can certainly do it.” And so he slapped a conical paper hat on my head and I was on the job.
The morning flew by. I must have sold 300 bags of peanuts. You would have thought the working people were entering a circus, the way they eagerly snatched at the product. At lunch hour, I went into a bookstore to buy a razorblade to shave my brand-new mustache off (it had grown at a mysteriously rapid clip since my arrival in the city).
When I asked a bookseller stationed in front of a large circular calculator glued to the wall near the fiction section where I might find razorblades, he told me to look around by the candy bars at the cash registers. I gave him a nickel for the lead, snapped one of his suspenders, and hurried over to the bank of registers. Sure enough, I found a package of razorblades in a little box between the Cashew Tommy Coffee Bars and Strawberry Cinderella Jelly Cakes. I paid the two dollars, and hustled over to the rail yard to find a shaving mirror.
Steam whistles blew maniacally and buckets of milk clapped outrageously from the gas wagon parked atop the freight tunnel. A fellow in a bear costume climbed to the front of an engine car to wash the windows with a paw-shaped sponge, farting out an old Dixie stomp through his swollen mouth while he worked. Blood dripped down his legs, but he seemed to be in good spirits. I ran onto the tracks and found a shaving mirror on the ground amongst the scattered grease pebbles and orange twine, crouched down, and looked at my reflection.
But Dennis, I confess: The mustache was gone!
I felt my face, though, and sure enough rubbed the bristles of a definite full-grown lip bush. Then I looked back in the mirror—and still nothing on my face. To make matters worse, I resembled Andrew Jackson after a long night of bare-knuckle boxing.
“Hey kid,” a bottom-heavy engineer in black overalls mooed down at me, “there’s no shitting in the yards. I don’t even care if it’s in your pants.”
“I’m not shitting,” I informed him. “I’m shaving.”
“Well what are you crouching down there for then?”
“To get a good look into this floor mirror is why.”
“Well let me give you a piece of advice. Get going. The 12:48 rolls in any second, and if you don’t get out of the way the beast will gladly knock you straight out to the West Side softball fields. Need a hand, buck?”
“Sure.” I grabbed the engineer’s canvas-gloved hand and he pulled me to my feet.
“And another thing,” he chuckled, examining my face. “You don’t need a shave. But you could use a bath. Here.”
He sliced me a sliver of pine soap with the blade on his nail clipper and sent me on my way with a solid kick in the buttocks.
I couldn’t remember if I’d had any lunch, so I picked up a plastic-wrapped bologna and yoghurt sandwich at a newsstand and hurried back to my peanut station.
But when I returned to the lobby I discovered that my stand had been removed, and so I went off in search of a new job. Four hours later, I landed a sales position in the wallets and belts department at the Metropolitan Clothing Palace, and I’ve been there ever since.
“Well all right,” said Dennis, wiping the counter. “How about another soda?”
Fine, Dennis. That sounds very fine. I’ll take another soda. But make this one to go, I have to get back on the floor.