Richard and the Air Shaft/Garbage Shaft

Richard, can you explain to me the pieces of your life back when you lived in the old building in the 80s? Because I think I understand what happened, but the various pieces — the people, the places — that I find hard to remember.

Well that was back when i was dead.

I understand. Does that make it hard to talk about.

Well, yeah. I mean first of all, when you’re telling something about when you’re dead, should you use words that are dead and sentences that are dead and I don’t know — narrative structures that are dead –or not?


What do you mean right? Should I use words that are dead?

Well, I’m not dead. I mean, am I?

Not yet.

Right. Not yet.

Richard looked at me.

Well, I said, say what you can to explain to me what it was like back when you were dead in the old building in the 80s.

Well Mom was sick and I had to take care of her, and I wasn’t going to school any more, and I was on unemployment but that just meant I had to go to an office and tell them that I was trying to work. And I’d do the shopping for Mom because the grocery stores had magnetic fields and Mom could feel them and it made her sick. So I would get oranges and Arnold’s bread, and prince spaghetti and ragu spaghetti sauce and eggs and I’d take care of her while she worked on her resume, although she couldn’t really get a job either because of the chemical sensitivity she had and all the jobs had some sort of chemicals there.

I never knew what to say when Richard talked about his Mom’s sensitivity. It was clear to me that she had a mental illness but I never wanted to press him on that fact.

So I don’t know what to call those guys — said Richard — who would come and examine me — but I believed that they were the ones who could decide what would happen to me.

Did you think they could give you life?

No, that’s the crazy thing, Richard said laughing, I knew I was dead but I also didn’t know I was dead so I didn’t seek life, I sought — I don’t know. Power I guess. I wanted to be an important person. And I thought if those two guys — the big one in the suit was named Mel, I don’t know what other guy was named — Mr. Ford I think — I thought if I could give them the right answer then I could be an important person. It was like an interview. Like an examination. They could ask questions about how my mind worked, about my sex life, about who I was, whether I was a person worth taking seriously or a fake and a fraud. I was ashamed. I thought my answers would be bad. I hope they would be good. But I was afraid.

a beautiful woman, a teacher with glasses was sneaking in to my room naked at night and I would take a shower with her and hide her — I hid her from my Mom and I hid her from Mel and Ford — and sometimes she was hiding under the bed teasing me when I had my interview and I felt she was teasing me and mocking me but also that she made me feel alive.

Is that how you found out you were dead.

Yes. But I didn’t know I was dead. And I felt that she was challenging me to kill myself instead. And there were scars on my body — she had already killed herself so she wasn’t afraid — but there were scars on my body and on my neck — and I was hiding the scars from the men who were interviewing me. And I also had my mother’s father who was very old — he was an Orthodox Jew and was very old and sad — I had to take him somewhere in midtown and if he found out about the scars he would shame me for giving up my life — because nothing was worth giving up your life for.

He didn’t know you were dead.

No, he didn’t want to believe it, because he thought he was a camp survivor.


Yes. So What happened was I would program the computer — back then there were floppy disks — to give answers to the two guys interviewing me because I was so distracted with my Mom with the naked woman with glasses — with my Grandpa who I had to take to the meeting midtown — so I programmed the computer to give the answers to their questions and I sort of made it look like me — I put my hair on it and my glasses and my sweater and I gave it the pipe to smoke that I smoked and it talked to those two men and answered their questions. And I had it all figured out what the questions were and what the answers were. Or. I thought I did. And I kept trying and preparing and the men kept coming in, and as the days went by the computer became more and more like me — it became a shell like a cicada cast off but it looked like me — and I programmed it to answer all the questions they could possibly answer.

And even though they came in many many times I was still waiting for them to come in. And judge me. And I was ashamed. I was very scared.

And then they came in. And I was sure they would catch me. And the naked woman in glasses was under the bed and her wrists were bleeding. She was angry at me.

But I went to the bathroom and went out on the fire escape, and I was naked. And the ailanthus tree was growing in the alley and I suddenly realized I could drop down there into the air shaft where we dropped the trash where there was still an old refrigerator from the 50s and old soda cans, the kind that you could pull off a tab, and a magazine with a picture of my Mom back when she was young and she was a beauty so I hung down off the metal ladder and let myself drop into the yard and even though I cut my hands on the concertina wire I couldn’t stop laughing.

I was alive.

I was free.

But more important than that.

I was alive.


8 thoughts on “Richard and the Air Shaft/Garbage Shaft

  1. The metamorphosing of Richard, in which he *is* and he *isn’t* and then he *is*…again.

    Is this the rhythm and way of all life? Must we always form and re-form in order to fully realize life? To fully appreciate it? To understand? (I don’t know that I’ll ever understand what it’s all about.)

    Is this the tale of the metamorphosing of Richard, of each and every one of us?

    • So even when we *aren’t* we *are*, right? We’re just not what we’re ultimately going to be. And we’ll never again be what we were. Throughout all this change, there’s one part of us that will always be dead or dying, another living.

      I just saw a cat tweet that said(: you’ve already lived through the worst things that have ever happened to you. And you survived them. So, alive, dead, or somewhere in between, you’re doing your thing and that’s pretty special.

  2. The modernity of it makes it resonate. Although, I’m sure you could Cloud Atlas it to show how very little changes as far as the human condition is concerned.

    There will always be success as there will also always be failure. Only small details change each time because, well, FREE WILL. Some of it boils down to which loincloth or tennis shoes you managed to get on before you head out of the cave and greet the day.

    • We never really do.

      As I get older, I keep hoping I’ll discover some book or code or key that can give me answers, but I haven’t found it yet and I’m beginning to think I never will. I’m not so much resigned to the fact as I am at peace with the likelihood that I’ll never know.

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