Personal Story

Every day, invariably, with no change in routine since I became his tenant, the landlord visited at 6
o\' clock on the dot. Before the old cuckoo down the hall could finish its six chimes, the knock
would come and the door open, and he would be there, in all his senile glory. Liver spots,
crumpled skin, old, unwashed clothes and the stale smell that I imagine Egyptologists are used to
when unearthing mummies; it would all be there.

Or I visited him, which occurred quite frequently during my first years as his tenant. There, in his
room, the Egypt smell would multiply till I could stand it no more. If I visited him, he\'d be waiting
for me in his unmade bed, his eternally unmade bed, if I might add. He always seemed to know
when I would visit him and when he would visit me, don\'t ask me how, but he just does. But he\'d
smile, a yellow toothed smile that showed perfect sets of artificial teeth, and gesture weakly for
me to sit down. Sit down on the bed, that meant, and so I would. The mattress would creak and
maybe I worried a lot of times that the whole bed would fall down.

The conversation usually went in these general lines:

"How was your day?" The perfect opener, now made stale by countless days of the same
conversation. Stale as his room, stale as his dried breath, stale as his old clothes.

And I would tell him. If I wasn\'t working on a manuscript, then I was waiting the whole day, or
maybe downtown, shopping.

I\'m a writer, or maybe someone who thinks he\'s one. No. Correction. I don\'t think I\'m a writer.
Maybe fourteen years ago I did, when I submitted an award-winning short story for a local
competition. First place, quite a lot of money won, at least in a teen\'s eye view. I still kept the
original; it\'s somewhere in my messy room. Then a couple of poems when I was in college. In
fact, lots of poems that got printed in a nice paperback anthology. Very well received. Very good
cover. Very good everything. The culture section in the daily called it "an evocative collection
that reminisces on lost innocence and childhood." I laughed my head off when I read that. I just
wrote, for Christ\'s sake! I don\'t make evocative anything! It was obvious that they didn\'t know
what they were talking about, and neither did I, to tell the cold truth, when I wrote the poems. I
just wrote what came to my head. What really sickens me is that, twenty years from now someone
will make it a school Literature textbook and force poor unfortunates to look for hidden
meanings, or for moral lessons, or to read between the lines. That would be the laugh of the
century.

Then I turned to mystery. My first novel, Upper Echelons, a conspiracy theory type of story with
a lawyer as a protagonist. Twelve rejection slips until I finally got some small-town bookie to put
it into hardcover. It was shameful opening the mail and finding that only a desperate publisher
would want Upper Echelons, but I swallowed my pride. It isn\'t a good meal, but you have to learn
to do that in this profession. Due to my reputation from the anthology of poems, the reviewers
quickly grabbed themselves a copy. Boy did they bomb me. "A novel which gives you the
impression that it was pasted together from house glue and drying saliva." "Improbable plot
twists are the norm in Upper Echelons." "Makes Mission: Impossible the movie look like
something Beatrix Potter did." Many more things like that. But I didn\'t care. All the publicity
made me rich. Temporarily.

By this time, around two years after the Upper Echelons, I was in what seemed like permanent
writer\'s block. I\'ve been subsisting on short stories for some back-alley, run-of-the-mill magazine.
So two years I crank out short stories, and in the meantime, working on the Great Novel while
drinking from cheap gin that burned through your throat. It\'s a hard life, but I\'m been through that
self-pity phase; I don\'t want to go through another year of fruitless job-hunting.

To get inspiration for the Great Novel, I go book-shopping. Uptown, downtown, westtown,
fleatown, ghost-town, I plumbed their bookstores, squandering my money in second-hand books,
ready-to-eat meals and cheap booze. And when I got home, I opened the gin,