The Mississippi Man - Chapter One
““One might be painted while
one is asleep,” suggested Mr. Brand
as a contribution to the discussion.”
( Henry James,
The Europeans, (1878) p.66. )
David West is taking an evening walk in Baltimore at Upper Fells Point. In Baltimore, competition has closed steel plants and shipyards, but people are still thriving with their lives, inventing new jobs and careers. Summer has come, and the birds are singing. The story begins here.
n an ordinary husky September night it was. In Upper Fells Point in northern central Baltimore, it was. A slight, semi-hot rain had been falling ceaselessly all day. More often than not, on evenings like these after the storm, small, friendly ponds appeared on the lonely streets of the flat-footed picturesque city, known as the birthplace of Frank Zappa and Billie Holiday.
Suddenly lights from the random street lamps glittered brightly, as they were reflected by myriads or more of wet surfaces outside the low, dull concrete buildings of the semi-suburb. Lukewarm water silently flooded in the gutters outside the six-story houses. Three rugged young magpies fought over a filthy pizza slice thrown by the wooden bench at the bus stop. The bus itself, from Patterson Park, silently resided in the middle of the street. It required repair, some black men, gathering around it, though. The dusk was compact.
It was almost like a classic vampire night. The houses stood void of any mayor decorations and painted in dark sepia, and their eyes were closed. Some of them entirely lacked inhabitants. Baltimore did not grow anymore. Anyhow, who were the architects of such ugly houses in this beautiful town?
Architecture is an extraordinary form of art. Because it is, of course, not art at all, it is at least not entirely art. It has a practical side, as far as houses are for living in. Hence, we might conclude that the architect ought to have some rudimentary knowledge about both beauty and practicality; it is thus a two-sided business. In Baltimore, though, the art aspect is very much pronounced.
It is analogous with tales, with all sorts of stories, which people tell, as well as with bestseller novels, and short stories. Some people think that life is a tale, and many people think politics is telling tales. “You have to have the defining story.”; ”You have to own the story.”; “Who has the story, wins the election!” and the like. Now: a tale is never really just the course of events. No. The story that I am telling - I´ll let you know - is not about the facts themselves. Literature, in general, is not about the events that comprise the story. No course of events makes a story. The source of a story of a specified kind is not what is happening. There is always something else that makes a story. In precisely the same way, it is not bricks and layers that make houses, not in the dear town of Baltimore, anyway. It is something radically else.
Something else is always radical.
I am the same, but not radically the same.
David Roback West was a lonely, childish, semi-psychotic, white male of twenty-five, living on social security. He had British features and the face was broad with marked eyebrows and full deeply set dark blue eyes. Between his eyes there ran a furrow between the eyebrows and, most of the time, he had a kind of angry or dissatisfied, almost angry, look. His hair was thick and had a beige tone. He wore what had been a postmodern neat, worn jeans dress, but now looked like rags. He had boots with high heels to make him look taller. David also had the ugly habit of keeping his mouth open all the time. Maybe there was something wrong with the ventilator function of his nose. His movements were quite irregular, insecure, and had no timing at all. As a whole, it was as if he quite early, in his tender youth, never entirely had decided HOW he should put one leg in front of another. Now the present result was pretty much nothing of any known kind; his walk was just some sort of combined jerking and swaying. David was an outsider, a loner and a real sissy. He was – not surprisingly – full of despair.
On this day he had been trying, in vain, to configure a web server of his own onto his laptop at home.
He was as a break taking a short evening walk to the drug store as he spotted a remarkable large character of a man accompanied by a strange black and white terrier. The dog seemed to be sick or something, and David approached the man, who appeared to be in his seventies, had grey hair, dressed in a striped costume, outdated but still stunning, and a thin blue raincoat. David was very sensitive to beauty.
“What´s the combo?” he asked, referring to both to the man, the dog, and the situation and because it was his common greeting phrase at the time.
There was no reaction from the older man.
“Is anything wrong?” David reiterated with a wave of slight anger.
Then he suddenly remembers having seen the man before. Yes, at the jeweler’s store. Oh, yes! He was the one who bought the $4000 necklace. David, in turn on this sad day, had sold his mother´s wedding ring. His mother was since relatively long deceased.
“Nah, I know …what is the trouble.” the man responded pensively and in a remarkably low tone. ”The dog merely is epileptic. He´ll recover.”
“Epileptic? Ah, I see.”
David, who ordinarily had a way with words, and was easily disturbed by health and sickness matters, could not this time grasp the situation. He hastily took a step back and looked with curiosity at the dog and the man as if he did not believe what he just told him. The dog all right lay on the ground in massive seizures. Besides, the older man stood by him, just slowly waiting for the dog to get a hold of himself.
West had come halfway on his walk to the small drugstore that resided on the corner between East Pratt Street and East Harvey Street. He had brought with him a small bag, made of thin, checkered cloth, and now, facing the dog in distress, he bent down on the sidewalk and placed the woolen bag under his little head, which had eyes eerily rolling, and white saliva now and then was pumping out of his mouth. It could not keep its jerking head still. Eventually, after about three minutes, it fell about and lay quite still, apart from violent panting.
West ogled at the dog-owner, who at last seemed slightly relieved by the final development of the course of events and who now took hold of the dog’s tiny neck with a firm and almost professional grip.
“But…,” David, who certainly had rather much sense of humor, but in various situations also absolute compassion for the sick and the disabled, said in an aggregated tone: “… you cannot possibly have a dog with epilepsy!”
“It´s not mine. I am just walking him.” The man said whom we hitherto saw as the dog-owner.
“I see,” David said. He often claimed that he knew. Almost before other people had finished what they should say, they were interrupted by this nasty comment that neither was very polite nor did it add anything to the conversation.
The man in the striped suit, who was very earnest in his whole appearance, seemed eager to defend neither his actions nor his standpoints but was just quite calm and almost indifferent. He looked secure and reliable. He was undoubtedly much more muscular built than David was. The man with the dog certainly was, however, AS A TYPE outdated, David thought. Maybe he was a former military or something. He had large hands and a sturdy neck under the grey hair. David wondered how “types” emerged, and what would happen if someone happened to be precisely a particular type, but in character was something wholly different. Such was his way of thinking. He was relentlessly a questioner.
The older man had exciting features, and his face shone with complete irregularity. One eye was haply visible since the eyelid seemed all deformed and hung over it. His mouth was rather wry, but he had a friendly look all the same. He smelled from tobacco, although it was such a rainy night.
“You see …,” he said,” the woman who owns him is sick.”
West´s gaze was long, but he at the same time indicated some friendliness, and his mind thus had turned. This because he had spotted an ostensive, golden tooth in the older man´s mouth and much wisdom in the blue eye he was able to scrutinize.
Later he would remember the meeting very well. How the senior clearly explained the predicaments of the dog as well his mistress, and consequently, West learned that they were essential to each other and that the woman seemed to have very little time left. West was listening, and he thought the other was interesting because he seemed to put things in perspective and in a very sound and logical way.
The dog eventually recovered and got on its legs. West decided that he did not so very much need the bottle of milk he had set out to buy from the drugstore, but he instead chose to accompany the man and the dog. They performed a circular walk around the children’s playground and the nearby hideous church, and concerning this the latter phenomenon, the two newfound friends soon came together in a united deep despise.
“I don´t get who they are, those folks who go to church!” West ranted, when he had learned that the elder, slim fellow with the furrowed face, did not like Christianity either.
“I was married once to a woman whose sister frequently attended church,” the man said while he tapped the dog on the head.
“I see! Ah, you´ve were married? By the way, I mightn´t perchance get to know your name, sir?”
“My name is Longman. Rueben Longman.”
“Mm. You look like one who has traveled a lot.”
David did not know, but he always tried to set people up. If they answer that they had traveled, he would be critical of that and thought it a completely useless thing to do, going. But if they had not seen other places, he would, of course, despise them and ask why they had never used their existential freedom to make something of themselves.
David was – without him realizing this - a real pest.
“Mm, yeah,” Rueben said.
Rueben looked, and his look was a kind of heavy, perpetrating one from light blue eyes, at the dog, which seemed slightly exhausted and did not seem to want to proceed. The four-legged creature finally sat down and lifted his paw.
“Perhaps he wants to be carried,” David said in a neutral tone.
The face of Reuben seemed to have a thousand wrinkles. It was not easy sometimes to tell if he smiled or not. Reuben looked like an old sailor. He lifted the dog and took his ancient, long-armed army gloves and put them around the poor dog.
“I have to go home,” Rueben said. ”Nice meeting you, pal.”
“Nice, Mister! Hope to see you again! I guess you don’t live far away, eh?”
“Just around the corner, on Poplar Street, No 340.”
The young boy nodded, stored that information, and put his hand out to cuddle with the dog, but then Rueben and the dog already were miles away. David was, and that was no secret in Baltimore, in all his doings, sometimes a little slow.
However, he was sure that Poplar Street was not around the corner. It was far away. David could not remember the exact location but to the south.
David's appearance was slow - we must mention that - and he was uncontrollable and all over the place. His rather sullen mood was like syrup that spread over the nearest surroundings. He was often not even tolerated because of his strangeness. He tried to be helpful and polite, though.
Maybe his fundamental problem was that he hated society. We will return to that subject. He was not worse than many other people were. His greatest virtue was maybe that he did not pretend to be a better person than he was. But that is no great virtue, though.