(This picture is a detail from my virtual sculpture ‘Landon Harajuku’; an object which features later in this story; and also appears in the book ‘things that don’t exist’)
What in the world was this feeling?
From the moment he stepped through the swing doors, and into here he felt good. He knew he shouldn’t feel good here, but figured that when it comes to your own joy and bliss in this life, maybe it’s better not to be using the maps and rules of other folks. The place, which once used to be in the middle of things, was now down on the edges of town; where the streets extend and then blur into the desert; the asphalt turning into sand. It would seem easier to explain that this all came about because this one building had moved, but instead it had been the whole town that had grown and morphed and flourished and sprouted-off in another direction. As a result, the streets were dusty here; blown by the breeze.
In the neighborhood were a few clubs guarded by brutes with a threatening air, and a couple of discount stores displaying a random inventory of things that just happened to be going for a good price at the wholesalers, so that it was impossible to find a focus, or a theme, or a heart to the nature of the business. They just sold stuff; that was it; all kinds of stuff. He had set off walking around, one morning, looking for a launderette; his clothes were starting to ferment in his bag, after all this travelling, and sure did need a clean-up. He didn’t get lucky with that, and he hardly met a soul on the deserted streets, but for a homeless guy, set up comfortably in a recessed doorway, never bothered by anybody, but giving a friendly nod to anyone who might just pass by.
Soon after, he was back inside, with that wonderful carpet. What was it about this carpet? Why did he like it so much? It was the kind of carpet which thirty years, or more, before, meant grandeur, luxury, the big time. For him it still felt like that; but he was aware that is was no longer the center of the world, for anyone. It was a rich burgundy, perhaps; with these spots, or were they tiny curls? They were a gold color, or was it cream? The carpet had warmth. Who knows how many stains it was hiding; that gave it its history, and its character. It was comforting; and he loved the big static-electric shock he got from the brass handrail, each time he came down the stairs. Brass was everywhere. All the fittings, and lamps were made of it, and had been polished dull over decades, but it still dazzled him, if nobody else; and it excited him.
He wasn’t a great gambler. That wasn’t it. He usually just loaded himself up a dollar, maybe five, and took up a place at a one cent machine, got comfortable, and then started gazing around. He’d been raised to judge these kinds of folk who spend whole days in ‘places like this’; looking down on them, pitying their situation; but it didn’t feel acceptable to be doing that anymore; and what gave him the right to do that anyway? All he felt was warmth, comradeship, and compassion. That was such a fine thing to be feeling; quite close to bliss. These people had an honesty about them, of the hard-earned kind. Everyone here had journeyed along the bumpy roads, never the slick highway. Nevertheless, they hadn’t been travelling more slowly; they had just been hurled and jostled about more, and had survived it. Kneaded and knocked-down by the great baker, pushed, and squeezed and squashed and twisted like clay in the hands of the great sculptor; and as a result, all he could see in them was beauty; strong, powerful, genuine beauty, that could speak with his heart in his kind of talk.
He loved to gaze around and catch the eyes of another who had looked-up from the spinning bells and grapes and gold bars for a moment’s respite; their expression sometimes weary, sometimes at peace, sometimes full of wisdom and knowing. For a long moment he would look at them, and they would look at him. Sometimes a shared smile would develop its tingling energy between them, and hang in the air, across the tops of the machines; seemingly as big as the world, transporting him to a silent, calm reality; that looked just the same as before, but the ‘ching ching ching’ and the ‘ping ping ping’ and the ‘beep beep beep’ and the ‘gloop gloop gloop’ and the ‘whooa whooa whooa’ and the ‘klatter knatter tatter’ all fell away, and was still. These wonderful moments always lasted longer than they should have done, by the time they finally looked away; and both of them took from it a powerful, yet simple affirmation that it’s nice that you are here, in this life. Thank you for that!
[The story is concluded in 'May I make my home in a casino, my dear? Part 2']