“Are you leaving here?” Janet said. “Are you giving up on us?”
I was. She would go to the meeting at city hall alone. I loaned her two bucks for carfare, I can’t go.” I said, “Got to teach a class.” “Got a meeting,” I added, gilding the lily with fools gold. The meeting would have gone on without me. We stood by the front door in the sun. I spoke under considerable psychic strain, as if I was delivering a dubious statement to a roomful of skeptical reporters. I knew that there was always more I could do, more I could have done, but you have to stop short of the cliff. You have to say no to frenetic activity, say no to a doomed insurrection. I am not going to let it distract me from doing my job. I AM GOING TO KEEP MY LIFE TOGETHER.
Our spokesperson was off to give the city council hell. All alone. Last of the Mohicans. She expected more from me. Another fair weather hero all for fighting the Long Beach Redevelopment Authority and saving this old hotel. Now here Doyle was, losing his nerve, going all quiet and non-committal on her.
Last night at two I woke up and knew it was over, I had to get out . I was living in a dead hotel and the little flames of life inside it were guttering out, one by one. Not enough oxygen in this place to sustain human life. I turned the bedside light on, got to the Olivetti and said the hell with it. When you are up at 3:30AM, when you start thinking of killing yourself for no good reason, then it’s just something going around like the flu. It’s time to get out. I NEED TO TOUCH NORMAL LIFE AGAIN. It was just me in room 308, Janet down the hall in 317, Jerry in 212, and a squatter named Jenkins up on the fifth floor.
She motioned at the empty lobby, maybe seeing if there was any support there. They were now just names on a petition I had helped draft a month ago and carried around from room to room. Official scribe. Now there were only four of us left in those sixty four rooms, and the office door had been closed and bolted for the last two weeks. We still had the full complement of high-back chairs in the lobby, two rows of dignity facing each other. If I look close enough and long enough I can almost see the ghosts. The daily gathering of the refugees the way they used to gather. Doctor Redmond’s down on the end next to the window, talking about his trans-Atlantic crossing in the Iberia and the day they lost the anchor. Maude is sitting across from him nodding off, Louis in in the corner under the reading light, looking as fierce and ignorant as ever, rereading his holy bible, ready to do battle with me on doctrinal issues. John’s there too, sitting next to the window leaning off to starboard, his eyes closed, honest sincere and innocent as a baby, his head propped up on his huge fist. John was from South Dakota. A lot of the old guard at the hotel was from the Dakotas. They migrated to Long Beach in the fifties and sixties to get away from winter. Killing time in the Buffum among the potted palms, moving from chair to chair as the sun moved across the sky. Kelly’s here too, talking to Jackson, laughing. He’s got his bottle in a paper bag, is wearing his iron gray herringbone jacket with the flaring lapels. He gave the place a little class while he lasted, hard to see this dapper fashion plate as someone who had lived out of his car for five years.
The sane sound-thinking reasonable people went first, when the notices went under the door. Oh yes we love our cockroach-infested old hotel, but it is time to leave before the sheriff arrives. The aging anarchists stayed on, the campaigners against injustice, the campaigners for a little moving money and a little more time. And while we met and talked and sent out our petitions and talked to reporters, the old hotel emptied out. They went down to the office one by one and made their little deals.
I hugged Janet and we fogged up her heavy lenses for a minute or so, and she went off to either have a drink with my two bucks or to stand up before a bunch of uncaring politicians and give them hell for us. A reporter had told us he would be there for the hearing, but I doubted if he would show. It was a classic lost cause. I was off on the Greyhound to teach a class of sunny surfer kids the elements of a sentence, the mechanics of a paragraph. I was trying to talk myself into acting sanely, trying to remember that I had another life. I had obligations. So, in the end I decided to go quietly, like everyone else did. Live to tell the tale. These are the tornados that begin as gentle breezes, as quiet currents that tug at you lovingly, and you look up at a great translucent peaceful sky and relax; you go with it, you remember some favorite songs consonant with noble struggles. You forget that you are just passing through this world.