May 2007


the basement was more or less what he had expected. a bare cement floor and brick walls enclosed a hot water heater, a gigantic furnace. an old workbench that hadn’t been used in years, piles of boxes that god only knew what was in them, and a toilet next to a huge cast-iron sink in one corner. he turned on the taps and water came. it was brown but at least he had water. the toilet actually flushed, too.

he piled all the boxes up next to the furnace to make a sort of wall so he could pretend it wasn’t there, swept out the open space that removing the boxes had made, and moved what was left of his stuff down from the third floor. to his surprise he discovered that with the boxes out of the way, even discounting all the room the furnace took up, he had more floor-space than his last apartment. the basement felt roomy by comparison. there was some good in every evil, he thought.

his bed long since sold, he scrounged around in the department store warehouse until he found several large squares of packing-foam, six inches thick. over the course of a week, he hauled them home on the bus one at a time and made himself what turned out to be one of the most comfortable beds he had ever slept in. it was, he reflected every night as he lay there drifting off, like sleeping on a cloud.

he turned the workbench into his kitchen: cooler underneath, a few dishes and pans lined up on top to the far right, toaster-oven and hotplates and a basket of silverware to the far left. the honorable center space between them was occupied by his precious deserts in endless rotation: today a blueberry pie, tomorrow a box of Congo bars, the day after a chocolate roll-cake with marshmallow filling. on the tool shelf above the bench, he put his canned goods, his cereal, and his sugar and instant coffee. it wasn’t exactly home but it could have been a lot worse.

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harvey nitzinger wandered into the uptown bar yesterday afternoon looking like the seven hounds of hell had dragged him through eight of the nine levels and then decided to let him go because he wasn’t fun any more. i’d heard he’d had a reversal of fortune, so to speak, so i sidled up and offered to buy him a drink. you’d have thought i’d offered to take his place on a chain gang, he was that grateful.

“ain’t seen you around in a few months, harvey,” i said. “where you been?”

“if i told you, you wouldn’t believe it,” he said, shaking his head. this i had to hear, so i bought him another drink.

eight or nine years ago, harvey had moved into miss justine ermintrude’s apartment building. at the time, he was a sales rep for a big computer chip manufacturer and riding high. he took miss justine’s $6000 a month penthouse with the built-in sauna and a bird’s-eye view of the harbor and gold leaf in the window trim. he was in his early forties, wasn’t married, was reasonably fit and good-looking, didn’t gamble or drink much, and had women following him around like dogs will follow a steak. he had a pretty good life, i guess, as these things go.

then, three years back this was, he’d gone and made a little mistake. he’d gotten himself involved with the wife of his company’s chief financial officer, one gary welchick, and gary found out about it. he wasn’t amused. the divorce was messy as hell but that was only the beginning. he wanted harvey’s scalp hanging on his teepee pole (that’s the way he put it), and he fixed the books so it looked like harvey had been stealing from the company for months. they fired him, of course, though gary made sure it didn’t go any further than that (though the odds were against it, you never can tell when you might stumble on a cop bright enough to figure out what really happened, and gary didn’t see any sense in taking the chance), but he did make sure the word got around. Before you could say persona non grata, harvey was. everywhere.

he moved out of the penthouse, of course, and took a small three-room apartment on the sixth floor. he had some savings and he was sure he’d land another good job real soon. miss justine was sympathetic. these things happened. she had suffered herself. life was hard but she was sure he’d pick himself up and be back on top in no time.

at first he managed to get a job selling computer hardware for a small outfit over on mott street, but then they moved their whole operation to india, lock-stock-and-barrel, and harvey wasn’t invited to make the trip. he was out of work for months after that and his savings slimmed down dramatically. he moved to an even smaller two-room apartment on the fifth floor. the rooms were so small you could have fit both of them in one of the 6th-floor rooms. he had to sell most of his furniture because he couldn’t afford to store it any more. miss justine frowned and shook her head when she rented it to him.

“seems like you just can’t get a break, mr. nitzinger,” she said. “a good man like you. it’s a shame. but i’m sure your luck is going to improve any day now. you just keep swinging.”

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