Sunday, May 28, 2006

Down and Out in the World

From Hunger
I woke up this morning extremely hungry. It was a growling hunger, a hunger that made me blue. Remember a few posts back I said I might be entering a zone of poverty in my life since my rent was due, my phone bill is due, my ISP bill is here, and I owe a friend $350, and I don't have a pot to piss in. I make my living off my wits and so far in the past month, my wits have only gotten promisory monies, over 500 bucks, but this is a long holiday weekend so I have no hopes of getting a sou of it until Tuesday when the mail gets delivered again, so, "What Me Worry?" and my reply is hell no; right NOW in the NOW, I'm fine and dandy, and I'm having fun right now contemplating poverty.

In the meantime, I reminded myself of Eric Blair's (George Orwell) rich little book, Down and Out in Paris and London. I quickly "Googled" the book title and, Aha!, there it was, the complete book. I right off the bat devoured 8 chapters of the well-written, fast-paced little book.

And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs—and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.
Down and Out in Paris and London,
Chapter 4, last paragraph.

Of course, that was Paris in the late 20s and early 30s (Down and Out was published in 1933) and this is the USA in the 6th year of a new century and hardtimes nowadays are ferociously biting and tearing at your flesh, like the weasels that ripped old Frank Zappa's prostate to pieces. Why hell, a coffee and a roll costs you $2 these days as compared to pennies in the 20s. Still poverty progresses right along with everything else in this world, so today's impoverished may be a little better off than those of the 20s. And rooms and rent? Well, here, Orwell tells you about his room:

My hotel was called the Hôtel des Trois Moineaux. It was a dark, rickety warren of five storeys, cut up by wooden partitions into forty rooms. The rooms were small and inveterately dirty, for there was no maid, and Madame F., the patronne, had no time to do any sweeping. The walls were as thin as matchwood, and to hide the cracks they had been covered with layer after layer of pink paper, which had come loose and housed innumerable bugs. Near the ceiling long lines of bugs marched all day like columns of soldiers, and at night came down ravenously hungry, so that one had to get up every few hours and kill them in hecatombs. Sometimes when the bugs got too bad one used to burn sulphur and drive them into the next room; whereupon the lodger next door would retort by having his room sulphured, and drive the bugs back. It was a dirty place, but homelike, for Madame F. and her husband were good sorts. The rent of the rooms varied between thirty and fifty francs a week.
Ibid. Chapter 1.

Sounds like where I live now--"Davenport, Iowa, drinking Keokuk moonshine" remember? Except for the marching troops of bugs. I got rid of cockroaches many years ago. First of all, I quit cooking in my room. Second, I live amongst Asians and they know how to get rid of cockroaches. At one time, when I first moved in this two-bit room, both regular-old cockroaches and those frightening Palmetto bugs (the huge cockroaches that used to rule the roost in Key West, Florida, when I lived there) came and went as they pleased, settling down for the night maybe in my laundry basket or perhaps in the stack of newspapers, magazines, and books that usually surround me as I hack away at my writing in my loft bed. These atomic pests are mostly gone now though an occasional Palmetto giant gets loose and goes about nest searching in my bathroom in the hot months of the year. Storms approaching also sometimes set the Palmetto bugs to doing rather psychopathic things, like running about in circles or suddenly buzzing and then flying like a maniac for a few wing flaps and then falling as though dead to the floor. Touch them with you healing shoe and they miraculously come back to life. Mice? Well that's for another "down and out" time.

One thing is for sure, after reading Down and Out, I will never eat in an expensive hotel again, whether in New York or Paris, and certainly not in Davenport, Iowa. Getting the food prepared and served is what is important in very large eating establishments. Cooking it is not as important as the time involved in prepping it, cooking it, and serving it. If a steak falls on the floor, so what? Wipe it off and serve it anyway. If the cook sneezes in the soup, you should consider yourself lucky; the cook usually spits in the soup,too. I once met a man who told me he had run a Childs Restaurant in New York City. After he told me what went on behind the swinging doors that lead from the kitchen to the dining room, I was suspicious for years when eating in any restaurant and I actually used to demand to see the kitchen if I were eating in one of those chi-chi joints that charge and arm and a leg. Kitchens are naturally dirty, but one that seems clean is good enough for me. Whether the cook spits in the food or blows his nose in it or sweats all over your plate, that you can't predict. If you go to a restaurant during the slow times, then perhaps you'll get cleaner and better prepared food, though there's no guarantee about anything once it leaves the kitchen of a restaurant.

One good hint I learned from Down and Out. If you only have a crusty three-day-old roll to eat, spend a sou for a head of garlic--or steal one, as Boris the Russian in Down and Out would advise you--and rub garlic all over the roll. Orwell says it leaves an aftertaste in your mouth that fools your stomach into believing you have just had a huge meal.

Another thing about this book, it's called a novel by a lot of people, but I didn't read it as a novel when I first read back when I was a kid. Burmese Days, that I read as a novel because that's how it was presented to me. By the time of Animal Farm (need I tell you it kind'a shows you how a totalitarian regime rules), I was a semi-intellectual, so everything I read was turned factual in my novelistic way of intellectualizing.

for The Daily Growler
Continue to have a happy holiday weekend.


language said...

What a pleasure to read Orwell's prose. I don't know whether I should wish he were around now. It would be good for us and bad for him.

I'm glad to know Down and Out is online; I'll have to take a look. I don't know what ever happened to my copy but I've missed it for years -- probably lent it out to some impecunious bastard who squirreled it away and never got around to returning it. Tony, is that you?

Horatio Parker said...