17 Oct

‘Don’t worry. I’ll be out in plenty of time.’

Fernandez looked around the room with a proprietary air, then shook his head in disgust. ‘You’ve got some place here, my friend. If you don’t mind me saying so, it reminds me of a coffin. One of those pine boxes they bury bums in.’

‘My decorator has been on vacation.’ I said. ‘We were planning to do the walls in robin’s egg blue, but then we weren’t sure if it would match the tile in the kitchen. We agreed to give it a little more thought before taking the plunge.’

‘Smart college boy like you. You got some kinda problem or what?’

‘No problem. A few financial setbacks, that’s all. The market has been down lately.’

‘You need money, you gotta work for it. The way I see it, you just sit around on your ass all day. Like some chimp in the zoo, you know what I mean? You can’t pay the rent if you don’t have no job.’

‘But I do have a job. I get up every morning just like everyone else, and then I see if I can live through another day. That’s full-time work. No coffee breaks, no weekends, no benefits or vacations. I’m not complaining, mind you, but the salary is pretty low.’

‘You sound like a fuck-up to me. A smart college boy fuck-up.’

‘You shouldn’t overestimate college. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.’

‘If I was you, I’d see a doctor,’ said Fernandez, suddenly showing some sympathy. ‘I mean, just look at you. It’s pretty sad, man. There ain’t nothing there no more. Just a lot of bones.’

‘I’ve been on a diet. It’s hard to look your best on two soft-boiled eggs a day.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Fernandez, drifting off into his own thoughts. ‘Sometimes it’s like everybody’s gone crazy. If you wanna know what I think, it’s those things they’re shooting into space. All that weird shit, those satellites and rockets. You send people to the moon, something’s gotta give. You know what I mean? It makes people do strange things. You can’t fuck with the sky and expect nothing to happen.’

He unfurled the copy of the Daily News he was carrying in his left hand and showed me the front page. This was the proof, the final piece of evidence. At first I couldn’t make it out, but then I saw that it was an aerial photograph of a crowd. That there were tens of thousands of people in the picture, a gigantic agglomeration of bodies, more bodies than I had ever seen in one place before. Woodstock. It had so little to do with what was happening to me just then, I didn’t know what to think. Those people were my age, but for all the connection I felt with them, they might have been standing on another planet.

Fernandez left. I stayed where I was for several minutes, then climbed out of bed and put on my clothes. It did not take me long to get ready. I filled a knapsack with a few odds and ends, tucked the clarinet case under my arm, and walked out the door. It was late August, 1969. As I remember it, the sun was shining brightly that morning, and a small breeze was blowing off the river. Then I took another step, and in that way I began to move down the street. I did not look back once.

Paul Auster
Moon Palace, 1989



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