When I was nineteen, a very young nineteen, more like twelve, earnest and naive, I lived in London. The squalid, three-bedroom apartment above Earl’s Court Station was in the most transient part of the city. But I didn’t have a job and couldn’t afford any rent, so my friend Rosie took me in and let me sleep in her hallway. Having just spent July hitchhiking through Ireland in the rain, spending nights in a lot of cold and lumpy, damp tents, I was actually grateful for Rosie’s dry, warm and solid floor. It seemed to suit her having me nearby, too. She said, “I know you and I trust you and it’s good to have you here just in case.” It was nice to be trusted, although her point of view left me feeling anxious as to what ‘the case’ might be, except that it might have to do with the fact that there were seven other people living in the three bedroom flat, some she hardly knew who came from as far away as Jamaica and South Africa. She also liked to trip on LSD.
My high was a cup of tea, and to sit on the windowsill in the kitchen and play love songs on the guitar, while watching the trains go by five flights below. It took my mind away from that scary guy that lived in the back of the apartment.
In anticipation of immanent apocalypse, Martin painted his room black, white and red thinking that this would somehow assure him of survival. His horrifically vivid descriptions of the coming holocaust, as prophesized by Nostradamus frightened me. Whenever I entered his room I would find myself reciting the Lord’s Prayer and “Yey, though I walk through the valley of death…” for protection from the possibility of annihilation, at the same time unsure if survival were even a good idea, given the probable hideous state things would be in.
On the opposite side of the spectrum was Sarah from South Africa, a young and beautiful actress determined to become rich and famous. With no sense of any impending doom only of her current malaise, she kept exclaiming, “I’m not happy because I need more money.” I didn’t understand her. In Ireland I’d survived on oat bread, cheese, ‘loose’ milk and the occasional Cadbury chocolate bar. Once back in London the diet was brown rice from the health food store and the scrounged for cabbages and apples left over from the vegetable cart at the end of the street each night. Was it the rush of endorphins from lack of food that made me feel so good?
Or was there another kind of nourishment? After my simple repast in the evenings I would sit in the dimly lit hallway, writing in my journal, while a young Jamaican named Mitch, with skin the color of honey and a voice as sweet, sang improvised, calypso love songs to me. Sigh.