By Russ Bickerstaff
The place would’ve been considered squalid if it weren’t for the fact that there never really seemed to be that much of a consciousness there to judge its condition. This is not to say that there wasn’t someone there, he just wasn’t the type of person to judge a place as being squalid.
There he sat on a worn mattress that rested on a floor of hard concrete. The mattress had born the weight of numerous people over the years. He didn’t now any of them—nor did he really care to. He was sitting there resting. Had he been just a little less tan, he probably would’ve come across as a strikingly grey individual, but as it was, his tan kept him from looking entirely dead. He did, however look extremely leathery—a bit like a lizard that kept mostly to urban basements eagerly awaiting the food the maintained everything that kept it all going in such a beautifully incredulous order.
He was resting on the mattress and he was smelling of tobacco smoke in the most transcendental way. A spent hard pack of very, very harsh cigarettes lay discarded not far from the mattress in total filth. There had been an ash tray there somewhere, but it was lost in the rest of the detritus in the basement. Eventually he just got to using the whole basement as his ash tray. It worked best that way.
He sat transfixed watching images flash across a tiny, handheld piece of plastic no larger than the palm of his hand. There’s no way in hell that he would’ve been able to afford the device on his income, but he was able to trade something rather precious for it and he refused to et it go. Oddly enough, the device only had old movies in it . . . about a dozen or so of them. The films didn’t have any specific meaning to him—hell—prior to getting the device he’d never even really heard of them in the first place. Those old movies had grown to be his lifeline. Those ol movies- once shown on screens the size of the entire basement he called home had at one time been huge projects. They had been fussed over and analyzed incessantly until all that was left was the film, which had grown to be forgotten in the standard, brightly-lit corridors of contemporary pop consciousness,
Odd that all of the agony and ecstasy would have been what gave him those moments to see what was going o . . . access to those celluloid dreams from ages and ages ago. It was’t anything that he’d ever hoped to end up becoming acquainted with, but the depths of the sickness had pulled him through some pretty rough moments. The most dazzling ecstasy—the oneness with pleasure and reality all fused together into a singularity . . .the fact that getting there happened to involve sticking a needle into a vein and . . . . well . . . that fact only seemed to be a going concern in those moments when it wasn’t the best for him – – – – those moments where the cycle of pain and pleasure was at its lowest. Those times when he hadn’t poked himself in a very, very long time.
It was at those moments when he felt like a vague whips of a fraction of a shadow. It was at those moments when he could most strongly identify with the shapes drifting and darting across the tiny screen the most. They were all such elegant shades of moods that he could tap into . . . not nearly as concentrated as the raw visceral effect of showing a needle into his body, but it was every bit as haunting on an intellectual level. It was during one of those low points when it occurred to him that the intellectual level was all that truly existed—the rst of it all existing merely as a fantasy to occupy bored psyches like so many feature-length videos on a tiny device not big enough to fill the entire palm of his hand.
He had gotten the device on a trade—he barely had the strength to get up off the mattress when someone came by and offered to trade him a couple of needles for the device and just at the moment he was feeling really, really pained about the whole experience. He decided to put in as much time before the next needle as he could manage to stand and as long as someone was offering him some kind of break from that for just a little while longer, well, then, why not take the device that was offered and part with something that would’ve been soon leaving his system anyway. Why not pick-up something a little bit more durable than a high.
Of course, that first night, his body really let him know that he really, really needed those needles he’d sold. He sat there on a soiled and decaying mattress . . . a bit of soiled ,decaying matter himself. Shadows were everywhere—the only light coming into the basement for the screen he held in the palm of his hand. The movie he was watching on it was one that he’d seen before quite often, but here it had special significance. There was a woman trying to teach the importance of compassion in children of an advanced city of the future . . . And he sat there watching the film—a brilliant piece of cinema from Europe. It had tanked the company that had produced such a beautifully over-budgeted thing. Here was this piece of cinema that had meant awful things for so many people, but here the feature had given hi a brief glimpse of what never was—something that he had grown quite fond of admiring from afar. It was something that had grown to consume his life . . . so he ended up watching people walk the futuristic corridors of a city that never was and decided to try to get there somehow.