The buzzer started to sound with alarming frequency. I was afraid there was a fire in his apartment and he needed help. Everyone at the bar was staring at the buzzer and when I glanced at Don he was shaking his head from side to side. Skip, who was bartending the other end of the bar, pointed at me, and then pointed towards the ceiling. His message was clear, and I was on my way.
Don immediately set up the tray with water, cigarettes, and empty Mason jars. My dinner of one lone banana lurched in my stomach. “Dead Man Walking,” I yelled out, crossing the floor with the tray. I got to the door, looked at Don, and was buzzed into the stairwell. Climbing the stairs, I passed an old man humping Stinky in the corner. Stinky looked at me, nodded, then glanced at his watch. It was clear that he charged by the hour.
Arriving at the second floor, there was the usual cocaine-fueled party happening in the bathroom. I could tell that it was packed to capacity and could hear a choir of voices all trying to hush each other. It’s hard to keep about ten men quiet while they are crammed in a tiny bathroom, putting blow up their noses.
Walking up the stairs tonight seemed like the longest passage of time to me. Allegedly, the man upstairs pressing the button, living in his own filth, was the owner of the bar. I never saw him outside of his room, but legend had it that he used to sit with Janis Joplin when she hung out at the bar back in the 1960s. I was told that he turned a blind eye to everything that went on downstairs as long as he got paid and was taken care of.
I didn’t want to go into his apartment tonight; that was clear to me and my brain. I didn’t want to have to feed him, or worse yet, clean up after him. Just the thought of it made me grab the banister and hold on for dear life. I let out a chuckle, because at this moment I was reminded of the movie The Sentinel, where Chris Sarandon is stroking the cat while Christina Raines gets let in on the plot line that she lives at the Gates of Hell and the demons are busting to be a part of the world. Every night, the owner trapped in his room is the guardian of the Gates of Hell; of that much I am convinced.
Arriving at his “Go Away” sign firmly attached to the door lets me know that I’m here. Well that, the smell of rotting human flesh, and the sounds of the cats. Grasping the knob and turning it in my hand, I use my hip to push open the door. The stench rolls over me in waves. It seems to have increased since my last visit.
Looking around at the sea of cats swarming me, I can see an unusually large number of Mason jars filled with yellow liquid. The sight and sound of the room makes my head swell. Quickly putting down the tray, I run to the sink and cough up my previously-digested banana.
I hear him in the other room. “Who’s here?” he yells and then begins screaming it over and over again. Wiping my mouth on the back of my hand, I call out, “It’s Geoff.” Without missing a beat he screams back, “What the fuck took you so long? I was ringing that bell for hours!!!” Popping my head into the bedroom, I see him lying on his side, facing away from me. He looks so fragile, like a baby bird. An old dirty piss, soiled, shit-stained-smoky baby bird, with a million cats, and questionable personal hygiene.
“Did you just barf in my sink?” he yells, while trying to roll over. “If you fucking messed up my house I will throw you out the window!” I figure that it would take a helluva lot of work to mess up this house, but the thought of cleaning the house with gasoline and a pack of matches needs to get pushed out of my mind.
He immediately starts with his list of demands. “Feed the cats, bring me my cigarettes, and hold that jar while I piss.” When he says this, he breaks into hysterical laughter; something seems to have tickled his fancy. Spittle flies everywhere.
Suddenly he stops laughing and tries to roll over onto his back to look at me. Once he has achieved that, he resumes screaming orders. “Don’t just stand there with your mouth hanging open catching flies,” he yells. “Feed the goddamned cats!”
I walk back into the kitchen. Cats come running from everywhere to get fed. “Food is in the fucking cabinet,” he snarls. I reach towards the cabinet door. I pause and swallow hard. The handle has years of filth clinging to it. I grab and yank it open. Half of the contents avalanche onto the counter. “Don’t mess up my fucking house,” he screams. “Sorry, I’m just redecorating,” I say. This strikes him funny, and he cackles away. “You’re a goddamned comedian, a goddamned comedian,” he says.
I empty the contents of several cat food cans onto slightly used paper plates and put them wherever I see a cat. Then I grab one of the Mason jars, go to the fridge, and throw some ice into it. Walking back into the bedroom, I put it down next to him. “Tell Jerry I want to see the fucking receipts,” he says, trying to lean up on his elbows. I reach around him, grab the pillows, and help him sit up. “Are you trying to break my ribs?” he screams, inches from my face. “That’s it,” I yell. “I’m out of here!" “I can’t do this anymore, I’m done!” I start to stand, but quicker than a flash of light, his hand reaches out and grabs my wrist. His eyes lock onto mine.
“Please don’t leave me,” he begs.