The Penn Street Moochers

Photo by VanveenJF on Unsplash

I always wanted to be a writer. Not just a writer, but a Writer. A Chronicler of my Age. I read the greats. Hemingway. Thoreau. Kerouac. Runyon. And I dreamed of joining those hallowed ranks. Me and Jon Patterson. We were inseparable those days. And his dream was just like mine.

To live the Life. To move out of our one horse town and go somewhere. Maybe Spain. Maybe Mexico. Maybe the Greek Isles. Somewhere we could rent a seedy apartment in the seedy part of town. We would always be behind on the rent, and sometimes in love. Not with each other of course. With Women. With Characters. We would drink and smoke heavily. And they would be our Muses. And we would make cryptic dedications and references to them in our books.

And one day when we were 17 we did it.

We packed our bags – in flimsy cardboard suitcases, because that is how real writers pack – and got on a Greyhound and travelled as far as we could go.

All the way to Apache Junction, Arizona.

That part was Jon's idea. He wanted to write with a Western feel to it. Neither of us wanted to go to East. And California was over done. And we couldn’t afford to travel all the way to Mexico.

But we found our seedy apartment in the seedy part of town. We got work as busboys. We lied about our ages and got in bars. We tried. Oh how we tried.

And I wrote. On a pawnshop typewriter. Laboriously, until I got calluses on my fingers. But I wrote. And never got published. But one day I managed to knock one out that I just Knew was a winner. It was about something that happened to Jon and I, and I wrote it out.

It was perfect.

So one evening I scraped together what ever cash I had and went and got a bottle of Jack Daniels. And when Jon came home I gave him two copies, and a Zippo - all Writers carried Zippos and drank too much Jack Daniels – one which had his name in it as a character and one that didn't and told him to pick the one to publish. And so he burned the one with him in it. And that was the one that didn't get sent to the magazine.

And it worked. I got my first writing cheque.

I took some of that money and went to a printer. And I got business cards made. In creamy cardstock. Thick and rich. And on that I wrote “The Penn Street Moochers” - the name Jon and I had come up with for ourselves when we used to live on Penn Street – and presented them to him with great pomp and circumstance.

And time went by. Not much, but enough. Jon got tired of being a struggling writer searching for a muse, and I got published enough to keep me writing, but never enough to get anywhere with it.

Jon and I got into a screaming fight that ended up with him moving out. He finally had enough of the “starving artist shtick” as he called it and started working seriously at a job.

I got into “serious work” too. But I kept writing, and once in a while getting published. And I kept those business cards in my wallet. But I always felt I had this great story hidden inside me.

One year I went to see my Aunt Judy. She was the youngest of my mothers siblings and was always considered “a bit strange” by everyone else in the family, but she liked me and I liked her. Once in a while she would come to Thanksgiving held at one of the family houses, but she never hosted. And no one ever asked her to. Occasionally just after lunch you would hear stories about her. About how she ran away from home to San Francisco, to Woodstock. How she lived in a commune – and you know What goes on There.

That one visit turned into many as she told me her stories and her life. I told her mine and of the story in my head. How I could see the edges of it, through the mist, but never the whole of it. And how every story I wrote was just a small part of the pattern.

She understood.

So every few months I would go visit her, and as she grew older – I never felt I was growing old – her insistence that I sit down and Write grew stronger.

One day I realised that I didn't know the town I lived in, even though I had never moved out of the apartment since the day I moved in. The seedy part of town was no longer seedy. The apartment was pretty much the same as it was when I moved in, though my neighbours had moved on, and new, more upscale ones had moved in. The rent had gone up, but not so fast that I noticed. I was not Living the Life any more. The Life had passed me by.

The next time when I went to see my Aunt Judy – “call me Judy” she always said – I didn't leave. I found a job in her town, and I started trying to write.

But it never seemed to work. Something always stopped me. Work, TV, a book, something.

Until I woke up here. In a room. In the basement.

I am not sure what my Aunt Judy did. Or how. Or why she calls it the Narnia treatment. All I know is that I have to write a page a day or I don't get fed. I have a toilet and water. There is a hole in the wall that I get a ray of food, and if I have been especially prolific, some Jack Daniels.

The first few days I didn't write at all. But one day hunger got the best of me, and I started writing. A wretched little piece, but it got me fed. The next day it was longer, and in my mind better. And on and on it went. Until one day I started The Work. My Magnum Opus. I don't know what time it is, there is no light coming in, but when I have written for the day I slide it out through the food slot and ring the bell. Soon after that a tray of food comes in.

I am trapped. I feel like I am living in a Stephen King novel.

And I don't want to leave.

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