The Sick Room
[this is an excerpt from Chapter One of my upcoming novel, Real Dreams That Never Go Smash.]
The Sick Room:
A tiny, poorly insulated room with brown walls and an off-white, water-warped ceiling. A small closet, mostly full of Maggie’s stuff. Across from that, a window that looked out onto our apartment’s screened-in back porch. Our bunk beds against one wall; across from them, my dresser (with stereo on top). A few crates of our odds n’ ends - zines and books, records and cassette tapes. A few typewriters and ancient laptop computers, all in various states of working vs. broken.
Maggie nailed keys around the doorframe, so many that hardly an inch of paint showed through. “Why keys?” I asked. “Cos they look cool, and also I heard that if you nail keys around a door, evil spirits can’t cross the threshold.” Dolores donated black light paint to our cause; we sponged stars onto the walls, and I painted the cracks in the ceiling to make it appear as though they were bleeding. We designed the official Sick Room logo, and Maggie - the artist of the two of us - painted it on one wall: a skull with two burning cigarettes behind it, in place of crossbones. Other things adorning the walls included: dead, dried roses slowly disintegrating into powder, plastic skeletons, headless Barbie dolls, the iconography of various saints, photographs of punk rock icons, old time carnival folk, and pin-up girls, naked pictures of both myself and Maggie, and even a photo of the two of us making out. (It was a good way to weed out the squares, we figured: if our potential friends and lovers couldn’t handle seeing naked pictures of us, or knowing that we made out sometimes, they weren’t worth a second glance.) Later, we added Sharpie’d messages to the walls. I started it - drunk one night and listening to the Murder City Devils, I grabbed a black marker and scrawled the lyrics on the wall beside my bed (the top bunk): “Drinking when I should be sleeping, sleeping when I should be waking up. Never hung over. Either wide awake or WAY TOO DRUNK.” After that, we asked visiting friends to pick up a Sharpie and add whatever words they wanted, and so, after a while, the walls also said: “Oh, look at me, I’m as hip as I can be.” “Live fast die first.” “Fuck art, buy tacos.”
And how could I forget our altar? Below our skull’n’cross-cigs, we hung photographs of our personal gods: Iggy Pop (mine), and Bruce Campbell (Maggie’s), and then built an altar to them. The altar consisted of candles, a Freddy Krueger action figure, a small lawn gnome, and an empty bottle of Jameson with a Celtic cross hanging from it.
The Sick Room collected other, less purposeful decorations, as well - coffee and ink stains on the wooden floor, sangria splotches and cigarette burns on my sheets. A trashcan overflowing with empty beer cans, cigarette butts, and used condoms, gloves, and dental dams. I mean, it was The Sick Room, after all.