"Hey man, big bag," John says handing me a joint, and smiling one of his brilliant smiles that come so easy to him.
I take a toke, "Check it out," I say holding in the smoke. It is ninteen seventy, one AM, and I am returning from work with a large duffle bag. John works bar and just got in as well. My job is unloading donations from the freight elevator at Morgan Memorials Goodwill, or as we call it Morgies. Workers pick up the donations from supermarkets all over New England, wrap them into burlap bundles, and bring them to Boston. On the loading dock, another crew piles them onto old railroad luggage carts and sends them up to the third floor where my crew puts them onto an enormous pile that occupies a room the size of a basketball court.
Almost since the first day I worked there, I climb up onto the pile, open bundles, and find things. Multi-colored paisley shawls, vintage beaded handbags, brass picture frames, velvet dresses, brocade pillows, and jewelry. I look forward to the job every night. I fill one or two duffle bags a week, toss them out the back window, and retrieve them on the way home.
Right now I am riding the jagged slide of amphetamines and stay awake for days decorating my room. Skeins of patterned material hang from the ceiling and down the walls; layers of prayer and ethnic rugs cover the floor. My room smells like wool; on humid days like wet dog. I put a small steamer trunk in the corner and drape silk scarves, handbags, and jewelry over the edge like a treasure chest. I cut up magazines and glue collages to the doors. People coming into the apartment linger at the door to my room. The hippy chicks, who wonder through with boyfriends crashing on our sofa or copping dope, I let them go through the stuff in the trunk. "O wow man where'd you get all this cool stuff," they say in their groovier-than-thou voices. I tell them to take whatever they want.
Tonight I have one of the best finds yet and I pull from the bag a full-length black velvet cape with ruffled black satin appliqués and fur trim.
"Cool or what?" I say.
"Shit man that's great," John says running his hand down the fur. "You think this is real?"
"I don't know," I say. "Just look at it." I toss it over my shoulders, it furls around me.
"You have got to wear that to the Bus," he says referring to the club The Cross Town Bus. "They really don't care if you take this stuff," he asks for about the hundredth time.
"I saved it, from the baler." Morgies bales most of the cloths and sells them off as rag to paper companies.
I stuff the cape into the tiny closet of my room along with other vintage clothes salvaged from Morgies. I have no idea what I am going to do with it all. Selling it doesn't occur to me. Would people pay money for it? I don't really care. I just love having it around me all the colors, patterns, and details, the craftsmanship and above all, I love feeling immersed in the smell and the aura of the past.
The past for me is a rugged character, authentic, and resourceful. Remnants of it surround us. I think of the people who used the old things we use today, people in very different situations. Entire families of immigrants living in the triple deckers of shot gun apartments, working in the brickyards of Somerville or stevedores unloading freighters in Boston's port. To live in their houses, walk on their streets once crowded with horse carts, to ride in tunnels they carved with steam engines, feels as if I am occupying someone else's reality, the bits left after all the rest has been pushed through the sieve of time.
In the Harvard Square subway station, there is a wood escalator from nineteen-twenty when they build the station. Whenever I am there I ride the escalator rather than take the stairs. Narrow and steep its wood fingers clatter rhythmically as I step onto the tapered lip. I imagine the men and women who first rode it and their thinking that it is the most marvelous of modern inventions.
I go into the kitchen, open a can of Hormel chili digging into it cold with a fork. John is in the living room stretched out on a mattress smoking a cigarette and listening to Surrealistic Pillow. I join him. He leans towards me as if to have a private conversation although our other roommate Dave and his girlfriend Susan are is in his room sleeping off a fix.
Dave's girlfriend used to be my girlfriend but after Dave stuck a needle in her arm and she stayed with him. I don't care, dope, pills, and acid may pass my lips but I will not do heroin. Dave is a weekend addict. He works on cars during the week but from Friday to Sunday night, he is stoned. He's begun to stretch his weekends through Monday. I hope he isn't getting strung out.
"Jerry's made up a new batch of acid," John says. "He wants to know if it is okay for him to bring over some people so they can try it. He'll give us some."
"You need to ask?" I reply.