When I turned twenty-four I dropped out of college for the fourth time and moved to a scummy apartment in Dayton to write a novel. After about a month, I got lonely and invited the copious amounts of homeless people skulking in nearby alleys, vacant lots, abandoned houses, and junked cars to stay in the apartment, establishing something like a flophouse. Their presence helped the writing. I never could think when surrounded by silence or canned creativity like music or television. At first, I wrote on a laptop but someone stole that while I was sleeping so I went to a thrift store and found the biggest, bulkiest typewriter I could find. It would be too heavy for them to lug to the pawnshop and it had a generally useless, ancient look to it. Using a typewriter meant I had to keep a paper manuscript and my bums stole that as well. I don’t really know what they used it for. It was good for editing purposes. I had to write the same scenes over and over. Eventually, when I reached something resembling a finished manuscript, I got tired of them stealing it so I put the ream of paper in a plastic zipper bag and stashed it in the tank of the toilet. As the manuscript grew, the water in the toilet’s reservoir didn’t have anywhere to go and it would run out from the tank. This worked out nicely because no one ever wanted to get caught making a mess in the bathroom so they never opened up the tank to see what was making all the water come out. They just finished their business and got out as quickly as possible.
The actual physical act of my writing (they never read anything I wrote) inspired some of the bums and they would spend entire days writing on the walls. I encouraged this, figuring I wouldn’t get my deposit back anyway. After they stole the radio and the television this was the only way I had to entertain myself when not writing. I never really knew who wrote what but it was all pretty good. Gritty. Realistic. The complete opposite of the novel I was writing. I had trouble keeping the bums’ names straight. They all had nice, solid, Midwestern names like John and Hank and Buck and Mike. Or nicknames like Stinky, Pooptooth, and Blackbeard.
I stayed there for three years.
A guy named Squirt was there, standing right behind me, when I finished my novel. He was enthralled with how quickly I could type and a little sidetracked by the flaking rash on his stomach.
“That it?” he asked.
“Yeah, I guess that’s it.”
“Guess I should try and sell it.”
I bought a guide to writers’ markets and quickly figured out every publisher was actually the same publisher and it was located in New York.
“Well guys,” I announced. “I’m going to New York.”
No one paid any attention to me. One man was hastily scrawling on the wall. Another man was in the corner shooting heroin. One was in the kitchen, cutting his wine with tap water. One was passed out on the couch, snoring loudly. He only wore one shoe. Squirt came out of the bathroom and proudly proclaimed he had fixed the toilet. I told them they were welcome to stay until they got thrown out and, if the landlord asked about me, to tell him I had died that morning. Again, I don’t think anyone really heard me.
With my manuscript under my arm and a suitcase in my hand, I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to New York.