Down in the jungle, got a proper flat
Do a bit of this and do a bit of that;
The punters come and the punters go,
Suits me fine, I’m Cushty Cho!
Down in the jungle down on my luck.
Me downhearted? Like fuck.
– Ian Duhig
We were bad. We read Andre Gide and struck elaborate poses to show that we didn’t give a shit about anything. At night, we went up to Greasy Lake.
– From “Greasy Lake” by T. Coraghessan Boyle
Here’s what I remember: I’m eighteen years old, fresh out of high school, and it’s my first night in my new apartment. It’s late in the evening, and there’s a prostitute standing at the corner nineteen floors below. Business must be slow, because she’s lifting her dress for the benefit of the passing cars. There are five or six of us squeezed onto my postage-stamp sized balcony, watching the show.
Bored with that, we gather in the kitchen to drink lukewarm beer and hot-knife hash over the stove. Six months before the missed period and the drug store pregnancy test, seven months before the abortion, my girlfriend is drinking Baby Duck from a Dixie cup, and we’re passing around a leaky paper carton filled with greasy Shanghai noodles.
Fifteen years before I give up on an unfulfilling insurance career and enroll in a community college creative writing course, I’m telling my friends, now that I have my own place, I’ll be free to concentrate on writing the Great Canadian Novel. I did well in high school. I’ll enroll in UBC in the fall.
The apartment I’m renting is what they call a “studio”, which means it’s maybe 500 square feet. There are a few cardboard boxes stacked in one corner of the living room and a black Naugahyde hide-a-bed stretches almost from wall to wall. My “entertainment centre” / bookcase is three two-by-fours balanced on cinder blocks stolen from the construction site across the street. My record collection, mostly Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, with a Chet Baker album displayed at the front to lend me an air of mystery and sophistication, is stored in a yellow Dairyland milk crate.
Money’s going to be a bit tight, I can already see that. My bicycle courier job pays me $650 a month after taxes, and my rent is $465. But Elvis Costello is singing on the stereo, Stanley Park is stretched out below me, and the lights of the city are plugged in just for me. I’m eighteen, and I’m smart, and I’m waiting for the future to unfold.