Houston is a humid city.
The sun made ripples in the air as it wound its way down through a window-many windows, in fact, but one window in particular-and lighted on a tentatively flashing alarm clock bearing the ridiculous assertion that it was just past 11 p.m. Maybe in Shanghai, I thought. Definitely somewhere. But go wake them up, and quit bothering me.
I slosh over to the kitchen through the dying maelstrom of sleep deprivation that comes from spending one too many nights going to bed at a decent hour, and put some coffee on. I don’t like it much, but the smell reminds me of home. With cream and sugar, it’s tolerable. Two boxes of Shredded Mini Wheats, one nearly depleted, and a full gallon of milk complete the ensemble. I smile at myself for having timed my grocery shopping so perfectly.
A cell phone buzzes on the nightstand next to the weird plastic vanity that came with the apartment in the bedroom. It’s a blue flip phone from five years ago. It’d cost me about twenty bucks to upgrade to a sensible modern phone these days, but I don’t out of either stubbornness or a desire to be a hipster about something. Plus, my personality is too addictive to handle having all that idle entertainment within reach.
Cereal is more important than interaction right now, I decide, and pour myself a serving using the retchingly sugarcoated “Go get ‘em, Tiger!” bowl I’d gotten with box tops in second grade. I reach the bottom, correctly assess that this is a problem, and rectify it.
The phone buzzes again. I’m irritated for a moment before I remember I set it to buzz every two minutes while I had an unread message. Wise move, previous me. I pour some coffee.
I flip the phone open to see a text from a Detroit number whose area code I am only familiar with because I saw 8 Mile. I open it without really looking at it to get it to shut up and drop the phone in a decidedly laptop-free laptop case that’s been serving as a manpurse since my backpack got lifted after I left it on the Metro. The sun’s breaking out over the top of a misplaced strand of firs set in front of some art museum that’s been leaning over my bedroom like a thick surgeon waiting to operate. It’s orange through the smog.
I brush my teeth with the rest of the milk from my cereal since my sink’s been mysteriously broken for a week now and the landlord can’t be arsed to hire a repairman until I threaten to pack up. Swish swish. Waste of good milk.
Ray is limping down the hall as I shut the door behind me. He’s retired, and jokes that he’s hiding out here so his kids can’t put him in a home. I think he retired ‘cause he couldn’t stand to work anymore, and decided he could live on whatever he had saved up ‘til kingdom come as long as he didn’t have to put up with The Man anymore. I respect Ray.
Ray and I exchange mumbled greetings and I clutch his shoulder in a tacit display of solidarity for whatever rebellious hijinks he’ll engage in today. He’s not so old yet that he can’t give me one in return. I hope he stays that way.
It’s a mile and a half to the nearest bus stop where I live, a product of awful civil engineering and a general agreement on the city’s part to screw over the residents of my particular habitat. We’ve got one of the highest crime rates in the city here in the Sponge. The Sponge is so named because its official, fancy title is “the Expo district,” which caused some talking head in the eighties to label it the Expunge district, because the Expo is where all the things that upset the rest of the city’s stomachs end up. People aren’t fond of multisyllabic toponyms, apparently, so somewhere down the line Expunge was abbreviated to just the Sponge, and it stuck.
The bus stop is crowded with loners like me, waiting for the sun to duck back behind a skyscraper and provide them some semblance of privacy.
The number twelve bus is four minutes late, and I pay my fare begrudgingly.