On Time and Alleyways
Here the world is embroiled in a shiftless tide of endless summers. They’ll tell you about seasons and heat waves and cold fronts and storm months, but its best to ignore what they say. Its not their fault, they’re merely victims of a stagnant climate, trying to punctuate the crawl of time in some way or another. But distinguishing constant heat and constant rain from constant heat and constant rain is a task reserved for the chronically bored and the clinically insane, which those amateur meteorologists very well may be. The year is just one molten blob so you’re best off tracking time by an entirely different metric.
Perhaps you will demarcate time along the intermittent sightings of carpet dog; a canine cursed with the burden of eternal life. I presume the poor creature’s lifespan is infinite because, were it not, its great many afflictions would have definitely consumed its frail body by now. Its coarse, hairless grey form is pocked with frothing pustules and peeling scabs and thick patches of parasitic fungi. Dozens of irregular, tumor-like knobs dangle far below its ever-bloodied stomach; its rotting skin sags over its emaciated body. It always walks with four simultaneous limps, and its eyes are encased in a film of decaying gunk through which it sees only a world of sooty gutters and trash filled alleyways. When rain strikes the sullen dog a thick black ooze drips off its body and stains the earth beneath it.
Carpet dog is wholly indifferent to the world around it, long ago jaded by an eternity of listless wandering. It will plant itself in the asphalt or the gutter or the mound of scorched earth reserved for trash fires, and it will wait. It will sit and it will wait, neither for food nor for companionship. Instead it will sit and wait, as it always has and always will, for death to come and extricate it from this enduring, rotten purgatory. But life is long and this epoch is short and carpet dog will assuredly live to see the end of time. So if you see the carpet dog scratching maggots off its left ear on the corner shop across the alley, you will know a week has passed.
Alternatively you might measure the change in months, which you begin to suspect is a human construct, by the proliferation of mangled cats in your area. These cats have irregular, snubbed and crooked tails that jut out and bend inwards at broken angles – how you might imagine a snake would contort at the brink of rigor mortis. They are heavy and aggressive and steadfast in their conviction to retake the territory that you at present occupy. This land is their birthright, the paved, waterlogged, polluted grounds of their forebears, and they will rid the human aggressors until felines rule from the Indian to the South China Sea. Lucky for you the tribes of cats are preoccupied with sporadic bouts of extreme violence and orgiastic resolutions. As long as this carnal cycle remains, you are safe.
But every full moon when the tribesmen are most prone to lunacy, the alleyways will echo with the existential purrs of a thousand outraged cats. In their mother tongue they will scream out to you with blood curdling urgency and demand your surrender. “Why? Why?” they will screech, “Why are you here?” Why is anyone here, you will telekinetically relay to the cats. They will concede this point and hush their purrs. Then they will agree to a temporary armistice, devour your trash, urinate on your stoop, and begin inseminating one another with future generations of severely mutated cats.
There is one man in charge of letting the neighborhood know that day is becoming night. At 5:00 pm exactly you will hear the faint hum of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. At 5:02 the anthem will deviate from its familiar tune when a pre-recorded Chinese chorus joins in. If you follow the arrhythmic chanting to its source you will arrive at a red gate. On the other side of the gate an old man will be flailing his arms wildly in the air in a wild effort to harness his body’s natural energy flow. He will continue to practice his Qi Gong until the tape ends at 6:00 pm and his body is engulfed in a hurricane of sweat. Having harmonized himself and the community, he will wipe his sneakers on the doormat and go inside.
When you are sitting down to eat on an otherwise nameless evening you will be confronted by a toothless, bald, shouting man. He will perch on the chair beside you and ask for a lighter. When you do not procure a lighter he will ask you for a cigarette. When you do not procure a cigarette he will ask you for ten dollars. When you do not procure ten dollars he will ask you to buy him dinner. So you give in and buy him dinner. He will then ask you for a lighter.
I do not recommend calibrating the passage of time in relation to this homeless man unless you possess immense astronomical knowledge. His sightings correspond to the junctures and orbits of certain celestial bodies, the specifics of which I am woefully ignorant. It is even possible that he will extol the virtues of wormholes and dark matter in passing, but equally possible that you are simply mishearing what are in fact banal cries for more soda and tobacco. Of the vagabond, you may reliably assume that he will manifest every 17 days to request homage in the form of lighters, cigarettes, money, and dinner. The order of these demands will alternate to reflect the positioning of the cosmos; if he shrieks at you from across the street, you will know that Mars has reached its nearest proximity to earth. Alternatively, you may deduce that the man is suffering from severe incontinence.
The swimmer is perpetually poised for a late night dip. He is a man of intense, borderline extreme, leisure. He has large ears and puckered lips and is focused on something far off in the distance. Unless he is dining, his hands are clasped behind his back, for he has no use for them now or ever. But in the event he is dining he will squat in his chair and manipulate his plate and let gravity feed him his dinner.
The swimmer wears a polo shirt tucked into a billowing pair of swim trunks hiked halfway up his rib cage. His feet are adorned with loose, readily discarded flip-flops, with which he putters around the narrow borders of his kingdom. If you encounter him on these patrols it is best you show deference with a head bob or an appreciative smile. You will be subject to a cursory inspection in turn, signaled by a subtle, slight nod, at which point you are free to pass. If you see the swimmer then it is at least past seven in the evening. If you see the swimmer wearing pants, then you are gravely mistaken and are seeing someone else entirely.
Under highly anomalous conditions the homeless man and the swimmer will collide with one another. The time will be 8:34 pm, and without looking at the broken analog clock behind you, you will know this. The swimmer will be completing his fifth orbit around the cyber café in which you are stationed. At that precise moment the homeless man, having discerned your silhouette through the window, will succumb to your intense gravitational pull and enter. Before he can specify the number of dollars you must give him, he will spot the swimmer. You detect the rumblings of a prior territorial dispute, and you are correct in your suspicions. The homeless man will slap the swimmer across the face. The owner of the café will begin screaming, the swimmer will freeze in place, and the homeless man will scamper outside, shouting profane revelations into the indifferent night sky. This will happen only in July.