Swimmers Club

14th March 2017


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Treading Water

Check which is the shallow end and note the point where you will be out of your depth.


Who: Joseph Grantham
Where: Queens, New York
What: Writer, Co-Founder of Disorder Press

Where I Am and Where I Go

I want to go into the kitchen. I am lying supine on my bed, in my apartment, wearing what I wear when I go to sleep. That’s an off-white t-shirt and white boxers. I called my apartment an apartment but it’s really an SRO. Single Room Occupancy. I am the Single Room Occupant. I have a bed and a strip of carpeted floor that I can pace back and forth on.

This is San Francisco.

We share the kitchen. We share a lot of things. There’s a tub of condoms downstairs. We share those. We share toilets and showers. We share utensils. We share mouths, and limbs, and sometimes our entire bodies.

I haven’t lived here long.

I can see fingernail crescents from past occupants entangled in the carpet. Not all of them are yellowed. I can feel them poking away at my calluses when I amble barefoot from one side of the room to the other. The people who lived here before me must have bitten their fingernails a whole lot. Or maybe it was only one guy. One guy who just gnawed at the things and left them on the carpet for me. Either way, I’ve started doing it myself, gnawing at the corners with my teeth, tearing them off and adding mine to the carpet collection, hoping that the next poor sucker who occupies this room notices my work, the work of all of us.

I have this image rolling around in my head of someone just like me pacing back and forth in the room, feeling every poke and prod issued by the family of fingernail crescents living in the carpet, and wondering who left them behind, who left all of these fingernails behind, and maybe I’ll be somewhere else, somewhere better, and I’ll feel this poor sucker walking on my fingernails, I’ll feel him wondering about me and everyone else who ever left a fingernail behind in that room.

But for now, I live in this room, and I want to go into the kitchen. That’s where I make my coffee. Down a long hallway—the walls on either side painted yellow and the ceiling white, the floor encrusted with dirt, and sometimes, swept against the walls, wet pieces of newspaper and hypodermic needles—and down some stairs.

Dan, the building manager, knows I’m sick. He doesn’t know if it’s the flu or if it’s something worse and I’m not sure either. He’s the one who knocked on my door and found it unlocked. He delivered me a postcard. Brought it right up to my bed. He told me to feel better. I told him I wanted to go into the kitchen. I told him I wanted to make coffee. He told me that was about the worst thing I could do. He told me I should drink a glass of water. He left the room, closing the door behind him. I turned over the postcard in my hands. It wasn’t a postcard. It was a Polaroid. A snapshot of the kitchen.

There’s nothing special about the kitchen and there’s nothing special about the Polaroid. A white fridge, a white countertop, a white microwave. Crumb-infested shelves. Bits of food under the stovetop that catch fire whenever I turn the stove on and set my kettle down.

I haven’t been in there in awhile. I’ve been in bed. But if I’m lucky, I’ll go there again.

I used to travel a lot.

Hawaii is beautiful. Hawaii is heaven.

I’ve never been, but I’ve seen pictures, and I’ve been there in the pictures and in dreams.

My eyes travel all the way across my room. Back and forth. That’s where I am. That’s where I go.

Joseph Grantham lives in Queens in New York and runs Disorder Press with his sister.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Share-Alike, Creative Commons licence