Flint reminded me of the guys I had worked on construction crews with and the guys in the battery factory. Sort of, except that he was aristocratic in a way or maybe it was laziness or laissez-faire.
He was surprised when I called for directions to his apartment located on the bottom floor of a faded, white stucco building in a faded, white neighborhood of Tampa. Two blocks away was the Michelangelo Terrace housing projects which had no relationship to Michelangelo or to the Florence, Italy of the Medicis as far as I could see, especially the plywood in some of the windows and the red spray paint on the sides of some of the vacant apartments. The Hole in the Wall, a neighborhood bar, was directly across from his apartment. I had heard about the Hole in the Wall before. "Nonmembers" were usually dispatched from the premises needing an emergency room. The name of the bar seemed to go along with novel Flint was writing, "The Void." That's why I was going over there so he could read some of it to me.
Flint's green 750 Honda with high handle bars and a chopped seat was lassoed by a heavy chain to the flimsy, metal railing that ran on both sides of the front steps. The last time I had seen him at the university he was carrying his motorcycle helmet and curled up inside the helmet was The Intellectual Tradition of the West: Volume One. The helmet was nowhere in sight and must have been tucked away inside the apartment because I didn't see it on the bike where he usually slung it.
I parked my car on the side in a small lot filled with crushed, white shells, and walked down the dimly lit hallway to the first apartment on the left. After several raps on the door, Flint appeared, all six foot three of him, in the doorway.
"You found the place," he said, snickering with a distinctive, nasal tone.
He invited me inside the apartment where the shades were down on all the windows, and his things were scattered throughout the living room like a laundry grenade had gone off. Clothing was everywhere. Boxes of books were stacked against a wall. From the looks of it, he had slept on the tattered couch the night before. Next to it was a bottle of whiskey with a few rusty inches left in it. A book, Walden Two, was on the floor next to the bottle of whiskey. For no apparent reason, Flint jumped from the couch and went to the front window and pulled back the shade.
"Thought I heard something out there. I don't trust those creeps at The Hole in the Wall. I know those fuckers are just waiting for a chance to rip off my Honda. My gun is loaded just in case. I might have to shoot my way out of this place someday," he said.
"You have a gun?"
"Yeah. A machete and a hunting knife too," he said.
Flint didn't see anything outside so he returned to the couch.
"I've never read anything by Skinner," I said, pointing at his book.
"'Walden Two' is a commune where they get rid of deviations. Once that's done society will be a smooth running, well-oiled machine. Sounds good, huh? No more deviates around except for B.F. Skinner and his daughter that he kept in the Skinner Box. Reefer?" Flint asked.
He reached for a plastic bag on the coffee table.
"It's a little early in the day for me."
Flint turned his head toward the street several times as he rolled himself one and lit up. He read some passages from "The Void" about Victor, the plumber hero in Baltimore.
"This novel is on the forefront of modern literature," Flint assured me.
I didn't have a clue. I was into Vonnegut and Joseph Heller.
"Victor's a friend of mine in Baltimore. Damn good plumber too. The theme of the novel is 'that nature abhors a vacuum.'"
He read from "The Void" until the vacuum he created was filled by Ellie Windows who arrived about an hour later. She was married to an artist who did Dali-esque sketches of insects and drove a private school bus for the local Jewish Community Center. Frank Windows staked out his artistic career on these insects. Maybe that's why Ellie visited Flint a couple times a week.
Frank and Ellie had a young daughter, Sarah, and all three of them lived in Thonotossassa, a rural area, full of orange groves, pasture land, and purple mushrooms that produced outrageous hallucinations like Frank's drawings and their house. It wasn't exactly a house. It was an amalgamation. It was a split level, so to speak. One part was a school bus (I'm not sure if it was one that he had once driven) that had been welded to the other part, a travel trailer. It had a screened-in porch too. It was the weirdest house that I ever saw once we all became friends and I got invited to the parties they had.
"I met Ellie in a 'Sex and Violence in Southern Literature' class," Flint said by way of introducing us that morning.
Ellie had long black hair and red lipstick on and reeked of lust, the old South, and speed because she was hyper as a bumble bee on jasmine when she walked in.
"I took some diet pills this morning," she said.
She brushed her long, dark hair to the side then hugged Flint who stood to greet her.
"I've done diet pills before. Not for dieting, of course," I replied, because I was a high school athlete and still in pretty good shape. "It makes you feel like doing stuff you usually hate doing—like studying all night."
"What I came over to do, I'm not going to hate," Ellie answered provocatively, then looked at Flint.
"She can't get enough of me," he said. "I can barely handle her. She's all over me like honeysuckle and confederate jasmine."
"It's time for me to leave, seeing y'all are going to do something in here that southern literature is full of," I said.
"Uh, yeah," Ellie replied.
Before I left Flint handed me a book to read, The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
"It's about a commune. You remind me of one of the characters, Miles Coverdale," Flint said. "He's the poet and narrates the story. It's a tragic one too."
All life is tragedy, I suppose. We're all noble and have our downfalls, one way or the other. The trick is to keep it to a minimum.
Before I left, Flint offered me one of his boxes full of old books, but I declined.
"Maybe another time," I said. "Let me finish this tragedy first."
"I move around a lot. It's hard to carry all this stuff on the motorcycle," he complained.
"That's why you have me. I have a car," Ellie said. "For that and other stuff."
She flung her leg over his on the couch. That was my signal, the two by four to the head of an ornery plow mule, to leave them to their own devices.
When I left, the Hole in the Wall across the street was just beginning its day filling up with noontime customers. Victor, the hero and plumber in 'The Void,' was right. Nature did abhor a vacuum and holes and emptiness even though that's the way I felt most of the time especially then, leaving Ellie and Flint. Empty. Without a clue, the narrator and not the actor.
Inside the apartment I imagined Ellie and Flint, the novelist with the gun, machete and hunting knife, were filling a void of their own, entwined together like Faulkner characters from a different era, loving and hating each other with sound and fury. Eager. Desperate. With the guilt and passion of honeysuckle and confederate jasmine. We soon became best friends.