from Karl's speech to the people at the next table over at McDonald's:
"...let the person there be named Gregory. It's as good a name as any other. And, for the sake of argument, say, let his email account be sponsored by Yahoo! It's as good an email provider as any other. No question! Let him spend more time out-of-doors, observing nature. It's as solid a pastime as any other. And then, at a certain point, let him disappear into the canyons. It's as effective a hiding place as any other known to the animal kingdom, and of course I am including humankind in that category...
Met him one evening on a bench in Jackson Square in New Orleans. I was interviewing random people for my underground magazine, Karl's Quest for Understanding. It was based in part on The Burrow by Kafka. Some people understand and support this type of oblique or sepia storytelling, others prefer more straightforward or traditional types of world literature. Kafka was an odd duck, to say the least. And yet, sometimes he engaged in conversation. Other times he stayed locked away in his office for weeks at a time. His email service was provided by Yahoo! and his diet consisted primarily of products manufactured by Kellogg's, Hostess, Campbell's, and Jay's. He lived a long, productive life. Let the person there on the bench be named Gregory, and let him be willing to open up to a complete and total stranger for awhile...
At first he was just sitting there, alone, gazing out into the emptiness. I talked to him for awhile about my ideas and the importance of my underground magazine, and he asked a few bizarre questions, wanted to learn about my education and so forth. When I told him that there was really no education to speak of, he chuckled quietly, and for several minutes returned his gaze to the aforementioned field of nothingness. I asked him if I could record him with my handheld tape recorder. "My words or my silence?" he asked. "Whatever you like" I responded. After several minutes of the latter, he gradually started to talk about Reginald, this person who was helping him to survive in the city. He had no home, no occupation, no family, no circle of friends, and no identity. This benefactor of his, whose nickname may or may not have been Little Reggie, left food out on the back porch of his apartment and let Jackson sleep in the tool shed. There was more than enough room for him to fashion a rudimentary bed. Little Reggie, a blues guitarist, provided cushions, blankets, sheets, pillows, and a small bedside reading lamp.
Let the human being exist inside the story, and let there be some sort of unnamed animal, perhaps a cat, lurking around on the premises to keep him or her company during the cold and desolate nights out in the tool shed. My underground magazine was at first called Honey Nut Cheerios in honor of my favorite cereal as a kid, and which also just so happened to be available at the restaurant which sometimes put food out for Gregory's various benefactor. What was he doing in New Orleans in the first place, you ask? Was he some sort of hobo or traveler? Possibly. And why didn't he secure an occupation? Whatever happened to his family? New Orleans was full of transient types when I was there in the mid 90's. People would gather from all parts of the city at night in Jackson Square or the boardwalk and engage in conversation for many many many many hours at a time. Was I the first one to ever come up with the brilliant idea of recording it, with a machine, and then transcribing it into dialogue for what would eventually become the sequel to Honey Nut? No, I was not the first, not by a long shot. It was and probably still is the oldest trick in the book!
He confessed that he spent some of his time reading in Audubon Park. I decided that it was my job as interviewer to figure out the reasons for this. Reading is an enjoyable pastime, no question, and most people do a little bit of it every day, for enjoyment. Whether they're keeping up with current events or trying to understand the overall culture or escaping into the exciting worlds of adventure created by, say, a Robert Louis Stevenson, an Emily Bronte, a J.K. Rowling, a Kafka, a Stephen King, an Al Gore- many different types of readers out there, and many different types of reading material. Jackson informed me that he was in possession of a transit pass for all buses and trolleys, and sometimes would do his nighttime reading on the St. Charles streetcar. The conductors all seemed to understand that he was totally harmless, a gentle soul, a classic night owl, and a major bookworm to boot. They let him ride back and forth, and usually didn't attempt to initiate conversation.
Let one of the other late night passengers be named Italia. It's as good a name as any other. And let her email account also be sponsored by Yahoo! There's some debate about this nowadays, but I and many other people still maintain that it's just or nearly as good as any other email provider out there. Let her also spend more time out-of-doors, observing nature. It's as solid a pastime as any. Right? But don't, I repeat DON'T, let her disappear into the canyons until you have finished your upcoming article. Got it?
Would it be indiscreet to mention that she invited me into her home? One minute it's a simple toolshed, a makeshift bunk, and a reading lamp, and then the next it's a full blown luxury apartment overlooking Magazine Avenue! She was also working on an underground magazine inspired by Kafka, and wanted to talk shop, as it were. Compare notes, share ideas. My poor magazine had never been very successful, so I felt that revealing some of my formulas to a complete and total stranger would not only do no harm, but might very well result in securing one more reader. We shared a similar philosophy. We also shared some abnormal psychology. Take for instance the canyons, or the time spent gazing out into the nothingness. We were journalists, and this was our version of puttering around late at night in the workshop. Some people went to Jackson Square, some people canoed on the river, some lived in makeshift encampments, some ate food faithfully left out on the patio.
Italia and I became good friends and even went on to have a full-on romantic dalliance. She enjoyed sexual intercourse and convinced me that it was indeed a healthy and worthwhile activity. We roamed Audubon Park and I showed her the bench where Gregory used to do all of his reading. She was intrigued, and asked if I would introduce her to him at some point. I said "no problem" or something to that effect, because Gregory, insofar as I knew him, was always looking for opportunities to open up about his time in the canyon, and had even agreed to several in-depth profiles on obscure blogs such as Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, & Count Chocula. There's a lot of good reading out there on the internet, rumor has it. As everyone knows, the slogan for Jay's is "Just Can't Stop Eatin' Em" and I for one have personally found this to be very true. That's partially why I started to come here, to McDonald's, in the morning. Not only do I get to enjoy the company of like-minded people like yourselves, but for 3 or 4 dollars, tops, I can get a full-blown healthy meal, covering all of the major food groups, and yep, semi-delicious and attractive to boot. They recently came out with what they call the "ol' fashioned bottomless cup." It's one of those situations where you can drink as much coffee or soda as you possibly can. It's almost like a challenge! They want to see you "go the distance." That's what it says on the sign, at least. And I do, sometimes. I really do. I'm not ashamed to admit that..."