One recent headache: one of the holes for one of the pegs of one of the shelves holding my art books decided to split, causing shelf after shelf to pancake downward in a manner immediately familiar to all New Yorkers.
Fortunately, there were no casualties, not even the strange but cute little doll in a glittering rubber dress that a certain commenter gave me, which I had put on one of the shelves, although her handbag was flung for yards in the collapse.
But the aftermath turned my "to read" pile topsy-turvy. And it was an odd thing, how the first two books I read in the rebuilt pile paralleled each other: Patrick Leigh Fermor as a young man walking through Europe, down the Danube valley towards Constantinople in the 1930s; Harry Partch as a composer whose grant ran out, homeless on the open road on the West Coast in the 1930s. Hallelujah I'm a bum.
Fermor's book, A Time of Gifts, is one of the great travel books. It has lauds enough. I'll quote from Partch's Bitter Music, on the comparative musicology of homeless shelters:
The various manners of shelter reveille range from the comical to the heavenly.
In Stockton a man walks about through the aisles tapping a sweet, soft gong. The transition from the luxury of sleep to the garish day is gently provocative. He walks about for approximately ten minutes. He seems to be the impersonal augury of better things. He is persuasive.
This reveille is paradisian.
In Sacramento the agent of awakening whacks each bed with a stick, unceremoniously. The result is not even impudent. But it is in harmony with 'most everything else about the Sacramento shelter.
It is disgusting.
In Redding an old man gently taps each somnolent protuberant behind with a broom handle. I was very sorry to be awake when I discovered this. I couldn't help wishing to experience the sensation of such an awakening.
This is a highly paternal reveille.
In Portland an attendant who is a stupendous basso profundo comes to each tiny room (four bunks to a room -- the men are not in large barracks, as in the other shelters), stands in the door, and roars:
"Time to get up! Oh, it's time to get up! Oh, it's time to get up!"
Partch notates this on a staff. I live for details like that.
This agent is not only profound -- he is the essence of modesty. He assumes that his voice alone is not enough to wake the dead (bums sleeping after coming off freights can only be described as dead), and carries a club with which he delivers one Herculean crack on each bed.
I cower: "Well, that's over!"
The words have hardly sounded from my lips when he reappears. As though every man there were not now as wide-eyed as he ever hopes to be, De Profundis repeats the performance.
I get up quicker than I ever did in my life and stagger out. I take no chances on his coming back. On my way to the dressing room, I hear more reverberations from hell:
Oh, oh, oh; oh, oh, oh; oh, it's time to get up!"
More notation, and it's a descending scale to the depths of Avernus.
Those who don't know it now never will.
My only word to describe this reveille is demoniacal.