July 27, 2009

Colonel Lysander's Improved India Ink

Morning in Erie is like no other morning in the world. Every morning, I could hear from the windows, the rumbling of a parade of horse drawn milk carts headed out to the streetcar districts. We in the city called them streetcar districts only because the families who lived in them only were reachable by the streetcar. They were too far off to be considered a part of the city of Erie, but somehow, they still were. I laid on the feather mattress in the dirty bedroom of my little apartment overlooking Columbia avenue. The long double hung window was difficult to cover with a pull down shade so I ended up tacking a white sheet halfway up and then drawing it aside for light. In the next room was my drafting room and kitchen. Beyond that was a small parlor and bathroom. Small was the best way to put it. I sat up and slowly rubbed my eyes, inspecting the rough hairs that had grown on my face over the night. I pulled the striped robe over my shivering frame and shuffled into the bathroom.

I stared into my dirty reflection, presenting each cheek to see the amount of shave I would need. Either way, I would end up at the barbers on the ground floor and shave there. I dressed, and departed. Straw hat in hand, my jacket over my left arm and my vest unbuttoned. I descended the dark stairwell and found myself in the dim arcade of the first floor. I looked towards the end where the light from the street hurt my eyes. I turned into the first shop which was the barbers.

"Morning Jim.
"The usual then?
"You got it." I sat myself down into the morocco leather chair. The barber took several moments to raise the legs and recline the chair. "Today's gonna be another squelcher."
"You know, the weather being and all.
"Ah yeh. Well, it don't get too hot back here in the back of the Arcade.
"Lucky you. I bet those Hungarians who run that dry good shop in the front of the arcade must be jealous of your spot.
"They would be if they wern't doing so well. Dont forget, it's all about location.
"I suppose a dry goods store in the back of an arcade sounds strange." He began to brush the hot thick foam over my face. "But like I said, it's gonna be hot.
"Yeah, well... what can you do?

I shrugged and sat back contemplating as he started to take careful swipes off my face with that straight edged razor of his. His plump face twisted and tightened every so often to indicate how I should shape my face so he could get a clean cut. As he finished, his back was turned to me at the counter. His gleaming white coat was spotless and looked as if it was more fitting in a hospital theater. He came back with a comb and a tin of pomade. He took several slicks and combed my hair back. I figured to fix my tie and collar and thanked him. I fished out a dime and handed it to him and left. As soon as I exited the arcade, the heat had hit me and my hair seemed to melt. It was only 9 in the morning and the heat was unbearable. I decided to leave the coat off and wait for the streetcar. A moment later, a large open California type streetcar rumbled up and I got on.

The car rumbled and squelched as it turned on curves. The brakes would hiss and every so often, the motorman would stomp his foot and a beautiful resounding clang would come from the gong that seemed to be conspicuously absent every time I looked at the cars. I knew one day i'd find them. I arrived at my stop and walked down Hudson street to Ellsworth and Sons Technical Emporium. I always had to stop in here every morning to pick up supplies for work. Always a bottle of Kingston & Reeves brand of Ink and a box of hunt C-4 nibs. Every so often, a pen would break and that would mean I would get to choose a new pen from the hundreds of boxes of holders. I always ended up with the same Hunt wooden thing even though I had the chance to try maybe one of those Paris crooks or a Keuffel and Essel technical resovoir pen. But the same wooden holder and nibs.

I stared at the wall of ink bottles and just felt disgusted. I didn't want to do the same thing every day now. I didn't want to touch the bottle of Kingston and Reeves. I decided to change my life. Change something at least. I looked and scanned about, one bottle catching my eye in particular. It was called Col. Lysander's Improved India Ink. On the lable, there was a picture of some mustashed British toff with a tiger's head over his helmet. I figured, it wouldn't hurt to give it one shot. I grabbed the green glass bottle and paid for my things.

At the studios, I found myself unable to use the ink. I stared at it, and Col. Lysander mocked me back. I pulled a reserve bottle of Kingston and Reeves and worked. Later that evening when I was back safe at home, I pulled out the bottle of Lysander's Improved whatsit and cracked open the top. It was nothing but water mixed with black soot. Improved my derrier.

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