This is the story of Joe Altenburg, of who we know very little. He is a man, lost among the sea of men, and moving about them lost in his own way, subsumed in his mere ability to think as he can, and confused, as the most of us are, or would be, or could be, if we thought enough or didn't think enough.
His alarm went off at six, as it did every morning without fail. Spring was coming on, through the Venetian blinds. He had the blinds closed, because it always seemed as if there was too much light coming through the windows when he was trying to sleep. The sky was mostly cloudy lately, and he looked up at it from time to time, when he took the time to open the blinds. The clock was a blue GE model built in a square shape and antique desing. It must have been about twenty years old because he got it from an old pawn shop for five dollars, and the thing was quite dependable, although its clock radio only picked up AM, so he ended up listening to a whole lot of right wing sound announcers when he woke up. Somehow the clock alarm was timed so that it would turn on just when the news was going off, and today it had something to do with the election. At least it is not the weather, he thought to himself, because the weather had been quite terrible recently, with flooding, and intense cold, and just about everything else, it had seemed. Everything was spread out on his floor, and there was nothing separating his own body from the floor but a mattress. The floor was covered with a red carpet that gave the room a strangely bright and faded look. His books were spread out here and there, and clothes were here and there, piled on the dresser, and piled underneath piles of other clothes.
The first thing that Joe did every morning, upon coming into his conscious mind, was to take one step over to the wall socket, and plug in the white cord that connected to the lamp on the table, so that he could see what he was doing. Sometimes the cord would get caught on something, or the lamp would be turned off at the base, and this would lead to more lurching in the dark. Finally he got it turned on, and then turned back to his bed to look for his glasses, which were usually right off the bed by the side but there were a number of different locations where they could be at different times. They had silver rims, and round frames, and held up well for a number of years, and would hopefully hold up for several more, he thought to himself, with some anxiety. A few days before he had woken up to find one of the lenses to have fallen from the rim, and he had to put it back in again. That was always the first sign that they were starting to go, that the lenses would start to fall out and become loose in the frames. He had bought them over three years ago from an optician in Berkeley with a little black mustache who had said that they looked great, compared with the monstrosities that he had worn before that.
Everything was quiet at this time of the morning, and the air smelled clean and fresh, and there was an aura of tranquility and acceptability about that time of the morning. As he put on his clothing, a sense of the wonder of the sense of things came to him and he looked at himself from space looking down onto the oceans and continents, and there he was, in his room putting on his clothes. "Today I will think of the unity of the way of things, and the universal sense in the part of the actual course of my own activities," he thought to himself, and put on his jacket. "Every action has its significance or insignificance, for in the long view of things, in the infinite course of time, there is no significant actiion or worthy or unworthy goal, or any thing at all but the forces of man struggling in the here and now, the thrashing about. The drift of things..." he went on and on and on, and went down the stairway to the kitchen, and there was the espresso maker, hexagonal, sitting on the stove, and also the coffee pot, and the pan from last night, and the rice cooker with the light on.
There was a scratching at the door. It was Fred, the old cat, who knew when Joe got up, and knew that if he was lucky he could get some attention. But Joe went down to the basement to get his clothes from the dryer, and then back up to the kitchen to sit and wait for the time to be right for him to leave. He never left the house until 6:38, because any earlier and there would be a long wait, and any later and he might miss the bus. He went over to the freezer and cut off a slice of bread and put it in the toaster, and waited for it to heat, still in kind of a daze from the morning. There was a copy of Whitman on the table and he flipped it open and started to read..."did you think these were the words, these lines, dots, swirls, these are not words.....the substantial words are in me, in you." he read slowly.
He took out his key and opened and closed his door on the way out, and the cat stood there looking for him. "Bye cat, I have to go and make some money." he said. The trees were starting to look greener and the sun was making weird patterns over the north hills. His feet pattered on the ground, feeling the pavement carefully through the soles. His pack was light on his back, and the morning was unusually warm, as if the day would certainly be warm. The bus pulled up at the curb and he got on, and recognized most of the people on the bus, including the driver. The lady in front of the seat where he was sitting was talking about macaroni and cheese. "She uses some kind of fancy pants recipe and she puts it in the oven and it turns out quite well" she was saying. "My husband doesn't have a fancy job like yours does." she was saying to the girl beside her. Joe got off downtown and crossed the street to the bus stop where he had to wait for the bus to take him to Beaverton. It wasn't long in coming. There were a bunch of people standing and waiting around already, waiting for the same bus. The cafe in the office building near the stop was crowded and it seemed like it might be nice to go in and have a bit to eat, but there was no time. The bus pulled up, and there they were, having to get on for sure, because it only ran once every thirty minutes, and by that time he would be late for work. He recognized everybody on this bus well, because it ran every day, and it took about twenty minutes to get tohis job, ....