Arthur's apartment hovered beneath Eighth Street, just behind the newspaper stand where Taco Man set up shop each day. From 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., Arthur would sit on his couch, staring alternately at the television and the Taco Man's wide expanse of polyester, just visible through the small, cruddy window that looked out on the wet sidewalk. On the ground floor, just above him, a woman with love handles the size of small melons jumped rope in her living room, and plaster flitted down from the ceiling in mists that settled on Arthur's shoulders and hair and couch. Across the street, a construction crew jangled jackhammers and trenchdiggers, carving away the asphalt, gutting the street like a cluster of Eskimos on a beached whale. In the apartment to his left, a blind man clapped his hands for hours while his grandson played the saxophone in bellowing grunts. The wall to Arthur's right was shared by the staircase leading to the second floor of the building, and all night he listened to cops pounding up and down the stairs, dragging the same three tenants out on the same old charges while they - the tenants - screamed and kicked at the wall. The ambulances that wailed by in the early morning, the garbage truck that rumbled to a stop less than a half-block away, banging dumpsters like a child with a slew of pans at his disposal, the quiet, desperately seductive murmurs of prostitutes that hung out in the building's entry: all of these things disturbed Arthur.
Until the first time he watched The Oprah Winfrey Show and she interviewed Jeremy Something-or-Other, a man whose landlord was overcharging his tenants. Jeremy Something-or-Other, Oprah said just before Arthur got up to turn the dial, waged a personal war on his landlord, writing daily letters to the editor of the Philadelphia Star-Tribune until the Renter's Association investigated and brought the landlord up on charges. The audience clapped.
That was when Arthur decided that he, a lanky, slovenly, jobless maintenance man, could change the world as well.
And so he set about it.
Arthur Ceslanovic bought a typewriter at a thrift store, dropping a week's pay on the machine and an opened and torn ream of typing paper. He walked home forty-one blocks, carrying the typewriter under one arm. The cuff of his jacket, a tweed number that was in the apartment when he took the maintenance job, kept snagging its buttons on the keys. Finally the buttons wedged themselves beneath a row of letters, and when Arthur shifted the typewriter from one arm to the other, the F and D keys yanked loose, standing up on metal legs like two codgers trying to start a wave in a stadium full of legless fans.
When Arthur arrived at 9068 West Eighth Street, trudged down the outside stairs that dipped below street level, ending at his door. He had to duck to enter.
"We are home!" he said, kicking the door shut with one foot, and he carefully set the damaged typewriter down on the kitchen counter.
Arthur's home was small and smelled of oil and Windex. It was what might be called a studio in a better part of town; here it was just a room. His couch, a pea-soup shade of green, tattered and adding a slight fish odor to the conglomerate of smells, divided the small room in half. In front of it stood a three-legged coffee table, its missing support replaced by two concrete bricks. Arthur's television, a black and white model that had also been here when he moved in, and one that needed some extensive accessorizing of foil and coat-hangers, sat on the flimsy surface of a wobbly dinner tray, another thrift-store prize.
His kitchen was nothing more than an open corner in the apartment. It had a sink, two drawers, two cabinets, and an ancient icebox.
Arthur's most prized possession, a music box that his mother had given him on his seventh birthday, sat in the center of a card table in another corner of the room, was relegated to a place on top of the icebox. He wiped lumps of dried and crusty food off of the table, then proudly set his typewriter in the center.
The ceiling in the kitchen was dripping again, and when Lola upstairs began jump-roping, a fat, wet sludge of plaster splattered on the linoleum.
ear E itor.,,
I woul nee to complane about the womann who lives on the top o me. She all ay long jumps aroun with a roppe and my ceeling is alling a-part now.