A story about a young lonely man who first realizes he won’t always be young (but just may possibly remain lonely)against the backdrop of an unsettling but-for him-spiritually cleansing thunderstorm.

Dormitory – Scheyville (Photo credit: State Records NSW)

I was at work early on a murky morning near the end of July in 1998. I’d stayed on campus that summer as part of the student paint crew to be near the then-love of my life, and to avoid returning home to Illinois, to a well-meaning but meddlesome mother. There were twelve of us, plus two professional painters, responsible for covering all the walls and ceilings of two thousand one hundred and sixty-three dorm rooms, before the new freshman arrived at the end of August. That’s roughly one hundred forty-five dorms a person, or about one and a half rooms a day. Some people were slower than others, of course, so it helped that I often did two, or even three, per day. Sometimes I worked a half-day Saturday. I had nothing else to do. My girlfriend had graduated a month earlier and moved about twenty miles south, to Brooklyn, within two weeks deciding neither Brooklyn nor I were good for her, and then escaping to a North Carolina ashram, where she fasted, meditated, and utterly forgot me.

By late July, I’d been at it almost two months. A record, round-the-clock humidity (part of the warmest global surface temperatures for that month in the instrumental record since 1880) was then sweeping New York, and so the far-off initial sun I saw now, a dim purple glow among distended clouds, framed like a portrait by the window, seeming to signal rain and sending a single sputtering strand toward a point on the west wall, was irrelevant. It had been humid so long the sun seemed not to correlate with the quality or temperature of the air, which was hellishly thick and sticky whether day or night.

The heat index had been at ninety percent for several days running now, and unless you had air-conditioning and never ventured outside, you sweated constantly. I was sweating now, standing in a fourth-floor dorm room, extension poll in hand, rolling off-white eggshell paint onto a ten-foot high ceiling. The boss was a drunk and often forgot to lock the buildings at night, or fell asleep in one of the rooms, and so it was no big thing to get in there and start as early as you wanted. I wore a pair of denim work shorts and nothing else, not even shoes. My mother, who had her own wallpaper business, and who sometimes took painting jobs as well, had mailed the shorts from Illinois the previous week in an extra-large, tape-laden envelope. She hadn’t told me they were coming, but she did tell me, in a typical, overbearing, typewritten note that accompanied the shorts, that they were the best kind available.

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