Countin' flowers on the wall, that don't bother me at all
Playin' solitaire 'til dawn, with a deck of fifty-one
Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo
Now don't tell me I've nothin' to do

For about a year, I lived by myself in an apartment so dilapidated that in later years I've taken to referring to it as the "pit of despair." The apartment was essentially one room, with a tiny closet. There was a toilet and what amounted to a basin on the floor that you could use to bathe yourself in if you stood up and poured water over yourself. The floor was wood, and the walls featured these ancient panels with pictures of flowers on them. Oh, and a single hanging light bulb with a string pull right in the middle of the room.

I never bothered to furnish the place very much. I took an overstuffed chair out of a dumpster and used it for seating in there. It had a bright green flower print pattern on it. The chair smelled like a cat had used it for a toilet for a while, but I didn't mind too much.

I also dove in a dumpster for a couple large chunks of foam rubber, which I taped together to make a makeshift bed. I could fit twin sheets on it fairly well, so I just tossed this into a corner and used it to sleep on.

My desk consisted of two stacks of two boxes each with a board across them, and the rest of the room furnishings amounted to three more cardboard boxes and miscellaneous stacks of books sitting here and there, a small AM/FM/CD radio found on the discount rack at Wal-Mart, a record player that worked when it wanted to, and a giant poster of Katharine Hepburn, larger than life, dominating one wall.

Home sweet home.

I keep hearin' your concern about my happiness
But all that thought you've given me is conscience I guess
If I were walkin' in your shoes, I wouldn't worry none
While you and your friends are worryin' 'bout me, I'm havin' lots of fun

I had an old Statler Brothers record that I listened to all the time. I found it at a garage sale where an old woman cradled her cash box and watched me carefully flip through the box of records that she had for sale at the ridiculous price of a quarter a pop. There were about fifty records in there and I offered her a dollar for all of them. She quickly said sure in her haggard old voice. I think she thought I was going to mug her.

The fucking Statler Brothers. I saw them in concert when I was a little kid and all they sang was incredibly sappy gospel music. It wasn't even the good kind of gospel music, the kind where you get this sense that the singer was just on the edge of going batshit crazy from thinking about Jesus a bit too much. I like that kind of gospel music. Give me the Blind Boys of Alabama any day of the week.

The record (actually, there were two of them, but the second record looked like it had been used as a catch toy with a Doberman) had a cover full of rainbows made out of bundles of yarn and other weird shit, and it was dated 1972. I looked on Amazon at albums by The Statler Brothers just to try to figure out what it was. Thank you, o great Amazon oracle of pop culture information:

The World of the Statler Brothers
Statler Brothers

List Price: $11.98
Price: $11.98 and eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25.

70 used & new from $4.99

Ready to Buy?
Sign in to turn on 1-Click ordering.

You know, I might actually be interested in FREE Super Saver Shipping if my local UPS deliveryman wasn't apparently the twin brother of Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite the older brother of Otto the bus driver from The Simpsons a complete raving lunatic. He has this brilliant plan of using every UPS box as his own individual practice ball for the local punt, pass, and kick competition and so any item I order from Amazon generally looks like it was shipped through the Congo by a group of tribal apes.

So, yeah, the Statler Brothers. Apparently they made some damn interesting music in the early 1970s, and this song is a prime example of that sound. Apparently, this song first came out in about 1965, just as psychedelic rock was about to take off, and I think that version of the Statler Brothers would have fit right in if they didn't insist on calling themselves a country band.

Countin' flowers on the wall, that don't bother me at all
Playin' solitaire 'til dawn, with a deck of fifty-one
Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo
Now don't tell me I've nothin' to do

I'd go home, night after night, to that little run down room. The rent was dirt cheap, which was about right for me at the time considering I held down a minimum wage job while attending a few classes here and there at the university. There was also a rat that lived in there, too. I called him Walter. He stuck around for months, even though I never had any food of any kind in there; I generally just ate at a cafeteria just down the street.

Night after night, Walter and I would sit in there, and I'd tell him about the things going through my head. I'd read books. I read Nietzsche and Sartre and the Bible and Atlas Shrugged. I spent hours teaching myself how to toss playing cards into an upturned hat. I tried absinthe for the first time up there, and also tried smoking a pipe.

The apartment was on top of a barbershop that closed at six in the evening each night, and the walls were made of thick concrete, so I could listen to music as loud as I wanted all night long. I used to spin that old Statler Brothers record over and over and over again, and I'd croak out the words to Flowers on the Wall, leaned back in that old overstuffed cat urine chair, and the sound of my voice would bounce back at me off the walls.

There was no one around to talk to, no one around to listen to, no one around at all.

It was one of the happiest years of my life.

Last night I dressed in tails, pretended I was on the town
As long as I can dream it's hard to slow this swinger down
So please don't give a thought to me, I'm really doin' fine
You can always find me here and havin' quite a time

I eagerly await the release of "Zen and the Art of Dumpster Diving." Surely someone must be working on this great magnum opus. I imagine a cranky middle aged man in the basement of his mother's dilapidated house, pecking away at an ancient IBM Selectric, stringing together words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs.

You haven't really lived until you've pushed a cat out of the way to retrieve a philosophy textbook tossed out by an overly rich college student. Zen is that moment when the overweight man in a tight white tee shirt comes out of the back of the bar, sees you half buried in the dumpster, and starts screaming at you to get the fuck out of his garbage.

Zen is that moment when you don't have enough cash to make ends meet and you find a half-eaten roast beef sandwich tossed out by some impulsive little idiot, and you tear away the parts where that person has chewed, and the sandwich is still warm to the touch.

Countin' flowers on the wall, that don't bother me at all
Playin' solitaire 'til dawn, with a deck of fifty-one
Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo
Now don't tell me I've nothin' to do

After about a week of living there, I bought a box of nails and some nylon rope and spread lines across the room in a crisscrossed pattern. I washed my own clothes in that little basin, by hand, and hung them up to dry on the nylon ropes. I'd leave the window open and a good draft would always be blowing through the room. In the winter, I found a little space heater that someone had thrown out because it was "broken." Like most "broken" things, it just needed a new cord; I spliced one together myself and plugged it in. It worked just fine.

I got terribly sick in the spring and I don't remember much of two or three days except for rolling on the floor in my own vomit. I was able to drag myself over to the basin on occasion to get water in my mouth. I nearly died, and no one would have noticed for at least a few weeks until the landlord came to pick up the rent check.

Laying there on the floor, my clothes caked in my own vomit, barely able to move, I realized for the first time I truly am alone in this world. You might think that such a thought would shock me into some sort of "remission," that it might make me flee this hole that I had dug for myself. Instead, I just leaned my head into the basin and threw up again.

I wouldn't move out for another seven months.

It's good to see you, I must go, I know I look a fright
Anyway, my eyes are not accustomed to this light
And my shoes are not accustomed to this hard concrete
So I must go back to my room and make my day complete

I came home one August day to find a bright red sticker on the door. I ignored it for a few days until a police officer spotted me unlocking the ground entrance. "You can't go in there," he said, "It's condemned."

Apparently, the entire building was in a state of severe structural disrepair. I convinced the officer to let me go inside to retrieve my belongings, and then I was on my own again. I had given the landlord a false name and always paid him in cash, and besides, he didn't even let me know that my home was condemned, so I didn't feel any real need to tell him anything.

I had a good deal of cash stowed away for such a rainy day, and I already had a new roof over my head by the end of the day. It was a much more respectable place, with a newly-finished bedroom and kitchen and living room.

I stared around at the blank white walls of my new home and my first thought was I miss the flowers on the wall.

Countin' flowers on the wall, that don't bother me at all
Playin' solitaire 'til dawn, with a deck of fifty-one
Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo
Now don't tell me I've nothin' to do

If you're expecting some sort of grand epiphany, you're going to be sorely disappointed; my story doesn't have one. There was no grand meeting with Jesus, there was no sudden comprehension of the mysteries of the universe, there was no snidely sarcastic Goth girl to sweep me head over heels in love.

I remember looking at Walter once and asking him if he had found Jesus. Walter looked up at me, shifted his whiskers a bit, and ran away into whatever hole he climbed out of.

I've nothin' to do

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