96. The View From the Apartment

WHAT MARK USED TO call his apartment was actually an entire floor of a disused office building in an industrial estate. In fact, for some reason the entire estate was vacant and falling into a state of benign neglect. It belonged to a company owned by Mark's father, one of the wealthiest men in the city. The way Mark described his father painted him out to be a kind of corporate gangster, but most of us had met his father and it was hard to reconcile Mark's descriptions with what we knew of the man, a mild-mannered accountant type who wore a tie every day including weekends and took cello lessons twice a week. Mark had moved into the building after a brief love affair - with a man none of us ever met - ended in some kind of unexplained heartbreak. He'd left it virtually as he'd found it: it was still in every possible sense an office building. Had his father decided to rent it out, it would have required little effort. Mark had an inflatable mattress on the floor in one of the managers' offices overlooking the parking lot below, and beyond that the port, with its cranes and stacks of shipping containers and flashing lights at night. Other than the view, it was an office like any other, with the same fluorescent lights as any other office, the same fake foam ceiling, the same kitchenette, the same men's and women's toilets, the same office chairs and desks, even the same partitions. I would visit every now and then, bringing my guitar, and Mark and I would sit on the industrial-strength ocean blue carpet, drinking warm beer, smoking cigarettes and playing guitar as the afternoon faded and the lights over the port brightened fiercely in the twilight. What songs did we play? Mostly we improvised new ones. Ideas would flow from Mark's mind like the source of a river from a mountainside. In an afternoon you could improvise half an album, lyric ideas and all. I've never met anyone so prodigious. Perhaps that helps explain what happened later - for what is value when that which comes so easily to one comes to most only through great labour? The one who has only one good idea a year doesn't forget it - on the contrary, polishes and prizes it until it shines like a cut diamond. It beggars belief now, but we never wrote any of those songs down; we didn't record a single musical idea. One of the last occasions I visited, I asked Mark how he could bear to live in an empty office. He replied that it suited his mood. I admit, I didn't get it at the time, but I made no more of it. He told me he was thinking of going away, and when I asked him where he said, Travelling. Of course, in light of what later happened, I wish I had been more inquisitive. What mood is it that suits an empty office? I've since thought about it probably more than any other thing anyone has ever said to me. It doesn't mean anything now, of course, but when I picture those port lights shining in the green twilight, I think I know what he meant.