THE MELANCHOLY NIGHT of Dermot Murphy began around 5:15 p.m. when he got off work, walked across the street to where he lived and found a man there waiting for him. The man stepped up to Murphy and handed him a letter. "Sorry," he said, "but that's the way it goes." Dermot Murphy, aged 20, opened the letter. He had been evicted.
Later, across the street at the gas station where Murphy is the day manager, two guys were talking over the events of the day. One was the night manager of the station and the other was a guy in cut-offs and a T-shirt. There seemed to be some dispute over the gravity of situation, the night manager insisting that since Murphy was innocent of the charges against him, the eviction notice amounted to a mere nothing. The other guy disagreed.
"He's going to learn about life," the guy in the cut-offs said. "I mean, this is life."
"Where's he now?" asked the night manager.
"At the lawyers."
It was about then that Dermot Murphy drove into the gas station from MacArthur Boulevard and parked the car he had borrowed from night manager. The lights of the station played on his face, which was intently watched for a hint of what happened at the lawyers. Murphy was saying nothing. He was dressed in dungarees and a green T-shirt and he took big, purposeful strides toward the men's room, knowing that he was being watched. Just before he reached the door he let loose a proper spit. It came from the back of his mouth, arched perfectly and landed with a splat on the asphalt. The night manager and the other guy laughed. The gesture said everything. Dermot Murphy was in trouble.
The letter that has handed to Murphy earlier that day was actually the second he had received from the building's management. The first, received one month before, informed him that someone - he did not know who - had complained that he was playing stereo too loudly. The letter said that if this continued, Murphy would be evicted. Murphy took the warning seriously, he said, even though he claims not to be the one with the offending stereo. He lowered the volume anyway and even bought a pair of $50 headphones. He felt he had done more than enough.
In the lobby of the building, the eviction of Murphy became a topic of conversation. Murphy saw to that. He told everyone who passed what had happened to him, beginning with an old woman who walked with a cane and ending with a man who wore his shirt outside his pants.
"I've been evicted," Murphy told the man.
"Evicted?" theman said. "Evicted for what?"
"Playing my music too loud."
The man makes a face of disbelief. "I never heard it."
"See," Murphy says excitedly. "My next door neighbor - 206."
The apartment of Dermot Murphy, who dropped out of school at the age of 16, is very neat and nicely furnished. In one corner is the accused stero and on the walls are mock, but realistic-looking, guns. Murphy is something of a gun collector, but city law forbids him from owning anything but the replicas. He talked a bit about his life - how his father had died when he was 9, how he had simply stopped going to school, how he had more than his share of juvenile escapades.
The more he talked, the angrier he became. He did not know his accuser and he had no way of proving his innocence. The guy in the gas station was right. Dermot Murphy was learning about life, and if there is a place to learn, it is an apartment building. At the moment, for instance, a friend of mine is in trouble because he changed the lightbulb in the hallway of his building, increasing the wattage. I myself was once told by the woman who lived in the apartment beneath me that my dog's pacing was keeping her up at night, and I still wonder, although it has been years, who it was who used to place garbage in front of my door.
I told Murphy some of these stories and for awhile he laughed. But then the anger seethed within him once again and he tried to explain why he felt the way he did. "God, you know I can't even control myself. I'm overwhelmed. It burns me up. I just get so mad I want to go out and destroy something. I've got a hot temper and it's hard for me to control."
While he was talking, I remember what the guys at the gas station had said - how Murphy would never do anything to risk his apartment, how he always paid the rent in advance and how proud he was of the place. It was neat, it was clean and everything in it, down to the magazines carefully displayed on a table, was his.
Now we were at the doorway of the apartment and we were saying goodbye and Murphy was still feeling mad - ready to kick something. So I said something trite, something I did not believe. I said I thought everything would come out all right in the end. He said he hoped so, and then his voice went soft.
"This is the first place I've had of my own."