It was Maxie Schnadig who had introduced me, some years ago, to Karen Lundgren. Whatever brought these two together I can’t possibly imagine. They had nothing whatever in common, nothing.
Karen Lundgren was a Swede who had been educated at Oxford, where he had made something of a stir due to his athletic prowess and his rare scholarship. He was a giant with curly blond hair, soft-spoken and excessively polite. He possessed the combined instincts of the ant, the bee and the beaver. Thorough, systematic, tenacious as a bull-dog, whatever he engaged in he pursued to the limit. He played just as hard as he worked. Work, however, was his passion. He could work standing up, sitting down, or lying in bed. And, like all hard workers, at bottom he was lazy as sin. Whenever he set out to do something he had first to devise ways and means of doing it with the least effort. Needless to say, these short cuts of his entailed much time and labor. But it made him feel good to sweat his balls off devising short cuts. Efficiency, moreover, was his middle name. He was nothing but a walking, talking, labor-saving device.
No matter how simple a project might be, Karen could make it complicated. I had had a good dose of his eccentricity while serving as his apprentice in a bureau of anthropological research some years previously. He had initiated me into the absurd complexities of a decimal system for filing which made our Dewey system seem like child’s play. With Karen’s system we were able to index anything under the sun, from a pair of white wool socks to haemorrhoids.
As I say, it was some years since I last saw Karen. I had always regarded him as a freak, haying respect neither for his vaunted intelligence nor for his athletic prowess. Dull and laborious, those were his chief characteristics. Now and then, to be sure, he indulged in a hearty laugh. He laughed too heartily, I might say, and always at the wrong time or for the wrong reason.
This ability to laugh he cultivated, just as he had once cultivated his muscles. He had a mania to be all things to all men. He had the mania, but no flair.
I give this thumb-nail sketch because it happens that once again I’m working with him, working for him. Mona too. We’re all living together on the beach at Far Rockaway, in a shack which he has erected himself. To be exact, the house isn’t quite finished. Hence our presence in it. We work without compensation, content to room and board with Karen and his wife. There’s much yet to be done. Too much. Work begins from the moment I open my eyes until I drop from fatigue.
To go back a pace… Running into Karen on the street was something of a God-send for us. We were literally without a cent when he happened along. Stanley, you see, had told us one evening, just as he was setting forth to work, that he was fed up with us. We were to pack our things and get out immediately. He would help us pack and see us to the subway. No words. Of course I had been expecting something of the sort to happen any day. I wasn’t the least bit angry with him. On the contrary, I was rather amused.
At the subway entrance he handed over the valises, put a dime in my hand for carfare, and without shaking hands turned abruptly and stalked off. Not even a good-bye. We of course got into the subway, not knowing what else to do, and began riding. We rode back and forth two or three times trying to decide what the next step would be. Finally we got out at Sheridan Square. We had hardly walked a few steps when, to my astonishment, I saw Karen Lundgren approaching.