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The Xmas lights that trimmed the bar offered coy, slo-glo come-ons, whispering to our man in a manner that made it clear that they meant to soothe him. But they knew they had no intention of sharing in his unremarkable depression. He wasn’t complaining. He’d had enough of honest, slient condemnation. He reflected on a time when the distinction between being and seeming wasn’t so uneven. Used to be a man was born with strength. Now he ingested it and washed it down with a watery domestic. He clenched his bowels to approximate fortitude, knowing this could go either way.
His sluggish brain fired him a VIVID approximation of what the next morning’s brutal cheap beer heacache was scheduled to feel like. He responded with a skull memo: Set the radio to country and crank it before passing out. It wasn’t a vivid enough approximation to stop the brew from flowing. Certainly not enough to dissuade him from his conviction that Faith Hill or Brooks And Dunn, at a piercing enough volume, WOULD get him out of bed and into the shower. The water and tater tots did their piece. All this was adequate to keep him drinking. Numb. Consumed.
Love often turns into hate, then sometimes back into love. Seldom does it become full, sincere indifference. He wondered if he’d get over her. It depended on whether or not he’d actually LOVED her. A matter on which he’d admit he was a tad CONFUSED. They’d met at a bar. One of those cheesy joints lit with soft white bulbs behind royal blue and deep maroon shades in a smirking approximation of Manhattan class. Strong drinks, though. He didn’t remember the first fuck. Fact was, the relationship caved right when the sex was just getting intrinsically GOOD. Not simply expected.
He wondered if it could’ve survived, the relationship. Would probably wonder forever, particularly when the furies encircled his head, the everlasting no hissed in his ear and he felt so worthless that even his most disloyal former associates started looking like the Ones That Got Away. But the relationship was doomed from the first hand kiss, he knew then and knew now. At first, when it had been misery for him it had been blissful for her, and vicey versey. Or so he felt. They dropped it in one of those increasingly undeniable moments when it was misery all around.
As our man nursed his watery domestic, a tall fellow kimbled up to the bar and sat beside him. Trenchcoat. Slicked, black hair. Basso profundo vocals. SURREALLY pally. Ordered some obscure mixer and immediately started making conversation. Most of which came dripping out of our man’s ear canals like so much showerwater. He did, however, catch Trench Coat’s name: Boris. He’d’ve had a hard time ignoring that. Boris liked some things. Liked some things, certain drinks and songs and females, a lot. Disliked some things. Kept his shit-eating grin plastered on as he flashed his gun. Got our man’s atttention.
“Hey now, I’m blowing all this smoke and I don’t even know you. How you feelin’? What’s on your mind?” “Nothing I care to share, Boris.” “Fair enough. What you drinking?” “Beer, Boris.” “What kind?” “Dark beer, Boris.” “You feelin’ OK?” “Not particularly, Boris.” “Ah. Life sucks.” “Not really, Boris. I’m just tired.” “Cool.” “What’s up with the piece, Boris?” “What now?” “The gun.” “Oh, man. You NEED a gun now. It’s rough. You’re armed, right?” “Convicted felon.” “Oh. Well, if anything goes down, talk to Boris. If I need a rundown on the criminal scene, I’ll talk to you.”
“You got problems,” said Boris, a bit didactically for our man’s tastes. “You’ve got problems too big to hide. And you’re not solving them. You’re here. You’ve rendered yourself entirely passive. It’s not the time, man! You drink to CELEBRATE. You make yourself passive when things are GOING YOUR WAY. Right now, and don’t bother denying it, things are decidedly NOT GOOD for you.” He slapped our man’s back. “And it’s only going to IMPROVE if you put your head out a tad. Hence, my right hand here.” He tapped his gun with his index, grinning. “Now. What you need?”
“Boris,” our man sighed. Then, after a pause, continued, “You might know who I am. I beat the shit out of Zeus and didn’t give a good goddamn. I pissed out the ocean, I watered the trees. Got my dick sucked by Aphrodite with her down on the knees. I thrashed scars on the sun all day and all night. Beat the shit out the rain for stopping the fight. I need your assistance like I need a heart attack. And if you got something to say to me, PLEASE, step the FUCK back.” Boris nodded briskly and walked out.
Geez. Closing time already? No. Just midnight. Time for the hipster art fags to clear out of the would-be Irish tavern across the way. Boris bustled through the mass of baby blue wool and polyesther. “Excuse me,” he coughed at one sweater-clad art fag as he bumped him in the shoulder. “Excuse yoouuw,” the art fag hissed. Boris attempted to lock eyeballs with him, but he kept walking. Boris wondered what he’d done wrong. Lack of taste? Objectification of females? He wanted a FIGHT. Wanted to cripple the fag. Knock his molars out. That made him feel that much worse.
Boris opted out of hopping any more bars. He was tired. Not depressed. Worried, maybe. That was more a function of being tired than anything else. And Boris was more tired than anything else. He wouldn’t have minded another pinch of otiose barroom banter to help summon the sandman, but it wasn’t necessary. He was weary of doing all the work. In general. Mostly, he was just weary. He put a square in his teeth. Put some fire to the tip. Amazing that this lighter still had some juice after what must’ve been close to a decade. Boris kimbled homeward.
Julie was violently, combustibly pissed. But didn’t realize it, exactly. All she understood was that she was writhing in pain. Would’ve dug her fingernails into her flesh and ripped it off in quarter-pound strips if she could’ve. Was suffering too much to do it. Would’ve screamed. Couldn’t. Would’ve shrieked the most profane insults at no one and nothing in particular. Could’nt think of anything quite damaging enough. Julie wished the sky would catch fire. Wished EVERYONE (the fact that this included her was, honestly, neither here nor there) would feel extremely hot for a few minutes and then perish painfully.
It was largely the ex-boyfriend’s fault, this bottomless torment that now engulfed Julie. OF COURSE it was weak of her to let so much ride on a self-absorbed asshole, but she was too much involved to opt out of caring for, and investing most of herself in, the man she loved simply because he wasn’t perfect. He’d been cranky and consistently drunk for weeks before he left, and Juile knew what was in the pipes, but couldn’t face it. Their moods rose and fell together. She didn’t want him back. She’d rather die, only because she really would PREFER to.
Our man was, this particular night, a mean drunk. That’s the route this particular binge went down. “What now, ASSHOLES?” our man wondered aloud. “You pricks got something to say to me? Ha? You don’t think I worked, BUSTED MY BLACK ASS, for everything I’ve got? Don’t think I’ve earned it? Show me what you do better. Fucking show me. Cocksuckers. Assholes. I’m here because of hard fucking work and tough fucking shit. You can show me what you’ve got that I don’t or buy me a beer and tongue my goddamn asshole. A or B. What’ll you have, FUCKERS?”
“Calm down,” said a grim, rain-damaged Asian man who’s Marlboro smoked voice made no threats as it rendered threats unnecessary. “Be cool. Pull up a chair.” Whether or not he was calm, our man shut his yap and did as instructed. “What’re you drinking, cowboy?” the Asian asked. “Fuck it. You,” he said to a larger man at his side. “Get this man a gin and tonic. Bombay Sapphire.” The larger man took off for the bar. “Now. You’re my entertainment for the night. In gratitude for me saving your ass from the sidewalk. It’s raining. You’re better off inside.”
It didn't take the larger man long to return, considering how hard it normally was to get the barkeep to even acknowledge you in this place. The Asian man's nose was pointed toward the table. He shot his eyeballs upward to glance at our man as he passed him the G&T. "Drink up. Time's running low. Now. Converse!" "I got nothin'. Just broke up with the old lady. Drunk off my goddamn ass." "Well. Let's play a game." Our man groaned emphatically. The Asian retrieved a revolver and spun it round. Put it upside his head. Fired. Nothing. Passed it.
Julie suffers on. Julie doesn't care what you think. Really. It's difficult for her to figure out what SHE'S thinking, most of the time. Even in her dreams, she's a stranger all around. Even in her dreams, FREE OF CONSEQUENCES, she can't summon the courage to off herself. She wanders about, bored and boring and depressed and hopeless, charmed for a moment by the buildings bobbing up and down but not so much that the pain doesn't kick back in pretty much immediately. She jumps off a bridge and floats serenely down. Even in dreams, most suicide attempts ultimately fail.
Sleeping too much is supposedly a BAD SIGN. Julie was so used to BAD SIGNS that they were like little icons on the wallpaper where it didn't line up quite right. Frustrating when she was in a bad mood, easy to accept and ignore when she just needed some goddamn rest. Oversleeping affected her diet, to be sure, but all that shit her ex spouted off about proper nutrition was simple paranoia anyhow. And extremely hypocritical, coming from a goddamn drunk. People eat what they like, people do what they like. When she was unhappy, Julie liked to sleep. Slept.
Shit floats. God helps those that CAN'T help themselves because they've been soft, incompetent, evolutionarily quirky emotional invalids too much for too long. Love is pop art. Nothing more. Dumb shit. A fraud. Even in dreams, Julie can't run from the truth. And thus chooses not to. She doesn't hear the phone ring one, two, three, four times. She doesn't hear the machine pick it up. She doesn't hear Boris, pleading, apologetic, servile, trying to wake her, reassure her, fuck her blind again. Boris mumbles his goodbyes and hangs up. Julie dreams on. Her glow in the dark stars fade.
"Tell you what," our man slurred. "I'll be RIGHT BACK. To be continued. Hang on while I take a piss." He staggered and wobbled to the back of the bar. He went in the can, pissed out the last 90 minutes of drinking, peeked out the door and, seeing no one in the Asian man's party had their eyes on him, slinked out. A tall, thin man with sharp features, dressed entirely in black, was nursing a beer at the bar. Looking to appear occupied, our man introduced himself and faced the man in black like an old pal. "Word."
She wakes up and pops another sleeping pill. These pills Julie found will KNOCK YOU ON YOUR SOMNULENT ASS for eight hours, GUARANTEED. So, her plan now is to pop one every 8 hours, dream for 8 more hours (which she can do quite lucidly, on this medicine), get up for a few minutes, eat something. use the can, gulp some water, pop another pill and dream away another 8 hours. Nice. It's nice. That's what she'd call it, if you called her up during your 10-15 minute window and asked her what she was doin' with herself. Nice. Zzzzzzzz.
"Welcome," the man in black responded, tendering his work-gloved paw. "I am Juan Diego, rider of the lightning, king of rock plus roll." A squad of five cheerleaders (uniforms: black, and scant, even for cheerleaders; pom-poms: black; eyes: blinking in rhythm: when two pairs were open, five were closed, and vice versa; physiques: two rather slim, three on the brick house side of things) assembled behind him. "I've skipped to the last chapter, kid. As it began, so it shall end. In ash. There's decay on the way, but you need only suffer occasionally. Lose yourself in revelry. Emerge. Triumph."
"What are you FOR?" Juan Diego asked our man. His cheerleading squad lined up behind him and kicked alternate legs so high their toes just missed our man's eyebrows. "I don't think you've got an answer. Don't give me any monosyllabic bullshit. There's nothing particularly worth being FOR. 95% of everything is shit. The remaining 5% is worth dying for. But I don't need to hear what you'd die for. Spare me the cheap sentimentality, crumb. Uphold your own worthwhile 5 with quiet, unassuming dignity and we'll get along just fine. 95, you must BURN and DESTROY. Which makes noise."
"Of course," Juan Diego continued as his cheerleaders grew more frantic, "It ain't all BBQ chips. GO FORTH! Go fourth regardless. The only redemptive feeling is the feeling, delusion or no, that you're not wasting it. Because it OFTEN feels like a protracted version of high school. You'll feel like you just drank the shrinking potion from Alice In Wonderland. Like you're at a goddamn prom. You'll find yourself DELICATELY entwined with people that pick at your scabs for their own trifling amusement. Often, you'll feel so sadistically fucked by this world that you'll fail to pump out the tears."
"Oh, incidentally," continuted Diego, his voice shifting gears in one direction or another, "I'm happy for you. You've come a. Long. Way. Since I've known you. And I've known you for a generous slice of time. Spent many liquor-washed evenings in your company. And you've come a long way. You sucked eggs at one point. You know that. You were pathetic. I'm relieved that you're so much better now, that you don't suck so much anymore and that you didn't get any worse. So, congratulations." Our man, too stunned to be pissed or grateful toward this stranger, turned and left.
Our man hit the street. It was close to half and hour past closing time, and the city was crawling with drunks who, in lieu of a pickup, roamed the sidewalks in search of a fistfight or an opportunity for vandalism. Realizing now that he was in no position to defend himself (in something resembling the fabled Moment Of Clarity, though it was too fleeting to even be called a moment), our man stuffed his paws in his pockets and tried to look directed and purposeful. He turned toward a sewer grate and discreetly puked out his vital organs. Slowly.
For, you see, our man didn't care to be seen puking. For reasons that aren't really any of your goddamn business. Oh, he didn't much care if you thought his regurgitation disgusting, or if that little hamster you call a girlfriend found it gross. It was too overpowering a sensation, too intimate a moment, for him to be terribly comfortable sharing it with you. Fortunately for our man, you're too preoccupied with your own dumb, drunken concerns to pay him much mind at this time of night. Our man walked on, roughly aware of where he was headed. It drizzled.
Despite sort of intrinsically knowing where he was and where he was going, our man was still thoroughly plowed. And starving. He planned to set his alarm to yank him from BlanketLand extra early. Knowing he couldn't get the fuck outta bed with only his job for motivation, he made a plan to make it pleasurable. Knowing he'd forget it, he wrote it down: 1. Get up, 2. Shower immediately, 3. Go out for a big, BIG breakfast, 4. Make a breakfast cocktail to stay drunk, as you'll still be plowed from tonight. Oddly, he still had fifty cents change.
He staggered up to a grime-encrusted payphone. He thought about calling a taxi. But he was broke. But it wouldn’t be that big a deal so somehow stiff the guy. But he wasn’t feeling that clever or deceptive. Plus, he was enjoying the walk. He dropped his two Washingtons into the slot. Listened to them join their well-traveled brothers in the phone’s dark guts. Punched in the first seven numbers he could think of. Listened to the warm, digital purr. Basked in the between-purr silence. Listened to another purr, then a click, then Julie’s drowsy, recorded slur. “I love you.”
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