Mums the Word

One Last Swift Kick To The Junk

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I enjoy drinking wine. Vino pairs well with food, sometimes even as well as experts claim. I just can’t stand talking about what amounts to the worst kind of poetry: “A bouquet of blackberries, tobacco and vanilla, mildly tannic and dry on the tongue, medium-bodied with a hint of stone fruit and a long, peppery aftertaste that fades into a mellow finish.” Lies! I won’t be a part of it. Any time I hear someone proselytizing about how their favorite Malbec tastes like a sunset, I choke back hate-vomit and have to stop myself from shouting, “It’s grapes! The wine tastes like fermented grapes! Shut up and drink!”

Job hunting was getting pretty desperate. Just me and Andy the Android, putting out feelers and riding the MTA from restaurant to restaurant. Poor Andy didn’t get a lot of sleep these days. He kept trying to, shutting off his HUD every 60 seconds when I didn’t use him under the pretense of needing to “save his screen.” I woke him up regularly, checking email for leads on interviews, surfing Craigslist for openings, playing pirated-Yahtzee timekiller Dice With Buddies. Most of all, I just basked in his magnificent glow while the shadows crept in from all sides.

Almost every server position I interviewed for wanted me to speak enthusiastically about their glorious wine list. Not going to happen. My first choice would be to get my old job back. I used to serve tables at a classy BBQ joint downtown. Solid management, great food, consistent money. It wasn’t perfect - it’s a restaurant job - but I always knew where I stood, what my role was and who to go to with a problem. I put in my resume over a week ago and I’m still waiting to hear word. They do have a wine list, but trust me, they’d much rather me know my beers than my grapes. That I can handle.

“‘What do we have on tap?’ you ask. I will answer your question with a question of my own: Where, sir/madam, do you fall on the spectrum of flavor? I need to know, because we’ve got options. The Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, Founders Red’s Rye and especially the Peak Organic IPA are the Murderer’s Row of hoppy ales. You want to drink them with ribs or chicken, and don’t forget to dial up the hot sauce, because otherwise these beers are just going to stand in the middle of your tongue and hammer-toss the meat straight down your throat. You’ll put $60 on your credit card and forget what you ate for dinner. If you’re a path-of-least resistance/right-lane type, I can recommend the Blue Point Summer Ale. It’s mild, lemony and drama-free. It goes with everything because it’s a glass of water with beer coloring, but it’s a decent option if you prioritize superficial social pressures and would like to perpetuate the facade that you enjoy drinking beer. I warn you, if you order beers like this on a consistent basis, they will leave you wondering which toilet you flushed your life down when the Grim Reaper pays a visit to your bedside.

“Now, 99% of Mankind has already made their choice, but maybe you are special. If you are bold, understanding that life is more than just a series of comfortable escapes, I have a beer for you. It’s as black as a shadow with the consistency of liquid velvet. More of an experience than a beverage, drinking it is going to unlock some suppressed memories and wipe others away forever. It tastes like a carbonated glass of black iced coffee, sweetened with the the syrupy residue of an extended waking nightmare. Its given name is Keegan’s Mother’s Milk Stout, but I call it the ‘The Raven.’ I recommend pairing it with the dry-aged strip steak or the Texas beef ribs. But whatever you do, pair it with meat. The gods won’t appreciate it if you drink this beer without taking a life. Angering Apollo will summon ill-favored winds.”

I loved that job.

We all make mistakes, but I’m a fuck-up star. My wrong turns are downright inspired. Subsequently, while few ought to dwell on the past, I sit in it like murky bathwater. The Dalai Lama implores us to mind the moment. The present is starving for content, desperate to see who we are, what our talent is and what we have to offer the realm of Now, humming like a juicer and yawning for the next apple. I know this, and yet I’m lost in a glaze of self-loathing, casting thoughts into the fishless depths of my memory, looking for something worthy to reel in. It’s a false hope. I have to throw everything I catch back and settle for a sweaty bag of McDonald’s on the way home to my partially furnished, outer-borough basement apartment.

I’d left the BBQ job to ship dresses to Qatar. You can always tell it’s a mistake to quit because everyone’s faces are scrambled-up and incredulous, their timbres rising at the end of their questions. “Why are you leaving?” they marvel. It gets weirder when you explain, “I’m going to mail ladies wear now. Goodbye.” But that’s what I did. This is apparently the sort of job you can score with a Classics degree. I spent four years reading Aeschylus, conjugating Ancient Greek verbs and studying Hoplite warfare so I could stand under fluorescent light and stuff hot pink chiffon into cardboard boxes. It’s hard to square that with the history in your head. I’d rather have died fending off Persians at the Battle of Marathon than standing there printing shipping labels.

It didn’t help that I worked for crooks.

New York is full of criminals. You see it everywhere, every day. Little kids snatch purses and vanish into the park. Over-served bar hoppers wake up on the subway car they passed out in to find their pockets gently incised, their wallets and iPhones removed. Pubs charge $9 for a beer. Wall Street assholes shout at each other all week, whining about the evils of regulation even as their arms are completely submerged in the cookie jar, chocolate all over their faces. Jealous for a cut, we dress-hawkers similarly ripped off customers.

Imagine this: You are a 16-year-old girl in Akron, Ohio, navigating rough hormonal seas as your body updates factory-installed puberty apps and calc homework is always due tomorrow. You play field hockey but are a goalie, so you don’t run as much as the skinny bitches. You aren’t fat - you know that much - but every morning is a struggle against the mirror. You read somewhere that corn syrup is the problem, so you are trying to learn how to choke down Diet Coke instead, but aspartame tastes like diecast metal. Prom is coming. Your choices are a bit narrow, but you have the self-esteem to turn down Evan Stuernagel. Everybody knows he was suspended for jerking off to black porn in the library. Holding out paid off. Jeremy Hampton asked you with a tremor in his voice, and his eyebrow kept twitching like it does. He’s not just a date, he’s interested in you.

Fuck, now you need a dress. Mom hands you the credit card and a “Don’t tell your father.” You don’t need any dress; you need something from New York Fucking City. This is Jeremy. He has those eyebrows. Your simple Google search finds us, and boom, there it is: Janique J038, an off-the-shoulder number in Midnight Blue, with petal applique and a hip-hugging skirt, and the whole thing flares out awesomely under the knee. Plus it’s going to make your tits pop. So you order it, size 8.

We don’t have a size 8 in that dress at this time. We don’t tell you, because we don’t care about you. You don’t matter. You are merely a mark. We don’t let simple things like inventory get in the way of a sale. So we call the designer and order a size 6. It’s a simple fix, really. When that 6 comes in, we just do a few minor alterations. Snip off that pesky 6 tag and give you, the customer, what you want - a size 8 dress. When your dress comes hurtling through the mail system, it’s a bit more snug than you planned. Maybe it’s too snug, and you need to scramble for a last-minute replacement. Either way, Jeremy is getting a tightly-wrapped date, and your fragile self-image just took another hit to the solar plexus. Did you gain weight? Are you really a size 10 now? Tears, anxiety, disappointment. Poor girl, you deserve better. So I quit.

Now my day job was getting a day job, and I’m staying in New York. That wasn’t a foregone conclusion three weeks ago. I had a lot of tabs open in my mental browser, and half of them were websites singing the praises of other, easier places. Somewhere with a pool. Nothing would make me happier than to eschew this crap and live somewhere else for a while. Life isn’t about being happy, though. At least, not if you’re interesting. For me, joy is a drug with diminishing returns, so I'm looking for something stronger. Living easy won’t bring happiness any more than marching a few inches forward in the ankle-deep shit of my current existence will. I came here to slay some demons, and I’m not leaving until my belt is adorned with scaly, horned scalps.

A ray of light finally squirmed through the ever-fog, but at a cost. I almost lost Andy. I was trying to help him out by freeing up space on his hard drive - standard maintenance - when he slipped out of my hands and took a digger into the pavement on the corner of 36th and Fifth. Pangs of guilt and terror raked at my heart as his battery and back plate exploded into the crosswalk with an excruciating twang. Fumbling desperately to piece him together, I reassembled his guts in Midtown traffic, pedicabs and city buses honked angrily at my oblivious indifference to their right-of-way.

I can’t lose you now, Andy. Not here; not like this. We’ve been through so much together and we have miles yet to go, old friend. I flipped Andy over, only to be overwhelmed with despair. His face, his beautiful touchscreen visage, was shattered into a web of fractured glass. I pressed his Power switch, desperate for signs of life. Nothing.Turn on, Andy! Don’t quit, don’t die here in the street like a bitch! I pressed it again. Eternity. Come on...come on...come on...

“Whrrrr!” he vibrated, struggling, lighting up and fighting for his life. I kissed his shattered face as he queued up the Menu screen. His desktop loaded Dice with Buddies, Words with Friends, Evernote, Gmail. The internet indicator glowed 4Gs. The battery icon filled up, too - all of it - full power. “Look at you, you crotchety old bastard,” I whispered. Nothing could stop Andy. He was a juggernaut.

One final symbol appeared: an email. Andy squealed at its presence as if to say, “Check it now, Parky! Come on! My faceplate is fine! Chicks dig scars; we can worry about that later. It might be something good!” Andy was a stubborn little fucker. His smile glowed through even a broken face. I’ve dropped him a thousand times, and yet he carried on, more determined now than ever. He got it. He understood that there is no rainbow, that the journey is the destination. He grasped the terrible importance of the moment, and heeded the past only to remind me of texts sent, phone calls missed, once-precious communications left behind. The reception bars on his brow betrayed his true purpose, his unyielding vigilance and devotion to the divine omnipotence of the here and now. When Andy talked, I listen. My fingertip slid roughly over his broken face, but the image below moved as smoothly as the day I bought him. I found the alert and lit it up. “Hi James, this is Mike Sandberg from Downtown BBQ,” the screen read. “Sorry it took us so long to get back to you; it’s been pretty busy around here. We’d like to have you stop by tomorrow and talk about coming back to the team. Does 2 p.m. work for you?”

I felt a strange warming sensation from the base of my diaphragm. Subtle at first, it permeated upward along my ribs as ivy to brick, surging into and out of my heart, gaining strength.The heat entered my lungs, something like a cooling steam of eucalyptus billowing upward and out, tickling the corners of my mouth and contorting my face into something not unlike a grin. A small snap, and a dull pulse of pain coursed my jaw. I deigned to smile full and wide, pulling a cheek muscle. I guess it had been a while. Nothing like one last swift kick to the junk from a faltering bout of depression.

I snapped Andy's flip-out keyboard shut, tucking it back under the display. No need to respond right away. Better to let Andy sleep. They'll never respect me if I reply in a desperate rush. Besides, I've got shit to do. Anything truly worth a damn can wait an hour.


A Pictures Worth a Thousand Words said...

I'm sure that you're aware, but you are an exceptional writer. Thanks for peeling back the gauze from my sleep-ridden face every time I read one of your posts. Seriously, keep it up, you're reader-base is going to sky rocket. Good luck to you man


James Parkinson said...

Thanks Eli!

Gregory said...

God damn that's good. Keep writin clock tower.

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