Category Archives: short story
The human machine has turned on. Spots appear before your closed lids upon each exhalation of breath. It fumes out of your mouth, then French inhales into your nostrils, burning nose hairs and other areas of the skull – namely directly between the ears – with its stale, empty exhaust. Your mouth is hot and thirsty, and as you sit up for water your stomach drops into the mattress you’re propped on, only to Slinky back to the level of your heart, which also feels stale and empty.
You pause, as your thoughts assemble and your brain’s GPS slowly finds your position and maps your surroundings. You know you’re not Home, not your Home, or wherever that “H” word is meant to connote. But, you know that your relative location in space/time has positioned you in a place where that “H” word holds great significance if used in this very spot by someone other than yourself.
Your motor skills are working on a basic, primal survival mode, and you’re able to reach your hand out for the glass of water, whose rightfully anticipated necessity has placed it not too far from arms reach. You raise the glass to your lips only to have the first several gulps-worth pour down your chin. By this point, it’s apparent that you have a drinking problem. Tossing the empty glass onto the bedside table’s edge, you give it a few half-assed nudges toward the center in foresight of your own clumsy habits.
Now it hits you. The sickness. There is an impulse of what needs to be done, with little regard for self-image or pride. As many abstract expressionist painters or freeform jazz musicians claim, ‘there’s an inner-burning creative compulsion deep in one’s core, and something needs to come out.’ In this instance, the creative product will likely resemble partly digested food and stomach bile.
You spring up too fast, causing the bubble inside your torso’s spirit level to tilt all the way to one side, and then back, and then forth, and back, and forth, and back, and forth until centering just enough to plow through the bathroom door, where the dominatrix of your instinct forces you onto your knees, and here you are submitting yourself to just another john.
Swinging open the lid, you grab hold of the piss dampened rim and heave your head into the bowel, bobbing for apples of dignity that never surface. The puke spills out in a cacophony of white-noise-feeling. It splashes your face and hands, but at the moment this isn’t a concern.
After fully dispensing bodily fluids, your brain drops into reality, suddenly aware of its surroundings. You now feel the filth of the instance; depraved, demoralized, disgusted. The high of instinctual motions has faded away, leaving your analytical reason to feast on all that is wrong with the moment. Kneeling on the bathroom floor, the stale urine that coats the toilet is now much closer, and there is an overwhelming feeling that you have committed what Catholics might call a sin.
Straightening back up, you strain to look at yourself in the mirror. Your hair is pushed up on the left side, your face is sickly and unshaven, and you have water splashed down the front of your shirt; or maybe it’s vomit. The mirror becomes a low-res television screen, and every channel is broadcasting a marathon of infomercials, advertising the miracle cure to rid you of your grayscale life.
So I was sitting on my couch watching 90s cartoons while tactfully planning how I would prepare for a zombie apocalypse when I accidently kicked my PBR can over onto my favorite flannel. I was paying attention and all, but my fitted pants sometimes squeeze uncomfortably and send my Converse Chucks kicking out aimlessly. I’ve been told I need looser fitting pants, but these were like $90 so I know they were made well and will last for a long time.
As I got up to grab a paper towel, I eyed a commercial coming on the television for Sonic, and there was a large man with his family slamming on these grease battered burgers, and I thought “thank god I’m a vegan.” Not that I believe in god. I believe that religions are brainwash to get people to follow established norms, and that all religions should be outlawed to get people thinking for themselves, like me.
I made it to the kitchen, and when I reached out for the paper towels I saw my ‘anchor’ tattoo out of the corner of my eye. I’m really into ships and pirates and anything that has a rugged, seaward look. I have a skull and crossbones on my chest too. I think they’re rad, and they define me as an individual.
I’d say my favorite band is the Decemberists because they like to sing about ships and stuff like that. They look like they’re from the days of antiquity, or whatever, and that’s totally rad. Lately I’ve been getting into a lot of dubstep.
Anyway, I grabbed the paper towels and started to wipe the spilt beer, when my glasses fell off my face again. This happens sometimes when I tilt my head down, because my rims are so thick, but they represent my bookish, philosophical side so I have to just remind myself to keep a level head. Not in the sense of the idiom, but literally.
With my paper towels in hand, I walked out of the kitchen and passed the birthday card my girlfriend got for me on the fridge. I had to stop and read it again, because it’s fricken hilarious. The front has a kitten wearing a sweater, and he has a mustache and a sombrero. The kitten is looking majestically off into the sunset, and the inside of the card says, “I hope you have a birthday as random as you are.” Haha lol. Rofl. Kittens are the bee’s knees, and anything with a moustache is genius. Where do they come up with this stuff!?!
Sitting back on the couch, another commercial came on. This one was for American Eagle Outfitters. I can’t believe people can be manipulated by these advertisements into conforming to a style. I mean, all these people look the same. I tend to stray from cultural norms and do my own thing. I don’t let the adman tell me how to think.
It wasn’t Randy’s short stature that made him an interesting man, nor was it his dirty, unruly moustache or his pathetic demeanor. It wasn’t even his livercidal drinking tendencies. Rather, It was his ability to appear outwardly happy – despite circumstances – using the blank smile and the “how ya do’en chief?” that keep his perpetual pessimism under bondage. How could anyone who is forced to work on a janitor’s salary be happy, ever? They all knew it, and they all felt sorry for him, because they are us, and how would we feel for a man in such circumstances? Pity.
Every day, Randy would stop by the convenient store on his clockwork-car ride from work to pick up beer and smokes. I see him a few times a week while on my lunch break from my good, college-earned job. I’m on break, and he’s just getting off. Those kinds of people always work lousy shifts. I go to the store to pick up some family staples and our paths are aligned to where he is always a person or two in front of me at checkout. I also see him at the mall on weekends. He sweeps floors and cleans bathrooms. Poor guy. His name is Randy. That is what his crooked nametag says: RANDY. He probably never graduated high school, so he doesn’t understand the correlation between appearance and professionalism. That’s why he’s a janitor. No aspirations in life. Poor guy. I feel bad for him; I really do.
With my toilet paper, Kleenex and paper towels in hand, I look ahead at Randy’s inventory he lays on the counter: Four tall-boys of Milwaukie’s and a pack of L&M menthol. Every day. He is an odd one. You know what’s really weird? Whenever he buys his daily pack of L&M menthols, he also purchases a lighter. Every time.
“What does he do with all those lighters?” we think, “He must be either losing them in drunken folly or using them up real quick. He might even be freebasing the nasties. I hear that requires a long flame to lick a bent spoon for a good while, and he’s probably into that stuff too. Or maybe he has obsessive compulsive habits that make him feel the need for new lighters with new cigs. These kinds of people usually have some mental abnormalities.”
He always laughs when he asks for the lighter, because we know he’s going to ask, and he knows that we know he’s going to ask, and this makes him uncomfortable (laughing is rarely a comfortable act). “Yes, yes. A lighter again today Chief. Thank you,” he says. We want to ask what happened to the lighter from the day before, but it isn’t any of our business, because he isn’t any of our business.
He smiles and carries on, repeating the same jokes and phrases every day. He must program his mind to only think on one track, because if his mind wanders to the point of analyzing his situation, he might just kill himself. He must be so miserable, wearing smiles as disguises. We know how he really must feel. Must feel. Must. If people could be happy working as janitors, everyone would do it. Not me – I have a good job – I am happy. I don’t drink and smoke every day. Poor guy. I feel bad for him. He’s been wearing the same clothes for years too. That faded, green jacket. Why doesn’t he just get some new clothes ? Doesn’t he care what people think of him? Where is his self respect?
I feel bad for him.
I am happy.
Yesterday I was at the mall. I’m usually not very cynical, but the mall always seems to transform me into a hater of everything within its walls. Everything is made of fake, worthless, plastic and everyone’s a crook trying to con me out of money. I guess this generalization would include me, because I’m at the mall, but I’m there to purchase something necessary; just like everyone else (?).
I’m sitting at a table by the food court, enjoying a slice of pumpkin bread and a cup of coffee (no room for cream. thanks), when these two women behind me beat up a conversation. And they REALLY beat it up. I sat through the violence trying not to wince. Verbal carnage involving something about a performance and cake and some program and clothing and a new car. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I got up and walked.
Passing a small kiosk in the center of the walkway, two guys tried to sell me perfume. They were both sporting greasy spiked hair and popped collars.
“You want to impress your woman and get her some perfume?” asked the taller one.
“You want to impress me?” I asked as seriously as I could.
“Um… Sure.” he said, a little nervous crack in his voice.
I held eye contact with him and didn’t blink. He gave me a blank expression, signaling that he had no idea what to say to me anymore. My inverted questioning broke his character and left him speechless. I let out a loud belch. The corners of his mouth rose into a smile and then immediately dropped when he realized that the corners of mine didn’t budge.
“Is something funny?” I asked him.
“No. Sorry. I just thought I heard you…”
“Burp?” I finished for him.
I held eye contact and kept a straight face. The smaller guy jumped in front, cutting off my stare, and said something about perfume again.
I changed my persona, “Oh, perfume you say? In that case I’ll take three bottles of your finest.”
The taller one got excited and began blurring his words into a mesh of automated salesmanship, “Well-all-of-these-are-equally-fine-and-we-have-quite-an-excellent-collection-and…”
“Than I’ll take three of your most expensive.” I cut in, saving him breath.
“Yes sir, as you wish,” the confidence returned to his voice. It was obvious that he had just made his sales quota, and the corners of his mouth returned to the upright position along with his hair and collar.
“Box’um up fellas. I’ll be right back. Just need to hit an ATM.” I said.
“There’s one on the first floor of the Dillard’s, but we’re closing in five minutes, so be quick.” the shorter chimed in again.
“Thanks’. Give me a minute, I’ll be right back.” I said, fleeing the scene in the opposite way of the Dillard’s.
People are easy to mess with when they’re trying to sell something. They laps into autopilot, and catching them off guard is a simple task. As long as you act serious they will cater to your every whim.
Why am I at the mall again? Oh yah, dress shoes for Thanksgiving. I need to go to Dillard’s for that – Damn it! I pretend to be interested in some advertisement on the wall in order to make my smooth transition into the opposite direction. Can’t look like I don’t know where I’m going. I pass the perfume stand again and give a polite smile and wave.
“Wrong way.” I say with a shrug, trying not to break from my character.
They smile back and hold up the package that I’m expected to buy: Reminding me that I promised to spend my money on their useless commodity; an act which will subsequently help secure a reason for their job’s existence.
I enter the Dillard’s, purposely avoiding walking under the flower laden arch they have set at the entrance. Shit, more perfume. Entire glass counters of it. Women sit in director-style chairs while employees in blue aprons splash them in these liquid fragrances: Cover them in it: And then make them gargle before swallowing it. I rush past, trying not to breathe-in any air, and walk down the escalator passing the ATM to where the shoes are.
“What can I help you with?” asks a short, pale balding woman. She’s dressed in the official uniform of the Dillard’s militia.
“Nothing. Just looking. Thanks.” I say.
“Ok. Let me know when you need help.” She said. The use of the word “when” made me uncomfortable.
All the shoes looked very stylish – something I’ve grown to hate in clothing. Not only that, but many of them had big brand names and logos on the side. KENNETH COLE – ROCKPORT – SPERRY. Fashion companies make you pay them to become their walking billboards. Most people don’t find a problem with this; which is why I find a problem with most people.
“Are you finding everything alright? Can I help you with what you’re looking for?” It’s the short bald woman again. The combination of bad lighting, monotonous labor, and the smell of leather had obviously affected her short term memory.
“Yah. I’d like to try on this one, this one, this one, and this one in sizes 10 ½, 13 and 8.” I told her, “Shopping for the family. You understand.”
She was busy just long enough for me to finally find the plainest, most bland shoe I could. I grabbed a 10 ½; figuring it would fit. When she came out carrying a stack of 12 boxes, her face getting cut off around the seventh, I told her thanks anyway for the help and I proceeded to the checkout.
Finally, I had what I came for: a pair of shoes for Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is the time of year that we can all be thankful for what we have – and then flaunt it by eating and throwing away more food than we would on any other day. This is good prep for Christmas. If we weren’t thankful on Thanksgiving than we might have a lot of consumer’s guilt come Christmas. Being thankful for what you have makes room for more stuff. Corporations know this, exploit it, and have plenty of clever ways to make you think it’s not obsessively compulsive to mindlessly buy at certain times of the year – but I digress.
I made it safely through the checkout and left the store. Outside I take a breath of fresh air as if my head was held under water for several minutes. Walking to my car I spot an alley between two parts of the mall and remember that I have to piss. I walk over and look around to make sure no one can see me, place down my bag, and I water the wall. As I shake off and zip up I hear two voices behind me:
“Hey look. It’s the piece-a-shit from earlier”
“Yah. Looks like he took his business elsewhere.”
“Well I ain’t stay’en half-hour past my shift for noth’en”
“I hear that. Best make this worth our wait”
I felt a blow to the head and dropped to the ground. I tried to pick myself up, but a kick to the stomach put me on the pavement again.
“You think you were pretty funny with that burp gimmick, huh?”
Another kick sent my head into the wall and down into the piss.
“Yah. Think you’re funny?”
I felt another kick in the stomach; this one with less force.
“Next time you think you can take advantage of people do’en their job, next time you think you’re any better, you remember this.”
One last kick put me down into my own piss again. I raised my head and regained focus just long enough to see two guys with spiked hair and popped collars walk away with a bag. My bag.
I would like to share with you an occurrence that happened to me last week. Something mundane enough to probably happen in any given store, on any day, yet interesting enough to take note and question. The setting is a Giant Eagle grocery store. Let’s begin:
There’s about ten lines open and about five people in every line. Somehow, around 50 people decided to come to the grocery store, make their selections in amounts of time that could all be seemingly unrelated, but end up at the front registers all at the same moment. The lines were practically empty when we walked in, and now they’re all full. The workings of the universe never seem to favor an even distribution, as our statistical bell curves like to fantasize. Instead, the supreme forces like to take long pauses from their work – perhaps they’re napping or eating or something; I’m sure forces can afford to work at their own pace – then they compile all doings into a single instant, making it sometimes hard to navigate life around, or through, their dog-piling of occurrences.
Because it’s 6:30 on a Friday, everyone is just coming off work, stopping at the grocery store for a few of the weekend’s items, and then fleeing home to unwind. But now, in this small insignificant, unmemorable moment of their lives, they are impatiently locked into ten relatively even lines, afraid to move their place, yet constantly on the lookout for a row of persons that could be shorter. But there is no such row. I watch as new fish from the ocean of frozen food and toilet paper swim upstream into the creeks of their choosing. Most glide back and forth across the creeks until they realize that one isn’t any better than the next.
I place my more-than-full basket on the ground in front of me and kick it along with the edge of my foot as those ahead finish up and make their escape, while my girlfriend dips back into the ocean to grab “one more thing.” She gets back up by the time we’re the penultimate to ring out at the self-checkout. The consumer ahead of us is a fat, black woman, wearing a beige, coffee stained, one-piece dress that hangs slightly off the left shoulder. She idly lifts items from her cart and fumbles with scanning them onto the conveyor-belt.
“Is she gunna fucken take all day,” says, in an audibly loud voice, the restless, 20-something, fat white girl behind us, “Does she not fucken realize that there’s a line here?”
I looked back at the foul-mouthed fatty and then up at the woman ahead, seeing if she appeared to hear. If she would have looked back and showed any sign that she did hear, I was going to shrug my shoulders at her and audaciously exclaim, “Dumb white bitches,” with a sympathetic shake of my head. But she never did.
“You know she can probably hear you,” said my girlfriend, turning behind. Her method of retort was direct and aimed at the core. My method would not have been so forthright. “So. I don’t care. Maybe it’ll make her move faster,” said the gutter-jaw, standing next to what appeared to be her more mum mother. “Are you ladies in a hurry?” I butted in. “Yah, we actually are,” she said. “Oh, damn, well… we’re not. So get comfortable,” I said, with a cheerful smile. She made some sort of huffy noise, and her mom finally spoke up and told her to take it easy.
I spent a good minute or so mentally trashing the woman behind us. How could she be so inconsiderate? I realize that she might be in a hurry, but that doesn’t call for being disrespectful. Initially, I planned on making the girl wait a good long time, as I slowly punched in each barcode manually. But then, as if a higher ethical being grabbed hold of my words, I said something completely contrary to the arsenal of attacks I was previously stewing over.
“Would you ladies like to go ahead of us?” I asked, “You only have a few things.”
“No. We can wait,” said the girl.
By this time the woman ahead was getting ready to pay. My girlfriend, also moved by some act of divine morality, took the liberty of helping her bag her goods, in order to get the line moving quickly.
Why would we do this? Why would we give this brat the satisfaction of bullying her way through the line, when instead we could have made her sweat it out a little longer? The answer to this I’m not entirely sure, and frankly I don’t think it really matters. Although, what was most amazing was the girl’s response to my invitation of granted passage: “No. We can wait.” As if all the bickering about being in a hurry never even happened.
I’m not very well versed in either the behavioral or social sciences, but I would like to speculate that the girl was slightly embarrassed over her outcry. Personally, I don’t think that she was in a hurry at all, but rather, I think she frequently has inclinations to complain about situations in her life for no other reason but habit. It’s been said that at a certain age, people generally get stuck with the face they deserve, and this portly precious looked like a pig that spent its whole life dissatisfied with the quality of her mud. At least pigs have the satisfaction of enjoying orgasms for 30 minutes; I doubt this girl’s ability to enjoy anything for 30 minutes without blurting, “Is this gunna fucken take all day?”
Anyway, dear reader, and I probably say that in a singular sense, what are your thoughts? Why do people publicly display rudeness to others, only to bite their tongue as if they could care less when their demands are given in to? I don’t know, maybe I’m the asshole in this situation. After all, I’m the one with the long-winded cynicism.