Dec/Jan Winter Wonderland Issue
And now folks, a hot up-and-coming band, let's give a big hand for Puke and Explode… The gun in his lap now, just lying there, dead for lack of use, sweat unfurls in musty beads, drips carelessly into his shirt collar, his work shirt, unclean and rank. The stink of body odor gluts the cube living space, cheap and roach infested, dank and unlivable. Leaning further back, he closes his eyes. The television set prattles on, Dick Clark is running on Olympian batteries; the sound of all those little motors you can never hear running during the daytime, the pungent odor of the present and all its humanity, resonating in the brain, they're bandied about in open synapses and closed dream chambers. On the wall is a three-foot stain, its origins unknown—outside an old lady is being raped by a deviant outlaw—upstairs a man has been dead for three days and no one's noticed—and miles away a party is raging, a New Year's Eve Party, hosted by all that's fake and counterfeit.
He works at a grocery store, his name doesn't matter. He's contemplating now, his next move and other things of little consequence, like what else is on T.V. right now and what, should he decide to forfeit, will he have for breakfast tomorrow.
He came to live in this place through broken promises and cosmic folly. Once he was a baby, and once he was a child, once a schoolboy and an awkward teenager, then a distraught and haggard adult of no means and of little importance, and now he is a man who can't seem to find the remote. The clicker lost at sea, he's on a rubber ducky lifeboat with no means of switching the channel, and through diabolic subliminal messages transmitted by the giant falling New Year's ball, he's been told to examine his life and come to an appropriate New Year's resolution for which there is no recourse. That resolution is cold and tastes like an old penny. It has six chambers and one agent that upon penetration shatters in a million pieces, shreds gray matter and permanently disables neuron pathways.
There is only one resolution this New Year, and now it's in limbo, dead in his lap, atop his stained boxer briefs, one agent, one lucky chamber. What to do next? Next, pick it up, put it to your head, pull the string, dance. But he can't. He can't because he's more than a little frightened, not of death, but of the pain. But, surely, it can only last for a second and its over.
Hold on, folks, it's almost that time!…
Better to do it before the ball drops. Better not to start something that you can't finish. He looks down and thinks of something completely irrelevant. Mind returning to the coherent, he now thinks of when he was younger and things were going relatively well, and how, despite his isolation, he never imagined himself in this position. He never thought that he would contemplate it, but he is, and he never thought he would be in such a state as to activate that contemplation, but he is, and he never thought his answer would be "pull", but it's resounding, final, and without question. So he fondles the gun stupidly, still with a degree of hesitation, and cannot tether his thoughts to the present. And as they wander further away, his undulating resolve fades slightly yet again, but is sure to be buoyed by the remembrance of the things that have led him down this river of shame and regret. Fragility and isolation would routinely strangle any and all aspirations until the dead purple of a thousand cancelled veins was all that was left, and he seemed to have been cursed with the uncanny ability to look into the eyes of others and see nothing but a sort of grotesque humanity that remained invisible and unseen to those around him.
It was this variety of extra-sensory perception that led him to numerous visits to hospitals, hospitals that specialized in affairs and afflictions of the mind rather than that of the body. He visited many bland waiting rooms, the elevator music piped in through the ceiling a kind of death march; he visited many sterile offices in which doctors in white coats would take his pulse and ask him questions, questions to which he had the answers but could not animate them vocally in any way other than a thin grunt or a nod of the head.
He took medication regularly from that point on, always for some reason or another, and in time he lost track of what they were designed to accomplish. Though he can't tell which one fulfills which given function, he remembers them all vividly-Luvox, Respiridol, Prozac, Depecote, Paxil, Lithium, and Serequel, which had the fortunate side-effect of extreme drowsiness. He takes Serequel now, the empty bottle perched on his nightstand next to the Prozac, and has for over fifteen years. The fortunate side-effect of Serequel makes it an instant sleeping aid, so powerful that two yellow ovals will put you out in less than twenty minutes. Because of this, he hasn't had a natural night's sleep in over fifteen years accordingly. He's been an unwitting participant in his own suicide rehearsal for over a decade, each night biting down on a tablet of rat poison designed to stave off madness for one more night, and now the time has come to apply what he's learned to the real thing.
It's now ten to twelve, ten to the final hour. Before he pulls the string, however, there must be something to do, something formal and appropriate to the situation; one last look around, a deep meditation, anything to make it seem real before it invariably becomes real, before the bullet shreds gray matter like a hack saw and blows an open cavity like some subterranean burrow through the apex of his cranium and out the other side. Through the open window a chilled gust of wind hits the side of his face. The television set babbles.
Let's give a big hand one more time for Puke and Explode; what a marvelous band… Television…his only true companion growing up was television, the magic box, can dispel thoughts of suicide with the inane prattling of any given infomercial or dumb sitcom. With television he was never alone, always it was in front of him glowing, a ghostly incandescence, especially late at night when it seems the rest of world is dead and nothing is cause to worry. It occurred to him at an early age that television, for people like him, is not designed for entertainment but for relief of chronic boredom. The relief comes in the process of matching one's boredom with something equally uninteresting on the magic box, in this way balancing out the scales of near-suicidal thought that is manifested through and begins with boredom. Never is this more apparent than late at night, when infomercials and reruns of bad situation comedies glut the airwaves, each program more insignificant and meaningless than the last, nothing but a wasteland of news, weather, sitcoms, talk shows, those ads for sad fucks that compulsively jerk off to phone whores on those 1-900 sex lines. People like him are never in search of entertainment, but something to balance out their creeping thoughts of razor blades and taut rope, the image of dangling feet kicking feebly above a knocked over footstool or kitchen chair beneath, burned into the brain with a cattle prod and almost impossible to wash away. But this time he doesn't want to wash it away, this time he lets it fester and grow hair, hideous and slimy like an open flesh wound.
This would be a lot easier, he thinks, if life in general wasn't billed so damn highly. The fruit fly lives for a maximum of twenty-four hours and it's dead. If life for people were so meaningless, domestically imprisoned businessmen would be throwing themselves out of their skyscraper office suites in mass numbers. Anything would be cause enough to pull the string, and you wouldn't even think twice about it. The trick is in realizing that life for people is really no more meaningful than for that of the fruit fly, at least convincing oneself of this, that like the fruit fly we're born, we live, and we die, only on an extended timeline, and nothing any person does makes any difference.
Now let's go back to Julie Stevens in the studio for an exclusive interview with John Johnston…
They think they're so liberated, the mindless drones populating the square, free to do anything they want in life. But it's so different on the other side of the magic box; he can see that, like an insect that is born, lives for twenty-four hours, and then dies, they're really free to do nothing but act as the prehistoric hunter-gatherer stereotypes, chasing the beast, going in for the kill, roasting the carcass over a fire, repeat, repeat, repeat; chase the beast, close the business deal, go in for the kill, prepare for the merger, file papers, roast the carcass, pay taxes; don't worry he thinks to himself, this is just like swatting a fly, only the fly is you; keep that in mind, no more worth than a fruit fly, no more worth than a homeless person…
He's already taken the last of his Serequel, a bare handful, in the same habitual stupor has the television on at full blast, the subject inconsequential, is laid out on the LA-Z-BOY just like always, with the lights off and nothing but artificiality dancing in odd patterns across his cheek, no moon to speak of, no time to waste. T.V. and Serequel, he thinks, go together like whatever else goes together well, a perfect cocktail of altered states and altered tendencies, the mind smooth like jade in a vacuum of light patterns and diluted blood. He's grateful that one of his medications bears any effect at all, especially the gift of unconsciousness in a world not worth the strain of staying awake in to begin with. For as long as the brain bends, he can't recall a time when any other medication has had any effect whatsoever, all his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, no alteration in mood or temperament to speak of, no chance in hell of reasonable elder-statesman brain cells to declare a stay of execution. But there would be no reason in their argument to begin with; the reason lies in pulling the string, making this hideous marionette dance, once and for all, doing something about something. Reasonable is taking the gun, putting it to his head, squeezing, and waiting for whatever comes next. Unreasonable is waiting, the natural way, living until then in a body incapable of human interaction of any kind, living among the well-adjusted and the beautiful, the decomposing grin of humanity as it passes you on the streets, the putrid stench of college and graduate students' success stories, it can happen to you too bullshit, the lawyers and the doctors and the mid-level engineers with the company smiles, all oblivious, and why shouldn't they be, just let them live and eat and shit whatever drifts in and out of their elongated fruit fly life spans.
So listen to reason, take the gun, point, pull, lay back, wait. Never mind the world outside, celebrating the occasion of renewed possibilities and resolutions, just do it.
Suddenly the volume on the television set jumps, a booming voice, a flash of light. His brain is numb as the screen bulges with static, becomes fatter and fatter, until it clears up and on the impregnated glass shell is the image of a man dressed in a suit and bowtie, stepping through the frame of the television and off of the bloated screen. Long tendrils of liquid stretch between him and the television, snap back and dissolve in static. Completely peeled off the screen now, he stands well dressed and groomed in front of the man in the recliner, in front of a blood clot of suicidal leanings.
How's the Serequel tonight, son?
He grapples now with the reality of his visitor, his brain set on "low" when it should be switched to "high." He leans back, looks at the ceiling. His brain bubbling like a cauldron, things go blurry for a moment and he begins to move in his recliner, along an invisible conveyor belt; soon he's outside, the freezing winter air biting at his exposed nerve endings; he's above the city, looking down and for some reason lacking the sense to fear for his life. His brain is a mess of confetti now, nothing makes sense, direction loses meaning.
Floating high above the city in his recliner, he leans back and grips the armrests, not out of fear, but as a safety precaution. The streets below are a maze of colored lights and the buildings are unlit, uniform in black, everyone must be out there, he thinks, in the streets. The well dressed man is moving along the phantom conveyor belt with him, standing up rigid, hands clasped together. The man in the suit and bowtie looks down with him and speaks again. I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself yet…and I won't; not by name, at least, because, like you, my name doesn't matter.
He looks at the man in the suit and bowtie. Has nothing to say.
What were you going to do with the gun?
Finally, his brain is set to "high." He answers cryptically.
I was going to use it on myself he says.
Well, that's one way to do it. Let me ask you, have you thought of your other options—a hanging, slitting the wrists, that's a classic; an overdose perhaps…do you use illegal narcotics or are you the type who prefers to swallow a bottle of aspirin?
I don't use drugs he says.
Do you know who I am?
No he says.
I am your host tonight. I'm here to make sure you go through with what you had planned.
He squirms in the recliner.
Why wouldn't I he asks.
You'd be surprised how many people decide to forfeit. In fact, so many people decide to forfeit that sometimes it takes a bite out of my business.
Your business he asks.
I work on commission, going around talking as many people onto the ledge as possible; get paid in credit for each person I successfully convince to go through with it. You'll be my seventeenth this week.
Taking it in, he swallows a ball of mucous and cranes his neck. The city is deathly silent from high above. A concentrated wreck of humanity gluts the streets below in the square, flashing tacky strobe-light beams high up into the clouds. A searchlight beams its way up in their direction, illuminates the well dressed man, he glows like a lantern.
That's right—I will he says forcedly.
The man grins stupidly.
You don't sound very sure of yourself.
So, I see it's time to get to work…
The man puts his fingertips to his temples, enters a Yogi-like trance.
I will now ask you a series of questions. Please answer honestly:
Do you feel good about getting out of bed in the morning?
Do you have any pleasant childhood memories?
Do you have any friends?
Do you have any loved-ones?
Do you have a wife or girlfriend?
Have you ever had a wife or girlfriend?
Do you have any prospects?
Do you like your job?
Do you believe the conflict in the Middle-East will ever be resolved?
Do you find the world to be a generally hospitable place to live?
You may now answer accordingly.
I don't see what any of this has to do with anything he says.
You may now answer accordingly.
The man gazes sternly into his eyes. He pauses—says no to all ten.
Thank you for answering honestly.
What now he asks.
Well, that's completely up to you, isn't it…
The man vanishes sharply, without a puff of smoke or flash of light. The cold winter air bites at his naked humanity, just then he looks at his watch. A minute to twelve, he can now hear the party raging beneath him. The crowds cheer with a collectively drunken voice as the giant tin ball begins to slide down the pole…
"Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one—"
He feels the recliner dip slightly, air rushes up from beneath and he finds himself plummeting towards the earth, and finally, he feels truly free…