Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Light Pours Out of Me: Part II, chapter 14 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)


There were always people whose existence I was compelled to ignore. Whose words and actions I tried to shoo away with a wave of my hand as I would a fly. And New York, being the preferred destination for many a traveler, had a generous share of these people. Aspiring actors, aggressive shoe salesmen, harried personnel managers, belligerent street preachers and the insane followers of trends were all in abundance there.

I’d never had any use for these people. Never had the least bit of sympathy for their concerns, their aspirations, their neuroses. As far as I could tell they had never abandoned the ashes from which men are said to have risen, and so, like birds taking dirt baths, they wallowed in their own muck. But, unlike the birds, they could never fly.

Charlie, the vice president at work who was my immediate supervisor, wasn’t among these people—although at first one might presume him to be exactly the sort of person who’d never had an original thought or never felt a sense of disgust with the world that surrounded him. But in his own way Charlie was full of bile and anger. He never simply reacted to the world, nor did he simply accept it. He knew that the work we did there at the marketing company was useless, that it was leading us nowhere. The only thing it did for us was put money in our pockets, and it was doing that (except for Gustave and Mr. Gurnsey) at a very slow pace.

“It’s basically all a scam,” he once told me. “We get this tacky jewelry made in Thailand by child labor. Jewelry that’s really only fit to be sold in dollars stores at half price. Then we get some has-been celebrity that only people who spend way too much time in front of the TV give a fuck about to sponsor it, we jack up the price, and wham! We’re making a goddamn decent living. Although I must say that if these kids weren’t doing sixteen hour days in the plant they’d probably be giving blow jobs in the massage parlors in Bangkok. Our business is actually saving them from that—which by no means puts us in the same category as fucking Mother Theresa. Because while they get a few pennies an hour for it, we get at least a hundred times that amount.”

“Well,” I told him, “that’s the way it always works. Someone has to get screwed so someone else can make it.”

“Yeah, right,” he said, then began impersonating Mr. Gurnsey. “Profit. That’s what it’s all about. Profit.”

Charlie and I were sitting at the bar in Live Bait, the restaurant that was on the other side of Madison Square Park across from our office. We’d been working late and he refused to miss his customary seven p.m. gin and tonic by getting right on the train back to New Jersey.

“You know, I was falling asleep when I first heard him go into that rap about profit,” I said. “I thought he was saying ‘prostitutes.’”

“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Charlie said. “The word ‘profit’ doesn’t sound anything like ‘prostitute.’ Except maybe in your sick mind.”

Charlie thought I had a perverse mind—which isn’t to say he didn’t appreciate how I looked at things.

“Everyone’s got a sick mind,” I countered. “It’s just that most people are afraid to admit it. There are timid school girls out there who dot their i’s with little hearts and wear daisies in their hair whose greatest hope is to fall in love with a serial killer. There are priests who get hard-ons when they offer the last rites to the dying, nuns who get wet whenever they smack the school girl with the flower in her hair for her bad penmanship. Then there are the millionaire philanthropists who donate money anonymously who are also secretly hoping that World War III will break out at any minute because what they want more than anything else is the satisfaction of knowing that in the end all their good deeds have made no difference at all.”

“Reel it in, Lemmy. Maybe you should switch from bourbon to something lighter. You can’t deal with the hard stuff like me.”

“Nah,” I said. “Bourbon is actually what calms me down. If only you knew the shit that comes into my head in the morning when I’m completely sober.”

“Spare me,” Charlie mumbled as he finished his drink.

“Hell, Charlie, sometimes it’s best that instead of just sitting back and letting shit happen, you stand up and do what you really want to do. That’s all I’m really saying.”

“Well, what I really want to do right now is order another drink.”

“Shit, man, do it!”

“Bartender!” Charlie shouted out. “Another round over here.”

“Now the next step after giving in to your real impulses is to actively pursue them.” I took a look around the bar and spotted a hot blonde and a cute, dimpled brunette sitting at a table with a pitcher of beer in front of them. They’d apparently been there for a while and were now bored and ready for a little excitement, a little intrigue, and a quick fuck with a total stranger who could make their pussies sing opera. “Now check this out, Charlie,” I said, pointing across the room with my elbow.

Charlie turned his head and raised his eyebrows slightly.

“Now what does that sight make you think of doing?” I asked.

“It makes think I should get a beer when I’m done with this next gin and tonic.”

“Now be honest, man. You’re talking to me.”

“Well, yeah, they look pretty good. Damn good,” Charlie added as the bartender brought over our drinks.

“You’d like to fuck them, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, yeah. But I’m not.”

“Because you’re too old?”

“That’s not it at all,” Charlie insisted. “I’m married, remember?”

“But right now married isn’t what you want to be, am I right?”

“Right now all I want to be is drunk. And I’m getting there.”

“But what are you going to want after you get drunk... once you’ve reached that prerequisite goal? What are the two primary goals of every guy in the world, two things that go together even more than ham and eggs? Coffee and donuts? Apple pie a la fucking mode? I’ll tell you what. Gettin’ drunk. And gettin’ laid.”

“I can go home for that second part, Einstein. Jesus, I could have done that first part at home too.”

“What?” I asked. “And deprive yourself of my stimulating conversation?”

Drinking sometimes turned Charlie into a much older man. A man who had seen enough and done enough. A man who didn’t have the energy to forget the past and everything he’d learned.

I took a big gulp from my drink. “Why don’t you go hit on those girls?” I suggested.

“Why don’t you, Romeo?”

“Charlie, my man. I’m trying to show you a good time. But you gotta work with me a little bit here.”

“Well, call me old if you want to, but it’s enough for me to have a few drinks after work. I don’t need... and don’t really want all that other stuff anymore.”

“Charlie,” I said, as I watched the lines on his forehead deepen. “You’re hopeless.”

I stood up, brushed the hair out of my eyes, and walked down the room, fixing my gaze upon the cute, dimpled brunette who at that moment was wiping a thin coating of beer foam from her lips. As I approached, her eyes widened like those of a school girl who had just been called upon to answer a question by her stern, goateed English teacher.

“Wanna fuck?” I asked.

With her head full of a schoolgirl’s noises, and the distraction of her friend’s excitable nudges, she failed to come up with the right answer to my question.

“How about you?” I said turning to her friend.

“Ah... ah...” the blonde headed girl stuttered. “Ah... no.” She then shook her head repeatedly for emphasis, understanding that in many instances words had no power.

Not being in the mood to scold her, I let her off easy. “Okay,” I said firmly. “Maybe later then.”

“Got shot down, huh, Romeo?” Charlie said when I sat back down at the bar.

“Nah,” I answered. “Just a failure to communicate. A failure on their part.”

“Lemmy, you’re a freak,” Charlie said as he shook his head. Then he laughed. “I’d stick around for more of your freak show, but I gotta get home.” He gulped the rest of his drink and stood up from the bar. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said as he laid a twenty dollar bill on the bar.

It was still early when Charlie left—“early” being a word I use only to place myself in relation to the world at large. Because at this point in my life the word “early” no longer had meaning for me. Time, having ceased its forward progress, had begun to move in a circle of which no part could properly be described as either “early” or “late.”

I quickly left the bar and started walking up Broadway. It was 8:30 on a chilly spring evening, and I walked without any destination in mind. Midtown Manhattan was in the midst of its daily post rush hour hush, when the looming darkness in the skies once again takes dominion over the movements on the ground. I marched ahead confidently towards the glimmering lights of Times Square.

I’d never been in any of the peep shows in New York before. But for some reason, after the drinks I’d had with Charlie, I was feeling like a tourist—one of those odd looking creatures with ill-fitting clothes who looked up at the skyscrapers and gawked, who pointed a finger and followed as if that finger were a policeman commanding them to move.

Circling the block at Times Square, I came to a stop at the glowing blue lights of Eden. It was such an obvious, unclever name for a peep show. A better name would have been the Mackerel Lounge or the Siamese Blue Theater or even Sugar Town, but it was called Eden, and walking in the door I felt that I had reached the end of something. That I was running out of room, out of space in which to stretch my arms, out of a distance into which I could gaze and see nothing but the miles and miles of road that I could walk.
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First posted, out of sequence, in March 2006.