Last Updated on Friday, 27 January 2012 18:20
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“No more sex!” she screamed, slamming the bedroom door and thus depriving me of my second-favorite moment of the workday morning.
The only reason I wake up before noon is to watch her shimmy into pantyhose, snap the clasps on her bra, rotate it around to face front, and then make the delicious cup adjustments. Having set a positive tone for the day, the normal routine is to close my eyes after the show and settle into a pleasant dream.
Not today. Her abrasive screeching drove me from the bed. She continued ranting as I plodded into the kitchen to start the coffee—that first sip being my favorite moment of the day.
“Live up to your full potential!”
Hmm, what the hell is my potential? How do I measure and quantify it? And, if measured, how do I go about living up to it? Heavy thoughts for a hazy, pre-coffee’d organism to ponder. I pour a few bottles of fancy store-bought water into the coffeemakers' reservoir, until it reached the overflow hole in the back and dripped down to pool on the counter.
I squeeze one of the empty plastic water bottles, which results in what I believe to be, one of the most horrific noises on earth. Yes, thunder is frightening at a primitive level, but it’s natural and recurring. The terrible noise of collapsing plastic, plastic being squeezed again and again; that is what the apocalypse is all about. That hideous, unnatural racket is what haunts my dreams of Armageddon; if things were to suddenly end, that end would be heralded by the sound of collapsing plastic.
“Quit fraternizing with low-lifes!”
That reminded me, I need to call my pal, Warren. I'm convinced that hellish editor sent him off on some fool’s errand in a thinly-disguised ruse to keep us separated.
“Stop the drinking, the drugs, the self-abuse! Get control of your life, and I’ll make you a happy man.”
Drugs! How much does she know? I felt the first tentative drafts of a coming foul wind. A harsh hurricane of acrimony and recrimination. The Gods of turmoil had caught the scent of my relative comfort and were girding themselves for an all-out assault on my tranquility.
It was just a feeling. A light rustling of the wispy, soft hairs on the back of my neck; but I knew this feeling for what it was—a harbinger of doom.
“Are you listening to me? I said no more sex!”
“Why not just grind my pecker off? Yes, get one of those pneumatic grinders...WHEINGEEE...WHEINGEEE. Affix a twenty-grit sanding disk to it. One of those disks with large shards of razor-sharp glass patchily melded onto its surface. A disk that will grind a stick of wood to sawdust with a single touch. Rev that sucker to its full 3400 revolutions-per-minute and jam it against the base of my poor self-esteem. By the time the heat and pain work their way up my torso and into my cortex, there will be nothing left but a ragged stub.”
Oh shit. Did I say that out loud? I need coffee.
“What the hell are you mumbling about?” she said, entering the kitchen; fully dressed for the day's battles. “You’d better move your stuff back to your own apartment. I need time alone to make an unbiased analysis of our future together.”
I sipped my coffee and began the mourning process for another six-month relationship. Carly was an attorney; a good one, I guess. I know little about the inner workings of that murky cesspool known as ‘the law’. Even less than I know of how to measure potential. They pay her a gob of money, so she must be competent. She got our magazine out of several difficulties, that’s how we met. Someone is always suing the magazine for something I’ve written; all routinely frivolous accusations of libelous defamation.
She is a bundle of mean, argumentative, over-analytical, contrariness; whose main personality asset is a supreme and all-consuming dissatisfaction with her already-sizeable net worth.
Holy shit! I thought. That was an epiphany! All I had previously noticed about her was a very tight, curvy body; a warrior-like capacity for sexual gratification: and a very tight, curvy body.
I gathered up my belongings: five rumpled suits, a pair of spare wingtips, two bottles of Tanqueray, two bottles of Captain Morgan rum, a bottle of Courvoisier VSOP, two bottles of Bushmills Irish Whiskey, a bottle of Cabo Wabo tequila, and a bottle of Kalhua; all in various stages of depletion. A trip to the bathroom yielded a toothbrush, deodorant, jug of Listerine, electric razor, and an unopened bottle of stinkwater.
Pausing once more before the closet, I decided to leave all the cardigans and yuppie accoutrements Carly bought me, most still with tags, hanging there for the next victim to swim in. I tossed the clothes into a garbage bag, piled the rest into a box and carried it all in one cumbersome trip into the elevator, then, down to my means of transport, a three-year-old Nissan from the magazines’ carpool.
Seven a.m., downtown Tampa. Carly lives in a high-rise, a condo on the fifteenth floor. Right near the clogged aorta of this miserable city. It was far too early; I was unused to this frightful hubbub of pedestrian traffic making its way to various downtown destinations. I sat at the exit of the parking garage, unhappy with the prospect of negotiating the three miles to my apartment.
A dark cloud, cloaking a foul wind, did indeed circuit my existence; I was sure of it. A steady line of traffic lurched past and I wondered if I might grow old and die, right there in the car, before ever getting an opportunity to enter the city’s bloodstream and navigate to its anal area, where I kept residence.
A large city is like a human organism, prey to all manner of congestion and gaseous buildup. Its roads, the clogged arteries, compressed inward by the cholesterol of parked conveyances. Lungs blackened by the foul emissions of its resident parasites. The prostate enlarged from the unsatisfied sexual angst of its denizens. Bowels congealed with brick and concrete. A large, indolent creature whose sperm count was too low to measure due to a generalized malaise caused by a burgeoning combination of depression and indifference.
Someone behind me honked their horn. I ignored them; they should have left earlier. What could I do? There was no opening to be had, no courteous method of slithering out into this madness.
A squad car shot over to the curb, skid to a halt before me, blocking my exit, and saving me from having to make that rude decision to inch out until I forced someone to stop and allow me ingress into the flow of traffic.
Then the fear hit me, made a direct impact with my lizard brain. There are things in this vehicle which could forever alter my life in a negative manner. If these uniformed Nazi’s knew of my true identity, I was screwed good and proper.
Everyday would be a vicious fight to maintain my anal virginity. Surrounded by sociopathic troglodytes, all bent on sodomizing me for the sake of sadistic control and a sense of variety. My every moment spent coiled in a tight knot of potential physical mayhem. Resting in short spurts with one eye open and ears attuned to the movement of even a scurrying cockroach. I was but a cursory inspection away from a cell in Raiford.
“License and registration,” one of the officers said, leering.
Oh no, they know exactly who I am. One peered into the passenger side and smiled as he noted the box of liquor bottles. Some unspoken communication between the two had them both unhitching the snaps on their tooled-leather holsters. I reached to dig out my wallet, and one pulled his gun and started screaming.
“Get out of the car!”
A life of profligate excess had finally caught up with me. My series on the ‘Psycho Police Force’ had incensed these cretins to a mad frenzy. I was frozen in place, sure that if I moved, they would unleash a hail of lead into my body. I would jerk like a jello-filled thin, rubber surgical glove resting atop a misfiring lawnmower engine.
My article postulating the sound and accurate hypothesis that law enforcement watched too much television, had incensed the blue community. My theory that exposure to roughly twelve million shots fired per hour during prime time by police who were all incredibly attractive, fit and living abundantly rich lives, had an adverse psychological effect on your average illiterate officer; was a sore point between me and the cop on the street. How else could you explain the rash of incidents across the country wherein officers, like some Mideast mob of frenzied Islamic fanatics swarming an embassy, fired fifty, a hundred, even two-hundred rounds at unarmed citizens. My examination of their actions was met with disapproval, and now I would pay the ultimate price for my audacity.
One wrong move and the funeral director would need a forklift to carry my coffin to the grave site. My 240 pound body, now weighing several hundred pounds from the excess mass of lead ballistically inserted into it. I was finished, done, dead. A sad footnote in the state's war against the citizenry.
My saviour appeared. A righteous valkyrie in the form of Carly.
“Leave this man alone and get back in your car, before I sue your worthless ass for the eight bucks you have in the bank and the dilapidated mobile home wherein you are raising future criminal-offspring.”
Now I remember another reason I like her—what a creatively-foul mouth she possessed. I only caught snippets of angry conversation between her and the officers.
“His car is full of open liquor,” one of the officers said.
“I just kicked his ass out of my apartment and that's his personal property being removed.”
I held up my well-used toothbrush, just outside the window, to reinforce her argument.
After a few unbearably-long moments of harsh words, Carly approached my open window.
“Idiot,” she said. “Give me the box of liquor, then get out of here. This is the last time I save your ass.”
I handed the box through the window and watched as Carly put it in her trunk, then she stared down the two officers until they got back in the squad car and peeled away.
I had a line of angry commuters, Carly included, backed up behind me, all honking now that the police were gone. I shot out into traffic, forcing the oncoming horde to slow their hurtle to the days wage slavery.
At odds as how to approach the day, I decided to go to work.
I shuffled tentatively into the offices of New Millennium Magazine only to be greeted by stares of open astonishment. I checked to confirm my zipper was firmly shuttered. A foggy mental scan revealed the source of their perplexity. My fellow cohorts and peers were shocked by my appearance at this unholy hour. A quick glance at my watch confirmed it, a quarter of eight in the morning—this was some sort of personal record. I rubbed my stubbled jaw, remembering I had left the razor in the liquor box, which by now was firmly lodged among refuse bags in some dumpster along the route between Carly’s condo and her swanky law office. She was a great gal. The razor is just a peripheral casualty of our twenty-first-century fixation on selfish pursuit of vague individual agendas.
I had no current assignment; the last story having caused no little consternation among both reader and management. Also, there was some great hue-and-cry in the accounting department concerning my expenses. They were all on the magazine’s credit card; there could be no denying the money was spent. I could not see what the problem was, you send two virile, approaching-middle-age men out into this harsh world to do a job—there are going to be related expenses.
I waved to the few fellow slaves who were not terrified of me; and went out of my way to utter a garbled ‘good morning’ to the ones who were. I made my way to the small coffee alcove and snagged a stained, dirty mug from a hook with my name above it.
In the act of pouring, a gut-twisting primal scream sounded from just behind me.
Somehow I managed to remain stationary, and continue filling my cup without spilling a drop. I was used to this manner of greeting by my boss. I did wonder about the cups hanging from metal hooks on the wall; would they not shatter some day? By now, continued exposure to this level of sonic bombardment must have created little fault lines within their ceramic structure. Did he howl like this when I was elsewhere? If so, how much longer before these cups crumble into dust; victims of decibel destruction?
“What the hell are you doing here?” Edward bellowed.
Edward is my nemesis, the magazine’s editor in chief, and resident bullhorn. There was a time when he was not bitching, back when his vocal chords had not yet fully developed. His time in the womb must have been severely frustrating, the kicking, struggling, and pent-up imprecations no doubt hastened his malformed bodys’ exit from his mother’s birthing canal. How else would one explain such a physical specimen? Squat, rotund torso preceded by a mutant, melon-like protuberance from his midsection. A flat, stout head sparsely populated by fat, grey hairs; as if some form of experimental hair transplant had been performed on his pate. A doomed attempt to merge coiled-steel strands with the skull. I posit, one could use his head to scour away oatmeal left to harden in an iron pot.
The abomination stared at his watch, squinching bushy eyebrows together in some feeble attempt at analysis.
“Never mind,” he growled. “Whatever reason you’re here is a bad reason. Get your ass into my office, now!”
I followed along, enjoying the total silence of the usually noisy office. Even the jet-engine revs of the numerous laser printers had quieted, hard drives spun-down to their at-rest state, overburdened office chairs muted their own squeaks to lend this affair the somber dignity it would deserve.
I trailed along behind the poor, unhappy wretch. He had forgotten to get himself coffee. I noted the discordance of his empty cup, dangling from a pudgy forefinger.
“Ed,” I said, foolishly. “You forgot to refill your coffee cup.”
The brute stopped, turned and advanced to within a quarter-inch of my chest. As if staring directly at my heart could somehow stop it’s incessant beating, despite the odds against it.
“Are you trying to kill me?” he hissed. “Watch me choke to death in front of you? I can’t chew, drink or attempt to swallow anything while within ten feet of you.” He turned and continued to his office.
I decided to remain quiet.
This building is a hellish monument to chaos. All exposed brick interior, no insulation. The hardwood floors are over a hundred years old and bore the stains of spilled blood, the gouges of misflung knives and the burn marks of casually tossed smoldering rolls of tobacco. It fronts just off the docks, where the Port Authorities somnambulant employees allowed all manner of foreign-made gimcrackery and weaponry ingress into the country. A century ago, this building was full of elderly, miserably-poor Cuban refugees, hand-rolling cigars for wealthy layabouts in exchange for a subsistence wage.
His office front is all window, even the door is glass. From this redoubt, the dungeoneer could plot his savage verbal throttling of the underlings too slow to avoid his full attention. Behind his desk is a magnificent view of the bay where aforementioned ships coasted in to unload their precious cargo of American flags made in China.
“Sit down,” he barked.
I complied, affecting an air of timorous acceptance to the looming scene.
He grasped a golf club, then hurled it forcefully at an expensive-looking print of a babbling brook in a quiet forest glade. The club struck, shattering the glass, skewing the wooden frame, and itself breaking into two uneven halves.
He turned, face red and pulsing with mortal danger.
“Do you know how much this magazine is worth?” he screamed. “Do you know how much that club I just threw was worth? How much that picture I just destroyed was worth?”
I continued to sit mute. The club was probably in excess of five-hundred dollars. One of those newfangled Mitsubishi drivers he bought in a neverending spiral of trying to purchase some smidgeon of golfing talent. The picture was a twenty-dollar print in a three-hundred-dollar frame, I assumed. It was the quarter-million dollar bypass surgery he was working himself toward that really impressed me.
“This magazine is worth a fortune,” he screamed. “I’m worth a fortune. You are not worth the energy it would require to hurl you out that window.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “I am but a pimple on society’s ass, and you are the blessed Oxy-5 given to mortals by God himself to eradicate the foul growth.”
“Do you think this is funny? You’re on your absolute last chance. We print one-and-a-half million copies of this rag, and a recent study proved that a million people buy this magazine because they hate you worse than anything on this earth. HATE, BOY! You are a menace. Everything you write is an exercise in mean-spirited derogation. I can’t get rid of you or believe me, I would.”
Ed opened his desk drawer and removed a bottle of very expensive Irish single-malt. The stuff was sixty-dollars a shot in the two bars that carried it. He removed two glasses; one still coated with the remnants of an Alka-Seltzer. He poured two generous dollops into each glass, and pushed the alkaloid-enhanced one my way.
“This is a great honor, sir,” I said, taking a good swallow. That stuff was precious nectar.
“We’re drinking because I know after this assignment, we’ll finally be rid of you,” Ed said, much calmer now. “No more listening to accounting harangue me about your credit card charges from Debbie’s Massage, Yoshiko Health Spa, Candie’s Outcall, four-digit bar tabs, room service bills not a single person can understand.”
“A story develops a life of its own,” I said.
“Just shut up,” Ed interrupted, and continued a verbal rehash of my legitimate expenses.
My mind wandered, and I made an involuntary shiver. This building, having only exposed brick walls, had its own equator and poles, much like our beloved planet. The bricks absorbed the relentless Florida heat into their very molecules and then continuously released that heat in much the way Native Americans cooked with warm rocks. The air conditioner labored mightily to change this natural state of affairs, it’s strategically-placed ductwork spewing frigid air into the buildings interior. This created little pockets, or polar zones suitable for hanging freshly processed meat. Conversely, there were hot, muggy, subtropical zones of oppressive thermally-toasted air. Thus, one could walk a few feet and experience the winter climate of northern Maine, and the summer climate of inland Brazil without ever passing through Customs.
“Are you listening to me?” Ed growled, hoarsely.
“Oh, yes sir,” I said. “I am going to endeavor to work harder. To be less offensive, in both my writing and my interpersonal relations.”
I took another drink of the amber fluid, laced with floating bits of sodium-bicarbonate or whatever that fizzy-stuff is.
“You know, Gabriel,” Ed said, in his fatherly voice. “We all fear for our lives in this building. For several days after each issue lands in the hands of expectant readers, who invariably turn to whatever swill you’ve submitted, we expect the building to be set ablaze. Or a drive-by sprinkling with Molotov cocktails, or a bizarre workplace assault by gun-toting psychos. This assignment should bring the whole, bubbling cauldron of volatility to an abrupt and sad end. I will be on vacation the two weeks after the issue hits the mails. I will no doubt return to a pile of smoldering rubble; but there will be one big consolation.”
He paused, expecting me to ask about the big consolation.
“How about Warren?” I asked.
“SCREW WARREN!” he resumed bellowing. “That monstrous sociopath is gone. GONE! I sent him away.” Ed stopped, took in a deep breath. “As I was about to say, the big consolation is, you will be gone just like that freakish accomplice of yours.”
What grim undertaking had he planned for me? What fetid subject could he assign me with such confidence I would not survive its dissemination? Suddenly, this day had taken a turn for the better. Since awakening I had been primarily on the receiving end of one personal infringement after another. A meek bystander, subject to the loathsome vagaries of every unhappy soul I encountered. Now, maybe I was back in control of my personal fate.