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The Woman in White Marble

{Click Marble or visit Books in the main menu}


Stories by Matt Thomas

 

I am an aspiring writer who has written for sports blogs and sports websites. I am currently working on my first novel, entitled "Cold Civil War", and I am also building a portfolio of short stories and poetry! I'm just trying to turn a passion into a career, and I am having a damn good time doing it!

Influences: Hunter S. Thompson, Chuck Palahniuk, David Foster Wallace.

In my spare time I enjoy working out, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

Wednesday
Apr042018

Curmudgeon for a Day

Some Good Advice From the Police

Bruce McGee drifts off to sleep just a few minutes before 10 PM. The central heating system circulates thick, fire-like air through his ten-thousand-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath 30th-floor condominium overlooking the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan on an ice-cold December Sunday evening. He curls his 250-pound, hairy, flabby core underneath his thick, gray, duvet wrinkled beyond ironing like a piece of scrap paper.

He hasn't made his bed in six months. The duvet has been crinkled for what seems like an eternity. Bruce has purposely left it that way. Bruce shuts his baby-blue eyes, furrows the stubble on his light-brown beard with a few stray white hairs sprinkled about, and fruitlessly attempts to drift off to sleep. The beige mattress covers underneath him is laden with sweat and ejaculation stains, and the memory foam pillow behind him lacks covers.

Bruce is in a deep depression. This is not only symbolized by his unwillingness to neatly tidy up his bed, but by his utter refusal to turn on any lights in his condo, even at night. In fact, when the 70-inch 4K ultra-HD TV mounted to the silver drywall of his bedroom - which incidentally, has not been sanitized, disinfected, or dusted in the same six-month timeframe - is turned on, its myriad of flashing colors provides the only artificial illumination he allows anywhere in his home at any time. He hasn't spoken with nor seen any of his friends in the past three months, and he hasn't spoken with nor seen his parents in the past five weeks. He hasn't returned any of their phone calls, text messages, or emails, many of which have expressed deep concern for his well-being or anger for not returning messages. Bruce just no longer cared.

The white noise of a football game playing on the television, complete with commentary and crowd noise, helps Bruce drift into a comatose slumber, which is one of his little solaces in life - and his only hobby aside from binge-watching TV shows. Six months ago, Bruce's life changed forever. His fiancée, Karen, with whom he was poised to wed exactly one weekend from this day, left him. On a rainy Monday morning, while Bruce was happily perched at his trading post just steps away from the New York Stock Exchange, Karen, whom had been living with Bruce for the past two years following his proposal to her, gathered up all of her belongings, including the furniture she had purchased for the apartment, and departed without warning nor declaration to her fiancée that she had a modicum of desire to terminate their relationship.

For a month following their separation, Karen refused to return any of Bruce's 245 phone calls, nor reply to his 55 voice messages or 133 text messages. Bruce also typed an email to her that may as well have been the treatment for a movie about some cheesy break-up story, complete with mea culpas, idle threats, and overzealous begging. It took him nearly six hours to type. Three days after Karen's disappearance, and after not hearing from any of her friends or family members and following hours of constantly refreshing her Facebook profile for a status update, Bruce filed a missing person’s report. A day later, police got back to him. When he received the news, Bruce no longer felt fearful for Karen's life. Instead, he felt indignant that their relationship did not end immediately after it started.

Bruce focused his full attention on his phone's receiver when he received the call, postured upright in anticipation of what was about to be said.

"Mr. McGee, this is officer Buckhorn of the NYPD, 25th Precinct. We have some information on the missing person’s report you filed on one Karen Gork."

"Yes, sir," he replied, as if the officer were a drill sergeant commanding him.

"Yes, um, well, there is some good news, Mr. McGee," Officer Buckhorn strangely stammered. He didn't sound like a man ready to gleefully confirm good news. "Ms. Gork is alive and well. We were able to reach her by telephone yesterday."

Bruce was stunned, not only because he was thrilled Karen was alive, but because he was incredulous that she was not injured or lying on a hospital bed. "Is she okay physically?!" Bruce asked.

"Yes, sir," Officer Buckhorn replied. "In fact, there is no record of Ms. Gork receiving medical treatment nor being admitted to a hospital."

"Where is she now?" Bruce desperately pled.

"I'm sorry, Mr. McGee, I can't confirm that information."

"With all due respect, Officer, I am her fiancée. I think I have a right to know!"

"Mr. McGee, due to privacy laws, I am not permitted to divulge that information."

"I don't believe this."

"I'm terribly sorry, sir. The only thing I can do for you is confirm that Ms. Gonk is alive."

"Ummmm, yeah, thank you sir. There's nothing else you can tell me?"

A pause ensued. Bruce's heart fluttered more during that pause than he did while anticipating the NYPD's response to his report, or at any other time in the previous three days.

Finally, after a few extra seconds and another a deep breath, Officer Buckhorn somberly yet bluntly spoke. "Listen, pal, if I was you, I'd keep in mind one of the greatest truths society has ever produced: there's plenty of pussy in this world. Move on. Have a great day, Mr. McGee."

 

Brutal Truths

Bruce kept his phone firmly pressed against his ear for the next ten minutes, nine minutes and thirty seconds of which produced loud, deafening beeps.

Despite the shock of this sick episode of dark humored-irony, Bruce, once he could regain his wits, was not deterred. He knew Karen was alive, but the answer to the question of "why" was too heavy a burden for Bruce to bear. He continued to persistently bug Karen's family and friends. The next day, he finally received a text message from Karen's sister.

Her message: SHE DOESN'T WANT TO TALK TO YOU.

Again, Bruce was not deterred. Now that her own family confirmed Karen was alive and angry, Bruce continued his quest to get answers. Weeks and weeks passed. Still no replies. Karen eventually posted on her Facebook page, but she never mentioned a word about the separation nor provide any hint to her unhappiness. All she posted were pictures of cute puppies and humorous work memes. Finally, three weeks later after her first post, he and Karen finally spoke on the phone, at 9 PM on a cloudy, rainy Wednesday evening. What ensued was the most Earth-shattering conversation Bruce has ever had in his life. He distinctly remembers every single word of it.

"Why now?" a gravelly-voiced Bruce asked. He lay in complete darkness on his brown leather sofa, curled up under two black blankets - television off, blinds drawn, the only light glowing in his living room being his phone's display. His lungs felt as if they were deflating air, and his stomach felt twisted. Sweat dripped down his neck, and the pulse in his left ear vibrated his horn-rimmed glasses. "Why is this the first time we're talking in a month?!" Bruce shouted. "How could you do this to me?!"

"Bruce's trachea popped in anticipation of Karen's answer. Not only was his breathing out of whack, but the nervous pulse filtered down to his throat, as if the jolt of electricity through his wavelengths had switched from a stable transformer to a box prepared to spontaneously combust. He had waited a month for this moment. All the anticipation, all the speculation, and most importantly for Bruce, all the hope he had gathered in his mind, came down to this. Would Karen apologize? Would she tearfully and remorsefully explain her actions?

"Shut the fuck up, Bruce," Karen bluntly replied. Her deep, gruff voice sounded infused by an overdose of testosterone. 

Suddenly, Bruce's nervousness vanished. Replacing it was utter shock and disbelief, with a dash of anger scattered in between.

"Excuse me?!" Bruce furiously asked. "What the fuck?!"

"Bruce," Karen interrupted. "In the past month, I've been the happiest I've ever been in my entire life, and it's all because I left your sorry ass."

"So, let me get this straight," Bruce growled. "I finally get a hold of you to get your explanation as to why you left me without warning or even a discussion, and you have the audacity to act like a fucking jealous, conceited miss popular cheerleader-type to the man you called your pookie for the last five years, lived with for the last two, accepted a ring from last year, was ready to fucking marry me a couple of weeks ago, and you expect me to sit here and just accept you telling me to shut the fuck up with a smile on my face after I beg you for answers?! What the fuck is wrong with you?!"

"Be grateful I didn't leave you at the altar," she guffawed. Bruce creased his upper lip over his lower one, pressing both tightly against one other. Simultaneously, he clenched his left fist, causing the arteries in his wrist to bulge outward, as if he were inducing an aneurism. He had never been angrier in his entire life.

"You ungrateful bitch! you rotten little..." Bruce growled, as he unclenched his fist and robustly grabbed the royal blue memory-foam mini-pillow next to him, nearly disintegrating the foam beneath the velvet covering.

"That's right, show your anger, Bruce," Karen scowled. "It's the first time you've ever displayed raw emotion!"

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

"You know exactly what I mean."

"No, I don't."

"When was the last time you stood up for yourself? When was the last time you protected me? When was the last time we ripped each other's clothes off and fucked, Bruce?"

Bruce's jaw dropped. He was completely confused at Karen's intentions.

"So, suddenly, you have a problem with me being myself?" Bruce glowered.

"That's the problem, Bruce," Karen calmly replied, feigning a smile. "You being yourself."

"Oh, give me a fucking break!" Bruce shouted.

"No, give me a break!" Karen screeched, causing feedback on the phone's receiver. "Do you remember that party at Tom and Brittany's house? Huh? The one a couple of years back? Yeah, you do, don't you! That one bald cocksucker, Larry, that was flirting with me and calling me a sexy mama? Who was harassing me all night? Do you remember standing up to him? Huh? Do you remember defending me?"

Bruce froze. He remembered the party, but not by Karen's recollection.

"Was he touching your boobs or something? You suck his dick?" Bruce replied, defensively. "I don't remember that!"

"Of course, you didn't, jackass!" Karen snapped. "You were drunk!"

"So were you! Where's your credibility? How do you remember what happened?!"

"Here were Larry's words, exactly, Bruce: 'Hey baby, whataya say we go back to my place for some fine wine and jazz music, and we'll empty out my golden box of condoms!'"

"Bullshit!"

"Or what about this: "Hey Karen, your balloon boobs make you the sexiest angel in New York City! I can't decide whether to suck out the air or expand them!"

"I thought he was just complimenting you!"

"Oh my God!" she shouted. "Do you know how dumb you have to be to think that?! How could you possibly not think he didn't want to fuck me that night?! You know what a real fiancée would do? Punch him out!"

"So why didn't you do it?"

"That's your job!"

"I don't remember bodyguard being part of the job description of significant other!"

"That's just common sense, dickweed!"

"Alright, slut, you wanna compare notes?! Well, do you remember...ummm...do you remember..."

The chuckling on the other end of the receiver made Bruce's ear bleed. He knew he was stuck, and he knew he had botched his opportunity to make a similarly hurtful comeback.

"That's what I thought," Karen sneered, grinning with malicious glee.

"I'll ask again - if this bothered you so much, why bring it up now?" Bruce snarled. "Why didn't you bring IT UP TWO FUCKING YEARS AGO?!"

"Because I was stupid, okay?!" Karen defensively replied.

"Exactly...you're a fucking moron!" Bruce bellowed, vibrating the mahogany coffee table adjacent to the sofa.

"I should have known better months ago! Thank God I didn't walk down that aisle...thank God!"

"What the fuck happened to you? You used to be so sweet...I...I can't begin to fathom your thought process!"

"I'm never happy."

"Clearly."

"And you never fucked me enough!"

"Fuck you, slut!"

"Every single night, you'd sit in front of that damn TV or fall asleep at 9 PM! I was wide awake at that time every single damn night ready for love, and all you could think about was sleep and work!"

"You know I have a demanding job! You KNOW this!"

"You work on Wall Street, dipshit! You're home by 5:00! What do you do the rest of the day? You don't go to the gym, you don't go to happy hour, you just go home and do nothing!"

"Again, you couldn't have brought up your issues to me before we got engaged, or especially after your supposed grievances occurred? You dragged me through the mud for all that time, and you rubbed your anger in my face by refusing to tell me you wanted to leave me, and making me think you were dead! And like the immature skank you are, you're making fun of me! Why did you accept my engagement proposal in the first place? How long have you been planning to embarrass me like this?!"

"You know what I've realized in the last year, Bruce? Not only are you a pussy, but I'm just...just a horrible person, but I've accepted it! I don't care what you or anyone else thinks. I don't need acceptance from anyone."

"Why don't you go eat your own pussy out, you contaminated vasectomy bag! You seem to know a lot about being a pussy!"

"You're a push-over, Bruce! Remember how you refused to challenge the credit card company for that nine-hundred-dollar fraudulent charge, and we had to end up shelling out all that money for nothing, money that we were supposed to put towards our honeymoon?"

"I was too tired and drained to wait on the phone for hours! What do you want me to do?"

"How about when you were side-swiped in the parking lot, and you didn't want to deal with the drama of exchanging insurance information with the perpetrator, and I had to end up doing so for you while you sat back in the car and stared blankly into space? Huh?"

"Oh, for fuck's sake!"

"And let's not forget the time at the mall where my foot was run over by some bitch with a stroller, it was bleeding profusely, and you didn't say a word to the woman nor did you call security? You recoiled in shyness! Do you have any idea how that felt for me? Do you have any idea how embarrassing that was?"

"Shut the fuck up, Karen, I get the point!" Bruce threw his memory-foam pillow in a tomahawk-like motion toward the floor. His hand flapped forward upon release, like a little girl throwing a softball like a shotput. "Now," Bruce continued, let's get to the point of how wretched, scummy, and pathetic of a human being you are!"

"Oh, yes, I'll be happy to, Bruce," she delightedly declared. Karen's tone slowly transitioned from rabidly indignant into a dramatic and ominous. "I hope you're sitting down for this one." What she was about to declare next would leave an irreparably-damaged wound inside Bruce's heart forever. "Remember the night we celebrated our engagement in our top floor room in Atlantic City? We got so into it, you never put on a condom?"

Bruce's baby blue eyes widened. He nervously anticipated Karen's next statement.

"Well," Karen continued. "For the next month, I woke up after you departed for work, went to the bathroom, and vomited. Sooo..." Her diction mirrored that of a spiteful sadist - one relishing the opportunity to say words so hurtful and traumatizing to the recipient, that they celebrate the misfortune and suffering of the one they intend to hurt. "I went to the doctor that morning...and...yup! Pregnant!

Bruce's heart sunk. His hands turned cold. He leaned forward, creasing his belly over his waist, nearing the fetal position.

"Preh...preh...pregnant?" Bruce quivered.

"That's right, my dear," Karen replied. "But it gets better!"

"Did you throw yourself off a roof?" Bruce snapped.

"Far from it," Karen replied, chuckling. Bruce felt as if he were the protagonist of a superhero movie, and the supervillain, Karen, planned to reveal her plan for world domination. "Right after I left the doctor's...I went down the street to the abortion clinic."

Bruce froze. He felt nothing. His bodily functions ceased. He didn't have to ask Karen another question. He knew what was coming next.

"You...you wouldn't..." Bruce trembled.

"Oh yes, honey," Karen replied. "I did."

Tears formed in Bruce's eyes. "I...how...how...how could you? How...WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!"

"I'll be damned if I'm going to be mother to a child I shared with you," she calmly replied.

"You murderous bitch...you fucking little..."

"Bruce, I did you a favor, so shut the fuck up and be grateful! You can sit on your ass all day, eating junk food, watching TV, or just spend all day at the stock exchange, since that's what you love most, isn't it?"

"How could you? I can't believe this," Bruce tearfully replied. His body remained numb, and the dark room appeared like a vortex transporting him into another dimension, which he surely would have accepted in that moment. "You knew I've always wanted to be a Dad! You knew that!"

"And I wasn't going to give you the satisfaction."

"You cunt...you conniving bitch! You're so lucky I'm not next to you right now, because..."

"Because, what? You'll strike me? Shoot me? Throw me out the window?"

"Can I?! If I were you, I'd come back here and dive through that window and fall head-first thirty stories. You deserve the most painful death one can imagine. God help whatever non-respecting sap crosses your ugly path again, you skank!"

"Bye, Bruce!" Buzzing ensues from the receiving end of Bruce's phone. Instantly, he threw his phone at the adjacent double-paned sliding door out to his balcony, causing a crack in the thick glass.

"DIIIIIIIEEEEEEEE!" Bruce screamed as he leapt to his feet, arching his arms inward like a martial artist preparing for a duel. Staring into darkness, and only seeing the faint glow of the city lights outside his now-broken door pane, he looked back and forth, panting for air but unable to control his already-rapidly-accelerating heart. "That bitch thinks I'm lazy?" he muttered to himself. "I was faithful! I was loyal...and she...aborts my baby! She aborted my baby! That fucking bitch! I swear to Christ, she's gonna pay! She's going to regret this...so help me, I'll figure out how!"

Suddenly, Bruce paused, began frowning, then after a few extra seconds of staring into space, he sat back down on his couch.

"Right after Law & Order."

A Shocking Day at Work

Karen figuratively stabbed Bruce in the heart with a sharp dagger, but its pointy end may as well have been, so to speak, a good point. Bruce was always too busy immersing himself in his television at home, and he completely lacked the discipline and good sense to be the fiancée and life partner Karen wanted him to be. She wanted a man to indulge her in the finer things in life; wine tastings, nights at the opera, and fancy dinners. Bruce's only hobbies were watching television and ordering out for Chinese food; shallow indulgences Karen considered to be beneath her. Whenever she and Bruce did go out for dinner, it would be to a diner or to a reasonably-priced establishment that sold sub-ten dollar hamburgers and three-dollar beers. Karen resented it.

Bruce never had any way of knowing, however. Not only is he the type to be blissfully oblivious to drama, but Karen's constant silence on her issues rendered her just as culpable for their relationships' demise as Bruce was. Karen did have genuine affection for Bruce; she always enjoyed furrowing his bushy beard and caressing his silky chest, whereas Bruce knew the exact spot on Karen's nipples to rub to induce orgasmic-like sensations, and his stamina for long sexual episodes always kept her satisfied.

Even if Karen vociferously declared her distaste for Bruce's indifference and nonchalant attitude toward life and their relationship, Bruce most likely would never have noticed. There are three constants in Bruce's life - work, television, and sleep; a Utopia virtually playing out in the meticulously-constructed television set in his mind. After long periods of time in front of the television, Bruce's mind would get hazy, as if he had completed a hundred-mile walk through the desert in one-hundred-twenty-degree heat without a drop of water touching his lips. Although he physically feels well, his brain has rendered itself a scatterbrained cybernetic 24-hour loop of television screen static.

It was also a major reason, besides her disappearance, that Karen's sudden departure came as such a shock. He had seen countless tales of betrayal and loss on the television screen, but more than 90% of these stories resulted in a happy ending. Bruce's tale was among the other 10%. He has never been jaded by much in his life - he grew up in a well-to-do, stable household with loving and financially secure parents, and has rarely, if ever, faced adversity. Karen's betrayal was the first time, in all of his 33 years on this volatile, convoluted planet, that he's been forced to deal with deep, unrequited drama. He's never lost a family member nor friend to death, he has never been fired from a job, and he has never engaged in any form of physical altercation. Therefore, his only method of dealing with any inkling of drama was to watch television. And that's what he did for the next eight hours after he hung up with Karen. No sleep, just flashing colors lighting up his living room. Bruce positioned himself with his left elbow implanted on the cushion of the couch, virtually catatonic, until sunrise, when he commenced engaging in his other favorite pastime - work.

As soon as Bruce donned his favorite four-figure suit and royal blue tie, nearly trimmed his facial hair and parted his thinning scalp on his left, he grabbed his leather briefcase, donned his thin name-brand glasses, and departed for the subway station across the street from his apartment tower. The unfathomable revelations of the previous night, coupled with the sheer, rightful indignation and release of raw emotion he expressed, were practically forgotten,  as if they never happened. Bruce purposefully pushed the exposure of the abortion of his child and the reasoning behind the abandonment of the love of his life out of his mind. Most normal people would have called out of work out of sheer mental exhaustion and emotional pain, but Bruce was far from normal. At work, he was robotic; an efficient and finely-tuned machine that always got the job done with faithful zeal. He was among the best traders at one of Wall Street's most prominent trading firms, and he loved every single moment of it. And as he sat down on the curvy, filthy orange-dyed subway seat, surrounded by other well-dressed commuters, filthy homeless slobs, and oblivious tourists, headphone buds firmly plugged into his ears, his thoughts weren't racing with life-altering, scarring remarks of betrayal and revelations divulged by one of the worst human beings he ever encountered. His thoughts were: "What would the world be like when Bart Simpson turns 11?"

Bruce arrived in his one-hundred-thousand square-feet, state-of-the-art trading floor within an art-deco ocular building located a block away from the New York Stock Exchange with a smile on his face, and a can-do attitude. He warmly greeted his colleagues, cracked a joke with one of his buddies, and arrived at his trading post, a black keyboard surrounded by six flat-screen computer monitors, perched atop a coma-white table. Before he could settle into his black mesh chair and grab the computer mouse to log on to his workstation, he feels a tap on his left shoulder. It is his boss - a bald, husky, albino-looking schlemiel with a snowy-white beard named Harvey Stark. He requested Bruce's presence in his office, sounding gloomy as he did so.

Unfazed and utterly oblivious to any underlying messages resonating from Harvey's somber tone, Bruce postures himself upright and follows Bruce to his glass-encased office, overlooking the vast trading collection of computer monitors and shouting money-grabbers from a loft thirty steps above the trading floor. Harvey asks Bruce to pull the double-paned soundproof glass door behind him shut. Bruce begins thinking. Harvey never, ever closes his door, he thought. The only time he ever shuts his door is when he speaks with a Wall Street bigwig or his own boss! A portentous mood permeated the office as Harvey took his seat in his brown leather chair in front of his glass desk. Bruce took a seat opposite from his boss and firmly placed his hands on his knees, his spine perfectly aligned in an upright position. Then, Harvey began fidgeting. He never, ever fidgets.

"Harvey!" Bruce spluttered in an awkward attempt to break the ice.

"Bruce!" Harvey snapped. "I didn't get laid last night, so I need a moment to compose myself!"

"Sorry!"

"No, I'm sorry, Bruce." Harvey gritted his teeth, appearing angry. Deep within his 71-year-old soul, though, lay an emotion more potent than anger.

"Um, Harvey," Bruce stumbled. "You're scaring me a little bit."

"I'm not the one that's scared, Bruce," Harvey gingerly replied. "You should be."

"I beg your pardon?"

"This...this is very, very difficult for me to say, Bruce, but..."

"Just say it already."

After ten seconds, it finally came out. "We need to let you go, Bruce. I'm sorry."

Bruce's heart plummeted like a satellite re-entering Earth's atmosphere. It may as well have crashed into his crotch like a fireball mushrooming upon impact of a ballistic missile.

"Um, Harvey," Bruce stammered. "Does this mean you didn't get laid?"

"Bruce, don't be a wiseass."

"So, you're not joking."

"Bruce, God damn it, this is a not an elaborate prank, okay! I know you're smart enough to see through those!"

"Then tell me what the hell is going on?"

"Long story short, the firm is downsizing. And Levin is beginning by letting go of our highest-paid traders, and that includes you."

"Has Levin lost money or something? This is outrageous! We just moved into this billion-dollar complex two years ago!"

"He won't say, Bruce. Personally I think that cocksucker is lying through his teeth, but that's between you and me."

"I don't believe this...this is bullshit."

"How do you think this feels for me, Bruce? You're one of my best traders! You're damn, damn good at what you do! And believe me; I will give you a recommendation for any goddamn job you want! But for me to do this, it's just...it's just wrong!"

"So then why the hell are you doing it?"

"Because Levin threatened to fire me if I didn't."

"I...I see."

"I guess you can see where this is going...I mean, you know he and I clash all the time, but it's blatantly obvious to see that he wants his top-paid traders gone just so he can increase his salary from 30 million to infinity-fucking million a year."

"So, who else has he let go?"

Harvey paused, removed his glasses and slapped them on his desk. "Bruce," he somberly replied in a conversational whisper. Then, he leaned forward, and his glazed hazel eyes glanced into Bruce's. "Before I tell you," he continued, "let me ask you one question. Do you think I would be this angry if I were firing hundreds of traders? I mean, look, that's part of the fucking business! I've done it so many times, I'm used to it! But...Bruce...you're the only one."

Bruce froze. Cognitive feeling within him ceased. He simply had no reaction, nor could he. He felt as if Harvey were Death in the flesh, and his weary eyes were the white finger that touched his fragile skin, resulting in an instant death. In the previous 24 hours, he had realized that the woman he thought was going to spend the rest of his life with him had aborted his baby, and now, his passion in life, his career, was suddenly being stripped away from him, as well. And now, to rub salt in Bruce's wounds, he was being singled out.

"And...he's not  letting anyone else go?" Bruce asked.

"I don't know," Harvey quivered.

"But...why me?"

"Because that cocksucker wants to spite me, Bruce! Don't take it personally. This is Levin's power struggle with me! He feels threatened, so he essentially used you as a bargaining chip!"

"Harvey...and you didn't stand up for me?"

"Cut the bullshit, Bruce! Of course I stood up for you! I nearly came to blows, literally, with Levin! I said to him, I'll suck your damn cock, asshole, but you will not make me fire one of my best traders!"

An awkward pause ensued. "Um..." Bruce stammered.

"Okay, okay, I made that shit up," Harvey interrupted, "but...you get the point. I argued with the sonofabitch for almost two hours!"

"But you still didn't..."

"I'm sorry, Brucie. I really am."

Bruce departed his trading post for the final time at precisely 8:54 that morning. Promptly, he walked back to his apartment without his coat on, purposely rendered himself a hypothermic in the 30-degree deep freeze, and when he finally returned to his apartment at 9:32 AM, he removed all his clothing except for his black boxer shorts, produced a full fifth of vodka from his China liquor cabinet, embarked underneath his wrinkled gray duvet, and turned on the television.

Bruce McGee did not move out of the bed for the next twelve hours. His only motivation to do so was to produce another fifth of vodka. He finished the first fifth six hours prior.

 

A Rather Revealing Father-Son Chat

And that's all Bruce did from that moment up until Saturday morning. Nearly 48 hours of little-to-no movement, aside from bathroom breaks and producing additional alcohol from his liquor cabinet. Also, in that time, Bruce had three separate pizzas delivered, two of his garbage cans in the kitchen overflowed, attracting flies, and he binged-watched more than five separate television shows, watched nine movies, and accumulated a total of four hours of sleep.

Bruce was robotic. His cognitive human functions had ceased. His heart was pumping out fumes. His stomach growled on several occasions. More gray hairs began to sprinkle out of his beard. When flies began flying over his unkempt hair, he nary twitched an arm muscle to shoo them away. He could have been stung by a wasp or a yellow jacket and he wouldn't have twitched. Bruce had never felt so alone.

Finally, on Saturday morning, a seasonably warm and balmy early December afternoon, Bruce partook in his monthly ritual. He drove his black Mercedes out to Eastern Long Island to spend the day with his parents at their five-bedroom waterfront mansion overlooking the Long Island Sound. Bruce always considered it the most fun day of each month. He and his father, especially on warm days, would sit on a patio overlooking the Sound, drink beer, and talk about life. Other moments, he'd assist his mother in preparing an elaborate meal. As Bruce was an only child, his parents relished each one of his visits. Bruce, after he moved out on his own for the first time following his college graduation, made a promise to visit his parents at least once per month, regardless of distance or cost, or good times or bad times.

Bruce was in no mood to discuss the absolute worst past few days of his life. His parents had not yet known about his layoff nor the acrimonious circumstances behind Karen's departure. Naively, they assumed that Bruce was beginning to move on from Karen. Bruce, however, adept at producing poker faces in adverse situations, produced the best he could possibly muster for his caring, loving, yet vigilant parents. However, out on the concrete patio overlooking the sound, surrounded by light-green shrubs bristling from the gentle blow of the sea breeze, adjacent to a 45-degree angle ravine descending towards the sound, Bruce's father, Edward, sensed something amiss. Sitting in bamboo-weaved chairs with camouflage cushions, with a glass cocktail table sandwiched in between, Edward, a pot-bellied 6-foot-4 inch with the same military crew cut he was given more than 45 years ago his first day at Marine Corps boot camp, only a lot more whiter, and dressed in a black polo shirt with low-cut khakis and light brown wing-tipped loafers, studied his only son's weary brown eyes. Bruce adjusted the buttons on his white pinstriped shirt, then adjusted his dark blue jeans near the crotch area. His fidgety demeanor was unusual to his Dad, who knew his son as well as he knew his own wife or anyone else in the world. Their relationship is based on honesty and integrity, and any hint of dissension from such a tradition would be met from either side with curiosity and a slight hint of suspicion.

"Bruce,"Edward said in his drawling, gravelly accent that crossed between Charlton Heston and a New York mafia don, "I've never seen you this fidgety. Are you sure there's nothing wrong?"

Bruce remained silent as he focused his eyes on the whitecaps of the sound's waves. The crashing waves eased his troubled mind, but they could not eradicate the nasty vibrations inside his soul. Nonetheless, he continued to be evasive.

"Dad, if you're wondering if I'm coming out as gay or something, give it up,"Bruce said with a grin, feebly attempting to pass off humor. His military-strong father saw right through the ruse.

"Nice try, wiseass," Edward growled. "Come on, Brucie, you know you can tell this wily old man how you feel. It's not like I'm going to ground you or anything."

"I just had a rough week at work. Nothing really to whine about." Bruce took a large gulp of his beer. That was his father's next hint.

"Son, this old marine can't be BS'd. I did two tours in Vietnam, and if my ankle were still intact, I would have gone to Iraq just for the poon tang. I've seen the worst humanity has to offer, and I can tell when someone is hiding something."

Bruce took a deep breath, then clasped his lips upward in arch formation.

"I know all about Karen," Edward said. "Forget her."

"Yeah, well did you know she aborted my baby?!" Bruce snapped. Edward nearly spilled his beer while doubling over in laughter.

"Dad!" Bruce angrily declared. Edward continued to laugh, then slapped his flaky hand on his son's now-trembling right knee.

"That's a great one, Brucie! Aborted...whooo! That's a doozy!"

"Dad!" Bruce shouted, creasing his eyes downward. "Karen...aborted my child!"

Edward finally ceased his laughing, but continued to grin at Bruce. He still thought his son was joking.

"You can laugh at your own joke, son."

"It's not a joke. That insufferable little twit admitted it to me Wednesday night. It was the first time we have spoken since the break-up. I didn't want to talk about it today. I just wanted to enjoy our time together."

"Bruce, I...oh my God!"

"Yeah," Bruce replied, folding his arms.

"I'm speechless! How could she actually do that to you, and... you never told me or your mother that she was expecting!"

"That's because I didn't know about that until Wednesday, either! It was the first time I had spoken to her since she left."

"Then, you know what? She's unfit to be a mother. In a way, you should be glad."

"That's the same thing she said."

"Brucie, I...I don't know what to say. If there's anything I can..."

"You shouldn't. She's right. It's all my fault."

"Don't let her manipulate you like that. I always had my suspicions about her."

"No, Dad, she's absolutely right. I'm a bum! All I do all day long is go to work and watch TV. I don't exercise, I don't socialize, I don't do charity events or volunteer, shit, I barely even travel!"

"And that's why she left you?"

"Well, that, and because I'm a fucking pussy. I never stood up for her. I took her for granted!"

"Bruce, you're not a pussy! Again, she's manipulating you."

"It doesn't matter. She's gone for good and...she just...she had the nerve to..." Tears forming in his eyes, Bruce chugged the remainder of his beer, and tossed the empty bottle into the water in front of him.

"Brucie," Edward pled, standing up and rubbing his son's shoulders. "I get you're angry, and I can't imagine what Karen put you through. It's horrible, but eventually, you just need to move on."

"And how do I do that?"

"Well, immerse yourself in the things you love."

"I already have."

"Well, what else do you love besides TV and work?"

"I only have one of those things now."

"You got rid of your TV?"

Bruce shot his father an angry look of death, creased his eyelids downward, and slowly shook his head. "Oh," Edward somberly replied.

"I found out the day after I spoke with Karen. After ten years and two promotions!"

Edward's clammy hand, once grasping a beer bottle tightly, had loosened its grip. Seconds later, the bottled rotated forward, and small drops of barley-based liquid dripped onto the concrete below.

"Brucie?"

"Don't say anything, Dad. I deserve it. It's karma."

Edward took one long, labored breath. No words that would come out of his mouth could possibly ease the magnitude of the revelations his son had just brought forth. Bruce...I mean...I can't imagine...that's the kind of stuff that would cripple most men."

"Thanks, Dad, I really needed to hear that right now."

"I'm sorry. It was an inappropriate joke. It's just...wow...I'd been through 'Nam twice, and I've interviewed some pretty fucked up people with fucked up stories in all my years as a shrink, but...I've never heard anything like this."

"Well, now you have. Congratulations."

"Normally, I'd take offense to that snarkiness, but I really don't blame you."

"Honestly, Dad, it's a miracle I'm even here today."

"Were you gonna off yourself or something?"

Bruce sat silently, arms folded.

"Brucie?"

"No, Dad. I wasn't going to off myself. That said, what else do I have to live for? Karen dumped me, she killed our baby, and I lost my dream job. All I have left are you and Mom. If neither of you were around, I'd probably consider it."

"Well, shit son, don't let me or your mother be the reason you don't move on with your life!"

"I've done what I wanted to do with my life. What else can I do?"

"You're extremely qualified and accomplished. Just find another trading job!"

"Where?"

"I don't know? Siberia?"

"C'mon, Dad."

"Son, you're the expert on this stuff. You know where the jobs are. So you had a little setback! That's life!"

"This isn't just a setback. This is a cliff collapsing out from underneath me, plummeting 20,000 feet to the ground to my bloody death."

"So, your solution is to sit around and sulk?"

"That's just a short-term solution. But you're missing the point, Dad. Look, fuck Karen. I don't need her anymore. And I know I can find another job anywhere. In time, I will. But it's more than just that."

Edward's psychiatry instinct inevitably overtook his mind. He knew his son didn't want any shrink tactics to be played on him, but Edward felt his only son's problems were too deep and too profound for him to not at least offer a professional perspective.

"If you don't feel suicidal," Edward calmly inquired, "then what do you feel like?"

"You want the truth?" Bruce glumly asked.

"You can tell me anything you want, son."

"I...I feel like my life is a lie. Everything I've ever worked for, dreamed for, and aspired for, has succumbed to reality."

"And what reality is that?"

"Our lives don't matter. Hope is an illusion. You are not special. We are not special. Only a select few in life are fortunate enough to get everything they've ever wanted. The rest of us just angrily go through the motions every single day for the rest of our lives."

"Tell me something I don't know," Edward bluntly replied with a chuckle. "Brucie, look, I've gotten everything in life I've ever wanted. I served my country with honor, I got my doctorate, I've built a great home, I have a great wife and an incredible son, and I've helped people. But the truth is, humans always desire more. We're never satisfied! We're greedy, Brucie! That's just the way it is!"

"Yes, but I got what I wanted in life - a great job, and I once had a great fiancée, or at least someone I thought was great - and now it's all gone! I'm angry!"

"It's going to take time for that anger to subside, son."

"Yes, but I'm not the person I want to be."

"How do you mean? You're a brilliant, compassionate man, Bruce. What more do you want?"

"To be feared."

Edward's eyelids shot upward like a bullet discharged from the chamber. "Feared...what...what in the world do you mean, feared?" he asked.

"You know how badly bullied I was back in school because of my weight? I mean, most of the popular kids thought I was autistic or had down syndrome or something. I would never stand up for myself. I was afraid of the consequences."

"What do you care about something that happened almost three decades ago?"

"Well, that same push-over mentality carried over to my adult years. Dad, haven't you noticed how I tend to recoil in horror at the thought of any kind of adversity? You realize how much I hate confrontation?"

"That's not necessarily a bad thing, son."

"Yes, it is. It's part of the reason why Karen left me. She thought I was a pussy, and she's right! I've never stood up for myself. I should have told off my boss the other day or negotiated for my job back. I shouldn't have cried to that damn police officer after I filed the missing person’s report for Karen. I should have questioned my professors more. I should have questioned my education!"

"Okay, Bruce, I get the point. But listen, you can't just go back and change the past. All you can do is the best you can with what you have right now."

"Well, I'm tired of being a pushover. I'm tired of being bullied. For once, I want others to know exactly how I've felt my entire life. I want to be the one that everyone fears. I don't want to carry any feelings whatsoever within me. I want to feel infallible. I want, just for one day in my life, to be a curmudgeon. I want to be that person that others either bow down to or recoil in horror at the sight of me or the thought of me. I want to be like God and Satan combined!"

"Well," Edward replied after an awkward pause, "ummm...here's to your blasphemy?"

 

A Very, Very Awkward Dinner

Later that afternoon, Bruce and his parents sat down to an elegant dinner of lasagna, cobb salad, garlic rolls, and red wine at the thousand-square-foot pentagon-shaped dining room, naturally lit by the descending December sunlight. The beige French drapes were tied up on either side of the crystal-clear and clean double-hung windows offering spectacular views of the Sound. Bruce sat opposite his father, who had his back turned to the windows, on an imitation wooden-legged chair, and Bruce's mother sat to his left, in front of the mahogany table with a ghost-white spread, in front of a set of five lit candles parallel to one another, like a half of a menorah. The room was brightly lit, but the collective mood amongst the McGee family was frosty.

Bruce sat quietly, producing the same poker face that he failed to fool his father with. Edward McGee squinted his arms tightly in towards his chest, and rolled his eyes at his surroundings. The magnitude of the tension at the dinner table was amplified even larger when Edward declined to perform the pre-dinner blessing commonplace for every single McGee family dinner for generations. Joyce McGee, Edward's wife of more than 30 years, froze in terror, and the butter-spreader in her left hand innocently fell out of her trembling hand onto the table cloth below.

"Edward Charles McGee!" Joyce shouted. "What in the world is the matter with you?"

Edward continued to sit silently.

"Did you shit your pants or something?" Joyce authoritatively asked.

"Joyce!" Edward shot back, "I'm sure the good Lord wouldn't want you to use that kind of toilet language!"

"Oh, cut the crap! Not literally, of course! I've known you nearly 40 years. I know you inside and out and I know you better than you know yourself. There has to be a reason why you aren't saying grace!"

After a brief pause, Edward, eyes still fixated on his now-congealing food, spluttered: "talk to our son about it."

Joyce, her mouth slowly widening, slowly rotates her head to the right, and eventually, her dark hazel eyes fixated directly on her only son's sulking burly frame.

"Bruce?" she asked with a hint of fear, anticipating his response. "Is there something you'd like to tell me?"

"Where would you like me to begin?" Bruce growled, his head still tilted downward.

"You tell me," Joyce bluntly replied.

"Well, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is, Karen aborted our child. The good news is, I lost my damn job. Any questions?"

Joyce's jaw plummeted to the floor. Her extremities froze. Seconds later, she began to hyperventilate. Drool inadvertently fell from her now boiling mouth down to the cleavage of her brown dress.

"Oh...OH MY GOD!" Joyce shouted. "She did...WHAT?! Oh God! OH GOD!"

"See, mom," Bruce replied. "You get too emotional. That's why I didn't want to say anything."

"That bitch!" Joyce seethed. "You know...I never liked Karen. Ever." 

"Joyce, please," Edward pled. "This is tough enough on Brucie as it is."

"I should have said something," Joyce continued. "I should have begged you to leave her years ago! Especially before you proposed to her! Something...something always seemed off with her...but my God!"

"How do you think I feel?" Bruce snapped. "I learned all that the hard way!"

"Bruce, please," Edward pled to his son.

"Well, now you face the consequences head on like a man!" Joyce shouted.

"What are you, a detective on TV interrogating a prisoner?" Bruce snapped.

"TURN OFF YOUR DAMN TV, BRUCE!" Joyce screamed as she slapped her open right hand on the table.

"Okay, Joyce, that's enough!" Edward shouted as he stood up.

"No, it's not enough!" Joyce replied. "That bitch hurt our boy! She deserves to suffer!"

"Joyce, I know you're upset right now, but idle threats aren't going to change anything!"

"Let me guess," Joyce interrupted, pointing at Bruce. "She left you because you watch TV all day? Because you're lazy!"

"JOYCE!" Edward screamed.

Bruce stood up, and pounded his fist on the table, the sauce poured on top of his baked ziti splattering in all directions and retorted: "WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?!"

"Joyce, you need to calm down right now!" Edward pled.

"Where's your ambition? Where's your drive?"Joyce screeched.

"Mom, you are being a complete bitch right now! You sound like Karen!" Bruce screamed.

"You never stood up for yourself! That's why you're in the predicament you're in!"

Edward approached Joyce with his arms extended forward, feebly attempting to comfort his wife. She slapped his left arm away. Joyce froze and frowned as her eyes squinted downward.

"I knew you'd understand, mom. I knew!"

A moment later, Bruce, tears forming in his eyes, huffed in disgust, turned around, produced his car keys from his front left jeans pocket, and departed the dining room despite desperate pleas from his shocked and appalled father. Disgusted, Edward, in a large departure from his typically stoic and tranquil behavior, flipped his chair over backward, and angrily pointed his finger at his wife.

"You know," Edward growled while pointing his finger at his wife. "If it wouldn't cripple me financially, I'd divorce you right now! What the hell was all that?!"

Joyce ignored her husband. Instead, she took a giant gulp of the red wine from the oversized imported crystal glass in front of her dinner plate. Producing a bitter squint as a result of the alcoholic rush that permeated her insides like a spider web instantaneously forming, Joyce coughed obnoxiously as if a fly had forced its way down her trachea.

"Wow!" she shouted. "Who knew how powerful this stuff would be! It felt like...truth serum!"

 All Edward McGee could do was blankly stare, completely incredulous. Moments later, he released a scream loud, it reverberated like whitecaps zooming in a chain reaction one-by-one all the way to Connecticut.

Meanwhile, a devastated Bruce McGee embarked into his six-figure Mercedes, sped out of his parents' driveway, and commenced the most difficult drive of his entire life.

 

Months Later, A Life-Changing Dream

For the next three hours, including two traffic jams, a bout of heavy rain, and a close call with a tractor trailer, the mood inside the leather-bound interior of the Mercedes was funereal. The stereo remained off. The stereo was never off. The only noise that reverberated in the car was the internal combustion of the turbo-charged flat-four engine and the thousands of revolutions per second of the Mercedes' tires grinding along the crumbling concrete of the Long Island Expressway. Inside Bruce's head however, was enough loud noise to deafen those with the keenest and strongest sense of hearing.

All he could think about was his failed relationship with Karen, the sudden loss of his dream job, and the now strained relationship with his parents, especially his mother. Her outrageously boorish behavior induced by the insanely strong wine she had been drinking was completely foreign to him. Joyce McGee had always been a compassionate, gentle soul who always nurtured her son with love and respect. Now, to Bruce, she was a monster; a heartless, indignant specimen of skin and bone overpowered by a vengeful demon, eradicating the heavenly aura deep within her for all thirty-three years of Bruce's life. Sure, Bruce still had his father's love and respect, but he had already made up his mind: conversations by telephone, text, or email would be too awkward, and he could never set foot in his parents' house again knowing that when he was at his lowest moment, one of the two people that still mattered to him in his life did not have his back.

The Midtown Manhattan skyline drew larger and more imposing through the Mercedes' windshield as traffic glided smoothly along the westbound Long Island Expressway, and as the late afternoon December sun slowly descended with an expanding glow of orange beyond the concrete spikes ahead, it seemed fitting for Bruce. Daylight was concluding in the current chapter of Bruce's life, and a period of darkness was about to begin. When he entered the Midtown tunnel, his entire body felt numb, as if the old Bruce had drifted away from the confines of the open space beyond the East River, sifted through a tube, and emerged out a new man in a new world. Although the tangible world in front of him was the city he has called home for years, the virtual world inside his head was a foreign one. He had no job, no fiancée, and no friends. His relationship with his parents were strained, and worst of all for him, he wasn't going to have a child. What was Bruce to do now?

When he eventually reemerged inside his condo, Bruce did what he always does: immerse himself in the virtual, artificial world of television. Awaiting Bruce on his cell phone were frantic text messages and voicemails from his father, apologizing for his wife's behavior and imploring him to call the house the moment he gets a chance. Bruce replied to his father with one blunt text message: "I don't say another world until Joyce meets me face-to-face, looks me dead in the eye, and apologizes to me."

One month later...it didn't happen.

Two months later...nothing.

And finally, on Bruce McGee's second month, seventh day, and eight hour of hiding, another text message came from his father: "We're getting divorced. Nearly 35 years of marriage...gone. I'm numb."

The message didn't faze Bruce one bit. He hadn't seen, nor spoken with his parents since that fateful day in Long Island, so to him, it felt as if his parents were already split. His mother never apologized to him, and never attempted to reach out to do so.

Bruce could only muster one response to the heart-wrenching text his father sent: "Mom still hasn't apologized."

His father was in pain, but to Bruce, it didn't compare to the pain he had experienced. What was he to do? Where was he to go? More importantly, what Bruce McGee did he want to be? Did he want to continue to be the lazy, uninspired slacker that his ex-fiancée and mother saw fit to criticize him for at the highest possible level, or did he want to be someone new?

While drifting off to sleep underneath his silver duvet, immersing himself in the darkened grooves of the now frayed leather coating of his four-figure reclining sofa, the rainbowed colors of the television screen flashing like a strobe light, Bruce immediately began dreaming about him and his father. Except it wasn't his father sitting to his right while partaking in the tranquil confluence of the whitecaps of the Long Island Sound on a cloudless, pleasantly mild summer afternoon. Instead, it was the main character of one of Bruce's favorite TV shows, assuming the husky, broad-shouldered flesh of his father, donned in a white polo shirt firmly tucked in to his light beige khakis, sitting cross-legged while nursing an imported beer in the palm of his left hand. The man's face, however, was as familiar to Bruce as his father's wrinkled forehead, aviator glasses, perfectly clean-shaven skin, and rotten teeth stained by one too many cigars and cups of coffee. As the conversation began, the character's infamously blunt and narcissistic personality, which has drawn polarizing reactions from millions of Americans (his detractors denouncing his narcissism, misogyny and take-no-prisoners attitude; his supporters praising him for his dark, off-beat sense of humor and honesty), ensured that Bruce would pay close attention him with zero distraction.

"Boy," the man bellowed in a thick Brooklyn accent, "I'm gonna snap your dick off with a pair of pliers so fast you'll bleed out before you can look down and realize what's missing!"

 A startled Bruce stared blankly at the man, mouth agape.

 "Dad, where the hell did..."

 "Dad? What you think, pal, I banged your mama and she popped you out?"

 "Never mind," Bruce defeatedly stated.

"You know what your problem is, kid? You've let too many people push you around for so long! I mean, think about it. When your mama yelled at you that day, you ran away like a little bitch! You barely stood up for yourself! You just ran away from your problems!"

 "But, Dad, I..."

"No buts, boy! That bitch of an ex of yours was right about you. Now, she's a loser, but that's beside the point. You're gutless. You have no ambition. See, women don't want that. They want some guy who's gonna take a bullet for them, act like this tough guy around everyone, have a wad of cash in their wallet, and defend them no matter if you know for fact they are wrong. All you have is a wad of cash in your wallet. You didn't have the other three, and that's why that bitch ran away!"

"Yeah," Bruce somberly replied. "I know."

"Look at you, ya whining like a little cocksucker. You're just like everyone else these days -you're too sensitive! Wake up! The world is evil and selfish! You can't afford to be a nice guy! You know what your other problem is? You've afraid of what people think of you! I mean, imagine you're at the convenience store. You request a take-five lottery ticket and the incompetent boob hands you a Pick-Six! You tell the guy that's not what you ordered, and the moron begins arguing with you. What are you going to do in that situation? Probably just take his abuse and walk away, right? No! You need to grab that kook by the collar, pull him eye-to-eye, and scream 'give me my damn take five!' See how much better you feel about yourself! Anger release, so long as it's channeled properly, is cathartic! You feel free. Then, when you realize you're not a castle made of sand impacted by a big wave, you feel like you can do anything!"

"Anything? You mean, like, kill a man?"

"Well, if you did, boy, I ain't got no bail money for ya!"

 "Well..."

 "Think deeply about it, boy. And then imagine when you take the same give-no-shits attitude toward Karen, or your boss, or even your own mother. You'll be a different man."

 "But how do I just transform into that person?"

 "You tell me, boy. You told me you wanted to a curmudgeon for one day. Why, exactly did you think that way? You're angry. You're disillusioned. You want revenge. You just haven't figured out how to channel it yet."

 "I...well..."

"You want to be a pussy the rest of your life? You want people to walk all over you?"

"No."

"SAY IT WITH CONFIDENCE!"

"NO."

"AGAIN!"

"FUCK NO!"

"Now we're talkin'!"

 Suddenly, Bruce jolted awake. Still in total darkness at 3:30 AM, he looked in a hundred different directions just to ensure he was still in his apartment. Once he came to the realization that he was still alive and home safely, he suddenly felt different. He didn't feel the weight of thousand ropes tugging at his heart, or a thousand tornados blowing throughout the interior of his lungs.

Bruce McGee didn't feel like Bruce McGee. There was no scientific explanation for it. It just happened.

He felt...reborn.

He had nothing left to lose. His life no longer mattered. He was just one man out of billions in the broken, cynical world he lived in.

Then, after pulling himself off the couch and posturing himself upright like a military cadet preparing for inspection from his drill sergeant, Bruce McGee realized exactly what he had to do and what he wanted to do.

And then, he smiled.

 

The New Bruce McGee

And so, at 5:30 AM on an ice-cold February Monday morning, Bruce McGee donned his dirtiest and most ripped pair of jeans he could produce from his dresser and his faded beige work boots over a pair of frayed white socks. Finally, he produced a white T-shirt from the far corner of the bottom of his six-shelf drawer he specifically sets aside for rare and vintage clothing. When he rolled over the white cotton beneath his flabby chest and belly, it revealed a silhouette caricature of Mickey Mouse, except Mickey's normally oval-shaped eyes were replaced with large Red X's. 

He then stepped outside onto the streets of New York without a coat or any protection against the icy breeze floating in from the Hudson River. With each step he took, he maintained a Cheshire cat-like grin on his gray-stubbly face. His upright posture was something he had never utilized while walking before. Normally, he would keep his head slumped downward, avoiding eye contact with any passersby. But this time, he made it a point to look at every single passerby with a glare of malicious suspicion, regardless of whether every buttoned-up eskimo-looking sap that crossed his path gave him a morbidly curious glance at his wardrobe of choice or not. He didn't care, though. Bruce McGee walked with a confidence and swagger he would never have dreamed of producing in a public setting until this day. He was going to complete, in his mind, the greatest human transformation one could possibly make; from a meek, pleasant average joe to a total, unadulterated curmudgeon. 

Bruce's first stop was the corner store adjacent to the bus stop he utilizes to commute to Wall Street on a daily basis. On most mornings, he stops in for a cup of French vanilla coffee with a dash of sugar. Most days in the shop are a pleasant experience, but on others, he must deal with a rude, obnoxious clerk that never makes eye contact with customers and never smiles. Bruce never appreciated his attitude nor cared for his general disposition. On mornings in which the clerk was behind the register, Bruce's mood would begin to sour. 

This particular morning, though, Bruce lucked out. The tall, rail-thin, balding clerk behind the filthy, advertisement-stickered counter colloquially known as "Dickhead Dmitry" was nonchalantly keeping guard at his station immediately adjacent to the main entrance. When Bruce entered the store and noticed Dmitry, casually perusing a Russian language newspaper while selectively assisting customers rushing to commute to work with courtesy and respect. Some customers waiting in line to pay for their food or drink items, on average, had to wait at least an extra ten seconds before dickhead Dmitry acknowledged them. Bruce calmly concocted his favorite twenty-ounce cup of coffee at the coffee station adjacent to the register, and as he poured sugar into his cup, he could hear the huffs and puffs of the impatient commuters. As Bruce took his place in line, five potentially volatile humans deep, he could see the man first in line, clad in a beige trench coat with thin glasses, and salt-and-pepper hat hair magnetized towards the moldy ceiling. As soon as Dmitry returned the man's change, and the man yanked his coffee cup away from the counter, the man shouted, "you're a real class act, pal!" Bruce laughed under his breath as he took a step closer to the register.

Eventually, Bruce reached the front of the line. Producing a grin, he calmly placed his coffee on the counter, and slipped two crumped, faded dollar bills in Dmitry's direction. Dmitry, frowning, continued to read his newspaper. On most normal days, Bruce would tolerate Dmitry's arrogance. This was not most normal days.

When Bruce's wait time reached five seconds, he clenched his right fist into a coma-white ball, and pounded it on the thick plate-glass counter, vibrating his coffee cup and jolting Dmitry out of his trance like a power surge of electricity forced into an outlet.

"What?" Dmitry asked in a thick Russian drawl.

"Hey comrade," Bruce growled, "you feel like working today?"

"You not my boss," Dmitry snapped.

"I don't give two shits!" Bruce bellowed like a roaring lion. "Either you give me back my change, or I'll pound my fist on this glass again so hard that either one of two things will happen: "this glass shatters, or my full, red-hot coffee cup will project itself into your face and burn your eyes off." Bruce fixated his bloodshot eyes right into the shocked expression of Dmitry's brown eyes.

"Okay, sir," Dmitry conceded. Angrily, he reached into the register and frantically produced a dime and a quarter. Then, he slapped the worn trinkets of coin onto the glass counter immediately adjacent to Bruce's paper coffee cup. Bruce smiled. "Thank you, good sir!" he proclaimed with the most sarcasm he could possibly gather. "By the way, dickhead Dmitry," he shouted as he crouched down to his left. "I'll use my change to buy this newspaper! Yes, I know it's fifty cents, but why don't you give me ten seconds or so to find some change on the floor?" Bruce inquired while maintaining his maleficent grin. He wasn't thinking twice about the scene he was causing, especially the laughter amongst the patrons waiting in line or perusing the store's aisles. Those laughing harder and smiling wider than others had to be regulars in this spot, Bruce thought. He was relishing the opportunity to entertain them. "Oh darn," Bruce crackled, "I can't find any! But you know what? I'll make up that fifteen-cent difference to you! Can I see your newspaper, please?"

Dmitry arrogantly slaps his Russian-language newspaper onto the glass counter, completely covering the thirty-five cents change Bruce was supposedly returning to him for his copy of the Wall Street Journal. Bruce slowly removed the foam lid off his coffee cup, and firmly planted on top of Dmitry's newspaper. After giving Dickhead Dmitry a wink, Bruce tipped over his cup, deliberately spilling one-third of his French vanilla roast mixed with sugar all over the smudgy newsprint, melting the colored ink as if the coffee were turpentine thinning out the paint on a canvas.

Fifteen cents worth of coffee, dickhead!" Bruce enthusiastically proclaimed. Applause and shouting from the approving and amused customers ensued. Bruce smiled and took a bow, then took a glance at a stunned Dmitry, then said "you can keep my newspaper." Bruce gave Dmitry one last wink, then brought his coffee back outside to the freezing cold.

When Bruce stepped onto the concrete, and felt the tinge of frost encountering his exposed, hairy arms, he felt like an entire skyscraper was lifted off his chest. He no longer felt any fear nor did he stop to think about the consequences of his actions.

He was right, everyone else was wrong.

Bruce McGee wasn't going to be screwed with any longer.

For the next ten minutes, he strutted southward ten city blocks completely upright, sipping his coffee, and not recoiling at the natural human body reaction to what was now twenty-one-degree temperatures. One scrawny, short man clad in a parka, black gloves, and a black ski cap that walked by Bruce on the icy sidewalk, stopped dead in his tracks, stared directly into Bruce's eyes, and said, "my friend, do you know how cold it is outside?"

Bruce, guffawing like a hyena, approached the man, leaned down, looked into his baby blue eyes, and said, "do you want to know what it feels like to be shorter than you already are when I pound my fist on top of your head?"

The man recoiled in shock.

"Mind your own fuckin' business, alright?" Bruce pled, then turned around and continued his walk southbound, completely ignoring the smartass remarks the short, scrawny man was hurling towards Bruce's back.

Minutes later, Bruce arrived at the same building in which he held his dream job. It was 7:30 AM, so the crowd in the translucently-lit lobby was fairly sparse. At the security desk, cloaked in suit with a black tie and an earpiece, was Gary, a mild-mannered man with dreams  of becoming an executive chef at a five-star restaurant. Bruce knows this, and is keenly aware that Gary has no desire to be a security guard the remainder of his life, and that his meek approach to his job is the perfect opportunity to manipulate his way through the electronic turnstiles.

Gary instantly recognized Bruce's face when he entered, but was stunned to see him in a white Mickey Mouse T-shirt and not his patented designer suit and tie.

"Bruce McGee, my man! Is that you!" Gary said.

"Tis I, good sir!" Bruce proclaimed as he loudly slapped both of his hands down on the desk in front of him, startling the vulnerable Gary.

"Jeez, Brucie, what's your problem?"

"I want to meet with Levin NOW."

"Whoa, slow down there, brotha! Not in that silly-ass Mickey Mouse shit you got going on!"

"I said," Bruce growled. "I want to meet with my former boss immediately! Please. It's the American dream, Gary! I'm standing up to the man!"

"Umm," a trembling Gary replied, "okay Bruce, you're scaring me a little bit. You don't got a gun on ya, do ya?"

"Does it matter?" Bruce snapped.

"Ummm," Gary stammered.

"Ah, I'm just kidding ya, pal! Of course I don't!" Gary breathed a sigh of relief and produced a smile. Bruce, sensing his vulnerability, seized an opportunity. He slammed his fist on the table, jolting Gary out of his gleeful disposition and forcing him to sit upright and break his mild-mannered character. "LEVIN. IMMEDIATELY." Passersby began to stop and stare at Bruce and Gary.

"Okay, Bruce, if you're going to act like that, I'm going to need to call the police."

"Gary," Bruce said in a conversational whisper, chuckling, "you are so fucking pathetic. You're never going to become an executive chef, much less a goddamn cook at McDonald's. You let people walk all over you! You don't have the guts to be what you want to be. That's why you're stuck here working this shit job. So, here's what's going to happen. You're going to get on that phone, call Levin's secretary, or whatever slut he has employed now, and you're going to tell Levin to get his ass down here right now and escort me to his office. Otherwise, what's the name of that place you want to become a chef at?"

"Ummm...La Fiesta Terra" Gary trembled, his hands shaking.

"Yeah, there. I happen to know the Maitre D. Good man. I'm going to give him a call later today, and I'm going to ask him to tell the owner to never, ever consider hiring your ass for as much as a bus boy position, and you can either sit here and rot the rest of your life, or you can take the damn initiative to work to do what you want with your life and not make the same mistakes I did. So, what's it going to be?"

Bruce stared directly into Gary's vulnerable brown eyes. A shocked and appalled Gary sat completely frozen, completely taken aback by the attitude and arrogance of a man he once knew as kind, friendly, and laid-back. Deep down inside, Gary knew Bruce had told him the truth about his personality, albeit in a very blunt, condescending tone, but he could not shake the feeling of deep fear that Bruce's vitriolic tirade had induced deep within his soul, and it got him intimidated to the point where he gingerly picked up his telephone and requested that Michael Levin, the wealthy, powerful Michael Levin, take time out of his ultra-busy schedule to greet a former employee.

"Thank you kindly, Gary," Bruce snarked. "You won't regret this."

"He said he's coming down immediately," Gary spluttered, still feeling jittery.

"He...he what? Really?!"

"Wha...what happened to you, Bruce?" Gary painfully inquired.

"Simple," Bruce replied. "I just don't give a fuck about anything anymore," he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Thirty minutes later, Levin arrived in the lobby, accompanied by two armed guards flanked on either side. He was dressed in his all-black suit and tie, a stark contrast to the wavy coma-white thinning hair on his wrinkly scalp. Bruce produced a wide grin as Levin approached him.

"Well, Mr. McGee!" Levin proclaimed with an even wider grin, exposing his rancid, decaying teeth from years of smoking and coffee. "This is certainly a pleasant surprise!" Both shook hands vigorously like a tightrope buckling out from under the weight of a walker. Bruce smiled and said, "Hello, Michael!"

"You are sorely missed here, Mr. McGee. You have no idea how sad I was when Harvey had to let you go! Business is business, you know!"

Bruce guffawed like a madman. He knew Levin was humoring him, and Bruce was not surprised in the least bit to hear him deflect responsibility for his firm's actions towards his former boss.

"Okay, Bruce, it's not that funny, but, um, c'mon upstairs. You want a cup of coffee?"

"Of course!"

"Nice little get-up you got there! I didn't know you were such a Mickey Mouse fan!"

"I'll bet you didn't!"

"Guards, thank you, but you may leave us."

As they entered the elevators alone, Bruce began chuckling under his breath like a stoner on a weed kick, attempting fruitlessly to prevent Levin from hearing him.

"You sure you're okay?" Levin calmly asked as they exited the elevator. "You got frostbite or something walking in without a coat on?"

"I know my own body," Bruce snarkily replied.

The trading floor, which on a typical day accommodates more than three hundred employees, was only staffed so early in the morning with around forty. Those that passed by recognized Bruce and waved at him and shouted well-wishes, salutations, and greetings. Bruce responded with winks, finger-pointing in a warm-greeting context, and he even flipped off the IT professional who constantly condescended to each employee whenever he or she had an issue with their computers.

Moments before Bruce entered Levin's office, a four-hundred-foot glass enclosure that offers spectacular views one One World Trade Center a few blocks down, Bruce pressed a red button adjacent to the glass doors that allow for entrance to the lounge in which Levin's secretaries were stationed. 

After Bruce and Levin were completely alone inside the office, large flashing white lights began glowing from the ceiling. Shortly after, an automated baritone voice over the loudspeakers announced a mandatory evacuation of the building.

"Well, looks like we need to go back outside," Levin sarcastically drawled. Bruce was sick and tired of the fake buddy-buddy chatter coming from his former bosses' mouth. It triggered him to make his next move. "You want a coat, Bruce?" Levin asked, as he retreated behind his plate-glass desk.

"Nah," Bruce replied in his own sarcastic drawl.

"You sure?"

"Positive."

"Okay." Levin donned his beige trench coat and filtered his way around his desk and towards the thick mahogany door towards his secretaries' desk. Immediately as Levin approached the door, Bruce slammed the door shut in front of him, slapped the metal lock on the door downward, and shut off all the lights. A shocked Levin was then grabbed by the knot of his black tie by the death grip of Bruce's flaky right hand, and when Bruce yanked him forward, his nose literally grazed the tip of Bruce's nose. He could feel the palpability of Bruce's anger.

"Stop lying to me," Bruce growled. "Fuck off with your phony buddy-buddy talk. That's the way you talked to me for nearly ten years. It was all a charade. I'll bet you never thought of me as your buddy when you told Harvey to fire me just because you didn't want to give me a raise."

"Bruce," Levin trembled, "we have to leave."

"I pulled the alarm, jerkoff. The only fire in this building right now is the one shooting out from my mouth to burn your sorry ass."

Levin quivered in terror. He thought Bruce was going to kill him.

"Now, here's what's going to happen. Before you contact security to have one of your armed stiffs either escort me out or shoot me to death, you're going to do one thing for me. You're going to cut me a check for ten million dollars, tax-free, right here, right now."Bruce yanked Levin closer. His rancid coffee breath was filtering through Levin' nostrils like a fan. Levin recoiled in disgust, but he couldn't deter Bruce from completing his tirade. "That ten million dollars," Bruce continued, "is the bonus you probably received last month, right? All that money you kept for yourself instead of compensating the best and most talented stock brokers money can buy - the type that could increase revenue in this world-class institution for the goddamn institution, not some greedy sandbagger who pretends to be your friend when he's more interested in sucking his own dick! Well, you know the other reason why you got that bonus? A partial reason? Because of my hard work! My dedication! My expertise! And you threw my career out the window, for what? To suck your own dick and dry off your lips with all that extra money you didn't earn! So, either you cut me that check for ten million right here, right now, or I'm going to place a little phone call to some, say, influential cops downtown, and I'm going to tell them a little story about, shall we say, investments you have down in the Caribbean? Sure, it will be a he said-she said deal at first, when I mention the name Jacob Waldstein, ya know that former partner in crime, pun intended, of yours? I think they'll want to dig a little deeper into how you manage your W2 forms. You cut me that check, and you'll never see me again."

Levin stared blankly into Bruce's laser-sharp eyes. Inside, he was not intimidated by Bruce's bluster, but he knew that Bruce had come prepared, and he marveled at the deliberate and carefully constructed nature of Bruce's demands.

Minutes later, Bruce McGee emerged back outside into the blistering-cold temperatures, waltzing around a crowd of employees bundled up in their coats waiting for an all-clear signal to re-enter. As he was close to completing his filtering through the crowds, a former colleague named Asa Halberg recognized him and greeted. Asa was dressed in his Hasidic Judaism garb, and he naturally made a comment on Bruce's shirt. Bruce them came closer to him and whispered "hey, Levin is doing favors today. You know that big raise you were gunning for months ago? He's ready to give it to you." 

After giving his former colleague a wink, Bruce stepped onto the sidewalk, then produced a three-and-a-half by five-inch official bank note from his pocket, stretched out the outer seams of his ten million dollar personal check payable to him and signed by Michael Levin, and chuckled. He then walked down the street to an ATM machine managed by the bank he and his father own a joint savings account in, and deposited the check into the machine. After checking the bank's app to ensure the ten million had been posted to his account, he produced his phone and contacted his father. After the call went to voicemail, Bruce left the following message: "Dad, it's Brucie. Check the Federal Credit Union account. You should see a nice chunk of change in there. It's for you. You deserve it. You're my last remaining friend, and you're the only one that believes in me. God bless."

As he exited the bank's ATM vestibule, Bruce walked onto the street corner with a wide-eyed grin, then began walking north. Moments later, he began crossing a narrow street corner, then bumped into a man in a beige overcoat, black fedora, and thick glasses, obnoxiously yapping away on his cell phone. The bump induced a bruise on Bruce's left arm. Bruce immediately turned around, scampered over toward the man, yanked the phone out of his hand, and heaved it as far as he possibly could, eventually landing in the middle of the street. Moments later, it was run over by a moving truck, smashing it like a paper cup. Immediately after, Bruce reached out his right hand and squeezed the mortified man's neck like a rope being tugged at to pull a ton of bricks forward.

"Maybe next time you'll think before you bump into the wrong man on the streets of New York, pal. Be lucky you didn't break my arm when you bumped into me, because if you say one word or make one smart-ass remark or threat to me, I'm going to extend that arm down toward your crotch and rip your fucking nuts off and feed it to a dog!"

Bruce creased his eyebrows downward, as if devil horns had grown out of his head. The man shook, nervous, and choked on whatever air he could force through his trachea. Suddenly, a booming "hey!" reverberated through the frosty air. It was a uniformed police officer approaching Bruce and the man. Suddenly, Bruce release the air-tight grip of his right hand from the man's throat, then sauntered his way around the man's back and wrapped his arm around the man's coat.

"No problem at all, officer!" Bruce gleamed. "Me and my pal here were just having a little friendly chat, weren't we?" He nudged the man behind his knee with his left leg. The man feigned a smile, then nodded.

"Carry on, gentlemen," the officer replied. After the officer walked around the street corner, away from Bruce's sight, Bruce yanked the man back over to him and said, "quit your job and go get laid. You were talking like you've been a virgin your whole life, slaving yourself to your work. Until then, watch where the fuck you're going, huh?"

Bruce released him, and the man ran away as if Bruce were prepared to chase him down or shoot him in the back. Onlookers, frozen in terror in the now-steady snowfall, stared at Bruce in horror. One short brunette woman appeared to have tears forming in her face. "What's wrong, honey?" he asked. Then, Bruce reached around his back, and the woman and the onlookers surrounding her each screamed and got down on their knees, holding their arms up. "What?!" Bruce exclaimed, then produced a tissue from her back pocket and handed it to the crying lady. "Fuck," Bruce continued while chuckling, "you people watch too many movies!"

As Bruce walked away, the snow began to fall steadily. His arms were beginning to show signs of frostbite, but to him, the pain and numbing sensation was temporary.

Bruce McGee felt invincible.

His boorish, obnoxious, terroristic behavior not only was a radical change in character for him, but it was the most cathartic feeling of his life. For the first time ever in his life, he stood up to a bully, told off his boss, and confronted a fellow human being with confidence and swagger.

And he was loving every moment of it.

Now, there was only one thing left to do.

Confront Karen.

Bruce embarked into the nearest 4 train, and rode up to Karen's place of business, near Union Square. Her office is in a brick abode on the Southwest corner of the square, which is typically crowded with shoppers and commuters.

When he approached the security desk after he entered the building, Bruce produced a look of desperation on his face.

"Hi," Bruce said as he feigned labored breathing. "I'm here to see Karen Gork. It's an emergency and I can't reach her on her cell phone."

"Do you know her extension?" the young lady manning the security desk asked.

"I'm sorry, no, I don't...please, miss...something terrible has happened and I need her now."

"What is your name?"

"I'm her husband, Bruce."

"One moment, please." The guard fidgeted her fingers against the touch-tone telephone pad. "Yes, this is Gina at the security desk. I have your husband, Bruce, downstairs, he's saying there's an emergency...hello? Hello?"

"Seconds later, Bruce's cell phone rang.

"Hello?" he calmly answered.

"What...the fuck...are you doing here?" Karen growled.

"Meet me outside. This truly is an emergency."

"What happened?"

"Meet...me...outside."

"This had better be good."

"Minutes later, an irritated and grouchy Karen, bundled up in a beige parka with a pink scarf, in perfect harmony with her whacked-out fashion sense, emerged outside. But as the steady snowflakes began to come into contact with her hair, she looked around and didn't see Bruce, but instead, saw a crowd of people gathering at the nearby street corner, with an unusually large amount of incessant horn honking, even by New York standards, reverberating through the icy air. Perhaps Bruce joined in the confusion, Karen thought, so she felt inclined to see what the fuss was all about. Moments later, her already sour mood turned indignant. Once she forced her way through the crowd, and on to the curb adjacent to the empty concrete in front of her, Karen let out an audible gasp that somehow drowned out the noise of the myriad of honking vehicles, at a dead stop on both sides of the street, as she saw Bruce, sitting Indian style on top of the double yellow lines in the middle of the road, appearing to be in a meditative state as the snowfall began blanketing him white.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me!" Karen screamed, snapping Bruce from his trance.

"Hello, Karen!" Bruce replied with malicious glee.

"You...what the hell are you doing?"

"This is the only way I can get your attention."

"You fucking asshole! Do you think I'm actually going to say anything to you? Tell you what you want to hear? You purposely stopped traffic in the middle of a busy Manhattan street so you can, what, prove a point to me? To get more of an explanation out of me? You, sir, are dumber than I thought!"

Bruce smiled and pulled himself up off the street. Now, cab drivers were emerging from their vehicles, screaming and cursing at Bruce from all directions. Moments later, a man in a business suit emerged from a BMW and confronted Bruce face-to-face. Instantaneously, Bruce landed a right hook into the man's jaw, sending him plummeting to the concrete.

"You fucking bitch," Bruce muttered as he approached his ex-fiancee. "You severely underestimate me. Of course, I know you're not going to just sit down and have a conversation with me. Look around. Think of all the people howling for my blood right now, along with those that are just standing around filming our little exchange on their phones. They're all watching to see what I'm going to do next. And that's the point."

Karen got nervous. Her legs started trembling, and her wrists began to throb. She anticipated Bruce was about to harm her physically.

"Bruce, I swear if you lay a finger on me..."

"Oh, I won't. But that doesn't mean you won't get a finger laid on you, maybe up your ass if they felt like it!"

"Finger...ass...what?"

"Come on over!" Bruce shouted. Suddenly, a group of people, ten-deep, emerged from the gathered crowd and on to the snowy street.

"Is this her?" a gentleman with hair to match the snow and a wrinkly face dressed in a navy-blue ski sweater and ripped jeans asked Bruce.

"Yes, sir!" Bruce gleefully replied. The man angrily approached Karen.

"Baby killer!" the man shouted, pointing his finger in Karen's face. Karen gasped again.

"Excuse me?!" she shouted.

"Slut! Whore!" a middle-aged brunette woman with round glasses who emerged behind the man shouted.

"Bruce, what the hell is going on?"

"Godless wench!" another voice shouted.

"Shame on you!" shouted another.

"Oh yeah, I forgot to mention," Bruce said, "I made a little stop on the way over here. You ever hear of a place called Planned Parenthood? Of course, you have! So, I'm sure you'd also know it's so easy to find people there that will deliberately shame someone for aborting their first child out of spite. Have at her, folks!"

"You asshole! How could you do that?"

"I have nothing left to lose. I'm just doing what no one else has the guts to do. And it feels good."

Moments later, as the Planned Parenthood protestors chased Karen away, Bruce, his arms beginning to show signs of frostbite, collapsed to the concrete. As intrigued onlookers continued to snap photographs and take photos, police surrounded a now blacked-out Bruce, preparing to take him into custody.

Hours later, Bruce woke up in a hospital bed, with uniformed and armed police officers on his left, and his parents on his right.

"Bruce, I'm so sorry," his mother sobbed. "I don't know what happened to me that day! I felt so terrible."

Bruce struggled to make eye contact with his parents. He didn't really want to.

"Brucie," his father said, "what the hell did you do? It was all over the news...you stopped traffic in the middle of Union Square, and you pulled a fire alarm at Wall Street! What in the world were you thinking?"

"It's my fault, Bruce," his mother said. "I set you over the edge."

"You got arrested," his father continued, "you...you're lucky to be alive...you may have pneumonia! Was this all worth it for you?"

A long paused ensued. His shocked and appalled parents could only sit and look in anticipation of Bruce's response. After glancing his eyes back and forth and taking a few deep breaths, Bruce closed his eyes and smiled.

"You'd better fucking believe it," Bruce said, then drifted off to sleep.

 

Copyright © Matt Thomas

Saturday
Mar172018

The Human Condition is on Television

My best friend Ben and I are parked in his Spanish Harlem apartment on a rainy Saturday night. We’re still recovering from the absolute worst hangovers of our lives. Last night, along with our other buddies Mark and Jimmy, we spent eight consecutive hours drinking tequila shots and Irish Car Bombs up until closing time at 4 AM. When you reach 31 years of age, the recovery time for temporary alcoholism and debauchery is not the crack of dawn the next morning the way it was when you were 21. Now, it usually takes up to 24 hours. Ben’s headache was gone, but mine, even after popping a few aspirin over the course of the day, continued to linger like that last piece of scrap food you scrub off a plate with a brillo pad. We were like Shaun and Ed from Shaun of the Dead – thirty-something burnouts parked on the coach, scrupulously unmotivated.

In addition to playing phony doctor, a few other things happen when you nurse a hangover in addition. You feel indolent and you don’t want to get up from wherever your alcoholic ass planted itself for the final time the previous evening. All you want to consume is junk food, so you reach for the opened bags of chips, cheese doodles, or whatever artificial substance, stale or ripe, was available on the coffee table or tray in front of you, and you fish for whatever crumbs you can find. You are completely oblivious to the rest of the trash firmly settled on the wooden floor, including beverage leakage from beer mugs and plastic cups from the night before, or two, or three, or even months before. Finally, as night falls, you refuse to turn on the lights in whatever room you’re parked in, and you leave the flat-paneled high-definition television mounted to the wall tuned to whatever mindless trash one is willing to feast their eyes on. If you’re by yourself, you’ll probably jerk off to a porno or your favorite actress, but if you’re with a friend or group of friends, you’ll engage in the pastime of choice for kids born in the 80s, 90s, and beyond: channel-surfing. The harshness of the real world forces people like me and Ben, just trying to get through our boring, meaningless lives, to sift for as much mindless entertainment as possible, especially on the weekends after enslaving ourselves to pressure, deadlines, and marching orders for forty hours.

Once you find a show or a movie to watch that will entertain all present in the room, you’ll either regurgitate the cheesy, humorous, or dramatic dialogue by mimicking the voice, inflection, and tone of the actor conveying it, or you’ll mouth along silently to the lines as they occur. In the process, you’ll attempt to inject your own personal humorous commentary. Then, later on, you’ll take those same lines, throw them into a bad joke to at least make the joke appear funny, and you’ll pat yourself on the back as if you had become the next Plato and your favorite movie quotes are the equivalent of the tripartite theory of soul. I’d always wondered how Beavis and Butt-Head were ever considered geniuses. As I’ve gotten older, it’s all started to make sense – millions of American teens, twenty-somethings, and thirty-somethings, on a given day, are Beavis and Butt-head! They watch TV, make dumb commentary along the way, and sound mentally challenged when they do so!

Ben’s philosophy on life is to make as much money as you possibly can, ogle as many ladies as possible, and party like you’ll die tomorrow. If he could party every single night and womanize, he would, but of course, he would risk losing his $80,000-per-year financial analyst job at a prominent Wall Street financial institution. $40,000 of that alone goes to nights out in Manhattan, along with weekend trips to America’s most famous nightlife hotspots like Austin, Nashville, or New Orleans. He does it because he can.

Me? I’m lucky if I can spend that much in a year. I work as a branch manager for a prominent commercial bank on the Upper East Side. I make a measly $48,000 per year, and I live in a shitty basement apartment a few blocks away from Ben with two roommates that I barely communicate with or see. I can’t afford to accompany Ben on most of his destination weekend getaways, and I could never dream of affording the type of luxury apartment Ben has. It makes a little jealous, to be honest with you. It’s something I think deeply about.

I also tend to think deeply about life, the real world, and the causality of human existence. Ben makes fun of me for it constantly. Usually, if I channel my inner Freud and wax poetic about the inner workings of the Republican and Democrat parties, Ben would write me off as a dumb liberal then change the topic. Ben is very conservative politically and socially because he accepts the world for what it is: depraved, dark, and driven by money, and he believes we should all just embrace it and try to adapt to it without complaint or grievance. I, on the other hand, believe there is still good in humanity and that the world can change, and that if someone like Ben would just stop, take a deep breath, look and listen to a diversity of worldviews, that perhaps he would realize that there is more to life than making money. It won’t happen. Ben’s a modern-day Gordon Gekko.

We may have polar-opposite opinions on politics, but we pretty much agree on everything else. It’s probably the reason we haven’t killed each other yet. We love sports, have the same taste in music and movies, and we love working out at the gym and traveling. So, on nights when we hang out at each other’s apartments or any at any of our other friends’ places across town, we become Beavis and Butt-Head. This night, at Ben’s brick-enclosed bachelor pad which may as well pass for the most upscale fraternity house on the planet, I am slouched down on his brown leather sofa, complete with visible scratches and imperfections on the arms and back, and Ben is reclined fully back in his black recliner, stretching all four major limbs in an X-formation. Ben furrows his thick, black beard and adjusts his razor-thin bifocal glasses as he fixates his brown eyes on the 60-inch 4KTV in front of him. I run my flaky hands through my wavy, middle-parted brown hair which runs below my ears, then pick up the gray cable box remote to my left, fluff my black t-shirt, then click the guide button. It was 8 PM, and we had not moved for more than five hours, not even to piss.

“What are you in the mood to watch?” Ben asks in a semi-slurred monotone.

“Doesn’t matter to me,” I responded in a high-pitched nasally voice.

“You want to leave the room so I can jerk off to some videos of Scarlett Johannsson?” Ben asks.

“What, you mean we can’t jerk off in the same room?” I replied, cackling.

 “You fucking faggot,” Ben replied. “Jesus, Matt, are there any moments you don’t dream of jerking off to Scarlett Johannsson near your best man friend?”

 “You think that’s something,” I replied with a smirk, “you should hear about the times I’ve jerked off on your couch alone!”

“Asshole!” Ben shouts at the top of his lungs while he throws a handful of stale cheese doodles at my head. “Next time you crash here for the night I’ll cut your fucking nuts off! And that’s a legitimate threat!”

“Ha!” I shout, still laughing. “You’ve been saying that every single day for the past decade. It was an idle threat then, and it’s an idle threat now.”

“Just pick a goddamn thing to watch on the damn guide,” Ben stammers. “My balls are starting to get worked up.”

“Here you go! Magic Mike!” I shouted. “Have fun! I’m going to go take a piss!” I laugh so loud it echoes the walls.

“You’re cut off from my fridge, cocksucker! Go out and get your own beer!” If there is one thing Ben and I are really, really good at, it is engaging in competitive banter, especially insulting each other to the point of bringing one another to tears. The best part is that I could call Ben an ethnic or racial slur and he wouldn’t flinch. Ditto me. And Ben is the type to not hesitate to reach deep down into his arsenal of insults and fire a bazooka barrage of witty put-downs.

hen I returned from the restroom, Ben unsurprisingly had turned the television to a conservatively-biased news channel.

“Dude,” I said, reseating myself onto the sofa. “Why the fuck do you bother watching that trash? You know it’s bad for your mind!”

“Shut up, libtard,” Ben snapped. “It’s a lot less mind poison than those liberal trash stations that shove down your throat how you’re supposed to think, act, and identify sixty different genders!”

“Well, conservatard,” I reply, “I don’t need to hear how much conservatives worship money and guns.”

“Whatever,” Ben says, “you’ll learn someday.”

“I hope I do,” I say. “What the hell are they talking about anyway?”

“This shit about the ‘human condition’. The one guy is talking about how the scientifically cut-and-dry definition of the human condition is bullshit because every single human being is wired with subtly different personalities. All this discussion is worthless anyway; all they need to say is that human beings are God’s greatest failure, and that we are the only species that would allow its fellow comrades to fall to their grisly deaths if we were standing on a cliff and the surface below us was collapsing out from under itself.”

“I get it, Ben, you’re a goddamn curmudgeon. Everyone knows that.” Every time Ben arched his upper lip over his lower one, you knew he was angry. Basically, mention the word “liberal” to him and he’s liable to throw the nearest inanimate object against a wall with the force of a tank crashing against a brick wall. The next topic you never want to bring up to him is the human species. Don’t get me wrong, he loves and respects his family and friends, but as far as any human being not dwelling within his inner circle? Well, he wouldn’t mind if a thousand atomic bombs were dropped on every corner of the earth tomorrow, killing every evil little piece of flesh with a functional brain attached. Ben’s parents divorced when he was six. It jaded him like you wouldn’t believe. His mother ran off and married some hedge-fund manager, and as for his dad, well…let’s just say some twelve-ounce cans were more important to him. At age ten, Ben was like the real-life Bart Simpson - an underachiever, and proud of it. In fact, he nearly got expelled from high school for pulling the fire alarm. But after four years in the Marine Corps, he emerged a completely changed man, disciplined and independent. Ben worked his ass off to get where he is. He frowns upon anyone that doesn’t work hard, and as a result, it has made him very spiteful and hate-filled. Those, however, like me, who are in Ben’s inner circle? He’ll take a bullet for you without hesitation.

 “Hey asshole,” Ben growled, “I didn’t spend three years in Afghanistan to…” I mouthed along to every single world he said after three. That sort of thing always irked him, but he knew I was doing it with good humor.

“Yeah, jerkoff, I know,” I growled back, “but thank you for your service,” I said with a wink and a smile.

“Alright you bitch,” Ben said, “what’s your opinion on the human condition?”

 “Well, I agree with you on one thing,” I replied. “Humans are the most complex creatures God ever created. Are they His greatest failure? Okay, you can make a potent argument. But unlike what you believe, humans have both a dark side and a good side. The human condition is everything around us; our environment, our interactions, and our experiences which shape us as a species. One question we’ll be asking ourselves for as long as our species is upright and walking is what exactly shapes us as a species, and…”

“Bro, come on,” Ben scowled, “you know that shit sounds ridiculous! What have I always told you, man? You’re going to drive yourself absolutely insane if you spend the rest of your life thinking about that shit!”

 “Why does that worry you so much?” I asked. “Wasn’t it you that said that each individual carries their own destiny within? If my destiny is to be all philosophical and shit, then shouldn’t you just let it be?”

“Alright, you got me there,” Ben grumbled. “My philosophy is: go fuck yourself!”

“You come up with that yourself?”

“Yes?”

“Bullshit. You regurgitated that quote from the movie we watched earlier!”

“Yeah, and you regurgitated that shit you just said about the human condition from some shit we saw on the History Channel last weekend!”

“You ever notice how guys like you and me, especially bored average Americans, quote movies and TV shows frequently in conversation as if they are the equivalent of Greek philosophy or the damn Bible?”

“Yeah,” Ben stammers. “We are pretty much living embodiments of that.”

“But, I mean, it’s not just us,” I stutter. “It’s everyone. Think about Mark and James, the college crew, our friends from high school and the conversations we had, whether while we were partying, chilling on the couch, or just out and about. About fifty percent of our conversations involved movie and TV quotes. Does it ever stop to make you think why?”

“Fuck no!” Ben replied. “I won’t tell you again to fuck off with the philosophical bullshit.”

“You mean to tell me you’ve never thought why?”

“It’s the American way, bro. We don’t think! We lead!”

“Well, what if I told you that it’s because of humanity’s constant thirst for entertainment that we are so numb to everything else that happens in our lives, such as why the fuck we still vote for Republicans and Democrats?”

“Yeah, I know how people pay more attention to their favorite reality TV shows rather than paying attention to the important issues. So, what?”

“Right, and how about how half this country tunes into cable news, regardless of political persuasion, and hangs on every word of the talking head on their television screen, begging for them to say what they want to hear? That isn’t being informed, that’s being entertained!”

“Yeah, and they have a right to, just like you and me!”

“I understand, but let’s consider last night down in the East Village. What did we do there?”

“Get drunk off our asses!”

“Yes, but what else?”

“I don’t know.”

“We listened to music, and watched sports on the TVs, all in the midst of conversation in which we were doing…what?”

“Ummm, reminiscing about college and…”

“And?”

“Quoting Will Ferrell movies.”

 “Bingo!”

“Alright, alright, I see your point, jackass.”

“Hold on, I’m not done. Let’s think about when we attend ballgames. We all get loud, obnoxious, and rabid, right?”

“But what about the casual fans – the fans just there for the hell of it?" You think those phony stiffs are at the game because they like baseball? No, they’re there because they want to pretend to like baseball because they’re told its cool; therefore, they are there to be cool. They don’t know the goddamn difference between a hit and a run; they care about looking good in front of the camera so their face could be on the jumbo Tron or their friends and family can see them on TV. Other than that, they hang out in the side lounges, restaurants, and picnic areas, and all the while they completely forget why they just blew hundreds of dollars for admission into a goddamn baseball stadium! They’re not there to root for a team. They’re there to be entertained!”

“So, let them be entertained!”

“Yes, that’s fine, Ben, but why the hell would a couple or a family of four spend the equivalent of rent or a mortgage payment to go to an event they couldn’t give two flying shits about? I mean, you or I sure as hell ain’t spending hundreds of dollars to go to the fucking Opera when our interest level is the same as a vegan’s interest in eating meat!”

Ben glanced at me curiously. Finally, I had gotten him to think a little bit, and it is almost impossible to get that little killjoy to think deeply about anything besides money.

“Well, I guess that sort of makes sense,” he reluctantly replied.

“If you still don’t believe me, let’s get tickets for the game tomorrow, the cheapest ones. But instead of sitting our asses down in those cold, rock-hard, creased metal bleachers, why don’t we just walk around the stadium and observe the fans? Let’s see who cares about the game, and let’s see who cares more about getting drunk and making asses of themselves, and let’s see who cares more about being on television! Because, after all, I believe, and I have always believed this: the human condition is on television. People will do anything to get their faces on the damn idiot box, and what better place to test that theory than a baseball stadium to see fifty thousand people portraying characters that would fit perfectly into hundreds of different programs spread across a shit load of different genres?”

“You’re a fucking pussy, man,” Ben growled. “You think way too damn much. But I’m in. I just want to laugh at people,” he said, smiling. Then, he vigorously shook my hand. “You know me too damn well.”

“Just trust me on this one, bro. You’ll be reminded why you’re such a fucking asshole.”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence!”

And so, the next morning, we woke up around 7:30 to a clear and cloudless sunrise, and donned polo shirts and jeans, as if we were prepared to embark on an excursion to an art museum, not a sporting event. For the first time probably ever in all our years of attending ballgames, we were not interested in the outcome of the game, nor whether our team would earn their way into first place in the standings or any of that sporty shit.

Today was about our other favorite pastime: people watching.

We went to our usual bagel shop down the block from us, got some coffee and a gourmet breakfast sandwich, and then boarded the 4 train. As we sat down on the dirty, curved colored seats to the immediate left of the double doors in the very last caboose of the train, we immediately began studying the people wearing baseball jerseys or t-shirts.

“Look at that group of four standing at the doors diagonally from us,” I half-whispered to Ben. “What can you tell me about them?”

“Well, the anorexic girl with the big ass with her back turned toward us…why the hell is she applying pink lipstick? To match the pink jersey numbers and pinstripes on her jersey, or make her short jean shorts shorter to give off the impression she wants to get laid tonight?”

“Do you think she knows anything about baseball?” I asked.

“What, you mean like the infield fly rule?” Ben instantly replied. We both laughed like hyenas.

“But in all honesty, man, do you think she knows the difference between a base and a ball?”

“Fuck no.”

 “There ya go. Now look at the man wrapping his left arm around her. Yes, he’s wearing a jersey, but he’s also wearing tight jeans and loafers. Typical hipster! He wants to look fashionable to the nerds, but he also wants to appease the jocks. He doesn’t realize he’s going to be made fun of by both the nerds and the jocks, and when he does, he’s going to cry like a little bitch about it.”

 “Fuck, yeah, man. He probably votes Democrat, too,” Ben growls. “With that immaculately groomed beard, it doesn't surprise me.”

“Whatever,” I scowl. “He’s no more of a liberal than the guy standing to his right, who is dressing just like us, but he looks like he’s going to the library or some shit. And his woman, the chunky one with black hair wearing the gray jersey? She looks like she may have some knowledge about baseball, if you can believe that. Either that, or like her friends, she just wants to dress appropriately for the occasion.”

“She’s no more of a fan than the guys standing on the opposite side of them from the door,” Ben said. “They’re big, fat slobs; the types that scream louder and more obnoxiously than others while swilling twenty-four-ounce beers. They spend their spare time in their mother’s basement, chatting away on internet message boards and trolling those with different opinions as if they matter, and then they go to games at night, getting drunk off their asses and drinking hundreds of dollars’ worth of beer and heckling the opposing players with the most hurtful insults one can concoct.”

“Makes sense,” I said. “Listen to how loud they are. At least they know baseball, they’re discussing statistics!”

“Fucking virgins,” Ben said. “Their dicks are probably pea-sized.”

“You sure about that?”

“Fuck, yeah.”

“Go ask them and find out for yourself! I dare you, you fucking homophobe!”

“Fuck you, asshole, ask them yourself! Speaking of homos, look at these guys that just entered. A mesh shirt? At 11 AM? And the other one is wearing a man-purse! They’re not going to the game. There’s no way.”

“If they are, they’re probably hitting up the martini bar at the stadium, and how there’s even on at a fucking baseball park I’ll never know, and they’ll probably do a check-in on Facebook sell to their sports-inclined friends their feigned interest in a baseball game. Then, they’ll take selfies to portray themselves as the cutest couple possible, and then disappoint their sports-inclined friends later when they can’t even tell them the final score of the game without looking it up on their phones or looking at each other like a bunch of confused pea-brains. Meanwhile, they threw hundreds of dollars down the drain and they don’t realize why.”

“And why would they do that?” Ben asked.

“Probably because they saw a TV show or some talking head on the news that told them that taking selfies at a ballgame was the cool thing to do. See the recurring theme here? They saw it on TV. Where’s their imagination?”

“It never existed before.”

“Nope.”

We arrived at around 11:05 AM, and large crowds began gathering outside the Stadium for the 1:00 start time, many of which were either waiting to enter the gates, standing around smoking, socializing, or waiting for their fellow guests to arrive, or scurrying about either looking for a place to eat or drink. Most of the crowd, however, were just looking at their ticket stubs, oblivious to their surroundings, scrambling to find the right gates to enter. A mid-August humidity began gradually permeating the air, and many patrons were using their hands as makeshift fans and wiping themselves with towels. Filtering through the blissfully ignorant crowds, we walked past the little league fields adjacent to the stadium and reached a small auxiliary parking lot separated by a faded gray chain-linked fence. Suddenly, a baseball rolled in front of our feet. A college-aged man, probably barely eighteen years old, baseball mitt comfortably clad in his left hand, decked in a black baseball jersey, baggy cargo shorts, and combat boots signaled for us to pick up the ball and throw it back to him. Behind him, there was a group of about nine or ten men and women, surrounding a white fold-out patio table, all dressed in team gear, whether it was a jersey, t-shirt, hat, or shorts. As I picked up the baseball and handed it to the young man who gratefully obliged my good deed, I continued walking behind him. Not in a creepy, stalker-ish kind of way, but in a curious, let-me-prove-a-point-to-Ben type of way.

“Excuse me, bro,” I say to the kid. He turns around and glances at me with a slight grin, as if to suggest I wasn’t bothering him.

“What’s up, bro?” the kid asks. He stands about six-foot-five, so I had to tilt my head upward as far as it could move in order to make eye contact.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” I said. “I have a bet going on with my friend here,” I said as I pointed at Ben behind me, reluctantly following behind. He had no interest in interacting with strangers. “And that bet is,” I continued, “we’re trying to meet as many people as possible at the game today that are actually interested in attending the game, or are just here either because they were dragged out here, they got free tickets, or any other silly excuse.”

“Well, I can tell you right now I’m here for the damn game!” the man exclaimed.

“What about your crew here?” I asked.

“I’d say most of them are here to enjoy the ballgame,” he replied. “A couple of the ladies here are boyfriends of some of the diehards, and that nerdy-lookin’ fella at the end of the table that just flipped over his cup couldn’t care less about baseball.”

“So, why is he here?” I asked.

“I don’t know, ask him yourself, man. Hey Fred! Tell this fine young gentleman here why the hell you’re here today!”

“Thanks, Vic,” Fred, a short, stocky man with thick glasses and a finely parted light brown hairstyle said. “I don’t like baseball, but this is what my friends do, so I’m just here to get drunk and have a good time. You know, just like those jock guys on that TV show, I forget what it’s called…”

“ ‘Preciate it, Fred!” I shouted. I nudged over to Ben, who shot me a glance of unimpressed bravado. “See that, bro, there’s an example right there.”

“Well good for you, genius!” Ben snarled. “You finally proved your theory! Can we fucking go to the damn bar and have some shots now?”

  “Fuck you, asshole, I’m not done yet!” I said to Ben. “Thanks, guys!” I shouted over to Vic and his crew.

As we continued to walk the perimeter of the parking lot, we passed by two more groups: one of two middle-aged men dressed as if they were attending a round of golf as opposed to a baseball game, leaning against a red Cadillac convertible, discussing junk bonds and other financial bullshit that Ben would understand more than me. But Ben was really keen on getting drunk, so he refused to make conversation with the financial whizzes. Adjacent to the Cadillac was this group of four males, each looking like yuppies that decided not to shave on the weekends and were just interested in unwinding and enjoying their surroundings rather than Vic’s group, more interested in getting drunk and making asses of themselves. I approached the man closest to our vantage point, a six-foot ball of chunk wearing a white t-shirt accentuating his fatty crevasses. I asked the man the same questions I asked Vic. Then, the man, named George, said something quite intriguing.

“I mean, look,” he said in a thick New York accent, “we’re here to cheer on the team, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not like the song goes: ‘if they don’t win it’s a shame’. It’s only a shame if you treat baseball like life and death. My friends and I just see it as entertainment. If they lose, so be it. Whenever we go, we see all these people in the stands bury their heads in their hands when they lose, and frankly it’s kind of pathetic. We listen to sports talk radio just to laugh at the callers. Most of them are sixty years old and are either twice-divorced or working dead-end jobs. Honestly, other than listening to Howard Stern or watching an old George Carlin comedy special, listening to how angry these callers get over nothing is the best entertainment we get.”

 “So, baseball is just entertainment to you?” I asked.

“Hell yeah,” he said.

“Thanks for your time, man.”

Then, as Ben and I began to forge our way back towards the stadium and the bars across the street, the quotes began.

As we passed by yet another group, ten-deep, of college kids, tailgating, playing beer pong at a black folding table, one obese, scruffy man took a shot towards the end of the table closest to the sidewalk in which Ben and I were walking. The ball missed its target red plastic cup by about three feet. His opponent’s response: “coulda been somebody!” To that man’s left: “juuuuuust a bit outside!”

“See what I mean now?” I nudged over to Ben.

“Yeah, shut up! There’s the bar.”

The bar, a small, cramped establishment loaded with baseball memorabilia attached to the white paint-chipped walls, flat-screen TVs suspended above the liquor displays above the bar, and obnoxiously loud hip-hop music blaring from the loudspeakers, was already jam-packed to capacity a little under an hour and a half prior to game time. As Ben and I forged our way through the crowd to order our beers, a voice began popping his P’s and mouth-breathing all his syllables into a microphone.

“Attention fans! In just a few moments, we will conduct our raffle drawing for the autographed framed photo of Derek Jeter. If you haven’t purchased your raffle ticket already, please see my man Jimmy D towards the south entrance! Tickets are $5 each! Drawing is moments away, so…anyone else want in on it? Anyone? Bueller?”

“I know what you’re going to say,” Ben nudges to me. “I get it, alright?”

“And you still don’t think it’s a problem?”

“It’s a damn problem, okay?”

“Now, let me ask you another question. Why the hell are we in this bar drinking beer?”

“Because I want to get drunk, man! What else?”

“No, but think deeper than that! Why the hell are we so into binge drinking on the weekends in the first place?”

“Because we slave ourselves to jobs we hate?”

“Yes, but how did we come to be alcohol drinkers in the first place?”

“College?”

“Before that.”

“Watching our parents get drunk on the weekends?”

“Not necessarily. Were such shenanigans and debauchery passed down from them to the next generation? Probably. But why were they so keen on drinking and why are we so keen?”

“Well…”

“Look no further than the TV in front of you.” I pointed directly to the center of the thirty-two-inch flat screen at a forty-five-degree angle, and what was it portraying? A beer commercial! “Think about when we watch football on Sundays, and why there are hundreds upon hundreds of commercials stacked upon hundreds and hundreds of plays. What advertisements are being portrayed? Cars? Insurance? What else?”

“Beer.”

“Exactly! Subliminal messaging! It’s like how you constantly rail against the ‘liberal’ media - because supposedly they plant ideas in your head, like a seed preparing to sprout into a tall redwood tree!”

“And it all started on the TV screen. You really cracked the code there, Matty Boy. Now you have to chug your beer!”

“Here’s to peer pressure and subliminal messaging!”

After clanking our mugs together and chugging our barley beverages, we ventured into the stadium and took our seats in the second row in the upper deck behind home plate. The competing teams were just completing batting practice, and the stands were still sparse. Once the grounds crew began resurfacing the infield dirt and sprinklers were saturating the outfield grass, the massive video screen in center field began showing this extensive montage of baseball highlights, a carefully-crafted mix of bloopers and spectacular plays to mesmerize the paying customers long enough to get them through the time in between the end of batting practice and the time the national anthem is sung. The crowds began to filter through the corridors and into their seats as each minute passed, several of them in large groups. A group of about five or six took their seats behind us, and each started discussing the most recent episode of Game of Thrones while reciting the episode’s most quotable lines. Soon after, a young couple in their twenties sat down in the row in front of us, and for the next five minutes up until the players took the field, they wrapped their arms around each other all lovey-dovey like and took enough selfies to fill an entire social media timeline before requiring a refresh. They barely even noticed when the remainder of the forty-plus thousand fans and entertainment-seekers stood up for the national anthem. Their last selfie was taken as soon as the letter O echoed throughout the perimeter of the stadium on the loudspeakers. It was a distressing thing to see, and something more distressing happened after the national anthem ended. After the first pitch of the game was thrown, the couple immediately began taking selfies again. Their painstakingly mortifying lovefest was suddenly interrupted by Ben’s obnoxious hollering at, you know, the actual reason why forty thousand-plus were gathered within $1.5 billion of concrete slabs and forty-five-degree inclines: the damn baseball team playing on the field! Suddenly, amid Ben’s rabid cursing and heckling, the woman, a dirty blonde wearing a pink jersey and tight, short jean shorts, turned towards Ben behind her, gritted her coma-white teeth, and grumbled, “bro, you’d better calm down.” If there is one fatal mistake that anyone can make when speaking with a guy like Ben, it’s telling him to calm down.

“Woman, you’re not even watching the fucking game!” he shouts. “What the hell are you and your man even doing here anyway?! You’ve spent the last hour making out and taking selfies! You’ve wasted your fucking money! You’re lucky I didn’t throw beer on you when you conveniently forgot to stand for the national anthem, and you required a random visual cue to fucking stand up!”

The boyfriend had none of it. The tall, muscular military-type, who sure enough was wearing a Marine Corps dog tag over his plain white t-shirt, with black combat boots beneath his ripped jeans, with a buzz cut to boot, gritted his teeth and motioned towards Ben as if to say “shut the fuck up or I’m going to pound you where the sun don’t shine!” I grabbed Ben’s arm and I looked at the man and woman beneath us and apologized on behalf of my bitter friend. They continued to give us nasty looks as I escorted Ben away from our seats and onto the staircase that leads to the open corridor which leads to the concession area. “Let’s load up on a couple of beers,” I said to him, and it seemed to calm him down as we departed our seats.

Because of this near brush with unnecessary physicality, we missed a home run on the first pitch of the bottom of the first inning. We waited on a line for beer which stretched nearly twenty-deep for almost fifteen minutes, and, naturally, we saw the damn home run on one of the TVs suspended above the concession stand that simulcast the game happening beyond the concrete in front of us. But something felt off. Within our line of sight at a 360-degree axis from where we were standing, there had to have been at least five hundred and six hundred people either waiting on line to order food or drink, making their way to their seats or the restrooms, or just loitering against the concrete walls chit-chatting with their friends. Only Ben, me, and a middle aged-man standing three people behind us in line raised our arms in celebration and hooted and hollered at the home run. In fact, a woman standing behind the man asked the lady standing immediately behind her, “What’s with all the screaming? What happened?” Then, the other man that was hollering at the home run besides us turned to the woman, looked her dead in the eye, and said, “You didn’t see the home run on the TV screen up there?” Her response, bluntly, and I assure you, not sarcastically: “why is the baseball game on that TV? The game is going on out there! Why don’t they tune the channel to HGTV or something?” I turned to the woman and shook my head. She looked at me and Ben and retorted: “take a picture, it’ll last longer!” She heard that expression on TV, sometime, somewhere, I was convinced.

When we returned to our seats with our beers, sure enough, the large group sitting behind us had turned to quoting 90s movies to reduce their boredom.

“Holy schniekes! There’s a fat guy in a little coat!”

“Wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?”

“T-t-t-t-today, junior!”        

They had spent an exorbitant amount of money to attend the ballgame, and it only took them one inning to seemingly regret their decision and attempt to compensate for their lack of emotional investment return. When the crowd cheered or jeered, they quoted. Meanwhile, the lovey-dovey couple sitting in front of us continued their selfie fest. Then, something more disconcerting happened. To the right of the lovey-dovey dopes were another couple, who looked more college-aged or at least yuppie aged. Both were wearing baseball jerseys, but both were snuggled tightly together. But this couple was not taking selfies or making out. They were watching a television show on a smartphone.

“Ben,” I said, “look to your right. Can you believe this shit?”

 “Wait, are they watching Walking Dead?” he asked.

“Yep, they sure are,” I said.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Then, in the background, a loud bat crack. “Whoa!” Ben shouts. “Here it comes!” A foul ball was hit in our direction. Ten rows of people within a thirty-foot radius around us all oohed and ahhed at the flight of the ball. Some stood up; some recoiled in horror to avoid getting hit. As the ball settled into the hands of a man who subsequently threw his arms up in jubilation, absorbing a wall of cheers in the process, the Walking Dead couple had not budged one inch. They continued to fixate their eyes on the 8/12 x 11-inch HD screen on a smartphone, completely nonchalant to the action surrounding them. If the ball had been traveling at maximum velocity at any of their heads, they’d still be tuned to the machine that seems to sustain human life in the 21st century, a byproduct of the machine that sustained human life for nearly six decades, and they’d be seriously hurt or worse!

As the innings passed, the following occurred:

The cheers in our section were louder for when our faces were pixelated all over the massive video scoreboard in center field than it was for any game action on the field, including home runs.

In the middle of the fourth inning, the videoboard depicted a game being played by fans seated in one of the lower bowls. You know what it was entitled? Name That Movie Quote. The correct answer was “Life is like a box of chocolates” from Forrest Gump. When the time came for the fan to select the multiple choice answer out of three other options, our entire section erupted in shouting and imitating the thick southern accent of Forrest Gump. Subsequently, when the home team led off the bottom of the fourth with a single off the first pitch, the only people within our thirty-foot radius that stood up and cheered were me and Ben. Our cheers weren’t even drowned out by the intermittent screaming and yelling echoing throughout all sections of the ballpark. Soon after, a woman, walking down the steps adjacent to our seats, decked out in team gear and everything, asked the following question: “there’s a guy on first base. Is that good?” Immediately after: “okay, everyone, gather ‘round for the selfie!” And a group of five women huddled in front of the metal railing protecting the fans from falling to their grisly deaths below, posed for a group picture underneath the shadow of a selfie stick held by the blonde girl in the middle of the pack. When she decided her hair looked too frizzy, she took another. And another. And another.

Meanwhile, on the baseball field, another home run is hit, eliciting louder cheers from the paid attendees that were actually paying attention to the purpose for their financial investment. Their selfie binge continued, and not one person in the group flinched nor turned around to see what the cheering was all about. An inning later, their selfie was posted on the videoboard with some cheesy hashtag promoting the team or some shit.

Finally, in the fifth inning, the home team hit a grand slam. The stadium erupted in cheers and screams, and the concrete beneath us began to vibrate. All the while, the Walking Dead couple continued to…well…watch Walking Dead! My curiosity was piqued. I just had to have the question answered. So, rudely, I tapped the back of the man’s shoulder.

“Excuse me, sir, I’m sorry to bother you, but…”

“What?!” the man snaps.

Startled, I recoiled in a moment of intimidation, but I instantly refocused. “Again,” I stammered, “I…I’m really, really sorry to bother you, but I had a question for you two.”

“WHAT?!”

“Well, um, I mean…it’s truly none of my business, and I know I’m being hypocritical, but may I ask why you guys have been watching Walking Dead on your phone throughout the entire game?”

“What the fuck do you care?” the woman asks.

“Well, miss, um, with all due respect, um…I’m really just curious why you guys wasted, what, a hundred dollars to attend a baseball game when you could have just stayed home and watched Walking Dead on demand your TV set.”

“A friend gave us these tickets,” the man said. “We didn’t spend a dime on them.”

“So then why get dressed up in baseball gear and go to the game?” I pointedly asked. “Why not just say no to the tickets if you aren’t interested?”

“Look, it’s all just entertainment to us, alright?” the man snaps. “Can you leave us alone now?”

“Good talk, guys! Enjoy the game,” I sarcastically articulated. “C’mon, Ben, let’s go get a beer.”

“Guys,” Ben said to the couple with a wide grin, “I just wanted to say that what I just witnessed was the best entertainment of the day!”

“You see, Ben?” I said as we began walking toward the corridor. “You’re entertained because that was something you would see on television, and it has manipulated your imagination into believing that only what you see on TV or in the movies is supposed to entertain you.”

“Let’s just go get a fucking beer!” he snapped. However, as we stepped onto the staircase, a deafening roar ensued throughout the half-dozen sections of seats above us, and it had nothing to do with the baseball game. A fight was taking place between two men, one of them wearing a jersey of the opposing team on the field. As the two wailed against each other’s faces with white-knuckle-clenched fists, hundreds of surrounding yahoos stood idly by and watched with giddy satisfaction as two of their fellow human beings bloodied each other into submission. No one dared bother to break up the fight before either got seriously hurt, as the hooting and oohing and ahhing suggested those that fixated their eyes on the makeshift bloodbath were having the time of their lives. They didn’t care if the two perpetrators died, so long as they had a story to tell their family and friends, and so long as a little 30-second mental file of the incident was implanted into their brainwashed minds. How did I know?

“They’re all just standing and watching, dude!” I said to Ben. “Do you think we should go break it up before security arrives? I mean, look at that blonde girl a couple of rows above us. Her phone is in selfie mode. She’s fixing her hair and furrowing her eye brows just to make sure she looks good in front of the camera. As soon as she’s satisfied, she’s going to shoot a video of herself commenting on the incident while the fight continues in the background, she’ll upload it to all of her social media accounts, and then wait with baited breath for how many likes she will get in less than a half hour!”

Suddenly, a drunken man, reeking of weed smoke and alcohol, standing to my left near the corridor, drunkenly nudged me to the side and said, “Dude, let them fight! This is fun to watch!”

“Like on television, right?” I asked the man.

“Hell yeah, bro!” he shouted.

Immediately, I glanced over to Ben on my right. For the first time in what seemed like forever, he nodded at me in approval, not as if to say I was right, but as if to say he had seen my point.

 “You know something, dude,” Ben said, calmly, with a submissive monotone, “The people we’ve seen today? They really do regurgitate what they see on television. I mean look at the fight we just witnessed. Common sense dictates that it should be broken up, right? Well, instead, a damn boxing match broke out, and you’d think we were watching Ali against Frazier instead of a baseball game. How fucking sad is that?”

“No imagination, my friend,” I said. “We’re all guilty. How the hell did our forefathers survive without television?”

“They found a way,” Ben replied. “And the day television becomes obsolete; the human condition of our children’s children will be manifested through whatever medium sustains them.”

We pounded each other’s fists together with the force of two boulders colliding. It hurt like hell, but it felt exhilarating. And then, a short, toothpick-thin reporter in a red dress, accompanied by her cameramen, approached us in the middle of the corridor leading to the concession area.

“Excuse me, gentlemen, do you have a moment?” she asked.

“Why?” Ben asked.

“I’m a reporter for WAFN.com,” the woman asked. “My name is Debbie Bachman. And we’re doing a story on our site about the fan experience at sporting events? Would you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Well, for starters,” Debbie replied, “how would you best describe the atmosphere at a sporting event?”

I gave Debbie the biggest grin I had ever mustered in my life.

“Ms. Bachman,” I gleefully replied, “I will be honored to answer your question.”

As soon as the camera light turned red, the words flowed out of my mouth like water streaming from a showerhead.

“Folks, more than half the people in this stadium don’t give a shit about baseball. They are more interested in being on television. And that is the human condition these days-it’s on television! People see their lives unfold not through the iris of their eyes, but through an artificial box. And through this artificial box, they are told how to think, act, and feel. They attempt to live vicariously through the people they see on this screen playing pretend, like we are all trapped inside of it. They make every attempt to replicate, verbatim, complete with perfect tone and timing, what they see on this box. And I guarantee someone is going to watch this interview online later, and say to themselves, ‘you stay classy, Mr. Asshole,’ then proceed to quote another movie or TV show. Well, let me say to whoever is watching: here’s a quote you can all repeat until you’re all blue in the face: You’re human, not a goddamn machine! Have a nice day!”

After a long, awkward pause, Ben jumps into the camera frame.

“Riiiight,” he said.

We both gingerly smiled for the camera after that until the red light turned off. Debra reluctantly thanked us and sauntered away.

And then we returned to our seats to enjoy the rest of the damn baseball game, you know, the thing we paid our hard-earned money for.

And we were not worried about being on television.

At all.

We were worried about enjoying life.

 

Copyright © 2018 Matt Thomas