Southern Comfort has been described as tasting like roadkill soaked in sugar.
“I had a nemesis in high school. Brandon Jacobs. He moved into some popular circles. I could have had connections.”
Tampar is laying on his back on the couch in his socks. He has folded his shirt and is using it as a pillow.
Zane and I are sitting on opposite ends of the table, passing the bottle of Southern Comfort back and forth. It is 4:34 AM. Tampar has not spoken in hours. He is staring at the ceiling. The lights are off; the television is on.
“We’re not in high-school, anymore. We’re not in Kansas, Toto,” I say.
Passing the bottle back and forth, sharing drunken regrets, stories, the pathetic truths of men flowing freely, lubed up and without inhibition, the eternal parade of honesty spread across a remorseful canvas, that strange desolation in a room with other people, sitting there, the profundity of everything you ever did or didn’t do and knowing that it all amounts to nothing, but somehow clinging to hope, clinging to faith and God and sex and the idea that maybe it will mean something for you. Maybe you’re special. The arresting reality that I am a 37-year old man whose greatest adult accomplishment is being trusted with the responsibility of using a rectangular object to order mayonnaise, flour and cling-wrap, sets in. It is a hollow feeling behind my eyes, like my brain deflating.
“Are you unhappy?” Zane asks.
“I think so,” I say.
“I guess it’s because I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. When you’re a kid you have dreams, aspirations. I thought I’d found my calling, being a grocery clerk; helping people find what they needed. I thought, ‘this is a niche I could fit into’. And what a sad thought.”
I look at Zane. The horse-head looks at me. It is completely non-judgmental.
“Every man has asked himself, ‘how did it come to this?’” Zane says.
“If I had a kid who had downs syndrome I’m not sure I could love him,” I say. “I guess as a horse you wouldn’t understand.”
Every man has asked himself, ‘how did it come to this?’ and realized that it doesn’t matter. Life is a sad procession, an inconsequential freak show, and we’re all the freaks, all the maniacs, all the killers and rapists and men with books and kids and cocks, sliding through tragedy after tragedy and trying to find a another high like the first kiss, like the first fuck – wonderfully blown-out junkies skirting around the rims of the society, angels on the edge of a halo, ringing around until we fall through the center and it all lifts away.
I focus on the television. Wilmer Valderama’s penis is huge.
In the morning I wake up with a sickly sweet taste in my mouth. My head is pounding. It feels like there are shards of glass underneath my skin. Hangover 101. Zane is gone; Tampar is gone.
I take 7 Advil which I liberate from Zane’s pantry. His fridge contains three unopened squeeze-bottles of Heinz ketchup, standing on the left side of the top shelf, and a 1.89L carton of unsweetened vanilla almond milk on the right side of the bottom shelf. Look at the company I keep.
I find a pair of sunglasses sitting on the table near the door. The television is on.
Three blocks away, across from the community center, is a plaza opposite a tennis court and a Chinese take-out across the street. There is a barber, a bicycle shop, a bakery, a coffee shop, a hair salon, a maternity wear store, and a burger joint called, “Wet Beef”.
“I’ll have the ‘Beef monster’.”
I am seated in a booth. While I wait for my food I focus on an obese man seated next to the soda fountain. He is bald; he is wearing a yellow t-shirt, grey shorts, and sandals. He is handling his hamburger with both hands. The way he is eating reminds me of the way a wood chipper operates. No real motion. The wood, or, in this case, beef, is fed directly into a remorseless funnel. In the background, “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. is playing.
For all our grandiose, profound sadnesses, there is something especially upsetting about a man inhaling a hamburger, clinging to the hope that maybe this time his heart won’t be able to handle it. The beef that broke the camel’s back.
Burger joints are the American dream. There’s something romantic about pulling into a local and ordering fries, a malt and a hamburger with cheese. Somewhere along the line that romance went sour and we all realized we were just killing ourselves for Americana. It’s impossible to feel good after eating a hamburger. You’re a greasy mess who’s spent six dollars to pack your arteries full of shit. Who knows, maybe the next one will kill you. That’s what we’re all hoping for. That’s the American dream, now.
A group of preteens enters. It occurs to me that I do not know what time it is.
Every bite is a comma in the long list of reasons to hate yourself. Keep chewing, boy.
“How are we doing here?”
The waitress has black hair and fair skin. She doesn’t overdo it on the eye shadow. She doesn’t have to. And here’s me. Burger in hand. A good American.
“Good. I think I’m ready to pay, actually.”
I pause and look at the burger.
“Can I get this wrapped up?”
“Sure,” she says.
Her name-tag reads, “Rachelle”. I have trouble remembering if Rachelle is conventionally spelled with one or two “L’s”.
“How is it working here?” I ask.
“Good,” Rachelle says. She takes my plate. “Busy.”
I watch her leave. I am a 37-year old grocery clerk who cannot finish a hamburger.
You realize, at 37, that you have felt the same way about the world since you were 22; you realize that life is a big, long nothing punctuated by heartbreak, and that we are all eating, shitting, fucking pimples on the face of the earth, doing our parts to contribute to society, clutching the disparate scraps of our lives until the strain is too much. Malaria causes approximately two million deaths annually. Sixty-four percent of adult males shit themselves when they die. When we die our muscles relax. The pressure to maintain the status quo subsides. Shitting yourself when you die is one last, glorious middle finger to the world.
Shit is liberation.
There is an unlocked bicycle outside. It is a purple 1986 model Norco Alpine mountain bike. I get on it and start riding across the street, towards the tennis court down the hill from the community centre. As I reach the other side of the street I feel an overwhelming force against the rear wheel of the bicycle and hear a car’s brakes whine. I am thrown sideways off the bicycle and down the hill. There is symbolism, here, but it escapes me. My mouth slams into something hard, and as I struggle to get up the nausea from my hangover and subsequent ingestion of over a half-dozen Advil causes me to vomit. I put my hand in front of my mouth and the puke feeds through my fingers like chunky salsa. Ground beef and Southern Comfort; last nights drowned regrets and that of the subsequent day. Alcohol, beef, cheese and shame. A smorgasbord of shame. I feel something small and hard in my hand and rub my tongue over my teeth. I am missing one. My right canine.
“Oh, my God. Are you okay?”
I look up and see a middle-aged man dressed in a black windbreaker bent over me. He is balding. He has a moustache. For the white male ageing gracefully constitutes the slow transformation into a walrus. Up the hill I can see his car, a black Range Rover, cars are driving around it.
“I’m fine,” I say, standing.
My left hand is covered in vomit. I stagger up the hill. The man looks at me without comprehension.
Everyone hits rock bottom differently. Rock bottom is subjective. Heroin addicts shitting themselves because their livers have stopped functioning, preteens using dad’s razors to relieve the pain of white suburbia, all the insecure girls who fuck every night because daddy didn’t hug them enough. We are all equal. We all stand on common ground. Profound, self-loathing loneliness. The real fear is that making an attempt to get out of the hole you’ve dug for yourself, and failing, will drain you forever. Self-loathing is knowing what to do and still being too afraid to do it.
I walk back to Zane’s house holding my dislodged tooth underhand in front of me. I put it in a glass of almond milk, place the glass on the living room table, and sit down on the couch. It does not occur to me to put it in water.
The television is on. I stare at it resentfully, if not apathetically.
The lock on the front door clicks open. I turn and see a man standing in the door frame leading from the kitchen to the living room. He is wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. His face is sharp, handsome, and angular. He has short brown hair. He is not looking at me. He is watching TV.
“Who the hell are you?” I ask.
“Zane,” Zane says. He does not look at me.
“Give me a minute,” he says after a moment, then disappears.
In under five minutes he enters the living room and sits down next to me on the couch. He is wearing the horse mask, a white button-up shirt, and black dress pants. His hands are clasped. He is bent.
I look at him and say, “Who are you?”
The horse head regards me impassively.
“Hold on,” Zane says. He stands up, leaves the room, and returns holding a bottle of Adderall in the doorframe like some kind of deity, a half-horse patron saint stepping through the heavenly boundary, whose bounty is salvation in pill format, whose impartial judgements are swift, final and unfair and yet no man would question him, this God.
“I fought in the Gulf War.”
“You take Adderall?” I say.
“I’m depressed,” Zane says. He sits down on the couch and systematically inserts two capsules into his mouth, throws his head back, and takes a long drink from the bottle of Southern Comfort.
“Join me,” he says.
I swallow two capsules. We sit in silence.
“Does Adderall treat depression?” I ask.
“I don’t know.”
We regard each other dispassionately. Something profound is communicated. Nothing really matters, so why not get fucked up any way you like?
“Did you kill anyone in the war?”
“Forty seven people,” Zane says.
“How does it feel?”
The horse head turns slowly looks at me.
“Remember when you would crush bugs as a kid? It’s like that. The ultimate feeling of control but it’s too easy. You think it’s going to fulfil some primal need, but it doesn’t. It is not satisfying; it fills you with emptiness. You truly appreciate futility.”
Look at the company I keep.
“I would fuck Elaine Bennis,” Zane says.
“What do you think Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ pussy is like?”
“What’s the worst thing you did in the war?”
“I slit a man’s throat and drank his blood,” Zane says. “I contracted Hepatitis C.”
“It was worth it.”
“Because it was cool as hell,” he says dispassionately. He loops the double-o in “cool” so it sounds like he is saying, “coo-ooo-ool.”
“You’re high,” I say.
The horse head regards me. For a moment I am sure he is going to cut me open and eat my spleen, specifically.
“Plaid does not appeal to me.”
“It was the death-knell of America’s youth.”
Who am I sitting with? Is this what Ares’ has become? My thoughts are each individual screaming diamonds expressed in perfect concurrence with their formation which are one and the same. Thoughts are fed through an infinite tube comprised of smaller tubes which ferry each one down a crystalline runway into the breast of infinity. I understand I can extend my limbs and simultaneously harness five individual thoughts. Microwaves and the neurological mechanisms of the human brain and sex are all the same wire being syphoned through mechanical, intellectual and physical modes of expression. The profundity of terse, childlike statements settles over me like a sad blanket. I realize that although I now have the ability to dominate all conversations it is my responsibility to make sure one revolves around my conversation partner. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss has a shaved cunt.
“Are you going to kill me?” I ask.
Zane and I are both watching the television.
“Do you want me to?”
“No. What does human blood taste like?”
“What cunt should taste like.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the fire inside every man. I am Gods’ breath on a kitten’s fur. I am a crying Armenian baby and its desiccated remains.”
At 3:57 AM I leave the apartment and walk to the mailbox two blocks down the street. I leave Zane in front of the television. He had not spoken in two hours before I left. The last thing he said was, “I am a bent rail of cocaine,” and I am inclined to agree.
“Kate, I think we should be together. Because I am having fundamental thoughts, you slut. I am including in this envelope one of my teeth, which was knocked out yesterday when I was hit by a car. I don’t blame you. I love you. Signed, Owen Taylor.”
Vincent Van Gogh deliberately cut off his own ear and presented it to a prostitute. Sickeningly lovely; a vomit-inducing gesture to warm all our hearts. For once the artist manifesting in life all the truest madnesses of infatuation. In love we are all artists of morbidity.