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Joe watched impassively as the traffic passed by. The cars moved in drips and drops, slowly plodding down the dank and ill-maintained one way road. Joe thought about stepping into the line of cars, placing himself into a suicidal flop and waiting for the ever advancing tires to crush him. He knew in his rational mind that the cars would likely stop, someone would call the cops and he’d be carted away and given a blanket, a cup of coffee and probably some light psychological counseling. A small corner of his subconscious wasn’t entirely sure that the traffic procession might not just continue at its snail’s pace, indifferently crushing his body into a wet puddle.
Joe lit a cigarette and turned with a sigh towards the grey industrial style building complex where he knew a guy named Jermaine who hung out and peddled various hallucinogens. Jermaine maintained a clientele of mainly seedy looking homeless folk, some suburban kids with pocket money and the occasional splattering of secret fiends of the white collar variety. “Hmmm…” Joe muttered to himself, taking in the dismal scene. Jermaine stood in a daze, a stub of a brown cigar hanging like a thick toothpick from his dry swollen lips. Joe was dressed nicely; a black pair of nicely pressed dress slacks, a wool houndstooth jacket and a fancy Brooks Brothers white button up. Joe liked to look nice to distract from his perpetual glassy eyed stupor, having figured out long ago that while people react negatively to most forms of lunatic, you’re average citizen tended to give the benefit of the doubt to a well dressed lunatic.
“What’chu want, man?” Jermaine asked tersely, gazing with a piercing frontiersman’s eye out at the city. “Weren’t you just here? Man, you better take it easy with this stuff, man. You think this business is good for you dude?”
Joe took a puff of his cigarette. “Don’t lecture me man.” Joe replied, white smoke curling out of his red and puffy nostrils. “I pay money, right? I’m a good customer right?”
“You’re a pain in the ass is whatchu are, man.” Jermaine answered quietly reaching into his vest pocket for a tightly wrapped bag. “I don’t even get you man.” He said taking three crisp new bills into his hand after passing the bag. “You look like you got money, you all dressed up for a job or somethin’… why you messing around with this stuff? You work? “
Joe looked towards the ground studying a crack in the pavement, throwing down his cigarette. “Why do you care?” he asked quietly. “Do you even know what my name is?”
“I don’t give a damn what you’re name is and I don’t care.” Jermaine answered succinctly. “Just curiosity, my man. Just an interested party so to speak.” He blew a long puff of smoke into the grey air. “Just seems like you wasting yo’ life man. “
Joe glared weakly at his drug dealer. “Don’t bug me man.” He said quietly. “You don’t know how hard I got it all right? You don’t know a god damn thing about me, ok?”
Jermaine nodded, his lips pursed, with skeptical eyes, lids drooped lazily. “Mmm, hmm. Ok then.” Waiting a minute, he added, “So get the hell out of here man.”
Joe thought about his future indifferently. He foresaw, without much feeling one way or the other, a vision of sleepless nights, feverish episodes of chemically charged get-togethers with other apathetic acquaintances, waiting in lines for things he didn’t especially want or need, staring at screens, buying things and eventually death by liver failure. The bleakness of this future had long since stopped being worrying or sad and merely formed a cohesive world view that he was able to comfortably slip in and out of like an old shoe when he needed to be distracted by the boring tedium of everyday life. He didn’t especially like this vista of monotony and numbly painful certainty but he knew it well enough and it provided a certain comfort at its seeming inevitability, that almost bordered on the blackly humorous when he was fortified with enough strong alcohol. Sometimes he wanted to jump in front of a train, but most of the time he was able to summon the required inertia to stumble through.
Today however was one of the bad days. He’d recently had an epiphany, and like most terminally numb people he found great surges of piercing insight to be emotionally painful, doubly so due to his lack of recent experience with any non chemically induced ( and thus synthetic) feelings of any sort. The deeply profound experience had upset him quite a bit. He drank, but didn’t get drunk, or at least wasn’t impaired enough to enjoy it.
Absorbed as he was in his thoughts he nearly tripped over a homeless man who’d planted himself with a steely firmness in the street.
“Watch where you’re going.” The homeless man yelled forcefully, the smell of stale alcohol and flop sweat wafting from his tattered form like mustard gas and sewage. “You dumb bastard, you gonna trample me.”
Joe took this moment to ingest the product he had bought off Jermaine and started to continue walking but stopped when he felt a slight tug on his freshly pressed slacks.
“Hey, you fancy dressed guy.” The homeless man rasped out.
“I haven’t got any money.” Joe lied averting his eyes.
“Money?” The raggy man said, arching his grey shaggy eyebrow. “I need your money? Keep your money. I don’t need your money, Mr. Nicely dressed, fancy fellow. I got a mansion in Connecticut, servants. I eat dollar bills and caviar every day. “
“Uh…” Joe desperately wanted to put some distance between himself and the fetid, clearly insane specimen of societal decay that was currently firmly gripping his pant leg.
“You should be asking me for money. I own factories in Des Moines, churning out plastic spoons and chemical weapons they use to get those Kurdish S.O.B’s in Argentina to follow the party line. I made a killing on a batch of tulips I sold before the great Dutch collapse of 1698. I need money? Ha.”
Joe checked his watch before realizing he had no watch to check and futilely attempted to free himself from the iron grip of this decrepit old bum. “Listen, I uh…I have to go…”
“You shut up and just listen to me.” The homeless man said, still shaking his head in disgusted disbelief at the arrogance of this young fool. “I own plantations with gangs of negro slaves picking everything from cotton to poppy seeds down in the south where they know how to treat a man of my standing and breeding. From you I need money? Forget it. “
“Do you need something?” Joe asked, becoming slightly afraid at this point that he may end up in several pieces strewn around various dumpsters, murdered by a delusional old bag man.
“Aye, you been listening to me? I don’t need nothing especially not from some fancy looking young jackass like yours truly.”
Joe rolled that last line in his head for a second, confused. “Yours truly means you.”
“Yeah, you. Who do you think I’m talking, to myself? Of course I’m talking to you, and truly is how I’m speaking. Yours truly. “
Rubbing his forehead tiredly, Joe attempts to clear his head. “No, I mean… Yours truly means ‘me’.”
“Exactly.” The old man, exasperatedly glared.
“No, it means…Yours truly refers to the person who’s speaking.”
“Shut up and listen, Mr. Knows what things mean, or I’ll truly shove my foot up your ass. Truly.”
Joe fished in his pocket for a cigarette, trying to hide his discomfort. “Why should I listen to you if you don’t even know what…?”
“Don’t change the subject!” The homeless man yelled, deftly changing the subject.
“I’m trying to tell you something and it’s something you know is good advice because it comes from yours truly. I’m a very successful man with teams of Negro slaves picking Riceroni from the plantations of Utah and Oklahoma, a man of means. You want to succeed you listen to me.”
“I don’t want to succeed.” Joe said, thickly. “I don’t want anything.”
“Then you better listen to me even harder, because I got the secret to getting what you want.”
Joe sighed. “Fine, tell me.”
The homeless man stood up and looked around to see if anyone was around. He cupped his veiny and liver spotted old hand and whispered into Joe’s ear. “Whisper, whisper, whisper…”
Joe listened carefully and looked strangely at the old man who stepped away and with a self satisfied look of smug arrogance. “What do you say to that smart guy?”
“You…didn’t say anything.” Joe replied. “You just said whisper, whisper, whisper.”
“Hey, listen to me Mr. Yours Truly-“
“Not using it correctly…” Joe said shaking his head.
“If you can’t figure out what I’m trying to say than you can scram. Get out of here!”
Joe’s emotional epiphany had been this: He had no love in his life, hadn’t for a very long time, and very likely wouldn’t again. That part actually wasn’t new to him. The startling part had been that he realized that he desperately wanted it. He wanted to feel love and to love in return. He knew he’d been tricking himself into thinking he could get by without and for a brief moment the stunning fact that he really wanted to feel that love was enough to send him reeling.
He was still reeling when he found the drugs slowly kicking in. A warm yet icy feeling crept up his neck like an Eskimo caterpillar. He thought about how that description made perfect sense as he plopped himself with a crash on a bench and tried to avert his eyes from the large purple gash that seemed to be bleeding a sparkly confetti like slime onto the city below. He stifled a yawn and lit a new cigarette, snapping his aviator sunglasses into place in front of his insanely dilated eyes. The smoke swirled up in a slinky pattern, thin and ghostlike before dissipating. He tried counting his blessings before realizing that his mind wasn’t functioning properly and could only conjure up horrifying visions of blood dripping fangs and snippets of a transvestite cowboy singing Crocodile Rock in a killing field somewhere in South East Asia.
‘This can’t be right.’ He thought to himself. He wasn’t starving, homeless, horribly disfigured, especially homely or even dumb. He had had the advantages of a stable family. He hadn’t been convicted of any major crimes, wasn’t a sex offender, a pervert or emotionally disturbed. He had no outstanding warrants, he’d never been touched inappropriately by a trusted family friend and he didn’t suffer from homicidal urges of any kind. He was, on the whole, lucky. Not even a childhood disease or birth defect of any kind.
Obviously he felt gipped. What could he blame his ennui on if he had been so utterly without disability? On whose shoulders but his own could the blame for his listless depression be laid if the creator wouldn’t even throw him the minutest dollop of a handicap to blame his misfortunes on?
He didn’t feel like he was a good person. All his life he had strained to be accepting of all peoples, regardless of race, orientation, creed or national identity. Yet he was faced with the glaring obvious truth that he didn’t really feel comfortable around anyone who wasn’t straight, white and American. He’d been raised to be tolerant and fully supported the rights of minorities and gay people but cringed when he realized that he might actually have to be in close proximity with them. He supported sex equality but bristled at any woman who he thought might be better than him at something.
He knew in his bones that he was a failure. If he wasn’t a failure that why hadn’t he succeeded? If he had succeeded then why was he such a failure? Why wasn’t he rich? Why didn’t teams of paparazzi follow him around? If he was as good as anybody else than why wasn’t his face on the covers of news magazines? Why didn’t anyone seem to care about who he was dating? Why did nobody speculate on his sex life? He knew that in the end fame didn’t matter and that it’s what’s inside that counts but he couldn’t help but feel that if you aren’t special your nobody, if you aren’t rich you’re trash and if nobody’s ever heard of you then you may as well have never been born in the first place.
“What is the matter with you?” A halting, accented voice asked in a rigid tone. Joe turned to see an East Asian man, balding, thin as a rail and sternly countenanced staring reproachfully at him.
Joe inhaled a jet of smoke and exhaled it rapidly, ashing his cigarette slowly. “Nothing.” He answered quietly.
“Why you look so sad? You sigh. You ruin my relaxation.” The Asian man sternly scolded Joe, glaring at him harshly.
Joe said nothing, cocked his head slightly to the side and wondered if any of this was real or if the drugs were just conjuring figments from thin air. He leaned forward to study the old man more closely and found a disturbingly solid cane whacking him with tremendous force full in the face. Joe put his hand to his face and cried out in pain. “Hey, man!”
“I am not exhibit at Zoo.” The man said in his thickly accented clip of a voice. “Why you so stupid? What is matter with you? You are American. Nothing bad ever happen to you. No reason you be so sad. “
“You hit me!” Joe groaned, still rubbing his throbbing forehead. “What the hell’s the matter with you old man?”
“You are lucky I don’t hit you again. You are stupid. You lazy. You need get job. Stop sitting on bench.”
“You don’t know anything about me man…” Joe started.
“I know you sitting on bench in middle of day. I know you are whiny bitch. Whine like little lost bitch baby. You stupid, you drug addict. I know more than you think. You Americans have no bushido. “
“You don’t know what I’ve been through.” Joe answered sullenly.
“What you been through?” The Japanese man, barked mockingly. “When I was your age they drop nuclear bomb on me! I flee city go to live with family in Nagasaki. They drop nuclear bomb on me again.”
“Uh…” Joe says, uncomfortably.
“I don’t know what you’ve been through? You been through nothing. You idiot, you drug addicted, lazy gaijin round eye prick. My entire family die. Only I survive. Later I get married to fat cow of wife. My son commit seppuku when get bad grade on spelling test. What happen to you? You get lost on way to fat idiot contest. My fat wife killed by tsunami. Take house also. Insurance no pay. Say is act of god. I say ‘Emperor is god. Tsunami is act of Emperor? Emperor should pay!’ They tell me, “Emperor no longer god. Americans make him say so after they destroy the Empire. Is no god anymore.”
“Ok, ok.” Joe says.
“Don’t tell me about hard life. You never have obstacle in your life. You stupid. You go now.
Joe sat in a coffee shop, not drinking his latte’. An unlit cigarette hung from his lips, barely remaining in his barely closed mouth. He watched the limp wristed cashier gingerly hand an expensive coffee to a broad shouldered older man in a pea coat.
“I just like, wanna go to Mexico.” A high girlish voice screeched behind him. Joe watched from the corner of his bloodshot eye as a girl in a pink pajama-like outfit sipped something from a plastic thermos. Her boyfriend, presumably, stared at her with his weak chinned jaw agape.
“I wanna…go to …Europe.” The boyfriend replied. His long razor cut hair was swept to the side.
“You can’t just go to Europe.” The girl replied. She had the words ‘Pink Sexy” emblazoned on her top.
“Uh, like, yeah, I can babe.” He answered bluntly. “We have peaceful relations with Europe.”
“Uh, like that’s not what I…” The girl shoots back.
“WE have a peace treaty with the…” The boyfriend cuts her off abruptly but halts, searching for a word. “Eur..op…ites.” He slowly forms the word, and then assuredly continues. “THEY won’t stop me. There’s no travel restrictions on going to Europe.” He looks at her challengingly. “I can go to Europe, babe.”
“It costs money!” The girl shrieks, losing her patience. “It’s thousands of, like, miles away.”
“Obviously.” The boyfriend says, smugly. “My mom knows the king of Europe though.”
The girl looks confused for a second. “Carol, knows the…King of Europe?”
“Mmmm.” He answers. He sits bag smiling.
Joe leaves without paying.
The sun was going down and Joe was peaking. The hallucinatory waves and colors were circling him like particles of giant neon dust. He was removed from it though, uninvolved with his own chemical processes, apart from everything. He watched the sun, staring right at it, his eyes protected by his Aviators.
“Hey, sonny it’s not so good to stare into the sun I hear.” An older voice caught him slightly by surprise and Joe turned to see a stooped elderly man. The man wore a brown hat, glasses. His face was worn and heavily lined, pale and thinly stretched.
“Uh, yeah.” Joe said. “Thanks.” He sighed, unwittingly.
“What’s wrong?” The man asked. “You seem a bisl dreck. So young you are and you carry around like this? You haven’t a nice shiksa somewhere to take care of you?”
“I…don’t really know…” Joe said, confused.
“A girl, a girl.” The man replied. Not maybe the brightest Schvants in the Schvits are we? vus machs da?”
“No…” Joe answered, slowly. “No, girl.”
“Aaah, a Faygellah, eh? That’s okay too. You and the boyfriend maybe have a tiff after a bit of a yentz?”
“No… it’s more…its complicated…” Joe answers.
“Oh, I see to complicated for a fershlugina yid like me to get eh? Such a smart goy you are. From you I could learn so much I see.” The Man looked reproachfully at Joe, shaking his wrinkled head. “Ay-Ay-Ay, what a celebration we must have, for to have found such a genius mensch.”
“Hey, listen I’m getting sick of this, all right man?
“You don’t know the first thing about suffering. Schmuck! This Ferckukt faygellah!” He points sarcastically at Joe, announcing to an imaginary audience. Oy, Gavalt, for you. How you must have suffered? Feh!” He spit derisively at the ground. “Nothing you know of pain. I was in the camps. Hitler gassed my whole family. All my cousins, brothers, my parents! Nothing left but me.”
Joe pondered for a second the odds of running into so many people having suffered such historical misfortune, but the thought slipped away as the old Jewish man continued his assault.
“MEESA MASHEENA! Horrible it was for us. When I was born the only moyl around we could find was a blind one armed sadist. The circumcision, botched! Oy-Oy-Oy, how he botched my poor schvantz. A shonda it was!”
“I don’t really understand half of what you’re saying…” Joe added to the conversation weakly.
“No right, do you have to be unhappy. You walk around with a smile on your face constantly, you should. Never stopping with the thank you’s is how you should be. All around you the prosperity of the world and you …you waste it! When you are an old zeyde like yours truly, when everyone you know is kaput in a Nazi oven, then you maybe have a right to kvetch.”
Joe stared in disbelief. “Please…don’t say ‘yours truly’…”
“GAY AVEK!” The Jewish man shouted, shooing him.
“I don’t speak…” Joe thought for a second. “Jew…ish.”
“Get away! Away! Shmuck! Idiot! FERSHTINKINER! FERSHTAY?” The last word was clearly a question.
Joe shook his head no. “Don’t know what you’re saying…”
Joe watched the television. It was dark now, late, past midnight. He sat in his apartment and watched as a middle aged white man talked about political issues which, Joe couldn’t, was simply unable to, absorb.
“-even get a serial turkey bigamist anyway? Why isn’t the justice system dealing with this?”
Joe popped a Xanax and washed it down with an ice tea. The blinking lights of the TV washed over his slackened face like a digital wave. His mind was utterly blank.
“It’s liberal policies like this that allow the game birds of this once great country to be systematically exploited by radical activist poultry farming Muslim communist …uh, you know…”
The camera panned to the female co-host, a blonde, blue eyed, straight faced type.
“Socialism?” She ventured.
The man said nothing for a second, weighing his options. “Yee-ess…” He finally eked out, before regaining his composure. He turned towards the camera. “Mr. Obama-”
Joe felt himself sinking into his chair, blurry soft blankets of calm swept over him as he slowly drifted away.
“-three year old child belongs on death row…”
Joe slept. He dreamed about a very tall building.
“Man you gon’ kill yourself if you don’t take it easy.” Jermaine said, throwing him a tightly wrapped bag.
“I don’t…care.” Joe replied.
“Yeah…I see that.” Jermaine replied. “Just don’t get yo, ass killed here, all right man.”
Joe emptied the contents of the bag, washing it down with a Budweiser. “You don’t know…anything.” He drawled, slurring.
“I know enough.” Jermaine shot back, lighting a short brown cigarette.
“Yeah, whatever.” Jermaine sarcastically said. “Get out of here.”
Joe began to walk away.
Riding on the bus Joe watched himself in the driver’s mirror. He wasn’t sure he recognized his own reflection until he sneezed.
“I could just about stand this city if they would, for Christ’s sake; do something about the god awful stench.” A well dressed man, slicked back hair, black briefcase, was chatting into his phone.
“I mean really. Do we all have to suffer just because some homeless, homeless people I’m saying and I think you know what that means, drug addicts naturally, scum, depraved, just because these worthless nobodies can’t be bothered to find a bath somewhere. God, I mean I read the paper this morning and we’re talking an absolute cornucopia of filth and all the dregs of humanity seem to come here.”
Joe felt vaguely uneasy and blinked twice, wanting to say…something. But he absolutely couldn’t.
“I mean look at me, Van der Pool. I’m a good guy. I give to charity, I donate okay? Does this mean I should have to put up with some faggot in a fedora, probably binging on crystal meth, some street person offering me god knows what in exchange for a dollar? I mean, I support the gay community one hundred percent but for god’s sake, do they have to be so… I mean must we actually be near them? I pull down 400 K a year allright? I’m an asset. I make this city better. I go to church… sometimes, I read, I’m environmentally aware. I looove minorities. All I ask is that I be treated with respect and for the love of god that these…people, stick to their own kind.”
Joe looked at himself in the mirror. He didn’t like it after awhile so he stopped. He got off the bus.
Sitting in the coffee shop, not drinking his latte’. Joe popped a Xanax. He was fully tripping. Joe sat in a coffee shop, not drinking his latte’. An unlit cigarette hung from his lips, barely remaining in his barely closed mouth. He watched the limp wristed cashier gingerly hand an expensive coffee to a broad shouldered older man in a pea coat.
“I want an abortion.” A young woman moaned in a high girlish voice. Her bleached blonde hair looked dead as it hung like dry wheat over her reddened eyes.
“You’re not even pregnant babe.” Her boyfriend responded, lamely. “Babe, you aren’t even, like, pregnant.”
“I know.” She responds, looking sullen. “I’m just saying, I want an abortion.”
Joe didn’t listen to the rest of the conversation. He felt himself slipping away. He grasped for something to anchor his fleeting sense of self to the world of waking lives. No obvious solution presented itself. Everything he had ever learned, he had forgotten, everything that ever seemed to make sense had been disfigured and slashed to ribbons. He couldn’t remember his own religion. He wasn’t sure what his middle name was. What was the name of the first friend he’d ever had? It didn’t matter.
“Maybe I’m just…lonely.” Joe said to himself staring at the afternoon sky. He watched a vapor trail as it gradually followed a high up airplane.
“Lonely?” A voice, low and thick with intoxication and a gravelly Russian accent boomed.
“You think you know what lonely is?”
Joe looked over. A mountain of a man, someone who had in another time maybe been as robust and strong as a power- lifter regarded him with astonished disgust.
“Oh my god…” Joe said, sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose wearily.
“In the gulags for twenty years.” The Russian said pointing to himself. “I fight off the Germans and then Stalin ships me to Siberia. Why? I still don’t know. For twenty years I rot.”
Joe throws down his still lit cigarette. “Listen man, I get it…”
“You get nothing. You we’re lonely? For twenty years I hear nothing from family. Finally, one day they throw me into the cold with torn peasant clothing and tell me I go free. Free to what? Free to starve. I find out my family is dead. I come to America. They hate Russians in America. Everyone think I am communist, but I tell them I hate communist. They tell me I am one anyway. You are lonely? You know nothing of lonely.”
Joe covered his ears and walked on. He could feel the eyes of every citizen glued to him, judging him. “You’re weak.” Someone yelled. A child pointed at him and laughed mockingly. He sped up but a great crowd of people staid perfectly even with him, cornering him against an alley.
“Stop!” He yelled.
“Go!” Someone retorted.
“You don’t know anything about me!”
“WE know you better than you know yourself.”
Joe began to catch on to the theme. “Up.” He said, slyly.
Arching his eyebrows Joe took a step forward. “What is this?” He asked.
The crowd disappeared and Joe snapped to attention, breaking like from a fever. He found himself eye to eye with a young woman. She smiled at him.
“It’s ok.” She said.
Joe almost began to cry. He hid his eyes behind his sunglasses and turned to walk away. To get to a safe distance. He felt a tug on his shirt sleeve.
“It’s ok.” She said again.
Joe found himself frozen in place.
“I…I just…” He looked down at the ground.
“It’s just…It’s been a tough couple days.”
She just smiled beatifically at him. She had long curly brown hair that framed her face.
“My life… well it feels hard to me…” he said quietly.
“It doesn’t have to be.” She replied softly.
He held back a sob. “I think it always will be.”
“No.” She said, gently. “No.”
Joe stared at her. He couldn’t take it. He had to run.
“Tell me what’s wrong?” The old woman asked. He had been sitting outside the library, staring dumbly at the cars going by. She had approached Joe, grabbed his hand and looked into his eyes. She was dressed like a gypsy and her fuzzed grey hair was tied in pigtails.
“Nothing.” He answered simply. He lit a cigarette. “I’ve been led to believe…nothing is wrong.”
“You can tell me.” She said. The words came out strangely, airy and dreamy with a hint of outer space.
“I don’t know that I can.”
A younger man, bald and unshaven approached and tapped the old woman on the shoulder.
“C’mon gram we gotta go.” He said. His voice was low and nasal, smooth and bored.
“This young man, he looks so sad.” She said, still clutching Joes hand.
“I’m…fine.” Joe said. He was getting seriously stressed by the contact between himself and the sandpapery skin of the old woman. “You should go.”
“I can’t just leave you.” She turned to the man. “Jon you’re a therapist, help him.”
“I’m a pet psychologist Grammy, but yes…I will help him.” Jon stepped between Joe and his grandmother.
“…Uh….” Joe said, wearily.
“Listen, what’s your name by the way” Jon started, interrupting himself with the question.
“All right, listen Joe. I’m going to tell you a few things and it’s going to change your life. Do you believe that? Joe, answer me by nodding, don’t speak. If you can believe me and you trust me Joe, it’s very important that you trust me, Joe trust is key!” He grabbed Joe’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes, inches from his face, “Joe, do you trust me? Trust is key! Its key, Joe, do you understand?! “
Joe stared into Jon’s intense blue eyes.
“You gotta nod, Joe.”
Joe shook his head.
“Ok.” Jon said, drawing back and relaxing. “I think we can work here, we’re creating a dialogue. That’s what we’re doing here, Joe, this is creating a dialogue.”
Jon nodded assuredly to himself, totally confident. “Yeah.” He said. “Okay.”
“Woah!” Jon said, suddenly taken aback. “Why are you nodding? You’re nodding. Joe you’re nodding.”
Joe stared, uncomfortably.
“You are nodding, right Joe?” Jon said, suddenly very seriously furrowing his brow. “Are we on the same page? Shake your head if you’re not nodding. Joe.”
Joe remained inert paralyzed by confusion.
“So you are nodding? Joe by remaining still, are you trying to indicate that you are not nodding?”
“Mixed messages!” Jon yelled, putting his hands up in defeat. “It’s key that we be on the same wavelength. I’m getting mixed messages. I can’t work with this person.”
“Jon, please.” His Grammy said, whining.
Joe was utterly paralyzed by confusion and vague fear. He watched with complete amazement at the Pet psychologist as he rolled up his sleeves and cracked his knuckles.
“All right!” Jon said raising his hand for silence.
A minute of complete quiet passed. Jon stared with cold fury at Joe.
Suddenly he relaxed and took a seat next to Joe, placing his large hand on Joes shoulder.
“Ok, we’ve bonded.” He said after a minute of tense, uncomfortable clutching.
“Here’s an example. Okay Joe, take…” He pursed his lips thoughtfully scanning the area. Finally, “Okay, Joe, take that pigeon over there.” He pointed to an unassuming looking grey bird feeding on crumbs scattered about the street.
Joe said nothing. Jon stared at him for a minute, his expression changing from genial to angry.
“I said take the Pigeon Joe!”
Joe stammered, “Uh, what?”
“Go get it! Get the pigeon. Come on boy, get the pigeon! Go get it.”
Joe was flabbergasted and edged away from the pet psychologist. “I…what? I don’t…”
“God damnit!” Jon raged. “You son of a bitch I’ll kill you!”
“Get him Jon!” Grammy yelled.
Joe sprinted away.
“I’ll cut you to pieces, you bastard!” Jon yelled. “I’m a pet psychologist!”
Joe was curled in a tight ball on his couch, sweating profusely and going through a severe paranoid episode. He felt like the entire world was against him and that nobody knew or cared who he was. That these two things were in direct contradiction did not occur to him and if it had it wouldn’t have made him feel any better. He was both utterly doomed to failure and completely and utterly afraid of success. He didn’t know a single thing about how to function in the world and desperately wanted to break free from his current condition even though he was petrified about what would happen if he did. He didn’t know how to talk to people, wasn’t sure what he would say if he did figure out how to do so and was too afraid to try anyway. He wanted connections but craved solitude. He wanted to be alone but wasn’t capable of independence. If he had independence he wouldn’t know what to do with it. If he figured out how to live independently he probably wouldn’t want it anymore. He wanted to be a kid again and knew it wasn’t possible.
He felt a wave of nausea coming on him. He looked at the table in front of him and saw the untold scores of empty bottles, dried powder lines, used baggies and full ashtrays. His personal effects were strewn about the apartment like stray leaves and garbage piles. He was thirsty and dehydrated and he ran to the bathroom and vomited for ten minutes. Finally when there was nothing left he fell backwards onto the floor and the endorphins rushed over him for a brief second giving him slight relief.
“I need help.” He said to himself. He didn’t know who to turn to and didn’t trust anyone who would offer.
Sleep eventually came.
“You don’t understand me.” Joe said weakly as Jermaine handed him the tightly wrapped bag.
“Don’t want to.” Jermaine replied, taking a drag off his cigarette.
Joe stumbled away. “Good.”
Joe watched impassively as the traffic passed by. The cars moved in drips and drops, slowly plodding down the dank and ill-maintained one way road. He’d gone to the roof of a building and he stared out at the city. It was sunset and the sky seemed to glow like a bleeding hot coal. Everything was visible from his vantage point and he absorbed none of it. He felt like he could just reach out and he’d touch the ground. It seemed so close. He fingered the baggie he’d bought from Jermaine and he thought about how when he was a kid he’d wanted to live near a beach someday. He’d never really known that it was possible that things might not go according to plan until he’d reached his teen years and everything seemed to fall away from him like a ripped sheet. Then he’d changed his perspective and wasn’t sure that it was ever possible that things could turn out okay. He looked down at the road. Why wouldn’t a person just be able to walk across the air, maybe it would be solid if he stepped out…
“Hey.” A voice called.
Joe turned. He saw the girl with the brown curls that framed her face.
Joe stared, suddenly embarrassed. “I was just…”
“You can come with me if you want. “She said, smiling gently.”
Joe turned away from her. He looked down at the city.
“No, it’s really not.” He replied softly.
“It can be.” She said. She was beside him now, looking down with him.
He didn’t look at her. He couldn’t get over how close the ground looked. He thought about everything.
“Just follow me.” She said.
He said nothing for a second. He dropped the baggie he’d bought from Jermaine and watched it fall like a stone. He’d never even opened it.
Finally he turned to her. “Follow you where?” He asked.
She smiled at him. “You’ll just have to see.”
He couldn’t stop staring at the ground. It was just so close. It would be so easy. Just one step and he’d be there. Maybe things would be easier on the ground. He stared and stared and stared.
He looked at her. She just smiled.
“Who are you?” He asked.
She didn’t say a word. She didn’t seem to want anything.
All she wanted was to help.
“Hmmm…” He said. He turned something over in his mind.
She touched his shoulder, comforting him.
He said nothing. For minutes nothing was said. He looked at the ground one last time. His eyes narrowed, an intense glare forming.
He almost smiled. “Maybe it’s enough.” He said.
They walked away.