Category Archives: Literary fiction

‘The New Sophisticates’: Chapter 1, UPDATE! [ver. 2.5]

20 November 2010
Friday, Omaha, NE, 6:07 P.M. CST

Lately, any time I see my reflection, I feel compelled to give it a quick once over, checking off that everything is OK as I go.  Quick, but systematic. I then consider my breathing and focus on it, hone in on it, abdominally. Slow, abdominal breathing can arrest panic attacks, can prevent them. Diaphragmatic breathing — it’s all in the diaphragm. Think about your tie, I tell myself.  Don’t think about your head… Six breaths per minute… Think about your tie and your abdominal breathing… This is the particular kinesthetic mantra I have been (and will continue) repeating to myself — over and over again — and which I’ll do out of necessity.

Truthfully, hindsight being what it is and all, I don’t think I fully appreciated, until recently, how much my life had been speeding along an irrevocably-changing course toward a destination enveloped only in oblivion.  I hadn’t realized much of anything in the way of change until the day I’d finally concluded that jumping out of our[1] tenth-floor bedroom window seemed like an altogether reasonable and infinitely more appealing alternative to soldiering on through my altogether banal personal day-to-day routine, a routine that approximated a basic mix — equal parts existence, survival and muscle memory — death, precipitated by boredom.

It wasn’t a [quote] “simple boredom thing” or a “depression-thing” I was experiencing during this eye-opening personal revelation, either — the latter part, the depression part, came later, along with other undesirable emotions like regret, remorse and scathing sense of self remonstrance. Initially, what it was was a [quote] “indescribable- unfathomably-excruciating-and-concrete-physical-pain-thing” — the kind of pain that drives previously sane and rational individuals to go to great[2] measures in which to alleviate it; the kind of pain a person isn’t even completely sure could actually exist outside of medical textbooks because it so accurately simulates a very real and very tangible railroad spike being driven through your eye socket into the center of your skull; the pain is there, it’s real, despite any hard physical evidence. It’s the kind of pain — real or imagined — that, at last, prompts one’s (debatably) irrational contemplation of the (unquestionably) enviable relief that only a one-hundred-foot free fall to the pavement below could bring, even if that connotes unpleasant preemptive machinations on your part — pharaohs once proclaimed death comes on swift wings, and I’m starting to believe that maybe I can fly.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about how exactly to describe my situation and I think the summation provided by the aforestated is about as accurate and honest a description as anyone could provide.

In various chronic pain-sufferers’ support circles, this recurring phenomenon, this affliction, is known as a cluster headache, or, as in my case, cluster headaches, plural. Perhaps, more appropriately, others have simply dubbed them “suicide headaches.”

There is no cure, and there is no relief. I know because I’ve personally done a lot of homework on the subject. There aren’t enough pharmaceuticals on the planet to alleviate a cluster headache — I’ve probably been prescribed every last one of them.  There just isn’t much warning before one of them sinks its malevolently barbed grapnels into you.

I suppose all of this is more or less by now my deposition, my disposition, my life.

[Blend in with Ashley’s changes.]

In which case then, the change I noticed in Ashley was nearly just as abrupt as the change I noticed in myself. I began paying more attention. I somehow hadn’t even realized anything was different, oddly enough, until things in her life started becoming positively this or positively that with more and more regularity.  By which I mean positively — not in the sense that she’d previously been, more often than not, an unsure or indecisive person — or that she was, at the time, experiencing generally a greater number of epiphanies than she had at any other time in her life before — but positively in a different sense entirely.  It was in the way she started to adverbify[3] what had always been, until then for her, ordinary, everyday verbs, clauses and participles. It was this trend, in particular, that prompted my own recognition that something about her — more substantial than just her vocabulary — had unquestionably changed.

For example, after enduring especially long and arduous days at the Furlong and Associates Real Estate offices, she’d burst through our condo’s front door and dramatically flop down on the sofa, proclaiming herself not simply “tired,” or “completely spent,” but positively exhausted. She could no longer ever feel merely “hungry” or even hungry’s more intense hyperbolic articulation, “starving” — she was all of a sudden, it seemed, almost always positively famished.  I think initially I thought this slight change in her everyday verbiage was cute and kind of endearing until I realized she wasn’t simply being facetious.

She even began adverbifying already concrete adjectives: a new pair of diamond earrings was positively stunning, and the crème brûlée, positively marvelous[4].

Right now she’s positively luxuriating on our Stickley Santa Fe sofa, chattering away on her iPhone to someone I think is most likely her best friend-slash-office assistant, Meredith Tomlin, whom, I’m unsure how Ashley can even hear with the television blaring at such an unnecessarily ear-splitting volume.

But anyway, more to the point, things weren’t ever positively this or that to Ashley until six months before we packed up our things in New York and relocated to Nebraska, long after I’d introduced her to my core group of New York friends who’d attended Columbia University with me as well, friends who were from families more well off than any she’d ever known, which intimidated her, at first.  That’s actually where Ashley and I first met — Columbia — specifically, the MBA program there at the Columbia Business School. After finishing my undergraduate collegiate work right up in Harlem, I’d decided to stick around for a couple more years to attend grad school because, well, that’s pretty much the path my family’d always expected me — practically groomed me — to follow. My family is from the East Coast — Old Money, relocated to Omaha for the opportunity to make an even more obnoxious amount of new money in the financial trading industry.[5]

However, Ashley’s family, the Van Zandts,[6] have always lived in the Midwest. She, herself, was an academic wünderkind, fresh out of the Big Ten from the University of Iowa, not to mention that she was our MBA class’s top applicant[7].  Most of my MBA cohort’d already heard of her — and consequently, by the nature of such a pristine preceding reputation, we’d formed exaggerated opinions and also spread rumors about her — both good and bad, of course — though nobody really even knew who she was yet.  My friends and I began making assumptions about the department’s shiny new academic golden child before we’d even sat down and talked amongst ourselves about exactly which ball-busting professors and graduate seminars were the ones that brought with them levels of difficulty that were in no way ever to be fucked- and/or trifled- with, and whether or not tweed was still as recherché as ever — a pastime most graduate students, Ivy League or not, are typically wont to engage in.

Before she’d even set foot in our first Managerial Economics class; before she’d even stepped off the plane in Newark,[8] Ashley Van Zandt was already both well known and controversial, whether she’d liked it or not — which, in NYC, is actually kind of a big deal — a fact she came to privately savor underneath that doe-eyed, sycophant posturing she’d so finely honed in Iowa City — honed by telling professors and administrators exactly what they wanted to hear at all times, and in return, those in positions of power and authority gave her exactly what she wanted to see: a dogged, unwavering 4.0 GPA, though she’d likely have earned it anyway.  The girl’s mind was a razor.  She was a natural academic, wholly blue around her middle-class Midwestern collar but also expertly knowing how to play the game — a quality of which I can’t help but think the MBA selection committee was keenly aware.

Not surprisingly, Ashley was also a fast learner when it came to Fitting in with Old Money 101, as she took to my well-bred, cosmopolitan friends like a fish to water[9].  We spent each of our Columbia summers’ final remaining weekends nearly always in a state of full tilt boogie: sailing with friends out of the Sewanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club, lounging around with people we only barely knew from campus and their wealthy families on a North Shore enclave called Centre Island.  Or we’d light out early on Friday afternoons to places like the Brookvilles, Lattingtown and Mill Neck to spend the weekend drinking, fucking and just living like a bunch of spoiled rich kids entitled to whatever the world was willing to offer us, and taking what it wasn’t if we wanted it bad enough.

On rainy weekends, we’d all sit around in fully decked out private home theaters and watch movies like the 2001 Johnny Depp film, Blow, and laugh hysterically — both at how Depp as George Jung used to sell naïve Ivy League kids like us[10] fucken bags of sticks ‘n’ stones-grade schwag weed at a Humbolt County premium, and also at how guys like George Jung would one day be calling people like us “boss.” After burning the candle at both ends for back-to-back(-to- back) days, we’d still somehow manage to wake up as soon as dawn cracked over the Atlantic on Monday mornings and head back to the city so we’d be able to make our 9:00 a.m. course, Power and Influence (and always only just in time[11]). One of us would quickly skim the assigned chapters on “Diagnosing Power and Dependence” or “Formal Authority, Reputation, and Performance” as we drove the 106 across the Queensboro Bridge, taking the Grand Central Parkway detour to avoid the tolls on the 495 and 295 back to Harlem — whoever’d skimmed the chapters would read aloud so everyone else in the car could hear the material too — such are the lives of young overachievers.

Some of our friends — Ashley’s and my[12] — even had the means to rent out their own places in Sands Point, and we’d ultimately do exactly the same things there.

Sometimes we’d skip all those other places entirely and head for the Catskills where we’d stay at the Villa at Saugerties for a bed and breakfast weekend.  It was mid-2000s New York City and the only thing we knew was that we’d go pretty much anywhere that wasn’t the Hamptons — which, I concede, were probably still the spot if you were over 40, but there was no way we’d be caught dead there. We were too young, too moneyed and so fucking utterly individuated from our parents (or so we thought) that we began staking the Catskills and Centre Island as the new Mecca for all the young and hip new sophisticates and socialites — individuals — who were trendier, more beautiful and wealthier than their parents and every generation that came before them — and if we, ourselves, weren’t yet, then we certainly would be — the compounding interest on our respective familial trust funds and our future nepotistically-secured jobs all but assured us of that.

So there’s no surprise ending here — it all worked out the way we’d always assumed it would — was there ever even a realistic alternative? Ashley and I found that, by the end of our two years in New York, after graduation,[13] we couldn’t stand the thought of parting ways from each other. We didn’t have anything concrete planned out but it didn’t matter either — nothing during the time we’d spent together in New York even hinted at a possible scenario where things wouldn’t only get better for us.  So we got engaged.  We packed our things and headed back to the Great Plains, where we were both originally from, despite the disbelief our New York friends held, along with their notion we’d quickly flee back East.

Though my parents both grew up in Connecticut, met at Yale, and got married in New Haven, I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska[14] where my parents still lived, so that’s where we pointed the GPS.  Victor Deramore, my father, a chief executive at TD Ameritrade, and long-time friend of CEO, J. Joseph Ricketts, had already made a few calls to a few powerful friends of his, and before we’d even finished moving in to our brand new Riverfront condo, he’d secured me a position at the prestigious investment brokerage, Bartleby, Barney, Barney & Company,[15] a firm primarily concerned with asset management and institutional securities — the latter business sector being the one I was truly interested in,[16] a sector that involved providing other institutions with various fiscal services such as capital raising and financial advisory services, including (but not limited to) mergers and acquisitions advisory, restructurings, real estate and project finance, as well as a little corporate lending for good measure.

B.B.B. & Co. was like a “mom-and-pop Morgan Stanley”[17] that still made its executives billions (yes, plural — but that was never really a secret).  To be perfectly honest, since I’m being perfectly honest here, I had no interest in starting off as a clerk and working my way up from the bottom of anywhere like some of my former classmates were doing in New York — I wanted to start somewhere near the top — was that so unreasonable? I mean, I figured I was at least entitled to that after busting my ass for six years in the Ivy League and completely acing my Series 7 exam. I mean, a clerk? seriously? are you fucking kidding me?

So yes, my landing a job at B.B.B. & Co. was absolutely a prototypical case-study in corporate nepotism at its very finest.  Sue me.  This was 2005, and I was 100 percent committed to working on my own personal Maslovian self-actualization and fulfillment stratagem — something that, when I told others of, I always conveniently neglected to mention it was a phrase I’d pilfered from Ashley.

On the flip side, Ashley was making some seriously lucrative moves on her own, the old-fashioned way: the tried and true system of social networking. A few of her Real Estate Finance professors at Columbia called in some favors, and before she knew it, she was interning at the Lund Company[18] which lasted for all of six months before she secured (however improbably it seemed at the time[19]) an associate broker position with commercial rival, Furlong and Associates, and parlaying herself shortly thereafter into yet another promotion in a decisive, yet controversial, executive coup d’état to Senior Site Selection and Acquisitions Broker in early 2008, audaciously climbing the corporate ladder with a fearless sense of ambition, determination and gusto the partners at Furlong had never seen before in someone so young.

The girl had real guts and she wasn’t remotely scared to rock the boat. Simply ruthless.  That’s what the Furlong brass’s always said about her.

And in case I didn’t mention this before, my wife is stunning, absolutely stunning — a perfect 10, seriously. Blondish (for maximum appeal), tallish (5’8 or ‘9 depending on the day, ‘10 with heels), long, slender legs and a runner’s tightly-defined upper body; each abdominal muscle only just visible when she takes her shirt off, which, consequently, is to say nothing at all yet of her perfect breasts — perfect in overall size, shape, suppleness.[20] She looks almost as if she’d been painstakingly engineered in a lab for the sole purpose of incomparable and universal beauty; this, a fact I tend to relish, albeit somewhat unabashedly, since she hasn’t spent a single cent on plastic surgery in her life. Ever.

In fact, last year, long before the headaches’d started, Ashley and I were having dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills steakhouse, CUT,[21] during one of my (unfortunately) not infrequent business trips[22] — on which Ashley joins me, when and if her schedule permits — and this wiry and vigorous-looking older gentleman literally walked up to us while we were eating and just started talking to the two of us[23] as if we were all old friends. The man was supposedly a plastic surgeon who’d earned a great deal of notoriety in LA, though (and, this detail shouldn’t come as any real surprise), I’d admittedly never heard of him.

So anyway, he (this supposedly well-known plastic surgeon) made this deliberate, totally calculated point of altering his original camber through the restaurant to arrive at our table, specifically for the purpose of telling Ashley — and here he was just really candid, in fact — that he was, and, here I’m quoting: “typically not in the business of telling people things like this, but —” and then he did this sort of histrionic pause in the middle of his sentence because he (allegedly) “wanted to be 100 percent certain he was making himself clear,” like unequivocally so — I think he was really pausing for dramatic effect, but, anyway[24], here I’m quoting again: “there was absolutely nothing even [he] could do for her that would, or could, make her any more beautiful than she presently was, sitting before him”[25] and then, turning toward me, he more or less (though without nearly the enthusiasm he’d just five seconds ago shown Ashley) said, “you are a very lucky man,” to which both of us, Ashley and I — each of us finding ourselves feeling more than a little embarrassed by this point — said, “thank you,” and then, unsure of what else we could possibly add to the wholly awkward situation at that point, utterly discomposed and blushing, we simply resumed eating.  Ashley said the situation was positively awkward. That’s when it struck me that she’d been saying it more than an average amount.

Though, aside from her grammar tic, it’s perhaps a gross understatement to say that, in 2006, Ashley and I were getting into our respective professions at precisely the worst possible time where the near future was concerned in the American financial and real estate sectors.

I mean, just flash forward two years.

As if the national-turned-global economic situation hadn’t deteriorated enough in 2008 (i.e. the ubiquitous public uproar and brewing maelstrom of civic opprobrium) following the comprehensive — or perhaps, more accurately, teetering-on-the-verge-of-paralyzing — media blitz that ultimately exposed the $65,000,000,000.00[26] mega- ponzi-scandal, masterminded and executed, by one Bernard Lawrence Madoff, a scandal that, for all intents and purposes, simply erased the investment portfolios of countless investors. Thousands of portfolios that had, at one time, held considerable numbers of investment shares essentially ceased to exist once the money’d left investors’ hands.

The very same media outlets also exposed the alleged (media outlets always use the term “alleged,” even in the face of concrete evidence[27], which I think is silly) use of private luxury jets to conduct various shady American banking CEOs cross-country, using fuel that’d been, more likely than not, purchased with taxpayer-remunerated government bailout money (while, working-class citizens helplessly watched their retirement accounts tank in the affectless face of near all-time high rates of unemployment) — these utterly gut-wrenching events were compounded yet again by a nightmarish, and ultimately all too realistic scenario, that forecasted the inevitable collapse of the once-believed-invincible American automotive industry. In light of all this upheaval, Americans could hardly at all be blamed for their newly-developed pessimism and ever-more cynical day-to-day dispositions, especially where their country’s financial and banking systems were concerned.

So thus, in the wake of the whole devastating and widespread financial collapse that seemed to have, somehow, left me, personally, relatively unscathed, I, Sawyer Deramore, know that I was, above all else, lucky — very, very lucky — that is, with respect to my own personal financial security. This, a fortuitous contingency I can only truly rationalize by the simple happenstance of my location, my job, and some combination of the two. And by my own admission, it’s — more often than not — simply better to be lucky than good.

My location, Omaha, Nebraska, the city where I was born and raised — is a westward-sprawling metropolitan area, home to nearly 900,000 people, five Fortune 500 companies and the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffet[28].  In 2008, it was also one of only a handful of cities less affected by the national economic crisis — though certainly, no city could be said to be considered wholly unaffected — Omaha had more hopeful looking unemployment and depreciation numbers. With all of the capital that seemingly just meanders around the city at any given time, Omaha presents a truly fantastic opportunity for the young and ambitious to thrive considerably, if they can get past the glaring absence of readily apparent and assumed glamour and the extremely harsh winters.

However prior to my fairly recent tenure heading up the Investment Securities Department at B.B.B. and Co. where, in the wake of the whole 2008 meltdown, I found myself breathing a fairly significant sigh of relief when my fantastically well-paying position, did not, as so many others’ would, turn up under the ever-sharpened edge of the always- lurking budget-cutting axe, which really made its presence felt following an abrupt and decisive internal corporate restructuring that higher-ups casually termed “reshuffling

the deck.”

After shit hit the pecuniary fan[29] nationally in 2008, corporate brass at Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co. issued a press release to its investors with whippet-like speed — a press release one Albus J. Bartleby personally requested be written almost entirely by me, lickety-split!, or even sooner, if possible — a document I very simply titled: “Committed. Capable. Competent.” I felt like the periods after each word intimated a sense of professional confidence and concrete decision making.

It was an expeditiously-timed effort originally conceived to mollify a brand new, yet substantial, catalog of fears amassed by our (Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co.’s) investors — the press release itself stated that we (B.B.B. and Co.) would not, under any circumstances whatsoever, ever become yet another Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers or Merrill Lynch — the primest examples of financial-juggernaut-clusterfuckups[30] that’ve occurred on an historically monumental scale — instances where those company’s leaders emerged as virtuosos in (and of) misappropriation, disorganization and deceit. That just wasn’t going to be us at Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co.  That was the promise I made our investors.

At the time I wrote the press release, I didn’t truly realize that I was, in fact, prejudicially and comprehensively lying to them.

Back at the condo, it’s been maybe 15 minutes and I’m still futzing around with my tie. The deep breathing has helped. My heart rate is back down to a normal resting rate somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 beats per minute, about one solid thump every second like clockwork, a precision I can appreciate.

Ashley’s slender figure materializes at my side and, as always, I’m always struck at how much better she makes me look. She stands on her tiptoes and playfully bites my earlobe, her gaze never leaving our mirrored reflection.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” she says.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, in the living room. Come see.” She takes my hand and begins pulling me away from the mirror, I resist for a split

second to take myself in one more time, confirming the symmetry of my shirt, tie, dress pants — the whole ensemble. I’m five-by-five, good to go.

A smallish amassment of white powder, parsed into evenly-spaced rows, sits atop our Nuevo Roma coffee table’s black marble surface, the sight of which, perhaps even just a week or so ago, would have produced a Pavlovian-like slavering effect over me, but tonight, it only makes my stomach drop and almost triples my heart rate, which Ashley immediately recongnizes.

“Jesus, babe, you look like a ghost. Everything okay?” Ashley says.

Perspiration bursts from the pores above my brows and the only thing I can say is, “Yeah, no, I’m good,” and then, “I think I just need to sit down — got lightheaded all of a sudden.” Which wasn’t true, but it was the first thing that came to mind that seemed believable to tell her.  The look she gave me intimated she knew I wasn’t telling her the truth, not the whole truth anyway.

“You want some water? You haven’t been this pale since, like, February,” she says, poking a little fun at the difficulty I have in maintaining darker pigmentary coloration in the winter.

I nod in acquiescence and lean back into the sofa, stare at the ceiling.  I swallow a 10mg tablet of Benzedrine with my spit because I think half of my feeling weird is from coming down from my last Benzedrine a few hours ago.  I close my eyes and think about the other half, the meeting I had with Mr. Bartleby Monday afternoon I haven’t told her about yet.

Everyone at the firm was wrapping up what they were working on for the day. The clock read 4:47 and even at prestigious investing firms, the last 10 minutes, give or take, of each work day is ostensibly a wash, 15 minutes on Fridays.  I’d just opened up my fantasy football page and was trying to figure out who I’d be starting this Sunday and who’d be sitting the bench.[31] I’d just logged-in to my Yahoo! Sports account when I received an alert of an incoming Push-To-Talk message.

“Deramore?” Albus J. Bartleby said, using his latest Motorola Droid’s Push-To- Talk feature as an intercom.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Bartleby?” I said, responding into my iPhone, unsure of what he could possibly want right now, but also a little nervous that maybe I really did know.

“I’m gonna go ahead and need a — God willing — brief face-to-face with you in my office before five o’clock. Which basically means right now since my overall desire to stay here at the office after five is, frankly, pretty damn low.”

“Can do, sir,” I said, still unable to judge his tone.

Shit on fire, son — that’s what I like to hear! That’s a winning can-do attitude right there, Deramore, I tell you what.”

“I’ll be up in less than two minutes, Mr. Bartleby.”

A minute-and-a-half later, I saw Albus J. Bartleby minimize the window on his PC containing his minesweeper game which he was, in fact, just putting the screws to (to put it mildly) right as I gave a quick courtesy knock and, subsequently, walked through the CEO’s open office door.

“Have a seat, son.”

“Thank you Mr. Bartleby.”

“Listen — Sawyer, is it?”

“Yes, sir — Sawyer Deramore,” I said. “That’s me.”

“Right.  Victor’s son.  Sawyer, as you are, I’m sure, aware, we drug test randomly here at Bartleby and Co.,” Albus J. Bartleby said, looking over the top of his bifocals at a smallish stack of documents that I concluded must be important, as well as the reason I was at that moment sitting in the Chief Executive Officer’s office.

Yes.  That is to say, yes, I am aware,” I said, “—of the policy,” I added, shifting my weight in the ridiculously plush office chair, which, upon closer inspection, placed my seated height at a multiple-inch disadvantage to that of Mr. Bartleby’s, clearly by design.

“And judging by these Internal Negotiations and Acquisitions Net Exchange reports, you are one helluva broker and a real asset to us,” A. J. Bartleby said without looking up.

“Thank you Mr. Bartleby, sir.”

“Which is why I have to wonder out loud — if you’ll permit me to speak plainly — just what in the fuck are you doing with cocaine all mixed up in your piss test?” His gaze over his bifocals was then fully locked on to me.

“I— I’m sorry, sir.  It was a complete error in judgment on my part.”

“Well shit, son — you’re goddamn right it was! It’s not like we don’t give our employees who do the kind of heavy profit making you do ample fucking warning before we make ‘em piss in a cup!”

“I know, sir. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been just epically stressing out about that particular urine test. It was really just a giant error in judgment.  One too many scotch and waters[32] and a little too much cheer with some friends is all.”

“Mind if I ask who you were cheering it up with when this so-called error in judgment occurred? Might be a case where we can just throw someone else under the bus — say they slipped it to you, say they got you all in a whole heaping fuckload of shit at work — that sort of thing.”

“Sir, if I could be really honest, I’d really prefer not to drag anyone else into this since it’s completely and utterly my fault. I’m willing to personally accept all the consequences of my actions.” Actually, I’m not sure I fully knew exactly what I was saying.

Hell’s bells, son — I’d really goddamn-well prefer not to be in possession of this information at all, I mean, if we’re shooting straight about ‘druthers and whatnot right now.”

“I apologize for putting you in such an awkward and-or unpleasant situation, Mr. Bartleby.”

“Shit son, it’s not my ass in the fire here — it’s yours. Policy here at Bartleby and Co. dictates that something needs to be done about an employee failing a piss test, Deramore.”

“I understand, sir. Should I go begin cleaning out my desk then?” I said, completely certain of my impending termination, pushing myself up using the armrests of the chair, nearly to my feet.

“Now, hold on — sit on back down — there’s no reason to go making any rash decisions. Policy dictates some kind of disciplinary action needs to take place, but policy also leaves it up to the discretion of the employee’s personal supervisor, and when it comes right down to it, I suppose I’m actually everybody’s supervisor around here.”

“I’m… not sure I follow… Sir.”

“What I’m saying is, being’s that my name is carved into the very slab of stone that appears in the lobby of this particular building, technically, I’m your supervisor, Deramore, if you are catching my fairly obvious drift. And that means I get to decide what said disciplinary action should be in the instance of this specific failed pee test here.”

“Sir?”

Goddamnit son! For having such an expensive East Coast education, you sure can be a thick sonofagun, you know that?”

“I’d just really hate to be even a little presumptuous, Mr. Bartleby.”

“You’re polite too — that’ll get you far, Deramore, let me tell you. But let me also go on ahead and spell out what it is I’m saying here, so’s that you can pick up what I’m layin down, if you know what I mean.  Myself, I will personally take care of this little drug situation where it concerns you. We aren’t in the business of losing money at Bartleby and Co., so I guess what I’m saying is, we aren’t in the business of firing our big earners either.”

“Oh, umm — thank you, sir — thank you very much. I —”

“Now just hold on a minute, I’m not done yet.  Of course, something is gonna have to go on the books that says disciplinary action was being taken, and any issues the employee in question — that’s you — might have are being addressed. And I know how these things work and what the people who take a close look at the books like to see, which is that we care about our employees and we stick by their side to the end and all that other happy horseshit.”

“I mean, sure. Yeah. Whatever you think is best, Mr. Bartleby — honestly.” I really couldn’t believe my luck.

“Right then, so what we have here is a case of a young man who is pretty damn good at what he does and is a real asset to the company, but who also happened to get a little reckless one night — and God knows we’ve all been a little reckless a night or two in our lives. And what those fellas who read over the books like to see are stories of fallen heroes, and such, who become the underdog and get themselves all re-habilitated and all that, and then they rise again like a goddamn’d phoenix from the goddamn’d ashes and such, if you’re following me?”

“I think so, sir.”

“And this is America, son — God’s own country, from sea to shining sea — and here in America, we don’t just fire our best people: we re-habilitate them — which is exactly what we are gonna do with you, Deramore.”

“…..”  Rehabilitation? I honestly had nothing.

“So here’s what I see happening: you’re gonna sign an official written statement saying you are mighty sorry you went and royally fucked up, and then you’re gonna apologize from the bottom of your heart for hurting your family and co-workers and yourself, and that you are one-hundred-and-ten percent committed to getting yourself all better and straightened out so that you can be the man that everyone once believed in again — that is, even if they never stopped believing in you to begin with — and so on and so forth.

“You’re gonna sign that little piece of paper and go to a damn meeting once or twice a week — or whatever those sorry sonsofbitches who believe in all that re-habilitation shit do — and you’re gonna have whoever is heading up those meetings sign your little sheet of paper, and you are gonna bring it back to me, because why?”

“Because… the guys who… read through the books… like to see the signatures…?”

“Be-cause, the goddamn guys who read through the goddamn books don’t just like to see those signatures, son — they love to see those signatures!  It makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside like a shitload of corporate money isn’t being flushed down the crapper right in front of their eyes.  Money that could probably go toward their bonuses, by their line of thinking, I bet.”

“I understand, sir, yes — absolutely.”  I think I thought I understood, anyway.

“And so you’re going to go to these meetings, and we’re also going to have to — just for the sake of record keeping here, you understand? — give you a de-motion, of sorts.”

“Sir?” This, for sure, was a contingency I had not expected.

“Don’t worry, Deramore — the pay’s gonna be the same, so you can go ahead and keep on living whatever kind of lifestyle it is you’ve gotten yourself accustomed to living since working here at Bartleby and Co. We just gotta keep our shit smelling like roses on paper, if you catch my metaphor? So in the mean time, you are — as of this coming Monday — gonna be heading up things over in mutual funds. It’s not quite as sexy as acquisitions, but I’ve been in this business long enough to know that not a whole lot else is.”

“So then the projects I’m currently working on?”

“On paper—” Bartleby leaned in and looked at me over the top of his spectacles, “—as I’d like to keep re-iterating — they are going on over to Frank C. Pelizotti. Of course, you’ll still be the brains behind all those deals. The unfortunate part of it is that there’s just no way we can pay you the commission from them, from a strictly records-keeping point of view. No real point in arguing about it either since I’m sure you can appreciate our hands being tied.”

“…..”  Again, I had nothing.

“And the last thing I wanted to mention, while I’ve got you sitting here, is that we’ve got some good ol’ boys coming from the Securities and Exchange Commission in about two weeks — give or take a couple days — so in all likelihood, that means it’ll be even sooner. The SEC never tells us when they’re dropping by, but that’s why, in this business, it’s good to know people — as they say — so you can at least get a rough idea when to expect a major audit before they’re here, all of a sudden, standing on our welcome mat with briefcases and calculators, and being all demanding about seeing our bookkeeping records and whatever else.”

“…O-K…?”

“So basically, we’re gonna need you to work closely with Frank on getting everything five-by-five before those SEC boys show up. God love Frank, but he’s at least one foil pack short of a box of Pop Tarts sometimes, if you catch my drift. And — this is only me speculating at this point — but if his uncle’s name wasn’t carved into the very same entranceway stone-slab-thingamajig I just mentioned a couple minutes ago, I’d be highly doubtful we’d even be retaining his services at all — but again, that’s just my two cents that don’t bear any real significance worth repeating outside this office, if you get me?”

Albus J. Bartleby and I sat facing each another for a few moments which then became somewhat awkward when neither of us proceeded to say anything to break the silence (that is, within a contemporarily accepted and socially-appropriate amount of time).

“OK… well then, I should probably be going,” I finally said, standing up from my chair, Bartleby immediately following suit and extending a hand to me.

“You’re a helluva team player, Deramore — a helluva team player — and a good sport to boot! I’m glad we had this talk. I’ll have H-R get you that information concerning your weekly meetings and whatnot straight away so’s that you can begin the process of re-habilitating yourself, A-S-A-P!”

“…Thank you, Mr. Bartleby, sir.” I couldn’t think of what else to say at the time.

“Don’t even waste another second of yours thanking me. You just have yourself a great night — and a great weekend, too!”

“I will — I appreciate it, sir. Thank you, again.”

 

I’ve been spacing out.  Ashley’s voice brings me back to our living room. Earth to Sawyer? I rub my eyes because I can’t think of anything else to do and tell her I was spacing out, but I don’t mention what I was thinking about.  Revealing the conversation with Mr. Bartleby would have to happen later.

“So anyway,” Ashley says, her speech rapid, her eyes twitchy and excited, stimulated, “We need to stop by Meredith’s place before we head down to the Qwest.  She just finished the packet I’m taking tonight with all the Furlong materials in it.  She’s such a peach!”

“Oh yeah?”  I pretend I’m interested and not thinking about losing the commission on at least three major accounts I’ve been working on for the past couple months, and that I’m not thinking about Ashley comparing Meredith to a pitted fruit.

“Yeah, I mean, the Brandeis is sort of on the way anyway.  I’ll just run in quick and grab it, two seconds tops.”

“Side note, how the hell does Meredith afford a place at the Brandeis?”

“I dunno. Sugar daddy, maybe?”

“Seriously?”

“Probably not.  Probably her parents.”

“Pretty nice fucken parents.”

“I know, right?”

In my head I’m thinking the sugar daddy theory probably isn’t too far off. Meredith’s tits make guys want to throw money at them. I’m not convinced she wasn’t a stripper in her early 20s, either.  Maybe she still is.  Who knows?  The Brandeis is fucken cherry and it costs a mint to live there. More than an office assistant can swing each month, I know that.

“Yeah we can pop by on the way,” I say. I’d rather stay and hang out for a while. One, because I hate corporate galas and two, because I’d definitely fuck Meredith if it wasn’t for the vows. She’s easier on the eyes than a hall full of stuffy business guys in suits and tuxedos patting each other on the back and congratulating one another on being so obnoxiously rich.  I want to tell them, Fuck you, I got money too.

Shit! Look what time it is,” Ashley says, bounding from the couch.

“It’s, uh, six-forty-nine,” I say.

“I know that! Get your shit and let’s go.  I don’t want to be late.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” I say, walking to the kitchen to see if I conveniently misplaced my keys.  I didn’t.  A glass of Jack and Coke I poured earlier and forgot about during my knot tying mantra perspires into a pooled ring around its base atop the granite countertop.  I shrug and pick it up along with my keys and make for the front door.  I can already feel the Benzedrine putting some pep back in my step.  Ashley’s already in the elevator, holding the door open for me and motioning for me to hurry up.

Here we go, I think.

* * *

 

I pilot my Infiniti G37x Coupe through the streets of downtown Omaha, imagining I’m a Formula-One driver.  I’m only test driving the car for the weekend but I’m already in love with it.  The feedback between my input, the closely-spaced gearbox, the clutch and the steering wheel is kinetic, it’s instant and fluid.  The precision of the mating ritual between human and automobile is erotic, intoxicating.  Ashley’s hand rests on my thigh and I’m getting an erection but mostly from the car.  She can tell what’s happening inside my pants and smiles that fucking million dollar smile she’s got and it drives me wild. My wife, my passenger, her coyness and overall sexiness are doing bad things to me.  I want to skip the event tonight and get us a room at the Hilton instead.

As I’m thinking dirty things about Ashley, my right eye twitches unnecessarily and my erection vanishes, like instantly, prompting me to inspect my tie in the rearview and assess the knot I finally decided on, almost by reflex. I’m suddenly feeling unnerved, a particular emotion I don’t at all care for.  It feels like a weakness and a character flaw and those are two things I associate with punks and pussies.

Ashley notices a change in my mood and asks if everything is OK which I tell her, yeah, of course as I try to resume driving as I had been before. Only now, she’s taken her hand back and clasps her fingers together in her lap, gazing absentmindedly out the passenger side window. The mood has taken a change for the chillier.

We’re married now but opening up still isn’t easy.  Ashley doesn’t know the full extent of my headache problem.  I told her the doctor said it was just migraines and not to worry.  I didn’t mention the Dr. I’m seeing happens to be my best friend Drew Marinovich and migraines were only mentioned in comparison to my cluster headaches, which, really, there isn’t even a fucking comparison.

I also left out the part about Drew and I trying some pretty experimental treatment options — so experimental the FDA hasn’t gotten around to entertaining the idea, let alone approving it. Drew, being the scholar that he is, read about some really interesting and really far-out-there study going on at Harvard University where doctors are treating patients suffering with cluster headaches with LSD. Of course, the trial is full — plenty of applicants showed up to claim whatever was necessary to have legal approval to drop acid and hang out with a bunch of other people doing the same thing; the majority had to be turned away.

Drew and I decided we needed to improvise.

I steal a glance at Ashley and she’s still not looking my way. I know she thinks it’s something she did but she’s so wrong, only I just can’t tell her yet.

“It’s not you baby, it’s me — for real this time.”

I want to tell her but the time isn’t right and, I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think my tie is at odds with my collar again which has me back repeating my mantra and deep breathing techniques. I have to.

After mantra’ing my ass off for a solid two or three minutes, I realize the radio is off and even the slightest sound of anything besides rubber on concrete is absent. In cars like these, the refined acoustics allow you to hear even your passenger’s subtlest exhale. Her body language demands distance. The little bit of white residue under her nose, however, begs for commentary.


 

 

[1] My wife, Ashley’s, and my — the condo, I mean, is ours — we of course live together. I apologize: I tend to think fragmentally and get sidetracked very easily — a case of severe attention deficit disorder (ADD) — but I also feel this urgent and insatiable compulsion to explain myself whenever I feel I’m being at all unclear.

[2] Read: wholly extreme.
[3] The author is aware that adverbify — as well as its gerundially-modified form, adverbifying — are not actually “real” words, per se, but for reasons unknown, has developed a special affinity for it and other not-exactly-real words, especially invented adjectives and the process of turning nouns into verbs, such as the ubiquitous use of the proper name “Google” to reference any Internet search — a process he has thusly designated as verbifying nouns.
[4] This development coming from the girl who’d — when I’d first met her — adorably thought the dessert was pronounced “creamy broolie.”
[5] Yes, more money.  I’ll explain shortly.
[6] At the time, Ashley Van Zandt (who’d eventually become my fiancée, and then my wife (though neither of us can say we really knew it at the time like some fairy tale, ‘love at first sight’ happy kind of fairy tale horseshit).
[7] Information like that is hardly as classified as admins would like, and spreads like wildfire.
[8] The flight, she’d tell me later, was more than $100 cheaper to bypass LaGuardia or JFK and fly into Newark.
[9] Presuming the fish were aware of- and understood- water, as it relates to their space and themselves, etc.
[10] Because Ashley was with me, and I was Victor Deramore’s son, they even began accepting her as one of “us.”
[11] I’ve essentially got an eidetic memory, which makes even something as simple as the classes I’ve taken at any given time hard to forget.
[12] Because it didn’t take long for them to become no longer just my friends, not nearly as long as I’d assumed since she was from the Midwest or exactly blue blooded.
[13] She never lost that Number-1 spot in our class, either.
[14] Forbes magazine ranks Omaha eighth among the nation’s 50 largest cities in both per-capita billionaires and Fortune 500 companies. Crazy, huh?
[15] Henceforth, B.B.B. & Co.
[16] Provided I was interested in anything work-related at all.
[17] OK, perhaps “mom-and-pop” is an exaggerated litotes, but the firm started in 1959 with Albus J. Bartleby and Jackson Barney working out of a stuffy single room office in Downtown Omaha underwriting tens of millions in debentures for the Omaha Union Stockyards, which, in 1955, surpassed Chicago’s Union Stockyards as the nation’s largest livestock market and meat packing industry center. Shortly after that, Jackson Barney’s younger brother, Smith (coincidentally [or not], no relation to either Charles D. Barney or Edward B. Smith of Smith-Barney renown), came aboard and the firm became one of the lead syndicates in the U.S. rail financing with the headquarters of Union Pacific Railroad also based in Omaha.
[18] One of Omaha’s largest Commercial Real Estate firms.
[19] Because of her youth and limited experience.
[20] I’m just trying to be thorough here.
[21] Which is actually how Ashley names the restaurant when recounting the story for friends, family and
acquaintances: Wolfgang Puck’s trendy Beverly Hills steakhouse, CUT.
[22] Though, had I chosen the spot, we’d likely have gone to the less trendy, but arguably, better Cal-Asian restaurant, Yamashiro or Mr. Chow.
[23] OK, he was mainly talking to Ashley.
[24] Also, I should add that I’m pretty sure he’d been drinking — likely furiously — since his speech was even more fragmented and disjointed than mine, and I at least have a medical excuse. He also had the look of someone who’d recently snorted a few lines of coke and was using the alcohol as an equalizer, but this is only pure speculation on my part.
[25] The well-regarded surgeon’s earlier disclaimer presumably stemming from a desire to illustrate to us the money he would invariably lose by not performing tummy tucks, nose jobs and breast enhancement/augmentation surgeries, and thus, potentially adding some kind of intangible significance to his compliment.
[26] Sixty-five-billion dollar.
[27] Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat — the burden of proof rests on who asserts, not on who denies for non-Latin fans.
[28] Sometimes, the first richest man in the word — it’s hard to follow all of Warren Buffett’s and Bill Gates’s philanthropic efforts where they each try to give away more money than the other.
[29] For lack of a better term.
[30] Not the actual word I’d used originally in “Committed. Capable. Competent.,” of course.
[31] Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco was fined this week for sending a Tweet on a his iPhone from the end zone after scoring a touchdown which cost him $25,000 and a quarter of playing time so he’d be sitting, for sure.
[32] Technically they were Jack and Cokes, but Scotch and waters sound infinitely more distinguished and at this point, I was also pretty sure the word Coke in any form at all should be kept to a bare minimum. 


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A Most Dangerous and Mysterious Man

This, in some form or another, is going to be my submission for Opium Magazine‘s 7-line
short story contest
.

[UPDATE 9/9/10: Below is the current iteration that I submitted this a.m. for the contest. Cross your collective fingers!.]


A man on his phone at a urinal says, “I’m being chauffeured around today, honey, because I
keep falling asleep at the wheel.” He and I are both relieving ourselves when he says this—both
of us adhering strictly to the unwritten two-men-pissing rule: one empty urinal between us,
eyes forward. But when I overhear his admission of recent—and seemingly chronic—narcoleptic
fits while driving, I cannot help but turn my prying gaze, midstream, toward him. Who is honey?
Should she or he not already know this man is a repeat somnolent driver? I want to ask, but he
absconds before I can adequately shake and zip, leaving me only a wet pantleg to mull over.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Black Hole Cometh: A Short Story, 1st [“complete”] draft

(This is draft “1.1” of my newest short story “The Black Hole Cometh.” More revisions will likely follow!)

BUFORDSVILLE RETIREMENT COMMUNITY — aka: The Old Folks’ Home, The Home for Oldies, Old Mold’s Bar and Grille, McMoldy’s, the Stairway to Heaven, The Last Train Stop to Nowhere, The Dead End, Hell, The Black Hole, etc. I’ve heard them all — was located in a part of town no one would (or could) ever mistake for “the best.” This is a simple and inarguable point of fact.  The part of town itself in which BRC called home was seedy and old — the phrase abject disrepair springs to mind when one thinks about both subjects either together or separately.

And being that the old part of town is where the more useless… sorry… mature citizens were expected to “retire” — and I use the term retire loosely — the whole situation would be funny and ironic in a kind of way that something truly ironic is funny, but only then some supreme master of the obvious says something like “no pun intended,” when, in fact, a pun was mostly obviously intended.  The pun itself however constitutes such unimaginably poor levels of quality and creativity that, when uttered, causes standersby to laugh uncomfortably because the situation has taken a turn toward the excruciatingly awkward[1] but that’s a whole other story.

The point of this story is that the Black Hole was basically just a weird fucking place to work at or have anything else to do with in the first place.  The neighborhood, as I said, was one of the oldest in Bufordsville, and it showed.  This area was well known to even those not born and raised in Bufordsville because of the overall poverty, violence and gang activity.  There was a shooting just about every night within a few square mile radius of BRC which pretty much meant we were at ground zero.

A few months back, the BRC’s man with the plan (and check-signing authority), Bob Delaney, hired a young new guy named Gary — who had the unfortunate last name, Indiana — as a geriatric nurse at Bufordsville Retirement Community.  Gary, by the nature of being both male and a nurse — two provisions that only served to double his unfortuity, specifically where he and his general interactions with other members of staff and BRC residents[2] alike were concerned — had a rough go of it from the gun.  He was the only male nurse on staff, and he was also the only member on staff under the age of 58, replacing me as the resident spring chicken (as BRC, like the society at large, was where the medical community sent its aging professionals, in the twilight of their careers, as well).  Consequently, every corner of the facility had a distinct, unmistakable scent of Brylcreem, Old Spice Original and Youth Dew in spades.

Being 28 and fresh out of nursing school, Gary Indiana may as well have been employed at a retirement facility on Mars for all the familiarity he felt at the BRC.

Bufordsville Retirement Community was also home to a sort of local folk hero, though hero is perhaps not the right word —more like, celebrity — a seemingly ordinary housecat of indeterminate breeding named Blackie[3], whose name, while not exactly adhering to all of the diversity and sensitivity sections of the BRC policies and procedures manual[4], was certainly much better and more appropriate (not to mention far more racial- and culturally-sensitive) than the nine-lived celebrity’s first two names: Old Pussy and Mr. Spooks.

No one could really say for sure if it was his half-missing ear or his two disparate-colored eyes that lent him the special abilities that almost everyone’s always attributed to him, and which have also garnered him such notoriety, but without adding too much conjecture to the whole mix, the damned cat seemed able to predict a BRC’s patient’s death with a startling, uncanny level of accuracy that, in truth, kind of freaked more than a few of us out.  I mean, you just knew a resident was warming up to cash in his or her chips if someone on the night staff reported seeing Blackie curled up on that elderly resident’s pillow.

Blackie isn’t the only reported and documented feline allegedly privy to this special, though freaky, ability.  Oscar, a tortoiseshell and white cat at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Providence, Rhode Island has accurately “predicted” the last days for more than 50 patients.  He spends his time pacing from room to room, rarely spending any time with the patients — he’s kind of an antisocial little fucker — except those with just hours to live.  If Oscar’s somehow kept outside the room of a dying patient, he actually scratches on the damn door trying to get in. I believe I read that in one of the British newspapers Gary’s always leaving around.

And so Blackie isn’t alone in his gifts, but as far as anyone knows, he’s got the highest batting average: 100 percent, so far.  The inter-facility death pool was even shut down[5] since the hairy little bastard’s basically all but eliminated the element of chance and surprise.  When rounds would begin the next morning — as sure as death and taxes — if that cat was fast sleep and purring soundly on the resident’s pillow (and usually it’d be none other than Gary Indiana who’d find them — both the former patient and the sleeping cat — since no one else wanted any part of actual work that early[6] the patient was for sure guaranteed to have kicked the proverbial bedpan sometime during the night.

But people just really loved that cat.  Some of the old birds who had husbands staycationing long-term at BRC — old birds who spent their visiting time crocheting sweaters no one would wear and scarves nobody wanted — would bring knotted balls of yarn for Blackie, even though they only mildly interested him. Some of the more cognitively-questionable patients over in Psych. would “accidentally” turn their dinner trays over after eating only the pureed carrots — god only knows how anyone, even people who spend the vast majority of their day drooling all over themselves comatosely, can eat that mush, but they did.  And then Blackie would get several helpings of tuna casserole (tuna that was actually made with the less appetizing parts of a chicken) and mashed potatoes, or whatever side dish the residents were being served.

Why an animal that was seemingly the physical incarnation of the death’s own harbinger had remained so popular was anybody’s guess.  Aside from the fact that, for all intents and purposes, Blackie was pretty adorable with his crazy two-toned eyes and 1.5 ears, not to mention the fact that he was somehow almost completely hypoallergenic to all residents and staff, which of course really endeared him to those residents and staff who’d always loved animals but, due to a myriad of allergy-related problems, had never had any of their own since they loved the act of normal, uninhibited respiration even more.

So as I’ve said, Gary Indiana would be the one who’d find the dead BRC resident and the sleeping cat and, typically, he would also be the one who’d deliver the bad news to the deceased’s families over the phone because — I mean, really — who wants to deliver that kind of news before a person’s even had their morning cup of coffee?

To clarify, it wasn’t exactly that Gary, himself, was disliked by all of us around Bufordsville Retirement Community; we’d never say that about him.  He was just more or less addressed in a way that bore a resemblance to that of Patrick Swayze’s character in that movie, Ghost — as if Gary’d somehow found it extremely difficult to physically exist in the world like the rest of us did, trying without much success to interact with people and their surroundings.

The majority of the BRC staff, we just paid Gary as little attention as possible without too obviously coming off, ourselves, like a bunch of old washed- and used- up assholes trying to make his life as unpleasant as possible while he worked there.  I mean, that was, in fact, what we were doing — we just didn’t want it to seem so… obvious — hence our favoring of more stealth-like tactics we ultimately implemented under the guise of simply ignoring him.

Things didn’t get any less weird at BRC once Blackie started following Gary around every-goddamn-where he went, either.

During rounds, Blackie would trot alongside Gary.  When Gary went to the break room for coffee, Blackie went right with him.  Vending machines? Same deal.  Gary couldn’t hardly take a piss without that cat on his heels, lickety-split.

We started joking around that Blackie was trying to tell Gary something which, as you can probably imagine, Gary didn’t find nearly as amusing.  We didn’t think Gary found much amusing, actually.  The guy was weird even for the BRC.

And what else was weird was that the old people stopped dying around the place once the cat started following Gary.  It’s like death had given up his attention on everyone else and focused it on the young nurse named after the birthplace of the King of Pop.

No one was dying and Gary’s actions began getting stranger and stranger.  He stopped taking breaks, so we couldn’t rib him as we usually did.  He looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks and he even started to smell a little funny, which, in a retirement community like the old BRC, was really saying something.

Someone even said one day they heard Gary in one of the bathroom stalls mumbling nonsensically to himself, Blackie was sitting just outside the stall door flicking his tail this way and that, purring.  Gary was saying stuff like, “how does it know where I live?” and “Oh god, I think I’m rotting…  It’s actually making me rot.”  Gary said a few more things but my colleague didn’t stick around to listen, preferring instead to “hold it,” as he put it, for six more hours until his shift was over and he could go home.  He said that smell we’ve been associating with Gary was even more unbearable in there where proper ventilation was almost nonexistent, too.

And by “it,” we all assumed Gary meant the cat, in reference to making him rot, but the fact that it knew where Gary lived and the effect that particular circumstance had on him just cracked our shit up.  Though, with respect to the overpowering smell, he very well may have been rotting — we weren’t sure — but that aspect was decidedly less funny.

What was also decidedly less funny was when we arrived at work the next morning after the bathroom incident to a squad of police cars parked in front of the main entrance doors.  Some shit of an indubitably serious nature had obviously gone down over night and we weren’t sure we wanted to be a part of it — we were all getting too old for this kind of thing.  The police were just going to tell us things or ask us questions that would ultimately require us doubling up the milligrams of our ACE inhibitors for a while.

When we walked in, our co-workers’ faces told us everything we needed to know.  Dying had once again commenced at The Black Hole.  The police presence only gave the sullen atmosphere a dark and ominous overtone.

Camera flashes were going off capriciously and police tape cordoned off the men’s restroom.  No one was talking; their shoes, all at once, had become the most interesting two things in the universe to them.

Three of us who catch the 22 bus from downtown together every morning shuffled a little bit closer to the action.  Big Bob Delaney, sat on a bench just outside the breakroom adjacent to the bathrooms with his face in his oversized hands, rocking his head back and forth, the pigment across his balding crown all splotchy, as he was taking whatever terrible news he’d received rather terribly.

We asked the officers standing closest to the yellow tape what happened and they gave us a one word reply as stark and affectless as if this was the type of thing they witnessed on a daily basis: Suicide.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out who it was in there beyond the tape, but before we could verbally hypothesize among one another, we heard Bob Delaney behind us say: Gary… before his voice broke up and he reverted into a sobbing mess again.

The other part didn’t come out until later when the papers got wind of the story.  There were two bodies found dead in the men’s restroom that morning: that of both a 28-year-old male and a charcoal gray cat of an unknown age.

Now, I’m no animal lover, but what Gary did to Blackie was just sick and — pardon my French here — but it was just real fucked up, too.

Police determined the color of the cat by the removed and discarded pelt they found balled up in the trash can — Gary’d actually skinned him!  We were sure of one thing at that point and that was that Gary’d completely lost his fucking marbles.  The cat finally drove him over the edge we figured.  All over the walls and the mirror, Gary’d written Follow me now! Follow me now! in what was later confirmed by a team of crime scene investigators as feline blood, and when we heard that part, we all agreed we could almost hear Gary screaming those words at the top of his lungs.

I don’t think any of us realized the kind of lunatic we’d been working with for those several months.  No one could’ve foreseen what happened.  We all agreed that it was probably best not to tell the investigators that a few of us had the bright idea of hilariously transporting Blackie to and from Gary’s house once we realized the cat seemed to really like him.  We just thought it’d be funny.  That’s what we get for thinking, I guess.

But the story’s weirdness doesn’t stop there.  No sir.  There was a note — there always is, isn’t there?  We didn’t hear about this part until we read it later in the papers, either.

The note was actually, first and foremost, a sort of confessional.  Gary had a guilty conscience he’d wanted to relieve himself of.  And some say this is the saddest part: Blackie didn’t really have any special abilities, or at least any extra special abilities, so to speak.  Though, in my opinion, that’s not the saddest part.

Once Blackie had — what we realize now — accidentally predicted a few deaths, people started talking and getting excited about being a part of the BRC.  Staff members joked with residents, residents liked Blackie.  And hey, if they were in fairly good health, why worry about the cat?  He only predicted the sickest resident’s death, ones who died in their sleep, natural causes, respiratory failure.

But we were in for a shocker when we read what was in Gary’s note: he’d actually killed the majority of the residents Blackie’d predicted.  No one else got to work before Gary.  The night staff was lean and Gary always seemed pretty affable to them.  But the residents who were sick, who were in the last stages of their lives, anyway; Gary was sneaking into their rooms when the BRC was quietest and smothering them with their pillows!  Their bodies were just too weak and frail to fight him off.

He’d then locked Blackie in the room with the deceased and an hour or two later during morning rounds, he’d “discover” the scene as if he’d had nothing to do with it earlier.  He confessed all this in his note.

However, when the cat started showing up everywhere Gary went — which, as we later found out, basically consisted of the BRC and his house — he just started to lose it, bit by bit.  He thought the cat wasn’t actually the physical embodiment of death, but of karma.

Paranoia began seizing hold of Gary and, as a consequence, he began not sleeping, not bathing — thus the source of the odiferous odor that followed him everywhere.  He also began eating only very little.  At the end of his rope, he finally decided he had to get to the cat before the cat got him.

And he did.

Oh boy, did he! What a mess.

After the cat skinning and bloody painting exhibit, investigators said they believe Gary’d more or less panicked and plunged the knife into his own throat, which he immediately realized was a terrible idea by the wounds it left in him as he tried to remove it.

The whole scene was just grisly and I’m not sorry I didn’t see it firsthand.

So that probably brings us up to speed, I suppose.  Suffice it to say, that was the last day for a majority of BRC employees.  There was just no way any of us were sticking around after that.  We couldn’t be sure who we were really working with anymore, and when you can count the number of years you have left on your own two hands and feet, sometimes early retirement seems like the best course of action in the end.

Most of us didn’t work for the money, didn’t necessarily need it.  We worked for the camaraderie.  It beat greeting people at Wal-Mart.  But one thing for sure is you can’t have any kind of real professional, camaraderie once you’ve worked with someone who turned out to be a knife-wielding, elderly-suffocating loony toon.

Some of the others put in their two weeks, but not me.  I simply said to hell with it.  I needed all the time I could get to process how we all played a part in this event and never fessed up to it.

But like my dad — may he rest in peace — always used to say: a guilty conscience beats a prison sentence seven-out-of-seven days a week.


[1] Bad puns are, as a matter of fact, equitable in many respects to passing wind in a stuffy and crowded elevator and will under no circumstances whatsoever make you more popular.

[2] Or just people in general.

[3] Who also was really more of a charcoal-gray hue than black.

[4] Which, all BRC employees were given a 75 question True/False quiz over before commencing employment.

[5] Which had, at one point, been a seriously profitable on-the-side enterprise for me.

[6] And in hindsight, one of the reasons we all probably kind of resented Gary.

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Curiosity Doesn’t Discriminate

“What is that?”

“What’s what?”

That.  What is that?”

“I dunno, a plow I suppose.”

“It looks like a horse—like a horse’s hoof.”

“Where?”

“Right there.”

“Are we looking at the same thing?”

I can’t see much.  It’s dry and that makes the gravel road even dustier.

Suzanne parks the car and retrieves her riding boots from the trunk before walking through the barn doors to get Juliet all saddled up.  I decide now’s a good time to call my mom back.  The reception out here is pretty good.

Mom tells me that Bailey, the 4 year old German Shorthair’d Pointer she just adopted from a local rescue was up until not too long ago being bred at a puppy-mill—could hardly be said she was living there—and was on her way, that is Bailey was on her way, to a kill shelter somewhere down in Kansas and goddamn’d if she—I’m talking about my mom now— wasn’t just so wonderfully relieved that she’d rescued Bailey from such a terrible fuckin place.

We all do a real good job of not thinking about the ones we can’t rescue.

Suzanne brings Juliet out of the barn, all tacked up and snorting and mare-ish.  I’d been just sitting in the car when I was talking to my mom so I hop out and tell Suzanne all about Bailey and the kill shelter and we both agree she’s probably a whole helluva lot better off with my mom.

Suzanne leads Juliet over to the outdoor hunter ring and starts warming her up, stretching out her legs.

I walk over to a set of empty bleachers just on the outside of the ring and crack open this bizarre novel that you have to turn a number of different directions in order to read—which actually proves pretty cumbersome out here due to the steady breeze blowing across the corn fields, then across the hunter ring.

After warming her up, Suzanne mounts Juliet and makes a few laps around the ring at a trot in each direction—to her right and then her left.  I read a couple multi-directional pages before I hear Suzanne’s voice trying to get my attention.

“It’s a horse.”

“What?”

“A horse,” she says.  “I told you.  It’s a horse.”  Suzanne points toward the rear corner of the barn to a particularly muddy area, all cast in shadow, where there’s old farm tractors and other farming stuff sitting around.

I can’t see what she’s pointing at so I close my book and get up and take a closer look.

And sonofabitch if she isn’t right.

The thing I thought was probably just the handle of a plow from the gravel road driving in really was a horse, which I suppose means first off, I shouldn’t second-guess my wife when the two of us are trying to identify objects that may or may not be a horse.

“Is it dead?” I say.  Sometimes I’m a real dumbass about these things, but particularly because I’m an expert at being in denial about death and dying and pretty much everything else.

“Yeah,” she says, “it’s dead.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“I mean, I dunno—you think I should go over there and poke it or something, just to see?”

“Daniel, it’s dead.  I’m sure.”

“Fuckin sad…” I say.

“It is sad,” she says before trotting Juliet off around the ring again.

Circle of life, I guess.

The deal with the horse really is sad, too—I’m not just saying it.

Rear leg looked like the plow handle like I said it did because the old rigor had already set in and his leg was probably straight out like that when he died.

Poor bastard suffocated himself.

His body just rests there, slung low and halfway to the ground, neck wedged between a small gap between the gate and the barn’s rear wall—but the gap wasn’t small enough though, I guess.

Almost looks like he hung himself on purpose.

His front legs are all cocked out at an odd angle—splayed is the word—like that poor little bastard had himself a few choice second-thoughts once he’d totally committed himself to the whole deal.

Reminds me how once I heard about this guy in San Francisco who decided on performing some personal Harry Carey on himself.  He was one of those guys, I heard, who think jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge makes a whole lot of sense since it’s a real dramatic and flashy way to give the world one last fuck you before ending it all.

Going out with a bang they say—or a splat, as it were, in his case.

So of course, some everyday folks refer less than kindly to these types of individuals as assholes and what not. Such as when I’ve heard em say things like:

You hear about that asshole killed himself jumpin off that damn bridge?…  Serves him right! …I went down there and yelled at his dumb ass myself; told him to go on and do it, quit wasting my time and tax dollars, since you know those police men got theirselves better things to do than sit around and talk some dummy down off some bridge… Jee-minny Crickets!

I don’t typically condone any kind of talk like that about people I don’t know.  Don’t know what they are going home to.  Don’t know if they even got a home to go home to.

Maybe jumping in front of a train, or off a bridge, or drowning yourself in Jim Beam might just be a preferable alternative to a given set of circumstances—you just never can tell.

Well so anyway, this particular asshole—now I’m using their words, not mine—was just a kid, all of 19.  He went on some TV news program after he became one of the, like, two percent of all people who jump from the Golden Gate and then find themselves in the bay, and alive, having survived that 245-foot fall into the water—in which case I can imagine a certain few choice words one might say, the least of which, just personally speaking, would probably be, Holy shit!

But that’s just me digressingso this kid went on that TV news program and said he regretted making that jump as soon as his feet left the deck—that very goddamn second.  I believe he all of a sudden got religious cause the first thing he said to himself was God, save me.

I have a theory about this and it does end up relating to the dead horse—a stud colt, even—but I do tend to get a little long-winded at times.

People have talked a lot about suicide around me. I don’t particularly understand why someone’d do it, but they say it has to do with those particular people feeling completely out of control of their own lives, and so when they feel like they don’t have anything left they can control in their own lives, they feel like, well shit, at least I can control my contract with the world and my living in it—so to speak.

The problem with jumping off a bridge is that you have all the control in the world—that is until you have that four seconds of freefalling where the universe takes all that control back.

I wonder how many of that 98 percent who didn’t end up in the icy-cold water alive had changed their minds after clearing that whole point of no return?

And what’s the biggest difference here?  Between people and animals, that is to say, for me—I’m asking: what’s the difference?

Difference, I suppose, is that I feel bad for the damn horse, really what it all comes down to.  I said I don’t condone negatively speaking about people whose conditions I’m not fully privy to; but I never meant to indicate that I felt bad for them, necessarily.

But from everything I know- and I suppose is widely-accepted where horses are concerned- they don’t have all the higher order brain functioning necessary to just off themselves for strictly dramatic, or attention-seeking purposes.

I feel bad because that stud colt was probably just investigating something just a little bit more interesting on the other side of that gate, not entertaining the idea it’d be the death of him.

I guess people sort of do that too—grass is always greener, and so on.

But that sounds to me like a simple case of curiosity, and curiosity was supposed to kill the cat, not the horse.  So I guess what I’m saying at this point is is that it sounds like I’m just talking out both sides of my ass.

“Why’d you make me look at that?” I say to Suzanne finally.

“I didn’t make you.”

“Yes you did.  You said it was a horse, a dead one, right over there, like fifty feet in the shade.  How could I not look?”

“No one said you had to,” and with a shrug, Suzanne trots off on Juliet and I’m left standing there to consider the dead stud colt and why the hell I’m still looking at him.

Suzanne obviously just doesn’t get the whole curiosity thing—either that, or she does get it, and she knows what curiosity’s apt to do in situations like this—whether you’re a cat, or a horse or a…

…and so then maybe she just chooses to ignore all of that.

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