A bit to drink

January 8, 2012


We live in a world of distractions. I sometimes wonder how we manage to keep any sense of our own identity. Inundated by information. Something inside us protect us. Allows us to stand back and analyze. Or so we think. I was reading an article. That asked what happiness is. Apparently when people are watching a movie they’re enjoying, their critical mind is put to sleep. So who is watching the movie? Who is happy? Watch a group of people discussing something. When they’ve had a bit to drink.  That’s what this story is about. There is some sense of rationality. But it is immersed in chaos.

 

………………….

THE STATE OF THE WORLD

 

Gerald sat. Like he’d been set there. Like a caterpillar on that leaf. Chatting. With Alice. Or Gertrude. On the edge. Of the sidewalk. The planet is filled with weirdoes. No matter how you spell it. In front of the Canadiana Restaurant. Eat while you’re waving a flag. David leaned. Meaning beloved. Against one of the pillars holding up the roof that sheltered the sidewalk in front of the shops. Of the Six Points Plaza. Which was no plaza at all. There was a certain odd harmony about the two. David and Gerald. Not the plaza.

“Why’d we come out here?” David asked his feet reading the cement. Where someone had scrawled something anti-American. Calamity.

“I needed a smoke,” Gerald replied as he dug into his shirt pocket for a pack. Each poke throwing him slightly off balance. Too much beer. Too many thoughts. He took one of the cigarettes out of the package and then dug into his pocket again looking for matches. The American government would never suspect him. He was sure of that.

“Why do they make these pockets so small?” he asked, more to himself than to his friend. And looking deep into his pocket. Like it was a well. Dark down there.

“Why do athletes make so much money?” David added, looking up into the sky. Is this how the Greeks felt at Thermopoly?

Gerald found his matches and looked up at David. Christ, you’ve grown!

“How come you never took up smoking?” Gerald asked.

“What are you talking about?” David took out a package of gum and stuck a stick in his mouth. “I smoke. I’ve been smoking as long as you have.”

Gerald looked up at his friend. “You’re kidding me, right?”

David shook his head. Now for some fun.

Gerald shook his head. “I’m losing it. I could have sworn that you have never touched a cigarette. So why are you chewing gum now?”

“Because I’m trying to give up cigarettes. Just like you tried to give up cigarettes last week. I don’t want to get cancer. I saw a documentary. It was pretty depressing. You know, our bodies aren’t what we think they are. More fragile. Temporary. An arrangement established with no thought of continuance. Cancer is like the Tea Party. Or is it the other way around.”

The two friends said nothing for several moments. Gerald’s feet start turning. His hip began to move to some hidden impulse. Swing. And then gave up. And  stared out at the parking lot, the setting sun reflected off the car windows. Like the shields of the Israelites against the armies of their enemies. He smiled.

“Another of God’s mysteries,” he mused, smoke slipping out of his teeth and wiggling up past his eyes. He spit out some tobacco that had come out of the end of his cigarette. And stuck to the end of his tongue.

“Fuck, I hate filter cigarettes. When you take the filter off, the tobacco sticks to your tongue.”

“Why did you take the filter off?” David asked.

“Because they are a lie,” Gerard replied. “A broad plain of mendacity meant to keep us in the dark about the true ramifications of our choices in life.”

David rolled up the silver paper his gum had come in and flicked it out into the parking lot. And thought about what Gerald had just said. He could feel a migraine coming on.

“Do you ever feel guilty?” Gerald asked.

“For what?” David snapped his gum.

“For enjoying life? A cold beer? A good meal? A poke with the wife? Or someone in the same vicinity? A cigarette? For being so fucking comfortable?”

David snapped his gum again. And thought of his wife’s garter belt. That she’d worn for him on their wedding night.

“I get cavities.” David looked down at Gerald. How’d you get so short?

Gerald took a long drag on his cigarette. He could feel the smoke curling up in a ball in his lungs. Like a cat in your lap. So assured of its safety.

“The world is going to hell in a hand basket,” Gerald began, “and we’re out here having a blast. Seems sinful.”

David looked down at Gerald. “What’s a hand basket?” The image of a basket filled with hands passed through his mind.

“It’s an off road recreational vehicle,” Gerald responded. “What the hell do you think it is? Its an expression.”

“A hand basket is an expression?” David replied. He remembered the baptism of Michael, his first child, when the priest dipped his fingers in the chalice of water and dribbled water over Michael’s forehead. And Michael was screaming blue murder. Another expression.

“All this friggen materialism,” Gerald continued. “We’re like a plague on the planet. A cancer. Sucking the life out of our mother’s teat. Till it’s no use to anyone. And needs to be lopped off. With a cleaver. And who’s going to pay for it all? Some poor sucker on the edge of the Sahara who’s barely able to feed himself and his family.”

Gerald took a breath.

David smiled, surprisingly comforted by the word Sahara.

“Why did they call it the Sahara?”

Gerard looked up at David then looked out over the parking lot. As if he was seeing something. In the distance. Approaching them.

“The desert is growing,” Gerard said. “Deserts all over the planet are growing.”

“That can’t be good,” David responded.

Smoke filtered out of Gerald’s nose. “And the bees have stopped making honey. And those industrious little ants we read about when we were kids. They’ve stopped planning for a rainy day. Last weekend when I was cutting my mother’s lawn…”

“She still living in the old place? What is she, about 100?”

“92,” Gerald replied. “I noticed that there weren’t any grasshoppers. When I was a kid and cut the lawn there were grasshoppers jumping all over the place. You go in your backyard now and you can’t find any. And caterpillars. You hardly see any more monarch butterflies. We’ve destroyed all the milkweed.”

David spit out his gum. Onto the asphalt. He pushed himself away from the pillar and turned to Gerard.

“Let’s go back in and have another beer,” David said.

Gerald struggled to his feet and flicked the butt of his cigarette into the parking lot. It landed on David’s gum.

“I gotta quit smoking,” Gerard said. “I think its ruining my smile.”

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