The shadow of things that seemed important
November 1, 2012
When I was young I was always amused by the old guys in bars. Drinking and ranting about things that no one understood. Perhaps at one time they were dime store philosophers but alcohol had scrambled their logic abilities but not their appetite for beer and argument. And then I reached that place myself. Discussing the same things that had been discussed decades earlier. There was never any resolution. Only the shadow of things that seemed important.
Gerald sat carefully down. Spilt in the middle of the parking lot. A glass of beer in his hand. He looked back at the stores. Lined up like criminals. Wanted in Japan. So lonely in their emptiness. Thoughts of apples rotting in the compost. Thoughts of the last of the great plazas in the city. Replaced by malls built by Vandals. Fake villages of enterprise. Children painted with different colours of lipstick. Cars parked like patients in the EMERG. Waiting obediently for their prognosis. Some of them sporting clever bumper stickers. Others declaring their affection for the Supreme Being. And still others wearing faded messages long forgotten. Some of them might have been written by Irving Berlin.
“Careful,” he said.
David stood over him. Waving back and forth like a flag. The one with the stars. Handed his beer down to Gerald. Who set it down. Beside his own. Then David struggled to set himself down on the pavement. First kneeling. Then sitting. He picked up his beer and took a swallow. He looked around at the parked cars, the large apartments in the distance, the planes climbing the stairs behind him.
“So, this is life. I’ve known friends who came here. Sent postcards. Back. But I never really believed it existed.” David took a drink. Beer was flat. Tasted like piss. If he knew what piss tasted like.
“You don’t get it?” Gerald wanted to ask something else. But got detoured. By the postcards. Ideas dressed like harlots.
David looked around again.
“It’s flat,” he said. “Like the prairies. Except there’s no wheat. What happened to the wheat?”
“Man.” Gerald shook his head. He pointed to everything around him. “This is what we’re leaving to posterity.”
David looked at Gerald. He shook his head.
“Posterity. No body likes a woman with round shoulders.”
“Posterity? You dragged me out here in the middle of the night into the middle of the parking lot, huddled between these cars, to talk about posterity?”
“I lost a woman in a bake shop. Thought we were in love. But she preferred the cup cakes. Isn’t everything so obvious? No tricks. Nothing very mysterious.”
David looked around. He looked at Gerald and smiled.
“Of course it is. If you look at it in the right way, there is no sky. There is no up. All these bad habits that we have inherited from the Bible. And all those other narrow books. Do you think that if there had been paperbacks in Moses’ day, the ten commandments would have been written in sand?”
Gerald smiled, satisfied. But he was wrong.
The smile on David’s face was replaced by impatience.
“What am I supposed to see?”
Gerald took a swallow of his beer.
“Like chocolate cake. Sweet to the eyes. Everywhere you go. Miles of miles. Beds of asphalt. A plague. Some virus spread on the Springer show. A kind of bomb. Blew up. Calling itself civilization. But destroyed just the same. We have fucked ourselves.”
Gerard raised his glass. And drank.
“Hell, I’ll drink to anything.” David raised his glass and finishing it.
Gerald slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. Fortunately he had put his glass of beer down on the asphalt previous to his performance.
“Nothing left. No mules. No goats in the butcher shop. No beasts in the wild. No llamas on the tennis court. A big black flatness. Acres and acres of parking lots. Driveways. Highways. Basketball courts. Tar and nicotine. Rots your teeth. And your sense of perspective.”
“Basketball courts?” David looked puzzled. He didn’t like the feel of thinking outside the bar.
Gerald glared at David.
“The point is that all that will be left on the planet are the ruins of our society. Like those cities high in the mountains of Peru. We’ll just be one big fucking mystery. Like a cue ball. The whole planet.”
“Mystery to who? You said that there’d be nothing left.”
“I think you’re purposely trying to undermine my point,” Gerald said.
“If we’re going to be a mystery,” David said, “we have to be a mystery to someone. The sound of a tree falling in…”
“Okay,” Gerald conceded. “For the purposes of this argument we would be a mystery to the aliens.”
“You didn’t mention aliens,” David said.
“I didn’t.” Gerald said. “Aliens will land in space ships and won’t find anyone home.”
David shook his head. Thought for a moment then smiled.
“Well, at least they’ll have some place to land.”
Gerald glared at David for several moments.
“You don’t appreciate me,” Gerald said.
“Are you going to finish your beer?” David asked glancing sideways at his empty glass.
“I’ve been trying to raise your consciousness.” Gerald gestured with his hands. Which he normally never did. It was the alcohol talking. “She was fat. But I loved that girl. With her stubby fat fingers in the frosting.”
Gerald finished his beer. Stood up. Could not. Fell back down. Then proceeded on all fours. Crawled towards a car parked close by. Pulled himself to his feet. David had watched all this and began to laugh.
Gerald wiped his mouth with a windshield wiper. Leaned against the car.
David tried to climb to his feet. Just as unsuccessful as his friend.
“If those aliens landed,” Gerald said, “we’d be quite an example of humankind.”
Gerald staggered over to David to help him up. The two men leaned against each other.
“Real ambassadors.” David laughed as the two friends staggered arm in arm back into the bar.