Stream of Consciousness #11
A truly free man wouldn’t travel the world or lounge around while he waited for his inevitable death. No, he would do something outlandish and shocking that would permanently ostracize himself from society. For example, a free man may find an abandoned kayak on the side of the river. He might use the kayak to transport himself to the nearest island located within the confines of the body of water, where he will begin his new life as a man of the outdoors. He will bring nothing with him except for a drawstring bag that holds random objects he grabbed from his own home before leaving that life behind for good and a single copy of Robinson Crusoe, where he will emulate Defoe’s damned yet resourceful main character as he constructs a new world for himself, both physically and spiritually. If the way of the wilderness is not for the free man, then perhaps he will walk an alternate path, purchasing two obnoxiously large bluetooth speakers from the internet and finding the nearest abandoned warehouse to throw himself an underground paint rave. He will do no digital advertising for this paint rave, as he would rather be flayed alive than be held with the same regard as a “social media marketer”. Instead, people will find their way to this musty warehouse by word of mouth and shoddily made flyers, which are nothing more than cursive writing in crayon on construction paper that he stole from the Staples at 8:30 AM last Wednesday morning because the only guy working at the time was wolfing down a sprinkle donut in the print shop area. It does not matter what the free man chooses to do, because one day he will find himself on the run, or even worse, locked up, for doing what no one else dared to do. Some may call this mental illness, others may say this is simply the course of nature for a barbarian spirit. Whatever the case may be, no soul can make the argument that the free man wasn’t truly free; why else would the authorities attempt to put him in chains and make an example out of him?
Nine thousand, three-hundred and fifty-six days.
There is no need to explain myself. Savvy readers will whip out their handy TI-84 calculators that have been collecting dust since high school pre-calculus and run the numbers to determine the significance of the arbitrary number that has been chosen to begin this stream of consciousness. They will read between the lines, drawing their own conclusions about my current state of being and motivations for writing those four numbers and one comma.
My brain is hanging upside down. Sanity checks no longer serve me well as I once again stumble down a never-ending rabbit hole of a suffocating amount of information readily available at the tips of my calloused fingertips. One moment I find myself listening to the EAS alert sound, reminiscing on the days when that bone-chilling, shiver inducing tone would cut in between incontinence advertisements on the classic rock radio station that was playing in my father’s black Chevy Silverado. This doomed search only leads me further down the dark path, as I have moved on to nuclear warfare simulations. There is something oddly calming about watching your own theoretical demise on a screen from the comforts of your own home. I light a candle, brew a cup of tea, and question my sexuality. Next on my list of pointless research on this random Tuesday night is the infamous National Weather Service bulletin for Hurricane Katrina, which was written in a dire and descriptive nature that any humble wordsmith can take inspiration from.
Meanwhile, on the other side of my phone screen, she is sending me funny Tik Toks, blissfully unaware of my contemplative mood. I’m considering the consequences of accepting my own mortality, and she is asking me if I think her cats have an internal monologue. I tell her to delete that godforsaken app because it is eating her insides like a Lovecraftian parasite, but she just giggles at me and calls me a boomer (to which I will not disagree). Sweat is pouring down my forehead as I am trapped in an endless series of checkpoints within my own timeline, skiing down the perpetual mountain of time, gliding through the gates in the slalom of life. Will I be a gold medalist? Or will they be scraping my limb body off the frozen slope because I mistimed a jump?
9,346 days. Ten days prior. 1700 hours. The glimmering vocals of Lana Del Rey fill the silence as I sip on a watermelon High Noon while finishing up my current piece. The nicotine is making me jittery and dizzy, but I now hold myself to a high standard. Working, playing, pondering, thinking, hoping, dreaming, and resting are all smushed together at this point, and boundaries between moods no longer exist. I’m typing away and putting the finishing touches on the next stream of consciousness while I’m waiting for her to arrive. Black t-shirt, black chinos, and white sneakers, with a green bomber to tie it all together – more basic than an alkaline solution, but I have lost the ability to care. The piece I wrote earlier about operating in suboptimal conditions was a note to oneself; there is never an inopportune time to finish what has been started, including during the pregame; it is the mental equivalent of hill sprints in the sweltering, midday heat. So here I am, operating in what I would consider suboptimal conditions, searching for the perfect way to end my essay. The moments of inspiration seem to always arrive when you need them most, like the weatherman who would go on to make a name for himself when he channeled the words of God and penned a masterpiece on the eve of impending destruction. Over the next twenty minutes, 800 words go from mind to matter as I fictionalize a recent conversation had with a colleague, which so happened to tie in perfectly with the subject matter of the essay.
My phone buzzes and I head downstairs to let her up. She’s wearing a white shirt, baggy, denim-washed jeans, squeaky clean Air Force Ones – more basic than an alkaline solution, but I have lost the ability to care. Besides, something about her appearance that evening made me tune out while she was rambling on about her day at work. The truth is that I do not give a shit about her job because I give a shit about her. The moment you are able to pierce the veil of mundaneness and evaluate the true mark of one’s character is the moment you realize you might have found a real friend or lover. Her participation in mercantilism is making me doze off like a hungover freshman in biochemistry lecture, but the lust for life I see in her soul is keeping me interested in the arc of her character. We finish up our pregame drinks and head out for the night.
As we walk, my mind wanders to checkpoints of years past - timestamps, for lack of better or more clever term. 2,986 days. Mrs. Bennett has just summoned twenty-five manic elementary schoolers from their daily session of fresh air, still riding the highs of the sugar from the Capri Sun juice boxes and adrenaline from a kickball home run. We stampede into the dull gray halls of the building and are quickly reminded that the hour of debauchery has reached its conclusion, and it is now time to turn on our inside voices and cede our wildly divided attention spans to our fearless leader. She instructs us to pull out our writing notebooks; I know exactly what she is referring to, and I reach inside the neatly organized drawer of my desk and set a wide-ruled, yellow spiral bound notebook on the ceramic surface. My mind begins to drift to a far-away, mythical and magical place as we are given thirty minutes to write about whatever we want. There are no limitations to what an eight-year-old can imagine in the span of a class period; the only things holding me back were my meager (yet ever-growing) vocabulary.
We arrive at our first location, and I am disappointed (but not surprised) to see that the lights are still on (I have been to this spot multiple times now around this hour, and for some reason I believe that one day I will show up and the casual tacos and tequila joint will be transformed into a greasy nightclub, but I am not one to question the owner’s vision). The hostess and I both agree that a corner booth will suffice, along with an order of queso, a Paloma, and a tequila soda. The atmosphere tends towards one of introspection and cross-examination of stories of upbringings, and soon we are sharing aerial maps of hometown lakes and local pubs. I can’t help but notice that talking to her is like talking to a mirror (albeit a distorted one from a haunted house); the similarities in our social commentary and Americana roots is one I cannot ignore. She pulls out her astrology app and attempts to explain it to me; I make a mental note to do further research myself. Inside, a wide variety of crews, groups, and lovers are enjoying the indie rock playlist and fast-casual appetizers. We wrap up, I hit the restroom, and then head out to our next destination.
The cool spring night reminds me more of one we might experience in the fall, and this annoys me. The spring is supposed to be a season of growth and blossoming, ushering out the death and destruction that the bitter Northern winters bring, and ushering in the warmth and pastel-laden clothing and decorations. My mind once again wanders to another timestamp, this one occurring when life was much simpler. 6,348 days. I sit in front of a retro desktop computer, tower and all, vigorously pounding away at that dusty keyboard in the first row of newspaper class. I had been assigned the opinion page that month, and naturally, my punk attitude wanted to write a hit piece, poking fun at various pop culture events, disturbing modern trends, and ridiculous school policies, all in one prediction-style article, aimed at drawing the eyeballs of all our loyal readers. No one else except for me and my friend (who so happened to be on the same opinion page as me that month) wrote with the verve and bravado that past newspaper journalists possessed on a monthly basis. It was no secret that we both did our very best to emulate our idols of the past, no matter which page we were assigned to for a certain edition, from sports to news and everything in between. Years later, I read my old articles and can’t help but laugh; the same voice was there all along, cutting through the deafening silence with a certain tone, sarcasm, and general oddity that somehow works, despite all conventional writing wisdom saying it shouldn’t (who cares about conventional writing wisdom anyway – if you are reading this and want to write something yourself, don’t ask yourself what you should write about, but why you are writing in the first place. Is it for a theoretical audience? If so, take a lap, douse your crackling skin in cold tap water, shotgun a Red Bull, lay face up on your carpet with a blanket over your face, go to the nearest library, and sit in silence until you come up with a REAL reason to write.)
The night seems to be getting brisker and darker despite the sun having set a little over two hours ago. We approach this prominent, new-school bar that has been all the rage for quite some time now. I suggest if we should check it out, she concurs, and we dip across the busy street and head for the entrance. The bouncer not only studies my identification like a hawk, but he also asks me to lift up my untucked t-shirt, checking for a non-existent weapon that may or may not be tucked into my chinos. A bit unnerved, I stroll in behind my acquaintance and begin to take in the bizarre, deathly atmosphere that is this cool kid locale. The place is one giant room, wide and shallow, with a strange half-lit cafeteria area to our left, a crowded bar area in the middle, and a plethora of high-rise tables to the right. There is a half-connected dividing wall in the middle that is making it a real pain in the ass to nudge our way to the counter for a drink. We were not there long, but every passing moment felt like a fever dream. Not once did I sense that her and I were in the right place; it started to sink in after I handed the bartender a crisp twenty and ten for two mid-tier seltzers. As soon as the tabs were popped and head nods were exchanged, I wanted nothing to do with the central area of that place, so we headed to the fringe (fitting, because we were fringe contenders at this urban Hellscape – at best). Social commentary is not my strong suit, and I shy away from construing long passages of prose dedicated to analyzing the trajectory of our culture, but in this instance, I cannot help myself. Everyone looks irritated, annoyed, and loathsome, as if attendance at this bar is required, and the teacher is professing points for every Friday night skipped. People are overdressed, and in the worst way possible. The facial expressions match the energy to a tee, and it feels as if we are the sane ones, and everyone else has ventured to the point of no return in regard to mental health. We ended up hanging out near a group of tables that were decorated for what appeared to be a now-deceased birthday celebration. I cannot think of a worse place to honor yet another miserable lap around the dimming star known as the sun. The birthday party screamed digital marketing manager (no offense). This bar was the place where upper-middle class yuppies started frequenting when they added the word “senior” to the front of their analyst title. Corporate overlords had increased the bimonthly allowance, and now flexing became a means to an end. Ironically, the best part of the experience is the steady stream of 2000s throwbacks, but no one is batting an eye. They are all too busy plotting their next move, but they cannot escape, as they are trapped in the tar pits that line the floor, slowly sinking into the abyss of fitting in. Luckily, her and I know these parts of the jungle well, and we are able to slip out after a quick pit stop.
As the hallucinations from the previous spot begin to wear off as we trudge across the street to the next stop, my mind continues to wander back in time, this time to my most recent adventure in crafting sentences and paragraphs. 8,562 days. Approximately 8:15 AM, Eastern Standard Time. My work laptop has been turned on, the VPN has been connected, but I am nowhere close to my inbox. There is more important work to be done, and once the drip coffee is poured, I am balls deep in my daily research for the upcoming Euroleague Basketball slate. Hundreds (possibly even thousands, as I truly have no idea what my reach was at the height of my tipster fame) are relying on me for their usual fix of variance, and I have taken my second job serious to the point that I am now doing full write-ups to accompany my picks that I will eventually post to the Sports Betting page on Reddit. My boss hasn’t shown up yet, and I know he won’t stroll in until closer to the top of the hour, giving me plenty of time to duck into the shadows and gamble on company time. A few months ago, I was posting my betting picks online for accountability, having no intention of creating an “audience” of loyal degenerates, who blindly tailed my spreadsheet model’s picks, no matter what their gut or other, more experienced tipsters told them to do. To them, I was part prodigy, part common man, and part hero. Looking back, it was a surreal few months. I had created a model (perhaps out of blind luck) that was massacring the bookies, returning well over 20% and picking winners against the spread at around 60%, which is a hall of fame level of accuracy. There were multiple days were all 4 or 5 of my picks won (a clean sweep, as many people would call it), and followers would show me their winning bet slips, thanking me for giving them the information that would allow them to cover their bar tab that weekend or buy their lady something special. To the outside observer, I was a typical cube monkey, passing the time at an entry level job by gambling on mid-afternoon sporting events, which is nothing more than a way to cope with the meaningless rut that I found myself in post-graduation (which I do not disagree with). But once you peeled back the layers of the onion and got to the core, you found something special.
Last bar. We are strolling through the same parking lot and heading to the same dive bar that I wrote about months ago – the one where the passionate yet passionless female and I shared a few drinks and conversed about what we truly enjoyed in life. The fading neon signs in the windows and clique of nicotine enjoyers huddled around that white bucket outside remind me of a place I should be, especially juxtaposed with our most recent adventure. This is a place where cement barriers get toppled and torn down by brave souls; where cultures and backgrounds come together in the proverbial salad bowl; and where the same drink I ordered just thirty minutes ago tastes one thousand times better, just because it is served by a drug addict in a beanie. The temptation to put a few songs in the queue on the TouchTunes machine has bested me, and it is a $12 well spent. The vibe is impeccable, and no dopamine hit is greater than when you hear your choice of music come on the speakers. Everywhere you look, the sights, sounds, and smells carry an unmistakable, musty smell. Even the bathrooms have their own unique touch; the walls are lined torn-out pages from vintage Playboy magazines. Walking home, she was a beautiful nightmare, playing Mason Ramsey out loud on her phone and pestering me to cross the street unattended. We strolled past the steak house near my digs, and she asked me why it wasn’t open at 1:30 AM. Honestly, that is a million-dollar question, to which I have no clever answer.
The Eastern sun crests the horizon as day 9,357 introduces itself to the rest of the world. A few blocks from my place, we are enjoying a greasy breakfast at a diner that reminds me of the hole in the wall from my hometown, where hungry churchgoers and idling old men wait for a rare table to open up on a bustling Saturday morning. Yet another idea for a future essay brute forces its way into my stream of consciousness, waiting to be regurgitated at a future date like a house cat’s fur ball. The waiter strolls by to refill the empty, blue striped coffee mug sitting to the left of my half-eaten plate of eggs and hash browns (splattered with a hefty few dashes of Tabasco), and in the black abyss of the steaming liquid, I see the timestamps of other people. On day 6,741, my good friend tears his ACL, prematurely ending his senior baseball season and all but derails his hopes of making it to the big leagues (this is not a fairy tale sob story; he had a legitimate shot at going pro before he blew out his knee. In fact, that same injury is still causing residual pain and soreness to this day, and likely caused future unrelated injuries due to muscular imbalances brought upon from prolonged periods of atrophy. The human body is resilient, but also prone to asymmetric deterioration. But I digress). On day 7,792, my ex-girlfriend blames me for almost getting her kicked out of her sorority, and tells me to “never fucking talk to her again.” On day 15,828, a family friend is given a delayed sentencing to death when he is diagnosed with multiple myeloma (he is still kicking it today, well past the dreaded five year mark, where survival rates drop below 50%). Yes, while zoning out in that black pool of liquid, I have come to realize that we all have certain timestamps that have shaped the course of our ships, with the previous route so far gone and the ship so far off course that any return to the original voyage is impossible. So I ask myself the question, why aren’t we telling our own stories?
There is no question that a slew of both blackpills and whitepills are simultaneously swirling around the world. The blackpill is that the vast majority of humans are what the internet has deemed “non-playable characters’, (or normies, which is becoming the most overused word on G/money/hustla Twitter. The reality is that unless you are living in a tent in Mongolia or locked up in a mental illness facility, you are in fact a normie). These NPCs have no interesting stories to tell. Their timestamps are largely unnoticeable and their passports through time are unstamped. Some might even believe that they will never amount to nothing, both in the world of business success and family legacy. Statistically speaking, the pseudo-neo-philosophers that are speaking these words are likely to be correct in their assessment in the current state of the world. And while they may be correct on paper, spiritually, they are impoverished and corrupt, with only the grace of God left to redeem their deteriorating souls.
Because the blackpill is too easy to swallow, and there is little to no upside in ingesting such a vile and nihilistic substance. We can choose to acknowledge its existence, pick it up between our thumb and pointer finger, and imagine what it might taste like to wash it down with a swig of cold water, but under no circumstances should we ever take the easy way out. Instead, we choose to medicate and cope with the whitepill, which says that those alleged NPCs are not boring and do have interesting stories to tell. Their storybooks are just stowed away, slowly being eaten by dust and mites and bacteria and time. We need to blow off the dust, re-crease the title page, and add new pages and timestamps. If nothing else, we need to re-read our own storybooks and remind ourselves what has been written. The poor souls stuck in the sinking pits of the yuppie new bar have an out. There is still time to make oneself flat, grab the sturdy tree branch, and escape the pit that is swallowing us whole.
Saturday morning hangovers have never felt better. The sun is shining on that glorious late morning as we stroll around the block for a leisurely walk. The grass in the nearby baseball stadium is freshly mown and ready for opening day. In just a few weeks, the local team will be reconvening for another season in hopes of making a championship run. It is a minor league team, and no one in the town (save for a few strange hardcore fans) care about the win-loss column; the only allure the weeknight games brings to prospective fans these days is cheap tickets, dollar hot dogs, and craft beer on tap. They have no idea what is at stake in between those white lines. Every night, those minor leaguers lace up their metal spikes, smother their bats in pine tar, and step into the box with hopes of succeeding enough times that eventually will lead to their one big chance – the majors. Most will fall short of reaching the Show, endlessly grinding in the shadows, sometimes for over a decade, living off a minimum wage salary and sleepless nights, only to wake up one day and realize the dream is over. But not once has that stopped a hopeful young stud in his tracks – at least not for the first few years. Because in a past life, those struggling minor leaguers were once the best players on the field, whether it was their high school, college, or rookie league days. The talented but raw left fielder who is barely scraping by was once hitting home runs left and right, all while doing so with little effort exerted, showing up hungover to club ball games and hitting two doubles and a triple while puking in the dugout trashcan in between innings. He was once banging out short stories, school newspaper columns, and Reddit posts with ease, not thinking twice about it because it was second nature. Now he is eating clean, taking care of his body, focusing his energy towards a single goal, and still has an uphill battle to making an honest living for himself doing the thing he loves most. Now, he is playing for something real. It is a beautifully tragic life circumstance, and I weep for the minor leaguers who will never make it big. So when she asks me what I am going to write about next, I tell her that the answer to that question is simple – it does not matter. Just like the left-fielder who does not care what his next hit will be – it could be a grand slam or an infield single for all he cares – I too do not care what my next piece will be about. The only thing that matters to me is the chance to step into the proverbial batter’s box once more, dig my back foot in, stare down the pitcher of life who is standing on the mound, and give myself a fighting chance to put one in play.
“Just to hit the ball an' touch 'em all a moment in the sun
It's-a gone and you can tell that one goodbye”
-From the song “Centerfield” by John Fogerty
7:00 PM sharp, you throw the orange pill above your head into the air, tilt your head back, effortlessly catch it in your mouth (with the help of your tongue), and wash it all down with a room temperature Busch Light. The next few hours will feel like a walk in the park, with time simultaneously slowed down and sped up; the conversations will already be mapped out 30 minutes before they even occur in the real world, yet the deterioration into stupor will be halted to a point where alcohol no longer tastes like alcohol. In a few hours, your junkie buddy who is in town for the weekend will invite himself upstairs into your room, where you and him will share the enjoyment of a bag of white powder dumped on your desk, chopped up into consumable lines with the help of a casino loyalty card. 9:30 PM. A dozen geological epochs have passed you by with the blink of a twitchy left eye. You don’t even like the way it makes you feel; the feeling is good of course, but it is nothing special. Rather, the way it makes you think is the most intoxicating part of rolling up the dollar bill and covering one nostril while you inhale sharply. It is the perfect combination of paranoia, cockiness, laser focus, and euphoria that keeps you coming back for more, despite your intention to swear it off for good after your junkie buddy made you pick it up from the slums one night. You’ll never forget walking into a house that should have had an eviction sign on the front door and seeing 20 white guys crammed into a piss-stained, moldy living room watching the second half of a random NBA game in late November. You had to piss like a racehorse, so you politely asked your host (and the dealer) where the bathroom was located. Down the hall to the left, he said, and he added that the toilet was broken, and to just relieve yourself in the shower, and let the hot water run for a few seconds after you had finished to rinse it down the drain. Yes, that one short walk through a living and breathing manifestation of Hell on earth was enough to force yourself to quit cold turkey. Yet fast forward a few months, and here you are, 2.5 hours into the night, skiing down the slopes once again because it was all too convenient. Your younger brother is just hanging out and watching in the corner because you told him you would kill him yourself if you saw him doing his own lines. Weed only. Your buddy’s friend was nice enough to share his joint with him, so you felt at ease (as much as you possibly could). The rest of the night was pre-programmed from the minute you first step foot in your bedroom for the initial high. Every thirty minutes or so, you would sneak away to your private cavern to replenish yourself. In between, a variety of predictable events would occur; involvement in drinking games, flirting, pissing, and a whole slew of those mapped out conversations. Before you know it, the time will read 5:30 AM, and you will be wide awake sitting on your back porch in an Adirondack chair, ashing a cigarette on the ground, counting the number of visible craters on the light side of the moon. Your buddy will stumble outside and ask you if he can borrow your PS4 for the night so he can play Rocket League. Of course you are going to say yes. It has nearly been 12 hours, and so much has occurred that in reality, nothing has occurred. In a few hours, the sun will rise, and your head will fall seamlessly against the cool, cozy pillow, like the glistening waters of a waterfall splattering on the smooth rock a few hundred feet below. You will wake up in the early afternoon with a hangover unlike any other, one that will cause your mind to wander to the darkest of places, places that involve sturdy ceiling beams and bed sheets that won’t rip when placed under extreme tension. In a week or so, you will do it all again.
Not a drug guy