Once Upon a Then
One day in 1999. Can’t tell weeks apart from one another at this point. I’m working the evening shift at the magazine store where I spend much of my time. I like this place when it’s empty; I’ve got time and space to myself, if only for a little while. No one’s coming through the door to inquire after the latest craft magazines; no housewives on the make for that all-important back issue of O or Martha Stewart’s Toilet Cozy Annual, and no one scrambling after a glossy fashion magazine to compare his or her strange life against.
Oops, I spoke too fast. Enter the grown man in search of Disneymania. An enormous, gasping escape pod of a man; holes in his shirt, rheumy eyes, preceded by the stale choking dust of bad body odor that makes me whip my head to one side the moment his poisonous cloud crosses my outer marker. Collectors. These sad, smelly bastards are my least favorite of our clientele; chatting eagerly about… magazines and paying for their Precious with rumpled, grimy bills as they brandish laminated (and probably forged) collector’s ID badges, demanding tax-exempt prices with all the authority of Serpico waving a badge. Hey, whatever gets you through the night, I guess?
In other news, I found my next job. I start Tuesday working for Gardner, Inc., a lawn care parts company. I’ll be on the receiving end of customer complaints. Placing orders, then jumping in and taking calls for eight bones an hour with my own desk, Internet access and e-mail and full benefits. This makes what, sixteen jobs in the last five years? And I biked to all of them. My blown sinuses are ticking like a Geiger counter. I’m off to consume as much hot tea as I can tolerate.
12AUG00 – Warm wet sandbag of depression suspended by an old hemp line creaks gently at the bottom of a dark well. It’s silent here. The air is heavy. The bag swings gently. No need to speak. No need for sound. Silence is accepted here. Somewhere far above me, the tops of trees are visible. The warm promise of sunlight flickers in the wind. Interaction seems pointless, heavy handed and rehearsed. Quit. Give up. Go on. They won. You’re just a story now.
I make a conscious decision to run toward a light in the distance, but it seems to diminish the closer I get to it. It’s like chasing a monkey up a tree; as you leave, the monkey gets his nerve back and climbs back down. But he’s got one eye trained on you. And if you turn around and come back, up into the tree he goes, always the same distance from you. An invisible, flexible pushrod exists between you and this fucking monkey. You have to give up your thoughts, ignore the monkey. Make the monkey forget all about you. Will the blind spot into being. Kick your way to the surface. Breathe deep. Fight this terrible feeling.
After we reach a certain age, our fears of the dark are supposed to vanish like car exhaust on a cold morning. For me, it happened when I was about 10. Suddenly, the night wasn’t really “the night” anymore and staying up late wasn’t such a big deal. Just a few years later, I realized I’d started partying with the same monsters that once lived under my bed. Staying ‘pure’ was out of the question.
Blink. Now I’m on a starship, moving through the universe. It’s like an open-air cruise liner. We pass slowly through a mockup of the Horsehead Nebula as though it were some roadside attraction meant for photo ops and postcards. They’re serving themed drinks. Some nice people are playing shuffleboard.