The Beginnings of a Hotdog Party — an abandoned story worth revisiting?

sad

Burt had been depressed for weeks before he decided it was time to buy a luxury condo and throw a party. The idea came to him after a botched purchase of Amazon recommended self-help books proved to be a fruitless exercise to make “meaningful friendships” because he hadn’t the time to read them. To Burt, though he had soaked up all the information provided on the their back covers, he still couldn’t enact any of the advice provided. He still smiled at the wrong times, looked concerned when he should have joked, and joked when he should have looked concerned. Burt, as per usual, embarraseed himself around his work superiors, emasculated himself around the bros at the bar, and alienated a quarter of Seattle’s female Tinder population, all in a matter of weeks. He gave every book 1-star and a scathing review.

His motivation, like his heart, had been crushed. It was May. Summer, fast approaching and Burt felt as alone as ever. The late snowstorms didn’t help. He watched the daffodils bloom in March and freeze in April. The frozen spring showers kept his spirits damp. It wasn’t until Jon C., his spiritual advisor and self titled “tech recruiting guru” brought up the idea that a change in kitchen counter tops could do a world of good for Burt.

“Have you seen the granite counter tops going into these places?” He asked Burt, referring to the plethora of high-rise condominiums sprouting weekly in the city.

“Yes, the granite counter tops,” Burt said in the same uneasy tone he always uses when he answers in the affirmative about things he doesn’t know about.

Jon C. flickered his eyelids to control his disappointment and sighed.

“Burt we’ve talked about this bad habit of yours.”

“I’m sorry, it’s hard to admit when I don’t know something.”

“I’m talking about your surroundings, Burt.”

Burt looked confused. He hadn’t recalled Jon asking him about his surroundings.

“Burt, I’ve been telling you to look at the condos. I’ve been telling you to look at construction sites to internalize the visual metaphor into your own life — to build yourself up like a big expensive luxury temple.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t remember,” Burt said, anxiously.

Jon C. closed his eyes again, uncapped a tiny brown bottle of essential oil and took a deep whiff and exhaled slowly. Burt bobbed his head in support. Jon C. slowly opened his eyes, as if he were reborn and continued.

“Are you listening in the evenings like I’ve told you?” Jon C. said.

“I do, but I’ve been going to bed late.”

Burt, I’m asking you a yes or no question.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, no you haven’t, because if you had, you would have been getting my messages.”

“You mean, on the dreamscape?”

“IN the dreamscape, Burt, IN it,” Jon C. wiped his lips with his fingers. “The dreamscape isn’t a platform, it’s an unconscious superhighway we all tread on between our waking hours.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about this…”

“Burt, I’m talking right now.”

Burt blinked and sealed his mouth.

“These meetings only get us so far, and you know that my best work comes right before bed. I have to be ready for them when they come. When was the last time you received a transmission from me?”

“Umm…”

“Jesus, Burt.”

“I’m not too sure.” Burt felt sheepish for failing his spiritual guide.

Jon C. unwound his legs from his kneeling office chair and walked to one of the ten electro-glass orbs scattered around his office. He pressed his pointer finger to the glass and watched the current strike it. He slid his finger across the orb and the blue snake of energy followed. He smiled. Jon took his finger off of the glass ball and walked to his bookcase. He reviewed his library of new age prophecies, tarot card decks, and the long column of Ayn Rand paperbacks categorized by duplicate and triplicate. “She was so right on.” He whispered to himself. Swiftly, he turned to reengage with Burt.

“Burt, your new condominium needs three things: granite counter tops, a hot tub and Cards Against Humanity.”

“Cards against Humanity?” Burt said.

“Yes, it’s a game where you can be racist, sexist and all the other ists and get away with it because you’re just matching unrelated phrases on two different cards. The most shocking combination wins! It’s risk-free and makes people like you and me feel safe and empowered.”

“Okay,” Burt said, not sure what he and Jon C. had in common besides their beards.

“Do you know what else makes people feel safe and empowered?”

“What?”

“Hot dogs.”

“Really?”

“No, but buy the condo and throw a housewarming party and all your problems will be solved.”

 

 

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The Neighbor

hallway (1)

I was on a call, in front of my apartment building, telling a friend I couldn’t make it to trivia night because I had to get more work finished on my dissertation. He asked, “When’s that going to be finished–it’s taking forever.” “Soon,” I said. I saw a guy fumbling with a couple boxes enter into my building. I quickly ended the call and chased down the door before it closed.

The first time I met my neighbor was in the elevator. He cradled a box of papers in his arms and looked at the elevator’s floor buttons like they were about to tell him something interesting. There was another box at his feet with an Irish drum and a ukulele in it. I said, “Hi.” I said, “Nice bodhran. Nice ukulele.” He said, “Yeah.” That was the extent of it. We got out on the same floor, walked to the two doors closest to the elevator, and acknowledged that we were neighbors without acknowledging each other.

The next week, I saw a strange man get out of a green hatchback parked in front of the apartment building. His small, tasseled, black leather coat awkwardly hugged his soft body like an ex-girlfriend. He wore a newsboy cap, oval glasses, and fucking bike shoes cloaked by a pair of baggy boot-cut jeans. He turned, looked at me and either smirked or sneered, I couldn’t be sure. His beady eyes followed me as I passed. I felt that he was as judgmental as me. What a dick.

A couple weeks went by without seeing my neighbor. I forgot about him. His little coat, his newsy, and his wire rimmed glasses faded from my memory. But then he returned. It was hard to tell if it was him at first sight because it was nighttime and he had a head lamp on. He was by the front door, standing over his road bike, plunging his spandex-wrapped cheeks between its top tube. He was fiddling with his phone. I approached. He didn’t look up. I held the door for him and waited. After a moment he looked up, and then shewed me. Shewed me with a flapping hand. Shewed me and then smirked or sneered. I stood my ground, held the door, and he looked up again, raising his hands like he didn’t understand. I said, “Oh, I didn’t hear you say anything and thought you were swatting at something.” He said, “As if,” and looked back down at his phone. “As if.”

At 6am the next morning the knocking came. It started as a soft tap on my bedroom wall. It had a rhythm: boomp, boomp, boomp. But then it grew louder and faster, and then there was a soft whimper followed by a loud growl. A sex growl that was so vulgar and tactless, I felt less annoyed by being woken up by my neighbor having sex than sorry for his partner. But after his egregious sexual release, I heard her giggle, giggle like it was cute. Cute sex growls. I looked over at my girlfriend and she was staring at the ceiling. That growl will be seared into her mind all week, maybe longer even. The growling continued, every morning, the loud animal-like interjection soaking through our bedroom wall.

Things were going too far. The boomps and the growls and the annoying howls from his two miniature long-haired terriers began to wear on me. I couldn’t write in the morning any longer, I couldn’t read at night over the irregular strumming on his ukulele. I prayed for peace and quiet, for evenings in silence and mornings filled only with the sound of chirping birds and the whoosh from the local bus driving past. But things continued to get weird, and the frequency of our meetings increased.

The following week, I went on a walk to clear my mind and who was it coming toward me in full gallop but my neighbor, wearing an olive-green, wrestling onesie and a red, white and blue terry cloth headband. His pectoral flaps oozed through the straps of his ill-fitting suit, and I could tell the depth of his bellybutton from 50 feet away. Half inch. He and his girlfriend drew nearer, and I could hear him giving her running advice about proper running form. “Make your spine an oar.” “Envision that your feet are rocks wrapped in pillows.” “Don’t look at me, look straight, past the finish line, to your goal,” he said, all in the span of thirty-feet. They passed, and he gave me a nod.

It was at this moment, just after his incoherent mansplaining, that I realized that this psychopath is happier than me. In fact, way happier than me.

The reckoning came yesterday. It was a long day at work. My hands were swollen from swinging a hammer all day. The elevator opened and he was standing outside his apartment door in a blue kimono, both his dogs tied around his leg, with a bowl of cereal in his hand. He slurped a thimble of milk from his spoon and looked up at me. His dogs began to circle and bark. I’m sure the expression on my face asked the question that he immediately answered. “My dogs need a break from the apartment,” he said. “But this is the time of day where I don’t allow myself to put any effort into anything, so I can’t walk them.”

“I wish I hadn’t put any effort into anything today,” I said.

He nodded in agreement and pulled the lapels of his kimono a bit tighter to hide his chest hair.

“I have a regiment,” he said. “Sex daily, coffee daily, work M through Fri, lunch at 1pm, run every other day, bike to work three times a week, ukulele every night to settle my existential disquiet. All great, but it’s the hour after work, the block of my dia” (why he said day in Spanish, I have no idea) “where I don’t allow myself to put any effort into anything, when I feel the most special.” His face made that pained crease again; his smirk or sneer, I realized, was a signal of his hope that you understand what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. “Shit man, I must be boring you though,” he said.

“No, not really,” I said, in a state of confusion and pre-hilarity. “I’ve noticed that you take your regiment seriously.”

“You mean the kimono? Yeah, I’ve got a costume for every phase, changing into the right uniform for the job,” he said. “Helps me complete the task.”

His little greasy dogs stared at me, tremoring in place.

“Well…” I said, taking a step towards my door.

“What’s your best part of the day?” He said.

“Eating.”

“Besides eating,” he said. “Carnal desires are dope, but I’m talking about that human shit.”

“Human shit,” I repeated. “Okay, writing.”

“I knew it. I knew the construction thing was a front.”

“…”

“I mean, you’re not a football fan, I can see it, so you start tracing it all back, and nothing makes sense, man. You ever trace it all back while you swing that hammer, but none of it makes sense?”

His lips turned into the letter ‘o’ and he stood assertively still like he just dropped an existential A-bomb in our hallway.

“Yeah, well choosing the path of least resistance can keep the pedals moving, but a bicycle can’t get you over an ocean,” I said.

“BOOM!” He said and opened his fist, palm to the floor, to imitate a mic-drop.

“Keep doing you, man.”

“You too.”

I turned into my door.

“I forgot to mention,” he said, “that we play Settlers of Catan every other Friday night at 8pm if you and your lady want to come by?”

“What do you wear on your gaming nights,” I asked.

“My periodic table t-shirt,” He said, proudly.

“Sounds good. We’ll be there. This Friday?”

“Naw, next.”

I entered my apartment and both my cats were there to greet me. It smelled like the cat box. Feline wasabi. I pulled off my work clothes and looked at my dirty face in the bathroom mirror. Despite the grit and dust, I knew I looked better than I have in a long time. I reached for the hot water knob when I heard pounding coming from the other side of my bathroom wall.

“Put me in a story,” my neighbor shouted. “Enjoy your shower.”

“Yep,” I hollered.

I took a long, hot shower and watched the sediment on my body funnel down the drain. I toweled off and shaved. Clean, but alone. Liz was still working at a coffee shop up the street. I thought to myself, “I quit drinking nine weeks ago, so why do I feel so depressed?” My little cat waited outside the bathroom door and looked up at me when I opened it. “Have you ever tried to trace it all back, Kitten?” I asked her. “Tried to trace it back and ask yourself, ‘why do I always wait outside the bathroom door while dad takes a shower?’” She gave me one of her gravelly smoker’s meows, and I took her as answering, “No.”

I checked my email and saw that my university will not extend my deferment for another year. “It’s been four years… pay and finish or don’t… we don’t care…” was the gist of the head of the Postgraduate Department’s email to me. I checked the box and sent it to the trash bin.

I tried to write but was too tired to put down anything meaningful. I need a regiment, I thought. Liz came home and I told her I love her. I’ll write good words tomorrow. Better words tomorrow.