Human beings are curious, odd, and funny things. The "older" generation always says of the "younger" generation: What is that? Whether it be music, clothes, attitudes, or the way we order pizza, the question remains the same: What is that? And the answer to the question is also always the same: What is that? Yes, the younger generation answers the older one with the same question— some substantial evidence that one's surroundings has something to do with the way they view things. I must admit though, that I simply can't understand why kids these days wear their pants around their knees—I mean seriously—they weren't made that way.
I am from the so-called generation "X". And I am here to clear some things up. Because I for one have finally discovered what the "X" refers to. After all, it is merely a symbol, one used often in algebra, geometry, etc. It was just a matter of time before someone figured it out—just as is the case in your basic algebraic equation. I have come to the conclusion that the "X" refers to 'the absurd'. And no, I do not mean "funny". I ironically retain the meaning of the word as it was used by the "older" generation: lacking meaning. This generation lacks meaning like Ethiopian children lack food. I mean, it’s too bad some far-off land across the ocean is not stockpiling meaning in huge silos, as we do with our grain. They should air the same commercials as we do: "for only 50 cents a day, this generation X'er could have meaning in his life." They would show pictures of the typical X'er young adult, not sure whether to wear a flannel shirt, or a leather jacket, or no clothes at all. In the background would be the all too familiar shot of the courtroom in which OJ Simpson attained more recognition than the Queen of England, or even the Pope. Yes, this is the setting in which my story takes place, constantly changing, consistently meaningless, and courageously frightening.
* * *
There is a young man, Thomas, who is part of this meaningless generation. He is fairly handsome, not extremely so— but just enough to get noticed. But once one gets a good look, he appears a little drained, sort of just there—no evidence of life within, etc.. He is of medium height, and constantly stands up straight, to the point of straining himself, so that he appears to be on equal footing with those around him. He always enjoys being in rooms where he is the tallest, because in such situations he feels a sort of confidence that he will tower over the others in the room, thereby increasing his pleasure.
But on a bright, breezy fall morning, entering the Super Seven, he realizes he is the shortest. 'Not a good way to start the day', he thought (yes, he even found his height advantage, or disadvantage in this case, important at Seven Eleven at 7:00 in the morning). Every morning he would go to the Super Seven and retrieve a Big Gulp, some crumb cakes, and a pack of Camel Lights. This morning, as he approached the counter, he noticed that the clerk was watching the Black Entertainment Channel. It made him feel uneasy. "Just this stuff, and a pack of Camel Lights—as usual." "Hardpack?" The clerk was more interested in the T.V. "No, softpack, if you have it."
The clerk knew that he wanted a softpack, but liked giving him a hard time. For the past two years he had requested a softpack, but every morning following, the clerk would pull out a hardpack. It was kind of a bonding thing—as close to a bond as one could get between two young strangers from differing backgrounds. If he were the sole customer, they would exchange pleasantries, but if there were anyone else in the store, it was strictly business. No greetings—only mere grunts of approval. A "thanks" followed by an "uhh huh". Sometimes though, he was required to talk with the customers, that is, when his manager was there. "Would you like to try a free sample of our gourmet coffee?"
The coffee had probably been there for two weeks. "No thanks, I'm trying to quit." He walked towards the door to exit, and noticed himself in the security camera. He briefly contemplated a career in the movies as he unwrapped his crumb cakes. During the drive home, he nibbled at the crumb cakes, not really hungry at all, but knowing he had to have something in his stomach. After his first bite, the thought of the first cigarette of the day immediately entered his mind. He knew though, that he would not light one up— this was the first of three of four cravings before he made it actual. After three crumb cakes and a healthy slurp of his coke, he made the definitive choice— no cigarette until lunch. He had a big day in front of him: his first day at a new job. He had been fearful about it for the past two weeks, though there was nothing in reality to justify his anxiety—except the real thoughts that raced pell mell through his head.....
He started to feel a little strange as he looked ahead at his day. He realized that he would meet new people, people that would meet him, and he started to feel a large lump in his throat. He tried to ignore it, but he knew what was coming. It always started this way....
When he arrived home, and opened the car door, he started to gag. He knew exactly what he had to do. Staring dead ahead at whatever was in front of him, he began to think of good things, and good people, Jesus Christ, etc... This provided him with a temporary moment of relief. But an instant later, he winced again. He was already terrified of the day that lay ahead. Another brand new day at a brand new job. Of what he was terrified he had no idea—except maybe the fact that he had to go there. It wasn't going to work that bothered him, but that he had to go. Such were the thoughts that raced through the mind of our main character.
He made it. To the front door that is. He fumbled for his keys, noticing the powerful heat of the morning sun that was beating on his face. ‘Man,’ he thought, ‘the sun is strong. You know the sun is there, for it reminds you with unavoidable heat.’ He was glad the sun was there, and that he was noticing it. The sun was something very real for him— real in the sense that it affected his life, not like, political correctness, or talk show's featuring, "Bisexual Mothers That beat Their HIV Positive Children". He hated talk shows. Talk shows, he thought, will be the down fall of our society. A pretty bold statement coming from an accounting major. More often than not he would argue with his classmates and professors on the subject, or even better, he liked to catch people in the act of watching Talk shows, in which case he would immediately draw them into discussion. Let me recall to you the last conversation he had participated in. This discussion took place at the school cafeteria, where the truth was supposed to be dished out along with all of the menu items.
He directed his statement to a highly respected genetics professor known for his willingness to engage in good-faithed, cafeteria debates. "You see, the whole issue, any issue, comes down to one basic rule: if there are opposing positions, both of them cannot possibly be right. But the hosts of these shows, and most of the audience agree that they can both be right. Because today, everyone's opinion is accepted as valid." The genetics professor was more than willing to argue. "That's right, everyone's opinion is valid. What right do you have to say one opinion is better than another?" The rest of the table felt obliged to affirm this accepted axiom. In unison, as if rehearsed, the table let out a defensive, "Yeaaa, what right do you have?"
Thomas was prepared to take them all on. "Just look at the world around you! It seems to me that things exist in one way at one given time. After all, a cat is either a cat or not a cat. It could not be both at the same time!"
The genetics professor thought for a moment. "But it could be both. Someone might have the opinion that it could be both a cat and not a cat at the same time." "So that opinion would be as valid as the opinion that, for example, it could only be one or the other?" "Yes."
Thomas grew uneasy. He scooted around in his chair, and started picking at the scruff of his neck. "Well then, if both opinions are valid, whose position would prevail, if for instance, a decision had to be made?" "What do you mean, if they had to make a decision?" "Like a law, for example."
"The guy with the biggest guns will win. That is, the majority. Such is the law of our own United States." The genetics professor was extremely satisfied with himself, and his reference to the way in which a democracy works. He looked around the rest of the table, basking in the approval of his comrades in arms. But Thomas knew how a democracy worked—that was his entire point—the strongest position, in numbers, will always win. An essentially violent position. Nevertheless, he thought, it was a necessary condition if truth were to have any chance of emerging. He figured he would just let the whole argument go— no need to ruin anyone's appetite. He gave up just as one of the mothers in the talk show had to be taken from the set as a result of her backhanding the mother next to her. Just let it go, he thought....
In the end, all of the cafeteria discussions had taken a toll on Thomas. He actually started to believe that everyone's opinion was valid, and that no one had the right to say otherwise. And though ignorant to this fact himself, there seemed to be a direct connection with this belief of his and the following deterioration of his mental state of being.
He began to notice that everything was constantly changing. Absolutely nothing remained the same. Love came and went in the course of one night, right along with the stars. Of course, he knew that the stars were really there the whole time—they just didn't appear to be. Friendships were of utility, as was his relationship with his parents. Everything he acted on was an attempt at attaining one particular self-interest or another. It started to seem natural enough. After all, it just felt right to him; he felt like using a friend to get to a girl, and felt like getting a girl to satisfy his feelings of sexual appetite. Likewise, he felt like asking his parents for money which he really did not need. In any other case he would not be around them. He felt like partying instead of studying. He reasoned that those who studied now, only did so because of the award of high paying jobs later— so they could then do what they felt like doing. Feelings, he thought, were big in this day and age. Everyone gives and listens to the following advice: don't hold those feelings in, let them out, let them out in a big way! Just like now, walking through the dining room, he didn't feel like going to this new job. But he knew that he had to—he knew that it was the right thing to do. His intelligence told him this—that part of him would ceaselessly wage war on his feelings, and never give up until consciousness itself did.
His psychiatrist never fully comprehended this battle. He ended up having an affair with her after only three short sessions. She prescribed drugs to engage the battle inside Thomas—but there was no war at all—only a gathering of allies, a covering up of feelings, with newer and better sentiments. Somewhat like the United Nations. The first day of sessions, Thomas asked her if she thought there was something wrong with him... "Why yes, otherwise you wouldn't be here, would you?" The psychiatrist wanted to be friendly to her new patient, already imagining their first passionate kiss, and diagnosing him immediately, knowing already that he was Prozac bound. The wonder drug of the nineties, Prozac, never failed, she remarked to herself. She was on it herself.
In the beginning she would joke with Thomas here and there, trying to break the ice. Yes, ironically, the very root of his problem sprouted upon their very first meeting. The problem was, the ice never was broken. The ice was precisely the reason he was there. But she failed to see this. She had her own diagnosis, and her own remedy. And the supplement prescription, actual, real life pleasure, she thought, was the only thing missing. The patient and doctor ended up making it on just two sessions later—whereupon the patient disappeared. She was good though, he thought, real good.
He often thought of her as he walked past the dining room table that they had eaten dinner on, and then made it on. Merely the principle of association, he thought. But right now, association scared him, not the referent of the word, but just the word itself. For no particular reason at this moment he was scared—just the fact that there was a word out there, existing independently of his mind. It was that the word would be there without him. It didn't need him in order to be. His mind raced with these jumbled thoughts, along with ones of self-analysis that told him to get some help. He made a promise to himself that he would—but not with a psychiatrist. He would look for a priest.
Presently though, he had to get ready for work. He stepped into the shower and felt the hot water slowly work its way down his body. It felt good. He wished that he could stay in this moment for the rest of his life. An eternal ‘now’ would suit him just fine. He pulled the water through his hair over and over again until every ounce of pleasure was extracted from his person. And sure enough, following the pleasure came the numbness, and then the dull anxiety, soon to be panic. He noticed that the heat had substantially changed. Before it was soothing and refreshing, almost ecstasy. But as moments passed it had become just plain heat. So much for the eternal ‘now’, he thought. He finished his shower and reached for his razor. Thomas really didn't want to go to his new job. He wanted to just sit there, not bothering anyone but himself. He wondered what his parents would think if they knew that he was afraid to go to his job. He wondered what his friends would think. He wondered what the kid that he had picked on in high school would think. That one truly scared him. What if he found out? Was it possible? He checked his level of anxiety and thought, 'anything is possible'.
Right then though, in the midst of his anxiety, he had a sort of vision. Thomas really didn't know what the hell a vision was, but was sure that what had just happened was close. Here's what happened— When he was thinking of the possibility of the kid from high school knowing about his fear, he thought 'anything is possible' Right? Well, when he looked in the steamy mirror, and gazed at his profile, he realized that if anything is possible, then so is the possibility that he could face his day without fear. Just like when he was a child. No worries. Just do it! He felt a confidence surge through him that he had not felt in a very long time. He smiled at himself in the mirror. But this time it was a real smile, that is, a natural one, not like the fake ones he usually displayed. At that moment, he thought he could strut right into the Oval Office and take the reins. No problem. He was extremely excited about going to work. He would meet new, fantastic, and good people who would like him, and they, in turn, would think that he was fantastic and good. He really couldn't believe that he was afraid just a moment ago. He was just fine.
Thomas smoked a cigarette as he put on his clothes. First the pants, then the socks, shoes, undershirt and belt. He wore these clothes as he ironed and starched his shirt. An extra starched shirt pleased Thomas. If done correctly, the shirt would come out rigid and fresh—just the way he liked it. This, he thought, is going to be a great day. He called his girlfriend before he left, to make plans to celebrate his new job over dinner tonight. Now he was ready to go.
Passing cars left and right, speeding by strip malls and billboards, Thomas believed he was above the law. Speed limits and traffic laws certainly didn't apply to him—not the Thomas in this moment of time. When he drove to the interview, it had taken almost a half an hour. But today, it had only been about thirteen minutes, and he was almost there. He was above it all. Pulling into the parking lot, he winked at those employees that he would soon meet. Those new, fantastic, good people who had come before him. His adrenaline was racing. He explored the parking lot, searching for a space in which to leave his car.
The parking lot was of the standard kind, placed directly in front of the building. Lanes ran perpendicular to the building. He had just turned left directly in front of the entrance, and proceeded down another lane away from the building. For a moment, he thought of parking in a handicap space. He passed them up though, and turned deliberately back toward the building in the center lane. He could see in the distance, four or five employees working there way through the revolving door at the entrance.
But things changed. With absolutely no warning, thoughts started to scramble in Thomas's head. Literally one moment he was fine, and the next, not fine. What am I doing here? What are all of these other people doing here? What is that building doing here? There is no way in hell I am going to park this car. But he knew that he had to. When he tried to control the car, his limbs would not respond. He miraculously made another left turn toward the building. He had to go through with this day—even it killed him. Even if he made a fool of himself in front of the whole corporation. Even if he were fired the moment he made it through the entrance. He would make it through the entrance. But his body was not responding—only reactions: profuse sweating, blood-shot eyes, and lumps in his throat. All of these reactions came on instantly. No bodily actions came from the agency of Thomas. Nevertheless, he was still determined to enter. He would do it—even if it were necessary to persuade someone to physically drag him through those goddamn revolving doors. His mind desperately tried to control his muscles, but to no avail.
He was approaching the entrance with great speed, though to Thomas, it seemed like an eternity. No, he thought, it didn't seem like an eternity, it was eternity. In such moments of a person’s life, strange thoughts enter their minds. His mind was at complete ease. He mused, 'is it possible to have one moment that is both a moment and eternity at the same time?' This had been Thomas' last thought..... Just in time, the employees in front of the building got out of the way. Thomas had made it.