1. Davy “Brick” Shidaus finished his fiftieth partial squat repetition and collapsed to the ground. His longtime lifting partner, former pro wrestling star Eddy Jacks, Jr., rushed to his aid.
“Hey, talk to me, big guy!” Jacks shouted.
“Brick” rolled over to his side and began foaming at the mouth.
Jacks seized “Brick” by the straps of his singlet and began giving him CPR. “‘Brick,’ good lord, don’t leave us.”
Chayne “Link” Hughes gave the pair an ugly look. “Guess he won’t be competing in the Physique Regionals, huh? Needed some work on that quadriceps presentation, anyway.”
“Bitches,” “Brick” mumbled through a mouthful of froth. “Who needs them?”
2. I want to be Ernest Hemingway. I want my brains to have been blown out by my favorite shotgun. I want to be buried in Ketchum, Idaho.
Hemingway chuckled. “You didn’t remember what I said, did you? Do you?”
Brian Powell looked at his reflection and shrugged, a dumb expression on his face as ever. “I guess not,” he whispered.
Hemingway chuckled some more. “All bad writers are in love with the epic.”
“There’s nothing else to my life, though. What would I be doing if I wasn’t writing this story?”
Powell’s reflection provided no answer.
“Sitting and rotting, I think… which is more or less what I’m doing now, but at least writing this story keeps my mind occupied with something other than thoughts of my own pitiful existence and mortality and loneliness and pain, right? So shouldn’t I keep doing it? Didn’t someone great once say, ‘If it makes you happy…’ Hmm, I forget the rest. I remember it being mighty tuneful and singable, though. But shouldn’t I keep writing?”
“How the fuck should I know? I’m just your reflection.”
3. Camden Camden’s mother, a pleasant-looking fiftysomething professional, was having brunch with a bunch of her catty, shrewish friends when one of them popped the big question.
“When is your daughter tying the knot?” the friend asked.
Camden Camden’s mother shrugged. “Oh lord, I don’t know. Maybe she’s a lesbian. I’ve been hearing a lot about them on the TV.”
“That’s so modern, so today, so now,” said another friend.
4. We’re some friendly people, aren’t we? Sitting in complete silence and whisking you off and locking the door behind you and staring at you with our bland faces and god knows what else. “We’re tired.” Yes, that must be what it is. We’ve done so much work, you know. We’re hardworking types. Breaking our backs to earn our daily bread.
“Is she the only one?/Is she the last one?/Will there ever be another?/Where is my lover?” some long-forgotten singer-songwriter sang in a disconcerting whisper on a record that seemed to be too warped to play any part of the song but that verse or chorus. How could I be sure if it was a verse or a chorus, after all, since it was the only part of the song I’d ever heard?
Regardless, I was standing in the doorway to my father’s bedroom, his hound’s-tooth coat folded over my forearm. “Don’t ruin the Carpathian leather,” he’d told me a couple of days prior, but from what I could tell there was no leather anywhere on the jacket.
“Dad?” I called softly to him while more or less hiding behind the wall to the right of the doorway. “Dad, are you awake?”
I could see the lower half of my father’s left leg. He was lying in his bed and wearing his loafers.
“Dad?” I said again, a little louder.
His foot remained still.
5. “Who the hell is this?” Time Man hissed into the receiver. “It’s 2 a.m. in the morning,” he added, as if temporal details mattered to the super hero who had all of the time in the world.
“It’s your old friend Danny Cater,” said the person on the other end of the line.
Time Man couldn’t believe it. How could he have failed to recognize Cater’s trademark monotone? Now that he had answered the phone, there was little he could do but sit back and take it. “Hey there, Danny, how are things?”
“Oh, I just wanted to talk to you about some of my recent victories,” Cater said.
“Victories, huh? Did you win the lottery” Time Man asked.
“Goodness no. But I have won a number of auctions on e-Bay, and I’d like to describe the items I bid on.”
“Is it really a victory if you have to pay for it, Danny?”
“Lord, man, we’re talking about some primo things here. I bought a limited edition Steve Winwood comic, the one that has his hair mixed in with the ink. And it was only a shade over a sawbuck!”
“You don’t say,” Time Man said, settling in for a long, pointless conversation.
“I didn’t think I was going to win it, because sequentialart69er kept upping his bid for the better part of a day. Finally, with the high bid at eight dollars, I threw caution to the wind and upped it to $10.15. Needless to say, I was very relieved when time expired on that one.”
“Me too. I’m so relieved for you on, uh, that one,” Time Man said, a response which makes sense only if one realizes that he had already stopped paying attention to what Cater was saying.
6. I’d just quit my job. I don’t really remember why. It seems to me that it had something to do with my having some minor argument with a coworker. I blew up, tore off pieces of my uniform and tossed them about the workplace and parking lot. This caused a scene. I began swearing at the top of my lungs, emptying trash from my car into the parking lot and so on. It was while I was scattering the trash from my car around the lot that I noticed my backseat had been removed.
“Who took my backseat?” I demanded to know. “Was it you?” I screamed at my boss and his girlfriend, who were leaving together.
It’s to their credit that they both gave me every opportunity to keep my job, but I wanted no part of it. Their opportunities or their job, that is. “Huh? Somebody want to fight? Do you?” I barked at no one in particular.
“He’s not talking to anyone,” an elderly woman remarked to an elderly man I assumed to be her husband.
“What? What’d you say?”
“I said you’re not talking to anyone,” she repeated. She then added, “Not anyone we can see.”
I hurled a plastic bottle at her but missed badly.
“You’re talking to your mother,” she said.
“And your brother controls your life.”
I grabbed her by her scrawny arm and gave her a healthy shake. “So you’re a psychiatrist, are you?”
She responded only with a bizarre and really quite disconcerting smile. Her nostrils seemed to grow exponentially. “No,” she said, “I’m just telling you a story.”
It wasn’t long after that I left. I saw my former boss and his girlfriend on the road, but they turned off. Strange things began to happen. Other motorists seemed to be trying to steer their automobiles into mine. Several roads were blocked off, as was the bridge. I turned off on a side street, intending to go make a two-point turn, but someone turned off behind me. I pounded the steering wheel with my fist once and again when I realized I was not on a side street but rather in some sort of alleyway. I turned right and found that I was faced with a wall. To the left of the car was a ramp that appeared to lead down into a parking deck but was in fact a ramp with two garage doors that led to another street. The doors started to close as I turned onto the ramp. I cursed. I looked in the rearview mirror to see a child on a bicycle. My heart was pounding. As I struggled to maneuver the car — turning around was my intention now — my breathing became frantic and my heart pounded even more fiercely.
Soon the child had made her way to my window. I couldn’t face her because I knew I’d seen her before a long time ago. She was the same age then and that was years and years ago.
When I was younger I never wanted to be this way. I still don’t.
7. How many times per day do you think about your own death? Once? Twice? As often as Comedy Central airs the Jim Breuer-helmed comedy Half Baked?
People like Davy “Brick” Shidaus, Danny Cater, Camden Camden, and their ilk are so close to death that their lives have become irrelevant. How long can “Brick” hide behind his enormous Cadillac of a body, bigger than he’ll ever need, bigger than anything you could possibly imagine? There’s our friend Camden Camden: She’s ninety-five pounds soaking wet, rotting away because she’s too good for food, too good for men, and too good for life. Danny Cater whiles away his empty afternoons on Internet auction sites, browsing for unique bric-a-brac that is every bit as worthless as he is.
What impels them forward? “Brick” thinks that “tits” or “boobies” are big, fat, and gross—but seriously, brah, he’s no homo. He’s a man’s man like his sports idol “Herc” Broadsides, with biceps to spare and a swole that must be seen to be believed. So what if he seeks out the company and admiration of like-minded “hardgainers?” He’s just living like the cavemen or barbarians lived back during dinosaur times, or at least how they might have lived if they didn’t have libidos and loved loading weight plates onto the leg press.
Now that Camden Camden—she does so much for herself! She works so hard at being the greatest fairytale princess of a beauty queen ever. Is it wrong for her to demand the best in return? Is perfection really out of her reach? Even if it is, she’s not going to throw herself out on the meat market like her clueless friend Emily, falling head-over-stiletto heels for some ponytailed phony with an ethnic-sounding accent and a late-model Mustang GT.
And hapless Danny Cater, won’t he win out one of these days? Doesn’t he deserve to catch a break in the same way that the nerdy-but-kinda-hot heroes of those 80s teen comedies he loves so much always do? Never mind that he isn’t hot or a teenager—such facts don’t square with the warped vision of reality on which his survival depends. He’s the star of the Danny Cater Story, as played by a prime-period, chipmunk-cheeked Wil Wheaton, and no one can convince him otherwise.
They’re not thinking about children and 401ks and retirement properties, these three lost souls. None has held a full-time job; none has been intimate with another person. They shuffle unnoticed and without savor across our capacious land, the unsalted of the earth, and it’s almost as if you’re expected to care about them.
Yet you’ve got all of the time in the world, and that’s exactly what we’re demanding of you.