When would I decide that enough was enough? Had I determined what enough was? Or when? What was my threshold? My breaking point? How much would I have to endure before I realized that I’d had it up to here? It had been years of the same old, years of stringing together reason after reason, excuse after excuse, line after line. Coaxing together a thin fabric of a façade that masked my true purpose, a purpose that had lain dormant for God knows how long. It was once asked if dreams deferred wither and dry up like raisins in the sun; I often wondered that same question.
What happens to dreams when they’re cast aside like old laundry into an old darkened corner? Do they begin to smell? Do they rot? Do they grow hairy mold? Or do they just die…regretfully, painfully, scornfully, and utterly unforgiving of the person that relegated them to that less than golden fate? Do we blame ourselves? Do we blame ourselves as the result of our jobs? Or is it all one giant soup that we’re all stewing in, bubble by bubble, until we reach the boiling point that sends us oozing over the edge of the pot and into the unknown? Maybe there in that zone lies the reason behind it all…the purpose that we all so desperately seek…the one that very few of us have ever truly lived enough of in order to assist the rest of us schlocks that were too afraid to step out and live.
“That’s a nice little combination you have there”, she impishly suggested as she scanned the contents laid out neatly on the register. Well, seeing that there were only two contents sitting there, they weren’t that damn hard to miss. There they were, my now glaringly odd looking purchases, standing out like two sore thumbs that had been crushed disastrously by an errant hammer; like two criminals that just got busted red handed, and now had the cop’s bright ass flashlight beamed directly in their faces. Just like boom, flooded with blinding spotlight, right there. Bullets and sleeping pills. At least she smiled when she said it. “Yeah”, I managed to stammer out as I was jarred back into reality by the warm, sticky sweetness of her voice. I was subtly elated at the fact that she spoke to me, and the gentleness in her tone just lulled me right in like an invited guest. Well, elated and surprised and highly caught off guard was the truth of it. But I couldn’t just stop at a mere “Yeah”. So when I recovered from the initial shock, I attempted to elaborate on the source of my curious shopping. “Looks a bit weird, doesn’t it?”, I joked, with a nice little laugh to try to smooth out the proceedings. “I wouldn’t say weird”, she went on, “now questionable? That’s the word that I’d use”, she stated with a pleasant smile….one that I seriously could not stop looking at.
I met her at a checkout line while buying a box of 9mm ammo and a bottle of Tylenol P.M. Yeah, that’s right; bullets and sleeping pills. Looking back, it had to have appeared as somewhat of an oddly curious combination. She strolled into my aisle, all freshly beautiful and radiant and mysterious, initially oblivious to my existence. I’d spotted her earlier, looking intently at the beauty products as I passed by and did a double take and subsequent slow down. I paused to pretend as though I was reading a box of cereal while I briefly gawked surreptitiously, but decided to keep on going once my eyeballs had their fill. They were hungry, and she fed them well. Besides, I really did have some shopping to do. A friend and I were going shooting that weekend, and I’d gone to the store to pick up a few boxes of ammo, and as a result of having slept like pure shit for what seemed like weeks, I’d also discovered the magnificently dreary prowess of Tylenol P.M. That stuff had proved to be a godsend; without it, I was up all night. The zombies that I’d normally been dreaming about? They must have been missing the hell out of my flesh. But there she was, just two feet away from me; she reminded me, in just the first glance, of all the things that I’d always wanted. All the little perfect, daydreamy shit I’d envisioned over the years, all the imagined moments, carefully cultivated images, and dream induced qualities were right there in front of me in full glory. Five feet something of just pure rainbows and sunsets. I couldn’t help but to stare…fuck it, right? Why put a painting on the wall if it wasn’t supposed to be looked at? At that moment, I thought “Why else is a beauty like that created?” So I looked, and of course she noticed me looking, and I felt a slight tinge of embarrassment as she scoped my suicidal looking purchases sprawled out on the register, bright as day.
So here’s the deal; how many times have you been at your desk, pretending to work of course, daydreaming of another life? How many of us sit in the gardens of our own little secret worlds, scheming of creative ways to shake things up? Dreaming of ways to just flip the script and start over? We don our masks every day and face the world with our pretend selves…most of us tend to fake our smiles, fake our enthusiasm, and fake our brains into believing that we’re all on the same team. We all do it; the customary nods, smiles, and hello’s, the traditional talk about the weather and the local sports teams and what not, and the quintessential remarks about how we all can’t wait until 5 o’clock. It’s all the same; it’s the universal language of things. It’s as if we are all actors, and to be honest, the great bulk of us could truly win Oscars and Golden Globes for our performances. We’re all actors, and we’re scarily good at it. We are all performing on a daily, acting until five o’clock, acting through meetings, acting through the bullshit until we can reach our little safe zones, wherever that may be. Yeah, I get it. It’s like we’re following a script; we’re all different pages of the same book, and not one of us has any idea as to how the story will end. It’s a very thin veneer. Part of me would rather take on that horde of stumbling, slobbering, reanimated flesh that I was dreaming about than spend one more day…one more second, even…typing meaningless entries into that meaningless database.
Birds darted and soared outside in slow, steady spirals and graceful zig zags. My cubicle faced the window, which was heaven and hell all rolled into one. Staring out into the blue skies was a revelation that reminded me of the unfathomable depth of the world, and that the world still breathed…and, through it all, that I was still alive despite the paralytic effects of my surroundings. It reminded me that beauty was a real thing, a very honest concept, not just a figment of imagination and magazine ads, or movies, commercials and television shows. It was a reminder that I was most certainly not meant for the off-white box that I was in. On the flip side though, having a window seat was pure, uncut hell, because it was also a sickeningly painful reminder that I was very well shackled to a cube wall like some dungeon prisoner in the old cartoons or comic books, all hairy and ragged and barefoot and threadbare. I felt as if I were that comic book detainee, tethered to some imaginary world where numbers ruled, office politics reigned supreme, and management was as crooked as a bad case of scoliosis. Either way, it was awesome to see the clouds float by and the birds soar outside every day.
A sharp shudder awoke me from those old thoughts, and the quintessential office cacophony of keyboard clicks, ringing phones, and light chatter swirled around my ears like bad porn music. I’d only dozed off for a scant few minutes, and traded a (quite pleasant) humorous dream for a very real corporate prison cell. Not a good swap; those dreams and daydreams were the fuel that propelled me through the persistent tedium of the day. My screen stared back at me with rows upon rows of untouched work, a dull mishmash of numbers and letters, reports and spreadsheets that I’d scarcely mastered after all the years being there. Those rows and worksheets stared at me with dead, drab, critical eyes, and I stared back at it with equal scorn. It was abnormally cold in the cubicle that morning, and the fluorescent lights above shone down as coldly as a winter star. In the office, it was always either too hot or too cold…as if working in a state of discomfort was somehow great for productivity. I was dreaming of zombies again that day, and those raggedy bastards managed to grab hold of me and tear the hell out of my jugular. Again. I deftly flicked a bit of morning crust from the corner of my eyes and squinted hard in an attempt to refocus them on the computer screen that I’d been staring at for hours; a gang of work needed to be done, and it was only 9 a.m.
The highlight of our childish creativity was The Bunker, a hollowed out cluster of unused shelving, walled with a carefully crafted facade of boxes that concealed an inner homemade bar. To the untrained eye, it wouldn’t even garner a second look; it was identical to any other normal, mundane, ordinary wall of boxes. However, this particular Great Wall of Cardboard masterfully concealed a super-secret hideout within that rivaled something that a James Bond villain would have constructed, or perhaps it resembled the lair of some comic book bad guy. In it was our headquarters, our command tent, our private lounge that served as our secret war cabinet. Our Round Table, with each of us looking to fill our Holy Grails with whatever was on tap that day. The effort that went into crafting bubble wrap and cardboard La-Z-Boy recliners and cotton stuffed sleeping mats was labor intensive. Not to mention surreptitiously loading our liquid stash in and out through the drop down hatch that we cut through the wood slats of the pallets that served as the roof. Our cooler was always stocked to the gills with a variety of suds. This was the real deal for us. That was our debaucherous shrine, and we’d retreat to The Bunker to devour a few bottles or cups of the drink of the day, every day. And when we weren’t in our venerated safe zone, we’d just down our spirits from the red plastic Solo cups in broad daylight like it was a house party. Like we owned the joint.
We developed into exceptional drinkers; a functional alcoholism that allowed us to perform at our best with just the right amount of whiskey flowing through our veins. We’d field instructions, calmly attend meetings, and cheerfully converse with the front office staff while being lit to the core on liters of Rum and Diet Dr. Pepper. And no one was the wiser. It was the only way we were able to make it through the monotony of the day, a monotony which by now I hope you sincerely feel. It was an alcohol fueled, fun steeped binge that lasted for years, and invariably suffused our livers and our minds with loads of lasting good memories. But all good things must end at some point, right? The question ticked in my brain every single day, like a turgid time bomb just waiting to explode; what the hell was my purpose? There had to be something that I was good at in life. Thoughts like this lingered in my head on a regular basis as I walked the aisles up and down filling orders. Whatever that ‘something’ was, wasting away under layers of box dust was not it. What was I good at? I was in my twenties, but felt as if I was past my prime, or as if I’d missed the ferry to Success Town. I felt utterly left behind by life, and my fun, yet counterproductive daily dealings only resigned me to that early grave and kept me pinned tightly. There just had to be more to life than this.
We bought ninja stars and throwing knives online and hurled them like major league pitchers at anything that we could puncture. Nothing was safe from our alcohol infused ninja wrath, as boxes, bags, and everything in between fell victim to our onslaught. We fancied as ourselves blue collar sportsmen as well, and developed our own Olympic caliber games, such as the legendary sports of Warehouse Tennis, Wall Ball, and the venerated Quarterback Challenge. We shoved hunks of raw meat and random bits of leftover lunch under a broken crevice in the concrete floor one entire summer just to see how many maggots and critters that we could attract to it. Needless to say, we succeeded in attracting a city’s worth of bugs to that hole like animals to the Ark. You name it, we did it; nothing was off limits, no dare was too great, no joke was unworthy. Great cardboard tubes that once held monstrous fabric rolls became fabled swords and wicked spears, and hole-riddled boxes stood as a testament to the epic battles and wars that we waged against each other to pass the hours. I was an Obi Wan with a cardboard tube. And the time did fly, let me tell you. It passed in a drunken haze; we spent untold fortunes of cash nearly every day on bottles of booze, bottles that we’d skillfully guzzle throughout the day by the cupful, right before the eyes of management and the front office. We toted our red Solo cups around with pride in fact, and downed our spirits in front of all who dared enter our sanctuary. We practically dared them to approach us about it. And we only got busted once. Our livers suffered greatly while playing the role of a Brita filter that summer, yet we became remarkably adept at getting the job done while being loaded to the gills on whiskey, rum, and whatever other distilled goodness we could muster. The very definition of functioning alcoholics. We were a well-oiled machine, though our gears were greased with Jack and Coke.
I slowly (and hesitantly) approached that prisoner of war camp on the daily, that Chernobyl-esque monument to Eastern Bloc deterioration, that shit stained hell that seemingly owned my life. I say seemingly, because at the time, it defined who and how I was. You’ve got to feel the monotony; you’ve got to feel it in order to truly understand it. Up the steps I went, through the door, and with that, each day (and the story) begins. The warehouse itself was pretty damned massive; a deep, cavernous structure stacked to the gills with weathered boxes, bags, makeshift shelving, and various pallet loads of goods for sale. It was an older building, crammed tight with little sold products, all of them well coated with a thick blanket of dust. In any case, the structure was well lit, as the many skylights provided good light where the fluorescents didn’t reach. What a joint to be in, though. Under the rusty tin roof, the place became Congo crotch hot in the summer; guaranteed and absolute sweat drenched bayou balls for all who dared to enter, and winters that would make you feel like you were setting up base camp in Antarctica. The towering shelf walls were lined with various crude drawings, and were peppered with random graffiti of tits, asses, cocks, explicit acts of sex, violence and a sprinkling of cuss words. Don’t ask why. We brandished the humor of a bunch of giggle infested twelve year olds, and we wore that childishness with pride. Our debauched state of mind was a direct product of the boredom that we faced head on, like warriors facing a great foe. Yes, it was very much like middle school all over again. And we reveled in it.
Do you feel the monotony? Can you hear the annoying scrape of my feet dragging themselves to the bathroom? The stabbing numbness of my slowly adjusting eyes as I try in vain to shield them from the blinding solar glare of the bathroom light? Or how about the pungently aromatic stale air produced by 8 hours of backed up bowels? I stood at the toilet, graciously releasing at least four hours-worth of slightly yellow urine, and let out a long bear growl of relief. One of the few breaths of relief that I get to look forward to over the coming day. Feel that monotony as I clamber into the shower, only to realize that I forgot to buy soap and toothpaste? Ever wash a tired body with dish soap? Feel the monotony.
The sky that day was a deep overcast grey, with thick, overfed clouds spewing their liquid lunch all over the city, making for a slow and sloppy morning commute. I arrived at my gig thirty minutes late (not giving half a shit), and slowly crept into a parking space. It was a lonely, bleak, deserted lot, strewn with unattractively enterprising weeds tangoing out of deep cracks that resembled California fault lines, and year old garbage bleached bone white by a harsh sun. I carelessly swerved into a parking space, which I created myself due to the fading of the yellow dividing lines. It’s a sight you would have expected to see in the former Soviet Union, not twenty first century USA; an aged, crudely built exterior, its walls cleverly stained brown by the rust that rained down from the aluminum roof. It reminded me of coffee stained dentures, or a distasteful hotel room watercolor.