I better bes Swprawlnn

John said, “I’ll get stoned and write. What better?” Jack said, “Get stoned and paint.” He then leaned over to take a rip from the GB. He was, once again, a full-timer.

What did it mean?

It meant he didn’t want to talk on the phone. Nothing new there, though. It meant his mouth felt worse, and that hard exercise was more a chore. It meant memory…slowness, not like the black gaps of alcohol, but maybe sticky synapses, caught up in the resin of it, partaking in a way themselves.

He got tired just as early but couldn’t go to sleep as soon. So more BBC World Service, more SomaFM.

It decimated his job prospects. And have them he did. Yes. Triple figures in Chicago. Corporate law. Something he knew nothing about. Yet, his grades screamed, “I can do what I’m told!” Of course, the decision wasn’t that simple. He also loved his wife. So the question was: Happy Hour at the firm (free booze, right?) or a crowded Metro home? The answer was: neither.

So fuckit, he won’t work. Not in any economic sense. He’ll make art, he’ll “paint like it’s going out of style.” Reassured only in knowing that if he did die a premature death, by his hand or by someone else’s (the man in the black Blazer?), that those goddam cheap impatientist paintings would still be around. All over the country. Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and St. Louis. They’ll have those to look at, to puzzle after. It was his insurance. What is health insurance if you end up dying anyway? A bad investment.

And so, to justify his love for art — everything justified, his overarching sense of guilt, useful but cumbersome…. Where the hell was I? “I am smoking my brains out,” he thought. “They don’t know nothin,” he thought. “Saps, all of them, bees in cubicles, producing money not honey. But, yet, I would be worthless without them.”

There’s a Catch-22, and not an imperfect replica but highly analagous to Heller’s original. Heller’s Catch-22 was that airmen based in Europe during the Second World War would be allowed to return home if they were crazy. However, (1) by asking to go home you evinced that you were not crazy, but perfectly rational; and, (2) if really you were crazy, you wouldn’t ask to go home. Therefore, there wasn’t anyway to get home. The Catch today is: if you want to enjoy your life, you have to have money to support yourself financially. But, (1) if you have a job to make money you can’t really enjoy your life because you spend all your time working; and, (2) those people who have a lot of money without working miss the satisfaction of supporting themselves and as a result have a hard time being truly happy. So, you’re stuck in Malta with Yossarian.

Asymmetrical love. Is it possible? Could he love those who provided for him, but yet love his art as well (the art made possible only by the sweat of the brows of people he loved)? In the war between them and his art, all will suffer. It was like drinking to let your mind loose but having the alcohol simultanesously numb you out.

When the phone rang would he answer it, or would he let it go to voice mail? When the dishes were dirty would he do them, or would he put them in the dishwasher? When the herb was out would he be able to grow more, or would he ask for it to come across the border?

He contemplated questions of sustainability. How long can I keep this up? How long before Greenland’s glaciers pass over me in the great, salt-cold wave? How long before I am forced across the perimeter of what my uncles call “The Real World”? What will I be when I grow up, if I grow up at all?

Well, he had two fucking words for the real world. The first was fuck and the second was you. Did he not have an alimentary canal that made funny noises when he did not eat? If he had a fifth sense of taste would it not be called umami?

He lit a cigarette. It was definitely time for her to call. What the purpose of the call? Various but sometimes slim. Tonight just something to do, to get done, to have in the back of the mind. Something to debate the dream he had last night, the one where he was driving down to the tip of Florida, for Spring Break, with two of his five favorite people, his brother Nick and his comrade Rafe. But then an APB went out. Something about drugs. Damn big brother. Amber-type alerts, his license plate showing up in lights along the highway. TX 2DR V84.

They duck off the highway, book a room at a hotel full of sand. John racks his brain. What was it, what did I do? What could they possibly want me for? He rifled through his bags—nothing. They were in fact dry that weekend, much to John and Rafe’s dismay (no one knew how Nick felt on the subject). They were happily resigned to getting really drunk on the beach, and smoking clove cigarettes.

But damn! This was the real fuckin thing. He could not wake himself up. It had to be a dream, had to. (In real life, it was 6 am and he was waking up half way only, rolling himself halfway over, only to succumb to the same awful dream, and it was only getting worse.) They left the hotel. Nick was gone by this point. Maybe out to hang a shingle, or maybe they just left him behind for one reason or another.

John and Rafe make it to a gas station, where lo and behold Lenore and her parents are the owners and operators. Way down along the gulf coast of Florida. Only John makes it inside the gas station. Outside is total chaos, reigning and raining. There is a massive riot in the street. Cops are everywhere, maybe the Guard, too. All persons have guns. Crazy men dangle from traffic lights, try to bring them down like goalposts.

Holy shit, Florida is in a state of marshal law. The prisoners have all been let out, the men on death row alive at least until the next big hurricane. Rafe has a pistol. His hair is long and erraticly tangled with the ocean air. He has a bandana wrapped around his forehead.

He has this look in his eye. He is getting shot at and he doesn’t shirk. He looked in the gas station, and met eyes with John, who stood safe behind thick glass, safe from the bullets at least. Watching his friend prepare to die. A resigned look, the look of a man who was running right at you but was just about to turn around, to face the bullets. No, Rafe. No.

Inside the gas station is mayhem as well. A dozen or more thirtysomething men, wearing army surplus clothes, looking unshaven, with nothing in their bellies but power bars, left over from prior wars. They’re ransacking the station. The police are as good as dead outside in the riots. These men are chugging beer, popping Slim Jims, spraying engine oil all over the quickie mart.

John keeps his eye on Lenore. It’s hard. He’s distracted by a number of things, among them Lenore’s mother, who is behind the register smoking thick, heavy tar-filled cigarettes. Chain smoking. Wearing a poker visor with a full head of gray hair. He’d never before seen her smoke.

He looks back and Lenore is gone. He thinks, “She was right there.” He looks all about him. He peers over every aisle, he looks behind the counter. He asks her mom where she went. Her mom doesn’t know. He hears a scream: the bathroom.

There are no woman’s rooms in this mart, just one long unisex cinder block row of stalls. There are more than a handful of men in the bathroom. Some doing drugs, some having sex with each other, their pants pooled around their ankles. He ignores all of that, it doesn’t matter. Where is she? Where the hell is she goddamit? This is his greatest fear. He kicks open a stall and finds a dead man. Try the next stall, a handicapped accessible one. He kicks that one open and there she is. Getting fucked, being raped? Thank god no, but scrunched up against the wall, to the right of the toilet, being made to watch one man take another in the mouth, the one man barfing, the other loosening his bowels. It’s a mess that John has never seen. Lenore is bawling, in total shock. She can’t wake up either. Other men peer into the large stall and, losing it all, they start to cover the floor with vomit and piss.

John is so utterly disgusted with all of this that he wakes up, finally. It is seven a.m. Somewhat early when his first class is at 12:30, he doesn’t need to workout, and he went to bed somewhat early the night before (after having had a rip from the GB and some blended scotch).

He’s slipping, he feels. Old habits and bad ones at that. I’ll never get a decent job, I’ll never make some people happy. Only my art will carry, only it make any money. It is all I’ve got. Can it keep them from seeing me as the leech I might have to be?

Blasphemy, hatred. Not fair to yourself.

Austin, TX

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