Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Adventures of an American Misanthrope


Chapter One

It should have been funny the way I reacted when the alarm clock went off at its normal time. I turned over in my bed and instinctively began slapping the top of the plastic box trying to hit the snooze button. After several ridiculous attempts smacking the nightstand and even my lamp, the return of silence signaled that I had finally hit the target. The nine extra minutes the snooze button bought were for me to slowly gather my meager wits and begin the process of getting ready for work. But in the back of my mind there was the little voice desperate to make itself know to the greater whole of my stunted being. There was a small piece of information my mind wasn't registering, some vital detail that the little voice was convinced would change my entire outlook.

Instead I began my standard fantasy about laying in a hammock on some remote tropical beach sipping one of those fancy drinks overloaded with pieces of fruit and alcohol. I instantly began relaxing to the imaginary sounds of gentle surf while feeling the calm breezes pass over me. The best part though was the blonde swimsuit model I visualized walking towards me slowly shedding her skimpy bikini exposing her firm, tanned body. For whatever reason, my fantasy fell apart disappointing both me and the swimsuit model who vanished like a ghost. Instead I found myself forced to concentrate on that nagging little voice. For more seconds that I want to ever admit, I was at a total loss as to what the hell I was missing. Fearing for my sanity, I lay in my bed staring at the alarm clock sitting on the nightstand.

The big LED numerals continued flashing “5:00pm” like some angry demon who hated the idea of its existence only slightly less than the schmuck it was created to persecute. As the seconds ticked by I was briefly fascinated at the absurd fact that the fools who designed my cheap alarm clock felt the need to color the plastic that contained all the components like it was natural wood. Was the fake natural decoration supposed to look nice or make the owner proud of his purchase? That's about the time the nagging little voice raging in the back of my head started making sense.

Forty-two million dollars, the voice exclaimed several times. In my mind's eye I had this vision of a normally mild and unremarkable bureaucrat rushing into a conference room filled with egotistical pricks wearing expensive suits and smoking huge cigars. The collection of important men are utterly shocked that such an insignificant speck of humanity would interrupt their proceedings. Forty-two million dollars the normally timid soul screamed at the assembly of self-absorbed a-holes. That's when my greater consciousness finally registered what the little voice was trying to tell me. That I had defied both astronomical odds and commonsense by picking the winning numbers for the Gigabucks Lottery. After Uncle Sam and the great state of South Carolina had taken their share my wealth was now sitting at an amount just north of forty-two million dollars.

I purchased the ticket at a convenience store on a stifling hot and humid June morning on the way home from work. It along with a pint of chocolate milk and a honey bun were sort of a ritual I used to unwind. The chocolate milk and honey bun satisfied my immediate needs while the lottery ticket was fodder for my daydreams. No, I'm not one of those fools who buys lottery tickets with money better used on bills or a legitimate retirement plan. I waste no more than five bucks every couple of weeks on one set of numbers for several drawings. Just the minuscule potential that existed during those times between drawings allowed me to daydream about the freedom and wild adventures that would be possible if by chance my numbers ever hit.       

Due to the twelve hours shifts I worked at my job, the Monday morning I bought the ticket was the start of a scheduled week off, which almost always had me sitting in my apartment watching television or reading. The nice little lie I told myself was that my self-imposed exile was needed to relax and recover from working the 7:00pm to 7:00am shift. But the truth of the matter was that I didn't think much of people. I preferred my own company, something that had only gotten worse since my divorce seven years earlier.

Feeling tired, I was about to call it a night when the local eleven o'clock news flashed the winning lottery numbers across the screen. Immediately I got a chill down my spine even though I was only half listening as the newscaster called them off at the same time. The numbers sounded like mine but I wasn't sure until I opened up my laptop and looked at the lottery commission website. Like any normal person who had literally cheated statistics, I sat at my small desk in stunned disbelief after confirming what seemed impossible. To say sleep that night was next to impossible would be an understatement. However, that didn't stop me from driving up to Columbia the next day and walking into the small office the lottery commission had for people who won prizes bigger than could be paid out at the average conveyance store.

The receptionist at the front desk was painting her nails while talking on the office phone, the receiver wedged between her neck and shoulder. She ignored me for several minutes continuing her conversation with the unknown person on the other end. During that time I learned that her chief complaint in life dealt with her growing disdain with men, her husband's faults being specifically mentioned several times.

When the receptionist finally hung up the phone she looked at me like I was a pesky insect that wouldn't fly away. “Can I help you sir?” The woman asked with a detached air.

I was irritated but somehow still couldn't find a way to express my feelings, so I just came out and said the obvious. “My name is Jason Lance and I won the GigaBucks lottery last night.”

Funny how those few words completely changed the receptionist's attitude and brought out a flood of people from the half-dozen or so cubicles crammed into the small office. By the end of business hours that day I was a millionaire and was the unwilling possessor of the receptionist's cell phone number.

***

The rest of the week was a daze after I returned to my apartment.  After years of idle daydreams all my elaborate mental adventures had disappeared leaving me at a complete loss. There was no one to share my new wealth since I'm a divorced man with no close family and few real friends. I do have two teenage sons but since my ex-wife had remarried a dentist they had quickly adapted to the fringe benefits of calling him dad.

I didn't begrudge the boys for enjoying their mother's ability to catch such a high class guy and move up the local social ladder. I was just a hourly maintenance chump at a local factory, one that was constantly skirting the edge of being closed if the corporate suits ever looked closely at the efficiency reports that said the plant equipment was out of date while the production workers were passed caring.

A sudden surge of nervous energy made it impossible for me to stay in bed so I stumbled the short distance to the bathroom to just stare in the mirror above the sink. The eyes of the man in front of me were beyond bloodshot while his face looked like an undead zombie who had been hit by a semi then attacked by a pack of angry pit bulls. That's when the memories of the days after getting the money came flooding back.

Instead of going out on the town and celebrating my dose of cosmically improbable luck with friends, I stayed in my apartment and drank myself into a stupor. I stumbled out of the bathroom to discover about a case of empty beer cans on my living room floor and two bottles of tequila looking like fallen soldiers. The forty-two million in my bank account was just a week old and I was already well on the path to self destruction.

“You really need to see a professional about your issues, dude.” A voice behind me said scaring about twenty years off my life.

Despite being thirty pounds overweight, more than a little hungover, and well in my late forties I spun around ready to fight whomever had been in my apartment since I woke up. One problem, the only person I could find was my reflection in the bathroom mirror.

“Holy shit, Jason Lance,” the unknown voice said, “you are exactly the dumbass your ex-wife tells everyone. I'm right here in the bathroom.”

Despite what the supermarket tabloids and cable paranormal activity shows say, real examples of someone slipping into metaphysical realms detached from reality don't really happen. But then again few sane people ever see their reflection talking to them from the other side of the mirror. Even though I wanted to run the hell away, I slowly walked back into the bathroom to get a better look at the apparition talking to me.

Gone was the drunken zombie I had just saw in the mirror barely two minutes before and in its place was a younger version of myself, probably in his early twenties right after my enlistment in the army had ended. Dressed in an ironed polo shirt and wearing jeans without any holes I found my myself slightly embarrassed to realize I was dressed in stained sweatpants and a t-shirt that seemed to be doing an artistic impression of Swiss cheese.

“Hooray,” the younger and better dressed version of myself said, “you have enough brain cells left to follow sounds. Just maybe there is a person left inside that flabby body.”

“You're not real,” I lamely said in hopes of sending the phantasm away.

“And once again you disappoint, Jason,” Younger Me said from the other side of the mirror. “Come on man, punch the mirror and break me into a thousand sharp shards.” It said bemused at my confusion and discomfort.

“Okay,” I said trying to collect a few active wits, “not that I accept this, but what do you want?”

“Oh please,” my doppelganger said, “how about that blonde you were dreaming about before your subconscious sent out an SOS. Dear God, what they say about us guys never getting over boobs are true. Hers were just the right size, bigger than grapefruits but smaller than cantaloupes. You sir are a Michelangelo of hooters!”

Yeah, this exchange was crazy and highly likely to end badly, but like they say, when in Rome. “Yeah, I never really got over Annette Howard back in high school.” I replied to myself. “That's who I usually model my fantasies around since the divorce.”

“Good choice,” my mirror self said back. “Who would have thought shy Annette would become a television news reporter all the way in Seattle.”

“Did she ever get married?” I asked totally in the groove now with my progressing psychotic break and talking to my bathroom mirror.

“You know she did,” was the reply back. Annette married a corporate lawyer two years after moving to Seattle. They were a good looking power couple, the kind political movers and shakers recruit to run for office. It was a true happily ever after scenario with the potential to end up in the White House, that is up until the incident.

Annette was doing a stint as the aggressive investigative reporter out to bust corruption and crime when her news team, and several cops broke down the front door of a mansion used by an upscale prostitution ring. The live cameras feeding straight to the news room and police headquarters caught numerous moral pillars of the community scrambling like cockroaches to get away while getting dressed. Within seconds all were laying on the wet grass outside being handcuffed, except for one guy who was stuck hanging upside down in a closet wearing a rubber suit, with certain key sections missing, and a pink tutu that partial covered his face. Below him were several sex toys, a couple of whips, and various tubes of flavored gels. The most curious feature of the upside down man's predicament were the two naked prostitutes who instead of trying to hide their identity had fallen on the floor laughing uncontrollably as he wriggled like a caught fish.

Truthfully, even the heavily armed cops and cynical reporters found the sight funny, that is until Annette bent down and lifted the pink tutu up enough to see it was her husband. When the dust settled Annette had taken a leave of absence from the news station which turned out to be permanent. As for her husband, within a couple of years he had moved to Alabama, found religion and was soon back on television, this time asking good folks to send him money to do God's work. Proving God does have a sense of humor his political career wasn't totally dead, word was that after changing political parties he was thinking about running for governor of that state.

Coming back to the present I found myself laughing, even my younger reflection in the mirror was doing the same. Despite the fact talking to the bathroom mirror was not a sign of secure mental health I found myself having a good time. That was until my reflection decided to get serious.

“Listen Jason, I'm actually here for a reason. It's probably beyond your abilities to discern, hence my presence, but can you guess why I'm talking to you?”

“Ah, well I'm certain it has to do with the money, right?”

“Dear Lord,” my reflection said annoyed, “I'm talking to Homer Simpson. Yes, its the money you fool, just what are your plans for today?”

“Well I'm going to work...”

“NO! That would be a really bad idea. We're the same person, well sort of, but close enough. You'll go to work with the intention of doing something with the money but never will. There is a high probability you could spend the rest of your life doing the same thing until you keel over in here from a heart attack. The only thing that would announce the end of your existence would be the smell of your decaying body.”

“How about I call my kids? I could take them on the vacation of their wildest dreams.” I say immediately realizing that wouldn't fly either. They had their own lives, friends, and I wasn't part of that equation. Any attempt by me to become an active part of their lives would be a form of abuse.

“Alright big boy,” I say to the mirror “just what in the hell am I supposed to do?”

“Leave town,” It replied. “Get your affairs in order, load up your crap into the back of the truck and just drive. No destination, just go and don't stop until you can't go any further. You have no future in this town, trust me I understand why but you might be able to salvage something of a meaningful existence someplace else.”

That's when the alarm clock went off again. Its shrill screeching reaching deep into my soul. I looked over at the unholy device to see it flashing “5:09pm” my normal time to get up and prepare for work. Doubting the very fabric of reality I rushed over to the laptop and checked my account balance. It goes without saying dreams are serious weird affairs and I had a strong suspicion my winning the lottery was just a secondary artifact of my conversation with my younger self in the mirror.

No, the money was real, the bank website had my balance at forty-two million. I signed out and closed the laptop and walked into my living room. Sure enough, the beer cans and tequila bottles were in their proper places on the floor, that left the question of my conversation with the bathroom mirror. Hesitantly, I walked into the bathroom but the only thing I saw was my forty-seven year old reflection. I still looked like shit warmed over, but that was actually a comfort.

The lesson was learned though, it was time for a change and unlike most other unfortunate souls, I had the means to make it happen. Finding my cell phone proved to me a bit of problem, but after finding it underneath the couch, I dialed my work number.

Hey George,” I said to his voice mail, “its Jason, I won't be in tonight. No reason, but I will be dropping by in the morning.”

7 comments:

Jimmy said...

Nice job, I like this first chapter very well, this is a great beginning for a book.

Double check your editing I saw a couple that were wrong and one missed, even though I'm not an editor nor am I knocking what you did here, I really like this one.

Harry Hamid said...

I like this. Actually, the chacracter seems remarkably close to my life, sans the money, so I connected right away.

MigratingSpirit said...

Depressingly real!

The Bug said...

Love this one! And now I want to go buy a lottery ticket!

Pixel Peeper said...

What...he did not quit his job by voicemail?

Beach Bum said...

Jimmy: I've caught a few issues but given my past history it will be a week or two before I notice everything.

Harry: Not to get weird but I did use a few elements of my own life. Namely I utterly hate the town I find myself living. As for the rest this was just having some fun. I do have a half-assed idea about actually making this a book. The structure of a novel has always intimidated me. But this could easily be broken down into short stories.

MigratingSpirit: I was going for a tongue-in-cheek, Carl Hiaasen vibe.

Pixel: Yeah, sort of, but he will stop by the plant for a proper goodbye.

Peggy Stentz Casey said...

I really, really like this. I would imagine a good plan for writing a book, which does seem daunting, would be to do as you said. Just write a series of short stories. Looking forward to Chapter Two.