In my shuffling madness of insomnia ridden agitation, I glanced over my old copy of Dostoevsky's The Idiot, riddled with remnants of booze, blood, and terror, and triumph open to a page I couldn't quite make out under the huge droplet of Walker Double Black. I had trouble focusing until my vision played its part: “There is nothing so annoying as to be fairly rich, of a fairly good family, pleasing presence, average education, to be ‘not stupid,’ kind-hearted, and yet to have no talent at all, no originality, not a single idea of one's own—to be, in fact, ‘just like everyone else.’ Of such people there are countless numbers in this world—far more even than appear. They can be divided into two classes as all men can—that is, those of limited intellect, and those who are much smarter. The former of these classes is the happier by an infinite measure.”
Like every other Monday after a sleepless week, I was walking outside the precise moment the clocks ticked high noon, searching for salvation like a man with no name. It was bound to be like any other summer's night in this trash-populated metropolis. Hot wind sweating your forehead, police sirens wailing like crescendos in the ambient background of your subconscious. My left arm was asleep, fingers numb and craving the Cohiba I didn't have. I stood outside the saloon doors, pondering my decision to cede to this… misadventure. I had to wonder like a brain surgeon with a sterilized scalpel walking in for a lobotomy whether I was in fact just like everyone else, whether I was, simply an idiot, and how I wished I was.
Beyond this edifice laid my rapture from this wasteland, at least that's what I told myself to disconnect from this distortion I felt in the mass adulation of celebrities, clowns, and other useless garbage stinking up the planet.
I grabbed one more lungful of the summer air before I traded it for the smoky squalor of booze, vomit, sweat, and tears. ‘No trade-backs!’ the inner-child in me screamed as if we were exchanging trading cards, sprinting away with an innocence long lost on me.
A cheap dive in a bad neighborhood of our lousy town. My second-favorite leather jacket dried with the blood of yet another wanna-be goomba who thought he'd seen it all through PDF documents teaching him how to talk to dames and expensive nightclubs teaching him how to be less than a person.
Plenty of nights I sat staring into a neat double scotch wondering about its oaky residue, its murky essence and if I was truly the kind of man I thought I was.
Life is far less complicated when you can’t hear women, but I sat in awe at the threshold of enlightenment; to be deaf to an angel’s song is to be dead, and death, although universal, was better understood as accidental.
From the shards of my fragmented thoughts, I rose, unwilling… tossed into tides of pain that flowed and ebbed and left me searingly alert. And more revoltingly—alive. It was then I saw her, for the first time.
“What was that?” my ever trusty eagle vision returned in full force, examining her grace from head to toe in a matter of seconds.
“What… can I … get you?” she made sure to speak extra slow lest I’d be one of the demon-ridden idiots I was trying to get away from.
“Double. Neat.” I felt next to nothing; what little I did feel could only be described by the emotive as hate, disgust, misanthropy, and even mortal with a pinch of an enigmatic pursuit of fatalism. I stared at myself through the fluorescent-hued mirror of this grungy palace, turning my shoulder into the mirror and examining the dried blood on my second-favorite jacket.
The route to the quiet upstairs was locked. What a pathetic amour these insects have for doors. I had to slide back on the stool.
The only time I didn't want to burn everything to the ground was at the archaic literary theme of pondering her ideals, trying to imagine where she was at this moment, this very second. Strange, how my own history came full circle, torturing me to think of the past, and what a vile phantasma I had become, just then, a profound sense of injury, of loss, and betrayal welled up in me, so overwhelming I could hardly contain it; the thought of her only deepened my resolve. But then I thought about who she could be with, furthering the thought of loathing inside me, and this seemed to be me at my most masochistic—knowing where my limit laid—I knew I was on the right track. Truth is bitter, painful, unwanted, an outlaw in a land of fabricated laws and values posturing to be it; there can’t be altruism in this pursuit, as I learned the hard way.
It had no choice but to stand at the edge of town, crying over his partner-in-crime: love, who seemed to be welcome everywhere. One must be sacrificed for the other, they’re about as inclusive as American’s foreign policy. To kill love, was to kill everything. Was it worth it?
Destroying the world is the only action one can make that would have any purpose. This is a truth confirmed by quantum physics. Every decision we make is meaningless, because somewhere, in a parallel universe, we’ve already made the opposite choice. We’re nothing, less than nothing. Here, we’re a conquering disease, a species of rich excess, but elsewhere, we’re poor, slaves to another faster evolved species. Elsewhere our parents never met and we were never born, or the world ended in nuclear war, and somewhere, no fish ever mustered up the courage to climb onto land and humanity never evolved. Ad infinitum. But this theory has the darkest implication: somewhere out there, in the multiverse is Earth One. The original, the prime, the alpha and omega; every earth is a variation of this one. Chances are excruciatingly high that we’re not Earth One, but if I could find a way to travel between these earths, and tear down Earth One, all of reality will collapse and all that’ll be left will be truth. Simple, abstract, pure truth. The sacrifice demanded too high a price, especially from me.
She put the tumbler on a cute little purple napkin, “It seems like a serious night, thought I’d liven it up,” her ravenous straight hair braided to the side mused me to the brink of oblivion, and she had me at her mercy.
I tried to listen to the game in the background, waiting for the Leafs to drop a three-goal lead late in the third, praying that it would chase away the memories. The drunken memories of an angel come and gone, of steamy sex, and savage brawls in midtown bars with quasi-tough-guys. Like always, her voice echoed in my head, and like an idiot, I listened.
“I’m in morality, political science, and history,” she broke my trance and condescended. Perhaps she thought I had no education, and drinking my trust fund and new-found royalties… maybe she was right. What had I learned other than conceptual futility if someone was dumb enough to pursue knowledge?
I looked right at her, chuckling like some movie villain before his big monologue, right before the hero leaps forth and ends him, saving the day, and the babe. Truly however, I was vexed by the obeisance these petty creatures paid to a piece of paper with a number on it, “Perfect,” I took a little sip of the drink and set it down, it wasn’t strong enough.
“Why is that?” her suspicious eyebrows arched above her thick eyelashes, batting them like a Disney princess.
“Who better to serve me liquid truth than a pretty woman whose passion transcends mere good or evil?”
She laughed, eyeing the other losers I was shoulder-to-shoulder with, caught in the chagrin of her blunder in judging me hastily, “I’m… more like an imprisoned psychologist with unlimited booze,” and she thus rendered me distinct from everyone else.
I stared at the bottom of the glass, catching my twisted, wavy reflection as I counted the seconds until tranquility tickled my lips, then burned my throat, “Ingemisco, tamquam reus.” Gulp. She did have the best medicine.
She smiled and put her hand on my cup, guiding my forearm back down to the counter, “All my shame with anguish owning. Spare me thy suppliant groaning!” her face cleverly fixated in a glance that perpetuated the double-meaning of what I said, exercising her choice in the matter.
She knew her Latin, the Dies Irae; the Lacrimosa; the mass of the dead. They say a man was commissioned from beyond the grave to write it. It was chilling to think such things.
“Oh, I forgot to mention, I'm also minoring in Latin studies,” had she really forgotten this fact about her life, or was this one of the infinitude of games babes seem to play with others' minds?
I take back what I said, it was then, and not before that she had me at her mercy. I hadn’t even realized I’d finished my drink. Her soft, plush hands lingered on my own for a moment before she took my cup, and to my dismay, some regular at the end of the bar called her over. I knew of course, that this… angel could not be trusted, but at that moment, what choice did I have?
I’d dozed off, carefully analyzing the quant architecture of the place.
“Another?” she appeared in front of me like she’d glided from the other side of the bar.
“Yeah… make it a triple this time angel,” I guess she was right, it was a serious night, but no more serious than any day.
“What do you do?” she finally asked.
The truly American way to narrow down a person's value; my vocation seemingly abiding through the weary filth of merit that leaks into my character. I guess I couldn't really blame her though, on this earth, you are what you do.
“I'm doing it,” it took me a second to gulp the next one down. I was getting there, sliding the tumbler back to her. She refilled it, but not before reaching under the counter and coming out with a cup of her own, pouring Dante's Inferno into her glass, and mixing it with overpriced tonic water. “To the requiem,” and we clacked cups: kippis. It was day but sunlight barely penetrated the dark canopy of this forsaken place as if it were some ancient ruin untouched by man for centuries.
I looked around, trying to gain an understanding of my surroundings. She must’ve have liked it, because she suddenly grinned this particularly luscious smile and leaned over the counter. I could smell her perfume and had to shift my gaze to not look down her shirt through her pink lacy bra like an ogling buffoon. I could practically feel her lips nibble on my ear as she whispered, “You're a tough guy.”
“There is no such thing beautiful,” ironically enough, as soon as the words left my mouth, two goombas in the back seemed to be yelling at each other over whose chest was more filled with steroids and hot air or whose dick was longer, I wasn't really listening but I got the gist. Conversations of such sorts are one-track, the brain surgeon already having performed his lobotomy.
“What do you mean?” she asked after she set the bottle down in between us. I tried not staring into her eyes. I failed.
When I start to make a fool out of myself, there's practically nothing that can stop me. I felt like I wasn't in my right mind, but I knew I haven't been in my right mind since I laid my eyes on her, “There is no such thing as tough; what is tough? Simply trained, or having an edge. A gun, a baseball bat, a knife, a baton, a straight razor. Something the other guy doesn't have. A belt of a particular color, advice from an expert you chance upon, a stripe on a bicep, a badge that says ‘Police,’ a rock you pick up… or your bank account. Without an advantage, without an edge, there is no such phrase.”
“You're beginning to interest me stranger, drifting here and there, drinking scotch with lonely bartenders.”
“Lonely, but not alone,” nothing could make me stop thinking about her.
“What makes you say that?” she poured us another drink,
“Dames like you never are,” nothing except the increasing agitation of the goons in the corner of the bar.
“I can't stand guys like that,” she sighed, “Will?” and she nodded to some failed MMA fighter turned bouncer who weaved towards their vicinity, “What? Do they think making idiots of themselves impresses girls?” she gulped her drink down. Just then, I started listening intently.
“I have to be honest with you angel, their indolence impresses me thoroughly,” I turned around to see how this little mess had played out. Neither of these bozos had a nanite of steel in their spines but I knew too well how dangerous chumps could be when trying to show off for the only homely bimbo that would stand their insolence. Their nature might be cowardly, but two dueling cowards are dueling nonetheless, open to reap havoc on others in the name of collateral damage like the American government. It was too bad I wasn’t, not even a little, in the mood for such irrelevant matters.
There was a sense of restless indignation brewing in me, and unlike the others in this foreign vault, I didn't have a good enough grasp of clichéd social conventions to subside the elevating tension. Well, I knew how to shut them up, that's for sure, but the blood on my jacket just dried.
Between the two cowards, one was more so than his foe and backed down; the brave coward, with a newfound sense of air in his chest, elbowed his way over to the bar for a celebratory Appletini.
I growled, I can't stand it when guys talk to dames like that; ‘toots’ was too disrespectful of our bartender, and I wanted to show him how to respect those superior to him in every way possible. He looked over with furrowed eyebrows, mistaking me for a coward like the one he walked away from and had the displeasure of meeting my cold stare into his eyes, which then slowly dropped to my left shoulder, “You… uh… have blood on your jacket.”
Damn, brazen as he acted, he feared to walk my path, and just when I was getting in the mood. “It just dried,” I gulped down the rest of my drink as our allegorical psychiatrist with liquid medicine came over with his red bull and piss-poor drink—if you can call it that—with a fat smile dimpling her face.
My thigh vibrated in this peculiar bz, bzzz, bzzzz, bzzzzzzzzzzz. I couldn't remember if I was even aware of the custom vibrations feature.
Slide to view. “Thank you Bruce,” from: ‘the angel come and gone,’ but not in so many words. I couldn't recall what I'd ever said or done that seemed to merit such gratitude, or maybe it was her elegance that rendered her so classy. Still, the reverence I attributed to her refined soul transcended the mere words flashing on some useless technical gadget designed for disconnection. It was yet another sublime moment of my undoing.
I came and went, floating over my stool and sinking into it again, drowning in what tasted and smelled like bad scotch, and with an old man's liver I chugged the rest of the bottle. In the darkness between drinks I waited. I listened, trying to understand what these puny ants worshipped with such sycophancy, placing false methods or abstractions on an idyllic pedestal without minds to comprehend its magnitudes.
Between fills of the poison warming my chest, I caught a reflection through the shelf behind my captive shrink with infinite booze, and I realized it was, in fact impossible to get away from her, the angel come and lost. The coincidence seemed too convenient naively ascribed to fate. What the hell was she doing in a joint like this? I’d picked this craphole precisely because she wouldn’t be caught dead in it. I could not appreciate the eminence, the delectation of that moment, and yet I had to. As I watched her, the tempest inside me ceded. No matter where I seemed to go, the abyss she'd cast me into followed me around, just like the pain in my soul coupled to the throbbing in my brain. I'd chased her for so long before I realized nothing was really a chase; we are all mere passengers on the wheel of destiny, forming perfect circles that round on itself. We live on trains with cyclical tracks. I had however, acquired the benefit of seeing the complete tale of our story and the ending was merciless and crude, forcing me to rewrite it alone in this bar without any moral posturing. Like I said before, there couldn’t be altruism in pursuits of this kind.
“I'm going out for a cigar,” I groaned at the bartender. I had to get out of there.
“Wait a second, I go on break in about 2 minutes, I'll join,” her lips were in perfect harmony with her body. Then why this rotten feeling in my gut?
My once-was angel was approaching the bar. As she neared its inner sanctum, a strange sensation crept over me, an indescribable feeling of displacement, a sense of vertigo. Reality itself appeared to warp and bend around me. The disturbance, I came to realize, came from her angelic aura, and as she neared me, the dislocation intensified with each step, a yearning to touch her warm skin becoming a monster wanting to tear out of me. I had to get out of there now.
“Join me out there beautiful,” I looked at her up and down; for reasons known to me and everyone else who ever lived, I found myself comparing my once-upon-a-time angel with the bartender, the latter wouldn’t, couldn't match up, not without some detachment from my part. Still, I held the bartender’s gaze as I slipped away, hiding part of my face under the collar of my now favorite leather jacket as I walked by my princess-to-never-be.
Does anyone ever really have a choice, or can we only match, move after move like chess, the machinations of fate, defying the tyrannous stars in their attempt to keep us shackled? My friend Taka pointed out that the concept of free will was only conceived in the middle ages, and the question is: did we invent it, or discover it? How can something like this be discovered? It can’t… it must’ve been invented, and so it can’t be truth, it can’t be true, it can’t be abstract. When I said this they called me a brooding cynic but I still laugh at the concept. Freedom is life’s most cleverly orchestrated lie, perpetually deceiving our inner thoughts into believing that we possess a real choice. Paradoxically, only when we accept the absence of choice do we become as free as our limited nature allows. We lie and reap in the name of freedom, led by murderers. Forgetting too often freedom is merely the temporary construct of feeble human intellects trying desperately to justify an essence that is without any purpose. We try to distinguish ourselves, to be different, separate, original, but in this way we are all alike, hopelessly plowing through a field like sheep to the slaughter. On Earth One however, there are no such illusions like free will. Before thought, before being and existence, there was Earth One. A singular history, a singular truth.
I knew the price of truth: agony, the price of character: pain, and the price of leadership: loneliness. A noble leader in the quest for truth then, can’t whine about hitting the trifecta of suffering and despair. The motive of a man: revenge, altruism, sacrifice, love, hate, truth… whatever it may be, is always profoundly abstracted. A seeming obsession of the duality between body and mind.
This obsession of duality, itself coupled with the illusion of free will gave rise to chaos. With every false-choice we think we make, we literally create a world, history branches in two, one earth where we made the choice, and another where we didn’t. That’s the secret to the universe. Billions of people making trillions of decisions, creating infinite earths. Some are so similar to each other you could spend a lifetime in one and be none the wiser, and I had to assume some are so radically different they defy comprehension. I wondered which earth was the one where I didn’t make the mistake of losing her—the earth next door, where I made the opposite moves, where I hadn’t sacrificed my queen to save my idealistic knight. Above all the others though, I wanted to find the sophist Bruce Crown, the earth where I am brilliant enough to lie, perpetuate rampant idiocy and mediocre mentality. The earth where I am an “emotional con-man.” The place where I engage in sentimentality, line up for overpriced gadgets. The world where I feel. To find, in other words, the dishonest Bruce in the multiverse among the infinitudes of me. I must be the only one… ever, the universe isn’t big enough for two of me. It can barely contain the one.
I wondered about Earth One, whether it was so similar to ours I could live there without noticing, or be so different beyond comprehension I wouldn’t notice crossing over—and even had to wonder if I already had. One thing remains, the source of all cataclysm in earths of strife and sickness is man. Man is a cancer, a virus that must be cut out. This, is the only real choice, the one with any meaning. How I envied the idiot Bruce.
Time came and went and I hadn’t noticed. My princess, my queen, my love. Most men are fools for a pretty face, and I was hardly an exception, but hers was a painting: a Da Vinci portrait over a Bach’s Prelude in C minor, a prelude of everything seraphic to come, of promises delivered. She was hotter than the African sun in the middle of July, my ears started vibrating to their native drums, waiting for rain to patter the red sand—ridden with the blood and hearts of the innocent—and by design land on her cheeks, to give it the sort of radiant glow only she deserves. As I walked past her, our bodies seemed to cool in the daunting, sweaty warmth of humid air, her seductive aroma lingered in my nostrils long after I was outside.
My hand shook only once when I lit the Partagas, but it knew better and stopped immediately. It knows to never shake. How I envied the Bruce whose hand shook without fear in times of perceived panic or elevating elation.
The bartender came out looking sexier than she did inside, it must’ve been the cheap lighting and petrifying smell of booze. It’d started raining in the time it took her to come out here. Light drizzle hit the glass, our summer rain is nothing to write home about though. I wasn't going to do anything because I saw it in a movie or read it in a book, and I hoped that she didn't expect anything because she'd seen something somewhere or thought something sometime. I counted the seconds between the lazy smacks of each individual drop wetting the window. It was only a passing shower. It didn't cool me off, not…one…bit. The rumble of souped-up low-end cars driven by posers and the squeal of police sirens pulling them over triggered a vicious migraine that blurred my vision. Car doors opened and closed. The lightweight inside sounded off to his partner-in-cowardice again, but he was quickly silenced by this deafening thud that I attributed to ‘Will.’ I took in the smell of piss and airlessness, lost in the shadows of a city I grew up in and had walked every inch of. How much I envied the Bruce who didn’t get migraines.
I was certainly not in the mood for the trivial sentimentalities shoved down our throats by over-idealized fictions, sophistical ideals, and trash-infected mentalities. And yet, the most prosaic thought of all—the babe I’d left inside long ago—wouldn’t relent, satisfied to throw my heart through the rain pattered window I was staring at. How I envied the Bruce who was forgetful, and could simply let his past go.
Her famished eyes showed me cloudy summer skies. Dying leaves coloring our seasons brown, exhaling life as they drift down like a lonely wind calling my name.
“You from the city?” she seemed different without access to my favorite kind of medicine, breaking the silence with extraneous small-talk. She wasn’t lighting her cigar properly, I had to help… yeah, I’m a gentleman. How I envied the Bruce who wasn’t a perfectionist.
“I'm just passing through,” there were distant dreams of things to be if I had thoughts that could be free.
“Then you’re looking for something.”
The silence went on for too long, she thought I was thinking, I wasn’t, “Aren’t we all?”
“Well…what are you searching for?” she smacked her lips on the tip of the cigar, making this fast circle around it with her tongue.
“I’ll know when I find it,” Meno paradox. I prayed to the One she hadn’t read it.
“But how will you know you’ve found it if you don’t know what you’re searching for?” great, even if she hadn’t read it, she was smart enough to ask the right questions.
“I… don’t,” I puffed my cigar, my hand as still as a spinal surgeon.
“Then why search at all?” she emulated my movements when she puffed hers.
“We are promised many things undelivered.”
“Like?” she moved closer, pretending to be cold in this hell.
“… numbered paper, fancy cars, superpowers, the power to change.”
“HAHAHAH,” she roared with laughter, “You're funny.”
Equality, truth, smart women, reasonable men, Platonic politicians, Aristotelian virtue, unadulterated evolution in thought.
“Ejkqwheqiunasfaskjrqiunuih,” she kept talking but I couldn't hear anything, the pounding in my ears tightened my jaw so had it cramped, my spine formed a knot and bent into itself like the wheels of our fates.
I drifted away, overtaken by a familiar displacement and utter indifference darkening my eyes from the edges in, as if the night had crawled in me and was leaking into the last of me. The streams of light through the clouds perplexed me, since the days shouldn’t have been this short, but the darkness lingered, maybe waiting for something, like I was.
Sometimes things get into you and grow bit-by-bit, coming back to haunt you later, only they got decided long ago, so long you’ve never thought about them.
Down there in the world, in there at the bar, I’d let down my angel and was happily paying the price for doing what I thought was right, following that idiot Kant into hell and getting lost on the way back. She was everything living, both there in the world and here in the abstract. She was life, and she saw something in this version of me. I never told her about my past, what I’d done and why I wouldn’t recall why I’d done even a quarter of them. But piece-by-piece, those things welled up in me, started bleeding out of me, oozed through my skin deemed different and visible. I knew deep down, I was no good for her from the inside out. I tried to tell her something real and meaningful—against the surer claims of Wittgenstein—and the best my limited intellect could do was ask her to never forget how much she meant to me; how she was life and I was death; how she was the light and I was dark; how she was my only star and I was a black hole, and because I never told her what I’d done, or what I knew was going to happen if I stayed, she couldn't possibly know why I haunted our apartment like a dead-man-walking.
She didn't think anything of what I’d said, none of it was good to her, by then, it was coming from a specter she didn’t even remember meeting, let alone loving. I looked into her eyes and saw brightness, but I left anyway, I had no choice. I’d journeyed so far, forsaken so much, only to fall.
I blinked, sucking in the polluted air again, trying to open my eyes and return to the realm of sensibles, but I could only think of her, of the gnawing despair that I am nothing but a dot in the universe. I wondered what she was doing inside the bar, searching for something I hope she finds.
I think I was a man once, far away, on this distant planet, I was a man, and not this tortured nightmare floating into the fray. I screamed inwardly at whatever’s out there, if anything, to take me, to do its best with me, to kill me. I howled that there was nothing here for me but the ghost of skeletons past and pains of present. I tried to remember the last things in me, of my angel when she was mine, of my mind when it wasn’t lost, and my heart when it wasn’t shattered. I roared at death; if you’re here to take me, then take me. The darkness in me, the monster I keep caged, the things I’ve done and the thing I am will never touch her. He doesn’t show. I cried for Grim to end it forever, all Bruces, and purify her soul of me. A Philips-head screwdriver found its way to my heart, and twisted slowly.
All conflict and strife throughout history, all the fear and hatred served one purpose. To keep the circle of life turning. All souls are prisoners, trapped in a pointless round of existence, leading distracted, blundered lives, until death returns them, always in ignorance to higher truths.
From above, I watched myself standing in front of the bartender in a sort of dream within a dream. She hadn’t noticed I wasn’t there, not really. I’d gone away, far away, too far to come back, none of them ever do.