Flickr photograph by Pacdog.
A MAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE
by Andreas Economakis
All alone on Saturday evening and no one called and you really want company and there’s just no one there and you sit on the couch all alone and time passes by like a wet knot sliding down your throat, a sick feeling in your stomach, a palpable emptiness in your chest and you want so bad to fill it, to fill it with love, with anything and you end up filling it up with booze and television and you pick up the receiver but no one’s there and you can cut through the silence in the air with a knife. Maybe you are the victim of a bad idea, of a love gone south, off the map and you’re almost sure that you’re suffering from some kind of brain damage brought on by your mom boozing when you were a fetus, because damn it, the other kids aren’t like me, they’re out there, laughing and singing and kissing and fucking and talking to one another like there’s no problem, like they get along just fine, and maybe they do, they sure as hell act like it.
Midnight and you’re still on the couch, tonight it’s a soft coffin couch, all pretty in fabric and patterns and so very hard to leave behind but you hate it, you loathe it and you long for day to come and you’re afraid of the night ahead with its nightmares and your bed, alone in your cold bed, a bed that hurts your chin when you lie on your stomach, a bed that only you have slept in recently, that hasn’t had that sweet smell of a woman in a while but hopefully will soon, a bed to share with someone, and maybe if you fill your bed that emptiness in your chest will go away, you hope so but you’re just not sure it will because it’s so damn empty in there it would take a hundred women to fill the void.
You open another beer and it slides down smoother than the last one and another soft layer is tacked to your brain, making it stray a bit and dull the fact that you’re all alone here on this couch, in this apartment, in this city, on this Saturday night. You wish you had the gift of gab, you wish you were an actor and could just talk for the sake of talking and smile like you care and listen when nothing’s being said and pretend that you interested when you don’t give a shit. Maybe then you’d be happy, with lots of friends, the phone always ringing, the girls always laughing, people always listening and inviting you to more of the same and god forbid a moment’s silence should arise because you just might have to look at your real self in the mirror then and you’re not sure you’ll like what you see. No, you’re not sure because you’ve been running away from that mirror a long time now, running away from that image, cloaking it in fancy ribbons and clothes and haircuts and eyeliner and cars, dressing up your image so that you can’t see yourself anymore and you actually believe this new mirror image is you. Your new best friend and he looks cool.
You close your eyes…
You get up and walk outside, the cold air biting your face, the dog from next door barking, the fucker wakes you up every morning at 6 and the asshole neighbor is too damn selfish or stupid to do anything about it and you dream non-stop of putting a bullet in the dog’s brain, no the owner’s brain. Maybe that’s the problem with this world, you think, that no one gives a shit and when they do they do nothing about it, like you, letting things escalate to a burning point, a point when all rationality dies and the only answer lies in killing and hurting and stealing and all the other deadly sins that are just weird, fucked-up offshoots of the survival instinct, a survival instinct gone haywire, isolated from society, alone, disconnected, like you feel this Saturday night.
A young woman drives by and you look at each other. She’s breathtaking, a soft focus woman with hair like silk and skin so soft it makes the knot in your chest grow bigger and drip with envy and hatred for yourself because you won’t ever meet her, it’s just not in your cards. At the corner she puts on her brakes and waits and for just one moment you hope, you imagine, you dream that she is waiting for you, that you’ll walk up and the door will swing open and she’ll ask you in and the light will play in her eyes, revealing the fact that she likes you very much, that she has been waiting her whole life to meet you. You’ll take off together and… that’s when the story goes dead because the car turns the corner and disappears into the night, taking with it all your love and future and desire and hope.
You sigh and walk on.
You find yourself on the local bus to Hollywood, nowhere in particular, just a Cassavetian somewhere where lots of people are milling around because you need to be near people tonight. The man across the aisle from you has a vacant stare revealing nothing inside, an android in motion, a pod returning to a refueling station. You notice the reflection of your own face in the bus’ darkened windows, the eyes pitched into darkness, your skin a deathly neon yellow, a whitish yellow, a dead yellow. Your image is looking at you and it scares you, it sucks the life out of you, it reminds you of a horror movie you once saw where people just didn’t have emotions. You shutter and your image in the window looks away. The lights of the city slowly jostle by, accompanied by the soft hum of the bus’ engines, the occasional dinging of the warning bell signaling the next stop. You get up and wait. In slow motion you see three fat, juicy tomatoes explode on the front windshield of the bus. Son of a bitch, little fuckers, the bus driver says and accelerates again, switching his wipers on, spreading the red tomato sauce around, obscenely, streaking the windows, garishly. Son of a bitch, he breathes again and you remember when as a kid you used to egg buses with your brothers, but from rooftops, you weren’t brazen enough to do it from the street.
You get off the bus.
Beer, please. Yes, that’s fine, and you walk away from the bar a moment later, your hand wrapped around a cold bottle, the dew drops forming a puddle on your right index finger. There’s something very phallic about a beer bottle in your hand, all hard and wet, especially when you’re looking at beautiful women. You pick a low impact yet central point just left of the bar and lean against the wall, affecting your most coy, unaffected look, your hand automatically going up to check your hair, your receding hair. The hum of the bar is deafening, a myriad of people jostle by, all kinds of folks, beautiful, strong, gorgeous, butt-ugly, plain, yuppies, hippies, grungers, Hollywood-types, businesswomen, bums, cute girls in skin-tight dresses that ooze sex, guys so full of themselves you catch them fucking with their hair, their hands constantly checking their hair, ablaze in cockiness and those fuckers will probably all get laid tonight because they’re in a bar and they’re not alone, alone like you, even if they have no one with them.
Next to the blonde surfer dude at the bar–you hate blonde surfer dudes, they must be the dumbest species on earth–you spot a brunette sitting alone with a blue drink in front of her, wisps of smoke curling around her head, her body cocked in such a way on the stool that you know she’s desperately trying to avoid the blonde surfer dude. But he’s persistent and actually taps her on the shoulder, him waiting with a stupid smile and she turning annoyed but they actually start to talk and her body tilts towards his and, fuck (!), she just smiled and looked your way and caught your eye, her gaze lingering just long enough to send a cold trickle of sweat down your spine. A moment later she looks again and her gaze lasts longer this time, its message clear. You’re sick to your stomach now because this is where it always falls apart–you never get your nerve up to do anything, you just sit there like a fish blowing bubbles and hope like a bloody fool that the girl will walk up to you and say she spotted you and that you’re cute and Hey do you want to take a walk (?) and before you know it you’re holding her hand and in a dark spot on the street you turn and kiss and she’s an amazing kisser, your tongues in perfect unison, her scent so incredible and she presses into you and her hair is so soft and her nape is so warm and your hand wraps itself around her waist and she hugs you like she means it and you know she will be the mother of your children and you will love her until the day you die and probably longer. But this doesn’t happen and eventually she leaves with the blonde surfer dude, a guy who has the IQ of a pea and the personality of blanched rock.
You storm out of the bar, sick to your stomach, thankful for the blast of fresh Hollywood air on this cold winter night. You’re exhaling steam under the bar’s neon sign and you spot the blonde surfer dude jump into the brunette’s Celica, son of a bitch. You look to the left and you see a woman in rags approaching, pushing a shopping car filled with bottles, empty jingling jangling bottles and she’s got the most amazing smile plastered all over her face like she’s the happiest woman in the world and maybe she is, you just can’t tell anymore. She smiles at you as she goes by and you look away because you are the opposite of her and her happiness depresses you though she’s the one sleeping on the street tonight and you’re the one sleeping in your house tonight, alone. You’re both alone but the big difference is she has come to terms with it and you haven’t and for a second, just a second, a smile lights across your face and you see yourself in rags, pushing a shopping cart down the boulevard, not a care in the world.
Excuse me, do you have a light (?), you hear behind you and you turn and two big brown eyes are looking at you, framed in a beautiful face, the face of a girl you noticed in the bar briefly, before you were sucked into the surfer dude vortex. I… I don’t… I don’t smoke you stammer and wish you did, fuck, you wish you were the Marlboro Man right now. Oh, she says and blushes and you blush and she turns to walk away and you want to say something so you stutter something stupid like, I can find you a light if you want and she turns and blushes again and your eyes lock and she steps toward you, her body opening up and she says That’s so sweet, what’s your name (?) and you squeeze it out and you ask What’s yours (?) and she replies Amy. Hi Amy, and you look around for a second, hoping somebody is smoking nearby so you can be a knight in shining armor, but there’s no one and you look back and say, You want to walk to that 7-11 and get some matches (?) and she says Okay. You jam your hands in your pocket and affect the Bob Dylan look from Highway 61 Revisited and she walks next to you, comfortable, not a care in the world and out of the corner of your eye you notice her noticing you noticing her. You both smile and she tucks her arm into your arm just as you dodge a car and then she pulls it away to not give the wrong impression and your heart takes a wild beat, you’re such a fucking hopeless romantic.
Once outside you’re at a loss for words but not thoughts and you manage to sputter a suggestion of grabbing a bite at a dinner or someplace, maybe the House of Pies (?), and you notice a change in Amy, a slight but perceptible chill. I should probably be getting on home, she says and, gentleman that you are, you nod and say okay and your bodies separate, tearing those little strings in your heart to pieces but the game isn’t over so, as you pause by her car, you add Do you want to catch a film or something in the next few days (?) and she hesitates and you’re sure she’s going to say No and she backs away some more and you wonder if you are indeed cursed and she says Okay… Unbelieving, she gives you her phone number, whose last 4 digits are identical to your number from freshman year in college and you wonder if it is fate and before you know it you’re shaking hands and she’s saying Thanks and you’re saying My pleasure and you see her tail lights disappear around the corner and you’re happy, a damn stretch happier than you’ve been in a million years and you pump your fist into the air and feel untouchable and you scream Yeah under your breath. Yeah. You decide to walk back into the bar and celebrate, yeah, fuck the blonde surfer dude and that loser chick.
Back inside the crowd has thinned to those that are planning on closing the place down and you order another beer from the bar and the cute bartender smiles at you and you know you’re on fire, it’s written all over you. You suck half the beer down and scan the room, noticing a few couples and some other guys just like you, only the tide has changed and you’re the winner now, the one who’s scored and so you’re cocky and as you look around you see that other girls are checking you out and you act indifferent, you are indifferent, in a dream world with Amy, walking down a dusty road somewhere in Baja, in search of a small French restaurant with 4 tables run by a sympathetic Belgian couple who moved to Mexico and as you round the bend you notice the most amazing small beach with palm trees and you both run and as you reach the sand you both strip and dive into the water and under the cool waves you grab her and she’s goose bumped and your skin touches at the exact moment your lips meet, the salt slightly burning the side of your mouth and you don’t have a clue where you are for a second when the lights flash on and a man at the bar yells Last Call!
And you open your eyes and find yourself glued to your couch, your neck in a crick, the TV tuned to a horrific Tom Cruise film. Is that fluttering sound coming from your stomach? No, it’s coming from the daydream you just had. You click the TV off and slowly pad your way to bed.
This piece was inspired by Dylan’s Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie and Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence. It is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.
Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.