The Trappings by Ryan A. Lough
“YOUTH IS ABOVE ALL a collection of possibilities.” -Albert Camus
She walked back into the bedroom after her morning, post-coital piss. Maybe it’s because this is her apartment, or perhaps it’s just who she is, but in the late-morning sun with all flesh exposed, she exudes an unusual amount of comfort and self-confidence. Far more than I could ever muster in such a situation. We’ve only known each other for a little over a week. The bright light, dappled by her lace-curtained windows, splashed her naked skin, calling attention like a highlighter streak over a line of text. Her bald pelvic bone; cellulite accumulating in her middle-aged breadbasket; the unevenness and sag of her breasts; her ass flat and wide from a decade of desk work and delivered meals; her flushed face and stressed pores from a morning romp in the sheets after a night of cheap cocktails. Either she was oblivious or she didn’t care.
She’s beautiful, but age has begun to claim her vessel and bring it back around to a lump of inert mass. As a middle-aged man that once had an athletic build, but now has more subcutaneous lard than a pig farm, I made sure to pull the sheets up above my hairy nipples as she returned to the bed, concealing my shameful lump of increasingly inert mass.
“I haven’t asked you this yet, but you haven’t clearly told me, either: why did you move to here?” she prodded as she slid back into the sheets with me. I tried my best to not let my 38-year-old morning breath enter her nasal passages.
“Well…” I had been dodging this question for 5 or 6 days. I hadn’t yet thought out a well-crafted response. She’s the first woman I’ve bedded down with in Chicago. First in over a year, actually. She’s a cocktail hour regular at our neighborhood bar. Always solo, with a book, or an iPad, and a lengthy succession of clear-liquor well drinks. The talk has been short and small up to now. She never seemed entirely engaged. “I needed a career change. And I didn’t want to get stuck in Los Angeles for the next 30 years, assuming I made it that long. It’s an image-first town, and I just don’t resonate with that kind of superficiality.”
I’ve been working in advertising for a couple years now – sporadically between movie gigs at first, but now full time. I’ve become a desk jockey with a flattened ass and the recent development of hemorrhoids. The starting line is blurred at the point where I began working in this wholly unethical industry. Some folks would say that I failed in the entertainment industry, which precipitated my need to switch careers and locale. I’d like to believe that I care not what others think. Speaking honestly: I adjusted my career path from film and TV over to the rectum of media – advertising – because I failed in the entertainment industry. And I need to pay bills. So, fuck them.
When it was clear to me, about a year ago, that I could not stay in Los Angeles – my name had been dragged through the mud one too many times, and my professional network was drying up like the natural resources in that parched state – I moved to Chicago. I didn’t know anyone in Chicago upon arrival. What I did know was that I could start over here, make up a persona, and rely on my newly minted “credentials” as an important person from the paradise at the edge of the world. I could call on a few scattered friends to lie on my behalf as job references. Many Midwesterners still perceive Los Angeles, and most of California for that matter, as the Golden State of Dreams Everlasting, and I was banking on the accuracy of this conjectural advantage. I was not good enough for New York, Dallas is a Texan strip mall, Atlanta is Los Angeles with humidity, New Orleans is sinking quicker than I am, and no other city in the US offers such an opportunity to start over with anonymity. The blue-collar hustle for the American Dream is still alive in Chicago, despite being extinct everywhere else.
Moving from entertainment to advertising meant relinquishing a part of myself, letting go of creative integrity, slipping into the world of corporate greed and becoming a whore just to pay my monthly overhead and keep up a sensually indulgent way of life that I’ve grown accustomed to. For better or worse. I have often dreamt of settling down in the country, raising crops and small livestock, and translating contemporary French literature into English. I do speak French fluently, but I know nothing of the literary translation business. I’ve also never once planted a seed, dug an irrigation trench, or practiced animal husbandry. As it goes with most humans, what we don’t know intimidates us to the point of failure; failure to explore the unknown because of the necessary learning process that disrupts comfort; failure to pursue what motivates us as an underlying force. My penchant for dreaming, as much as it powers me in my early morning moments of shower-thought, never seems to manifest into more than a series of bleary-eyed thought bubbles. In middle age, I lack personal discipline. I don’t seem to have the follow-through any longer. It’s not safe to pursue your dreams when your hair begins falling out and medical insurance becomes more important than holiday trips with friends. Assuming one still has friends.
“Where are you from, originally?” she asked after a few moments of snoozy silence.
“Michigan.” She waited for more, and the room filled with the sound of my grumbling intestines. I couldn’t think clearly.
“Well, where in Michigan?” The tone of her voice was already beginning to convey boredom. Was it me? Was I boring? Three fucks into this new dalliance and I had already lost my edge – she’d already lost interest.
“Grayling – up north.” I formed my left hand into the mitten shape, as is expected, and pointed to where Grayling was. “I left there when I was 16, though, at the end of winter. I remember riding snowmobiles a lot when I lived there, but that’s about it. It’s a pretty uneventful place. My mother left my father for California, and I went with my father down to Texas.” I could feel my lack of enthusiasm further drying up the conversation as if someone had just blasted open the Hoover Dam and her reservoir of interest gushed out. “I set out in search of life in the big city! I wanted to explore existence, the world, get in trouble, create meaningful memories.” Yes, that will do. A Band-Aid rebound.
She smiled, but her teeth didn’t show, and her eyes didn’t even squint. She didn’t so much as try to feign interest.
She got up and suggested that she had to leave soon – my queue to depart. I put my pants on and slipped my arms into my shirt. It was stiff from dried cum. I’d wiped it off her stomach a few hours ago. I said adios. I was late for work.
The guilt of societal responsibility weighed on me as I left her building. I was late for work – the ad agency that owned my time for a maximum of eight hours each day. The guilt kept my feet moving, but my thirst and lack of care led my mind off path. Why should I report to Ad World-Ad Nauseam and continue writing healthcare copy? Why couldn’t I just go find a bar, an out – a whore, a ball game, a porn theatre, an excuse?
I trudged on because the guilt was overwhelming. After a quick rinse of top and tail, and a solemn train ride to the heart of the beast, I was back in my cubicle. Back in the saddle. Ready to eat lunch at my desk. With no desire to contribute or achieve for the remainder of my shift, I composed an email to my mother, who had worked as a copywriter in San Francisco for two decades before retiring to a single life of Fox News, acid reflux, and newfound faith in the Presbyterian version of Christ.
I couldn’t resist any longer. After learning of the titillating experiences you enjoyed on a near-daily basis over at Goodman-Silversby, I’ve decided to throw in the towel on self-employment and the proverbial chasing of dreams. I have joined the rank and file stables of the subservient masses here in Chicago. I have parceled out pieces of my soul and sold them to the highest bidder – one that offers a decent hourly wage, a cubicle with aggressive, fluorescent overheads, and grey fabric walls woven into tedious patterns that I can stare blankly at as I feel the effects of muscle atrophy and age hyper-accelerating on course toward total decomposition due to lack of exercise and daily inactivity. Not even the hamster wheel has a hamster wheel.
Copywriting for the Ad Machine (the real Church of Satan) ain’t so bad, though. The confines, while clinically sterile, full of “nomenclature”, and devoid of creative molecules, are no contest for the advantages that come with being placed in a corner cubicle by HR, far from the doldrums of business speak, welcomed with looks of slight amazement and bewilderment (I hope I took the make-up off from last night), and being informed that I am allowed to play in my sandbox of words all day long. The grandest part of it all is whilst playing with words, either in my head, in my notebook, on social media, in emails to you, or strolling about and contemplating the philosophy of written communication in the 21st century, I have the freedom to wander my way downstairs to the 2nd floor of Chicago’s monolithic Merchandise Mart (my sandbox is located on the 5th floor of The Mart) and peruse (read: “gorge on”) all of the fantastic snack and meal options in the on-site bodegas! Yes! And some of them have wine!
The French embrace afternoon rosé paired with a tasty lunch. It’s a cultural cornerstone for them. I side with the French here, and I think others should follow suit. If there’s one thing that Americans have really come together on in the wake of the recent Paris attacks, it is that France is the undisputed leader in quality of life; they wrote the fucking operating manual on the topic.
It is my third week here at Ad World-Ad Nauseum. Since I’m still fresh and trying to maintain employment, some restraint has to be exhibited. I shan’t indulge in workplace wine. Yet. This is still America, and drinking during work hours is a cardinal sin. This country prohibited alcohol less than a century ago, remember? It is relieving though, to know that I can access such pleasures without leaving the building, should I really want to take my life into my own hands.
As I sit here, waiting for the shift bell to ring, before following the herd to the commuter rail, I know that this is temporary. This is an experiment in something new, and a quick run into battle, fighting under the almighty flag of the Greenback Dollar. I am using this circumstance to build discipline in daily writing; pushing myself closer to who I truly want to be: a starving artist heading toward homelessness that burned all bridges leading to the land of Living the Dream.
Your loving son that continues to endure,
I hesitated sending it to her, over-thinking it, anticipating that a lecture would follow. But, eventually, I sent it.
What happened to childhood? What happened to embracing youth? When did it all vanish? This is what I wanted to ask my mother in the letter, and nearly everyday for the last several years. We don’t really talk much anymore, and I don’t think I would listen if she began to lecture. Her opinions have all become washed by the Blood of Christ. I’m beginning to agree with Thoreau’s passage near the beginning of Walden, insofar that the older generation has no advice to offer that the younger may benefit from.
Age ushers in doubt to balance out the assurance and wisdom attained through the years of failure and success. Over time, that doubt can become crippling if one decides to shell up, becoming detached from the rest of the world. Then one becomes nihilistic and cynical. One loses contact. I seem to be losing my friends and mentors, and I wish I could keep them, or at least make new ones. Making friends – the kind of friends that one doesn’t need to try to impress, to create that familial bond – was easy as a child, but has become difficult as an adult. And it’s become nearly impossible to make friends with people that are stronger and wiser as age stakes its permanent claim.
When did youth disappear? Does it fade away, or is there a definitive point in time where it ends? Why can we not go back to the way we were, thinking freely, without inhibition or social weight? The years of youth, while they can be rapid and tumultuous, are the best years of any human life. To be able to come back around full circle to this childlike state of mind might be what the world truly needs, as a whole. Could this keep us from falling into the trappings of life – the money pits and misery imposed by society, and the manmade constructs of existential detachment?
Quitting time couldn’t come any sooner at the thought prison nerve center. I packed up my few belongings, slinked out the side door as quick as I could without being noticed, and took the train to the stop near the neighborhood bar, hoping that I could reset from the previous night and have at least one more sexual romp with my disinterested distraction before that well dries up and I sit alone at home, watching segments of shows and films before attention deficit impulsively causes me to switch to other flashing stimuli. Or maybe I should find a different bar – the change in scenery could bring about another temporary sexual partner. It won’t be much longer until I’m too old and fat to attract even the lowest grade of aesthetically pleasing women. One must make haste to create a buoy of memories in the sexual realm before they fade and free online porn becomes the only way to find carnal pleasure outside of paying for it. Age doesn’t seem to exist, nor does existence, when in the midst of attempting to capture an orgasm.
As I walked into the bar, there she was, same spot as always, a few cheap cocktails in. She turned to me and smiled. Another night brings another dose of possibilities and, with withering opportunities on the horizon, distraction.
Read more tangled tales of adulthood and deferred dreams in SN6: MAYDAY – available on Amazon!