Orphans of Progress
a roman à clef by Clutchy McGuinness
There are ideal series of events which run parallel with the real ones. They rarely coincide. Men and circumstances generally modify the ideal train of events, so that it seems imperfect, and its consequences are equally imperfect. -Novalis
It seemed as if the dark, blustery skies had cleared up over young Bartholomew and a little sun beam peered through the clouds and warmed his face. He was delighted as he put away his wireless phone and his mind began to rejoice about the bright side of life. City trash and leaves blew past him in bizarre swirl of all directions as he smirked for a second or two. The phone call that had just concluded was from a lady in response to a job application that he had recently submitted at North Eastern Psychological Services; the kind lady on the other end called to schedule an interview the next day for a casual counseling position. He would have much rather been indoors, sitting at his desk to take the call, but as timing would have it he had been walking down the street in between classes, so he nervously tried to sound as collected and organized as possible. Bartholomew was also a student of psychology at the Monongahela University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so in his mind, and in reality too, that was sort of a real confidence and career booster. His interview was scheduled for the very next day. Luck, if you believe in that sort of thing, had not really been on the side of poor Bartholomew in the preceding years.
Just a year prior to his enrollment at the university he got arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, which turned into a whole mess of court dates, fees, penalties, classes and paper work. It was what Bartholomew liked to call “a cluster fuck of bureaucratic rot.” This event also brought to light his problem drinking that apparently everyone around him had known about for years. He was overwhelmed and bombarded with the insanity of the presiding jurisprudence system as well as both subtle and overt social shunning. The court system even treated him unfairly on several accounts dealing with certain injustices such as the way the actual arrest was conducted and false information presented in the police reports. And how they took the preemptive liberty to search his vehicle finding a small glass pipe filled with a half burnt chunk of marijuana (when the ill-conceived war on drugs was still in full affect with marijuana offenders still being a trumpeted political scapegoat number one). The police officer who arrested Bartholomew had not even bothered to read him his Miranda rights in way that was consistent with the protocol in the United States of America back then. To make matters worse, an unfair, dishonorable judge treated him harshly (all the trifling legal details need not be mentioned here). This resulted in him loosing his driver’s license for a fourteen month period, having to complete sixty hours of community service, and pay exorbitant fines. Bartholomew found it peculiar how most people suffering from this expensive turn of events were barely making financial ends meet in the first place, and faced with the debacle, usually suffered employment termination. Plus state supervised probation for one year; “freedom” revoked. This resulted in him loosing his commercial driver’s license and subsequently loosing his nice job performing deliveries for the Federal Express. This resulted in his longtime, beautiful girlfriend to break up with him (this he took quite badly). This resulted in him loosing many mutual friends of his once lover. This resulted in his immense loneliness, drastically less alcohol consumption and severe depression (he often mused about the benefits of death) and his going to an adult outpatient program where he was psychoanalyzed, treated for drug and alcohol abuse, forced to participate in counterproductive group therapy, and forced to take a psychopharmaceutical prescription medication to correct the unfortunate, chemical imbalance in his dissolute brain which was the actual true root source of his ailing.
As for the specific details regarding the demise of the relationship with his then girlfriend, Lauren, it came to an abrupt and tragic end one day while they were waking up from a nap in her messy, teenage bedroom that he had recently helped her paint a peachy color. Or at least Bartholomew was waking up, apparently Lauren was not sleeping at all; she was reciting in her mind how she would break the sad news to Bartholomew. As he was rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Lauren’s eyes were swelling with tears of deceit. Few people lie to themselves and each other to the extent that Bartholomew and Lauren did in regards to perpetuating a doomed relationship. Like the captain who stays on a sinking ship, Bartholomew figured that he would ride it out till the bitter end (and he did). The incessant arguing was one indicator that the love was gone, and that is just what Lauren said that quiet afternoon.
Just as the tears were about to stream down her cheeks she looked at Bartholomew and said, “Ba—Bart, listen…” with a sob, “I’m not in love with you anymore. I can’t do this anymore.”
“Huh? What are you talking about?” asked Bartholomew wondering if it was a dream.
“This relationship is over. It has been for a while.” She was half crying now; lips quivering. “I’m just not in love with you any more.” Her nose was red from the sniffling. She seemed to struggle immensely with vocalizing her sentiments.
Bartholomew was not awake enough to have an emotional reaction; instead he stared blankly into her wet eyes. “What’s going on?” he asked shaking his head, as if realizing that this was actually real and had far reaching ramifications for his life. “Come on, we’re great together,” he lied. “I need you baby. You don’t wanna do this.”
“I have to do this, for myself. I don’t even know who I am without you. I just need some time to figure out who I am.” Her hands covered her mouth when she said this, which appeared to be disingenuous, but she then sprayed, “I don’t even know who I am anymore!”
“Lauren, no… Lauren, please. We can take a break if that’s what you need.”
“—Just some time apart, ya know, to make us love each other again.”
“—Bart, stop. I’ve made up my mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.” She stood up near the foot of the bed. “I’m not in love you anymore Bart, it’s over. Please understand I need to do this for me. It’s not you.”
“It’s not you, it’s me,” he thought. That’s a line of shit.
“All we do is argue about stupid stuff,” she added.
Those words floated slowly into his mind, staying distant and strange. He could not cry, although he thought he should have, he did not shed a single tear. He was too sleepy and emotionally stunted for such an ostentatious display of passion. He drove himself home and went directly to his bed, returning to his highly valued respite of unconsciousness. Bartholomew felt foolish for not seeing this coming; instead he was stupid enough to think she would stay with him through the harsh times. His intuitional abilities had failed him. In the days that followed, while he was awake, he mailed her several old fashion handwritten notes and poems which spelled out the complexity of his emotional state as it unraveled. He frequently checked his own postal mailbox, sometimes twice or three times a day, in search of a reply that never came, and his heart sank low. He should have known, Lauren was not the type of girl to play around in the blood of an open wound. Her writing ability was also on the level of about a fifth grader so she lacked the capacity to put into words any complex thought or idea. For two weeks, Bartholomew was in denial and thought that there was a glimpse of hope that they would reunite and rekindle their relationship in a night of mind-blowing eroticism when he would seed his first child. This delusion ended only when he saw his former girlfriend with her new boyfriend when he was eating alone at his favorite Mexican restaurant. Their eyes met when he scooped a mouthful of chalupa into his face, and she quickly retreated out of the door to find a different place to dine, gripping tightly the hand of her new man, who incidentally was someone that he had introduced her to. Finally, his soul wept and his heart was shattered to the point where he could physically feel a pain in his chest, as if a burning life fire had been snuffed out. Bartholomew never finished that chalupa.
All that garbage drifted into the past as Bartholomew tried to recreate himself and emerge from the rubble of his so called life like a phoenix or Lazarus or a perhaps a zombie. After over a year of crippling stasis, he enrolled in the Monongahela University, nestled right near the big brown river in downtown Pittsburgh, where he abandoned all previous social ties and focused all his energies on school. In addition to the exorbitant tuition costs, for a measly twelve hundred dollars a month on loan, the school provided him with room and board which went directly into the pockets of academia’s entrepreneurs. He really soaked up all this wonderful new psychology stuff he was learning. Feeling inspired by the abundance of knowledge, he drifted passed the tall Corinthian pillars and Gothic spires and through the hallowed halls of higher learning. The professors all loved Bartholomew and gave him high marks for just about everything. There was also a psychology club of which he became an active and prominent member. It was his new goal to pursue doctorate studies and one day become a super shrink helping to heal the troubled minds and poor souls of the downtrodden in mere minutes of talking. He hoped that one day he would come up with his own original, unified theory of complex social systems that would impact the world forever.
The Honors Society sent Bartholomew a letter inviting him to submit an essay for consideration of entry into this elite group. He had always liked to write, so he crafted a compelling and articulate essay as part of his enthusiastic application to the society. As a member, he was be required to keep his grades at the top tier of cumulative grade point averages; a challenge that Bartholomew gladly accepted. The director of the honors program, Dr. Stanton, was a very kind and engaging woman in her late 50s who martyred her life to the university and student’s scholastical stardom.
As a freshman, he was baited to show up at the opening ceremony with free pizza and other scrumptious food items for some type of meet and greet with a collective impetus towards greatness. They gave him a name tag to wear, while he awkwardly floated around the room and mingled with his colleagues, like a drop of oil mingles with water. Shallowly, they exchanged names, stories, and pleasantries. Bartholomew tried to act normal.
Dr. Stanton gave an animated speech encouraging the new students: “There will be times when you want to quit, but you shan’t, you won’t, and you’ll be stronger for it.” Bartholomew felt like he had heard it all before.
The nicest thing about being an honor student for Bartholomew was that there was a little corner honors office where the member students could go and help themselves to a cup of hot, fresh coffee that Dr. Stanton kept brewing throughout the day.
“If I didn’t have this coffee here,” she often said, “then my students would hardly ever come to visit.”
“That’s not entirely true doc. I come here for the interesting conversation too, you’re a good captive audience, really show a convincing and genuine interest.”
“Well thanks Bartholomew,” she paused to think. “I am genuinely interested in my students. They’re the best at the university.” After a brief talk about panopticism, Bartholomew backed out of the office with a smile and a nod, steaming hot coffee in hand. He took too big a gulp that seared the roof of his mouth. Ahhh, that’s why I go.
Regarding money and employment: his current occupation of lifting unwatched school books from the campus and selling them online had not been as lucrative as he had hoped. One time, he even tried furtively watching a Federal Express truck and snatching the package shortly after the delivery had been made, and then seeing what the booty was and trying to exchange that for cash (he retired shortly after being chased by a cursing old hag on his first attempt). These were stressful and had not been as successful as he had thought, so he decided to get an actual job to provide him with some money. Besides, he thought, I can’t get into any more trouble. I’m getting older and shit. I’ll go to jail if I get caught. He decided to pursue employment with a local organization that offers services to people with mental illnesses and mental retardation or intellectual developmental disabilities or whatever the presiding politically correct term happens to be for this unlucky lot. Happily for Bartholomew, this organization was in no way connected to the group that he had dealt with in his time of troubles. This would look great on his resumé and would probably assist him in getting into his school of choice for doctoral studies.
It was the day of the job interview. I can do this, thought Bartholomew, think positively. Lately he had really gotten into new age self-help, such as power of attraction and positive self-talk, where he would tell himself reassuring and optimistically charged hyperbolic statements in order to hopefully make people like him and bring about other good fortunes. He also began researching the esoteric knowledge of neuro-linguistic programming so he would be a more effective communicator. He shaved and wore a nice blue button up shirt and khaki pants that he thought made him look like some kid who went to a fancy private school in England. Bartholomew remembered that blue is a very favorable color to wear when trying to get people to subconsciously like you and perceive you as confident and honest (as opposed to Bartholomew’s favorite earth tones of brown and green).
As Bartholomew walked through the city to the trolley station listening to his iPod, he looked around at the intricate architecture that adorned the ethereal space above the streets. Many of the buildings in Pittsburgh had old Greek and Roman inspired ornamentation that was easy to pass by if one did not know what to look for. Often the clouds would settle in low, bringing with them a light mist that drifted in from the hills and disguised the tops of the structures, while any lights were restricted by the grasp of the fog. It was just one of those days, when the sun never really came out, and it was just seconds away from raining. The trolley arrived.
Bartholomew got on and showed the operator his school ID, which was supposed to cut the fare in half from $2.00 to $1.00, while he casually dropped four quarters into the fare box.
The large, bearded trolley operator barked, “Uhp, ya gotta pay the full fare. That’s only good after seven.” Bartholomew didn’t hear this because he had his music up too loud. As of late, he really liked listening to the nu-jazz type of music that exists on the fringe, far from the mainstream. But he did see the bus driver’s body language which did solicit from him some type of response. The trolley shifted into motion up the hill, towards Mount Washington, while Bartholomew tried to maintain balance and took out one of his head phones.
Bartholomew stared vapidly into the face of the conductor, “What’s that?” That was always his response when he did not hear something correctly or just wanted politely to get someone to repeat what they had just said.
“You gotta pay full fare. That ID is only good for a discount after seven o’clock.”
“Oh yeah?” said Bartholomew as he felt a tingling of anger in his toes and finger tips. This never happened before, he thought as he clenched his teeth and took out another dollar bill out of his wallet stuffing it into the fare box that sucked it away without any remorse. Bartholomew thought about how the Port Authority is government funded anyway and how they are always screwing up their budget and taxing people more and yet I still get raped for another dollar by some slob who couldn’t care less anyway. Two fucking dollars for a one way ride? That’s fuckin’ ridiculous. Two dollars!?! he thought shaking his head in perturbed disbelief.
He took his seat, next to another extremely large person whose appendages spilled over onto the limbs and lap of Bartholomew. Uncomfortably, he stared unfocused out the window past his blurry reflection, slowly bobbing his head to the music as the trolley screeched and jerked along.
The location for North Eastern Psychological services was in a big, gray box. This building was newer, and had none of the fancy and antiquated architecture that Bartholomew so fondly adored. Okay, let’s do this, he thought, taking several slow, deep breaths.
As was usually the case with appointments, Bartholomew was about one minute late. But no one ever notices just a minute late, he thought. Upon his entrance and self introduction, he was ushered back a corridor to an office where he was given an interview from an extremely obese lady rolling around in a squeaky, wheeled chair as she presented the necessary documents. She asked him the regular questions about his strengths and his weaknesses and what have you, all of which he answered with the utmost eloquence accompanied with a comfortable smile and occasional laughter when appropriate. She questioned him about whether or not he had a valid driver’s license in order to become an “approved driver.” He answered briefly saying that he currently did not, and added that he was working diligently to obtain one. Bartholomew was quite pleased, because the interview was conducted in a manor that conveyed the message that he would actually be commencing the job very soon, so he was safe to assume that he secured the position. It was called “casual” because he was able to pick his shifts from left over slots available at a group home for adults with quite severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and what have you.
This is great! I’m gonna get such good experience working with this place. I can’t wait to tell my friends in the psychology club. He also had thoughts about how his parents would be so proud of him for rescuing his life from “swirling down the toilet with the shit.” Several days later, over dinner, Bartholomew told his parents about his new good fortune, his father told him how proud he was of him, and how he never imagined that Bartholomew would be where he was and how he instead thought that Bartholomew would have ended up “dead or in jail by this time.” You should probably know, Bartholomew‘s adolescent years had been tumultuous to say the least. Even he was surprised that he made it out with his sanity intact and still a free man. And alive too for that matter.
The lady told him that he had to rush over to the nearby hospital to get a tuberculosis test, physical examination and take a drug test before he could start employment. This was alright with Bartholomew; he was perfectly healthy and had not done any drugs for over a month, the last time he smoked marijuana with his roommates. He actually abstained from smoking specifically in preparation for this job, of which he rightfully foresaw the coming drug test. Being mature and responsible, he thought. So he began swilling large amounts of water in order to have a nice, clean, healthy load of urine for the little cup. The physical just went splendid for Bartholomew, partly because the nurse that gave him the exam and subsequently got to examine his genital area was a young, ordinary looking brunette who introduced herself as “Lilly.” She displayed an injured vulnerability that Bartholomew picked up on quickly and the softness of her wispy voice in the quiet exam room made the back of his neck tingle which slowly crept up behind his ears. He got slightly erect during this pleasant and awkward situation. The nurse was somewhat offended by this, or at least made it obvious that she thought it inappropriate, or perhaps it just happened to her all the time. A micro-expression of embarrassed happiness flashed across her face. He got pricked for the tuberculosis test, and then was handed a cup that he was instructed to urinate in, which was good because he had to pee something fierce. He had been drinking a lot of water and his bladder was so full that he knew if he had not been under such excretory stress that he would have gained a much fuller erection which would have certainly made the encounter with Lilly even stranger (or better if you entertain such fantasies as Bartholomew did). Pinching the warm cup between his thumb and forefinger, he avoided looking at her in the eyes, and set it on the counter near the cotton balls. Bartholomew felt violated and angered by these invasive medical procedures, so much so that he thought about purposefully spilling his urine around and feigning aloof but decided against it.
“So do you go to school around here?” Bartholomew inquired Lilly thoughtfully.
“Mmhm,” she said snootily.
“Oh yeah, me too,” he said. “Where do you go?”
“Oh…” she sighed, “don’t worry about it. Really, it’s okay,” she said.
“Uh…” What the hell was that? Bartholomew was offended by this and angrily hurried out of the hospital. All in all it went well, and Bartholomew exited the giant edifice through the emergency room where he was passed by a group of emergency medical service workers transporting a bloody mess of a person thrashing on a gurney. Bartholomew thought it odd how he should go to the same place to relinquish a sample of his excrement for a trifling drug test where others go to die and be born.
Darkness settled on the city early because of the thick overcast that hid the sun the entirety of the day. The masses of the people were leaving the city as Bartholomew rode the trolley back into his downtown dorm room. He decided to celebrate by purchasing a case of ale and a small amount of marijuana off one his schoolmates. They passed the night by sitting in the bathroom with the door locked puffing on pipes and various other contraptions and chugging the cold hops that he had bought. The bathtub spigot was turned on with steaming hot water in order to hinder the dissemination of the smoke. This was their tribalistic ritual: whereas primitive peoples would huddle around a campfire muttering some ancient words whilst the shaman passed the sacred brew, these modern young seekers sat around one another taking part in a group ritual of prolonged exposure to the ancient herb marijuana and the cultural beverage of choice, cheap beer. Their voices and faces all melded into one another to an anonymous anybody. But there was no shaman for what they did, no keeper of wisdom and legend. Theirs’ was a decentralized activity with no powerful authority figure, just them all more or less equal, in pursuit of the elusive and profound oblivion.
The next morning during breakfast, while Bartholomew sat hungover and alone in the cafeteria eating a tray with heaping piles of a hot breakfast spread reading the newspaper listening to his iPod, the lady who had given him the interview called him and had some rather disconcerting news. Bartholomew’s heart nearly dropped right out of his rectum when he heard the lady say, “Hi Bartholomew, we need you to go take the drug test again because the last one you took came back inconclusive.”
“Inconclusive?” he said back, hoping that he sounded nonchalant, standing up and nervously circling an empty table in the corner of the cafeteria with one hand holding the phone up to his head and the other putting a finger in his ear to block out the clatter. “I don’t understand.”
“Yeah, it happens sometimes for a bunch of different reasons. Just go back and retake it, that’s all… It’s no big deal.”
“Oh, okay,” Bartholomew said again, masking the shame in his voice. A flush of heat rushed to his head as desperately regretted the reckless and wasted night before. His mind raced angrily, Why the fuck is this happening to me? What the hell am I going to do now? Did they find something in my piss? His mind was sacked with awful ideas. This was not the first time Bartholomew had manipulated the results of drug screening, but every time is a little different so he could not have been entirely certain.
“Just go back in today or tomorrow and they’ll get you fixed up quick,” said the lady.
“I’m sorry, what’s that?” Bartholomew apologized and then requested some clarity from the lady on the other end of the phone in way a way that was both subtly upset and trying to stall and buy extra time in the matter. Trying to stay calm and composed, he automatically started thinking of what could possibly be done to go back and pass this drug test after the night past. Do I really even need this job right now? he thought. Aching pulses moved slowly over his forehead.
“We just need you to go back to the hospital to retake the urinalysis, because the previous test you took was inconclusive, that means that the results were unable to be read properly, for some reason, and you have to go retake it. It happens sometimes just with all the pee they get. I apologize for the inconvenience.” Bartholomew understood what she was saying.
“Oh, okay, well, yeah, that’s fine…” You better be fuckin’ sorry bitch, he thought needing someone to blame. The conversation ended and Bartholomew turned his mental faculties inside out in search of viable option that would allow him to get this job. There were many different ways to try and pass a urine drug screening, but nothing was certain those days.
He eventually settled on the idea of requesting some clean urine from one of his schoolmates who never imbibed any illegal mind altering substances. This was a kid who was just “high on life” as they say. Bartholomew bought him a large mocha latte with three shots of espresso in it in order to give him the fuel for the piss that he needed to take, and as a payment. The next day Bartholomew returned to the hospital with a small squeeze bottle full of someone else’s pee dangling in a sock down under his scrotum in between his thighs. Nervous and anxious he sat in the waiting room, squeezing the bottle in between his legs in order get the liquid inside to be as close to body temperature as possible because of the little thermometers that are on the outside of the cups.
Lilly came back out and glanced at her chart, then looked up shyly towards Bartholomew as she called him into the back corridors that were glowing with a cold, aural whiteness. She gave him the small cup and told him the same rehearsed line she had said the previous day directing him into the bathroom.
Curious about the nature of his dilemma, Bartholomew asked, “So they said that the test came back inconclusive? What’s that all about?”
She responded softly, embarrassed to see Bartholomew again, “Most of the time it just means that your sample was diluted with too much water or something and we couldn’t get an accurate read, ya know. You probably just drank too much water before the test.”
“I see,” Bartholomew said nodding his head as if it was the answer he expected. “Do you know if the drug test is just pass/fail, or do they find results for certain amounts of specific substances?”
Lilly peered inquisitively over her clip board at Bartholomew for the first time she had ever attempted eye contact, “I don’t know… We send’em out.”
A lab test, he thought.
Inside the bathroom he filled the cup up and then emptied the remainder of the bottle into the toilet. He also took an actual pee himself adding the appropriate noise that usually accompanies a guy going to the bathroom, just in case she was listening. Then stuffing the empty bottle back in the sock, and stuffing the sock down his pants near his crotch. Upon exiting the bathroom he put the little cup on the counter next to the cotton balls again with an awkward grin. This excrement, he wanted to spill even more, but could not. Lilly quickly came over and grabbed it, inspecting the thermometer. She scrunched her eyebrows and studied it for a second making a quick eyeshot over to Bartholomew. A quick panic rippled through his consciousness as he tried to keep moving out of the doctor’s office.
Everything about that little endeavor must have gone exactly as Bartholomew had planned because he got the job and quickly began starting to work with the North Eastern Psychological Services. He would take the trolley up the hill to the top of Mt. Washington to a giant old church campus. This was not the same bland building that Bartholomew had taken the interview at. Jesus and Mary stood watchfully over the grasses and gazed into the distant city. There was a stone bell tower that hung high and was somehow structurally linked to this former retreat center that had been converted to a home for the mentally ill. Many years ago, pious clergy men and women would slowly wander the area whilst muttering their words of spiritual devotion. Nowadays, the emotionally and mentally disturbed were forced or willing and able to take up semi-permanent quarters in the retreat center and dialogue with their auditory hallucination manifestations. The view of Pittsburgh was magnificent from the parking lot because he could see the whole skyline of downtown from what was just about eye level, and looking down the weedy wooded hill, he could see the big, muddy Monongahela River.
This was to be his new job: basically he assisted in the general and overall operation of a locked group home for people with mental illnesses. The facility had thirteen rooms, with twelve of them occupied at the time when Bartholomew started. It was eight men, four women, all ages twenty one and up. The organization referred to them as “consumers,” a term Bartholomew thought awkward but adopted nonetheless (it sounded like they were being marketed to and perhaps they were [there was, after all, a lot of money to made in the non-profit business sector]). There was a wide range of diagnosis running the whole gambit of modern medical and psychiatric nomenclature up and down the multi-axial system, with frequent occurrences of quite severe psychotic disorders and many personality disorders. He was able to read over their files and learn their histories as well, many of which were mostly tragic to say the least. It was a great place for him to start; by reading the files. Every file had a color picture of the person on the front, so he selected ones that looked most interesting to him to begin. He would try to decode all the assemblage of papers, jargon, faxes, charts, and copies of copies of handwritten notes. Each one read like a mystery novel to young Bartholomew, who loved mysteries and reading both. Lots of the information seemed cryptic to him, and he could not fully grasp its meaning. Surprisingly though, much of it he could understand because of his education or at least he knew where to look to find out what he needed to know such as various manuals and other literature: a real learning experience. As he was looking those files, he would also try to seek out and get to know these people, about whom he was reading. Although Bartholomew had practically no real friends, getting along great with those people was one of his strong points. Most of the consumers took an immediate liking to Bartholomew and would enjoy talking to him and comforted by his even keel personality and warm, inviting face. He began to learn their names and their faces, while becoming more comfortable with their odd behaviors and insane tendencies. Because of his choice of pastimes and acquaintances, Bartholomew was no stranger to people hallucinating and behaving in an erratic manor which was to his benefit when confronted with the more severely afflicted of the consumers.
Bartholomew helped out with meals, passing out medications, and helping with people’s (both consumer’s and co-worker’s) needs. Every one of the consumers were taking at least several powerful psychopharmaceuticals and neural tranquilizers, such as chlorpromazine and lorazepam, that were handed out by the nurse in a little plastic cup several times daily along with several other drugs. They had the right to refuse the medications, but this usually did not happen. One of the most important tasks that Bartholomew had to perform was to assist with the consumers once every two hours for the “smoke break” that took place outside the building on the back patio. They almost all smoked cigarettes, which were kept in a locked cupboard, and would eagerly await when a smoke break would soon arrive. Part his job required him to take the consumers on outings into the community in pursuit of various things such as soda, candy, cigarettes, and various other forms of poisonous consumables. Most of the time they would walk, but eventually Bartholomew started driving the company van (more on that later). Sometimes they would go to see a movie together at the nearby dollar theater. It seemed that Wal-Mart and McDonald’s held a particularly powerful draw for many of the consumers. As you could guess, since he was the new, low paid, college kid, he got to do many of the menial undesirable tasks. For example, things such as unclogging toilets, mopping up food and urine and vomit, giving out diapers to those who were incontinent, and washing the soiled laundry, among other things. During medical emergencies or psychotic outbreaks he would simply call the nurse, ambulance, and/or the police. Other times he would have the opportunity to relax during which he would read a book (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” being his first selection), watch television with consumers (generally news, science fiction, or documentaries), and do school work. When authority was properly lacking he would listen to his iPod or his handy pocket radio. They kept the coffee brewing which kept Bartholomew coming back like a moth to the light. And there were moths too, in this old building, lots of bugs actually; centipedes, earwigs, stinkbugs, and ants too. One time he even saw a rat in the basement.
Because of his position with the company he was able to assemble his schedule from all the leftover shifts that none of the full time staff wanted or simply could not fill. So this meant things such as working overnight shifts and weekends and double shifts and what have you. It was not uncommon for Bartholomew to get calls from his supervisor begging him to come in for someone else who had a called off or simply not shown up. For his initial training he had to work during the day, but eventually he began to work sixteen hour double shifts and graveyard shifts (and there was a graveyard outside that place nearby, connected to the old church where scores of former attendees were put in the ground). Those shifts were a little rough on Bartholomew as you’ll find out later.
On his first day at work Bartholomew had an interesting day meeting a few of the consumers, some who were much more talkative than others. Beth the supervisor was introducing Bartholomew to the consumers as they trickled into the dining room. Throughout the start of his new job, Beth had been matronly comforting figure to the nervous young Bartholomew. Beth was a woman who was once strikingly beautiful, but over time stress, childbearing and poor health choices made this less obvious, unless you looked directly into her warm, sensual eyes. As for Bartholomew, he possessed a unique ability to transform people back into their prime, say around twenty years of age, stuck in the perfect balance between youth and adulthood, in his mind as if recollecting and staring at a vivid image of a past photograph. Whenever confronted by a person considerably older than him, Bartholomew would almost always unconsciously do this. The Beth that appeared in his mind was gorgeous.
Dinner was approaching and some of the consumers were sitting at several round tables in the room; a cold place with high ceilings and buzzing white lights resembling a small school cafeteria. Beth said, “Hey guys this is Bart, he’s new. He’s gonna be working here in the future so everybody treat him with respect.” He received a mix of responses from null to being cordially greeted by Connor, the largest fellow in the room.
“Hi, my name’s Connor!” he said, lacking the ability control the tonality or the volume of his voice. With a wild gaze and a giant grin, he held out his hand for a handshake which Bartholomew quickly obliged. The air went back and forth noisily through his large, gaping nostrils.
“Yeah, Connor will tell ya everything you need to know about this place, right Connor?” said Beth. This was true; eventually Bartholomew did consult Connor for important house issues.
“Oh yeah, just about everything. Not really everything, everything though,” Connor retorted ending in a burst of frightening laughter, ambulating away duck footed toward a table.
“And this is Will,” said Beth quietly. “Will?”
Will sat quietly at a table by himself and sighed staring sullenly through a pair of thick spectacles. With a head of wavy brown hair, dressed in a flannel button down shirt and blue jeans, he looked just like any other middle aged American male with fair skin. He waited about two seconds before turning his head to look at Beth. Wrinkles of disconcertion tugged his eyes together shifting his glasses upward.
“Will, how are you feeling today?”
“…I’m a little tired…” he said, barely loud enough to hear. His words were almost always punctuated with a sigh. It appeared as though he was estranged from everything around him, as if he thought that he was dreaming or had no idea where he was.
Will’s file surfaced in Bartholomew’s mind and he remembered what he had learned. Apparently, this young man’s primary diagnosis was dissociative identity disorder, where he would slowly oscillate between several different unique senses of identity and modes of consciousness. He also had amnesia for just about all of his life, up until just the past couple of years, and would frequently engage in somnambulism and somniloquence while in an alternate personality. These symptoms developed after he endured a youthhood repeated captivity and relentless bludgeoning by one of the town’s soulless degenerates.
“Well, I’m glad you came down for dinner, Will. Thanks,” she said laying her hand comfortingly on his shoulder. “Oh, and this Bart, he’s new and gonna start helping out here.”
“Hello Will,” said Bartholomew in a monotone voice while straightening his posture.
Breath poured out of his mouth along with a disinterested “Hi” while his mouth quivered towards a frown, seemingly on the verge of an outburst of mournful bawling, like near kin of the dearly departed at an unexpected funeral.
Next, Bartholomew saw an old man in a wheelchair, hunched over and moving himself across the tile floor slowly turning the wheels. He had long, scraggly, gray hair topped with a Vietnam prisoner of war hat, and a wild beard. “Hello, I’m Bart,” he said casually, approaching the paralyzed old man. “What’s your name?”
He said, “Hi,” in a raspy, low voice then began grumbling something to himself as he rolled away to a table neglecting to answer Bartholomew’s question. He then scrunched his eyebrows together and shouted, “I’m fuckin’ hungry damnit! Chow time!!!”
When dinner was served, Bartholomew had to mark everybody off a list to indicate who ate and who did not. Janet, the pudgy African American, short spoken cook emerged out of the basement with a metal cart filled with the night’s meal. Bartholomew marked down nine of the consumers who came to eat the dinner which was salisbury steak, whipped potatoes, rolls, mixed vegetables and milk or juice. In order to get to know everybody, he simply asked something along the lines of, “Your name?” and looked for it on the list, jotting down a quick check.
Some of the consumers that he met approached him awkwardly and barely looked at him in the eyes while moving along the line and eating quietly. Any such table manors were hardly perceptible. Generally speaking, they wore an assortment of mixed and disheveled garb with unkempt hair styles. With exception of the few who took unnecessarily long periods of time to don some fashionable regalia.
Genevieve was an older woman of sixty years of age. She had long black and white hair that was parted in the middle of her head and hung straight down for some length, covering up much of her face. She said nothing and moved along quietly in a frightened and frightening manor; she looked much like a ghost looking for its murderer or a witch looking for a small creature to sacrifice. In fact, she really was a legitimate witch and would occasionally be herd muttering some occultish incantations intended to summon evils spirits from the nether realms. She would pass the time casting curses and granting blessings on her fellow housemates. Even though she had a real spiritual gift as a clairvoyant, everyone thought she was just crazy. The medications helped to lessen the affects of her rare abilities.
Then there was Billsmith. Bartholomew asked calmly, “And your name please?”
“I’m Billsmith, but that’s not my real name… actually,” he said and laughed. His tongue stuck out of his mouth just a bit while he chuckled heartily. A large, clunky plastic radio buzzed with some hard, classic rock and roll. “It’s really Will Smith.”
“Alright,” said Bartholomew with a chuckle reciprocating some of the contagious laughter.
“Alright, alright,” said Billsmith laughing increasingly loud, turning up the volume of his head set and walking off to get a plate of unhealthy slop from the cook. “No vegetables,” he barked. When he sat down he began singing along with the music in screeching falsetto.
A young girl in her late twenties or early thirties came up with a bag of unpopped popcorn and stood next to Bartholomew and threw it in the microwave. She was wearing tight, light gray sweat pants that accentuated her buttocks that moved gently up and down with her slow steps, and a small red T-shirt that did something similar to her breasts. She had a confident walk and looked well dressed so Bartholomew mistakenly assumed that she was one of his new co-workers that he had not yet met (or one of the many state, social, or agency workers who constantly came in and out of the facility). Perhaps it was the look in her eyes, bold and cognizant, on a different level than most of the desolate stares he had thus far received. It had also seemed that her hair was slightly wet and she was emitting a pleasant smell, indicating that she had just bathed.
“Hey, what’s up? I’m Bart,” he said excitedly hoping to spark a conversation. Bartholomew was usually anxious to try and make friends and considered a new job a great place to meet interesting new acquaintances, desperately yearning for a new, female friend.
She looked at him condescendingly and twirled a lolly pop in her mouth clanking against her teeth. “Hi,” she replied with a snooty chuckle. She walked slowly over to the vending machine and got a bottle of some sugary carbonated beverage and waited for the popcorn to finish popping. The sound of the kernels slowed to a stop.
Beth came over and instructed him to mark off “Trish” from the list.
“Alrighty,” said Bartholomew. It then instantly occurred to him that Trish was a consumer and not a coworker of his. An expression of mild astonishment flashed across his face. Then Bartholomew remembered when reading over the charts about this girl named Trish, she had a history of criminal activity, been a victim of sexual abuse and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Trish looked much different from the picture on the front of her chart, which is why Bartholomew did not recognize her at first. In her picture she appeared extremely disgruntled with no make up, almost a different person; unrecognizable as the person that now stood before young Bartholomew. At that particular moment, she appeared much more composed and presentable. She took a long sip from her newly purchased drink and exhaled vehemently licking her lips and looking over at Bartholomew with her nearly closed eyes. Taking the popcorn from the microwave she exited the dining room and made her way into the living room where she turned on a movie to watch for the evening and eat her dinner.
During the first consumer smoke brake of his new career, he was confronted by Billsmith who inquired as to the nature of Bartholomew’s life. “Well, in addition to this job, I’m also going to school right now, ya know,” he said. “College actually.”
“Oh, yeah?” Billsmith inquired curiously. “That’s real good, man, real goods. You know that’s why I came to this place, reallys. This place is like my school, ’cause I wanted to come here and learns about medications—” he continued counting on his fingers “—and have the doctors study my bloods under a microscope and I wanted to learn about different diseases and save lots of money and everythings, you know.” Highly animated, he threw his hands up to express the scope of his tasks. “Yeah, man, just like schools here man. You’ll like it here.”
Bartholomew did not know exactly what to say. “Okay, that’s good, man.”
“Yo yeah,” he responded. “Oh yeah. I already have a lot of money saved up. Sixty nine million dollars.”
Some of the consumers snickered. Others completely ignored the conversation.
“Wow,” said Bartholomew.
“Yeah, that’s why I cames here, man. To learn about medications, to have the doctors take and study my bloods and all that stuff… it’s just like school man…” he paused for a moment to stare at his cigarette. “But now they won’t let me leave because of the nuclear agents that hit me in the stomachs. The nuclear agents God keeps hittin’ me with ’em and shoots me in the stomach, it’s like a shocks from god in heaven, you know. God shoots me with ’em, like a lightening bolt, you know?”
“Oh really?” asked Bartholomew. “Yeah, that’s interesting.”
“Oh yeah,” said Billsmith laughing happily. A small brown bird fluttered by and landed on the nearby thorn bushels that recoiled with a spring like bounce as it whistled. “Come here little birdie. Come here birdie.” Billsmith began singing to a tune, “I love you birdie, oh yes I do, I love you birdie, just me and you,” ending in a wild burst of joyous bellowing. Billsmith smiled from ear to ear.
Reciprocating the grin, Bartholomew’s eyes wandered around at the other consumers as they smoked listlessly. Briefly, he made eye contact with LaShanta, one of the older female consumers, who glowered back and said, “What the fuck are you looking at?” as her lower lip flapped exposing her rotted teeth and spotted gums.
“Huh, nothin’,” he said nervously, lowering his eyes to the ground as his face became hot with embarrassment. Hearing a soft laugh, he looked up and caught the half closed, piercing gaze of Trish studying him. She then turned her back to him and tossed her cigarette butt effortlessly into the ash bucket, exhaled slowly and walked away leaving a trail of smoke.
At dusk one evening, as it was nearing the end of Bartholomew’s class at the university, the glowing red sun was setting quickly and Bartholomew was anxiously awaiting the beginning of his night. He was still a naïve, hopeful young man, and although he had no plans, he still possessed traces of excitement making his thoughts rapid with the evening’s many favorable possible outcomes. For the time, Bartholomew’s only idea was to rush to the distributor before it closed to get a case of hefeweizen for the night. Hopefully, he reasoned that he could tempt some other thirsty peers into being his friends as the night unfolded.
(At this particular time period in Pennsylvania’s history of bizarre draconian regulations, the only place you could go to buy a case of malted brews was at a specific store called a beer distributor. They usually closed at nine or ten o’clock, and after that the only place you could buy beer was from a bar or restaurant at a much higher price, and you were only allowed to take up to a twelve pack, maximum, out of the establishment. Desperate, late night drinkers could work around this by going in and out of multiple establishments amassing the desired quantity of beer or malted beverages. Of course, you could sit in a bar and drink if you wanted to pay the tab, usually about five times higher per drink, and they all closed at two o’clock ante meridiem. The only place you could purchase wine or liquor was at an over taxed and regulated, state controlled, outlet that closed usually before nighttime even arrived. No matter where you went, you had to be at least twenty one years of age to purchase any drink whatsoever, and they would ensure this by scrutinizing your identification. Lastly, police were instructed to arrest and fine the imbibing population as a source of revenue for the county under the guise of public safety).
Professor Aimes concluded the class, “Alright guys, that’s all I have for tonight. Just read ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth,’ and write a response for next week.”
The students quickly shuffled to exit the classroom. Bartholomew packed his things and made his way to the door, “Hey, goodnight Mark,” he said smiling to his teacher.
“Thanks, you too Bart.”
The headphones went in, music on, some of that Midwest, underground hip hop that had quality beats and poetic, introspective lyrics. This was how he procured beer: Bartholomew ran to his dorm room, quickly got prepared by stuffing several bungee cords into his shoulder bag, grabbed his bike by the handle bars, transported downward by the elevator and made his way out the building to the streets of his hallowed city. First, he crossed the Smithfield Bridge over the dingy Monongahela River. The front of his bike had a bright light emitting diode which lit the wooded, riverside trail to the South Side; where the closest beer distributor was. Under the quiet canopy of leaves, he rode swiftly, still managing to bob his head to the beat of the music he heard. Over the railroad tracks, and about two miles later, he was there, making it in just before they closed. He grabbed and paid for a case of hefeweizen bottles and a pack of Pall Malls and then began to strap the beer to the rack on the rear of his bike using the assortment of bungee cords he had in his bag. After it was secured, he started peddling again, awkwardly hauling about twenty additional pounds. However, as soon as some inertia was achieved, he hardly felt the case of beer on the back; save for some slight instability. The obscurity of twilight was in full affect as the cool breeze wafted gently passed his large head; eyes wide with anticipation.
Bartholomew was considerably dissociated when he approached the railroad tracks for his return trip back to campus, so much so in fact, that he failed to look up and see the locomotive rushing toward him. The music was much too loud, so he could not have heard it. As he crossed the tracks, and felt the unpleasant rumble come up through the bike frame into his, he saw it: the bright shining light of an oncoming freight train. Bartholomew just kept right on peddling as the pointy steel front of the train missed him by only about three feet. He did not fully realize what had happened until it was over, then he squeezed the breaks and stopped, and watched the train pass. Unconsciously searching his soul for an appropriate emotion he came up only with a barely perceptible feeling of shock. The cargo containers whizzed passed while he just stood there and caught his breath, grabbed a beer, and while drinking it thought about what it would have been like to have been pulverized by a train.
I wonder who would show up at my funeral? Who would they invite? he thought. Then he thought about if he would have died instantly or writhed in pain before quite literally biting the dust.
After he finished the beer, flung the bottle at the massive industrial conveyor and laughed wildly, “You can’t kill me you mother fucker! MOTHER FUCKER, I BEAT YOU!” Then came the popping sound of exploding glass. The veins on his neck swelled as he screamed and willfully laughed at the machine. Finally, he got back to his dorm and began drinking and looking out the window for friendly prospects to provide some company. For the next couple hours he paced back and forth from his computer, anxiously surfing the web and downloading pirated music, to the window, looking for his friends to-be. Stepping out to the streets to puff a cigarette every so often was another way that Bartholomew tried to meet new acquaintances. Most of the time people continued walking by coldly without acknowledgment to Bartholomew’s welcoming and eager countenance.
“Heeeyy, Francesca,” he slurred lighting a cigarette, “It’s me Bart. I’m in your lit—literature class.”
“Oh hi,” she said, trying to keep moving.
“Hey, what are you getting into tonight?”
“I’m just heading back to my room, I’ll see you around though,” she responded, passing him, only partially angling her disinterested head.
Drunk by now, Bartholomew had an even better idea, instead of waiting for the friends to come to him, he would go to them, via his nifty little motor scooter that he had folded up under his bed. He did not usually ride it (he much preferred his bike), but brought it to school just in case someone else would care to accompany him on rides throughout the city.
Now’s the time to ride this bitch, he thought drunkenly.
He went to a nearby empty lot and began fiddling with the motor and its various starting mechanisms. The engine had a cord that he had to yank out laboriously like a lawnmower. Just before it started, he cursed it with a heated ferocity. It sputtered to start, Bartholomew got on and gave it some gas. The speed increased quickly, and before no time Bartholomew was hovering briskly over the less traveled side streets and quiet areas around the upscale housing buildings. The air was agreeable to Bartholomew, who smiled with the thrill of it. To the Point he went, where the three rivers of the city converge in a slow, spinning confluence; where he lit a cigarette and looked out over the dark swirling eddies amidst the sputtering sound of the tiny engine. Of the few people that Bartholomew saw, practically nobody struck him as a potential qualified drinking partner.
Deflated, he began to make his way back to the campus in order to continue his one man celebration of life. About two blocks away, he zigzagged across an uneven street and failed to see a two inch curb differential that sent him flying head first off the scooter into the pavement. The first part of his body to hit the curb was his jaw and mouth, shattering the front, upper row of his teeth in half and scorching bloody abrasions into the lower part of his face. Unconscious in a growing pool of his own blood, he laid still for several seconds before coming to and getting up. Finally he swayed to his feet and realized part of what happened. Blood poured down his neck to his shirt as he experienced the tightening of the skull and the swelling of the brain that accompanies such an impact along with the auricular deafening nothingness.
He vocalized various groans of pain and surprise. He then thought, FFFUUUCKKK, OW!!! he swayed around the pavement for a minute barely keeping his balance with each step. I’m alright. A lil’ bit of pain never hurt anybody.
Then he realized the other part of what had happened, as he tongued his top teeth and realized that substantial parts of them were missing.
This time, he vocalized a string of gurgling obscenities and cries as he spit out bloody gobs of tooth bits and what have you.
He left the scooter where it laid and headed the direction of his dorm. Nearby, his glasses were in pieces spattered with tiny red droplets. His shirt came off and he cupped it over his mouth and jaw while he reentered the dorms. Passing multiple people, not one of them asked of his condition. Then Bartholomew ran into the showers and stood there for an hour with the warm water washing over his hideous head, clearing out the tiny pebbles that were embedded in his face, constantly feeling his newly, jagged teeth in stupefied disbelief. After the shower, he went straight to his bed; not to sleep, but to lay there and slosh about his blood, regrets and suicidal ideations. Never had drunken shame felt so palpable to the anguished Bartholomew.
The next morning he got up and peeled the pillow case from his crusty face. After sneaking away, he took a long walk off campus and called his mother, telling her some of what happened, begging her to come pick him up. As a particularly loving mother, she drove to the city and rescued her haggard son. She took him directly to a good dentist who repaired what was left of his pathetic smile with the best of cosmetic stomatological procedures. The good doctor also took X-Rays of his neck to see if he had sustained any spinal damage.
The dentist comforted Bartholomew, “With your accident, the way you described it, you’re really lucky that you’re not paralyzed from the neck down. You absorbed your entire body weight at twenty five miles an hour, through your mandible and maxilla, into your cervical vertebrae. I’d say it’s a miracle really. And also the fact that you didn’t have any nerve damage to the teeth, is really quite remarkable”
Bartholomew mumbled slowly trying not to move his face, “Yuh, wull, Ah wus ulmost hut buh uh twain too, suuuu… Ah guess Ah have uh lut to be thunkful fur, dun’t I duc?”
The dentist looked at him, eyes wide and suspect, “Jesus, man. Try and be careful. You got a lot going if you don’t screw it up.”
“Thunks ugain duc,” he said through swollen, bloody lips. “Ah’ll twy muh bust nut to.”
“Yeah, and no more apples,” he said gesturing like he was biting into an imaginary apple with his two front teeth. “Be careful with those,” he warned with a bright smile. “And easy on this stuff too,” as he motioned like he was taking a drab from a bottle.
The next several days, before returning back to his dorm and studies, Bartholomew spent time on the basement couch at his parent’s house slathering a topical healing ointment on his wounds, drifting in and out of consciousness, flipping through channels on the television, minimal amounts of schoolwork, and eating very soft foods. Obviously he could not shave during the scabby healing process of his facial dermis, and from that day forward he always maintained some type of a beard. Over the next couple days he called off his shifts at work and did not go to class. “Just remember to bring in a valid doctor’s excuse,” said his supervisor. His mother informed him that he received a letter that looked official in nature. Bartholomew hated mail in general, but opened it nonetheless; it was his driver’s license. He smiled and it hurt his face. Through all this, his old childhood dog, Lucky, almost never left his side and aided his healing.
The door buzzed loudly. Bartholomew’s head snapped away from the book he had been reading while at work, “The Redetzky March,” and looked over to the door while his body automatically started to poise up out of the seat towards the entrance. This had become an automatic reaction to the sound of the door buzz. That was something he was good at and could do quickly and properly; letting people in and out the facility. He had the secret knowledge of the door code (a four digit number combination entered on a keypad); and he was also usually nearest to the door, so he would often jump to attention to be the first to examine and allow entrance to any visitors. If a consumer was watching out the window, peering through the lacy white curtains, which was often the case, they may telegraph the fresh arrival to Bartholomew or whoever was able to let them in.
Shiftily looking over his shoulders he stood at the keypad, Five, four, one, six, star, he thought pushing the buttons accordingly and covering any lines of sight with his body and free hand so that way the consumers would not be able to witness and gain knowledge of the secret door code. All doors in the facility were reinforced and similarly locked in order to keep the consumers from trying to elope. A small red light went off while the adjacent green light lit up. The gigantic magnet attached to the door deactivated and released; it then popped ajar.
It was Will returning from an outing with his mother. There they stood, mother and son, in all of their sad beauty. They were making up for lost time, attempting to relive the wonder years of a mother-son relationship. Will actually smiled as his mother delayed saying goodbye and stepped inside the wide vestibule of the house. She stood about two feet less than her son, with wobbly legs, a thin frame, and gray scraggly hair parted to the sides showing her weary face. Her smile, although sparsely displayed, would exude a melancholic bittersweetness.
“Hello,” said Bartholomew, “How’d everything go? Did you guys have a nice afternoon?” asked Bartholomew, answering his question with a question that contained the answer he sought.
“Yes, it was nice,” said Will’s mother. She held on to his elbow tightly, looking up at her son. “Quiet, but nice.” She appeared eager to talk to someone and Bartholomew appeared inviting and receptive to the chit chat. “It was just Will and I. Much quieter than it used to be. His brothers and sister are all moved out,” she paused, and then she intentionally tried to lift her eyes brighter, “A lot less work though” and ended with a forced chuckle.
“How many children do you have?” Bartholomew asked gingerly.
“Well, Will’s my youngest, then I have a daughter, and two older boys,” she said with a grin.
“Really?” asked Bartholomew, “That’s the same order my family’s in. And I’m the youngest too. What a coincidence, huh Will? How ’bout that…” Will shrugged silently with a lethargic smirk. “So where was everyone else for Thanksgiving dinner?” Bartholomew fleetingly thought about his family, him being the youngest of the litter, and his attachment to his mother and his mother’s attachment to him. Also about his older siblings and how he thought it odd that his sister and brother age line up should be so similar to that of Will.
She explained, “Well, Will’s sister, Mary, lives up in Erie, and his two brothers live in Arizona.”
“Oh that’s nice.”
“Yeah they love it out there. My oldest Frank has been in Tucson for a while. Then John just moved out there a couple months ago, and he’s doing real good out there working on repairs on computers or something. But the money’s good out there, he earns a lot more than he was earning back here. He was living out there for a while and was going to start a church with some friends but after a while, that just fell through. Then all of the sudden he met this girl and got a job doing this computer stuff and he said ‘Mom, I’m movin’ to Arizona and I’m never comin’ back,’ and I said—,” she started to cry, “—’Don’t you ever say that to me. Never say that to me.’” She let a couple tears go, then fought back the rest. Both Will and Bartholomew could not possibly comprehend the anguish of a sad, widowed mother who now lived all alone.
Will stood there with an enervated mirrored display of his mother’s emotions.
Bartholomew watched and nodded, then spoke, “Yeah, it’s tough. I know how hard it can be when the family can’t all make it home for the holidays,” followed by an awkward silence. He had been working for thanksgiving and celebrated the nation’s bounties by feasting with the consumers, instead of his family under their blessed roof.
“Alright Will, well I have to get going. I’ll talk to ya next week. Until then be good,” and she reached up and pulled his head down, kissing him on the lips. “Bye Will. I love you son.”
“Alright Mom, bye.”
She headed out towards her little car as Bartholomew said “Thank you, Have a good night,” closing and locking the door. Will crept away to lock himself in his room to recover from the painful maternal parting. After watching Will’s mother pull away, Bartholomew dutifully returned to reading his book.
Inevitably, Bartholomew soon began working the night shifts which went from twelve ante meridiem to eight ante meridiem. Sometimes he would try to take a nap before work, but most often he could not sleep. Usually he would just sit up quietly reading, glancing at the clock, until it was time to go when he would walk through the dimly lit city streets to the oddly quiet trolley station. It was not always quiet though; there were certain stragglers of the night, mostly young people with interesting social lives carousing in the city, with the ubiquitous homeless vagrant as well, no doubt. Or other lackeys who had occupations that also demanded from them their sleeping hours. As you could guess, he sat quietly on the unpopulated trolley car listening to his iPod staring out the window at the passing blurred light show.
The old church grounds of Bartholomew’s employment were especially quiet at night and host to scores of waltzing ghosts. The night staff for the house was dwindled down to just two staff, one upstairs and one down. There was no supervisor, no nurse, no cook, and no frequent visits from government workers or family. It was dark, quiet, lonely, and creepy. In the beginning of working these shifts, Bartholomew was hyper sensitive to his surroundings, hearing every little creaking sound and vocal noise in the big old house, while he drank coffee throughout the night to keep himself awake. Most of the consumer’s bedrooms talked and buzzed throughout the night with the sounds of a television or radio.
On his first overnight shift he had the following conversation with his friendly, late night coworker, Carlos. “Hey Carlos, um do you know if we can make a pot of coffee?”
“Um, I don’t know. I don’t drink coffee,” said Carlos with his usual, fabulous, homosexual way of speaking. “It’s nasty.”
“Hm, well do you know where they keep any regular coffee for staff?”
“I don’t think they have any,” said Carlos.
“Well if I’m supposed to stay up all night, they better have some coffee available,” said Bartholomew as he entered the kitchen and began rummaging for the regular coffee. He found some that was intended for the consumers, and happily made a pot of coffee for himself.
During the night shift, his job was basically to make sure that the consumers did not run off, burn the house down or kill themselves or each other. The only part of his job that he found difficult was making sure that they did not kill themselves, because they were all quietly in their rooms, doors shut, and if they really wanted to they could probably succeed without drawing too much attention. Even in general, Bartholomew did not fully understand the entire principle of preventing a suicide. He was also to keep especially close attention to his olfactory senses in order to make sure the consumers were not smoking or attempting to burn down the house. On a good night, upon his arrival the consumers would all be in bed and would remain there without issue for the duration of the shift, only getting up occasionally to use the restroom. When this was the case, Bartholomew sat comfortably on the couch in the living room flipping the pages of his book or the channels of the television with a zombie like affect. With the lights low the flickering television splashed the walls with dancing colors. Sometimes he would simply just listen to his iPod at a low volume for the entire evening. Bartholomew also began listening to all night radio shows that ventured into the realm of paranormal and metaphysical. Other times he would watch a movie or scrounge snacks from the kitchen in the glow light of the refrigerator. Always trying to remain keenly aware of what was going on in the house at night.
On other nights one or more of the consumers would be restless and up throughout the night. These nights would be miserable to Bartholomew because he could not sit and vegetate with his media while waiting for the sun to rise as he normally did. Common sounds emanating from their rooms throughout night were insidious laughter, fits of angry yelling and swearing, or coughing. Most of the time, if they were awake, they just wanted to stay up and watch television or a movie sitting on the couch near Bartholomew. Struck with hunger, they may have requested a snack of some kind. Sometimes it was the voices of others that kept them from sleeping, struggling with the onslaught of unwelcome sounds, troubling thoughts and seemingly alien voices. Most of the times the messages that these entities had to deliver was very unpleasant and tormenting. While on occasion, the consumers laughed and conversed happily with what they heard. Other times certain problematic issues would present themselves such as a consumer complaining of chest pain, which guaranteed them an ambulance ride and a short stay at the hospital; a great retreat for the attention seeking hypochondriac. Although Bartholomew was kind fellow, he kept his nighttime conversations brief, always trying to redirect the consumers back to their bed rooms, encouraging them to sleep.
It was three o’clock in the morning one night when Bartholomew was in the office room quietly reading Kafka, fighting the lethargy that loomed heavily over his head when he heard yelling. He heard what he thought was someone’s loud radio or television, but soon realized it was Connor’s voice bellowing from the living room. It was excited and angry yelling echoing through the corridor. He sat upright for a bit hoping it would end. Aroused, he began rubbing his forehead as he took a long sigh. He was just beginning to get to the point where if he looked at the book and focused on the words slowly that he could pass an entire hour on just one page and it would only feel like one minute. This was a recent advancement in the Bartholomew’s late night occupation that served him very well in the long graveyard shifts that he had recently begun working more of. It was a sort of a willful dissociation or self hypnotization that he employed and also an interesting way to become engaged in the reading. The content of the story became more of a dreamlike scene, like a snapshot or freeze-frame that he could enter and float about in, as an orb or ghost might do. For this particular episode, Bartholomew dangled in a scene taking place in a rickety old house populated with strange characters from the early 20th century along with one giant, German speaking bug. This altered state faded slowly as he struggled to his feet and walked through the dimly lit hallway to the rear of the building, to the living room, where the racket of Connor yelling at Zaleweski became clearer. Bartholomew thought it odd how time now seemed to be moving in fast forward.
Connor shouted, “You can’t have it, you always have it!” his voice sounded like the metallic clamoring of a passing trolley. They were arguing over the all powerful and important television remote control.
Zeleweski stood there with a wounded soldier stance shifting his weight from foot to foot, participating in the din, “But I just asked for it once and you had it for a entire hour!”
“I DID NOT HAVE IT FOR AN HOUR!” yelled Connor in his acrimonious tone. “You keep saying that and it’s a lie! JUST STOP LYING!!!”
“Alright guys,” said Bartholomew calmly and quietly, eyes drooping, earphone wire dangling down from his head. “Lets quiet down for a—”
“—You did have it for an hour,” Zaleweski said staring at the floor. “You did,” and he shook his head in the affirmative.
“No I did not. That’s bullshit!” Connor’s large white stomach bounced out from under his T-shirt as he yelled, exposing his hairy umbilicus.
“Why can’t you just share it anyway?” Zaleweski said. “You always have it.”
“I do not always have it! There you go lying again!”
Bartholomew hoped that they could resolve their issue with minimal effort on his part. When he stood there watching quietly hoping to mollify the two, he heard the volume of the consumer’s voices dissolve into a distant quiet drone, while the dripping of the nearby faucet and the buzzing of the lights gained power and dominance over his attention. There were at least three moths that he counted while standing there, swaying almost imperceptibly. One, two, three… Is that four?… One, two, three, three, three, four? No… Is that— is that— it might be the same one over again. The tile on the floor began to gain a new, interesting quality to Bartholomew as he discovered a pattern that had some strange, secret meaning. Old church complexes have been known to disguise secret passages and what not, he thought. He wished that his presence would simply be calming enough to help put an end to the bickering, but his passive efforts were in vain because after a minute or two they continued to argue in circles.
“Alright guys, stop it! Listen, just—just…” Bartholomew shook the daze from his mind and stuttered when one of his coworkers came in the room too, alerted to life from the hullabaloo and summoned down from the upstairs staff office. It was Carlos his overnight compatriot who looked on silently as Bartholomew worked. “—Just give it a rest. It’s late, TV time is over. There’s nothing but shit, I mean crap, on anyway, it’s all garbage.” He grabbed the remote and started flipping the channels through infomercials and mindless programming, “Look, crap, crap, crap, crap.” He turned off the television and said, “Time to check in guys. The show’s over. C’mon, were done here.”
“But he’s a liar!” Connor shouted.
“—No, Connor, we’re done here—”
“—We’re done! C’mon this is ridiculous.” Bartholomew was reminded of late night, drunken altercations that never went anywhere when things became overly emotional and dripping maudlin. Connor and Zaleweski finally quieted and began to disengage.
Carlos clapped his hands and held them together like he was praying, pointing them at the two consumers, one after the other, “Please guys, it’s late, time to check in,” and they quietly walked to their rooms. Bartholomew turned off the lights as they all cleared out the room and went different directions. Exhausted rubbing his eyes, he went back to his post on the couch and sat and waited for morning to come, hoping that his shift would conclude uneventfully, and it did. The sun came up, the birds started chirping, the consumers were all still sound asleep, and Bartholomew went out on the front porch to drink a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette. Similar to his previous sentiment of the late night drunkenness, he was reminded of the nocturnal partying he used to do in high school, and the morning after. It was taxing on the psyche.
It was “a good night for an outing” Beth informed Bartholomew upon his arrival, one minute late as usual for starting the four o’clock post meridiem shift. But nobody ever cares about just one minute, Bartholomew reassured himself. Beth gathered her belongings and exited the facility quickly telling Bartholomew to “Have a good night” with a smile.
Beth stopped before closed the door, “Oh Bartholomew, I forgot to check, are you an approved driver with us? I guess I just never checked.”
Bartholomew paused and thought about the legality of that question, and decided to dance around it. He then said, “Wellll, I do have a valid PA driver’s license soooo…”
“Oh, okay well that’s great, then I’m sure you’re probably approved.”
Just before she departed, Beth informed Bartholomew where he could find the keys, locked in a desk drawer, and that he could take the van out with some consumers who wanted to go to Wal-Mart. Most of them loved Wal-Mart with a childlike passion. Beth exited the big, old lodging while a couple of the consumers said goodbye to their beloved supervisor.
“Goodbye honey,” said Connor.
“Goodnight honey,” was her incredulous reply.
Bartholomew was beginning to get slightly more comfortable with his new job and the people he worked with (both consumers and coworkers). Most of the consumers began to know his name and would greet him warmly upon entry. Before long, it was not rare for him to anticipate when he would arrive at work; there was a strange bonding that was taking place. His first order of business was to get a cup of coffee and go out for the first smoke break of his shift. Every once in a while, Bartholomew would give in and have a cigarette. Sometimes if he did not have one he would breech protocol and ask for one from the consumers. Later he made the announcement for dinner, then marking off the consumers as they came down for the evening meal, no longer having to ask for their names.
“Alright guys, we’re goin’ on an outing to Wal-Mart after dinner. Who wants to go?” asked Bartholomew receiving mixed replies. Five of the consumers responded with some type of an affirmative answer. He could not fully mask his unenthused tone due the fact that Wal-Mart, with all the noise and colors and chaos, usually induced a pounding headache within his temporal lobe. Especially when the little ones ran around screaming at their parents begging for this or that useless piece of junk, Bartholomew wanted to give them a good whacking. Smack the shit out of them! he thought. However he felt conflicted because when he did see a parent hitting their kids, which happened frequently, it always made him uncomfortable and agitated. Bartholomew would have probably made a great father.
So there they were, just Bartholomew and five of the consumers walking around Wal-Mart, a place that could drive a person with even the strongest mental fortitude closer to the edge. Staring around the store, they were all somewhat intimidated by the swirling gaff, so they crept slowly, keeping in a close group staring wildly at what seemed to be closing in on them, like shell shocked soldiers trudging through the shit. Bartholomew was under strict instructions to keep all the consumers together in a close unit.
The clientèle that frequented this particular location were, generally speaking, of white, lower class variety. Bartholomew thought of them as red necks and trailer trash. Disobedient young children would scamper away from their negligent parent(s) screaming for something. While the parents or guardians would neglect their parenting obligations. Husbands and boyfriends would bicker back and forth at their wives and girlfriends. Bartholomew found that it was sometimes difficult for him to keep a close watch on his consumers, who blended in with the awkward gate, poor stylistics and ill fitting apparel of the other wandering customers. It was basically a show grounds for America’s most dysfunctional family with the entire store as the stage.
Many of the shelves were disorganized, conveying confusing and baffling messages. If you looked up, and allowed your vision to travel any distance, say towards the rear of the store, many of the colors began to blend into a confusing mess of psychedelic proportions. The entire environment was pitifully lacking of any aesthetic order.
This is like a goddam circus, he thought.
Meet another one of the consumers named Clyde who was very soft and short spoken. This Anglo-Saxon man was in his mid thirties, and slowly shuffled around the store looking for the right shirt to satisfy his impulsive addiction. Bartholomew looked to Clyde first to decide where to begin their perilous shopping excursion.
“I’m gonna get a shirt,” he professed in a volume barely perceptible in the current setting.
“What’s that?” asked Bartholomew, squinting, trying to cut out all the unnecessary bother from his attention.
“He wants a shirt!” bellowed Connor as Clyde also repeated his first sentence even quieter than the first utterance.
Oh yeah, remembered Bartholomew, he always wants a shirt. Shit, this guy must have like a million shirts. And he did have plenty of shirts, in his room there were piles of them. You see, for Clyde, coming from an upbringing of neglect, devoid of any love and affection, he developed an insatiable fixation for compulsively purchasing T-shirts. His care takers never bought him any T-shirts and he was forced to grow up bare bellied for many a day. It may have also been something far more complex and deeply repressed. Whatever the origins were, he could not be reasoned with when in pursuit of a new T-shirt, which Bartholomew eventually found out.
“Do you really need another T-shirt Clyde? I mean, you have a ton already.”
He looked at Bartholomew and answered, devoid of any affect save for two bulging eyeballs, “Yeah.”
“Really? C’mon man, you have like a million shirts already, you don’t need anymore, save your money for something better.”
Again the same blank stare, “I’m gonna buy a shirt.” He lifted his hand and pointed, while his fingers danced around like antennae of an insect.
This went on for several minutes.
Bartholomew conceded, “Alright then, go ahead,” keeping an eye on the other consumers who anxiously waited for their comrade to make his selection, some urging him to “just pick one!” Several minutes went by of Clyde frantically searching the racks for a shirt that tickled his fancy along with counseling from Bartholomew on proper size selection. Eventually he decided on the latest fashionable design of some angry, decrepit, half-dead face with the words “Flesh Eating Zombies from Hell” written on top in a blood splatter font. Later on, and much to Bartholomew’s amusement, Clyde would find this shirt a favorite to wear to Sunday morning mass, despite the advice that it may be somewhat inappropriate. Clyde did not appear to make the connection and refused to change into something more socially acceptable.
Then they went to the electronics section for a couple of the consumers to browse the latest media drivel that was being marketed to them at Wal-Mart’s everyday low prices. Most of the consumers were big fans of horror movies; of which Bartholomew also happen to be a fan, although it seemed that children’s were movies were also quite enticing to the consumers, much to the chagrin of Bartholomew who loathed movies geared for younger audiences. If it did not receive a restricted rating from the motion picture association of America, Bartholomew generally did not care for it. However many of the best films were either foreign or art films that did not get scrutinized by the racketeers.
“Awesome!” Connor exclaimed staring at the case of some gory slasher flick.
You should also be familiar with the consumer Paul, who looked at Connor and said, “Oh no, you don’t wanna watch that. Oh no, I can’t even look at that stuff.” Paul was an older, African-American gentleman who shook constantly and had sharply declining physical health due to being HIV positive. Spittle gathered near the corner of his mouth when he talked softly with a lisp. He had a genuine care for his fellow consumers that was quite rare and on a much more spiritual level than the others. Paul himself was a deeply spiritual man and would often recite passages of scripture from heart as well as pious poetry hoping to help those around him secure salvation. Paul almost instantly recognized the friendly and calming greenish-gold aura that glowed around Bartholomew. God also delivered a message to Paul via angel indicating that Bartholomew had a “very good heart.” He moseyed toward the rhythm and blues section and began flipping through the compact discs.
Bartholomew held out his hand, “Whatchu got there?” Connor quickly handed him the movie, it was “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” “Yeeaaahh,” said Bartholomew nodding his head, “That’s a good one, a real bloody classic.”
“You know this is a true story?” asked Connor.
“Well, it’s only sorta true. I mean, it’s only loosely based on a real guy who was a maniac who did some really weird shit a long time ago. But I don’t know how accurate that movie is,” said Bartholomew.
“I heard this is a true story,” insisted Connor.
“You can’t believe everything you hear, Connor, you know that. And especially with movies these days, this stuff’s not real, man. And even when they say ‘based on a true story’ —”
Connor got defensive and snatched back his soon to be movie, “Yeah, what the fuck do you know? You’re not really even that smart!”
Bartholomew only thought briefly about whether or not such movies were appropriate for someone who had such severe mental ailments. He shook it off and moved over to the music section of the store, where LaShanta and Trish were looking at compact discs. “How you guys doin’?” he asked, then answered his own question with another question, “Ya doin’ alright?”
LaShanta snapped, “Do you mind?” and shuffled down to a different section, dressed in what appeared to be pajamas. “Ignorant son of a bitch,” she said just loud enough for Bartholomew to hear.
Trish said, “Yeah,” holding a plastic wrapped compact disc and bobbing her head to the familiar song she heard in her mind, incognizant of any spectators. Forehead scrunched, she assumed the agitated emotion of the punk rock vocalist. She moved her lips slowly and silently to a chorus that Bartholomew could only imagine as he tried not to look any more than he really had to.
Finally, they all lined up in the last isle where they could purchase their tobacco products. Bartholomew saw to it that they were able to complete the monetary transaction smoothly. I hope they don’t try and steal anything, he worried. Luckily, there was no attempted thieving on that day. Or at least no failed, attempted thieving. On the way out, Bartholomew was lured by the claw game, where he had the exciting chance at winning a small stuffed animal for a mere twenty five cents. The consumers watched Bartholomew try his pathetic luck at the child’s game. In his much younger, more prosperous childhood days, Bartholomew amassed quite a collection of those little fury toys while being his mother’s partner on the weekly shopping excursions. Although he gave it a real calculated attempt, he did not win anything this time.
“Aw, this thing is rigged! Rigged I tell ya! This thing is shit! Did you see that?!? I had it and—and it let it go!” He quickly composed himself and they all went outside to smoke a cigarette in front of the store before getting back into the van and driving home. As the driver, Bartholomew also played the role of the disc jockey, plugging in his iPod into the van’s auxiliary input, playing at a considerable volume whatever the hell he wanted, being a strange mix of seldom heard old and obscure new music. He looked over at Connor who sat in the passenger seat pouring down an entire sugary, carbonated beverage and vented some more, “When I was young, those machines used to actually let ya win a prize. Nowadays they just rip you off, ya know what I mean? That’s the way it is with just about everything these days.”
Connor nodded in estranged amusement.
The consumer Zaleweski was an older man of about fifty. He frequently wore a brightly colored jacket that he described as being like that of the once famous singer “Liberace,” with bell bottom pants adorned with flower patches, and purple and yellow Nike high top sneakers. A catholic rosary always swayed under his kyphotic neck. One of his most prized possessions was his newly purchased belt buckle, which for a mere “thirty dollars plus six ninety five shipping and handling,” decorated the front of his pants with the face of a mythical, fierce dragon from the times when wizards and knights roamed the earth spilling the limitless blood of evil orcish hordes. “Hey Bart!” he said excitedly as Bartholomew entered the door for work, “Check this out.” He pulled out his wallet and showed Bartholomew his new debit bank card. Zaleweski also had a very intense fondness for money and an obsession with little trinkets and other various objects.
“That’s cool,” said Bartholomew. Having just smoked half a joint before leaving campus for work, he was considerably high and approached his work that day languidly. Shhhiit, he thought upon his arrival to work, Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten so stoned today. He looked around trying to grasp his state of mind, Shhhhiiiiittt. As with most things in his life, however, although he was under the influence of marijuana, he still performed at a level that exceeded nearly all the expectations of anyone who happened to be around him. Zaleweski’s shirt sparkled and shimmered in the light. Since Bartholomew was so stoned, he decided to take this valuable opportunity to sit down and spend some time engaging in a full fledged therapeutic conversation with Zaleweski.
“Yeah, with this I can buy just about anything. I already got ten dollars in there right now, but I’m gonna get more money to put in there soon.”
“Yeah man, that’s cool. I got a debit card too. They’re great really, but you can get into trouble with it if you’re not careful.” Bartholomew pulled out his debit cared and flashed it to Zaleweski, they were identical. Then he said, “But watch out for that fine print, because the banks will try to screw you.” A loud and uncomfortable gurgling occurred in Bartholomew’s stomach due to a lack of food; he could not wait for dinner to be served. He had not eaten all day.
“Was that you?” asked Zaleweski giggling.
“I’m just a little hungry,” responded Bartholomew abashedly.
“Me too… Yeah, I got ten dollars in my bank account right now, but I get twenty five dollars next week, so next week I’ll have thirty five dollars…” and he trailed off obsessing about his financial situation.
“That’s awesome. That’s what I’ve been telling you that you should really try and save your money instead of just spending it all right away.”
“I know. I am saving it Bart. All I need is seventy five dollars and then I’m gonna get this book,” and he unfolded a wrinkly page from a magazine that advertised a book titled “Dark Ages” at the nominal fee of “seventy five dollars plus eight ninety nine shipping and handling.”
“Hm,” said Bartholomew, not sure if he should discourage the purchase, “That’s cool. You like the dark ages, the uuhh, medieval period?”
“Yeah,” said Zaleweski, “They are awesome.” And they discussed the many affairs of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot of Camelot. Bartholomew described how he too was searching for his Queen Guinevere. Zaleweski did have some other rambunctious insights on the topic of the Knights of the Round Table that he enthusiastically shared with Bartholomew such as how they frequently would remove the heads of dissidents via guillotine.
The cook Janet soon emerged from the lower level of the castle and served the hot meal of the evening, consisting of kielbasa, sauerkraut, macaroni and cheese, carrots, beans, and cake for desert. Together they feasted like war weary knights sitting over the round table, lights low and glowing. The sounds of chomping and slurping were abounding while bits of food fell to the table and floor while belches marked the end of the meal for several of the knights and queens. The doors were shut, the walls were strong, and the evil forces were kept at bay. One of the great parts about Bartholomew ‘s job was that he was always well fed.
Meanwhile Bartholomew’s academic experience was going splendidly well as his name was mentioned on the Dean’s List several times. The Honors Society was nice because it offered Bartholomew unlimited free coffee throughout the day, but academically proved to be challenging work. His brain filled up with all kinds of new information from lectures and books and computer screens to the point that he thought his eyes would melt out of his face and his brain would ooze out of his ears. When studying, he would listen to classical smash hits such as George Friederich Handel’s “Messiah.” Some of this information he could directly apply to his job and the people he worked for and with. It was not rare for him to have so many thoughts running through his brain that he could not sleep, especially when composing a thesis essay based on much recent research; these thoughts were loud and needed sorting. Often his rampant inner dialogue would dismantle his attempts at entering a state of proper rest.
He had the following conversation with Dr. Stanton one pleasant afternoon:
“Hello,” said Bartholomew.
“Hello Bart,” said Dr. Stanton, “what’s on your mind this afternoon”
“Well, I, uhhh, was wondering if Ana still comes around here?”
“Yeah, she’s here all the time, what did you want to know?”
“Do you know if she’s dating anybody?”
Dr. Stanton chuckled inappropriately, “Well, I’m not really sure about that.”
Bart nodded his head, “Okay, okay… Well if you see her around just let her know that I was looking for her and would really like to get to know her better, and I really liked her presentation in my sociology on Hannah Arendt’s take on Marxism.”
They paused for a moment in awkward silence as Bart examined her stacks of books. Dr. Stanton then said, “Alrighty Bart. Are you going to come to the poetry reading this afternoon?”
“Uh, maybe, who is it?”
“Desmond Egan, the Irish poet.”
“Oh, that’s cool, can we go out for a pint afterword and sing ‘Danny Boy’?”
“I’m sure that might be a possibility.”
What does that mean? “Oh, and is Ana gonna be there?”
“Well, I think so.” Another pause, “you should come, that’s what being an Honor Student is all about, enhancing your education and enriching your life.”
“Alright Dr. Stanton, you have a lot of good advice you know that. I love to hear good advice, because if I don’t hear good advice sometimes, I’ll never know what I’m missing, you know? Like all the possibilities that may never actualize for me… I mean, what I mean is that more people need to hear that stuff, and read all the good stuff that we read, ya know?”
“Yes, thank you Bart. I’ll see you at the poetry reading at six, okay? Free coffee?”
“You’re silly. Alright, Ill see you later Doc. Pints later!”
He also managed to wean himself off of his previous regiment of psychiatric drugs that he had been taking since the time of his driving under the influence infraction, even though stopping the drugs abruptly was ill advised and increased the risk of suicide. Instead of taking the drugs, he decided to take up running in order to give himself the neural shot of endorphins and norepinephrine that he so needed, always aided by some loud and upsetting music. It also helped him to ease the stress of life by screaming at the top of his lungs some fanatical eolithic war cry when he thought nobody was looking.
The local thrift shops became a favorite place for Bartholomew to frequent and kill time, looking at old junk and clothes. Through careful selection, he was able to assemble a unique wardrobe that presented him to appear something like a mix between a casual gangster and a drunken Irish, ruffian dock worker from eras gone by. The hair on his face began to come in more fully and soon the young Bartholomew had a respectable beard.
Hours upon hours were spent on the internet downloading music which he archived meticulously in a giant external hard drive. Eventually the government is going to find a way to stop illegal downloading, he thought, so I might as well download as much music as I possibly can. There were instances of people being prosecuted for pirating music and the last thing Bartholomew wanted was another run in with the law. Although he was hopeful that he could do it without detection and horde as much music as possible while it was still available, before the greedy government and the blood sucking lawyers found a way to stop it. He would harness the power of the internet to travel back in time and learn about old artists as well, while downloading and listening to their life’s audio work. He almost always had his iPod on, piping the newest or most recently downloaded music into his skull, as he instinctively bobbed his head to the latest sounds he had discovered floating casually down the streets and halls. Lately he devoted much attention to the sounds of the jazz age and nineteen fifties vocal bands.
On occasion he would try to find a girl who would be his special friend but to no avail. The city nights in downtown were extremely lonely to him; often he would wander the cold, desolate city streets throughout the night and look for some excitement; some friends for the evening, being only occasionally tempted by the sporadic remnants of the red light district. In his mind he would ponder, Where is everybody? It’s not that cold out. He often thought of how he felt like he was on vacation and how he used to walk along the beaches at night and meet random other groups of kids who came out and worshiped the night as he did so they could collectively embark on a night of carnal squander. Most nights he said fewer than ten words to any actual people.
One time, though, he did meet some rather interesting folks who hitchhiked across the country from California. There were two kids who were drifters that looked like twenty-something year old versions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, only drunk, and in official punk garb. He met them one day when he was getting off the trolley after work.
“Hey man, could you, like, buy us some beer?” one of the kids asked as Bartholomew walked off the trolley and down the ramp one day after work. It was a hot day, and the kid was wearing shredded black shorts down to his ankles, sparkling with various metallic things and dangling pieces pointing to his black, worn out Converse shoes. A long, greasy, black mohawk flopped messily past the side of his head over his eyes and down towards his neck.
Bartholomew had his headphones on quite loud, so he did not hear what the kid had said, but he did notice his eye contact, body movements and his lips moving so he knew that the kid was indeed trying to speak to him. Tugging at the wire, taking one of the earphones out of his head, he looked up and said, “What’s that?” He blocked the sun with his hand and tried to keep moving across the street. Tom and Huck followed quickly with big hiking backpacks bouncing off their shoulders. They must have sensed something in Bartholomew that made them know that he was “cool,” as they said, as in not going to refuse their offer or contact the authorities or making a fuss out of their request, some non-threatening vibrations that emanated around our hapless and strange looking character.
“Uh, could you like, get us some beers dude?” the kid asked again with a lisp and an awkward smile glancing at the pavement kicking a cigarette butt that drifted by.
The other one was shorter and wearing no shirt, just an old pikey hat atop his mangy, dirty blond curls. His head shot around quickly taking in the surroundings.
This request was something of a pleasant surprise to Bartholomew, as he had nothing to do this evening and most nights was terribly lonely and bored. Almost all of his attempts at making any new friends on campus fizzled to nothing awkwardly. Bartholomew responded, “Come on over here” and walked down some winding steps, through a little tunnel, towards the river. “What’re you guys up to?”
“—Nothin’,” they both said in unison, then the one with all the black continued, “jus’ tryin’ to get some beer man, ya know?” with a pleading chuckle.
The kid with no shirt on lit a cigarette while staring at the lighter with his puffy, red, glazed eyes. “Jus’ tryin’ to get drunk, thas all man.”
“We’re jus’ passin’ through, ya know? On the road again.” And they both went into the little jingle from the old Willie Nelson song. “But we’re in desperate need of some brew. Know what I mean?”
“Yeah, yeah, I gotcha. Alright, where you guys from anyway?” inquired Bartholomew continuing down the sun soaked path along the river.
“Cali.” They both said again.
Bartholomew responded incredulously, “Damn, you guys are a long way from home. What the hell are you doing around these parts anyway?”
“Just seein’ the what there is to see. We wanted to hitchhike across the fuckin’ country, so we decided to do it, ya know, before we got too old and shit.”
“Yeah,” the other one chimed in, “we’ve just been walkin’, hitchin’ rides and junk, even jumpin’ some trains too. Gotta do it some time, before ya get to old and shit and start fallin’ apart and shit, ya know?”
They looked like they already were falling apart. “Thas cool,” said Bartholomew, nodding his head as if he was not surprised and somewhat jealous that he had not yet done anything like that. “Alright, so let’s go get some fuckin’ beer.”
They sauntered along the river walk as Bartholomew asked about where they had been and what they had seen. Their travels had taken them all over the United States an afforded them many outrageous and priceless experiences. These two hitchhikers cared little about the things of this world, or each other for that matter. Bartholomew asked if they were anarchists or what, and they insisted that they were not, for, according to them, “the world would never work without certain laws.” What laws they were referring to remained unclear. But they had no homes, no jobs, no identification, and very little money. They emitted a stench that you could smell even out of doors. Similar to Bartholomew, they cared little about the norms, rules, or laws of society.
Around sunset, the two punks sat down near the river bank, under the leaves of the shoreline trees, while Bartholomew walked into town to buy a case of stout. Under Pennsylvania law, Bartholomew had to explain, he could not “just walk into a gas station to buy a six pack;” for that, he had to either go to bar or a distributor to obtain beer. This was okay, though, because between the three of them they were going to need much more than just a six pack. Bartholomew swiftly returned with a case of cold libations and they sat along the river bank pounding and crushing the beverages like furious warriors who just scavenged a plentiful booty. Also while out, he stopped in a drug store and purchased a cheap pair of auxiliary speakers that he could attach to his iPod that provided the soundtrack for the evening. For this particular evening, Bartholomew chose to play a mix of new reggae and ska sounds.
Bartholomew asked them if they smoked marijuana, and they said that they did not, for they did not do any drugs, except smoking cigarettes and drinking absurd amounts of alcohol. Although they did have a nagging little heroin habit that they generally kept to themselves. So Bartholomew smoked by his lonesome and thought it awkward that he should receive admonition from these two.
The kid with the black mohawk climbed on a fallen tree out over the water, holding a beer in both of his two outstretched hands. His feet moved along, one in front of the other, as he carefully bobbed up and down to the beat of the music while taking frequent swigs of his drinks. After he was about twenty feet out, the trunk dipped and his crotch dropped hard onto the log; legs on both sides. He splashed into the water wincing in pain and laughing hysterically at the same time as he began to paddle his way back to shore blurting a gurgled mess of obscenities.
The blond boy’s veins popped out of his neck as he moaned and laughed while chugging a beer, then crushing the can with his fist and throwing it out over the river at his friend. “Fuuuck! We’re almost outta beeeeer guuuyys!” There was three left in the case. With the quickly setting sun and twilight haze, drunken joviality increasingly pervaded the setting. They behaved as if best friends.
Checking the time, Bartholomew commented that the beer distributor was still open, and that he should go buy some more. “Iz always better to have tooo many… thannn nnot enough,” said Bartholomew, offering his profound Confucian like knowledge. His friends had no more money, but this did not bother Bartholomew, whose largess drove him to jog up to the distributor and buy another case of malted drinks to keep them going into the small hours of the morning. He was having so much fun, he could not imagine heading back to his boring dorm room so early. By the time he returned with more of the frosty ale, the punks had garnered the company of a couple cute young girls passing by. Together, the five of them drank and laughed throughout the night under the big, white moon eventually removing their outer garments and splashing about in the glittering shallows of the water. To warm up, they burned the beer boxes and nearby sticks. Bartholomew howled at the moon and stars in delight. Slightly paranoid, he also warned the crew of predatory police officers.
The blond boy forced himself sloppily on one of the girls who giddily received his tongue down her maw and then retreated to a hidden rock bed with him to attempt some strange intercourse. Perhaps the line that won her affection for the evening was when he looked at her, licked his lips and said, “Goddam girl I wish I was a rapist!”
The next morning Bartholomew got up, his neck sore from sleeping on the stone covered ground. The fire pit smoldered. He was still extremely intoxicated and had trouble remembering what exactly had happened the night before. He saw his snoring comrades all piled together like a litter of cold puppies. For some reason, Bartholomew had not managed to find a way into that pile of people. He got to his feet, stumbled over to the case and feebly grabbed a warm ale, opening and pouring half of it down his throat. He did not stop swaying. Zig zagging back and fourth up the hill to the path and back to his dorm room where he noisily clamored into his bed. When there, his eyes bounced around in an elliptical motion searching for a stable point of reference.
Later that day, Bartholomew ran into his two wandering friends again. This time they raided his little dorm room and summoned demons in one of the student housing buildings, luring in and defiling the other lesser experienced coeds, with once more, absurd amounts of alcohol. Again, Bartholomew mistakenly thought that this event would crystallize into some lasting friendships with his schoolmates.
The trolley became a favorite place of Bartholomew, who rode it frequently up and down the mount to work. Plugged into to his iPod, the latest sounds represented digitally, rushing into his brain as he studied other people but avoiding all eye contact. He liked to think how he was part of the system, working with the many machinations of society. No place made this more evident than the trolley system: this acted as the very circulatory system of the Gothic city. Other things made up the nervous system as well, such as water, power, gas lines and what have you, as well as invisible brainwaves represented by the masses of wireless transmissions, all of which Bartholomew was becoming increasingly aware. What was he then? A blood cell, a neuron firing off, an electrical impulse, the soul, or the homunculus? The allegory was not yet complete.
He would stare out the window as the trolley made its way past the other vehicles and giant masses of brick, metal, and glass, each represented somehow by bright glowing lights and blinking signage. Even people were glowing in those days, each with their own personal telecomputing devices reflecting the light in their faces or glasses. Some had glowing auditory implements in their ears. Often he would notice something out in the distance, especially when it was dark (even better with the trickling rain) and the reflections in the windows were more intense and his brain would not properly register where that object was or may have been. It occurred to Bartholomew that he was most likely looking at a reflection of a reflection. Or a reflection of reflection of reflection. Maybe even a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a reflection. You get the idea. The funny thing was that Bartholomew could not register what was real anymore; on a very basic level he could not fully trust his senses. Lost in the phantasmagoria, he would turn around in his seat and would search for the actual thing or person, the real one, where it existed physically in objective reality, but too often he was baffled as to where it was and could not locate it. He realized that he was living in an intricate and complex world full of representations, mediations, and reflections all of which were hardly trustworthy and probably reductionistic, inaccurate, and sometimes just wrong. Even his own senses were not always reliable, he was no stranger to that; but all these reflections in the windows, puddles and mirrors and glass and what have you, this may have been too much to bear.
One day when at work while out for the smoke break he had the following conversation with one of the consumers when they were discussing what they wanted to accomplish in the future: “Well, you know Bart, I really want to become a police man, I think… or the president,” Billsmith said with an enthusiastic sincerity. “Ya know?” They called him “Billsmith,” because his name was actually “William Smith,” and because there was another Will living in the setting, people decided to call him “Billsmith.” Plus Billsmith was more of a death metal fan, and strongly decried the work of the once popular American hip hop artist and actor, Will Smith.
“Yeaup,” Bartholomew said, nodding his head in confirmation. “I know exactly what you mean, man. That’s good man, it’s good to have long term goals.” He gestured with a knife hand pointing into the future. Recently Bartholomew had taken up the policy of frequent agreement with his at-work acquaintances despite many of their odd and somewhat deluded statements making no attempt whatsoever to proselytize them.
A couple of the other consumers heard Billsmith’s comment and laughed at him for his high hopes.
Billsmith became serious and scrunched his forehead dramatically while looking around, “And what’s so funny about THAT?!”
Billsmith was a man of about fourty-five years of age who had suffered tremendous setbacks throughout his life. Summarily speaking, he suffered through a life of abuse and neglect, engaging in a life of crime and substance abuse, where he then unfortunately entered a rueful fugue state and murdered his abusive father by beating him to death with an old car muffler until his face was an unrecognizable pile of mush at the end of a neck. He then tried and failed to kill himself from jumping off a bridge which subsequently resulted in a traumatic brain injury that impacted proper functioning of his frontal lobe. Occasionally he would enter into an amnesiac state coupled with prosopagnosia.
Billsmith continued taking quick puffs off his cigarette and blowing it out loudly, “Do you know anything about computers, B-B-Bill—Bob—B-B-Brad—Bar-Bar-Bar-Bart?”
Bartholomew replied, “Yeah, I know a little bit…” and the conversation continued and then fizzled out in an odd series of disjointed statements and pandering concessions lacking any real substance or point.
After smoke break, they went into his little bedroom, which was bare of any decorative articles, and approached his nightstand where his new laptop computer was sitting. There were various electrical implements torn apart with wires and pieces lying strewn about. The bed was neatly made, and covered with the packaging; boxes, plastic, wires, booklets, etcetera. The computer had not even yet been turned on. The power cord was not yet plugged into the wall. Bartholomew reached over and pushed the on switch in front of the monitor.
“This is the on button,” he began as he unraveled the power cord and plugged it in. “This is the power cord, you gotta keep this plugged in or else it will start using your battery and you’ll loose power.”
“Oh, no, I don’t wanna loose power, I wanna gain more power, Bart!!! I want the ultimate POWER!”
Bartholomew carefully and simply dictated what he was doing as he was doing it. Billsmith had no previous experiences with computers whatsoever, but he once did attend several months of a vocational technical training in high school in the early eighties where he learned the beginning curriculum of appliance repair. He made it four months in the program before dropping out of school altogether in the tenth grade in order to pursue a short lived career in methamphetamine sales. So he did have some background working with objects that traditionally used electricity. Billsmith did understand some of the uses of computers such as launching missiles and bombs, piloting military aircrafts and watching various live shots of the world at large, all of which he explained he was eager to do. He also one time witnessed the inside of his rectum on a monitor while a proctoligist removed a small bag of drugs from his orphus, and he explained to Bartholomew that he would like to view more of his innards. However Billsmith did not yet have the internet, which Bartholomew explained was the link to the outside world, going into a detailed description of vast and infinite network of computer data transfer. For this mysterious and powerful pipeline, Billsmith would have to humbly request the permission from those who had sway over such matters such as the supervisor, Beth and the conglomeration of people known as the “treatment team.” Bartholomew explained he did not possess such powers to grant privileges in the matter, nor did he know from where the service should be purchased. Bartholomew explained that Billsmith should obtain some of the various popular video games so that way he could engage in simulated warfare; some akin to the training tools that military personnel use. Shedding the blood of some virtual enemy horde plucked out of World War II, Vietnam, or Middle Eastern theaters.
Billsmith nodded intensely, “Yes, alright, mhm, yeah, okay, okay, okay, yes, I gotchu, I gotch YOU, maaan.” He understood the weightiness of the matter. Unfortunately he was never given the internet privilege because he was considered too large a liability on the world wide web.
At the conclusion of his shift at twelve o’clock ante meridiem, he weighted anxiously leave and get some frosty alcoholic beverages from one of the many respectable drinking establishments that were in the small city. He waited for his relief to come, so that he could leave. A half hour passed and still no relief staff arrived.
He called Beth. She was laying in her bed next to her husband who was panting after just having some very strenuous sexual intercourse. “Hello?” They were both still glowing and glittering with sweat.
“Hey Beth, sorry to bother you this late, but uh, I’m still waiting for the my relief to come so I can go home. Do you know if someone is coming in?”
She rubbed her leaned over to the night stand and turned on the light. Her husband flicked on the television. Beth grabbed her little schedule book to assist her in handling all the staffing issues. She flipped a couple pages and then said, “Laquisha’s not there yet?”
“Yeah she showed up, but nobody else. It’s just me and Laquisha right now. Is someone else coming in?”
“I have you scheduled for the over night too, Bart. Your name is here for that shift.”
Bartholomew shook his head and groused into the phone, “Are you serious?”
“Yeah. You didn’t know that you were supposed to work tonight? I’m sorry” she said phlegmatically.
“No, nope, I had no idea. This must be some mistake I wouldn’t have scheduled that.”
“Well, I’m not sure what can be done tonight, we have to keep minimum staffing there. You know that.”
Bartholomew was forced to stay at work for the over night shift in addition to his evening shift that he had just worked. He sat languorously on the couch and slouched into position and let the first couple hours of the night glide past effortlessly. Then Clyde came out and sat on a chair next to Bartholomew. Clyde stared at Bartholomew with insanely wild eyes, holding a white foam cup filled with his own fresh urine. Bartholomew sat up and looked at Clyde, who put up his shoulders, raised his eyebrows, and shook his head in the negatory as if being falsely accused of something. Clyde then thought it would be nice and endearing to toss the urine on Bartholomew’s face. Startled, he did not know what had just happened at first. He felt the warm liquid run down his face, over his lips, and around his neck dousing his collar. He then was shocked with the unmistakable, sour and revolting smell. His face contorted with disgust.
“What the fuck?” yelled Bartholomew. “WHAT THE FUCK!?!?”
Clyde smiled and scampered back to his room, as if he had just played a successful childhood prank.
“Oh, you mother fucker!” Bartholomew screamed as he began vomiting uncontrollably.
Laquisha came down and watched Bartholomew convulse in a tourettic fit of apoplexy.
“He fucking threw piss on me! He threw his piss on my mother fucking face!!!” and he trailed off grumbling with more obscenities through the stomach bile.
“Oh my God!” cired Laquisha. “Are you gonna be okay?”
“No, I’m not okay!!!” he coughed. “Would be fucking okay?!?”
Some of the consumers who were awake were frightened by the sounds of an angry Bartholomew.
Bartholomew was so upset by this, that he desperately wanted to beat Clyde to death. He knew that this would not be the best course of action, but he had a so much primitive rage in him that he wanted to do something. This must not go unpunished, he thought. He then ripped off his shirt that was soaked with the putrid and rank urine, spotted with bits of vomit. It got stuck around his head and he danced around for a few seconds fighting with his shirt. “Shit! Fuck!” He looked like he was getting shocked electrically or stung by swarms of angry insects. After he got it off from around his neck, he grabbed a nearby dining chair and beat it off the wall, smashing it to bits. It shook the house. Laquisha watched in frightened amazement.
“Calm down, calm down!!!” she shouted. Staff people were not supposed to act in the way that Bartholomew acted. They were not allowed to be human; to have a human reaction.
He went into the kitchen and began splashing his face with hot soapy water. He filled his mouth with the bubbles as well and scrubbed his teeth and tongue with the steamy ablution.
“Alright, I’m outta here. This is disgusting I have to go home and shower.” Even his groin area had become soiled from a mixture of various fluids.
Laquisha did not respond to this, even realizing that she would be left as the only staff person in the house.
“I’ll call Beth and tell her, I guess” said Bartholomew as he ran out of the house into the cold night, still with no shirt on. He was breathing heavily and yelled, “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!” into the night amidst his hot steamy breath.
He called Beth on his way home and told her what had happened and that he was going home. “I’m gonna be sick” said Bartholomew. “I am sick! I was puking uncontrollably.” Beth then angrily arrived at the facility at about four thirty ante meridiem to work the remaining shift that Bartholomew had absconded. During the overnight shift, Beth thought about what punitive action would be taken against Bartholomew for destroying a chair and denting the wall, leaving vomit and a broken chair on the floor (which she cleaned up), and leaving his shift. Beth was quite upset with Bartholomew.
Clyde fell asleep quietly masturbating in his bed with a smile on his face while he thought about how happy Bartholomew would be after getting his urine tossed upon him. You see, Clyde was raised in a family where urine spraying was a sign of sexual prowess, and after witnessing his family do this he then began getting involved in the action himself. In the time of Clyde’s youth he was introduced to a troubling life of compulsive excrement laden orgies.
The time came for Bartholomew to move off school property. He hated the feeling of living like a prisoner under the all seeing eye of the ubiquitous camera system and security guards where innocent, innocuous people were persecuted along with the criminals. Fortunately, Bartholomew had not suffered any serious charges against him during his stay on the urban campus.
His time living on campus drudged along strangely, allowing him to experience new brand of loneliness he was previously unfamiliar with. This loneliness, coupled with severe feelings of alienation, came with an intense potency that gave way to social desperation and solitary binge drinking. During high school, he had an interpersonal bond with much of his classmates and was even regarded with a certain amount of popularity. He was able to pick and choose from the pretty girls who he dated and had sex with. It was as if they were all from the same stock and struggling to overcome the same obstacles; similar bonds form between young privates in war after being sprayed with each others’ blood. Shared trauma makes people desperately need each other. But college was very different, the only spilt blood was found on oneself. He passed by people daily and found it almost impossible to connect with them, both figuratively and literally. He drifted through the halls brushing shoulders with innumerable peers, from class to class, without ever entering into anyone’s inner circle. The conversations he had with his fellow students were shallow and stunted. Its pathetically amazing how much I talk about the weather, he thought. Desperately, he tried to make connections with people, especially the beautiful young women who surrounded him. There were several girls who he could charm with his smile and intellect, but these never went anywhere because somehow they soon assumed he had a heart of darkness. If he was lucky enough to get a phone number, most of his phone calls and text messages went unanswered. For some reason, probably relating to Bartholomew’s uncanny ability to self-sabotage, living on campus had forced him to constantly observe others forming meaningful social relationships, from the outside looking in. Although he crawled in crowded nests, through swarms of people, stepping over them and breathing in the air that they breathed out, he was always alienated. The more people he saw and did not talk to, the more his soul ached.
Bartholomew looked around the Pittsburgh boroughs for an area that would suit his needs. The geography of the area was an incessant, vertiginous combination of rolling hills with struggling trees, steep, rocky cliffs, muddy rivers, with bridges and tunnels to make transportation possible. Much of the rust covered infrastructure was from the glorious industrial days of the town when steel and glass were gold. Little houses stood awkwardly, barely hanging on the edge of steep grades. Every distant horizon had at least one smoke stack while overhead was a never ending web of power lines and telephone wires acting as the exposed nervous system of the city. Beyond that, the azure sky was usually littered with a grid of chemtrails being sprayed out by a fleet government jets. Eventually, there was an implementation of a green tree planting initiative that was making the city’s air more breathable. Although the tops of trees were still hacked down to make way for the power lines. Contrariwise, many of the buildings and houses were partially covered with vines of ivy. Before Bartholomew could begin looking at houses or apartments, he had to first decide on a town, or at least that was his thinking. Each little area was somewhat isolated geographically, and had its’ own unique name and personality. Some areas were dense with inebriated and sexually rabid college students. Other areas were rampant with elderly polish and Irish women whose husband’s labor killed them. While surviving old men whose reckless drinking put their wives in an early grave still drank the day away. There was the South Side, which was several miles of restaurants and bars where socialites and drunkards would carouse the brightly colored streets until the small morning hours urinating and vomiting in the dark alleys at night. After having too many gin and tonics, gorgeous women would stumble and tumble over their high heeled shoes. Other areas were better known for their high crime rates which was advertised on the bosoms of large grieving women who wore custom made T-shirts with the likeness of the their dearly departed, usually with “R.I.P.” and a life span date.
Bartholomew was able to get his car back from his parent’s house, where it had been for the duration of his lack of driving privileges. The punishment taught him valuable lessons regarding the rule of law. He began driving around the city, slamming into the many potholes and cursing the government for taxing everyone but not fixing the broken concrete. The roads were serpentine and formidable, but fun to drive nevertheless. Treacherous stretches of road were marked with curbside memorials of the ill fated.
While sitting at a red light, Bartholomew developed a new theory about the amount of time that was wasted sitting at red stop lights. He would sit in his car, starring at the red light awkwardly, angrily, cursing it and taunting it as if it was a menacing foe. Some roads he would hit a red light every block, sputtering and jerking from red light to red light. Many instances vehicles would stop at an intersection when there are no other cars passing through. Looking from side to side in either direction, he would be able to see that there was absolutely no other vehicles approaching and he felt confident that he could safely cross the road, but under the circumstances it could get him penalized by the gendarmes. During one trip to work Bartholomew clocked the amount of time he spent sitting at red lights and it totaled over five minutes. He then thought about the theoretical idea of the total time cumulatively and thought that if this could be aggregated and quantified it would be a substantial amount of time. All the time that people spend needlessly idling at red lights also represented a loss of human existential possibilities that dissipate in the folds of wasted time. In the end, all this useless waiting at red lights ultimately manifested in human civilization that was not living near its’ potential. Ponder the unrealized, unactualized vistas of potentialities. When humans abdicated their common sense to trust and rely on machines to make basic decisions the result was pure absurdity. It all became a Kafkaesque maelstrom of alienated humanoids.
During his search for an apartment, the first place Bartholomew looked at was a very strange experience indeed. He called a phone number from an advertisement he had found online for a little house in the area known as uptown. The man had a raspy voice that sounded like he probably had a tracheotomy with an oxygen mask on instructing Bartholomew to meet one of his employees outside of the prospective apartment. Sitting in his vehicle outside the address, an obvious prostitute strolled by awkwardly under the light of the day, looking for her daytime clientèle. The henchmen pulled up in a dilapidated truck and hopped out onto the sidewalk, fumbling with a mess of jingling keys. He showed the apartment apathetically, which was a bland one bedroom unit, with a small living room, tiny kitchen, and dingy bathroom. It had a little yard of about hundred or so square feet surrounded by a barb wire fence. Bartholomew imagined how if he had any friends, he would throw a summer party out there with a barbecue, icy keg and tiki torches and sweaty female bodies gyrating listening to gangster rap smoking blunts. Maybe having my own place could help me get some new friends, he thought. It was very close to campus, which was attractive to Bartholomew. He saw the potential and it was within his price range, which was anything under five hundred dollars a month. Nodding his head in stolid agreement as he looked at the semi trashy rooms, imagining what he could do with the space. Soon he was on his phone with the odd sounding landlord again, saying that he would like to look over the lease agreement. He followed the directions over the phone to his office. The entrance to the building was marked with an overflowing trashcan and wreaked of vomit or urine. Small mailboxes in the vestibule regurgitated unwanted junk mail. Bartholomew walked under flickering hallway lights, and three floors up the stairwell past the scowl of somebody engaging in indeterminable criminal activity. Finally, he was at the right room that was the supposed headquarters of “King Realty.” He knocked, and the coughing voice called out from inside telling Bartholomew to “ennnnterrr.” Bartholomew did as he was told following the voice, past a neglected room of outdated computer monitors and disconnected electrical equipment into the back room. Bartholomew stopped at the entrance of a bedroom and stared at the figure who sat before him. It was an oddly short man who sat or stood or lay on his bed immediately surrounded by about four hundred pounds of his own blubber. The man was grossly obese and most assuredly immobile. The adipose tissue was so abundant that when looking at this man, one would be unable to identify certain physical landmarks such as a shoulder, the waist, or a knee. A bucket of cigarette butts was conveniently placed within a flabby arm’s reach. The window shades were down but little blades of light shone through, emphasizing the amount of dust and smoke that permeated the room and air. It was one of those ghastly environments that make you want to hold your breath for fear of taking in some awful germ thereby becoming infected with some apoplectic illness. In a poof of floating particulates, the man tossed the lease on the foot of his bed for Bartholomew to pick up and look at. Bartholomew went out into the “lobby” and examined the details of the lease. There were many oddities about its stipulations, all of which amounted to strange abdication of responsibility from the lessor to the lessee in almost all areas of the lease. For example, the lease stated that the lessee is responsible for all plumbing and electrical repairs. The lessee was also solely responsible for any damaged or stolen items. After reading several clauses like this, Bartholomew threw the lease back on the foot of the invalid’s bed and walked out hurriedly, amidst the breathy squeals of pointless negotiation from the slum lord trying to close the deal.
For another advertisement regarding an apartment on the North Side, Bartholomew called and an older lady answered shouting above a noisy racket of screaming kids and screeching animals. Her Asian accent was obvious and thick, and she seemed to have trouble talking into the telephone at a normal volume. Within seconds of the conversation, she asked Bartholomew if he was Chinese. “Uh, no, I’m not Chinese,” he said. The same intuitional alarm bells went off inside his head as before telling him to end the conversation and continue his search for proper quarters elsewhere. In addition, Bartholomew knew this simple question was in clear violation of certain discrimination laws.
Bartholomew very much liked the town of Arsenal, a town named after its enormous weaponry contributions to both world wars. In some ways, this town made significant contributions to innumerable deaths and carnage worldwide. This is where almost all of the weapons came from for these wars; everything from tanks, machine guns, planes, to every type of ammunition possible. Harkin back to when business was booming, and it was a prosperous little Rockwellian town where women and children would whistle gaily, skipping with their brown bag lunches in hand on their way to the grenade factory. There were certainly once malt shops and appliance stores selling only the creamiest milkshakes and finest, new blenders for the kitchen of the future. It was where the perfect wife would bake apple pies for her husband returning home from his job on the lathe. Juke boxes played the golden oldies from out of the saloons and pubs. One fateful day a munitions factory exploded in a violent fury of metal, flames and pink mist claiming the lives of dozens of working female plebeians who were making the bullets for their husbands to shoot over seas at some enemy horde. The only remnant of such occupations became an ancillary branch of a nearby university: a semi-secret robotics lab that developed new technology for the department of defense where hippies would occasionally stage protests. Appropriately this town also contained one of the biggest and oldest graveyards in the United States with fantastic architectural and artistical feats created in the name of those crossed over.
With the boom of suburbia, the last couple decades of the 20th century had been unkind to Arsenal, making it virtual skid road replete with blighted squalor and all of urbania’s unsavory characters.
More recently, it was a semi-gentrified flourishing little art district type place with many shops and bars along the main street. The many antique shops had a strangely powerful draw to Bartholomew, who would frequently loose himself there in dusty nostalgic pondering. Over the past decade, there had been a remarkable resurgence where many people and business were buying and remodeling the dilapidated houses and buildings. In previous times the river front property was all dedicated solely to the revolution of industry, but slowly was reclaimed by the environmentalists who made it friendly to pedestrians and boaters. There were many modish hipsters and foodies around who caroused the streets in a friendly manor akin to the old, glorious war days of prosperity. It seemed like there was a little dada movement taking place, in the jazz age or something like it, and they would find lots to drink at the many bars and restaurants, while laughing and dancing into the night. Despite all the government’s fruitless efforts, people still smoked away on their tobacco or herb of choice. There were all types of artists and galleries around too, even the buildings served as many a giant canvas. And you would have had no trouble of finding a place to get a new tattoo. Many old relics still stood strong in Arsenal, such as an old, stone clock tower that announced with bells the passing of each hour and some gargoyles that protected homes from the dybbuk.
Finally, Bartholomew found the right place to make his abode that was not run by a slum lord or xenophobe. It was on the main street of the town of Arsenal, in an old giant brick building divided into eight separate units. Two stone lion heads peered from the top of the building, which overlooked the graveyard. The property owner said that since he had not renovated it (the place did not have any type of upkeep since the sixties), that Bartholomew would get a very good deal on the monthly rate. Everything about the place was obviously worn and about forty years old; the stained sink, the cracked linoleum floor, the cruddy refrigerator that created incessant racket. The water stained, high ceilinged living room had a hearth and mantle place that had been converted into a heater that burned large amounts of natural gas into large, hot dancing blue and orange flames. In the bathroom there was a pathetic old shower head that trickled water at a height about two inches below the top of Bartholomew’s head. The far wall in the kitchen had the bare brick and mortar exposed. The windows were barely at a functional level. The rough plaster walls were stained with a wide array of various fluids and nauseating contaminates. When Bartholomew agreed to rent the apartment, there was still left over things from the previous tenant such as some nineteen eighty seven calendar girls pinned up on the walls and a dirty old couch with bright orange and yellow flowers all over it. When the pictures of the pretty ladies came down, they left a silhouette of their shape on the walls, a spot where dust, smoke and sun had not tarnished the surface. The landlord, appearing to be a normal man, said that Bartholomew was free to make improvements and minor modifications to the apartment. The lease was perfectly reasonable, so Bartholomew agreed to rent the apartment, as long as they cleared out all the old junk that still lay strewn about. Bartholomew started by painting all the walls various deep tones and accent colors to warm the atmosphere. He cared not if he got paint on the decrepit flooring because he then laid together a hodgepodge of carpeting scraps salvaged from the nearby home stores. Bartholomew was able to stay within his meager budget by furnishing and decorating his apartment by shopping at local thrift stores and flea markets. He used his artistic flare to create a very eccentric type of atmosphere that had many strange artifacts. The whole place eventually wound up being oriented around an organic theme, with many plants, and various representations of plants seemingly everywhere. Bartholomew would go for walks and come back with sticks and tree branches to suspend from the ceiling in order to give it a more outdoorsy feel. As a child, Bartholomew was a big fan of “Where the Wild Things Are,” and this deep passion was made evident in what was happening to Bartholomew’s new apartment, the first space he had all to himself and to do with it whatever he pleased. Soon Bartholomew realized that he could climb out his kitchen window and stand on a piece of rooftop that overlooked the nearby gravestones and monuments under flocks of ravens that constantly hovered overhead of the dead. He turned this patio space into a little garden and began caring for many different potted trees and plants. In the distance, he could see downtown Pittsburgh sparkling at night and hazy during the day. The sounds of the locomotives horns were frequently heard as well announcing to the world that they were moving large shipments of coal and what have you.
Bartholomew thought of how life had been treating him considerably well. He had really made substantial strides towards real independence and success. His parents voiced their stunned approval. He balanced the tasks of school and work diligently and with serious execution. However, Bartholomew was terribly disorganized, and would occasionally waste large chunks of time trying to find things and figure out what was the most efficient order to do certain tasks. This remolding business in the midst of unpacking was confusing to Bartholomew, who found it difficult to do things in a logical order and would often swear at himself for retracing or negating his previous steps. This sort of behavior was perhaps exacerbated by his substantial consumption of lager and marijuana. Overall though, he felt a real sense of accomplishment.
Large quantities of the town’s folk rode their bikes around the streets of Arsenal as well, as it was beneficial for many different reasons; cheaper, quicker, good exercise, eco-friendly, as they said, as well as socially fashionable. This was good because Bartholomew himself loved to ride his bike, mainly for the adrenaline rush one gets from riding with a death wish, and had already gained much experience being forced to rely on it as his sole means of independent transportation while the all powerful state revoked his driving privileges. It was a perfect location for Bartholomew to finish up his schooling, because it was only about three miles away from his college in downtown. Almost always in an altered state of consciousness, he would float his bike back and forth to school through the Strip District past the smells and sounds of the street side vendors. Eventually, he would associate certain smells with certain areas and blocks, emanating from that location daily as a marketing ploy aimed at the nasal cavities of passers by. There was the fish smell from Wholey’s market, the smell of fried onions from the greasy spoon cafe, and the steamy rice smell from the Chinese food skillets. Many types of people converged on this street to sell and barter and buy an endless variety of different goods. You could have found knock off sunglasses next to pirated movies. The colors of black and gold dotted the streets, representing the city’s beloved sports teams. Bartholomew would find himself on his bike cruising past people, trucks and other vehicles, dodging them all, ignoring red lights, and sliding briskly through narrow passes. Bartholomew tried to stay hyperaware of his visual and olfactory senses, as well as the vibrations that passed through the frame of the bike and into his skeleton, because he willfully denied himself the sense of hearing due to the loud music that made his travel much more enjoyable. He very much enjoyed the thrill of passing automobiles by not adhering to any convention of the streets.
Many of the young people also sublimated their desire to care for something young and vulnerable (i.e. a child) and instead bought dogs. Large, ink covered, men who appeared to be ex-convicts could be seen walking tiny, white, fluffy poodles. Tons of Arsenalians had canine companions. Everyday, people could be seen walking their children on a leash, talking to them in comforting falsetto voices. There were several reasons why many of the young people opted to get dogs in place of children; for one thing, they did not emerge from the copulatory fusing of the human sperm and the egg. Also you did not have to worry about their moral upbringing, and they were only a medium length commitment, that is, they only lived for about a dozen years, give or take. For severe cases, in addition to dogs being nice substitutes for children, they were also sometimes a working stand in for a companion, taking interspecies relationships to strange new depths. At the same time other people would raise troops of felines in their homes. The proverbial “cat lady” or guy was alive and well. These furry little creatures, all perfect for the impulsive, attention deficit masses of the reluctant committal that needed something warm to love. Hordes of people now, betraying their own human species, propelled toward, and would rather cohabitate with, simpler, more primitive creatures.
Finally, Bartholomew got to the point where he could focus less on the cleaning and the painting and start to organize his little abode. He began to put away all his books, of which he had many. He stacked them into his book shelf neatly, and soon began running out of room. Standing on a wobbly ladder, he then placed them on the top of the book shelf in tall stacks reaching nearly to the ceiling of the ten foot tall living room. One of the books that Bartholomew valued happen to be the Bible, he opened it quickly to read a passage; it was a lament of the faithful servant Job:
May the day of my birth perish,
and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’
That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine upon it.
May darkness and deep shadow claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm its light.
The last line, Bartholomew read aloud dramatically, “That night—may thick darkness seize it!”
Bartholomew smiled as he cogitated on these words: as he often thought it humorously serendipitous when his choice of readings would mimic his own thoughts. He placed the book on the shelf next to his copy of the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe. The ladder wobbled unsteadily under his feet as he clamored to grab on the shelf and thought to stabilize his center of gravity. If he should have fallen, and suffered a serious spinal injury, there would have been nobody to help.
After a day of hard and strenuous work, Bartholomew decided to treat himself to a night out on his new town, stepping in the bars for a drink, gaining confidence with alcohol, trying to introduce himself to his new townspeople, and continuing down to the next one until he wobbled unsteadily home.
“Yes, Bart, of course we want you back to work.” Beth said emphatically over the phone to Bartholomew. “Do you think you can still work with Clyde?” Bartholomew was forced to take a thirty day sabbatical because of the incident with Clyde. Also, before he could return to employment, the price of the chair and the repair in the wall were deducted from his paycheck totaling one hundred and fifteen dollars and thirty two cents. Bartholomew also had to endure several blood tests to make sure that he did not contract any disease from Clyde’s urine during the interim period.
Bartholomew pictured himself inserting a giant knife into Clyde’s neck as he said, “Yeah, of course, it shouldn’t be a problem. I know it wasn’t his fault, he can’t control himself. It was all tied to his screwed up upbringing, I’m sure. I’m over it. And it’s all in the past, right?”
“You’re really handling this admirably, Bart. Very professional. If you ever need a letter of recommendation, you know I’ll write you something great.”
“Well thanks Beth,” stated Bartholomew.
“Okay, well I’ll put you on the schedule for next week, Monday, starting at four, okay?”
“Thanks, Beth, and let me just say once again that I’m sorry for breaking that chair and leaving, I was just very upset—”
“—I know, I know Bart. Really, everyone would have reacted differently. We’re just glad that you didn’t try to take it out on Clyde. Chairs are totally replaceable, as you know. And as for Clyde, don’t worry about him too much anymore, the psychiatrist gave him a much needed increase in the dosage of drugs to help him sleep soundly” which also made him drool uncontrollably.
Waking up early one morning, Bartholomew held a cup of coffee and stood in his underwear looking out of his apartment window at the quick, blustery winds blow giant snowflakes horizontally across the landscape. It was as if he was in a vehicle moving quickly along the freeway during a wintery blizzard. Getting sucked into the wild spectacle taking place before him, his unfocused gaze took him away from the ground while his knees began to oscillate. The snow then began to change the direction it drifted, from horizontal at first, shifting more upward, then it began flowing up towards the tops of the buildings and then straight up towards the sky and the clouds. Continuing to shift, like the second hand on an old clock, it then started to be blown in the direction of the streets and ground, spreading out like explosions when nearing the pavement. All the people walking covered their heads and faces while slowing to a guarded creep. He saw people waiting for the bus or walking to the nearby shops and thought how odd it was that he did not know any of them yet. Bartholomew downed the rest of his steaming hot coffee and took a puff from his small pipe.
I need to get a dog, thought Bartholomew, who always had a wonderful connection with most furry creatures. Watching the other people walk their dogs around town only bolstered his desire for his own. He had been raised amongst canines and felines, all of which he was extremely adept at plentiful, playful interaction with. He often dreamt of himself as an old man one fine day, rolling around in the front yard grasses, listening to old delta blues music and wrestling with his pups. The leaves would be falling and the little ones running around with the parents trying to keep things under control, making sure the kiddies did not roll into the blazing fire pit that cooked the night’s dinner, or get bit by the playful animals. The loud barks of dogs often encroached on his otherwise quiet dreams.
So he threw on his iPod and went to the pet shelter with an annoying hangover after a morning/day of “binge sleeping” preceded by a evening of “binge drinking.” You can call it what you want, Bartholomew called it relaxation for my brain stagnation. It only made sense that after a night of heavy binge drinking that Bartholomew underwent a period of “binge sleeping,” which as a rule, was about one hour of sleep per one drink drank. Bartholomew woke up from a thirteen hour coma and regained more consciousness standing in the steaming shower listening to fresh morning jazz. Much of the duration of his disgruntled unconsciousness, Bartholomew was visited by all kinds of dogs in his mind’s theatrical eye. Big dogs, little dogs. Furry dogs. Big eyed dogs. Not so furry dogs with bubbly eyes. Little, squinty eyed, curly haired dogs. All with blinding halos. You would not have believed the universal brother/sisterhood of peaceful canines that were amassed in the spectacular fantasies of young Bartholomew. The phenomenology of the emotional outburst of jubilation that Bartholomew felt during this heavenly spectacle is utterly indescribable. This must have been God telling him to go and rescue a dog from the local animal shelter that would be his new companion.
Dogs had always been a favorite animal of young Bartholomew. Bartholomew’s parents were nice enough to allow him to have some animal companions growing up, all of which he was very fond of. Growing up as a young tyke, Bartholomew had lizards, frogs, bugs, fish, rats, cats, dogs, bunnies, crabs; all different kinds of genus and species and what have you. Most of them died prematurely absolutely to the dismay of the young and emotionally fragile Bartholomew. This may or may not have been what propelled him to the animal shelter that rainy day. Whereas his dreams may have been inspiring sunny hallelujahs, his waking life was once again riddled with cold, grayish blue raindrops that quickly moved through the air. The roads were slick and shiny, creating that uneasy feeling that came from going ninety miles an hour and not being fully in control. But are we ever fully in control? thought Bartholomew. He answered, No, no I don’t think we are. Although, having less residual alcohol in his blood would have certainly allowed him to drive with more stability. He had premonitions about the possibility of a quick, rolling, fiery demise on the rainy freeway. During the drive he was aided by the smooth sounds of the most recent experiments in turntablism.
The animal shelter was like a safe and gracious respite for Bartholomew, who was now soaked just from the brief jaunt from his car. The doors opened automatically and smoothly with no noise. The padded mats on the floor easily cleaned the rubber bottoms of Bartholomew sneakers, so that when he walked on the tile, they did not squeak too loudly. He was greeted by an old, white haired woman who shot an inspecting gaze over to the poorly stable Bartholomew. Balance, he thought, baaalance, it’s okay, alright… we’re good.
He explained that he was “lookin’ to look at, uh, the dogs, yeah that’s all. Yeah, the dogs please.”
She lifted her long, pointy finger and pointed him cautiously down the corridor to where the dogs were kept.
He felt as if he was on an alien lab deck, where strange specimens were kept and studied. The hallway had many windows for the creatures and proceeded back indefinitely. First he looked at the cats, but he was unable to make any quick connection through brief eye contact. To provide instant gratification, he wanted the most emotionally shallow animal that he could find. Then he proceeded to where the dogs were located, wanting to quickly meet many new characters at once. His zealous attitude lead him to the last window, that of “John,” which was a little, Zen-like Tibetan spaniel doggy, a direct descendant of the guardians of the mountain Buddhist temples. Their eyes locked in desperate, swelling enormity. John had a large endearing underbite that jut out, displaying his bulldog-like lips and jaw. When John got excited, his little fox-like tail waved in the air and he produced hilarious snorting sounds from his squished snout. Bartholomew instantly knew, as did John also instantly know, that they would be the best of friends. Although Bartholomew had a serious problem with the boring name of “John” for his new dog, so he decided to change it right then and there. He couldn’t understand why anyone would name a dog “John.” Since the animal already responded to words that sound like “John,” Bartholomew thought it wise to come up with a name that rhymed with “John.” He began saying names aloud, “John, Bohn, Sohn, Blohn, Spohn, Fohn, Ohn, Sphohn, Zohn, Bohn, Dohn, Fohn, John, Kohn,” then he stopped. “Khan,” he said again. “Khan.” For the intelligent young Bartholomew, it made sense that since his dog was Tibetan hailing from the Orient, that he name his dog “Khan” after the great Mongolian conquer, also from the East, also rhyming with “John,” the boring and from hereon discarded name. His reasoning was that the phonetic similarity would allow the pup to still respond to the new call, and he did. “Hey there Khan? How ya doin’ little budy?”
Khan’s tale fluttered rapidly as thought about how he was doing. I am quite well today and excited about the prospect of a new friend and home and in very good spirits today, thank you. I also would really like one of those treats you have please. Treat. Treat. Treat.
The adoption process was quite simple, amounting in only a minimal amount of paper work and bureaucratic processes, which pleased Bartholomew who loathed paper work with a passion. The nice young girl who worked at the animal shelter thought that the two were a good match. You see, Khan had a dark past of ferociously biting his previous owner and her children and their cats, killing one of them, and destroying many of her household items. Apparently he was quite the little hellish imp, making the name Khan even more fitting. They figured, since Bartholomew did not have any cats, or any children and lived all alone, that he would be a good father for the orphaned little pup. Bartholomew nodded his head in affectionate agreement. He just hoped that Khan did not mistake his neck for a cat as he slumbered.
The lady working looked at the form and summarized, “Yeah, you guys will be great together. So you live alone, you don’t have any kids, and no other pets. And you live in Arsenal, that’s a cool place; I live right next to you in Friendship.” She was quite attractive in her skinny blue jeans, and pointy black haircut. “Just don’t get between him and his food.”
“Oh, really?” exclaimed Bartholomew, excited about meeting a new neighbor. He tried to follow up with something clever to say, but the silence dragged on. His eyes darted back and forth between Khan and the charming girl next to him. Upon his exit he said, “Well, hopefully I’ll see ya around. Um hey, are there any cool places to hang out that you go often? Just, ‘cause, I’m new to the area and I don’t really no where the happenin’ spots are at, ya know?”
“Yeah, there’re lots of cool places, we’ll go to Bishop’s Gate sometime, but most of the time my boyfriend and I just stay in because we work so much and have, like, four animals. But really, there’s a lotta cool places in the area.”
Out in the parking lot, Khan frolicked about on the end of the leash like an exploding fur ball of joy. He had been imprisoned for violence, shown no guilt or shame, and then the captive had been set free just before being sentenced to the gaseous death chambers. The dog knew exactly what to do when Bartholomew opened the door to his car and climbed over the passenger seat. Khan was so excited that he snorted and heaved many awkward breaths with a very subtle vocal quality to it. Bartholomew’s heart melted with joy.
The dog, Khan, was hands down, one of the greatest things that ever happened to poor Bartholomew. At first, it was like an unchaste honeymoon, with the two who consummated their new relationship with many long walks, wet kisses, listening to old Jazz music and (Bartholomew) drinking bottles of barley wine in the flickering, fire light setting of his new, vaulted living room. The bed was plenty big enough for both of them who would playfully roll around in the heat trappings of the blankets. Khan taught Bartholomew many valuable lessons about life, one of which was to always stop and smell the flowers as well as the shit. The beautiful sweetness of flowers cannot be fully appreciated without the contrasting scent of the putrid. This little animal was able to repair some of the damage that had been done in the disaster regions of Bartholomew’s lonely heart. Rekindling a vital inner flame that was nearly blown out from the cold winds of isolation.
They enjoyed watching movies together, Khan sitting on Bartholomew’s lap usually asleep, but when awake shifting attention between the screen and the watchful gaze of his benevolent owner. Khan had a keen ear to the sounds emanating from the screen, and would especially attune to any canine utterance. Sometimes Bartholomew would select entertainment to watch specifically because it had dogs in it, such as Animal Planet or certain films such as “Benji.” Interestingly, almost all films have some type of dog sounds in it that would usually garner the attention of the keen pup whose ears would perk up. Bartholomew would laugh at Khan’s instinctual arousal to his own species’ sounds.
“That’s my boy,” he would say in voice dripping with corny affection, “gooood boooyyy.”
Khan would respond with loving grunts as he thought, This is so awesome, so much better than the shelter..
Much of the time, though, Khan sat quietly on a kitchen chair squinting into the distance. When Bartholomew was working with food or dishes, or doing anything somewhat interesting, the dog would watch Bartholomew attentively and excitedly, with some type of hopeful expectation. This feeling of having a spectator or an audience worked well with Bartholomew, who usually needed the company. He would chuckle at Khan’s childlike genuine interest in the mundanity.
Bartholomew received a call from his mother, “I have some sad news for you today, Bart” she sniffled. “Well Lucky was so old, and he hasn’t been eating, ya know, and well, he has been getting weaker recently, and so, last night, he just finally gave up and passed away.”
“Are you serious? You sound like your laughing.”
“What?!?” she gasped, “I’m not laughing, this is really hard to say over the phone.”
“I’m sorry, I just, okay, it is what it is. Did you save his ashes?”
“No, honey, I’m sorry, I didn’t think anybody would want his ashes.”
“Damnit Ma, shit… Oh well.” he looked out at the graveyard, “That’s that I guess.”
“Are you gonna be okay?”
“You know it’s weird, because I just got myself a dog down here at my new apartment yesterday.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Yeah, his name is Khan, he’s a little Tibetan spaniel. I was probably buying him when Lucky was giving up the ghost. He must have known that I didn’t need him anymore, and that I wasn’t coming home anymore.” Bartholomew’s eyes welled with tears.
In order to deal with the stress and anxiety, he went to sleep. After waking, he went for a run. During this particular run Bartholomew experienced a serious pain in his chest that pushed the air out of his lungs. It was a minor heart attack when the dark hand of death gives your pulmonary a test squeeze, although he never knew what in the hell it was. He clutched his chest and winced while clenching his jaw and looking into his constricting field of vision. Eventually the crippling pain subsided and he was able to resume his jog at a very slow pace with intense dull aching.
It was eleven fifty nine post meridiem when Bartholomew fled the basilica with a strange youth-like energy that came from just getting off of work around that time. Anyone who has ever worked until midnight on a Friday knows all to well the restlessness that a glowing, pulsating city can instill in one’s soul. Everything had been going considerably smoothly for his job at North Eastern Psychological Services that he had been working at for at sometime now. Connor stayed up late and said his formal, regular, “Drive home safe” so long salutation.
Bartholomew stopped at a South Side pub for a couple drinks to absorb some of the energy that the multitudes of people and loud music provided. In that colorful, loud and chaotic environment, he could successfully trick himself into feeling engaged in some type of social interaction that felt satisfactory to his fast beating heart. Paradoxically though, this same setting also compounded his feelings of social disconectedness. He did not stay long though, because he knew that he had to get home to his dog who had been locked in the apartment all day.
Khan stayed up waiting. Bartholomew knew that Khan would be anxious to see him upon his homecoming. He also brought home with him an extreme thirst for the brew. So upon his arrival he quickly greeted his pup and frantically reached into the fridge for a cold pale ale, taking a long refreshing sip, then another, and another of the bitter hop liquid.
“Heyyy boyyy,” Bartholomew said dropping to his knees on the kitchen area rug and embraced his puppy. “Oh I missed you too boy. How you been little buddy? Yesshhhh… that’s my boyyy.” They embraced each other and rolled around on the floor as Khan’s tongue lashed about.
Bartholomew turned on his kitchen radio for a little bit, so he could listen to the daily news headlines and the conspiratorial insights of the late-night, terrestrial radio kingpins and prophets of doom fostering parasocial relationships with his surrogate family. He drank down one and then cracked another bottle. Khan looked at him angrily insinuating, “Take me out, I gotta go piss!” Slightly drunk and obviously disheveled, Bartholomew attached the leash and took little Khan for a walk to relieve his painfully uncomfortable, over capacitated bladder. As soon as he got outside, Khan lifted his leg to urinate on the nearest tree and then checked the scent to see if it was agreeable.
Bartholomew lit up a cigarette and walked down the dimly orange lit streets past the bus stop and its late night travelers in waiting. The young children and senior citizens of the day were hidden indoors while the vibrant teenagers and young adults came out in their regular nocturnal fashion. There was a mod squad of different people scampering about in the night to and from the different households and establishments that gave Bartholomew a slight feeling of uneasiness for fear of becoming the victim of some mugging or gang banging. Runts were worst of all though; he most feared groups of adolescent boys lurking about in the night, for he knew from experience that young boys in groups, under the shady cloak of deindividuation were capable of horrendous wanton acts without even considering any ramifications of their actions whatsoever; instead they just ran off laughing.
“Come on boy,” he said to Khan tugging the leash, keeping him from jumping up on the legs of an uninterested passerby. Bartholomew thought he heard the person mutter something about a “rat.”
In these situations where Bartholomew felt a lurking suspicion of danger, and when he had a little buzz or was just feeling confident, he often thought about what he would do if he was ever confronted by a group of thugs up to no good. He usually had on his person a small pocket knife with a five inch blade that made him feel like he had a powerful weapon if he should ever need it. When he was hidden behind the trees he would practice some quick shadow stabbing.
Most fun, though, was rehearsing what he would say to a potential attacker. He would make his voice sound harsh and raspy like Dirty Hairy and say something along the lines of, “Do I look like the kinda guy who goes around looking for trouble?”
And they would certainly take one look at him and say, “No.”
He would respond, “Yeah… There’s a reason for that, now fuck off.”
Or he would say something like, “I didn’t do three tours of duty over in the fuckin’ desert in order to come back to my own town and get bothered by a couple of fuckin’ punks, so I suggest you run back home,” in the same rough sounding voice blowing cigarette smoke out of his nostrils. Playing the ex-military or veteran is a good angle, he thought. He often thought about joining the military, but his former stint within the mental health care system had prevented him from eligibility. Not to mention his intense aversion to anything authoritative that seeded in him fears of being a government slave making him obliged to an indefinite life of rigorous order taking. Bartholomew often thought that the military should not be so picky about who they accept because by preventing sociopaths and anti-social types from entering the military ranks they are really missing out on a lot of untapped aggression, perseverance and hostile intellect. Jingoism can be useful. The country is doomed, he thought, borrowing a line from the late, respectable Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.
Khan provided a good listener for Bartholomew, whose comments were not restricted to just comments in regards to pet matters. All topics were fair game for Bartholomew to discuss with his dog, such as, “Yeah, I know I thought she was hot too. Would you hump her?” or “What’s for dinner tonight, boy?” or “These politicians are all corrupt, they should all be shot. Yeah, of course boy, I’d let you bite em’ right in the face and eat their nose off.” Khan would also field questions such as, “Have you seen my slippers?” or “What’d ya do with my pipe?”
At work one day, Bartholomew was sitting outside for a smoke break when the sun was glowing behind the clouds on one of the last days of summer, soon to remove the facade that would expose the bones of fall. The air was crisp too, as they all could tell when trying to take the first couple puffs from their cigarettes that burned slowly. Bartholomew had recently adjusted his wardrobe for autumn and sunk into his big, warm hooded sweatshirt.
“I’m on only sixteen cigarettes a day, you know,” said James happily.
“Wow, well, that’s really good progress,” said Bartholomew as he took a long drag off his slowly burning cigarette. He did not necessarily want to smoke, he just did. He was not really addicted. No, not addicted, not Bartholomew. His will was strong enough that cravings for nicotine never haunted Bartholomew. It was all a part of the job, you see. He thought that if he smoked he would make a more honest and cordial connection with the consumers and this indeed was the case. Trust building, he called it. So he began smoking Pall Malls inspired by one of his favorite literary figures of all time, Holden Caulfield. Just me and my Pall Malls, he thought and sometimes said aloud. It just so happened that “The Catcher in the Rye” had been accompanying him to work as of recently. He looked up from his book over at James who wore a military style flak jacket.
James coughed like a furious dying soldier, “I’m fine” he said to the concerned onlookers. “I’m fine, just fuckin’ quit it! All’ve you jus- jus- quit it! Last time I ask you guys I’m gonna regret it, I’ll tell ya! You’re not the head of the FDA, the government and shtuff! What makes you qualified to think that hard wired DNA that makes you so responsible! You’re not a capitalist!” and he laughed for a bit. “You’re a socialist in capitalist clothing!!!” He coughed again and took another long hit of his cigarette, “You guys always think that you have the puzzle figured out, but really your just as dangerous to the atmosphere as all the greenhouse gases!!!” He laughed angrily, “Give me the power and I’ll properly regulate every goddam business in America, you shits!!! You don’t see your own downfall!!!” concluded James with more disgusted snickering.
Bartholomew nodded his head dramatically in the affirmative and said, “Alright James, alright. Cool it.”
As was usually the case, the consumers would usually take turns talking to Bartholomew in a polite and orderly fashion, rarely did a conversation take place with multiple people at the same time. So after James concluded his grandiose political insight, Genevieve came up to Bartholomew and quietly began to speak while wrapping one arm around her waist to prop up her other arm at the elbow, which tremored as it held on to a cigarette in front of her shadowy face and straight, dark hair. She rarely spoke, so this was quite an achievement for the very timid and quiet Genevieve.
“Want to see what I have in this box?” she said softly, holding a cigarette box held shut with masking tape. Blackish grey hair covered her face that tilted with every other word.
“Sure Genevieve,” said Bartholomew politely. “If you wanna show me what ya got in
“—Well,” she said cutting him off, “I think we can show him, should I show him? Should we show him? I don’t know, it may be too dangerous.”
“What do you got in there Genevieve?” he said, at this point becoming curious.
“Well, you see last night I caught this evil spirit and contained him in this box. He was wandering around and nobody else could see him last night except me, but he didn’t know I could see him, so when he wasn’t paying attention we tricked him and trapped him in this box.”
“I see,” said Bartholomew attempting to understand.
“Yes. So, you see Bart, this is a delicate and dangerous thing here. Nevermind Bart, we can keep it contained you see. But if he gets loose he can suck your soul right out, without us ever knowing it.”
“Well keep him locked up for god’s sake,” exclaimed Bartholomew emphatically.
“I will Bart. We have to, because he seems to have a strong interest in you boy,” she said walking to the far chair to sit quietly and finish her cigarette. Naturally, she happened to believe that Bartholomew was a warlock. A gentle breeze blew past and made her long dark hair drift to the side exposing her wrinkled, shadowy face.
Now that’s just fuckin’ creepy, he thought. Bartholomew did not know what to think of all that supernatural and metaphysical babble. He certainly had many wild ideas about the spirit realm and readily acknowledged that there were dark and powerful forces at work in the world of which he knew little. No one should be so hubris as to think they can grasp the mysteries of the universe, thought Bartholomew.
Later that night Bartholomew was helping clean up after the massive feast. Trish came down from her room to request the assistance of Bartholomew. “Hey, I need to go to the store” she said twirling a hard piece of candy in her mouth, entertaining her obvious oral fixation. She was wearing tight jeans folded up on her smooth ankles and flip flops exposing her cute bare feet, with her hand pressed firmly on her hip. Her caramel skin was exotic to Bartholomew, representing a blending of ethnicities and races, all of which he was unfamiliar with and shamefully fascinated.
Bartholomew looked up and nodded, “Oh really?”
“Yeah, you can take me?” She asked rudely.
“Uh, maybe, lemme check with the other staff.” Bartholomew discussed the matter with the other staff; he was to escort Trish on a brief walk to the nearby shopping plaza where she would purchase her needed items.
When at the store, they went to the lingerie section where Trish examined the many available thongs and braziers. She seemed to have a particular interest in the skimpier, showy lingerie that was decorated with shiny fabrics and lacy patterns. She went into the dressing room and began to try on some of the unpurchased underwear, by disrobing and throwing her garments over the top of the door. Bartholomew stood awkwardly off to the side of the more traditional and boring underwear. Well this is a little awkward, he thought. Much to his disadvantage, Bartholomew had no previous experience with assisting a women purchase her intimate apparel.
“Bart!” Trish shouted in her whiny, pleading voice. “Bart, come here!”
Bartholomew walked over to the side of the dressing room. “Uh, what up Trish?”
“Come here, I need you for something.”
“For what?” he questioned timidly.
“Just come here, it’s nothing, just come here for a quick second, I need you.”
Bartholomew walked down the quiet hallway, past the other dressing rooms, towards the end with the big mirror closer to the pleading voice. He wondered if there were any other customers in the rooms. He leaned with his back up against the door to Trish’s dressing room and prepared to speak. The door opened and he fell backward, barely catching his balance, and before he could think, Trish stood there within inches of him, massaging her breasts into a new, flashy pink bra that was slightly too small. She shuffled her stance showing off her legs with thigh high stockings and underpants that looked like tight, little cotton shorts.
“How’s this look?” she asked with no apprehension, lecherously running her thumb inbetween the elastic band and her pelvis.
Bartholomew’s pulse rate soared, his ears became hot, and his eyes bounced around his head avoiding staring at the almost naked Trish standing before him. “Whoa, what are you doing!?” he squealed, jumping out of the tiny dressing room, flinging the door closed and heaving panicked breaths.
“Why you actin’ all weird and shit? What’s the matter, you ain’t never seen women’s underwear before?” Obviously, her exposure had not been as well received as she had hoped.
“It’s jus- that’s just inappropriate that’s all. You know that Trish, what the hell are you thinking!” said Bartholomew.
“I needed some advice Bart, that’s all, jeeze!”
Bartholomew briskly walked out of the dressing room area and distanced himself from the women’s underwear looking around to see if anybody saw him. His mind raced, How am I supposed to handle this? Despite his primitive physical attraction to Trish, he felt conflicted, for he knew that he could probably get into trouble for what had just happened. It appeared as though our young hero’s laid back approach brought him into a bit of an ordeal. Trish came out now fully dressed again, holding several hangers of sloppily hung undergarments and a box with a pair of pantyhose half stuffed back inside. “Alright, lets get outta here,” she said motioning towards the registers located at the front of the store.
“Listen—” he began, wanting to open the dialog about what had just happened.
“—Don’t—” she cut him off, “—worry about it. It’s no big deal,” she said stifling the conversation.
“—Forget it!” she shouted with a bitter glance. Oddly, the power had shifted to where Bartholomew was at Trish’s behest.
They walked silently back to the house.
Later that night, Bartholomew sat watching Jeopardy with a couple of the consumers making his best effort to participate in the game show and to rid his mind from the tempting images of Trish’s slender and intriguing body. Trish then came down from her room and put her hand gently on Bartholomew’s shoulder, “Hey Bart, can you take a look at my DVD player please? It’s not playing my movie.”
“Who was Nixon,” said Bartholomew. “Huh Trish?”
“I need you to take a look at my DVD player,” she said in her pouty voice that she often employed to try to manipulate men.
“Okay, just give me a bit. I’ll be up in a few minutes.”
“Okay, hurry,” she said breathily.
Bartholomew walked up to her room on which sat at the far end of the upper level. He knocked a couple times on her door which drifted slightly more open. “Come in,” she said quietly. She pointed to her television in the back corner as she moved around Bartholomew. He stared at her entertainment center.
“Uh, Trish, where is your DVD player, I don’t even see it here.”
The door clicked shut, Bartholomew spun around, and saw Trish’s shirt go up over her head and get flung off her forearms into the corner of the room. Again, Bartholomew’s pulse rate spiked, his pupils dilated, and heat radiated from his ears and cheeks. He had spent much of the evening dealing with images and thoughts of Trish’s sexual prowess, and there it was again, in the flesh, staring at him in the face.
Bartholomew got to his feet and swiftly approached the door, but kept at least four feet between him and Trish, who guarded the door with her sex appeal. Her shoulders lifted and lowered as she was now panting.
Trish whispered loudly, “You don’t want me to tell Beth what happened do you?”
“What—what are you talking about?” He knew what she was talking about. “What’s that?”
“How you barged in on me in the dressing room. I’ve seen you lookin’ at me Bart, I know you want my pussy,” she articulated gracefully. “And I’ve been lookin’ at you too.” She was right, he had been looking at her suggestively sometimes and he did have a hotly mitigated desire for her womanly parts. She moved forward and grabbed the front of his pants and took a long inhale past tightly clenched teeth; lips open. Her hands went up and down across his crotch region. Nervous anxiety prevented Bartholomew from getting an erection at first, that is, until Trish performed an enthusiastic display of humming fellatio. What happened next, after Bartholomew gave in to his primal instincts, was a swift, bizarre display of furtive and angry sex putting on show a plethora of deep seeded psychological issues at a very low volume. She muttered the dirtiest and nastiest things into the quivering ears of Bartholomew, who had not actually had sex in over two years, and responded with low guttural moans, comforting himself by pulling on her hair clumsily.
Before he exited her room, he first peaked out at the hall. Everything was quiet, the coast was clear; all seemed well. He absconded out of Trish’s room, looked back and said, “Yeah, we’ll look into getting you a new DVD player, Trish, hang in there.”
Surprisingly, he caught the tail end of Jeopardy. Later that night, Bartholomew worried about contracting a sexually transmitted disease, among other things. He decided to persist in ignorance rather than consult the medical section of her file. Tiny little smiles jumped on and off his face throughout the remainder of the evening. Do not be fooled though, his conscience was feeling mildly incongruous, especially with regards to having what was called a “conflict of interest” with his employer who sought to enforce certain ethical standards in a world free of moral absolutes. I could loose my job over this, he worried. Or worse, I could probably go to jail or something. Slight tickling of admonition in the realms of moral, ethical, and religious violations also haunted poor Bartholomew. After work, he went to a bar on the South Side of the city and got sloshed in order to distance himself from his befuddled mix of guilt and shameful giddiness. Some of the old architecture reminded Bartholomew that the ancient Greek and Roman people lived in a time with large amounts of sex and orgies and what have you, and that many of the men of those days would have many wives and concubines. So you see, Bartholomew was able to curb some of his dastardly feelings by meditating on other more sexually charged, freewheeling times of eras gone by. Even the sixties or seventies would have allowed Bartholomew to engage in wild, lascivious behavior. I shouldn’t have to suffer, he thought explaining to himself, just because the current society doesn’t meet my needs. I’m starving for the touch too, you know. He also wondered about how far Trish would take this whole blackmailing business.
When he arrived home and made it up the steps, Khan was happily pawing at the other side of the door. He opened the door and greeted his pup happily. Later that night, when the two were in bed together, Khan began twitching and making awkward noises. It was obvious that he was having some type of intense dream. Bartholomew enjoyed watching Khan’s paws move up and down, and his snout take panicked breaths while stuck in the dream realm. Even the dog’s eyes opened about half way and rolled around violently, sometimes fluttering with only the white showing. He made little yelping sounds that were the result of some horrible incident in the dream. Since Khan had had more experiences of being around humans that other dogs, he actually usually thought that he was a human, and this was reflected in his dream where he was represented by a slightly younger version of Bartholomew (probably around age ten), who behaved like a raving lunatic that walked around on all fours, chewed on stuffed animals and ate stuff out of the trash.
The next day, while out on a walk with Khan, his phone started buzzing. It was number that he did not recognize. Since Bartholomew’s phone rarely rang, he decided to pick it up and see who was on the other end. “Who’dya think it is Khan? Let’s find out.” The sound of a horn from an approaching train could be heard coming in the distance.
“Hi Bartholomew, how ya doin’ today?” Said the whispering female using his full name.
“Um, I’m doin’ alright… Who is this?”
There was heavy breathing coming through the earpiece speaker. Struck with surprise, Bartholomew recognized the sound and pulled the phone back to look at the number.
“Hello? Who is this?” he asked again searching for confirmation of his fears.
The sensual breathing continued for bit at a heightening pace.
“You know who this is Bart, take a guess.”
“You called me!” he yelled, “How’d you get this number?! Trish right? You’re not supposed to have my cell phone number.”
“Don’t be such a dickhead, Bart. You’re really overreacting. Can’t I be concerned for you, Bart, is that some kind of fucking crime?! What is it with you?” she said in a vehement whisper.
“You need to rethink what kind of relationship we have Trish, cause this—this between us, can’t happen” said Bartholomew.
“Oh really?” asked Trish sarcastically. “I think it can happen, and if you just let me take care of things, we can have a really nice time together.”
“Alright, Trish I gotta go, the train’s coming,” and the racket grew closer and louder as Bartholomew hung up the phone and continued on his walk. The train sped past noisily for the next few minutes.
He looked over at Khan, “I think this girl is crazy.”
Khan responded, “I know that bitch is crazy.” Recently, Khan had developed the ability to speak a rudimentary form of the English language from Bartholomew’s incessant garbling, watching and listening to copious amounts of television and radio (which Bartholomew almost always left on for him). “She does seem pretty hot though.”
“Your exactly right boy. Good boy.”
As time continued to progress, Bartholomew had been forced to work a lot of overnight shifts because his employer had given all the daylight shifts to other more respected and veteran staff members. One night, after idly sitting and waiting, dreading his departure, he was leaving for work around eleven thirty post meridiem in order to be there by twelve o’clock ante meridiem for the beginning of the overnight shift. Tired and filled with sadness, he just wanted to go to sleep. He had no energy and no spirit to leave his warm, comfortable apartment and go to work and sit on a stiff couch in a cold room attempting to stay awake all night. As he was on his way out, he looked over at Khan, who looked at him with an intense fear of abandonment.
“Come here boy, gimme a lil’ kiss before I go,” said Bartholomew, desperately seeking some type of affectionate approval from his dog.
“No. Where are you going?” asked Khan.
“I have to go to work.”
“No you don’t. Stay here with me. Please, I don’t wanna stay here all night by myself.”
“I have to go. It’s just what I have to do.”
“Please Bart, don’t leave me. I don’t wanna be here by myself all night again,” Khan pleaded. “We can stay up and watch movies all night, while you drink pumpkin ale and I chew on my rope toy.”
The lethargic Bartholomew’s eyes teared up and his heart ached. Khan receded into the kitchen and hid under a chair because he was upset that Bartholomew had to go. Bartholomew followed him and leaned in close, failing to hear the barely perceptible grumble that indicated the dog’s angered emotional state, and attempted a little hug and head rub. Khan reciprocated this show of kindness by biting Bartholomew in the nose, drawing blood from a freshly opened gash on the side of his nose.
“Mother fucker!” yelled Bartholomew. “What the fuck?! OW!!! SHIT!” He smacked his dog on the rear end with a swift jerking reaction. Khan yelped and fled out from the kitchen, down the hall to the bedroom where he stayed under the bed as Bartholomew inspected his nose in the mirror and sopped up the blood flow. That night, as he drove to work through the quiet city streets with a fist full of bloody tissues, his feelings of sadness were compounded with the torment of rejection and throbbing physical pain made even worse by the sad sounds of a lamenting classical opus on the local radio. When at work, he tried to immediately get as comfortable as possible and pass the time as quickly as possible, via the mode of sleep, thus hiding from his anguished feelings. Sitting on the couch in the living room with his hooded sweatshirt balled under his head as a pillow, he hoped that he could neglect his duties and wake up seven hours later, just before he had to leave for the morning, and before the nurse and supervisor arrived. The alarm on his cell phone had been set to go off at seven fifteen, to leave him just enough time to get up, scribble through his paper work, and leave. But his attempts to do this were mostly in vain, because his sleepy relaxation would shatter apart with the sounds of squeaky doors being opened emanating from the hallway. He would look down to see one of the consumers walking to the bathroom, then a short time later, leaving the bathroom and returning to their rooms. Some nights this happened very little, while other nights it was like a veritable parade to and from the bathroom. This particular night, it happened a lot, much to the chagrin of poor, tired Bartholomew.
Trish came down after about half an hour into Bartholomew’s shift to greet him in the quiet room. “Well, hello there Bart.”
Bartholomew avoided eye contact but responded, “Hi Trish.”
“Look at me,” demanded Trish.
He did, then he gained proper confidence and said, “Hello Trish, sit down here for a second,” patting his hand on the couch.
Trish sat down next to him and stared sharply into his eyes. Then at his nose.
“Oh my god, what happened to your nose?” gasped Trish.
“It’s nothing, I was, I was just bit my dog when we were playin’”
“Ohhh,” sighed Trish, “you poor baby. I’m sorry baby.”
Bartholomew sat quietly and absorbed the tender comments from Trish that soothed his soul and seemed to lessen the pain that he felt pulsating through the front of his face.
“I’ll be fine, but thank you. And you can’t call me ‘baby’ Trish, that’s inappropriate.”
“Stop—” pleaded Trish.
“—Listen, you’re not supposed to have my personal phone number either, you know that right? That’s really against the policy here.”
She twirled her tongue and exhaled without saying anything.
“How did you get it?”
“I have my methods.”
“Okay, well really Trish seriously, no more phone calls. We really need to have some serious boundaries in this type of relationship.”
“Okay Bart, you got it, boundaries, right. No more phone calls.” She got up slowly propping herself up by putting a hand on Bartholomew’s thigh close to his crotch region. Walking up the stairs, she overemphasized the sway of her voluptuous buttocks.
Around three o’clock ante meridiem, James came out and rolled his squeaky wheel chair into the living room. “Hey, Bart, do you think I could get something to eat. I’m sooo hungry,” and he ended his sentence with a grumbling cough.
Bartholomew rubbed his stinging, red eyes and dabbed the dried bloody wound on his nose. The back of his head was now pulsating with a headache something fierce. Fuck me, he thought, kill me please. “Yeah, sure James,” he said kindly.
“You think I could make a sandwich?”
“I think so,” he said. Kill me quickly and mercifully, please. In a painful stupor, he walked into the kitchen and unlocked the refrigerator. “Have at it soldier.”
James made for himself and quickly devoured a sandwich with prodigious amounts of mustard and baloney. He grumbled with sounds of satisfaction.
“Thanks Bart, you’re good to me.”
“You’re welcome James. Now get some sleep.”
James wheeled himself back into his room, and transferred himself into his bed and went to sleep. Bartholomew sat back down on the couch and curled up with his wad of hooded sweatshirt. Staring at the late night news about the surging death toll in the unceasing Middle East wars and the lying politicians that propagate but never fight in them, he was unable to come to a comfortable enough state in order actually fall asleep. The sun began to rise announcing to Bartholomew that he would remain up for the remainder of the shift.
Around six twenty ante meridiem, Roberta got up and wandered into the living room; a waking, disheveled, mess of a woman. She spoke softly to Bartholomew, “Can I get my meds please?”
“Uh, you know I can’t give out the meds Roberta. We gotta wait until the nurse gets here.”
“I, uh, I feel sick. I need them Bart.” She had been dealing with the sensation of the angel that lives in her heart demanding more crack-cocaine. This was particularly painful for Roberta.
“Really, Roberta, I don’t have the ability to access your meds. It’s not part of my job.”
“You’re just a lazy ass…hole!” she squawked, marching off to her bed to lay painfully in the fetal position telling the angel in her heart to “get to hell.”
Bartholomew sat back down on the couch and assumed the necessary apathetic affect, staring blankly at the flickering television.
Connor came out of his room and shuffled over to the couch, sat down, grabbed the remote and turned on some morning news variety show. The show was such that Connor embarked on frequent laughing fits concluded by violent bouts of coughing. That loud and annoying behavior angered Bartholomew the same way the sounds of morning birds and rumbling traffic did when he just wanted to sleep past sunrise.
Finally, the end of Bartholomew’s most dreadful shift had arrived. Dangerously, he drove home fighting to stay alert, ran up the stairs to his apartment, quickly greeted Khan (who pleaded to be taken out to pee [instead he just peed on the floor] and played with), and tried to get some sleep. He could not fall asleep. He was so very, very tired, but he could not fall asleep. He laid in his bed and listen to his strange thoughts and dealt with his pounding headache. The rest of the day was a waste with Bartholomew praying for death or sleep; the latter which did not come until that evening, the former unfortunately never. This was the special brand of agonizing insomnia that Bartholomew had the opportunity of experiencing. Eventually Bartholomew procured some sedatives to help him with his sleeping problems.
Two days later Bartholomew received a rather tantalizing letter in the mail from Trish. A home printed picture of her dropped out. Her slender neck and bare shoulders were at the bottom of the image, with her dolled up face looking out seductively. After staring at it for about a minute, Bartholomew set the picture down and read the letter. It was overflowing with emotion and song-like quips that penetrated to the soft core of the hardened heart of Bartholomew.
Khan came over and smelled the picture. “Wow, she is hot Bart,” Khan grumbled. “When do I get to meet her? I bet she really knows how to touch a dog.” his language and intellect had been improving.
Bartholomew looked up from the letter, “You don’t get to meet her, Khan. She’s a fucking consumer. I’m a counselor.”
“When did you ever care about laws or rules? C’mon man, you’re a rule breaker to the core! You don’t even have me registered with the county.”
“I’m not going to register my dog with county, you’re a fucking dog!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Khan asked.
“It’s just a money getting scheme. I’m not paying money to the state for a dog.”
“Yeah, but your breaking the law.”
“Well I’m not payin’ it. Everytime those asshole politicians want a fatter pension they figure out some dumb new tax or fee. It’s all bullshit.”
Bartholomew went over to his desk and grabbed a stack of mail from various bureaucracies, organizations, schools, financial institutions, and miscellaneous marketing material. “I don’t have time to deal with all this shit! I don’t ask for all this shit! I don’t want all this shit!!! FUCK THIS SHIT!” he yelled and threw the mail up into the ceiling hoping it would float down slowly, but instead it quickly fell straight down on top of him and his dog.
Khan scampered around the mess and started chewing on one of the letters.
“Get it boy! Get it!!!” said Bartholomew giggling wildly.
“You’re right Bart, you’re right! Fuck this shit!”
In the days that followed whilst at work Bartholomew participated in converting all the old withering paper documents over to digital files. Some sleek computer technicians from the corporate headquarters came to the old dilapidated edifice in order to assist the staff scan and organize all the material. The papers were then boxed and shipped to some bunker warehouse under a mountain where they would be safe from the fast approaching nuclear holocaust. They made electronic copies of all the old handwritten notes which appeared on the computer screen like some archaic text. Facsimiles of penmanship then became even more illegible and lost in the electronic translation. Truncated versions of life histories of the consumers were now accessible with the touch of a button. He was then instructed on how to use the new computer database system which allowed the notes to be entered electronically and accessed remotely by the sprawling network of people who were involved with the care of the mentally infirmed.
This evolutionary process was part of the beginning of the cybernetics age, when human’s health became more dependent on and fused with the machines. Erstwhile the populous of civilized nations were forced into compulsory and invasive medical procedures that allowed their intimate personal health information to be viewed and managed by the benevolently God-like state. Then medical care became rationed by budgetary and other impersonal mechanisms as the phoenix of eugenics rose out of the ashes of a century old idea.
During this tedious conversion process Trish would dawdle by and smile trollopy at the young and preoccupied Bartholomew hoping for his attention.
A couple evenings later, after Bartholomew cooked and served dinner to the consumers, they were finishing up eating in the dining room and watching the fluff, frivolity, and filth that came across in the evening news via the lips of some brainless, hyper-real puppet. It was some scare story about the chemicals that appeared in recent tests of the local water system. Apparently studies indicated that it can cause hypothyroidism along with impotence and infertility. Several of the consumers were really at the whim of the propaganda the came across in the evening news, of which, Bartholomew knew was usually fear based and about marketing dollars and ratings. The chemicals in the water was true though and it was an intentional tactic used by the elites to stymie the population of the lower class; those who were a drain on society.
He had successfully avoided any one-on-one contact with Trish all night thus far.
Bartholomew commented on the news piece, “That’s why I try to only drink filtered water, because hopefully it’s better for you—”
“There’s arsenic in the water! And plochlorororide!”
“Yep,” said Bartholomew, “and fluoride. That stuff’s gotta be real bad for you. You know I heard that it’s a poisonous byproduct of aluminum production and it accumulates in your brain.”
“I knew they were poisoning the water system, I’ve known this for years when I first started smelling it comin’ outta the pipes when I was workin’ on the plumbin’ at my sister’s basement in Zelienople last year before my, my… my, my last um,” he scratched his head and looked around angrily, “goddam surgery! I bet there’s still lead in those pipes. Those subterranean scientists have been doing this for a long time, for like at least three hundred years.” He bellowed, hands on his knees rocking his weight forward, and looked at his glass of water. “They’ve been suckin’ the nutrients outta MY WATER!” He took the glass of water and threw it towards the wall near the television. The water floated majestically through the air. The glass split into about five or six main parts, with a little dusting of shards glistening in the evening sunbeams glowing through the lace curtains.
“Woah! Alright Billsmith, take a deep breath. Settle” the fuck “down! Don’t be throwin’ glasses like that, man!!!”
“Why didn’t you tell us there was poison in our water, Bart?” Connor asked half serious and on the verge of laughter at the expense of Billsmith’s very agitated state. Connor grinned from ear to ear staring at Bartholomew and laughed wildly, “You’re silly, silly!”
“Connor, not now.”
“Bart, SORRY! I just don’t want that POISON near me! I can feel it ENTERING into my stomach cavities and into my blood” Billsmith was very upset and shifted his weight around in his seat. His hair today was spread out wildly roughly in the shape of crown. “I wanna talk to the doctor about changing my medication to make me stronger. Enough of this POISON SHIT! You guys are trying to make me sick. All I need is my cigarettes, my soda pop, my root beer, and those Ativans. And enough of this poison water shit!”
There is poison in the water, thought Bartholomew. There are all kinds of bad chemicals that make it into the tap water. But I don’t usually drink tap water; almost all the water I drink is filtered.
“There can’t be poison in the water” said Bartholomew. The next words flowed out without any forethought in an unconscious bout of free associating. “If there was my dog’d be dead by now. Cause my dog drinks that water everyday, straight from the tap… But I just drink filtered water. You guys do too, you know that filter pitcher thing that we keep in the fridge. It filters out most of all the chemicals. So we’re good. Plus sometimes, by drinking that bad stuff, your body builds up a tolerance and immunity and it will actually develop a resistance to it…” he paused. He then said, “Viva la resistance.” Over the past couple of days, as Bartholomew’s nose healed from Khan’s ferocious bite, so did their damaged relationship rebound to normalcy.
Billsmith started to calm down; his breathing slowed, his wide open gaze relaxed a little bit. He put both hands on his knees, stood up, robot like and with no facial expression whatsoever marched with mechanistic movements to his bedroom and shut the door.
Then Bartholomew wondered if he should feel guilty for giving Khan water straight from the tap. Perhaps he should start giving Khan the same clean, filtered water that he drinks himself. He did not want to be the reason his dog developed premature Alzheimer’s disease or some crippling bone ailment.
He got a broom and dustpan from the kitchen and assured the nurse in the nearby office that, “Everything’s under control.” The nurse, in her grandiose obesity sat in the wheeled chair and gave Bartholomew a look of bothered contempt.
Brushing up the pieces of glass in the now vacated living room, Bartholomew thought of how long he would be relegated to these menial tasks. He desperately wanted to travel but did not have the financial resources, thinking of the age old struggle between the upper and lower class; the haves and the have-nots; the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; the powerful and the weak. It is important to point out that Bartholomew had never left the United States in all of his twenty odd years of pathetic existence. Actually, Bartholomew had never even got out of the north eastern part of the country. A prisoner of the region, Bartholomew, desperately wanted to travel and see the world. He had a surge of inspiration that lit up his soul. A spark that ignited an explosion. Something in his mind that told him that he must adopt an all or nothing attitude. By all means necessary. Shedding the role of eunuch, he was going to try to ascend above all restrictions and become the Übermensch. The laws, rules and codes were recognized for their being mere discourse, not capable of action in and of themselves. Laws only exist when one gets caught. Nobody ever got ahead by following the rules of convention thereby lacking critical judgment and creativity, seeing and exploiting the weaknesses of civilization. The societal construct was a complex matrix of hidden opportunity that was making itself illuminated to Bartholomew. All this pondering while staring at the broken shards. As his mind wandered he became careless and accidentally sliced his finger on a piece of the glass.
“Ffffuck,” he whispered as the blood dripped on the glass and became a tiny, sparkled galaxy of crimson droplets.
As he felt his pulse in his finger tip, just below his conscious awareness grew a festering and bitter contempt for all the political indoctrination he had received in his life. Something in him began to revolt against the politically correct, radical feminist, egalitarian battering that had attempted to castrate the young Bartholomew and turn him into another one of their putatively mentally ill, submissive derelicts. He wanted to melt all of the safe, plastic toys that society gave to its’ young boys and replace them sharp objects and things that released fast moving projectiles. He wanted to snatch up all the hot pink junk that society gave to its’ young girls and set it ablaze, and show them what real hot pink actually looked like.
Meanwhile, the gaze of Trish burned on his back, or more accurately at his buttocks. He turned around; she stood in the doorway at the bottom of the stairs. Bartholomew stood up with the dustpan full of glass and turned to go to the kitchen, averting his eyes from Trish, who stood twirling her wet hair. She had just showered and smelled of some botanical herbal hair product.
“Hi Bart, I need you to open a thing in my room please,” Trish begged.
He continued brushing the glass into the dustpan. “What?” he said glancing up, sort of energized but annoyed having to end his lofty thoughts. He put his finger in his mouth and sucked the metallic tasting blood away.
“It’s a thing, um from the store you know, and I need a little help with it, if you don’t mind,” she said with her eyebrows raised sassily.
Bartholomew looked at Trish who stood before him, smelled the scent of her hair, soft and sweet, and realized what he must do. “No, I don’t mind. Let’s take a look at what you got.”
They walked up to her room slowly, as if they were both not trying to make a sound. Once there, they immediately got down to business in the act of fornicating while Bartholomew admired the freshly washed and shaven body of Trish, culminating in intense, hasty orgasms for both simultaneously. The Capulets and Montegues, he added this to his list of opposing forces that he was now engaged in. The forbidden love is one of the oldest and most human struggles of all time. Something as pure as romance ought not to be made naughty by politics. Bartholomew unknowingly and fully embraced the lustful hedonic mindset and ravaged her body. Trish was reliving one of her very first sexual experiences from when she was very young which was what she subconsciously wanted.
As she nibbled on his ear, she groused quietly, “I want you to want me as much as I want you.”
Bartholomew simply responded with a hesitant, “Okay,” hoping that he was saying the right thing.
“Bart listen, there’s something I need to tell you,” she said while pulling her sweatpants back on. “I think I’m falling in love with you. I’m falling head over heals for you. Madly in love.”
Bartholomew squinted, “Really, yeah I could’ve guessed from your letter. Well, that’s um, that’s interesting. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”
“You don’t need to say anything,” she said grinning. “I understand. Did ya like it?”
“Like it? I did, thank you very much for the sex.”
“No, I meant the letter and picture. Did ya like it?” Trish asked quietly. “I put a lot of thought into it.”
“Oh yeah? It was very thoughtful, thank you.”
“—Did it turn you on, baby?”
Bartholomew paused, then said, “Yes, yes it did. Bye for now Trish. Gotta get back to work,” as he crept down the hall.
This strange and torrid escapade continued and increased in intensity for the next several weeks. The insomnia for Bartholomew was made worse when he started to work more double shifts, which lasted for sixteen hours. Sometimes, he would work two double shifts in two days, which would amount to thirty two hours of work being achieved within forty eight. After a while, Bartholomew began to feel like he was beginning to live there himself. Sometimes in the middle of the night, he would put his head down for a minute to relax. Drifting into a very calm state, he would transpose himself back into his bedroom at his apartment, or his old room back at his parent’s house, feeling as if he was in comfortable surroundings. These phenomena always ended abruptly with a potent falling sensation amidst confusion when Bartholomew would twitch and jerk himself up to attention, and for a split second not know where he was. Other times he would lift his head up and have no idea what time or day it was; lost in temporal confusion for the dream upon waking. Perhaps most strange was when Bartholomew would have a dream that started exactly where he currently sat, on the couch, in front of the flickering television, and one of the consumers would emerge from their bedroom and engage in some type of extremely bizarre or frightening behavior; the kind of behavior that makes you want to sink away and hide or assume supernatural invisibility. For these instances, Bartholomew had real trouble knowing what was based in reality and what was not. The gray area between the objective and the subjective.
School was out of session for the steamy months in-between Bartholomew’s junior and senior years. He still had not fully satisfied the ravenous hunger for love and affection that lurked deep within his soul. He was making up for lost time and developed an impulsive craving for sensual pleasure. Instead he numbed his vivacity and vitality through the sustained affects of marijuana and alcohol. Khan usually reminded Bartholomew that, “You’re going to make yourself retarded with all that shit.” The sun seemed especially bright on one hot summer day when Bartholomew arrived to work on time for the morning shift, starting at eight o’clock ante meridiem. As soon as he got there, one of his coworkers, Elton, began talking about his bright ideas for the day. He said that he would like to conduct an outing to the region north of the city known as Moraine State Park, where they would all engage in a picnic and swimming and frolicking about in the green pastures and pond shallows and what have you. They even had a croquet set to take along.
Elton said, “I think we have enough hot dogs, and buns. And we have chips and stuff. We have plenty of food. We’ll take a case of pop. And I figure we’ll just go up there for the day and hang out near the lake and do some grilling and throw a Frisbee around. There’s a nice little beach to go swimming up there too.”
Connor was the only one up yet, who sat on the couch stimming, transfixed on the television.
“Sounds good,” said Bartholomew. He always liked outings that make the day more interesting and entertaining. Not to mention, making the time go by faster while at work which was always a plus.
Elton lowered the volume of his voice, “If you need some trunks I brought an extra pair for you too, Bart.”
“Alright,” said Bartholomew. He thought it slightly odd, that one man would preemptively provide another man with swimming trunks, but thought it a nice gesture none the less. Bartholomew was very fond of water and lakes and trees and natural settings in general. Although he had been living in the city for the duration of his college experience, he was intensely and intimately connected with nature in spirit, both from his childhood experiences and also from the many parks around Pittsburgh that offer rugged terrain.
Connor burst into a laughing fit prompted by an ESPN replay of a baseball crashed into the skull of a jogging outfielder, and the subsequent medical personnel escorting him off the field. Bartholomew smirked at the contagious nature of Connor’s laughter.
One by one, the consumer’s all got up, saw the nurse and ingested their cocktail of drugs, and were told about the late morning and afternoon’s itinerary. Altogether, only five people decided to go, which was fine because it meant that they would only have to take one van; Elton asked Bartholomew to drive, which he accepted (although still unaware if he had been approved). Trish, who was not one for the sun, opted out and stayed home. The exodus from the city into the countryside was about an hour long, and the green quickly became much more plentiful and the concrete lessened. Even as he was driving, Bartholomew managed to look out the window so that the sun shone through the trees and blinked with random flickering across his eyes, granting him a peaceful calmness that told him that everything is going to be alright.
Soon they were at the park, standing around the grill while the charcoal sizzled with lighter fluid slowly turning into the orange, glowing briquettes. Sounds of children’s laughter and splashing could barely be heard from where they were located, but could clearly be seen in the distance amidst the sparkling surface of the water. Under the shade of a tree were two picnic tables. The consumers were free to smoke as many cigarettes as they wanted while on this outing, as long as they did not chain smoke, which was up to Bartholomew and Elton’s arbitrary discretion. They could also help themselves to the cooler which contained the cans of pop, which they did frequently, imbibing large amounts of fizzy, caustic beverages. Loud belches were heard every so often to rupture the serenity that Bartholomew felt in the cool breeze. Unwise as it may have been, they were supposed to go swimming after they ate.
Zaleweski stood with his shirt unbuttoned, hairy belly bulging out, holding a cigarette in his shaking hand. Sadly, because of the intense psychotropic medication that he was subjected to, he developed quite a case of tremors and involuntary twitching. He knew this, and this angered him, which is why he frequently avoided buttons, because the fine motor skills required would usually send him into a fit of rage. Zaleweski was studying his shadow.
“How’s it going Z.?” asked Bartholomew. “What’s on your mind?”
“Oh nothing. I was just thinking about my soul. I think I figured out why I have so much pain in my soul.”
“Oh yeah?” Bartholomew said trying to sound concerned.
“Look,” said Zaleweski grabbing a big stick off the ground that lay near him, “Where your shadow is, that is where your soul is trapped. I see it now, out here in nature. Because all our souls have a connection with the world, sharing energy with the earth, but you have to dig it out.” He began digging at the ground with the stick where his shadow was cast on the grass. “Unearthen my shadows!” He said. “Unearthen my shadows!!!”
Bartholomew really listened to Zaleweski’s argument and some weird part of it resonated deep within Bartholomew’s empathetic soul. “Well let it out then. Free your soul from the shadows!” said Bartholomew entertained, watching the flying grass and dirt. “Let it out boss!”
Zaleweski laughed, “Almost got it.” Biomass was flying up around him as he removed the silhouette of sod from the earth. He was working on it with a rare burst of physical exertion.
Elton quickly came over and yelled, “Zaleweski, stop it! Gimme that stick!”
Bartholomew raised his hand to speak, “Elton, just chill man, this is really therapeutic for him.”
“Get away from me!” said Zaleweski to Elton frantically digging out his soul from the trappings of the earth. Elton jumped back. Zaleweski finished his task and tossed the stick aside. On the ground in front of him was a shoddy silhouette of exposed soil that extended from his feet away from the sun. Zaleweski stood breathing heavily and smiled. “You are free now.” Sweat poured from his face as he watched his soul ascend into the heavens and commune with divine beings.
Elton looked at Bartholomew and shook his head with unapproved bewilderment. Elton was upset about Bartholomew’s permissive methods of conduct. “Okay Z., lets go get some lunch now, I think the hot dogs are almost ready.”
“Oh man, I’m starving too,” said Zaleweski as they walked back to the grill and table area to eat.
The rest of the day went by without issue playing croquet and tossing a Frisbee over the field. The consumers all sucked on many cigarettes and binged on soda pop throughout the day. Despite Bartholomew’s coaxing, the consumers were not inclined to water sports, so he was the only one who went swimming in the lake doing a slow backstroke over the width of the deep, placid waters. Giant, slimy water creatures circled under Bartholomew’s contour. On the drive home, Bartholomew plugged in his iPod and played “Day Tripper” by the Beatles, among other songs from the band.
That shift ended for Bartholomew at four o’clock in the afternoon. The sun hung high in the sky with colossal and blinding warmth as coronal mass ejections shot towards the earth disrupting the fragile planet. He had the unfortunate position of having to come in for work again for the night shift at twelve o’clock which gave him exactly eight hours of time off in between shifts. He decided to stop off at a bar after work at guzzle a couple drafts before returning home and trying to sleep for a few hours. While at the bar, he had a pleasant conversation with a pretty young girl named Jennifer who was going to nursing school at another local university. She was heavily intoxicated and really took an immediate liking to Bartholomew’s polite and intelligent words. They discussed many things that they had in common and even got to laughing for a bit.
“Well, I gotta get going home to take my pup out and—”
“—Ohhhh, you have a doggg? I looove dogsss!” said Jennifer with unsteady eyes as they talked over each other.
“—try to get some rest before work tonight… Yeah me too, I uh—”
“—Can, can I see a picture of her, him? Whatever it is! Do you have a picture of your doggy?”
“Yeah, umm…” he dug in his pocket for his phone. “I just have always loved having a dog, ya know. It’s a boy, his name is Khan,” said Bartholomew as he showed Jennifer the picture on the screen of his wireless phone.
“Aaawwwwwwwwww!!! K-Khan? He is soooo cute! Look at those lil’ toothers,” said Jennifer. She grabbed the phone and began hitting some buttons. Then she gave the phone back to Bartholomew, “This is my phone number, you should gimme a call some time so we can hang out.”
Bartholomew was overjoyed by this but tried not to display his elation, “Yeah, of course. Well, it’s been really nice to meet you Jennifer—”
“—Yeeeah, nice to meet you too. See you around.” She smiled, turned and walked unsteadily away.
“Okay, bye.” Bartholomew walked out of the bar glowing with joy. He was beside himself as to what just transpired, but was so excited with the prospect of reuniting with Jennifer one day and starting a long new relationship. Within five minutes of Bartholomew leaving the bar, Jennifer was at the other corner of the bar taking shots and flirting with some man who was much older than her. He appeared very wealthy and distinguished and told magnificent, elaborate lies of his riches and travels. Within forty minutes of Bartholomew leaving the bar, when he was home walking Khan telling him about the beautiful women he had just met, Jennifer was straddling this man in a hotel room he had rented for the evening. Bartholomew crawled into bed around eight o’clock in the evening and tried to sleep but was too buzzed and excited. He smiled with eyes closed as his mind raced. He rolled around under the sheets awake for three hours until it was time to get up and head to work again. Only at the last few minutes of this stint did he begin to feel as if sleep was physically possible, but this is when he knew he had to be getting up soon. During the last hours of the day leading up to his next shift, dark clouds moved in over the city and delivered humid, gusty winds and rain, along with rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning.
He drove to work completely dissociated from what he was doing, going through the motions like a soulless machine. The windshield wipers glided back and forth constantly in front of him across the windshield as the rain intensified. Puddles were glowing with vibrating reflections of various colors. When he got to his job at two after twelve, he quickly dismissed the other worker whom he was relieving of duty for the night. He was so tired that he immediately sat on the couch and began to vegetate in front of the glowing, muted television that silently displayed moving pictures of mysterious ancient pyramidal ruins around the globe.
Thank god all the consumers are in bed, he thought. It was not uncommon for him to hear the sound of doors opening and closing throughout the night as the consumers went to and from the bathroom. Normally he would just shift his head and lazily glance down the hall to see who it was.
He sent Jennifer a brief text message from his wireless phone: “Hey, it was nice 2 meet u. We should get 2gether again soon.”
He glanced through the window, looking at some nearby shrubbery outside of the building that had accumulated tiny pools of water on its’ leaves, and happen to catch a flash of lightning that made the foliage illuminated with electrical whiteness. Then the subsequent rumble that made the lights and the dishes tinker.
Jennifer sent back a text that read: “Who is this?” She had forgotten her encounter with Bartholomew. He sat confusedly during several minutes of callow contemplation, thinking of what to say next. He was too tired to figure out what message to send back.
He noticed that the refrigerator door was left open and the kitchen was glowing in its’ light. This was out of the ordinary because normally the refrigerator was kept locked. He got up and floated down the hall to the kitchen and felt the cool air that had been flooding out of the ice box. Cold steam rolled out into the kitchen creating a fog that surrounded Bartholomew. He shut the door to the refrigerator and looked down at his feet and noticed a piece of bread on the ground. He slowly picked it up. Then he noticed another piece of bread about three or four feet away. He picked that one up. Then he noticed another piece of bread that was on the first step going downstairs into the basement. This door was normally locked too, but was left ajar for some odd reason unbeknownst to Bartholomew. He crept slowly down the basement steps that squeaked for each step and seemed to spiral vertiginously downward into the earth and stone. When he finally got into the dank grotto, he noticed Genevieve in the corner pacing back and forth with beautiful, old porcelain dolls. He picked up the last piece of bread. She was muttering to herself and to the dolls while she arranged them in a circle on the floor. The room was dimly lit with many dripping wax candles. Bartholomew shrunk into the surroundings trying to remain invisible. Then Genevieve called upon some powerful specter that arose out of the dirt and cement floor. This ghostly figure was draped in bright, flowing regalia and spoke in a language that Bartholomew did not recognize or comprehend. Frozen, all he could do was watch and hope not be noticed. Frightened, Bartholomew then quietly ascended the steps and returned to his post and laid his head on the cushioned arm rest of the couch. The house, continuing to be shocked with surprising bursts of white light followed by low growls of cannonade from the storm.
He read the text message from Jennifer again several times, “Who is this? Who is this? Who is this?”
Shortly after that, Bartholomew heard footsteps nearby. He stood up and decided that the ceiling was much too low for him and made him feel claustrophobic, so chose to walk on his knees into the dinning room. He looked up and confronted Will, who was mumbling about reincarnation.
“Oh, hi,” said Will looking down at Bartholomew. “Excuse me, uummm, what, what are you doing on your knees?”
“Oh, hello Will,” said Bartholomew. “I just decided that the ceilings were too low for me tonight, so I decided to walk on my knees and make the ceilings higher, ya know.”
“Oh, that is a good idea,” said Will as he dropped to his knees and the two of them stood there pacing, shifting their weight back and forth from knee to knee, looking up and admiring the ceilings that instantly became what seemed to be much higher and vaulted.
“I used to be about this short, about one hundred years ago in my past life, I think.”
“Oh, really?” asked Bartholomew.
“Yeah, I definitely know I’m too tall right now. I’d rather just be this short all the time.”
“Okay, well maybe in the next life, ya know.”
“Yeah,” shrugged Will.
“Hey, well it is pretty late,” said Bartholomew, not really knowing what time it was. “You should try and get some rest.”
Bartholomew watched Will hobble on his knees back to his room and then hobbled himself back onto the couch to sit and close his eyes for a bit. The rain finally began to subside as the morning began. He waited for the sun to rise and for his shift to end so he could go home and melt into his bed in a desperate attempt to get some rest. He was barely conscious for the ride home, when there, Khan greeted him happily.
Two days later, upon arrival at work, Bartholomew had a rather shocking conversation with his supervisor Beth. “Hey, Bart, come up to my office for a second we need to talk about Trish.”
Bartholomew’s heart started pounding intensely and his face became flush red. This could be really bad, he thought.
“Okay, yeah, close that door behind you,” said Beth. “Just to let you know, last night Trish decided to leave the facility. So as of yesterday she has been officially discharged… That’s all.”
“Really? And you guys just let her leave? I mean, she can legally do that?”
“Oh yeah, Trish was here on a voluntary commitment. She never had a court order or anything. She was free to leave at anytime.”
It never occurred to Bartholomew about whether the consumers were voluntary or not. For some odd reason, his thoughts just never ventured there. He was stunned and speechless about what he had just heard. His mouth dropped open for a second before he could speak.
“What’s that? Voluntary, huh?” asked Bartholomew to clarify.
“Yeah, really she was here on her own accord, and we thought that she had made substantial strides in her recovery, she met almost all of her treatment goals, and so yesterday she decided to go back and live with her father. We fulfilled our agreement to each other. She was really one of the healthiest consumers we had here, you know that, you knew how she was—”
“—Really high functioning and smart. I guess, just, for a time she just lacked good judgment that got her into some really unhealthy situations, which is why she decided to go into inpatient in the first place. Some people just need time to recuperate, you know?”
“Oh yeah,” said Bartholomew, still beside himself.
“Some good R & R.”
“I know what you mean, well that’s good to hear then that Trish has moved on to greener pastures.” He thought that it was probably good that Trish had left the facility. Their reckless lust affair would have gotten them in trouble sooner or later. In fact, it was quite amazing that it had not. A wash of cold relief came over him along with a grin as he realized that this was not the damning conversation that he thought he was going to take place.
“Yep,” said Beth happily, “That just means we’re all doing our job here. So really, thanks a lot and good work Bart. Trish wanted me to tell you that she thought you were a really ‘sweet counselor.’”
“Well, good,” sighed Bartholomew. “Alright well I’m gonna go get to work on dinner.”
“Okay, Bart, thanks, the crock pot already has the roast and veggies in it, so all you need to do is make the mashed potatoes.”
After work Bartholomew hopped on his bike and rode to the trolley station with his headphones blaring some of that bittersweet, love struck indie rock that the kids loved in those days. At the station, he sat alone on the bench waiting for the next trolley to come, which it did quickly. The fat trolley operator accepted the one dollar fare for the off peak hours rate. The inside of the car was virtually empty, which was good because he walked his bike aboard and took his seat in the back of the vessel. The trolley bounced him quickly down the slope of Mt. Washington, closer to the city lights that lit up downtown. Before the trolley arrived at Station Square, Bartholomew got up and walked unsteadily to the door. He began riding down the ramp, out of the station, toward his home in Arsenal. While he was cruising the streets, he would always continue at a substantial pace, passing many cars that were held back by traffic or red lights. At one particular intersection, Bartholomew was moving quickly up through the blind spot of an old Buick and approached its passenger side. The car made a quick right turn, nudging Bartholomew’s back tire. His perineum was dislodged off his seat and his crotch landed hard on the cross bar; while his left foot was knocked off the pedal and the right was dragging on the pavement. Gripping the handle bars tightly, he held on for dear life as his bike developed an awful wobble, swaying from side to side in a slalom fashion.
Shhhit!!! I’m gonna go down. This is gonna hurt bad, he thought so fleetingly that it was barely cognitively perceptible. The only thing he could instinctually think about was that he was going to biff hard, get shocked with the worst pain he had ever felt, and probably wake up in some hospital a couple weeks later. Or never at all, in fact, Bartholomew had always harbored some desire for a quick and abrupt end to his life. He pretty much accepted that some type of premature doom was inevitable. Instead however, with a miraculous unconscious reflex in balance and proprioception, he was able to steady out the wobble, get his feet back on the pedals, and lift his crushed scrotum painfully off the cross bar and set himself safely back down on the seat. Applying the handle bar breaks, he slowed down and pulled off to the side of the road. In utter shock and awe, he could not believe that he did not go down into a bloody tumble in the middle of the road and end up underneath a large truck wrapped around an oily axle.
The lady driving the car pulled over and rolled down her window to show her expression aghast, “Oh my goodness, are you okay?!”
Bartholomew looked at his bike and his body, inspecting for any damages. Almost magnificently, there were none. Stunned and out of breath, he heaved a reply at the old crone, “Yeah… I think… I’m fine.”
“Okay, well, good… You should really have a helmet on. You could’ve cracked your skull wide open. Wide open.” She said rudely shaking her head.
“Thanks, for the advice. Now good bye,” he said, hopping on his bike and continuing home. Bartholomew could not begin to grasp how on earth he did not wreck his bike. What strange protective forces were at work helping Bartholomew stabilize his faltering apparatus? When he got home he told Khan all about the thrilling incident, who also recommended that Bartholomew wear a helmet when he rode his bike because, “If you get hurt, who will take care of me?”
“Okay, Khan. I’ll do it for you,” he said with warm affection. “But not because of some stupid law or because that old lady told me to or because I’m scared or anything.” Is this what people mean when they speak of responsibility? he pondered. It feels kind of good to be needed.
The time of Bartholomew’s graduation was growing nigh as his senior year was in full swing. Do not be fooled, he had really been doing very well with his undergraduate studies, getting on the Dean’s List every semester that he was in attendance. Rarely did he ever miss a class, even riding his bike to and from campus through horrible storms. Throughout his career at Monongahela University he had been involved in a great many things, groups and organizations, but surprisingly none had yielded any lasting friends. This shocked Bartholomew who began to think of himself as socially defective. He participated in the Psychology Club, in many different lectures, meetings, events, and activism (he proposed that the club participate in the world wide march for marijuana legalization, but to no avail). He was a part of the tuition tax hike protest proposed by the corrupt city mayor. Hosted a college radio show that put on display his eclectic musical proclivities. Worked on some student films being made. Published several papers, poems, and stories in official school publications. Last but not least, Bartholomew was also an active member of the Honors Society, of which being a member afforded him invaluable access to unlimited coffee and conversation in the elitist honors office. In fact, the free coffee, of which the caffeine he was significantly addicted to, was his main reason for his continued membership in the Honors Society.
The director of the Honors Society was sitting in her leather armchair when Bartholomew entered, removed his headphones and spoke, “Dr. Stanton, I just wanted to thank you for your support for me during my time here.”
“Your very welcome, Bart, I appreciate it,” answered the tenured professor.
“I do owe you my gratitude, so thanks” said Bartholomew.
“Well, I’m gonna graduate after this semester and I feel I owe you my thanks for running this thing, and keeping the coffee fresh and hot. Honestly, I don’t know if I would’a been able to make it through the years without it.”
“So what are your plans?”
“I’m not really sure at this point. I applied at a couple grad programs at some nearby universities for their various psychology programs, which was like having another job for the time with all the damn forms and everything, thanks for the letter of recommendation too, by the way. But honestly, I don’t know if I’m gonna go directly into more schooling.”
“You’re good at school. Not everyone is.”
“Yeah, but I don’t particularly enjoy it, and I feel like I just got here,” said Bartholomew, slowly being filled up with sadness, “It all went by so fast, I still feel kinda new here. Still feel like an outsider.”
The professor tried to sound as concerned as possible, “Maybe take some time off, figure out what you want to do.”
“Yeah, that’s probably what I’ll do,” said Bartholomew pausing and looking out the window blankly, “I’m not really sure… I really need to travel you know, see the world and stuff ya know, before World War III, Armageddon or the global financial meltdown really screw everything up. Or I always wanted to buy a motor cycle and just ride around the whole damn continent you know, see the whole country at least. Like in “Easy Rider” or what Che Guevara did.”
“You’re a strange one Bart… You should travel, or do something different. Get out of here. You’re too young and smart to waste away as cynic,” answered the doctor, studying Bartholomew’s red eyes. “Life can really be something special if you reach out and grab it.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do doc, but it doesn’t always work out… Well, I’ll keep in touch,” concluded Bartholomew. “Keep doing a good thing here,” said Bartholomew looking around the room, tapping the corner of her desk, beginning to exit, and then stopped, “I was also thinking about starting my career as a writer, you know, with my first book being a semi-autobiographical story about my college and work experience in the mental health field. But, I don’t think anyone would ever read it.”
“Well you should go for it, you’ve got nothing to loose.”
“That much is true” added Bartholomew. “Goodbye doc.”
The year after Bartholomew graduated, the school imposed budget cuts and shut down the honors office, forcing Dr. Stanton to leave her position as director, and be relegated to some distant office as a mere professor. Jaded and disenfranchised, finally by age sixty two, she quit the following year and was rarely heard from again, living alone with her cats in inebriated obscurity in some distant rural town, writing a vitriolic left-wing political column for the local newspaper, which had a circulation of just fewer than three thousand daily subscribers.
Under a vanilla and pink summer sky, Bartholomew stopped his car on the middle of the Smithfield Bridge, got out, and hopped over the railing falling briskly down into the cool waters of the deep, muddy Monongahela River. The drop was slow and exhilarating. Upon submersion, he felt cold and fearful, holding his breath for dear life. Only a few greenish, glowing sunbeams penetrated the surface of the water. He thrashed about for a second or two, hitting against the rusty, industrial waste that lay at the bottom of the murky depths, as he was then swept up in the slimy whiskers of a giant, garbage eating catfish who transported him an unknown length down river to a safe dell where he camped and recovered amongst a crowd of curious, delinquent, raggedy children who laughed and toyed around with each other with incessant playful taunts. They ate gruel and exchanged ghost stories around a flickering fire that never went out during a night that never ended. The emotional qualia of despair that he felt while under water was more intense than any brand of fear Bartholomew had ever experienced, impossible to describe adequately with words. The same is true for the escapist relief he felt when being nursed to health by the orphans amidst the colossal elms.
It was Bartholomew’s graduation day. He took the last drag off a joint and stared out his bedroom window at the busy streets below while petting Khan, who sat elevated on his bed. “This is it boy, I couldn’t of done it without you. Thanks Khan, seriously.”
“You’re welcome Bart. Thanks for all you do for me too, really, we are a great match for each other.”
“Alright buddy, well I gotta get to the stadium for the graduation ceremony. I’ll be seein’ ya soon boy.”
They exchanged kisses and Bartholomew then put his on helmet, put his backpack on (which contained his cap and gown), got on his bike, and drifted effortlessly into downtown to the stadium where he drifted past all of his graduating class with their families jovially congregating outside the building. Groups of friends taking pictures smiling for the camera, wrapped in genuine mirth. Bartholomew looked around; he did not see anyone he knew. A couple familiar faces, but nobody worth talking too. He got a text from his parents that read: “We R up in the seats.”
Then he saw Ana, the girl that he liked from the Honors Society. “Hey Ana, how’s it going?”
“Good Bart how are you?”
“Good, good,” he chuckled, “Uh, can we get a picture together, ya think? Just because I wanna remember this day, ya know.?” he squawked.
“Yeah, sure, of course,” she said awkwardly.
Bartholomew pulled out his phone and held it out, put the other arm around Ana, and snapped a picture. “Thanks Ana…oh this is good… Hey what are you doing this summer?”
“Oh nothing much really, just going back to my parents homestead in the Appalachian Mountains, ya know, doing the subsistence farming thing that we do out there.”
“That’s awesome,” said Bartholomew, “maybe I can come visit you sometime.”
“Yeah, maybe. Just send me an email or something, we’ll keep in touch. Hey, I gotta get going, I’ll see ya around.”
“Hey, do you guys make moonshine down there?” he said trying to crack a joke.
“Uhh, no. Take care Bart.”
“Okay… goodbye Ana. Take care.” He never saw her again except in the picture he took; the only one of his entire graduation day.
Bartholomew proceeded to the single file line where he got into alphabetical order. He stood there and made stoned small talk with the people he stood next to; for many it was the first time he talked to them. The graduation ceremony was boring, so he put in his headphones and listened to some music to help pass the time: some good old fashion counter-cultural rock and roll. Finally his row was prompted to get up and stand by the stage. He looked around for his parents but could not locate them anywhere, just an ocean of anonymous faces.
They called his name, followed by “Magna Cum Laude.” The applause was barely perceptible if any. Someone coughed. A baby cried. He walked up and received his degree and shook the hands of the dignitaries. After walking down the steps, he saw Dr. Stanton, and gave her a great, big hug. He then saw his parents standing in the back row. As soon as he sat down in his seat, he got another text from his parents that read: “We R headin home 2 beat the traffic. Way 2 go.”
Still considerably high, Bartholomew found no reason why he should sit and wait for the end of the ceremony. He snuck out early, was greeted by no one, hopped on his bike, and rode home along the river watching the warm sunset drift down past the trees as he listened to some song from a far off eastern land that properly marked the passing of an age.
The very next night was balmy and the moon, full and glowing, hung low in the sky. Driving home from work at around midnight, Bartholomew watched as the lights of the city and reflection of the moon danced and sparkled over the black river water. It had been a long week and an even longer day and Bartholomew desperately needed a nice creamy porter to ease out some of the dark stress. Then he was parking his car on the side of the city street under a buzzing orange street lamp. As he turned the corner and looked forward, toward his front door, he saw Trish leaning against the side of his building. She was holding a bottle of something wrapped tightly in a brown paper bag.
Speechless, Bartholomew stopped about twenty feet away and stared at Trish, who was looking the best he had ever seen her, with a beautiful and sinister smile on her face.
“I’m out,” she said. “Fully rehabilitated and ready to face the world.”
“Congratulations,” said Bartholomew.
“Wanna help me celebrate?” asked Trish.
After about seven seconds of contemplation, Bartholomew accepted the Faustian offer.
“What about your father’s house?” asked Bartholomew.
“I said ‘my Daddy,’” Trish said smiling.
For the next couple weeks Bartholomew and Trish wallowed in the happy filth of their own infatuated delusions imitating Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s bed-in days of war protesting for peace (except no one else in the world cared), devoid of anything rooted in reality or responsibility (this caught up to them eventually, but that is where this story ends). They would stay up all night, sleep in until afternoon, and waste the day sipping tea staring out the window or into various glowing monitors inundated with films. During these slothful days of miscegenation they listened to a lot of the seventies and eighties punk rock that Trish liked so much. Trish constantly reminded Bartholomew that this was first time she had ever been in love. “All of my life I’ve been searching for you,” she said. She called him “Daddy.” Trying to make the situation more desperate, he would tell her, “I don’t have a lotta time left.” In fact, they would both constantly exchange cryptic and enigmatic statements that were, at the start, the catalyst for their passion, and at the end, eventually their relationship’s toxicity and demise. They would drag the word “love” through the mud a lot, and toy with its many vague meanings and situational employments. By this time Bartholomew’s apartment resembled a mix between a forest and a library with organic material and stacks of books all over the place. Trish was fascinated by all the music that Bartholomew had collected, and had a keen taste in audio herself, so she was most enthralled looking through the pirated archives of young Bartholomew. She sort of equated the depths of his musical collection with the depths of his mind, and her fascination and voluntary mental submission grew deeper. They both took part in tragic Dionysian dance of escapism and codependence shutting off the outside world and only venturing outdoors to take Khan for walks along the rail road tracks, or near the river, or to get more food or wine or beer or herb, all within a hasty, agoraphobic gait. Khan had little to say on the matter, and would traipse around the apartment with jealous disdain for the new house guest who stole the attention that was normally devoted to him. The apartment had such terrible heating, that in the coolness of night, it justified the need for constant human contact and friction including but not limited to affectionate displays of playful sadomasochism. The candles and fireplace burned calmly into the night, while they satisfied that human lust for the other that they had both been suffering from and needed to satisfy so desperately becoming drunk and eventually sick with one another’s spirit. Lying in bed, they would plan their future vacations and name their future children and describe their future house that were all never to come.
Bartholomew smiled as he thought, Well I think I was pretty successful with my first patient.