“Am I a good person? How do I ever actually know whether I'm bullshitting myself, morally speaking?”
― David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster
You’re going to run yourself to the ground tonight. You already know this, so you shrug your flimsy shoulders at the thought. You’re in Manhattan, near Union Square, leaning against a lamppost with pigeons shooting their black beaded eyes up at you. The rain bites at the roofs of the yellow cabs. The clouds are blotted with the black fog of a late November afternoon. You’ve just left your marketing class, and your leather backpack is beginning to get wet.
You should have picked a different major, something like philosophy…more relatable. But hindsight is always 20/20. In class you talked about plastic; how you could market plastic to the general American audience. You also learned that plastic consumption is one of the leading causes of cancer in the United States. You watched one of your classmates close his eyes halfway through the discussion. Later, the teacher yelled his name to wake him up. You found it slightly amusing.
You’re pulling out your American Spirit cigarettes (light blue box, your favorite color), thinking about how sexy your red lighter is that you bought from CVS. You light it and your brain receives pleasure from the familiar smell of the smoke and the sight of the orange embers burning all at once. When you smoke the whole world stops, or at least you think it does. Everything suddenly is permanent. Nothing else happens. The chilled air makes the smoke even more apparent. You’ve got your eye on a thin blonde in jeans who is scrolling through her phone amongst a group of sophomore friends. You’re wearing red corduroys and a white t-shirt with a drawing of the singer Blondie on the front you purchased from a Vintage shop in Amsterdam.
You just ate sushi near your dorm room. You dipped each piece of the raw fish into the soy sauce, savoring the salty taste. Soy sauce is the only thing you like about sushi. You don’t tell that to your classmates. You don’t want them to get the wrong idea about you. Like you’re not a New York City kid who grew up surrounded by Old Money; you’re not the kind of kid who didn’t take your education seriously. At least you have read The Odyssey. All of the other books you briefly skimmed through. To Kill a Mockingbird appealed to you. You never thought it made sense to sit down and read a book when realistically an entire story could always be summarized in a few sentences. You tried to explain this to the “intelligent kids” in your high school English classes. They’d always ask why you would never read the books. They thought you were stupid. You liked astronomy in 8th grade because it made you feel small and assured you of this belief.
You adjust your baseball cap. You wear this cap whenever you are having a bad day or suspect you are going to have a bad day. (This is a large majority of the time.) It is light pink and a bit faded, frayed on the edges of the rim. You like the old-school quality of the hat. It makes you feel older and wiser, like you know the answers to most of the questions of the Universe. On the front is a palm tree and the emblem of a tennis resort in California. Your sister gave it to you. She bought it at a consignment store. Your sister cares deeply about you, and she’s extremely sick. She has been sick for two months now. You try not to think about it. She’s the only person who truly understands you. You’re visiting her soon, back home. You promised you’d visit her soon. Sometimes you pretend she’s not sick. You ask yourself why you do this. You’re not quite sure. It’s a bit how you pretend Rose didn’t break up with you a month ago.
It’s getting darker outside. Your brain seemed to ignore the sunlight all day. You look down at your phone screen, and you receive a message about your plans tonight. Your friends are going out and you don’t want to go, but you’re going to go anyway because it would be better than staying home watching reruns of SNL while microwaving a cup of noodles.
Here is your plan for tonight. You’re going to get drunk on whiskey sours. Whiskey kills the negativity of a worn-week spent reading parts of the ins and outs of the “American History of Marketing.” You walk to the bar with friends. The air chills your spine. You have on a large Barbour jacket now. Everyone else is wearing black and whispering about their new student films being shown at school. They are films about miscommunication. They are short films, you hear. The friends with you are laughing. One friend’s name is Mark, and the other’s name is David. You believe they have your best interest at heart. As you enter the bar, to your delight, no one tries to check your I.D. Your face gets hot at the wooden counter. This brunette girl starts eyeing you. You smirk. The lights are darting in and out of your pupils, shrinking them and then growing them. Mark nudges you, telling you to go talk to the girl. You tell him you need more alcohol if you’re going to do that. You’re five drinks through, mumbling your words and there is sweat dancing atop your forehead, and now it’s dripping down your tanned nose.
You hope you will take this girl home, this faceless, nameless girl who feels insecure about herself but she thinks you’re sort of cute and kind of funny and most likely wonders if you can help her get over her ex-boyfriend for one night. She tells you she goes to Barnard College. She must be smart. She’s studying neuroscience. You’re trying way too hard. You’re telling her she’s beautiful, when you know she’s not actually beautiful, she’s just pretty. She doesn’t compliment you. This makes you want her even more. She asks where you’re from. You lie and say you’re from Chicago. You don’t know why you chose to lie to her. You ask her if she wants to head home with you. You tell her she’s sexy to persuade her. (Someone once told you women loved being called sexy.) She says sure why not. You stumble into a cab together. You tell the cab driver to get you to Bleecker Street.
She digests your room piece by piece, asking you about each poster and picture. You tell her one of the posters is of a Blink-182 album, but she doesn’t know who that band is, and you say you wouldn’t expect her to know. She asks you about the one book you have on your coffee table. It’s Moby Dick. You’ve never read the book. Atop of the novel is your Cartier watch you were given for your birthday. You tell her you leave the watch there because you think it symbolizes materialism to place the watch atop the book. She tells you you’re strange. You are pretty strange.
You tell her to hang out for a minute on your bed. Before you sleep with her you go into your bathroom and analyze your face. You don’t recognize yourself as much as you used to
because you haven’t shaved in a while. And your cheeks have gotten sharper, almost frightening. You can tell you’ve changed in ways that are far worse than before, on the inside. There are Adderall pills on your countertop, next to Listerine, cocaine and your lighter. For a moment you glance out of the fogged window. The rain has turned into hail. It’s 2.a.m. and there are several college students running across the street to dodge the hail. How odd.
Just do it, just sleep with her and then get her out of the apartment. You just need someone for a little bit. Someone to let you know you’re worthy of being touched by human hands. So you start touching her. You unclasp her lavender bra and it falls to the floor. You have this other person in front of you. A body. A breathing body. Her eyes spill into yours and you suddenly become intimidated by her. Her skin is feathery in its texture. For that period of time you don’t feel so alone. She asks you if she can kiss you. You say yes, of course. The heat bouncing on her arms sinks into your skin. She grabs onto your arms and starts pulling them around your torso. You feel warmer. Her green eyes are lime-lighting the room, in an effervescent glow they make your heart ache harder. She becomes more lovely in the moonlight of the window.
She takes your shirt off. You pull off her underwear. She laughs at the Blondie emblem on the front. She calls you a hipster. You suddenly get turned off by her tone. Your irritability gets the best of you in the moment.
“Get out. Now. Get the FUCK out,” you scream.
“What? Why?” she asks you.
“Just go now. I’m sorry. I can’t do this.”
She tries to kiss your cheek, but you peel back and push her off of you. She places her hand on your shoulder and you shrug it off. The girl starts to cry. She's naked and she’s crying in front you. You’re such a jerk. For a moment you think about asking her to stay and just sleep beside you, but you can’t manage to ask. She grabs her clothes and for a second gives you the kind of look you’d never want anyone to give you. The look of “do you even have a conscience?” And you know you do, somewhere.
She speedily walks to the door, with her dress half on. On the way out she kicks your Nike sneakers so one falls over the other. Your pink hat is hanging on the door knob. She struggles to get the door open and mumbles something like “you’re helpless.”
You watch her hand as it opens the door, and the other hand escapes with your pink hat. Your muscles contract. You walk over to the bathroom and take your keys out of your jean pocket. You use the key to help you snort some of your cocaine. You aren’t sure if you should move, run after her and get the hat back. Your body is freezing. This is your favorite hat. Why would she take it? Granted, she doesn’t know it’s something you value.
What kind of person steals someone’s hat?
With your iPhone in your hand, you scroll through your contacts, trying to find the R’s.