This was a life receding into regret, of dreams balding and greying.
My body, once honed by athletics and gym memberships, was sagging and undependable, soon to be a clump of auto-immune inflammation and fatigue.
Hell, even my niece deemed my glasses irrelevant.
‘You look like a sad old, forgotten turtle, Uncle…’
I was a casualty of—
“Ohmyfuckin’god, Em, Emily, can you get Sad Sally over here another drink? Thank you, you’re kick ass…” My friend turned to me. “Dude, will you shut-the-hell-up. There is nothing wrong with your life. Shit happens, deal with it. And, currently, you’re not.”
Emily the bartender placed another beer before me, “This asshole beside you is right. You’re making the alcoholic, broke, one-armed Vietnam vet at the end of the bar look like a viable fuck…Right, Tommy?”
Tommy grinned, raising his lone arm, its hand clenching a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
“Dude, ever since I’ve know you, you’ve wanted to paint. So, you finally quit your soul-sucking job, your wife has a great job, is able to support the both you blahblahblah and you’re miserable…Jesus.” My friend stares at me as he sips from his beer. “Like, you know how long it took me to get my shitty landscaping business running full bore? I mean, when your best employee is a one armed drunk, holy shit. Right, Tommy?”
Tommy cackles. “Gotcha, boss man!”
My friend resumes his brutish therapy session, “Look, you sold, what, two paintings a few months ago? Like, doesn’t that take people forever to do? I mean, it took me and a one armed drunk ten years to get big enough to where I can work outside my own fucking county…”
I was reduced to shameful nods…
“I mean, maybe you need to get out of your head again, like you did this summer when you worked for me.”
My friend lays his smartphone on the bar, his finger scrolling through apps. “Here…”
In the pocket of my jacket, I heard my phone ding with a notification.
“That’s the contact information for my stupid nephew. You remember Brighton? That smart little fucker with the name that makes you just wanna slap him? Well, he’s got himself in with a bunch of fucking Silicon Valley know-nothings. Group of young guys who think they’re gonna make billions like Steve Jobs…”
“He texts me all the time, ‘Uncle, I need help with this employee or how do I lead this person.’ All that fake shit they teach in college business management classes. But, he and his buddies just bought this warehouse in the city and they’re moving their startup there, but he’s—now, I warn you, this is gonna hurt your little ego—he’s lookin’ for an older guy to run this operation until it’s going full speed.”
“So, at least it gets you out of the house. I mean, that’s like, what, not even a half hour subway ride for you?”
“Yeah. ‘Round there.”
“I mean, he said a lot of the work is like basic data entry, shit even Tommy could do.”
“So, just fucking text him, alright?”
“Yeah, yeah, I will.”
The canvas was agitated, its surface molten reds and orange.
With a palette knife, I slathered a balm of acrylic cobalt blue across its tormented skin.
Sonofuh… This painting is fucked.
There was an agonizing trickle of inspiration.
An ephemeral impulse…
Gone. It’s Gone.
I sighed, staring at my floor of scrunched paint tubes.
All that paint you squandered…
My phone rang with my wife’s daily lunchtime working-world diatribe.
“Hey…Holy shit…I…Hold on, I can’t find my fucking cigarettes.” I heard muffled, rummaging sounds and the discord of city traffic. “OK. Sorry. So, my day fucking sucks as much as…dog shit on a hot summer day.”
“Was that even good? I’m burned out. I’m not going to this meeting after work either.”
“Doesn’t sound like a good idea.”
“Also, you should seriously call Dave’s nephew about that job. We could commute together. Then, everything wouldn’t suck so bad.”
“Your not, are you?”
“No…I’m…I dunno. I will.”
“I mean, you don’t have to.”
“It just might be good for you.”
Brighton’s eyes were evasive, mannerisms restrained, his entire personality seemingly stunted, unable to cope with human interaction. “Uhhh…Yeah. Lemme…” His shoulders and head slumped into the screen of his phone, his thumbs tocktocktocking as he composed a message. “I uh gotta uh finish this text.”
He was slim and sleek, hair precisely arranged, his sartorial choices dictated by Esquire: Navy, slim fitted blazer paired with a light blue, slight V-neck shirt that was meticulously untucked from the brown-belted waist of his dark jeans; which were rolled at his ankles to expose just enough of his pink socks.
Oh, his dress shoes were brown.
“So, yeah, this is uh where uh we’re moving…”
At some point, the renovation of the old warehouse had halted, its interior partially refurbished to trendy hardwood floors, plaster cracked brick walls and its wooden beams refinished, while the rest was cold cement and industrial, fluorescent light.
“Yeah, ssssoooo… These uh wood floors are Brazilian, I’m told. Some uh guys were gonna open a micro-distillery or something uh, but yeah…So, here is your uh desk.”
On the concrete half of the warehouse, with its remnants of construction and dismantled cabinetry, a vintage steel desk was situated, its tabletop stacked with an iPad work station.
At the corner of the desk, squatting like a black toad, was an old rotary telephone.
“Holy shit…That phone is older than me.” I was startled by the pristine condition of that ancient communication device.
“That’s a phone? I uh yeah no idea how to uh use it.”
“It’s connected?” I stared at a telephone line stretching to an outlet jammed with other devices.
Brighton looked up from his smartphone, “Yeah so uh my partners are super concerned with uh security. So uh there is uh also no WiFi.”
“Yeah uh sucks, I know. But, the internet is uh super fast. Lemme show you uh how to use the iPad program.”
Brighton’s finger swiped the iPad’s screen as he gave me instructions for logging into their proprietary system.
“So uh people will call, Ok? And uh you will answer that phone thing. So uh on the screen you see those uh eleven box things, right? Well each one is for the eleven phone calls you uh will receive that day—”
“Wait, I will only answer that phone eleven times during my shift?”
“Super easy, huh? And each person on that uh call will give you uh a number. And uh if it’s caller number one, you uh type the number you were told into box one. So on and uh so forth. Get it?”
“Then, at the end of the day, I hit that process button?”
“Right on, man! You get it! That’s why I uh told my uncle I needed someone from his Generation.”
“So, uh its uh Monday through Friday. Like, nine-ish or so to three-thirty?”
I chuckled. “Nine-ish?”
Brighton nodded, “Uh like our uh clients wouldn’t really start uh calling until nine-thirty or so but uh you have time to settle in and stuff.”
I laughed. “All I do is answer the phone, the caller gives me a number, and I type that into the corresponding caller box? That’s it?”
“Right on…Right on.”
“Oh yeah, I uh forgot to mention: it’s forty an hour. We can pay in bitcoin, too.”
“Cool…so, uh, you can start uh Monday? I will text you a download site we uh use for payroll and stuff. Cool?”
What the fuck? I smirked to myself…