An Excerpt From My Novel… A Satire Of The Retail, Corporate And Political World Of The 2000s.
After nearly an hour of resolving numerous customer issues, employee bickering and filing paperwork that corporate policy mandated I triplicate with my initials and signatures, Rey had materialized in the manager’s office, slouched in Mack’s throne of a high-backed, leather executive chair.
“Uhhhh, hey, Rey… Mack said you were gonna be here, today.”
“Arsenic and lice and everything nice…” Rey mumbled, his fingers tediously pressing the buttons on his Blackberry, eyes wincing from twitching nerves.
He was cultivating despair: irregular shaving patterns had left clumps of bristles on his neck, insomnia was encrusted beneath his eyes, while his bulbous stomach exerted itself through his wrinkled dress shirt from prolonged teenage sighs.
“Rey?” I sat beside him.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m watching her.”
“My wife. I refresh the screen on our bank account. I see everywhere she’s been. Got gas in Jersey, Ez-Pass toll into New York…Bloomingdales, Burberry…yeah know, the necessities of life.”
“Did she…” I halted, unwilling to pry, expose his rotting personal life.
“It hasn’t taken effect yet.”
I chuckled, awaiting his own laughter, but he only stared into his Blackberry.
“I already talked to the M&M’s, Mack and Mike, I told them I’m taking you out for lunch…” Rey sighed, eyes still focused on the screen of his Blackberry, “Just look at her shop…”
Rey swerved the Land Rover through the expressway traffic, pedals stomped and horn blaring.
“You, uh, alright, Rey?” My body was braced for a collision, my feet reacting to imaginary brake pedals.
“It’s over dude, its…my marriage. Hell, everything.”
His marriage was a muted, gradual, disintegration into divorce…
“It’s her…” Rey stared at me. “It’s all fuckin’ Hollywood with her, dude.”
His was wife was attracted to the burgeoning Hipsterdom of the city, those blocks of old industrial abandonment that had been reclaimed by the city’s monied, crony capitalist class of real estate developers. Rey’s wife and her friends mingled with the trust-funders, those whose parents financed their warehouse lofts and fashionable hedonism among the local celebrities of tattoo artists, internet entrepreneurs and street photographers.
“We always went with her friends and their husbands to this one cocktail bar, like some Puerto Rican fusion bullshit…”
Rey’s wife and her friends would lounge on sumptuous leather couches, ordering fifty dollar martinis shaken and stirred with the finest Russian distilled vodka as they compared their latest designer handbag purchases, all of them enraptured by the stitching and monogrammed printing produced by over-seas factory machinery…
The men hunched themselves at the bar, debating opinions on sports, commiserating about their deteriorating sex lives and jostling each other about the slim, blonde temptress at the end of the bar, whose sly smiles would reinvigorate their fading inner frat boy’isms.
Rey only nodded and drank, suppressing his anguish at these tedious exercises in human existence. He would excuse himself without notice and sit beside his wife, sorting the torrent of email on his Blackberry: corporate forwarded customer complaints, store manager grumblings, policy and procedure revisions, more corporate numbers and graphs, while his ears and brain filtered the female conversations of credit card expense, boutique hair salons and high heels…
There were no tears, consultations with therapists or late night bedroom remorse about how it was ending and about how it had all begun. He pursued the drudgery of daily work and she purchased needless, expensive things. His wife maintained the public dignity of their marriage with smiles and dinner parties, while he lovingly secured his arm around her waist.
“If she is taking it in the ass from someone else, I have no idea.”
They met in California, she a fashion design major who studied at the local art school and he the general manager at the store where she brought her work to be photocopied and printed.
He blushed and averted his eyes; she flirted mysteriously.
They dated and fucked, his salary supplementing her college tuition, art supplies and weekends clubbing away in Los Angeles.
When he moved for the company’s East coast expansion, she held his hand on the airplane, reassuring him of his Corporate America Dreams.
“I worked like a motherfucker, over ninety, hundred hours a week it seemed, overseeing new stores in New York, New Jersey, fucking Philly while she just partied. They were paying me a bundle, dude. They were paying me beyond district manager money, driving here and there, interviewing managers for stores, updating the founder who was still CEO then…” He sighed, smirking. “It’s fucking done, dude…”
“Where we going, Rey?”
“Oh…I guess you would like to know, uh?”
We entered the restaurant as the lunch time chaos was subsiding, that period of normalized breathing and relieved serenity that the veteran retail worker would describe as orgasmic. The restaurant manager was seated at the end of the bar inhaling nicotine as exhausted servers commiserated in a corner booth about lousy tips and pretentious customers. Large LCD televisions installed on the back wall displayed the muted panic of financial news networks with their scrolling symbols and arrows.
Rey clamored onto a bar stool. “Hey, I’m ready, baby…” He winked at the bartender.
She turned around, and smirked. “Oh, thank god it’s you…” She walked over to Rey and leaned over the bar, her hands unclipping his tie and depositing it into a garbage can beneath the bar. “So you want the usual, uh? Two shots of Jager, two shots of vodka and….beer of the day?”
“Well, you will have to double that order because of my friend…” Rey patted me on the back. “You pick the beer.”
Four arctic chilled shot glasses were poured out, and then divided between us. “Ready?” Rey smirked, gleefully fiendish brown eyes prodding me to doom.
“This is a fucking lethal combination…”
“It gives you wings…” With a frat boy’s alacrity, Rey gulped both of his shots and followed them with a half glass of beer. “It gives you wings to fly to hell…”
The bartender rolled her eyes, laying our menus before us. “You know in high school, he was such a nice, quiet kid…”
“I should have married you, Julie…” Rey emptied his glass, pushing it toward the edge of the bar, requiring a refill.
“If only you were poor, Rey.”
Rey ate and drank like a gluttonous French king: plates of appetizers, pasta, chicken, and steak, bottles of liquor shattering into the garbage can to be replaced new and full on the top shelf, while fresh kegs of beer, as if from some Prohibition era film montage, were rolled into the bar and connected, foam spurting from the tap. He leaned back in his stool, patting his prodigiously decadent stomach.
I was disembodied, my mind floating in alcoholic ether; time lapsing from afternoon into evening as the bar roared with after-work catharsis and sorority sisters anticipating a night of blackened-out bliss.
Men of middle-management paunch stopped and shook Rey’s hand, their bourbon lubricated lips and tongues pronouncing nothing but slush. Rey introduced me to them, all of them slapping me on the back, shouting garbled commands to the bartender, who was apparently fluent in drunken dialects, as she poured them another round of liquor.
There was laughter and music, bottles clinging, red lips gleaming with saliva and vodka as someone shouted about another party, another city.
Rey leaned into my ear, ‘You gotta love it, fucker, you just gotta…’
Rey’s voice was a propulsive, sweating, rambling tale of apocalyptic proportions. These were classified revelations, he whispered to me at the urinal, wobbly and intoxicated as his hands twirled about unable to fully describe the scope of his madness.
‘I don’t believe you…’ I mumbled, magically transported to the backseat of a city cab, Rey insisting that it was The Truth, ‘This isn’t conspiracy shit, ourownfuckingcompany is involved…’
‘What?’ A bartender shouted, a perspiring green bottle placed before me.
‘Where the fuck are we, Rey?’
He shook his head. ‘You don’t get it. You just don’t.’
‘You read too many wacky websites…’
‘I don’t have to fucker…’ My cynicism was unable to diminish his enthusiasm, ‘Look at the fucking tv, dude, you can see it, look at the financial markets…’ The lights began to pulsate a vibrant, hallucinatory array of colors, music detonating around us, dancing bodies pressuring us into the bar and closer to each other.
‘You can’t imagine how deep, how global, all perfectly arranged it is by only one person…’
I was nauseous; the next sip of alcohol would bring a vomitous eruption. ‘Let’s get out of here…’
I was on my knees, resisting the urge to vomit into a stranger’s toilet as Rey sat on the edge of a white tub, imploring me to believe his sensationalistic rant.
‘Did he puke yet?’ A voice behind asked.
‘Nah…’ Rey smirked.
There was exiting footsteps, Rey disappearing from my periphery to close a door until he returned, keeling into my ear, ‘When it happens, they will round us up and take us…’
My throat shuddered; vomit gushing, splattering into the toilet water. ‘I’m gonna die…’
I was weightless, the landscape a vertical scroll as I dropped into the brace of human arms.
I laid onto a leather couch, plastic bucket reserved for me on the floor.
‘This is a pact, you know…’ Rey kneeled on the floor, plucking my eyelid open, contact lens dried and cracking, ‘Between you and I, okay?’
‘Rey,’ I moaned…
‘When it happens, its gonna be fast.’ He was solemn, a brief sigh as he looked down. ‘But, you will be fine. You have connections other than me.’
I curled up; hoisting a blanket over my head as outside, early morning birds chattered.
I woke gradually, disoriented and numb. White light wavered behind window blinds, faint and cautious. I drifted into the kitchen with its polished steel and marble, opening the refrigerator to display a bleak assortment of decaying take-out, diet shakes and soda. I reached for the oversized, dented energy drink that stood on an empty bottom shelf.
Deaden sensors twittered in my brain as the first sip from the can of sugar and caffeine juice surged into my system.
I slogged toward the kitchen windows, where outside in Rey’s driveway stood a young blonde girl, stylishly anorexic, wearing a remarkably small pink polo shirt and a white skirt, her voice a fury of gossip, shoes, drugs omgboysaresofuckingstupid…
In her hand was a pink leash, extending out of my eyesight.
I walked back into the living room, finding my shoes, and then up the stairs into the bathroom to cringe at my unshaven reflection of swollen, irritated eyes. In a cabinet, I found a bottle of contact solution to provided a few drips of relief.
I ventured from the bathroom and into the house with its artificially decorated rooms of modern high design furniture and appliances, all of it empty of human life.
“Rey,” I shouted, as I ran down the stairs.
I patted my jeans, searching for my missing wallet and cellphone, that I later found on a table in the living room.
“Of course,” I moaned, the cellphone battery depleted.
I walked back into the kitchen, searching for a landline telephone that was either in another room or nonexistent. “Great…” I sighed.
I stood, categorizing possibilities, actions, consequences, until I finally decided to follow the disembodied voice of that girl I’d seen through Rey’s kitchen window…
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