Four to Nine, Nine to Eleven
It was a late vacation past the normalcy of June and July; a two week destination unknown in mid-September. Roger had taken the time off so he could get away from the radio station. KXTX, the number one supplier of Jazz music in Texas, was the easiest way to spin CD's for a living. The people who worked there were not paid enough yet the station made plenty of money due to all the festivals and hipsters around the state. He had gotten off because he never took off. The three years of faithful service worked out to two weeks of free pay. Other people were running his shifts and telling the syndicated Texas landscape all about Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.
Roger had just finished frozen lasagna. The three minutes on a microwave seemed to pass by without notice, or that he had seemed to notice that he noticed time for once. It was four in the morning and the darkness felt just about right. There was nobody on the town except for the dogs who barked, and the people who looked like they came from seeds. The vacation was a "staycation" where the television responded with seizures of ads, and the food wasn't any better than normal. A vibration buzzed in his pocket a couple of times. He lit the screen up and it said Drake Magnus.
"What are you doing?"
"Can I come over?"
"Cool. See you in a bit."
Roger put the phone back in his pocket and searched his couch for the remote. It was under the cushion, along with thirty-seven cents in change, and a flea comb in seldom use. The television was on a major news station known for conspiracy theory and excitement generation. It kept blaring about how everyone was either having sex with the body politic or whacking off to it. That's how Roger received the obvious. Cynicism and bitterness and postmodernism towards just about everything was the statement of his generation. Before soon, the door knocked, and then it opened. He hadn't said come in, but Drake was known to barge in without remorse. Drake worked night shifts at a casino near the Oklahoman border and always had time in his pocket for any use.
"What's up man?" he said.
"I already told you." Roger said glancing toward the television set.
"Oh yeah…" Drake said almost dumbly, and joined him on the couch. He noticed the lasagna and grinned and shook his head. "Is this what you eat on vacation? Why aren't you living up and stuff?"
"I don't know. I need to save the money for retirement."
"So? Who gives a fuck? You'll have plenty of time for making more money."
"That's what everybody says."
"And everybody's fine Mister Cynical! Why don't you just brighten up? I mean damn!"
Roger sighed and remembered why he liked being alone. "I'll get there." he said with fake reassurance. "It's four AM. It takes a little time for all the things I hate in myself to rise up and dissipate."
"Poetic, Roger, very poetic."
For awhile they merely sat. The TV blared and the sun crept in ascension making the sky outside the blinds shift from black to blue. It was another moment in time that felt so wasted to Roger. He knew that and that's what killed him. As the world turned, he felt there was no grasp to his own timeline. His mind reminded him about existence. Drake had opened up a pack of smokes and took staccato drags. Each breath blew little rings of smoke into the ceiling as if there would be a stain soon after. A visual metaphor.
Roger blanked himself on the television again. Occasionally a laugh would sprinkle in from Drake. The crazy newscasters had their ghosted agendas. Even Roger smirked at the ideas ranging from economical Armageddon to terrorist cells. The media had the truth, the lies, and most importantly the blurring borderlines. It made everything so hard to follow or appreciate. The TV finally clicked off in the middle of an emotional breakdown. Drake had grabbed the remote and looked bored. Somehow the cigarette had disappeared in Roger's inattention.
"Let's go get something to eat. I'm starved for something good," he said.
"Breakfast or dinner or something."
"I just ate lasagna."
"You'll be fine," Drake said flatly while grabbing the keys and motioning Roger to accompany him.
They both sauntered into his apartment complex parking lot. Roger had lived here for about a year paying four fifty a month plus utilities and cable. Cheap and expensive depending on how many holes burned in Roger's pocket.
The car was a two door that had buckets in the backseat. Roger didn't have many passengers and the inside looked trashed and littered with straw rappers and cans. He wondered why they didn't take Drake's truck, but at least Roger got to drive.
The streets were empty for 5:45 AM and the journey felt remarkably pleasant. Again the instance of time entered Roger's brain. He hadn't slept in two days, but looked beautiful in the rear view mirror. He thought he'd be tired or at least drained from the lack of sleep, but there was nothing wrong with his homeostatic levels. It was only him and Drake driving down some lonely street towards a grease induced meal. Roger never understood why grease made everything taste so much better either. Time and grease were battling over Roger's mind.
"Dude, pull off here. We'll eat here."
Roger turned on his left signal for the universe because no one else was around. He parked in a front space right next to a handicap one. The restaurant was a 24 hour breakfast place. Home of cheaply made eggs, hash browns, and amazing coffee. Drake told the hostess that they were a party of six and that the rest of the party would be around soon. The booths were as long church pews and Roger had to admit it was a cute joke. After ordering coffee, Roger added tons of cream and sugar to it. He could feel himself stepping out of his own body. The caffeine came in gigantic waves.
Drake too, looked buzzed from the coffee. "This stuff's strong."
"Best coffee in the world."
"Why is that?"
"Percolators and tender, loving care."
Drake laughed in a unique wheeze. "I love that fucking word. Percolator. God, it's probably on the top ten words I never say."
"What are the top ten you do say?"
"Dude, man, like, seriously, kidding, really, what, Drake, shit, fuck, and 'Hello welcome to Sizzler's what'd you like to drink?' All in that order."
"Interesting. It's like you had a list in your head wonderfully prepared for that question."
"Seriously dude. I'm crazy thoughtful."
"So I've heard."
The food came out quicker than expected. Roger ate his eggs Benedict and couldn't get over how Hollandaise was made by such low places. The job was always commendable. The only problem was how expensive it was. The toil was equivalent to the 8.99 price tag. It wasn't a special order, but they made you pay for trickery. Roger realized that was a word he loved. Trickery.
"What do you think of the word 'trickery'?" Roger asked.
Drake stopped his assault on his short stack. "It's too flowery of a word, it's aristocratic. Like saying 'I went to the car dealership and it was trickery'. It doesn't work on a grand scale."
Roger loved how Drake would switch from commonality to English student.
"What's the grand scale?"
"Slang and IM's. In a hundred years novels will be all script, so we might as well stop with the serendipity of people wanting to read again."
"Such a sad thought."
"But it's where we have to go. The proletariat reads the trash." Drake took another bite of his pancake and spoke with his mouth full. "What we're left with is a foolish populace based solely on theocracies and no one wants to think anymore."
Roger felt like he could rebuttal. He wasn't working on a master's degree in creative writing but he just got his bachelor's last year in communications. Intellect was never bound to pieces of paper, but in terms of money it was a nice supplement.
"But thinking only focuses on the burdens. There's a never good thought. It's always the same fights with purpose, morality, and mortality. It's a whirlpool of self-delusion and our own conceptions of what's real and fake. Why think it all? It never seems to help anything, except the elitist in me."
"At the end of day it comes down to chemical reactions. I mean Roger, you're a brilliant mind. Don't get me wrong. The problem is that you got to fall out of focus and then slide back in."
"Elaborate a little bit."
"You have to take what comes carelessly. Even the most horrible things are chemical reactions. All your reactions to anything unfortunate are natural. But they fade out. You're going to cry and hate and get drunk and love your sorrows, but someday the energies will redirect."
"You sound like a scientist Drake. I thought you were more of a writer, a creator of sorts."
"That's the point. Me, being a writer, I am the maker of the situations. If something saddens me, it saddens me and becomes materials for some kind of story."
Roger's mind wrapped itself around the intellectualism. "It's a methodical approach to something open-ended."
"It's the bridging of science and art. Freudian sublimation of taking negatives and forming positives."
Roger picked up his coffee cup with a smile. "I wish this had whiskey in it, but I'll toast you to that one."
The conversation ended somewhere inside the high frequencies of their clinked glasses.
Roger decided to front the bill due to Drake's, as Roger put it, undeniable brilliancy. It was close to twenty dollars with the tip. Roger forgot the waiter's name, the color of the walls and the tables. Again it felt like time had slipped him a drug. The passage of daylight sneaked into the last couple of hours; a subtle shift of earth's paradigmatic spin. Once inside the car they headed back to his apartment. The radio was turned off as it always was in Roger's car. Hearing the radio made Roger feel like he was constantly back at work. However, the traffic was much more alive. It was now nearing eight AM, and the sun gleamed in full force along the east. Roger noticed all the blotches and prints along his windshield. The grime was partially because of laziness and the other part was pollination or oak trees. They arrived back at the apartment complex even though Roger didn't remember how he arrived; the process was very second nature to him. They sat back on the couch again.
"Is there anything on TV besides what we were watching?" Drake asked.
"Nothing besides the news and paid programming."
"I guess it's the news then."
Again the voices rose from the television set. The sloth became addictive. It made Roger think of all the fat people he knew. It was a sudden perspective that made total sense. He knew there was no reason for human beings to fear being killed by other animals. It could happen, but the odds were low, he understood that. He and Drake were skinny little bastards with high metabolic rates who could eat whatever they pleased. A lot of people didn't under their perspective of never being satisfied. The hunger slowly burned the stomach to inhumanness, to a primal instinct.
Roger watched the news, but as the stories dragged on, he considered that fiction made much more sense than the facts behind them. Drake's eyes zoomed and fluttered with intensity on taking in every story. Roger could feel every sound as it entered his ears. The delicacy of each fibered word and rhythmic newscast pushed him into a small sleep. The transition was unstoppable.
There was a punch to his arm. The jolt woke Roger up. He looked on with foggy eyes. His contacts shifted back and forth attempting to make a clear picture. The voices on the television sounded scared. A different voice from the same newscaster. Earlier he ranted, but now there laid a tremble in him. The sound shook every word with a crack that sounded like a dog's yelp.
"What's going on?"
"Just look at the screen."
As his eyes self-adjusted, Roger could see a fire. A skyscraper burned like an oil tanker set ablaze. The smoke contrasted against the morning. The building was one of the twin towers.
"What the fuck happened?"
"A plane crashed into the building. It was some sort of accident. I don't know what was going on. The channel just went berserk," Drake said in a stunned trance.
The minutes dragged into the explanations and estimates of what occurred. A possible terrorist attack done by Muslim extremists, possibly an accident. It was hard to find any consistency. People started jumping out of windows. There's was one guy who waved an American flag in some sort of mockery of his own situation.
Then the second plane struck.
Anxiousness bubbled under Roger's skin. He felt more amazed than anything. An impressive instance, a chaos he'd never experience despite the numerous playbacks. Earlier when time was giving him crystal meth there was no existential conception, but now Time gave him peyote. Peyote made from thousands of human lives.
The hours passed in silence. Roger studied the footage as if critiquing film. Occasionally Drake would glance at him. It was like looking for dead bodies at a car accident. You passed by and looked for the gore, but this scale magnified on itself within every second. More buildings attacked, others collapsing, it was a locust devouring the American countryside from coast to coast.
Finally Drake spoke up.
"You all right?"
Roger spoke immediately. "It's like someone you know one getting cancer. It's unfortunate as fuck."
"Yeah, but do you feel okay?"
"Yeah. It's just the scope of it. "
"Every word seems to be an understatement."
"What do you really make of it?"
"It happened. It's horrible. It's the world," Drake paused. "I'm the worst human being alive. How can I even say that?"
"Because it's not us. We're not dead. No one we know is even close to New York. New York's a far off land, a different universe."
"I can't help but feel some pity, but pity isn't empathy. It's not even close."
"Nothing ever is."
"Shit, you got anything to drink?"
As Roger walked to the fridge he remembered Drake's words from earlier. He didn't want to admit that he had already shaken this off. The worst disaster on American soil was nothing more than what everything else was; a story. People lived and died and you never knew them. Their entire beings nothing different from flowers wilting on the hillside. People were no different from bugs or birds. Roger couldn't tell if the air conditioner was making him shiver or if it was himself. It was too sober of a thought. He grabbed the bottle of vodka and came back to Drake.
"Let's turn the television off. This is going to be on for a really long fucking time."
Drake took the remote and clicked it off. The quiet ruminated through the room. Back and forth they traded the bottle. Each shot rubbing the day off like erosion. Soon they were both lit and laughing in insanity. The alcohol making tragedy become comedy.
"Let's go out to my balcony. It'll be nicer outside."
They both went outside, sitting in lawn chairs meant for swimming pools and happier days. The strange moods died from inebriation.
Time just stopped with things got good. Roger understood his place. Even though the story was a brilliant epic that would never stop writing itself. He knew he wasn't a character. He didn't have a part.
But the days and weeks became 9/11. Worse than 9/11 was the backlash in Roger's mind; the press coverage. Every testimonial exactly the same as the others, all about how much people were hurt. Yet none of these people were true victims. They were actors on stages promoting patriotism as a way to get attention.
It made America more fake than it already was.
Roger drank more vodka in attempts to unlearn himself. To spin emotion you had to create it.
And he saw nothing but that on TV.
Yet for a vacation, it was the best Roger ever had.