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Authors: C. A. Huggins

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BOOK: Shooting Stars
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As I approach his ring-toss stand, I can see his face light up. It’s been a week since my last visit.

“I was wondering when I was going to see you this week,” he says.

“Making time to get out here is getting tougher.”

“Must be a rough week,” he says.

“Just a lot going on.”

“Alexis?” he says.

“Of course.”

“How many times have I asked you? Do you want to marry her?” he says.

“Sure.”

“‘Sure’? It’s not something you sort of do. Don’t you think?” he says.

“Sure I do . . . definitely.”

“Okay, so what’s the problem? Do it.” He hands me three rings. I give him my gaming ticket.

“I’m waiting for the right time. I need everything to fall in line with my life. It all really depends on this promotion. If I get that, then I can plan for the life she deserves.” I toss a ring and miss.

“That’s a problem that hinders the youth. You can’t plan life. Things simply happen to you with no rhyme or reason. The only thing you can control is what you make happen. You want to marry her? Make it happen. You want the promotion? Do what you can do to make it happen,” he says.

There’s never been a time when his advice fell in line with my dad’s. I really have to start doing things for myself.

“You’re never gonna get things you didn’t earn, young man. When I was a youth, I busted my hump at my accounting firm. Learned everything, and slowly moved up that ladder. Went from sharing a desk with two others to having my own office. When you’re young, that’s the time for you to give it your all. I know you, and you haven’t been doing that.”

“That’s true.” I throw another ring and hit.

“Give it a go. And I guarantee you’ll benefit from it,” he says.

I hit on another toss. “Gotta pay up.” I look at the prize selection. “I want the purple one. Had my eye on that for a minute.”

Winston hands me a stuffed purple rhino. We say our goodbyes and I thank him, and then I walk back to my car and throw the stuffed mammal into my trunk to join the other nine or so assorted stuff animals in there. I like to wait until I get about fifteen of them, then drop them off at the Salvation Army. I wouldn’t want to store these shits in my apartment. That’s something a serial killer would do.

Chapter Five

I
woke
up earlier today than I have in months. Just the type of thing you do when you’re starting over again. Ridding yourself of bad habits such as getting up late is a small part of it. Everything I do needs to change in order for me to get different results and change people’s perceptions of me. After I gather myself, I immediately text Alexis an apology about last night. I would’ve called, but she might still be asleep. Why would I wake her for that? As soon as she sees that text, she’ll be elated. It’s the first time I’ve apologized, even though I know it was pretty much all her fault. But the new responsible me doesn’t point fingers. Only ten minutes into my new lifestyle and I’ve conquered stubbornness. My mom does have a very valid point about Alexis being the best I’m ever going to do. Losing her would be the biggest mistake of my life, and everything would undoubtedly go downhill after that.

It’s still pitch dark outside, which is unsettling, but I can’t let that rattle me. I have to mentally prepare myself for the drive to work. In the past, as recent as yesterday, I’ve detested work so much that getting into the office was one of the most stress filled of my daily chores.

First, there’s the alarm going off. I normally set it for an hour before the latest possible time I have to get up. Then, I repeatedly hit snooze until the last possible moment. I already know in my head that six snoozes equals being on time, seven snoozes equals on time without breakfast, and anything over nine snoozes means give up right now because you’re not making it. I even set my clock fifteen minutes fast, so I’d have additional time. That doesn’t help, since I know the clock is fifteen minutes fast, and I overcompensate by getting more sleep. Winter is the worst, and there really is never a good case I can make for leaving the warmth of my bed to walk around my apartment and get ready for work. But today, being the first day of my new beginning, I spring out of bed like a streaker shocked by a policeman’s Taser. I’ve left the old me lying in bed hitting the snooze button.

I’ve tried taking showers the night before, but that didn’t work. I need the shower in the morning to wake me up, like a Zest-soap commercial; plus, I sweat a lot. Showing up for work smelling like I ran there from my home is bad.

Picking my work clothes out isn’t that hard to do. I only have four work outfits, depending on the season, and one casual-Friday outfit. Jake says it’s like I’m a bit-part actor in an off-off-off Broadway play with a limited wardrobe budget. But since I hated going to work so much, I felt like I shouldn’t put effort into a place I dislike so much. Why should I look good when I’m unhappy? That was my rationale. It’s like a pacifist reporting to boot camp with his own rifle and grenades when he’s drafted for the Marines. If I ever have something new to wear to work, it’s either a gift someone got me specifically for work or a gift I didn’t like and decided the only way I’d use it is for work. The rare instance I’ll spring for work clothes is when one of my work outfits is no longer wearable to the office. A hole in my pants in an important area like the crotch or seat, or a visible stain on a shirt. You don’t want the wrinkles to draw attention to the repetition, which results in all clothes having to be ironed each day. You don’t want an instance when someone says, “Hey, Kevin’s navy pants look like they were pulled out from the bottom of the hamper. Didn’t he have those same wrinkled shits on last Tuesday?”

But that was the old me. And he sucked. I’m going shopping for new work clothes this weekend. True professional clothes. Actual suits, new shoes too. Definitely gotta get rid of my sneaker shoes. They’re comfortable, but true professionals can’t be comfortable. I need to look clean and intelligent, sort of like the cast of
Ocean’s Eleven
.

Breakfast is a must—even the old me knew that, since my dad always drilled in my head it’s the most important meal of the day—and my daily regimen of Fruity Pebbles and Pepsi was setting me up for failure. When I’d wake up thirty minutes late, I’d still take time to eat. Whether I had traditional breakfast food available, or only leftover pizza or hamburgers. Of course, the free breakfast at STD’s cafeteria is always available to me, but I’m simply not fond of cafeterias in general. I’m always skeptical at the level of training the cooks have, simply by the way they look. Don’t judge a book by its cover, my ass. The cover tells a lot. And from past experience, the food has never been delicious to the point I felt satisfied after my meal. In fact, most meals are followed by sharp stomach pains.

Now that I’m out the door, the difficulty factor amps up a few notches during the drive in. The morning commute puts a sane person’s soul to the test. My patience and all-around civility are pushed to their limits. Sitting in traffic among other people driving to their hated jobs is miserable. It’s a slow plod to everyone’s impending doom. I swear, if I was to turn down my radio and all other commuters followed suit, we could all hear everyone’s inner screams of terror as we make our way to our respective offices. You know you really hate driving to work when you get excited to discover a new route to get there. It’s a little something to break the monotony of going to the same place, driving on the same streets, making the same turns every damn day of your life., but it’ll give you something new for at least a few days until that inevitably becomes boring as well. I drive past the same abortion clinic every day and see the same old guy standing outside and picketing all by himself. There are times when I’ve thought about crashing my car. Not a big dangerous car crash, but a minor one. Something in which I can be slightly injured and miss a few weeks of work. Say I was to run into a fire hydrant or a tree, slightly, and bump my head. That’d have to be good for a few days’ absence. Or driving into a ditch might be better. I’ve never actually gone through with it, but I’d be lying if I was to say I haven’t come close.

When I first started to work a nine-to-five and I was running late, I would speed as fast as humanly possible to get there on time. But I soon wised up. The logic in my reckless thinking was shamefully flawed. I was racing to go to a place I don’t even want to be at. A death-row inmate doesn’t sprint down the dark corridor to the gas chamber. Also, nothing really changes if I do get to work on time. It’s not like I get a medal or trophy or something. Not once has a manager ever said to me, “I see you’ve been on time every day for the last two weeks. Here’s a bag of M&M’s to show the company’s appreciation . . . the peanut kind.” I could also get a ticket for running a red light or some shit. Then, I’d be left paying a fine and my insurance premium goes up. For what? Nothing, that’s what. And the worst-case scenario is if I get into a serious accident. How could I explain my death up in heaven? God knows I hate my job. He’d probably call me a sucka right at the Pearly Gates.

The strategy needed during the actual commute is an added stress. The roads are congested with motorists with varying agendas, which leads to frustration. For example, I hate getting behind a school bus. I drive like fucking Steve McQueen on crystal meth, pulling out all the stops, in order to zip in front of a school bus. I don’t care if it means a ten-car pileup behind me. That pileup is a lot better than me being stuck behind the bus for twenty stops early in the morning. Phys-ed instructors must be extraordinarily easygoing nowadays, because children can’t move more than a block to a bus stop, resulting in the bus coming to a halt at the end of every fucking street. And parents wonder why childhood obesity is an epidemic in our country. Maybe it’s also related to the fact they’re lugging their adult-sized lunch boxes that contain their four-course feasts. Well, they do get an hour for lunch, unlike me and my co-workers. The school district should consolidate these stops, because if I get stuck behind a bus I have to stop and wait for each of these lazy assholes to lumber inside that huge yellow late-maker. And I never feel bad about cursing out kindergarteners or shooting a second-grader the finger. School will teach them about life. And my flipping them the bird is a life lesson that they’re not the only people in the world who are going someplace early in the morning. All this leads to me not being above racing to cut off a school bus.

Strategizing especially comes into play when I have to jockey for position with other cars. Now, we’re all racing to get to our shitty jobs, but there’s something about another car getting in front of me or driving slow while in front of me that doesn’t sit well with me. Sometimes I’m driving to bait other cars to get pulled over by police. There’s one rule during a commute: get there by any means necessary. The weird thing about rush hour is seeing the same cars every day, to the point I’ve developed a commuting relationship with most of them. So, necessarily, I have commuting adversaries. I pretty much know who drives slow and who doesn’t. There’s a red Toyota Prius driven by a geeky guy. I bet his job has something to do with technology, maybe a help-desk tech or something. He can’t really accelerate at green lights; I never get behind him. The BMW-SUV guy must be a doctor or something. He looks like one and is always hogging the road. Never uses his signal to switch lanes. Maybe he’s trying to crash into me, to earn more money by treating me as a patient, like the greedy motherfucker he is.

There’s even a grown adult on a moped. I don’t know why he doesn’t have a regular means of transportation, but I got stuck behind him once and honked until I thought I was going to break either my horn or my hand.

Then, there’s the redhead in a Lexus coupe, who must be an executive of some sort. She’s always coasting down the road. I never let her get in front of me, because she’s heavy-footed on the break. Last thing I need is to rear-end someone on my way to work. That’s about an hour delay right there, with sorting everything out. And she also falls in line with another rule I have: never get behind someone with a nice car. More than likely that person has a great job. How else would they be able to afford such a car? And with that great job, they have a position of importance. If they’re fifteen minutes late, no problem. If someone who’s driving a small compact or some other shit car, they need to bust their hump. They could quite possibly be on their way to the unemployment line, and might not even have enough gas in the tank to get there.

There’s another young guy, maybe early twenties, who drives a souped-up Honda Civic. I call him “Vin Douche Bag Diesel” because his car has a
Fast and Furious
vibe to it. And simply put, he’s basically a douche bag. The name is rather self-explanatory. He’s always pumping loud techno music early in the morning. I don’t know if there’s a good kind of techno, but his is of the extremely obnoxious variety. Sometimes I can’t get the beat out of my head until deep into the afternoon. He wears his sunglasses even if the sun isn’t out, and he cuts people off left and right. Not even to mention the loud roar of his exhaust, like he’s trying to signal other douche bags twenty miles away that he’s coming, so they can start pumping their techno to join him for a douche-bag caravan. He’s my arch-nemesis of the morning commute. Superman has Lex Luthor; I have this cum stain. We’ve shared quite a few flipped birds and curse-out sessions, but we’re beyond that now and stick solely to exchanging menacing scowls. I’m guessing he has an unflattering nickname for me as well. The worst part of Douche Bag Diesel is I think he modified his car a few months ago for the purpose of zipping in front of me and pissing me off a little bit more. We battle time and time again, even though I don’t know where he’s going. This guy can’t possibly have a decent job. Maybe he works at a tanning salon, which would make sense of the times I’ve seen him driving with no shirt on during the summer months. Or maybe he works at a mall kiosk, asking people if they want to switch their cellphone providers. But I do know I can’t let him get in front of me. I don’t know what it is, but I take it personally. That’s pretty much the only competitive thing I do, to be perfectly honest.

The commute, the weaving in and out of traffic, the constant arguments, all of it gets my day started on a bad note. I’m not going to let that happen anymore. It brought out a side of me that I wasn’t a fan of, and made me an overall unsavory human being. Last year Alexis had me go to a therapist, because she thought I had a laziness disorder. Apparently I had all of the symptoms she read about in one of her magazines. We got to talking about everything, about my dislike for my job and how I hate driving, to the point Alexis said I talk about Vin Douche Bag Diesel and my other foes in my sleep. The psychologist had me start using a notepad to jot down all of the stuff that pisses me off during the day, along with a voice recorder so I can chart my emotions while I’m driving. Then, he directed me to write a journal entry every night before I go to bed, about everything that happened with my day. So from time to time I’d play the voice recordings back for myself and I sounded awful. One recording that I completely forgot about when it occurred was when an old lady was driving slow in the lane and I kept honking to the point she pulled over to the shoulder and cowered in fear. And I felt okay with that, as if I was completely justified. Another guy, who I don’t see anymore but always was on the road, drove a Geo Metro. I’m not even sure they still manufacture Geos, but he had one and was taking his time because it was raining. But he drove slow every time I noticed him. Then, I caught up with him and I made him roll down his window because I saw him yawning. This argument culminated at a red light, with me telling him, “Keep yawning, you slow fuck, and I’ll put my dick or my fist in your mouth. Take your pick.” He was totally confused. That poor sap probably wasn’t even aware he was driving slow.

Now, I leave on time, with more than ample time to spare in the event there’s heavy traffic. New professional me can coast in on my leisure. No arguments. And I arrive at work with an overwhelmingly positive disposition.

G
etting
to work a full fifteen minutes before I’m supposed to is like peeking into a circus rehearsal. There are all types of shit going on that I was previously not privy to. There are secretaries delivering memos to desks and setting up conference rooms for big meetings. The cafeteria workers are hard at work cooking today’s breakfast specials. There are the early birds getting a jump on their work, and it looks like I’m now one of them.

BOOK: Shooting Stars
8.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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