Summer time and the living is easy, or so says the song. But the heat gets hotter and the work gets harder. It becomes increasingly difficult to find the motivation to do anything other than lolling in the shade with a cold drink. The sun glares at you with growing ferocity and even the Northwest clouds scatter under his gaze. By the time the 4th of July rolls around you are begging to be snowed in, pleading for the clouds to return and stand firm under the glare of the angry sun. The cat looks like he might be regretting his choice of formal wear.
My summer has been a parade of Arnold Palmers and painted fans. I like to cool myself while Paul and I watch TV. The cat always looks jealous until I wave it towards him and he jumps like a snakebitten kangaroo. I miss the clouds. The trees look best against the gray. I discovered Rainier in the distance, revealed by the absence of the clouds. It is a mystical experience, finding a mountain that only exists when the gloom has disappeared. I half-imagine that I would find a gathering of deities at the top, arguing and sleeping with each other.
Most of the time my brain feels like its dried out. I drink water in a panic, like I may never get the chance again. Fuses are shorter this time of year, and tempers flare with increasing frequency. I have been a little too honest with too many people and they’ve been a little too honest with me. It can be an obstacle when you work in sales.
Paul looks like he’s just come from playing in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, constantly sweating. He has insisted I go shopping (though he wasn’t paying) just so he could take advantage of the air conditioning. He tells me his dreams have all taken place in a Mad Maxian waterless hellscape.
I am ready for the fall, the brisk passage to the winter months, to mugs of tea and snowy branches and gray skies. I live in the Northwest for a reason.
“Satan’s got a bad reputation unfairly,” he said.
I’m not above a little debate even if it is with someone dressed in all black with black eyeliner that really lived up to its name, lining the whole eye.
“Go on,” I said.
“I’m talking about biblical Satan here, okay?”
“In the Old Testament, he’s a devil’s advocate, like the kind you’d find in any boardroom or law office. He doesn’t really believe in what he’s doing. He’s just doing his job, you know?”
“I don’t really.”
“In the book of Job, he’s just hanging out with God, devising ways to mess with Job. He basically treats Job like biblical Biff Lohman.”
Paul appeared beside me. He handed me a red Solo cup of a drink called a White Gummi Bear.
“Thanks,” I said. “Morgan was just telling me how Satan’s not that bad.”
“Just think about it,” Morgan said. “I mean, you’ve read the Bible, right?”
“I’ve seen a few of the movies,” Paul said helpfully.
“I went to church camp a few times,” I said apologetically.
“I just don’t get it,” Morgan shook his head. “I mean, they always say we’re living in a Christian nation and just about every person I talk to has either never read it or only ever just read parts. It’s only like a thousand pages. That’s like a fraction of the size of the ‘Game Of Thrones’ books and I know people that have read all of those a dozen times or more. And the Bible is a document that, like it or not, has shaped our world for over two thousand years. Put it by the toilet. Get it on audio. You can have James Earl Jones read it to you. James Earl Freaking Jones. I just don’t get it.”
“Are you a Christian?” Paul asked.
I braced. Who knew with Morgan? Morgan just stared at Paul with dead eyes. Paul shifted awkwardly and took a sip.
“I’m an atheist,” I volunteered.
Morgan shifted his dead stare to me.
“That still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have read the Bible by now. Don’t you want to know what’s going on in the world around you? Don’t you want to know what caused it? What has retarded human advancement? They put Galileo to death because of what’s in that book, a book that’s been telephoned so many times that Jesus was probably really called Natalie and was a transgender.”
“You know the children’s game ‘Telephone’? You whisper in one person’s ear then they whisper into the next and after thirteen or fourteen whispers you see what you have. That’s basically how the Bible has been for two thousand years among thousands, millions of people. Think of how many new editions of the bible have come out in your lifetime that have significant changes to the text, the Modern English version, the Message Bible, The CBE version the list goes on. It’s just a giant exercise in groupthink and it sucks. It’s horrible on a lot of levels. It’s more boring than Paul’s face.”
“Nice,” said Paul. He looked stricken. “Is my face boring?”
“Why are we even talking about this?” Morgan said.
“You were telling me how Satan isn’t that bad and how he’s like a devil’s advocate.”
“Funny,” Paul said.
“His job is to prosecute, to make the case to God that mankind is flawed and that everyone deserves to burn forever in fire and brimstone. He doesn’t own Hell anymore than a district attorney owns prison. God owns everything including Hell. Satan just makes sure Hell stays full, like an American prison.”
“It wasn’t until Jesus came along that we got this modern interpretation of the devil, of Satan as someone who delights in evil. Nothing could be further from the truth. He delights in rooting out evil, to exposing it. We should be praising him. He’s like Snowden.”
“The winter mascot for Target stores in the nineties?” Paul joked.
“I just think he gets a bad rap is all,” Morgan concluded.
“I will not be so quick to condemn the devil next time,” I said with mock sobriety.
We are told often of the “bad people” and the “evil people” who are intent on our death and destruction. They are the reason we must give up civil liberties. They are why we have alarm systems and chains on the doors. Because of these bad and evil people we must live in fear. They never stop thinking about ways to hurt us.
I don’t believe in bad or evil people. I believe that all people are capable of bad and evil things, but to tar them as evil or bad gives you permission to regard them as something other than, or less than human and therefore not worthy of compassion. And really, when all is said and done, it is compassion that is the mark of good people.
Everyone is worthy of compassion. The vilest among us need it the most. There is no other lifeline that can pierce their twisted reality. They expect to be hated. They want to be hated. It gives them a sense of importance because hate consumes the hater. Love, compassion, forgiveness and openness, while risky and seemingly naïve, are essential tools in reconnecting the “evil” person with their own humanity.
Of course it is a much scarier prospect to say that there are no such thing as bad people or evil people and to believe that all people are capable of horrible and disgusting things. That implies that even you or I could be capable of doing something extremely horrific given the right set of circumstances. That means that you must be vigilant at all times, keeping a close eye on everyone around you including yourself.
The struggle for all of us is resisting the urge to believe that you are “good” and others are “bad”. You can strive to be good but it is not a permanent state of being. Being good is a constant battle, a constant debate between your heart, your brain and your flesh. If you let up for even a second, you will find that there’s no end to the amount of evil shit you can do, because you’re a “good person” and good people don’t do bad or evil things.
Maybe it’s a rite of passage on the road to becoming an adult. Maybe it’s that pinch of salt that stings but flavors the broth of life.
In 2008, I was swept up along with millions of other Americans in a fever of hope. The dark martial days of the Bush administration were coming to a welcome close. Even members of the administration seemed to be relieved it was all over. A wave of hope burned like blue fire and the change that had been deferred for decades seemed to be standing on the threshold. Tomorrow would be a better day. Morning was returning to America.
Where the Bush administration was warlike, Barack Obama promised peace. Where they were cruel, he promised mercy. Where the Bush administration was secretive, Obama promised transparency.
I can still remember being in the back seat of Chelsea’s car barreling down I-5 at ten p.m. when the news came that Barack Obama had become the first black man elected president. Previous generations had knocked racism on its heels and we were about to crush it from existence. It was exhilarating, knowing you have taken part in history, even if it was just one vote. I had taken part and now, due to my participation, the world was about to change into a better place.
The old-timers are nodding their heads with sad smiles. They can see what’s coming.
It is now seven years later. Race relations have deteriorated around the country exacerbated by an increasingly militarized police force. The Obama Administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations in America’s history combined. The targeted assassination program started in the Bush years proliferated, with Obama personally ordering drone strikes that have taken the lives of dozens of innocents and at least one American teenager. The shameful prison at Guantanamo Bay where America has tortured innocent men for years remains open despite Obama’s many promises to see it closed. The Orwellian surveillance state that was implemented by scared lawmakers during the Bush years, exploded under Obama with intelligence chiefs declaring they would “collect it all”. Global unrest has increased in the last seven years, helped along by America’s invasive surveillance and our dollar bill mindset. Tensions in the Middle East at an all-time high, as yet another enemy created by America’s disastrous foreign policy reminds the world what true terror looks like. Vladmir Putin has expanded his grip on power, taking advantage of teetering economics and distraction. The bankers that collapsed the global economy in 2007/8 have seen no jail time, or any punishment of consequence. They continue to get rich using underhanded practices that no reasonably minded individual could defend. The chasm between rich and poor has widened. America continues to boast the highest percentage of incarcerated citizens which in turn fuels a booming private prison industry. A war on drugs that America has been fighting for decades has continued unabated forcing states to stand at odds with the federal government by legalizing marijuana at a state level. Obama’s most-trumpeted legislative success was the Affordable Care Act, which, in it’s completed form turned out to be nothing more than a handout to those oh-so-deserving insurance companies. It has done very little to help actual Americans.
I am certainly not laying the blame for all the evils in the world at the feet of one man. I’m not going to say it’s all his fault. That wouldn’t be fair. I am listing all this to illuminate my own personal journey, what Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the highest office in the land has meant for me.
Barack Obama laid claim to hope and promised change. Looking at it now it seems obvious. What is an election but an eighteen-month job interview? And what does one do in a job interview? Lie. Stretch the truth. Exaggerate one’s abilities. We, as Americans, continue to overlook this failing that is common to all applicants to the job of President. The results continue to be disastrous but we never learn. Politicians take advantage of those feeling in us that are most noble and turn those feelings into votes. It is crass manipulation that leaves the manipulated feeling used and disappointed.
Where Barack Obama promised hope, I have disappointment. Where he promised more transparency, there are more walls. Where he promised justice, there has only been injustice. His affect on my life has been to bring me from the naïve hope of my teenage years into the crushing malaise of adulthood. He has hurried me along the path to cynicism, all the while promising a brighter future just around the corner.
I regret voting for him twice.
“One ally with power is worth a hundred poor friends.”
I was stunned.
“That’s a very sad way to look at the world,” I chided.
Butler looked at me with a tired expression.
“Of course, I don’t mean that I don’t value my friends.” He had a hollow smile. “Quite the contrary.” And then again like he’s convincing himself. “Quite the contrary.”
I tried to ignore him while I looked over the engine of the van but he was surprisingly chatty for a cynic. They can’t all be Wednesday Addams. He smoked and paced and philosophized like a child of divorce. I was anxious to hear from Dominic, if only just to get a break from Butler’s self- importance.
Dominic arrived with Beagle and Soliloquy and I longed for the relative peace of Butler’s smoky monologue. Beagle and Butler greeted each other like soldiers separated by civilian life. Karen Soliloquy greeted me with a nasal screech.
“There he is. Good to see you, dullsville.”
Dominic ignored my pleading look and got right down to business.
“We all know each other. We’ve all worked together at one point or another. We all know what we’re doing.”
“Some of us more than others,” Beagle said.
I ignored him and so did Dominic.
“This is a simple job,” he continued. “Smash, grab and GTFO. No time for playing around. Got it, Beagle? Soliloquy?”
Beagle grunted and Soliloquy rolled her eyes.
“When do we get paid?” Butler demanded.
“Payment on delivery. Same as always.”
I looked at Soliloquy. She was studying me with a queer expression.
“Why don’t you find somewhere else to look?” I said.
“You’re always such a grump, dullsville.” She chewed the end of her thumb and stared at me intensely.
“Let’s pay attention,” Dominic said. “I don’t want any screw ups. There shouldn’t be any. We’ve done this a thousand times before.”
“Let’s just get it over with,” Beagle growled.
“Does everybody know what they’re doing?”
Dominic reviewed the plan. I felt like teacher’s pet. Beagle and Butler we’re playing with their guns. Soliloquy was leaning on Dominic’s shoulder with a dreamy expression.
“The Boss is watching this one so keep it clean.”
I got behind the wheel of the van. Butler slid open the garage door while everyone got into the van.
“Seatbelts, people,” I said when Butler closed the door behind him.
“Sure thing, dad,” Beagle called from the back seat.
“He’s right,” Dominic said. “I don’t want this thing going south because we were stupid enough to get caught without our seatbelts on.”
“I see why she calls you ‘dullsville’,” said Butler.
We pulled up outside the building. It was a jewelry store.
“No one said this was gonna be in a fucking jewelry store.” Beagle was mad.
“It’s a simple job,” Dominic insisted. “Get in, get out.”
“These places are magnets for mistakes,” Beagle whined.
“Get out of the van,” Butler said. Everyone checked their guns and got out of the van.
“Keep the engine running,” Dominic said.
I gripped the wheel nervously. I watched Karen Soliloquy enter the building. Butler, Beagle, and Dominic hung around casually outside waiting for a signal. I checked my mirrors and the fuel levels. Dominic checked his watch and looked anxiously in the windows of the jewelry store. There was a loud pop and all hell broke loose. They all rushed into the store just as an alarm began to sound.
“C’ mon, c’ mon,” I muttered. I put the van in drive.
A man came out of a shop across the street and stared at me and stared at the jewelry store.
“Hurry the fuck up,” I said.
There were several more shots and the front window of the jewelry store shattered into a thousand pieces. Beagle was carrying Soliloquy, literally dragging her to the van. She was sobbing and bleeding everywhere. Dominic and Butler weren’t far behind them. Butler had pieces jewelry hanging out of his pockets.
“Fuck!” Dominic shouted. “We are fucking fucked! Get us out of here!”
I was already halfway down the block. I stuck to back roads and alleys, being careful to drive within the speed limit.
“I hope you all have your seatbelts on,” I said.
“Oh, can it, dullsville!” Karen shouted from the back.
“What the hell happened in there?”
“It was a jewelry store, that’s what,” Beagle said with bittersweet triumph in his voice.
“Where’s the target?”
There was silence. I could hear sirens in the distance.
“Where’s the fucking target?” I screamed.
No target meant no payment. Soliloquy was bleeding out in the backseat of my favorite van for nothing and she might die before I could give her what she has coming.
“The target is dead,” Dominic said quietly. “And so are we.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Didn’t I tell you that the Boss is watching?”
“We did our best,” said Beagle.
“I don’t think you idiots seem to get it,” Dominic said. “Do you think the Boss will be pleased? Do you think Wattkins is going to give me comforting pat on the head when I tell him that not only did we not get the girl but we also ended up killing her, the daughter of his most powerful business rival, who also happens to be his ex-wife? He is going to smash my face in with a paperweight.”
A tense silence settled over the van. Soliloquy whimpered from the back seat. I could see the blond, bloody, matted mess of the top of her head in the review mirror. I pulled into the garage and cut the engine. Dominic twisted in the passenger seat to address the company.
“You have until sunrise tomorrow. That’s when I’m telling Wattkins what happened. I will do everything in my power to save my own life but I am giving you this heads up. You have—” he looked at his watch “—fourteen hours to get as far away as you can. Make the most of it.” He jumped out of the van and disappeared into the shadows of the warehouse. Beagle was doting on Soliloquy in the backseat. They both acted as if they had not heard Dominic. I looked at Butler and we locked eyes for a brief moment.
“Be seeing you, dullsville,” he said. He checked his gun and disappeared.
I left the warehouse and went back to my apartment. I stared at the empty walls and reflected, the reflection shining through a shimmering pool of whiskey.
It was one a.m. when I realized Butler was right.
Wattkins was sitting in front of his fireplace when I was shown in.
“I’m sorry to disturb you so late, Mister Wattkins, sir,” I said.
Soliloquy died within the week. And one by one, my poor friends have disappeared. Beagle’s body floated ashore; Dominic’s remains were charred beyond recognition in a car accident; Butler was killed in a hit and run; and I have been Mister Wattkins’ personal driver ever since.
Drift is a part of life that is little talked about. We all drift through the years getting farther and farther away from cherished friends and treasured memories. We drift away from our parents. We drift away from the crushing worries of high school. We drift toward college and career and new friends and, if we’re lucky, new family. It is a natural fact of life that no one really likes to talk about, like death or poop.
The Drift has carried me to places and people I could have never dreamed existed while at the same time pulling me steadily away from people and places I thought I would never be able to let go.
Chelsea and I were best friends only two years ago. We met in freshman year of college and we have been inseparable for nearly half a decade. We are on opposite sides of the wild/mild spectrum. She helped me to loosen up and I helped her to stand up. She had a hard time in freshman year adjusting to life alone in a new place with new people. Her parents had raised her to be helpless, spoiled and entitled. She never had a choice. She was never a bad person. I can’t count the number of times I comforted her, cuddled against her shuddering form as she cried into my soaking shoulder. When the flow of tears dried up, she began to look around, as if waking up from a dream. The old self dies and the new self is born.
She found her confidence. Beauty is often the perfect conduit for confidence. I was her friend throughout our college years while she discovered herself. I could never live her wild life, but her spontaneous spirit inspires me. I envy and admire the ability to make decisions quickly, some might say rashly. You can get through a lot more living in little time if you skip the step of contemplation. Everything’s a 50/50 chance anyway. Save yourself the worry and jump. The very thing that drew me to her is what pulls us apart.
Last year, she met someone. I’ve never met him. She’ll only tell me his name is Jake and he’s a lawyer of some sort. She met him in the coffee stand she was working at, making all the use she can out of her college degree. He was half-caff, soy latte. Somehow, she ended up at his hotel at the end of the night. He was in town on business.
“Just how old is this guy?” I asked.
“How old is Paul?”
“35. How old is Jake?”
I didn’t know what to say. She told me about their sex and the choking and I told her I didn’t want to know any more. As long as she’s happy.
She started to fly to San Francisco on the weekends to spend time with him. He bought her tickets and jewelry and extravagant clothing.
“Nice,” Matt said when I told him about it later. “Sugar daddy.”
I worry about my friend. I can’t help it. As I said about the impulsive decision-making: someone has to worry. I tried to find out more about him. She told me he was an patent lawyer. It didn’t take much Googling to find a Jake in the San Francisco area who matched his age and occupation. His profile says he’s married.
“Yeah,” Matt said. “That’s sort of the whole sugar daddy thing. You don’t advertise your… sugar daughter?”
I gave myself an ulcer worrying and drinking whiskey. Paul was annoyed that I drank so much of his Black Label. He helped me plot my next move.
“You have to tell her,” he said unhelpfully.
He was right of course.
I tried to soften the blow by buying dinner. She kept looking at her phone. I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“He’s married. You know that, right?”
“What’s your point?” she said looking at her phone.
“What about his wife?”
“They didn’t look very estranged on his profile.”
“Look, Sally. I know you’re trying to be a good friend and all that but you really don’t know what you’re talking about. Jake is the senior partner in a prestigious law firm. He’s not going to marry a barista.”
“Then what’s the point?”
She looked up from her phone. She looked amused, like a bully watching unsuspecting prey.
“Just what I’d expect from you, Sally. This is why I didn’t want to tell you about him. You wouldn’t understand.”
“I get it, Chelsea. Good sex is hard to come by. But a married man?”
“They’re estranged.” She went back to her phone.
That was one of the last times I ever saw her. She started to stay longer and longer in San Francisco until two months ago, I discovered she had moved there. I checked Jake’s profile. Still married. I texted Chelsea, “What’s up?” There was no reply. That was two months ago.
I got a long email yesterday. She moved back home. She is living with her parents. Jake was cheating on her. He had another girl on the side. Chelsea scratched his face and drove all the way home, three states over.
“I wanted to drive to you,” she said in the email, “but I didn’t want to see your superior sneer, Sally’s sneer. I love you, Sally. But it hurt too much. I am not saying we can’t be friends, we just can’t be friends right now. I need support, not sneers.”
“She’s got a point,” Matt said. “You can’t hide what you’re thinking.”
They’re both right. I want to say I told you so. Once a cheater, always a cheater. I want to tell her she’s wrong and I was right. But I will hold my tongue, because they are right. A friend needs support not extra worry. I unintentionally pushed Chelsea away. I can only hope The Drift will bring her back.
Worry is the no-good brother of creativity. Worry gives you the strength and clarity of mind to construct elaborate fictions that have the ability to become real. If you are worried about something, examine it in the physical world. Forget your fictions and examine what is actually there. Reality is often less grandiose than worry would have you believe. You will have pulled out all your hair by the time you realize that the mountain you have to climb is only a molehill. Worry is a two-faced contractor. (My editor tells me that I am repeating myself and that the above sentence should read, ‘Worry is a contractor.’)
There once was a man who worried all the time. It didn’t stop him from dying.
There once was a man who didn’t worry about anything at all. He’s dead too.
Worry is unstoppable. The key is to direct it. How much worry are you wasting on things that don’t matter? You could be worrying about things that you actually care about, like whether or not Robert Pattinson enjoyed his birthday.