I smoked three in the morning, two between breakfast and lunch, and another afterwards. It might sound as though I’m ruining my lungs, and you could be right. However, I do not care. No one cares much for old age. All the protagonists in the movies and books smoke enough to fill the fires of hell, and they’re fine. They’re also generally younger. Someone, I think my sister or mother, told me that they can do that because it’s Hollywood.
I myself am in television; I host a show where celebrities come and talk about anything except important things. To be honest, most of them are miserable. I think that’s why they laugh at everything on the show. I remember one guy I had on there; he had the most stern, disinterested personality until he got into the chair across from me. I suppose they are such good actors they fool themselves.
Everyone has these ways of distracting themselves from reality. Not so with me. I prefer to think of it as it is. Unfortunately, this is not too popular. People tell me I’m too serious. I tell people they’re too shallow. The world is more than the cheap thrills and American dreams. I’ve figured out that there are three kinds of people in the world: those who confront reality, those who dodge reality, and those too stupid to realize reality.
Anyway, as I said, I smoked three in the morning. Back in the old days they said that smoking calms the nerves, and I’ve had butterflies in my stomach for a couple days. I put on a blue suit with a red tie. Breakfast consisted of last night’s steak. A friend invited me to dinner. I had already been, but he insisted so I went to be nice. If I eat too much I’ll vomit, so I put most of it in a box.
As I ate, I wished happy birthday to four people I don’t know other than from Facebook. I personally would rather not bother with social media at all, but my company requires it. They say it’s good for publicity. The walls around the apartment used to be blue. My girlfriend was painting them red, but then she broke up with me and so the walls are half blue, half red.
From 9:00 to 11:30 I smoked two and spent time reading. First the Bible. It’s kind of a tradition. Most of my friends grew up in the church with me, but I’m one of the few who still thinks about it. It doesn’t matter to me too much. It’s mostly out of sentiment. This morning I read from Ecclesiastes. The part about pursuing things being like grasping wind. It’s kind of true. Life is as short as these clouds of smoke coming from my mouth. People watch as other people’s lives dissolve into the air, then it happens to them. I saw my grandfather die. His funeral was filled with old people his age. I remember thinking: “They’re next.” I didn’t say it to anyone, though.
After making myself holy, I read some Nietzsche. He was a smart man. Depressing, but smart.
I went downtown for lunch; I was told by my boss that I had an appointment. Apparently my date was running behind. I got there five minutes late, and the restaurant was empty and silent. Also dark. The air felt thick, and I saw one of the employees smoking. Someone decided to paint the entire room a horrendous aqua color. It felt as if someone was trying to make a positive atmosphere and failed miserably. Come to think of it, this was a strange place to meet someone. Except a drug dealer. I’m sure many drug deals had been made here. I ordered myself a water and waited for half an hour, at which point I received a text from my boss. “Appointment cancelled. Sorry.”
Seemed rather lame. I wondered if he was playing a joke on me. I left the restaurant and hailed a cab. The driver wanted to talk, but I did not, so he proceeded on a monologue about his family. I really couldn’t have cared less. Smalltalk annoys me. I got out and gave him the smallest tip I could without being a jerk. The building where I work is one of the big skyscrapers with a corporation logo on it. Much more impressive on the outside than inside. The corporation whose logo is on the outside actually owns one floor out of 49. My office is on the 48th floor; most of the filming for the shows happens on the 49th. All the other floors are occupied by companies you’ve probably never heard of, but who probably do a lot more for the city than most companies.
By the way, TV isn’t the glamorous job you would think it is. I spend hours upon hours trying to coordinate which celebrity is going to be here at what time, then many more hours reading their books or listening to their music (a lot of which is terrible, honestly). Then we shoot for hours, usually five or six, for an hour or two block on TV. Then the time on TV is about half advertisement, so I’m only on for twenty to thirty minutes.
I spent the next hour finalizing details. Then I went to shoot. The set was the same as usual. There was my desk, empty mug, photograph of the city at night in the background. My boss walked up to me with a big smile and a man in a purple suit.
“This is Stefan Kenton!”
Stefan Kenton was the author on our show today. He has just written a best-selling book.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Kenton.”
“Oh, please, call me Stefan, Mr. uhhh…”
I didn’t like him. Too positive. Looked and sounded feminine. And I didn’t like the way he expected my name. I told it to him anyway. We went over some things and then went to shoot. It lasted for hours. I arrived home very late. Before I fell asleep I thought back over the interview with Kenton. He actually surprised me. He wasn’t as completely shallow as most of my other guests. Kenton actually addressed his book and talked about what was going on. I’ll be interested to see how it turns out.
“Ladies and gentlemen, here were have the author of best-selling novel Life and Death: Mr. Stefan Kenton!”
“Mr. Kenton, thank you for being here today.”
“Thank you for having me! It’s a big shock to have written a book in my parent’s basement, then to be here!”
“Well, watch out for fame. It’ll kill you.”
“That’s what they told me!”
“So, Mr. Kenton, tell us about you… as I understand this is your first taste of a TV audience.”
“Well, as you might know, I am a writer. I’ve been writing since I was young. My parents both encouraged me. I couldn’t ever pay attention in school; I was always writing! But my parents made sure I had everything I needed to succeed!”
“So tell us about what inspired your book.”
“So, my book Life and Death is about persevering. The main character is a boy who is part plant. He has to bury himself every night if he wants to grow. It’s hard for him to do; especially as he nears the teenage years, he wants to go hang out late with his friends, but he can’t until he is fully grown. Now I don’t want to give any spoilers, but let me just say, perseverance takes a lot of sacrifice, but it pays off in the end.”
The show went on, but this was enough for me. After the last bit, they changed the subject. This is the most irritating part of my job. I spend time and effort coming up with these questions, trying to address the things that got the guest into the chair. But then the editing crew can take out and rearrange and use the footage to say whatever they want. They did it again, and this time seemed a thousand times worse than the others. That day I was angrier than I had been in my life. I stormed into the office.
“Boss, what happened?”
“What do you mean, what happened?”
“To the show. You took out everything good and just put in crap.”
He paused and took a deep breath. “Come into my office.”
I followed him there. “Yes?”
“You try to hard. People don’t want to think, they want to feel. And that’s what TV is for. Entertaining people. No one gives a damn about why Kenton picked this personality instead of that for this character. They just want to enjoy the show. You’re fired.”
The last two words felt like being hit by a train that I waited for all my life. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. You’re fired. I’ll give you a good reference, but that’s all.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I left. I walked past the set. Never had I been in such an empty room full of people. No one meant anything to me. I didn’t belong here now. I grabbed the personal belongings off my desk and took the elevator to the ground floor. It was raining. I didn’t notice this by looking outside. I noticed it when I got home soaking wet. There were three cigarettes left in the pack, which I smoked in succession, along with poring over some philosophy books that I had left untouched for a while.
The two policemen stood on opposite sides of the alley. Between them were three dead bodies. One was holding a gun. Soon a detective arrived. “That’s disgusting.” The younger policeman choked.
“What’s the matter?” The detective asked. “Never seen strawberry jelly on the job before?”
“Strawberry jel- oh. Ugh!” The policeman vomited on the wall. His older partner helped him clean his face as the detective examined the scene.
Some time later, a much larger crowd had drawn. Among them was one of the men’s wives, who was screaming loudly. This disturbed everyone. It also drew many pedestrians. Fortunately, they could not see. Not only were there many officers in the way; a thick fog had settled after the rain, which shortened sight to a few feet.
“There’s not much blood on the bodies. Especially on this one, given the circumstances.” The detective gestured to the one with half his head missing. Indeed, there seemed an unusually small amount of blood. The rain had washed it away, as someone soon noted. The vomiting young policeman whispered, “It’s as if they didn’t have any life to give.” This was heard by a police chaplain who stood nearby.
Two friends were seated by the window of a coffee shop. One was a minister and police chaplain. The other, much younger, was a schoolteacher.
“I was at a crime scene recently. I think it involved someone you know… the TV show host?”
“Mm. I knew him.” The younger forced back tears. “We grew up together.”
“I am sorry.”
“What was the ruling?”
“It seems he got fired, and got upset. Went to find his ex-boss, shot him. Shot the guy set to replace him too. Turns out they had a replacement set up for a while. After he killed them both, he shot himself in the head.”
The younger swore many times under his breath.
“I didn’t even know him that well. We went to school together, talked some. He never seemed right. Loved philosophy too much.”
“That sounds vaguely familiar.”
“Hm? Oh, you mean me. Well, I grew out of it. He didn’t. Anyway, it’s just weird… having someone you know die. You know, my parents died, but I was too young to feel it then.”
“Yeah, I understand.”
“I’m afraid I don’t feel enough. Like I have some kind of apathy.”
“You know the stages of grief? The first is denial. I think even if you’re somewhat disconnected from the event, you’ll still have a sense of denial.”
“It’s not easy to know that someone is gone.”
Eugene moved his eyes around the coffee shop. A pretty waitress brought them their coffee. The chaplain removed his lid, and steam burst from the cup. It gave Eugene a thought. “I wonder if he was hiding something.”
“Well, certainly. That’s how it is with most everyone.”
Eugene felt stupid. He should’ve phrased it better. “Well, he was really intelligent and could quote any philosopher ever written. He wasn’t a Christian, but he had answers for any question, and they often sounded like things Christians would say.”
“Boethius wrote a book called the Consolation of Philosophy. In it, Lady Philosophy is a character who consoles Boethius, who is imprisoned. Boethius notices that the hem of her dress is torn, and asks what happened. She tells him that many people tear off pieces of her robe. Yes they have truth. But they only see a part, and they hold up this part as the whole truth. So, your friend did experience truth. However, it was only a part, and he did not accept that the part was of a greater, divine, infinite being who is himself truth.”
“Huh.” This was what Eugene said when someone said something and he didn’t know how to respond.
“Everyone has something to hide, and there are so many different ways to hide. Let me ask you: when you went through your uber-intellectual stage, why do you think it was?”
“I think…” he paused. “I think I was aware that I was missing something. I found glimpses of it in philosophy, so I pursued the things of the mind.”
“What changed your mind?”
“I think my mind began to connect to my heart.”
“What does that mean?”
“I went up into my mind because I was afraid to put my heart on the line.”
“So you put up this strong mind to interact with the world in order to protect your heart.”
“Good Will Hunting.”
“I’ve gotta go. I have an appointment in ten minutes. Are you coming tonight?”
“I think so!”
“See you then.”
Eugene arrived early and stayed later than anyone. The people were a very diverse group. Chaplain James brought many people from his church. There were blacks, latinos, asians, rich and poor. Eugene met a Mexican named Ricardo. He was covered in tattoos from his head to his feet. “These are my stories.” he told Eugene. “If ya put it all out there, it’ll scare the hell outta some, but it’ll draw others in. People wanna know ya been there, ya see? They don’t want some cookie cutter spittin’ image o’ whatever. They want somethin’ real. I’ve told more homies about God through my tats den tru anythin’ else.”
After they all had left, Eugene and James went out to the back porch. It looked out over the city. James lived outside the city up on the mountain. “Some people call me the ‘Fool on the Hill’ from the Beatles song.” the Chaplain laughed. He pulled two cigars out of his pocket. “Here, try this. Dave brought them for me.”
“Did you like my friends?”
“They’re an interesting group.”
“They have… I guess a feeling of genuineness.”
“Most of these people barely have anything, and they are some of the most joyous people you will meet. They don’t have anything to lose. They don’t have anything to hide. Take Ricardo. He’s spent most of his life fornicating and dealing drugs. He finds, Christ, and adds it to his tattoos. He literally wears his heart on his sleeve. I have never seen such honesty in anyone. And it blesses the people around him. They know they don’t have to hide.”
They smoked in silence for a while, staring at the starlight of the skyscrapers and cars. Eugene leaned his head back and blew out towards the sky.
“It’s like a offering up a burnt offering.” he joked.
“Except without all the blood.”
“The sacrifices of the Lord are a broken spirit and contrite heart. You can’t always see that kind of blood.”
“I suppose that’s true.”
“I like cigars.”
“They make you take your time.”
“Yeah. You learn to appreciate each breath of smoke.”
“Amen to that.”