how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

7

By the time the two weeks of sick pay were up, I had decided I wasn’t going back to work. Freedom had tasted too sweet and I now had over £4000 in my account which would support me for a while. For the third time in twelve months, I informed my workplace that I would no longer be returning through their front door. Amazon of course didn’t care; I was merely another number to cross off their list and quickly replace with another person desperate for minimum wage. Back once more to my default state of unemployment, I carried on writing my novel and sunbathing in the garden. I also fished out my old bike from my parent’s garage; it was in a beaten state but it was okay enough to at least get out into the countryside from some much-needed escapist ventures away from my parent’s house. Naturally, my mum and dad weren’t happy that I had given up my job and were consistently on my case. I shrugged off their comments and told them I had enough savings to last me until the pandemic was over. I told them I could pay their board and stay out of their hair until I was able to up and move somewhere else.

I tried that reclusive approach as much as I could but it was still a lockdown after all and inevitably I had to spend some time around them in the house. And naturally, they weren’t going to let me live an easy life under their noses without any pushback. They had endured a hard life and, like all people who had endured a hard life, they were not going to let those close to them laze around and smell the flowers. Suddenly I had a range of chores to do, frivolous things like clearing out the attic and whatever it was they could think of to get me to do some work. One day they asked me to mow the lawn even though it had recently been done and the dry weather had meant it had barely grown. I couldn’t help but comment on how pointless the task was. As soon as I did this, I realised my error. This was the comment they were waiting for; this was the comment that allowed them to get into character and give one of their inspiring working-class-hero speeches.

“I didn’t raise you to just sit around like a leech or bum,” my dad said. “You’ve got to learn some work ethic. What kind of person gives up a steady job at a time like this? You might not be able to get another soon. And how are you going to explain all these gaps on your CV to other employers? No one is going to want to hire you if you can’t hold down a job for more than a couple of months.”

“Sorry that I refuse to be enslaved by a piece of paper with some bullet-points.”

“You need to think about what you’re doing seriously. You’re going to end up homeless or living on benefits on some council estate full of drug dealers. I had to do that for a while and we want better than that for you.”

“Stop trying to install fear into me. Just because fear of the future controlled all the decisions you made in your life.”

“It’s called growing up, being responsible and thinking ahead. Everyone else does it. It’s not that hard. For you it’s just taking a bit longer than normal…” At that point I could feel a pool of fiery passion bubbling up within me. There was only so much a person could take of not being understood before they were pushed to breaking point. Most people’s eyes looked upon me and didn’t really see me, but there was something about having the people who created you having zero idea about who you were that pushed me over the edge. At that moment, I snapped and let the internal monologue inside my head make a rare appearance out into the world.

“Look, you brought me into this world,” I started. “I didn’t ask to come here and exist in this stupid society. Let’s be honest, you only had children because it was ‘the next thing’ to do in your life. You didn’t have an interest in doing anything else in life so once you were locked into the 9-5 routine so, like most people, you had kids to give yourself some sort of basic purpose. It’s the same reason nearly everyone has kids. To give their lives some meaning and to keep themselves busy with something because they have no idea what else they can do with their life outside of their job. It helps stop them having too much time to think to themselves. Because, the truth is, if most people did have time to think to themselves, they’d realise how utterly pointlesss and ridiculous their lives are. This is why you, like everyone else, keep yourself busy by working and watching TV and having kids and doing absolutely anything to avoid looking in the mirror and really reflecting on your life. And have you ever thought about how selfish it is to bring kids into this world just to give yourself something to do? And even worse, you bring kids into this world and then make them miserable by trying to make them do things they don’t want to do. You want me to have a stupid career so you can feel good about yourself and brag about what great parents you are – but I’m telling you now that that sort of life will drive me to suicide and make me even crazier than I already am. But still, you don’t care about how I feel. Okay, maybe you’re like other parents and you want me to ‘be safe’ and have ‘some security’ for the future. Well, did you ever think about safe and secure I was when I didn’t exist? There was no risk of anything at all before I entered this earth. What’s the point of bringing vulnerable human-beings into a violent and dangerous world and then trying to wrap them in cotton wool at the expense of everything else? At the expense of their own sanity and happiness? Maybe you do mean well, but have you ever stopped and thought about how insane your behaviour actually is? Have you ever stopped and thought about how insane life is in general?”

At this point my parents just stared at the television shaking their heads. A terrible silence filled the room as I realised I had for once actually spoken the true contents of my manic mind. I knew that the truth was a creature of the darkness that didn’t belong out in the open world, and now it was out it was like the whole universe had crashed for a few moments in that living room. People’s brains couldn’t handle the truth; it caused them to crash and to stall. Time went slow as we all just sat and stared into space. Seconds felt like minutes. My mum eventually picked up her coffee and started to read the newspaper. Then my dad decided to break the silence.

“Honestly, you need to get your head sorted out first. You’ve been reading too many of those weird writers you’re into. You’ve been brainwashed.” At that point, I got up and stormed up to my room like an angry teenager. I lay in bed and let my head spin with thoughts for hours on end, rehearsing things to say to them, imagining how the rest of the argument would pan out if I carried on the conversation. Eventually I could hear my parents come upstairs and go to bed. Once again, I had to listen to them try and fail to have sex quietly. I reached for my headphones and started playing some music at full volume, drowning out the disturbing sounds of the very heinous act that had spawned me into this existence. I lay there staring at the ceiling, feeling like I was paralysed. Truly it was all too much what life could do to a man at times.

Things got even worse the next days when speaking to Eloise. I noticed that her chat with me had suddenly slowed down since our last meeting. Instead of taking minutes to reply, it was hours. And the sentences were shorter. And her general attitude more distant. One night I couldn’t avoid speaking about it any longer. Clearly something had changed between us and I was going to find out what it was. I rang her but she didn’t answer. So I sent a message asking what was up. Two hours later I got a reply. It was a reply telling me about the new situation between us. Apparently she wasn’t really single, but on a break with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend had been experiencing mental issues, and she wasn’t going to be with him until he recovered. Apparently his condition was improving though, as she was now out of bounds. She said we could still be friends but of course I knew that was just the standard meaningless statement. It appeared our chats were to be no more. Our camping trips were to be no more. And my delusions were to be no more. There would be no peaceful life with this woman. There would be no life without my usual war and wandering. I knew I was a fool to even let such thoughts enter my mind, and my cracked shell and exterior suddenly seized up again. I cemented those cracks harder than ever. I doubled down and withdrew once from the world other people lived in. I looked again at joy and peace and love as things like smoke; which could only be seen and not held or kept. I lay there on my childhood bed and life was more grey than ever – just a meaningless, cruel joke which one had to trudge through. Once again, I was detached, dejected, indifferent. Once again, I was a man killing time while waiting to die.

how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

Boxed In

Of course, my parents weren’t gonna be happy with me sitting around the house all day. And when I thought about it, I didn’t really want to do that either. Each hour there caused my brain to go funny. I could feel the walls of my bedroom closing in on me; my old books on the shelf staring at me judgmentally. Any longer there and whatever was left of my sanity would be gone. I still had over £2000 in savings left, but I figured I’d go out and get a job anyway. Naturally, not many places were hiring as society continued its draconian lockdown. However, with everyone spending every waking hour in their homes, it appeared there were new opportunities in the working world. No longer able to blow their wages on drinking, restaurants and football games, people sought to get their fix in other ways. The main way was ordering random useless shit online. The online retailer Amazon was already the biggest company in the world, but now it was set to get even bigger as bored people browsed the website and looked to order anything that might entertain them during the pandemic lockdown. Because of this, they were hiring more staff to work at their warehouses. One of these was conveniently thirty minutes walk from my house, so I said screw it and applied online – anything will be better than sitting around here watching my savings go back down to zero. Thankfully, there was no interview process; I simply registered my details and was due to start the very next day. 

Arriving on my first day, I had to queue for twenty minutes to enter the building. There were markings on the floor to socially distance each worker by two metres as they entered. There were also temperature checks, as well as masks and sanitiser distributed upon entry. I stood there in the queue which was snaking around the car-park while looking at the almighty warehouse before me. It was maybe the widest building I’d ever seen. It stretched onward into the surrounding countryside for what looked like almost a kilometre. There must have been thousands of people at work under that one roof. It was a beautiful sunny day, but I noticed the building bore no windows. I thought of everyone in the artificial lighting, toiling away like robots, doing the same thing every day for years on end for a little more than the minimum wage while the owner increased his millions by the minute. As always, it was hard to shake off the feeling of absolute absurdity before I even entered the building to start my first shift. But hey, maybe I was wrong? Maybe it was actually a fun and engaging environment full of happy and content workers? 

Such optimism was quickly put to bed. Upon entry, the first thing I noticed was that the social distancing was all for show for the outside world. Once inside, people crowded together and pushed past each other to get to their work stations on time. There they would stand in one spot and spend the next ten hours doing something that a robot was surely going to do as soon as it was invented. It was the most dystopian workplace I’d ever seen. There were endless rows of people wearing face masks, separated by plastic screens, repeatedly picking up boxes off conveyor-belts and opening them up. There was an awkward atmosphere and absolutely no sense of community among the workers. There they toiled in silence along with hundreds of other workers like some messed-up version of Santa’s workshop where the elves appeared to be more machine than living creatures.

Before getting started on being another mechanical elf, I naturally had to receive some training for my important role. This was done in a few hours with a woman I could barely understand, partly to the fact of her bad English, partly to the fact of how loud the warehouse was, and partly to the fact I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention. I eventually went in blind on the task and figured it out as I went along. Basically, all I had to do was open a box from the conveyor-belt, scan one of the items inside, and then allocate a certain amount of those items into a plastic tote to be distributed to the correct onward destination. And then do the same thing again. And again. And again. Once more, I realised my university degree had served me well; I was back to doing one of those jobs which was best done by leaving your brain at the front door. That I did as I spent the days staring into space, daydreaming about anything and everything. All in all, it wasn’t actually so bad; at least there were no customers and bosses to deal with, aside from some guy who occasionally came around with a laptop to give you feedback on your work-rate. Typically, you had a target to meet for how many items you scanned per hour, as well as explain any mistakes or periods of inactivity. I expected such dehumanising measures in a company which was basically a giant machine, but I truly didn’t care about any of their targets or staying too long on my break. When the worst someone can do is fire you from a job you don’t care about, then you had a sort of untouchable aura about you. Besides I knew there were a set amount of warnings to get through before they actually had the right to dismiss you. By the time it got to that point, I would surely have quit on my own accord anyway. 

On my lunch breaks I sat socially distanced from everyone else. The canteen was also a giant room with 100m-long tables stretching down from one end to the other. The sight of everyone there eating on their own under the artificial lighting made me sad; all those people sitting apart, most of them out-of-shape with bad postures, eating their lunch quickly before rushing back to their workstations. I suppose I was just seeing it through fresh eyes and that I’d get used to it after a while like everyone else.

It took me a few shifts to realise there was an outside area. The spring weather so far had been one of the best on record – something which only made being stuck in this giant, windowless warehouse for ten hours a day even more horrific. Once I knew I could salvage a small amount of sunlight and fresh air during work, I took myself outside for my two thirty-minute breaks to enjoy it. I’d lie down on a bench sunbathing, thinking of nothing while staring up at the bright blue sky that was soon to blackened out by the great steel roof of the warehouse. The outside canteen area was close to the main exit of the building and quite often I would eye it up before returning to work. Knowing it was spring and the flowers were blooming and the sun was shining and the streams were streaming – yet I would have to return to the bleak darkness of the warehouse – caused that usual feeling of escapsim to fall over me. It had only been a week and I was already looking at the front door and imagining walking out of it once again – just like my last job, and the one before that, and the one before that. Surely I wasn’t the only one who constantly thought this way? Surely the other worker elves around me must have been thinking the same thing? Hell, all across the world, there must have been tens of millions of people who eyed up the exit to their workplace like it was an attractive member of the opposite sex. Why was it seemingly just me that continually gave in and lusted after it? Maybe I was lacking something – I was weak or complacent. Or maybe I was the only one with enough guts or recklessness to actually go through with it? Whatever the case, it seemed that this feeling of running off was inescapable, and as the sun continued to beam down, I came very close to leaving another transient piece of employment yet again. But another thought was also there: what exactly awaited me outside of that fence? The lockdown of the country had confined and boxed me in. I had nowhere to go, no other job I could hope to get, and my only shelter was at my parents – which would be even worse than here. God knows the grief they would get me after quitting this job after a week. I could hear them already. “You’re stupid to quit a job at a time like this! Don’t you know it’s a pandemic? You’re not going to get another job anywhere else. If you’re going to spend all day here then you’re going to have to pay more board….” No, it appeared I was trapped in this strange place for the foreseeable future, so I turned my face away from the sunlight and marched back inside to join the thousands of other obedient workers at their workstations. 

3

I think it was roughly three months after I had sent out my manuscripts for my novel that I accepted my latest life failure. I must have contacted over forty publishers and agents, and only five had contacted me back. Three of these said they weren’t interested and the other two I turned out to be vanity publishers. They wanted me to pay thousands for publication of the book while they basically sat back and did nothing. A quick review search of these publishers shown dozens of people complaining how they put thousands of pounds into the printing and promotion costs, only to receive a handful of sales. Once again, the impossibility of making it as a writer was made stark and clear – not only would you have to invest hundreds of hours of your time to write a book, but then you’d have to invest more time to find a publisher, and then you’d have to invest loads of money only to see your book pick up a few measly sales here and there. Truly, it was the ultimate waste of time – time-wasting on a godlike scale, in fact – and I thought of all the other millions of aspiring writers that ever existed who spent their whole lives writing in vain before dying without anyone reading their body of work. Such thoughts only reminded me how hopelessly out of odds I was with it all. I could still hear the throwaway lines from teachers and parents. “Do what you’re passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life.” “Aline your passion with your purpose and you’ll find your true calling.” Pfft, it was a tedious script people were fed at a young age, but what is a person to do when their passion was something that didn’t make money? What to do when your passion was poetry, or painting, or sitting around staring into space? Better to be passionate about driving a bus, or stacking shelves, or making cheeseburgers, or sitting at a computer and typing digits into a screen. Better to be passionate about standing beside a conveyor-belt and picking up boxes for ten hours a day.

No, I remembered that the whole writing thing was just another delusional daydream of mine. I shook my head free from such fantasy and focused on the cold, hard reality before me – the reality of being a robotic cog in the corporate Amazon machine. My role on this earth was to not to enlighten and entertain the masses through well-written literature, but to pick up these boxes off a conveyor-belt, open them up, and place items into another box. My place amongst humanity was set and I looked down at the many items I was scanning. It was an eye-opening insight into the current state of consumerism, especially into what people were buying to entertain themselves now they were under a government lockdown. People truly bought anything – including a fan-holder for ice creams, so you could carry them for prolonged periods without them melting. Or a shower curtain with waterproof pockets for your phone. Or a selfie stick for dogs. Or a miniature leaf blower. The absurdity of society was made clear before my eyes and I thought of all the people working jobs they didn’t like and then using money to buy this useless shit they didn’t need. A lot of that shit seemed to only cause them more stress and unhappiness, like the rug in the living room which kept them on edge whenever someone had a drink anywhere near it. It was a system of insanity which I was now an integral part of it, helping everyone out there get their useless gizmos and gadgets made from the bones of this slowly dying earth.

I think it was when I was scanning packs of luxury anal lube that it all started to get to me. Apparently the Covid-19 lockdown had caused people to start experimenting in the bedroom, and I imagined all the people out there screwing for hours a day because there was nothing else to do. For some reason, I couldn’t focus on what I was doing anymore – I couldn’t accept my purpose on this earth was to help people fulfill their sodomy fantasies in the bedroom – so I started working on a new book in my head. Of course, I realised I had just accepted my doomed fate as a writer, but at that point I just needed to occupy myself with absolutely anything that would take me away from the depressing reality of my current predicament. My new literary masterpiece which was destined to be unappreciated in its lifetime was a novel about some kids who discover something which they think is a hallucinogenic drug, but is actually a substance which helps them sober up from the chemical they were secretly poisoned with through their water supply. The drug in the water supply kept everyone blind to the reality of the slave system they lived in, and the substance they found help awakened them from its spell to see the reality before their eyes. The kids would then on a mission to infiltrate the water factory and help sober everyone up from their secret poison and slavery. It was another edgy dystopian novel which had probably been done in ways before, and would cause publishers and agents to roll their eyes, but these ten hour days of degrading work were getting to me – time needed to be killed in any way it could at this point, so I stepped my daydreaming up to a new level, writing whole paragraphs and chapters in my head, plotting the book out as I zoned far out from my bleak surroundings.

I did this for some while and at one point it was clear how much my daydreaming was affecting my work. One of those people with the laptops came around and commented how my scanning rate wasn’t up to the standard required to be a good mechanical elf. Consequently I was moved to be trained up on the outbound section of the warehouse. I was given a pair of work boots and then led on a long walk to the opposite end of the building. My new role was quickly explained to me and I realised the job was going to be a lot more physical and – even worse – I would have to actually speak to people. The other elves of santa’s workshop were walking around, interacting, cracking jokes in between stacking plastic boxes onto pallets.

I tried to get on with my new role in solitude, but as usual my quiet and receptive nature attracted the nearest barking dog towards me. This particular dog was an Indian guy, about 50 years old with a manic look in his eyes. He asked me how long I had worked here and how I was finding the job. Once he had done the required level of interaction to seem like he actually cared about anyone’s voice other than his own, he then barked on relentlessly about himself. Within a few of minutes of listening to him, I knew this was yet another man made violently sick by society. His insecurity about working a dead-end job was instantly clear to see, and he kept continually talking about how much money his family had, and that his daughters were going to university, and that he paid £10,000 for his son’s car for his birthday, and that he worked this job through choice, not necessity. Truly, I was awe-struck by his desperation to impress a stranger – especially one who cared as little as I did. I couldn’t believe this was a real human-being and I kept looking around for some cameras; this insane man surely had to be from some types of comedy sitcom. I knew I had my insanities to a certain degree, but here was a man that was completely maddened and messed-up by the high-achieving expectations of his culture. I looked at his face and realised that this is what society can do to a person – turn them into twitching, insecure, distorted messes who can’t help but pour nonsense out of their mouths constantly. I eventually zoned out as he continued to repeat himself. “Yeah yeah… my daughter will be earning £70,000 a year when she graduates…. Yeah, yeah… my family owns five properties in total…. Yeah, yeah.. I got my son a new car, we like to look after our own, you know, help them out a little bit.…”

When the line got busy again, I took the opportunity to flee to somewhere else to work. Once there, I was free for some time until the line stopped due to a jam. I thought I was in the clear until I was unfortunately spotted by a bald and overweight Polish guy. He got asking me about myself and I told him I was an aspiring writer with a journalism degree and was just working here through the lockdown of the pandemic. “What’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?” he then asked me. It was a question I had heard a few times in my life during my short stints in these low-skilled jobs. For some reason, I must have given off an aura of being too intelligent for such work (maybe it was the fact I had a degree, even though they were worthless these days as nearly half of all young people had them.) I gave some generic answer about making extra money through the pandemic and this prompted him to start telling me how much overtime he does and that he sometimes even works seven days a week. I didn’t really know what to say for the poor bastard. I felt terrible for the guy spending his life in this warehouse, but the worst thing is that he seemed to be happy to work here all day every day. Listening to his story, I could see it was all he knew at this point in his life. Divorced, no hobbies, no social life – what else exactly awaited him outside that fence? I knew his story was a common one – that there were so many people out there were, working through the whole of their lives, all of them inevitably institionalised by their workplaces as their jobs killed off everything else in their life. Soon the hunch-back posture came, the beer bellies, the rings around the eyes. Their best stories were from when there had been some drama or scandal at work. 

As the line restarted and I got back to work, I told myself I didn’t want to end like these strange people. I didn’t expect much from this life but truly there must have been something slightly better than this repetitive, robotic and degrading existence. Surely there was a better way to pass the days then surrendering yourself to something that was not too far off slavery. On the other hand those who chose not to allow themselves to be moulded and melded down into a job role were usually destitute and homeless. They were the insane alcoholics, the mental asylum patients, the lost and lonely lingering in the loveless shadows. Where exactly was one supposed to slot themselves into this system while maintaining some sort of spirit of life? It was absurb and anyone who still had a working heart could feel it. With a heavy feeling in my gut, I looked at the clock which shown there was another six hours to go. I then looked at everyone scurrying around and stacking boxes. Out of nowhere I had a feeling of and I wished to be infected with this stupid virus now. Wasn’t this suppose to be a pandemic after all? Yes, come on, Covid-19 – do your worst. Let me have a bad reaction and let’s get this whole thing over with once and for all. 

how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

Covid-19 was the name of the virus. Just when I thought life couldn’t be any more tedious, in came a new period of lockdown rules which reduced life to something that was merely going to work and sitting at home watching Netflix shows. There were no clubs open; no pubs open; no restaurants open; no gyms open; no libraries open. There were skies without planes; roads without cars; shops without food. ‘Stay Home’ was the national slogan and you were only permitted to go outside for one walk or exercise session a day. I knew most people chose safety over actually living their life, but now there wasn’t even a choice in the matter. Existence was all that was allowed in the name of safety. The only thing to do was dwell, to linger, to wait for something – anything. Yes, the apocalypse had come and my god – it was the boring apocalypse one could have predicted. No zombies or nuclear bombs or asteroids – just a slow dying of the human spirit as we all sat inside staring at screens and twiddling our thumbs.

Locked in my flat, l didn’t really have much to entertain myself with. I didn’t own a television or games console – just my laptop which I used for my writing (which had now stopped). I could have just got drunk of course, but for some reason I decided to pack in the drinking and dedicate myself to living a zen-like sort of lifestyle. Aside from my one run a day and the occasional visit to the supermarket (the only thing still open), all I did was I spend the time sitting and staring into space. Life quickly became a mix of meditation and masturbation; of getting lost down internet rabbit holes for hours into the early morning. My landlord Martin was in the flat too of course, although we somehow managed to rarely see each other. It was just the usual occasional chitchat in the kitchen before returning alone to our rooms. One might have thought the situation would bring us together – two people confined with no one else in the world to see or speak to, but for some reason it only made us more distant than before. Our aloof relationship was just another example of human interaction in the modern age – of having people constantly close to you but choosing to be alone with people on the internet instead. 

This solitary existence went on until sometime in the second week of lockdown when Martin told me I would have to move out after my next rent was up. I checked the calendar and realised this was in five days’ time. Typically, I wanted to question his reasoning behind this, but at that point I couldn’t be bothered to argue or even enquire about his seemingly spontaneous decision. Maybe the fearmongering media had already cast its spell upon him and he didn’t want a potential virus carrier living in his safe space? Maybe he just wanted the flat to himself now he was confined in it for twenty-three hours a day? Maybe I was more insufferable and annoying than I actually realised? Whatever his reason, I wasn’t going to argue about it and – when the time came – I packed my bags of the few things I owned, cleared out the junk from my room, and took one last look at it before leaving. There it went: another transient dwelling of mine now confined to memory; another mostly uneventful chapter of my life over as the dust settled on the tops of the shelves. 

I headed back to my hometown of Coventry via the train. Fortunately they were still running, although you were only permitted to use them for ‘essential or emergency purposes’. I wasn’t sure that the UK government were going to go full-on totalitarian with the rules, but it appeared I was wrong as I got stopped by a police officer at the station who asked me my reason for travel. I told him I’d just been kicked out my place and was having to move back with my parents. He looked at me and my flimsy backpack with almost a sad and pitiful look. He then looked down at the floor and back up to my face. “On you go lad,” he finally said. 

I got on the train and sat there alone in the totally empty carriage, enjoying the rare peace and quiet that was seldom found on public transport (it appeared this apocalypse thing actually had some benefits). I then stared out the window, looking out at the countryside, reflecting on the next chapter of my life that was to come. I hadn’t really acknowledged the situation at hand so far, but at the point of being on my way home it suddenly hit me: I was thirty years old and about to be back living with my parents. It was a situation that was almost enough to make a grown man weep – especially a man who was at odds with his parents as much as me, but I reminded myself that it wasn’t completely my fault and that such a tragic situation was acceptable given the unprecedented circumstances. Still, such mental gymnastics wasn’t going to spare me of the actual horror of the situation at hand. It had been six years since my last spell there; and my last memories of that period weren’t great to say the least. I recalled the frequent arguments with my parents, the constant annoyances, the desire to escape at the nearest opportunity. I recalled the horror of having to listen to my parents have sex through the paperthin walls; of listening to them argue about the most trivial and meaningless things. Could I really endure such a way of being once more? Every year of my life seemed to distance me further away from my parents, and any commonground that was once there was now gone. I almost even felt that I wasn’t welcome in their home anymore – like I was now a stranger in comparison to the boy who grew up there. In the place of that hopeful child, they now had a disenfranchised thirty-year-old man who saw the world through very different eyes than he once had. What was I but yet another adult that had been beaten and bent out of shape by the world that awaited you once you had grew up and left home.

When I got home, I dropped my bags and made a cup of coffee. As soon as I walked into the living room, my mum was stressing about the rug. “Watch your coffee! This is a brand new rug! Don’t you dare spill anything on it…” Once again it appeared they had purchased something that brought them much happiness to their lives. After a brief bit of small-talk about the virus, my dad moved the conversation onto the cost of living there. £50 a week – which wasn’t as bad as I expected. My parents were both working class and were constantly itching to remind me that there wasn’t anything such as a free lunch. “I had to go out and work for a living when I was 16….” “Nobody paid my way.” “If you want to stay with us, you’ll have to contribute…. you’re a grown man now.” It was all the usual stuff that showcased what absolute working class heroes they were. Anyway, I was prepared for their script and told them I’d even pay the first month up front – that got them off my back for a while.

I then sat there with them watching television shows for a couple of hours. These included game shows and television soaps where you sat watching fictional characters live their lives as yours passed by on a sofa. It seemed not much had changed since I had last lived here – the five hours of television each evening before bed was still the norm. I guess that was their way of killing time, each person did it differently. At one point I had seen enough and took myself upstairs to my childhood bedroom. There I sat there on the bed, staring out the window into the back garden. I then stared at the walls, and my old books, and then my reflection of the mirror on my wardrobe. I recalled the times I had stared at it as a child and teenager. Here I was again: my face older, my body with more creaks and scars, my hair now starting to grey. My youth had deserted me and I was now edging towards middle-age, back in the same spot like nothing had happened. And when I thought about it, it was true – nothing had really happened. Like many people of my generation, my twenties had passed me by in an uneventful blur of stumbling around physically and mentally. No relationships, no adventures, no real purpose or meaning – just a constant existence of confusion and dissastisfaction. It was enough to cause waves of sadness to wash over me. I was supposed to be concerned with what was happening out there in the world, but what was happening in my world seemed like the real crisis. My detached nature suddenly escaped me and I looked up at the stars wistfully. I looked at them shining in the night sky and longed for something more, for not simply being dejected and disillusioned with this wretched world that I was stuck in. I longed for meaning and purpose; for some kind of sustenance for my soul. And I thought of all the others like me out there, locked down in their homes or wherever the hell they were. I thought of them staring up at the same sky and feeling the same things – of feeling confused and dismayed with this world; tired of the human experience; bored with absolutely everything that this life offered. Truly this earth and existence was some kind of prison for a certain type of person – the ones who looked up above and thought a bit more about everything than you were supposed to. It was too much to take so I went and rejoined my parents to watch some more mindless programs and numb my brain to sleep.

short stories · thoughts

~ Wandering the Darkness ~

~ Wandering the Darkness ~

At times I knew I was falling too far into the pits of depravity and insanity. My drinking became heavier and my behaviour more outrageous. I wanted to come back to some sort of peace and tranquillity. I always thought it was there, like a bridge I could cross whenever I got tired, but one day I considered that maybe that bridge had collapsed and I wouldn’t be able to easily return to that steady state I was once in. I was stuck in the lands of madness, where the crooked tree branches surrounded me, where wild-eyed vultures picked at carcasses, and dark spaces held hidden terrors. There was no clear way of going back so onward I kept walking into the dense foliage toward whatever fate awaited me. 

On that path I thought of all the others who had gone crazy and lost themselves completely on similar journeys. I didn’t want to be like them and I knew I still had the light inside of me – the light that could lead me to the lands of peace once more. But at that moment a great doubt settled in my head and I couldn’t help but wonder whether destruction and disaster was my inevitable destination. My drinking continued to become heavier as I felt more and more distant from the people who stood in front of me. I was losing touch with reality at times, drifting away in a room of crowded people, fading out from my surroundings, losing my mind while wandering in the darkness.

I wouldn’t be the first in my family to have wandered down such a path. I thought of my uncle who died alone in a room of sadness and alcoholism. They found him amid the empty bottles, unresponsive and not even fifty years old. He had been living in that apartment for some years, separated from his ex, rarely seeing his son and drinking heavily. I remember my father first telling me about his problem. “You have to understand that he can’t stop himself when drinking. Most people can have a few and then stop themselves, but he can’t. When he drinks just one, he carries on drinking until he passes out. That’s why he can’t drink any alcohol at all.” 

At his funeral I looked around at the forlorn faces of my relatives. Funerals were always sad occasions, but when they were for someone who had passed before their time, then there was an extra bleakness in the air. My other uncle got up and told stories of his life before breaking down in tears. Listening to his words, I reflected on the last times I had seen him, usually in passing in the city centre while he was on his way to his job serving meat on a deli counter in the market. As a teenager, I had failed to spot the pain in his eyes, but now I was older and the sadness of the world had made itself home in my heart too, I looked back at those occasions and understood things a bit more clearly. I think about the situation he was in, barely surviving off a cash-in-hand job at the local market, living alone in a small flat, failed relationships and rarely seeing his only child. Like many hurting people, he turned to the bottle to numb the pain of his reality. And now I see his face in my memory; the bloated face, the red cheeks, the lost look in those eyes. The reality was always there in front of me if only I had the awareness to see it.

As a child, I didn’t understand how someone couldn’t stop themselves from drinking. But now I have reached a time in my life where I start to see the darkness in which my uncle lost himself within. The demons lure you in, and it becomes so easy to spiral off into a storm of self-destruction. There had been too many times that I had gone on reckless benders, drinking myself into oblivion, sedating and medicating through the bottle. When your world feels a bit empty, it’s a quick fix to migrate to a different land – a hazy land that may feel like heaven in moments, but is really hell. You make a trade to distort and suppress your senses, but life loses its shine until the darkness is all you know. Slowly you become comfortable in it as it surrounds and engulfs you. You don’t even struggle against it; you like the feeling of seeing yourself slip away in the distortion. That blur of new faces, the hedonistic excess, the reckless and wild behaviour – the brutal hangovers only cured by picking up the bottle again. It’s madness. Pure madness. And you get sucked into the vortex ever more rapidly until that chaos is all you know and understand.

Despite currently drinking heavily and being out of control, a part of me believed that I was able to put the bottle down if I absolutely had to. I had a period every year where I stopped drinking for two or three months in the autumn. I also knew the happiest I’ve ever been were those stages at the age of 26 and 28 when I went sober for a few months. I exercised often, ate reasonably okay, slept well, meditated and didn’t go near the bottle. Even just staring at a drink made me feel nothing at that point. There was zero attraction. I knew it was poison to the state of consciousness I’d acheived – that all the gains of happiness I’d made would be dragged back and taken away from me. But despite those periods, I still find myself here I am a few years on drinking more heavily than ever before. There are reasons for this I suppose. The loss of time and frustration that came from the covid lockdowns; the fact I’ve just turned 30 and want to make the most of this very last bit of my youth. I’d had fun in some ways, I suppose, but these latest benders fill me with almost a fear that perhaps I really have lost my mind; that I have lost control; that I will never return from these woods of madness and find my way back to the lands of peaceful light. It fills me with a fear that I will not be able to stop and they’ll find me one day in that room of isolation, unresponsive on some beer-stained sofa, amid the bottles and beer caps – another soul taken by the need to try and find some shelter and escape from life’s unrelenting storm.

thoughts

Piercing Reflections

‘One morning I awoke in a strange room with a foul taste in my mouth. My date from the previous night was still fast asleep and I figured it was easier for both of us if I just left before she stirred. I had no battery on my phone and wasn’t sure exactly where I was. I walked out of the house which was on the top of a hill. From the doorstep, I saw the city centre in the distance and realised I was on the opposite side of the city. I then started making my long way home through unknown streets and neighbourhoods. I could have gotten a bus, but I had always resented paying for public transport, so I kept on walking – tired, hungover and even more of a daze than usual. I looked at the people walking past me, wondering which of them was also doing a walk of shame. My stumbling continued until I had made it back into the city centre when I caught my reflection in a shop window. For a minute I stood there staring at it. It seemed that on every street a window reflection was there to show you to yourself and suddenly make you question what the hell it was you were doing on that street, in that city, in that life. Did your path have purpose? Were you a good person anymore? Were you even a sane person anymore? Looking into my tired eyes, I could see I was just another messed-up young man, entertaining myself and keeping life interesting in whatever way I could. I was no different than the drunks and druggies; than the addicts and adrenaline junkies. I found my solace in the thrill of casual sex; my shelter in the tangled limbs of a stranger. It was a depressing reality and my reflection continued to stare back at me almost in disgust. There was only so much of it I could take before I had to look away and carry on along the avenue. This is what life could do to a man. He enters it with wide eyes ready to discover and explore, and then thirty years later he stands staring at his reflection in confusion and consternation. The only thing to do was carry on walking and try to avoid that reflection for a little while longer.’

how to kill time while waiting to die

How To Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

All these brief loveless liaisons continued until one girl came along who managed to stick in my life longer than a one-night stand. Her name was Carola – an Italian who had recently moved to this country with her boyfriend. That relationship was now over after he had just walked out the door one day and she never heard from him again. Stranded in a foreign country on her own, she had also resorted to dating apps to find some sort of human companionship. Things weren’t going too well for her and I almost felt apologetic about the fact that I had now stumbled into her life. Our first few dates we didn’t really do anything other than stroll around the city centre, sit on park benches, drink coffee in cafes, and eat her home-cooked food by the river. Straight away I could tell she was someone like me – another confused drifter wandering around aimlessly looking for something to do to keep life interesting. In the last few years she had been a fire dancer in the Cook Islands, had built mud houses in Morocco, and was now training in martial arts and saving to go to China to study in a karate school. The desperation to wring some meaning into her life screamed out of her, and she was only one step away from becoming a life coach or climate change activist.

     She didn’t have much money and I wasn’t doing particularly great on that front too after the shameful amount of dates I had been on. As a result, our meetings became more lowkey until we just spent all our time around each other’s places. We cooked food and watched movies; we drank wine and played games; we lay in beds for whole days sleeping and having sex. It wasn’t long until the whole thing developed into something a little more serious. Out of the blue, it appeared I had become another tangled in the web of something that resembled a relationship.

     Neither of us wanted to call it that, but that’s what it was beginning to feel like with all the time we spent together. And with us now being something of an item, I soon got to see what was really under the surface. Typically this included her dark side – in particular, a violent temper that was the cause of many arguments. I’m not even sure how many of them started; one moment we’d be talking about our day and then the next verbal missiles would be launching towards me.     

     “You’re lost!” she shouts at me. “You’re thirty years old and you have no purpose. You just cycle around town, complaining about the world, and writing your shitty stories that no one reads. Why don’t you try to find some meaning to your life hey?” 

     “And what exactly is your purpose?” I asked. “To kick people in the head?”

     “Oh yeah really hmm.. That’s all I do yeah. Fuck you. You’re so fucking ignorant. You know nothing about what I do. Get a life.”

     “But that is what you do right? Kick people in the head?”

     “You know, I meet people like you all the time. You think you’re cool because you’re not participating in anything. You look down on everyone else, thinking you’re enlightened or something for not doing the things that everyone else does. You only live for yourself and only think about yourself. Your life is a joke and do you really think anyone cares about you, or what’s going on inside your head?”

      “Probably not. I guess we’ll see one day.”

     “No we won’t. You won’t get your books published. You won’t do anything with your life because you’re a loser – a typical loser who is self-absorbed with no ambition. For god sake, you’re thirty-years-old and you don’t even know how to cook or drive. You have nothing to show for your life other than some words that nobody wants to read.” 

     I guess it was true that most people would get offended by such remarks, but I had to admit I kinda enjoyed it. Perhaps it was the masochist in me, but her fiery personality was a nice change compared to the coldness that I found in English girls. On top of this, her scornful words were thought-provoking to me. They were like the critical part of my consciousness I had suppressed, and I even found myself agreeing with her a lot of the time, although typically I never told her that.

     “Okay,” I responded. “Maybe you will go to China and study martial arts and get really good at kicking people in the head, but I promise you that you’ll still feel empty inside. All you’ve done is wander around from one thing to the next, looking for something to make you happy. Face it: the problem isn’t the thing or the place –  the problem is you. You’re always going to be unhappy and unfulfilled. Just like everyone else.”

     “Oh yeah, because you’re so happy? Why should I listen to you about happiness? I’ve known you for two months now and I don’t think I’ve seen you smile more than once or twice.”

     “I guess my natural expression is one of sadness.”

     “Your face doesn’t lie. I see it in your eyes; you’re bored and lifeless.”
    “I definitely am right now.”

     “Listen, you’re not young anymore. Get some fucking direction in your life. Honestly, go get a real job. Contribute something. Make someone’s life better. Then maybe you’ll have some joy and you won’t always look like you’re at a fucking funeral.” 

     “I accept I may have a resting bitch face,” I started. “But you – you are the most unhappy person I’ve ever met. The slightest thing sets you off into an argument. You’re emotionally unstable and violent. You have so much anger and hatred inside of you trying to get out at any opportunity. No wonder you like kicking people…. psycho.”

     The sound of the word ‘psycho’ set her off. Her eyes filled up with a terrible rage and at that moment I realised I had gone too far. I instantly remembered receiving a piece of advice about never telling a psycho that they’re a psycho – especially if that psycho was trained in some form of martial arts. Well, it was too late now as she lunged forward and started attacking me. In came the merciless assault: a punch to the side of the head, a scratch on my neck, a kick to the legs – her verbal missiles had become physical ones as I got pounded from all angles. She then grabbed my T-shirt tight and pulled me towards her, tearing it at the seams on the shoulder. I barely owned many T-shirts as it was and that was another one now ruined. I thought about the increasingly tragic state of my wardrobe as I fought her off, restraining her, holding her arms up in the air as they vibrated violently like rockets ready to explode. She eventually relaxed and fell into my arms, crying from whatever it was that was really hurting her inside.

     What a situation to end up in, I thought to myself. I was already getting fairly well beat up by life in general, but now I had someone literally attacking me too. In the face of such hostility, I began to understand the sudden disappearance of the ex-boyfriend. I considered myself someone who was perhaps at odds with the world, but Carola made me think perhaps my mental health was almost not as terrible as I imagined. Ultimately that was a terrifying thought – the idea that I was one of the more ‘okay’ people in this world. After all, perhaps it was true; working in customer service had already shown me just how messed up some people were. In particular, I recalled the self-harm scars on the forearms of many people I served at a bar. From the outside they all looked neat – nice clothes and makeup and wide smiles – but as they handed me the money I looked down and saw the knife lines etched into their skin. Those scars reminded me that most people looked smooth and polished on the surface, but under that was a world of pain that people never saw. In Carola’s case however, her pain was clear to see. If it wasn’t from the frequent outbursts, then it was from a forlorn look I could see in her eye. It was the look I saw in many people’s eyes, staring into space, wondering what the hell it was they were doing and if they would ever be happy on this earth. She was only twenty-three and reminded me of myself at that age – even more confused and dismayed with life than I was now. I was still those things, of course, but at least I was comfortable with my total indifference with everything around me. She was still discovering such animosity and I knew the two of us being together was about as unhealthy as a relationship could be. In all honesty, I shouldn’t have let things carry on, but the relationship (or whatever the hell it was) was giving me something that I had been missing. It was exciting, after all. There was a constant tension of unpredictability and I didn’t know whether she was going to fight or fuck me at times – and often it ended up being both. We’d go from shouting and her trying to hit me to screwing in bed as we let our anger out through sex. And I figured that perhaps this war we were in wasn’t too abnormal in the grand scheme of things. All human relationships resulted in frequent arguments; it was just another thing we did to try and make ourselves feel alive.

short stories

~ Frayed ~

~ Frayed ~

I entered the airport at dawn in a zombie-like state. It had been another sleepless night and it was time to return home after what was perhaps my most reckless trip yet. Leaving Portugal, I found myself depleted in more ways than one. My belongings now amounted to just three kilograms in my carry-on backpack. I was light, lighter in everything – bodyweight, money, clothes, sanity. I was travelling on an emergency passport after having lost my normal one along with other things. Those other things included my electric razor – my lack of razor made evident by the big, bushy beard now covering my face. What had happened to everything I wasn’t entirely sure about. The trip had been a total blur, fueled by heavy amounts of alcohol and a lack of sleep which was now commonplace whenever I travelled. That insomnia had left my brain in a beaten and battered state. My body too was a similar way – skinny and sunburnt and in need of some serious rest after a chaotic few weeks in the Portuguese sunshine.

In such a weary state, I naturally got reflective about things. I realised that at that point I’d been living on the run for almost ten years. A whole decade ago I went out on the road of discovery and adventure, seeing what awaited me out there in this wilderness that has maddened my mind and scarred my skin. I went out into the world with wide eyes seeking something that seemed not available in my immediate surroundings. I stuffed those backpacks with my few belongings; I stuffed my eyes with beautiful sights; I stuffed myself with soul-stirring experiences. I was living for myself and soaking in as much life as I could during my youth. But after all of that, I’m finally at the point where I start to wonder how sustainable this lifestyle is. On this trip I had once again experienced enriching moments and connections with others, but more than any other trip, I had also experienced some very dark moments, including a couple of days that I would reckon as the worst of my entire life. That time began with me being kicked out of a hostel for passing out on the floor of a room that wasn’t my own. The memory of the night before was non-existent and in my ashamed state, I decided to carry on drinking at a nearby bar in the morning on my own. The last thing I remembered was smoking a joint with a retired guy from California before waking the next day with a large number of belongings missing including my passport. I had a bus booked up north to start a five-day hike along the coast that I really didn’t want to take. Confused, stressed and with the worst comedown of my life, I stumbled onto that bus feeling like some sort of gremlin – my lack of identification now confirming I was out of place officially as well as mentally.

That feeling of defeat was also there in that airport that morning as I continued drifting around in a zombie-like state, wondering just how much longer I could keep living life on the edge like this. Just two days I was partying ’til 6am on the streets of Lisbon before going to the British embassy to pick up my emergency passport. A stern-looking guard with a machine gun searched me and escorted me through the building while my comedown and lack of sleep filled me with nerve-shredding anxiety. That moment was just another point of chaos and madness in what was now a strong back-catalogue. My mind thought back to getting arrested in Australia for trespassing and having to hitch-hike to my court case. It thought back to almost being hit in the head by a falling rock on a precarious mountain path; to narrowly missing an avalanche by thirty minutes in a Himalayan valley. It was true that there was only so much chaos one man could endure before he was pushed to the brink of total madness (or worse, death), and now – at thirty years old – I feel the voice of sanity call out to me through this mist, telling me to calm down and stop this freefall into the abyss of anarchy. “Come in and relax,” it says. “You’ve experienced enough of this hedonistic life. Take a breath. Step back. Take some time to enjoy a quiet life.”

Meanwhile, I think of a man I know in his eighties. He is a beat poet who seems to have been also living on the run all of his adult life and continues to do so in whatever way he can. I read his stories about drifting around Europe while busking and living on pennies. I also think of my friend Bryan, three years older than me who had been living even more on the edge than myself during the last few years in Australia. He’s just about to commence a one-month hike through the Alps with his girlfriend. Maybe there is a way to live like this without going totally insane. But am I like those other guys? I wasn’t sure. They certainly didn’t seem to end up in the situations I got myself into. They knew how to look after themselves and not spiral off into complete oblivion like I too often did. My self-destructive side was seemingly getting worse with each trip I went on and maybe I just had to accept that I wasn’t cut out for this high-flying lifestyle anymore. Maybe I really was crazier than the rest.

With my mind in a pensive and delirious state, I made my way through security. I wandered through the duty-free shops before finding a little cafe to sit down. I then ate some breakfast while watching others walk around the departure lounge, all of them looking so much fresher than myself.

I guess it was strange as someone who was a travel addict, but sometimes airports could make me feel alone more than any other place. I think it was the sight of the families, the loved-up couples, the rowdy groups of friends. It seemed that were very few others like myself in those crowds – solo travellers making their way to or back from another tiring adventure. As usual, when looking at regular people, thoughts of sanity and stability entered my brain. I thought of finally getting my own place and settling down in one place. I thought of women – of the French girl I had recently met in Mexico. She was on a two-week holiday there and was now back in her stable life with a good-paying job and about to buy an apartment. Maybe I’d learn French and move over there to live a nice quiet life with her. Maybe I’d finally learn to drive, get a pension and stop this calamitous journey through the wilderness. But almost as quickly as these thoughts entered my mind, they were pushed aside by the other ones – the thoughts of wandering ecstasy, of partying with new friends in foreign lands, of standing on sunset shorelines and hiking through mountainous valleys. I thought of the love of anarchy and adventure, my soul sailing further out into that intoxicating sea of the unknown – that same sea which had currently left me in a disheveled state with no passport and few belongings, with insomnia and sunburnt skin, but also with a spirit that was set on fire and a mind that was blown wide open.

Oh, what is a man to do once he has tasted such a life? This thrilling run out beyond the fences, this glorious dance in the lands of chaos – how does he return from that to a life of sensibility and suburban sanity? How does he trade the mystery and magic for the predictable and comfortable? For the safe and steady? I still had things I wanted to do, after all. I still wanted to fulfill my dream of cycling from the UK to Asia. Of hiking the great Himalayan route. Of finally travelling around Colombia. My list was still incomplete, but continuing in such a way of being didn’t bode well on the current basis of things – at least when I thought of similar others to myself. I thought Jack Kerouac – the great beat writer – drinking himself to death in his forties. I thought of Hemingway and Hunter S Thompson – their brains blown to the wall with self-inflicted shotgun wounds. I thought of that guy from Into The Wild starving to death alone in Alaska. It was true that living at full speed on the edge for so long usually made you more likely to end up in a graveyard or institution. Still, a part of me yearned to keep on living this way, putting the pedal down to the metal, soaring down that open road of life as the wind raises the hairs on my head. On the other hand, I also know it’s time to recognise that I’m slowly falling apart too. The wheels are buckling, the engine is failing, and the screws are coming loose.

The smart and sensible thing to do is to accept I’ve experienced more adventure than most people ever will, and finally begin to take my foot off the gas. But the thought of leaving this life behind fills me with tremendous sadness. It causes me to distract myself by reading through the messages on my phone. One Argentinian girl asks me when I’ll be coming back to Mexico. A dutch girl asks if we are ever doing that hike in Italy. Once again, my mind wanders and starts to dream of the next adventure, the next horizon, the next great run through this bewitching wilderness that has claimed each and every part of me.

This strange feeling of conflict is there as I sit there with my sleep-deprived mind, with my skinny body, with my half-empty backpack, with my emergency passport, with the cuts on my arm of which I’m not sure of the origin. The people around me seem to notice I’m not entirely with it as my hand shakes while drinking my coffee. A couple of coins fall out of my pocket and I reach down to pick them up off the floor. I then look at my jeans and notice that they are starting to tear apart at the seams. It almost seems symbolic and I think about getting them stitched up once again by my mother or landlady. I also think back to that nice Puerto Rican girl in Mexico mending my frayed backpack in Mexico earlier in the year. It was funny: all these women stitching me back together, mending me, repairing me. But maybe this time I’m realising that some things just can’t be stitched back together. There is no thread strong enough anymore to stop me from ripping open as I dream of the next adventure with my tired and maddened mind. And even if there was, I’m not sure I would even want that at this point.

how to kill time while waiting to die · short stories

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die

I wake up and stare into that mirror. The same thing we all do every morning. Every time you see the same, yet slightly worse version of yourself. You’re one day older and you’re more tired, more weathered, more disillusioned with the world around you. You’re another day closer to death and your dreams have even less chance of becoming a reality than yesterday. It was never a pleasant sight but today that reflection was worse than usual. Today was the death of my youth. Yes, the years had fallen by and I was now thirty years old. No longer was I classified as a young person; I was now a fully-grown adult – the sort of thing kids looked up to – and there were no excuses for how much in disarray my life was. By this age you were supposed to have it all figured out: partner, marriage, career, mortgage, life purpose, and all of that keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ stuff. The truth is that I still felt like a clueless teenager, wandering aimlessly around, masturbating too much while struggling to come to terms with my own transient existence. Although mentally I may not have felt like I was thirty, physically it showed. Looking at my reflection, I could see the rings around my eyes, the crow’s feet starting to break through, the grey hairs which were not too numerous to pull out. The light in my eye was a little dimmer, the skin a little paler. I was becoming what old people had always seemed to me – walking examples of the inevitable descent towards death and darkness which eventually enveloped us all.

After a while of grimacing at that mirror, I got dressed and headed out onto the streets. I walked through that urban wasteland while staring at the passing people. The young, the old, the rich, the poor. Most of them, like me, didn’t stand a chance. The world spat on their dreams, took the joy from their heart, forced them to abandon their individuality to survive. Spiritually unfulfilled, they turned to vices to numb the inner pain: alcohol, drugs, porn, television, social media. Yes, the average person in the street was demented and insane – and no doubt I appeared that way to them too.

I carry on walking around the city centre with no purpose or destination. My 30th birthday, did anyone really care? Did I care? I eventually text one of my friends to ask if he wants to go for a drink. I knew he was off the rails at the moment and thus likely to say yes. It seemed to me that was what friends were for when you reached a certain age. You would never arrange to do anything together like play football or go to movies, but when you needed to go out and drink yourself into oblivion, they would be on hand to help you fulfil that need. It was a mutual transaction; many times I had responded to the call when he was in his hour of self-destructive need, and now he was reciprocating the favour as I drowned my sorrows and rued the fact I was now no longer young.

I met him in the main square in the city centre. A quick hello then we were soon sipping pints while updating each other on the tragedy of our lives. He told me about how he was still living paycheck to paycheck, no savings to afford a holiday or the driving lessons he needed. But it was all okay, he told me; he had devised a grand plan. “I’m gonna find myself a cougar and become a house husband.” I looked at him curiously. “There are so many lonely middle-aged women out there nowadays who want a younger guy. I’ll just stay at home all day, cooking dinner for when she gets home. The easy life.” I listened and knew this was the fantastical daydream of a desperate man. Looking at him in his current appearance, his odds of finding any woman seemed slim. He had once been considered cute, but was now balding and overweight with evidently not much to bring to the table. He had a degree in marketing which had been rendered useless by ten years of disuse as he worked the same job in a drab pub. He knew he didn’t have a shot at anything, and now his focus was on sponging off a middle-aged woman who had some financial capital. I didn’t blame him, and I started considering the same possibility myself. Perhaps he was onto something? Perhaps my destiny was to housekeep while waiting for my older wife to come home and fuck me? Having known each other since secondary school, we then got to talking about old times and old friends. Most of them now lived in London working graduate jobs, pursuing careers, working hard to become real people. Career professionals. Respected members of society. Everything that we weren’t.

“I don’t speak to them anymore,” he tells me. “I feel like they look down on me.”

“Probably,” I said.

“Yeah, I mean they’re all back there earning big money at graduate jobs their parents managed to get them after university, and I’m still here, almost thirty and broke. It’s all who you know and what you know. I got my degree but every job asks for two years of experience and how the fuck am I supposed to get that? You have to do internships, but I’ve been working fifty-hour weeks since I finished university just to get by. I don’t have the time or the means. The system is fucked man.” I sat there listening to his anguish and dissatisfaction. His comments may have seemed like excuses to most, but there was a lot of truth to it. Following university, I had also experienced the brick wall of not being able to get a job due to lack of experience. It was a catch 22 – needing experience for a job, but not being able to get experience without a job. Fortunately for me I had quickly decided not to even bother getting on the treadmill of a career. Living life based on what made your CV look good seemed absurd to me, and there was a freedom in not caring if you took six months off to go travelling, become an alcoholic, or just do nothing at all. I guess the downside to this was that only the low-paying jobs were available to you. But I didn’t care; less pay usually meant less responsibility, and less responsibility meant less stress, and less stress meant you didn’t go slowly demented over the years. In my head I was a modern-day Buddha, an enlightened being – a heroic rebel to the consumer-capitalist culture that was rotting people’s hearts and minds and souls. Of course, I knew this was my personal spin and in most people’s eyes I was just unsuccessful or an underachiever. Perspective was a fine thing and ultimately a person had to shape theirs in whatever way justified the way they were currently living their life.

We carry on drinking and I notice Jake started to slur his words and get hostile. I was used to it. He had a lot of inner demons and they usually came out around the fifth drink. I knew it wouldn’t be long until he started getting aggressive and arguing with people around him. After that he would declare he was going home after one more drink. This time there wasn’t even one more drink and off he went suddenly marching out the pub, telling me he was going to pick up a kebab and go home. I watch him stumble across the bar, disappearing out the door into the night, another wounded soul seeking shelter from the world. Then, sitting alone on my 30th birthday, I decide to continue drinking. Around me I hear the whirring noise of excited people – people in groups, people with friends, people who weren’t drinking alone on their 30th birthday. I knew I didn’t have the charisma or confidence to go up and speak directly to strangers, so I ordered a couple of double rum and cokes to at least make myself think that I could. About forty-five minutes later, I’ve reached the required level for social interaction, and suddenly I’m on a table with two younger guys. I think they could see I was on my own and pitied me. I graciously accepted their pity and reimbursed them with some self-deprecating jokes and a round of tequila shots.

After that, things got blurry and I’m in that hazy, soft, comfortable place of alcoholic sedation. I let myself drift through that haze until I eventually end up in a taxi on the way home with a twenty-one-year-old girl. Well, not too bad for an old-timer. The sex carries on into the morning – another meaningless fuck that I had now lost count of. Of course, I didn’t finish as usual. I very rarely finished during sex, and almost never after I had been drinking. Lying there on my bed, I can see she’s sad that I haven’t given her my seed; it was a look I had seen off many girls doubting their own attractiveness as they lay unsoiled on my mattress. This was the one thing that was required to be a man – to continue the human race – and it seemed I was also naturally incompetent at that. I attributed it to too much masturbation growing up. My genitalia only knew how to reach orgasm via my own touch. A vagina was simply no match for the highly-tuned movements of my right hand. I wondered how many other men were like me out there. We were the porn generation after all – the first people in history to watch whatever fucked up fantasy we wanted via a half-decent internet connection. Perhaps it was more common than I realised, and soon the highly-advanced sex robots would come, and no longer would any human be able to reach orgasm via traditional penetration. Perhaps this was the end of humanity; not with a bang, but with a whimper – everybody fucking silicone robots in dark rooms alone as humanity petered out to its pitiful and pathetic end. Feeling the way I was during that hangover, I welcomed it.

2

I carried on drinking for another couple of days; maybe it was three, I wasn’t sure. The debauchery looked to be getting out of hand but finally I sobered up and tried to make sense of the events. In particular, scrolling through my online bank statement after going on a bender was always a tragic affair. The needless drinks at 3am; the excessive fast food orders; the money withdrawn from the cash machine that your empty pockets tell you is totally spent. My bank account had taken a beating, which was forgivable considering I was having my 30th birthday crisis, but also slightly concerning considering the fact I was unemployed with no money coming in. 

Funds were getting tight and consequently I started searching for a job. I loaded up the job search websites and scrolled through the muck of lowly-paid, menial positions. “I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows I’m miserable now.” Morrissey’s lyric always stuck in my head when I had to surrender myself to the system and beg up some kind of employment. How people managed to stay in one job for most of their life, or even years of their life, baffled me thoroughly. By week three or four, I was violently itching to liberate myself with a letter of resignation. Those letters had been written, and sometimes they hadn’t – sometimes I just didn’t show up because the thought of getting up in the morning to go to a place which shit on my soul was too much. By the time I was applying for a job, I was already imagining how and when I was going to quit it. I had to think to myself: getting to thirty years old without holding a job for more than a year was quite an achievement. I thought about listing it on my CV, then realised it was already there for the prospective employers to see anyway in my work history. This spotty work history naturally made it harder for me to even get a job in the first place. This became apparent again when I saw a job advert for the Royal Mail. I looked at it with interest. For some reason I always fancied myself as a bit of a postman; getting paid to walk around in the fresh air, working on your own, no boss over your shoulder or office politics to deal with – as far as jobs went, it wasn’t actually too terrible. But the Royal Mail wanted me to explain each and every gap in my work history. There were at least ten gaping holes on my bloody bombsite of a CV. I felt depressed that I had to explain why I wasn’t devoting myself to some job, as if each time you weren’t stuck on the grind, you had to justify your momentary freedom from the machine. The whole thing made me want to go and play with traffic to be honest, but I went along with their game and paved over some of those gaps by stretching my employment dates (like everyone else, I knew that bending the truth was an essential part of surviving in the modern world).

I guess my attitude towards work was kinda lousy to many people – especially towards my parents, who constantly reminded me that I needed to get a career, and that I was wasting my university degree (which was a worthless media studies degree anyway). Even my sister was consistently on my case.

“You’re intelligent,” she would tell me. “You have something to offer the world. Don’t waste your life in bitterness and jadedness. There’s a job out there for you somewhere, you just have to find what it is.” Thoroughly inspirational words, I’m sure you’d agree. I disregarded them as I did with everyone else.

After an hour of applying for jobs, the hopelessness of it all got to me. I stopped what I was doing, went to the kitchen, pulled a beer from the fridge, and returned to my bedroom desk. I then closed the job website and loaded up my sci-fi novel I had been working on. Important work awaited. The book was currently 18,000 words long and based around the theory that the universe was a computer simulation. It was just an eccentric theory, albeit one that some physicists and scientists took seriously. Anyway, I imagined what would happen if we somehow all conclusively proved we were living in a computer simulation. I imagined the existential crisis of everyone, the collapse of religion and society, the anarchy that was sure to follow. My theory is that society would destroy itself as everyone saw no meaning to anything anymore. The book would follow a protagonist who goes on a soul-searching quest through the wasteland of civilisation to discover if life is worth living anymore. He would meet people who felt relieved that life wasn’t real, and others that were driven to suicide and madness because their egotistical illusions had been shattered. Eventually he would end up happy in some peaceful commune, content in the knowledge that life is just a game and there’s nothing fundamentally to worry about. (Yes, of course there was some edgy philosophical point to it all.)

I guess it was just an idea I found interesting, and like all deluded people who thought of themselves as writers, I daydreamed about it one day becoming a best-seller. I imagined my book sitting on bookshelves and me signing copies at some launch event. It was at least a more exciting prospect of climbing a career ladder, spawning some children, or buying my own property and filling it full of furniture. No doubt my writings would never be read by anyone – my manuscript gathering dust in some dark forgotten corner – but it at least gave me something to do and daydream about while stuck on this earth. This was it, essentially, the bargain of human existence. Every man or woman had to find something, no matter how trivial, to give their life some basic meaning. Kids, careers, gardening, football teams…. hell, even something as ridiculous as taking pictures of trains. The important thing was finding something to do to help pass the months and years. At the end of the day, we were all killing time while waiting to die.

3

Savings from my inheritance were getting low and the rent needed to be paid, so it really was time to cast aside my future nobel-prize-winning writing and get a job. So far my applications had predictably proved fruitless, but fortunately I had a friend who could help me out. I figured over half of all jobs were being worked by people who had got the position through someone they knew (‘It’s who you know and what you know’ – as my dejected friend had lamented). Anyway, the guy I knew worked at this call centre for an energy company. I loathed the idea but I needed money quickly, so I begrudgingly sent them my application. I was immediately invited to an interview – an interview I was sure to pass according to my friend. Even though I had the advantage of being close with someone who already worked there, I felt I was sure I was going to screw it up anyway. Interviews were my natural enemy. I loathed absolutely everything about them: dressing up smartly, pretending you wanted the job, pretending you were qualified for the job, and just generally chatting Grade-A bullshit while ‘selling yourself’. How humanity had come from being hunter-gatherers to this was a mystery to anyone. The whole thing was a horrorshow, and just mustering up the energy to even pretend I cared for ten minutes was hard enough work, but my head needed a roof over it and my stomach needed food, so I put on my only shirt/pair of trousers and marched solemnly toward the interview.

Outside the building, I stopped and stared at it. There it was: another office building in a business park with a bunch of human-beings inside, all of them hunched over desks, toiling away their hours and days in stuffy cubicles. I looked through the window at them all locked into their work stations like batteries in some sort of machine. Outside the car park was completely full; nice cars sat neatly parked while the owners sat inside working all day to pay for them. A quick scan showed the spaces for the big dogs, their signs above them: ‘Senior Director’; ‘Assistant Director’. Maybe if I worked away for ten years I could also get in the position of having my own parking space. Maybe that would please my family.

After a minute or so after observing this strange environment, I entered the building. I checked in at reception then was taken upstairs to wait for my interview. I sat outside in a hallway preparing my answers for the merciless interrogation that was about to come my way. My mate had filled me in on what they would ask and they were, of course, the usual collection of mundane interview questions. 

“What about this position interests you?” 

“What skills do you have that you feel will suit this role?” 

“Can you name one time you provided excellent customer service?” 

     It was a tedious process and, god, how I just wanted to spit out the dirty truth into their faces.

I’m here because I’ve always been really passionate about not starving to death.”

“I’m here because sleeping on the streets isn’t too comfortable.”

I’m here because I have to be here.” 

It was a tempting prospect but, of course, I knew such mental musings were never meant to be uttered, only to be kept locked deep inside the vaults of the brain. Ultimately the truth was a creature of the darkness; it preferred to stay hidden in the shadows, fearing how people would react to it if it showed its face to the world. It was vulnerable, sensitive, and the times it came out into the daylight usually led to people stamping violently on its face until it was dead or you were dead.

Remembering this, I made sure my truth was locked safely away and that my mask of social normality was fitted tightly to my face. It was then that a woman came out with a big friendly smile, spectacles on, paperwork in hand. “Are you Bryan?” she asked. I told her yes. “If you just want to follow me inside…”

I entered tentatively. The room was a bland, soulless office space, with absolutely nothing in it besides the desk and chairs in the centre of the room. To my unpleasant surprise, there was a second woman already sitting at the desk, also wearing a big smile. 

“Hello,” I said, shaking her hand. I sat down and faced her and the other woman. Two of them were there staring at me, middle-aged women who had no doubt been here ten times longer than I had been at any other job; middle-aged women who may as well have lived on a different planet to me. They shuffled their papers about and pulled out some pens. Suddenly the room grew smaller as my anxiety increased. I could see they had a copy of my CV, complete with all its fraudulent dates on. I did wonder then if you could actually face any real legal trouble from lying on your CV. The thought went out of my head when I remembered that the majority of the population would be in the shit if that was the case. At that point the discourse began and I was caught; like a fly in a spider’s web, I was well and truly in the worst place a creature like myself could have been.

“So obviously you’ve seen the job description online, but we’ll just go through the details of the role here and what will be expected of you.” I forced a smile and a nod. I then sat awkwardly, not knowing what to do with my hands while she ran through the dreary list and what the company was all about. I hoped she would just keep on speaking, but I knew soon I would be expected to tell them why I wanted to spend eight hours of my day sat inside this building doing something I had zero interest in. There was no use dwelling on the absurdity of it however, so I quickly got into character as the questions started. 

They were all the questions I anticipated, so I rattled off my formulaic answers. I talked about my past positions in customer service, about how great I was at dealing with a variety of people, and how committed I was to doing a job well. I gave overblown examples from my past jobs showing just what an upstanding employee I was. I was blagging it so well that even I almost started to believe the bullshit coming out of my mouth. They sat there nodding and smiling like idiots; it seemed the bullshit process was going nice and smoothly. It was then that a question came that wasn’t in the script I hadn’t thought through. 

“Can you name one time when a problem arose during work, and what you did to overcome it?”

I hadn’t mentally gone through this one and I sat there frozen. Although I was good at coming up with bullshit with a little preparation, I was never actually too great at bullshitting on the spot. I delved down into the sewers of my mind, searching for some stinky bullshit to feed them. But at that moment nothing was coming to me. “Take your time to think about it; there’s no rush to answer.” Seconds of awkwardness felt like minutes and I kept on searching for something to say. Eventually my flashlight lit up a dark corner of my mind’s sewer. There it was: some stinky bullshit. I pulled it out and presented it to them. I told them a story about a time I was working with my dad as a delivery driver. We were short on time to deliver all these items to a business park so I got him to drop me off with all the parcels to deliver on foot, while he went to a different location and delivered there. The details were inconsistent and it was poorly told, but I had at least given them some sort of answer. I think they could tell it was bullshit but thankfully they ate it up as the nods returned and the pens started ticking those pieces of paper again. The bullshit process was once again going nice and smoothly.

After fifteen minutes of interrogation, the ordeal was over and I was free to exit. I thanked them for their time, walked out the building, and shook my head free of all the utter nonsense I had just spouted. I then loosened the tie on my neck, feeling like I was taken off some sort of noose. As always, engaging in the farcical world of work was a traumatic affair, so I walked briskly home to rest, masturbate, and drink a much-needed beer. 

4

The place I was renting was conveniently close to where the office was. It was a small apartment in a secluded court, with three bedrooms but only two people living there. The other person I was living with was the landlord. I wasn’t particularly thrilled to be living alone with the landlord to be honest, but fortunately for me he was rarely there. He was a peculiar guy, around the same age as me and also firmly unemployed. For him though his job status was no problem seeing as he was comfortably living off my rent money and the rent money of the people who lived in two more properties he owned. How a guy just thirty years of age owned three properties was initially a mystery, but one that I solved after learning he had inherited the properties off of his dead dad. Although he didn’t have to worry about making money through work, like all human-beings he was plagued by purpose, so of course he needed to do something to manufacture some meaning into his life. This included a few businesses he had set up, all of which had failed. He also told me how he had appeared on various reality TV shows over the years, managing to make some cash from them. I suspected whether he was genuine, but searching his name on the internet it appeared he was telling the truth. 

As I said, he wasn’t around much, but we did occasionally cross paths in the kitchen. When there we would shoot small-talk. He hadn’t asked me much about my life, but sometimes he did ask about work. I presumed this was because he wanted to know I was reliable to pay his wage – aka the rent. It wasn’t an easy thing to give him an answer on. I mean, how does one really tell someone that they’re a bum? That you worked whatever temporary, menial job you could get? That you were currently surviving off your last remaining inheritance money? After all, people needed to understand you through your set position in society; it was the only way many people could make sense of the world after twenty years of institutional education where the goal was to become ‘something’ at the end. As tedious as I found this, I couldn’t blame people for it; it was all they knew and so, to make it easier for myself, I just lied and said I was a content writer. This sort of job could now be done online, so if you weren’t going to an office every day it didn’t necessarily mean you weren’t working. Also, I had even done a bit during my worthless media studies degree, so if anyone asked questions I could at least sound like I knew what I was talking about. I told people I wrote for business magazines mostly if questioned further, as my landlord Martin occasionally did.

     “How’s work today?” he asks as I’m cooking some noodles in the kitchen. 

     “Not too bad,” I tell him. “Just putting together some press releases for a PR company that gives exposure to start-up businesses in Colombia.”

     “That sounds interesting…”

     “Not really but it pays the bills you know…”

     “Yeah yeah….”

He had never questioned me further on my lies, and maybe that was because he presumed it was bullshit, but as long as he got my rent money every four weeks, he didn’t care. He could go back to applying for reality TV shows and planning his next failed business and whatever else it was he got up to in the days he spent away from the apartment.

Well, a few days passed and it seemed I wouldn’t have to lie to Martin about my employment anymore. I got a call from the energy company to tell me that they were pleased to tell me that I would be starting training for my new role the following Monday. It seemed that after a month, I was back to being employed. I was once again a functioning member of society; an accepted tax-paying citizen with my own role and cubicle. Realising this, I went and got myself a beer from the fridge, not knowing whether I was drinking in celebration or despair. After I ended up drinking seven more, I realised it was despair.

5

So there I was: first day on the job, sitting in the training office with my own computer, surrounded by seven other new starters who were eager to learn and progress in the company. I looked around at them: it was a mixture of ages and ethnicities, although they all appeared to share one thing in common – they had all worked at call centres before, often for years, and they no doubt knew what they were doing much better than me. It was true that I had done customer service work before, but that was dealing with mums in supermarkets shouting at me because we had started charging five pence for a plastic bag. Dealing with people on the phone was slightly different, and one that was a bit of a nightmare for someone like myself. I couldn’t stand talking on the phone and I made a point of avoiding phone calls with friends whenever I could, choosing instead to stay safe and distanced through the medium of messaging. There was just something about communicating this way that I found unnatural and awkward. Well, that was a shame, because now it appeared I would be doing it for hours every day. 

Speaking to friends on the phone was one thing, but dealing with customers was another. I would like to say that I have had many interactions in customer service that were tolerable, even pleasant on occasion, but mostly it is a form of torture that causes you to wish for nuclear apocolypse. Dealing with people in a customer service position you suddenly see them become demons from the deepest pits of hell. Knowing they are the priority and that the customer is always right, they feel they can get away with talking to you anyway they like. For example when I worked the evening shift in the supermarket, I would get many people come in on their way home for work. Many of these people were suffering from another day of working a job they hate, and maybe they were going home to something worse. As a result, they saw dealing with someone at the supermarket as an opportunity to vent their inner existential frustration. 

I feared on the phone it would be even worse, knowing that they were safely distanced would allow them to really use me as a verbal punching bag. It was like when you saw people driving; if someone cut them off, you would see them shouting and swearing to the other person in the opposite car. But if you saw someone bump into someone in the street, they would both politely apologise and be on their way. Ultimately human-beings needed to feel safe and distanced before they vented the pain in their souls, and talking with someone in customer service on the phone was a perfect opportunity to do this. This was made even worse by knowing I was working for an energy company. In past years the energy companies hiked their prices at every opportunity; with it being a private market and having no one to answer to, they all collectively raised their fees each winter in unison. People were getting financially fucked left, right and centre; and now I would be having to hear about for hours every day.

Luckily for me, I had three weeks of training until I would actually have to face the wrath of angry consumers throughout the country. This training would involve learning the sort of queries I would have to deal with, and how to navigate the website and computer system. I wished the training would go on forever, and I made sure to sit back and make the most of the stress-free days while I could. 

I didn’t really care for getting to know any of my co-workers, but one day I ended up befriending an older guy who was sitting next to me. He was in his late forties, softly spoken and seemingly shy. Sitting there, I often looked over and saw him scribbling down some doodles on a piece of paper. When I looked closely, I could see they were actually pretty good – artistic sketches of fantasy things like dragons and castles. It was clear that he was a similar soul to me, an escapist daydreamer, probably wondering why he also had to subject himself to such absurdity when all he wanted to do was create art. Noticing these things I struck up a conversation with him. There was an instant connection and he told me how he was a buddhist who lived in a buddhist commune in the centre of town. He meditated two hours every day and you could sense that in his calm demeanour. I guess that was another thing people did while waiting to die, seeking nirvana. If all else fails, I can always become a monk, I thought to myself. I’ll retreat to the mountains of Himalaya and meditate myself into oblivion. I’ll live off the land and seek enlightenment until the end of my days, far away from all of this nonsense.

The training went on and I eventually accepted the fact I was falling behind. My interest had gone by week two, so I joined my buddhist brother in doodling. My doodles weren’t sketches however, but sentences for my fantasy novel. For some reason I felt even more creative when in this stifling environment and I sought to make the most of it. I looked around at my colleagues, all of them unaware that the greatest novel of the 21st century was being written right under their noses. They trained to answer some phone calls while I put down immortal words that would be read and analysed in classrooms for centuries to come. Maybe one day in my autobiography I would mention how I wrote some of it while working at a call centre, and they would read it and realise just how lucky they were to be in the presence of a true genius. Well, of course that wouldn’t happen but it was a nice thing to daydream about. I continued doing that, staring out the window at the sun coming through the trees, appreciating the carefree days while jotting down some words here and there. Hell, I was even getting £11 an hour for my time- the biggest wage I had ever had in my twelve years of working. Finally I was getting paid for my writing like I should have been. Of course, I was going to be severely underprepared when the training had finished, but I told myself that I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.

6

Well, I crossed that bridge and entered the warzone. My peaceful, stress-free days came to a sudden end as the bloody battle of customer service began. On my first day I had them all: the angry, the patronising, the annoying, the crazy and the confused. So many people who felt they had been overcharged; who were threatening to switch energy provider; who told me how horrid I was for capitalising on old people just trying to stay warm in their houses. Bang, bang, bang. The verbal abuse came at me from all angles. I was on the frontline, getting gunned down for all the things the people who actually ran the company did. I was the expendable young soldier being bombarded while the generals sat comfortably in some safe building far away from the bloodshed.

In particular I had one woman who told me to get a proper job. I questioned whether it was one of my parents on the other line. Once again the temptation to actually speak the truth was enormous; it was on the tip of my tongue, me telling her how I don’t want to do this job but I’m forced to so that I can pay my bills just like her. I thought about agreeing with her that the prices are disgusting and we were all victims of an exploitative, dehumanising capitalist system that is destroying human minds and the planet we live on. Oh yes, oh yes – the truth sat on the end of my tongue, looking out at the daylight, but once again I remembered that the truth was a creature of the darkness, so I locked it quickly back up inside my brain and recited the formulaic customer service script. 

On that occasion I kept it together, but I had to admit that it was continually difficult to maintain calmness among the conversations I was having. I looked over to Gandhi beside me for some inspiration. He seemed to always be calm and collective. His years of meditation had allowed his brain to live in zen-like state, detached from the tedious conversations he was having to have throughout the day. I was inspired by him and I took some moments to try and be mindful between calls; to mentally detach myself from the absurdity of the task at hand. It was something that clearly aided him in this war and I figured it was good practice for the outside world as well. 

The battle continued, and even with me trying to be in a detached zen state, I was struggling with my customer service duty. It got to the point where I was sitting in the canteen on lunch break, struggling to lift myself up out of the chair to return to my desk. I was shell-shocked. And when the phone rang I stared at it fearfully. The horror of humanity was on the other line and I sat there struggling to lift my arm to answer it.

I knew I wasn’t going to last and I think it was on day four of doing the actual job that I quit. For once, I didn’t even really think it all out. There was no notice of resignation or plan to not attend work. I was just walking to work one morning when, without thinking, I suddenly stopped outside the office. I stared at the building in front of me. I stared at the cubicles inside and the parked cars and the smokers having their first cigarettes of the day as they mentally prepared for another day on the frontline. Out of nowhere a universal force overcame my body and made it impossible for me to put one foot in front of the other. The only thing I could do was turn around and just walk somewhere else. That somewhere else was the local park. It was a nice, sunny morning and I spent some time sitting by the pond and watching the ducks. I then went and got myself a coffee and a sandwich before walking around a little more through a wooded area. There were many squirrels there, and they weren’t shy; they came up to me as I fed them bread. They were nice squirrels. Anyway it wasn’t long before my phone started ringing. It would be work, of course, wanting to know why I was feeding animals and not locked up inside my cubicle taking abuse from some stranger down the phone. I thought about answering but I figured I’d have absolutely no explanation for my strange behaviour. In the end, I just turned off my phone and carried on strolling around in nature. I then went to a bookstore, then an art gallery, and finally a pub for a couple of pints. At one point I completely forgot about work altogether. It was a nice day, and eventually I went home to try and process the end of another transient piece of employment.

Well, there was no way I was ever going to communicate with them again, at least not on the dreaded telephone. I’d send them an email that the job was giving me extreme anxiety. Anxiety was the go-to excuse of the modern age, even overtaking stress, and I had even used it recently to get out of being best man at a friend’s wedding. Almost everyone had social anxiety these days and you only had to mention it to get people to back off and leave you alone. I even went a little further, stating that I had experienced a panic attack on my way to work. I wrote the e-mail and sent it off, not planning to look at the reply for at least another few days.

I also told my sister about my latest job quitting. As always, she was keen to offer me some words of wisdom. “It was obvious a call centre job wasn’t for you. You should look for something more suitable to you. You need to find something that you have a connection to and a passion for. You should do this personality test; I did it and it helped tell me a lot about myself and what sort of jobs would be good for me. I think it’s really insightful.” She sent me a link to a website called 16personalities. Apparently this was it; my problem all along was that I needed to understand myself better. It at least piqued my curiosity, so I loaded it up and read through it. 

It was a list of questions about all sorts of preferences and situations in life, designed to get an insight into the psychology of your mind. From the answers you gave, you were determined to be one of sixteen personality types based on things like introversion/extroversion and whether you acted with your heart or your head. Initially, I was kinda fearful to see what they made of the mess of my mind, but intrigued too.

After filling them out, the website determined I was an INFP – which is basically the deformed, death and blind midget of the personality types. Reading up some more on it, it appeared INFP personality types were the most likely to feel misunderstood, the most likely to earn the least money, and even the most likely to kill themselves. Essentially it was life on difficult mode and finally I had something to point to while people wondered why I was the total disaster I was. “It’s my personality type,” I would tell them. “I’m an INFP. It’s basically like living life with a mental disability.” Of course, I knew I was justifying my uselessness as a person under the banner of a psychology test. I would be just as terrible as the women who justified their behaviour based on their star sign or a full moon.

The website also listed the job roles that suit INFP personalities. Writer was the main one along with artist – pretty much things you couldn’t do for a stable living, hence why this type made the least money by a good distance. Apparently people like Van Gogh and Sylvia Plath were INFP personality types though. Lucky me, I thought – I had a good chance of mutilating my own body or sticking my head in an oven like a roast turkey.

My sister had told me it would help me understand myself better and what sort of things I would be good at, but it only confirmed the reality of what I thought about myself. I was a jagged piece of the jigsaw, with no place to smoothly slot into society. My place was not in the suburbs of sanity, but on the sidelines with the starving artists and madmen, searching for the light of existence while trying to fight off the wolves of depression and insanity. Well, it wasn’t all bad news. At least I was in the right category for wanting to become a writer anyway. I didn’t have much chance of finding a job I liked, but it appeared my delusion about becoming a best-selling writer one day at least had a faint hope of possibility. INFPs apparently included Shakespeare, Tolkien, and George Orwell. I was in good company, and with this new source of morale, I returned to my novel to strike out a few more sentences. I was nearing 25,000 words and a third of the way through the greatest novel of the 21st century. I was a man in pursuit of his own destiny. I was a man aligning his passion and purpose. I was a man killing time while waiting to die.

7

I eventually checked the reply to my email after three days. I was cringing at what they would say to me but it wasn’t too terrible. They said they understood but also wished I had discussed it with them – and that it was still a possibility if I wanted to. But if not, they said they were sad to lose me and that I could expect my pay in my account next Friday. Well, it wasn’t too bad; I had four weeks of decent pay at least. That would tide me over for another month or two of living the way I did – basic groceries, cheap beer, walking or cycling everywhere, and just spending a lot of time in my bedroom on my computer. I was back to being a bum; back to lying to my landlord about what it was that I was doing with my life. At least he had my precious rent guaranteed for another couple of months. His hard work of inheriting a place from his dead dad had guaranteed him another £780 of my money.

The days of unemployment recommenced. I awoke late, masturbated regularly, and sat staring at my laptop screen for hours each day. At that point writer’s block struck and I wasn’t feeling inspired to work on my novel. Now I really had nothing to do and time needed to be wasted in vast amounts. I was still inspired by the buddhist at the office, so I downloaded some guided meditations and spent hours each day sitting on my bed like Buddha himself. After a week or so had been murdered this way, I began to notice a change in my consciousness. I was more content and relaxed. I had a wider awareness of everything around me. Feeling a deep connection with the universe, I went back to the woods and marvelled at nature while feeding those squirrels. Life was easy, stress-free, blissful even!

     This state of being lasted about five days until the usual desires came creeping back up on me. In particular, the need to get drunk and chase women and generally act like an idiot. It appeared no amount of meditation could take that side from me. Once again, I contacted Jake so he could assist me in another night of hedonistic escapism.

We met in the pub he worked at after he had finished a shift. He was busy chatting with his regulars when I arrived, but eventually came over to join me for a drink. Sitting there, I told him about my latest stint in the world of employment. He almost seemed annoyed that I had landed a steady job that paid more than the minimum wage and that I had given it up so swiftly. “Man, what a waste that was. You should have got your friend to get me that job.”

“Trust me, you didn’t want it.”

“I’ve been working in bars since I was sixteen. All I’ve ever known is working unsociable hours. I’d love to have a steady 9-5, Monday to Friday job.”

“Everyone says that until they actually have one. The reality of it is different. The tedious routine of sitting behind the same desk everyday. You wait all week for the weekend and then it flies by. Suddenly you’re staring down the barrel of Monday morning again with another long slog in front of you. The whole thing sucks your soul dry after a while.”

“This place is sucking my soul dry!”

“I’ve worked in a bar before,” I said. “It took about six months there until I started going crazy. In this place I was crazy after just a few weeks.”

“You’re crazy no matter what you do.”

“True.”

There was a pause in the conversation as we sipped our pints to acknowledge that truth. He then went out for another cigarette and to chat to his community of alcoholics that frequented his pub. He worked in a Wetherspoons pub – the budget establishment of the UK where unemployed people such as myself could get drunk off a tenner. It wasn’t just the unemployed, but the poor in general, the depressed, the men escaping their wives, and the old people drinking alone in dark corners. Those pensioners in particular were a sad sight to behold. There they came everyday: retired people who had nothing better to do but sit and drink and stare into space. Often they would arrive in the early morning and spend the entire day there alone in solemn silence, reading a shitty newspaper while awaiting the inevitable. It was like looking into God’s waiting room and Jake told me how a regular passed away every few weeks. You always knew when you hadn’t seen their face in more than a few days. The poor bastards. This is what they got after a lifetime of work and saving for retirement: festering alone in a dank pub as the last of their days ran dry. Watching them sit there, you could actually watch them emptying slowly out until all that was left of them was the froth at the bottom, before it eventually evaporated and disappeared right before your eyes. 

It was a sad sight as it always was and it once again reinforced the feeling I had inside of wanting to escape this mortal prison before the years had really taken their toll. I poured those pints down my throat hoping they would contribute to some liver illness that would help me check out around the age of sixty. The way I saw it, that was the age we were meant to live to anyway. It was only recently we had started living into our 80s and beyond. Technological and medicinal development had screwed us over; we should have been dying around fifty somewhere at the hands of some lion or hideous disease. But instead we now reached almost double that age, sitting in carehomes and shitting ourselves and forgetting our children’s faces and becoming so decrepit and frail that we couldn’t even eat without assistance. We watched the world change into a thing we didn’t recognise, where every new generation was a sad reminder of what a foreign thing you were – a relic of a bygone age which had no time or place for you anymore. All that was left to do was drink alone in pubs while waiting to die.

I sat there getting depressed, remembering I was now thirty and that the glory of my youth had fallen away. Okay, I wasn’t old like them, but I was past the point of my physical peak and now all that awaited was the long descent to join those old people drinking themselves to death, subconsciously speeding up the process because they knew the sadness of their existence on this earth was too much to bear, that they would never be those young and beautiful people they once were, that their mediocre story was nearly written and the last sorry sentences were being put down – each uneventful day a nail in the coffin of another meaningless existence; more lives that didn’t amount to anything; more dreams disappearing into dust, the only memory of your one existence being a piece of grey stone protruding from the earth in a field somewhere, getting shit on by the birds and rained on by the sky – death, as in life, seeing this world pissing on you from high above as the earth pulled you down, down, down to the ground.

Okay, perhaps my nihilism was getting a little out of hand. I was supposed to be forcing myself to have a good time, so I went over to join Jake and his crew of regulars – the degenerates to which I belonged. I introduced myself and soon the drinks were sailing back as we chatted general shit about current affairs and football. I barely knew anything about football, but when talking with drunk people you only had to give a few ‘yeah’s and ‘right’s to make it seem like you were an expert on the subject. Mostly drunk people just wanted to hear themselves speak and have someone nod their head in agreement with them. One of the guys then offered me a cigarette; I didn’t smoke but took it anyway. About twenty minutes later I’m doing cocaine in the toilet with the same guy. This is what needed to be done sometimes; you had to trick your brain into thinking that something exciting was happening with a chemical substance. I did a couple of lines with my new friend and emerged like a gremlin from the cave of a toilet cubicle. At that point I couldn’t see Jake anymore amid the crowd. I was back in that haze, drifting through the night, sailing on through the mist. That mist had become a friend over the years, sheltering me from the piercing light of reality that at times was too much to bear. This time I needed it a lot, and I let myself be consumed by it as everything blurred around me once again. More drinks went down until I remembered that I was supposed to be watching my money, so I started picking up leftover drinks on the side of the bar, not caring what was in them.

After a while, the mist had taken me into the city centre. I wasn’t even too sure how I got there when I stopped to think about it. My memory was terrible when drunk and dementia was sure to hit me in that dreaded old age. Oh well, for now I didn’t care. I was outside in the smoking area of some pub having another cigarette off some stranger. We stood there smoking and naturally I felt the need to make conversation. I asked him about his day and immediately hated myself. Small-talk was something that physically pained me and yet there I was instigating it. He told me about his day then asked me what it was that I did. I thought about lying as usual and saying I was a writer but I didn’t have the energy. I told him I had just quit a call centre job and was unemployed.    

“Good on you for quitting!” he said. “Not everyone has the guts to quit a job they hate.”

“Trust me, I’m well experienced in it.”

“I get you. That office life is sickening. All those people spending their lives doing some mundane task, chasing promotions and climbing ladders to nowhere. They age terribly and are all secretly unhappy inside. And they feel good when they get that paycheck, but ultimately it goes to things that don’t make them happy and only trap themselves further in the system of sedentary slavery.” I was suddenly warming to this guy. “No fuck that shit,” he continued. “I’m glad I got out of that lifestyle when I could. Nowadays I just do online trading and deliver food for a few hours each day. You’ll never see me working a job like that again!” Out of nowhere it appeared I had found a fellow misfit. Naturally I was curious about his lifestyle and asked him more about it. He told me how he had worked a 9-5 ‘proper job’ for five years then took all the money he had saved and put it into crypto currency. He was now making regular profits and this, alongside four hours a day delivering food on a bike, was enough money to live comfortably off. The idea of a man escaping the sewer was always enough to get the blood pumping, and there and then I decided I was going to give it a go as well. Well, I had absolutely no spare money to put into trading, but I at least had a bike.       

He finished his cigarette and took off into the night. Before he left, he took my number and told me he’d text me sometime. Of course, I knew he never would. The amount of random numbers I had in my phone from brief encounters on nights out was comical. I carried on through the night staggering around in the mist, trying and failing to attract a mating partner for the night. The mist got thicker and eventually the possibility of attracting anything other than trouble was long gone. Pretty soon I blacked out completely, waking up the next morning in my bed with a horrific hangover and few grazes on my body that I had no idea about. 

thoughts

~ Dismissed ~

“Hello Ryan”

“Hey! How’s it going? You’re from here then?”

“I live in Birmingham. What do you do?”

“Oh, I live in Nottingham. I just got back yesterday from backpacking in Mexico.”

“Don’t need work? Or still on vacation?”

“Yeah I’ll look for work soon but I have savings for now. And you? Where are you from originally?”

“Do you have any major? I’m from Kansas City, USA.”

“My degree is in communications. How’d you end up in England?

“I work here in human resources…. What position or job do you want to apply for?”

“Okay cool, and I’m not sure. Why so many questions about jobs? 

“It’s kinda important.”

“Okay, well if you’re looking for a career-obsessed guy then I’m not that sorry. I live my life to travel.”

(conversation ends as I’m blocked)

Speaking to girls on dating websites, it’s usually in the first few messages that they steer the conversation onto careers. Not always, but the majority of the time they drop the ‘what do you do’ question within the first few sentences. It both amuses and saddens me. No discourse about your life views, your interests, or what fills your soul with joy. They have to know straight away what your profession is, and then work out if you’re someone they want to invest their time in. This robotic process, cold and calculated, as if human relationships were a mere business plan. As if people were mere products and items. As if the union of two souls depended on their financial capital. And of course, I say this as someone who has never had a ‘proper job’, but who has spent his time working on his art and travelling the world for experience. When I tell them the truth about my life, the replies stop coming and I’m weeded out. I guess I can’t blame them. They have a mission in life which is different to mine. Especially if they are over thirty, they are scrambling around looking for a partner to settle down with. They need a person with a reliable income so that they can get the mortgage, the wedding, the kids, the nice kitchen, the fancy holidays, and all the things we are supposed to have to be accepted members of society. That march relentlessly to the middle-class mecca of suburbia where they will finally be happy and complete, where they will have the car on the forecourt, the flowers in the garden, the kids at the dinner table, the dog in the kennel, the plump cushions on the sofa.

I admit there are times when it can get lonely living the life I live, especially as a single man. I see the world from the outside spaces, and from there I get to look back in from a different perspective. To them I am a loner on the outside, and to me they are trapped in a herd – held in place by those around them and unable to move freely to spaces that I know contain so much treasure. I guess I should really know better by now, and not to even bother with these dating sites. Maybe it’s the masochistic side of me, or the need to constantly investigate the human condition, but again and again I return to them to face the same barrier. I know my women are not on those sites. There are some yes, but they are hard to find. They are much easier to find when I am out on the road – when I am staying in dingy hostels; when I am wandering the hiking paths of a mountain wilderness; when I am getting drunk in the local bars of a far-off land. That’s where they are, and yes I do meet many of them, but as is the nature of travelling, we both move on to different places, and there I find myself once again: back home facing the frowning frontline of women who are mostly frightened, disinterested, or even disgusted by the lives of someone like me.

I guess this is just the way life is. You choose your herd, you choose your way, and you accept your freedoms and limitations from whatever type of life you choose. I have chosen mine and I know I’ll never be going back to those women and the way of life they expect of me. But to hell with it! There is a joy bubbling in my soul right now as I type out my truth once again. The joy of the lone wolf, roaming free in untamed lands, living a life of personal truth. Living a life where I feel a greater connection to the whole than any partner or gold ring could give me.

thoughts

~ Just a Feeling ~

“There’s nothing else to do but write. No job to work, no woman to marry, no reason to settle down. I see no meaning to it all anymore. There is nothing else to do but write. So here I am typing on these keys, and walking down those streets, and staring at the things that pass me by: the faces that tell a story, the dogs staring into space, the sadness and the madness of the suburban universe. I stare at it all and try to make sense of what it is to be human, to be here on this earth, and to try to get by in whatever way you can. I try to understand this all before dying so I can put it into words that might mean something to someone somewhere. This is what I have chosen. This sickness. This insanity. I was not gifted with many things. Hell, I’m not even too good of a writer. But at least it’s something that feels inherently right. And I believe that feeling is the beginning of doing something that makes your life one worth living. To find what comes naturally and throw yourself into doing it completely. To find what makes you feel as if the whole universe is working in harmony the moment you’re doing it. Surfboards and keyboards. Dancing and singing. Sex and love. These are the things. This is the secret. Like others before me, I am a devotee to the rivers of passion running through me, letting them carry me along, moving ever forward to the lands of some divine light.”