Pastoral Genocide

You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me.

Experience is an awkward concept. It’s shapeless, enigmatic, impossible to define or corral. In real time, the events that lodge themselves in the rudiment of the human psyche often seem unreal. Reaction is primal. Instinctive. Digestion is an afterthought, a malicious and emaciated human conception. Sometimes the really important things in life, the scattered and momentary circumstances that emerge under the guise of routine, don’t seem substantial until hours, days, months, years after the fact.

The first real memory I have of manhood or otherwise occurred in a dive bar when I was 23. It didn’t strike me as important until much later. But as in all stories of youth dissolved – conquered, demoralized, browbeaten – I grew up. Within this ubiquitously-labeled process of summiting the icy peak of adulthood, I realized several things, simple, oft-passed over realities that high definition television, beautiful women, and the smell of spring in the air beg us forget.

We all grow up, grow old, become marginalized. We smell the arresting and barbaric storm that accumulates on the horizon. In it, our fate is revealed through a show of fantastic and blinding electricity. It is brilliant and heartbreaking. We draw the line between black and white and spit the grayness of adolescence into the air. Because it is here, when we shed our youthful uprightness for the comfort found in the armor of maturity, that the end exerts itself and, like a cancer, steadfastly eats away at away at the former clarity of optimism. Growing old isn’t, in itself, remarkable. It’s not special or exciting or hermetically pointed. You’re born, you grow up, old, and die. Predestination, baby. Accept it or run from it, it’s your choice. Que sera sera.

But my pedestrian musings on the subjects of life and death are trivial and unnecessary. They lack the brawn and the relevance of my story – or, for that matter, any story. So, we cut to the chase:

I was 23 years old and at a point in my life in which my fledgling ideologies were lodged between the granular realities of uncertainty and fragmented mediocrity. I was metaphorically adrift in a sea of alternating cerulean and choleric blues. Violent storms would give way to momentary yet manumissional bursts of sunlight. The girl who I had hoped to spend eternity with had just left me, citing my unadulterated bitterness and romantic cynicism as the cause. She left me devastated and chain smoking, holed up in the darkness of my room, cursing her as a tyrannical cunt. I was angry, I was sad, I was fucking pathetic. I began to look at life in terms of cause and effect, a failed experiment in pragmatic utilitarianism. Like I said, fucking pathetic.

It was a largely nondescript Thursday night in the middle of February. Now, I hate February as much as living, breathing entity can possibility hate a simple facet of the Julian calendar system. People tell me that I should hate rapists, murderers, dictators, and terrorists. And I do. But I really, really, really fucking hate February. Life loses its velocity, its crispness, its poignancy. The all too early abetment of daylight acts a serviceable yet poor camouflage for the doleful bleakness of winter. Spring is on the horizon, but too far away to be tasted or touched or smelled. The skeptic – the cynic – inside of me tells me that if I can’t wrap my fingers around it or put it in my mouth, it’s not real. And if it’s not real, what’s the point of thinking about it?

So, on this particular Thursday evening, I sought refuge, for a retrospectively unknown reason, in a disgraceful and ramshackle tavern then known as Lady Byron’s. It was the kind of place that kept the lights low out of necessity, lest the God-fearing patrons be subjected to a floor painted with vomit and blood. The tables were stained with the sticky residue of spilled drinks and dimmed horizons. The ancient beer memorabilia, in its outdated splendor, served as a decrepit mile marker, rigidly chronicling the duration to which this particular establishment had served as a catalyst for degeneration. Oh, sweet, sweet intoxication, you sirenic mistress of escapism.

Above all, Lady Byron’s was a mirage. A shit-stained cesspool of humanity and grit that gave the illusion of freedom, but in reality, did little more than cement the fact that to be here is to be in the deepest and darkest place of the human condition, the place where hope has finally, and often tortuously, been put to rest.

In this insignificant bar in an insignificant small town in America’s Rust Belt sat, with me, two of my friends, people whose faces and personalities have now become opaquely washed away in the polluted river of time and place. In retrospect, mere acquaintances. The jukebox, burrowed snugly in the darkest of the bar’s dim corners, was, fittingly, playing lounge-era Tom Waits. Waits – and especially so during his parlor-tune days – has always been someone whom I respected. He did not see life in terms of good or bad, merely in sequences of being drunk and being alive. He did not fuck around with attachment or reverie. He existed, simply and pontifically.

So, as my friends and I sat in this bar listening to Tom Waits and conversing, undoubtedly of high-minded and eloquent things, the inexplicable came crashing down upon us. It unraveled like a story out of some sort of white trash, penthouse-ian fantasy: surreal and brutal, eloquent and smugly arousing.

Like all grand stories, it began innocuously: from the bar, directly across from the table where we sat, a woman rose and made her way towards us. She carried herself with a burlesque, albeit crestfallen, swagger. She wore her dirty blonde hair in a messy half pony tail. Life had not been kind to this woman. But irregardless of nurture, this woman was never destined for beauty. She looked to exist on a diet of cigarettes and small-mindedness and was dressed in the trashiest of attire – tapered blue jeans matched tactfully with a black leather vest and a Dallas Cowboys themed Looney Toons shirt. To even the most casual of observers it was readily apparent that this woman – a mess of booze and stupor – was a molten and tangible perfection of the white trash animal. She inched closer and, collectively, myself and my tablemates cringed. We knew it was happening and we wished it wasn’t. The violence of occurrence is a powerful, confusing matter.

Closer and closer, and closer she inched. Closer, still.

Inside, I was wishing for nothing more than for her to abandon her foray across the bar, to break off eye contact, to leave us the fuck alone. This was like an encounter between an African and a crocodile, a dangerous juxtaposition between predator and prey that would have the most disastrous of results.

She addressed us in a cackling, enigmatic tone that reeked of trailer parks and casino parking lots.

“You bbb-boys,” she slurred. “You boys ssss-seemm to be pretty lonely.” We looked at her, our faces surely pained with stress and woe. She paused and the air hung pregnant. The calm before the storm, the deafening quiet before the bomb, the silence on the other end of the phone right before you hear something really terrible, like I don’t love you anymore or your father died this morning.

In near symbiotic unison, we replied that no lady, we weren’t lonely, we don’t need or want your company, please, lady, please get the fuck out of here and leave us alone. Go back to the bar, to your life, to your catacomb of desperation. Please.

Undeterred by our alcohol inspired courage, she plodded forward, thrusting herself into that patch of dirt and blood that exists between the trenches of friend and foe.

“Look, I got sss-ssssomething that mmm-mmight interest you gggg-g-gguys,” she said. “Yyyy-you boys happen to like bbb-bblowjobs? Yyyy-you like gettin’ y-yyall’s dick sucked?”

With that, she had arrived at her destination. Here, she threw the knockout punch, the mother of all propositions, the most fucking ridiculous thing I have ever heard or ever hope to hear. She delivered it through an anxiously clenched jaw, her hot, stale breath whistling through her archeologically ignored teeth.

“I’ll suck yyy-yyer dicks ff-for twenty bucks. All ttt-three. Twenty bucks.” She stood above us, looking proud and content. Accomplished, somehow.

She then delivered a visual of the suggestion, opening her mouth wide, hands wrapped around an imagined shaft as if fellatio was, in some way, an abstract concept.

The comment cut through the night with the potency of assassination. It commanded response, demanded to be confronted, defied both plausibility and rationale. Her comment, her demeanor, and her ghastly smirk were all delivered with the finesse and sensitivity of rape. Her world invaded ours. The situation was volcanic, she erupting with a vesuevian current of scum and vice and we, the innocent and naïve townspeople below, running and begging for our lives. It was to no avail. I struggled to answer her. Her suggestion was beyond ludicrous. It was indecent, a comment of impenetrable dilapidation.

In a strangled voice, heavy with a mixture of pity and acrimony, I responded that no, you fucking pig, I’d rather die than let you within spitting distance of my exposed, aroused member. For good measure, I called her a bitch, a cunt, a hog. An animal. I yelled these obscenities into the night, awestruck at my own ferocity. Everything was so unfair.

She took the comment with grace and, surprisingly, a simple sense of level headedness.

“Fff-fuck yyyy-you guys, then,” she said, her yellow eyes darting and glaring at us. Her lips pursed into a growl. “Yyyy-you think you’re better than mmm-me?”

She paused for a brief second, as if confused by the rejection, only to then answer her own rhetorical question.

“Bbbb-because you’re ffff-ffffucking not. You aaaren’t better than me. Yyyy-you’re not.” She put her hands on her hips and repeated with great purpose “Yyyy-you’re nnnn-nnot better than mm-me.”

And then, as she turned to retreat to her bar stool, she was felled by a blow with a fundamentally monumental importance. A blubbery right fist, thrown with accuracy and meaning, hit her face with a meaty thump. She let out a harrowing sound, a vociferate bluster of a deep and trembling viscosity, fueled by beer and disaster and public assistance monies. She grabbed the left side of her face and feigned death. Above her stood a man, thick with brute sexuality and imbedded sourness. He wore his tattoos with a mural-like pride. This was not a man to fuck with, not a man to look, not man to acknowledge or celebrate or even consider human. He was beast, an animal, a fucking firebrand of carnality and laziness. Then, he turned. His eyes met mine.

“Sorry, guys, my wife’s a fucking whore. Lemme buy you a drink.” He turned to the bar, and yelled “three Millers,” before turning to look disgustedly at his wife sprawled on the floor.

And that was it. He turned and kicked softly her in the ribs. His disposition was that of complacent normalcy. Like episodes such as were a regular occurrence, a simple marital disagreement that was a tolerated annoyance. She looked up as he walked back to his bar stool, unleashing an erstwhile flow of vulgarity at no on in particular.

Pitifully, then, she picked herself up and walked across the now silent bar and sat in the barstool next to her husband. He ordered her a beer and told her to put it on her face and she complied under his watchful eye. And so they sat: He, the author of her welling bruises and she, the terminal skank. Good and bad, right and wrong, decency and vulgarity – these values had no place in either’s hearts or minds. These people simply existed, devoid of ideology, morality, and poignancy. They were real only because of their bones and flesh and blood and hair. Reluctantly, the bar’s patrons returned to their conversations and life pushed onward. We finished our beers and disappeared into the snowy night.

Ten years later, my broken heart is mended and I live a good, safe life. I live in a house, drive a car, have a job and a wife and a kid on the way. I live the suburban life: I look forward to weekends and cookouts and waking up every morning wrapped around a beautiful woman. I’m at peace with who I am and who I was and I have a pretty clear idea of who I want to be. My life, finally, is what I always wanted it to be.

In retrospect and revision, however, I look back on that night often. It haunts me, it makes me laugh, and it seems to have some sort of deep-rooted importance to who I once was and who I became. The night was the antithesis of Rockwellian, a moment of wholesale sleaze and despondency. I’ve always wondered what drives human beings to such dark places, metaphorical battlefields that torture the mind and destroy the body. I still can’t figure it out. Deep down, I don’t think I really want to. I don’t want to know where all that pain and bitterness and unimportance comes from. Desperation of that velocity must come from a place that is both bottomless and caliginous, a place that is cloudy with frailty and bereavement. It operates like a vector, greedily consuming the good in people, leaving the upright hobbled and crippled with weight. I don’t want to know that kind life. And, that’s important, or at least so to my small, simple mind. Because if you know what you don’t want, well, you’re one step closer to figuring out what you do want. And that’s what we’re all trying to do, right?


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I remember the earlier version of this story. This one has so much more coherency and depth to it. The last paragraph is absolute gold.

Comment by Ben

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