by Eli Toast
So I’m sleeping in fifth gear and lurch awake as if I’ve accidentally down-shifted into first. I run to my kitchen which stinks like hot batteries. The electric stove is glowing orange, the refrigerator door is open, and the shelves are collapsed inside. As my panic ebbs, I await the inevitable emotional tidal wave of jagged flotsam to surge over the levee and dump a bunch of bush-league angst into my so-called soul. I look out my window and life outside is a blazing shithole of consumer goods.
There are warm coins stuck to my body because I slept naked, which is rare because I usually pass out fully clothed, but last night I called multiple people retards and engaged in a vehement argument about whether or not a bear can beat up a lion; which it can.
As I shower, more coins fall from my body and clang in the tub. Beneath the hot water I engage in a, flat, red-eyed, vaguely suicidal shower-thought about eating a heaping spoonful of the entire periodic table of elements and washing it down with a tall glass of the fluid that leaks out of air conditioning units.
Shower finished, I pose in my post shower glisten and behold my grossly flatulent apartment in ruin. I notice the heat from the stove has dissipated and left the room cold. Before dressing I check the news hoping that a family of rich people have sunk their yacht into a shoal of hungry barracuda.
Last night I tried to chop a hamburger in half with my hand. I honestly can’t believe that I have any friends at all. I’m convinced this is the worst hangover of all time, and maybe it is. Well… It probably isn’t the worst, because my first year in college I got so drunk I almost died.
I need to eat and I’ve got wicked heartburn, but whatever, so I use the end of a dirty spoon to apply I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter to some stale whole wheat bread I grabbed out of the cupboard. Then I remember that when I got home earlier this morning I ate three boiled hot dogs smothered in mustard, accompanied with several rugged chunks of cheese that I pried free from a one pound brick of Kirkland sharp cheddar with a fork. I also ate around fifteen kalamata olives and remember dropping several pits on the floor and defiantly leaving them there. Hot dogs, bread, and shorn hunks of cheese with fiteen or so olives? Sure. I remember that. It was a swarthy and reckless eating session and I’m a steaming pile of shit.
Every single dish I own I leave in the sink, partially submerged in tepid bilge.
Everything will collapse and anarchy will be loosed; roving mobs of murderers will riot with impunity; the seas, lakes, and rivers are so choked with toxic slime and plastic, nothing but poisonous heaps of garbage will be left to our mutated babies when they inherit our newly slag-pitted earth; the banks will burn and the oily smoke will twist into the radioactive sky. Wholesale murder is already rewarded with fist bumps in corporate genocidal fraternities. This is where my head is as I step out the door, dressed, on my way to work.
Outside the sun’s muted rays slant at a cruel angle through the winter haze. A dirty, feral cat roots around a ubiquitous pile of Asian garbage and quickly regards me with near poultry-level skittishness that has been bred into it from a lifetime of matter-of-fact cruelty. On the way to work I walk past a river full of sewage where off in the distance a gray heron stands at the bank and I think about these poor birds forced to live next to this stinking river…but then again, I live next to this stinking river, and so does everyone else.
I turn from the river into an alley and there is an ageless woman bent in half, wearing a puffy nylon jacket, parachute pants, and rubber shoes, pushing an old two-wheeled cart full of cardboard. She’s prowling for more cardboard so she can sell it to a cardboard buyer in some infinitely straightforward cardboard transaction. She is obviously alone and poor, because why else would she be collecting cardboard at her age and condition on such a horrible morning? We pass each other in complete silence.
Then an old Korean gentleman waiting at the bus stop asks me where I’m from.
“The States,” I say.
“I’m a minister,” He says, “Are you a Christian?”.
“No, I’m not religious.”
“I lived in the US for 11 years, in Pennsylvania. I’ve met Eisenhower. Are you familiar with Eisenhower?”
“Yes,” I said, “somewhat.”
“How about Pearl Buck?” He asked.
“Sure, I know,” I said, lying.
“She was a friend of mine.”
“Wow, that’s amazing.”
“I hope that someday you find God,” were his parting words.
A headache as evil and big as Monsanto hunkers down behind my eyes as I think to myself: “Pearl Buck? Huh… That was weird.”
Crossing campus I encounter a handful of errant goofballs who’ve strayed from the student body pack; they greet me with unrefined, though hardly pure, glee. I get to my office and thankfully no one is there. I look around and can’t believe any of it’s true. I haven’t earned any of this, but I’m also starting to give up on all that “woe-is-me” bullshit. I find eye drops and gum in my desk drawer and apply both. I take off my jacket and lay it over the back of my chair. I gather my things and wonder if I can summon the cowardice to cancel the day.
I exit the office and wade down the hall until I arrive at my classroom. I take a big breath, walk in and say:
“Good morning everyone. Are you ready?”
And they are.