The game was rigged and I didn’t have to play it to know, I could just tell by the other people who did. There were always more losers than winners and most of the losers lost big – there weren’t a lot of big winners. Everything is just a consolation prize. 
I woke up empty and I’m still sitting in bed hungry. I know I have eggs in the fridge, but not much else. Fuck eggs, I thought, as I got out of bed and started doing some exercises with my resistance bands and the little 20 pound weights I had sitting on the floor by a hanging mirror in my bedroom. It wasn’t much, but I figure should the revolution come I should at least be able to fight my way out of a wet cardboard box. 
It’s about 11:30 and I don’t have work until 4:00, so I have some time to kill but don’t know how to kill it. 
I’m a manager at this movie and video game rental store that shouldn’t still be open except one day this guy working there had this risky idea to electronically cater parties – it was me – and rent out game systems and games in bulk. And because of the area we were in, the idea actually has worked. I live in a small, five room apartment outside of this small town surrounded by fairly wealthy suburbs in New York. The fortunate part of where we live is that there were a lot of middle-aged parents with a decent amount of money looking for new ways to throw birthday and graduation parties for their kids. 
My phone rings and it’s a number I don’t recognize, nine times out of ten I won’t answer a call like this but the call was coming from a New York number. 
“Hey,” I answer, not hearing any voices.
“Yo Johnny,” the voice says and I start to recognize them. 
“Is this Alex?” 
“Yeah dude, what’s up! You still at the same place?” 
“Yeah man, it’s only been like three months since I saw you last,” I laugh. 
“Okay, good. You doing anything? I’m actually in your town if you have some time to kill.” 
It’s an old friend of mine that I went to high school with and we worked together at my first job at this sandwich shop. He lives down in Philly but takes some combination of a train and buses that drops him off around where I live somehow. He’s usually running up here to make deliveries because he has this really good weed connection back in Philly and the further he goes from the city the more he can make on it. 
Not ten minutes pass by and he’s already knocking at my door. He’s always been one of those friends you can really count on when you’re stuck or screwed in a situation, but his presence isn’t always welcome. He talks more than you really want him to a lot of the time. Sometimes he’s funny, though, so it isn’t all bad. plus since he’s been selling weed so much lately, he’s had some bizarre stories. One was about this straight guy who was apparently really hard up for cash that offered to blow him for a half ounce so he could pay his rent or something like that. Alex didn’t go for that (so he says, ahah) but really instead agreed to give the guy the bud if they went to the main square of a nearby college and freestyle over random beats for 20 minutes. Alex had a mic and an amp he could plug the mic and his laptop into because he raps sometimes on the side. He’s actually pretty good, but more so because of his charisma than all talent. He doesn’t sound off flow or dumb or like he’s forcing rhymes together often, but he doesn’t have a ton of nasty bars – just some real tight one liners. This dude, though, he only listened to rap, didn’t actually rap – so the 20 minute freestyle looked like it’d be a disaster. But he said yes, just wanted to make sure they were good and high before they went, which Alex had covered. 
It ended up not actually being a disaster – according to Alex, the guy found his flow on this eight minute-long beat and ended up drawing a pretty big crowd. Alex said the whole crowd was bouncing and shouting to this random dude just killing it in a freestyle. “Man, he started spitting about the five food groups at one point. It was hysterical, but damn did he earn that half,” I remember Alex telling me. 
So today when he walked in and said he “had some funny shit” to tell me about, I wasn’t shocked. He just wanted to smoke this joint of Grand Daddy Purp bud he had with me first. And who am I to say no to that?
We smoked and caught up for the most part – he tells me stories of random girls who’ve come and gone, I tell him I’ve been basically nothing but working and having less than stellar luck with women – and he dropped a bomb on me. 
“I’m gonna be movin’ like 45 minutes from here and I’m gonna need a roommate, wanted to see if you’d wanna move in with me,” he says. “I’ll still be selling but I have a part-time job lined up so it’ll be a little less sketchy. The place I was looking at is in a college town, so the cops won’t be suspicious about traffic coming and going there, ya know?” 
“Damn,” is all I can say. 
“Yo I know you have your life here and your own place and all, but I know you hate your job man. You don’t even gotta give me an answer right now. Sit on it, think it over, sleep on it, whatever. Just lemme know this week sometime. I’m goin’ to look at the place on Thursday if you’d wanna come with or drive. If you drove I’d even cover the gas and shit.” 
“Alright, man, that’s cool. I’ll definitely think about it. And Thursday I don’t work until 6 in the evening so I’ll drive ya out there just so I can check it out too,” I tell him. After this, we hung out for another hour or so before he has to leave to start heading back to his place. 
“Always good seein’ ya, dude,” Alex says, “and hey, lemme know if you make your mind up before Thursday. If not, I’ll talk to you Wednesday so we can make up a game plan.” 
“Sounds good to me. It was good chillin’, and I’ll let ya know if I figure it out these next couple days. Be easy, man,” I say. We bump fists and he’s out the door. 
I sit down on my couch, grab the remote for my stereo system and turn it on and start playing Era Vulgaris by Queens of the Stone Age. I start thinking about moving in with Alex – the pros, the cons, the whole nine yards. I don’t really have anything tying me down where I’m at. I mean I have some friends here, but I rarely see most of them. Honestly, to me, if I see you you’re my friend if i don’t you’re dead, simple as that.
I like my place here, I’ve been here for two years and I finally feel like it’s my place. I haven’t bought any new furniture in months, I have tour posters from most of my favorite bands and weird art covering enough of the walls that it no longer feels like a hospital waiting room, I even have one of those prototypical dens for reading like a middle-aged dad, and the guy who lived right next to me that used to watch porn too loud and scream at his girlfriend moved away last month. Besides comfort and sustainability, though, I’m not sure there’s much else that this place has to offer me anymore.
I really do hate my job. It isn’t “dead end” exactly, but it’s been made clear to me I’m not going to advance any further. I work almost constantly and the benefits and nearly nonexistent. I always wanted to do something with my life, but it still hasn’t materialized. I used to like writing, but I haven’t written anything in over a year. I got this short story published in a magazine from somewhere close to the city. Then I sent in another one to a couple different magazines and got denied because they were either “too vulgar” or “just not what we’re currently looking for,” and then haven’t really written anything since. My job is taking away most of my free time and I’ve lost interest in trying to write when I actually do have the time. 
I feel all this potential and ambition being destroyed by circumstance.
People have changed so much from nomadic origins, and I’m as guilty as anyone. I’m set in my ways. I know what the upcoming weeks hold for me, but one, two, three years from now? I have no clue. Certainty is power, not knowing something is a weakness. Considering the store’s profits have been close to the same or in decline the last couple months, my future there is completely up in the air. The uncertainty is unsettling. 
I turn the volume on my stereo up and leave my living room to go into my bedroom. I open the drawer of my nightstand and reach for a blue 30mg Percocet. I bring it out to my living room along with my ID, a twenty dollar bill, and a lighter and break it up on the top of my glass coffee table. With my ID I sift through the residue and chop the bigger clumps into a fine powder, then into a long, thin line. I roll the twenty up and snort the line in one pull. Then I fall back into the couch as the music bumps. I feel better, I think to myself. 
I can’t stop thinking about Alex’s offer to move in with him still, but it feels less daunting now – less life or death. Decision-making has never been my strong suit, I escape the pressure and push things off as long as I can. I light a cigarette and pick up my phone to a text from this girl Lacey apologizing for not hanging out with me last night. She says she “didn’t mean to pass out” and that she hopes we can hang out sometime soon. Of course. We met at a party about a week ago and started texting on and off, haven’t seen her since then though. It’s part of a pattern; different girl, same story more or less. I laugh to myself and decide not to even bother responding. 
I’m pretty hungry and I have work pretty soon so I go into the kitchen and make an omelet with cheese and pepperoni. I finish eating and I’m still pretty high, which is always nice. I know I have to get ready for work soon, so I roll a small joint and throw on a pair of black chinos and a light grey button down and head out to my car with the joint tucked behind my ear. 


I look at the time in my car, it’s already 3:54 and it usually takes me a little more than ten minutes to get to work so I know I’ll be late. I don’t really care, though. I plug my phone into the aux chord and throw this hip hop playlist I made on shuffle and start driving. Once I make it to the backroad that takes me to work, I light my joint and start anticipating all the tight ass parents who are gonna bring their kids into the store and let them touch whatever they want. Things are always out of place there because parents let their kids become spoiled brats anymore and telling them to keep their hands to themselves must be some form of abuse now. 
I toss the last of the joint out the window when I’m pulling into the parking lot. I spray cheap cologne twice, once on each of my wrists, and rub it on my neck so I don’t wreak of weed. I walk in and the store is mostly empty and the store’s main manager stares me down my whole walk to the office door and follows me in. 
“Hey, it’s 4:10, you’re late, John,” Gary tells me with his hair gelled so much it still looks wet and combed over. 
“Oh, wow, you know what? You’re right, if my shift started at 4:00 and I walked in at ten after, I am late! Glad you cracked that code, Gar,” I cock back to him. 
“I don’t appreciate your tone, John. I don’t think it’s asking too much to ask you to be on time for your job.” 
Something clicks and I’m filled with rage directed at this 30-something year old managing a shitty video and video game rental store. 
“Oh my god, Gary, go fuck yourself. It actually is asking too much for me to be on time because this isn’t my job. I quit. I’m done,” I snap. 
He looks like someone just throat-fucked his mother in front of him. “But John, you’re the manager on tonight. What are you saying?” 
“It’s pretty clear what I’m saying, dickhead. I quit. So I’m not the manager on tonight, and I don’t care how you wanna get this or any of my other shifts covered,” I say and turn and walk out of the office to the store. Gary follows me. 
“John, I’m willing to forgive everything you just said. Let’s talk about what’s going on,” Gary pleads. 
“Here’s what’s going on, this job fucking sucks and I quit. Nothin’ else to talk about, man. I’m gone,” I say and then see Miguel standing behind the counter and Jane sorting things on the shelves, both on the verge of laughter. They were probably able to hear me back in the office. “I’ll see ya around Miguel and Jane, have a good one. Later.” I start walking to the door.
“Hey,” Gary yells after me, “if you walk out that door, you are done here!” 
“Oh yeah? Well shit, then I guess I’m done here because I’m walkin’ right out that door. So get it through your sticky, hair gel-soaked head, I quit, you dumb fuck.” I hear Jane start to laugh and see Miguel smiling at me as I walk out the store’s door backwards. 
I get outside, pull out my phone and call Alex. It goes to his voicemail.
“Yo man, I’m down to move in. You wanna come up and crash at my place Wednesday and we can hash out some of the details and shit. Oh, and I got a funny story to tell ya then so call me back when you get this. Later.” 

Social Norms

It was one of those mornings you wake up and you don’t know if you’re naked or what time it is or even where you are. As I glanced around at my surroundings I found out I was at my place. The clock on the wall told me it was almost quarter after ten. I felt disoriented and closed my eyes to try to sleep again. It didn’t work. I estimated I got an extra twenty minutes though. Twenty minutes at least. My eyelids felt heavy like I’d been in a deep sleep.

Neither the hour hand nor the minute hand had moved an inch. It didn’t feel like I’d gotten enough sleep, but is there ever enough?

Never the less, I rolled out of bed and rubbed my eyes to get the lazy bastards to stay open. My hands ran down my cheeks, over the beard that’d grown from last week’s stubble. I usually didn’t let it get past a five o’clock shadow, and rarely let it graduate from that to stubble; but a beard is useful in New England during winter. Plus, being out of work, I could grow whatever style facial hair I wanted. I treated winter like a bear who drank and took painkillers recreationally.

I ran a bait and tackle shop up the road from a couple big lakes and right at the edge of a pretty wealthy neighborhood. The kind of place where if they didn’t have a bait shop around all the dumb trust fund babies would be putting caviar or kobe beef on their lures.

I took a look at myself in the mirror, focusing on my facial hair. It was more grey than brown. The ways aging sneaks up on us. Getting invited to less house parties and basement shows and more funerals and weddings. Ever since I’d opened the bait shop, I was getting invited to a lot more weddings and funerals. On one hand, I had the only bait shop for about twenty to thirty miles so I did get to see a lot of the same faces, on the other hand, who the fuck invites the guy who owns the local bait shop to significant life events? Yeah, I gave your son a free miniature tackle box key chain, sure I’ll be one of your groomsmen at your wedding. There are some social stratospheres I’ll never understand, like the people who will readily publicly broadcast their private lives to anybody they can. I made a Facebook a couple years ago because of this one ex-girlfriend of mine and regretted it immediately. Within a month, I felt like I could’ve written biographies of over a dozen people I’d graduated high school with – and their kids and pets too. I deleted it and realized social media wasn’t meant for me.

I gingerly walked out to the kitchen and found a note on the kitchen table with my name written real big at the top. I picked it up:

Yo that girl I’ve been talking to that I told you about last night said she was down to hang out and get lunch today

Sorry I didn’t wait til you woke up but I had no clue when you were gonna wake up. 

Thanks again for letting me use your car. Here’s the stuff I said I’d leave for ya for lettin me use the car.                                                                          Be back around like 6 or 7


Next to the note was a pill and a couple joints. I picked the pill up and my memory reproduced an image of Ted talking to me the night before about wanting to hang out with this girl but not having a car because his was in the shop. I vaguely remembered agreeing to let him take my car after he offered a 30mg Percocet and some bud. Good job, fucked up me, you got a pretty good deal out of this. (At this point I still didn’t remember that the girl lived about 45 minutes away)

Ted was my roommate and friend who I’d met a couple years after high school from hanging out with some of the same people. He was a musician and sang and played guitar in this band Porches and Plains. It was good music and Ted was good with a crowd. He was also a real dick about his band.