By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
-- Max Beerbohm
There's the blackness that's tethered to an overwhelming sense of failure. That point where you see no joy, so you figure there is no joy. No joy anywhere. That's the kind of shit we're talking about. The kind of shit me and my neighbor Bernard always talk about when we're sitting around sucking on beers.
We're in a shady spot out in front of my trailer, seated on these wrought-iron chairs that have rusted edges and no cushions. We're sweating our asses off. For a Monday evening in late September, it couldn't be hotter. It feels as though September has somehow been wrenched back into summer.
And what is September anyway? Aside from being the ninth month in an archaic 16th-century Gregorian variation of a first-century B.C. time-keeping system, September is that monochromatic space in time where days are tinted with a dull slant of light, a powerful shade of blankness. A blankness that creeps into your thoughts and takes up residence in your skull for the night. September is summer's hangover, the slow headache fuzziness that requires real effort to slog through. The kind that inspires bad thoughts.
My September is filled with sad reminders of things that didn't turn out as planned: friends that never made it past 30, lovers who suddenly deemed me unworthy and ducked out, the rare burst of summertime ambition defeated, the first days of school, all that.
And if that isn't enough, September sees the start of football season. A fact celebrated by the drunk across the way who blares Monday Night Football from his TV, keeping his front door wide open. We can hear the depressing cackle of frothy fandom rise and fall between the verbal flatulence of the game's announcers.
Pro football is played by a bunch of pencil-dicked thugs who need an excuse to wrestle and grope each other, to exercise their closeted, homoerotic ghosts and fantasies with other men without actually going all the way. Men who've still got this ludicrous, implausible seriousness about their "manhood." Football is the end result of guys who bottle this shit up, and it makes them ugly. Makes them into great football players for whom their like-minded fans can live vicariously.
"Dis futbol shit is for pussies," Bernard says between gulps of beer, glancing over to the trailer from which the game blares.
Football means nothing to Bernard. Why should it? The guy was born in Africa, down on the Ivory Coast. He grew up in France, a country whose most popular sports are soccer and cycling. Sports in which real athletes engage.
Bernard's got a wife and kid back in France. That's the one thing he's never quite explained to me. The wife and kid bit. He had a cushy job at IBM that sickened him so he bailed. That, I do understand.
Since arriving in the States eight years ago, Bernard's been all over the place. His first summer was spent in Florida learning to speak English. He starved, downed gallons of malt liquor and longed for the women there. He swears there are no finer examples of women than those found strolling the beaches of South Miami. Bernard says I have no idea how a man can suffer while trying to learn English. In Florida, Bernard endured hundreds of unrequited hard-ons while struggling to grasp our language.
In the year leading up to the election of Rudy Giuliani, he worked through a brutal Manhattan winter as a peep-show barker. There was a sun-charred stint doing construction in Vegas. Some time was spent fending off skid row in Los Angeles.
Now Bernard's sitting here with me, shirtless and drinking from yet another can of Natural Light Ice. His paunch is bloated and topped with a hairless set of cocktail titties. He has zero ambition for the things in life that others find desirable.
Bernard is staring into a very green, low-growing mesquite tree. That's the weird thing about desert vegetation: It stays green regardless of whatever misery summer throws its way.
He is, by his own account, an alcoholic. He's by most accounts an alcoholic who, when passing a certain point, doesn't become a disgusting, slobbering bore. He's working on the ninth or 10th beer in the 12-pack lying on the ground by his feet. I like the fact that he doesn't even bother to keep the beer in his refrigerator. That would require movement. That would require him having to get up to grab fresh beers.
Bernard no longer has the crushing sense of failure, or the darkness. He's licked it. He says once you figure the game it's easy to win. The fine line separating all that stuff is easy to spot once you know where to look.
"You can jerk off when you want, drink as much as you want, screw girls if you're lucky," he laughs, his big belly bouncing along behind the beat of his chortle.
Knowing something will always lurk, that we can still be drunk, perhaps bitter, but we will never lose reason to breathe. We know the impossibility of living long enough to have seen it all.