The Human Comedy: Video Games, Netflix, Pringles and Wine
Inspirational Short Story
It was so easy to feel lost in this world. In this city. Eight million people, each of them feeling the need to succeed, to be important, to make it. No man or woman was an island, but on this island, many men and women were.
Luke sat in his apartment, the wee hours of the morning chasing him awake. Video games, Netflix, Pringles and Wine — how familiar it had all become. He looked at his waistline; they said the Dadbod was in, and he jutted out. His eyes scanned, Laptop screen to TV screen to phone screen, dopamine on dopamine, instant hollow gratified unfulfillment. What kind of an existence was this? The “real world” — was this really it?
He felt old.
He had never felt old before. Alone, maybe, but not old — not beaten. And yet, here he was, a makeshift island of a man, caught in the tempest of his temples. He had so much to do — was doing so much — and had so little to show for it. Inertia ran faster than death.
“Alright, Old Man,” he said to himself. “Let’s go for a walk.”
It was a late-night morning of mid-April June. Mist and breeze cooled his shoulders and neck. A few people, a few cars. All quiet on the Lower East front.
His legs were sore from sitting. He started slowly toward the Village, ambling without a destination. His mind wandered farther than his feet — in circles, in tangents, in ellipses — a renegade pen, sprinting across a page it failed to see. He stepped into the street and was nearly flattened by a crosstown bus. The driver honked. Luke shrugged. Once across, he looked up. He had made it to St. Mark’s without realizing it, to the head shops and ramen houses and karaoke bars that had captivated him when he first moved to Gotham, so many five-night stands and four-floor walk-ups ago. What had happened to that kid? The conquering adventurer, the hopelessly hopeful horny romantic. Where had he gone? Life had become so serious, diminished, an endless To Do list utterly lacking in anything worth doing.
“Hey man, you got a light?”
Luke turned. It was a bum, in the shadows. “I don’t,” said Luke. “Sorry.”
“You ok, man?” the bum asked him. “You seem bent outta’ shape.”
“Oh, I’m definitely out of shape,” Luke joked.
“What’s doin’ the bending?”
“The world, my friend. The world.”
The bum said nothing. The quiet unnerved Luke, and he said, “When I was younger, I would come to this street, often by myself, and I would walk into these bars and meet people, just like that. I was so alive then, so excited to do.”
“And now?” asked the bum.
“And now — I just do, because I have to. Or because I feel like I have to. Or because I think I should. I dunno. I feel heavier, and it’s not just my belly.” He looked at the bum. “Anyway, you’ve got enough to worry about. I don’t want to bother you with my burdens.”
“What do I have to worry about?”
“Well … you don’t have a home.”
The question rendered Luke’s face a jigsaw puzzle. “You do?”
“Of course I do,” said the bum, grinning. “But you — where is your home?”
“On 14th str-“
“You live on the street?”
“Well, no. In an apartment.”
“From the way you talk, I was sure you lived in your head.”
“In my head? Are you nuts?”
“You should ask yourself the same question.”
“Look, man. I don’t have to listen to you.”
Luke’s breath was brick and bone. “What do you mean I live in my head?”
“I mean you don’t live in the world.”
“And where do you live?”
“At the corner of Now. It’s the only place one can live, other than in the head.”
Luke closed his eyes. He understood what the bum was telling him, but his mind resisted it. His mind was great at suffering. It was no good at Here and Now.
Luke felt the bum’s hand on his shoulder, and to his surprise, it calmed him. “I’ve never met a homeless person like you.”
“I told you, man — I’m not homeless.”
“Home is where the heart is?”
The bum shook his head. “Home is where the mind isn’t.” Blue eyes peered through unwashed bangs. “Breathe.”
Luke did. It was strange to him, being conscious of the act of respiration. “I —”
“No words — air. You can’t live in the world if you can’t feel it.”
Air. Luke felt it, within and without. His pulse slowed. His thoughts softened. He wanted to tell the bum it was working, but he was sure the bum knew that already. Music reached his ears, a horrendous rendition of Our Lady Peace’s “Innocent,” a fugitive from the karaoke bar’s opened doors. Luke smiled.
“Sounds like they could use a new singer in there,” said the bum.
“I might know just the guy,” Luke said. “Thank you.”
Luke walked toward the bar, younger than he had been in a long time. At the top of the steps he looked back, and there stood the bum — eyes aglow, lighting a cigarette.
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more by SAMUEL J. ROSENTHAL
photograph by Inbal Marilli