They’re out there, but not in the darkness. Their lairs are well lit, under the rude, barging glare of fluorescent tube lights. Their skin is pasty gray, almost the same color as their cubicle walls. They’ve conditioned their bodies to run efficiently on starches, salts, corn syrup, and coffee that tastes like sad crayons. At least four of their weekly meals involve either:
• pouring hot water on a brick of something dry and shrimp-flavored in order to make it soft and shrimp-flavored,
• cutting a slit in a plastic cover to vent an oblong of purple-brown frozen meat and gravy, or
• eating a salad because they’re starting another diet.
They scare the shining, singing shit out of me.
“When you submit a Schedule C tax return, it gets flagged,” said a friend of mine who, through two minor wrong turns, had ended up a tax attorney.
This was when I made $11,000 a year as a self-employed individual.
“Not someone like me. I mean, I make dog shit.”
“No, you get it extra bad. They’re probably starting a file on you.”
“What the fuck am I doing? I’m at the poverty level and I’m trying to pay taxes. It’s not like I’m an outlaw or something.”
“They hate you. IRS employees, government drones. These people never had the balls to do what you’re doing, and they resent you. They resent any small-business owner, any entrepreneur—anyone outside of a cubicle is the enemy.”
I’ve never forgotten that conversation. He was right, too. The A+ go-getters do NOT work for the government. They flee to the private sector where the gold-plated sirloin is. The dull, timid, and mediocre watch our borders, tap their fingers on LAUNCH buttons, go through our taxes, and listen to our phone conversations while grinding their molars with boredom. That’s why I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. None. Not a single one. Oswald shot Kennedy. Man really walked on the moon. Bin Laden took down the towers. The Wizard of Oz does not sync up with Dark Side of the Moon. (Georgia Rule, however, syncs up perfectly with Metal Machine Music.)
The ultimate horror, to me, is not that our money, weapons, records, and information network are being overseen by the mediocre. It is that they’re being tended to by the resentful.
How much can they take? How much indifference from the universe, as they sweat recirculated moisture in short-sleeved TJ Maxx dress shirts? How much disregard for motion, adventure, and fulfillment, as they sit quietly in their townhomes, leafing through old yearbooks at night? How many times can they watch some equally faceless schlub they remember from high school blossom into an artist, a world traveler, an athlete, or an adventurer, while they tak-tak-tak their initials onto his tax return?
Are they forming a society, the resentful? While we’re out late at some bar or laughing ironically at a Steven Seagal movie, are they organizing? Not an underground—an aboveground. While we sleep ’til noon or make our own hours—and let’s face it, this is you—are they hatching plots? Between the hours of 7 and 10 AM, what happens?
What sort of plot are they hatching? you ask. Aren’t you sounding like a conspiracy theorist? you say.
Maybe. Or maybe this is an anticonspiracy, being set in motion by the fluorescent-lit and Bennigan’s-drunk. A virus of dullness, to be unleashed on the Schedule Cs of the world. The resentful do not want to be Awesome. They want Awesome annihilated. They take the same comfort that the down-and-out and hopeless took in the idea of nuclear Armageddon in the 60s. Being fused into the same cinders as the rich and beautiful in one brief flash was a wonderful equalizer. And for the resentful, knowing they can make a Life of Awesome nothing but hassle and tax liens and canceled credit cards and lost plane tickets must promise the same stinging, clammy comfort.
If it happens, it will happen slowly. Petty paybacks will snowball into blazing vengeance, hobbling the Awesome and forcing them to take cubicle jobs to put instant coffee in the pantry and Lean Cuisines in the freezer. And as the Hobbled gaze with shattered eyes into the cubicles next to theirs, they’ll have their haunted looks returned by equally shattered and hopeless wage slaves, albeit ones with the faintest squiggle of a smile on their lips. Those lips will part and exhale powdered-shrimp fumes and say, “Same shit, different day, huh?”
That’s their werewolf howl. Their ghost chains. Their witch’s cackle. “Same shit, different day, huh?” It’s going to be written on the tombstone of the 21st century. Right next to “Nothing you can do but pray” and “Life is short.” The resentful. They are clawing their way downward from the sunlight into our shadowy night world. They’re installing fluorescents and bringing office coffee. And sealing us in coffin offices. Coffices.
I fear the resentful.
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