Part III: See!
***DO NOT READ BEFORE PARTS I & II BELOW***
Federal taxes move through the economy like a dead chicken through a snake. In early winter H&R Block hires a small army of temporary help from coast to coast. Throughout March and April accountants work sixty, seventy, eighty-hour weeks. The post office sees a spike in business, and stays open late on April 15, one day out of 365. And a new paralegal at the Internal Revenue Service begins to have his summer ruined, as the workload is shifted from the accountants and the general public to my desk.
I’ve been facing unusual stress for a few months: a mountain of student loan debt, a new mortgage, settling for a job after a disheartening and unflattering search, moving to a new city, the growing list of items my condo builder needs to come fix, the growing anxiety of someone who deep-down knows he will never get around to presenting the builder with the growing list of repairs… All of this explains why the first time I heard Al speak, I thought it was merely evidence of the stressful status quo, and not in-and-of-itself a brand new stress.
On Friday, June 12, I had a bit of break down. Lonely and unhappy, I did the only thing that made sense; I walked all the way home from work, picking up a large pizza and box of Hostess doughnuts along the way, and stayed up through the night watching progressively mindless television. Right through the door I shed my shirt, tie, pants, and dignity. Everything—clothes, food, and a broken man in a white undershirt, pale blue boxers, and black dress socks—fell to the floor.
We stayed there throughout the night, rearranging our positions, like decimated platoons of soldiers heroically and fatally determined to see the battle through to the end. As a Julie Roberts romantic comedy (I don’t know which one) ended on TBS, the pizza box laid reassuringly on my chest, moving up with my breath. For the 1:00 AM SportsCenter, the pizza box stayed faithfully to my right flank, just within arms reach, and the doughnuts moved to my chest, the corner of the box torn off and the contents lighter than moments ago. Slice by slice, “O” by “O”, our numbers dwindled as we made it through the infomercial hours together. At 4:00, the boxes nearly empty, the casualties of crumbs, crusts, and soda cans spread across my cheep wood floor and Ikea rug, things started looking up as classic cartoons worked their way into the cable lineup.
It was nearly 5:00 and light was returning to the city. With equal parts solace and sadness—glad because some kind of storm had been weathered, but depressed because a whole night and normal sleep schedule had been foolishly sacrificed—I gathered my strength for one last meal before giving into exhaustion and sleep.
With Looney Tunes filling the front room, I staggered over to the kitchen side of the open condo space. Without thought, moving on autopilot, I collected cereal box, bowl, and spoon, and set them on the counter. I opened the fridge a mere crack, when a voice in front of me rang strong, nasal, and gravelly.
In one sudden movement that I cannot image and could not replicate, I slammed the door shut and jumped back into the island, tumbled over the counter top, and landed firmly on both feet in a kind of tennis-player-awaiting-serve stance.
My heart pounded, my pupils dilated, and time slowed down. After my initial burst of reaction, I didn’t move a muscle. I’m not even sure if I was breathing. I only stood, listening, crouching, and waiting for another sound.
The TV was still on.
I felt like an idiot when I finally turned around to see Bugs Bunny wearing a fedora, pacing around a confused Elmer Fudd, speaking like a prohibition era gangster. Tingling from head to toe with relief, I turned the TV off and made my second attempt to open the fridge.
“I have got to go to bed,” I said aloud to myself.
A streak of light broke along the edges of the large stainless steel appliance before me, and a my statement was met with a non sequitur reply: “Nyah! What’s the big idea?!”
I don’t know why it started in the fridge. Must be some kind of Ghost Busters rule.
I didn’t stop to think about it at the time. Seconds later I had abandoned my breakfast plans, closed and locked the bedroom door, and hit the bed determined to sleep for as long as I possibly could.