by Oscar Hughes
Ben used wine glasses properly only when he ate at the dinner table. Any other time he filled them with whiskey. And so there it sat, arms length away, on a small table to the left of his bed. But not long enough before he heard the garage door opening, then a voice in his head, “those are for red wine, NOT whiskey.” He dropped the book he was reading, quickly got out the bed and returned the whiskey bottle to his closet shelf. He hid the glass full of whiskey behind a stack of books on the windowsill before lying back down.
Ben had interviewed earlier that morning. It went well – but even when it went well nothing came of it. He didn’t care how it went anymore. He rolled over and reached behind the books to fill himself with a gulp of whiskey. Propped up on his elbow, he stared at the wall. It was the same wall he stared at in high school when all he wanted was to get the fuck out of the house. But he was back in the house; back in the same no-name town where, he would tell you, if you stayed long enough you would be trapped forever. “I’m never going to find a job,” he thought, collapsing back onto his back. “I’m gonna marry a hometown girl; watch her grow fat and ugly. Buy a house; watch it turn into an anchor. Have kids; lie to them about the future. And then, I’ll get a disease and die.”
He inhaled deep, clamped his mouth shut and forced the air out through his nose.
He could hear his Mom inside.
“Ben! Are you hungry?” she yelled up from the bottom of the steps.
“No!” he yelled, with his eyes hidden behind Algren’s Neon Wilderness.
“Well, can you come down here anyway? I want to hear how the interview went.”
He closed the book, shaking his head. Then took down another sip of whiskey and started for the door.
At the top of the stairs he paused, cupped his hands around his nose and mouth, breathed out, and instead of heading downstairs he turned and went towards the bathroom.
What the fuck?
“Dang, I’m coming!” he yelled. “I’m in the bathroom.”
She wanted to encourage him but most of what she said was beginning to irritate him. Ben had stopped looking forward to things, and people that did bothered him.
“Where’s Mikey?” Ben asked, barreling into the kitchen. He took a seat at the table. “He’s not eating?”
“No, he’s out on his bike with Randy.”
For the past month, almost every night after dinner, Ben played ping pong against his little brother in the basement. Now, he had shit to do.
“Some mail came for you.” His mom slipped two envelopes from the stack she was holding and shimmied them around in the air.
He didn’t say anything and she tossed them on the table.
“So,” she said, “how’d the interview go?”
“Mom, does it matter? I’ve been on I-don’t-know-how-many interviews. Honestly, does it really matter how the interview went?”
“Ben, it does matters,” she said. “How’d it go?”
“They asked me the same dumbass questions they always ask. Then I left.”
“Ooo Ben, stop it! You can’t have an attitude. You aren’t going to get anywhere with an attitude like that.”
He looked away, staring off to the side, probably hoping the picture on the wall, or maybe even the clock, would respond for him. “Why the fuck do you think tomorrow’s going to be a better day?” He wanted to shout it.
“I’m not getting anywhere, anyway. No matter how much I show them I want the job. Do I get the job? Hell no, I don’t get the job. Might as well go to Pat’s Pizza. They probably won’t even give me a job.”
“Ben, there’s a lot of people looking right now. You have to stay positive, though, and keep at it,” his Mom said. “You’ll get one. I know you will. Now, what do you want to eat? I know you’re hungry.”
“I’m not hungry,” he grabbed the two envelopes and got up. “I ate a grilled cheese earlier.”
“Do you want to go get ice cream?”
“No, I’m alright. Really, I’m alright, Mom.”
“Do you have any other interviews this week?”
“Tomorrow’s Friday,” he said. “But I’m counting on a few more rejections next week.”
“Ben, quit talking like that. You won’t find a job with an attitude like that,” she told him. “It’s right around the corner. You watch, I know it is.”
“It always is,” he said to himself as he left the kitchen and went back up to his room.
He tossed the envelopes on the bed, closed his door and turned on his i-pod. He secured the glass of whiskey from behind the books on the windowsill. The spirit in The Root’s “Radio Daze” floated out like a cloud from the speakers, and hung over the room. The sound knew him and he knew it – it had a way of easing the load he felt. It had a way of waxing his despair, making him feel as if he could peel it right off. While the emotion from the song gnawed at his angst, he sipped the whiskey and fired up his laptop with a new, fresh sense of urgency. “I’ma find me a job,” he said, snatching one of the envelopes from his bed. He tore it open – the whiskey in one hand and the letter in the other, he began reading. He sipped the whiskey several times while reading, taking more down with each line. He finished reading, dropped the letter on the floor and cut off his i-pod. He cocked his head back and emptied the whiskey into his throat, leaving the empty wine glass on his desk.
When Ben got in his car he was counting that Caulley would be posted up at one of the handful of bars people their age frequented. They weren’t friends in high school, but ever since Ben moved home after graduating college, the two were becoming good drinking buddies. Paul was always at the bar. Not to mention, Thursday was the official start of Caulley’s weekend and Caulley only did two things on the weekend: party and party after the party.
Ben pulled into the parking lot at Shamrock’s. Thursday night at Shamrock’s is ladies night. Ben knew that much because the last time he saw Caulley was at Danny and Eddy’s, on a Sunday night. Caulley was getting him up to speed on where to go, what day and when.
“Have you been to Shamrock’s? You should hit Shamrock’s,” he was saying. “It’s hit or miss, but a lot people usually go on Thursday. It’s ladies night, the best night to find a little something to bring home.”
Out in the parking lot, with a minor buzz going, Ben was calling Caulley to see if he was planning on hitting Shamrock’s. No answer. “Whatever,” Ben thought, “Caulley or no Caulley, I’m going after the older ladies tonight . . . Fuck their brains out. Make them sacrifice to my youth. Someone has to appreciate my youth.”
After turning off the car, he sat for a moment then pulled his key from the ignition and got out. He quickly cleared off the backseat and emptied into the trunk a pair of shoes, some socks, a bag stuffed with trash, a couple books, a few musty t-shirts, a bunch of scratched up burned cds and an old ass N64 game. Now, if he found a lady he would make due with what he had – a clean backseat. Before slamming the trunk, his eyes landed on the side of a cardboard box. It had been in the trunk for over nine months now.
Opening the box, he was wondering where it came from. Inside, he saw his college diploma and remembered. He remembered how he felt – a little bit like a failure, a little bit misled – the day he moved back home. He closed the box and then slammed the trunk. “Fuck this,” he said and got back inside the car. Going in the bar, seeing the faces of people he thought he had left behind, the feeling of his life going backwards made him jam the key back into the ignition and take off. He drove, and drove, and drove. He drove out of his town and into another, out of that town and into another. He had no idea where he was going but he was driving like he had somewhere to be. Both of his hands on the wheel and his foot clamped down on the pedal, his eyes wide and fastened to the road. He appeared focused on the road ahead of him, but his attention was drifting.
Trapped in a thought. Trapped in his mind.
“I take breaths but I am not able to breathe. When I run I keep up. I run to keep. When I stopped on my bike once I felt left behind. I live but I am not alive. Not having a plan is cool. Not having a plan is a plan. Having a plan is a disaster and disasters strike all the fucking time. I hate clocks. I own only one clock and if I could get rid of it I would. I ripped the hands off my roommate’s clock freshman year. I should rip the hands off every clock. I should get some drugs. I like smoking drugs. I like where it takes me. No, don’t get pot. I can’t smoke too much. Not having anything to care about depresses me. Bums inspire me but I don’t know if I could ever be one. Basquiat was a bum. He was a world-class fucking bum. He knew how to make choices. I have trouble making choices. Rich animals make the trains the safe animals choose to ride. Poor animals die. The sound of a train coming makes me cringe. I choose things but I didn’t choose this. This chose me.
Ahead of him were restaurants and bars and stores. The lights came flashing in the windows, freeing him from thought. “Joe’s!” he said out loud, “two dollar drinks at Joe’s!”
He pulled over into Joe’s parking lot. Nobody at Joe’s bar knew him. Nobody in that whole damn town was going to know him. He got out and walked over to the gas station. He wanted to buy some cigarettes before he got his buzz back.
“Don’t ask me for a fucking penny,” he thought the second he saw a homeless man standing out front. He pulled his phone out and acted like he was texting something as he walked by him. The homeless man said nothing.
He went in, purchased a pack and exited the store. On his way out the homeless man stopped him.
“Sir,” he said, “could you spare some change? Whatever you have . . . ”
Ben quit opening the pack and looked up but then quickly looked away. The man’s face made him uncomfortable.
“I wouldn’t be asking you if I didn’t need it.”
“Maybe next time,” Ben said with no disrespect.
“Man, c’mon, I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t have to.”
“I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t have to, either,” Ben thought. “How ‘bout you give me something,” he told him. “How ‘bout you give me what you got.”
The homeless man got frustrated. “Just help me out a little? All I’m asking is for a little help. Don’t do da man-in-the-street like dat.”
Neither of them knew the other’s situation.
“I got nothing, man, serious. In fact, I owe fucking money – 49,000 dollars – how much do you fucking owe?”

0 thoughts on “Man-in-the-Street

  1. Damn that’s good! Why? Cause I felt it was real. There’s a part of Ben in each of us. And there’s a part of a part that is the man-in-the-street. Thinking about the infinitum of possibilities where our lives may lead, not to mention dwelling in the past when we feel as if we ‘end up’ somewhere, is overwhelming. But that’s life. Sometimes knowing that life is not ‘singling you out’ and hearing similar plights of others is refreshing enough to take heart. That may not be what happens to the main character in this story, but it’s what I feel reading the story. Great read! thx!
    Algren’s ‘Neon Wilderness’:
    The Root’s “Radio Daze”:

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