Ben encounters Heidi in a convenience store parking lot. She is in town for a psychiatry convention and decided to get her nails done. He gives her a pedicure in her hotel room. They meet and walk in the neighborhoods and along the beach. Heidi encourages him to write. She skips her conference class and has a bath instead. Ben joins her and gives a foot massage. Ben finds his writing block has gone.
From the novel Sex, Drugs, and Schizophrenia by Jonathan Harnisch
The collected writings of Jonathan Harnisch mark a magnificent contribution to the public understanding of mental illness through a masterpiece of transgressive fiction with a heart. The general reader is finally able to see mainstream literary author Jonathan Harnisch at his best. Sex, Drugs, and Schizophrenia contains the works of 2014, Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography and Second Alibi: The Banality of Life, in one complete streaming narrative. The monumental scale of Harnisch’s achievement through adversity flourishes and can now be appreciated in this diverse, invaluable, and thought-provoking collection of fragmented fiction which will make your brain spin as Harnisch's sense of the inner machinations within the human experience spring into life through the written word. It forces one to question reality and step into another world wanting the protagonist and his alter ego to get it together and be okay. The author reveals himself through a series of alibis in the day-to-day meetings of multiple personalities, a corner of psychiatry that is hardly understood, and shedding light on the experiences of schizophrenia in a language that the non-sufferer can understand, albeit from the author who suffers himself. Not for the faint of heart, this fictionalized account of a disparate mind triumphs.
Ben’s the last in line at the convenience store across the street. He appears to be conversing with someone, but no one is speaking to him.
These people find better deals here, across the way from that 1-2-3-4-5 star hotel. Better deals on both coffee and cigarettes, Georgie announces.
“Shhh. Shut up, Georgie. Get out of my head.”
Hotel gift shops are for those in a hurry and for those who don’t care much for variety or value.
“I never shop there. Guests shouldn’t either.”
Ben gets a medium coffee and a pack of smokes, along with his change, from the clerk.
He tears open the fresh pack of smokes, juggling the medium coffee in his other hand. He steps out the door, glancing at the profile of a woman sitting on the bench outside. She is heartbreakingly beautiful.
Suddenly, Ben fumbles. He drops two quarters on the pavement.
“What are the chances of that?” she chuckles.
You’re almost completely blind and deaf. Almost completely, Georgie points out.
“I know. Why?”
Because, Ben. Because. We’re in the presence of a naturally beautiful older woman. It’s destiny. Fate. She’s the One.
“This always happens to me, especially if she’s wearing open-toed shoes.”
“Excuse me?” the lady murmurs.
As she is.
“I’d lose my senses completely.”
As you have. As you do.
“As I am. Oh God, I hope she hasn’t got the slightest imperfection of either character or . . . what’s the word?”
Physique. She is just gorgeous, Ben. Isn’t she? Shoot. Here she is coming ‘round the mountain. Here she comes.
The lady stands, approaching cautiously. “Are you okay?” she asks.
Listen, Ben. Can you hear her? She’s got that Plain Jane style, that quietly rapturous voice you crave.
Ben suddenly finds himself thrown backwards.
I wake up early for once.
By 8:30 am, I’ve already walked the ocean shoreline and am on my way to the convenience store to buy a cup of coffee and a pack of smokes.
It is windy. I am almost blown away. I hold onto my bright blue lampshade hat with my left hand for about a block, until I step behind the local hotel and it screens the big ocean breeze. The Sea Port Hotel is right on the water.
Some hotel guests are in line before me at the convenience store across the street. They would find better deals there on both coffee and cigarettes. Hotel gift shops are for those in a hurry and for those who don’t care much for variety or value. I never shop there. Guests shouldn’t either.
I get my change and tear open the fresh pack of smokes with a medium coffee in my other hand. Then I fumble the smokes, the coffee, and the change. I drop 50 cents on the pavement.
“What are the chances of that?” I hear.
I become almost completely blind and deaf. I know I am in the presence of a naturally beautiful older woman. This whole blackout/flashback kick is usual, especially if the beautiful older woman is wearing open-toed shoes. I’d lose my senses altogether if she had the slightest imperfection of either character or physique.
“What are the chances of what?” I answer. My own voice echoes strangely in the darkness of my mind.
“You were just singing ‘Hotel California’,” she says. “I heard you.”
It must’ve been playing on the radio while I showered this morning. She was humming the melody, too. I shut up. I look down. She scrapes something off her heel against the steps.
“Aw! I stepped in somebody’s gum,” she moans.
I pull out a fresh smoke. “I think it’s a Lifesaver,” I tell her.
She discovers that I am right.
“But you were singing the same song as me, weren’t you?” she persists.
“I don’t know,” I explain. “I don’t remember.”
And here she is. She’s brought such a Perplexity into my world. My senses collect every drop of her data. Right then, the bright lights of her jewelry flashes bury themselves in the nostalgic depths of my imagination and memory.
“Well, don’t be embarrassed,” she suggests. “That’s amazing!”
“Yeah,” I say.
A vintage black Ferrari pulls out of the lot with its top down. Heidi gives it no attention. The male driver (in his 50s) probably suffers from the same premature ejaculation that the car does, backfiring.
I grunt at the thought.
“Hey, you live down the corner of the next block. You’re always smoking cigarettes out front,” she says.
I confess, “Yeah. Probably. Maybe.”
“I waved to you the other day,” she recalls, “and you just turned away.”
She must have recognized the big blue hat.
“I’m really groggy in the mornings,” I admit.
She smiles. “You’re really anti-social.”
I correct her. “Not anti-social. Non-social, maybe.”
Her face lights up. She starts playing with her hair. “I was just on my way to get my nails done. I’ve been over at the Sea Port for the past week. God, it’s this convention for work. It’s so boring.”
“What’s your name?” I ask.
Heidi has a nametag on. She must’ve forgotten.
“What’s yours?” she asks.
“Ben Schreiber,” I say, pointing to her nametag. “I was just checking to see if you were a liar.”
I stick my hand out.
“You’ve got a firm grip, Mr Schreiber,” she says. She laughs.
Later that afternoon, we are hitting it off like we’ve known each other for years.
“I can’t believe you’ve never given a girl a pedicure,” she scoffs.
“Really?” I reply. (I do like feet.)
I want to tell her that I am a virgin at making love to feet and toes. Hers are perfect.
Heidi’s hotel room is strewn with papers and folders. And felt-tip pens. After she lights a joint, she gets a little feisty. Her hair is frizzy and red, and she is wild like my imagination. Like I imagine her imagination.
I puff away on my cigarette. I try to read what she is thinking through her huge green eyes. Which eye cries for good things? Which one doesn’t?
I am simply in the moment. I become an observer of myself, observing myself. I’m not my mind. My mind just works for me. Not the other way around. I am enlightened.
For once, normal thoughts slip in, one after another. It becomes easier to focus. I’m not busy judging, analyzing, and making decisions. I am completely focused on Heidi.
I think, who’s her dealer? Where’s this woman from? What does she tell herself about herself?
I get the impression from Heidi’s eyes that she is experiencing something profoundly empty. Somehow, she is dramatically unfulfilled. She is left with voided hope--perhaps a little like me. She looks me right in the eyes. We have a perfect moment, a true connection.
Unfortunately, it ends abruptly. I try not to pry into her life, but I am curious to know more about her. I know I’m not always the best at personal interaction. I’m not sure what is appropriate, sometimes.
She asks a lot about me, but I don’t say much back. Heidi asks me about all my confusion, about what I want out of my time here on earth. Big philosophical stuff.
I tell her all of my needs are already met. I tell her I’ve already lived my life. “I’ve had enough experiences with myself. All that crap.”
And I tell her about my Pops, who always worked hard and always provided my family with wealth. I tell her about my Pops, who meant the world to me.
She calls my ‘I’ve-lived-my-life-already’ bit bullshite, and takes a drag off my cigarette.
“Are you happy?” she finally asks.
“I’m not sure if happiness is what I’m really after,” I say.
I tell her I am trying to actualize myself as “a writer,” a concept that is still completely muddy to me. I have idealized this image of myself in my mind, over the past 10 years, but the image keeps changing. In reality, I am writing mostly in my head, right at that moment. My friends and family want me to put something on paper, to complete something, to achieve something. I don’t think it matters anymore.
“Why not?” asks Heidi.
“It’s like I’m too far away, in time, from when I was actively participating in things and enjoying them while they were happening.”
“How old are you, Ben?”
Heidi is under the veil of drugs, but she’s not paranoid or tripped-out or anything. Inside Heidi, there is somebody genuine, and I can see inside her, just barely make her out. There is somebody real in there. Funny, that’s always good to know.
The alarm clock radio is tuned to Billy Joel’s “An Innocent Man.” Heidi says she has only recently figured out her life, at age 40. I don’t believe her, and I tell her so.
“I don’t believe you,” I say.
She says she takes things very seriously. She says that every encounter happens for a reason.
“Every situation, every consequence. Everything,” she adds.
I wonder what my role in her life really is. Somehow, this woman, whom I’ve just met, knows me so well already. I’ve really missed that. People usually take very little interest in other people. But with Heidi, I feel honored and appreciated. Still, I feel like I don’t really deserve the luxury.
Heidi finishes her joint and pockets the roach. She slips off her open-toed leather shoes and stretches her toes. Her light blue polish has peeled off her nails, like an adolescent girl’s.
“I need a pedicure,” Heidi says, smiling playfully. “Now!”
Toto’s “Africa” airs next on the bedside radio: “Frightened of this thing that I’ve become,” somebody sings. I paint her toes with New Blue toenail polish and she falls asleep.
I write a note: “Thank you. Ben.”
I watch her sleep for half an hour. Then I write my home phone number below the note in my usual kiddie-print handwriting and walk out, not really knowing what else to do.
Heidi has a lecture to attend later on.
Later, I sit in my bedroom, still listening to the radio.
“Hurry, boy, she’s waiting there for you.”
The phone rings. The machine picks up.
“Hey, Ben, I was just thinking of you.”
It’s all about me now, isn’t it? I can’t help it.
I take a carefree stroll on the beach, remembering the best parts of growing up. They flood my mind with nostalgia. I try to remain in the present, but I am stuck in the past.
The moonshine lights up the sand, and the whitecaps, that break 20 feet out. The tide is low, the rolling is a little choppy, but the wave sounds are soothing. I remember how rich and full my life was before. Before. Before what? I wonder what went wrong. I walk along the water’s edge to find some inner peace.
I have always enjoyed wandering around, not doing much. I’m comfortable in my imagination, or I’m comfortable nowhere. I think: Has love ever made one whole year of your life miserable?
I wonder if my year of misery is approaching.
It is nighttime.
I start to dream.
Heidi and I are lost in our thoughts; we take in all that surrounds us. We are walking the neighborhood sidewalks, holding hands, until we come to the beach where the whitecaps crash right at our feet. Huge seagulls with wide-open wingspans swoop in for their final feast of the day.
The next morning, the beach is empty. The sky is gray, flat and still, surreal. The gulls fly low in flocks as the long Pacific rollers wash in and out.
We revisit the past. But whose past? Oh my God! The Living Colorful Beauty is so intense. I just can’t stand it.
I speak on the phone with Heidi.
“I was downstairs at one of the lectures. It was sooo boring,” Heidi says.
“But I got several compliments on my new pedicure,” she teases.
“Thank God,” I say, letting out a sigh of relief.
I stand in the empty hotel room that weekend, bewildered. It had been quickly vacated--I could tell. In the bathroom, there is a wet towel lying on the floor, crumpled up from wet feet with a woman’s footprints embedded. Empty single-serving soap bottles make a mess on the corner shelf. A Mexican housekeeper readies the room for its next guests.
Back at my place, I play the message player back again.
“So I thought you might like to know what a great job you did, and on such short notice, too. You were just in time for the only panel discussion I really came here for in the first place.”
Her telephone had sat on the unmade bed with a box of tissues beside it.
Across the street from me is a fishing pier. A middle-aged couple walks hand in hand to the end of the pier. They stare out at the freight barges sailing into port.
There is a snack and bait stand nearby, but it hasn’t opened yet.
At the base of the pier, a pay phone dangles off its hook.
There is some litter rolling around the streets. Not much, though.
“I’m meeting some cool people here, but a lot of them are really boring. This whole convention thing is really dull.”
The night before, Heidi and I shared a cherry Slush Puppie on the pier. She popped a few Tylenols because, she said, her head was still throbbing slightly from all the boredom and ennui lingering over her past week at the psych conference. I declined the Tylenol. I was still awe-struck by the whirling seagulls and the shooting stars.
Only a few fishermen are out with their gear; it’s still pretty early. An Asian man pulls up a small fish. The thing must be contaminated—the seawater down below is brown and slimy--but his boy grabs the bucket anyway. That small radioactive fish is a keeper.
“So, some of my friends and I wanted to hang out by the bar and talk medicine, but I was hoping we could finish our conversation from last night. I really enjoyed walking the town with you.”
After the Slushie, we stopped by my place and shared a Winston. I invited her in, but she declined. We took a drive down the coast under the moon instead.
My house is empty; nobody is up yet. The whole neighborhood is still asleep. A white van drives by. A newspaper is tossed on the manicured lawn out front.
“At least before I leave tomorrow,” she said. “Oh, and the weather is so much nicer out here.”
Sunlight bleeds horizontally through the closed blinds in my bedroom. Pretty soon I am sound asleep.
“I was thinking about how brilliant you are,” Heidi told me on the answering machine. “And, jeez, you have so much talent. People look at you and they see big things.”
Expect big things. That’s what she meant. Big things, little things. It doesn’t matter. It’s a stress I can’t handle, people expecting things. Anything. Not from me. I live in my head. Alone. I buy porno, coffee, and smokes from the snack and bait shop next door, and come home. Jerk off. Alone. I’m okay with that.
The clock on Georgie’s nightstand reads 10:30 am.
I wake up and glance at Georgie. I don’t wake him. I crawl out of bed. The sky has cleared up a bit over the beach, and the beach is packed with kite-fliers. A dozen kites glide over the blue-fogged coast, bright with color and wonder.
The hotel room next door is clean by now. Ready for new guests.
Downstairs, a conference is just letting out. The checkout line is already out the door. Most of the guests wear nametags on their blazers. The bellboys are busier than hell.
There are dozens of fishermen on the pier. More men than fish.
“What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Heidi had asked. “I love that question.”
I walk the beach, having no clue how to answer.
Most of the neighborhood seems to be outdoors. Most people wear light jackets or hooded sweatshirts. They walk their dogs.
(Parenthetical Pet Peeve) Tiny white dogs with brown runny stuff around their eyes.
They walk their children. Alley cats run loose on the sidewalks, and slide underneath the cars parked on one-way streets. A few cars pass by slowly, going maybe 10 miles an hour. Pest control trucks park outside at least one house per block, it seems like.
There is hardly any crime, violence, or vandalism in this part of the city. Maybe some drugs, some domestics; you know, whatever goes down inside people’s private residences—the stuff we never know about.
“Grab hold of just one project and get in there with your teeth and see what happens,” she had said. “Why not? If somebody wants a story about you and you’re the only one who knows it well enough, then go for it! You would do the world a favor. Hell, do it for me! I’d love to hear about all that crap, as you call it.”
A small gate leads to my front door. It is a charming little pad, perfect for a loner like me.
“So what if your dad is some big, well-to-do asshole? This is your chance to shine,” she coaxed. “Just go for it!”
It was really nice to have some woman cheering me on. It was the closest thing I’d ever known to true love.
Heidi mentioned that she’d found the perfect little gift in the hotel gift shop. She wanted me to call her later.
The orange sunset flashes between two buildings downtown. I sprawl out on the beach. The sun is setting earlier than usual, I think.
Why did I just leave like that? What about going back?
Somehow, I just couldn’t change my mind about Heidi. Reality hit me really hard, and I was scared to go after her, like a real man.
Time stops for just a few exquisite seconds, maybe five or six, until I can’t take it much longer. I am self-aware in my newly discovered growth spurt. I am happy, I guess.
I’m so happy, I start to cry--just because I am feeling good. Just because I can. Just until I need to stop.
I start to really appreciate having met Heidi. Maybe I’m still working through the obsession with Claudia.
From the beach, I head back home. I’m already starting to have conversations with Heidi in my head without her being there or being able to answer me.
How lucky she is! Is this love?
“Hey, Ben, I was just thinking of you. I was downstairs at one of the lectures.”
“Hey, Ben, ugh . . .I’m just calling. I’m sorry. It’s this stupid conference. I’m not going to go to this class I have in 10 minutes. I’m getting so sick of the same thing over and over again. I’m just in my room taking a bath. Anyway, I’m sorry to bother you. Thanks for letting me vent.”
Were we just two shattered souls who ended up trying to save each other in some doomed fashion?
The door swings shut from inside the house. I never get calls. And when I do, I always miss them.
“Hello?” I answer.
“You must look so beautiful in that bathtub,” I say.
“That’s one of the nicest things a guy has ever said to me.”
Back at her place, her lovely feet await my attention. She doesn’t refuse when I administer an oral foot massage while she is still in the bath.
“Right on the arches, Ben,” she cries.
I love every minute of it. Her feet quiver with delight. Her toes stretch awkwardly.
“I’m . . . sick . . . I’m dizzy,” she moans. “And you’re incredible.”
Oh, the gibberish we speak in ecstasy, moaning meaningless words.
“Sick-dizzy,” she giggles intensely.
She giggles her orgasm, gibbers and moans her pleasure. I understand her, in some fucked-up way.
Afterwards, Heidi lies quietly asleep, on top of the white bed covers. She is wearing men’s pajamas. I head back home.
We hadn’t made love. She must think of me as the friendly type, like most other women do. But that is fine. I’m used to that.
Heidi is a little nutty, but I like that, too.
She is a mess. She is so innocently a disaster. She is the little Perplexity in my head.
I get home at 3 am. I’ve always loved the night, when everyone else is asleep and the world is all mine. It’s quiet and dark—the perfect time for creativity.
All of a sudden, inspiration comes. Things are clearer. My ideas make more sense. I can finally start to type out, with a little passion, some interesting letters on the screen.
I’ll have to begin the story from here, with me, as ridiculous as that sounds. It’s been forever since I actually sat down to write again. Does this mean my writer’s block has broken? Or am I just fooling myself again?
“I never meant to be such a narcissist,” I cry. “I just can’t get away from myself.”
I’ve always wanted somebody like Heidi to love. But I still don’t know what I need. Maybe I just need one tiny success, one simple thing. Maybe I just need something in this life that will work out in the long run. Maybe I just need to complete something, to get over some things. Maybe I just need something good to last.
God probably took delight in orchestrating me, that day. I’ll call it a day of personal growth.
I never hear from Heidi or see her again.
And now my mind runs wild with quiet confusion. The little affair we had felt so soothing to the senses. I’ll wake up tomorrow, thinking about today. The next day I’ll wake up thinking about tomorrow.
Am I really just a perverted sex addict, like maybe I think I am? Or is this really some kind of love? (You tell me, Dr C. Please.)
I think we are all good souls, all of us, even me, even if only deep down inside.
The Emperor Concerto, Second Movement
He slaps the snooze button. Half hit. Half miss. It’s all gross. He’s sweaty and ashamed. He can’t even get up. Another fucking horrible day in the life of . . . me. Georgie Gust.
And then laziness creeps in. Georgie starts hating himself. He starts to laugh.
“Snooze, damn it!” he tells the alarm clock.
He always thought a snooze was a good 9, 10 minutes. Georgie actually timed the motherfucker several times. This piece of crap mostly gives him 9 or 10 minutes of extra sleep time.
This day, that day, though, the thing can’t even give him two. Cheap, damn thing.
It’s 1:30 pm. Even at this hour, so far into the day, he hesitates to open the shades. He hopes it is not all dismal and gloomy outside. He’s trying to picture himself somewhere out there, in the world. But he just can’t picture it. Maybe if he just stays in bed someone else will open the shades, and save Georgie the trouble of discovering the day.
He closes his eyes, falling half asleep. He finds himself in a non-smoking room at the local three-star hotel. He’s hotel-hopping. He needs to get away again. We always need to get away, Georgie and me, even if it’s only in our head. Geographical change is the easiest fix.
Georgie opens his eyes. He can’t figure out where that three-star hotel has gone. He’s already forgotten--he’s still at home.
The next day, our place now clean, Georgie still can’t get out of his head. He thinks how much he dreads, how much he resents, the effort it takes to take another shower, brush his teeth, and clean himself up, again and again. He just did that yesterday--he shouldn’t have to do it again today. Once should be enough. Once and forever. Now Georgie craves something different. He’s desperate for something new. He would kill for something new. We both would. (But who?)
This particular morning, the razor burn on Georgie’s neck looks like a leper’s chafed jock-itch. He can’t wait the couple of days for the skin on his neck to heal, but at least he won’t have to spend the time and effort to shave again--and that’s comforting. After all, the longer he lets his facial hair grow out, the easier it is to shave.
After all these years, Georgie still can’t find the right shaving method. Currently, he’s on a Panasonic electric for the first layer, then a straight edge without lotion for the second part. Back to a smaller electric beard trimmer, level one, for his goatee shadow. No lotion. No cream. No soap.
With so much nausea, angst, worry, anxiety, and despair welling up inside him, Georgie is suffocating in life. His pathetic and abused gut keeps getting filled with an extra load of explosive anxiety. It’s worse than tickle torture.
He hasn’t taken any risks for some time now. The rut where he’s been trapped has felt so safe. He’s had no view; the walls were high, the rut was deep. All Georgie could see was up and out. Up and away. (But away from what? Away where? More unanswerable questions, huh?)
Most things and events really don’t have much meaning for him anymore.
Georgie needs meaning more than anything else. But meaning is exactly what Georgie hasn’t got. And he probably won’t get it, either.
Georgie really doesn’t know what the day will bring. The only thing he knows is his sloppy routine of rituals: smoking, shiting, showering, shaving, fixing his hair, flossing, brushing his teeth, taking his meds, and organizing. He uses a ton of paper creating lists of things to do, things to accomplish, so he can feel productive. His father tells him it’s important to be productive. So he tries. He really does.
He looks at the bathroom mirror with the sticker in the corner that reads:
JUST TRUST ME.
Like Georgie’s going to trust any of the shitey-assed people he calls friends.
Georgie’s pathetic reflection looks back at him from the empty mirror. He has this huge ego blowing up his head, like an untied condom, until it screwballs up and away. He guesses he looks all right these days. No, really. He looks good. He just doesn’t know what to do about it. He’s so glam rock; he’s so smart. It’s like he has Asperger’s, or some kind of artistic autism. But he’s not sick. His doctor knows that. (Doesn’t she, Dr C?) He can’t deal with a label like depression or stress. He feels much worse than that. He feels like shite. (Do you have a Latin name for shite, Dr C?)
When he shaves, the razor makes love to Georgie’s skin. When he pees, he aims for the silent section on the toilet’s water edge. Afterwards, he usually farts, shites, and pees again, while he’s sitting a little too long on the toilet. Georgie melts into the quality time he takes, thinking on the porcelain tank. His thoughts are trivial. They seem important, but they’re nothing he would ever act on. He is on good behavior. It’s just a lot of theory.
A CD is usually skipping while Georgie’s in the shower. In the shower, he strips down to his naked self. He comes into his true element. He can’t see a thing without his glasses, and he can’t tell you how many wristwatches he’s lost because they don’t have waterproofing. But that’s okay. Waterproof watches are never appealing to the eye.
(Parenthetical Pet Peeve) Smudged eyeglasses.
There’s no washcloth. He washes himself by hand with shampoo--not soap. Shampoo works better because Georgie is hairy, like me. But I don’t wash with shampoo. I use hand-milled, organic soap from Northern California--Sunset Cedar, from a shop called Patti’s Organics.
Georgie smiles in the shower because he was born a man. The shower is the one place where he’s rarely sexually charged. He thinks of himself as a connoisseur, a connoisseur of filth (so soap does not appeal). Women’s dirty fingernails, their smelly anal fetishes, anything nasty--her already-smoked cigarettes for the shrine, the smell of gasoline and melted hair follicles. Filth. Georgie hates dropping the soap. He hates all the bottles in the shower. They confuse him and make him think these products are really useful when he knows they’re not.
(Parenthetical Pet Peeve) Long fingernails. Worse, long toenails.
He hates falling in the shower. God, what else? What else can they do to mess up his day? (What else is there to complain about?) They should have a soap dispenser that mixes soap with water, like at a car wash. It would be a time-saving convenience. It would save energy. What an idea! He should patent that, and make a million bucks. Yeah, right, Georgie.
Drying off, towels are so coarse and unfitting. Georgie gets water scars in between his toes sometimes.
(Parenthetical Pet Peeve) Hangnails.
Every day, all this, all that. Everything is still the same. Georgie doesn’t change. Nothing does. Neither do I. Same shite, different day, we say. Georgie and me.
His feet are a size 12. He wears shoes all the time because his feet embarrass him. He wears blue shoes. That way, he doesn’t have to think of how disgusting his own feet are.
His legs are still in shape but he wears long pants, no matter how hot the weather gets. His legs embarrass him, too. Otherwise, he is your generic, overweight pumpkin.
His plump belly sticks out over his belt. Maybe it’s cute and huggie-bearish to some single sex addicts, but to hell if Georgie thinks so. He weighs in around 268. His driver’s license says he’s 168. The driver’s license picture doesn’t even look like him, but the photo came out pretty nice.
He used to be in shape. Now he just recites affirmations. Now he just tells himself he loves himself just the way he is. It’s all bullshite, but it works for him.
His passport picture is pleasing. He enjoys looking at himself.
Georgie dresses up and blow-dries his hair, and then he primps and curls it. He has these highlights. He has a kind of WASPy, honk-Afro look going on. At least his hair is cool; at least his hair is always having a good day.
My hair, now my hair is dark and thick with a bit of a permanent wave. My mother always said it was my best feature. And here I always thought it was my cuddly personality.
Georgie should’ve picked out his clothes the night before. All his full-size shirts and comfortable pants are at the cleaners, and he doesn’t fit into the 32s anymore. He went from a “large” to an “extra large” in shirts. Georgie’s just started leaving the shirttails out of his pants. He used to tuck them in, neatly, and wear a belt. But no longer. Still, he’ll keep the smaller stuff in the closet—the shirts and pants don’t fit, but some of the clothes remind him of the past. They have a nostalgic meaning for Georgie. In Georgie’s case, too, clothes make the man. (But make him what? I want to know.)
An hour later, he’s finally dressed. Now for the breakfast order.
Like everything else in Georgie’s world, breakfast is a chore. He washes the dishes by hand to get his mind off everything else. He can’t help feeling like things are falling apart in slow motion. Doing things like that, little things, trivial things, reminds him of being hypnotized. Strolling down the supermarket aisles at midnight with the trippy supermarket music and the paradox of choice everywhere around him. In the grocery store, somehow, time feels different.
Georgie’s out of orange juice, and the milk will give him gas, but milk goes best with microwave pancakes. Georgie likes his food a little cold, and he dislikes cooking. He presses the “cancel/stop” button twice on the microwave when it’s down to two seconds. It’s not like he’s in any rush. He has all day.
(Parenthetical Pet Peeve) Fat free = taste free.
His keys are in place. He locks the door without really checking. Georgie’s sick and tired of always lock-checking, lock-checking, and then remembering I forget important things after he’s already out the door.
(Parenthetical Pet Peeve) If I return home, I suddenly get the feeling I didn’t lock the door, then find that I did after all.
Georgie, I think, could very well be a loser, but what’s that say about me? That I’d be a loser of a literary character, too? What’s wrong with a whiner? A complainer? An agoraphobic with OCD? Is that me? I catch Georgie out of the corner of my eye and wonder what I’ve done, giving him all these issues.
He swears he’s not going to check that lock--but he does, anyway, even though he’s just going out for coffee and coming right back. It’s not like he’s going to plan his whole life, sitting at the counter, sipping his cup of Joe. It’s not like he is some romantic poet at the Café Paris.
Finally, Georgie lights his first cigarette of the day--a Marlboro Light--and he worries about cancer, like everything else. And puffs away. After his first cigarette comes another cup of coffee, and then another smoke--and a couple of more smokes, after that.
He brings along his laptop computer, a pad and pen, and a couple of self-help books with the covers torn off, just in case. Just in case something strikes. He rarely uses any of these things in public. Sometimes he drives to the convenience store and sits in the parking lot. He watches people. He likes people-watching. But he doesn’t like people. Go figure.
Georgie rarely looks forward to actually dealing with people. But he’ll end up running into somebody every time. People get in his way, and they are unavoidable--like signs on the sidewalks, or spills in the elevator. Or sometimes Georgie gets caught in some really important check-in with somebody who really shouldn’t care what’s up with him. (And neither should Georgie.)
All this whining and baby shite gets him nowhere, he knows--but he just keeps bitching. He dreads being in line at the coffee shop again. He gets self-conscious and self-critical around the perfect advertisement-model-types in line ahead of him. They pretend they’re holding their noses and standing clear of the stench coming off Georgie’s stale, smelly sweater. It reeks of the toxic fumes of tobacco pollution. And they’re all so nice and friendly, and trivial, and guarded. Now that’s a challenge. Dealing with these people, I mean, without freaking out or throwing a temper tantrum.
Still, he’s half asleep.
Georgie’s always half asleep. No matter what I do. Except, of course, when he’s thinking of Claudia. She’s the only goddamn thing that really makes him feel alive.
Georgie is next in line at the coffee shop. Tabitha’s working the counter, but Georgie’s not paying much attention to her. He’s thinking of Claudia.
I just let others say and do what they want--I just keep being me. Well, sort of.
Jonathan Harnisch, author
Sex, Drugs, and Schizophrenia