Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Switch (short story)
Whenever he was in a public restroom and he noticed that another man did not wash his hands after urinating, he’d go so far as to follow the man from the bathroom, tap him on the shoulder, and say, “Hey mister! You forgot to wash your hands!” He’d look down at the other man’s hands in disgust. “And now you’re touching the broccoli, putting your hands all over my future dinner with your bathroom germs!” His heart would be pounding in pure rage. “Can’t you just be decent, and wash your hands? Two minutes of your day, man, maximum. Can’t you do that for me, and all your other fellow grocery shopping mankind?”
Once this got him punched. This man was passionate about hand washing, and the sight of another man walking impurely out of the bathroom rid him of all inhibitions. Sometimes he had to pay for his lack of fear with a dirty fist in his jaw, after which he would proceed to the bathroom to wash his face in the sink.
Our man calls himself Keiton Winston.
Now don’t go thinking this man is crazy. He’s actually quite regular, and if you saw him walking down the street, he’d be as good as invisible to you. Every morning he showers for ten minutes, and shaves for fifteen. In his closet you’ll find three pairs of khaki pants made for 70 year old men and a plethora of plaid flannel shirts made for Alabama hill-billies. His thick brown hair often falls into his frame of vision and he brushes it out of the way of his eyes, wishing he could get away with pinning his bangs back without looking like a homo. He never cuts his bangs, however, because the man is horribly self-conscious of the Hindu-like mole on the middle of his forehead. Those bangs are his constant bother.
On the way to work one August morning he sat in his run-down Corolla, stuck in traffic, listening to NPR, wondering why Diane Rehm wasn’t dead yet. It wasn’t like he wanted her to die. Sometimes she was interesting, like when she interviewed economists about the debt ceiling crisis. Yet enduring her old goat voice was about as miserable as listening to Disturbed, or As I Lay Dying.
He changed the station to country music, then he started craving beer and wishing he had a girl in his life. This brought him back to the 8th grade when his crush told him that if he ever wanted to get married he needed to get his forehead mole removed. He winced at this memory. Then he thought that maybe he should call his doctor and tell him that the mole was hurting him so that insurance would cover its removal, and then he worried that maybe the scar would look worse than the mole itself. Keiton changed the station.
Sexy jazz music. Switch.
Hard rock. Switch.
Classic rock. Keiton thought of his dad, drunk on the deck of their old house, yelling profanities at the neighbors while rocking out to Led Zeppelin, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” At the time, Keiton’s mom was already having an affair with her secretary, Thom, and she walked out on her “depressed dog of a man” two days later. With or without his wife and child, Keiton’s dad never left the deck or got sober.
The drunk man was Keiton’s biological father, but only one out of the many fathers that walked through and through his childhood homes. Keiton used to listen to classic rock as a way to preserve his true father’s memory. But listening to “American Pie” or “Hotel California” now just made him numb, and he switched the station.
Techno. He only ever listened to techno on special occasions, which included having a personal rave in his living room, when he was feeling especially self-conscious or un-liked. Switch.
Baseball commentary. Keiton was always the bench warmer in elementary school P.E. class baseball. Switch.
He decided to just shut the damn radio off, and sing his own song. He hummed for a while, searching for words, but couldn’t get “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” out of his head. His father laying on the deck, eyes fixated on the ceiling fan, smoking a fat Cuban, drowning in Zeppelin’s scream. His face a stone. The image resurfaced in Keiton’s mind during pivotal times, like when he realized he could live just fine without Ativan, and the day before he broke up with his first and only girlfriend a few years back. In the silence of his old Corolla, he pondered his average life, wondering what to do about that mole on his forehead while at the same time brushing his bangs out of face.
The driver behind Keiton honked making Keiton jump in his seat and notice the time: 8:48 am. There was no way that Keiton would make it to work on time in this traffic. Keiton worked as the “tech guy” at a high school, which meant he mostly showed kids how to use memory sticks, helped teachers set up their projectors, or monitored the teenagers’ internet usage. Those dirty fingered kids, telling vulgar jokes in the computer lab and picking on their pimples during class. He shuddered. Keiton never looked forward to going to work.
A rush of relief flushed over him as he realized that he would have to call in sick today. He thought that maybe he should drive down to Mexico for the day, or maybe to the beach in California. He wiped the sweat off his brow. He desperately wanted to get out of the heat and the city. He wanted to see something new. Every day he drove by the same sights, next to the same assholes on the freeway, getting stopped by the same cops. At work he wrote up referrals for the same students for the same misuse of school internet. Same.
He’d always wanted to travel, and he’d never planned on settling down in one place, yet here he was, working the same job for the fifth year, living in the same apartment, driving the same car, hanging out with the same people. Actually he didn’t hang out with people. The point is, he was bored. As he sat in traffic, he punched his steering wheel, and let out a manly yell. Keiton thought that maybe his yell sounded more like As I Lay Dying than William Wallace in Brave Heart.
He looked at his fist, and saw that it had started to swell up. He cursed. Keiton didn’t want a girl in his life, nor a beer. He didn’t want a father, or even to have lonely raves. He would never be good at baseball either. Fuck your expectations, world! he thought, holding himself back from hitting the steering wheel a second time. Why had he always thought that he needed to have a stable job, buy a house, and get married to a gorgeous little country girl? Why did he feel inadequate because he hated baseball, computers, and the idea of being a father? Why had no one ever told him that he could be a rugged farmer in West Africa with his head shaved and his mole sitting proudly on the center of his forehead? Keiton sighed and tears nearly burst from his overwhelmed heart. In the midst of freeway traffic, on that hot day in August, the world opened up.
In his rage and excitement, Keiton ripped off his tie (which definitely didn’t match his flannel shirt), and began dialing the high school’s number. As the phone rang, he mentally prepared his “I quit” speech. He breathed shallowly, wiping his forehead, but no one picked up.
Finally, “Hola? Por favor deje un mensaje.”
“Dammit Juanita!” Keiton cried. She was the school secretary who often answered the phone in Spanish accidently. Keiton was very surprised, however, that she got away with changing the school’s voicemail to Spanish.
Beep. “Hola Juanita. It’s Keiton Winston, you know, the computer guy. Please make sure this message gets to Principal Connor. I won’t be at work today because I’m quitting my job. I hate the students. I hate computers. I hate the teachers and their stupid questions. I hate how you always talk to me in Spanish. I hate being bound to this city. I am going away. I don’t know where to, but I won’t be back at the office ever again. Goodbye, Juanita. Good knowing you I guess.” Keiton hung up.
A smile spread across his lips and he began singing “Free Bird”, feeling just about as good as he did the day he broke up with his girlfriend. However, there is something you know that Keiton doesn’t. He never reached the high school or Juanita, because he dialed the wrong number that day and called a lady named Anna who would never know who Keiton was, or why he hated everything. Keiton continued his days as a hobo weaving his way across America in search for life’s meaning. Head shaved and beard grown long.