“the Kid,” I said, speaking to a sheet that divided the room in which I was sleeping with the sparsely furnished living room. “now there’s an example of a whole different species.”
Nielson pulled back the curtain and poked his head in. “yeah, you’re really one to talk. You’re wearing a Jim Beam vest that used to be a t shirt, an American flag bandana, a showgirl mask facing backwards and a pair of commando pants.”
“these are mere accessories to my lifestyle as an American, you fuck. I’m just exercising my rights here. It’s still a free country within the confines of your own home, haha. As long as you haven’t made the Terror Watch list yet. And as long as you keep the shades down and the noise at socially acceptable levels.”
“yeah, jackass, it’s guys like me who are responsible for that freedom you’re enjoying.”
Nielson was an ex-Marine who’d done two tours in Iraq and he never missed a chance to chime in about the freedom he fought to protect. Since his honorable discharge, he shared my affinity for chronic unemployment but to his credit he’d found a way to live comfortably on a supposed mental disability check and unemployment pay.
“whatever, Marine. Get your fuckin’ head out of my room.”
Twenty minutes passed as I tried to figure out a way to build a guitar stand with a few pieces of wood I’d nabbed from a broken futon out front. Like most projects I’ve embarked on, it was doomed from the start. I soon gave up and went to the fridge for a beer.
Nielson was watching a television show about the ten things most likely to end the human race.
“you know what’s next?” I asked, slumping onto a filthy, piss-stained sofa with the grime so ingrained you could barely make out the tacky floral pattern. He looked over at me and watched as I snapped open my beer and took a sip.
“in the fridge.”
“I’m not gonna get up.”
“I never asked you to. Anyway, number seven is black holes. They say that scientists first thought that black holes remained in one place, but it turns out some of those bastards are roaming around space, just devouring entire galaxies and solar systems and shit.”
“hmm, kinda like you. Just roaming around my apartment, devouring entire cases of beer and boxes of cereal.”
I laughed because he was right on with that one.
“now, will you get me a beer?”
“hmm. On one condition.”
“no! No, you can’t shoot me with your gun.”
Since I’d been down there in Wilmington, NC, living in his place and eating his food and drinking his beer, I’d developed this bad habit of shooting him with my air pistol. He’d be watching television and I’d be in the other room and I’d draw back the sheet just enough to sight his toe and then POP!
“OWWW! ARGGHHH! What the FUCK, man?! Why do you keep shooting me with that fucking thing?”
The only time I heard him swear, aside from calling me a jackass, was after I shot him. That was half the reason I did it. I liked to hear him swear. Usually he was saying things like, “holy smokes” and “gosh darn it” and that irritated the hell out of me.
“c’mon, grab me a beer.”
“no! I’m not gonna let you shoot me for getting me a beer. Don’t you ever just wanna do something nice for somebody?”
“well, how about now?”
I got bored of the conversation and knew it would continue until I got him a beer so I got up and went to the fridge, thinking, “I’ll just shoot him later for this one.”
After the next commercial came the part of the show about the wandering black holes. And after that was the possibility that a certain asteroid, which was scheduled to just miss earth in the year 2029 would swing back and knock us out in 2036. It made me happy because I worried less about getting a job and settling down.
As soon as I got close to finishing my beer I could feel Nielson’s eyes move from the television screen to my beer can. He knew I had a little asteroid of my own. The way we did it was that whenever each of us finished a can of beer we’d throw it at the other’s head. It was just another game we played to keep the boredom at bay. To make things a little more interesting.
I tried to fake like there was more in the can than there actually was, but it’s impossible to finish a beer without tipping the can all the way up.
“I know you’re done, jackass.”
“maybe I am, maybe I’m not.”
He took another sip from his can and I side-armed it at him, clipping the back of his head and then dodging an immediate retaliation. His hit the couch but then bounced back and splashed on my shirt.
“you didn’t even finish your fucking beer, Marine. Now it’s your turn to get up.”
As lazy as he was, Nielson played by the drinking rules we’d established. He got up, went to the fridge, tossed me another beer and sat down again.
“so, you find a job today?” he asked.
“there’s nothing out there.”
“did you even look?”
“yes, MOM, I fuckin’ looked. Everybody wants you to have a degree in accounting or engineering and ten years in the field. You gotta be familiar with all these goddamn computer programs, as well as being a motivated self-starter who can work well, like, independently and on a team. You gotta have a clean criminal record, a clean driving record and a North Carolina driver’s license.”
I turned to him and swallowed hard.
“do you think I have any of that?”
“holy smokes. You are kinda screwed.”
He grinned and looked back to the television.
“you know what the biggest threat to humanity is?”
“I’m trying to watch the show, here.”
“it’s climate change. Global warming. Hell, I don’t even need a job because we’re all gonna drown or fry or eat off each other’s faces within the next few years. Maybe I’ll just coast along until then, drinking your beer and eating your food.”
He glared at me as though he believed it was a serious possibility.
“or maybe,” I said, standing up and walking to a map I’d tacked on the wall. “just maybe, one of these days, I’ll throw my shit in my jeep and drive my ass out to Vegas. Anybody can make it there, right? And if one of these calamities does happen, like if we do engage in all out nuclear war, (that’s the second on the list), I won’t even know until the very end because I’ll be holed up in the corner of some dark casino, drinking whiskey and watching the roulette wheel spin around and around and around. And by then…well…who knows?”