May. 24, 2011 at 10:38am
(playing the harp while Rome burns)
I am not looking forward to anything. The only things I care about are empty, and I suspect they always were, but I can’t be sure of that because I wasn’t paying attention when I first started caring about them. When I walk, I have the sensation of breath and movement and anxiety, but each element of the sensation is petty and irrelevant – a poor substitute for some nameless forgotten thing I’ve been avoiding too long to recall.
I walk into the tavern and coolly hope a beer will fracture the monotony of an interminable weekday. Everyone feels this way; it is not special. Life is funny because we all suspect we will somehow be the lone human who escapes the aimless dread of self-determination. We know it’s impossible, but it’s also funny. Our direction and pace is determined by our likes and dislikes, as arbitrary as tributaries or ant tunnels. I like this beer, so I drink it, and it’s as simple as that.
The cheeriness of everyone else in the room seems to mock the cartoonish seriousness murkily flooding my brain. Like everyone else, I assume these people have found some secret satisfaction that has eluded me. Of course, I know I’m wrong. I’m unreasonable when I’m this way. My first two sips of beer were much too large. I should be economical in my consumption. I do not enjoy drawing things out, but I understand that I should. Tide markers ring the glass. Ghosts of beer passed. I made eye contact with a girl at a table nearby, but I pretended my gaze was en route to the poster hanging above her head to the right. It didn’t matter. She was talking to someone else, and I didn’t think she was attractive anyway.
I’m going to the front room to play pool. But there is only one table, and someone is already engrossed in a game. I take another measured sip from my glass and watch the woman as she carefully considers the green felt before her. She holds the cue at the ready. She is older than I am, her attire and bearing suggesting she is a teacher – a strategically assembled contrast of spirited gaiety and resolute authority. She prepares for her shot painstakingly and deliberately. Then she draws back and drives forward, with piston-like precision. But there is no sound of sharp synthetic ivory, no pipey clunk of a ball dropping into a pocket. There is, in fact, not a single ball on the table.
I do not say a word. Suddenly, it occurs to me that I should check my pockets for change. When I set down my beer to do so, I continue to watch the odd pool shark’s movements. She slowly stalks around the table, with one hand on its worn wood rim, her face showing the twitches and screwed-up lips of indecision. Then, with shot chosen, she once again takes aim at a phantom ball, strikes and watches the invisible melee of spinning numbers and colors. Satisfied with the result, she reaches for the plastic cup of iced coffee on her nearby barstool.
Now, she is aware of my fixed attention. “I just started,” she says. “Would you like to join? Stripes are behind. You can be solids.”
I hesitate and reach for my beer, as if the importance of taking another sip justifies a delayed response.
She chalks her cue and says, “You don’t have to. It just looked like you were getting your quarters ready and I figured you’d want to help me finish the game - so you could start one of your own. But if you’re not in a hurry, I can finish my solo round here.”
I look around the room. No one is paying attention to her or me. “Okay,” I hear myself assenting to join, suddenly feeling as if nonsense is the only sensible thing to engage in at the moment. Oddly trapped in nonsense, I reach for a cue and haltingly approach the table, unsure of where she had left the cue ball. I choose a spot mid-table, just above the right side pocket. My face is flush with embarrassment, but somehow, I desperately don’t want to fuck up this shot. My failure is made apparent instantly by her kind laughter. “Have you ever played pool before?” she asks, in amused disbelief.
Great. She thinks my incompetence is cute. My stomach turns a bit, and I look up to her eyes to get some indication where the cue ball has gone. I’ve instantly become submissive and urgently in need of approval. How is this happening? Thank Christ no one is watching. Anxiety has taken hold, but I fix my aim at the spot to my left where her eyes are fixed. I imagine a solid blue ball perched on the edge of the left corner pocket and adjust my position to dispense with it.
Now, the moment of commitment. Of course, the front door opens, and three college kids in trim trendy jackets enter, talking loudly. I straighten, as if I could somehow disclaim involvement from this increasingly weird mental tournament. My opponent holds her green-strawed drink to her mouth and watches me unperturbed.
I have to do this. I don’t have any other choice. I take my shot. I see the blue ball gingerly slip into the pocket.
“How did you miss?” she hoots. “That was a giveaway!”
The fragile sense of composure I had constructed just seconds before is now completely obliterated. She reaches into the pocket, pulls an unseen ball from it and moves toward the other end of the table. Apparently, I have scratched. I start to laugh.
“But I –“
“You what? Are you confused about the rules? The cue ball followed the 9 ball in. You scratched. My turn. Not that you’ve left me with any decent shots.”
Her confidence is unnerving and I cross my arms. I venture a rebuttal: “That’s not what I saw.”
“Who cares what you saw? This is a game. There are rules, so what actually happened is all that matters,” she responds, as if explaining kickball to a third grader. “What happened is not open to interpretation.”
I have always been under the impression that games are supposed to be enjoyable, and that leisure games – such as pool – ought to be relaxing. This particular game is not enjoyable and it is not relaxing. She takes her shot. We both wait for invisible chaos to settle.
“Son of a bitch. Now you’d think I’m the one who’s never played pool before,” she says, with a fair measure of assurance drained from her posture. “You should be able to do something with that.”
I look up and notice that the college kids have been watching us. I avert my eyes from them and check my jacket for cigarettes. Good. I didn’t leave them in the car. “I wonder if those kids are waiting for the table,” I suggest, gesturing with my near-empty pint glass. Soon it will be as empty as the pool table.
“They can wait! It’s your turn. I’m not about to let you yellow-belly your way out of this,” my opponent replies, with a teacherly wink. My god, I think, she’s right. I’ve committed to this and I have to finish it.
Again, I circle the table, with no sense of where the cue ball might be. I know it can’t be in a place where my shot would require me to engage in some kind of fancy billiards contortion. I simply can’t bring myself to do that. But why not? Am I ashamed of this? I must be.
In a moment of defiance – against my own stupid fears, the silly judgments of others, the years of constricted expectations – I turn my back to the table, place the cue behind my back and lean over the felt for an awkward shot. I focus everything in my mental inventory on the imaginary blue ball, now sitting a foot above the right side pocket. I bank the cue ball against the upper edge and wait for the results.
I imagine the table has once again come to rest and turn to face it. I think I missed.
My opponent’s cell phone begins to ring. “I need to take this,” she says. I feel the college kids staring at my back, at the empty table. At the elementary school teacher speaking into her phone, drinking iced coffee. I pick up my empty beer glass and begin to consider a second pint. Before I can place my order, she is tapping on my shoulder.”
“I need to leave now,” she says, “But I’ve enjoyed our game. What was your name? I don’t think I got it.”
“Ah. Well, nice to meet you Dave. Another time, maybe?”
I agree. Yes, maybe another time. I watch her leave the tavern with her iced coffee, still talking into her phone. As the door begins to close behind her, I hear her say, “No, I was just at Magoo’s. I tricked some stupid-ass sad-sack hipster into playing a game of invisible pool with me.”
comments  | posted under short storyComments
by NineInchNachos on 5/24/2011 @ 11:33am
|wait a minute...
by Rick Jones on 5/24/2011 @ 11:36am
|Best line: "...as if the importance of taking another sip justifies a delayed response."
Nice story, a study of emptiness.
by KevinFreitas on 5/26/2011 @ 7:19am
|Beautifully done with a great pay-off in the end. Thanks for sharing @captiveyak!
by jenyum on 5/26/2011 @ 2:27pm
|Every day when I wake up and put on my not at all ironic t-shirt and listen to my 10 year old make brutally juvenile attempts at sarcasm, I am thankful that I'm not a hipster.|
by dolly varden on 5/26/2011 @ 4:03pm
|Is the hipster just a construct to dismiss, or is it a real thing? Some of the most substantive people I know wear the occasional ironic t-shirt and have interests that are not inconsistent with notions of hipster-ness. Does anyone actually identify as a hipster?|
by thriceallamerican on 5/26/2011 @ 4:17pm
|I'd be a hipster if I wasn't so fucking unhip.|
by NineInchNachos on 5/26/2011 @ 4:39pm
|hipsters crave unhipness to be ironic. genuinely unhip people are the most hip.|
by cisserosmiley on 5/26/2011 @ 4:47pm
|it might be hard to get people to self identify them...selves? as hipsters. everyone should post the name of a friend who is a hipster. anthony konty-you are a hipster|
by Erik on 5/26/2011 @ 5:33pm
|Don't forget the "Insta-Hipster" 253 garb:|
Via a Frost Park Chalk Off episode: a classic:
by Erik on 5/26/2011 @ 5:37pm
|The authoritative text on the subject can be purchased from Amazon:|
"Stuff Hipsters Hate: A Field Guide to the Passionate Opinions of the Indifferent"
From the dive bars of Brooklyn's Williamsburg to the dirty alleys of San Francisco's Mission, the urban hipster has redefined American cool with a sighing disdain for everything mainstream. Hipsters are easily identified by their worn-out shoes, fixies and PBR tallboys, but until now no one had investigated beyond the hipster look to the even more hilarious hipster psyche.
With personally researched articles, revealing illustrations and helpful charts and graphs, Stuff Hipsters Hate exposes the bottomless well of impassioned scorn that motivates the ever-apathetic hipster, including:
MATING AND SOCIAL HATES
â™¦buying you a drink
â™¦texting back in a timely fashion
APPAREL AND GROOMING HATES
â™¦being asked about their tattoos
WORK AND LIFE HATES
â™¦knowing their bank balance
by thriceallamerican on 5/26/2011 @ 6:07pm
|I think Huey Lewis said it best: "It's hip to be square."|
by captiveyak on 5/27/2011 @ 9:50am
|i love that this became a discussion about hipsters... Especially considering that I think of all of you as hipsters. I imagine you all reading this story thinking, "It's super-derivative of David Eggers or something, man. It's like he's trying to rip off that one scene in that one Berman film. I should listen to some Iron and Wine when i get home."
by NineInchNachos on 5/27/2011 @ 9:53am
|hipsters are a spice like Hitler. Once you inject Hitler no matter how small... the whole thing takes on a Hitler flavor.|
by Mofo from the Hood on 6/2/2011 @ 10:34am
|Mr. captiveyak, we meet again. I've taken some time to read, in different emotional states, your existentialist influenced tragicomedy. The first time I read your story, it was a late evening and I was tired. The first three paragraphs produced in me a wave of despair. But because I've read other writings of yours, my sense of relief came from my conclusion that in reality you do think that life is worth living. |
This story's protagonist is both a modern man and a conventional clown. He is nearly emotionally exhausted from perhaps overindulgence in modern life's easy temptations and opportunities. He's gloomy, yet he hasn't forsaken the playful side of life.
He is the modern man looking for instant happiness in novelty; a tragic figure living a moment by moment existence with no hope for eternal bliss. His "cartoonish" seriousness may be mocked by others, but those others lack the understanding that his seriousness implies the notion of freedom and with that the duty of responsibility.
He lives with the idea of freedom and free choice---an idea independent of history--- in a secular world defined by historical and dialectical materialism; yet such a world thus defined is one that he himself cannot take seriously.
He wants freedom from fear, and freedom from error, but is that possible in a world that promotes freedom from thought?...
by NineInchNachos on 6/2/2011 @ 10:54am
|Mr. captiveyak, is the funniest human in Tacoma.|
by captiveyak on 6/3/2011 @ 8:14am
|Mofo: Either my writing was amateurishly transparent, or you actually did take the time to seriously consider the aim of the whole exercise - because you pretty well nailed it - the main point being the woman saying "You don't have to."
i've always been inclined to think that these "existentialist" moments are more democratically distributed than most sensitive folks would like to admit, but i'd never be callous enough to imply that life is not serious. So the point of undercutting the protagonist's surrender with a mean joke was my way of suggesting that laughter is still the best medicine. Exploring "why" too thoroughly only leads to more "whys". Besides, chances are someone is laughing at you anyway. Humor is my mind's white blood cells.