SOMEONE WAS JACKHAMMERING OUTSIDE THE WINDOW. I rolled over, separated the Venetian blinds, looked outside. A gray-haired woman in a high visibility vest. Excavating. I watched for a while. She was all alone. Cars just driving around her. A mother walked by on the other sidewalk holding the hands of two tiny children. No acknowledgment. The woman with the jackhammer made a serious face, braced her body and pulled the trigger. She shook violently.
Hair flying around. The street broke apart.
I microwaved old coﬀee. The apartment was like a snow globe but the snow was suspended dust and fuzz, floating. Life was a gel. Was an ooze. I drank the coﬀee by the window watching the jackhammering, wishing this was a professional sporting event so I could learn more about the athlete busting the roadway apart. Her adversities. Her setbacks. Her small triumphs that led her here. What was on the line. Something was wrong with the street, that is all I knew. She was here to fix it, all alone. I set the coﬀee on the dresser. Sometimes I jackhammer at work. For some reason I’m not at work.
My phone rang. Te front door was connected to my phone. When people enter 001 into the keypad it calls my phone because I am the first apartment. The buzzer is complicated. The system is complicated. The world is complicated. Death is complicated. I answered the phone.
A voice like a frog croaked, “Pizza.”
I replied to the voice, “I didn’t order a pizza.” I checked the clock, it was 9:15am. But this wasn’t the pizza man.
“Just buzz me in,” the frog said, “I got Chinese food or something.”
I hung up the phone. It might be someone entering the building with a sawed oﬀ shot gun.
They might be here to blast everyone in the stomach with the shotgun. It was Wednesday, five days before New Years, what better time? Immediately my phone rang, I answered. “Pizza,” the frog said again. I buzzed the shotgun frog in. I admired their tenacity. I admire everyone’s tenacity.
Yesterday I read a work of profound classic literature. The book changed my life. Immediately after finishing the book I went online and read all the one-star reviews that people gave the book.
The best review was by a guy who was very upset he couldn’t get his money back after he finished the book. Te review mentioned that he had contacted the used bookstore in Virginia and the bookstore owner was like, “I’m not giving you your two bucks back.” The reviewer said he couldn’t wait until he was dead so he could see that author in the afterlife and whoop their ass over the two bucks. After clicking another magic button I was able to see all the other reviews the person had done; three stars for a pair of children’s mirrored rainbow sunglasses; five stars for an ordinary incandescent lightbulb; five stars for neon gravel, the kind you would put in a fish tank; one star for a Phillip’s head screwdriver. When I clicked on the review of the Phillip’s head screwdriver, it was a rant about how he didn’t see why the world was so absurd and why everyone couldn’t just get on board together to make existing easier. Only he said it like this—I needed fat head! Fail! Ahh! You had one job!
Te jackhammering stopped. I heard voices. The police were here. The police were talking to the woman with the jackhammer. Turns out there was nothing wrong with the street. Cool. She nonchalantly took oﬀ her high visibility vest and threw it into the bed of a pickup truck parked right in front of my car. God, I always forget where I’ve parked. It’s always a surprise. Angry, she flung the hefty jackhammer into the bed of the truck. Ten greater silence, the air compressor shut oﬀ. I was intrigued. The woman was yelling now. Hands thrown in the air. She was yelling at the police with her hands. Both cops took a step back and I was like—Damn! I’m about to see American gun violence! I raised the blinds. I opened the window. I was right there, six feet over the action. I had VIP seats. A third cop car swooped in, coming the wrong way down the one-way street. In under a minute the woman was in handcuﬀs and in the back of one of the police cars. And the cops were lingering. They lingered for a while. They lingered—mad—glaring at the hole in the road. Ten they saw me in the window, leaning out with my coﬀee. “Did you see this?” I shook my head. I said, “I didn’t see nothing.” They all had shaved heads and wrap around rainbow sunglasses. Tree stars. I said, “I didn’t see nothing.” Te shortest cop was especially mad. “Oh? Yeah? You didn’t see nothing, huh? Hanging out the window like the town gossip and you didn’t see anything?” I said, “I’m blind. Who am I talking to? Charlie is that you? Charlie?” The cops left with the woman. And the morning was cold and totally blank. It wasn’t even 10am.
I opened the top dresser drawer and ate the rest of the mushrooms that my wife had claimed had ‘gone bad’, whatever that could mean. Washed them down with warm tap water. Got dressed. Finally found my shoes. Walked out into the world.
There were two flyers stuck to not only our apartment door but every apartment door in the building. One flyer was from Goldie’s Fried Chicken, they wanted to sell us chickens. They wanted this entire building to band together and help rid the world of its greatest scourge, the chicken. We were all to do our part by consuming this animal. Te other flyer was from the building itself. The building was sentient. The building was holding a meeting down in its guts on Tuesday. We were all invited to attend and cast our vote for banning smoking from every single apartment and from also, the area right outside the apartment. Second-hand smoke was giving everyone cancer. This apartment building was transforming into a hospital or a gulag. If you didn’t come to the meeting Tuesday night at 7pm, that also meant that by default you were voting in favor of banning smoking. I ripped the flyer to shreds and stomped on it. I had never smoked a cigarette in my life but here I was with a mission! I was headed out to the Uzbek deli to buy a hundred dollars worth of cigarettes and I was going to smoke them ALL in my apartment— today.
Outside the building, Joe the smoker was smoking where he usually smoked. “They’re trying to ban smoking!” I said. “I can’t believe it.”
He said, “Trying? Vote was last night. They banned it.” “Tat Tuesday?” I said in disbelief. “Not this Tuesday?” “What?”
“You heard me,” he said, spitting.
I looked at Joe. What a law-breaking badass.
He had piss yellow long hair. A gray van dyke goatee. A batman baseball cap. A jean jacket. He was smoking a strawberry cigarillo.
“Wait, I really missed the vote?”
“You really missed the vote. Where were you?”
“I was home finishing this amazing book. A profound work of classic literature that this guy on the internet gave one star to, and then I sucked into reading all his other reviews. Was kind of incredible really. He gave a wheelbarrow two stars. He gave an egg timer five stars and said if he could he would have given it six. He gave a can of Pledge two stars.”
“What’s an egg timer for?” “Exactly, Joe!”
He was done with his cigar so he went back into the building without saying goodbye. I walked around the side and took a good look at the new hole in the road. It served no logical purpose. Someone had just decided to destroy the road. My car had a bunch of dust all over it. I stared at the dust for awhile. Then I looked in the back of the pickup truck. The air compressor and the jackhammer were still there. The police had left them there. I would have thought they would have liked to use it all as evidence. Thought maybe the judge would like to see. I don’t know. I guess if you just start destroying the road, the judge is just like: Hey whatever, I don’t need to see anything. You’ve committed the gravest oﬀense. You have gone out of your way to destroy society. You are making everything harder for everyone. You are creating an impasse. You are an impasse. And now our society shall destroy yee.
I found a rag in the back of the pickup. I took it out and wiped down my car. And then I stunk like diesel fuel because the rag had been used to clean up the diesel fuel that spilled out of the air compressor. And now my car was covered in a fine layer of diesel. It was all starting to make sense! I looked up into my window and watched my own ceiling fan for awhile. It was so cold out here. But the ceiling fan was always on in the apartment because the radiators were always singing singing singing. In the window above my own, I saw a hand with a cigarette. I shouted up at the hand, “YOU THERE ON THE SECOND FLOOR! YOU’RE UNDER ARREST.” From my vantage, the hand disappeared. I crossed the street to get a better look up at the window. I watched the drapes draw closed.
I walked down the street. I couldn’t figure out if I had a job anymore or if I was on vacation. I checked my pockets for evidence that I still had a job. Hm, some money. Not a lot of money. Just some money. The amount of money a person would have if they had just recently lost their job. But maybe I had more money in the bank? I checked my wallet. Hmm, a debit card. I walked over to the Uzbek deli. I put my card in the ATM machine. My balance said I was neither rich nor poor. I had the exact average amount of money I always had. I let out a disgusted sigh. The deli man said, “You okay?” I nodded. I said, “I can’t figure out if I have a job anymore.” He said, “I heard that they are hiring over there at the ninety nine cent store.” I said, “Oh, that’s incredible.” He said, “Yeah, you have a diploma? High school at least? GED?” I said, “How much could they possibly pay at the ninety nine cent store?” He grinned, “Ninety-nine cents an hour, haha, I don’t know.”
My phone buzzed. It was the group text for the guys I worked(?) with at the chemical plant. Someone had had a baby. Someone’s someone had had a baby. Congratulations! I bought a bunch of cigarettes and a giant blunt, the kind you’re supposed to rip apart and fill with weed, well I just bought it to celebrate the birth of the baby. Outside the store, shivering in the cold, snot leaking out of my nose, I looked at my phone, at the anonymous pink baby being nuzzled by someone and I tried to figure out who it was. Who anyone was. I texted: DO I STILL WORK WITH YOU GUYS? Right away there was a text: HAHAHA IF YOU CALL IT THAT. Another: FUK U. Another:
UNFORTUNATELY BUT WE CAN DREAM. I walked back into the Uzbek deli and I told the guy I still had a job. Thanks for the lead. He looked happy for me. Did a little clap. I walked down the block to the ninety-nine cent store. I went inside. I was so overjoyed and relieved I was almost weeping. I wouldn’t have to work there after all. One giant display was just all kinds of random balloons. Like all the world wanted was balloons. I held my hands up in triumph. I wouldn’t have to work retail, selling balloons and macaroni and cheese and squirt guns to just make ninety-nine cents an hour. I could aﬀord to eat Goldie’s Chicken every meal until it gave me a cardiac arrest. Another text: U STILL ON VACATION? I texted back: MAYBE.
When I got home the people from the township were there filling in the hole. Loud fat guys having fun. Orange sweatshirts. Big gloves. Dumping bags of asphalt into the hole. Making the problem disappear. They were the repairmen of the entire universe. Some maniac comes around and makes something more diﬃcult, more dangerous, you just call these guys and they come and it all works out. Great noble beasts summoned from their sacred caves. Working together. Oh, yo, let me get that for you. A knife slicing the bag open, the asphalt sliding down, plooooop. Tey were ignoring me as I stared at them, to a point. Then I said, “I saw the whole thing. This lady just started going wacko. Making all this racket. Destroying society.”
Surprised at first, and then grinning, one guy said, “Bro, I know.”
“We heard, we heard,” the other guy said. He had a hand tamper he was compacting the road patch with.
I pointed at her truck. Michigan license plates. I pointed in the bed of the pickup truck. We all looked at the jackhammer and the air compressor.
One of the guys said, “You gonna drive all the way from fucking Michigan to this place just to crunch it all up. Whacked.”
“Whacked,” the other guy said. “Whacked,” I said.
I tried the doors but they were locked. I peeked in the windows but couldn’t see any other evidence about the life of this misunderstood woman. That’s what she was. Misunderstood. If only we could understand her better. I decided to visit her in jail. I’d get to know her. I’d come forward. I’d be the star witness in her defense. I’d take the stand. Those shaved head cops would be there, having just given their testimonies against this strange woman and under cross-examination I would contest them! I’d say confidently, actually I am not blind. I’d seen it all. I’d seen the entire incident. This woman was not only misunderstood, she was also innocent! I am not blind you fucking idiots!
Before the repairmen of the universe left. I urged them to take the air compressor. Urged them to take the jackhammer. They said, nah nah, we good. We good, bro. We ain’t thieves, bro.
But you good, we didn’t see nothing either, hehehe. Later, bro. They left in their orange truck. I leaned against the misunderstood Michigan truck and relaxed for a minute. My car was melting.
The diesel would eat all the paint and then the next time I saw it it would just be bare metal like the Terminator after its skin gets cooked oﬀ at the end of the first movie. Also, I was parked at the fre hydrant. Tese things happen. I walked around to the front of the building. I took out my giant blunt. I looked at it. It was stupid and I had no way to light it. Owning a cigar company was one of the wisest business decisions. Currently are seven billion people cluttered together on this earth. Five babies born every second. A tidal wave of people all with reason to celebrate five times a second. You can never know everyone, and never properly celebrate them, but you can die trying. True though, everybody was a brand new isolated incident, estranged from even themselves. And I didn’t own a lighter. The wind got wilder. I wanted to sit down on the sidewalk and freeze to the sidewalk and be walked on for the remaining entirety of my city. The door to the building opened. Joe again. I waved. He frowned and half-heartedly waved and kept walking. “Wait! Let’s smoke!” He yelled something at me that I couldn’t decode. But that is what being alive is all about. Messages sent, and messages received, and hardly any of those messages making any sense at all. I watched his jean jacket get farther and farther away. And then the wind knocked his Batman baseball cap into traﬃc and I laughed like crazy. It was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. He hustled out during a break of cars and picked up the smashed hat. On the safety of the sidewalk, he brushed it oﬀ, and then seeing the futility, he threw it back into the rushing traﬃc. Here have this. Screw it.
I went back inside and lit a cigarette on the gas range. And then I leaned against the counter and held the cigarette in my hand, not even puﬃng on it, just letting it burn down. I lit another on the gas range and held it in my other hand. I was doing it. I was smoking in my apartment. Gradually the light of day got brighter—and get this—then the light of day got dimmer dimmer dimmer dimmer. It stayed that way for a while. And then we did it all again.