GO (pt.1)

Porkchop peeled off his sunglasses so that he could smile with his eyes, too. For in his hand was a crisp $100 bill, lazily handed over to him by a young man in a crisp, blue blazer, whose other hand firmly gripped the heated steering wheel of his ice-white Tesla.

As the wave of traffic passed with a sudden light change, Porkchop felt escape him the cold sensation that had been gnawing at his toes like a teething infant on a hard object, despite him being quite aware of the fact that this was not merely a faze that he would outgrow. Provided the opportunity to re-assemble his life, out of the shambles that it had inadvertently degraded to over the short course of a year, Porkchop understood he could, in fact, perhaps turn this single stroke of luck into a grandeur fortune. From this sudden downward spiral, moreover, he had gained a distinct sense of apathy. Apathy for the carelessness that comes with bad genes, and, accordingly, the aversion of accountability that comes with bearing a full plate. But, perhaps more importantly, apathy for how he continued to live, as a man without a name, and hardly a face, as another flurry of vehicles passed by on their respective jaunts into, and out of, the city. Apathy, coupled with his few material possessions, was all that he had left to his name. 

Porkchop’s stomach began to rumble, feeding off the idea of hunger as a tangible sensation; he realized he must act deftly, at least swiftly enough for his camp-bearing counterparts to not comprehend the magnitude of what had just happened.

However it was to happen, the haphazardly-kept fellow birthed by the name of Terrell Wiggins – but christened ‘Porkchop’ for his incomprehensible ability to stomach raw meats when that was all that there was to consume – Porkchop had a distinct, inexplicable understanding – akin to a lucid premonition of one’s death – that this was to happen at some point. That he would be lifted from the fifth and scum that came funneling in from the declivity of the concrete underpass of that screaming Texas highway, under which he and a handful of other grizzled veterans slept interchangeably – by way of a stranger, no less: someone who simply saw the deed as a strange sort of attempt at effacing old sins. The sequence, moreover, seemed only fitting. For it was the same flicker of lightning – an irrevocable flash of fate – which had imbued a bout misfortune into his life in the first place. First it was his wife being swept away by an astute office-colleague, after a single night out, and taking with her not only the sacred agreement to bear the first of Porkchop’s offsprings, but also the small fortune she had inherited shortly after they married. Second to strike was the almost immediate circling of fickle third-party lenders, each of whom flocked at the scent of blood like sharks, and rendered him, rather promptly: volatile, as if the word were stamped across his forehead like an expiration date. From there, the rest of his self-worth slipped away so suddenly, expiring just the same with one swift jibe; employment, discipline, desire.

The potential death, then, of this oddly embraceable lifestyle, at a moments notice, felt to be quite fitting, indeed. It, too, felt like it fit: that $100 bill which was still cold, crisp between his fingertips; Porkchop counted all the treats it could buy on his way off the curb, whilst his feet carried him toward the ubiquitous bodega that was affixed across from the underpass, where his friend Arik worked. It was still closed. He would have to kill some time before the OPEN sign flickered on.

But before making any serious strides back to the heap of discarded plywood, steel shopping carts, colorful tarps, cracked kitchen tables, and over-stuffed carrier bags that were all, at various times, claimed by his crew, Porkchop paused to consider the utterly astronomical odds of procuring such a piece of paper; that single bill elicited in him an escapable, yet now most decidedly foreign, exaltation. After all, money could buy happiness; at least, for short lengths of time, with the right people. Surely, Arik would understand if Porkchop were to blow it all on individually packed ice-cream sandwiches, cold beers by the case, lottery tickets; as it went for the latter, Porkchop had done something of the sort before, when given a small fortune by his fellow man.

Salivating by the second now, Porkchop found himself thumbing through the lone belongings in his front pocket: a single pocket watch without its chain; a crumbled stub from the bus ticket that brought him into town, purely as homage; the spare set of laces for his boots; and, at last, a smattering of coins that clanged at every step. It wasn’t much, but this same man realized early on in his woeful wanderings that material possessions – and man’s unbreakable obsession with them – were merely projections of his spiritual shortcomings. And so, as the urge sunk in, to surrender to that inherent itch to indulge in everything elicit all at once.

For the rest of the morning Porkchop concentrated on keeping his mouth shut, while he made small passings at the men in his camp, subduing any impulse to divulge the sudden depth of his pockets. Could they sense it, though, he feared, in the smugness he felt was all but illustrated in his mannerisms, as he continued to glide, at times even skip, down the putrid, piss-painted boulevard, barely making eye contact, nor acknowledging a solemn nod from someone behind a wheel, unwilling to give anything more?

To distract himself, Porkchop took time to unpack the heavy, dense layers of the squalid life he inherited; standing on its foundation, he thought about how his own had crumbled at first fissure; a small crack quickly became an abyss of empty, infinite space. But, having been on the other side for so long – 25 years a stock trader – Porkchop understood that this was just the way life went. Some get all the fixin’s; others, just the crumbs. Fixin’s were, after all, how he had made his way through his past life, betting on a violate market, with invisible means, collecting his coins week by week – until it all burst. Like confetti in a balloon, candy for the eyes, the fixin’s quickly fluttered and fell away, before being swept up by the swift, hard-handled broomstick of society, which seemed now more intent on keeping going than picking up the pieces it left behind.

Here, in his current existence, he hardly made an impression. A fleeting life where each day revolved around the flashing of a thumb. That thumb, the one not anxiously jingling those few coins around in his pants pocket, was firmly stuck out, waving to the traffic that came tumbling forward. As it went, so did this pattern, with Porkchop indolently mouthing the words ‘thank you’ to the few crumpled bills that were intermittently tossed his way. 

What felt like an hour had gone by before Porkchop was facing that betting parlor, right next to the bodega where Arik worked. A few of the letters on the parlor’s neon sign had since lost juice; now, and on any given day, it only flickered different fragments of the word BINGO. As he looked down, Porkchop saw the time on his wrist flicker: 9:01. Arik would be behind the counter now. The parlor could wait.

The Storm: Part 1

Day One:

2 a.m. Sunday night. Valentines Day. Noise in the apartment. Roommate is home, well on his way to being thoroughly hammered. There’s a murmur which follows; it sounds like a girl. I’ve heard the voice before, but never actually seen the outline of her figure, nor been introduced. It’s not the one who comes once a week and helps clean up after the two of us, keeping some degree of domesticity to the home. The two of them bicker, getting louder as the liquor flows. Wriggling around in bed, I start to feel cold. Looking at my phone, which has been charging overnight, I see that it sits idle at 86%. Odd, the light switch in my room doesn’t worth, either.

I scavenge the internet for answers, only to see that our local electric company has issued a notice about rolling blackouts. 10-40 minutes, they posted some 25 minutes ago. Curious. I make a valiant effort to go back to sleep, but the voices outside only grow louder, and more ambitious. Another crack, the hiss of carbonation escaping before being slurped into a state of silence. One by one, the cans fall, clinking as they clutter the glass table top in our common area. Three down, not even an hour gone by. It has been at least forty-minutes, I determine; still, not a trace of electricity to be had. This means digging into my phone for the catalogue of podcasts I accidentally subscribed to over the summer. Some renditions of sleep occur, albeit sporadically, sometimes teetering on the brink of somnambulism. As the voices outside continue to grow louder, with less interruption, I wrestle with my pillow and let the recordings roll on, the latter marking some permanence to the hours that somehow slip away. Eventually the clock strikes 4 a.m., and I find a surge of optimism from the fatigue that fades in their voices as they retire to his bedroom. Seeing that there is still no light in the apartment, I decide to move the small bit of perishable food from the fridge, out to the balcony.

There’s an inch of snow on our large lacquer table, and it is there that I wedge a half-dozen eggs and leftover strips of sirloin steak, just in case I need a substantial lunch and am left without power.

As the sun slips through the clouds sporadically, the clock teases six a.m., a stroke later than my normal wake-up time. I see the snow has stopped, but the accumulation is jarring. It appears more like three inches, as opposed to the estimated dusting. From the fridge I pluck a full batch of overnight oats, and a large serving of cold brew; normalcy to curb the conditions that are now utterly nonsensical. The fridge feels a steady forty degrees, the temperature slowly rising with each ensuing search for something to eat; it is adverse to the temperature inside, which lowers accordingly as the afternoon wades on. 

Just a few more hours, the energy company keeps promising, in a string of Tweets. Stomaching this notion slowly becomes more difficult, however, as the suggestion of hunger creeps in, and the sense of novelty from reading childhood classics under the intermittent bursts of sunlight through the balcony dissipates. I read and refresh for updates; nothing even remote to encouragement or optimism to be had.

Some eight hours later, Josh comes waltzing out; having not gone to work due to the conditions, he’s armed with a story of how he had to bear said conditions around five a.m. to take his overnight acquaintance home. A stranger saved him halfway through, having realized that there was no sensible alternative to having the girl arrive home safely; all the while, Josh is oddly enthralled by the predicament of still having no electricity. He’s also hungry, and suggests the food we have in the fridge and pantry is putrid, if these conditions are to maintain.

Accordingly, I scour the internet for somewhere that is open; nearly every single grocery store has posted that they are, or will be closed, within the next two hours. I see that the one up north is open; it’s six miles away, but a stomach-able fare of $20. 

What about the way back? Josh wisely asks. 

We’ll worry about that later, I affirm, realizing that the window of opportunity is waning with every minute wasted.

Some fifteen minutes later, our hired car almost collides with another on the hill, as he stops midway up, on a patch of ice, to let us in. The driver is from Afghanistan, this much is divulged as he and Josh use a shared, but at times broken dialect as we deviate along side streets, avoiding certain intersections due to their respective inclines; near the end of the ride, Josh professes his own birth origins to the man, which invokes a strange, but palpable loathe in the air for the remainder of the ride. I am informed later that evening how the two regions share a contested history, and that this man’s people don’t take kindly to Josh’s. As we get exit, the driver casually claims that it will be his last ride of the day; the sun is now entrenched in the hills, setting further by the second, meaning the conditions will only worsen from the imminent freeze to follow. Whatever that means for later, we decide to be unimportant; food, first and foremost.

What we encounter inside the store, however, is sheer pandemonium, the type of energy that is reminiscent to what overtook the entire country during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Elbows are thrown, angst is palpable, courtesy is no longer considered, and there is not enough staff on site to police the constant stream of folks filing in and out of the store. Lines wrap around the ends of aisles, and the essentials are effectively barren. A few vegetables, some canned goods, a large cut of steak for the night, and plenty of bottles of wine and six-packs of beer. Our steel cart is soon filled to the brim, and we bounce between being overambitious and impractical. As it stands, the shared speculation – in the form of overheard chatter amongst us – infers there will be power by this time tomorrow, so the urge to overstock is seemingly squashed as we stand in line with the others. 

The staff starts shutting the lights off as we make our way out of line, having purchased almost $150 in goods between the two of us, and our credit card information scribbled onto sheets of paper for a future date when the internet is back up and operational. Before we realize it, Josh and I are the last two standing. The rest of the folks are staff, drawing straws over how to split up the remaining goods in the store. I sympathize, as our collective shortsightedness has suddenly rendered them – the essential workers servicing us our essentials – at the bottom of the totem pole. Still standing near the main entrance, our search for a car home commences, but to no avail. It’s decided, then, that we must walk the two miles to Steve’s place, where he and his partner are also without power. At least from there, I determine, we can hunker down and wait for drivers to resume service. Just as swiftly as the storm, our dilemma evolves into a logistical obstacle as to how we are to transport all of our goods, given we left the house without so much as an extra sack. Bottles clank, and beer cans feel heavy as he fumble the ensemble of goods around, before ultimately deciding it to be imperative to simply use our resources, and omit the notion of theft, being that it is only a shopping cart, and many others in our same straits either have, or would, act similarly.

So Josh and I take turns pushing, and at times pulling, the rickety cart across the two inches of thick ice which has slowly formed over the streets. As it screeches down the quiet, suburban side roads in an affluent area – one with ample power and their shades pulled tightly down – our shopping cart becomes not only an eyesore, but also a nuisance to the ears. On the other hand, there’s no sign of reprieve, especially as we witness a couple 4×4 trucks pulling up to a few pretty, stranded girls and asking if they need a ride. What about us? The two grown men, sucking down warm beer after warm beer, while slowly trudging over the sheets of ice, up a few hills and down a couple dead-ends, decidedly in better straights.