The Struggling Humorist was hungover. He escaped to a matinee, colder and darker than his bedroom, and filled with whispering strangers rather than the sounds of his benefactors banging about the kitchen. But the movie he chose was all wrong: persistent rain, missing children, snakes, devil worshipers. His already frayed edges curled and blackened.
The Struggling Humorist left the theater with an unpleasant vacant sensation. He remembered reading about a chowder festival in the free weekly. But as he drove toward the park the sun broke free of the clouds and suddenly the day turned oppressively warm. He wiggled out of his sweatshirt while driving with his knees.
The Struggling Humorist left the chowder festival, pockets filled with packages of oyster crackers, haunted by the sight of men in crusty aprons sweating over vats of fish stew. Nobody had been in the mood for chowder. There had been no shade, no escape. All the leaves were in wet piles on the ground. The heat was merciless.
The Struggling Humorist’s benefactors made him an appointment with a job coach. It was a non-negotiable condition of his continued residency and vehicle privileges. The job coach—Maguire—had a red mustache. He handed the Struggling Humorist a stack of coffee-stained paperwork. Multiple choice, fill-in-the-blanks.
The Struggling Humorist told Maguire about a fantasy he’d recently entertained: getting his CDL, driving a rig across the country, mood spiked by energy tonics. See the sights, listen to audiobooks, maybe narrate into a little hand-held recorder. Maguire asked the Struggling Humorist if he had a clean driving record.
The Struggling Humorist told Maguire the abbreviated story of his second DUI, sticking to the highlights: romantic double-cross, jewelry he didn’t recognize, a high-speed chase through a cemetery at dawn with one eye closed, the other crossed. Maguire nodded sympathetically.
The Struggling Humorist accepted Maguire’s offer of a swig from a hip flask. Soon the rest of the bottle emerged from its hiding place. Paperwork and personality tests stayed blank. They shared a cigarette out back, next to a dumpster. The cigarette was crinkled, stolen from the purse of Maguire’s indisposed secretary.
The Struggling Humorist wanted to know why there would ever be a disgruntled job coach. Why not use their skills to find another job in a field that more interested them? Maguire said he used to wonder the same thing about consultants, headhunters, criminals holed up in Witness Protection, anyone with any goddamn leverage. But Maguire said professional fulfillment and every other goddamn thing was largely a matter of luck. Maguire said fortune favored the high-born and well-connected. Maguire said his son might have some pills.
The Struggling Humorist waited in the driveway while Maguire wiggled through a basement window. Maguire’s ex-wife’s backyard overlooked a green pond. An insect approached the Struggling Humorist and circled his head. It was the size of a very small drone. The Struggling Humorist wondered if his benefactors were spying on him. Maybe Maguire was a test, an out-of-work actor posing as a job coach. The Struggling Humorist had the sudden urge to stream Camp Nowhere.
The Struggling Humorist thought maybe he should take some time off and visit all of his ex-lovers. Those trips seemed to guarantee adventure, insight, some necessary cosmic jostling. And there was nothing here holding him back. His barista crush was pregnant. His files and porno passwords were in the cloud. He could crowdsource the travel expenses, jack up his SSRI dosage, dissolve those nagging shreds of desire and bask in the pure, cold regret. Finally the garage door opened and there was Maguire, smiling like goddamn.
The Struggling Humorist closed the door softly and flicked off the porch light. The dogs and benefactors were snoring peacefully. He queued up Camp Nowhere, shoved a bottle of wine in the freezer and fell asleep.
Michael McGrath is a writer living in Connecticut. Visit him at www.mikeymcgrath.com.