Authenticity

Chris Krueger

 

I slip my phone back into my pocket as the police car pulls up. The chubby, but strong looking cop steps out of his car and walks over to me.


--What seems to be the problem?
--What seems to be the problem? I was mugged. There is no perceived problem. There is simply a problem.
--All right sir, no need the give me attitude. I just need your information to fill outta report. Can I see your driver’s license?
--Yeah sure, let me go track down the thief so I can get that for you.
--Do you want the claim this on your insurance or not? I can leave if you don’t wantta cooperate.
--Fine. Name is Edwin Luck. Excuse the irony.
--So what did’e take?
--Just my wallet and my keys for some reason. I told him my phone had a tracking system in it so it would be dumb to take it.
--That worked?
--Couldn’t believe it myself.


///


I arrive at the door of my small one bedroom apartment after quite possibly the worst day of my existence. I, unlike most hyperbolists, know that I need to qualify that statement with “my”. Statistically, there is probably someone in the world who just found out they have a terminal illness. That’s a bad day. Or maybe someone got strawberries in their fro-yo instead of blueberries, and now they are too far away to go back and return it. That’s a worse day.


I knock. My wife, Norah, opens the door.


--Why are you knocking to get into your own apartment?
--Because DC has a high burglary rate.


I step inside and sit down at the kitchen table, struggling to kick off my black dress shoes.


--What?
--I got mugged on the way home. Can you believe that? It’s still mostly light out. I thought I was finally starting to understand this city, and then I get all my stuff stolen in the daytime. People were around and everything.
--You got mugged! Oh baby are you Okay? Did you call the Police?
--Yeah I’m fine. The cops, or I should say a single cop, showed up thirty minutes after I called. He took a report and all that. I cancelled our credit cards on the way back. Oh yeah, we are going to be poor until we get new cards in the mail.
--How are you so calm about this? You could have been killed! Did he have a weapon?
--It was a long walk back. I’m over it already. Yeah he had a little pocket knife thing, I should have fought him.
--I’m glad you didn’t. Four years and I am still shocked by your strange version of apathy. Well how was your first day?
--Not great. I mean the job itself was all right, but I overdressed and everyone gave me that “noobie” look all day because of it.
--Overdressed? How is a shirt, tie, and slacks overdressed for an office job?
--My cubical mate told me the boss lady got sick of dressing up when we rarely, if ever, have clients come in. Everyone just wears jeans and T-shirts.
--So you’re upset because you dressed up for a day? I don’t understand.
--The looks I was getting made me uncomfortable, which in turn made me sweat, and my self-consciousness about my sweating made me keep sweating.
--How can you be self-conscious about your looks but not care about being mugged?
--I never said my feelings were logical.


///


I get in bed not because I am tired, but out of habit. I can’t help but think that my choice in clothing was the sole cause of my unpleasant day. Would that guy have mugged a dude in jeans and a T-shirt? Maybe. Of course, I could never know for sure, but it’s very possible that one choice caused this waterfall of bad happenings. If only I asked about the dress code in my last interview instead of “do we work when it snows heavily?” What a stupid question. It’s the east coast. Of course we work when it snows. This city is actually prepared for the heavy white stuff unlike back home. If I was doing the interview I would have denied myself just for that.


I decide not to tell my family about the mugging. After all the off-handed jokes about watching out for crime in DC, I don’t think I could take their condolences seriously. My parents would wire me money, which I need but always hate accepting. Norah finishes getting ready and gets in bed, already stocking up on sheets so it will take me longer to steal them in my sleep.


-Well at least that thief will get what is coming to him in one way or another.
- Probably.


I no longer try to fight Norah on her ridiculous belief in karma. I have tried, but she gets offended as if it is some belief she holds near and dear to her heart. We are both atheists, and I tried reminding her of that, but it didn’t change her mind. I can only get so far in that argument before she calls me a hypocrite for believing in the powers of irony. I told her that we should have taken her last name in the marriage. She said it would have made me look weak or something. Power is overrated. It’s not even that I am overly unlucky, I just have some of the weirdest things happen to me. Irony doesn’t have to be negative.


///


I began my lifelong quest to avoid irony when I was nineteen and in college. I was hanging out in my dorm room with a few friends, drinking, playing videogames, fighting about what poisons we should have our twenty-one year old provider buy us for the next day. We laughed, we argued, we nearly shit our collective pants when we heard a loud knock at the door. I was closest to the peephole so I shot up to take a peek.


--It’s the RA! Hide everything!


Everyone panicked and started hiding beer bottles in every conceivable location, which I would later find out would be bad news for my sock drawer.


--I knew we should have had this at my place, he can’t hear that far down the hall.
--Shut up, he can probably hear you right now.


Everything looked properly hidden so I opened the door.


--You guys need to keep it down, I don’t want to write you up, but I will if I have to.
--Sorry Mark, we will try harder.
--*sniff* Your room smells like shit. I want this cleaned by tomorrow or else I’ll have the cleaning service do it and charge you.


He closed the door and walked down the hall, probably to go annoy everyone else on the floor.


--Edwin’s inability to do laundry saved the day! This place reeks of booze and your nasty funk covered it all up!
--You’re all very welcome. But seriously, we need to get all the empties and put them into a garbage bag so we don’t get in trouble.


We celebrated our victory over the RA and packed all the bottles into the bag. One of the guys walked out into the hallway to see if the coast was clear, and signaled for me to follow. I lifted the bag and walk/ran to the garbage chute. I was just about to pass the doorway that leads to the stairwell when it opened and a university police officer stepped out. We collided and the sound of glass clanking together rang through the hallway.


--What’s in the bag?


So, in an attempt to get rid of our evidence, we ended up delivering it to the police. Sure, it might be chance, or just plain bad luck, but I felt the slight touch of irony that night.


Over the next few years, I heard many terribly ironic stories from friends and teachers and I noticed a common theme in them. When a person becomes super attached to something, it will probably end up screwing them over in the end. One day you’re talking about how great your car is and the next day it’s on fire. You fall in love with a new band and they break up a week later.


I decided to start detaching myself, only slightly, to my obsessions. I put less stock in things I loved, just in case. Now, my only fear is being the victim of a vicious attack by a bird named Moderation.


///


I roll over and face the outside of the bed. I see a glow coming from Norah’s side. She is undoubtedly checking her email for the hundredth time today on her tablet.


--How is the job search coming?
--Nothing new from the people I emailed last week, but I found a few more job openings online today. I am going to touch up my resume a bit more tomorrow and send it off. I was going to go see if I can find an end table for the living room too but now we don’t have a our credit cards so I’ll hold off on that.
--Don’t you have checks?
--Maybe. I haven’t seen them since we moved in. I’ll look around in the morning. I was thinking, if I can’t find a job in the next few weeks I think I am going to just go back to retail temporarily.
--You know you will stop looking for a real job if you do that.
--I’ll have less time, but I will keep looking. I am just so bored sitting around the house all day. Plus, we need to pay off your student loans sooner rather than later.
--Don’t worry about that.
--It’s hard not to.


She turns off her tablet and I can feel her move towards my side of the bed. She runs her fingers down my back and grips the elastic band of my shorts.


--Yeah?
--Mmhmm.


We undress.


///


My second day on the job is going better than the first. I am properly dressed down and knee-deep in studying the programs my company uses. Our office has the “cubical” set-up but without the walls. Marks on the floor showed where walls used to be. I am familiar with some computer science things but stuff this company uses is currently way over my head. I can’t believe they hired me when they knew my learning curve would be so slow. It’s lunch time and I decide to text Norah.


--What’s new?
--Nothing much, out looking for an end table now. Getting to resume stuff after. Found the checks.
--I don’t even know how to fill one of those out anymore. Good luck.
--I found a few good ones I think.
--I noticed something odd while walking to work today. There are way too many people having casual conversations on the phone at 7 in the morning. Who wants to talk that early?
--Maybe they were business conversations?
--I actually took out my headphones to listen. It was all BS chatting. Are people really that attached to technology that they can’t just be alone in the world for a few minutes?
--Says the person that listens to music every time he steps outside.
--I think that is different somehow. I am still alone, just with some background noise.
--Whatever you say.


We only ever have these medium-deep conversations over text messages. She entertains my ideas for a moment then dismisses them, which is fine because I am never really going anywhere with them anyway. Things make me angry, and then I forget about them. Such is the circle of annoyances. My boss walked into the break room and sat down next to me.


--So how is the adjustment coming?
--Pretty well so far. The tutorials are really helping and I am getting pretty close to being able to actually start working on a project.
--Great, your cubical buddy is working on a manual for a power tool company. If I remember right, that will be due in two weeks so I am sure he would appreciate some help. For your first two or three projects I’ll have you working with someone else just to get your bearings.
--Ok, I have a few more of those little quizzes left then I’ll ask him what I can do to help.
--Great, anything else I can do for you?


My phone buzzed. It is probably Norah.


--Not unless you know of any editing jobs in the area. My wife is still looking for a job.
--Not off the top of my head but I might be able to find you some leads. Not here of course. We always have too many editors and not enough writers.
--Well that explains why I am here.


She smiles and walks out of the room. I check my phone.


--The table I bought is pretty sexy.
--I thought you didn’t like competition.


///


I took a slightly longer and more populated path home today. On the way back I passed a five story building that was in the early stages of a major renovation. It looks like it had been vacant for at least ten years. I can’t imagine the crazy shit the construction workers find in squatter buildings. Used needles, empty bottles, maybe even a corpse or two. In another life, I would have gone into construction, but the me in this life hates the cold. I might walk past here more often. Even if it isn’t me doing the work, I love seeing a project come to fruition. I never took the time to figure out who I was before I chose my career path, but I decided that it was irrelevant if I got to work on something that resulted in a final product. I may never find out who I am. Maybe it’s a question that no one can truly answer. Who are we?


That guy walking towards me looks familiar. It can’t be. There are too many people around this time, he wouldn’t try this again.


--Look out!


Other shouts came from the construction site as I look up. Well that brick is heading right towards that guy. And it hits. I can’t tell Norah about this. Karma can’t be real.

 

Euphemism Campus Box 5555 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790