The only thing that kept him from ending it all was a superstitious belief that he would be born again into a more painful existence. Carrying a bucketful of cleaning supplies and a Dyson vacuum towards some mammoth house in the suburbs, forty minutes from the city. Fighting to keep his eyes open–stomach sunken way down into his ankles.
Now to exercise an ability, one of his best hidden talents: unlocking doors. The key slides in, turns clockwise, a light lift with the right foot to ease the lock–and the door is wide open.
His stomach was upset because he had Hyper Fuel for breakfast. That was his name for it: 711 black coffee and a bag of hot fries. Three dollars and forty five cents. It felt like battery acid on his esophagus, but it gave him a short-lived feeling of dedicated purpose and hyper-motivation to scrub the black tar shit off any toilet he came in contact with.
The filth beckoned him inside. Dog hair, spilled milk, fecal crust, and pebbles of cereal. Cleaning houses is different from most work because the fruits of your labor ripen immediately. You do the work and you see the results. It’s an impatient outpatient’s dream job. You don’t even have to think. You only have to do it. The results are always imperfect, but most clients don’t complain. Headphones oozing dread into his sleepy eardrums as he gets started. Turning on the sink and letting the sponge expand for the cleansing.
Adonis, god of Opinions has appeared in his mind’s eye, ready to give a speech. Long-haired and determined with refined musculature–right fist raised toward the sun and shouting “THIS IS GOOD” and “THIS IS BAD” as Korbin alone at sea level, way down below, sweating and toiling away, plugging his ears and trying to pretend that nothing was happening.
What do these wasted Gods want from us peasants?
If we all start swimming in their pool, surely they’ll find a new watering hole and condemn the one we’ve come to share. Two birds attached by their talons and flying in opposite directions. An elephant and an ass playing tug of war. This is the ideal scenario for those depraved gods above. It was pleasant music before Adonis came along. Now, cell phone in hand shuffling through Artists trying to find something that was good and not bad, but it all seems bad when Adonis is looking over your shoulder. The earbuds jerked out and down as he decided nothing was better than something as far as music was concerned today.
Trees swayed outside and he was alone in the house he was cleaning. You could tell a lot about someone from their house. Or could you? Maybe you couldn’t. Maybe you could tell a lot about yourself from what you thought of the people who lived in the house you were cleaning. This one seemed to be owned by a gen-X’er turned therapist. Korbin imagined he kept his practice on the outskirts of the sprawl. A Bose satellite radio receiver always letting Pavement and Slowdive flow through the waiting room like soy milk. Side tables littered with echoes of his teenage thru twenties: Maxx comics, a beat up copy of Nightmare Alley, and Built to Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love cassette tape with old crud and crust on the case and no tape player in sight. Clutter of old magazines and books. Comic store action figures of The Hulk, Spawn, Ace Frehley. Most of the clientele see it as eccentric and mostly worthless. What would Adonis have to say about it?
Three hours of scrubbing, vacuuming, dusting, and the rest. He leaves the house in better shape than it was when he arrived. Back into the busted up car, timing belt screeching and AM radio hissing. Onto the highway. Korbin’s next job is at a place called Big O Remodeling. As in the big O that begins the word Orgasm. It’s a frat party of an office. Home remodeling was their business, dusting and wiping orangutan fingerprints off the desks was Korbin’s, sucking it all in through his eyes and tendrils.
There was a rumpus room complete with “psychedelic” paintings of Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale. The type of thing you would see in a ruined café with a little tag that says something like L. DiCaprio–$450 collecting dust and coffee stains for years.
As he dusts the framed Towson University business admin degree on the wall, his mind’s eye conjuring motivational speakers in loincloths masturbating in front of a screaming audience of inebriated undergrads. What comes of these rapists post-conviction? Is there any shame? Any remorse? More likely they double down and climb to the top of Trump Tower raising a black flag and a middle finger to the world, dedicating their lives to fighting for their right to be terrible without consequence. Proud boys in the locker room. Just being boys and what’s so wrong with that? Well, if he pukes on the floor he will have to clean it up because that is what he’s here for. A thirty year old maid in frayed clothing.
A vision comes, the handsome hair-gel businessman who occupies this office from nine to five with motivational posters like Don’t wish for it, work for it, the only thing between you and your goals is the bullshit story you tell yourself, and wedding photos from the special day–but the conjured image is this:
The man (Jason?) seven beers down the hatch. IPAs, his new favorite–and he’s staring just below the TV screen’s offering of real housewives but his mind is going into that dark place again.
“What’s the fucking point? I’m so horny.” etc etc etc. Conditioned dog response: THIS IS THE BULLSHIT STORY YOU TELL YOURSELF JASON. Wife asleep on the couch after an entire bottle of Chardonnay to herself, eyeliner smeared and frowning. Jason beats his chest twice with his fist and looks heavenward. High on self-improvement and capitalism, he screams to himself “I WILL ACHIEVE AND RISE ABOVE”. His wife barely rolls over in response.
Clean house. Clean mind. Clean office. Clean work. Clean.
Lots of things came to mind when he was cleaning. The mind was free to wander…
Faces of friends who were so talented now drinking themselves into frowns at the bar, then drowning in nostalgia and I-never-made-it-big-I-am-bullshit tears later when they got home.
Weed-induced panic attacks. Sitting on the floor of a filth-encrusted bathroom staring right back into the eyes of a cat that looks like it’s really concerned about your mental health.
That time at dinner watching his step dad chew steak with his mouth open, eyes as dull as an expired pencil and wife beater getting dribbled onto with pink water.
Slow motion decline: branches and leaves falling off in sequence until the tree was bare for winter.
Is there a more shameful death than by impact driving down the highway with hot fries particles between your throat and your esophagus? Big Randy, god of Hedonism was conjured now, eyes cast in a searing medium-well glare, and fire coming from his nostrils to scream “I can think of something more shameful” followed by a bellowing full belly ha-ha-ha-ha-ha and nearly making him swerve off the road.
3:24 PM: “don’t be late, Jenny is really particular about when the cleaners arrive”–and the speakers in his car are emitting unhallowed moans and whimpers of sexual release. The sky totally gray, little white clouded droplets of semen are falling from the sky as Big Randy hoots and hollers somewhere above the roof of the car. People fucking in the streets all around him and scratching themselves to the point of bleeding. From outside, someone screams for him to open the car door and let them in. He immediately rolls his window up and locks the doors.
When he gets to the house, the storm has passed, but he can see Jenny in the front door of her house looking back and forth between her watch and Korbin. Go fuck yourself he thinks to himself but then out of the corner of his eye, Big Randy winks at him, gives the nod of approval and so Korbin takes it back, all inside his own mind, of course. “This is the third time that you’ve arrived after our scheduled cleaning time. I am afraid I am going to have to find a new service. You can go home now.”
Are you serious? Punishment in the form of “you can’t clean my house, actually, I just decided.” Well fine, Korbin thought–no verbal response warranted. He got back into his car and drove home as directed but with Randy looming over him–one thing on his mind: when he gets home, it’s going to be pornographic intake and skin scratching into bleeding, strained urination, and then depressive staring into the ceiling.
He sat on the sweat-spotted and cum-stained couch eating Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream and looking at the pint container thinking half baked…everything I’ve done in my life has been half baked…half baked attempt at being a good person…half baked efforts to learn electronics…I live a half baked life.
Exhaling smoke and filling the room. Marijuana encouraged this sort of self-deprecating mind talk. There was a gathering tonight and Korbin really wanted to go. He knew he wouldn’t know anyone there. It was one of those basement shows put on by a group of strangers. He was intrigued by the flyer’s promise of a Polish musician that was known to drink an entire gallon of milk during his set and then puke it up onto himself. Korbin stared at the ceiling forever and then took a few deep breaths before leaving his apartment.
Driving out along the cracked streets that were usually out-of-sight out-of-mind– out of nowhere he can tell Adonis is nearby and singing his sickening songs of good noise, bad noise, good performance, bad performance. The openers on the bill were the usual trash. The first called Dirt Cobain. Dirt. Dirt like the soil under the tree. And oh boy, not this again, Dirt Cobain just sat in front of his laptop while four or five people in the crowd jittered around not looking at anything. Lots of the freaks, people Korbin recognized but did not know, were out back smoking cigarettes, passing poppers around, talking about renowned noise musicians–the ones Adonis had blessed. Another conversation about “real veganism” and how capitalists were cashing in on phony vegans and the rights and wrongs of that whole lifestyle. All the while wiping cocaine particles out of their nostrils and sniffling incessantly. Who held the key to this social circle? Maybe all it takes is a declaration that acts as a password. Something like “yes. These fucking phoney vegans and their Burger King impossible burgers.” Who knows.
Over by this bonfire there were a few kids in uniform: beat up denim torn up and patched up with cynical pornographic cartoons, 3/4 of their head shaved, and dangling earrings hanging from their eyebrows. They were talking about ghosts and so Korbin felt like he might be able to contribute. “I was just brushing my teeth and I looked into the mirror and someone walked behind me but there was nobody there and the door was closed and none of my roommates were home. Fuck, I’m shaking just thinking about it…look…” and Korbin asked “Has it ever talked?” Wrong question, met with an eye roll and they continued the conversation pretending there was no Korbin. Like Korbin was the ghost. Impossible to see. Unobserved and therefore irrelevant. He pushed an uncut fingernail into a wart on his left hand in hopes that the physical pain would cover some of the shame he was feeling.
Fuck it, back inside the basement to see what this next act is. Oh, he’d heard of this one…Arthur Muscle…ha ha, yee haw, another fun play on the name of another renowned musician. Okay well, what’s it like then? There was the initial trepidation…hm…some wind chimes were being played by a mechanical arm that slowly just went back and forth while a microphone picked up the signal and reversed it intermittently. It was a soothing effect and then there were these percussive raindrop sounds in different tones that started out randomly but formed a steady beat underneath the chimes and it took Korbin into another world when Muscle grabbed the microphone and started singing softly in a very soothing maternal sort of way. All was forgotten under the blanket of the music.
He stood in ecstasy for the remaining twenty minutes of the performance and none of his entities troubled him or penetrated his consciousness at all. His mind stepped back 5,224 days into a memory:
A party on the other side of the town where he grew up. There were six people there including himself. A boy named Brian’s parents were out of town and so they were drinking vodka and smoking marijuana in the backyard. There was a bon-fire and it was a good autumn night in the suburbs. Korbin wasn’t really talking to anyone because he was totally spooked. He couldn’t stop thinking about how an hour ago, Brian asked everyone “What if I was Adolf Hitler? What would you do?” Nobody really answered and then, thank Fuck, somebody changed the subject. There must have been a swarm of mosquitoes in the backyard because Korbin was bitten and itching all over. He slipped away from the fire and the others to the dimly lit house. The walls were moving around because he wasn’t accustomed to drinking anything alcoholic and he was taking a lot of shots from the plastic whiskey bottle. Shadows of the past and the future were swarming in on him. He took off his clothes in the bathroom of Brian’s house scratching himself neurotically the entire time. There was a family size bottle of Skin So Soft lubricating oil in the bathroom. He squeezed the oil out in a thin stream and rubbed it all over his body from neck to toe. He stumbled out of the bathroom and looked around him, calibrating constantly. Brian and his friend Sam were carrying this girl who had passed out into the living room like she was a corpse. “What is that smell?” Korbin asked, giggling because it smelled like brown all through the house. “She shit herself. Her friend is coming to pick her up.” Brian said solemnly and without any humor. Korbin’s grin closed itself up and he stood alienated, naked, covered in oil, wishing someone would come and take him far away from this town.
Back to the present. More time between sets, idly sitting alone outside, overhearing some conversations about keto diets, noise alumni, alien abduction, and other shit like that. Korbin was in a very meditative state still and he contemplated the party at Brian’s house so long ago with a sort of detached calm. This is how he wanted to spend his days.
Some very harsh sounds started creeping out of the basement so Korbin put his earplugs in and headed down to check it out. This performer was sort of beloved in the scene, but he was in need of a twelve step program and making new enemies in the city every other week or so. The basement filled out now, about 30 people crammed into this mold-infested subterranean shithole. And the lights were out, but this insane screeching was filling the room and morphing. A pulsing of red light started slow, every 10 seconds or so and then sped up to a slow strobe. There he was. He went by the name Goat Man. Drooling all over himself and only the whites of his eyes were visible. This sort of thing did get Korbin pretty excited and he started feeling the adrenaline pulse. Goat Man had a wire coming from his mouth and he was pushing his way through the crowd somewhat violently. A little too violently it seemed, some people were getting pissed off and pushing him back. It was a little horrific and hearkened memories of some foul GG Allin documentary he had seen a couple years back. Korbin’s excitement was morphing into despair as Goat Man shoved a person to the ground and proceeded to punch this one freak who got in between them. The shoved person was crying now in the red strobe light, and the freak who stepped in to save them seemed to be knocked out. Was somebody going to stop this? All happening in what seemed like a microsecond, The Goat Man pulled a gun out of his briefcase and shot himself through the eyeballs. The contact mic in his mouth picked up the signal and sent it through this feedback loop making it louder than hell. The loudest and most horrible sound Korbin had ever heard.
Chaos ensues as people scramble to help those harmed by Goat Man, Big Randy is howling in the corner and rubbing himself all over with baby oil in ecstasy. Adonis standing next to him with one thumb up and one thumb down, stone-faced. Someone screams “Somebody call the cops!!” In response, one of them begins pulling out their own hair and shouts “Don’t fucking call the cops you fucking idiot” and falls to the floor hopelessly punching the ground and screaming. All the while a pool of blood is spreading menacingly.
Korbin goes completely numb and looks to the exit door. He pulls out his earplugs and lets the horrible sound pierce his skull. He starts walking out into the backyard, and the aftermath of what just happened in the basement is starting to extend itself outside. Talk about what to do with all the drugs, about how they never should have let The Goat Man play here after he pulled that bullshit with Alyssa, about getting the fuck out of here, about being on parole. Korbin felt nothing and walked out into the street. The moon hung over him and flashing blue lights strobed slowly above the streetlights, indicating that this area was under surveillance. Walking past dilapidated buildings and strung out addicts, broken bottles, dead grass, and flat tires.
Oh what is this? Leaning forward and watching his feet pass in and out of frame. Something strange. Part of his body seemed to be fading into nothingness. It started at his feet and the sight shocked him into standing still. Watching as his feet and legs began to dissolve without any sensation. Translucence crept up his torso and extended into his head and arms. Korbin felt nothing while the solution was implemented. It was a welcome and pleasurable experience. “I guess this is happening”, he thought to himself. The erasure was complete. An iridescent specter drifted by and through the space that had, just a moment ago, held Korbin. Korbin’s shadow lingered for a moment before sinking into the asphalt. No more shadow. Gone and no more.