Things Will Work Out

(welcome. please browse the exhibition)

That’s what it says on the wrapper.

I love the way the wrapper peels off the side of the bottle. I don’t, as a rule, read wrappers, but I can’t sleep without my ‘Things Will Work Out’ pills.

Before ‘Things Will Work Out’ there was ‘Everything is Fine’ and before that, ‘You Are Beautiful – No, Really’ and before that, ‘Zombies Need Love Too’ and before that, ‘Just Hang On Another Minute or Four Because This Shit Really Works.’

I love the feel of hard, molded plastic. Palm-size, smooth, just the right shade of early morning orange piss, the Rx label, taped on, peeling at the corners and the plastic cap, just push down and turn to the left. Nothing says ‘Things Will Work Out’ like childproof bottle caps.

Takes a good hour for the ‘Things will work out’ part of the pill to kick in. Until then, you are dead-fucked in a claustrophobic squirm, arms and hands and fingers and toes, like an oozy forest grub; the bones of you forcing their way through your skin, every organ a worm – re-growing themselves as the clock strikes. Get your headphones on, some old albatross of Fleetwood’s Mac, circa 1968 and open the laptop. It’s solitaire, FTW.

The pill, this tiny oblong thing with a V (for Victory! Validation! Variation! Varicosity! Vanquished! Vanished!) etched on one side and 36 / 92 on the other, dissolves in a mix of cheap bourbon and milk. The next pill dissolves in much the same fashion. The feeling is hard, straight to the gut, as if swallowing a chipped marble. The bottle can hold 60 of these pills and each one tastes the same, chalky, milky bourbon and bitter. It takes a good 15 minutes and half a bottle of the smelly booze and the sour milk to finish off the Things Will Work Out. Takes another hour or so before your body will react. The liver will know it, first. The liver, having been through this twice already, might just give up this time. Give up and give out.

Not that you’re (I mean me) thinking about it. You (me) aren’t focusing on the why and wherefore or even the likely result; you’ve (me again, sorry) got a movie going on in your (my) head. It goes something like this:

Fade in from black:

INT. A CLASSROOM. DAY.

You are seated in the back of a room full of handsome, well-dressed teenagers. The teacher is a gorgeous woman in her early 40s. Everyone is gleaming and fresh. You are feeling spotty and small and hoping no one will notice you. You are staring at another girl, three seats away; she drawing circles on her arms with a red pen.

TEACHER
That’s all, class. Have a good summer.
Make sure you get laid and don’t forget
to send me a copy of the evidence.

Everyone gets up to leave, including you, but the Teacher holds you back.

TEACHER
I’m sorry, who are you again?

You look a little worried. You’ve been there all year.

YOU
I’m me. You know. I’ve been here all year.

The teacher has wandered off, picking up her bag, heading for the door.

TEACHER
Oh, right. You’re the one we talk about in
the lounge. Some talent, some ideas – but you
don’t fit the profile. Kind of forgettable, really.
Sorry, but we can’t all be loved and wanted you know.
Good luck.

The Teacher leaves. You are alone in the room. Out a window you can see all the students, including the girl with the red circles on her arms, walking to their cars or buses. They all look happy, smiling, ordinary and capable of normal, healthy social interactions.

There is a stack of papers on your desk. It is everything you have ever written or drawn. You notice there are red marks standing out on each one. A yellow note is stuck to the top of the stack: Why did you bother?

You consider; you don’t know.

Cut to:

INT. A PARTY. NIGHT.

You are a little older now, at a normal party filled with well-dressed, beautiful and healthy-looking university students. These are intelligent, witty young people with bright futures. The girl is here as well, the red circles still on her arms. Admirers surround her and you try to fit in amongst them.

THE GIRL
I fit the profile, so they’re giving me the fellowship.
I’ll be off to Boston next year.

YOU
(much too loud)
Boston sounds nice.

Everyone stares at you for a moment, as if you were the result of a passing dog, squatting on a lawn. All eyes return to the girl.

THE GIRL
Why don’t we all go outside?
It’s nicer.

The group and the girl move away from you out a beautiful glass door and disappear.

You watch a handsome young waiter collecting glasses. He winks at you. You feel as if you are about to vomit, turning this way and that, nowhere to deposit the river of bile rising up your throat. You rub your eyes, pressing your palms against them, hard, grinding them into the sockets till all you see is splotches of dark and light, as if you just stuck your head in a lava lamp.

Cut to:

INT. AN OFFICE. DAY.

You are even older now. You’ve put on weight and there is gray in your hair. Your clothes are a little small and starchy. You are uncomfortable in them. You are seated at a cubicle desk surrounded by a maze of other cubicles, short walls of tufted gray enclosures, a bit like sorting pens in a slaughterhouse you once visited. You have been here for years but have no idea how you got here.

A tall, skinny man and a short, plump woman with enormous breasts walk up to your desk. They are dressed in similar clothes: polyester slacks and cotton shirts with long sleeves. They each wear a gold tag over one breast that says ‘MANAGER.’ They are relaxed and smiling as they approach you. Sweat beings to pour down the back of your neck.

WOMAN MANAGER
You know how much we like you.

MALE MANAGER
You have been essential here.

WOMAN MANAGER
And if it were up to us, this
wouldn’t be up to us.

MALE MANAGER
And it really isn’t up to us.
I hope you understand that.

WOMAN MANAGER
We’re not the bad guys.

You would stare at them in confusion, but you are too busy looking around the maze of identical cubicles and the identical workers seated at each one. You look no different.

MALE MANAGER
But the fact is, this isn’t about you,
not really. So don’t take it personally.

WOMAN MANAGER
Exactly. A company has to make
Money and we can’t make money if we have
To pay everyone a living wage with benefits.

MALE MANAGER
It’s better for us –

WOMAN MANAGER
For the ‘Company.’

MALE MANAGER
Right, for the ‘Company’ if you
Live off unemployment for a while then
Try to find a job that will pay you considerably
Less elsewhere.

WOMAN MANAGER
You see, the plan, and I know I shouldn’t tell you this,
Is to make sure everyone is on some sort of government-
sponsored aid, so that when the country
goes broke, we can blame it on people like you
who can’t seem to provide for themselves.

MALE MANAGER
That way, the ‘company’ can help persuade the
government to end all aid programs because they
Are too costly. It’s all about efficiency, see?

You see perfectly. You nod your head and accept the little envelope they hand you. You stand up and begin to walk away toward a large door painted EXIT. You pass by a glass-paned office where the girl (yes, her) is seated at the head of a long conference table. She is dressed in a shiny blue suit, slim as ever with golden hair piled on top of her head. She is wearing a gold badge above her heart that says ‘CEO’. She winks at you and gives a little wave as the two managers shove you out the door painted EXIT.

Cut to:

EXT. A GARDEN MEADOW. DAY.

You land, naked, on the ground of a beautiful, empty meadow. A forest of tall, disapproving trees flanks one side of the meadow, the other side looks out over the ocean. The sky is blue, the ocean is blue and the sun is warm. You stand up and though you are naked and bits of you are starting to sag and droop, you feel no shame or fear. Yet.

You stroll through tall grasses and sunflowers toward a lonely lighthouse on an outcropping, near the water. As you get closer you can feel the spray of the ocean against your skin and it makes goose pimples up and down your arms and legs and over your belly. Your nipples have grown hard in the breeze and the pads of your feet hurt from walking barefoot over rough ground. You cross your arms over your chest and something makes you crouch a little, protecting your genitals, perhaps, as you step up to the door which opens for you –

INT. LIGHTHOUSE. DAY.

The room you have stepped into looks very much like the living room of your childhood home: your father is seated on a flower-print sofa with an open beer in one hand and the other rubbing his crotch. He is watching a small black and white television with a blurry picture. You cannot make out the images clearly but you can hear the exaggerated moans of a woman faking sexual ecstasy. Your mother is in the kitchen, her hair covered by a blue bandana and she is making chocolate chip cookies, your favorite. You want to ask her for one, but you are naked and middle-aged and she might not approve of you.

You run up a flight of stairs to your bedroom, just as you left it, thirty years ago, with the Charlie’s Angels and Six Million Dollar Man posters covering the walls. You look for something to wear, but everything is too small. You can’t believe how small you were, once. You grab a sheet from off the bed and wrap yourself in it, toga-style.

You can hear your older brother in the room next door: he is listening to Led Zepplin and you can hear something muffled under the sound of the music. You go to his door and open it, just enough to peek through. Your brother looks much older than you remember; he looks like your father, with a heavy, hairy beer gut and tattoos over his arms and legs. He is sprawled on top of a girl, on the floor, grinding into her. You can see a mass of blonde hair spread out over his arms. She is making noises like the woman from the TV downstairs. She has red circles all over her arms.

You are careful not to slam the door as you turn and see another open door and walk through it. It is your grandfather’s office. He is seated at his old oak desk, dressed in his plaid robe, smoking a pipe. He gestures for you to come in and sit down.

GRANDFATHER
Can I give you some advice?

You nod, relieved and comforted by the smell of the pipe, the calm reassurance of your grandfather, long dead, come back to tell you all. He will tell you all.

GRANDFATHER
I think you’re focusing on all the wrong things.
The girl, for one – she’s just a standard-issue cliché.

You sit down on a soft leather club chair, the kind you find in the Pottery Barn catalog. You admire its lines and supple feel. Your grandfather’s voice is a deep monotone, almost hypnotic. You find yourself staring at his mouth, not really paying attention to what comes out.

GRANDFATHER
Now look what you’ve got yourself into.
You forgot to eat and you haven’t shaved your
legs in almost a week. The good news is, you’re
hallucinating. Isn’t that nice?

You nod, having trouble keeping your head up.

GRANDFATHER
Pretty soon, you’re going to be heaving
all over that nice Turkish carpet your mother
gave you. That belonged to your great-grandmother
you know, my mother. She had the carpet for 37 years
and never got a stain on it. I don’t know how she kept
it so pristine for so many years. Now it’s falling apart
and you’re going to puke all over it.

You look down and, sure enough, there is the aging and threadbare Turkish carpet your mother gave you, when you moved in to your new place. She even had it professionally cleaned and bought a pad for it to keep it from moving.

GRANDFATHER
And then they’ll take you away. And your
mother will care more about the big ugly stain on
her grandmother’s carpet than the fact that
you almost died. They’ll pump your stomach
and put you in clean scrubs and put you on the
fifth floor where there are bars on the windows
and you can tell that overworked, underpaid therapist
all about it. They’ll give you some nice
drugs though, so at least you’ll sleep. You might
even lose some weight up there, though
in your case I think that’s a whole other disorder.

You close your eyes. You can smell your mother’s chocolate chip cookies. Your grandfather’s voice is lulling you to sleep and you feel so very good. Everything seems far away.

GRANDFATHER
But don’t worry. Everything will be fine.
Just hang on. Things will work out.
You’ll see. You might even get the girl.

The scene is starting to dissolve. The background lights have gone dim, the wire flash of the bulbs still etched and pulsing on your retinas. Your heartbeat is irregular and your legs, in spite of your lethargy, spasm. You want all of it to go away. The script in your head is garbled; you can only make out a few words:

This is not it. Why are you upset? What’s for lunch?

The first pill is shaming you: why do you spend so much of your headspace in the past?

You want the thing that delights you.

The second pill affirms you: you need to work these things out or they’ll take over.

You want the one who could care less.

The third pill corrects you: lunchtime is over.

There is one coherent thought left, before you prove your grandfather wrong.

I didn’t leave anything behind.

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