Kamarul and I wanted a way to marry our love for film and TV with writing, and to produce for ISSUE a work we would we infuse with pop culture, fiction, violence and humour. We decided to each choose three “addicts” – the process was not easy, that were so many to choose from – in the end we settled for the ones we thought we could give the strongest voices to. The original idea is that they’re all heading for a party; while this provides background – the party itself exists only in anticipation and desire – we’ve let these little vignettes stand on their own.
Kamarul chose Kill Bill‘s The Bride, American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman and Mad Men‘s Don Draper. I went with Half Nelson‘s Dan Dunne, Requiem for a Dream’s Harry Goldfarb and the titular character in Martha Marcy May Marlene.
All the people I hate, I’ve killed or mutilated.
And that’s a problem I have: I have run out of people on whom to exact revenge.
I used to think that all I wanted was a sedentary, normal life. I got that after I killed Bill and most of his associates. But now, I am seriously so fucking bored. I am going crazy. This is the exact same feeling I had the first few months after they ended Lost.
Who the fuck should I seek vengeance from now, in this small suburb? The mailman who was a week late delivering my Harper’s Bazaar subscription? The annoying neighbour’s even more annoying kid who always has his friends over for Guitar Hero sessions with the volume on full blast and disrupts the me-time meant for watching Anderson Live reruns? Old Mrs. Bouvier who, on Friday afternoons, greets me with her sweet dentures-filled smile and gives me a whole, rich, overloaded-with-apple-paste apple pie, which is the major factor in my failure to reach my ideal BMI?
Ah, Nikki Green, come avenge your mommy’s death already. I’m not hard to find. Bitch, you already followed me on Twitter.
You know what, I am going to this party tonight. I’ll phone the babysitter this evening and ask her to stay for the night with B.B. I have to start somewhere with my new business proposal. And this party will be a good place to source for potential clients and angel investors.
I am going to start my own Deadly Viper Assassination Squad™.
(Bill forgot to trademark the name, and now it’s mine.)
But the discernible difference between his faction and mine is: I will get close to the people I am paid to kill, weeks or months before I assassinate them. I will get on their nerves, and make sure they will retaliate aggressively. And then, my vision will turn red, some siren will turn on in my head.
And that’s the trigger I will get to kill these people.
Do you know the thrill of killing someone who has wronged you? Go have sex with the person you deem the hottest. The orgasm will be one of the best you’ll have, correct?
Multiply that feeling by 47.82. That’s how pleasurable it is, to take the life of the person you hate.
OK B.B., Mommy hears you! Excuse me, I have to get the door.
Hey, sweetie. How was school? Do you have a lot of homework today? OK then – and since you’ve been doing so well in math nowadays, Mommy is going to let you watch Gossip Girl’s final season tonight, instead of the weekend. You know how to work the TiVo, right, sweetie?
OK, Mommy’s made you lunch. Go eat in the kitchen, Mommy has guests.
Hey, you know what, I think I better attend to my kid. And I gotta find something to wear for tonight. So, you and your crew will be back here tonight at eight? OK, OK, good. And please make sure you edit out all full-body shots you guys recorded. I want to make sure I’m the fittest-looking Real Housewife in this series.
By the way, if you see Mrs. Bouvier walking towards here, please take away the fucking apple pie. My ass is now too big to fit into my yellow jumpsuit.
This teenager at the supermarket is being cocky; I’ve brought whisky to the counter to pay for and he takes too much time to inspect the label. He gives me a look, and he looks at the bottle, and he lets out a quiet sigh. You’re fucking 17, kid, you don’t know what it takes to be an adult.
The whiskey’s for a party I received an email invite for, from my old buddy Don. It’s nice that people still email me even though I live here. The PTA at the school I teach is still debating whether or not to build a computer lab – the older ones say let the students spend more time in the library because they’re too connected anyway with their iPhones and Twitters and whatnot. The younger teachers say the internet is the now and what’s implied is that the kids need an exit route out of this rotten place and reading books about math and history will only cage them.
I’m in between the two groups, but I don’t want to belong to either. I turn 32 this weekend and no one’s said anything about this. No letters, no email, no texts – the world has been kind enough to include me into things, but I’ve ceased to be an anchor or center to anyone. So I don’t care if the kids have computers or not; at their age – the ones I teach are approaching their late teens – they’re blooming into their full selves, the people they’re going to be for the rest of their lives. You can tell the smart ones from the idiots, and putting a damn computer in front of either isn’t going to change their future.
Everyone has a certain amount of Try in them, and this will be the only thing that matters. These kids have to decide if they want to do something about their lives; I don’t. There’s not much I can do as a teacher, I’m like a traffic light. These kids come and go, becoming fuck ups or entrepreneurs, and I’m here blinking the same three colors.
One of the kids, Drey, asked me if I was married. It was a loaded question, sure, but you learn to take these very broad questions for them – to them, any adult is either married or single, a lawyer or an accountant or their teacher; they’ve yet to see us as whole people. But Drey’s question was different – it felt a little like prodding, as if she was asking something else about me, like two or three steps away from her actual question was something terrible and confronting.
It’s true she saw me in the locker room the other day, she saw me shooting up there; I glanced over and I saw her big eyes and in a second they were gone to the tune of nervous, owl-footsteps. I should probably stop shooting up within the school compound. Maybe get the car tinted so I can do this shit in peace in the parking lot.
So when she asks if I’m married, Drey wants to know what I’m doing with myself – she wants to know if there’s someone I should be taking care of myself for; she wants to make me know I am worth something to someone else so I should rethink the cocaine. She doesn’t say any of this of course; maybe she thinks I’m some full-blown addict who’s going to do something stupid like bomb a whole classroom. But she doesn’t, she’s one of the smart ones, I can tell. I see her walking in the hallways – no one talks to her but she’s unperturbed. There are heavy thoughts that act as her compass, she has this sense of purpose in her character, like she’s perpetually going somewhere. She’s invited me to have dinner with her parents tonight; I’ve said I’ll drop by if I can.
I don’t know if things can change for me anymore, but I want to know what’ll happen to Drey. I want to know what her life’s like, the big Thing that she’s chasing and what’s pushing her towards that Thing all the time. I wonder what the inside of her house looks like, if her parents wear dorky sweaters and hug their daughter every morning and night. I wonder what they talk about during dinner, if there’s some sort of camaraderie in the house that allows Drey to function the way she does and want the things she wants. I’m at their doorstep and I ring the bell. I hope her parents love whisky.
Thirty years ago, I was the personification of “carpe diem”.
I snorted coke more than Lindsay Lohan could in three lifetimes, spent my salary on aesthetically-splendid furniture and countless three-piece Armani suits and I fucked half the population of New York City.
I lived life like there was no tomorrow.
I had heeded Ke$ha’s words way before she released Die Young.
But now, at 53, I am living in tomorrow, and now it is tiring to live life on the fast lane and stay on top of the food chain.
Back then I could not live with the fact that someone else was doing better than me or owned something better than my possessions. I once killed a man simply because his business card looked better than mine. I took the time to chop off his head, disfigured his face beyond repair, loaded his body into a Jean Paul Gaultier bag and disposed of it into the Hudson River.
Paul Allen – yes, I remember that poor bastard’s name because I still keep his business card (it is the benchmark I have to surpass when I make new business cards) – is not the only person I have killed.
I frequently killed my competition, like Microsoft. Only that I did it literally.
(Oh my God, was that a dated reference? Does Apple kill off its competition, too? Or does it simply sue its competition to bankruptcy? Oh my God, I don’t know the current events.)
And now, with the Generation Y cropping up and being the pulse of pop culture, I simply cannot keep up with the times and I have far too little time to kill that many.
Maybe I should nuke the whole of Manhattan. And then I will be the last epicurean standing.
Imagine how beat and pathetic a middle-aged man (Jesus, I hate to remind myself that I am one) became when he, in his three-piece Tom Ford suit, queued up for days with kids at most are half his age, just to get an iPhone 4S.
Jesus, I was tired. And I looked out of place.
And less than a year later – I can’t remember how many months after that (oh fuck you, weakening memory) – Samsung S-III came out. And the junior associates and employees were toting it as the preeminent status symbol.
I was ashamed. I was enraged. I lost the race.
Tonight, there is a party that I was invited to. And with every passing moment, I become more scared to attend it.
What if the guests have better phones than I do? What if the guests made better-looking business cards than mine? What if they wear crisp-looking bespoke three-piece suits by up-and-coming, trending designers that I have never heard of? What if my dick can’t get up when a hardbody wants to get it on with me tonight?
Fuck, should I go? I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.
If you’re thirty or below, please don’t answer my question. You do not know the feeling of youth being robbed away from you.
Sometimes I feel so ordinary, like a kid in a movie, and I want something or someone who can make me feel less like a 30-year-old cocaine addict. I don’t know if I’m still allowed to dream big things; the version of me in my dreams is rich, loved, successful, important. He is also younger and with a fuller energy than mine, which makes me wonder if I should let my current self wither to zero so I can begin to build this better self. Haha, I can be such a fucking idiot.
MOTHER keeps calling, and she is shouting and then crying on the phone and asking for ridiculous things and I leave the phone face-down on the floor and when I come to collect it an hour later she is still wimpering and sobbing to no one and I find it pathetic. Grow up MOTHER, you put yourself in this position so you hoist your saggy old self out, I want to tell her, but I would never say something so mean to her.
Two months ago she got it in her head that she wanted to be part of this game show she’s been watching for years, where they ask you trivial questions and you get to win washing machines and blowdryers and all kinds of old stock giant supermarkets can’t sell anymore. She started taking these little blue and orange pills to lose weight, then she dyed her hair a striking “blood orange” although it looked more like a giant godzilla squirted menstrual blood on her.
They haven’t called her yet, and I don’t think they will but if they do they’ll have a crazy bitch to deal with because the pills are corroding her. This is what happens when you try to squeeze yourself into a world you don’t belong to. The studio lights and laughing audience, a world so lush with cheap possibilities, so different and strange from ours that it feels like fiction, a world MOTHER thinks she deserves to be part of. The little pills she takes has diluted her blood into candy hues – this thing seeped into her insides, made her a dreamer.
I feel responsible for the lives we have – she spent decades building opportunities for me and I opted out of the straight path – now she’s too old and too weak to achieve anything and I’m at the brink of a real breakdown. My body is losing substance; even standing is a pain although part of the struggle is mental. There is part of my core asking for a reason to stand up, to walk, to breathe, still exist, and the question is a discernible weight on my days. My left hand is numb and white, the highway of my arms have been poked with needles so there are little holes that look like pores, except they secrete no fluids, absorbing helplessly instead. I wonder what it would be like not to have one hand, or even worse, both hands. I guess I’d have to grind against a doorframe or something to masturbate, but then I’d get splinters in my dick.
I want to change things, if only for MOTHER. There is a party Hannah is going to tonight, where she is performing with another girl and some sort of two-headed toy. I hear among the attendees is a famous advertising executive, an investor type of person. I would need a suit and a haircut and maybe learn a quick accent to show that I have been raised in some neighborhood where they find the happy families to star in commercials, families who lunch together and still believe in silly things like Christmas.
I don’t have the money to afford this charade so I went by MOTHER this morning and there she is on the bathroom floor in a pool of vomit that looks like a LEGO circus someone used a blowtorch to melt down. Both her hands are covering her face, as if there was a crowd around to see what happened.
I pull her into the shower and turn on the water so its washing over her head, maybe if I leave her there long enough her hair will go back to the precious white its always been, her vessels purged of the pills, and MOTHER will have herself back. I find a few hundred dollars under her pillow and take this to buy a suit for myself; I want to look like the man in my dreams – the me who could go to a party and be charming and win a job and career for myself so I could make Hannah and MOTHER happy.
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
They call me Martha. I came here as Martha, then he looked at me and said you look like a “Marcy May”. We take our names for granted, but we also bestow too much value on our names. They’re only what other people call us. I’ve learned that my truth and my soul are inherent to my own being, and other people will always try to corrupt this vision I have of myself. I am a leader, he taught me to see that.
One of them found me and took me to their place. It was a community that felt hours apart from the city, a lot of girls and a hurdle of teenage boys – young and assured, the girls were stern but in a different way. Once when I was helping Sister Sarah with dinner, she caught me biting into a cucumber. She grabbed my head with one hand and slammed it into a wall, then calmly told me not to eat before dinner. And later when I lead the meals, the new girls would try the same thing. They didn’t understand that there were rules, that all of us needed to serve something bigger than ourselves – this insatiable hunger we have for things, the greed and the need to stand out and make ourselves noticed, how its ruining us.
This was the reason why we had to give ourselves to him. It was a few moons since I got there; I was handed a green drink and when I woke up I could feel him inside me. I felt numb most parts, my skin felt out of touch from the floor – but I could feel him, inside of me. Scraping, tearing, scarring, but the pain help me shed the focus I had on myself. I was being centered to something important. I knew then that learning would always come with suffering; if not, the mind was prone to console itself with ideas.
When I was ready to teach, I realized it was my role to punish. It was my role to break these boys and girls, destroy the comfort they had been raised to believe in; it was my role to lead them to a more meaningful life.
I ran one morning – I ran out and hid in the woods where I heard them screaming for me. “Marcy May” would echo through the forest, gliding onto my skin and shove its way into my ears and bones, but I could not let the name claim me. I stayed silent. I found a town and called my sister, Lucy. She took me back to her home. She told me I couldn’t walk around without footwear, she told me not to swim in the lake without a bodysuit, she told me many things.
I did not want to be corrected. I knew I was a leader, I knew her rules were worthless and self-serving. She says I’ve been gone for two years. Then she asks me about my future, if I’ve thought about work and paying for myself. I don’t blame her for her silliness. She tells me I am strange, which is when I start to miss them. I felt like I belonged, that we all had the same understanding of things. Lucy says I should go out and spend some time with other people; she wants to assimilate me, dilute my self into a bigger pool. “What’s wrong with you, Martha?” she asks, with sincere concern. Martha?
My first impulse is to hit her, to discipline her out of this stupidity. This blindness. Or to run, but where? Into the woods? I am a leader, and I know it is my role to stand my ground and teach. One of her neighbors is having a party tonight; I can hear music and see lights from their house. Lucy has insisted that I come, and I recognize something old and unbreakable inside me rise again, a purpose I had once learned and suffered terribly for.
I see that this world is full of people just starving for guidance. There will be girls and boys here whose skin will look sore with sex, their motivations afilth with desire, their presence iffy and tentative, their whole existence shaky and questioning. I am a leader, I know, and I understand they only have one place to learn what needs learning most.
While Don was still sleeping at nine a.m., the people in the office were trading gossip: Don Draper was being a dick at CLIOs. He snubbed Ginsberg. Mr. Draper didn’t thank Ginsberg during the speech.
“It’s so typical of Don to do that,” a Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP) account executive, who refused to be named, said. “He just can’t accept that he’s at the twilight of his creative peak. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s best ads – for the past year – have come from the mind of Michael Ginsberg.”
Last night, Don and Co. were named CLIO Awards’ Agency of the Year, after its Jaguar’s “Finally, something beautiful you can own” campaign swept a majority of the awards.
Even though Don took the stage last night and was swarmed by his peers congratulating him for the stylish Jaguar ads, it was Ginsberg who conceived both the campaign’s headline and proposition
Michael Ginsberg is a young, eccentric and loud – from the decibels of his voice to his choice of outfits – copywriter who joined SCDP less than a year ago. Vexing as his demeanour may be, a co-worker admits that Ginsberg has grown upon the agency’s staff. “Maybe because he’s Jewish, he feels that he needs to get everybody’s attention and prove he can contribute positive things,” said the co-worker.
“Did you know what Ginsberg was doing when they all were at CLIOs?” I overhear the secretaries tattling.
“He was told to write the copy for Heinz coupons,” the secretary continues. And the other winces, as if she feels the bruise in Ginsberg’s ego for being told to spend a whole night doing a menial task.
Come twelve o’clock, Don makes his way into his office. The man looks at peace. The forefront of his desk is lined by some of the CLIOs the agency won last night.
I gain some confidence to ask why he omitted Ginsberg’s name in his speech last night, let alone crediting him for conceiving Jaguar campaign’s headline.
Don stares at me, the same kind of stare I receive from many people when I ask them questions they feel would jeopardise their reputations, and sighs with cigarette smoke coming out of his nose and mouth. “It slipped my mind.”
Bullshit. SCDP won twelve awards last night aside from the Agency of the Year, and most of them were for Jaguar’s ads. How can you not remember Ginsberg during one of your trips to the stage last night?
Now Don looks agitated. He quickly extinguishes his shortened cigarette, takes a sip of his coffee and gazes at me brusquely. I look down, fearing he will go apoplectic and beat the shit out of me.
“Do you know how advertising works?” He suddenly asks me.
I nervously shake my head.
Don holds his right index finger, while the other hand presses the intercom button and speaks to his homophonic secretary.
“Dawn, could you call everyone into the conference room? Now.”
He then told me to jot down whatever he will say. So I equip myself with a pen and notepad and walk with him to the conference room, which is just a few steps away from his office.
The employees are separated into multiple small groups, usually segmented by their respective departments. Once they see Don, most begin to clap enthusiastically. The ones who are dissatisfied with his action last night, too, follow suit, though they are less keen.
The son of a bitch loves to pretend he hears no applause.
He waits for their hands to hurt from the clapping before he speaks. Don and Ginsberg stare at each other, until the former faces me. “Better if you record this and quote me verbatim,” he whispers to me.
“As you already know, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce won 13 awards last night at CLIOs, including the Agency of the Year award. Finally, after years of our existence, the men at CLIO finally saw what this agency can do.
“Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce can do… nothing. It sucks,” he stops.
Curious stares are drawn on people’s faces.
“You are the ones whom CLIO recognised as the best last night. We’ve amassed the best and formed the most impressive talent pool in all of America. You’ve brought the agency’s name to the apex of fame. And for that, I, on behalf of the partners, thank you for your excellent performance.”
Another applause. This time, Don acknowledges it by telling them he’s not done.
“To the victor go the spoils. You will be rewarded accordingly, over time. Beginning today. Today, let’s celebrate your achievement by… packing your bags, and spending some quality time with your families.”
The applause is louder now. Some of the girls scream excitedly.
Don claps his hands once, wishes everyone a good weekend and quickly walks back to his office. I trail him shortly after, as I plan to eavesdrop on his employees’ reactions.
I can only hear praise for Don Draper.
As I re-enter his office, he greets me with a question: “Now do you understand how advertising works?”
He smirks, sits down on his chair and recites another speech, but of one he has made before. “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. You know what happiness is?
“Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you’re doing – is OK.”
“See what I did just now? I made them happy. I breathed a newfound zeal for work into them. I made them think that they are free from the drudgery. I practically screamed to them it’s OK, do whatever the fuck you want today,” Don explains, and swiftly lights a cigarette.
“And now, they forget whatever was on their minds earlier. They are simply living in the temporary happiness that I – an advertising creative – gave. They can only wish that this happiness will last forever. But it won’t, and they will give their limbs to have this feeling again, and again, and again.”
Suddenly I hear a knock on the door.
“Mr. Draper,” Dawn softly speaks as she enters. “Thank you so much for relieving us from work today. And congratulations on your win last night.”
Don smiles politely.
“Before I go, here’s a letter for you. It just came in,” and she smiles back before walking to the door. “Have a nice weekend, Mr. Draper.”
“You too,” he says, and tears the envelope. “So, this is the party that you, your boss, whatever, wants me to go to?” he muffles while trying to keep the cigarette filter between his lips.
“What the— is this some kind of a fucking joke? Year 2012?” and he shows me the date on the invitation card.
I answer, “No. Just wait for a black limousine at eight at your apartment’s lobby. Someone will pick you up.”
He just looks at me, nonplussed. But he’s not in the mood to think. Don is on a high right now, and he’s heading home. “I’ll see you tonight.”
He walks out while whistling happily.
This is the day Don Draper wants to experience again, and again, and again.
Image is Old World Underground by Wentuq on Flickr.
Al sometimes gravitates to real-life underdogs, losers, oddballs.