When we pull up to the restaurant, it’s a long, slow deceleration and I’m flanked by other vehicles so far in all directions that I’m not even sure where the beginning and the ending is. Even to the side of me are other vehicles – solid black, windows tinted, bulletproof.
Someone opens the door next to the sidewalk so that I can exit and I do so casually – calmly.
Immediately, people who aren’t part of my entourage move away or else they are moved away for me.
Moved away from me.
Same difference, I suppose.
Doors to the restaurant are opened for me and, just like how my drive went, there are men around me in suits that make them seem like corporate professionals but they all have earpieces and guns and something resembling protection somewhere in the mix.
If the music in the restaurant were being played on a record, I feel certain it would mark my arrival with that scratching sound that we all equate to a very obvious shift in the narrative structure of the scene. Instead, I get to feel the effect of that moment but the music keeps playing.
Other patrons try not to stare or try to stare without seeming like they’re not staring. Some people suddenly seem to not be very hungry because they have most of a whole lobster or a rather full bottle of wine but now they’re paying their bill and clearly have places to be. Others are the opposite – frozen in time and looking at their plates and glasses and knowing that they have no more attention to give to either and yet they sit there and stare. They wait. Afraid to move. Afraid to not move.
No one is in my path except the people who are there to clear my path for me and I simply move where I wish to go and they maneuver like bees around their queen like they’re running on pheromones and instinct rather than training and fear and self-preservation.
I could go to any table or booth I want. Three are empty at the moment with two being in such a state because they were recently vacated and a third being empty because it clearly awaits a new customer.
I walk to the table I want – large and round with half of the circumference wrapped by curved, plush seating and the other half wrapped in chairs that probably cost more than some people get to make in a year – and I’m not talking in pesos.
It’s occupied currently by eight people who are currently stock still. Forks stuck in mid-air. A hand touching a glass but not lifting it to drink. At a glance, someone might look at this moment and think that time was frozen, but it’s just fear. Fear does weird things to people.
I remember when I used to be afraid. My world felt a lot smaller than it is now. It was smaller because it actually was and because I simply allowed it to be. In a way, I could say that some part of that never really changed no matter how much it changes.
The frozen people go from frozen in fear to fearfully leaving while the waitstaff moves with the speed of NASCAR mechanics changing tires so that I don’t have to be inconvenienced by things like stopping my stride or saying words that don’t need to be said.
By the time I’m slipping into the very center section of that half-circle booth seating, the table is the cleanest it’s probably ever been. There are three people holding out bottles of wine for me to choose from and I know the kitchen is literally on standby waiting to know what I want and if that means the building catches fire while I decide, they’ll let it happen.
At a speed that no other human in this restaurant has ever likely seen, I have food and drink and I’m surrounded by the least conversational patrons the world has ever known. There aren’t even whispers.
I take the first bite of a piece of steak that, if I’m being honest, just tastes like steak regardless of all the fancy words that wrapped around its name on the menu. The waiters and cooks are likely holding their breath out of fear that I’ll be displeased.
When I swallow my food and take a drink and I don’t spit it out, I feel like there’s almost a collective sigh of relief even if it’s not from everyone.
At a table, not far from me, a man and woman are sitting down to what is celebratory dinner. I won’t say I know that for a fact, but it feels like it. He has the look of a man that’s here to propose. He doesn’t have the look of a regular patron. He saved up for this moment. He ran this dinner through his head and crafted words and knew what he would order three weeks in advance.
I look over at him but I make sure I’ve swallowed my food before I speak because if there’s anything I can’t stand it’s a relegation of basic human civility. People who don’t say, “Pardon me,” and people who don’t hold doors for others and people who don’t say goodbye before they leave.
“Break the glass with your hand,” I tell him with only a minor glance before I return to my food as though I had offered nothing more than an affirmation to a waiter that I’d like more to drink.
I know the man is processing and he wants to say, “What?” but he’s not going to. I know he’s looking at his glass and trying to figure things out.
In my peripheral, I see him take the glass and pick it up as one might do when they’re about to drink which tells me he wants to empty it first which I understand but also find curious. On one hand, he probably doesn’t want to ruin his clothes and require stitches in the same day. On the other hand, I didn’t tell him to finish his drink and then break his glass.
I chuckle to myself at the mental wording of “on one hand…on the other” considering the situation.
I feel certain that other people are watching this now and their collective concern is growing.
I’m feeling forgiving at the moment, however, so I simply say, “I said to break the glass with your hand,” but I don’t even waste the time looking at this point.
I know he’s frozen for a second and that he puts the glass down. I know he’s looking at his embroidered, cloth napkin and thinking about maybe putting it over the glass and I know he knows better.
I know the woman across from him is locked into the worst moment of her life. She’s watching someone she loves do something against his will and she can do nothing about it. She gets to watch. She gets to see this man shrink and bleed because I get to say so because that’s the way it works.
I finally hear the shatter and the man even goes all in. He keeps hitting it and I know the stem of the glass has probably shoved itself into his hand and that his skin is wearing glittering shrapnel and blood is pouring over the table cloth and his clothes are damp with wine and blood and sweat and the woman has tears streaming down her face and her hand is at her mouth because I don’t want to hear crying. Not now. Not when I’m trying to eat. I can’t stand the relegation of basic civility. People with noisy children in a movie theater. People who stand in the middle of the aisle in a store as though they’re not blocking the normal flow of traffic.
“Take him to a hospital,” I say to no one in particular because I know someone will leap at the occasion to leave.
I want to explain something just to be sure we’re understanding each other. You might be thinking that this man was someone from my past and I have a reason to hurt him. You might be thinking that I can see into his heart and I knew he was a murderer. You might be thinking that somehow, some part of what I just did was based on justice or valor or some agreed-upon concept of morality.
I did what I did because I can and because I’m able to. Can and able to, on any kind of timeline, mutates into “it’s my right”. If you don’t believe that, see how people who you wish you could be get to live for the entirety of their lives and we can circle back to this conversation and you can apologize for being an idiot who both knows that life isn’t fair while convincing yourself that there’s a way to make it fair.
I suppose one of the peculiar things is that I didn’t come to this type of status and prestige in the traditional way. I laugh a little bit when I think those words. It’s comical if you think about it. Imagine that there’s a traditional way to become someone who doesn’t have to hear the word “no” ever again.
Understand the fact that such a condition can exist and that we, as people, have become adept at agreeing that it’s a thing that we’ll abide. Hell, we’ll protect it. We’ll die so that people can have that because everyone wants to believe that they’re not doing it for the ones who have that now, they’re doing it for themselves. You know, in case one day they get to have it.
The other patrons are still mostly milling about but not committing to anything.
It’s the act of self-preservation.
Self-preservation, for the uninitiated, is the cancer of freedom as often as it’s the cure.
Self-preservation will let a man sit in a room with a shackle around his leg for years because he tells himself, “What if I give up today, but tomorrow is the day I’d find my freedom?” And so self-preservation lets him keep dying because he’s afraid of dying.
I don’t entirely finish my meal because I wasn’t hungry enough for everything I decided that I wanted but I don’t really have to care about that.
Calmly – casually – I slip out of my seat and move toward the door, flanked again men in black suits.
Outside the restaurant seems rather calm at the moment. My entourage is so vast that the entire road around where I’m at is inaccessible. No traffic in any direction because everywhere around the car I arrived in are cars protecting the car I was in.
Then I hear a gunshot and one of those men spins like a top. The rest create a human shield with guns out and eyes darting. I know somewhere nearby is a helicopter that’s already looking around. Cops are probably on their way at such a speed that you would think the bullet was linked into the 911 emergency call center.
The more interesting thing is that everyone else – though they’re far afield from me, what with not being allowed to be otherwise – they do much the same as my protectors. They’re more afraid of me getting hurt than they are of themselves getting hurt.
Wherever the shooter is, they’ll be found. The shooter won’t ever feel handcuffs. The shooter won’t get to explain who and what and where and why because the shooter will find a swift death at the hands of whoever finds them first.
Whoever kills the shooter will likely hold the moment with them forever. They’ll brag about it like someone might after finding themselves at a random dinner with the president. There’ll be no consequences for anyone but the shooter even though I couldn’t care less about what happens to any of the people in this scenario.
I don’t panic. I don’t run. I don’t even make an attempt to dodge.
I stand there calmly knowing full well that the worst-case scenario is only a worst-case scenario for everyone but me.
Have you ever seen that movie “A Million to Juan”?
In it, a man named Juan is given a check for a million dollars but he can’t cash it. Juan, at this point, doesn’t really have much of anything. He’s a simple man. He’s poor but, as is the case in movies, there are things that give him happiness outside of money.
With this check that he can’t cash, the world still changes. The idea of the money changes how people treat him. They give him things because he is – in their eyes – a millionaire now. They’re not being good people, they’re investing in their own selfishness because they’re betting on what happens when the check clears.
In the end, the check is still an illusion. The kindness goes away because it wasn’t real. People stop giving because they know that he doesn’t have anything to give back.
Of course, in true Hollywood fashion, he finds love because that’s what movies tell us. Money was never the point. It was all about love. The real treasure was the friends we made along the way. The real meaning of life is the connections we make. The real whatever-the-fuck is the whatever-the-fuck we whatever-the-fuck along the way.
Insert personal buzz words where necessary.
You never see a movie telling us that the meaning of life is power or money or status and you can’t walk three feet without seeing a world that would give up every friend, lover, family member, and childhood memory for a small fraction more of money and power and status. And if you ask those people what really matters in life they’ll say, “Love and family and friendship,” with the programmed sincerity of a doll with a pull string on its back.
If you ask me, the meaning of life is whatever the meaning of life is to the person living it. But I suppose that’s a hard tagline to put on a movie. It’s not a good sales pitch. No one’s going to get a case of the warm fuzzies from that narrative.
I finish mulling over whatever I feel like mulling over while people are shot and killed and they scream and panic and the world acts like everything is on fire because they’re afraid of everything being on fire. As I move toward the car, I see newspapers at a newspaper stand and I see references to me on the front page because I’m always there.
They call me Adam even though it isn’t my name. It’s the name you end up with for the same reason someone with spurs and a black trenchcoat can be called “The Black Rider” even when he doesn’t have – and has never had – a horse.
Part of me hates it because it’s not the right word and the word that led me to this point was inaccurate. Part of me hates it because it’s a biblical name and I know that that makes people associate me with something biblical instead of something human. I suppose that maybe it’s accurate though. I could tell them to stop, of course. I could make that end if I really wanted to, but it’s just not worth it.
If I did, tomorrow it would just be something else. The next day, something else.
You have to pick your battles after all.
Years ago, when my world was smaller and I had a shackle on my ankle, I chose a lot of battles not to fight. I was a captive, after all, but it took me a long time to realize that the shackle held me in place like a wall made out of paper holds back the rain.
The real shackle was self-preservation.
I was so afraid of dying that I was dying.
I wanted freedom to be given to me like a piece of birthday cake. I wanted a rescue team. I wanted someone to walk in and say they’re sorry for everything, they feel terrible, just terrible, and they really want to make things right.
People make things right because they end up in positions where it’s the only option left, or because they’re genuinely good people.
In my experience, there are a lot more of the first type than the second.
I let someone else open the car door for me while everyone keeps their distance and I slide into the interior of the vehicle.
I wait for the cars to all start up and we all move like a collective herd of metallic buffalo down a highway that feels smoother than any road should feel. The car I’m in could probably drive on an old brick road constructed by a blind man trying to replicate an Escher painting and I’d only barely feel a bump.
When I arrive home, it’s quiet. Serene. Unlike the way it was when I decided to live there.
Back then, another family lived in the house but I liked it, so, as is the way of the world, I entered because it’s my right and I said that it was mine now.
I watched the husband stand there making a little “fish running out of air” face before everyone got their act together and filed out while the mother was trying to explain to the children why they couldn’t take their belongings.
I remember the look of panic they had when the youngest child started to cry.
They moved a lot faster at that point and it’s probably for the best.
There are few things more magical than looking a man in the face – the kind of man who gets to wake up when he wants, work when he wants, vacation when he wants – the kind of man who says things like, “money is no object” – the kind of man who knows plenty about wants and needs and very little about having them denied – and telling him, “this is mine now,” and then watching him come to terms with the world that everyone else lives in every day for their entire life. They feel attacked on a molecular level but never once think about how they’ve done that to so many others and never once thought it was wrong.
It’s interesting to think about everything I have because I’m allowed to have it.
No one asks me to pay for this mansion. No one tells me I need a license. No one tells me no. The word no is the relegation of basic civility in my world.
One of the last times I heard it was because I asked a man if they were ever going to let me go.
A lot can change when someone takes your self-preservation away. When they tell you that you’re playing a lottery that only uses numbers you can’t pick. When they just tell you – without exception – that no – this is it. This is where it ends. This is what you get.
When atoms collide, they create more force than two trucks slamming into each other – regardless of how big they are, how much they weigh, and how fast they’re going because they’re limited by such mundane measurements.
I understand why they called me Atom and I understand that soon it became Adam and that they wanted to make it biblical in the same way that the scientists wanted to make it scientific.
They didn’t understand that once the belief in freedom granted is taken away, all that’s left is death granted or freedom taken.
Have you ever seen that movie “Akira”?
In one scene, Tetsuo leaves a medical facility, amped up on powers he couldn’t control and he paints the walls with stock security personnel. They’re ragdolls to him. From there, he takes and crushes and kills. Tetsuo wasn’t evil but evil things were done to him.
I’m not saying that what he did was right, but you can only take so much from someone before they decide to take back. The pendulum swinging in reverse. The other shoe dropping
The other shoe tends to be a lot heavier than the first.
I’m not Tetsuo. I won’t tell you about some amazing super-power origin story with scientists or aliens or a radioactive spider. I also won’t tell you that I wasn’t in control of what I was doing when I left a pile of wreckage and dead bodies in my wake.
I can tell you that I walked out of there feeling like V from “V for Vendetta” except I didn’t leave with a thought about exacting revenge and making the world a better place.
I left knowing that I was tired of the word “no” and what it meant and how much I had to hear it and how much everyone has to hear it while we can look in so many other places and see other people being told “yes” because they’re the equivalent of a check that never has to cash.
I left and found myself near a fancy car and I was wearing the kind of gown you get in a hospital and I didn’t have shoes and when the car owner saw me he looked like I was the plague and I stood directly in front of him.
He told me to move.
I told him no.
He shoved me and I watched his hand erupt and a shockwave rip through his body as fast as lightning and then he splattered all over my new car.
From there, I kept saying yes to myself.
This car? Yes.
This house? Yes.
This food? Yes.
This life? Yes.
I once walked into an embassy and interrupted a meeting with diplomats that feel like they never have to hear the word no and I sat there in the center of them and told them to stop talking and to stand still and to not move.
They sent in men with guns and when the first bullet hit, it was my shoulder and that was a big mistake. The shockwave took out everyone within about a hundred feet of where I was sitting. Everything drenched in red particulate. Fibers of clothing reduced to dust. Here and there, I could see the remainder of an expensive, Italian leather shoe or some semblance of a bone fragment. A ways away, I saw an eyeball rolling around like a soft marble.
I said, “You don’t want to see what happens if you hit me in the head.”
So now I’m just walking around with my own proverbial check for a million dollars and hoping that someone will call me on it and realize that it’s not quite what it seems.
After all, this won’t end well for me no matter how it plays out. Anything I touch with anything resembling force, I reduce to a mist of blood and bone fragments. I could kill a man with a firm handshake.
You don’t want to know what happens if I attempt intimacy.
All I have left now is to see how long the world can be afraid of telling me no before someone realizes that they’re all living with a shackle on their ankle and hoping that one day I decide to be the second coming of Jesus.
Eventually, someone will take the shot and put me out of my misery.
Put me out of the world’s misery.
Same difference, I guess.