Something Nice, Something Gleaming
After the severance package, I returned to the armpit of the nation,
rented a mild-rise room overlooking an anonymous graveyard and began
taking things in stride as best I could. The city was a factory on
strike. The streets—named after sunken battleships, notorious conmen,
and other lesser-known tragedies—were lined with picketers, glass and
hubcaps. Everywhere I went somebody had spray-painted something sad but
poignant. Still, I made an effort, no gains, but a good solid effort.
What else could I do?
July was a dog on speed.
It was autumn in the slums.
I figured if I ruminated long enough and well enough then the answer to
my personal ad would materialize in some form or another. Then I
By Halloween, I'd started becoming aroused by the slightest obscenities
and began having gymnastic dreams involving flight attendants. I awoke
feeling jet-lagged and amazingly flexible, but somehow less sturdy than
before, my stomach wobblier than an ancient ping-pong
My therapist prescribed holidays every other weekend. "Just pretend,"
she said. "Buy yourself something nice, something gleaming. Then take
yourself to dinner, a real nice dinner."
The restaurant was filled with men with handkerchiefed lapels and pinky
rings, women who felt comfortable walking a fine line. Families? They
were there too. I felt nuisanced and stupid in the presence of small
children. They reminded me of miniature celebrities. I was envious,
heartbroken, and awed by their inability to conform to the standards of
I drank my dinner with terrible goodwill, undertipped the
overaggressive waiter, and struggled out into the darkness of this
terribly underimagined place.
News kept breaking and no one could fix it. There was a rash of elderly
kidnappings and a string of dollhouse arsons that had everyone
swiveting. My landlord impregnated another tenant's teenaged
granddaughter, then repentant, hung himself upside down on a homemade
cross in the boiler room. They buried him the next day in an unmarked
grave in the anonymous cemetery and then his brother assumed lordship.
This brother looked like a man who'd returned from somewhere difficult.
He admitted to being destroyed by recent events but collected our money
just the same. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you."
Days passed, weeks mounted. The town newspaper folded. My room was dark
"I imagine you'd be happier if you worked more," my sister said over
the telephone one night. "If you worked more then you could spend more,
but if you're smart you'd save some like I do. Put some away for a
rainy day. Is it raining there?"
"It's always raining somewhere."
"Christmas is coming. What are you going to get mom and dad?"
"Something nice," I said. "Something gleaming."
"What, like one of those phony certificates for a star?"
"Yes, exactly like that."
On New Years I go out with the brother, the newish landlord, to a bar
where everyone is out of their minds. I pay for the pitchers and he
subtracts them from my rent. After five drinks, there is something
resembling conversation, so we keep at it. By the time the ball drops
we understand that we'll probably never understand one another. We
shake hands, head home. If pressed further for information, I'd say
that he's probably my best friend. And I may as well be forthcoming
regarding the foreseeable future. As the Magic 8-Ball has told me
repeatedly: Outlook not so good.
Do I trust it?
Ryan Ridge lives in Southern California. He has work in or coming from The Collagist, PANK, The Los Angeles Review, Juked,
Salt Hill and others.
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