It was sad and pathetic but in some way, deep down Roger considered himself a pilot. His spaceship was the whole apartment with the television as the cosmic windscreen and a yellow couch as the bridge. There was a first mate, her name was Becky – his wife, and he always had to be vigilant as mutiny was ever close at hand. On a lighter note, his little red cat Bosco was comic relief and made the whole crew smile with his litter-box antics. Naming the ship would be too much, the little fantasy was bad enough, but having a name like the SS Stoner or something would force Roger to look at this little game with an adult eye and he desperately wanted to keep the game alive.
Every day after work, the adventure would start with dinner on the bridge, the crew surveying the heavens. Becky and Roger would watch transmissions from earth, old television programs broadcast into the void. Marijuana, cigarettes and beer were added to transport the duo further into more interior dimensions, even little Bosco got a taste. With brains foggy and mouths full of food, they would attempt communication, talking about people they hated from their individual work dimensions —the “Efficiency Expert,” the “Bitch in Human Resources” and “The Boss” happened to appear in both worlds and conversation hung around these three and a cadre of other lesser players from their lives in the slightly more real world of work. “Mr. Retard (aka “The Boss”) made me change my design of the ‘cows come home’ flyer. Can you believe that? He didn’t like how I had the cows flying home. He wanted them walking!” she said.
“I can’t hear you in the bathroom!”
“Oh my god, Bosco did it again, honey! He flung his poop out of the litter box.”
“Anyway, he is so boring – the boss I mean. Don’t you wish Bruce Springsteen who is the real boss would be the boss of us all? I’m just kidding I hate him too!” She only talked about people she hated.
“Well honey, Cody from Graphic Production called me today and told me that that bitch from HR fired Mark for being high at work. He did a good job when he was high; he was the Willie Nelson of the third shift! I should call him up. Maybe we should get a bag of weed from him before we lose touch…” And that was it. Eventually Becky would get a little drunk and tell Roger that she regretted marrying him, that he was a real letdown before not quite passing out in bed alone. Then Roger would venture into deeper explorations of his own.
In a stoned, drunken haze he would surf the cosmos looking for movies he hadn’t seen or favorite ones he already had. Rodney Dangerfield was a favorite, anything sexual would do too. Becky had the pornographic transmissions blocked, so Roger would make do with scrambled signals and advertisements. Slipping sideways, he would wonder “Where is my sex drive?” Blurry snapshots of his old life appeared and faded into stains. He had been good looking, popular in his early twenties. He was hip then, knew all the bartenders and some club owners, knew the bands and the dealers and could always get a girl to take him home. That Roger was completely gone now and the new version felt hollow, fat and disconnected from the vitality of his twenties.
A new wave of kids was living through his golden age, talking about hip hop and wearing baggy jeans; he felt mildly sorry for them, the boys anyway. The girls he would consider longingly, they all looked so good, but their world was so far away. They were simple aliens he would forever be blocked from; disconnecting their sexuality from their undeveloped, alien minds was impossible. Earlier that summer, at a graduation party for his niece, he tried to talk to an incoming freshman kid, a boy who played guitar in a rock band. “I’ve never heard of the Replacements. Oh yeah, I think I know REM, they were an eighties band, right?” It was better to just avoid these “young adults” altogether, they were just dangerous aliens, like he had been fifteen minutes ago. There was nothing where his youth had been, so he sat, watching the screen from further and further away.
“Whatever happened to MTV? Fuck! I can’t even watch that for five fucking minutes,” he took a drink of Michelob and lit another cigarette. “I have a fucking job, I have money. They obviously aren’t interested in that. Do kids have that much money?” he rolled another number while his Misty burned fast in the ashtray. “I guess I’m VH1 now – at least they have ‘Behind the Music.’ I love that show. But so many commercials.” He was smoking a joint; the Captain was preparing to fly through the channels again in search of life or something that felt like it. “Maybe I should quit drinking beer,” he slapped his inflated belly, “I want my uniform to fit!” He got up and cleared the cans from the table then went into the mess hall. The garbage was dumped into space and he watched, rapt, as the cans and ashes swirled away into the black void. Then he opened the suspended animation machine and saw little inside. “Lousy First Mate, not leaving anything to eat around here. Maybe a suspended animation pizza…” He returned with a glass of vodka and orange juice and a bag of barbecue chips – to tide him over until the pizza was ready.
“At least the cat is loyal” he thought as he wobbled over to the couch where Bosco lay. “I wonder if he’d die if I sat on him. He’d probably just sink into the cushion. Maybe I’d break his paw or something…” another hit, another Misty, a drink of screwdriver, a trip to the higher numbers to see the advertisements for the adult stations. Becky and he rarely had sex anymore, making these transmissions his primary means of fulfillment. He pulled it out and listlessly began to masturbate but was too drunk to get it up. Leaving it out flaccid, spent before he even started, he kept surfing, rating the women who appeared in the ads. “Not bad.” He was drifting, “I should probably get to bed. I should, but it feels fine here,” he scratched Bosco’s ear, then felt himself glide through the bridge, through the sleeping chamber and into the transporter room where he was quickly sent off.
Now he was at a party in a cold apartment with a few kids who seemed comfortable enough. You could guess that they weren’t far from living with Moms and Dads as the little group seemed proud to be in their own shabby place. Who had invited him? The party was uncomfortably small, so he sat in next other room, watching. He could see two girls and one guy sitting around an old kitchen table. The guy was good looking like he used to be, but it didn’t seem like he was with any of the girls, just a friend, a male protector or something. Roger sat on the couch watching in the other room; finally he decided to try his luck making friends, meeting girls – though he felt so old. The kids, sitting around the little table eyed him with suspicion. One of the girls at least looked at him full on and that gave him the confidence to speak. He thought the guy must be a musician, “What kind of stuff do you play?”
“I’m a singer and my band plays punk rock. Why, are you into music?”
“I am. I know tons of musicians. I used to work at a bar and I saw everybody, I’d give them free drinks and we’d always hang out. You know Kip?” Kip, a “famous” old acquaintance, was still credible.
“Yeah, he just booked us.”
“We hung out all the time. I still see him whenever I go out. There was this one time when we were ….” And he spun some tales about people and places only recently forgotten and completely unknown to the boy and girls at the table. They lost interest quickly, so Roger stopped and drifted back into the other room.
It didn’t seem like they were watching him anymore. In fact, they were ignoring him. He was old news, they didn’t understand the significance of his stories; they were too young and didn’t want to care. Besides, everything that happened to him would happen to them, erasing the tracks of the previous. Bars and people critical to everything as twenty-somethings started to get hazy as thirty-somethings until they were gone, out of business or dead or laying on a couch drunk and dreaming.
Even the girls were barely desirable. To them, he was pointless and unattractive and this lack of desire killed any possibility of connection. Kip had worked so hard to stay relevant, to look decent, but Roger was flabby now, loaded down on the couch with his belly and his dissipating brain. He didn’t care to stay current but didn’t want to keep getting older either. On the couch in his dream he pulled out his thing and started to masturbate. From the table where the kids sat he was mostly visible but they continued ignoring him.
Nothing happened anyway, so he put it away and walked back to the kids, frustrated, with nothing to lose. “Fucking Pig!” the singer said, “we know what you were doing in there. There are girls in here you fucking asshole.” Only his little bit of credibility was keeping him from a beating he wouldn’t bother to stave off.
“So fucking what, I beat off, big fucking deal. What does that matter? There’s web fucking porn and nobody cares about sex anymore. Let me tell you, after a while, there’s no charm in any sex shit. It all gets old. Fucking geez.” The kids weren’t sure what to make of this bold talk and thought he may just be right. But now they tolerated him even less. A cold vibe rose from the kids. Roger was suddenly hungry, so he grabbed an old donut from a box on the table and took a bite, then spit out the stale mouthful and threw the remains callously in the center of their circle. The tension was building. He barely got away with beating off in the other room, out in the open, but this was too much. In a quick second he went from contempt for the kids to wanting to escape. The door was to his left -- he dashed for it knowing that running would incite the boy to chase him, which he wanted to avoid but couldn’t. He was on the third floor, running down the steps was slow and would lead to his capture, so he jumped through the opening in the stairwell and landed on the ground floor thinking he would turn into the basement instead of making a break outside for his car. The upstairs door closed and he could hear the kid flying down the same way he did. Roger turned to enter the basement before the kid could figure it out, but there was no door. Now he could hide or make a break, which if he did, the kid would see and surely catch up. In that moment of indecision the boy was there, grabbing Roger by the collar, pulling back his fist to strike.
That’s when Roger woke up to the smoke alarm. Dazed, he drifted through the smoke into the kitchen where he stepped on an empty beer can, cigarette butts and ashes strewn around like a dirty little universe. Smoke poured from the oven where the pizza, now a lump of coal, had died and was burning. The window was opened and the battery pulled from the alarm. Roger, finally back in his apartment, went to the bedroom where Becky, who hadn’t heard a thing, was curled up, not waiting for him.