The Day of the Dude
I went through some rough times in that apartment. I lived there a little over three years. During that time, Don’s acting career started taking off. Every few months he’d bag a national tour or a regional production and leave the city. The first time he left he sublet his bedroom to Jill, which worked out way better than I expected. (Sublet is the past tense of sublet, BTW. There is no such word as subletted. English!) I hadn’t developed much of a relationship with Jill before Don left; they had an on-again, off-again sort of relationship and I was sort of on the onskirts of it all. Gary was as confused as I was.
“Is that his girlfriend, meh?” he’d ask me when Don wasn’t around.
“Not really,” I’d say.
“Phhh,” he’d say. “Not really. I know, meh. I know.” And he’d give me a look that told me he knew.
“Really, I think they’re just friends.”
“Friends!” he’d roar, shaking his head in wonder at my naivete. “Just friends! Come on, meh. Just friends.” I was a little hurt that he didn’t ever ask if Jill was my girlfriend. He seemed to have no problem believing I would just be friends with a girl. But with Don, he was suspicious.
Once Don was gone, Jill and I got along famously. Most nights we’d get stoned and make craft projects. We turned a bunch of boxes into Robot Don and set him in the chair next to the window in tribute to our absent friend. We drew pictures and wrote songs and listened to music and watched movies and had a hell of a time. She took me to her office Christmas party, a black tie affair. We got super drunk on free alcohol and had a purposely awful picture taken that was printed out and inserted into a souvenir snow globe.
Don soon returned and Jill went off to live with her future husband and everything was status quo for another year or so. I got a great job working at a company that made and sold awful syndicated TV shows. Truly abysmal shows like The Highlander and Special Ops Force starring Dennis Rodman. Special Ops Force was funny because it aired for an entire season under the name Soldier of Fortune. It got dismal ratings even though it was Jerry Bruckheimer’s first foray into television, and he is now the most successful human in the television universe. He could pee into a box and some network would put it on as a mid-season replacement. The soldiers of fortune did not quite smile on him on the first go round, though, so the producers stuck Dennis Rodman in it and renamed it Special Ops Force for the second season. And the funny thing about this is that the creators were convinced the SOF was working; they just needed to change what the letters stood for.
Also during this time, I started dating the girl that I’d secretly been pining for since she was in high school and I was in college and I knew it was not kosher for me to like her as much as I did. She was in school at Michigan State at the time. I was making good money at work, so I’d fly back to Michigan or fly her out to New York at least once a month. It was the kind of ridiculous relationship one gets embroiled in when one is young and making more money than a young person should and thinking that’s just how the world works, that it is just that easy to make money.
Things were going great for awhile, but I soon learned a valuable lesson about life: it sucks and if you have any faith that things are going to work out, you’re a dick. In quick succession, my girlfriend dumped me, my company folded, and Don went away on another tour. He couldn’t find anyone to sublet the apartment this time around, so I spent the next three months unemployed and hanging out by myself in a lonely apartment above a man who beat his dog and (allegedly) his mother and had regularly threatened to shoot a machine gun into the ceiling, just for kicks. I had two friends in the world and I almost never saw them, because I was too busy slinking around in my apartment by myself, feeling depressed.
The most Dude-like moment of my life occurred during these months, when I got into an argument on the telephone with an unhelpful employee at the unemployment office who made me so angry I hung up and threw the telephone through a glass table. I watched the table shatter all over the living room and gingerly stepped over the glass and loaded up a bong and sat on the couch in my bathrobe and unshaven face and watched Leave It to Beaver for 6 hours straight before looking for a dustpan.
When I finally cleaned the glass up and took it down to the garbage can, Gary was standing on the stoop waiting for me like a fat snake coiled to flop.
“Hey meh,” he said, “what was that noise I heard?”
“What noise?” I asked, impatiently.
“That noise! In your apartment!”
“I don’t know,” I said, “I broke a glass table.”
“You put it in there?” he asked, pointing to the garbage bag.
“Phhh,” he said, “you don’t put it in the garbage, meh! That goes in recycling!” Gary sometimes took over recycling watch when his mom wasn’t around. I don’t think he gave a shit about saving the planet; he just loved finding new ways to be an asshole.
“I don’t care,” I said, defiantly. “I’m throwing it away.”
“No!” he bellowed. “We’re gonna get a ticket, meh! Take it out and put it in the recycling!”
I was a man on the edge. For a brief, shining moment, I didn’t give a shit if he shot me with his machine guns or sicced his snakes on me or ordered his dog to snack on my neck. I just couldn’t fucking take it anymore. “Goddammit, Gary!” I shouted. “I don’t give a shit about the recycling right now, okay? If you want to pick the shards of glass out of my garbage and move it to the right can, you can do it. If not, then shut the fuck up and leave me alone.” I slammed the lid down on the garbage can defiantly.
To my shock, the look in Gary’s eyes was not one of anger, but one of hurt. I realized then that I’m a terrible bully. For years, Gary had screamed at us, mocked us, cajoled us into doing his bidding, and gotten under our skin in myriad unique and indescribable ways. Yet the minute he displayed the faintest sign of anguish, I felt nothing but guilt, like I’d just punched a baby in the face.
“Hey, Gary, man …” I began.
“Don’t worry about it, meh,” he said.
“No, you know, I just …”
“Don’t worry about it!” he shouted.
“All right, well, I’m just gonna go …”
“Go, meh,” he said quietly. “Go.”
By the next day, he was back to his old tricks. I will say this: after I exploded on him, he never disrespected me again. If it were anyone else, I might have felt like we had finally come to some kind of understanding. But this was Gary, and Gary understood nothing. Just because he displayed an emotion other than anger doesn’t mean I’d suddenly gotten a glimpse of the complex humanity beneath his gruff exterior. Fuck that guy. He might have been a softer piece of shit than I’d always thought, but he was still a piece of shit.