Rick

Rick has stopped listening to the voice inside his head. Thirty-seven years of listening to his inner voice landed him nothing but bankruptcy, loneliness, and a rosacea that colours his face with a perpetual whisky sunburn – or rather, whisky gave him the permanent whisky sunburn; it was his interior voice that suggested he drink the whisky: Come on, Rick, you deserve it, man! You planted a fifty-foot-long yellow cedar hedge this afternoon! But Rick wasn’t listening to that voice any longer. Now he listens to other people as he tends the bar, and people tell Rick everything: abortion holidays to Bermuda, daydreams of gender reassignment surgery, harsh scolding mothers, and fears about North Korean missiles. People tell Rick the truth about themselves as Rick works in an airport hotel lounge bar and is hence transient and disposable within his guests’ universes. Most bartenders only get to hear the regulars lie about their lives, but airport bars have no regulars – just drinkers without roots and with temporarily absent inhibitions. Rick sees himself as the Golden Labrador that people stop on the street so they can free-associate their inner thinking: Oh, aren’t you just the loveliest little dog, you are! Tell you what, I got caught jacking off in the supply room, and that’s why I got fired, not like I told the wife, that I was blackballed for whistle-blowing. Hey, any more of these nuts – maybe a bowl with some actual cashew nuts in it, not just the fragments?

Rick wishes that one day someone would come into the bar and confess to stealing Rick’s pickup full of his gardening equipment in it, but he knows that that’s probably not going to happen and that, truth be told, he drank away his landscaping business as well as his savings and his visitation rights, and all he has to show for it is a permanent sunburn and a dark aura that scares away the woman who might like him, even though, over the decade-long span of his decline, he has become a listener and women like listeners. Or they’re supposed to.

Oh well. Rick has serenity now. Kind of. Yet by and large he wonders why it is that we’re all trapped inside our bodies for seventy-odd years and never once in all that time can we just, say, park our bodies in a cave for even a five-minute break and float free from the bonds of earth.

At least music allows you to escape your body – in its own way. Rick feels nostalgic for the lounge’s pianist, Lenny, who was fired two weeks earlier for consistently making up the lyrics to songs as he played. Rick was used to it, but patrons hated it. When the night manager called Lenny to the bar area for his third and final warning, Lenny said “The lyrics of a song are important only to a point. You probably don’t even remember the lyrics to your favourite song, and that’s why you like it – because you like the words your brain made up to fill in the gaps. A good song forces you to invent your own lyrics.”

“Lenny, it’s the goddam Beatles singing goddam ‘Yesterday.’ You do not invent lyrics to one of the most famous songs in history.”

“I bring myself into the song. I an an artist. People listening to songs are like people reading novels: for a few minutes, for a few hours, someone else gets to come in and hijack that part of your brain that’s always thinking. A good book or song kidnaps your interior voice and does all the driving. With the artist in charge, you’re free for a little while to leave your body and be someone else.”

Poor Lenny, now jobless, but Rick remembers what Lenny said about leaving your body for a little while – Rick remembers liking that bit – and in memory of Lenny he cranks the Miles Davies CD now playing – music without lyrics. Instead of inventing words to the music, your body invents emotions for the music.

Rick sees a rogue glass shard from a bottle of southern-hemisphere Chardonnay he dropped the night before. As he bends down to pick it up, he remembers Tyler’s seventh birthday, sitting with his son in a bedroom fort made of whisky boxes and blankets and sofa cushions, and he remembers shining a flashlight through his fingers and through Tyler’s trying to convince him that people are made of blood. He misses the good old days and fondly remembers the rare mornings that were magically free of hangovers and when his head felt like a house in late spring with all doors and windows wide open. And he wishes he hadn’t knocked over the twenty-ounce Aladdin souvenir plastic drinking cup full of £8.99 Chardonnay that night he was allowed to babysit Tyler while his ex-wife, Pam, was at her sister’s stagette party. Half a squeeze bottle of organic dish soap and six towels washed and dried twice, and she’s barely in the door, sniffing and saying, “That’s it, Failure Face. You’ve had your chance. Out. Now.”

Mercifully, one thing people rarely tell Rick about is their dreams – both actual dreams and the dreams they have for the rest of their lives. We’re always hearing about “following your dream,” but what if your dream is boring? Most people’s dreams are boring. What if you had a dream to sell flowers on the roadside – if you went and sold them, would that mean that you were living your dream? Would people perceive you as a failure anyway? And how long would you be happy doing it? Probably not long, but by then it would too late to start something else. You’d be screwed. Rick now believes that there is much to be said for having a small, manageable dream. Rick has a small, manageable dream, except nobody knows about it but him. He is going to spend the £8,500 he’s cobbled together since he sobered up, and he’s going to spend it on the Leslie Freemont Power Dynamics Seminar System. Leslie Freemont’s compelling television ads promise Power! Control! Money! Friends! Love! … none of which Rick currently possesses.

Mister, you can’t just leave the world. You can’t just kill yourself. That’s not an option. So you have to change your life. You’re worried. You’re worried that you’re never going to change. You’re worried that we might not even be able to change. Aren’t you! I am!

Mister, I am here to speak to you about transforming your life and yourself. Making choices and changing who you are. You’re going to become different. Your behaviour will be changing. Your thinking is going to change. And people will watch these changes in you and they’ll come to experience the world in your new manner. You will become a teacher yourself. Are you ready to change, to join, to become part of What’s Next?

YES!

Is the price of reinvention worth the effort?

YES!

Reinvention costs £8,500, and as Rick wipes the rims on a set of Pilsner glasses, he remembers being at Tyler’s peewee soccer game and making the mistake of confiding his enthusiasm for Leslie Freemont to Pam. She said “Jesus, Rick, only losers make decisions when things are bad. The time to rejig your life is when things seem smooth.”

That’s Pam., and that’s her way of looking at the world. But Leslie Freemont believes there is nothing human beings can do that cannot be considered human or magnificent: passion, crime, betrayal, loyalty. Leslie Freemont asks his followers to think of a single act a human being could commit that would be considered nonhuman. It’s impossible; as soon as a human performs any act, that act becomes human. Leslie Freemont says we know what dogs do: they bark and they form packs and they circle their beds before they lie down to sleep. Leslie Freemont says we know what cats do: they rub your shins when they want tuna and they can be hypnotized by dangling yarn. But humans? Humans are special because humans do all things. There is no emotion possessed by any other creature on earth that is not also experienced by humans. Leslie Freemont says that makes us divine, and Leslie Freemont can help Rick tap into all of that.

Rick is giddy as Leslie Freemont is soon to be in this very hotel; he’ll be entering this very cocktail lounge. Leslie is on his way here as Rick’s basement neighbour, Rain Man, saw that Leslie was in town doing seminars and tracked down the Freemont HQ on the internet and convinced Leslie to come in on his way to the airport – a mission to meet a Common Man for a photo op.

Rick would have tracked down Leslie himself, except that his PC died ages ago and is now out on his balcony collecting birdshit and grit. Its dead keyboard covers his canister of protein powder on the kitchen counter, the original plastic lid having long ago been sacrificed as a frisbee for Rain Man’s rottweiler, whose fangs mangled it into chewy red lace, making Rick think, Man, Rick, at what point did your luck turn? At what point did you switch from being a story to being a cautionary tale? People’s lives shouldn’t have a moral attached to them – they should be stories without morals, told purely for joy. 

But the Leslie Freemont Power Dynamics Seminar System can strip Rick’s life of pathos, and Leslie will be arriving at any moment. Rick knows this because Leslie’s presswoman, Tara, phoned to say that Leslie wants to personally shake Rick’s hand and have a photo taken with him as Rick hands over his £8,500 in cash. Rick feels almost the way he used to halfway through his third drink, his favourite moment, the way he wishes all moments in life could feel: heightened with the sense that anything could happen at any moment – that being alive is important, because just when you least expect it, you might receive exactly what you least expect.

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