Underground Novel (Excerpt) – The Funeral Oration of Pericles

The novel in short:

A new graduate and his monkey must navigate the world after graduating college. Also, a guide to life after graduation.

11- Funeral Oration of Pericles

Axiomatic Axiom #11: Existence is inherently tragic. The greatest tragedy occurs when one tries to evade this truth.

Thus,

Axiom #11a: The greatest tragic fault is not dealing with the tragedy of existence.

I never thought I would see myself cry again. Not after the last time.

I never tell anybody this, but I had a brother once. Not a real brother, but he was a brother.

He lived with me and my dad for years. You see, my dad had this client who had son, and he died…it’s all a long story, but when he died we took in his son, who was really like a little brother to me. He was only one year younger but he let me treat him like a little brother. I don’t even want to tell you his name, because it hurts even to say this much, but basically, he lived with us for like seven years and he was part of our family. He came from a poor family, but this kid was class, more class than I’ve ever been. Fuck, it’s hard talking about this stuff.  

So, his name was Kevin, and Kevin died like gutter trash. He went back to his old neighborhood to visit an old friend and was shot on a street corner hanging out with some of his friends. Why? I don’t know. Does it have to make sense? That was six years ago, and my dad’s never been the same. Neither have I.

I say to myself: people are constantly redefining themselves by action…you are constantly redefining yourself by action, you are constantly redefining yourself by action. Because that’s how you keep power, because that’s how you stay living, because that’s what living is all about. And if you wake up a different person the next day, the next moment, then it all can seem better in some vague way. You can wake up on a beach with a monkey, you can provide prostitutes for foreign ambassadors, you can sell weed to hippies visiting from up north. You can hustle. You can make a little bit of money. You can stay away from the Vampires. You can stay two steps ahead of the devil, because you’ve mastered the hustle.

You’re hustling, you’re adapting, you’re changing, never constant, always the fox, so you don’t end up like Kevin, so you can forget about Kevin, so you can deal with your dad, so you can deal with it all. So you never have to look at yourself crying again. Fuck.

I cry a little bit more.

*

The agenda goes like this: take McFadden out for dinner, talk about B action movies, impress her with my knowledge of the classics, have some super-pornographic sex, wake up early the next morning, do some running and exercising, have lunch with Suzie, quick phone call to see how J.P. is handling business, then I meet mom to talk to her about the divorce and how she’s handling it. Strongly suggest she dump dad.  

I’m a busy man, politicking, pleasing the ladies, and all. J.P. has my back, though. We’re even thinking about hiring an assistant to help with our recent influx of business.

McFadden is great. She chews with her mouth open, smiles way too much, and doesn’t want to talk about anything serious. She’s all under the surface, but easy to decode all same time. No pornographic sex. I don’t push it, but I say to her that she’s really sexy, and we kiss for a while. And she’s really jazzed about hanging out with me. I’m jazzed about hanging out with her. (Do people say “jazzed” anymore?) No painful conversations about mascara, no bullshit, only that special goodness I dig so much.

I sleep poorly for all the right reasons.

I wake up early anyway. I run forever. Then I do pushups and build some serious strength for a skinny white boy. I call J.P. early. “Fucking-aye, it’s a beautiful day, you hairy beast! You sexy, hairy beast!” I yell into the phone. I ask him if he minds taking over while I go on my super-duper love quest. Nope, he’s cool. And he’s happy for me. “I fucking love you, monkey.” Now he’s scared and tells me so, before hanging up.

I meet Suzie for lunch. She’s chipper because she says she’s happy seeing me again. She tells me about some French movie she saw the other night, starts preaching postmodern theory like it’s Sunday mass, and I shake my head and don’t understand a word she says.

“I’m writing a novel.” I say, and she applauds my initiative but laughs because she thinks it’s going to be a complete failure. She doesn’t say so, but it’s implied. But I think I get “adorable points.” “You’re adorable,” she says.  

Lunch ends well. And now after a dry spell of mind-bending proportions, I have two girls on the hook. Fucking-aye.

I’m mighty Aeneas. Battered by the Fates, I washed up on the shore of Pompano beach with nothing but a kick-ass monkey, a college education, and a dream. I fought Vampires, Bob the supervisor, I created my own civilization (my business), and I got the girl(s?). Now I was ready to fight Turnus (my father). Everything works out for those who keep their head up and struggle impetuously against the inconstant Fates. I shake my head and remember that the gods only help those who help themselves.

*

I’ve got to meet my mother over at the house. She’s thinking of divorce, and I’m going to encourage her. I’m going to tell her that she doesn’t need his shit and that it’s time to do her own thing. I practice on the car ride over: a stout dose of sympathy, diluted by a heavy dose of empowering women’s lib rhetoric. Cast off the shackles of your male oppressor. Embrace the woman down below, or some such crap.

I also listen to some nineties punk on the way over. Songs that make me feel liberated. Songs that talk about love. Songs that talk about being young. Songs that say Fuck the White Man, Down with Fascism, and Down With Capitalism (but not my capitalism, that other capitalism). Songs that are about life, that promote life. I don’t even consider that each song contains a tragedy.

When I come into the house, the first thing I do is bring my mom a flower and kiss her on the cheek. But she’s crying. I think this is about the divorce. It’s not.

“Your father’s dead.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your father’s dead.”

“Oh. Alright.” I’m confused. I have mixed feelings. I feel kind of sad, but not really. It’s funny, but I’m trying to feel sad. I’m there, and I’m there trying to feel sad. But I can’t remember the last time I actually liked being around my dad. It feels like a long time ago.

I comfort my mom, like any good son should. But I don’t cry. Instead, I call J.P. and tell him I’ll be missing work for a little bit. I don’t tell him why, instead I text message him all the details and ignore my calls for a little bit.

I’m sitting around my house on the second day. It turns out the old man had his funeral arrangements made some time ago, but not too long ago, I would learn — not long ago at all.

I don’t have anything to do. I focus on comforting my mom, but I’m not exactly sure how to do this. She doesn’t talk, and she doesn’t cry much. But there is the shadow of a great burden on her face. It weighs on her. I see it, and I wonder what the fuck is going on in her mind.

So I watch some Saturday Night Live reruns on Comedy Central. Will Ferrell is the shit. But I have to laugh on the inside so I don’t offend my mother. I spend some time on my laptop: moving around a little money, swapping stocks, checking my email. My mother walks by me and strokes my face, and says, “Oh Dustin,” she’s not crying though. She just looks worried. Doesn’t she get that I don’t care, that I stopped liking dad a long time ago. This doesn’t matter to me.

Will Ferrell does something funny and I laugh on the inside.

*

“Sit down,” she says.

“You okay, mom?”

“I’m fine, dear.” She’s silent for a long time, and we just sit at our dinner table. Time ticks by very slowly. I don’t say anything because I think my mom’s about to cry again.

“I have to tell you something.”

“Alright.”

“Your dad….the way he died…he committed suicide.”

*

I realize something: he died on Kevin’s birthday.

Suicide, I tell myself. Well I’ll be damned.

Suicide: to kill the self. Well, I couldn’t have seen this coming.  

“I’m going for a walk, mom.” I say.

*

I never thought I would see myself cry again.

The first month after Kevin died, I started a ritual. When we were both in middle school, Kevin always wanted to play with my G.I. Joes, and I would never let him. It wasn’t until high school when we were already past the whole G.I. Joe thing that I finally let him into my stash. It was symbolic. So every month after he died I would place a G.I. Joe by his grave. It was cheesy, but I kept it up. After a while though, the ritual just didn’t cut it. I think rituals are supposed to remind you that things have meaning. But this had to be more than just a gesture. It wasn’t good enough for Kevin. Then I gave away my collection to the orphanage. That was kind of good enough for Kevin, but they needed more toys, and the homeless needed more food. I found an entry in Kevin’s diary:

Goals for the future: be a lawyer like Mr. Frakes, do good like Mr. Frakes, be a better brother to Dustin, start doing more chores, be a better person, help feed the poor, save the environment, save the world.

I keep that entry close to my heart. It wasn’t enough for me to give away G.I. Joe’s. G.I. Joes were just plastic figures. They couldn’t save the world. One selfless act couldn’t save the world. People die everyday, babies die, people starve, people are hurt, people hurt other people, people kill each other fast, people kill with guns, people kill with indifference, they kill each other slowly, and giving away my G.I. Joes just wasn’t good enough.

So I tried to pick up where Kevin left off. I arranged canned food drives at school, I worked at the homeless shelter — and people just looked at me curiously. This was more of a Kevin thing. It didn’t work for me. It never seemed like I was getting any momentum, because I couldn’t get other people to do the things I was doing. It was all pointless. It was me attacking Goliath with a butter knife — it’s kind of okay if you want to make the giant tasty with butter, but without a bigger giant to eat him what the fuck’s the difference–what I needed was a big ass hammer, or better yet, a bigger giant.

“Listen Dustin, I know this may not be your thing, but I need someone to help move some of this weed. I’ve got way too much to sell.”

“I’ll take it all.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Where can I get some more?”

I didn’t start small. I went big. I found every source of marijuana and I bought them out. I put them to work for me, growing, pushing. I invested, and I invested big. I read every book on business I could. I found workers who were working crappy minimum wage jobs. I created a gambling casino. I would hold keggers, big keggers that college kids couldn’t pass up—and then I diversified.

And I learned.

Oh, how I learned. And when all was said and done, as my father went further and further along the corporate route, giving up his social responsibilities, I took and gave. One bohemian capitalist redistributing wealth like a motherfucker. On Thanksgiving Day my senior year, I hired out ten of my classmates and canvassed the town and made sure every hungry homeless person had a turkey wing in his hand, mashed potatoes, and a place to hang out. Fucking-aye.

  

I went over to Kevin’s grave the next day. I didn’t leave a G.I. Joe, instead, I said, “How about that, motherfucker? You see all that bro. Try and top it.” He didn’t say anything back.

*

I never thought I’d cry again. I stuck around Kevin’s grave for a while and said some shit. Just shit. I cried, too. For Kevin, though. Not for my dad. With Kevin it’s okay, because he’s my bro. Not from blood. No, he earned it.

“Sorry I’m late. Happy birthday, bro.”

*

“You know, you should say something at your father’s funeral. It would only be appropriate. Give a eulogy, you know.”

Greek cognates: Eu, means good, Logos, means words. Good words. I have nothing good to say about my father. My father died six years ago. It was my father’s ghost that killed off the old man. He finally got the best of himself. Suicide.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to go to the funeral…I guess I’ll go, for mom’s sake. But I’m not going to say anything.” I tell this to JP.

And I do. I go for mom’s sake.

Sui, self, cide, kill. It doesn’t sink in until much later. And when I react, I react strongly. I almost scream at J.P.: “Nothing’s different. Nothing changes. We go on the same way we did before. Only no more fucking around. No more playing Donkey Kong or partying, only the things that matter. Everything is different. We go at it harder. We get better. We adapt. We diversify. We scam. We hustle.  We consolidate. We compartmentalize. We become frugal. We take risks…Anything! Anything we have to do! We take it all. We take it for ourselves. We take it for others. But we take it now. And we give. We always give, J.P!”

J.P. is scared. So am I.

Achilles. Dirt. Achilles. Dirt. Achilles. Dirt Achilles. Dirt. Achilles. Dirt. Achilles. Dirt. Achilles. Dirt. Achilles. Dirt. Achilles. Dirt. Achilles. Dirt. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Achilles. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. Dirt. I smother wet sand in my face, and I go sit by the shore for a little while.

J.P. asks if I’ll be alright. I don’t think anyone is ever all right. Why would anyone want to be all right? Wouldn’t that just be all wrong? I never want to be all right again. Not me. Not now. Not after this. Not after Kevin. Not after Sui, cide. Not ever again.

                 

I’m never going to be all right.

 

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