Something certainly looked wrong, but I rarely trust my gut because I have crap powers of intuition. So I looked away from the screen to stare at the wall and center myself, took a deep breath, and turned back to look again at the computer to see what information it held. Yep. Someone had definitely made a mistake. And I am possibly out $1500. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
God dammit. Seriously!? “It’s easy,” the thing had said. “Claim your benefits every week on this website, and they’ll direct deposit your check the following Monday,” it had said. Well apparently it’s not that fucking easy, I thought, as I examined the smoldering digital wreckage the state of New York had made out of my unemployment benefits.
For starters, the first check was apparently sent to me in the form of a debit card, which is the actual stupidest way to send someone cash outside of attaching it to a fucking squirrel and kicking it in the general direction of its intended recipient. Next up to bat for the let’s make Nathaniel poor team was the fact that the weekly checks were for $60 less than I had been told they would be, which sum itself was already $200 less than any human who pays rent and needs to eat can afford to live on in this god-forsaken miserable shit-hole of a major metropolis. I kept reading. Oh, it also appears that half of the weeks I claimed for are not appearing in the list of weeks that I claimed for. Because that makes sense, right? Why would you pay a person for all of the weeks they said they were unemployed? Get a job you bum.
And what’s this? Oh great. Even better! This line here says that payments were suspended a month ago. This is fucking absurd. I almost suspect that the NY DMV tipped the Dept. of Labor off that I owed the state $200 and they decided to wreck my day, but there is no way the government is that well-coordinated. God dammit.
Ok. So, we have a problem here, Nathaniel. And also a good reason for why I should double check matters that pertain to my personal finances. Or at least look at my bank account more than once every five months. As it turns out, Nathaniel, not checking your bank account out of fear that something may have gone wrong actually increases the chance that something might go wrong. Who taught me what laissez-faire economics was? I think they owe me money.
I spent the next 10 minutes looking through the online form trying to figure out some way to fix this mess. There did not appear to be any opportunity to write information anywhere online to correct this. There was also no option to message some sort of customer service agent who could explain why I had stopped getting paid. Which meant… oh dear sweet and vengeful God, what have I done to make you hate me so? I am going to have to call the government.
“Is something wrong?”
The guy I shared an office with at my day job must have heard the increasingly exasperated sounds I was making in my corner. I do this thing where I continually mumble some combination of “really? Really?” “Are you fucking kidding me” and “Again!? Again!?” repeatedly under my breath whenever I’m frustrated. “The department of labor fucked me out of a lot of money and now I need to figure out how to get it out of them.”
“That sucks. You should call them.”
Oh, I should call them, huh? Look at this guy over here with all the thinking, we should listen to him. Why didn’t I come up with that on my own? Dude if you’ve got all the answers you shouldn’t keep them to yourself like this, the world needs your fucking input.
“Yeah, I will.” You’re a coward, Nathaniel.
Since there were no plausible ways out of this problem that would result in me getting money without calling, I dialed the number on the screen. (What follows is almost literally the response received by calling the department of labor. I was so amazed by how circuitous it was that I actually wrote it down)
The phone rang twice before the torture began with an automated voice.
“Please note that a 1099 can only be mailed upon request,” OK great I don’t need a 1099 how often do you get that question that you tell people that before they have the opportunity to even tell you what they’re calling about? Who is dumber, the government or the legion of unemployed people among whom I had been just another number on a monthly chart? Despite all indications I may have given I swear I am a smart person and do not deserve this is there like a fast lane through this? No?
The message continued. “Press 9 for the main menu,” and I pressed 9. The voice continued “are you calling to file a claim? Please file on our website,” If only, buddy. I did file on your website and you fucked me, so now I’m here. “If you are calling about severance, we suggest you check your claimant handbook or the FAQ’s on our website. For more information about fraud alerts, press 1. To continue to the main menu press 9” Wait you said to hit 9 for the main menu and I already did, so what menu was I just on and how many menus are there? When did I become Joseph K? Is that the sound of Kakfa weeping out there in the dark?
I pressed 9 again. “Press 1 for your representative. To complete your claim press 2. To file a new claim press 3. For contact information or to listen to quick answers about options, press 4. To speak to a rep about a claim, press 5.” Which button turns the screws on my brain? Which button reveals that my dreams were nightmares all along; that the world is cruel and its arbiters are not angels but devils amusing themselves as they ferry me to the void? I pressed 5.
“Remember, our website provides detailed updated information, you can check everything and obtain the answers to frequently asked questions online at www.labor.ny.gov” stop trying to funnel me to your website! Your website is the only fucking reason I’m here. “If your question pertains to how your benefit claim was calculated please check page 8 of the online handbook before calling,” Someday I hope to have a reckoning with whomever you have locked away performing these menial financial gymnastics and who, in his infinite wisdom, decided to choose for me a benefit rate that has forced me in turn to make a choice between a roof and food. Someday.
“You must certify each week you are unemployed, which you can do online. You must meet specific work search requirements to receive benefits, check your handbook for more information. Remember, it usually takes at least 3 weeks to process your claim and for benefits to begin. You can check your status on our website. New York State Department of Labor is an equal opportunity program provider. Before we get started I need to collect some information. Enter your 9-digit social security number.” I entered my number. “Now enter your pin,” and I entered my pin, which number is known only to me and the lunch ladies at my former middle school.
The voice chimed back, “You have a valid claim! You can check your status online at this location, or by calling this number 888 581 5812 for NY residents.” Wait I thought I was checking my status by calling the number I’m currently on the line with?
The voice continued, “If you have other questions, please remain on the line for more options. If you are calling about status of payments press 1. If you have a question about claiming your benefits, press 2 If you are calling about status of claim, press 3.
I pressed 3, and an actual ring tone began. An actual ring tone, not the tone that is just doing the rounds for a second before another automated voice picks up. This is it, Nathaniel. Finally. A human voice. Ring. Ring. Ring.
The phone rang five times. Each ring representing both my plaintive cry for help and another slice taken out of what remains of my sanity. The expected voice never came, though I would have waited for it forever and a day.
Another automated voice came on the line. “We’re sorry, we are experiencing an extremely high volume of calls. Please call back. later. Our regular hours are Monday to Friday from 8-5. Answers to commonly asked questions can be found on our website. Good bye.” The voice signed off and the phone line and vain thoughts of a world where things worked out for me and I was happy died together
Fuck the government. I’m voting for Trump.
I don’t know how many people saw Colbert’s interview with Joe Biden last week. It was worth watching.
Or how many people read his interview in GQ, the latter half of which deals a lot with similar themes.
One of the most powerful lines I’ver ever read was from The Road:
All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.
I’ve never been able to fully appreciate that line before, because I’ve never seen a proper example. I’ve read a few, like Taran and Eilonwy’s choice at the end of Alexander’s masterpiece and Gates of Fire. You don’t get to watch two people who were the beneficiaries of such tragedy grapple with it so publicly. Reflecting on that can help snap me out of the routine and remind myself why I bother to wake up every day and put clothes on. Specifically that maybe if I looked around and noticed things like how fucking adorable pandas are, or how great a sunset is, or how fucking delicious something was, or whatever, I might be a little more appreciative. Or I could just keep finding things to bitch about.
I have trouble determining what it is that I’m supposed to care about. Or maybe it’s just that I feel bad that I don’t really care about any of the things other people seem to expect me to care about, and the fact that I do not care and that lack of feeling is evidence of yet more flaws in my character. I don’t know. Either way there’s so many things that are trying to lay claim to my limited attention span and sense of justice. Every day there’s a new cause I’m supposed to concern myself with, a new trouble that a small donation on my part can allay the future devastation of or help the people already afflicted. There’s so many things going on all over the world that are supposed to scare me I’m surprised I’m not curled up in a ball under my desk right this very minute waiting for the end to come. I don’t even know where to start.
Do I begin with the fact that we’ve discovered only a tiny percentage of the near earth asteroids that could end life on earth upon impact? Or how about the imminent – at least on a geological time scale – eruption of the Yellowstone cauldera? Oh, you didn’t know that Yellowstone National park is a supermassive (yes that is the scientific term, somehow) volcano that would cover everything from LA to DC in 5 feet of ash were it to one day decide to go off? To make matters worse, not only is that a thing, but we have no idea what a warning sign would look like, or if there would be any at all. That’ll be a fucking blast, once all of our farmland is devastated maybe people can stop bitching about the effects of genetically modified food and just get psyched about having any kind of fresh food at all. Or how about that lovely New Yorker article detailing the earthquake that will one day in the next thousand or so years devastate the Western seaboard? Seriously, friends, if you live in Portland get the fuck out. This is not a drill. Your city only exists by the grace of God at this point, and given what I know about Portland I’m pretty sure your lifestyles don’t square well with his expectations for human behavior.
And I haven’t even mentioned global warming yet! Fuck that’s also a thing. I can’t wait for rising sea levels to create new beachfront property in Kentucky. There’s so many fun parts to global warming. Between the acidification of the ocean fucking with fish populations and ruining the worlds coral reefs and Miami sinking I almost don’t know where to start. My favorite is how the arctic ice sheet has melted to such an extent that there’s now a new international shipping trade route through what was previously impenetrable ice year-round. But hey, the jury’s still out on global warming. Maybe that’s not really a thing, maybe I can ignore all of these warning signs and start getting all of my science lessons from Jim McFuckface-Inhofe.
Although I guess those are all only things that will definitely happen at some point, and probably not even in my lifetime. So why worry about them when there are so many other things worthy of my apprehension happening right this very minute? Let’s start with the international stuff, because at least that can be viewed at arms length. What’s up first? Well sir, we have something of a shit-buffet for you today. First there’s the rush of immigrants to Southern Europe from war-torn regions of the Levant and North Africa, dangerous trips leading to the death by drowning of thousands, and their attempts to assimilate are leading to the rise of racist right-wing parties in governments across Europe. Oh no, I don’t like that, what else is there? Well there’s whatever the fuck Russia is doing in Ukraine at this point, ISIS stole their thunder so we’re not paying attention to that anymore. Sounds good, keep going! Well there was that lovely bit in the time about modern day slavery aboard fishing ships in South East Asia? Oh that doesn’t sound fun, how about something lighter? Well Ebola, Malaria, cancer, AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, MS, those will always be a thing. And China just devalued their currency and somehow that ruins everyone’s stock portfolios. Also there are these venomous bees in Asia that are as big as your fingers and can literally kill you. You had me until you started going on about bees, that’s just basic animal stuff, I can’t worry about that animals are everywhere. Well in that case there’s that mysterious thing that’s been killing off bee populations worldwide, which has huge repercussions on something, I didn’t read that whole article, but apparently bees are important. No shit, bees? Yeah, apparently Morgan Freeman turned his ranch into a bee reserve to help out. Morgan Freeman? Really? What a fucking guy. I know right?
Ok enough of that. How about this ISIS thing? Seriously does anyone know what the fuck is going on there? Alright get a load of this. We’ve got Assad, who is a huge dick and controls swathes of Syria, and the pieces he doesn’t control he’s dousing with barrel bombs and chemical weapons. He’s fighting the rebels, who are mostly decent dudes, kind of. He’s also fighting ISIS, some of whose members used to be rebels, but are now worse. Although apparently Assad is mostly fighting the Rebels and him/ISIS are kind of leaving each other alone. So anyways there’s three groups, all of who are fighting each other with varying degrees of intensity. However ISIS also controls large chunks of Iraq, so it’s fighting their government too. And there are these Kurdish paramilitary forces that come from Turkey/Iraq/Syria that consider themselves more Kurdish than anything else, and they’re coordinating with the US, Iraq, and some of the Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. Ok that sounds like a clusterfuck. Yeah, but here’s where it gets weird, Turkey also recently joined the fight against ISIS, but they’re trying to fight the Kurds at the same time. Apparently they think the Kurds are going to annex territory and try to establish a Kurdish state along their border, which they’ve been trying to do for like forever. Really? The Kurds? Who knew. Yeah man it’s weird, and probably more convoluted than that, I haven’t been following it that intently in the last couple weeks. Anyways that’s without going into all the other ancillary stuff, like how ISIS is destroying priceless old Mesopotamian monuments, like Nineveh. To be honest I never cared for Assyrian architecture. Yeah well they’re murdering religious minorities all over the place too. Oh, well that sucks… Why do people like ISIS? How do they hold territory? Well they have basic public amenities somehow in Raqqa, like civil courts and shit. Really? Yeah apparently some of them consider it preferable to the previous government. Weird. I know, Vice did a thing on it, you should check that out.
I could go on all day, there’s loads more than that. Like that port in China that blew up yesterday, or the fact that the Chinese are building artificial islands in the East Asian Sea and freaking out all their neighbors. The French are probably striking somewhere, the Germans are being dicks to Greece, Southern Italy is stupidly poor, Greece somehow has less money than I did that time I checked my savings account and learned it had zero dollars. Baltic nations are worries about Russian aggression, half of Spain’s regions want independence, yadda yadda yadda in no particular order.
Whatever, how about all of the social stuff that should have me up in arms? Like the militarization of our police force. Or racial discrimination (now there’s a can of worms). Or how decades of housing discrimination has pretty much fucked over every minority in Chicago – Donald Sterling did things way worse than tell his side piece to knock it off with the taking pictures with black people. Or how about our nuclear arsenal is aging and apparently we would need floppy disks to fire some of them. The fact that California is about as dry as the Sahara. Fracking has made drinking water flammable in certain parts of the country, and somehow keeps giving non-earthquake-having Oklahoma earthquakes. Somewhere around 90% of Americans are obese. To combat that I’m apparently supposed to be on the paleo diet and only eating raw steaks and cucumbers. That or I’m supposed to be a vegan. Or a vegetarian. Or at the very least knock it off with the sodium. And cholesterol. Of which there are several types, and apparently at least one of them might be good for me. Maybe.
Also because America is useless I have to square how much I would enjoy going to see a movie in the theatre with the small but very real chance that I could get shot any time I approach one by some nutjob our useless gun laws allowed to buy an assault rifle for peanuts with no ID or proof of sanity. Tom Brady may or may not be wandering around the country deflating peoples footballs. One day I am going to die.
No wonder people watch those moronic ‘look at the beautiful thing this puppy did’ clickbait videos on the internet, I’d rather watch a puppy hug a bear than read the news too. Every day there’s more shit. Something that just happened and people are dead or dying and I need to know about it. Something might happen somewhere in the world and I should know about that thing. Something could happen to me if I don’t eat this pill or follow these five simple steps. The world is scarier than most of the nightmares my subconscious has assembled for me.
And the worst part? All of this worries me but only a little. It bothers me. I would rather they not be things that are real. But none of it’s enough to wake me out of my affected stupor, to get me to write a letter to my congressman or the editor or join a group or donate money or any of that shit. In fact, none of that bothers me half as much as the fact that it’s been five years and George R.R. Martin hasn’t finished Winds of Winter yet. Seriously George, it’s been over a decade just tell me who the fuck is Jon Snow’s mother?
Am I a bad person?
I was walking around the subway a few weeks ago when I randomly remembered the words Raglan Road. I didn’t remember where I knew those words from or what they may have been attached to, but I remembered them. For some reason. When I looked it up I realized it was a song from in Bruges. If you haven’t watched that movie you probably should. For some reason when I watched seven psychopaths I immediately remembered in Bruges, which I only just learned is probably because they had the same director. That’s like a way more intense version of the ‘where do I know that guy from!?’ game people play when they see actors on TV. Snipe.
I listened to it and was reminded of another couple songs I had heard a long time ago from Waking Ned Devine, which was a great movie with a sound track bested only by Tarzan.
Those songs bring to mind a line I read a few years ago in a Steven Pressfield book. “Irish despair is different. Nothing relieves Irish despair. The Irishman’s complaint lies not with his circumstances, which might be rendered brilliant by labour or luck, but with the injustice of existence itself. Death! How could a benevolent deity gift us with life, only to set such a cruel term upon it? Irish despair knows no remedy. Money doesn’t help. Love fades; fame is fleeting. The only cures are booze and sentiment. That’s why the Irish are such noble drunks and glorious poets. No one sings like the Irish or mourns like them.”
I was reminded of the story when I was reading Let the Great World Spin, also by an Irish guy. The wikipedia page tells me that one of the main themes of that book was the intertwining of grief and love, which I think I realized when reading but did not articulate to myself in such terms because I don’t sit around with myself thinking things like “You know, Nathaniel, the book you’re reading is really about the intertwining of grief and love,” because that’s not how people think when they’re along with their thoughts. Maybe because things that are understood internally don’t need to be consciously stated. I don’t know, whatever.
But anyways after I was thinking about that I was randomly reminded of Marathe/Steeply’s conversations in Infinite Jest, which were my favorite parts of the books. They were discussing freedom, and specifically whether or not it would be better to let people choose to watch the Entertainment, a video that fills people with such happiness that they go into a pleasure-coma and die. What they end up discussing is how love works, and what their countries attitudes are to choosing the things that may cause them grief.
“But choose with care. You are what you love. No? You are, completely and only, what you would die for without, as you say, the thinking twice… This, is it not the choice of the most supreme importance? Who teaches your USA children how to choose their temple? What to love enough not to think two times?…”
“But you assume its always choice, conscious decision… What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? Without deciding? You just do: You see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?”
Earlier this morning I was flipping through All the Kings Men while pooping, because that’s how I roll and noticed a line that reminded me of that train of thought, it was Jack’s rationale for returning to the life he had wanted to abandon after suffering a loss of his own.
“For after the dream there is no reason why you should not go back and face the fact which you have fled from, for any place to which you may flee will now be like the place from which you have fled, and you might as well go back to the place where you belong, for nothing was your fault or anybody’s fault, for things are always as they are. And you can go back in good spirits, for you will have learned two very great truths. First, that you cannot lose what you have never had. Second, that you are never guilty of a crime which you did not commit. So there is innocence and a new start in the West, after all. If you believe the dream you dream when you get there.”
When I read that book back in January I remember thinking that Warren would have been Cormac’s fucking boy. I saw a similar idea expressed in a very different way when Llewelyn runs into some girl also trying to run away from her life and counsels her:
“You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday don’t count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of he days it’s made out of. Nothing else. You might think you could run away and change your name and I don’t know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess who’s layin there?”
It was relevant to me because I was in the process of updating my resume, and wondering how much of what I’ve done I regret. And if I was lying on my bed right now sophomore year in college knowing what the next 5 years had in store would I do something to make it better? I think I would be very tempted. But I’m probably a wiser person for what has happened to me, and it’s given me a great deal of what will hopefully one day turn out to be material in some way or another, so I would not. Like the line in that Johnny Cash cover, ‘If I could start again a million miles away/I would keep myself. I would find a way.’
Meanwhile Anton Chigurh is watching me think and laughing, because I can think about things being some other way, but things are not some other way. They are this way. Can’t I see?
And now I’m idly questioning my existence and doing reruns of scenes from books I read years ago because a couple weeks ago two random words from years and years ago popped into my head. How the fuck do brains work.
An email notification appeared in the lower right hand corner of the screen, but I ignored it in favor of continuing to fill out a survey I had recently been given about my firm’s culture. It was important to let the head guy know what I felt about how my colleagues lived up to the firms standards, after all. Democracy and shit. A few minutes later I heard the office equivalent of rustling in the bushes behind me as some creature approached, followed by the tentative ‘tap-tap-tap’ of human fingers trying to get my attention.
I pulled my headphones off and turned to face my assailant, a harassed looking bumpkin of a middle aged woman. “What’s up?”
“Did you see my email?” Yes but I ignored it – nothing good has ever come from any email you have ever sent me. Seeing your name on an email scares me far more than ISIS or Putin or Ebola or anything else idiot fear-mongers have tried to warn me about on the TV over the last couple years.
“No, was it urgent?” Smooth, Nathaniel. You’ve got this. I was worried though. I’ve learned over the last couple years in various offices that shit flows downhill, and through some accident of birth and various failures I always happen to be at the bottom of any hill I find myself near.
“Not particularly but we should talk about it. Can you click on the link?” It’s hard to square how kind and sad she looks with the anger I feel towards this person. I opened up her email, clicked the link, and was transported to a page full of dozens of other links, each of which seem to lead to documents of some kind. This is ominous.
“So my team is doing an internal audit of all the materials on this page, and I was told you could help me with this – we’re looking to print out every document on the page.” Jesus fuck. Really? There’s 7 sections on here and each one has 10-15 documents. No. No. No. I will not do this. This is why I hate waking up in the morning. This is why I drink. This is why I despair. This is why I’m going to die alone.
“Hey, sure thing! When do you need this done by?” If anger could kill this woman would be a puddle of flesh and bones and jelly.
“Monday or Tuesday would be great! Thanks Nate.” One day I am going to die but I swear by everything I hold dear that before that happy day I will see you broken and alone at my feet, and you will beg me for mercy and I will show you none. When your life has run its course your god will come to bring you home but only after I have had my vengeance. I swear it.
“Sure!” I accepted my fate, and for that I hate myself more than I could ever hate her.
That afternoon I clicked on the link and began. The first section looked easy – 10 documents in a row. Click into the document. Click to download. Click to open. Control P. Next document. Click. Click. Click. Control P. Click. Click. Click. Control P. I got halfway through the section before getting up to walk to the kitchen – clicking is thirsty work. I came back and finished clicking through and printing the section, then walked to the printer to pick up all of the documents. Should I put a binder clip around them? I guess… this is section 1, and it would make sense to put the sections together as separate entities. People who care about their jobs would probably do that.
I clipped them together and started on the next round, which I finished again in 10 minutes. Click. Click. Click. Control P. My life has become a series of index finger spasms and hotkeys. Where did I go wrong? Was it that B- in English 170 freshman year? I shouldn’t have mailed in those last 2 papers. Well no, I should have told my advisor to let me drop the class. That’s probably not it though; there are fresher fuckups that are the more likely culprits. Click. Click. Control P. The day you learn to accept this monotony is the day you cease to be. Thanks Pynchon. I’d trade that lucidity for a good sandwich and an ‘eh’ blowjob. I’d be happier if I was dumber. Click. Click. Control P. I finished the section and walked into the printing room to grab my documents.
I walked up to my industrious automaton, reached into the printer to pull out my documents and Oh for the love of God dammit half of the documents were supposed to be portrait and half landscape and the printer is a piece of shit that didn’t flip the styles automatically and I didn’t notice and now I have to do this shit all over again. One day before this is all over I am going to take that printer apart piece by fucking piece and mail them hostage-style to some unsuspecting admin at Hewlett Packard. ‘I send you each a piece of prince.’ I threw the papers away and stalked back to my desk.
This could have been averted by thinking, but the goal here was to not think. Thwarted again. I re-printed correctly this time. The following section went smoothly, click, click, click, control P. 20 minutes of clicking and printing and putting things together.
I got to work on the second to last section, which was composed, of course, of eight 60+ page color power points. I decided to use both my regular printer and the color printer down the hall at the same time to speed things up, so one printer wouldn’t be locked down for 20 straight minutes, because I’m a caring coworker. What a guy. Click, click, click, control P. When the printing volley was done I collected the documents at my printer and then walked down to the other printer. Where I found that the printer, despite being a color printer, had decided to print four 60+ page documents in black and white, because, well, fuck me, amiright?
I stalked back to my desk in a fury and reprinted the documents. It’s OK Nathaniel. It’s OK. It’s OK. You’re going to be OK. It’s not that bad, right? It’s funny that this is what you do. One day after things have started working out you’ll look back at this and laugh, because failure is funny.
I left the office at 5, just after finishing off the printouts. I had spent two hours of my life clicking my mouse and hitting control P over and over again. The word monotonous has never been so apt. That night as I lay alone reading in my bed before going to sleep, I turned once again to my emergency affirmation button. It is a big yellow button with a smiley face on it, it is a bright button and it alone of all my possessions has the power to induce calm. I hit the button. “You are awesome!” the button told me. You’re awesome, Nathaniel. Remember that.
It is late June. It is 1am and I need to decide now whether I want to produce a shield or a broadsword. This decision is going to have a severe macroeconomic ripple effect throughout my economy – they take different types of inputs to produce and will not be completed for 24 hours, during which time my foundry will be locked up and unable to produce any other sorts of weaponry. Meanwhile, if I to choose the broadsword, which I badly need to bolster my feeble attack rating… Also why is it so poor? It’s ridiculous, somehow no matter what I’m doing I always find a way to do it with a distinct lack of conviction. To hand this one over to Ignatius, “I suspect that I am the result of particularly weak conception on the part of my father. His sperm was probably emitted in a rather offhand manner.”
Anyways I need to improve my offense, but I am also highly suspicious of my neighbors to the East. They have been encroaching on my ancestral lands lately, the baseborn curs, and a stout shield may be just the thing I need to weather the coming storm, especially considering I am low on companions lately, having lost several of them in a skirmish over an admittedly trite dispute with a local farmer who somehow had picked just that hour to start channeling fucking Aragorn (I rolled a 5 on the fight and needed a 10-100 to win. Classic).
Building the shield will severely deplete my supply of wood, which would take me almost an entire day to build back up and put a hold on making the significant improvements required to my fortifications. No one is impressed by my fortifications. I suspect the primary reason I face so few threats is because most of my potential enemies consider sacking my meagre holdfast to be a waste of time. Seriously though I’ve only been at this for a week, what do they expect? Jesus. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and shit. With some time and prodigious amounts of wood and stone I plan on one day ruling the sort of stout keep that would make any lord proud. It will make the Tower of London look like a fucking papier mache hut. One day. But hey, I also kind of need the sword, and further complicating this decision are the knock on effects of building a broadsword: due to some quirk its fabrication requires a significant outlay of fish, the loss of which would prevent me from purchasing various and sundry other products needed to heal my main character, and also provide circuses and traveling minstrels to keep my peasants entertained and working hard.
I also really want a dog. Medieval lords are supposed to have dogs and no one will respect me until I some sort of devoted companion nipping constantly at my heels. Preferably a direwolf, that would be fitting. Not necessarily fitting for me, a dog to suit my personality would be a bit more slothful and cuddly and kind of sad, like an adorable young pup whose breed is famous for its ears, except it somehow managed to lose them. Anyways in the context of the game a direwolf would fit right in and I want it and I’m tired of never getting what I want. Is that something I can get? Can the internet help? I don’t know. I’m probably supposed to get falcons at some point too but I can’t get too far ahead of myself, I’m only starting out just now, after all. But a boy can dream.
I decided to build the broadsword, because fuck it. I clicked on the broadsword icon and a pop-up screen appeared “Want to build it faster? Spend 20 gold coins to speed the process up!” That’s awesome! Only 20 coins! That’s great, where do I get those? I spent a few minutes rooting around the shop button and learned that 200 gold coins would only cost me $2. All I would have to do is spend the real money that I have in my real life bank account that I made doing real life shit at my real life job to get fake money put into my fake game bank account to spend on fake swords and trebuchets and dogs and shit. And look the exchange rate is awesome! What a great deal.
Wait a minute. Am I seriously considering using my real money to buy fake money in this fictional, boring and horribly contrived Game of Thrones online game? Is this a thing that is happening? I took a deep breath before continuing my train of thought. Back up a second Nathaniel, let’s think about this. It is 1am on a Wednesday night. I am sober and unemployed. I am lying in bed with my computer on my lap. The bare walls of my room are illuminated by a single uncovered light hanging from the center of the ceiling, the pictures that should be hanging therefrom lay gently on the floor – I had never bought hangers. The $200 air conditioner – did I get hosed? I have no idea what those are supposed to cost – is purring cold air into my lackluster space. All is silent. There is an emergency self-affirmation toy-button perched on my headboard. I pressed the button. “You are awesome!” the electronic voice said to me. I am awesome, I reminded myself. But what the fuck am I doing with my life?
“This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth” – The Myth of Sisyphus
“By God, I’d rather slave on earth for another man – some dirt poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive – than be lord of all the lifeless dead” – The Odyssey
The sun beat mercilessly down on yet another cloudless afternoon, the weather much the same as any other day the fallen king could remember. Thousands of years and not once a cloud in the sky, now there was a fucking meteorological oddity. What an injustice, as if somehow his life wasn’t bad enough that the weather too must be turned against him.
The king bent down to take hold of his charge and paused for a moment to gather up his strength, his body and spirit tense with anticipation of the coming struggle. At last he let forth a yell, and with a mighty heave he forced his nemesis onward. He wiped his brow with a filthy hand and looked ahead to survey his future. He had been toiling all morning and his entire being was exhausted, his breath labored and his vision blurry with strain. The end was in sight though, for several steep yards ahead of him lay the hilltop, where the ground flattened out into a nearly level plateau. The end was near, but first he had to finish it.
Inch by torturous inch the king raised his burden up that godforsaken slope, the hilltops’ promise of a momentary respite breathing some measure of strength back into his spirit. When at last he mounted the summit his body finally gave out and he fell forward onto his hands and knees, gasping for air. Moments later he steadied himself and rose, just in time to see the boulder roll past him and back down the cliff. He watched it bounce, helplessly, downhill towards the bottom, and with a look of almost indescribable fury he turned to rage at the sky. “Every! God! Damned! Time!” He roared each word into the void. He roared other words. He cursed the gods most boldly. He cursed the hill on which he stood, he cursed his useless fate. He cursed the sun that beat so harshly down upon him, he cursed the mother that bore him into his miserable existence. But most of all he cursed that fucking rock, that god damned good for nothing rock to which his god damned horrible life was yoked by some invisible harness.
“That does not sound very kingly” noted a bemused voice to his side, and he turned to greet his companion, who was himself chained to a boulder on the summit.
“It’s not dignified but I can’t help it, Prometheus, this is so frustrating.” Sisyphus looked back down the mountain and gestured hopelessly as his boulder rolled out of sight. “Half a days work lost in two seconds right in front of my eyes. Do you have any idea how this feels?
“I don’t know quite what that feels like exactly, but please, Sisyphus, don’t bitch to me about pain. You’re not the only person who’s going to suffer today,” the Titan said with an air of resignation.
“I know, I know, I’m sorry. When’s the eagle coming?”
“Should be a few hours yet. He’s switched it up recently to the late afternoon.” Prometheus shrugged, the chains tying him to his own rock clanking wearily. “Not that it matters much to me, either way I’m out a liver.”
Sisyphus paced the hilltop, frustration slowly ebbing away to his baseline sentiment of a general sense of overwhelming despair. In truth he wasn’t certain which he preferred, docile and depressed or furious and impotent. “I hate Zeus. I hate him. It’s been millennia and I’m still doing this every day. And for what? Talk about a grudge.” He kicked a pebble and watched it fly off the hill. “You think he meant to leave us out here to rot for eternity? Maybe he just forgot about us, and one day he’ll remember and come…”
“Silence.” The Titan commanded. “This is your life. It shouldn’t be too hard to internalize, you’ve been at it for thousands of years.” Prometheus gestured at himself, “Me, I’m at peace, and you’re well aware I have more cause to complain than you. What did I even do, really? I stole fire from the Gods and gave it to you humans. So what? They still had just as much fire after I took some! You can’t run out of it, that’s not how fire works. And what did I even get out of it? Mary fucking Shelley names Frankenstein after me. That’s what I get. Talk about fruitless endeavors, I should have let you lot figure out how to barbeque on your own. Undeserved as it may be though, the punishment isn’t really that bad.”
Sisyphus looked over, astonished. “How could things be worse?”
“Look, an eagle pecks my liver out every day. It’s miserable and I hate it, but it just doesn’t take that long. It’s been thousands of years and the old boy knows exactly what he’s about, it takes maybe ten minutes. After that I’ve got a full day to relax, and it’s horrible but I’ve gotten used to it. Honestly you want to know the worst part?
“What do you mean the worst part? An eagle eats your liver every day. What’s worse than that?”
“The sunburns,” Prometheus said.
“There hasn’t been a cloud in the sky since I got here. Blazing sun every day and Zeus has me sitting here chained to a fucking rock with no shirt on and no shade. At least you get a shirt.”
Sisyphus stared out into the distance; he fancied he could just make out a fruit tree some ways off beyond the hill. “I guess you have a point. Our prisons are definitely better than Tantalus. Just imagine being next to all the food and water you could ever need and never being able to grasp it?” He shuddered at the thought. “Zeus is a monster. He makes Torquemada look like Jimmy Carter.”
“Yes, but Tantalus is also a terrible person, he deserves everything he gets. And his descendants?” Prometheus shook his head violently and spat in disgust. “What a nest of horrors. That monster spawned the House of Atreus! Now there was a family the world could have done without.”
Sisyphus went back to pacing. “Whatever Tantalus may or may not deserve, I still hate the Gods. These punishments are always so disproportionate to the crime.”
Prometheus smirked, shaking his head in bemusement at his companion. “Sisyphus, I almost envy you your humanity. Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, none of them know anything of fair. They predate fair. Their actions are entirely outside of whatever bounds you set on your own.”
“So you’re telling me I have no business complaining about this? Let me set a stage for you. Imagine a young woman, a beautiful thing, gorgeous, the kind of creature about whom we should be writing paeans to fidelity and to whom we should be swearing undying devotion. That kind of woman, they’re a rarity these days. Think Helen but less of a whore. Imagine this woman just walking around minding her own business, picking flowers and being cute. Apollo sees her and desires her and because he’s a god the whole ‘no means no’ rule doesn’t apply, so he chases after her. And that’s terrible but per your rules I can’t judge him for it. The worst part happens next. Gaia sees this from start to finish and, instead of protecting her, she turns Daphne into a fucking tree.” Sisyphus punched the air in frustration. “Talk about blaming the victim! What did that accomplish!?”
“Well it got her away from Apollo, didn’t it?” Prometheus laughed, “Look you’re viewing this in the wrong way. You’re looking at this as if some measure of solace can be found in victimizing yourself, but I assure you there isn’t. It would be a sad thing to spend the rest of your existence pitying it, no matter your lot. Surely there is a certain nobility in being the patron saint of futility. I was just reading a great piece on you called the Myth of Sisyphus, you get a hero’s write-up.
“Reading? When do you have time to read?”
Prometheus jingled his chains. “Do I look busy? Anyways you should give this a look, he greatly admires your struggle. Good thing the author can’t see the truth of what your torment has done to you, it’s a shame to see you now. Don’t you remember what you were? You beat the Gods. You put Death himself in chains! ‘His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole of being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.’ He wrote your life a love poem, and this is how you repay him?
Sisyphus sighed mournfully as echoes of memories of a past he could barely remember drifted to the fore. Him standing in the underworld, exultant, Death chained before him. His return from the underworld to the land of the living, to his wife, whose face he could no longer remember, another casualty of times passage. He had long repressed his joys, knowing that whatever memories that might have given strength could also have further ruined him, brilliant reminders of what great heights he had fallen from. “It’s not so easy, friend. Maybe long ago these ‘passions of the earth’ fueled me, but now? Hope drives the fires of passion and mine is long since gone.”
“How much false hope is driving the rest of mankind? How many people are going through the motions in hope of erecting for themselves a future that will never be? My friend, it is the very knowledge of your fate that should provide your strength. You know your game is up, you can take solace in knowing that you’re out of the rat race, that there is no other lot towards which you can aspire.”
“I’ll try to remember that next time I’m rolling that fucking rock up the hill,” Sisyphus said bitterly. “What other words of comfort does this genius offer?”
Prometheus sighed with exasperation at his pupil and looked at him knowingly, similarly to how he imagines one would look woman at the moment of realizing she was about to break his heart. “The saddest part is that right now is your moment of triumph, and you’re wasting it bitching. ‘the lucidity that was to constitute your torture at the same time crowns your victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.’”
“Victory? Is the rock still up here, did I miss something? Look this all sounds lovely but at a certain point the high mindedness of philosophy meets with the brutalities of life, and no one knows this better than us. It’s all well and good to for you to try to validate your existence in your own head, but these thoughts won’t save you when the eagle comes.
“I’m sorry. I am. I wish I could be happier, that I could accept this and take my punishment like the man I was. But I would trade my status as the poster child for futility for one more breath of the life I used to have.” He gestured at the blasted landscape of the underworld around them, “Is this worth it? I think not. Better to be a happy idiot fucking his wife by the sea. Also the eagle looks to be on his way here, there’s a dot in the sky coming in this direction with intent.”
Prometheus swore. “I thought I had a few more hours. You should go, you’re not going to want to be here for this. I’ll see you later this evening. We can talk more then”
“Aye, we will.” Sisyphus turned and left the heights of the hill, walking back down towards his burden. Shortly afterwards the screaming began.
‘The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy’