I miss being able to walk into a smoky bar, where I could hide in a haze in a corner under a broken light. Now it’s all too sterile, like the neighbourhood around it. Familiar faces surround me. Random people from my past with stories that go along with their faces. I give them their deserved courtesies. The city’s too small again. I’m handed a beer so I stay a little longer. The mouths on either side are happy I’m here so they have someone new to talk at.

It’s impossible. I’m walking the floor, but they don’t know me. I’m burning through my filter, leaving the remnants behind. I used to dig people. Now I’m not so sure. The scene looks a little different through the glass. I order a rum and coke that I switch to a whiskey and water. I drink it without hesitation and shake the ice out of the glass, coaxing the last drop of spirit. It doesn’t matter, until it does. I hoped I was above it. The ideas in my head change again, too fleeting to keep up. You looked better a minute ago. Scanning, looking for the rings on the fingers, but I never know which one matters. I’ll drink you pretty then I’ll swallow you whole. We’re having different conversations but the music is loud enough that we don’t notice. Body language supercedes.

It’s our shared revulsion that brings us together, for what we claim is the way the world works, and the way it shouldn’t. Everybody is right, but mediocre minds think alike. It’s not the blank I hate, it’s the fans. The frantic rush to relax is one I used to crave. Everyone has their own insecurities, but I need to concentrate on my own. Nobody’s happy but some of the luckier ones can’t see that far ahead. I’m either too drunk or too sober for this right now. I’m half empty, half full of shit.

You don’t give me a chance and I don’t blame you, but you wouldn’t feel that way if you knew me. I don’t want to use big words to prove I know what they mean, especially when I don’t. I wish I could say it better. But I can’t. Another interview. I say I’m a writer when she asks what I do. Nothing is no longer an acceptable response. The mystery is sufficient for now. Give me a viewpoint, and I’ll defend it. I have nothing else to do. Fake another smile. There’s got to be a little more to it than this. Never mind. I am every character I ever wrote. I am definitely this one.

I break away from the rest with a buffer I’ve used before. In an empty bathroom, staring at the full beer on top of the toilet as I struggle to settle upright. The stall’s broken door recites a dialogue between five people over two years. I’m at a familiar road that I sometimes cross, but tonight I don’t. I return to the bar and order a double whiskey water. The bartender mixes me a single on purpose. I down it quickly and look for the door. Again, and again, there’s nothing left for me here.

[Editor’s note: The above is Part 3 of 3, of 5. Part 1 and Part 2 exist accessibly. Parts 4 and 5 are hidden but not undiscoverable.]

September 15 – Ben Schwartz gets Exit Sign, part 3 of 3, of 5
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