Joel Kopplin’s fiction has appeared or will appear in places like Metazen, Staccato Fiction, and The Scrambler. He also co-edits Meta4 Magazine. He is currently trying to convince himself that submitting résumés is more than just wasted effort.
I was sitting at a table—small, square, softly cornered—trying to reconcile, trying so hard to harness and wield the dissonance between “cogito” and “compost” when I put down my pen, pocketed the notebook, and proclaimed with a pout that “I quit, indefinitely. As in for good, I quit. Just quit the fuck out of this shit. This silly, stupid shit.” I rocked the chair back on its hind legs with my weight and folded my arms, satisfied. This was the right choice. A grown up’s choice, this choice.
Then he sat down, the man with the tie, the coffee. Sat down across from me and set down his hat, blowing on the lip of a mug. He raised his eyebrows as he sipped, looked this way, that way. He made loud exaggerated sighs of satisfaction as he admired the mug, nodding his head again and again and again.
“You certainly made the right choice, no doubt,” he said. “You did indeed. Look around you a moment. Just, just take a moment’s look.” He gestured with his head, turning his torso and jabbing at the air with an index finger. “You can tell which of you that would try and do this, you can tell which will crumple and quickly.”
He pointed across the room at a cluster on a couch, a loveseat, a davenport (god damn it), pointing at a cluster of kids smoking cigarettes and being cool. Some held slender paperbacks, so so so very pleased.
“That one there in the middle? He’s been pretending for a while. That one there, with the whiskers? Yeah.” The man smiled and crossed his legs, one foot twirling at the ankle. “And so badly, so so so badly do they want you to pay attention to them, don’t they? Don’t they just? With their cute covers and their cardigans and those hyper-colored children’s sunglasses? Doesn’t it just pain them, the effort? With their goose-honking and their music and their out of fashion fashion?”
On the couch the cluster crowded and hollered and laughed, holding the paperbacks with the cute covers and rolling their eyes and laughing and saying why yes, here we are with so and so or what’s his face, author of such and such, like or maybe or whatever isn’t this just dumb, you guys?
“The one in the middle—maybe he’ll turn thirty-nine and kill himself and the bloggers will mourn very publicly. Publicly mourning and still oh so very pleased that they had books and their faces ejaculated over the Internet and so on.”
The cluster clustered, crowded, drinking drinks and increasing the collective volume. One of them near the edge held up her arms and yelled “Hipster! Oh my god, maybe? Potentially? Well or because we could, you know. Kind of. Or whatever.”
The man turned back, raised his eyebrows and sipped his coffee, twirling loafered toes while I admired his argyle socks. He leaned in toward the window, pressing a finger into the glass.
“Or these folks here, for example.” We looked out the glass at a group of three in the parking lot, gathered and kicking around a paperback book—no doubt one of their own. They stomped and scraped. They tossed and tore. There was an anticlimactic and mostly embarrassing attempt to light it on fire with a bottle of whiskey.
The man streaked his finger across the window pane, set his hands back on the table. “And they try so hard to appear offhanded. When really they’re just begging you to look. Because if you’re not looking it’s as though they don’t exist.” He ran a hand through his hair, loosened his tie, rolled his shoulders. “So when you stop, they won’t.” He shrugged and shook his head.
“Or or or,” the man hung a thumb over his shoulder. “You could be this guy here.”
A man sat hunched over yellow legal paper, his glasses sliding down his nose, sweat beading on his forearms, scribbling furiously from left to right and back again. From time to time he stopped to hold his hands at the sides of his head.
“Give it a go for a while. A good go of it even. Gather lots of followers, believers in the cause. Get tripped up by the severity of your own self-image and then, after a time, call it quits. Disappear with no intention of fulfilling the promise.”
The hunched man sat upright, dropped his pen to the floor, winced and muttered, shook his head while he gathered his things.
“Better yet you could be the guy who does it for years and years and years and years and then puffs out his chest and declares that he doesn’t read fiction. That, after all of those stacked years, he’s somehow come to his senses and sees what a scam it is. To say those things in public while you publish your seventy-third novel and ask that others read it. Because sure, right?”
The man produced a small roll from somewhere on his person and took a bite, his chin bobbing while he munched, crumbs falling on the table between us. He drank the last of his coffee, set down his mug, shook his head. “But fuck all that. You’ve made the decent decision. The right choice, I say. No need to linger on what you can’t actually accomplish.”
He made a face and set the roll down on the table, brushing his hands and pants in quick swipes. He placed his hat atop his head, bid me Good Day, and walked out the door, leaving me in the din of those vying for each other’s attention.
I placed the notebook and the pen in the trash, turned to grab a loose sheet of classifieds from the counter near the register. I could be an architect, a garbage man, a hairstylist, a mall security officer, a movie star. I could be a manager, a day trader, a mailman, a sound engineer. I could help out with the census every ten years or so, walking from house to house with a clipboard, an electronic data entry system. I could wash floors, teach classes, live in South Korea Alaska Beijing Puerto Rico. I could be an astronaut, a financial adviser, an art historian, a creditor, a philanthropist, a chess wizard. I could.