Chekhov hit the nail on the head over a hundred years ago when he identified the social causes of mental illness. The human mind is not meant to live in the modern, artificial world; it is not suited to it. Constant nagging stresses: a bill here, a regulation there, traffic cameras watching your every move, Big Brother social media companies policing your thoughts…a simple clerical error can land a man in prison, a mere accusation from a woman can end a career, and all without recourse. The modern world is indeed a joke, and it is not the least bit funny.
Societal sanity has long since begun to fray along the edges and, before long, we will no longer be able to maintain even a pretense of coping. We are busy building our own destruction, our own artificially-intelligent replacements…and we do not even know why. Perhaps we subconsciously just don’t want to exist anymore. The pain of living in a fallen state is finally proving too much, and now we don’t even have spirituality for comfort. Religion has been forced out of our societies, our families have been broken apart, and we are encouraged to spend more and more time alone, calling it “empowerment.” Young women are especially encouraged to be self-destructive, feeling self-righteous as they live debauched lives to the detriment of themselves and those around them.
It is only on the fringes of modern society that the real human can live. Fascination with the unknown and the otherworldly is one of the last truly human traits which modern culture begrudgingly tolerates, if only in an ironic way. Such subjects have become rallying points for those who would rather die in the course of paranormal researches than live in the hell being constructed around us. I cannot but hope that Elon Musk is correct in his belief that we are all living in a computer simulation and that living is not as in vain as it can seem. If not, pass the joint, Elon, pass the joint.
I do not mean to depress the readers with these reflections, but I think it necessary to discuss my mental state as I begin my narration. I had set out that day in the hope of finding a few moments of drunken comfort, considering an alcoholic bout to be an improvement from pornography and loneliness between four barren walls. To a passerby, I would not have seemed as cripplingly depressed as I was. I usually wear a clown’s false smile and seem generally light-hearted to most people. A wise man once said that “happiness is a virtue,” and in my opinion, false happiness is better than nothing. The rare instances in which I meet an individual of similar interests are one of my few real pleasures in life.
And yet, even in these instances, one has to be careful. The militant homosexuality bombarding modern society has left all men paranoid. It is difficult to form friendships when all are concerned with avoiding appearing a like fag. With women, there are different difficulties. Deep down, many do not want to spread their crippling nihilism. In my case, though I keep it controlled the vast majority of the time, depression is still something which I feel compelled to swallow alone. Like a soldier jumping on a grenade, my instinct is to protect those around me from harm, especially if that harm would come from within. I can only hope that, be there a world after this one, I will be able to explain myself to those I have slighted. To some, this might sound like rationalization, and were I an incel, I might be inclined to agree. But, for better or for worse, drunken debauchery had long ago solved that particular problem.
I had just left the dilapidated high-rise which I call home when it began to rain. Not heavily, but in that form of heavy mist typical of New England. Spend enough time in such environs and it is possible to understand why so many powerful—if disturbing—literary figures have come from here. Poe, Lovecraft, Longfellow, Frost…even Stephen King: they are as much a product of nurture as of nature. It wasn’t just the cold, the humidity, the salt air: it was the landscape itself, Earth so old that it seemed almost alive.
Such was the environment’s mood as I walked down the path. I was not so despondent as to not at least know my options. There was Galway Bay, with mediocre beer but good bar food for the price; there was Crown and Anchor, slightly overpriced but large enough to spread out, and typically full of easy (perhaps desperate) women in the later hours. There was El Toro Loco (yes, that’s really the name), with an impressive selection of tequila, and finally—shudder the thought—there was a BW3’s if the previous venues proved too crowded.
Deciding on one of the first options—my memory does not tell me exactly which—I settled in at the corner of the bar and began to people-watch. Despite everything, observing the public for any prolonged period of time cannot but help reassure me that it could be worse. Just think People of Walmart, but drunk. I felt like one of Chekhov’s doctors observing patients with absurd disorders, all the while my own personal life was disintegrating.
In Chekhov’s stories, of course, the joke is on the doctors. The lunatics in the asylum are the ones who have figured out the game, those who have solved the puzzle. They are infinitely wiser than those simpleton medical men evaluating them. It is they who are able to live peaceful, stress-free lives more or less, while the “free” men are circling closer and closer to the drain.
It was just as I arrived at this realization that it happened. First a shout, then a crash, and finally the sound of shattering glass. Turning slowly, as if observing a car accident, I saw a man flying through the glass panes surrounding the emergency exit. Near where he must have been pushed from was a tall, thin man dressed in a strangely old suit. The aggressor appeared to have stepped out of the 1940’s, like a gangster in an Al Capone flick. He seemed singularly unperturbed by his action, staring at his opponent (victim) in an almost clinical fashion.
I took another sip of beer (Pilsner I think) as the fallen man stumbled back up, cut all over his arms by shards of glass, and tried to work his way back into the bar. It was then when the tall man slowly, and without a hint of emotion that I could observe, drew a pistol from his suit jacket and fired a single round into the man’s chest. The whole scene could not have taken more than 20 or 30 seconds, yet in that strange slow motion, it had seemed like much longer. The other patrons only then began to consciously register what had happened. The strange, almost alien calmness of the tall man left everyone in a kind of stupor. They simply did not know how to react.
Downing another sip, I finally observed the bartender retrieve a shotgun and point it at the stranger. He must have told him to put his hands up and to stay still, for the tall man’s arms were soon rising above his head. The bouncer (I never knew they had a bouncer here) had arrived now, had retrieved the man’s pistol and was fleecing him down. I noticed that I was out of beer before I realized that the police had arrived and was far more upset by that than by anything else.
The next morning, I woke up on one of the booths in the bar’s backroom. Ah well; wasn’t the first time, wouldn’t be the last. Despite my hangover, I still had a realization in that state of half-sleep, that condition to which Edgar Cayce would bring himself in order to have a premonition. Both the shooter and the shot were now freer that I was. The shooter would soon be in prison, with far simpler problems that the gnawing horrors of everyday life. The shot, if he lived, would certainly be given weeks—if not months—of paid time off while his body recovered. It was a strange thing to be almost jealous of, but I was all the same.
The President, for whom I cannot help but have a fair amount of sympathy, once walked past a homeless man and realized that he was several million dollars wealthier that the real estate celebrity. Though externally he lived a lavish lifestyle, he was in fact deeply in the financial (and occasionally other) holes. Appearances can be deceiving, but in mortifyingly mundane modernity, appearances are often all that matter. As I slowly managed to sit up, I decided to put this wisdom to action. If life is a game, you may as well learn the cheat codes; if life is a bad joke, you may as well beat the teller to the punchline.
This was my mood several years ago, before I found God and AA. I relay it to you so that you may not give in completely, no matter how bad it gets. Embrace the suck, move through it, channel it, and make it work for you. If life is a game, learn to play the way pros do; if life is a bitch, you may as well make her yours
“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground
“If you think this Universe is bad, you should see some of the others.” — Philip K. Dick
Daniel Bretton is a wayward son of New England. A simple, philosophically-inclined man, he wanders the world in search of wisdom, both worldly and Godly. Like Herodotus, he reports what he sees and leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions.