Human Resources

I was talking to the guy dressed like a beer can at the office costume party. He told me his life was like a painting, and the painting was like a song playing in another room, and thus the beer can.

“I guess you could say I’m down and in,” he said. He patted his sides.

His wife had left him when she tired of discussing reality. Reality, to him, was this giant balloon tethered overhead. That the tethers didn’t tangle might suggest the sacred, but not eating all the potato chips was close as he got to spiritual practice.

Maybe that was why his current mood was slowed-down Beach Boys. Every night he picked a song to play on repeat while trying not to drive to Krispy Kreme. Sometimes it was “Don’t Worry Baby.” Sometimes it was “We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together.”

Yep, and his son had gone to live at the splash-pad. His son who had a future souping-up golfcarts. He tried not to think about it. He supposed his troubles had come from thinking, which was why he’d gotten back into paintings. You know, like landscapes and portraits. Portraits document others’ weirdness while landscapes investigate inner strangeness. That was an insight he’d cribbed. But, mostly when he studied them he thought: why bother?

In three months of being single he’d learned to feel his cholesterol. He’d learned the ordinary divorcee should never ever ever get stoned and spend an evening drawing portraits. Maybe for Van Gogh it was different.

Also, he’d learned to enjoy cooking again. He thought twice daily bowls of oatmeal were probably enough to offset his cheesesteak footprint. Surely there was an equation someone knew but no one discussed. Surely a friend was someone to whom you could admit your debts. Surely a wife.

“I’m going to show you a number,” he said, and drew a “4” on a napkin. Four was the number of beers still floating in the cooler stamped HUMAN RESOURCES beneath a table that held a vat of pretzels.

If he could paint, really paint, it wouldn’t be portraits or landscapes. It’d be moments—the tiniest recognitions, the thing between him and the grocery clerk the other day, over which he would labor until the image appeared impossibly alive on canvas. That’s what he thought about when he did dishes, how long a painting like that would take in contrast to the quickness of the moment painted, her eye catching his while handing back his change.

“Which is weirder,” he asked. “Obsessing over bullshit or painting it?”

Otherwise, he wanted to drive to the desert. That was another equation he tried to figure. How far to get tethered under a different balloon?

“Oh, and get this,” he said. He patted his sides. “The other night in the soapsuds a face appeared.”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “It wasn’t anyone you’d recognize.”  

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