He said beer was okay. I obeyed that rule, but at the same time wondered how oblivious his dad was to his son’s smoking weed thrice daily inside….”
by chris wilkensen
I finished a day of stocking shelves at the grocery store for minimum wage and maximum effort. Walking inside my temporary home, I spotted Tom sitting on Jimmy’s couch, an ashtray full of cigarette butts next to him. Tom adored his Marlboro 72s, whose shorter lengths cluttered up ashtrays quicker. The cigarettes masked the pungent smell of weed, the cheapest of the cheap, knowing Tom.
Tom was a cartoon character in that he always wore the same, dirty black Chicago Bulls hoodie and did his hair the same way, looking like he just woke up and pulled on the first things he saw on his floor. His smile was creepy, almost guilty, reminding me of a Cheshire cat’s.
Tom and I were couch surfing at Jimmy’s bedroom. I was there because my parents kicked me out; he was there because he chose not to live with his ‘rents. After months of unsuccessful job hunting, I started drinking alone in my room to the point of passing out. My hardcore Christian parents told me to go, after they saw empty Smirnoff bottles in the recycling bin. Time would fix everything, I thought. But after three weeks, neither of my parents contacted me.
I enjoyed Jimmy’s company, when it was just us two, yet seldom were we alone. He was one of my best friends, probably number one. The first night at his house, I came into his room late, as he directed me. He was sleeping in his white Hanes, a clear garbage bag full of Dunkin’ Donuts on his bed.
“Why do you have so many donuts?” I asked.
“My friend works there. He throws them out at the end of the night.” Jimmy got bread from Panera and Subway the same way; I hoped he didn’t have to resort to that much longer.
His place was a dump: fast food wrappers, cigarette butts, and soda stains covered the carpet. Stoners seemed to grow out of the carpet. Jimmy’s place was safer, less conspicuous than smoking in a car or in a house with parents. Better than smoking alone. And Jimmy would inhale with anyone as long as weed was free. In desperation, I had to stay at Jimmy’s for a while—until I got a job that a college degree deserved.
“How’s the job search going?” Tom took a swig of Dr. Pepper. Tom was my friend, but seldom acted like one.
“It’s the same as the last time you saw me. I’m going to the library to apply for more jobs tonight. It’s a numbers game. Once I hit 500 applications, I’m sure to have some interviews.” I packed my backpack with my laptop and charger.
“That’s why I don’t feel bad about not going to college. I wasn’t brainwashed into thinking about how I could get a job when I know I’m not good enough. Plus, I don’t want to work.” Tom put down his Xbox controller. The Xbox was his, the flat-screen was mine.
Tom had attempted college, but didn’t do any homework, opting for smoke sessions instead. Jimmy, on the other hand, dreamed of going to college when his parents became more financially secure, hopefully in a year. In the meantime, he read the books I used from my classes. After he read them, he asked me questions about what the professors had talked about during the lectures.
“What makes you so special that you don’t have to work like everyone else?” I asked Tom.
“I don’t want to spend my life working for the Man.” He quoted with his left hand.
Stoners talked about how they dreaded growing up and laboring for the rest of their lives. However, I looked at a better job as my ticket to independence; all the potheads I knew, including Jimmy, still lived with their parents. The first step was getting my foot in the door at any company; I wasn’t picky.
I stared silently at the Halo freeze-frame to avoid eye contact with Tom. Across the room, Jimmy sat on his bed reading Kierkegaard.
A threesome of nameless stoners entered without knocking. My cue to leave for the library. No way for me to concentrate at Jimmy’s, especially after getting contact high. Four hours and 25 job applications later at the library, I returned to the reefer room.
“I don’t like dogs. They symbolize death,” Tom said. He was sitting in the same spot as he had been four hours ago. He hadn’t showered since he got there two days ago.
Three hits per person on the blunt. Ashes fell, mixing with layers of cat hair on the brown carpet.
“How’s that?” I threw my bag on an uncluttered scrap of carpet.
“Pets symbolize death because that is supposed to be how kids learn what death really means.” Tom Coughed.
“Pets symbolize stoners,” I said. “They both just sit around, doing nothing all day and eat everything in sight.”
Jimmy laughed from across the room. “It’s true,” he said.
I noticed the girl sitting next to Tom. Blonde highlights segmented her solid brunette hair. She was in the same calculus class as me, several semesters ago. I gazed at her made-up face, wondering why she was here. Two random guys in beanies and hoodies were fixed on the TV, not offering introductions, not offering anything.
“Hey,” I said to the girl, whose name escaped me.
She didn’t look at me. In class, she and I had talked occasionally, only about homework. I hadn’t pictured her a pothead.
“Do you remember my name?” I asked.
“Uhh.” She passed the blunt to Tom. For a moment, her eyes met mine, in an innocent, uninterested, glazed gaze. The other four people erupted with laughter at the movie This is the End. My attention diverted to the TV screen. My TV screen. A six-inch massive scratch on it. I shrieked.
“What’s this?” I ran my finger down the scratch. “Come on, guys! Be more careful.”
“Sorry,” Tom said.
No one seemed to notice or care. I sighed and let it go. I noticed a 12-case of Bud Light cans on the ground.
“How’d you end up doing in class?” I asked the girl. Waited. Nothing.
“Did you graduate?” I asked. I waited. Nothing.
She was too stoned to respond. Tom pointed the remote at my screen, increasing the volume. My TV remote in his hand, tuning me out. Asshole.
“Who brought the beer?” I asked, but everyone pretended to watch the movie intently.
I got closer to the box, but saw from the top that it was empty. I kicked the box, and looked at Jimmy for support, but he was on his bed, his nose buried in the same existential book.
“You guys are that cheap that you can’t let me get a beer? Seriously?”
Silence. Tom turned up the volume again. Any louder, I would have to yell to be heard. I stood up, about to punch him. They drank all that beer on purpose, knowing the reason I stayed with Jimmy: my supposed alcohol problem.
Jimmy’s dad had told me not to bring any hard alcohol into the place. He said beer was okay. I obeyed that rule, but at the same time wondered how oblivious his dad was to his son’s smoking weed thrice daily inside.
Jimmy came up to me. “We should go outside.” He patted me on the back, leading us to the door.
I assumed the conversation would be something about Tom. A stoner and a drunk, Tom and I had our differences. But we were friends.
Outside, Jimmy offered me a cigarette. I declined.
“I don’t know how to say this. You have to find another place to live soon.” He sparked up.
“Why? We had a deal. Are you going back on your promise?” I asked.
“It’s not me.” He took a drag.
“I could pay you more rent.”
He looked down, taking another drag from his cigarette.
“I bet it’s Tom. What’d he say?” I said.
“Most of my friends like you. But Tom thinks you’ll ruin his chances with the chick. I mean, he talked to me about this before. He looked pretty upset in there just now.”
“There’s no way that girl is into him. She’s too high to talk. I could’ve hit on her tonight. She went to my college. Where’d you meet her?”
“She’s the sister of one of the other guys, but Tom thinks he has a chance with her. So, he wants you to go. Not me. Him.” He dropped the cigarette on the pavement, crushed it with his shoes, half-smoked.
“You know, I think I want to leave anyway. I’m out tonight, so don’t expect another dime from me.”
“No, wait.” He grabbed my shoulders, started giving me a hard massage. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I knew Tom would get in between us.” I walked to my car.
I called my mom from my car for an emergency dinner. It was about ten o’clock, so the only open restaurant was Denny’s. I greeted my mom with a hug. It had been almost a month since we last talked, let alone saw each other.
“That Jimmy is a good kid, but I don’t know about what he does in his spare time. The neighbors think he smokes marijuana,” she said, between sips of hot tea.
“Really? Think? Do you think the sky is blue? Living with him is hard. Living with someone who puts in zero effort but still has the same amount of success in my life is hard. He just sits around and smokes pot all day. And I’m the one who spends hours trying to find something, anything a bit better than the grocery store.”
“Can’t he get a job? Or do something else? Take some classes?”
“What is it about your generation that thinks it’s so damn easy to find a job? I apply for marketing jobs every day and still don’t have any luck. Three internships. Interviews that go well. You just don’t understand,” I said.
“You’ll find something soon. Just don’t give up. Don’t get lost into that negative line of thinking.” She reached over to brush my wrist with her palm.
“What do you want me to do, Mom? Sleep in the car? You want your own son to live like that?”
“Then come back home. I think you know not to drink now. Your dad was more upset about your drinking than I was. He’s cooled down since then. You can come back tonight.”
A lot of silence.
“It’s just ‘til I find a big-boy job anyway.”
I slept in my own old bed that night, my best night of sleep since living at Jimmy’s.
The next day, I went back to Jimmy’s for my stuff. Tom slept on the couch, while Jimmy picked up trash around the place. I retrieved my two backpacks from the corner.
“I’ll see you around, Jimmy,” I said.
“Tom leaves tomorrow. You can stay here after tomorrow,” Jimmy said.
“Yeah,” Tom said. “I ran out of money and green. No reason to stay here.”
“Well, I’m allowed at my parents’ again. Mind helping me bring my TV back home?”
“I do mind. Because I don’t’ want you to leave.” Jimmy stopped tidying up.
I walked away. He ran in front of me and gave me a big hug. Jimmy would claim success someday, as I would. But I wanted success first.
I heard Tom, breathing heavily from the couch.
“Don’t go!” Tom said. “She rejected me. I’m leaving tomorrow. I know that’s what this is about.”
I didn’t even respond that it wasn’t about that girl. It wasn’t.
“Call me later tonight and we’ll hang. But I can’t live here anymore. Jimmy. Tom.” I closed the door.
I started up my car. Pulling away, I noticed the usual blue car park behind me. Three nameless stoners. Any hope of Jimmy or Tom calling me that night vanished as the stoners slammed the car doors, walking without coordination to Jimmy’s door. None of them looked back, and neither did I until hitting the stop sign at the end of the block for one last gaze and wave.
(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)