Sunday, June 5, 2011

Three Hour Sentence

I watch the ball go back and forth, back and forth.  I follow it with my eyes, left to right, left to right.  There is no clear winner here and I’m starting to believe the match will never end.  But it has to.  Nothing can last forever.  I inject the first ten milligrams of heroin solution into my left arm.  I don’t have to use a tourniquet this time because of my two weeklong hiatus.  My veins are healthy, vibrant and full.  They have recuperated quite nicely during the break.  But soon enough I’ll be back in the thick of it, needing both a tourniquet and a larger dose to get me good.  I’m on the precipice of what’s likely to be an extraordinary binge.  This shows absolutely no signs of dying.  We are what we do.

They have turned the kitchen table into a platform for ping pong.  I’m not sure where they acquired the net from but I don’t ask.  For some unusual reason, they both seem very into the game; it has taken over my mother’s inherent need for order and schedules.  I must say it is strange to see her care for something so trivial, so juvenile and so meaningless in the grand scheme of things.  This is after all the same woman who once scolded me for getting an “A” when there were “A Pluses” available.

Seconds or hours later, Tegan hands me the red ping pong paddle and requests that I step in for her.  I accept the paddle reluctantly and a bit grudgingly, not feeling completely confident or assured in the functionality of my hand-eye coordination at this moment.  My mother prompts me to get moving, impatiently displeased with my lack of luster.  I roll my eyes but eventually comply, albeit somewhat lazily.  With my back to the big window that looks out north, I raise my head slightly and steady my grip on the paddle.  This could easily be a disaster for me.  For all I know, I am displaying a bag full of tells, relatively powerless to suppress them.  But I don’t feel at this moment like I have much other choice.

She prepares herself to start off the serve, bouncing the ball a couple of times, a thinly veiled attempt at intimidation or some other kind of bullying tactic.  My mother has always been great at striking fear in our hearts.  I can recall the sounds of malevolent muttering coming up the stairs from the laundry room and warning us to behave or else.  I know I never relished being the focal point of her anger; luckily my younger sister Karen almost always accepted the brunt of that.  The rest of us were glad for it.

But I am grown now and her scare tactics will no longer work on me.  More to the point, I am unimpeachable in this state; nothing could ever hope to faze me.  This drug would never allow me to feel anything bad, not even for a second.  I’m grateful for that.  It’s a relationship I tend to exploit whenever I have the time and means to indulge.  Though to be honest, it’s not an addiction.  I couldn’t put my life on hold for it and I would never allow it to run my world completely.

Now that some amount of quantifiable time has passed, I can feel the opiate gently receding.  It hasn’t left me completely, but it soon will.  By all accounts I have only a few moments of blissful euphoria left.  Then it will be time to reload, an ugly process I only take part in out of necessity and lack of other more suitable options.  When I look back on my youth I can actually recall having a slight phobia of needles, something very humorous to me now.  Certainly back then the idea of getting a vaccination made me incredibly uneasy and somewhat anxious.  Naturally I have since gotten over all my needle-related apprehension, and not a moment too soon.

I return my concentration to the game as my mother clears her throat.  She wants to begin the match, irritated with my obvious inattention to the matter.  As she swirls the green paddle in her right hand a couple of times, I find myself wondering when this kind of stuff started mattering to her.  It never did before.  She has developed some strange priorities and I’m not really sure how they came about.

Finally she is done with all the show and serves the ball, a quick jab to the left hand side of the table.  That was in, she declares proudly.  I never really had a chance at that ball, what with my slow reflexes and terrible backhand.  She pulls another ping pong ball out from somewhere and serves to the exact same spot once again.  Of course I miss that one as well.  I don’t even attempt a noble swing at it.  In fact, by the time I realized what had happened, it was already too late to react.  She accuses me of not even trying.  I respond by telling her that it’s just a game, another pointless activity to pass the time with.  Its importance level to me is extremely low.

She shakes her head and picks up another ball to serve, imploring me to take this one seriously for a change.  I nod in agreement and start to think that maybe switching hands would help.  But my left hand only has four working fingers due to a basketball rebounding incident in the eighth grade.  So I suppose it’s not really the best hand to use in a game like this where hand strength and poise mean everything.

I decide to stick with my right hand after all, knowing it is the stronger, more athletic one anyway.  When she serves the ping pong ball this time, I am actually able to respond somewhat successfully.  We get a volley going until she hits the ball way off to the right and far out of bounds.  I feel like we should end the game now on a high point for me, but no one else in the room seems to agree with that sentiment.  My mother asserts that we will keep playing the game.  I question whether someone else would like to step in for me, but apparently nobody does.  It looks like I’m stuck in this role for awhile longer.

Tegan is on her laptop doing something; in reality I’m sure it’s nothing.  My mother encourages me to serve the ball instead of just looking around the room in search of a graceful exit.  I hesitate, not really wanting to persist in this game any further but not feeling like I have much of a choice.  Eventually I comply in order to cease the relentless petitioning from everyone around.  We get another volley going, despite my mother’s attempt to best me by slamming the ball to the back corner of the table.  I adapt impressively, given my relative intoxication and total indifference to the matter.

After awhile of this back and forth, I start to get to a point where moving my arm in the same fashion is a heavy irritation.  Finally I decide I’m done responding to the ball so I let it fly past me without taking a swat.  It bounces to the floor and rolls over toward where the bunnies are sitting in their cages.  Of course my mother doesn’t hesitate to announce that she won the point and it is her serve once again.  Must this go on further?

I exhale slowly and rub my eyes, wondering when enough will be enough.  As she winds back to serve, I put my hands up to halt the action.  I tell her to wait as I set the red ping pong paddle down on the table softly.  I take a fresh syringe out of my pocket, one that I have already pre-loaded with ten milligrams of heroin solution, and hover it around the inside of my left arm, looking for a good vein to plunge.

Do you have to do that right now, she asks me with slight exasperation.  I nod as I scrutinize my left arm for a good injection point, indicating to her that this is very important.  She sighs and shakes her head as I make her wait for me to inject the opiate into my bloodstream.  This shouldn’t take long, I assure her.

It’s an easy stick; it always is when I’ve been away for a little while.  Truth be told, it’s one of the main reasons I stay away for as long as I do.  It can be a true hassle trying to find a viable vein with a few days of constant heroin use under my belt.  I wouldn’t wish that kind of struggle on my greatest nemesis.

As I pull out the needle, I feel instantly alive again.  The heroin rush is like nothing else on this earth.  It’s like a body-slam of ecstasy, a complete and total infiltration of feel good chemicals, all energized and eager to please me.  It’s as if a compassionate soul threw a balloon filled with euphoria right at my face.  It smashes upon contact and soaks me to the core.  But it’s not cold.  Quite the contrary, it is warm and makes me feel like anything is possible and everything is good.  It’s the only time in my life where I can see my future as potentially bright.

* * * * *

We pick up the game once again and I surprisingly get some pretty good shots in.  But just as the game could be mine, my father walks into the room and announces that it is time to head down to the awards ceremony.  Ugh, I would rather play this game than endure that one.  I’m dreading the next three hours openly and honestly, knowing it will be a painful waste of my time.  But it has been made perfectly clear to me in no uncertain terms that my attendance is mandatory.  Believe me, there are a million and one other places I’d rather be spending that time.

Ándale rápido, my father yells in his fluent Spanish tongue.  He always has to have everyone in a panic, even if it’s only a subconscious goal of his.  It doesn’t really work too well anymore.  Over the years we have adapted and come to see this behavior of his as ordinary.  It barely even elicits attention anymore.  But we all know this is an event we must attend.  Merely ignoring our father’s screams is not going to make it un-so.

We slowly respond by following him down the steps to the garage.  My other two sisters have already loaded themselves into the car and have taken to complaining about the wait.  I get in the back seat and lock my door so no one can get in next to me and force me to the middle spot.  I absolutely hate the middle spot.  It always puts you slightly higher up than everyone else and right in the way of the rearview mirror.  That’s extra attention I don’t need.  Plus there is nowhere to lean your head or your arm.  It’s a terrible spot.

Once everyone is seated in the car, my father starts up the engine and tunes to the radio station playing the Padres game.  I get the feeling he doesn’t care much for going to this event either but he’s trained himself to display a healthy amount of interest.  If he had his way though, he would be sitting in his office lair, watching the baseball game on the big screen, holding the cat in his lap and dozing off in his desk chair.  But for whatever reason, he is very intent on making us believe that this is a priority for him.  In turn he asks that it become a priority for us as well.  I must say there’s a very slim chance of that happening, at least for me.

I listen as he complains about how we are going to be late and how parking will be an absolute zoo.  It’s just down the street, I offer in an attempt to quell the rising panic and long string of complaints that are sure to follow.  My father always panics about situations where he is bound to run into a lot of people.  He really hates crowds, and traffic, and driving at night.  Karen urges him to start driving now because she doesn’t want to be late to the ceremony.  She is one of the honorees and therefore she is mostly to blame for us having to endure this long and tedious night ahead.

Once we reach the top of our driveway, my father shocks us all by making a right turn.  What are you doing, my mother questions, noticing the error almost as fast as the rest of us have.  Most people on this side of the street never turn right because right leads to a cul-de-sac, a dead-end, a pit.  But my father assures us that the gate will be open today, even though in the fifteen years we have lived here, I have never once seen it open.  Why should today be any different?  This is going to make us really late if we have to turn around and come all the way back up, Karen whines in her usual fashion.  My father disregards her concerns with a simple wave of the hand.  He is not at all convinced to turn around.

As we drive down to the dead end, I note the “not a thru street” sign in yellow and black on the side of the road.  It’s mocking us and our decision to head this way regardless of warnings and ample experience.  I hate that sign even though I know it has a valid and inarguable point.  But just the fact that it has to rub our faces in it seems utterly unnecessary and bordering on psychopathic.  Signs, like all inanimate objects, should not have the right to be glib or condescending.  The Constitution does not stand for it.

Technically though, this street is a thru street, so that sign is consequently a big, fat, yellow liar.  The only thing that lends any sort of credence to the sign’s exclamations is the asshole at the bottom of the cul-de-sac who constructed a gate that essentially cuts the road in half and prevents it from being thru.  In his defense he has always asserted vigorously that he erected the gate only in order to discourage traffic from tearing up the street late at night.  But to me, and most other people on the block, his reasons are more closely related to mad power trips than noble feats.  He’s largely considered by the neighborhood to be a belligerent asshole with major control issues.

As we near the bottom of the street, I can see that my father was actually right in his preposterous claims.  For some odd reason the gate is open tonight.  I’ve never seen anything like this before.  We slow to a crawl as we come up on other cars waiting to cross through the gate.  I suppose everyone wants to use this pass tonight; they probably consider it a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I notice groups of people on foot walking through the gate as well, taking care not to slip down the rather steep hill that connects our street to the main street below.  This is sort of amazing.

I’ve never seen such crowds of people here before.  If I didn’t know any better, I would say it was the Fourth of July and this street was prime viewing grounds for fireworks and other related festivities.  But we have never had fireworks anywhere around here and I’m pretty sure that May 26th is not the new July 4th.  I mean nothing spectacular, at least that I can recall, has ever occurred on this day in history.

I suppose everyone around here is heading to the same destination as we are.  This is going to be a huge event and I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole town showed up in some capacity.  At least the venue is made to accommodate thousands and thousands of people.  It’s the city’s auditorium slash convention center.  Seven years ago they constructed that massive beast right next to the neighborhood elementary-middle school.  Of course it was the year that I graduated into high school, so I didn’t really get to take advantage of the brand new auditorium.  Now those stupid terrors that attend the school get to use it for dances, rainy day picnics and really huge games of heads-up-seven-up.  Recalling that particular injustice now makes me slightly angry, but I’m certain the useless emotion will pass in due time.

As our car inches through the narrow opening, my father starts to worry that the gate isn’t open wide enough for our sport utility vehicle to make it through unscathed.  That’s a ridiculous statement.  We all assure him that it will be fine; he has ample room on both sides of the car.  I think he just panics sometimes when it comes to driving.  Karen again starts to express concern over getting to the ceremony on time.  I tell her I don’t want to hear anything more about it.  We have over an hour before it is actually set to begin.

Naturally we make it through the gate with space to spare on both sides.  My father likes to get paranoid about all the things that could go wrong.  And the people walking on both sides of our car aren’t helping the situation much for him either.  But the way I see it, they’re all going to get out of our way to prevent injury to their bodies.  That’s just human nature.  No one can really stand the idea of suffering a life-threatening wound.  That fear alone controls everything they do.

* * * * *

After driving around for a good five minutes looking for the absolute best, most advantageous and closet parking space available, we finally park and cut the engine.  Without a whole lot of regard for schedules or appointments, my father likes to take his time when he drives around looking for adequate parking spots.  It makes my mother and Karen absolutely crazy, but I think it’s quite entertaining.  Tegan doesn’t seem to notice much of anything though; she’s been texting on her phone non-stop since we left the house.  Honestly, I don’t know what there is to say but she finds plenty of things to type.  And Rhea, well she’s still fuming about being stuck in the middle seat.  But that’s her curse for being last born and last on the list of seniority.  It’s not our fault she has no clout and no backbone and can’t argue competently or convincingly.  People usually take advantage of those who don’t fight back, another common characteristic of human nature.  But other than that, Rhea isn’t paying much attention to the time or displaying any urgency in that regard.

As we exit the car and start walking in the direction of the huge auditorium entrance, I notice that I am still holding onto the red ping pong paddle.  It’s strange that I didn’t put it down earlier.  It seems like something I would have done because I absolutely loathe holding onto things and being responsible for the safety of them.  I’m pretty sure Tegan would be quite pissed if I lose her red ping pong paddle.  After all, she just purchased them.

I hang back for a minute, assuring them all that I will catch up soon.   I decide to inject another ten milligrams of heroin into my arm, feeling like I could absolutely never survive this night without it.  Years ago this option wouldn’t even have occurred to me.  But here I am with it in my hands, all measured out and ready in a brand new syringe, waiting patiently for me to pull the trigger.  Even if I wanted to, I would be unable to convince myself that I am not better for it, better from knowing it, using it, feeling it, being one with it.  Because the truth of the matter is and will always be that I am better for it, better in every conceivable way.  There is no persuading me otherwise.

Some would say that voice is the drug talking, sinisterly insinuating that my life would have no worth without heroin in it.  But I’m persuaded of that truth.  Only I have known myself with and without it and therefore I can say, with a fair amount of certainty, that I am more content now than I ever was before.  Still it’s a funny thing how I got myself stuck on this little habit.  You can sit there growing up, thinking about all the lines you won’t cross, but when it comes down to it, there are very few lines you won’t cross given the right circumstances.  I can’t even be sorry about that.

After I loiter around the trees and dirt that line the vast parking lot for some untold minutes, reveling in the familiar euphoria that heroin has made my own, I decide that it’s probably time to go inside and brave the horridness that will surely be this event.  Otherwise, I’m sure someone will come out looking for me, knowing full well what it is keeping me to the outskirts.  I’d rather they only have their assumptions, no full and fair proof to charge me with.

For all its faults, chiefly its proximity to an elementary school and its location here in town, this auditorium is incredibly lush and somewhat awe-inspiring.  The fact that they built it at all is quite extraordinary, even though it was years and years in the making.  But this city is hardly worthy of such grand measures, certainly this kind of extravagance is unwarranted.  I feel like they went out of their way to make it grand.  I always sort of wondered what identifiable person they were trying to impress with this edifice.  It must be someone with a lot of clout.

Its dominion and presence is quite remarkable.  There are these old-fashioned street lamps lighting the front terrace area, giving it the impression of an old-time opera house.  You can almost imagine what it was like to live back then, when operas were a valid form of entertainment, at least for the elite.  I’m sure the common man wasn’t attending any operas in his very limited free time, but who really wants to imagine themselves as the common man?  Certainly not me, I like to envision romantic things, exciting things, unrealistic things.  That is where my excitement lies.

The haloic glows that surround each one of these lamps give this place a more authentic touch that only I can truly appreciate.  These images aren’t something that everyone here is privy to.  In fact, I would say the bulk of the attendees aren’t seeing this at all, not in the same spectacular way that I am.  Privilege doesn’t even begin to explain what I feel right now, but I suppose it is an adequate start.

As I make my stumbling way through the crowds of people outside, and the uncompromising security guards inside, I take a moment to gawk a little bit more at the lights and art that line the entrance and hallway of this magnificent building.  In a lot of ways, this inside area is reminiscent of the Louvre, especially that one hallway carpeted in red plush, lined with golden chandeliers and walled with portraits, much like this one.  I remember it sort of had the look and feel of majesty and I could imagine kings living there.  I wonder if this was place was made in that image.  If it were old enough, I could imagine kings living here.

Up ahead I notice a fuss being made.  It’s hard to tell exactly what is going on but a cluster of people have gathered and are looking at something they consider to be quite fantastic.  I walk a little closer to investigate and as the crowd parts slightly, I realize why everyone is hanging around and making such a big deal.  Oh shit, it’s George W. Bush!  Wow, I’ve never seen such a person up close!  This is insane.

George W. is with his wife and they are dancing.  I can’t believe they are actually here.  Of all the dinky little events in the world to go to, why would they possibly want to come here?  I’m so confused.  I consider the possibility that I am just hallucinating and that none of this is real, but all the usual signs of unreality are absent.  Therefore it must be real.

I glance over and catch sight of my parents, standing near the doorway to the stage, some odd feet away from me, their backs to the hoards of people.  I walk over to them and try to get my father’s attention.  He has yet to notice the presence of the former president and he needs to be informed.  These are just the types of things he likes to know about.

W and his wife are right over there, I tell my parents, pointing with my thumb behind me.  They both seem to be in a good amount of shock and awe when they finally see for themselves.  I just don’t know how you fail to observe something like that.  My mother instructs me to give them a break.  Apparently they have been hunting for good seats while I have been outside, and in their words, screwing around.  I guess they are miffed about the blatant heroin usage.  It might be time to scale back in their sights.

We sent Tegan and Rhea off to handle that job, my father states, pushing his hands deep into his pockets.  I inquire whether that will be his best excuse for not noticing the huge display behind him.  He affirms that with a nod.

We start to watch George W. and his wife dance around as the crowd bends and folds for them.  They seem to be showing off in a showy manner, and even though I shouldn’t be, I’m quite impressed.  His wife holds her head back, striking a pose to accommodate the cameras.  A few seconds later, they freeze for another photo.  Suddenly I realize why they have come to this event.  They’re important here, and treated as so.  It’s nice to be among those who appreciate you and view you as a “big deal”.  I would be happier to be here now if I were getting all that positive attention.

I watch as they continue to marvel for the cameras, shaking hands and dancing elegantly in a crowd that was made for them.  They are like royalty here, very fitting for the castle.  What an insanely better quality of life they must have than most of us.  How do some people get so lucky?  Of course I gave up on the notion that life could be fair a long time ago, but the differentiations between one side of the scale and the other border on the extreme in some cases.  I really don’t know how people can look at the injustice in this world and actually say with a straight face that they believe in a merciful god, or any god at all for that matter.  It’s beyond me.

I try to convince my father to walk up and meet George W. because he was generally a fan of him and his presidency.  Of course only generally because I do recall there being quite a few things about that administration to dislike.  But nevertheless, it is somewhat exciting to be in the midst of someone who used to hold such power.  My father refuses to walk over there and introduce himself though.  Even the “this is a once in a lifetime opportunity” aphorism doesn’t work to persuade him.  He would rather just watch from afar.

So that’s exactly what we do.  I lean my back against the wall and stare on as the people begin to come closer and gather around.  George W. and his wife continue to dance and make a general spectacle.  And as the scene unfolds in front of me, a woman a few feet away asks a relatively strange question that makes me pause and do a double take.  She harshly yells over the chattering crowds and light music, “Where are you from?”

I look at her blankly, unclear why she would ask me such an odd question and unsure what to say in response.  Instead of replying ordinarily, I request that she repeat the question, pretending that I didn’t hear it.  You have a different look, not American but something else, she restates with more detail.  This lady is a nut.  Why is she asking me such a weird question?  Before I can answer in any real capacity, my mother responds on my behalf by shouting back at her that I am from a city in New Mexico.

What, I question my mother, completely in shock and absolute confusion.  That is a wildly inaccurate statement and I feel like it came pretty much out of the clear blue sky.  I ask my mother to explain her answer but all she offers up is a shrug.  The woman to my right questions me again, demanding to know from which country I hale from.  I return my attention to her with a look of utter bewilderment.  What the hell is going on here?

Instead of inquiring further or letting this woman’s interrogation of me persist, I decide to just answer the question, hoping to dispose of it and her as fast as possible.  I am from Croatia, I tell her bluntly and dismissively.  It would be nice if she would drop the inquiry right here and now.  I don’t want to get involved in a thing.  She responds much to my chagrin, asking where Croatia is located.  I shake my head and offer that it is a country in Eastern Europe.  She finally seems satisfied enough with my answers.  Nodding briefly, she immediately walks away without another word.  What a bizarre interchange.

I shake my head and return my focus once again to George W. and his wife.  They have ceased dancing and are now starting to walk toward the main room to find their seats for the ceremony.  I bet they have real close seats, like ones in the first or second row.  In my opinion that is too close.  I don’t see how you can enjoy a show that close.  And in the case of this little production, I can’t imagine it being very advantageous to sit close enough for everyone to see when you bail out early.

After George W. and his lofty entourage fully pass by, my parents wave their arms at me and beckon that I follow them toward the seats.  I decline, saying that I must use the restroom first.  My mother warns me not to leave or hang around out here throughout the entire ceremony.  I agree to the terms and walk off in search of the bathrooms as they turn down the steps to find their seats.

The woman’s bathroom is amazing here.  I imagine the men’s isn’t too shabby either.  Not only is there a lush pink couch in the waiting area, but there are upwards of thirty stalls lining the back wall of the bathroom, great for choice and privacy.  I pick a stall near the corner wall and sufficiently far away from everyone else looming around.  Distance is key when illegal things are being attempted.  I must say I also appreciate how these doors reach almost down to the floor.  It makes me feel secluded in a comfortable way.

As I’m searching around my pockets for my last syringe, well I shouldn’t say last but the last one I have with me, I realize that I am still carrying the red ping pong paddle.  Still?  I shake my head in confusion but I nevertheless continue with my quest.  Just as I am readying my arm for another blissful, euphoric heroin injection, some devil woman decides to choose and occupy the stall right next to me.  Really, with all thirty of these vacant stalls ripe for the picking, this woman has to pick the one right next to me?  What the hell is wrong with people?  She must be kidding, this must be a joke.  People don’t really do things like this, do they?  It must be a joke.

But what if it’s not a joke?  What if this is purposeful, willful and intentional?  I start to consider the possibility that this is an assassination attempt upon me.  Does she have the mens rea to attempt my murder?  Am I worthy of garnering such a plot?  Will she ultimately be tragically successful?  No, I’m being overly paranoid, hopelessly irrational.  There is no one who desires me dead, and therefore this is not a murder plot.  But the circumstances surrounding me are eerily reminiscent of a certain scary movie scene and so the question still lingers in my head: Could she be here now only to send a sharp blade through the bathroom stall and into my ear, Scream 2 style?

I freeze, completely motionless, totally convinced, and waiting with bated breath for the knife to strike through the stall.  But it never does.  The woman just takes a piss and then walks to the sink to wash her hands.  I feel relief that she didn’t end up being an assassin.  She was just a strange woman with weird motives.  I guess I probably should have assumed that but the whole situation had a feel of doom to it, something dark that I could not shake.

Once I hear the door close again, I decide that it is safe enough to shoot up.  There will always be something that could deter me from the task but I am more or less inexorable in this state.  So I stick the needle in, pull back a smidge to check for blood, and upon seeing the requisite amount, I confidently plunge the syringe that sends the heroin solution deep into my bloodstream.

Exhale, inhale, exhale.  I remove the needle and discard the syringe in the little box for sanitary napkins.  This feels so nice, like a heavy concentration of all the best things in life.  I am a seriously selfish soul, collecting all the good feelings around me and jamming them unapologetically into my blood.  There’s nothing out there better than this.  When I tire from this rush it will be time to die.  This is the best of the best.

I wash up, even though it’s not customary after this kind of transaction.  I grab a paper towel from the automatic dispenser.  The pure robotics of the machine and how it is able to anticipate my need fascinate me like nothing else in this room.  I begin to think about how the machine works, the mechanics of it and how it was developed.  My mind is terrible at understanding how science and mathematics converge to create technological advances such as this.  But I do try to consider it a lot.

Once I leave the bathroom, I try to remember in which direction the stage is located.  I always get rather discombobulated in big structures such as this one.  Though I must confess, I have been in this building a number of times and accordingly, I have no actual justification for my lack of direction.  It’s really quite inexcusable yet I am making one anyway.

Finally I locate the double doors that lead into the stage area.  This place is entirely too big.  After walking down a few steps, I peer around the area in search of where my family may be sitting.  It looks like every single seat in this immense room is full and the ceremony hasn’t even begun yet.  This is nuts; under most circumstances this is where I would abandon ship.  But I don’t have that luxury right now.  That type of luxury would entail having a car or other rational means of getting home.  Walking would not be rational in my current state.

I text Tegan’s phone in order to find out where they are all sitting.  Even though she is constantly on her mobile device and treats it very much like an appendage, it takes her close to a minute to respond.  Meanwhile people are pushing past me, aggressively searching for family members and friends who came earlier and saved seats for them.  Seat-saving should really be outlawed; it should be first come first serve.  In that case, I wouldn’t have a seat right now and I would have a totally valid excuse for remaining outside.  If I am ever in a position of authority, I am going to strive to make seat-saving illegal.  That’s going to be one of my campaign promises.

Tegan replies that they are all sitting on the right side of the big aisle and half way up.  I begin walking further down the red carpeted ramp, somewhat impressed that Tegan and Rhea were able to snag seats as close as they obviously have.  That’s no small accomplishment for an event like this.  After all, George W. is here and who knows who else.  It must have taken some serious shoulder rubbing and finagling on their part to secure these seats.  I heard people were starting to show up here hours ago.

Finally I spot them sitting in the middle of the row.  Great, there’s no easy access over there.  They couldn’t have gotten anything closer to the aisle?  While I understand beggars shouldn’t be choosers, I expect a little more being an unwilling participant and all.  It looks like they actually tried to pick the most middle seats possible.

Wishing I could walk out but know that I cannot, I grudgingly begin the uncomfortable, awkward and irritating trek through the knees of everyone smart enough to sit closer to the aisle.  I hate bumping into people and I hate people bumping into me.  The whole touching of strangers, potentially sick and disgusting strangers, really irks me, especially when I consider the strange part of strangers.  I guess it is best not to consider it at all.

Most of these people express their displeasure at the interruption with a loud exhale but the really brazen ones also add in an exasperated eye roll.  It’s no picnic for me either.  I take a seat between Tegan and my mother, unfortunately placing myself right in the middle of their conversation about someone from school.  They are always gossiping about some poor soul they find wretched in some way.  It’s usually about her weight gain, cosmetic surgery or prolific need to procreate.  It’s all pretty boring to me, mostly because I don’t find other people’s lives to be all that fascinating.

I close my eyes and sink further into the chair.  I wish I was anywhere else but here.  The blended voices of the audience start to die down as the music gets louder.  The ceremony is probably about to start; loud music is a classic audience silencer.  I try to hand my mother the red ping pong paddle to hold onto.  She accuses me of always asking her to hold things.  I hardly think it’s always.  Ultimately she refuses to accept the paddle so I turn to Tegan for what I hope to be better results.  But Tegan doesn’t want to hold it either, even after I remind her that it is hers and even after I threaten to lose it.  She points out to me that I didn’t have to bring it here in the first place.  It’s hard to argue with that logic.  I ask her to take it anyway, irrespective of my irrationality.  But in lieu of actually responding, she just turns her head back to the stage, leaving me holding the red ping pong paddle up in the shape of an offer.

I sigh with defeat as I realize she will not be accepting my oral contract.  All out of options, I decide to place the paddle under my chair.  Hopefully I will remember to retrieve it later.  But it’s not overly concerning to me right now.  The red velvet curtains open suddenly, revealing a stage with at least three rows of chairs and a large podium directly in the center.  I find myself wondering why this town’s yearly ceremony is of any interest to the former President.  It’s not at all something I can understand.  As unlikely as it sounds he may have a friend receiving an honor tonight.  That would explain his attendance to some degree.  But who knows for sure.  I decide not to let it bother me any further.

The lights on the stage get brighter as the ones above lose immensity.  The show will be starting soon.  I’m fairly discontent here, something incredibly hard to achieve when high on heroin.  In a big way I feel like I’m wasting the drug’s time, like it was meant for better, more exciting things.  But I can’t apologize; without it I would surely die of boredom and I can’t have that.  So I reluctantly accept this as a loss and determine not to grit my teeth over it.  This is my reality, here, alone in a sea of people, waiting miserably for the night to end.  But realistically I know that it’s just the beginning of a three hour sentence.