A Tale of Crepuscular Summer – Peter Schutz
December 19, 2021
The clock struck noon, silently, in the top right corner of my laptop, and I went to the kitchen to eat a piece of buttered bread. I cut off a piece of bread and now half the loaf was gone. Buttered bread was all I had the stomach for but I had to take it easy on the buttered bread now that half the loaf was gone. I needed to save some bread for my lunches during the work-week, or otherwise I’d have to eat plain sardines without bread.
I have twenty-two dollars in my bank account, which is why I don’t just go out and buy more bread. Actually, even having twenty-two dollars is a real boon for me as, last time I had checked, on Friday, I had only had seven dollars; sometime over the course of that Friday, however, fifteen dollars were delivered to me from a recurring monthly deposit set up by my parents when I was in high-school—my “allowance.” My parents used to tell me my allowance was for investment, and not to spend, and so I hadn’t reason to complain. To think I used to complain about only having a fifteen-dollar-a-month allowance.
The addition of fifteen dollars to my bank account now meant I was able to go see two movies at the movie theater that is doing the Éric Rohmer retrospective, instead of zero. I imagined ringing my parents out of the blue and, during a relatively long and eminently amiable chat, casually referring to vague “investments” I was making with the allowance they were giving me. Them being pleased of this, with me. Their worries nonexistent or otherwise far from their minds. Them nodding over the phone, pleasantly, non-worriedly. I wondered if they knew they were still sending me a recurring monthly deposit. I wondered if you could shoplift bread; sardines were always so easy to shoplift in their little tins that slid in your pockets.
Éric Rohmer is my favorite director, probably of all time. In actuality, there are four movies in total that constitute the Éric Rohmer retrospective. Les contes des quatre saisons. I called my brother, who works in the capacity of some phylum or other of high-powered executive, and made small talk and was nervous to ask him for, I had decided, fifty dollars—so that I could see all four movies constituent of the Éric Rohmer retrospective, and not just two of them, and still have thirty dollars left over, if my math is correct.
My brother seemed confused as to why I was calling, and then annoyed and expectingly-disappointed that I was, in the end, asking for money: although I have never before asked my brother for money, he acted like he knew, all along—had always been expecting—that I was always going to, one day.
Then he said, what can you do with only fifty dollars? He said, are you really so broke that fifty dollars would make that much of a difference? He asked how I was going to pay rent, and said that I had bigger problems than just fifty dollars. He asked what had happened to my savings. He asked if I had spent all my money on drinking, and drugs.
My family always suspects that I do drugs. But I don’t do drugs, first of all, because I don’t have any friends—first of all to do said drugs with, but also to help me know where said drugs would be acquired. Where would I even buy the drugs? I tried to explain this to my parents, in high-school, when they were crying, and upset with me, and suspecting that I was doing drugs. I told them, where would I buy drugs, I don’t know anybody. Airtight, rigorous reasoning. They assumed I was lying. They didn’t respond. They never brought it up again but the specter of my, as they imagined it, “drug-habit,” ever loomed and roiled.
In actuality, I just had a dumb and serious resting expression that tended to strike an observer as hollowed- and strung-out. In actuality, when I would “disappear” from the house for the span of some hours, worrying my parents so, I wasn’t doing drugs—I was just going for walks around our subdivision, or going to the Walgreens not-far-from-our-subdivision to shoplift candy and to buy Starbucks and Barnes & Noble gift-cards with one of my parents’ credit-cards. Because I only had access to a credit-card, of my parents’, every so often, and sometimes it was only subterfugically and time-sensitively; but if I had gift-cards, that was like cash in hand.
“Why are you spending so much money at Walgreens?” My mother was evidently in the habit of surveying her bank-statements with a fine-toothed comb. “What are you buying there? Are you buying cough-syrup?”—she must have read an article about OTC drug-abuse by high-schoolers, either in the Wall Street Journal, by chance, or perforce, in the process of googling popular drug-abuses-amongst-modern-high-schoolers while very consciously and concertedly worrying about me and making a very concerted and worried expression to herself—“Are you buying Robotussin? Do you like to Robo-trip? Are you buying NyQuil? Do you make trailer-park speed-balls? Are you buying Advil? Are you going to kill yourself?”
In actuality, when they couldn’t find me after swim-practice—when I, again, was “disappeared”—when they were supposed to pick me up, drive me home from swim-practice—my using of the car was out of the question, clearly, what with my predilection towards inebriation—I was probably just masturbating, in a public restroom, or maybe out walking with some people from the swim-team near the local college where the practice-pool we used was, like to Noodles & Co., a fast-casual restaurant we all liked to frequent. And there was one time, when I had gotten really into a video-game that could be installed onto graphing-calculators, and I was playing it with another kid from swim-team, in the locker-room, not looking at the clock very attentively, and my father, meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, was driving around the local college where the practice-pool we used was, in loops, calling everyone he knew I knew, random people, whom I didn’t, in actuality, know all that well, and who were confused as to why he would call them and ask about me and whom, also, I was embarrassed that he would call and ask about me. He would call their parents, ask for their kid’s number, and then call the kid to deposition them. I didn’t have a cell-phone. The kids would tell me at school the next day, your dad called me. I would look ashamed and look down and would look red. I don’t remember what I would say to them. The whole time, though, I was just in the pool’s locker-room on my calculator—I wasn’t doing drugs. When we finally found each other, my father was on the phone with my mother and she asked him over speaker to check my eyes to see if they were red, which he did. They weren’t. It was because I wasn’t on drugs. Even after swim-practice in the chlorinated pool—they weren’t. And even if they were—I still wasn’t.
My dad started buying OTC drug-tests from Walgreens and gave them to me to pee in while he stood outside the door, which was ajar, to the toilet-enclave of one of our bathrooms. I always passed them—which my mom chalked up to my conniving, somehow, and my dad was always in accord, standing behind her there, and nodding, solemnly.
Around that time, there was just this force which had drawn me away from life; a force of movement, of physic work being done: of a block of stone, perhaps, that which defines the heft and the hewn edges of me, being suddenly shoved—perhaps tripped into and found to be much lighter than appearances would have it, much less sturdily rooted. And, now displaced, the huge stone—like the occluded entrance of a tomb—casts new aspersions of dust and mold and mildew into the atmosphere—my atmosphere—that were heretofore guarded, left settled underneath it, the stone. I was—quite literally—thrown off balance. Or, the massive stone was transposed, upwards, and at a slight angle, so as to cast a new pall and over a new purlieu—ghostlily elevated, floating there. Perhaps it was some recondite mathematical formula which, unbeknownst to anyone yet, and yet in perfect keeping with the rules of general relativity, had had its anagogic solution reworked and retabulated; and, perhaps by way of balancing out the entropy which had been thus displaced—“entropy” as such, just all of it—it turned out to be my own mind in particular which needed to be retooled, changed somehow, in order to make way for the new, recondite formula, and rescue the constancy of the universe.
Yes, something had moved.
My parents were worried about me.
When I left to college I actually did start using drugs. I hated it. Everyone I hung out with was a burnout. All of our parents were eminently successful but we were all burnouts. I got to thinking everyone was a burnout, but it was just because I only hung out with burnouts.
We would all smoke weed all hours of the day, in college. And we’d drink a lot, and some of them took Xanax, and pain-killers. I knew a bunch of people who did coke too, but they never invited me to do it with them. They looked like they had a lot of fun, on videos I saw of them on Snapchat, and they also had sex with a lot of girls whom I had crushes on. I would watch the videos of them all hanging out, doing coke, presumably, and I kept wondering how they had all met each other—if it was different from how I had cursorily met some of them, added them on Snapchat—and what they would all talk about. I used to like imagining meeting those girls myself, like in an Éric Rohmer movie, on a train or the beach, or at an errant café. The downers-crowd was more congenial to inclusivity, because they didn’t have the cogitative processing-power to discern, exclude. You didn’t have to be too sharp to hang out with them and to be invited to do drugs with them.
I took Xanax a couple of times and liked it well enough. What’s not to like? But I hated how, one time when I took it, I wouldn’t sleep, and I just kept looking around the room, and everyone looked like such a loser, and very sebaceous, and my fingers felt sebaceous, and I hated all of them, but I was too afraid to be alone. I started to hate weed, too, because it was too scary. I don’t do drugs because they’re too scary. I imagined trying to explain this to my parents or my brother: “I used to do a lot of drugs, so I can say this with experiential confidence—I genuinely don’t like them. They’re too scary and they last too long, and make being alone feel scary and abject, and they make you be a loser. I don’t like drugs because they’re too scary.” I would say, “I don’t like drugs because my fear of interacting with people and my general unease with myself and with being in the world, is less than my fear of being a loser. To your credit, Mom and Dad, you likely instilled this fear in me. I am genuinely thankful, to you, for that. Thank you.” Peroration: “So, having established that I do not do drugs, currently, and have no plans to do drugs, in the future—may you please Venmo me fifty dollars?” (In this hypothetical, I would still be asking for the fifty dollars.) Then, surprised and disarmed by my honesty, and believing me unequivocally, they would actually Venmo me a whole hundred dollars—out of surprise, and disarmament, and out of respect for my peroration—and I would go see a bunch of Éric Rohmer movies and also go to a bodega and buy a seltzer.
I was still on the phone with my brother. I just pretended he hadn’t asked where all my savings went. Not because I had spent it all on drugs—I forget what I spent it on. Probably restaurants. I think I had bought a lot of books, and stupid shit on the internet. I didn’t tell him, like I had told my parents in high-school, that I couldn’t possibly be on drugs because I don’t know anybody, and thus don’t know any drug-dealers. I have since come to realize that people do not respond well to this brand of honesty. I have since come to realize that it’s pathetic to bare your insecurities and faults to the world so unashamèdly. In other words, this is not a good enough reason to not do drugs. The real reason, I’ve since come to realize, that I don’t do drugs, is because I don’t want to become, to be, a loser, and I would like to—have plans one day to—“know anybody.”
Bidding for time, I then told my brother I wanted the money to see the Éric Rohmer retrospective. I wasn’t planning on telling him about the Éric Rohmer retrospective—I thought he would just give it to me—but he had forced my hand.
He said he’d give me the fifty dollars. I said thank you. I told him, still bidding for time, bidding for naturalism, that I would be paid later this week. I told him I’d pay it back, of course—which embarrassed me: I figured he would have just given me the fifty dollars, without all this to-do, and that I would end up just paying him back later in the week after I got my check from work, equally without to-do, and without having to verbally acknowledge, and thus demean, geld, etiolate—the implicit fact of our transaction (which would have, ideally, implied his loyalty to me) and, in turn, the implicit fact of my already-on-top-of-things-ness and his implicit confidence therein and also just in me in general. I was hoping he would have just given me the fifty dollars, brotherlily, thinking it lost, and that I could just, graciously, Venmo him back later in the week—perhaps Venmo him back, even, a whole seventy-five or one-hundred dollars, a show of my already-on-top-of-things-ness, my return-on-his-investment, and of my graciousness—all of this in a catatonic state of grace, like both of us sat in a bubble of smoke.
He told me, but I’m not worried about the fifty dollars. He told me, what I’m worried about is that after you spend this fifty dollars, you’ll be broke again. He asked me, right? He told me he was worried about my financial and lifestyle habits. And I told him, don’t worry. I told him that I was fine, and that a weird confluence of financial events happened to have made me need fifty dollars, this week in particular. I told him I was doing exceedingly well. I was bidding for an air of naturalism, like brothers talking in a movie. I apologized, for some reason. We hung up. My phone felt sebaceous and gross in my hands because my hands had butter on them from my buttered bread I ate.
He had given me a hard time because he’s my brother. But he always was going to come through for me—for the same reason. It was still important, though, that he gave me a hard time, that the call wasn’t an “easy” one, because he was right, and I did need to reevaluate some things, to make some changes. I just didn’t know what things, and what changes. Everything—every moment, I mean, just seemed to follow so naturally, one action drifting into the next, almost despondently, a trundling procession of unitarian possibilities, perfunctory kisses—like the type a father from an emotionally-reserved culture would give his son—leaden, laden almost vertiginously with meaning. I didn’t know what changes I needed to make, or how I needed to make them—like I was looking at a person, whom I often saw but would never know, through the aquarium-glass distance of a Snapchat video.
I was going to go to the movie theater later. When the clock in the top right corner of my laptop struck seven, I would eat dinner.