Continuous Drifting – Ben Faulkner
September 23, 2023
I was a staff writer for a website that no longer exists. By the end I just put together affiliate links we called articles. 10 Things You’ll Actually Use This Summer. The New Kitchen Essentials. Sneakers You’ll Actually Wear.
It was bad, but wasn’t all terrible. An article I wrote about an affair Albert Camus had with a French barmaid and the funny, tragic letters they exchanged went viral in 2009. For a while they let me write stuff like Five Things You Didn’t Know About Franz Kafka.
I hoped something, once, at least once, but hopefully more than once, connected with someone isolated somewhere, a teenager in Iowa or an autodidact in Arkansas. It probably hadn’t. I never became a real writer.
I was paid almost nothing. Having been an early hire, I was promised this and that in the event we went public or sold. They were in negotiations with Verizon but the founder guy didn’t think it was enough finally. Talking to staff afterward he said Verizon is a grotesquely immoral company.
My wife’s family was rich. She hoped I would become rich, make her richer. My wife was famous, people told me. I genuinely didn’t know why or what for. Her social media? It was mainly just of her with a smoothie or walking down a street or overlooking a cliff or coast. I’ve never had an Instagram. It seemed like a foreign country.
Publicly I aligned, or tried to align, with a conventional New York media view of major issues and events. I maintained a semi-popular blue check Twitter account (7k followers) where I tried to be funny, but not too funny. I wanted people to like me, but not notice me…
I was well liked in the city, at parties, at bars. Mostly because of my wife. People whispered from the other side of the room. They would gather and glance and look away when I caught them. They sounded like huddled witches, or nests of bugs rubbing legs together.
In the office, on, I think a Tuesday, I watched a video of a riot in some American city. A group of people were kicking someone who had fallen in the street. Behind the crowd, on the sidewalk, there was someone blurry, just watching. I wrote something stupid about the prior night’s “unrest” and left for the day.
I walked instead of taking the subway. The sky behind the buildings was yellow, like broth. It cracked intermittently with discrete lightning. The wind picked up and the air smelled of electricity. As people ran toward shelter I stopped to watch the sky. Bits of trash, receipts and plastic bags, tumbled over my shoes.
On my wife’s 34th birthday we had a bad fight that almost became physical. At the 3 AM crescendo I drunkenly admitted I married her for money, and some vague concept of “status” I declared rather pompously I no longer believed in. Our absurd union contained some fatal disease. I could work to extend its life or help the malady along…
I complained to my boss about an article on Syria a colleague wrote that was factually wrong. The State Department slant we put on everything was starting to irk. He asked if I felt strongly about it. When I said I did, he asked me to resign. He viewed me negatively, maybe always had, I realized then. The good thing I was waiting for was never going to happen to me there.
That evening I got sushi with a friend and said that there’s a lot of fear and illness in New York and I’m part of a larger problem, something I can’t explain but that ends badly for everyone here. He said he thought I made a mistake by leaving my job. He seemed disgusted. As we left the restaurant we were very quiet and I realized I would never see him again.
My semi-estranged dad died in California leaving me a large amount of money. I didn’t need my wife anymore. I quit freelancing, or aspiring to freelance; I had only written two or three paid things since leaving my job several months prior. My wife finally left and it was quiet in the apartment in a way I wasn’t used to.
I stopped turning on lights or parting the curtains. I browsed the Internet all day in a semi-compulsive manner, loading a dozen or so sites over and over. I deleted my social media accounts. I researched the middle of America. Pierre had an interesting name. I liked the way it looked on the map, a star in the center of the continent.
A year later I told my ex-wife – then we were merely separated – I would be moving to the capital of South Dakota. She asked why and I explained that lots of people are moving to the interior, or will be soon. I mentioned that Pierre is unusual because it’s the only state capital in the United States with no connected highway.
She called me recently, a month or two ago. It was the day before my birthday. Do I still like South Dakota? I said I did, and told her I quit the little job I was working here, and was going to spend the extra time fixing up my house. How do you like your house? she asked. I like it a lot, I said. It’s teaching me how to take care of something. She wished me well…
I walk into the basement to look at the wall I’ve been meaning to fix. The plaster is desiccated, dried. Some crumbled when I messed with it a few days ago. I scratch more away today. The afternoon sun comes in the window. Bits of wall crumble away. The dust whitens the floor.
When I first moved to Pierre I lived out of a Hilton. I left to get food at 1 AM one night and got lost. My headlights flared on a sign announcing a bank auction. It was for a big, plain house. A bright American flag whipped below a gaping moon. It made a dull percussive sound. One of the upstairs rooms had a light on. A decal of an American flag glowed in a window like a ghost in an eerie picture.
I stop scratching at the wall and walk upstairs and open the bedroom closet. The decal is on the floor. I pick it up and turn, seeing part of me and half of the reversed flag in the mirror on the opposite wall. I just stand like that a while and something about the scene frightens me. Wind blows in from an open window.
Four months ago (maybe longer now) I quit my job at a warehouse, doing package fulfillment for a vitamin company, a job I applied for because I had never had a “real job” before and wanted to see what it’s like. You’re overqualified, the interviewer said. I wasn’t but I knew what he meant. Media isn’t what you think, I said, trailing off at the end. I just need some work.
The job was OK. I didn’t do very well at it, which bothered me. I accomplished things more slowly than most of my coworkers and my boss often looked annoyed with me. I felt I would be fired but never was. I stayed five months. I quit when I decided to spend more time working on my house.
I think I’m going to try to put in new faucets – or tasteful old faucets I should look for on Ebay – and remove the flagpole in the yard, and probably repair the crumbling spot on the wall in the basement. I don’t know how to do that stuff but maybe I’ll learn.
I like how empty the house is. I gave everything away in New York and brought two trash bags of clothes, my computer, a small TV, and fifty or so books, including some that marked me as a weirdo or loner, concerning topics I became interested in after my wife left.
I stay up late watching TV then lie down in my bedroom. I dream a sinkhole appears in a parking lot. The hole is a perfect circle like something punched into the earth by a machine. I climb into the hole and am in some kind of tunnel. The tunnel has glass walls, like an underground aquarium. The walls glint. I hear people behind me. I walk toward the light. I walk toward the light. I walk toward the light.
At dawn I go outside. The sky is pink. I make coffee and look at the internet. It is September now. Yesterday I felt sure it was still June. I don’t know what year it is. It feels like a bunch of different years crushed together. The days are fast or slow, sometimes weather and light seem like rumors from a distant planet, or something. I don’t know what I mean by that…
To answer my wife’s question, I think I like living in Pierre. I like that there isn’t much for me to waste money on. There’s a grocery store nearby. A place called Lake Oahe is nice and very close. I went there a few times but have since lost interest. Everywhere is the same ultimately. That’s not quite true. There is the exterior and the interior. All of the exterior is the same. All of the interior is the same. Does that make sense?
I go upstairs with my coffee and walk into the second bedroom. The room contains a TV and a plastic patio chair. I watch some TV, local news. Car accidents … a public suicide … a baby was found in a dumpster. Under the dresser I see my diary. It has a fourth of July theme on the cover, with flags and fireworks. I found it in the house in a pile of debris when I moved in.
It’s Sunday. I’m going to quit my job. I’ve only had it for a couple months. it’s making me worse. I just work now to make me feel less bad about spending money, I remind myself I open to a different page I think I also wondered if I could feel connected to things again, or like part of a community. I cannot, at least here, but probably everywhere. There’s nothing here.
That was what, six months ago, two years ago? Today is Monday, right? If so, over the weekend I cleaned the walls of my house and mopped the floor. I watched EDtv. It was bad. I have been watching bad Hollywood movies from the early 2000s. I watched another movie too. I forget what it’s called. The movies help me fall asleep.
I drink some water and straighten up the house. I pick up a book that’s on the floor. The Situationist Anthology. I bought it in a thrift store in Illinois on my way to Pierre. I open to a random page, The main activity of the inhabitants will be CONTINUOUS DRIFTING. The changing of landscapes from one hour to the next will result in total disorientation.
When I was 12 I visited my cousins in Minnesota. I walked to the mall and played a video game in the tiny arcade, a closet-like room with black walls on which various video game characters had been crudely painted in neon glow-in-the-dark paint. The whole place glowed lightly, murkily purple. It reminded me of having been in a carnival haunted house as a kid, but the idea was blurry, incomplete.
In a game I drove a Corvette down a lonely desert road lined with perfectly spaced palm trees. There was no sound. I looked at my reflection in the glass, a black silhouette. I drove the car toward a city on the horizon. I got to the finish line in Seattle and was headed to Cairo. Wind came from the right, the trees bent. My Corvette spun out. Pyramids and a sphinx loomed over the horizon. Sand got kicked up and the screen blinked. I walked back to my cousin’s house.
I sometimes laugh thinking about this teenager I used to work with at the vitamin warehouse. He would sing these distorted R&B songs. Oh no I made the booty cry-eye, cry cry, cry-eye. Oh no I made the booty cry-eye, cry cry, cry-eye, he said. Then he took out his cell phone and recorded himself singing. Please don’t take my picture I had to tell him one time. I imagined people from my earlier life seeing me here, like this. But how could they?
I carry my journal into my bedroom and take out a pen. A blade of light hovers over my hand. I write a quick entry. There’s something wrong with one of the walls in the basement. It has to be torn down and rebuilt. I’m going to try to do it all myself but will probably fail.
I go into the basement. I have a screwdriver. The wall crumbles when I jab it. There’s darkness on the other side. The air there smells dank, like forest and moss. I push with my palms and a big chunk falls forward, raising a cloud of dust. I take a shower and stay in bed until tomorrow. After coffee, I go downstairs and push away more of the wall. There is a room behind the wall.
It’s like an unfinished bomb shelter or something. I come back with a flashlight and climb over plaster. There’s a tiny hole in the ceiling. I stand under the hole and look up. A pillar of light hangs under the hole. I stand on cinderblocks and put my eye to the hole. The sun makes me blink. I stand back. I look again and the sun is behind a cloud.
The sky is so blue. I watch it a while. The color of the sky makes me think of September 11, 2001. The way there was such an emphasis in the media on the sky that morning, how crisp and blue it was. I was in high school then. A lot of current-day adults hadn’t even been born yet. I stay in the room until night when the little hole goes dark.
I may start living in this empty room. It is wonderfully remote. It would be like camping. The floor in it is partially soil and partially concrete, like the house was built over an old subterranean civilization. The empty room seems to get bigger and bigger the longer I hang out here.
I find a little stem, with a bead-like tomato growing in the dirt. Can life persist in a dungeon-like environment? Apparently yes. I no longer feel I live in America. I carve little messages on the floor in the dirt but my flashlight goes dim and I stop being able to see them. I think I hear someone talking in the house. It gets so dark here.
If my money ran out, I would work at something like an Ace Hardware, I decide. I think of my favorite movies, then the albums I listened to when I was 15, then the three best days of my life and the three worst. I move to go back into the house proper, but something makes me want to remain in the dark room a little longer, plus I no longer know how to get out?
In the woods behind one of the hotels I stayed in during my road trip, there was this big semi-toppled shack. I dared myself to explore it, seeing it every day, sitting so strangely at the edge of the woods. Why hadn’t the landscapers taken it away?
It was quiet inside. I sat on the ground. Wedged between boards, a Ziploc bag contained a very detailed and technically brilliant illustration of Frankenstein molesting a child. I think it was a joke but I’m not sure. I heard a voice from somewhere and left nervously.
Between New York and Pierre I zigzagged across America for a month, maybe two. I drove days and days and it was hard and I cried a lot and threw up on my steering wheel but also saw a lot of beautiful things like Niagara Falls, and the view from a teal railing at a Holiday Inn near Reading, Pennsylvania. The sun loomed over a lumpy surface of dewy trees like a king of some kind, and then this white glaze settled over everything.
After a few months of living at the Hilton I moved into the house in Pierre. It had a flag in the front yard and a decal in the window. But I think I told you that already…
Houses in Pierre are still losing value. Many people still leave the center for the nation’s raw fringe it turns out. I figure everything is cyclical and if people are to continue on this continent they too will return to the center, the deep interior. They have to. The exterior is too–– Too something. It doesn’t really matter what they do or where they go. I won’t have to work again. I’ve had so much money since my father died.
I put my head in the dirt and fall asleep. While I was out I think a family moved in. I hear them talking, moving things around. Or maybe that’s someone looking for me, no, not that. No one looks for me anymore. Maybe it’s all a dumb dream I’m having. I should go back inside to talk to them but instead resolve to sit here a little while longer…
In this way, things go on and on.