by Alex Olson
New Year’s like every new year, so fresh and dope that it’s exactly like every other. It’s 12:02am and you’re already saying, “Well, at least I tried.” The same people at the same party - smudged versions of their past avatars. You don’t really recognize them. Nobody is in accordance to their profile pictures, and you rarely see these people in real life.
Carmen, the hottest girl in your feed - in your entire social circle - is muffin-topping over tight black jeans. The waistband cuts into her pale, white flesh. You’re a cruel, bitter person, so your inner monologue starts saying: “Mozzarella hips! Mozzarella hips!” in a sing-song voice. She looks nothing like the laughing I’m-just-a-normal-girl-who-loves-her-best-friend banner on her page, making matching peace signs and kissy faces in a bikini, skin tanned and taut.
Ryan, the cutest guy in your feed is here, too, and you don’t know what happened to him. Rumor is he got into DJing and drugs, but probably in reverse. He used to be a trim, blonde-surfer haired Hollister model three years ago with casually ripped jeans and bulging arm muscles. Now he looks homeless with a thin beard stretching down to his stained t-shirt and those arms have become stringy and weak.
Your profile picture is you from two years ago, trying your hardest to avoid having folds in your neck as you look at the camera. You don’t possess a friend you can stand long enough to capture a best friends/best bros pic, and you can’t figure out if that’s a good thing.
Panorama, 360 spin, and you see Oliver. Oliver is the only person you know who possesses as big a chip on his shoulder as you do. Oliver’s chip might a chunk missing from his metaphorical shoulder, a big pitbull bite out of the meat. Can’t say that to him, though. The moment you get to the pitbull analogy, people will appear out of the blue to tell you that:
A: Pitbull’s are sweet dogs and you shouldn’t stereotype. Here’s picture of my dumb kid laying on a pitbull.
B: Pitbulls are actual demons who murder children at will, here are the stats from pitbullsmurder.com
Standing next to him is Lionel, who reposts Bernie Sanders once every 23 minutes, so you’re going to avoid him for the rest of Bernie’s life.
Arms folded and glaring at Lionel is Stephanie. She posts Donald Trump statements so you’re going to stay far away from that.
Everyone seems to be laughing. Laughing at the passing year, glad it’s over. Laughing because everyone else is laughing. Their gaping maws won’t close, they keep hee-hawing until your chest starts to tighten. It sounds like nervous laughter. Probably because, despite the resolutions and revelations and the realizations, your aging 20-something friends are feeling mortal and scared. We’ve got five decades left before we start dying! School is over or ending and now we’re realizing why Dad was a tired, ornery sonofabitch because working week after week for peanuts turns you vaguely homicidal.
To your left there’s a commotion, a slight raising of voices, laughter that’s faker than before. Someone says loudly, “Well, I could never have kids.”
You rub your eyes like you’re activating a zoom function, and look at the huddle of people. Polly is a young, single mother, and while you don’t really care about that, her tendency to push parenthood on everyone she comes in contact with is agitating.
Procreation is the name of a deadly virus. It wriggles into your bloodstream and alters your brain chemistry, making you devoted to a smaller version of yourself that (fingers crossed!) won’t be a failure like its parents.
Polly used to be a go-getter. She’d post pictures of big office buildings and #WorkClothes. She’d been dating one of the Ryan’s of the world, a high school celebrity trying desperately to get his new TV series “I’m Still Relevant” off the ground. He got her pregnant and disappeared. Polly said he joined the Marines. Your cynical little mind can’t help but wonder if he joined to have an excuse not to raise the kid. Deadbeat Dad, meet Noble Deadbeat Dad, you can’t say anything bad about him because he’s serving his country and we all worship anyone in camo.
Polly’s clutching the arm of Chrissa, a willow-thin, dark haired girl you only vaguely know. Chrissa shares new-age feminist stuff, real inspiring, but damn! There’s that cynicism again, and boy howdy, you’d bet money if someone had just asked her to prom and performed cunniligus on her, she wouldn’t be on her third tour in the great War Against Men.
You watch the two titans of mediocrity circle each other like gladiators, bristling to defend their life choices. You find it disappointing that this isn’t happening online. They don’t have their arsenals of articles, memes and quotes!
“10 Ways Being a Mom Made Me Stronger”
“I’m Not Having Kids, and That’s Okay”
“We’re Both Lonely, Sad and Worried about Our Futures - Someone Please Tell Us We Made the Right Call”
Three examples are probably enough.
Polly starts off by saying how life means so much more to her now, and Chrissa counters with a quip about being able to afford food. Polly takes that as an attack toward her reliance on food stamps. She replies, “Well, not all of us are fortunate in life.” Chrissa has no choice but to parry. “I’ve worked for everything I have.”
And that’s when you pull away; you don’t care about bootstraps or who pulled themselves up by them. They could hang themselves by those bootstraps, that’d be okay with you.
But then Polly is discussing names for her kid. You aim your ears back, because your master’s thesis is about how unaccomplished adults give their children more unique names.
That’s probably why you went to school with a girl named “Chrissa.”
“For a boy, I was thinking Draco, Alonzo, Perceval, Patrick-James-”
Woops, you zoned out there. That’s okay, though. Whatever the kid turns out to be, it will have an 11 to 17-letter first name, and anywhere from two to four middle names. If your name sounds like the name of a lawyer or doctor, logically you’ll become that thing, right?
Your thesis is now a case study.
You’re out of beer-wine, so you push through the clusters of people, reaching the dirty counter where a selection of cheap alcohol has been lined up and massacred. Every bottle is nearly empty, the blue-green punch looks like Kool-Aid vomit, and nobody bothered to put the beer in a cooler. Still, it’s not all bad because you just spotted a dog.
It’s lying by the washing machine that’s stuffed in a closet, branching off from the kitchen. It’s a big ol’ sad dog, some sort of Labrador. His head is on his paws, but his ears perk up slightly when you walk over.
You sit cross-legged next to Dog and start stroking his fur. Four people at the kitchen table are talking. You’re tired and sad, but that need to cut down and destroy people has not been quenched. It wrenches your focus from Dog and aims it at them - Paul, Bob, Roy and Jason. They’re dressed in office clothes; slacks, ties, dress shoes that gleam.
“Looking to move up, Jason?”
“Yeah, I have an interview next week. Polished my resume, should be good to go. You?”
“I’m actually starting my own company with Roy.”
“No shit. What kind?”
“Multimedia. Movies, music, video games. We’re starting with a website. Bob is handling the layout designs, I’m marketing and outreach, and Roy is our content mill.”
It goes on and on, they’re like alcoholics playing Keno in a liquor store, plotting what they would do with their imaginary winnings. Someone cackles, and you look down at the dog, but that sound came from you.
The media moguls stare at you.
“Hey,” says Paul. “What about you?”
Yeah, what about you?
You, the backseat cynic. You’ve seen Fight Club 57 times and agree with every word of it, people do need to wake up and take control of their lives.
Still, though, you find yourself hoping that someone or something will swoop in and take that whole conundrum off your hands. Winning the metaphorical lottery, a job that is both fulfilling and provides health insurance. Or winning the literal lottery, so you can roll around in stacks of cash and stuff your face with Hostess cakes. Let those other people go forth and take chances, you’ll sit in the corner and make fun of them.
So, what about you?
Spitting acid at anything that comes too close or dares to be too bright, too shiny. Seeing people stand tall on their own legs and wanting to take an aluminum bat to their ankles.
The backseat cynic, saying to the world: “Hey, you mind not hitting the potholes?”
But when the world finally turns around and asks if you want to drive, you just fold your arms and glare out the window.
Alex is from Port Huron, Michigan. He writes about squid-gods, dying millenials, and moms who won't stay dead. His debut novel, Erosion, is available on Amazon. You can also find a metric ton of his writing on his website, squidthroatonline.com