Five more minutes. Cosmo stared at the clock. It seemed to be frozen, defying the laws of mechanics that normally governed it. He had counted sixty seconds and yet the minute hand lingered at the same spot as if trying to provoke his wrath.
“Move bitch,” he muttered beneath his breath.
He wondered if the management were sadistic enough to have something put into the time clock so that it slowed down the last few minutes of his shift. He decided that they probably were. However, that would mean that the next shift would start late, and they were too cheap for that.
The other workers slowly filed out to stand next to him, grabbing and clutching their time cards. Cosmo was usually the first at the time clock, because he did not spend so much energy washing up or changing into street clothes after work.
“Why should I wash here when I’m gonna take a shower at home? Besides, I ain’t ashamed to be seen in my work clothes.” And he kidded about a fellow worker, “Joey probably told his old lady he works in an office. That’s why he’s gotta get dressed up like a jerk before he goes home.”
A split second after four, Cosmo’s card was punched and he was on his way. He walked briskly to his car without so much as a glance back at his fellow workers, and let out a sigh of relief as his car sputtered to life. He had a feeling that someday soon it would not. He urged it into motion, but instead of heading directly out of the parking lot, he faced it in the direction of the factory. He wanted to take advantage of the day’s rainfall. He waited until Joey appeared walking absentmindedly to his car. Timing was important. One, two, three… Cosmo let go of the clutch and floored the gas pedal, heading for a big puddle next to Joey. Whoosh!
“You motherfuckin’ son-of-a-bitch!” the bespattered colleague screamed.
However, it is doubtful that Cosmo heard him as his car screeched around the corner, honking his horn to call the other workers’ attention to his successful prank. They howled with delight at this unexpected entertainment. Cosmo laughed and waved, forced another couple of workers to jump between cars for protection, and then zoomed out into the road.
He turned up the radio load, still chuckling to himself. The besmirching of Joey was a propitious omen for the evening. “I bet that redhead shows up at the bar tonight,” he mused.
He noticed a young executive type driving a new Audi in the lane alongside of him: short, neatly combed hair and a tie and jacket. Cosmo stepped on the gas, and then swerved in front of the Audi forcing the driver to slam on his brakes. Cosmo turned around and gave the finger as the other honked. When he turned off into the supermarket parking lot shortly afterwards, he was disappointed the executive did not follow him. He was ready to bawl him out for tailgating, and – given the slightest provocation – to punch that big shot in the face a few times. “He knows himself that he’s a punk,” Cosmo rationalized the missed opportunity.
He checked his wallet as he walked into the store: twenty bucks. That should get him through the night. He grabbed a shopping cart and pushed it down the aisles trying to think of what he should buy. What he needed was another question: everything. But he had gotten in the habit of only buying that which he required in the following twenty-four hours for the simple reason that he ate a lot more if it was there when he got home from the bars in a state of drunken stupor. He snatched a loaf of bread, a half dozen eggs, frozen pork chops, a quart of orange juice and some frozen spinach. To this he added a bottle of cola to mix with the rum he would buy next door at the liquor store.
He swung into the express check-out lane and read the headlines on the scandal sheets: twelve year old tortured by stepmother, two-headed dog predicts earthquake, religious sect leader arrested with prostitute. Cosmo took one down and began reading, reflecting that some people really were crazy.
“Hey, you’re holding up the line!” a well-upholstered 250 pound matron behind him whined. Cosmo had not noticed that it was his turn.
He turned and looked at the woman annoyed. “Why don’t you hold up on your eating, lady? I’m doing you a favor making you wait a little longer till you start eating all that nasty stuff you got in your cart. Look at this!” he cried with sardonic glee as he grabbed at the packages in her cart. “Potato chips, soda, canned vegetables! Why don’t you go back and get some fresh fruit and vegetables and start eating like a human being!”
“How dare you talk to me like that!”
“It’s about time somebody did! You look at yourself in the mirror lately? You oughtta be ashamed!”
She weighed her chances of ramming him with the cart. Cosmo noticed this and broke out into a grin, daring her to try. Frustrated, she turned her cart and thumped away.
“And next time,” he called after her, “Wait until you’re introduced before you address me!”
Then he turned to the checkout girl who was trying to control her laughter. “What’s happening Cheryl,” he greeted reading her name tag. “You sure look pretty when you laugh like that. How about coming over to my place when you finish work and helping me eat this dinner?”
The sixteen year old high school girl blushed and then mumbled, “I have a boyfriend.”
“Ah, c’mon. I bet his mama’s gonna cook for him.”
“My father picks me up from work,” she excused herself, feeling childish.
“Suit yourself. Sure wouldda been a fine time,” he sighed. “Maybe catcha another time. And watch out for that fat old bitch when she comes through here. She’ll probably try to sneak some candy bars out in them rolls of fat of hers.”
Cosmo picked up some rum and a six pack at the liquor store (“Put it on my tab.”). He popped open a beer in the car, and guzzled down half. That felt good.
He pulled the car up in front of his house, adroitly skirting an empty bottle lying in the street. He lived in a run-down area of three and four family homes. Thirty years before it had been a fairly well-kept Italian neighborhood, but although there were still a few Italian clubs, stores and cafes, there was a gradual trend into another romance language. The bar at the corner advertised its go-go girls only in Spanish. When an Italian store owner retired. the establishment inevitably became a bodega.
The streets, sidewalks and yards were strewn with garbage, but Cosmo did not notice it. As far as he was concerned, it was as natural as vegetation. In fact, it was the vegetation. It mysteriously seemed to reproduce itself organically, growing even faster than the weeds, which proliferated in the sidewalk cracks. And even if someone had suggested to him that the block needed cleaning up, he would have been opposed. A clean and neat looking place was an invitation to burglars. It made it appear that people had something of value.
Cosmo trudged up the steps and let himself in. Passing into the kitchen, he plumped the bag of groceries into the fridge without unpacking them. He opened another beer, and went into the living room, flopping down in front of the TV. He played absentmindedly with the channels till he came to the “Three Stooges” in Spanish. He knew only a few swear words in the language, but the action was so obvious that he could easily follow their antics. Cosmo chuckled as the Stooges pulled each other’s ears and noses, hit one another with fists and any other objects at hand, and made exaggerated gestures of pain and anger.
He sipped his beer and let his mind wander. This was his favorite time of the day, when he could relax and drink a cold beer with no one to hassle him, no morons to put up with, and the next day of work many hours away. He closed his eyes and savored the sensation of the cold liquid trickling down his throat to his stomach, and the feeling of well being that flowed back up to his head. He relished the soothing effect throughout his whole body.
He was beginning to feel drowsy, finished the beer and went to the bedroom. Turning on the radio, he lay down without undressing and was soon asleep.
An hour later when he awoke, he wondered why he could not hear the woman he lived with making dinner until he remembered that she had moved out two months before. “Fuck’er!” he thought. “She wasn’t a good cook anyway, and always nagging him about starting to get fat and being messy and never cleaning up, a real slob she had called him more than once. Well, so what?! He was not out to impress anyone. What did he care if the upholstery was ripped or there was a spot on the tablecloth? And a few beer cans lying around, shit, that’s modern art! She just wanted to show off to her goddamn friends, impress them with fancy furniture and ‘tasteful’ arrangements. What the fuck did he care about that!? It did not get him high. He did not put up with a lot of bullshit at work everyday just to come home and get hassled by some cheesy broad. He wanted to relax. If he needed someone to tell him to pick up his clothes, he couldda stayed with his mother.
He forced himself up and stumbled into the kitchen. Taking an old mayonnaise jar out of the sink, he perfunctorily washed it. His ex had always moaned about him not using a glass, but he was into recycling. There was enough garbage in the world as it was. Besides, the mayo jar held more liquid.
He filled it with rum and coke, half and half. Cosmo always drank at home before he went out to the bars. That way he was already drunk when he got there did not have to spend much money on their expensive drinks.
He took the dirty frying pan off the stove, put it into the sink and turned the hot water on full. If the water were hot enough, the grease would melt and float up and out of the pan. He cursed himself for not having bought canned vegetables; he could have just heated them up in the can without having to clean a pot. He took it off the stove, but dropped it immediately when a roach scampered out onto his hand. The previous night’s (or week’s) indefinable something splattered onto the side of the stove and the floor. Cosmo screamed obscenities as he shook the roach off his hand onto the floor and squashed it with his foot. “Mother fucker! That goddamn landlord better get some roach control over here if he wants the rent!”
He fumbled in the closet for a dustpan. “I bet that bitch ripped me off of that too when she moved out!” He finally settled for a spatula, which he located amongst the dirty dishes in the sink. He dumped the groceries onto the kitchen table, and then scooped the gook off the floor and stove and into the bag. He resolved to give the kitchen a thorough cleaning on the weekend. Maybe he would even meet a nice lady Friday night who would help him.
He pulled the frying pan out of the sink and replaced it with the pot. The burner was lit to dry the pan, which he then filled with oil and dropped in three pork chops. He covered them with onion and garlic powder and a dash of Tabasco. As they sizzled, he ripped open the frozen vegetables and put them in the pot on the stove. The table was cleaned by dumping the breakfast dishes in the sink. Then he turned the chops over, sat down and took a long drink.
“Ahhh….,” he sighed with pleasure. When he deemed the food ready, he placed the pan and pot on the table in front of him. He opened the bread and dipped it into the pork grease, adding a little extra Tabasco. He ate greedily, pausing only to wash down his fare with gulps of rum and coke.
The victuals promptly consumed, Cosmo sat back and let out a loud burp. He sat contentedly a couple of minutes, and then roused himself and marched to the bathroom. He took a hot shower, scrubbing himself quite more scrupulously than he had the pot and pan. He put on deodorant, trimmed a couple of hairs from his beard, and used extravagant care with the blow dryer to give his hair that “special” look which he was sure the ladies could not resist. He even had some clean clothes in a special drawer in his dresser, and decided on the rugged outdoor look this evening: dungarees and a flannel shirt. A touch of cologne and he was ready.
He refilled the mayonnaise jar with the rest of the rum and coke, and sat down in front of the TV to consume it. The inane sitcom was taken up mechanically by his optic nerves without being transmitted to an active part of his brain. Although he did not consider the show critically, neither did he chuckle along with the canned laughter.
Fairly tipsy, he stumbled out to his car and drove to the bar. The parking lot was already filling up, and he congratulated himself on having sipped his rum slowly enough not to arrive too early. He felt uneasy in the bar if he arrived prematurely and had to sit at the counter alone. Plus he drank more and spent more money.
Strolling confidently into the establishment, he was ready to take on the world. Doug, the bartender, waved a greeting as he entered. He knew that Cosmo did not spend too much money on drinks, but was always glad to see him because Cosmo was popular. As long as people like Cosmo frequented the bar, there would be no lack of customers.
Cosmo spotted a couple of familiar regulars by the pool table and walked over to join them. “Hey, don’t you people have a home? Hangin’ out in bars all the time; is that all you know how to do?!”
“Listen to him,” Sam mocked. “This is his living room.”
“If it is, I don’t remember inviting you over.”
“That’s because you’re a fuckin’ alcoholic and your memory’s shot.”
“Oh, my man Sam’s gettin’ down, but I suppose he gotta right to, being such a fancy dude. Look at them new duds the man got! I do believe Wall-Mart musta gone and had another sale, and he didn’t even tell me nothing about it.”
“You wouldda loved it: everything for the polyester lumberjack. You gonna put up a dollar for the next game, or you just come here to bullshit.”
“Of course I’m on. How else I gonna get you to pay for my drinks?”
“Hey Doug!” Sam called. “Give us a round over here.”
“All right! This man’s got class,” Cosmo complimented, surprised at the sudden generosity.
“Hey Sammy,” Al asked. “Whadya do? Hit the jackpot or something?”
“Let’s just say some peoples got a way with money. Besides, I ain’t cheap like some people I know.”
“New clothes and buying drinks,” Cosmo reflected to himself. “The man’s been up to something.”
His eyes wandered to the television and took in the picture without registering it. The sound of music from a tape prevented anyone from hearing the television unless they were standing directly in front of it. Only in the case of an important sports event was the sound turned up loud enough to compete with the music.”
“Hey Cosmo, you been doing drugs again?!”
“You want this beer or not, cause if you don’t hurry I just might drink it for you,” Al said.
“You would, you greedy son-of-a-bitch! You ain’t satisfied that you get a free drink; you gotta go around pinching other people’s.”
“If I was gonna steal your drink, I sure wouldn’t have told you nothing ’bout it.”
“Wait a second before you slobber that down. We should toast to our benefactor, the honorable Mr. Sam, who – in his ascent from rags to riches – did not neglect to remember those less fortunate than himself. Let us toast to his astute business acumen, which has made the present lubrication of our throats possible. May his future financial endeavors prosper…”
“…to buy your drinks!” someone interrupted.
“You guys got no class,” Cosmo complained.
“Ha! Listen to the professor! Ya know why they call him Cosmo? Cause he’s got a soccer ball for a head, full of hot air!”
“And anything reasonable bounces off it!”
“And it’s defunct!”
“I musta done something terrible in my last life to be condemned to wallow amongst such illiterates. Cosmo means cosmopolitan!”
“Yeah, he’s been to Manhattan a couple of times: to Harlem to cop dope.”
“Don’t forget Nam. Our man was defending our country shooting babies and dope.”
“Hey, I was a medic, and the only dope I shot was in people who needed it.”
“An angle of mercy, a regular Florence Nightingale. Can’t you see Cosmo in one of them white skirts the nurses wear!”
“Yeah, I bet the boys in the field musta loved that!”
“Like this!” Cosmo hooted coming up behind the speaker and jabbing the latter’s ass with the pool cue.
“Yeoow! You faggot bastard!”
“Ha, ha, ha! Now you went and soiled my cue. If I lose this game, it’ll be your fault!”
“If you lose?” Sam chuckled. “Cosmo, you ain’t got a prayer. I’m on a winning streak; watch me.”
And he proceeded to sink six balls in a row to end the game. “When you got it, you got it. Who’s next?”
“The man wasn’t lying,” Cosmo sighed to everyone and no one. “Where’d he learn to do that?” However, he neither expected nor waited for an answer. In fact, he could have cared less. He ambled off without putting down another dollar to secure a place in the line of challengers, sat down at the other end of the bar and ordered another beer.
“Here you go,” Doug said as he slid it to him. “No luck on the table tonight?”
“Nah, ain’t nobody gonna beat Sammy tonight. He musta been practicing or somethin’.”
He swiveled around on his stool and watched a couple playing fussball. “C’mon Janey, kick that punk’s ass!” he encouraged.
“Don’t give her no encouragement. How’m I gonna preserve my macho image if my old lady beats me?”
“Yeah, I can see you got problems with your image.”
“Hey Cosmo, lay off my Jimmy.”
“Uh ho, I should know better than to get mixed up in other people’s marital problems.”
“Yeah, being as you’re an expert at messin’ up your own.”
“Ah, now you’re getting personal, Janey. You know I always treat my women right. Now, if you’d just leave that sucker and come home with me, you’d see what I mean.”
“Yeah, Sally told me all about them good times with you: being a full-time maid without pay.”
“Shit! If she was a maid, then how come our place always looked so dirty?” And then he added, “You just can’t trust a womans; as soon as they’re out of your house, they start telling all your personal business.”
“Oh, I bet there’s a lot more she could have told me,” Janey retorted. “But then I’ve already heard the same from a few other women around here.”
“Goddamn, it’s a conspiracy. I’m gonna hafta start hangin’ out in another bar if this keeps up.”
“Yeah, it’s a conspiracy all right, Cosmo, a one man conspiracy: you versus all the women in the world.”
“Hey, I can’t help it if the ladies like me. Some people are just born good looking,” he boasted jokingly smoothing his hair.
“I call it being honest. C’mon Janey, I don’t mean to interfere with you and Jimmy here, but tell me I ain’t good looking.”
“Make him feel good, Janey,” Jimmy added. “Can’t you see the man has his doubts. He’s entering his mid-life crisis at thirty, before he’s even passed out of adolescence.”
Janey stopped playing and turned and stared at him. “You’re all right, Cosmo. But your stomach is starting to sag, and getting drunk every night ain’t doing a whole lot for your features either.”
“Whad’m I supposed to do if all the beautiful womans like you turn me down? It’s you womans that drive me to drink.”
“Typical Cosmo: always trying to put the blame on others.”
“Shit! What’d I get myself in for here?” he mumbled walking away. “I should get my head examined for trying to talk sensibly to such people.”
He gulped down his beer and quickly ordered another. The evening had not begun favorably. Maybe he had better finish his money with another few beers and go home. He sat close to the television and ignored the world around him.
Several beers and a show later, he looked around. The place was rather crowded although it was weekday night. He wondered if anybody had to work the next day. He stumbled up and navigated towards some long, blond hair. Considering his state of inebriety, it is amazing that he succeeded in arriving at his goal, but several years of heavy drinking had conditioned him to act automatically at such times. The woman was at first startled when Cosmo came up behind her and put his arm around her, but was also rather drunk thus diminishing her sensibility.
Cosmo made some inane remark, and the blond and her friends giggled. Events were rather blurry in his consciousness, but he could remember some more drinking and a lot of laughing. Somehow they made it to his car and then to his bed, although the last stage of the night’s entertainment was somewhat curtailed by his evening’s alcohol consumption. He fell asleep as she tried to urge him on to further displays of physical prowess.
Cosmo banged his hand on the alarm clock without opening his eyes. He could feel his head throbbing, and he knew he needed more sleep, but otherwise he was not certain of anything concerning his condition. A low moaning to the right reminded him that he was not alone. Slowly he opened his eyes and attempted to grapple with the fact that he had to get up and go to work. The thought of some hot coffee encouraged him to finally throw off his covers and sit up. He looked at the still sleeping woman next to him. “Oh my God!” he thought. The woman had to be at least two hundred pounds. He tried to recollect the previous evening’s events. A fat woman was nowhere in his memory, only blond hair and beer. “I’d better straighten up my act,” he reflected.
He got up quietly, not wanting her to wake. He had no desire to have to talk to her. He put on his work clothes, put some water on for coffee in the kitchen, and then went into the bathroom to put his head under the tap in the sink. After a thorough dousing, he raised his head and looked at himself in the mirror. “You look like shit,” he mumbled. Back in the kitchen, he rinsed out the frying pan again, then filled it with oil and threw in the remaining pork chop followed by eggs. He spooned the instant coffee into his cup, drank too quickly and burned his tongue. With Tabasco and bread, he attacked the grub and scarfed it down.
It was time to leave for work, and the last thing he wanted was to see his night’s companion when he returned home. He reluctantly went in to face her. He made a lot of noise, opened the window to let in the cold air, and pulled the covers off her. The sight of her flabby contours sent a shudder down his spine.
“Get up!” he commanded looking away. “C’mon, I gotta go to work.”
She instinctively reached for the sheets to cover herself, but he threw them across the room.
“Let me sleep a little longer,” she whined. “I’ll let myself out later.”
“If you don’t get dressed in thirty seconds, I’m gonna throw you out on the street naked.”
“You wouldn’t…,” she eyed him.
“Yeah? Try me.”
“But after last night! You said…”
“Will you just get dressed,” he interrupted. “I’m gonna be late for work, and the consequences for you ain’t gonna be too pleasant.”
“Whadaya mean?” she asked sitting up and searching for her clothes.
“Better not ask. Now move it!” he bellowed.
The poor woman had had enough disagreeable experiences with men to realize what was in store or her if she did not hurry. She took the clothes he threw her and quickly put them on.
“What about breakfast?”
“This ain’t no restaurant!” he shot back exasperated.
“But I can smell it,” she protested.
“Yeah, well you slept through it, and that’s your own fault. Let’s go!”
He led her out the front door and then double locked it.
“Will I see you tonight?” she asked timidly.
“No, I’m busy. So long,” and got into his car without unlocking the passenger seat door.
“Hey, I need a ride,” she pleaded.
“Ya shouldda got up earlier them. I’m late for work.”
He sped off, relieved that she was not astute enough to realize the full extent of what was happening till he was gone, and was so spared the annoyance of having to watch her cry. “Goddamn bitch!” he thought. “Fix her breakfast, give her a ride! What does she think I am?! Her fuckin’ mother?! She’s lucky I didn’t make her pay for sleeping in my place!”
He drove to work in a bad mood, considering that it was perhaps time to get fired again so he could collect unemployment. However, the thought of sitting around his apartment all day discouraged him. No, he’d wait until summer. At least then he would hang out with a few other people in the park.
He punched into work one minute late and swore. He knew they would dock his pay fifteen minutes for that. The foreman hassled him for moving too slow, commenting on his obvious hangover.
“We ain’t running no rehabilitation center here! If you can’t carry your load, you can sleep that off at home.”
“Yeah, I bet Cosmo’s itching to get home,” a fellow worker chimed in. “You shouldda seen the sweetie he was romancing last night: three hundred pounds minimum! She’s probably lying in bed all hot waiting for him now.”
“That Cosmo sure is a lover! Only he could sweep a three hundred pounder off her feet. Sure is cheaper than joining a health club and lifting weights.”
“Yeah, your mama was something,” Cosmo retorted half-heartily.
“Oh, my man Cosmo’s a slick operator. He gets all the fine womens. I just hope he stays on top of things, if ya know what I mean. This one just might disfigure his poor head if he gives her some!”
“Gimme a fuckin’ break, will ya?! And you, Joey, just don’t say nothin’ or I’ll wash you with your suit jacket in the parking lot today.”
Joey gave him a reproachful look, but knowing that Cosmo was crazy enough to do what he said, remained silent.
“Hey, Cosmo’s gettin’ mad cause we’re gettin’ down on his honey. The man must be in love!”
“I bet he was gettin’ down last night!”
Cosmo ignored them the best he could. His hangover was a help there, causing him to reflect on his drinking and how it had become so heavy. He was at least pleased with himself that he had resisted the temptation of downing a beer for breakfast to temporarily combat the headache and put him back into his mindless state of the previous evening, not that the urge had not been there. However, he knew the consequences. He had lost his last job because of alcohol, not long after he had been promoted to foreman.