Jimmy, who was “James” only on his tax documents, was looking forward to his thirty-fifth birthday. Like always, he had carefully managed his money over the year to provide for all the things he wanted and to have a bit extra to buy himself something special for his birthday. This year, it was a doozy. He had seen it coming all year and had taken extra care to stow away even more of his pizza delivery tips (which were more than usual), actively cutting back on his consumption of alcohol and pot.
What had Jimmy’s mind wandering so much when he was washing dishes between deliveries? It was the dawn of a new console generation, which was as exciting a time as he could think of. His father had managed to buy him a PS2 the day it came out, and he had stood in line overnight for the Wii and the PS3 (he had bought an Xbox 360 as well, but there wasn’t quite the same hype around that console – though it was his favorite at the time). By the time the PS4 and Xbox One (the “bone,” he called it) had come, the prospect of waiting in line was moot. He had pre-ordered his consoles, along with the launch titles, but it was no less exciting to pick up the box at store opening, go home, and enjoy the sight and smell of the unboxing.
Usually, he took the day off work so he could properly enjoy the experience. This time, he wouldn’t, because the launch was on his birthday and he knew his friends at work would want to come party with him. He couldn’t very well call in sick and then have his managers come over for beers, and of course, to enjoy the new PS5.
The PS5… The console wars were never a big deal for Jimmy. He never had to choose. He always bought both, but the question this year was which one he would get first. He supposed, as he was packing up his uniform and counting out his cash for his manager, that he could have done some extra saving to buy both right away, but that would have been too much. The point of life was to enjoy it. Too much asceticism would ruin the overall experience, no matter how cool the Xbox Series X (man, they love that letter even though the 90s were more than 20 years ago) was.
But the PS5 was the better choice. Sony always had better exclusives, timed exclusives, and, well, it just looked cooler, too. Microsoft had bought the mighty Bethesda, but there were definitely no cool games coming from that camp until 2021.
“You’re short a dollar,” Roberto said. “But don’t worry about it.”
“Thanks. You gonna come by tomorrow for my birthday? I’ll have a PS5. There’ll be girls there, too, I guess.”
Roberto laughed. “You bet. I can’t believe you put down the cash to buy it already.”
“And some games, too. It’s not all about streaming Netflix. I’ll pick it up before work, then have it all updated by the time I get home.”
Jimmy smiled. “Remember when you used to be able to just plug in a console and have it turn on and work? No patches, none of that?”
“No,” Roberto said. “I didn’t have any videogames growing up until my brother got an Xbox 360.”
“Oh yeah. Well, it was a thing. I remember me and my dad pulling out the PS2 and plugging it in, then realizing there was no pack-in game.”
“Consoles used to ship with a free game. My dad didn’t buy a separate game, not realizing. We had run out to the store and get one.”
“Oh yeah, I knew that. Alright, see you tomorrow.”
Jimmy got in his car, a dinged-up ford focus he had owned since he was an undergrad, slight anticipation already tingling the back of his neck. While he was driving home, he got a call from Rosa, his girlfriend.
“Hey babe, what’s up?”
“You’re off of work?”
“Yup, just headed home now.”
“So, it’s your birthday tomorrow.” Jimmy smiled at the way her voice went up.
“Sure is, the big three-five. Once you get past twenty-one, I guess birthdays only matter every five or ten years.”
“I’m wondering if you might want your present at midnight.”
Jimmy laughed. “I’d love it.”
“I’ll be over in a little bit, then. I have to finish up a few things here while we close. Split tips the cooks and all that.”
“You want anything to eat? Jose owes me a favor.”
“Not pizza,” Jimmy laughed.
“How ‘bout that chicken ranch sandwich?”
“Oh, man, I’d love that. Happy birthday to me!”
“That’s not your present, though. I got something special for you.”
“Alright, can’t wait.”
Jimmy hung up and smiled. He turned his stereo up, hearing one of his favorite Zep tunes come on his Spotify stream.
Jimmy opened up the door of his second-story apartment. It was dark inside except for the light from his refrigerator’s ice maker. He flipped on the lights and saw his familiar home. He breathed a satisfied sigh as his cat mewed at him. Her bowl was empty again. He gave her a few pets as he refilled it, then he opened up the fridge, grabbed a bottle of Moosehead, and plopped down on the worn leather couch.
Usually, he took a shower since he always came home reeking of the pizzeria, but he decided to skip that, knowing that Rosa would smell like her restaurant, and the two would cancel each other out. He picked up his bottle opener from where it eternally rested on his coffee table, opened up the beer, and took a grateful sip. It was so cold it was almost, but not quite, painful, killing any malty aftertaste that might threaten to ruin the experience.
Out of habit, he picked up his PlayStation controller and turned on his PS4 Pro, waiting for his TV to catch up.
“Hey, this might be the last night I play this,” he said aloud. He felt a slight sadness as he said this, running his hands over the handles of his well-greased favorite controller.
He thought for a few moments, then loaded up Skyrim to just do some relaxed exploring. There was no point logging into multiplayer games. With the PS5 launching on the next day, those games would soon be ghost towns, at least for the more serious players. Best to just enjoy a few hours doing whatever.
He was halfway through a cave that he had randomly come across, but apparently never cleared, when Rosa walked in the door, carrying a few take-out boxes in a large plastic bag. He went back out to the menus and followed her to the small square table that sat in what amounted to his dining room, which was the space between his small kitchen and his comfortable living room.
“Thanks for dinner,” he said, helping Rosa to set out the food. “Do you ever get tired of the restaurant food?”
“It’s a big menu, so it’s a little harder to get bored of it compared to pizza.”
Jimmy laughed. “Hey, we have an expansive menu. We have stuffed crust, thin-crust-”
“Yeah, of course. And wings. And then you have all the toppings. That’s like an infinite number of menu items.”
“No, it’s all pizza. Pizza with anchovies just tastes like fishy pizza. Pizza with hot peppers just tastes like hot pizza. Not like the difference between tacos and a chicken sandwich.”
“I guess you’re right. I’m a creature of comfort, though.”
“I noticed,” Rosa said, raising her eyebrows at him, a slightly perturbed look on her face.
Jimmy ignored it. “Have an okay night?”
“As good as we can. Pretty busy considering we just opened the main dining room again.”
“Yeah, I bet eating outside in the cold was getting old.”
“We have those lamp heaters. It’s pretty comfortable. Kind of has a cold beach ambiance.”
Jimmy shrugged and bit into his sandwich. He washed it down with a guzzle of beer.
“So, I’ve been thinking,” Rosa said.
“You’ve been working at that pizza place a long time, right?”
“It’s a good job. Especially this year.”
“Yeah, but you’ve had it forever. Haven’t you ever been offered the manager position?”
“Of course. Bunch of times. Every time it opens up the owners try to get me in as at least an AM.”
“Why don’t you take it?”
“It’s a pay cut. I make a ton on tips, especially now. A two-dollar an hour raise isn’t going to cut it.”
“Yeah, but you could learn the business.”
“I already know the business, babe.”
“But you aren’t running it.”
Jimmy laughed. “So? I don’t want to run the business. That’s more work for not much more money.”
“You could open your own place.”
“And work eighty hours a week and still probably lose my ass? No, thanks.”
Rosa grumbled softly. “I just want you to do well, is all. Don’t you want more than this?”
“You’re one to talk. You’re a waitress. Where’s your restaurant?”
“I’m a woman, Jimmy.”
“It’s different. I’m supposed to be…” Rosa shook her head in frustration. “Doing different things.”
“Like what? Popping out kids? You hate kids.”
“You were just complaining about babysitting your niece.”
“Fine, just forget I said anything.”
“Alright, I will.”
“It’s your birthday. I shouldn’t have nagged you. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. I do what I do by intention, Rosa. It’s no big deal. But I’ll ask you something. We have fun, right?”
“Of course, we have fun.”
Jimmy tilted his head. “I like a fun life. My friends – my college friends, specifically – they don’t have fun. They’re grinding their asses into the ground at jobs they hate, falling ass-backward into debt with mortgages and car payments, falling into bed without even seeing their kids. They’re miserable, chasing some bullshit American Dream our retarded boomer teachers sold us on, which we’ll never have. But us? We have fun.”
“You’re right. We do have fun. Sorry for the heavy mood again.”
“No big deal, babe. So what did you get me?”
Rosa glanced at the clock. “I guess it’s been your birthday for about five minutes.”
Jimmy smiled. “So, yeah? What is it?”
“You’ll have to bang me first if you want me to give it to you,” she said with a smile.
“No problem,” Jimmy said, raising his eyebrows. He left the remains of his sandwich on the table and followed Rosa into his single bedroom.
After their routine fornication, Rosa rose from the bed and retrieved something from the closet.
“I snuck in before work and stashed it,” she said. She returned, holding an electric guitar, which she handed to Jimmy on the bed. It was an old Fender Mustang in white, but it had numerous chips on the body, and the logo on the headstock was worn off in a few places.
“Whoa!” he said, running his hands over the instrument and flipping the switches. “This is a Japanese model. From the 90s?”
“That’s what the guy said. You like it? I got a good deal on it.”
“Babe, this is awesome.”
“I remember you telling me about how you used to play, and how much fun you had with your friends back in the day.”
“Good times.” He strummed the strings and winced at the tuning. “I’ll have to find an amp to play it.”
“He had one of those, too. A little one. I left it in the closet.”
“Cool. This is a really great present, thanks.” He started tuning the guitar to the A string, thinking that one might be the closest to concert pitch.
“I’m so glad you like it. But now you’ll have to play something for me.”
Jimmy laughed. “I can’t remember anything. But I’m sure I’ll figure something out.”
“Hey, you liked that live album.”
“Sure. I’m thirsty. You want a beer?”
“Yeah, that’d be nice.”
Jimmy smiled as he examined the guitar and continued trying to tune it. He didn’t even glance at Rosa walking naked to the kitchen.
Jimmy smiled as he ran his hands over the box, taking in the lettering and the image of the console on the front. This was a moment that came rarely, and he enjoyed savoring it, the way a cigar aficionado smells his Churchill before he lights it. He was reminded of at least a half dozen other box openings, stretching back to his childhood. Always, it was during a big event, like Christmas, but since Jimmy’s birthday was in November, he had gotten a few on launch day as a surprise.
As he opened the box, he was assaulted with a particular plastic smell. It was a scent that couldn’t be duplicated; it could only be found again and enjoyed briefly, because it faded like the smell of a new car. It reminded him most vividly of opening his Super Nintendo all those years ago, also on his birthday, and instantly forgetting the smell of cake. It was the smell of something new, exciting, uncharted.
The black and white console, looking like some alien ship, waited for his hands, and he gently pulled it free and felt its weight. It was bigger and heavier than anything he had owned thus far, save for his PC. He ran his hands over it as he pulled off a few pieces of protective plastic, noting where it was smooth and where it had a slight texture. It almost felt made to be held.
It occurred to Jimmy at that moment that he was alone with this experience for the first time. His apartment was empty except for himself and the cat. He thought Rosa might have been there otherwise, but she was roped into working a split shift and had left early. Quickly, he took out his phone and snapped a selfie of himself holding it, which he sent to Rosa with the accompanying message, I know you like em big, but damn!
He went to plug it in and hook it up to his television, and found that it didn’t fit. His shelves were not tall enough, nor was there room around his TV to fit the thing. Shrugging, he put the console on the carpet in front of the TV and was immediately filled with a certain nostalgia for Saturdays spent on the living room carpet, his Nintendo or Playstation sitting on the floor where he and his brother could easily swap out games.
Jimmy plugged it in, including his controllers, and booted it up. The TV flashed with a loading screen, then the ambient menu music kicked in. He sighed and sat down in his easy chair, then proceeded to go about setting up his profile and logging into his account.
After a few minutes, things were finally ready. There was a system update (of course), which he started downloading while he opened up one of his new games. It was Demon’s Souls, a game from the PS3 era that had spawned a whole genre of titles that were noteworthy for their difficulty – at least for games journalists.
That, too, had a patch, so he set the system to running and went to the fridge. It was early, but he still had a few hours before he needed to go to work. He opened up his fridge and pulled out a Moosehead, popped it open, and started making himself a small lunch.
When he was done with the sandwich, but only half done with his beer, he sat back down to play.
He couldn’t suppress a smile as he launched Demon’s Souls and started playing.
After a few minutes, though, he found himself frowning.
It was the game he remembered. It was better to be sure, but it was still the same game. It looked better, he supposed, but he couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from the experience. He didn’t feel like he was playing a sudden jump in technological power.
As he played (and died, due to focusing on his feelings), he recalled similar sentiments with the previous PlayStation. Sure, it looked better, but not that much better. It wasn’t like the first time he booted up a Super Nintendo game, or when his dad brought home the Playstation, and he and his brother were able to fight each other in full 3D. It wasn’t like loading up Final Fantasy X and seeing things with sudden detail he didn’t know existed. It wasn’t even like plugging in the Wii and seeing a strangely amazing little hand move wherever he pointed in the blurry menus.
He was playing Demon’s Souls. It was a good game.
“How much has changed, really?” he said to himself as he died yet again.
His mind answered him. Nothing.
Jimmy looked around his apartment: at the fridge he didn’t own, at the table he bought in college, at the shelves he built when he moved in almost ten years prior.
“Is that bad, though?” he said aloud.
He looked down to find his cat rubbing herself on his leg. She, too, had been with him for a long time. He picked her up and scratched her behind the ears. She drooled slightly, enjoying it, and he laughed.
“Yeah, it’s okay. Nothing to complain about.”
The small size of Jimmy’s apartment made the crowd look bigger than it was, spilling out onto the patio where Roberto and a few of Jimmy’s work friends shared a joint and told raunchy jokes. Inside, a mixture of music that would have seemed eclectic to anyone that wasn’t a teen in the late 90s blared. The apartment below Jimmy’s was vacant, and his next-door neighbor, a college student named Tanya, was over at the party. She was an attractive blonde and highly extraverted, so nobody seemed to mind when she drank beer but didn’t bring any or didn’t pitch in for the bowl she smoked.
The PS5 was seemingly only interesting as an over-large black and white sculpture on the brown carpet. There wasn’t much to show to his friends at a party, and they ended up playing Street Fighter II and some SNK fighters instead of taking any time to marvel at the new PS5 games. It didn’t matter to Jimmy much, though. He’d have plenty of time on his day off to dig into the new system.
Around ten, James, his best friend from college, showed up. They shared a first name, barely, but that was the apparent extent of their commonalities. James came in, wearing a full suit and tie. He was clean-shaven and had short, neat hair, and he brought a bottle of wine rather than beer.
“James, there you are!” Jimmy said. “Why are you dressed like that?”
“I had a late meeting with a client and didn’t have time to go home and change. Trial starts tomorrow, and the team had to go over a few things with them.”
“Whoa, you have a trial tomorrow, and you’re showing up to my party? I’m surprised. Perhaps I should say honored?”
“I’m not actually arguing it, so it’s no big deal,” James said with a smile. “Lawyers do more things besides go to court. I have tomorrow off, so it’s fine to let loose a bit. I’ve also noticed something about suits – you never really look overdressed. You just make everyone else look like a slob.”
“Thanks,” Jimmy said, looking down at his black t-shirt. “Well, I still appreciate you coming.”
“I wouldn’t miss it. I brought some wine. Figured you’d have beer to spare, so why not something different?”
“Cool, man.” Jimmy took the wine and looked at the label. He didn’t recognize anything about it, other than it was from California. “Why don’t we have a glass? I haven’t had wine in…”
“Probably since the last time you and I hung out.”
“So, awhile,” Jimmy laughed and spent a few seconds rummaging in his kitchen drawers until he found his corkscrew, then opened the wine. He poured two glasses into tumblers, as he didn’t have any real wine glasses. “It’s good,” he said, taking a sip.
“Got the new Playstation, eh?” James said, seeing the space-ship like box sitting out next to the TV. “I guess you wanted everyone to know?”
“Yeah, buddy! You know me. You gonna get one?”
“Yeah, I’m sure once they, you know, are available just to purchase, and it has a few killer titles. I’m not into the whole pre-registering for pre-ordering a new console or randomly hoping that a retailer decides to put more units up. It’s not like I have a whole lot of time to play, anyway.”
“Lawyering keeping you busy?”
“More than I like, I guess, but I figure I’ll have more free time soon.”
“Dropping the suit life and coming back to work with me at the pizzeria?”
James laughed. “No. I think I’m getting a divorce.” He gave Jimmy a funny look, with one eyebrow raised.
“What? You’re kidding.”
“Nope. I said, I think. Not sure, yet. If I do, I think I’m going to have to file, not her.”
“I thought you and Jen were like…” Jimmy paused and took a big swig of the wine. “Anyway, I feel like I’m about to start talking out of my ass. What are you supposed to say to something like that? Sorry?”
Jimmy pursed his lips and took a sip of wine. “I don’t know, man. Frankly, it’ll be a relief.”
“You got me kind of morbidly curious, but I think I’d be a dick if I asked.”
“You will be, but you’re going to ask anyway, and I’m not going to care.”
Jimmy rubbed his neck. “Here, let me show you what my girlfriend got me for my birthday. It’s in my bedroom.”
“Listen, I’m sure your girlfriend got you a nice electrostim device, and we’re good friends, but just because I’m getting a divorce doesn’t mean we should take this relationship to the next level,” James said with a chuckle.
James followed Jimmy down the little hall to the bedroom, where Tanya was sitting on the bed with one of the guys from the pizza place, laughing.
“Hey guys, there’s a good bottle of wine we just opened,” Jimmy said. “Like really good. This guy brought it.”
“Alright, I’ll have a glass,” Tanya said and got up, her doting companion for the moment following her.
Jimmy closed the door and opened his closet, digging out the guitar.
“She’s a looker,” James said.
“Lives next door, would you believe it?”
“I would. How old is she?”
“Twenty, I think.”
“You whistling at her, or this?” Jimmy said, holding up the Fender.
James’s eyes lit up. “Whoa, cool.” He took the guitar from Jimmy and played a few quiet chords on it.
“Yeah, it’s just like what Kurt Cobain had.”
“Naw, he had some kind of mashup between this and a Jaguar, if I remember. But it’s close and pretty damn cool.” James sat down on the bed and began awkwardly playing through a few scales. “Man. Takes me back to that shitty band we had back when.”
“Shitty, yeah, but we could have been good if we had kept going.”
“So, what happened between you and Jen?” Jimmy said. “Since I’m inevitably going to be a dick for asking.”
James laughed as he tried to play a Metallica riff and failed. “In short, it turns out she’s awful, and living with her is pure misery.”
“Well, shit. That’s like ripping a band-aid off.”
“I’ve done a lot of reflecting on it,” James said. “We went to counseling after she told me that she was considering divorce. The counselor helped me realize just what an insufferable bitch I married.”
“Dude,” Jimmy said. “That’s so weird to hear you talk like that.”
James shrugged, then smiled as he started playing the chords to a song Jimmy couldn’t quite place. “It’s true. Like, I’ve done a ridiculous amount to try and please her and make her happy. Her saying out of the blue that she’s considering a divorce because she doesn’t feel the same about me was like a kick in the balls. The relationship was so one-sided it isn’t even fucking funny. Remember this?”
“Sounds familiar,” Jimmy said, listening to the chords.
“It should. We wrote it,” James laughed. “Anyway, counseling, strangely, made it super clear. I live where she wanted us to live. I worked the job she wanted me to take. I paid her way through graduate school for a useless degree because that was something she wanted to do. She’s a university counselor; you know that? That’s her career, telling confused freshmen what classes they have to sign up for and helping them pile thousands of dollars worth of loans onto their own naïve heads. Shit!” James took his hands off the strings and made a fist. “It truly makes me fucking sick when I think about it. She makes me fucking sick.”
“She wouldn’t quit that job or even go part-time to have kids, and now I’m fucking grateful. No way I’d want my kids with that harpy of a mother for them.”
Jimmy stood quietly, listening to the song. When James paused, he said, “Wow. I had kind of always looked at you two as the standard – kind of envious, like maybe the whole family life thing would work. I look around here and… Well, there’s not much to say about it. I’m a little blitzed to hear this about Jen.”
“She’s nice enough if you only see her here and there, but man can she nag. It is impossible for me to get home and just turn on a game before she starts bitching at me about some little thing, like where I left my laundry, or why I spent money on a game without talking to her. I make all the money! Meanwhile, she has all the free time and does nothing with it. Her dumb ‘career’ doesn’t even cover her costs. That’s why I think she didn’t bother to file, by the way. Besides just being too lazy for it, she’d be losing out on a lot of money and comfort. In fact, I think she was trying to set up a side guy to mooch off of once she could leave. I know her phone passcode, but she doesn’t know that I know. Well, fuck that. I’ll file on her ass. Hell, I just made up my mind! It’s my day off tomorrow; I’m fucking filing the papers.
“Sorry, man. Saying this shit is like vomiting,” James said. “Painful, but oh so pleasing when you’re done, and of course you can’t stop until you’re empty. I can’t talk to anyone about this crap besides you, Jimmy. Everyone is too judge-y. Too focused on making me a good guy.”
“You are a good guy, James. Better than me.”
James laughed. “That’s a gaff. It’s you I envy.”
“Just because I’m not divorced?”
“Because you aren’t a lawyer.” James shook his head with a smile. “It’s a shit career, even when you’re doing alright at it. I mean, do you know how much I wish I could just go home after a few hours and have a beer? Maybe finish an RPG once a year?”
Jimmy shrugged. “I definitely set my life up for that. It’s true.”
“You know she hasn’t had sex with me since before the whole COVID thing? And even then, it was like being drip-fed methadone. You’d think working remotely would have just made it happen, but no. There are a million little other things, like the fact that she skips shaving, and won’t shut the fuck up about Donald Trump.” James leapt up and cackled. “Yeah, FUCK that bitch.”
He played a loud chord on the guitar and stopped.
“It’s fine, man,” Jimmy said. “You’re always welcome to vent to me. You know I’m in your corner one-hundred percent.”
“I appreciate that. I’ll remember it when my mom is upset with me. Divorce is a big no-no with my family. Anyway, how are you and Rosa doing? You guys are always together, it seems.”
“Great. She should be getting off work now.”
“Thinking of marriage?”
Jimmy laughed. “After that tirade, you’re going to ask if I’m going to pop the question to my girlfriend?”
“Sounds weird, yeah? It’s not marriage that’s the problem, Jimmy. It’s who I picked. Real bad judgment on my part. Counseling confirmed that to me. You’d kind of have to be there, but it’s the person, not the institution. If one person in the relationship doesn’t care, you’re in trouble. And this guitar? I don’t know her that well, but this girl gets you.”
“Even though she didn’t buy me a game?”
“Especially so. I would have bought you one, but I know you. You’d have already bought all the good ones you wanted, so why bother with that? She bought you something your soul needs instead. This thing.”
“You think so?”
“You were just telling me how good it would have been had we kept going.”
Jimmy was quiet for a minute as James handed the guitar back. “You ever think about starting something like that back up, James?”
“I fantasize about it, yeah, but I can never see a path through to that. Plus, we’re getting old now.”
“Too old to rock’n’roll, too young to die.” Jimmy frowned as he sat down with the guitar and started playing one of his old songs.
“That was a good one,” James said, smiling.
“I think about it a lot, man. You know, I got mad at my girlfriend last night. She was kind of pressuring me to do more with my life. Take a manager job somewhere, open a franchise or something.”
“Familiar to me,” James said. “But then she gives you the guitar, so what is it?”
“I think she sees something I don’t want to.”
“Maybe you get excited about games because you feel like that’s all that’s worth bothering with.”
“That’s not it,” Jimmy said. He started awkwardly fingerpicking a song, then stopped. “I think I’m afraid of failing.”
James shrugged and finished his wine. He smiled and laughed. “I’m failing right now. My marriage is failing as we speak. I have half a mind to go take that blonde girl, what’s her name?”
“Take her back to her apartment. But I’m not gonna. It’s what I want, but not what I want.”
“What do you want? The second want.”
“I want something worth having. I want a wife who gives a shit about me, who values what I do. A family… A reason to continue on this world.”
Jimmy finished his wine. “That’s kind of dark.”
James shrugged again and peeked out the bedroom door at the people in the kitchen. “It’s dark, but it’s also true. Doesn’t mean I’m considering suicide, trust me. It just means I know what I got – it ain’t it.”
“But how do you get a reason?”
“You’re asking me?”
“I guess it’s just an open-ended question. Looks like Rosa just got here.”
“You started smiling,” James said. “That’s a good sign.”
“I love her,” Jimmy said, frowning slightly.
“Yeah, well, what are you gonna do?”
“How do I know she won’t be like Jen? I mean, how do I know that we won’t end up like you and Jen.”
“There are no guarantees in life. I think she won’t end up like Jen simply because she actually gives a shit about you. Beyond that?” James shrugged.
“Jen cared about you, once.”
“Not in the way I cared about her. It was a dependent relationship the whole time.”
“Yeah, anyway, we should probably party a little, yeah?”
Rosa’s voice echoed down the hall. “Jimmy! I got something for you! I hope you like chocolate!”
“You know I do!” Jimmy said.
“I’ve been doing some thinking about what you said,” Jimmy said, then blew on his coffee. The little breakfast shop was almost empty, so he could hardly take more than a few sips before the waitress topped the cup off with more boiling-hot black glory.
“Hangover cleared your head?” Rosa said, sipping on a soda.
Jimmy laughed. “No, I don’t think so. Advil is helping, though.”
“Which thing were you thinking about?”
“Getting a better job.”
Rosa gave him a smile that didn’t meet her sad eyes. “I didn’t want you to feel pressured. I don’t want to be that kind of girl. I guess I was just feeling it, too. I’m over thirty and still just a waitress. You’re right.”
“Eh, you’re not just a waitress.”
“There are not many places to go from there,” Rosa said. She nodded to the two waitresses gabbing with the idle cook, looking awkward in the little farmhouse aprons the staff had to wear. “They’re both in their fifties, I would guess. Still pouring coffee for a few tips.”
“Well, they are again, at least. Be thankful for that. I wonder how they made it through the year.”
“Hopefully, not as bad as me. I’d be sunk without you, I think. Just in car repairs, I’d be done.”
“Did you hear what I said before?” Jimmy said, just as one of the waitresses bustled over to top off his coffee again.
“What?” Rosa said, suddenly turning her attention back to him.
“I said you’re not just a waitress.”
“It’s my job,” Rosa said with wide eyes.
“Yeah, but it’s not you, just like how pizza isn’t me. And that’s the problem. With me, I mean. Who am I?”
Rosa smiled. “You’re a funny guy who loves others. Loves to help people out and show them a good time. You always have time for a friend. Or a girlfriend.”
“Yeah, I’ve kind of set my life up that way – to have free time. I notice you didn’t mention video games.”
“I realize… I thought that was part of my identity.”
“Well, I mean, it’s a hobby, I guess. But I don’t think of it as much different than TV, or anything else. I don’t think of my mom as a telenovela watcher, but that’s something she loves to spend her time on.”
“Yeah, you’re right. And that’s kind of my point. You’re not a waitress. It’s something you do for money. You’re way more than that to me.”
“True. I’m a good cook, too.”
“A damn good one, which leaves me wondering why we’re having breakfast here. Shouldn’t you be serving me some fresh pancakes in bed or something?”
“It’s not your birthday anymore,” Rosa said with a smile.
“Anyway, I was thinking about what you said. I set up this life to have free time. I should use it on something.”
Rosa gave him a confused look. “I thought I was suggesting you get a job with more responsibility.”
“I guess I could do that.”
“Were you thinking of something else? Taking up music again?”
Rosa smiled as the food arrived. “But what about your games?”
Jimmy laughed. “Well, they aren’t going to play themselves, so I’ll have to spend at least a little time with them. But yeah, maybe music. Maybe some other business. Kind of depends on what you want.”
“I just want you to be happy.”
“Oh, I know that. But what makes you happy? Or what would make you happy? Satisfied?”
Rosa was quiet as she cut up her pancakes and covered them with syrup. “I honestly don’t know. I thought I would sort of… find it out in the world. I thought it would just happen – the right job, the right place to live – a nice house, maybe – the right… person.”
“Well, I hope we got at least the last one covered.”
Rosa laughed awkwardly. “Oh, I didn’t mean… sorry.”
“It’s okay. I want to be the right person.”
“You are, Jimmy. I just…”
“I’m not the most ambitious.”
“But, I do love you.”
Jimmy shook his head and smirked. “I do know that. Maybe we just start working on the other stuff, alright?”
“Alright. So, what does that mean for you?”
Jimmy gave an awkward laugh. “I’m still afraid to make decisions, huh?”
“What?” Rosa said.
“Nevermind. Let’s see… Well, today I’m gonna play some video games. I planned that, so that’s what I’m gonna do. But I’m also going to have James come over, and we’re going to write some music. If I’m feeling really brave… well, best not to say.” Jimmy laughed. “I love you. You know that?”
“Good. Yeah, that’s really good.”
“Holy shit, dude. We are bad.” James rolled the volume of his guitar off. They were sitting in Jimmy’s living room, and the afternoon sun was peeking through the vertical blinds of the balcony.
“Like Michael Jackson bad?” Jimmy said.
“Yes, if you mean like the album Bad, which is a bad album.”
“You think it’s bad? Like bad bad, or like…” He stuck his chin up and nodded. “Bad.”
“As in poor quality. Jimmy, we suck.”
“Well, we haven’t played in like ten years or something. You gotta shake off the dust.”
“I think it’s going to take a lot more practice from each of us for us to be able to even play our old crap – which there are a few gems, but let’s be honest, it’s mostly crap.”
“So, we’ll write new stuff that isn’t bad. No big deal.”
James’s phone started ringing. He picked it up, looked at the caller, then smiled as he silenced the phone.
“Feels good, man. Anyway, something just occurred to me. What about drums and bass?”
“I could call up Darek and Will.”
“Darek’s in prison, bro.”
“Yeah, he got caught running an insurance scam.”
“I guess we can find another drummer.”
“And where are we going to rehearse? Not here, with a drum set.”
“What about your house?”
James laughed. “I’m getting rid of that place first thing.”
“Maybe Will…” Jimmy paused and made a strained expression. “You think he’s still holding that grudge?”
“You don’t even remember her name?”
Jimmy shrugged. “I only hung out with her that one time.”
“Yeah, but you slept with her, and Will was the one who brought her to the party.”
“He has to have forgiven me by now.”
James gave Jimmy a skeptical look.
“You know what?” Jimmy said. “Musicians now do everything in the studio. We don’t need a live band. Not to get started. We can use a drum machine and stuff.”
James shook his head. “Yeah, but then you have to learn how to program it.”
“I could learn.”
“And you’d have to buy it.”
“Good point. Let’s look up some stuff, and see how people are doing things these days.”
A few minutes later, they were watching YouTube videos at Jimmy’s PC, both of them looking thoroughly flummoxed.
“We have no idea what we are doing,” Jimmy said, as he tried to make sense of a Cubase tutorial covering MIDI programming.
“Jimmy, we clearly had no idea what we were doing fifteen years ago.”
Jimmy nodded. “Yup.”
“Maybe we should take a break for today, and we can research what we need to buy separately.”
“Good idea. Rosa should be getting off soon.”
“Soon? She’s not even here. You’re too ambitious.”
“Har har,” Jimmy said, smiling.
“Did you have fun with James?” Rosa asked. She blew lightly on her spaghetti before putting the heaping forkful in her mouth.
“We had fun,” Jimmy said. “Didn’t get anything done.”
Rosa shrugged. “It’s good to have fun.”
“It is, you’re right.”
“Something seems off.”
Jimmy shrugged and sighed. “I guess I just kind of expected to hop back into some music with James, and it would be like it was before.”
“Well, you haven’t played in a while, right? And you and James are different people than you were in college.”
“Well, James is different. Or maybe he’s not, but he just dresses differently.” Jimmy stared at his plate of pasta. “Actually, I think it was probably just like it was back in the day. I think I remember it wrong.”
“In what way?”
“Well, we always sucked, I think, and we always had problems getting the rest of the band in line, but me and James always had fun with it. I imagine we would have been good if we kept going, but I don’t think we would have been able to keep going regardless. I don’t know how real bands make it happen.”
“Yeah, I think everybody does that. You know, you remember the best things. It’s like a clip show. I mean, I enjoyed college, but let’s be real, I enjoyed everything that wasn’t the actual college part.” Rosa laughed. “That’s probably why I never graduated.”
“I graduated. Funny, I can’t remember the ceremony.”
“I bet you remember the after-party, though.”
“I don’t, but that was for different reasons.”
Rosa laughed. Jimmy smiled at her and began eating his dinner.
“Maybe there’s something else,” Rosa said. “Something else you can do.”
Jimmy laughed. “Of course, more videogames.”
“What about streaming them? I heard there are streamers that make all kinds of money just playing games and having other people watch them.”
Jimmy scratched his head. “Yeah, but I don’t know. Then it’s like work.”
“You’re looking for work.”
“I’m looking for…” Jimmy raised his hands and opened his eyes wide. “Yeah, I guess more work. But not work, work.”
“I can’t watch videogame streams. So boring.”
“Maybe you’re not the target audience.”
Jimmy chuckled. “Eh, why not. I’ll give it a shot for a week.”
“You have the new Playstation. People might want to watch the games.”
It was clear that it had been a long time since Jimmy had played a game as difficult as Demon’s Souls. As he watched the death animation once again and glanced over at the chat, suddenly thankful that it was empty, he considered that it was probably not the best game to choose a public performance of.
A single message appeared:
“Of course, the only person watching thinks I suck. It’s not the easiest game, man.”
No, you suck at streaming. You don’t talk.
“What am I supposed to talk about?”
Anything besides breathing through your mouth and staring at the screen like a dead cow would be nice.
Another person added the chat:
This is fucking sad. Like, you should set up a green screen so you don’t look like such a sad fat coomer neckbeard in his 40s.
Then you should be out of your mom’s basement.
And get a better job than delivering pizzas.
Jimmy did a slight double-take. Was someone he knew watching and taunting him as a joke? The screen names were unfamiliar and communicated nothing to him.
They wouldn’t let him deliver pizzas looking like that.
True. Maybe he still lives with his mom because he’s retarded? He kind of looks like he has downs or FAS
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Mom drinks when pregnant – kid comes out a little off.
Sounds right. He doesn’t know how to dodge, so yeah
“Then why are you watching it?” Jimmy said, throwing his arms up at the camera.
It makes me feel less bad about myself. I was born without a dick and with extra fingers, but I’m better off than you.
“Fuck this,” Jimmy said, and killed the stream.
He tried again over the next few days, but the most viewers he could seem to amass was fifteen, and he thought it might have been the trolls from the first day who brought their friends.
“So, the streams are a no-go?” Rosa said. She plopped another plate of carnitas in front of him, and he dug in.
“It’s going nowhere,” Jimmy said with a full mouth.
“I think you have to put in more than a week of effort, you know.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Yeah I’m not sure I’m willing to put in more effort. I’ve never felt like something I loved could become something so joyless.”
“Alright, then stop. I guess I’m proud of you for trying something.”
“Yeah, but now I have the camera accessory, and I don’t need it. I feel like it’s always watching me, like the Kinect.”
“But you have a Kinect.”
“Yeah and I hate that it watches me.”
Rosa laughed. “So, sell it, then. I’m sure someone will want it.”
“Eh, I’ll probably end up needing it for this generation’s weird motion-VR-whatever accessories that suck and don’t find traction.”
“Which you’ll buy anyway.”
Jimmy laughed. “Of course. I’m a collector. That means I can waste my money on stuff that I don’t love because it’s part of the collection.”
“I still think you’d be good at the streaming thing.”
“I figured out that it’s really about entertaining people, not being good at games. And I chose a game to stream that I kind of suck at anyway. Or, maybe I’m just not all that good at any game. Playing games doesn’t necessarily make you good at them. These big guys, they’re all basically comedians. That’s not me.”
“I think you’re really funny.”
“Yeah, but not in a performance kind of way. Being someone’s funny friend isn’t the same as being a stand-up comic, or even a talk show comic. Maybe I’ll give it some more effort, but I don’t think I’m going to be a hit.”
“Okay,” Rosa said. “I’ll support whatever you need to do.”
“That’s good, because,” at this Jimmy raised an eyebrow and looked at Rosa slyly, “after this meal I’m going to need to take you-”
“To Cancun?” Rosa interjected.
“To the bedroom.”
“Oh,” Rosa said, feigning disappointment.
“So, what do you do, have papers served?” Jimmy asked. He played a few chords on his unplugged guitar as he listened to James.
“No, I just told her I filed for divorce and handed her a copy of the papers to sign.”
“What if she didn’t want to sign them?”
“Then it’s a contested divorce, and things get more complicated. This was easy, though. She was super surprised but signed right away. It’s a relief for both of us. I might still end up in family court for asset division, but seeing as how we’re underwater on the house and her student loans aren’t part of marital liabilities, I don’t expect too many issues.”
“I guess that’s good.”
“Yeah, there’s only one thing I’m worried about.”
“I have some money that I’ve kind of kept hidden. If things get ugly, I’m gonna end up having to disclose it and lose half of it.”
“You can leave the money at my house,” Jimmy said. “I probably won’t even spend all of it.”
“You’re funny. But seriously, if you get a line on something I could dump this into, like a business or something, that would be rad.”
“Yeah, if I can get it dumped somewhere post-separation, I can avoid disclosing it, since the account will be closed.”
“Isn’t that illegal? Aren’t you a lawyer?”
“You don’t know much about lawyering, do you?” James said with a laugh.
“I guess not.”
“Anyway, if I lose it, I lose it. Frankly, I’d be happy to walk away with nothing besides my guitar. I’d give her all the furniture in a heartbeat. It’s crap anyway.”
“Are you saying my furniture sucks?” James said in a faux-angry voice
“Sorry, man. It sucks. Hideous. Anyway, why don’t you swing by and we can all have a drink? Maybe play some music?”
“Eh, not tonight. I have some work I need to handle.”
Jimmy and Rosa shared a huge thin-cut steak she had cooked on her stove, in her tiny, dark apartment.
“I would never know this was just cooked in a pan,” Jimmy said.
“It’s the best way to cook steak. Grilling dries it out. All the cooks at the restaurants know it.”
“What about the commercials with the flame grills?”
“At Burger King?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “Flame broiled.”
“I’m pretty sure they warm up the Whopper in a microwave. Maybe it’s flame broiled at some point in its life.”
“No idea,” Rosa laughed, “but at good restaurants, they cook the steak in a cast iron pan with a bit of butter or whatever fat. I used lard.”
“Why do you think real Mexican food tastes so good, eh?”
“The cooks,” Jimmy said, smiling at Rosa. He took a big bite and washed it down with a sip of beer. Suddenly, he paused again and gave Rosa a curious smile.
“What?” She said, chuckling awkwardly.
“How do you like your job?”
“We talked about it. It’s a job.”
“If you had the option to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?”
“I don’t know.”
Jimmy leaned forward. “See, this is a question I asked myself recently, and I realized it’s bullshit, because my first answer would be to play video games. But I already do that, and it ain’t hacking it.”
“Okay,” Rosa said, shaking her head. “I guess I would read books and watch TV.”
“Yeah, see what I mean?”
“It’s all about available options. Nobody is realistic about limitations. You have to do what is in your capacity to do, not just think of any old thing to do. If nobody wants to pay you to watch TV, you can’t just do that. Anyway, how would you like to start a business with me?”
Rosa blinked slowly. “What?”
“A restaurant. We could open one.”
“What? The restaurant business is awful! Half the restaurants in town aren’t re-opening.”
Rosa shook her head. “We don’t have money for that.”
“Very few people start a business with cash. Usually, you start with a loan.”
“Yeah, I have great personal credit. I have a business degree, and you and I both have tons of restaurant experience. It would be easy to draft up a business plan. I haven’t done one since college, but it shouldn’t be hard.”
“What happens if the restaurant goes under, like all the others?”
Jimmy shrugged. “I guess we go back to delivering pizzas and waiting tables. So?”
“Don’t you still have to pay the bank back?”
“Ah, but that is where we employ the magic of the corporation. You see, it’s the corporation that goes bankrupt. It’s the corporation that loses its assets. Hell, if they needed more collateral, I could put up my video game collection. If I lose that, no big deal. Most of them I don’t play, after all. I also might have a line on an investor looking to solidify his assets. Plus, he can help us form our corporation.”
“You’ve thought this through, huh?”
“Nope, not at all,” Jimmy said. “Just something I thought I’d throw out there. Something we could both do and be good at and move forward with.”
Rosa laughed. “You’re really something, Jimmy. Yeah, maybe we should look into that.” She was quiet for a few moments. “What kind of food?”
“Whatever is in demand. I think pizza is doing pretty well these days. Chain restaurants have a lot of corporate assets to leverage, so they’ll still be around if we want to do a franchise. But maybe Mexican food is what our town needs. I think a lot of the Mexican places are doing really badly. We could probably hire a couple of good cooks easily since they’re out of work.”
“You already have a cook,” Rosa said, pointing at herself.
“No, I need you to handle the floor.”
“You’re not going to have the Mexican woman cook the Mexican food?”
“Is that what you want to do?”
Rosa was quiet. “No, I think I just want to design the menu.”
“There you go. Leveraging expertise.”
Rosa smiled so much she had a hard time eating her next few bits of steak. Jimmy continued to poke at his own dish.
“It’s going to take up a lot of time. You won’t miss your games?” Rosa said.
“I probably will, but a business is a bit like a game. Yeah, and the money is like a score.” He threw his hand up and cut another piece of steak. “Just an idea.”
“I think it’s a good idea.”
“Alright, we’ll move forward on it.” He took a breath. “If we do this, we ought to move in together to save costs. Most businesses lose money the first year.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.”
“You’re never here anyway,” Jimmy said with his hands up.
“No, that’s not going to fly with my parents. They are happily ignorant as to what you and I do with our free time. If I just move in with a man without marrying him, I’ll never hear the end of it. And I care about my family relationships.”
“Well, we should get married, then.”
Rosa looked down and shook her head, though she was smiling. “You can’t be serious.”
“I totally am.”
She went red in the face and started laughing. Finally, she took a deep breath and said, “This isn’t how I pictured a proposal.”
“Alright, I’ll ask you again later. I’ll buy a ring once I can get this business in the black.”
Rosa just laughed, growing redder.
Jimmy smiled and ate a few more bites of steak.
“What about kids?”
Jimmy shrugged. “You want a few?”
Rosa was quiet for a few moments. “Yes.”
“Just like that?”
Jimmy smiled. “I asked you what would make you happy or satisfied. If that’s it, we’ll do it.”
“Well, my mom’s happy.”
“Even though you’re dating a loser delivery boy?”
Rosa frowned. “I’m dating a business owner. What are you talking about?”
“Business owner and musician.” Jimmy winked.
Thanks for reading this less-than-morose Gen Y tale. If you want to support me, you can buy my books on Amazon, or even get a few for free:
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