AFFLUENZA (excerpt)
by David LaBounty

An excerpt from

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  P R E - O R D E R   A F F L U E N Z A

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N O W   A V A I L A B L E :

by David LaBounty

Publisher: Offense Mechanisms, an imprint of Silverthought Press
148 pages
$9.99 + S/H
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Maybe you like yourself.

Maybe you don't.

Maybe you're asking yourself that very question right now as my words jar your curiosity.

But don't answer. Not now. Wait.

Maybe you're one of the virtuous types without an ill thought in your head. Maybe your thoughts are free of lust and violence and full of nothing but happy and pleasant things. Maybe you're one of the virtuous types and you pay your bills on time no matter what. You pay your bills because it kills you to be late, to be behind, to be in debt too long.

It kills you to be irresponsible.

And I have to tell you, irresponsibility does kill.

Maybe you're one of those indifferent types. Maybe you don't give a shit what anybody thinks about you. Maybe you don't care if you piss the world off or if you fall behind on bills and payments and maybe you don't care if you're working or not. You know everything will fall into place. You know that you'll be taken care of. You know that you won't starve and you know that you won't have to live on the street and you don't care about a lot of things, things like the grass that grows knee-high in June before you decide to cut it, and maybe you don't care if your kids are doing well in school and making friends and learning how to be responsible young citizens. You hate responsibility. It kills you to be responsible.

And I have to tell you, responsibility does kill.

But I don't want you to think about yourself right now. This is about me, and maybe after you understand me then you will be better able to judge yourself.

I am reminded of a line from a song I heard about a million times in college, usually with a joint or a beer in my hand. It wasn't a song I particularly liked because it was stoner music and even though I puffed I was never really a stoner but smoking weed was a requirement in my fraternity of suburban white boys stuck going to college in Bumfuck, Michigan.

All you create. All you destroy.

What have you created? A home of some sort, even if you're thirty-five years old and that home is a bedroom in your mother's house. Your bedroom, your space, is still a home. Maybe you've created a career. You may consider yourself successful, working for some firm or corporation and moving up some sort of managerial or executive ladder.

Maybe you've made a career of manual labor, ditch digging, car washing, office cleaning. No matter what it is, you've created something, a track of something definable. Maybe you've created a family, a spouse and kids that wouldn't exist without you. Maybe you've created a family and it may exist in spite of you. Maybe you've created love. Maybe you've created hate. I don't know.

Everybody's different.

What have you destroyed? I don't care how virtuous and pure you are, you've destroyed something. Friendships that drift apart, thoughts and memories you don't want to keep. Maybe you've destroyed your pride or your identity in an attempt to keep all of the things you've created, things like your family or your career. Maybe you've destroyed the things you love and tried to rid yourself of the things you hate. I don't know.

Everybody's different.

And that's all life is, really: a cycle of birth and death, of sorrow and joy.

A cycle of creation.

A cycle of destruction.


I know a little bit about creation.

But I know a lot more about destruction and there is a point in my life that I destroyed everything and let me tell you a little bit about my life, my life after the destruction:

I thought I would keep things normal for a while and probably forever.

I thought I would keep the dishes clean and the bed made and the rug vacuumed.

But no.

The contractors fixed up the house and it felt new again. I thought I would have some pride in the newness, a fresh start. A clean slate.

Yes and no.

The dishes are piled in the sink and they spill onto the counter and I rinse them as I need them.

I see no point in washing anything and I don't want to pump you full of psychobabble but I don't see the need for cleanliness.

I am more than dirty on the inside.

I never make the bed nor do I wash the sheets and they are stained with my sweat and other fluids that I don't need to mention.

And the carpet. Well, it's probably supporting an ecosystem of its own by now.

I can't keep things normal because I didn't realize how indifferent I would be.

Maybe not indifferent; I still fight the war and there is a burning in my groin that just doesn't go away but I feel emotionally dead on the inside and I try to look in the mirror to find clues. I love looking in the mirror. My eyes used to twinkle and shine. Now they look the same but they're empty.

Picture putting in a blank videotape and hitting play.

I thought a burden would have been lifted after the destruction and I thought I would have felt vindicated. I thought I would have felt just. But I misjudged myself; I misjudged the amount of love I actually created for others. I misjudged the amount of love I destroyed inside of me.

But you know how it is. You know that the stress of living can bury all kinds of things.

Stress can bury love.

Responsibility can kill it.

And I've learned, through all of this sadness and domestic disorder, just how sad I am. I would kill myself if I wasn't so selfish and afraid.

I created this for me, to ease my stress, to kill my responsibilities.

But stress doesn't end.

If you were to look at the outside of my house you would think it looks normal enough. It looks like every other house in the neighborhood. It is a two-story Colonial with an attached garage and the roof and gutters are still intact and I can afford to pay someone to cut and edge the grass and trim the bushes. It is a typical house in a typical suburb choked with typical houses and typical people.

And that's part of the problem, so many people trying to be the same.

And if you were to look at me, at least from the back or on my good side, you would think I look normal enough. White male, fortyish, average height, averagely overweight and driving a newer automobile just like every other fortyish male in every other typical suburb.

And it's not like I've imploded completely. I still go to work every day where I sit at a desk and deny claims in order to make my six figures a year and that may sound like a lot of money to some people. It may sound like a lot of money to most people.

But enough is never enough.

I used the days that followed the destruction to my full advantage. I used them to miss work and I felt guilty about being so glad to not have to go to work.

"I won't be coming to work today. My wife and kids just got killed," and that's all I said to my boss, who already knew what happened but pressed me for details and piled on sympathy.

I gave him the details and I took his sympathy as if I really needed his sympathy and I cried into the phone like a grieving husband and father should and I was so glad that I didn't have to go to work.

It was like the death of my wife and children was worth it, worth the reward of sleeping in for three weeks. The death was worth the reward of drinking beer all day and every day and eating pizza and I did all the things I wanted to do, after my three-week-long hospital stay. I watched rented pornos until four in the morning and woke up at two in the afternoon and went back for more beer and more movies as if I was trying to catch up on my gluttony and lust and sloth.

But don't judge me, not yet. Each person deals with grief in his or her own way and my way was to not grieve at all. I guarantee there are men out there, recently widowed, who went out and bought a new set of golf clubs or a sports car while their dead wife's body was still warm.

There was the funeral and I missed the funeral.

But I saw part of it on the local TV news while lying immobile in my hospital bed and there were a couple of cousins watching it with me and I cried and looked forlorn and pious. But that was for the cousins.

I was far from pious away from other people's eyes, back home behind closed curtains and blinds, at home with a clutter of beer cans and pizza boxes across the kitchen and living room. I was fine watching young girls squirm and moan on my television screen while the still slightly charred remains of my kids' rooms remained undisturbed, their bookcases full of barely singed books and toys, the still intact stuffed animals on their beds waiting for them to someday come home.

And the stuffed animals are waiting still.

I felt something like grief later and I feel it now. Grief without sorrow. Grief without melancholy. Grief that just is. I feel it as I try to live like everybody else, as I try to feel like just-another-face behind the wheel during that morning commute.

But no one has my face. No one has the thoughts that go with my face.

And memories. You wouldn't want my memories. I could kill myself over my memories.

But I'm too selfish and waaay too lazy to kill myself. So instead I come home from work every night, make myself a rum and Coke or a Jack and Coke and I watch the network news and I microwave a dinner and throw the empty carton on the kitchen counter or table and there it stays until the arrival of too many ants dictates that it's time to take out the trash.

I watch more news and then maybe a ball game that I really don't care about and then I get ready for bed. I brush my teeth and put on a stained t-shirt and stained boxer shorts and I stare at my face in the mirror for a long while. Try that sometime. You'll be surprised how often your face changes as shadows fall and as your eyes move in and out of focus. My face will change a hundred times during my nightly half-hour stare-down.

I think it's because I'm a hundred different people and if I am that means you are too.

I guess it just depends how different those hundred people are.


I'm going to tell you a little bit about the beginning even though the beginning has nothing to do with what happened later.

I am going to tell you about creation. I created a lot of things early on.

The destruction came later and don't worry, there will be a lot of destruction later.

An uncomfortable amount of destruction.

Let's go back twenty-five years or so. Let's go back to 1983 and I was right out of college and I was thinner and I had more hair.

A lot thinner. A lot more hair.

I was right out of college armed with a business degree from one of the state colleges in the northern Lower Peninsula, about four hours away from my hometown suburb of Detroit and you probably already know there is precious little that is homey about a suburb.

If you've been to Ann Arbor, Michigan then you've been to Evanston, Illinois and if you've been to West Allis, Wisconsin then you've been to Glen Burnie, Maryland and so it goes.

Or, to make it clearer, if you've been to a Starbucks in Kirkland, Washington then you've been to a Starbucks in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Different but not different.

I couldn't afford to go out of state for school even though I wanted to. No one offered me scholarships or anything so I had to go where my college fund could send me, and that was to a small town full of poor and overweight people who hated college students even though they forged their meager existence out of them. Think landlords and bartenders. Think campus security guards and fast-food drive-thru workers.

And I did well enough in college, socially and academically. I joined a fraternity and my brothers and I have since drifted apart even though most of them live around here somewhere but we're nothing more than drops of water in a giant sea of monotony. I went to most of my classes and studied and drank a lot of beer. I got laid a few times and I graduated without distinction and got my degree and then it was a job for the same insurance company I work for now.

They hired me in at $19,000 a year.

I felt rich.

My old man said, "Attaboy. It's a start. A damn good start. Play your cards right and you'll be just like me." And I was all right with that but I wanted a hotter wife than my mother.

Not that I judge my mother on some sexual scale, but you know what I mean.

I bought a car. A white Ford Mustang. I bought new clothes. Oxford shirts with stripes and thin fluorescent ties. I bought polo shirts for after work and on weekends and I turned the collars up. I bought different kinds of hair gel and bottles upon bottles of cologne and aftershave. I bought cassettes and a stereo and a VCR and I rented a one-bedroom apartment along the same strip that my office is on. The office building was then new, in the shadow of a suburban mall, and it is made mostly out of glass and pyramid shaped with a sunny atrium that greets you as soon as you enter the revolving door.

I would learn to hate the sight of that atrium and I hate it still as I walk through it every day, past the plastic plants toward the elevator that carries me fourteen stories up to my office at the top of the pyramid.

I've seen a lot of people come and go through that atrium but I still remain. I prosper and thrive like a weed in an ignored garden.

I haven't destroyed my career. Not yet.

I was hired as a customer service rep and that's where I met Deidre, my future wife. She was hired right out of college, too, a different state college in a different small city and she also had a business degree.

They hired her in at $16,000 a year.

She felt rich but she was a little more practical back in those days and she moved in with her mom (the next suburb over from where I grew up) rather than get an apartment on her own and there she stayed until suave and thin and feathered hair me swept her off of her feet.

Or something like that but minus the romance.

We sat side by side in the phone bank and we would chit-chat during the idle moments that were allowed a representative for Midwestern Accident and Life and the chit-chat that went on for a few weeks led to flirting for a few more weeks and that led to going to lunch together every day for a few weeks and then after about four months we finally went out on a real date. I picked her up in my Mustang that was soaked in air freshener and I was soaked in cologne and hair gel to keep my thick and long hair close at the sides.

I wore a gold chain around my neck and I'm too embarrassed to tell you what I put in my cassette player when I picked her up but the singer was a man in drag.

I took her to a nicer restaurant near our office where all the Midwestern bigwigs went for lunch. A steak and lobster kind of place. The kind of place that used to exist in abundance before the chain restaurants took over the landscape.

You and I, we've both eaten at Chili's or Applebee's or maybe Ruby Tuesday or Friday's.

Maybe you're like me and you've eaten at all four. A lot.

Anyway, I took her to dinner and then a movie and back to my place and we screwed.

Just like that.

And then we got together once a week for a few months. Dinner and a movie and then we screwed unless there was a holiday or a menstrual situation or if she forgot to take her birth control pills and the pills-she kept them a secret from her mother.

Her mother didn't like me. This I could tell and Deidre confirmed this early on.

"There's something about you that rubs her the wrong way," Deidre told me as I opened the door of my Mustang for her on a summer night. I had made a reservation at a nice restaurant that really didn't require reservations.

That kind of stung me a little bit, not the not needing reservations but whatever it was about me that rubbed her mother the wrong way.

"I'm a good guy… I'm good to you," I told her in a whiny kind of voice to match my assaulted ego.

"I know that. I wouldn't date you if you weren't, but she says there's something about you." She buckled herself in and spoke without looking at me and come to think of it, we always spoke without looking at each other.

"What is there about me?"

"I don't know. She just says there's something wrong with you, something bad, but I don't know what she's talking about."

"Well, that's bullshit," I said and I fiercely gripped the leather steering wheel cover that I had installed earlier that week and my knuckles grew pale while my face turned red. I was angry and it wasn't because Deidre's mom didn't like me.

It was because even then I knew deep down there was something wrong, that I could do things that other people would find horrific even if I didn't quite know what those things were, or would be.

"Hey, don't get angry," Deidre said and she put her hand on my zipper and I felt my cock grow and she felt it too so she gave it a little squeeze. "My mom just wants me to be careful, that's all."

I backed out of the driveway and waved to Deidre's mother as she stood in the living room window glaring at me.
She didn't wave back.

And she never did wave, not ever, nor did she ever visit me at the end, after the destruction, even though everybody else who knew me did.

Everybody but my father and my mother-in-law.


Back to the beginning of the end of Deidre's life.

Deidre and I dated and went to lunch and fucked and went to dinner and fucked for about a year and after a year I was pretty much broke. I had missed a payment on my Mustang and was late on my rent a few times and that caused embarrassing phone calls while I was at work and I had to explain myself and get defensive in between my regular phone calls dealing with customers in an offensive sort of way.

"Sorry, Mr. Jones, but it's your fault you lost the use of your arm. Your policy clearly states no walking on your roof.

"It doesn't matter if you were cleaning your gutters or not. You're supposed to hire a professional to do that for you."
And so it went until the bank called or my landlord called and then my voice got really soft and I'd beg for forgiveness and extensions and I would get them.

But my dates with Deidre got cheaper and cheaper.

Instead of going out to eat it was McDonald's in my apartment and she offered to help pay for stuff and having Deidre offer to pay for stuff was something akin to castration. A real man doesn't need his woman to pay for stuff. A real man provides. A real man fucks his woman's brains out and leaves her begging for more.

A real man doesn't have his woman buy his quarter-pounders for him.

I had to give up cable TV and I felt like such a fool adjusting my rabbit ear antennas.

I started to struggle. I started to sweat a little between paydays. Money that had seemed endless when I first started working soon seemed like it could never possibly be enough and what cheap bastards my bosses were for paying me, a professional, the same salary as school teachers and policemen.

And they were cheap bastards, my bosses at Midwestern Accident and Life. They still are cheap bastards and they try to hang on to every penny and that has been my job for most of my career, telling people they're not getting any of our pennies, telling people they're screwed for life after a tornado tears the roof off of their house. I tell them they're screwed even when the roof lands on their minivan and totals it.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Drinkwater, but you declined the tornadoes in the spring coverage. You would have been fine if this was a tornado in October…"

And yes, I sometimes have a hard time falling asleep at night.

Even monsters have pangs of conscience.

Even monsters have souls.

But sleep, it always comes eventually, sleep that is deep and still.

I struggled mightily with bills for six months and Deidre stuck with me. We were in love then and in lust; we couldn't get enough of each other.

And then we decided it was time to take things to the next step and it was the Eighties.

We moved in together.


Affluenza by David LaBounty is now available from Offense Mechanisms, an imprint of Silverthought Press.




Copyright © 2009 David LaBounty

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

David LaBounty lives in suburban Detroit with his wife and two sons. His poetry and prose has appeared in several print and online journals. He has served in the Navy and has held jobs as a member of the blast team in a gold mine in northern Nevada, as a mechanic, a reporter and as a salesman. He is the author of The Perfect Revolution and The Trinity, published by Silverthought Press in 2006 and 2007.

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