The motel room in disarray greeted him as the sun cut through a slither of the window blinds. His eyes fought to keep themselves shut as the first glimpse of light awoke a mighty headache. He found his way out of the bed and stumbled to the bathroom, naked, save for a single sock halfway off his foot. After washing his face he surveyed the damage. A few lines of cocaine sat on the hand mirror by the desk in the room. Clothes littered the floor. He loosely dressed himself in a suit, holding off on finishing the final flourishes so that he could sit on the bed and read the brochure in his hand.
  He nodded to himself and tucked the brochure in his pocket. A line of cocaine disappeared up his nose and he finished dressing. One more line before he took a final look in the mirror, combed his hair, washed his face, brushed his teeth. The sudden surge of energy woke his bowels and he sat down on the ivory throne, rubbing his head and mumbling to himself.
  'Today, not tomorrow. Today, not tomorrow. Today. Not tomorrow,' his voice was tired and struggled with the first few words. 'Today. Not tomorrow.'
  He opened the door, but he wasn't ready to leave just yet. He closed it, walked back and finished the last rail of cocaine and took one last glimpse in the mirror. He nodded to himself.
  'Melvin,' he looked himself in the eye. 'Today, not tomorrow.'
  He surveyed the room before he left. Five taped up boxes stood in one corner while another opened one laid on its side, plastic wrapped socks spilling out of it. For a second he thought about taking one with him, but he decided against it. 
  It wasn't until he got in his car that he realized he hadn't checked the time. It was nearing eleven and he had to get across town in less than fifteen minutes. He swore and clumsily handled his keys. The car struggled and wheezed to a start, and he nearly reversed into a truck parked behind him as he left the motel parking lot. 
  As soon as he was on the road he started looking for his phone. He kept one eye on the road and the other on a long contacts list which he was scrolling through with great flicks of his thumb.
  'Come on, come on,' he muttered. 'Fuck,' as he hit a red light. 'Not fucking now.'
  He used the opportunity to get the name that he wanted and called it and put the phone on loudspeaker. The phone was still ringing when the light had turned green and he had crossed the intersection. Straight to voice mail.
  'Hi, you've tried to reach me at a time when I'm unavailable. Leave a message if it's important and I'll get back to you later.'
  The beep only made him angrier.
  'Hey, Becka. I can't make it for four. Maybe five. But I do want to see her, alright? Can you just have her ready for five? I'll pick her up. I've got a thing. It's gonna change everything, Baby. I swear. You'll get what you're due and Jodi too.'
  He hadn't heard the voicemail cut him off after he had called her Baby. He kept repeating himself to dead silence and hung up none the wiser. Even though he had done so a thousand times, he fumbled to light a cigarette as he drove well above the speed limit to make it through the traffic lights. 
  In the parking lot garbage stepped out with him as he exited his car and rolled under the vehicle next to him. He swore a bit and stuffed out his cigarette on the ground. Throngs of people were entering the conference center, a building of stiff and unimaginative lines designed. The crowd, mostly made up of men, wore suits, some ill fitting like his, some newly bought, borrowed or jacket and trousers not matching at all. He pushed his way through the crowd into an area lined with stalls that formed a path into the theater room where the seminar was going to take place. 
  Slipping through the crowd in search of a familiar face, he by passed several stalls until he saw the guy he was looking for.
  'Hey, hey,' he said as he approached the stall. 'Hey, Steve, how are you?'
  The man turned around, also dressed in a suit, but in one that actually fit him properly, he smiled, but in his eyes it was clear that he didn't know who he was. 'Hey, I'm good, thanks for asking. How can I help you?'
  'Steve,' he held his hands out in front of him in disbelief, then pointed at himself, 'it's me, Jim.'
  'Ah, Jim, now I remember.'
  'Do you have anything left?'
  'Depends on what you're looking for. We have it all. The Equilibrium Balancing Wrist Bands, the Mind Stimulating Neck Bands, the Vascular Massaging Socks.'
  'I have enough of the socks. Do you have any of those new drinks?'
  He smiled. 'Yes, we do. We have two function increasing flavors. Mind and Body.'
  'Mind, that's the one that tastes of mango, isn't it?'
  'There's some mango in there, yes, but mostly it's made of all natural chemicals that are scientifically proven to heighten your mental capabilities.'
  'Great, fantastic. I'll take six boxes of Mind and two, no, no . . . three boxes of Body.'
  'Great. Let me just get your name and I'll put you down for an order of nine boxes.'
  'Do you have enough.'
  Steve smiled. 'Do we have enough? Of course we do. Just sign here and write down your address.'
  Jim began scribbling but stopped halfway through. 'Does it have to be a home address?'
  'As long as you are there for delivery it can be anywhere.'
  'So, a motel would theoretically be fine?'
  'A motel is perfect.'
  He nodded. 'Right,' and he wrote down his motel room's address. 'Ask for James Lutz.' 
  'Cash or credit.'
  'Credit. When will it be delivered?'
  'You can expect it within a day or two. We'll give you a call fifteen minutes before delivery. It was a pleasure meeting you.'
  'But,' he was going to say more but left it at that. 'Have a good day, Steve.'
  'Enjoy the seminar.'
  He went and found a seat before the crowd swarmed in. Already there were droves of men in suits sitting at the front and the best he could do was to grab an aisle seat around the middle. His knee kept rocking and a cold sweat broke out on his back. As anxiety gripped him, a thought reached down and took his concern for the future over his actions and turned it over into excitement. Things were going to get better. He knew it. He did a quick calculation in his head as to how much he was standing to make from his purchase, the cost be damned. While he waited he scrolled through his contact list and sent quick messages to anyone he thought a prospective buyer. Mostly the message read the same.

Hey there! Long time no see. How're you doing, buddy? Wanna catch up with a few brewskies? I'm in town and I'm looking to hang out. Man, the times have been good to me. I've come into some real good luck and I can't wait to tell you about it. I hope you're doing as well as I am. Talk soon.

And so he carried on, his head down, his leg restlessly tapping away, swearing under his breath whenever someone had to move past him to get a seat. The overhead lights grew dark and the crowd fell silent with excited anticipation. All eyes were on the stage where spotlights were dancing. Music soared up from the floor and surrounded them and a voice thundered over it all, welcoming them to the eleventh annual Evimeria Entrepreneurs Seminar.
  A tall, lanky man with slicked back hair dressed in a fine blue suit ran onto the stage. Full of energy despite having slipped past the age of fifty unnoticed by most in the audience, he greeted them with his smooth voice and brought them to their feet in applause. 
  'Good afternoon! Good afternoon to all of you!' he began. He paced around the stage and shook hands with the people in the front row who reached out to receive his blessings. 'What a beautiful crowd of entrepreneurs we have here with us today and,' he held the microphone out to the audience.
  'Not tomorrow!' they yelled back in unison.
  'That's right. Today, not tomorrow! My name, for those of you don't know,' laughter bubbled among the crowd. 'I'm Lawrence Vaughan, founder and chief motivator at Evimeria. You know, when I started working, I mostly worked with our Latino brothers and sisters. Or Latinx as those hippie authoritarians on the left want us to call our South American compatriots. And although I truly liked working with Latinos, there was always something I hated. Not about them, but it was something that was prevalent. They called it mañana. Do you know what that means? Mañana means tomorrow in Spanish. When will we do it? Mañana. This must be done immediately. Ah, it can wait until Mañana. Mañana, mañana, mañana. And you know what? Nothing got done. Nothing ever got done on time. But that's what set me apart. Because I said no to tomorrow. I said today!' he held the microphone out again.
  'Not tomorrow!'
  'Exactly. I love being an independent businessman. I love being my own boss. How about you? With a show of hands, who here has a boss?'
  Nearly the entire audience raised a hand.
  'And how many of you with your hands raised can say that you actually like your boss. Come on, don't be ashamed, keep them up if you like your boss,' he smiled as he saw the hands dwindle and shy away. 'That's alright, it's okay not to like your boss. It's almost damn well necessary not to like your boss. But instead of sitting around on your ass, collecting paltry checks from a man whose approval you need but don't really want, why not become an independent businessman? Why not go to work for yourself, for your benefit, and set your own hours and prices? Why not be in charge of your life? And that's what we're here for today, that's what Evimeria is all about. We are here to teach you, to motivate you, to inspire you to excel at being independent, at being your own boss, at being in charge of your life for a change.
  'And how do we do that? Well, I hate to tell you this, but it starts at home. Yes, it does. Everything starts at home. Do you have your house in order? No? Well, how to you expect to reap the positive energy in this world when all you are putting into it is chaos and negativity. So, what's the first thing we must do?'
  'Clean your bedroom!' the majority yelled in unison.
  'And when will you do it? Tomorrow?'
  'No!'
  'When?'
  'Today!'
  'And not tomorrow!' he smiled. 'I want you to meet a very special friend of mine. Robert Paulson, can you please come to the stage.'
  As Robert Paulson, a man of meager height with a neat haircut, donning a dark brown suit and sporting the crazed look of a fanatic was making his way to the stage photos of a chubby, biker mustachioed man wearing heavy metal t-shirts appeared behind the stage. 
  'Look at this man,' he said as he pointed at the Robert Paulson in the spotlight, climbing the chairs. 'This man, the Robert Paulson we have here with us today, was hidden, burried, trapped, enslaved, under the Robert Paulson in these photos. Robert, were you happy in those photos.'
  He didn't even look back at them, 'I sure as hell wasn't.'
  'Did you think that you were happy?'
  'Yes, I must admit that I fooled myself into thinking that I was.'
  'This is a photo of your bedroom, your living room, your kitchen. Was it your kitchen?'
  'Technically it's my mama's.'
  'But do you think you could've been happy living in that squalor? That disorder?'
  'No, I don't.'
  'But you once thought you could.'
  'I am ashamed to say that I did.'
  'What changed?' he laid a hand on the young man's shoulder.
  'Well, I realized that I had lost my way. I thought that there was nothing out there for a man like me.'
  'And what kind of a man was that?'
  'I dunno. A man, a man's man. Red blooded, full of passion and testosterone. A man who wanted to get things done.'
  'But you felt discouraged.'
  'I sure did.'
  'Emasculated.'
  'Damn right.'
  'Robbed not only of your manhood, but your future, too.'
  Robert could only muster a nod.
  'What changed that?'
  'Well, Evimeria did.'
  'Say that again?'
  'Evimeria changed my life.'
  'Did you hear that folks?'
  'Yes!'
  'Has Evimeria changed your life?'
  'Yes!'
  'Robert, tell me, what has changed the most in your life?'
  'Well, I no longer live with my mama and last year I traded in my Honda Civic for a new BMW.'
  The audience applauded. 
  'And how did you do that?'
  'It's so simple I feel almost stupid that I didn't realize it sooner, but I followed the steps.'
  'Ah, the steps,' Lawrence smiled. 'The Ten Steps to a Great Life!' From his back pocket he produced a small book the image of which was plastered across the screen behind him, replacing the photos of Robert. 'Ten simple steps that anyone can follow and overcome the obstacles that life puts in front of them. And you overcame these obstacles, didn't you, Robert?'
  'Yes, I did.'
  'Tell me, Robert. Do you have a boss.'
  'Yes, I do.'
  'And who is he?'
  'Why, it's me. I'm my own boss,' the crowd clapped and cheered for him. 'He can be a bit difficult, but he makes sure I follow the Steps,' and the masses laughed.
  'Thank you, Robert,' he pushed the young man gently on the shoulder to send him off the stage and back to his seat. 'Follow the Steps. That's all you have to do. Like Robert said, it's so simple that you'll feel almost stupid that you hadn't done so sooner.'
  Jim hung onto every word. When the crowd stood up, when they clapped or laughed, he felt overcome by a shared energy. A part of himself was gone, lost to the spectacle before him. Motivation and its deceitful compatriot, Hope, took a hold of him and he began to feel as if the whole world was conquerable. All his potential as a man was right there inside of him, he need only follow the steps to reach it, to unleash it. He was sweating, like a man possessed by a fever, but so were many of the others. 
  The speech carried on for hours as more guests shyly stumbled onto the stage to share their success stories. Jim saw himself on that stage one day, telling his story of how he had moved out of his decrepit room in a flea infested motel, to winning his ex-wife's heart back and spoiling his daughter with gifts galore. All of that was in front of him, if only he followed the steps.
  The spectacle reached a break and everyone spilled out of the hall to the front where they could use the bathrooms and buy more products for them to try and sell to their friends and family. Jim, impatient and in need of a bump, disappeared into the ladies bathroom were strict gender roles still kept some men from entering. He locked the stall door behind him and tapped out a small pinch of cocaine on his wrist and snorted it. He closed the lid on the toilet and sat down, the plastic lid creaking uncomfortably underneath his weight. 
  Throughout the whole seminar he hadn't taken a look at his phone and saw that there were two notifications waiting for him. One a voicemail from Becka and another a message from a name he didn't recognize. He put the phone to his ear.
  'Jim, you do this every fucking time,' came her voice. 'You were supposed to pick her up at ten this morning. What are you doing? This is your daughter. You have to have her back by eight tonight and I don't think it's fair to her if you pick her up at five. Pick her up at five. What do I care if she only gets three hours with her deadbeat dad. Don't be fucking late.'
  'Fucking bitch,' he muttered. 'Can't see I'm trying to build a future for Jodi. That's why I'm doing this. For Jodi, it's all for Jodi,' he tapped out another bump and snorted it up his nose. 'Who's this other bastard then.'
  He checked the message and it was from John Dingle, whom he hadn't seen since high school. Old Johnny Dingleberry was up to meet later, but only for an hour or so around five as he had other plans for that evening. Energized and consumed by the opportunity before him he messaged John and told him he could meet him at the White Russian, a bar not too far from the center of town.
  He sat in the toilet stall and did another few bumps and waited for John's reply, which came through about the time he was getting ready to leave to go back to the seminar. He confirmed that he'd meet him at the White Russian.
  The only seats available to him when he stepped back into the hall were at the back, but he didn't mind. He wanted to get out of there early as soon as it finished so that he could beat traffic and make his way out. He hung onto every word more and more and was making notes in his head on how to bring it all home.
  The words flowed through him as he ducked out a minute or so before it finally ended and in his car he was muttering the mantra to himself over and over again. That's all that he had. Words. With words he could charm anyone. He had always been able to do it. Being handsome helped, and he had always been a popular character since high school. He wondered where it all went, though. An intrusive thought. Follow the steps, squash the toxic doubt. He made it to the White Russian with his confidence intact, ten minutes later than expected, but when he walked in he saw no sign of John Dingle. He found an empty booth and ordered a beer. By the time John Dingle showed up, he had gone through two and was working on his third.
  'Hey, Jim,' awkward John greeted him. He still wore glasses that was too large for his face and dressed like a lumberjack who shopped at a thrift store. 'How's it going?'
  'Johnny Dingleberry, nice to see you. Sit down, sit down.'
  'Dingleberry,' he smiled politely. 'No one calls me that anymore.'
  'They don't? Did you change your name?'
  'My name's Dingle. Not Dingleberry.'
  'Oh, shit, sorry, I thought that, I apologize, here let me get you a drink. What's your poison?'
  'A beer is fine. So, you're doing well?'
  'Man, I'm doing great,' he couldn't stop from grinning. 'I'm my own boss and, man, I'm just bringing in the dough with my business.'
  'Yeah, what do you do?'
  'Well, I'm a salesman. An entrepreneur.'
  'Alright,' Jim could see the suspicion in John's face and hear it in his voice. 'Like, what do you sell?'
  Jim smiled. 'I sell . . . inspiration.' He leaned back and let the word stand alone between them.
  'Inspiration?' John said with raised brows. 'So, you're a politician?'
  'No, no. I mean,' he leaned forward as if to confide in his counterpart. 'Do I look like a crook?'
  John pulled back as he got a whiff of the cloud hanging around Jim. 'Are you okay, Jim?'
  'I'm fine, what're you talking about?'
  'It's just . . .'
  'Listen, I have an offer for you,' he raised his hands like a magician about to pull some kerchiefs out of his sleeves. 'Evimeria Mind.'
  'Evi?'
  'Evimeria Mind. It's an energy drink, but not only does it give you some pep in your step, it also boosts your cognitive abilities.'
  'Jim, I . . .'
  'I use it all the time, man. It's great stuff. One can on a day when I'm just not feeling like myself, and – BOOM!' he slammed the table with his fist, 'I'm up and at them with the full genius of my brain. But, hey don't take my word for it, try it for yourself.'
  'I've heard that this Evimeria stuff isn't all that good for you.'
  'And where did you hear that? In the mainstream media? Bah, do yourself a favor and do your own research.'
  'Jim.'
  'What?'
  'Are you okay?'
  'Yeah, I'm fine. Are you?'
  John bit his lip. 'I heard you were living out of a motel.'
  'You told you that? That cunt is a fucking liar and I'll kick his ass in court for libel.'
  'Jim.'
  'Fucking what, John?'
  'Are you trying to hawk something at me? Is this just a sale's pitch.'
  'No, no, of course not. I . . .' flustered, he paused and drew in a deep breath. 'I just want to share my good fortune with you. Look, if you buy a box from me, I have these socks, amazing, just amazing what they do for your circulation, it's all in the feet, man, all in the feet, but I have these boxes, and, and if you buy one, you can sell them to, I don't know, ten of your friends. You keep buying from me and you keep selling them down the line and you'll see, you'll see, we'll both be fucking rich, man, fucking rich.'
  'Jim, I can't. I don't want to get into a pyramid scheme.'
  'It's not a pyramid,' he laughed nervously. 'It's not a pyramid. It's multi-level marketing, man. Listen, just buy a few and you'll see what I mean.'
  John, overcome with pity, relented and shared a sorrowful smile. 'Alright, Jim. I'll try some. How much for a pair?'
  A grin as wide as his face spread across Jim's face. 'They don't come in single pairs. It's a group of three pairs together.'
  'How much for a group then?'
  'Forty bucks.'
  'Forty? Forty bucks for magic socks?'
  'They ain't magic, they are scientifically proven vascular enhancers.'
  'Jim. You're selling socks that don't do shit.'
  Thoughts mulled and wrestled around in his head. There was a time when he kicked Johnny Dingleberry up and down the halls of their high school, made him piss his pants in front of the cheerleaders, and now he was getting pity and quiet contempt from him? 
  'You know what, Dingleberry, you can fuck right off.'
  'Jim, I'm sorry, but I can't. I want to help you out, but forty bucks for socks?'
  'You don't know a good deal when you see it. Fuck off, Johnny. Go, run back to your trailer in the woods, you cousin fucker.'
  John got up and left without paying, a fact that Jim only realized once he saw John drive off and disappear down the street. 
  He sat there in morose silence, strangers' eyes taking glances at him from afar, judging him, sizing him up. His body grew nervous and restless and so he slipped off into the bathroom to do some more cocaine. He sat down on the toilet seat and noticed too late that his overlong shirt had come untucked and was dangling in the water. He swore and kicked the toilet but only hurt his foot. 
  Defeat, he sat down and looked at his phone. It was well past six o'clock and there were several messages on his phone from Becka, the last of which was rather definite.

Don't even bother.

  He looked up at the toilet stall wall and saw failure written all over it. The mixed odors of cleaning products, urine, vomit and feces assaulted his nose that was dying a death of a thousand coke laced cuts. He couldn't see the stage anymore, nor himself on it. His story was scattered to the wind and his life was going down the drain. He was bound to return to his motel and carry on, not today, but tomorrow. 


Submitted: August 01, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Alexander Byrne. All rights reserved.

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HOUDINI

There's always the "scheme" and multitudes of people who believe...they run on the hamster wheel chasing the elusive, but always right around the corner success.
{Televangelists esp} Good story seems to illustrate that quite nicely. Well done. {When they finally become 'street people' they wonder how the got there...sigh..}

Mon, August 1st, 2022 5:32pm

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Thanks. I think hope can be as destructive as anything else, especially if the person holding on to it has decided to ignore reality and chase quick fixes.

Mon, August 1st, 2022 10:48am

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