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Nov 05, 2020

Contemporary American

Adrian woke with a hangover, and with the morning sun hitting him full on in the face through the lounge room’s bay window, needling his eyes like so many white-hot skewers. He pulled the blanket over his head and tried to block out the light, along with the feeling like his cranium was going to split open and his brain was going to ooze out of his nose and ears. But the blanket did little to help. In truth, along with the pounding in his head and unrelenting assault on his senses, he felt overheated, sweat-less, and delirious with a notion that he would like nothing more to plunge himself into the river that ran behind his friend’s house and drink it dry.

Corey, the friend Adrian had been staying with during his separation and subsequent divorce from his wife, had been gracious enough to allow him to crash out on the leather couch in the lounge room for the past few weeks as the divorce was finalized. The house was large and rustic, airy and open, and settled in amongst the copses of tree far enough back from the main road to provide a secure sense of privacy, while also being near enough to the thoroughfare to cause envy in all those who drove past on their daily commutes. It was, truth be told, too large for one man and Adrian couldn’t help but feel that it was lonely in its extravagance, though pleasant in the aloneness he could experience at any hour of the day despite the knowledge that his friend was never more than one or two rooms away.

Adrian kicked the blanket away and groaned as he sat up. Where it had managed to make contact with bare skin, the couch’s leather peeled away with a sucking sound. What he needed right now was coffee and a lot of it. He padded around the couch across the lounge room’s large area rug and stepped off onto the cool hardwood that tied all the rooms in the house together. The kitchen was a straight shot and he followed his shadow past the central island to the counter top on the far side where the coffee machine sat. He switched it on and it gurgled and dripped and started to infuse the air with a bitter smell that he sorely could not live without this morning. In the meantime, he went over to the sink and filled a glass to the brim with room temperature tap water, downing it with one long gulp, and then doing it again. He also snapped a banana from the bunch hanging on a hook in the middle of the island and mashed it into his face.

Despite how awful he felt physically there was still a growing sense of excitement within him as he realized what this new morning was bringing with it. Thankfully, he’d set up the SLR the night before, before he and Corey had soaked themselves in alcohol and sponged it up with a ‘Congratulations on Your Divorce’ cake, and he now pointed it at the couch he’d slept on the night before, crawled back beneath the blanket, and did a re-enactment of himself rising from his slumber on that new morning. He then turned the camera around to the bay window and filmed himself passing in front of it in shadow. He performed both of these actions a few times each to make sure he had enough coverage, and by then the coffee machine had finished spitting out its life-saving nectar and he rewarded himself with a cup.

He felt the steam from the coffee on his face, the heat on his knuckles where they grazed against the mug’s ceramic—tasted the lashing bitterness as it flowed past his gullet and coated his throat; listened to the birds in the trees outside performing a lively orchestration of the dawn’s chorus—and everything was still for the moment.

“Morning,” Corey croaked as he emerged from the farther reaches of the house and hobbled his way over to the coffee machine.

Adrian raised his cup and muttered, “Morning,” past it before taking another sip.

Corey’s eyes were small and tight and he grimaced as he filled his own mug and tried to take a few tentative sips from it before the coffee had gotten a chance to cool. He then rummaged through his cabinets and drawers for a bowl, a spoon, and a box of sugary cereal. The bowl and spoon he threw onto the table, dumped the cereal into the bowl, and drowned the cereal with milk before plopping himself down before it. He spend long moments crunching meditatively before regaining enough of his vigor in order not to appear as if he were about to keel over at any moment.

“So…” he spoke, “today’s the day.”

“Today’s the day,” Adrian agreed.

“Nervous?”

Adrian shrugged, but he said, “A little.”

Corey crunched some more, then he stated, in a way that was not open to argument, “You’ll be fine.”

Adrian sighed. “Yeah.”

He then turned around and looked out the kitchen’s window, toward the pole barn garage that sat next to the house, tucked a little farther back into the trees than the house was. The doors on the garage were closed, but in his mind he could vividly see what awaited him on the other side. He’d spent three years constructing the…. Even now, he wasn’t sure what to call it exactly, even to himself. The best way he could describe it was as a cabin-on-wheels, which was a pretty fair assessment, honestly, but lacked the “oomph” he desired when telling others about it, particularly his audience and anyone he might meet in the future. A “rolling habitation” had been offered up by one of his fans, and while he wasn’t against using the term he knew that the words would sound ridiculous the first time he uttered them. Up to this point, he’d referred to the construction as “The Project”, a name which stuck (at least for him) and which brought with it the kind of seriousness and self-importance he otherwise felt he lacked in every other area of his life.

Three long years to arrive at this moment. Even now it felt like nothing more than a pipe dream.

Though, perhaps, it’d been even longer in the making.

Almost ten years to the day, he’d married London, his now-ex-wife, and had gone to work for her parents’ company. While her father had informed Adrian that he would need to start from the bottom and move up like any other employee, the older couple had been gracious enough to provide a house and the furnishings to go along with it for the newlyweds. And then, later, a new car for Adrian, to replace the older-model, banana-yellow Datsun he’d been driving previously, which had stuck out like a sore thumb next to his wife’s black Benz parked in front of their white-picket-fenced, all-weather-aluminum-siding-ed, quaint, little starter home. He’d loved that car. He’d bought it at seventeen with the money he’d earned from a summer job and taken pride in fixing and maintaining it ever since. But, at his wife’s parents’ behest, it was gone just like that, to be replaced with a Porsche that, while fun to drive, didn’t have that homey, lived-in feeling he’d enjoyed so much with the Datsun.

He should’ve never let that car go.

And true to his father-in-law’s word, Adrian did start out at the bottom of the family-owned company, though he did sense that he was given preferential treatment, being the bosses’ son-in-law and all. He was promoted in no time at all, and given responsibilities, and promoted yet again. London, obviously, had been working there for some time already and was well on her way moving up through the ranks herself. Meaning, she was higher up in the company than he was, and would remain so throughout their marriage; and, in all honesty, she was far more upwardly mobile than he was. Though he wanted to keep an open mind about it, it did bother him that, as the man, he was not the breadwinner in the home. He cared far too much about it for far too long. To recall it even now made him ashamed.

But it worked out in the end.

The promotions kept coming, but he began to refuse them. This was maybe five, six, years into the marriage and the bubbling vat of discontent that he realized he must’ve felt since day one had grown too hot and sulfurous to ignore any longer. The marriage had begun to smell of rotten eggs. The grave looks of disappointment on his in-laws’ faces too long and drawn to go unseen. Even London herself had taken to berating him for his lack of ambition. He’d found himself in a dire situation with seemingly no way out.

“I’m going to head out to the garage,” Adrian announced, and gave a head-nod to Corey. He brought the mug of coffee with him.

He exited from the kitchen through the side door and stepped out into a warm spring morning. Out here, the birds’ shrieks and chirruping was cacophonous, and the air was alive with the smells of verdant vegetation, muggy with the mists that rose off the mud-brown river. He raised the largest of the garage’s bay doors, and there it was—“The Project”—looking ridiculously alien with its white-and-black cab facing him, which was dwarfed by the peaked-roofed, all-wood construction that sat just behind it.

Inspiration had struck in the form of a YouTube binge. He’d somehow managed to happen upon a few of those travelogue channels. They were all so self-sufficient, rugged and tanned and bright-eyed, callouses on their fingers. Each day was a new adventure, it seemed; something always breaking down, a freak storm that had to be faced, food-poisonings and twisted ankles and flaring tempers. But most importantly, there was the thick grease of freedom smeared across every inch it, a duty to the highest Being: the Self. He’d fallen in love with the notion almost immediately.

Luckily, he’d saved tens of thousands of dollars at that point—he’d had nothing else to spend it on—and he’d quickly arrived at the idea that he would buy a box truck, strip away the cargo container from the back, and build a small, narrow, wooden cabin over the chassis instead. It was an absolute insane idea for him to have, but once he’d had it he couldn’t let it go. He just needed somewhere to store it while he worked on it. That’s where his friend, Corey, came in.

He’d first met Corey while working at London’s parents’ company, another sad sap just as disinterested with rising through the ranks as he was, though Corey had the good sense to get out much sooner than Adrian did. He’d left the company about eight years before to pursue an education in law, and somehow the two of them had continued to keep in touch during that time, trading texts back and forth to each other every few months. Adrian only had to ask to use Corey’s spacious garage in order to find a home for “The Project” and he was good to go.

Or almost.

In order to do it “right”, in order to do it “properly”, he needed something more than just “The Project” itself. He needed to document the journey. And, seeing that he’d be pouring all of his savings into building the thing, he needed capital to fund the start of his own YouTube channel, “By the Back Ways”, to kick-start it if you will. So he created a Kickstarter and set the goal at $5,000. This, he informed his backers, would allow him to purchase all the necessary equipment—the cameras, tripods, microphones, etc.—as well as hire a graphic designer to create the channel’s logo and, most importantly, to pay for a editor to sort through the footage and make something watchable out of it. Adrian wasn’t going to bother trying to fool himself into thinking that he knew the first thing about creating compelling content. And, luckily, the Kickstarter not only reached its goal in a matter of just a couple of weeks, it finished with double the asked for amount, despite Adrian never promising his backers anything more than a YouTube channel chronicling his attempt to make a traveling abode; despite being upfront with the fact that, unless there was actually an audience for it, the channel would be short-lived.

“By the Back Ways” was not short-lived, though it could’ve easily died during the first few months. Adrian had underestimated just how much it would cost to hire a knowledgeable editor and even with the extra money he had to play with his funds dwindled with frightening rapidity. In addition, YouTube’s algorithms were not kind to him, which made it impossible for him to quality for their AdSense program during those first few months, and the money he earned when he did finally quality was only a pithy amount, besides. Though it made him feel beyond guilty to do so, Adrian found that he had to plea with his viewers for even more money. He set up a Patreon and this time he actually came up with tier rewards for the most generous patrons, such as exclusive live-streams of the build-in-progress, little rubber key-fobs with the channel’s logo printed on it, and, for the most insanely generous patrons, the promise that “The Project” would come to visit them, so long as they lived somewhere within the continental United States (he would’ve restricted it to only the contiguous U.S., but there was something very appealing about taking the cabin-on-wheels up into the snows of Alaska). This created a relatively steady stream of income to keep the channel up and running, and from there it was pretty smooth sailing.

Of course, things only worsened more and more in his personal life. With the “The Project” well under way all of his free time was readily spoken for and any inkling he might’ve had to apply himself at his in-laws’ company went right out the window. London thought it was a foolish endeavor and belittled both it and him to no end. Adrian found every excuse he could to go to Corey’s and either work and film, or just hang out with the burgeoning lawyer. Somehow, even with how bad things were during that time, it didn’t occur to Adrian to pursue a divorce until Corey brought it up; and even then it wasn’t something that he gave serious consideration to start with.

“Divorce is like giving up,” he’d told Corey. “I don’t want to give up just yet.”

Corey could only shake his head sadly.

During the previous year Adrian’s home life had only grown more and more claustrophobic, until he was afraid to even breathe if it might set London off on telling him how much of a failure he’d become. He’d even willingly started sleeping on the couch most nights so he wouldn’t have to feel like she was fuming at him even in her dreams. In retrospect, he knew he’d left it for much too long, but unlike the excitement and drive he felt for “The Project” he could feel no similar drive to end his marriage and he only walked toward that dawning notion with tentative steps.

It wasn’t until “The Project” was nearing completion and he had to consider how he would support himself while out on the road that Corey came to him with the magic word.

“Alimony.”

“Alimony?”

“Yeah, you do realize that London makes more money than you do, right?” Corey’s eyes shone with impish gleam.

“Of course!”

“Well…if you two were to get divorced she would have to, you know, pay you alimony.”

“Really?”

“Yep!” He wore a malicious grin.

Adrian thought about it. “You know,” he said, “if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re really into the idea of me getting divorced.”

Corey, so reserved otherwise, laughed maniacally.

Now, here Adrian was, out of a job as soon as he informed his to-be-ex-wife of their divorce, out of a home just as fast, but fortunate enough to see a sizable payment coming his way each month as soon as the ink dried on the papers. Corey, acting as Adrian’s divorce lawyer, would receive London’s payments and deposit them into an account that Adrian would be able to access from anywhere. He was set. All that was left was to actually begin the journey.

Adrian unlocked the driver-side door on the cab and climbed in. On the dashboard were two mounted Go-Pros, one facing forward and one facing back toward the driver’s seat. He switched on the one facing back and set it to recording. He also picked up a handheld audio recorder from the passenger’s seat and switched that on and started it recording as well, then placed it on the dashboard alongside the camera.

Adrian took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and gave a single, sharp clap to his editor would be able to sync up the audio and video later. Then he spoke:

“This is it,” he said with awe, “this is where it all begins.”

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1 comment

03:16 Nov 16, 2020

I thought this was really well done. Everything is cleverly thought out, down to the details. 😃 In addition the writing itself is also excellent. The only comment I have is you tend to ignore commas entirely for large periods of the story, and in inverse have many run-on sentences chained with semicolons and commas. Just gives the individual paragraphs some wonky flow—I had to read some of the instances twice or three times. But otherwise, awesome work! I hate good stories with no comments so I had to read this one.

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