Smells Like Geriatric Despair

Submitted into Contest #59 in response to: Write a story that feels lonely, despite being set in a packed city.... view prompt

24 comments

Drama Science Fiction

There are roughly, on average, eight thousand people per square mile in the city of Seattle. From his top floor apartment on Capitol Hill he can see a million people or more, figuratively, although only his parole officer can see him back. To everyone else in the Emerald City he is virtually invisible, thanks to the Offender Cap strapped to his head which tells others it is illegal to recognize his existence. Despite this, he cannot help but spend his days walking the streets, watching the people who are prohibited from seeing him. 


The smell of the cheap, terrible food wafting rudely from Dicks Drive-In makes him long for the inedible fodder. He hasn't eaten anything except the Offender Rations since his sentence began two months ago, and did not know how he would make it through the remaining two-thirds of his time on nothing but canned casseroles and freeze-dried bread. The turkey terazini is actually passably good, but of course there is only enough of it to have once a week. He tries to take his mind off of food, but the harder he tries, the more he cannot help but imagine the glorious bouquet of aromas which emanate from a cluster of Thai restaurants in the U-District. His taste buds hallucinate the rich flavors of deep-fried tofu smothered in peanut sauce.


As he rounds the corner heading in the direction of Cal Anderson Park, he hears a familiar voice echoing from the direction of the reflecting pools. This is not one of the neighborhoods that his old friend Junior usually hangs out in, but it is not really surprising to find him anywhere around Seattle, given his wanderlust spirit. Dressed in baggy camouflage pants with large pockets and a 2Pac t-shirt, and sporting his toy store-purchased pro-wrestling championship belt, the aging Seattle street character is dancing to headphone music while imitating an announcer who is excitedly recounting details of an imaginary title match. He watches the highly animated man perform his heart out for twenty minutes, wishing he could say hello, before deciding to loop back towards Volunteer Park.


A slight drizzle, the kind which a native Seattle-ite would scoff condescendingly about if an outsider called it rain, began sprinkling down from the mercilessly grey sky as he walks. The barely inaudible pings on his cap are a harsh reminder that just because he is virtually invisible, he is not immune to the icy drops that betray winter's stubborn influence on this lonely spring afternoon.


He has never considered himself a criminal. It would be a stretch to even call him a scofflaw. This is not because he is particularly reverent about rules and regulations, but because he is almost pathologically terrified of the kind of conflict that breaking them might summon. When it comes to confrontation, he is like a hemophiliac in a room full of razor wire, careful to a fault. He didn't mean to break the mask law, but here he is doing the time just like some defiant bare-facer.


During last fall's flu season, a new strain of influenza popped up that was estimated to be one-point-two percent more deadly than the regular variety, and so the mask protocol was reinstated. He had worn his favorite full-spectrum filter mask, the one that looked like a camel's mouth, out to the bar on the night of his offense. Uncharacteristically, he had gotten so drunk that his friends were able to talk him into singing karaoke. As he stood on the small stage belting out the ridiculous lyrics to Total Eclipse of the Heart, his mask had fallen below his nose. He was too inebriated and preoccupied to notice it had even happened, but several patrons had taken pictures and reported him to Public Health Enforcement. The next day he found himself in the Greater Good Recovery Center being processed as a felon and fitted with the Offender Cap.


By the time he has made it halfway to Volunteer Park, the precipitation has escalated to what locals would allow tourists to call rain without responding with pretentious commentary. He stares at his feet to keep the acidic moisture from stinging his eyes as he walks. There is faded graffiti on the sidewalk and he stops to inspect it more closely, to see if he can discern what the message was that has now been lost to time and exposure. Kneeling down to get a closer look, he can see that it once read, "Courtney killed Kurt" - a common conspiracy theory of Seattle youth even almost three decades since the rock star's tragic early demise.


He wonders what Kurt would think of the world now. The same kids who had blasted his music while snubbing their noses at authority and tough love were now the same ones instituting and enforcing laws under the unquestionable guise of public health and safety. The generation who shook their fist at the adults in charge while chanting 'fuck you I won't do what you tell me' were now the adults in charge, and they were even worse than their predecessors in the totality of their attempt to control everything. With a grin he recalls the legendary grunge king's now-ironic lyrics.


"Teenage angst has paid off well, now I'm bored and old - Self appointed judges judge more than they have sold."


Maybe Kurt had seen this coming, and rather than face his generation's hypocrisy, he swallowed buckshot while he was still ahead. Whoever had painted the accusation on the walkway was wrong. Kurt killed Kurt. And in hindsight, in light of what the world had become - a prison of toothless milksops, it was probably the right thing to do.


When he arrives back at his apartment he pulls out his prized original pressing of Nirvana's Bleach and puts it on the turntable, hoping it will transport him to happier times, before the promise of an evolved humanity had died in utero and was delivered stillborn into a civilization that sounds more like easy listening than smells like teen spirit.


"And if you wouldn't mind I would like to breathe."

September 14, 2020 22:36

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24 comments

Zilla Babbitt
01:18 Sep 24, 2020

Here for the critique circle :) This is really good! The title is engaging and the story is intriguing and kept my interest right from the get-go. That ending-- wow, that was heart-wrenching. There's that meme (it's not really a meme, more like a lecture) where the man asks God, where's all the great leaders you promised us, and God says, I sent them, but you killed them before they were born. It went something like that, really stuck with me. Critique: I don't have that much to offer, this is great as it is. I'd say put in some dialogue...

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04:37 Sep 24, 2020

Thank you for the careful read and thoughtful response!

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21:47 Sep 16, 2020

I love how you tied Kurt Cobain into the whole thing. A lot of his lyrics hold deep meaning which reflect quite a few of today's problems. This whole story felt like a throwback to the 90's (not that I would know what that was like, haha) and I've got the perfect words to describe our old man's drunken night out "I'm not like them But I can pretend I think I'm dumb Or maybe just happy"

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21:53 Sep 16, 2020

One of the names I have used as an artist, musician and writer since my teens is :)happy:( based on those exact lyrics As a Gen Xer I feel like our middle path ways have been drowned out by a war between generations on both sides. I think there was wisdom in our irreverence and defiance that has been lost a battle of the sort of image, status and identity games we were trying to break free from. i hate everyone, but i want to live https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxiYdl8ABZs&t=20s

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22:01 Sep 16, 2020

Yes!! That is so true! It seems like people tend to forget that Gen Xer's even exist. There's so much drama going on between millennials and it's all about popularity and fame. There were a lot of valuable gems in your time.

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22:08 Sep 16, 2020

This is a phenomena that I call The Overcorrection Problem. Humanity never gets it quite right. We veer from one ditch to the other, bouncing back and forth, never able to stay firmly in the center of the road. There is always a minority of people who watch from the center, but it is so embarrassing and horrifying, that most people give in and join just so they don't have to watch.

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22:16 Sep 16, 2020

Yeah, definitely. I feel like technology (mostly social media) is to blame for a majority of this. Just when things were going perfectly, humanity decided to invent yet another reason to compare ourselves

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22:24 Sep 16, 2020

Media was already magnifying these tendencies, but the internet did seem to be the final straw. It rewards us for low effort conformity and punishes us for consistent authenticity. It takes all the glue that allowed us to create civilization, and glues us to the guillotine, while we vote for the avatar we want to drop the blade.

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Keerththan 😀
08:37 Sep 25, 2020

I love this story! You are a wonderful writer, Joshua. Keep writing. Would you mind reading my new story? Thanks!

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Kristin Neubauer
15:34 Sep 19, 2020

I just read the comment you posted on my Leaving story about looking at what we have lost over time....and then came to this story of yours. This must be an important concept to you lately and you've addressed it in such an innovative way here. The opening paragraph was great - I really had an image of this poor guy - and then the ensuing idea of it being illegal for people to see him was cool - kind of mindbending. I don't know much about Kurt Cobain and Nirvana (but Brad does so I will make sure he reads it), but I know enough about him...

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15:40 Sep 19, 2020

Yeah, lost is a current theme for me. Been contemplating all the Gen X wisdom that was lost in the war between Boomers and Millenials/Z. The sane generation got swallowed by image obsession and neurotic fanaticism about controlling all things. This was Black Mirror for the grunge generation. :)

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Lily Kingston
13:52 Sep 15, 2020

I like how you describe his crazy, drunken night out. Keep up the good work and keep writing!!

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14:25 Sep 15, 2020

Thank you. :)

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P. Jean
00:28 Sep 15, 2020

I liked it because it was so off the wall. But you must understand, most things are off the wall to me. Everyone gets lucky every once in a while and says something worthy of being remembered.

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00:33 Sep 15, 2020

And some of us work our butts off hoping to say a few of them before we get too comfortable or decrepit to keep trying. :) Thank you. :)

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P. Jean
00:42 Sep 15, 2020

How decrepit would one have to be to stop sharing brilliance? Keep writing!

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00:57 Sep 15, 2020

With any luck, one hopes to get too comfortable to find out. :)

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