What Adults Do

“It’s what adults do. They pay for their own bills, do things they don’t want to,” Randall insisted to his younger half-brother, Jeremy, as he took a bite of chorizo-filled eggs that would only add to his current out of shapeness and need for Zantac. What adults did, as far as Jeremy could tell, was turn complacent and give up on their dreams. That’s what was to be gleaned from Randall complaining about his oppressive job yet explaining to Jeremy when he suggested finding something else that it was all the same. “A job in an office is a job in an office. You’re going to have to deal with the same temperaments, the same power trips wherever you go.”

Jeremy couldn’t help but feel pity for him as Randall stabbed his fork into an errant chorizo shard and chomped down on it with rote gusto. In the blackness of Randall’s mouth, Jeremy could see his future. He had just graduated from SVA with a degree in animation, and wasn’t exactly amenable to the idea that aspirations are often unfulfillable when you’re not living on a parent’s dime. And that’s precisely what he had been doing for the past twenty-two years, only to have the rug pulled out from under him. The ripping off of this financial Band-Aid was, in fact, the reason why Jeremy had reached out to Randall. He was hoping to stay with his, up to now, rather estranged relation while figuring out some sort of “situation.”

Randall agreed to meet Jeremy at a diner in Chelsea knowing full well what his half-brother’s intentions would be. Jeremy was rather notorious in the family as an entitled leech. Then again, all “artists” were rather notorious for possessing this type of personality. It had, thus, always seemed to Randall that Jeremy was unjustly favored by their shared mother, Sandra. A classic example of the frigid matriarch who only gives her love according to which son metaphorically sucks on her mammaries with the most aptitude, Sandra was a regular user of Botox, triple sec and her Barney’s credit card. She had bleached her hair ever since she was twenty, and now, thirty years on, her hair was strongly starting to resemble the texture of bristles on a witch’s broom.

But they were bristles that Jeremy caressed each time he went home to have dinner with his increasingly lonely and isolated mother. Randall, on the other hand, kept to himself. A bachelor through and through. And an especially non-sexual one at that. His luck with women had established itself long ago, in high school. Consistently rebuffed by the females he was interested in, he only seemed to attract the more homely and desperate variety, prompting him to rely heavily on masturbation as a substitute for the sexual comforts of a woman. A psychiatrist would, of course, tell you that the shortage of affection from women in his adult life stemmed from Sandra withholding it in Randall’s boyhood. The constant fights and eventual divorce from his father, Martin (a garden variety silver fox of affluence, since remarried three times over), was what appeared to take up most of her time during key years of his growth–specifically ages five to fourteen. So as opposed to nurturing him with encouragement, the way she later would with Jeremy (hence his pursuit of the arts), Sandra simply ignored him, setting the tone for how all people of the feminine persuasion would eventually treat him.

The one long-term relationship he did have only lasted a year, and she was mostly visibly repulsed by him every time they had sex. He chose to ignore her cringing facial expressions by closing his eyes even before he orgasmed. Would it have been nice to have someone who loved him back in equal measure? Sure. But that’s not what adults do, Jeremy imagined Randall telling himself after being broken up with when Charlene found someone with a bit more personality.

And at this thought, Jeremy wondered if there was ever a time when Randall did have a personality. When he hadn’t so convinced himself that life had to be treated as a chore. Wanting to know more about a period in Randall’s existence when he hadn’t surrendered to an assembly line philosophy, Jeremy asked, “Wasn’t there ever a time when you wanted to do something? Wasn’t there ever something you wanted to be?”

Randall paused mid-chew to reflect upon the question. At thirty-six years old, it was as though he had finally been struck with the revelation of all that missed opportunity. As though Jeremy forcing him to remember a time before his self-imposed repression and oppression was all it took to unlock the Pandora’s box of regret. And then, after a mere split second of reflection, he admitted, “I wanted to be in a band. I only played the bass, but still. I was good at it. If Alex James could do it, so could I have.” With that, he exhaled, as though having just confessed to a murder he had tried to hide for decades, only to have the guilt of the crime weigh too heavily upon his heart for him to carry it to his grave. No sooner had the disclosure left his mouth than he went back to his standard stock-still demeanor, as though the inner failed bassist within him had been stuffed back inside like a Jack in the Box.

Jeremy tried to persist, asking, “So why don’t you just buy a bass and pick it back up again? Shit, teach music or something.”

Randall balked. “I’m not Jack Black. This isn’t the fucking School of Rock. I’m done. This is it.” He stared down at his plate absently for a moment before continuing, “You know those mothers who tell their kids that it’s never too late? Yeah, sure. It’s never too late when you’re fucking sixteen and didn’t make the varsity team so you can just try again next year. But when you’re older, it’s just something people say to help foster the delusion that, yeah, maybe it will get better. Maybe things can change. But they don’t, Jeremy. They just fucking don’t. So if you wanna stay on my couch, you can. But the grace period is two weeks and you’re out on your ass or back at mom’s. Either way, nothing is going to alter the course that your life is about to take. One veering inexorably toward stagnation and squandered promise.”

With that, he took a ravenous gulp from his coffee cup, slammed it down and tossed forty dollars on the table while rising from his chair. “You know the address if you want to further capitalize on my generosity toward adults who can’t admit that’s what they are.” And so he was out the door, allowing Jeremy to marinate in the defeatism of his speech.

******

Two years later, Jeremy had ascended the ranks to a high-paid position as a character effects artist at Dreamworks. From his successful perch in L.A.–or rather, Glendale–he paid for Sandra to move to his Los Feliz neighborhood (my, my, it really is evermore gentrified), leaving Randall further to his own devices in New York. And all this professional soaring–this achievement of that rare thing: getting paid to do something you actually love–was, in effect, owed to Randall. Not because Jeremy had taken him up on his offer to stay on his couch while he “gathered his bearings” in dragging his feet toward so-called adulthood, but because he had, unwittingly, provided the ultimate in cautionary tales about what it means to surrender to the pre-established convention of “maturity.” In short, he had prompted Jeremy to cling more vehemently to his dreams than ever.

 

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