My time spent in existential purgatory began the summer I read No Exit. It brought me the realization that people prefer words over action. When given the opportunity to effect change they fail to take the exit. I bought into existentialism that summer. From Sartre I learned it doesn’t matter why we are here, or how we got here, only that we are here. I had long believed time is merely an empirical human construct that prevents everything from happening at once. Existentialism convinced me of the correctness of this belief. I threw away my watch, vowing to never wear one again.
I quit arriving at work on time. It irritated my supervisor Jennings to no end, “Do you know what time it is?”
“That isn’t funny. Do you know the difference between eight am and nine am?”
“You’re going to either have to learn how to be on time or I’ll be forced to furlough you.”
Furlough is a sanitized corporate way of saying you’re fired. Jennings was a consummate executive, born to boss, lived by the golden rule: Those who have the gold; rule.
I hated his guts. My hatred was absolute. Sartre is right about hell being nothing but other people. I should be more respectful. But that wasn’t the period I was in. I had developed my own No Exit philosophy of autonomy. I would only go through doors of my own choosing. “I know how to be on time, I just refuse to let time control my life.”
“If you’re late tomorrow, you’re furloughed.”
That night I put my watch back on and set my alarm clock, deciding my thoughts about time and coincidence were all pretty silly and meaningless. I believe we all look for meaning to our being here, the why of everything. Most likely, though, Sartre and Camus are right, there is none. The universe is in a constant state of flux, other than the bonding of particles it’s mostly random. It’s only meaning therefore is simply whatever we assign to it. The regions of heaven, and lands filled with distant gods, are merely an idea, a grand illusion that only manifests itself under the hallucinogens of bygone dream makers like Leary and Castenada. Whether or not it was relevant to my reality, being on time was relevant to Jennings and his reality.
After finally deciding that nothing is certain, except uncertainty, I gave up and joined the flock. I was to work promptly at eight am the next morning.
“Good morning, sir,” I said, as Jennings walked past my cubicle to his glass walled office.
He merely nodded his acknowledgement of my presence.
There is a force that bonds the elementary particles of the universe together; you might call this force God. I believe we can connect to this force. In the end it doesn’t matter what you believe, but what you did. The ignoring by Jennings set me off. The entanglement of my particles became un-entangled and my self-control exploded with the force of the Big Bang. I walked to Jennings glass cage and knocked on the walnut door, then entered without waiting for permission. “Jennings,” I said.
He furrowed his brow above his glasses, peered out at me through them like a hawk taking a bead on a pigeon. “That’s Mr. Jennings, John.”
“Yeah, well, Jennings, that’s what I’m here to talk about.”
Jennings nodded. “Okay, respect then. Let’s have it, John, I’m busy this morning. No time for trifles.”
“You’re an asshole.”
Jennings stood up. Apparently asshole was more worthy of getting his attention than my showing up for work on time. “You’re fired,” he shouted, in his excitement using the un-sanitized verb.
I reacted poorly. Punched him hard in the nose, flattening the soft cartilage just below the bridge. Blood splattered forth into the room, but fortunately, although excruciatingly painful, he wouldn’t require surgery. The blow stunned him, he dropped to his knees as if to pray.
I thought about unzipping my fly and blessing him with a little holy water. But I was in enough trouble. What to do, fight or flight? Our reptilian brain’s first two impulses. I had already done the fighting. I backed out of his office deciding to use the elevator and exit the building. Once outside I would be free of Jennings, of bondage, of tyranny.
Nancy, the blond goddess in the next cubicle to mine, the one I loved madly, stood as I walked past. “Are you leaving for the day?”
At this moment, Jennings, who Nancy loved to her cells, staggered out of his office, hand over his bloody nose.
Nancy rushed to his aid but he shoved her away. As much as she loved Jennings the way I loved her, Jennings had no feelings whatsoever for Nancy.
“I’m calling the police,” he yelled as I stepped into the elevator.
I gave him the finger as the elevator door closed.
I felt like Jesse James all the way home. I packed up some stuff; a few articles of clothing, some music, revolutionary tunes, Marley, Stones and Traffic. I listened to Shanghai Noodle Factory all the way past Ann Arbor. I was doing what Jesse would do, head for the hills. The Irish Hills that is, not the Black Hills. This isn’t South Dakota, this is Detroit, a real frontier. I imagined a posse in hot pursuit. I needed to escape from Hell as much as anyone in No Exit. I had gone through the door. I was out. But on the run, freedom and hiding becoming synonymous.
Once in the hills I found a secluded area on top of one, a refuge where I could park my car behind some trees and get a beer out of my cooler. I hadn’t packed much food, didn’t have much in my fridge. Just some three day old pieces of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a stale biscuit. But there was beer, Corona, and I had packed a bottle of Evan Williams, my favorite primo ten bucks a quart bourbon. And of course enough weed to keep my head above Sartre, Jennings, and into the clouds for the next couple of weeks.
Every great prophet has his own mountain. I am no prophet, but I have my mountain.
DJ Swykert is a fiction writer and former 911 operator living in the Cincinnati area. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Coe Review, Monarch Review, the Newer York, Lunch Ticket, Gravel, Zodiac Review, Sand Canyon Review, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include Children of the Enemy, Maggie Elizabeth Harrington, Alpha Wolves, Sweat Street, Three-fingered Jack Davis, The Pool Boy’s Beatitude and The Death of Anyone. You can find him at: www.magicmasterminds.com/djswykert