He’s running now. He’s off like a gazelle. Or, not quite like a gazelle. There was a time in his life when he ran gazelle-like. Or, had moments where he could achieve a gazelle-like bound, but now with his age, his job, his wife demanding children, his competitive years decidedly behind him, and the financials spreadsheet not going away—
And if it weren’t for the trick knee he really would be off like a gazelle. He’d be off campus by now, out on the open road, heading toward the hills, but instead he’s here, hobbling down College Drive through droves of bikes that look old as shit being ridden by all these rich kids heading to class or somewhere else to do youthful things with other youthful kids who wear designer clothes under frumpy sweatshirts—
John doesn’t know designer. He doesn’t have a fashion-forward brain. He has a brain that makes him do this at lunch with his legs and his anger and his unceasing thoughts on resource distribution in his decidedly fucked community—
And other things like:
1. How his wife, a social worker in the poor area, works with real people– Mexican people with Spanish names and immigrant problems–real problems.
2. How he’s stuck in an ivory tower and works with rich kids–WASPy kids riding immigrant bikes who take their life of luxury and flip it on its head and present it like it’s the one full of real problems.
3. How is chafe isn’t going away. He’s seen doctors. Gold Bon isn’t helping, and–
He’s not even by the Main Quad yet—oh no—he’s still here with his shitty knee, and nut chafe, and he’s thinking that people who come from privilege get the luxury—the goddamn luxury—to go through life having to prove themselves incapable before an audience of generous supporters, while the rest of us—we office schmucks and immigrant workers—have to prove ourselves capable before an audience of hateful critics.
So John spits.
He hits the bright red fender of one of the rich kids’ trashy bikes and he hears this kid—this girl shout at him, disgusted.
But it’s the rich kind of shout and John has this innate ability to drown out the rich kind of insults with his extremely loud memories of his past, living in a suburban hellhole he thought was upper-middle class, only to discover in college he was probably lower-middle class or even poor-as-shit. Or, the people he hung out with convinced him through kindness, generosity and proper upbringing that he was poor-as-shit because they had those things in spades, and he spent most of his time pretending to have those things in spades, only to go home and do his best not to mention to his salesman father that his new college friends’ dads were, like, bankers and lawyers and doctors, and most of them had two of these in their families while he had, well, Ma who did all those other jobs—coffee pourer, teacher’s aide, bank teller, house cleaner—but most of the time didn’t do any of those things but made absolutely fantastic Cream ‘O Wheat.
“You dick! You totally just spit on me,” she says. She’s wearing sunglasses.
They all wear sunglasses. The girl looks pretty good actually, despite the draping hoodie.
“Umm … ,” John says and he’s wondering now why he stopped. Why he turned and walked—limped—back to this spoiled rich girl with the trashy bike who is expecting an apology because they all expect, deserve—are entitled to—an apology because of the luck of where they were birthed and who birthed them and why they were birthed, which all gives them this kind of authority, this kind of privilege—
John is looking for that other word, but he can’t think of it because he was public-schooled in the middle of nowhere as opposed to private-schooled in the middle of everything, and—
He looks at this girl who is quite pretty and has probably contributed more good to this world by the age of twenty than John has his entire life, despite clearly dealing with body dysmorphia issues for a good five to seven years, which John wholly understands because he dabbled in body dymorphia himself for about three years while trying to run 75-miles per week on 1500-calories per day.
This generation. They’re so dedicated and smart and tech-savvy. And John knows this for a fact because he’s been to their commencement ceremonies. He’s seen their resumes and he knows where they’re off to and how this world has been handed to them on a platter, as long as they show they have ambition and drive and a sense of fashion and go on service-learning trips to the middle of Africa or Asia or wherever to teach middle school children the intricacies of international finance in a week-long course they call a Workshop Intensive that look super good on those resumes that they hand to Morgan Stanley, now, instead of Bear Stearns, all the while waking at 4 a.m. to hit the gym for an hour of cardio and another hour of muscle toning.
And John’s read their research papers on this shit. And he’s told them good job. That their work is really impressive, but what he’s really thinking—what he’s really goddamned thinking—
Maybe they are good kids. She does deserve an apology, but John’s already fourteen goddamn minutes into his lunch and he’s now having to think he might have to cut his run short, do the 5.5 mile route, which is just like giving up. And would this girl just give up just like that? Throw in the towel this easily?
And dear God this girl is pretty, isn’t she? And she’s—
The word is in entitled. She’s an entitled rich kid who got a little spit on the fender of her trashy immigrant bike she no doubt bought at a store called a boutique which specializes in selling bikes that only look immigrant and trashy, but are actually quite dependable—
“Sorry,” John says.
Or maybe he doesn’t say it.
He definitely doesn’t wait for her reaction. He definitely does not make eye contact with her either because he knows the predatory eyes this generation has—they all have it—that viper stare, the kind that feels like two sharp fangs piercing his sac and draining his testes of all his manhood.
His coworkers do the same thing to him, excelling at things John can’t, possibly due to the generations of socio-economic struggle entwined in his family’s genetics.
For example, his coworkers eat quinoa with beet sauce for lunch. They make it themselves and pack it in a kind of Tupperware John has never seen in a store or on the Internet. It’s a fancier kind with these air-locking lids that clamp down and are clearly proprietary and sold at a kitchenware store John could never locate in a million years because John does not have the bull-headed confidence it takes to be a person who deserves that kind of superior lunch-toting technology.
So he does this, the running during his lunch hour, and he finally runs by the Main Quad, then the Much-Revered Computer Science Building, then around the administrative training buildings, then by a ranch—yes, a ranch—and then the golf course where a bunch of old white men laugh and hold golf clubs and practice public urination off a fairly busy thoroughfare because—
Oh, they deserve the privilege to piss on their golf course as the service workers and immigrants drive by in their dumpy trucks and rusty vans, and these old white men dangle their wangs in the eucalyptus air and think about beautiful financials spreadsheets and green grass that shouldn’t be green, but burnt brown and dead like the hills surrounding—
The place should be a desert or a park or something, but instead—
It’s like this oasis where old men piss out 80-year-old scotch processed by 80-year-old, failing kidneys in front of immigrants stuck in midday traffic on a road being expanded by other immigrants so they can drive their Teslas more quickly through American hills that smell like Australian forests—
So John spits.
One of them sees him spit and makes a whack off motion with his club, and this is an old man wearing respectable clothing and those wrap-around sunglasses, and John is now exactly 2.5 miles into his run, and he’s on a bike path right by the tee box, and there’s this white crane walking toward him. A bird that should be in the salt marshes. But here it is, bobbing its dumb head, stuck between a man who owns half the planet and publicly exposes himself on acreage that should be a national park and another guy, who’s angry and wearing short shorts and a tech-fabric T-shirt that makes his back break out in a constellation of vicious acne, but—
This is what John deals with. He accepts this. He accepts the fact that dumb beautiful birds will stand in the way of social justice because if that bird wasn’t there, bobbing and weaving and eating bugs, John would walk right across that fairway and jack the geriatric in the goddamn mouth because he has deserved a bloody lip for at least half a century for raping and pillaging the have-nots on most of the seven continents—
Not to mention he probably kills whales. Or knows the men who do all the whale killing—is probably golfing with them right now—and they’re actually not all old white men—they’re like poster geriatrics for a more diverse world—but they’re all golfing and wearing those clothes, the pastels and the wind-breaker vests—just clownish shit—but, likely, they’re all more than willing to pull their dicks out and piss on newly paved immigrant-made roads and that’s the crux of it—
The Japanese. They do the whale killing.
“You want to kiss me or fuck me,” one of them says in the strangest accent—maybe Armenian?
Politicians, John thinks, from one of the research centers where the real levers are pulled, or at least constructed by the Highly-Polarizing Political Figures who work there.
One full minute, John realizes, is how much time he has wasted, standing here and staring at these old men, while that white crane bobs its stupid head looking for wood bugs in grass that should be brown and dead and ready to light up like a torch.
They are sucking his life, his time to be on this road. He could be 1/7 of a mile further down the trail, but these fucking—
“Why don’t you all go rape Nanking … again,” John shouts—maybe—
He definitely says, “What?”—maybe a little aggressively, too.
“That’s what I thought,” the man says.
That’s what he thought? That’s what he thought, what?—
John does not have to waste any more precious time shouting down men covered in the liver-spots of Big Oil treachery and Lobby Hound manipulation.
So he runs.
He runs under the overpass where there’s a biker wearing a spandex outfit that matches his helmet and clippy shoes and even his bike—the entire get-up is worth more than John’s car. He runs along a busier road that twists through the foothills, where trees reach out and try to pull the hubcaps off all the imports—
John loves those, the trees. Even the eucalyptus—that invasive fucking species. Trees make sense to him. They sit there. They grow. They drink water. They create girth and weight and height by separating the carbon molecule from CO2—
They actually take that one little piece of air and turn it into a thing, a cell, cellulose, leaves, branches, roots, wood, bark—the shit redwoods are made of. To think—giant redwoods become giant from taking one little tiny bit of air. They take the C from the O2 and turn it into rock hard tree. They store it, they keep the carbon on the earth where it should be—
And that little piece of carbon came from—
Something like a meteor or a star—
It came from the beginning of time, from the Big Bang.
He—they—the rich kids and geriatrics—are stardust. They are meat sacks storing the dust of the universe while they jam through the cosmos on a mother ship they all call Earth, orbiting in a place that is itself expanding, and here he runs on gimpy legs by trees that eat air—the very air that he, himself, is made of—that every goddamned thing is made of—
Amazeballz, John thinks—
Amazeballz? This? From a guy who works at an institution of higher education? A really good institution of higher education?—if you can believe the hype on the Internet, and where kids come and they learn and then they rule the world—in that exact order.
We are stardust.
John should be smarter than this by mere proximity to intelligence. His daily thoughts on his run should be, in some way, elevated. Because he’s with the birds and the trees, and he’s in a place on the planet that some claim to be beautiful, but these people don’t have the allergies he has. It’s his Midwestern lungs. They need to be cleaned out by the cold. These people don’t see the hills ripe to burn.
It is beautiful.
The trees are amazeballz, at least.
It’s impossible to enjoy these trees while running along a beautiful but busy road because the cars try to hit him. John knows this for a fact. He sees them see him, and they swerve, maybe just an inch or two. They take curves a little wide and cross the white line, and they try to clip him. They try to break his back, and John knows exactly which cars will do it, too. The Audis and Land Rovers. These vehicles place real-live human pedestrians in the same phylum as orange construction cones.
John is a triangle. His purpose in the Grander Scheme is to be on the shoulder of the road to be crushed by Land Rovers driven by Venture Capitalists racing to a lunch at some Fancy-Ass Place in the Hills, where the people sit on balconies and are handed a real-live newspaper like The New York Times—with the print and ink and paper and the smell and everything—telling everything about yesterday’s news, while they drink—probably espresso or some kind of spring water that’s impossible to get—and make business deals based on some nineteen-year-old dork’s idea that was dreamt up near the locker room where John changes into the moldy running gear that causes his nuts to chafe before he embarks on a 7.5 mile trek of self-hatred and localized, yet internal and intense, societal shaming because—
Honestly, Land Rovers can really go fuck themselves. The people who drive those motherfuckers probably rape mice and/or starving children in the Pan-African-Asian region while practicing public urination as they human traffick their gold bonds to the nearest World Bank.
So John spits.
And he hits the tire of a truck driven by an immigrant worker who’s eating an orange at lunch as he’s pulled off the shoulder of the road.
“Hey!” this man shouts.
John stops. He’s only 3.5 miles in. Yet he stops again. He looks back. He smells the orange. It smells delicious, and the man—the immigrant worker in what is actually a really nice truck—is looking angrily at John.
“Oh, jeez,” John says. “That was an accident. Didn’t know you were in the truck. My fault, man. My fault,” he says as he walks toward the man.
“Why’d you spit on my truck?”
John realizes he isn’t going to go away. The juice drips down his hand, and it will clearly leave that sticky orange film on everything, and it goes to show—
This man truly doesn’t give a fuck.
“Err,” John says.
The man gets out. He is also hobbit-shaped. Perhaps more hobbit-shaped than John. John is envious of this man who carries his hobbit shape with such confidence. He pushes that barrel chest around. His legs, which look a lot like John’s stumpy legs, look load-bearing strong—like he could lift a pallet of bricks and swing heavy hammers and defeat hunger with hard work and drive. He’s avocado strong.
Fertile. He’s probably got kids. Unafraid to feed them.
This man is a—
He’s a man. A real, live man.
He has a belt buckle and forearms and that man-look and that cut to his jaw. He’s got facial hair growing everywhere.
And now he’s standing inches from John, and they see each other eye to eye. Maybe John stands an inch taller, but that might be because of the orthodics and high-density cushioning in his designer running shoes.
“I didn’t know you were in the truck, seriously. I just spit—because I’m running, you know,” John says, his eyes going where his eyes always go, away and down skipping right past his small dick that’s now—
He sees for the first time in his nearly 20 years of daily running it’s barely, just barely covered by the smallest loin cloth of ultra-light tech-fabric. The outline clearly visible and this man—
This man has on a belt buckle the size of a dinner plate and cowboy boots with silver tips and two-inch heels, and sturdy blue jeans that cup his nuts just right.
“You’d really spit on my truck if I weren’t in it?” he asks. “You just run around spitting on people’s vehicles, friend?” he says.
Friend, he says.
“I just spit. The running, you know. You get moving. It builds up. You spit when you need to spit.”
“You just spit. I hear you right, friend? In front of other people? You don’t think this is disrespectful?”
And this man has a point. And this man isn’t even that angry. He’s just telling it like it is.
And this man isn’t even that old. He’s got to be about John’s age.
And he’s got to have kids and responsibilities and projects more complicated than financials spreadsheets, and John wants to tell this man all this because John feels a kinship toward him, because John likes to see it like it is and say it like it is as well, but—
This man gets a call on his phone, and this man answers his phone while continuing to look at John, and he has those manly eyes where the fire of life burns, where the fire of knowing how to live the fuck out of life resides. He uses that speaker thing that some of those phones have. It’s like a cop phone. Crackle, crackle, blip, bloop, and he has a quick conversation all in Spanish, and it’s clear to John that this man, who is his own age, who is similarly hobbit-shaped, who has kids he needs to support, is also a leader of other men.
And it’s clear this man sees that John sees this.
And John is wondering if this man has ever had to do financial spreadsheets and put those numbers in little boxes that you need to get from Jackie, who always has that yoga mat.
“It’s not disrespect. It’s just doing what I gotta do when I run,” John continues because this is true and it is a point of utmost importance. This man should understand physical labor and the unintended consequences of an animal body excreting its excess as a result.
The man puts his finger up to shush John while he finishes his conversation.
John sees that his fingernails are beautiful and pearly white and so clean. Manicured. But this finger—this surprisingly androgynous finger that this man is holding up is also another command.
Jesus this man can lead.
And others follow.
John is already following him.
Because this man has his crew and his crew has got to be like John’s blue-collar uncles who call him professor—
Even when John reminds Uncle Bill he’s not a professor—
And tells Uncle Jim he’s not an asshole—
And shows Uncle Sal that he does for sure know how to work a wrench—
But John knows well his immigrant uncles who worked shit jobs their entire lives. He knows Uncle Bill has to say that racist shit when he remodels his bathroom because he has that kind of know-how. Just like Uncle Jim has to say that womanizing shit about his second wife when he takes down trees and uses chainsaws. Just like Uncle Sal has to talk about how politicians don’t know fuck-all about jack-all when he takes a deer apart piece by piece with a carefully whetted blade in Northern Minnesota when the sun is down and the cold is out and the quiet of winter has finally come. Just like they all have to spit when they need to spit, and they all have to talk Polish when they drink blackberry brandy, and they all have to say those things while drunk—about being divorced and how rich bitches sound like assholes and old white men don’t deserve a dime.
None of those fucks deserve jack—those leaders of men and rapists of mice and designers of eco-friendly but cost-prohibitive automobiles that sound like the wind.
Like this man—this fellow hobbit—this man who works hard and leads people—
He’s gotta understand spitting.
You spit when you need to, amigo.
But now this father is confronting John on social injustice, shushing him and waving his finger?
“You know my father was a famous runner. You ever hear of the Tarahumara? He ran those long races and won some, too.”
Has John ever heard of the Tarahumara? How could this man even ask that? John has read Runner’s World. He had a subscription to that shit for years until it became the beauty and fad-diet magazine it is today.
Goddamn right, John knows the Tarahumara. He knows their mysterious dominance in the 90s, showing up to ultra-marathons and killing it on 100-mile races wearing nothing but crappy-ass sandals made out of, like, twine and car tires.
He knows about their genetic predisposition toward running awesomness—the slow-twitch muscles that give them an edge over the competition.
He knows they hardly train and how they just show up and kick ass.
He knows the legend of Caballo Blanco, the white man who infiltrated their kind and ate beans and rice and ran twenty miles a day in the high deserts of northwestern Mexico, who was later found dead in a ravine.
Died on a long run.
Running through God’s country.
A white man dead in a brown man’s desert.
If John could be so lucky.
Oh, yes, John knows the Tarahumara.
But what John says is this, “You do any races?”
And the man laughs. Slaps his keg of a belly and laughs some more.
“Races? No, no. When I was younger, I did that. We played lots of games back then, didn’t we?”
When you were younger you played games, amigo?
This is not a game. This is life. This is 7.5 miles of peeling off the toxic crud that congeals to the skin when primal man steps into antiseptic offices. This is man reconnecting with his roots. This is man running his hunting trails and sniffing blood.
We should be wielding spears. We should be beating our chests. We should be taking our mates by the hair and having them in the fields.
We should have balls the size of sheep testicles that hang like avocados.
We should be naked and thin and brown-skinned and swaddled in the desert sunlight and asleep on the cooling rocks under the falling moonlight.
This is why John is here. This is why he spits.
Because the truck is not there, and the road is not there, and the eco-friendly vehicles are not there. Neither are the mouse rapists, nor the riders of faux-trashy bikes.
Or the financials spreadsheets.
Or motherfucking yoga.
This 7.5 mile run at lunch is when all that crap goes away, burned by the Tarahumara sun, made inconceivable by the primal man’s brain.
He does not sense these things. He does not see them, so how could this man, this descendent of purer humanity, who ran atop the plateaus in lands that are on the other side of the universe of Tech-Start-Ups think it’s—
“It’s not a fucking game,” John says.
“What?” this man says, backing away.
“This,” John says, pointing at his tech-fabric running shorts, his small dick pointing like a gun.
“This ain’t a fucking game. Comprende?” John says.
“What kind of racist bull—” this man says.
Fucking belt buckle.
To think this man was supposed to be John’s Samwise Gamgee.
To think this hobbit would go and turn on him like that?
With his history?
On their way to Mordor?
A man with that kind of greatness in his genes?
Living on rice and beans and wearing old car tires on his feet. Car tires that were made in the US of A, amigo. Up in Detroit, which was the Land of Innovation in its day, amigo.
And that’s where this place will come to in the end after these hills burn, amigo. Another graveyard for hippies and hipsters and failing artists to come and reclaim the warehouse shells of success that once-was.
And as this man backs away, his hands up, one palm smelling of orange, the other of technology and static and blips and bloops, he says, “Calm down, friend. Just didn’t want you to spit on my truck is all.”
But John just keeps walking toward him, and he leans into him, now realizing that his entire body is just brimming with adrenaline and rage and all the primal shit that—
He has that smell about him. The fight or flight smell. The tunnel-vision. How he returns to this place of pulsing red and surging will.
John looms over the man—now an inch away, foreheads nearly touching.
And, indeed, John is at least an inch taller than this man—this leader of men—and, indeed, this man is cowering.
And he makes a joke.
Not Ha Ha funny
But a joke told by a weak man, cowering before power.
“You gonna kiss me, friend?” is what this small man might have said—
But John doesn’t hear this type of shit anyway—will never hear anymore of it. He snorts like a bull, gravels the back of his throat, and—
Made of stardust, the cum of the universe.
About the author: Mark Rapacz is an editor and partner with the neo-pulp press Burnt Bridge and the founder of its imprint Blastgun Books. His short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Water~Stone Review, Southern Humanities Review, The Booked. Anthology, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. His novella Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines was recently re-issued as a historically accurate dime novel and is available through IndyPlanet. He and his wife currently live in the Bay Area, where he works at Stanford University and continues to write stories.
Artwork: Justin Schapker is a photographer living in Cincinnati, Ohio.