Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Aldi (for J.Z.)

James was an internist with a private
practice on the south side of Chicago,
before the HMOs made that impossible.
He had just seen his last patient for the
day. He washed up. He spoke with his 
secretary about the next days appoint-
ments. He took off his doctor's smock
and put on a sports coat, went outside
and got into his Prius, and drove down
Kedzie. About ten blocks from his office,
he pulled into the parking lot of an Aldi
supermarket. At seven P.M., the parking
lot was not full. He parked away from the 
store, away from the other cars, in a spot
where he wouldn't be noticed at that time 
of night. He turned off the motor and sat
in his car not moving, just staring out the
windshield. He took out a cigarette, lit it,
took a deep drag, and exhaled.

in a little while he'd be heading home to his
house, to the other half of his life. He had a
routine after work: he took a shower, 
changed clothes, and went out to a bar, or a 
restaurant, or one after the other. He had an 
assortment of friends that he would hang out 
with at these places every night. Most of 
them were professionals of some ilk that he 
had known for some time. They all were 
alcoholics and/or drug addicts to varying
degrees. They all had achieved some success
in their fields, but were all doomed to ultimate
failure. This was his other world, the one he
had his other foot in.

His siblings were all either doctors or lawyers,
except for the black sheep of the family, who
had married a successful mechanic that had 
his own shop. She wanted nothing to do with
her family, nor they her.

James had a stable medical practice, and he 
made plenty of money, not that either of those
facts gave him any satisfaction. They were 
necessary only to enable and justify his 
existence, an existence molded by the 
psychological torture and soul washing he'd
received from his parents that made it virtually
impossible to lead anything close to a normal

He needed to be a doctor. He needed people 
to see him as see in their eyes that he
had succeeded in his parents ambitions for him,
which were nothing more nor less than their own

James knew this. He knew he wasn't living his 
life, but rather a simulacrum that he had been 
scared into that he could not escape from. So he
contrived to have another side to his life, a side
that neither his parents nor his doctor self would 
approve of.  He chose friends that would play up
to his persona, but were also real enough, in 
their drunken, addled ways, to be genuine, to 
have a certain measure of awareness and self 
knowledge, knowing that their grand schemes
and accomplishments were only preludes to their
inevitable train wrecks. It was a delicate balancing 
act that they played with themselves and that 
James played with them. In a way, it was a jovial,
good fellow war of attrition.

James had his practice that he would always go
back to in the morning, pull himself together, 
create that world anew each day, 'till each 
evening, start with pretense, gradually fall apart,
relax a bit, and be whatever-it-was at the time, in
his induced other world, which he longed to show
to his parents, but which he couldn't dare let 
happen. He wanted to scream at them: "See what 
you've done to me!!" But all he could muster was
discussion with his friends about how crazy the 
world was. Neither world he was in gave him any
peace. Both worlds were unrelenting in their 
disparate purposes. They were utilitarian worlds 
he needed in order to continue the life he did not
know how he had gotten himself into, but saw no 
alternative to.

So, for a brief time each day after work, he would 
drive to the parking lot of the Aldi, turn off the motor
and smoke a couple of cigarettes. This was his 
moment of nirvana, what others went to church for,
hopeful for solace. This was the only time he was 
not in either world. This was his monastery, his 
church, his moment of clarity...not that he prayed or
supplicated...not that he hoped for anything better
for his life. At this moment, he was Sisyphus, 
watching the rock rolling back down the hill, waiting
for it to stop rolling, so he could start his downward 
journey to the beginning once again. 



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