This is an excerpt from The Spectacular Simon Burchwood, the new novel from writer Scott Semegran
The best advice anyone has ever given me was this gem from my grandfather: Always, always brush your teeth. Insight from a 90 year old man (who still has all of his teeth, for crying out loud) is priceless. It's true. Unfortunately, old people get the short end of the stick from society most of the time. It seems young people get too caught up in the fact that old people can be forgetful or cranky or smelly or sentimental or resentful or all of these things rolled up into one cantankerous son of a bitch or one spiteful old witch. The one thing most young people gloss over is the fact that they themselves are selfish to the point of narcissistic catastrophe. It's really a goddamn shame. It's true. Young people can be a bunch of selfish assholes, the whole lot of them. Now, it is true that I've encountered some old folks who smelled like a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich that had been left in a sock drawer for an indeterminate amount of time, which is quite horrifying in the olfactory sense. But that is beside the point. So here it is: to live to be 90 years old is a real feat and any insight into how someone gets to be that old is important. Period. Because to be honest, I'm surprised that some of the idiots I encounter on a daily basis live to see tomorrow. It's true. Young people can be a bunch of goddamn idiots.
Back to what is important here. I was sitting with my grandfather and some of his good buddies one time when I was a teenager. They were all quite old, as old as my grandfather or close enough I'd imagine, but were all very lively and talkative and happy. They were all beer drinkers and very enthusiastic about making each other laugh so jokes were being volleyed about between sips of beer. They weren't much into being reflective unless someone asked and for some reason, I felt like asking for advice this time. Once I did that, the floodgates opened. "Finally!" I imagined them thinking collectively. "A youngster interested in what we have to say!" I wanted some general good advice, what to do as I moved forward in age toward adulthood. And here, in no particular order, is what some of them had to say:
- Don't get attached to your job
- Never hit a woman
- Ejaculate at least once a day, either through intercourse or masturbation
- Drink at least one alcoholic beverage a day, preferably beer
- Keep in touch with your parents
- Volunteer your time to people in need
- Drink plenty of water and eat lots of fruit and vegetables.
- Always ask for bacon on your cheeseburger
- Follow your dreams
- Never be boring
- Be true to yourself
- Eat ice cream when you're sad
- Never judge a book by its cover
When it was my grandfather's turn, he said, "Always, always brush your teeth." Of all the advice given that day, this one piece of advice seemed to get the largest amount of consensus from the group. An agreeable mumble was groaned as they all nodded their heads. It was an amazing goddamn thing to witness. It's true. Their collective age must have been over 1,000 years and this was the best advice: Always, always brush your teeth. So, being young and foolish and curious and a goddamn idiot, I asked my grandfather why that was good advice. He said, "Son, of all of your bodily functions, eating is the top of the heap. They have remedies for the other functions but this one, it's the most important. If you can't walk, then they'll put you in a wheel chair. If you can't crap right, then they'll put a diaper on you. But if you can't eat, if you can't enjoy your sustenance, then there ain't no remedy for that. Life ain't worth living if you can't chew your own food." So there it was: wisdom from the elders. Who was I to question this wisdom? They obviously had lived a long time and I was just a little shit. It's true. It must be very important advice.
The reason I bring this up is because my coworker (who will now be formally nicknamed Snaggle) had the absolute worst teeth I had ever seen on a human being in my entire goddamn life. The slang term snagglepuss was invented specifically for Ryan, my young genius coworker, whose teeth looked like they had all been pulled out with pliers at some point in his early life and jammed back into his gums by a maniacal chimpanzee on mescaline. It's true. Snaggle had one busted-up grill. However, his dental condition didn’t keep him from socializing. In fact, he was at my cubicle at every opportunity to flap his gums and play a vigorous game of pocket pool, yapping about computers and software and programming and batch files and girls. He loved talking about girls but, I imagined, he probably had never touched a girl in his entire life. With the way his breath smelled, I was absolutely sure of it.
I felt pretty down about what had happened to my kids and was trying to decide what to do about it. The last thing I wanted to do was go to work. Work has a way of making a shitty day even shittier. It's true. The phone queue was relatively quiet when I heard the sound of coins and game tokens and paper clips and Dungeon and Dragons dice and car keys jingling behind me. That jingle, it was the warning sound. Snaggle was in my presence. He and his abused testicles were right behind me.
"What's up?" he asked, his hand in his pocket furiously tossing his nuts like a squirrel working on an acorn.
"I was bored last night so I built a Linux server in my living room. Took me an hour."
"Really? Sounds interesting."
"You ever been to Costa Rica? They say you can get a hooker there that looks like a super model to give you a blow job for only $2."
"Uh, I've never heard of that."
"Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was really a grand dragon in the KKK?"
"Are you going to request any Microsoft Training this year?"
"No, probably not."
"There are dozens more planets in our solar system but the government and NASA are keeping them secret. Chimps were sent to Planet UZ-37 in 1966 but they still haven't arrived."
"Ryan?" I asked, annoyed.
"Are you bored?"
"I'm trying to figure something out and I would appreciate some privacy, if you don't mind."
"Privacy? At work?" He started to laugh and cackle and guffaw all over the goddamn place, his lips smacking against his mangled teeth, little globs of spittle flying in the air. As weird as this may sound, he reminded me of Jason the way he laughed like that. It was one, weird, nerdy déjà vu. It's true.
"Yes, privacy would be nice."
"That's really funny, Simon. I would think that..." Just then his phone rang and he ran for his cubicle, the coins and dice and paper clips pouring from his pocket as he tried to get the call before it went to the next tech in the queue. Nothing looked worse on your job performance report than calls passing you in the queue because you didn't answer them. They would dock your pay if you missed calls so if the phone rang and we weren't at our desks then we would run like wild men to catch the call. It was a goddamn sight to see sometimes. It's true.
With Snaggle gone, I could get back to the task at hand which was to figure out where my ex-wife Jessica was taking the kids. She mentioned moving to Dallas in her text message but that was it. She didn't give any other information. Typical. I tried to call her but got no answer. I sent her emails but got no replies. I sent her text messages but got no responses. It was all so disheartening. I told you divorce was a goddamn mess, the scourge of society. It's true. We had an agreement that neither of us would move and take the kids out of a certain geographical area but, as you can see, agreements don't mean shit to anybody. People do whatever they goddamn well please. It's true. Selfish bastards.
Here's the thing: 9 times out of 10, when you make an agreement with someone, they have absolutely no intention of keeping that agreement. It's true. It's a rare thing to find an individual who will look you in the eye, shake your hand, and keep their fucking word, even for menial little things. A friend might ask, "Can I borrow your drill?" And of course, you say yes. "I'll bring it back to you tomorrow." Sure, no problem, buddy. But guess what? Say goodbye to that goddamn drill because it will vanish in a dark hole of bullshit agreements. And it doesn't stop there. It goes all the way up the ladder of society, all the way up to the top. How many times have you heard leaders of various countries say they have come to an agreement with a foe or a disgruntled neighboring country or a terrorist group or whatever? Guaranteed, the minute that shit is signed, any intention of upholding that agreement vanishes into thin air, just like that. Bye bye. Those bastards look at you and think to themselves, "I can't believe they think I'm going to sign this thing and keep my promise. Suckers!"
Divorce is no different. In fact, divorce is the grand sucker of all sucker agreements. Here it is: ex-spouses pay lawyers thousands and thousands of dollars to help them come to an "agreement," an agreement that involves their property, their finances, their time, their retirement, their children, etc. This agreement devised by lawyers...
Jingle, jingly jingle, jingle.
Jingle, jingly jingle, jingle.
Jingle, jingly jingle, jingle.
I heard the jingly noise coming from behind me. It was the warning sound. Remember? I peered over my shoulder. Snaggle was in my cube again. He stood over me, his snaggle-teeth bursting through his terse smile, remnants of his breakfast on his shirt pocket. He was a goddamn pig dressed up in nerd's clothing. It's true.
"Did you know that a woman's clitoris is 100 times more sensitive than a man's penis?" he asked. I don't need to tell you what he was doing in his goddamn pocket, do I? Of course not. The jingly jingle, jingle was sufficient enough. His testicles must have looked like 6-month-old tennis balls by now.
"I did not know that." He was in my cubicle for less than 30 seconds and he was already getting on my last goddamn nerve.
"Did you know that some land crabs in Cuba can run faster than a horse?"
"Uh huh?" he said, his hands plunging deep into his pant pockets, probing for places on his testicles that had not been touched before. It was fucking unbelievable.
"Seriously, are you that bored?"
"No. Why do you ask?"
"Because..." I tried to think of the most polite way to ask him why he was fondling himself in public in a very unashamed fashion. But that was very difficult to do. Unfortunately, you need to be polite to your coworkers in this day and age unless you fancy getting shot in an unprovoked display of workplace violence. Believe me, all of your coworkers are capable of killing you at any moment. They are probably thinking about killing you right now. It's true. "Oh, nevermind."
"Do you know why chickens can't fly?" he asked.
"No." I laid my head on my desk. It was all just too much to take. Really. All I could hear in my head, over and over, was 'Why does life have to be so goddamn hard?' Life could be a real kick in the pants, you know? It's true.
"Simon, are you OK?" Snaggle sounded genuinely concerned, which was nice to hear. Sometimes, it's pretty easy to underestimate people, especially coworkers with fucked up teeth and the habit of pulling their pud in the company of others. Maybe I was being too hard on Snaggle. Maybe.
"I sure could use some time to relax. Or a massage. That sounds nice, a relaxing massage."
"A massage?" he asked, his voice perking up. "Boy, do I have the perfect thing for you." He skipped over to his cube, fumbled around on his desk, shuffling papers and shit, and skipped back to my cube. He had a smile stretched across his snaggle-puss that would make the Cheshire Cat look modest. It's true. "Here you go."
He handed me a business card. It said, "For a Relaxing Massage, email Jenny."
"You should make an appointment," he said, cackling his goddamn head off. "She'll definitely give you a relaxing massage."
"Thanks. I'll do that."
Snaggle's phone rang and he bounced back to his cube. Maybe I was being too hard on him. I remembered back to that time when I was hanging out with my grandfather and his good old buddies and another piece of advice from one of the old men that I forgot to mention earlier was never judge people too quickly. I remembered the old man telling me that the cliché of not judging a book by its cover was very true and he recounted many instances to me about how he had failed to see the good in people because he was too busy judging everybody in the goddamn world. He said to me, "The only person that you should judge is yourself." Well, I judge myself all the goddamn time. That's part of my personal repertoire of self-deprecation and self-loathing. But sometimes I don't realize how hard I can be on others. It was really a goddamn shame. It's true. I decided right then and there that I would give Snaggle a break, at least for one day. He deserved it.
Now, if only he would stop playing pocket pool in front of everybody in the goddamn world. I have a feeling my grandfather and his old buddies would agree with me about that. I'm sure of it.
This is an excerpt from the novel The Spectacular of Simon Burchwood. Please support independent publishing! To purchase a paperback, hardcover, or eBook version of this novel, visit my Books page.