The Outsider Ch. 03bycaligula97236©
Chapter 3 - Mike's evening
Mike changed into one of his political t-shirts and left the Parking Enforcement office. He walked to the political science building, enjoying a cool October breeze that carried a hint of the nearby Pacific Ocean.
His mind wandered to Chicago, where he had been studying the year before. I guess that's one thing Davenport has over Chicago, he thought to himself: it's still nice here and it's already getting cold there.
He remained in a moderately upbeat mood until he ran across a sight that was totally offensive to his eyes: a huge fast-food sign that featured a cartoon face of a clown stuffing a whole hamburger into his mouth. Accompanying the picture was the slogan:
Mega-Burgers -- the biggest.
Feed your face with the very best rainforest beef!
The sign topped the new Mega-Burger franchise that had just opened on campus. Mike's political group had fought and protested to keep Mega-Burger from defiling the Davenport campus with their presence, but to no avail. Mega-Town Associates, the holding company that owned Mega-Burger, had bribed the Board of Trustees, no doubt. Most of the students clearly had not wanted Mega-Burger on the grounds of the university, but like it or not, here they were.
Mega-Burgers -- the biggest. The biggest...yes, everything in the US has to be the biggest...big, cheap, and fast. What a disgusting country we've turned into. That clown says it all...big, cheap, fast...and if it's not sustainable, so much the better. To hell with resources. To hell with the rainforest. To hell with the planet. If disgusting clowns can stuff their faces on signs, isn't that what the free market is all about? Why have unspoiled resources when we can have that hideous clown stuffing his face? That's freedom, after-all. Freedom. Yes...yes...the land of the free, with an ugly clown to represent it.
Mike's bitterness against corporate America matched that of Ruthie against religion. He had a particular grudge against Mega-Town Associates. His father used to own a Santa Cruz drug store that had been in the family for three generations and Mike had expected to inherit the business and run it just like his father and grandfather ran it. In high school he took as many science classes as he could to prepare himself to get a pharmacy degree. His ambitions were modest; all he wanted to do was continue with his father's path in life and serve the community. Mega-Town Associates killed that dream the year that he was a junior in high school.
Sinclair Pharmacy was doing fine right up to the moment that Mega-Town Associates muscled their way into the family's neighborhood. The company built a Mega-Mart that within a year put all the local stores out of business. Once the Mega-Mart had accomplished its task and ruined the neighborhood, the company abruptly closed it and opened a more centrally located store in Watsonville. As was true for so many other neighborhoods, the sole purpose of opening the Mega-Mart in Mike's neighborhood was to eliminate competition. The company never had any intention of staying there permanently.
Mr. Sinclair spent Mike's senior year in high school looking for work. At first he expected to simply get a job as a pharmacist in a supermarket or a chain pharmacy, but after six months of desperate searching had come up with nothing. He couldn't understand why, with a degree and 25 years of experience there was never a hint of a job offer. Finally, the hiring manager of one of the chain pharmacies took a few minutes to explain his dilemma:
"Right now, I'm going to put aside the hiring manager crap and tell you something off-the-record, man-to-man. You're qualified, alright. Too qualified, and since we're being honest, too old. If we hired you we'd have to pay you too much, and besides, you'd be a liability to our insurer. So, no, we're not interested in you, neither is anyone else. The bottom-line is we don't hire over-qualified people."
The hiring manager handed back Mr. Sinclair's papers and continued:
"Sorry about your situation, but you've got to realize your life as a pharmacist is over. No one wants you. Just telling you like it is. So you'd better start thinking about 'plan-B' and save yourself some frustration."
The hiring manager did Mr. Sinclair a huge favor with his candor. He had seen plenty of people like the applicant; hard-working over-qualified relics of the past that never again would have decent jobs. It was a hard lesson for Mr. Sinclair, learning that his knowledge and experience were useless and his middle-class life was over.
A year after Sinclair Pharmacy closed Mike's father finally managed to get a job as the assistant manager of a Fast-Mart, working under a Pakistani immigrant who was half his age. Now the family was horribly indebted because of that year of unemployment and also because Mr. Sinclair had taken a second mortgage on the house so that Mike and his older sister could finish college. Over the summer Mike's father openly explained:
"I don't want either of you to borrow a cent. Not one cent. If you need something, ask me and I'll get it for you. When both of you get your degrees, I'm going to give you the chance to take whatever you want out of the house. Then I'm gonna declare bankruptcy. Lose everything, but it won't matter because you two will be done with college with no debt. I'm the one who's gonna have to liquidate. I don't have any choice. With my salary we're gonna lose the house anyway, but I'm gonna get you two through college before it happens. That's my end of the deal. Your end of the deal is when your mom and me lose the house, you take care of us. I wish I could give you something more, but I can't. Mega-Mart put us under."
The financial death watch of Mike's parents continued. They were slowly declining and their debts were mounting. Since he knew that he was going to lose everything anyway, Mr. Sinclair wanted to borrow as much money as possible before his house went into foreclosure. The American dream was dead for him, and the only thing he could do was try to get revenge against the system by making sure his house was worth far less than what he owed on paper, to make the lenders lose as much money on him as possible.
Mike had a class that started at 6:00. The schedule was very fortunate for him, because it allowed him to work an uninterrupted shift with the Parking Department and still take a full load of classes.
The class was a large introductory course given in a lecture hall that held 200 students. At the door, he met up with a couple of classmates and the group found some seats together. Unlike Ruthie, Mike did have a few friends on campus. For the most part they were people like himself that he had met in the course of his political activities.
Had Mike been honest with himself, "friends" probably was not the best way to describe the people with whom he hung out. More accurately they could be described as friendly acquaintances. Mike and the people with whom he associated were drawn together because of circumstances and common interests, not out of any deep emotional commitment. The relationships were the sort that co-workers had, the sort that would end the moment someone in the group moved on with his or her life.
Still, Mike was much luckier than Ruthie. He did not have to face the humiliation of eating by himself in the cafeteria or sitting alone in class. He did have some activities in which he could participate and a group to which he could claim membership. If he wanted to see a movie or get some pizza for example, chances were that he could get someone to go with him.
Because the class was given in a large lecture hall, there was very little participation from students. Probably just as well, thought Mike to himself. Maybe Ruthie's right. Maybe I really do need to tone it down. Maybe...people just aren't that interested in anything I have to say. With that self-doubt filled his mind.
An hour later Mike and his two classmates had left the political science building and were on their way to a meeting of the Danubian Solidarity Committee, which was a protest movement directed against the Sinclairs' nemesis Mega-Town Associates.
Back in April the obscure little country of Danubia made international headlines by thwarting an armed attempt by Mega-Town to take over its government. The Danubians completely defeated Mega-Town mercenaries and captured the majority of the people participating in the coup. The Danubian debacle was the biggest set-back that Mega-Town had ever suffered, and it only got worse for the company when the leaders of the coup were put on trial the following month. A torrent of negative publicity flooded the news as the Danubians released captured documents and exposed in detail what Mega-Town had planned for their country once it was taken over.
What happened during the sentencing of the coup plotters was yet another humiliation for the Mega-Town. The coup plotters, instead of being executed, were sentenced to a uniquely Danubian punishment called "life without honor". The convicts were stripped, collared, and officially converted into property. Each convict was "presented" to a breed sow. The sows were given Danubian citizenship so they could be the formal custodians of the criminals assigned to serve them. Each convicted coup plotter would have to spend the rest of his life catering to the needs of a pig, to include washing and sleeping with the animal. It was a sentence to a lifetime of insult and degradation. In the country's culture it was infinitely better to be executed than to serve "life without honor".
When the trial ended and the sentences were passed, the local spectators chanted in Danubian:
"The Pig is your Mistress! Serve her well! ... The Pig is your Mistress! Serve her well!"
That single phrase changed the tone of the global protest movement against Mega-Town Associates, because it provided a recognizable slogan for anyone who hated the company. Across the US activists started wearing t-shirts with "The Pig is your Mistress! Serve her well!" and the slogan was common on bumper stickers and protest signs.
Mike owned several t-shirts with the slogan. Wearing them gave him some confidence that he had been lacking for a very long time. The slogan was his proof that Mega-Town was not invincible, that already they had suffered a major defeat.
The meeting lasted past 9:00. Mike had entered in a good mood, but as one hour dragged into two and the conversation meandered around meaningless arguments, his confidence faded and he began to wonder to himself:
"How much good are we doing? Here we are, claiming to support Danubia's fight against MTA, but really, what does it have to do with us? The only reason we're even calling ourselves the Danubian Solidarity Committee is because it was the Danubians that did what we couldn't. So we fantasize and live vicariously through what they did. And we all sit around talking useless bullshit, and we can't so much as keep that fucking clown restaurant off our campus."
Suddenly he excused himself from the meeting and went outside.
The clown on the sign, with his moronic yet evil eyes and his mouth full of "the very best rainforest beef", stared at Mike as he exited the Student Center. For a second that image seemed to come alive ...the hideous apparition that would consume and consume until nothing was left of the earth. Mike jumped back, totally startled. When he looked again the clown's face was back to normal.
This is it...we, the humans, and the planet, are coming to the end. We will consume and be consumed until nothing is left. Mega-Town will take over everything, and they will destroy everything.
Having given up on his political group for the night, Mike decided to hit the library before he went back to his dorm room. A group of sorority girls and pledges passed by, giving him about as much recognition as they would give a light post. The sight of their bleached hair and fake tits offended Mike every bit as much as the Mega Burger sign. Stupid bitches...well, you're all gonna get some nice parking tickets tomorrow. Mike totally hated sororities and everything they represented. His hatred was visceral: the very sight of sorority letters stirred up fantasies of bombed sorority houses and burnt-out BMW's. He felt the same way about fraternities, but towards sororities he felt particular bitterness. The reason was straightforward enough: his ex-girlfriend had joined a sorority over the summer and now was a full-blown member...actually an officer...in a Chicago chapter called the Four-Betas. Lisa Campbell, a girl he had dated all through high school...leaving him and joining a sorority...for someone like Mike that was the ultimate insult. He thought he knew her, but obviously he didn't.
Throughout his years in high school, Mike had dated Lisa; a girl who he admired for being intelligent and strong-willed. They were classmates in school and were inseparable. At the beginning she was not much to look at, a tall gangly girl with bad acne. Later she developed into a stunning beauty. She was shy at first, but she and Mike liked each other. That commitment grew into intense love within a year. They were with each other to the point they excluded everyone else. The couple even had a nickname in school: the football crowd called them "the dork twins". They didn't care. They ate together, studied together, took classes together whenever it possible, and went out together. They hiked and went to the beaches. Their favorite spot was a nude beach that was almost within walking distance of Davenport. None of their classmates went to that beach, but that was fine. They had their privacy and their time with each other.
At age 16 Mike and Lisa started having sex at her house. It was the first time for both of them. They already were skinny dipping in her pool after school got out. They started seriously making out on a lawn chair in her back yard and exploring each other's bodies. Finally, on a lovely sunny afternoon, they worked up the courage to "go all the way". She lay on her back on her lawn and he thrust into her. When they were finished, she did a strange thing. Several times she dipped her finger into the blood coming out of her vagina and drew stripes on Mike's face.
"You're my warrior, my love, and I'm yours. I will always be yours."
She had given him the most precious thing she had, her virginity. That afternoon Mike knew that he was blessed, to have someone as lovely and as loving as Lisa for his partner. Yes, she would always be mine...
Well, that sure didn't work out, did it?
Lisa's true personality did not show until they had graduated and went to Chicago to take advantage of cheaper tuition. They had several strange adventures during that fall semester, the weirdest of which was being conned by their dorm's Resident Advisor to participate in a 10-K nude marathon. They spent most of a Saturday completely naked in front of 50,000 spectators, not just during the run, but also before and after. Mike was very happy to get dressed when the whole thing was over, but the experience changed Lisa. She became an exhibitionist and her behavior started being flamboyant and aggressive. She was increasingly restless and bored with him as the semester wore on.
By December, Mike realized that his relationship with Lisa was in serious trouble. He blamed the different environment in Chicago and worried about the influence of their friends on her behavior, especially the influence of their RA. The solution was very simple: he and Lisa needed to return to California and forget about Chicago. Mike had a friend working in the admissions department in the University of California in Berkeley who walked him through what he needed to put on his application to be accepted, and what the procedure was for transferring the Chicago credits. Mike eagerly made the arrangements for himself and filled out Lisa's paperwork as well. All she had to do was sign and they could forget about Chicago.
When they returned to Santa Cruz for Christmas vacation, there was a lot of tension between the couple. They celebrated Christmas Eve with his parents and the following day had Christmas dinner with her mother. Lisa was very tensed up during the meal and barely spoke to him.
The next day Mike decided to tell his girlfriend about the arrangements he had made with the admissions department in Berkeley. He told her that he had re-applied to study in California and this time expected to get in. In the meantime he would take community college classes in Santa Cruz. He told Lisa to resubmit her application as well, that he had done her the favor of filling it out and was sure it would be accepted. Lisa responded:
"That's real nice, except there's one problem. I don't want to go to Berkeley. And I don't want to sit on my ass taking community college classes until next fall. Fuck that!"
"Well, I don't want to go back to Chicago. I've told you that several times, and it doesn't seem you're listening."
"Who said anything about you going back to Chicago? I never said you needed to go back there! You can do whatever you want, but don't you go making arrangements for my life behind my back! You can go to Berkeley, or Santa Cruz, or wherever the fuck else you want to go, but I'm going back to Chicago! Tell your friend in the admissions department to take my application and stick it up his ass!"
"...and so you don't give a damn about our future? About me or anything I want? You're telling me that Chicago's more important than I am?"
"That's right, Mike. That's exactly what I'm telling you. Chicago's more important to me than you are."
Mike's expression changed. He looked dazed, as if he had been hit over the head with a rock. He didn't know what how to respond, because he had not expected Lisa to be so blunt with him.
One of Mike's good points was that he was never willing to do anything that he thought would humiliate himself. He had backed himself into a corner, leaving only two options. He could cave in, beg Lisa to forgive him, and meekly return to Chicago, or get up and leave with the understanding they were breaking up. Either way, as far as Lisa was concerned the relationship had ended. Mike realized that as well, and did the one thing he could to salvage what was left of his dignity. Without saying another word he walked out, knowing that he was leaving behind the girl he had dated for the past four years.
"Chicago's more important to me than you are." Mike was floored when Lisa said that to him, so much so that at the moment he couldn't even react. He stormed out of the room, making a show of anger, but in reality he was devastated that she could have said such a thing to him. At least he would not entertain any false hope that someday he could get back together with her: he knew that she was gone from his life permanently.
He drove out to the beach where he and Lisa had spent so much time when they were in high school....only six months before when their relationship seemed like it would last forever. It was getting dark, which was good for what he needed to do. He sat alone on the wet sand for a couple of hours crying and mourning the loss of the one person who gave him meaning in life. He had not cried for several years and he was determined that no one would see his moment of weakness. He would maintain his stoic façade to the world, but at least he could be honest with himself.
Chicago's more important than I am...more important...
With that, Mike gave up on his plans to study in Berkeley. He put in a last-minute application to study in Davenport for the spring semester, which to his surprise, was accepted. He got his job with the Parking Department in February.