After his morning blunt, the idea enters Brandon “Buzzcut” McWaykenbaik’s head to meditate. Though Buzzcut quietly credits himself for the notion, it more likely has come from his apartment’s bathroom, where mother listens to early-morning NPR programs that leak snatches of middle-aged conversation RE: spiritual maintenance through several walls and into Buzzcut’s ears as he Febreezes his room. Regardless, he lights a lavender-ish incense candle and sits cross-legged before it on his bedroom’s wood floor. However, his legs are not used to being crossed and soon begin shaking dramatically at the knees. Sparrows chirp through his open window, a sound which Buzzcut’s mind repackages and labels as Police Siren. This sends Buzzcut into a brief episode of subdued, but immense fear that he is being pulled over. Buzzcut then reminds himself that he cannot be pulled over because he is not driving.
“Buzzcut?!” His mother calls, in the pissed-and/or-frightened way mothers do when they’ve already called out once with no reply. Buzzcut shouts “Yeah?” and “Bye!” louder than is necessary. This aggravates his mother, who leaves wishing ill upon her son.
Buzzcut turns back to his candle and stares for half an hour (or so he thinks, though only a minute or so passes). During this time he absolutely fails to clear his mind. Instead, he entertains many thoughts. He recalls watching Star Wars Episode VI on television the night before and being disturbed by the disappointing quality of what had once been a revered piece of art. He contemplates showering first in terms of whether or not he will do it that day, and then as a general human phenomenon. A couplet from a favored rapper loops itself in his head for some time. Finally, Buzzcut debates whether or not he is hungry, with results ranging from “No, not at all,” to “Yes, totally starving,” and back and forth and so on.
Meanwhile, five well-kept-if-unavoidably-grimy flights of stairs below, in the building’s basement, a man — a man whose children at ages two and seven are already beginning to despise him, a man whose wife has been confined by the sleeping sickness to their across-town, twice-mortgaged, constantly-renovated German Colonial for some 26 months now. This man — who has recently discovered his mistress in a logistically impressive physical arrangement with a bronzed water polo athlete — this balding, mustachio’d, sausage-pregnant man sits and weeps.
Having discovered yesterday that he had been fired from his position in a brewery’s advertising department three weeks ago, and thus being left without even a final paycheck to coast on (he spent his previous check on a 2007 Honda station wagon with a broken emergency break, which presented itself when said Honda rolled from its parked position in his inclined driveway safely across four lanes of traffic only to total itself in the ditch beyond), and having since surrendered his faith to the god of self-inflicted chaos — the man has recalled that his mother is newly the proud holder of a fabulous life insurance policy and as-yet unmodified will.
Currently, said mother lives with the portly son’s stepfather — a man younger than our current subject with an exotic accent — directly above our subject’s present seat and, by coincidence, directly adjacent to the brewery-advertising executive responsible for his unemployment.
Absently mouthing the slap-bass intro to Seinfeld, the man manipulates a tangle of wires behind a drying machine, next to a series of strategically stacked old newspapers, which lead in turn to a rather daunting pile of gasoline canisters, heaped high in the basement of Buzzcut’s apartment building.
Buzzcut is beginning to suspect himself of having a headache, and so is beginning to resent the candle before him. He blows it out, stands up, and immediately forgets why he is standing.
As he puzzles this, the smoke from his just-snuffed candle snickers its way upwards until it reaches the ceiling, where one cloudy tendril manages to poke the boy’s smoke alarm right, as it were, in the buzzer (the tape Buzzcut had placed over having recently given way). A nasal blare strikes up throughout his entire building. It takes Buzzcut 3.5 blare-cycles to realize anything is happening at all. When he hears the alarm, he wonders how long it has been going.
He prepares to leave by opening two more windows, Febreezing again, relighting his candle and blowing it out. He slips into his trusty flip-flops and double-checks to make sure he is wearing clothes (he is: mesh shorts and prom t-shirt). Thus equipped, Buzz trots his way down four stories to appear on the sidewalk below. There he is pleasantly surprised to see his neighbors already gathered across the street. Some wear half-buttoned works shirts and towels about their waists, others wear rumpled flannels and sweatpants. They clutch small confused pets to their chests, hold family portraits under their arms, and wear little make-up but large scowls. Vaguely feeling that such a gathering warrants it, Buzzcut passes through the small crowd with a low-eyed, ear-to-ear smile, and into the corner store beyond.
The basement has never been wired with fire alarm speakers, and what noise leaks into the crier’s auditory range is covered by his own pensive, sniffly beatboxing. He has decided for good measure to crack open one of the gasoline canisters and splash it around a bit as his tears dry in saline veins across his fleshy cheeks.
After a brief though intense deliberation involving Pop Tarts, Flamin’ Hots, Sun Chips, Oreos, and Oreo Cakesters, Buzzcut has finally settled on a breakfast of one orange Fanta and a pack of peanut-butter Ritz Bitz. Presenting them to the Filipino man (thinking he’s Japanese) behind the counter to whom he feels an imaginary connection to, though their conversation is limited.
“Corner Rewards?” asks the man. He is undeterred by the fact that Buzzcut has answered in the negative every day for years. Buzzcut is shaking his head yet again when the force of his building exploding knocks him clean out of his flip-flops. At nearly the same instant, a fire truck with wailing sirens pulls onto the block. Professionals in heavy coats and hard hats begin shouting orders to each other, dragging hoses across the concrete. From somewhere near the base of the now-flaming, fractured, aching building, a paunchy man with singed whiskers and radially erect hair stumbles out before being promptly scooped away by a combined squad of paramedics and police officers.
Smoothing their hair and adjusting their sleeves, Buzzcut’s neighbors whisper comforts to their quivering pets, shake their heads solemnly, reassure each other as to the reliability of fire insurance, quietly wonder if they really even have fire insurance, and say aloud to the others in general: “Well, thank God the alarm went off when it did.” Buzzcut, who has by now finished his Bitz and is quietly enjoying the last sips of his Fanta, is not entirely equipped to piece together the day’s events. However, he does vaguely feel that some sort of positive self-reinforcement is in order, and so he re-enters the corner store, requesting from the Filipino man a pack of cherry tip Swisher Sweets.
“Corner Rewards?” asks the man.