“I really love Las Vegas,” Richie said one evening in April 2002. “It’s really the best place to be. So many things are happening there.”
“I want, more than anything, to quit my high-paying job and be a craps dealer in Vegas,” Fred said. Fred was a little older, had blonde hair and stubble, and was a little heavy but nothing significant, and he would eventually lose the weight.
“Why don’t we move there together?” I asked suddenly, as we were playing another marathon of Magic: The Gathering.
“Yeah,” Richie said.
“Yeah, definitely,” Fred said. “I think that sounds like an epic idea.”
“Don’t you think that we should be living life instead of just having a normal job doing nothing in America? I think that I want to do something other than having a normal life,” Richie said. “I feel trapped in America.”
“I agree,” I say. “That’s why I’m not in Illinois. I didn’t want to live in Illinois my entire life. I wanted to start something new, make a new home for myself instead of living near my parents in a suburb of Chicago my entire life. God, that would be terrible.”
This epic idea would turn out to be a disaster. I had spent all this time working on my second novel, My Little Paradise. I had almost completed it. I could soon show it to others. I just wanted to get done with the move and then I would show it to people.
I wrote a novel about middle school from the perspective of Mark Sendal. Mark, an unpopular everyman, suffered through 200 pages of hating himself. He didn’t do anything proactive, he didn’t talk to the main girl very often, and he drank way more than I did in middle school.
I remember writing an unrealistic scene where they went to a friend’s house and drank until they passed out. I remember a scene where Mark rebels against the authorities by burning a science textbook that was probably the best scene in the piece. Overall, though, it was long, boring, unreadable, contradicted itself from chapter to chapter, and didn’t say much about life except a few obvious points that shouldn’t have been mentioned. I wrote a wonderful work of art – but I also wrote another bad book.
Was this an epic failure, a terrible disaster? Yes. Was this also a wonderful work of art? Yes! I wrote a brilliant, scathing book with amazing sections about the melancholy period of hating one’s self that existed between elementary school and high school. I accomplished something amazing. I had become an artist, a real artist. Many years later I would publish My Little Paradise, and a number of people would buy it. More importantly, a number of people would read it. Would it make the bestseller list? No, and it shouldn’t. Art shouldn’t always make the bestseller list.
Was I going to quit? Yes, when I died. I wasn’t going to stop trying to make art until the day I died. Then, in the last hour, I would stop trying to create art, relax, and sit there, proud of myself for living the life of an artist. I don’t care if I sold one copy or one million. I lived the life of an artist, and that’s what matters.
We drove to Vegas. I remember getting tired while driving there but making it on an all-night drive from Tucson to Vegas driving the truck with all of our stuff. I got tired but powered through it.
I don’t remember how we got all three cars and a truck to Vegas with the three of us, but oh well. We made it to Las Vegas and to a beautiful three-bedroom apartment. We walked into the place that we would live in from May to November 2002. I didn’t know where we would go from there, but I had friends and a novel about to finish.
Within a few weeks a temp agency found me a job stocking potato chips into various stores around Las Vegas.
I finished the novel a few weeks into living in Vegas. I wrote the ending and declared it to be my masterpiece, the best novel that I could write. I printed up a bunch of copies – I was so excited! I had finished a novel and a better one, more literary. I had accomplished something amazing.
I showed my novel to Richie, my mom, my sister, and Gilbert and Finnegan.
Richie walked into my room with an apologetic look on his face. “I’m sorry,” he said, and I died inside.
“This book,” he continued, “contradicts itself from chapter to chapter. It seems like there’s a different life lesson in each chapter. It seems like the main character is weak and doesn’t do enough to be unique and loveable and amazing. It doesn’t flow from chapter to chapter. I’m sorry. I think that it’s a failed experiment.”
“Oh,” I said. I threw away his many notes which might have made me into a better writer.
My mom gave me more wise constructive criticism. She is very real-world oriented, my mom, and she didn’t want me having any fairy-tale notions that my novels were any good. She wanted a realistic job for her son.
“I don’t like this book,” Mom said. “I don’t like these characters at all. I don’t think that real people act like this, certainly not during middle school. And the drinking scene was awful. I don’t remember why, but it upset me greatly.”
“Okay,” I said. I went to my room and began something else immediately. I began to write a horror story based on whatever fucked-up shit I could come up with at any moment. It turned into a haunted house story that turned into an alternate reality tale. Around that time, though, I was fired from my job delivering potato chips to stores.
“I need a guy that does his job, not one who paces and mutters to himself,” he said. “I’m sorry about this.”
I finished my temp job and began to daydream. I went back to Arthur, Gabe, and Becky saving reality from Jace Windhelm. I had my characters and I began to realize a flaw in my daydreams: not enough dialogue. I had a mental monologue, but I didn’t talk out the various scenes. I started to write out a draft with my characters, giving them teams and sending them to save the world. Then I began talking to the voices in my head.
It began with me throwing my voice to speak for the other characters. They needed to save the Earth and restore it after the bad guys had destroyed it.
Okay, Becky said. We need to rock this reality. We’re losing on all fronts. We need to save these people and get their reality back.
I know, I thought. I’m doing my best. I fought a dozen people yesterday.
I know, Becky thought. Orgy later?
I laughed. No, thank you, I thought.
Lame, Becky thought. Lame.
I certainly wasn’t dating anyone in real life, but I didn’t date anyone in the stories either.
Then the celebrity story started. I began to daydream about celebrity actresses getting raped over and over. I don’t know why this occurred to me, but I lived through a zillion daydream-rapes in which I tried to save these actresses and always failed. I don’t know why – I couldn’t win in the stories in my mind.
The losing streak continued.
The problem was that I became too engrossed in the dialogue. I would throw my voice to play the non-me characters, and after a day or so I thought about famous actresses getting sexually assaulted. I couldn’t ever stop the bad guy from doing it, and women were raped, beaten, and killed inside my head. I would pace from one end of the apartment to the other, screaming, “Rape.”
I then had to talk to Richie the following day. I woke up and smiled and started to talk to him.
Wake up, Becky said. I need your help, stud.
“Hey,” Richie said. Richie then said something, but I couldn’t hear what: the voices inside my head drowned him out.
The artificial intelligence bad guys have taken a reality, Becky said. They nuked it and took over. They need to be stopped.
Fine, I thought. I just need to get to this one thing with Richie first.
Who? Becky asked.
No one, I thought.
“What’s up?” I asked Richie.
“I’m getting married,” Richie said. “I’m engaged. I asked her and everything.”
The real world didn’t matter anymore. I ignored that miserable existence in which I would get fired from terrible temp jobs which didn’t help anyone at all. It was a terrible existence, being unknown and uncared-for in America as an adult. I didn’t care about that at all – I stopped thinking about my life in the slightest bit. I simply lived in the world inside of my head. The characters didn’t do any better, though; I made sure that my characters lost most of the time. I regularly heard the voices become something that I controlled less and less. I lost complete control of the stories in my head. They turned vile and didn’t let me control the stories in my own mind.
I asked the temp agency for another job. They found me a job answering phones, which was within my wheelhouse. I couldn’t find a razor and decided I needed to stop halfway to the place and shave in my car. I made a mess of it and made it to the place late. I paced as the day continued, unable to sit in a chair and answer phones effectively. I couldn’t do the job. I was fired again.
Richie introduced his wife-to-be. Her name was Gabriela. She stopped by and offered me some old porn, saying she didn’t need it any longer. She brought her sister, Teresa, once. Richie and Gabriela dated for several perfect weeks until someone showed up with them.
“We thought Teresa would date Fred,” Gabriela said. “We thought that we’d watch television.”
I started to watch television.
“Can you change the channel?” Gabriela asked.
“Later,” I snarled. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t change the channel yet. I don’t know why I wasn’t super nice and polite with her. I don’t know why I couldn’t be nice to people anymore.
“Wanna role-play?” Richie asked.
“I’ll be in charge,” I said. “Let’s make characters.”
They tried to make characters. Richie tried to ask me a question about his character.
Busy, Gabe said. I got raped and shot in the head. Sorry. Jace Windhelm cleared the guy.
Jesus, I said in my head.
Yeah, Gabe said. Guy’s a real villian. Name’s Seth Sitwell. He’s a real tool.
Oh, I thought.
Yeah, Gabe thought.
I shot him in the story, shot Seth Sitwell dead several times over.
“He’s running his own role-playing game, and he can’t pay attention to his own game,” Richie said, laughing. “Something’s wrong with you, Dalton.”
“I have important stuff going on,” I said.
Richie sat me down shortly after. “Something’s wrong with you, bud,” he said. “I don’t know what will fix it, but you’re having trouble. Maybe you should take a nature walk. Try to figure out your priorities. Try and figure out what you can do to make your life into whatever you need it to be.”