“Mid-day masturbation and random trips to Target.”
That’s how Parker described his daily life to me in a recent text. Since his divorce five months ago, he’s moved into the bottom apartment of a south Minneapolis duplex. He was initially excited about the pretty 20-something blonde living above him, whom he described as a surfer girl who looks like she smells like cocoa butter. He then concluded that she sees him as the old divorced dude, which means he hit on her and she felt creeped out by it.
Since I moved to Austin, he’s talked a lot about coming down for a visit. But I know he goes days without leaving his apartment, so any enthusiasm and initiative he shows for it is fleeting at best. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to seeing him on my recent trip back to Minneapolis. It didn’t feel like I was visiting him, though. It felt more like I was checking up on him on a bitterly cold Saturday.
I met Parker when I was in fourth grade and he was in sixth grade. He was the kid seeking shelter from the cold during recess by leaning against the 4-story brick elementary school. His winter coat looked worn, thin and so small that the sleeves were almost halfway up his forearms. He didn’t have a stocking cap or gloves, so he kept himself semi-warm by holding onto a Zippo lighter inside his pants pockets and lighting it every few seconds for a burst of warmth. Our school uniform required dress pants with slant pockets, which allowed just enough room for his makeshift pocket furnace.
Parker has been in and out work, like Cheney, but unlike Cheney in that he does not think that he as any discernible talent. After greeting me semi-enthusiastically, Parker disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared holding two bottles of Heineken.
He was wearing red flannel pajama pants, a blue t-shirt and no socks. His blonde hair looked like it has every day since I’ve known him – like Calvin’s from Calvin and Hobbes. He had that look of someone who hadn’t left his home in days because there was no need to. His apartment felt and smelled warm. I was still living in central air when I left Austin.
The walls of his apartment were bare. The one piece of furniture was a satellite chair facing the television in the corner of the living room. The small circular ottoman serves as his desk and dining room table. I’ve never known Parker to play guitar, but there was a small practice amp leaning against the wall. I didn’t bother asking him about it.
“Beer?” He extended one toward me as I set my coat and scarf on the floor and looked for a place to sit. Even though he saw me looking around for a chair, he never offered me one. It looked more like he was squatting there as opposed to living there.
“I do not miss this fuckin’ cold, man,” I said shaking my head and taking a seat on the windowpane.
“I bet. How’s Austin?” Parker sat back down on the satellite chair. It made a loud creaking noise that sounded like it was about to break. He pointed the remote control towards the TV.
“It’s warm and starting to feel like home,” I looked around to notice the envelopes from the state unemployment office. Parker has been living off unemployment and the occasional temp gig.
It’s early Saturday evening, and I could hear the muffled, excited telephone conversation of the surfer girl in the above apartment as she shuffled around in stocking feet on her hardwood floors. Plans were being made and outfits were getting picked out. At that age, Saturday nights mean excitement, opportunity, memories, selfies and sometimes regret.
I was sitting on the windowpane behind Parker’s satellite chair, which was facing the television, which never stayed on one channel for more than ten minutes of the two hours that I was there. He commented that it feels weird watching the television that he and his ex-wife picked out together. None of our conversation was face-to-face. If he wanted to talk, I would have listened.
Parker was happily and busily married when I was under my post-Amanda dark cloud. Everyone goes through an isolated pajama pants period, but Parker’s seems debilitating. I fought mine with working out, writing and saying “yes” to almost anything in order to create opportunities and step outside my mind, because thoughts and imagination can be awful enemies at a time like that.
“Your ex-wife is likely taking this just as hard as you, you know.” His ex-wife’s name is Carrie, but I never knew her that well, so I didn’t feel comfortable mentioning her by name.
Parker heard my attempt at consolation, but he didn’t acknowledge it. Not even a shoulder shrug. I later realized that by saying that, I was disclosing that his life doesn’t look all that great right now.
I felt bad for him then I began to feel guilty, I guess, because I didn’t want to be at Parker’s anymore. He’s one of my oldest friends but all I could picture is me back at my hotel or in my Austin apartment – lying diagonally on the bed reading a Henry Rollins book while listening to Sugar’s Copper Blue. It seemed like he didn’t want company.
The shuffling stocking feet of surfer girl had now become the clicking of high heels on hardwood. Her hair and face are probably done, Facebook status updated, Tweets have been tweeted and iPhone fully charged. Her voice will be hoarse in the morning after an evening of shouting over club music.
I know Parker’s divorce broke him emotionally and financially. It’s easy to spot someone who’s underneath a cloud of depression when you’ve been there before yourself. The cloud covers you like Deon Sanders in his prime covering a receiver. No matter where you go, it’s there – swatting hope away from your hands and then shoulder tackling you out of bounds just for good measure. Eventually, you just give up and watch the game…watch life from the sidelines.
From my windowpane seat I saw a taxi pull up in front of the duplex. The upstairs door slammed shut followed by two clicks of a turnkey lock. Surfer girl high heeled her way down the narrow staircase. Her steps were slow and deliberate, so I could tell she was steadying herself with the guardrail. She scurried to the taxi wearing a tan overcoat over a black dress with black stockings. There was just enough daylight left that I could see her puffs of breath in the freezing air.