I walked all day through the city, and by the time the sun set I had no idea where I was, let alone where I was meant to be. Earlier, illuminated by the spring sky, passersby on the sidewalk turned and called my name—which sounded especially vulgar, like a slur in a foreign language—but I didn’t recognize a single one of them. I only recognize coworkers now. And I couldn’t care less.
I’m ungrateful, because this is the moment I’ve waited for my entire life, when I can finally say I’ve gone crazy and let the words spin heads. Crazy people don’t have to pay taxes, and if they do they fudge the arithmetic something fierce. They don't watch what they say or what they wear or eat. And best of all, they don’t work boring, gray jobs, or answer to anyone outside of their own person. But even though I’m crazy, I seem to do more work now than ever before.
The embarrassing fact I can no longer ignore is that I can’t quite seem to break the chains of sane responsibility. Instead, everything’s harder, but I still do all of it. And if it isn't harder, it’s definitely fuzzier, like arranging a jigsaw puzzle through a smoked glass window. It’s been months now since my realization, the elated embrace of dysfunction, and the joy of that day has all but worn away. That morning, I leapt from my box spring and did a jumping jack that shook the coins on my nightstand. In a rush of euphoria, I took a downtown bus and several trains all the way back to my childhood home. The door was unlocked and the kitchen sink was piled high with dishes, each one sparkling with globs of congealed chicken fat. I heard shuffling in the living room and marched across the house, my jaw and chest raised high. Passing through a beam of sunlit dust, I walked right up to my mother and told her the whole dirty truth.
“I’ve gone crazy,” I said, “and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
She predictably blamed my weight, blamed my job, blamed my landlord. She said I was working too much and not trying hard enough. I folded my arms and held my ground.
“It’s no use,” I said. “I’m a madman.”
She sighed and picked up the comics page of the newspaper lingering over the image of a fat orange cat working a TV remote. I stood still a moment, and then asked if I could use the bathroom before starting the trip home.
At work that Monday, I felt my performance suffer and it made me giggle with hope. But when I passed by the pantry and saw the coffeemaker empty, I instinctively brewed a fresh pot, and it won me the praise of my superiors. Their palms thumped against my back and soured my mood. I longed to be fired, so I decided to sabotage the many projects I’d been given. For the first time in years, I walked to work with a smile on my face. I spent hours licking my fingers and flipping the covers of manila folders, playing with the numbers I found inside. But by the end of the month, all my efforts had fostered success for the company on unprecedented levels, and I was promoted. I was given a new title, a new office, eighty more cents an hour, and a tenfold increase in responsibility. I shook my boss’ hand limply in protest.
The next day, I made the mistake of blinking and a month passed. My new desk filled up with binder clips I never used and crumbs from the egg sandwiches I ate each morning. My boss stopped by and suggested I buy some new clothes to match my new position, so I sold the furniture and books from my apartment for five good suits. I didn’t have the money for new ties, however, and swapped my suits out each day while the same tie stayed hanging around my neck, the knot never loosening.
The starched cuffs of my new shirts made my wrists sweat, but I noticed more and more people smiling at me, even when I forgot to check my email for days at a time. Soon after I started to wear them, a colleague I’d never liked stopped by to shoot the breeze. He told me about his latest job title, which sounded made-up, or, at the very least, suitable only for a company fifty years into the future. I started to mumble something about being busy, but he cut me off to offer congratulations on my success, and on my stiff new shirt cuffs, which had apparently become the talk of the water cooler. He pulled a 2.5” x 3.5” family photo out of his wallet and showed me his beautiful wife, and his beautiful mother-in-law, and told me about the time his beautiful mother-in-law’s doctor had mistaken her for a woman twenty years younger. He stopped talking and stared at me until I laughed. But it came out sounding too much like a sigh, and my colleague, sensing my misery with a smile, asked me what was wrong.
I told him that I was disturbed, that I had gone completely mad, that there was something deeply wrong with me, that a darkness had inflated itself inside my chest and now tried to consume me. He said I should take a multivitamin and pick up racquetball. He was always trying to get more men from the office to play racquetball with him. I shook my head and stuck a finger in his chest, hungry to be heard. I said that he was a great big bunny rabbit with a beefsteak tomato for a nose and candy corn for teeth. He laughed and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll get the figures in by tomorrow at the latest.” He didn’t close my door on the way out and I had to get up and do it myself.
That night, I took a cab home for the first time ever. We hit every green light, never slowing down for an instant. I’d never moved so swiftly through the city, and the pace with which neighborhoods fell away from view forced my fingernails into the seat cushion. I asked how it was that the roads were so clear, and the cab driver tapped a dry knuckle against the dashboard clock in reply. It was so late that it was almost early. I had never stayed so long at work before, and no one had even been there to notice. I felt impossibly tired, unsure I’d be able to climb the stairs to my apartment, but I knew that, on the weekend, I’d find the strength to once again walk across this city, trace the same lazy route I’d been following for months, walk for two days and then put on a suit coat and go back to work on Monday. I’d be crazier than ever on Monday, but no one would notice that, either, and if no one noticed then what was the point?
And now? Now, I’m out of the cab, I’ve been asleep and awake a half-dozen times, the weekend is almost over, and I’ve finished my walk. My feet hurt but I’ve no furniture left to sit upon, and I dread tomorrow with something akin to heartburn. My coworkers will see my suit and tie and think me sane, and I know as well as I know anything that this tie is glued to my chest, practically sewn into my skin. I know it so well that I’ve never once tried to pull it off.