The airplane had been cramped and inconvenient—the armrests thin, the overhead storage inadequate, the bathroom singular. Some people who hadn't wanted to check their bags had to check their bags and this made them upset. The stewardesses apologized the best they could. Outside, the sky was a calm blue. Once cruising altitude was reached the pilot got on the intercom to say that beer and wine would be complimentary for the rest of the flight. He didn't say why. A few people cheered.
Blake hadn't checked any bags and wasn't forced to. He read for some of the flight and slept for some of the flight. He looked at SkyMall. He looked at every page. He called his dad while the plane was taxiing and his dad said he would be twenty or so minutes late, though when Blake became curbside, his dad was there waiting. He hadn't been late at all.
An hour later, Blake's dad turned their car, a 1998 minivan, onto their street—the street where Blake had spent his first 18 years, had occasionally visited over the next 4, and had not returned to live over the ensuing months despite his lack of a job or concrete plans for the future. Many of his friends faced similar post-graduation crises, he knew, though the majority, it seemed, were back living either with their parents or very close to their parents in cheap suburban apartments. To Blake, both seemed equally depressing though in different ways. It was not something he would say aloud, but he couldn't help but feel that his life in New York City was somehow less depressing than his friends' lives at home—somehow more promising, more indicative of growth or change or something—however, another thing he'd never mention to anyone was the persistent and sometimes overwhelming alienation he felt in New York City. He didn't know what that meant, exactly, but felt it to be intuitively true, especially on Friday nights when he often drank whiskey and made elaborate salads while telling himself that what he was doing was good and cool.
On his street, the first thing Blake noticed was an increase in the number of cars parked in front of the houses and he said something to his dad about this. Neither of them had spoken in a while, not since turning off the highway. Blake got out of the car and walked to his backyard where his dog was moving in circles—sniffing sometimes and walking sometimes but always in circles, as if on a track. He said the dog's name but the dog continued to circle. He said the dog's name again, louder. The dog was old—15 years maybe—and had recently been discovered to be completely deaf. Blake's mom had told him about this on the phone a week earlier. Blake went over and touched the dog and the dog jumped, surprised, then turned to face Blake. It wagged its tail and sniffed Blake's hand, it's eyes black and vacant.
After dinner, Blake went to his friend's apartment where they drank beer and watched old skateboarding videos. The apartment was well-decorated, Blake thought, though he found out later that it was pre-furnished. There was a flatscreen on the wall and a plant in the corner.
"Remember when we used to skateboard?" Blake's friend said, staring at the television, drinking his beer.
"Yeah of course," Blake said. "It was the best." Blake remembered a time when they were skateboarding in front of his house and a squirrel fell out of a tree from a very high distance. It had been walking on a branch and the branch broke. It hit the concrete and made a noise. Then it lay there motionless, its eyes closed. Blake poked the squirrel with a stick and the squirrel opened its eyes and started running around in very small circles. It did this for several seconds, moving very quickly, before it ran under a bush where it stopped moving and died. It remained in the bush for four days, then it was gone. "Do you remember the time we saw that squirrel fall out of a tree?" Blake said to his friend. Blake's friend laughed and said he did. They talked about the noise it made.
"And it was in that bush for like two weeks!" Blake's friend said. They laughed for a while then a few more friends came over and they played a drinking game in the living room. A little bit later, someone opened up a bag of cocaine and they all did some off the coffee table.
The next day, Blake felt tired. He had gotten home that morning as the sun was rising because he had walked the seven miles home from his friend's apartment instead of calling a cab. It took two and a half hours.
Lying in bed, Blake could hear the sound of kids playing through his open window. He was covered in sweat. The day was much hotter than the day before. Blake got out of bed and vomited and turned on the air conditioning then got back in bed. He played an episode of Arrested Development on his laptop, which he had set up on his bedside table the night before. He had trouble sleeping in his bed, his old bed, because it was much firmer than his regular bed in New York. Also, it was smaller. Also, the blankets were different and the pillows much more forgiving. It took two or three to raise his head to a comfortable level, where in New York he only used one. Both his parents had left for work without waking him. The dog walker came and left then came back and left again. Blake got out of bed sometime in the afternoon. He took a shower.
He went to a diner and ate breakfast by himself. He put salt on his eggs, but the more salt he put on his eggs, the more his eggs tasted like no salt had been put on them. He could hear cicadas outside. He was the only person at the restaurant. He stared at the eggs. Sometimes in his apartment in New York, he would hear the cicada noise in the noise made by his air conditioner. He suddenly became aware of how alone he was. He paid with a debit card.
Later, Blake helped his mom with yard work. He put on a pair of old pants and took off his shirt. He felt tired. He stood in the backyard and sprayed water on things. He could feel the sun on his back and shoulders. He took off his shoes. He could feel the ground under his feet and it felt harder than normal somehow, still ground-like, but definitely harder. He couldn't explain it and didn't try to. At one point, his mom walked to him and motioned discreetly down the block, towards one of the neighbors who was also doing yard work. "I swear no one spends more time in their yard than Mrs. Morrisey," she said out of the side of her mouth. "But you know what? It never looks good...she's out there from sun up to sun down, just pushing things around." Blake looked down the block at Mrs. Morrisey who was bent over and wearing blue jeans.
After dinner, Blake played tennis with some friends. The sun set slowly and when it was dark, bright lights came on overhead. Blake couldn't remember the last time he had played tennis. "Why are we playing tennis?" he said aloud.
"We play tennis a lot now," one of Blake's friends said, running.
Blake was surprised to find the game kind of easy—not necessarily to excel in, but to be functional at—and the five of them played games of doubles, rotating one person in and out, until one of the friends left without saying anything. The remaining four played until they got tired. They smoked weed behind a bush and went home.
The next day was July 4th. Blake helped his mom in the yard again. He took off his shirt again. He moved a table and sprayed water on some chairs and moved the barbeque and moved the barbeque again. They were having friends and family over before fireworks at the beach, something they did every year, something Blake was always home for.
"The trees look taller," Blake said to his mom, who was doing something with her back to him.
"What, honey?" she said, turning around.
"Nothing," Blake said.
Blake's mom stood there with her hands on her hips looking at him. She walked over and hugged him. She asked when his friends were coming over and if they were bringing anything. Blake said he didn't know. They would probably bring beer, he said. The dog walked to them then went away.
"Hey mom," Blake said, "could you do me a favor and not ask my friends what their plans are?"
She paused for a second and said "sure." She nodded like she understood.
"Thanks," Blake said.
He walked to the front yard and looked at some kids playing soccer across the street. He set up a croquet set his mom had asked him to set up earlier. Some of his friends came over and they started drinking beer.
"I have fireworks," one of his friends said.
When it got darker, they set some off.
"These fireworks suck," one of the friends said, eating a hamburger.
"Yeah, where did you get these?" another one said.
"I'm saving the good ones for later," the friend with the fireworks said.
Blake got another beer and sat with his parents and his parents' friends in the backyard. They were talking about renovations and landscaping. His dad pointed to the house next door and said something. Blake's uncle nodded. Blake drummed his hands on his chair and left without saying anything. He finished his beer and got another one. He was stopped by his aunt who told him a story about sarcastically attending a Bret Michaels concert.
He walked to the front yard and watched some of his friends play croquet. Someone lit a firework and threw it into the middle of the croquet game. One of Blake's friends invited him to play badminton and he finished his beer and said he would. Someone gave Blake a racket and a glass of wine. "I'm going to drink wine now," Blake said aloud, to no one. They played badminton and everyone talked a lot of shit. Blake got bored and went over to set off more fireworks. They lit a firework that went up in the air then changed directions and almost hit a car driving on a road. They put fireworks in the sewer and it made a cool noise. They set off fireworks in a trash can. Someone lit a firework and handed it to a girl and she screamed and threw it and it went off on the ground.
At the beach, Blake sat on a towel near some of his friends who were also sitting on towels. Someone asked where another friends was. The fireworks started. A man selling glow sticks walked by. Two of Blake's friends started making out on a towel separate from the other towels. One of Blake's friends made racist jokes about the fireworks. Blake forgot he was holding wine.
After the fireworks, Blake was on a golf course setting off more fireworks with his friends. They didn't have anything to make the fireworks shoot upright, so they just lay them horizontally on the ground and set them off that way. Things exploded in the grass. Balls of colored fire shot across the fairway. The friend who was making racist jokes about the fireworks at the beach was still making racist jokes about the fireworks. A cop car pulled up behind them and made a noise. Everyone ran.
Blake ran across a street, through some trees, and into the backyard of a friend's house. He hadn't expected to find anybody home but the family was there having a party. Many of Blake's friends were there. The dad offered Blake some ribs and Blake accepted. They set off more fireworks out of a tube that was there for that purpose. The dad offered Blake whiskey and a cigar, Blake accepted.
One of Blake's friends took something out of his wallet and handed it to Blake. "Have you seen this?" he said.
It was a business card for a girl they had both hooked up with in high school. The card was heavy and ostentatious. "What is this?" Blake said.
"It's Amy's business card."
Blake said the name of the company aloud.
"Have you seen American Psycho?" someone asked.
Blake laughed and said he had. He tried to quote the scene with the business cards but he didn't know it and trailed off.
"That scene is great," someone said.
Blake puffed his cigar. "Did you ever see Less Than Zero?" he asked, but no one responded. After more whiskey, they finished their cigars and the dad said he was going to bed. They had to leave. Blake left with two friends that lived in the same direction as he did. One of the friends had a cast on his hand—he said he had broken it trying to do a cartwheel. The other friend didn't have a cast on. They were both living with their parents.
The three of them started walking but stopped because the friend with the cast wanted to roll a cigarette. He sat on the curb and carefully pulled a small bag of tobacco from a pocket. The street was being repaved so sawhorses with blinking lights on them were everywhere. There was a porta-potty also.
"Let's knock over the porta-potty," the friend without the cast said.
"No," Blake said. "Let's put the blinking things in the porta-potty." They put three blinking sawhorses in the porta-potty. Now the porta-potty was blinking.
"That was good," Blake said, "that was cool."
"We should still knock it over," the friend said.
"No," Blake said, "just let it blink."
The friend with the cast stood up and lit his cigarette. "Why did you do that?" he said looking at the blinking porta-potty.
"I don't know," the friend without the cast said.
They walked to the friend without the cast's house where they sat on his enclosed porch and drank more whiskey. The friend without the cast broke his tumbler. He went inside and got another one. The friend with the cast started speaking after being quiet for a long time. "Uh, excuse me...if you'll...uh...pardon my interrupting," he said, "do you guys happen to, uh...subscribe to any particular religious beliefs?" The friend without the cast started laughing.
"I don't," Blake said, looking at the friend with the cast, feeling curious as to what he would say next, why he had asked them if they had any particular religious beliefs, but the friend with the cast had nothing more to say.
They sat for a while. They sipped their drinks. It was late and the sun would be rising soon. It wasn't July 4th anymore.
The friend with the cast started speaking again. "Excuse me, but...uh...after I finish this drink I'm...uh...going to vomit...could you show me a good place for me to...uh...do that?"
The friend without the cast took the friend with the cast inside and showed him where the bathroom was. They both came back to the porch. They finished their drinks. The friend with the cast went back inside to vomit.
"Jesus," Blake said, feeling confused.
"At least he's considerate," the friend without the cast said.
Blake walked home a little later and got into his bed. He could see the sky through his window shades. The sun was rising. He sat up and vomited into a wastebasket next to his bed and went to sleep.
The next morning, Blake went out to breakfast with a friend. They sat at the counter of a narrow diner that was playing 80's music. It was 3 PM. Michael Jackson was playing. A small girl was sitting next to Blake, eating a plate of french fries.
After breakfast, Blake and his friend drove around in his friend's car. They smoked weed out of a small pipe that his friend had. They drove by a house that was wrapped in CAUTION tape but had not been wrapped in CAUTION tape the day before.
They drove on a four-lane road that merged to two. Traffic slowed considerably and Blake could see ahead, where the lanes merged, there were three police cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance. Two cars had merged into each other—a small red convertible and a black SUV. They were conjoined now, red metal twisted around black metal, glass everywhere.
"Damn," Blake's friend said.
"Did you ever read Less Than Zero?" Blake asked.
"Nah..." his friend said.
"Oh. The first sentence..." Blake didn't finish. He looked at the conjoined cars as they passed.
They ended up at the skatepark. They sat on a bench wearing sunglasses, watching small kids in helmets go up things and down things.
"When did they build this?" Blake asked.
"Less than a year ago," his friend said.
"I wish we had this when we were kids," Blake said.
"I know," the friend said.
They sat in silence. A kid on rollerblades fell and they both nodded their heads. The sun was setting behind the trees on the other side of the park, the sky was a bright red color. "Do you wanna go?" Blake asked.
They left. They drove with the windows down and smoked more weed. Music was playing in the car. They passed a parking lot and Blake said "there was a cop in there." The friend said something and turned down the music. They both looked to see if the cop would follow them.
At first the cop didn't follow them then it did. "Fuck," Blake said.
"Did you put the bowl away?" his friend asked.
"Yeah it's in my pocket," Blake said.
The cop turned on his siren. "Alright, let's just chill," Blake's friend said. "Maybe he won't smell anything..."
The cop walked to the driver's side and told them they had a broken tail light and he just wanted to make sure they were aware of that and it was taken care of ASAP. The cop went back to his car and drove away.
"Jesus," Blake said.
"I'm gonna go home," the friend said.
"Yeah okay," Blake said.
Blake's friend pulled up to Blake's house and a sudden shrieking noise happened underneath the car.
"What was that?" the friend asked.
"I don't know," Blake said. "I think you ran over something."
Blake's friend moved the car forward and they both looked down to see a squirrel whose back legs and tail had been flattened by the car's tire. The squirrel was pulling itself by its front legs and had managed to get itself up the curb and out of the street. Blake got out of the car and stared at it in the grass. "What is it doing?" the friend asked.
"I don't know," Blake said.