The Successful Years
Look in the mirror. Closer. Check your pores. Are there blackheads, sun damage, dried skin? These small light bulbs aren’t bright enough to really see everything that’s happening there. Too many of the bulbs have burned out. Inch closer to the mirror now. Are the bags under your eyes bigger? Darker? Damn. They are. Haven’t been sleeping well? Those drinks last night were a bad idea. It was a Wednesday night. You can’t keep drinking like that on the weekdays. Put some ice on the bags. It should help tighten the skin a bit. It helps a little, but not as much as you’d hoped it would. You smile at your reflection. Wrinkles frame your eyes. You stop smiling, but the wrinkles don’t fade. You pinch the loosened skin under your chin. There’s a pang in your stomach.
The bright UV bulbs flash on all around you. An instantly enveloping artificial warmth. Everything has a strange glow through your goggles. You never get used to these tanning beds even after more than a hundred times. To the right side of your head, the timer ticks down from ten minutes. Should it have been set for that long? That cream should build a natural tan glow rather than a tangerine hue. You promised yourself you were going to quit tanning. Melanoma would be worse than pale skin. Your mind wanders to the scene from that horror film where a young girl is trapped in a tanning bed and dies by the hand of a shadowy stranger. The clock counts down.
You’re at work now: awful, terrible, soul-smothering work. You think back to before 2008. You were already working at the bank then. It was before the market collapsed. It was before people began blaming the financial industry for the mess the global economy is now facing. Was it better then? Your mind wanders as you click through the daily financial reports for your department. The bonuses were higher back then. They used to fly you out to resorts once a year to celebrate quarters when you hit your quotas. Las Vegas was decent. Hawaii was better. Disney World, though? How many adults really want to go to Orlando, Florida to be trapped in a children’s amusement park for team meetings? Orlando is a shithole. The nightlife was practically non-existent. What was that gay club you went to? The Parliament House? You smile thinking about how horribly great the drag show by the pool was. A gigantic trio of performing ladies lip-syncs poorly to Whitney Houston and dances in shockingly high heels. The aging motel had been converted into a sort of gay compound years ago. Where families on vacation once lounged around the pool, hundreds of men now crowd each other with one hand wrapped around a mixed drink while the other grabs at someone else. House music and strobe lights dilate your pupils.
“Your beer is empty!” He shouts over the music while handing you a bottle of cold beer. You open the bottle and nod your head while shouting some sort of thanks back. His smile seems genuine. You don’t move away from him and back to your coworkers like you normally would. Hair falls down onto his forehead as everything is saturated in the muggy Floridian night. Your mind would have remembered getting into a taxi later that night, spending every free minute with him that weekend, opening up to someone who was little more than a stranger, and surprisingly feeling the loss of something at the airport when your work conference in Florida ended, but that is all cut short when your monster of a boss bellows for you to join everyone for the weekly meeting of associates. He tells you there’s a surprise for you in the meeting. It’s your five-year anniversary with the company and they have a token of appreciation for your service. It’s a congratulatory certificate signed by the CEO and a silver pen with the inscription, “To many more successful years.” Kort Havens spends his life in Seattle trying his hand at photography, writing, film production, interviewing strangers, and eating. He can sometimes be found swallowing up some liberal propaganda @KortHavens.