Story: The Bloated Curmudgeon

Droplets of rain coalesced on the fabric and were slowly absorbed, with always more to take their place, looking as if they were throbbing indecisively. The fabric was polyester, I decided. Not because I understood anything about textiles or their absorbent properties, but because that’s the first thing that came to mind when I looked up at the man who wore the tie. Red polyester, worn and frayed, and now wet. I felt sorry for the thing, hung from the neck of a bloated curmudgeon like many a tie before it. The rain at least might help to wash away the sweat and mustard stains, which had one day overwhelmed the man to the point he stopped fighting back. If neckties could feel shame, this one would welcome the rain to excuse its appearance of perpetual moistness, and for bringing a soft edge to the more crusty patches.


I had never worn a tie. Not a once, save for a clip-on when I was five years old or thereabouts and my parents had me in Sunday school. They weren’t religious, but maybe they thought it would be good for me to go someplace where kids had to wear ties. Maybe it was just cheaper than daycare. Of course I learned nothing, because my dad gave up after a few failed attempts to wrangle me into the real deal and settled for a clip-on. I never even put the falsie on myself, petulantly shrieking my disinterest. Didn’t learn a goddamn thing, except maybe how to show the world my ire.

“You got to get going, buddy.”

I stared at the knot. That one thing brought a modicum of respect to the bloated curmudgeon. It was quite masterfully tied. Still, to think that he had to do that every evening—sling that thing up and around his neck without bursting into tears—hit me hard. He worked overnight, probably woke up in the afternoon, and I decided he wasn’t the type to get into that ritual. I wondered if he put the tie on before or after dinner. He would stuff his face with a big, hot meal, first thing when he rose, and once he had sufficiently gorged himself he’d know that the highlight of his day had come and gone already. I imagined him in front of a television with his wife watching some show they would have found mutually agreeable, with TV trays and alcohol-free beer.

“Hey? Hello? Is there something wrong with you?”

He would start his day the way most people with boring jobs might end their nights, unwinding at home. Feeling unwound, he’d have to put on the goddamn tie and go to work. Coming home to what? Nothing. He’d have to wear the tie through the whole night knowing that there was absolutely no reward waiting for him at the end of it. He had nothing to look forward to except to sleep and put it all behind him, the poor bastard. His schedule must surely have been a disruption to his home life, and his ungrateful bitch of a wife would resent him for it. His life was overwhelmingly grim, and I hated him even more for the guilt it made me feel. I decided his wife felt the same way.

“Are you gonna answer me or what?”

The bloated curmudgeon probably had a difficult time landing the job. Not only because nobody really wants to hire men with no spark of life left within them, which can be bad for morale on the whole, but because I could imagine that the crack security force of a university campus had to undergo some form of physical assessment and scrutiny. He must have trained for it, got into whatever he might resign himself to call his peak physical condition. Just to think that he actually wanted that job. To think that he had to work, even compete for it. Was the economy so terrible?

“Come on now, you’re really testing my patience. You got to move.”

It’s times like these that it is important to be aware of local culture, statistics and so forth. For example, the number of people shot to death by security guards on this campus every year, which I didn’t have to look up to know was zero. In any game of chance statistics are your only true weapons, and so it is with the game of staring belligerently into the lost eyes of authority figures. Know your numbers, or be prepared to bluff.

“Listen bud, I need you to clear the fuck out of here. I don’t care where you go, just get moving.”

I picked up my tired body, curled a weary lip, and trudged off like the sack of shit I appeared wont to be at the time. An opportunity, really, to spend the night wandering the streets, spreading my ugliness far and wide. On some nights the only way to get through to the morning is to sneer at the universe until it breaks before you. As soon as I felt safely out of sight I unzipped my pants and pissed back toward the campus. I can be a surly man myself, and I wanted the cosmos to know it. Like the stains on the tie of the bloated curmudgeon, the splash of my urine was instantly wiped clean by the unrelenting rain. I imagined he went about the rest of his night just as I did, watching his filth be pulled away and washed into the cracks. Together it would form a crust with the blood, sweat and piss of a thousand men and women who, on past nights just like that, had to find another way to carry on.

Backdated entry written in 2006.

Irreversible Mistakes