by R. W. Marino, Jr.


What a way to make a living—unless it is itself a living

     When John got out of his super comfort bed he slipped on therapeutic slippers that had a special piece of metal that did some wonder thing to his blood flow.

     He scratched his chin whiskers and said, “Ugh.”

     The alarm went off behind him. He turned it off and stumbled into the bathroom. After a few scrapes with his multiple-bladed razor that gives a closer shave he was rolling through the door.

     John was on the highway when the overdrive came on. It stayed until he pulled off to a fill-up station. As he pumped the best grade fuel into his vehicle he saw the place had a sign in the window that read Coffee * Snacks * Cold Drinks.

     Inside he selected a healthy fat-free muffin pack and poured a brimming cup of decaffeinated coffee. He went to the counter. A woman with a heavy foreign accent said, “Da All?”

     John nodded and rubbed the back of his neck.

     “No, wait.”

     He picked up a pack of sugar-free gum and light cigarettes.

     “These also, please.”

     He watched the display of the register ring up and he passed a bill over the counter. The change was barely enough to get him through the day.

     He remembered his boss’s words as he continued towards work now on the small back roads through the city. “Use acid-free paper so when it’s filed away the documents will last.” He chuckled. We should use radioactive ink so they have a half-life of a billion years.

     The garage was practically empty because it was a holiday for most of the employees who weren’t service-related. John frowned as he pulled up to the guard shack which blocked the path down to the lower levels. The gate was wedged open and inside the window was a small sign in poor handwriting that read “Closed for holiday. Park at your own risk. For free, though! Have a nice day.”

     He cruised past the gate and pulled into the first open spot. The elevator lurched and rattled because it wasn’t accustomed to being underworked. John stepped out and opened the office door. His buddy Frank was sitting on the phone and he waved to John as he walked past to his own desk.

     John made a trip to the bathroom before starting and scrubbed his hands with the super-strength germ-killing soap required before using the office equipment. Frank was waiting at his desk as he arrived back. He smiled coyly. “You’re late. Did you get laid or something? You think just because it’s a holiday you can stroll in whenever you like?”

     John shook his head and booted the computer. He watched the screen run through a ton of tests that assured him it was working fine. He said, “No. Who’s here today?”  He glanced around.

     Frank slid a box of donuts toward him and said, “Don’t worry. All the chiefs are home with their own things. Donut?”

     John looked at them. “Are they fat free and sugar free?”

     Frank nodded. “Yeah. I bought the expensive ones because I know you don’t eat cheap.” He chuckled and tapped his stomach, which hung out over his belt an inch or two. “I’ve been with these light diet foods for a year and it’s done me no good.”

     John smiled. “Exercise. That’s the key. I have a machine that displays exactly  how many calories I burn and I measure the intake according to what I have time to do.”

     Frank sighed. “Well. Let’s get to work and get the hell out of here as soon as we can today.” John nodded in agreement and Frank disappeared. Soon the office was buzzing with activity from the two men responsible for the day’s operation. Hours later Frank reappeared and said, “Let’s get Chinese for lunch. They’ll be open. Everything else is closed.”

     John shrugged. “Sounds good. I love  a little chicken chow mein.” He shuffled through his stack until he found the package of acid free paper. “Oh, Frank. Get me MSG free and low fat oil.  Just tell them, they’ll know if you say it’s for me.”

     Frank laughed. “I bet they all put in extra for people like you. Extra fat, extra sugar, extra MSG. Heh, heh. You have no real control.”
John said, “Thanks.”

     When the day ended, John sped home, going just a bit over the speed limit. He made a quick stop for some skim cappuccino with light whipped cream and walked through the front door thinking about the day. He tossed the empty cup into the trash bin he had labeled “recycle” and he flopped onto the lounge chair in front of the television with a cold light beer. He looked at the label and it showed how good for you light beer is compared to the regular stuff and he grinned. “Maybe if Frank switched to light he’d be able to exercise a little bit less.”

     He picked up the remote control and  switched the tube on and nodded.

     “Yeah, I have all kinds of control.”

     The remote stayed on his lap as he fell asleep and got ready to do it all again.