The Average Man
Bill Johnston was an average guy. He was average in stature. He earned an average wage. He was of an average age. He drove an average car. He lived in an average town-home. Bill Johnston was average; that is, he was average on the outside.
Bill had had a normal suburban life. His father and mother had been upstanding members of the middle-class. They paid their taxes, they voted, they served jury duty, they attended PTA meetings, they attended the summer block parties. It was suburbia at its pinnacle. It was stupendously and outrageously average.
Bill had had plain ordinary friends. They all worked plain, ordinary office jobs. What did they really accomplish in a day? Doesn't matter, it was average. They also came from upstanding middle-class families. On the outside, you could say Bill had a good life.
On the outside.
But life rarely occurs on the outside.
Life occurs on the inside.
On the inside.
On the inside, Bill's life was hell. Bill yearned for something different. Bill wanted to see the world. Bill wanted to feel dirt from different lands. Bill wanted to paint. Bill wanted to sculpt. Bill wanted to roam the American roadways. Bill wanted to eat in dingy diners where no one knew him. Bill wanted to drink until his head swam and his stomach threatened to evict its tenants through the point of entry.
Bill secretly hated his friends. He barely admitted this to himself. On the surface he enjoyed their company, but deep down he wanted relationships filled with fire and passion, even if they burned out after only a short time.
Bill felt dead, even though his bodily functions continued in a perfectly average way. Bill was dead in all the ways that a human should be alive. Bill wanted to be alive.
Today would be Bill's first day of life. Today would make up for the years of death/life Bill had endured. Today would be Bill's day.
Bill awoke that morning to a gray drizzle. It came down in a slow meandering fashion, covering everything with a thick, hazy, sheen. To touch a surface covered with the water created a cascade that would soak any unlucky enough to be downhill. The sky hung low, and the day had an air of oppression. It was one of those days that would make you want to roll back into bed and let the world go by without you.
But this was Bill's day. This would be the day that things changed.
Bill lay in bed for a few moments listening to the rain and trying to resolve the gray shapes into familiar forms. He had a smile on his face, a smile that genuinely came from within. Bill had begun to be alive. Something had changed, and his emotions began to live. Bill now lived as a human.
He sat up slowly in bed, savoring the smells and the sounds. He swung his legs out and placed his feet on the floor, delighting in the sensation of the cold wood on his warm feet. As he sat truly enjoying all sensations, the heater turned off and he was presented with a silence broken only by the rain and his own breath. All the simple things mediocrity had crushed rushed back onto him, threatening to bury him with simple joys. All things screamed "LIFE! We're Alive! You're Alive! LIFE!"
This was Bill's day. This was Bill's last day.
As Bill rose from his bed, he ignored the phone that began to ring. The phone meant work was calling. The phone meant mediocrity, sameness, and homogeneous singularity. To answer the phone now would be to sacrifice this life.
He ambled over to the phone, noting its man-made exactitude. It rang for exactly 2.5 seconds and paused for 2.5 seconds. A perfect cycle: too perfect. This thing was not alive; it was diseased and dead to him. He listened to the frantic noise and then simply yanked hard on the cord connecting it to the wall. There was a momentary resistance, then a cracking noise, and the plug sailed free in two different pieces. The phone fell silent immediately; the poison was removed.
He moved calmly and slowly about his home. He noted the small things that always escaped his attention. The lack of any informal pictures of his friends and family. Dishes neatly stacked away, instead of laid out where other might see them. Magazines in neat little piles that suggested that someone might read them, but no hint that anyone ever did.
His face was covered with stubble. His hair was unkempt. His pajamas were creased and ruffled. Here he was, closer to the way he had come into this world than he had been in years. The stubble, the unkempt and the ruffled, it all no longer mattered to him. He was living. Years of pent up life swept away all concern for appearances or rules or decorum or manners.
Bill was a flame ignited.
A flame burning hot and bright.
But the brightest flame burns quickest.
He ambled about in an unhurried manner and fixed himself a breakfast of cereal. He took the bowl and sat in front of the television; he turned the box on and watched the cartoons that had once brought him so much joy. There he sat and ate the cereal, laughing uproariously at animation created decades before. When he finished, he slurped the milk and sugar in a manner that was decidedly not average. He was now content and a smile slowly crept across his face as he wiped the drippings from his chin.
He put his bowl absently in the sink and then moved back to his room. Here he dressed in his average clothes, but now they were not neat and tidy, and so he once again became unaverage. He had no plans, but was just flowing along, going where whims took him.
He left his home and climbed into his average car and began to roam the highways. He had no destination, no direction, just the pavement unwinding beneath his wheels.
Before he knew it, it was dark, and he had traveled nearly 800 miles, unthinkingly stopping and refilling his gas tank. He had never left the state, but instead had canvassed the interstates. He made his way to the city, in search of some kind of bar, some place where people were being alive.
He sat at the counter, savoring the smell of the smoke and booze. Here, people were busy living. Here people were eating and drinking and being merry. Epicurius would've shit his pants with how theses people were behaving. They were living his philosophy to the letter, thousands of years after his death.
He sat next to a woman who was not spectacularly beautiful, but she was full of life. She laughed hard and honestly at good jokes and had many of her own. She had her imperfections, like every other person. But unlike the dead-average Bill had been, this woman was intensely human. Her passion was like a blast furnace. It would be a blast furnace Bill would plunge himself into before the day dawned again.
Bill was drunk, and he knew it and did not care. He was happy. The patrons of the bar had like the living Bill immediately. They bought him drinks, and he bought them drinks. Again, it seemed to Bill as if everything was screaming, "LIFE!" Then closing time came and the woman next to him laid her hand on his arm and pulled gently. To Bill, this pull was the pull of life and felt as if it could move mountains.
Bill lay on the bed, gazing idly out the window at the city as it dozed. Even the slumber seemed right. The woman lay next to him, curled up and sleeping soundly. She had shown Bill many things, and he had been an eager learner. He had dived head first into the blaze that was her passion and life.
But now the road called him again. He got up gently and quietly dressed. He wrote her a short note of thanks, leaving his phone number and address. He had enjoyed this stunning display of life, and would not mind it continuing.
He made his way carefully outside and walked lightly to his car. He started it and drove off into the night, once again unrolling the road. He was happy. He was alive.
He was a torch, a beacon of life.
He was a torch, but his fuel was about to run out.
As more and more miles unrolled, Bill's day of life began to take its toll on him. It became harder and harder to hold his eyes open and keep his head up. He began to lose track of where he had been and where he was going.
Eventually he succumbed to his body's wishes and he dozed off. As he dozed, he saw the images of his first day of life, and he smiled. He was happy; he had now begun to live.
The car stayed its course for a few moments, then a change in pavement upset the car's balance and it began to slowly weave about its center. The weaving became more and more erratic as the seconds ticked off and the car approached a curve that bent the road around the edge of a ravine. The car gave one final lurch to the right, completely missing the beginning of the guardrail. The car bounced along the small shelf for about a hundred yards. Through all this, Bill did not stir at all. Then the car went over the edge of the shelf and sailed out into the open space of the ravine.
There was an eight hundred foot drop.
Copyright 2003 James P. Hansen