Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
The evening air is thick with smoke, the knives glisten in the glow of South Florida dusk, and something deep inside me starts to grow.

Cherry sits to my right at Boca Raton’s trendiest trattoria. She takes a volcanic drag on her cigarette, and when she exhales, the smoke centers her head like the bull’s eye of a target, a sort of facial ground zero.

Cherry is thin the way Keira Knightley’s skeleton would look with a crack habit, only a little leaner.

Tiny molecules of sweet nicotine bind to addicted cell receptors, and pleasure waves of dopamine bathe Cherry’s brain.

I smile and say, “Tobacco smoke contains radioactive polonium,” but Cherry doesn’t listen.

Cherry waves a cigarette at her wrist and says, “My new Vacheron Constantin watch is seventeen carats, one hundred sixty-two baguettes, and pure platinum,” but this isn’t about conversation.

Platinum will never tarnish.

Platinum will never wear out.

Platinum is immortal.

Your body wears out day by day, minute by minute.

Your favorite addiction makes your body wear out a little faster.

I say, “A small dose of platinum kills cancer cells, but bigger doses cause kidney damage,” but Cherry doesn’t listen.

My father always said you have to take the good with the bad.

I could never really understand my father.

This isn’t understand as in comprehend.

This is understand as in know.

On Cherry’s plate sits pounded flank steak with dark char where the grill sears the flesh. The cobalt blue ceramic plate is filled with tiny bubble imperfections, clear proof of the honest handiwork by native tribes living somewhere in the South American rainforest. Good marketing grabs you deep down and doesn’t let go.

With great marketing, you’ll believe just about anything.

All men are created equal.

Justice is blind.

They hate us for our freedom.

Cherry carves a tiny sliver of steak with her knife, and tsunami waves of smoke tumble from her lips as she speaks.

“I really should have ordered the bisque, not the beef,” but this isn’t about conversation.

Meat contains chemical cousins of morphine.

At a standard beef slaughterhouse, two hundred-fifty steer die every hour. Cattle hang upside down on racks, jugulars slit to bleed out.

Sometimes, the stun gun doesn’t work.

This isn’t work as in labor.

This is work as in profit.

I smile and say, “Broiled beef contains as much cancer-causing benzopyrene as three hundred cigarettes,” but Cherry doesn’t listen.

We torture cattle.

We eat cattle.

Cattle give us cancer.

Cancer tortures us.

Consider a perfect circle of revenge.

Buchanan sits across from me and slurps champagne. His head is big the way you think of galactic objects.

Imagine Saturn with hair instead of rings.

Picture Jupiter with sleepy, bloodshot eyes.

He cleaves a chunk of barbecued bison from a prehistoric-sized steak and his jutting jaw flexes with each chew.

Buchanan slides a finger against a crystal champagne glass and says, “The ‘95 Krug Clos de Mesnil is a ninety-nine pointer on the Parker scale, and costs five hundred a bottle,” but this isn’t about conversation.

Lead makes crystal sparkle, paint shine, and brain cells die.

The lead level of wine in a crystal glass triples in a few hours.

See happy, shiny children.

Picture toys with bright rainbow colors.

Consider many years of meals served on glossy painted plates.

Now see dull people with no math skills.

I smile and say, “Ancient Romans used lead in pipes, bathtubs, and coins. The average life expectancy was twenty-eight, give or take,” but Buchanan doesn’t listen.

Jewel sits to my left. Her skin is the color of Homeland Security Advisory orange, her lips look like wax candy, and her forehead never, ever moves.

Jewel is blond the way Pamela Anderson’s head would look if you bathed her hair in Clorox and baked it dry in the midsummer sun.

She says, “Tomorrow is time for a Botox touch-up,” but this isn’t about conversation.

A little bit of Botox toxin injected into the frown muscles of the face causes a kind of short-term shut-down.

A temporary daze.

Paralysis in passing.

Sort of like your attention span in ‘action plan’ meetings filled with ‘timeline deliverables’ and ‘communication items’.

Too much toxin injected near the masseter muscle of the mouth and you can’t chew food. Consider a new weight loss strategy for Cherry.

I smile and say, “In 1961 the CIA saturated Castro’s cigars with toxin,” but Jewel doesn’t listen.

My father always said one man’s pleasure is another man’s pain, but I could never really believe my father.

This isn’t believe as in accept.

This is believe as in trust.

Davidson sits next to Jewel and across from Buchanan. Davidson’s arms are a swollen mass of veins, sort of like the bloated bellies of all those starving children pictured on late night Sally Struthers infomercials.

His bed pillow hands, thick skull ridge, and muscle bloat come courtesy of twenty-four gauge needles filled with growth hormone, testosterone, and nandrolone.

Picture medical waste washed along the soft sand and packed seashells.

Consider twenty-four gauge needles, once used.

Imagine a walk to remember, a little toe prick, and a hollow needle with trace hepatitis C, or maybe hepatitis B.

Consider twenty-four gauge needles, now twice used.

Davidson says, “I benched four hundred today, and I ran eight miles in under sixty minutes,” but this isn’t about conversation.

Exercise releases little morphine-like molecules in Davidson’s brain.

This isn’t exercise as in health.

This is exercise as in distraction.

Davidson plunges a scorched silver fork into a swordfish steak roughly the size and shape of the Florida panhandle.

I smile and say, “The methylmercury content of fish increases every year,” but Davidson doesn’t listen.

Watch women eat tuna pita pockets.

Picture barbecues with balsamic-glazed swordfish steaks.

See preschool box lunches stuffed with fish sticks.

Consider a future of dull and feeble thinking with minds filled with mercury.

Clarion sits next to Davidson. She sips ‘95 Clos de Mesnil and flicks candy cane red nails on the trattoria table.

The skin on Clarion’s face is pulled tight, sort of like a stretched latex birthday balloon packed with hot gas.

Clarion says, “My new Manolo Blahnik leopard-wrapped sandals with vamp buckle straps run a half size small,” but this isn’t about conversation.

Good marketing makes you spend money you don’t really have on things you don’t really need. See seven hundred dollar sandals that fit the latest fashion.

Picture seven hundred dollar rims on a seven thousand pound SUV that drinks seventy dollars of gas every few days.

Consider a country dependent on oil, a two hundred million dollar a day war, and a mission not accomplished.

I start to speak, but suddenly something deep inside me accelerates, and I stand fast and hard.

My skull splits.

My stomach rocks.

My shoulders clench.

I start to heave.

This isn’t heave as in breathe.

This is heave as in explode.

“Your crusted diamond watch does not make you beautiful!”

“The platinum credit card in your wallet does not measure your worth!”

“The frown lines on your face do not make you ugly!”

“Your favorite addiction does not define you!”

Chunks of indifference splatter on cobalt blue plates, Davidson’s bloated biceps, Jewel’s scorched hair, and Cherry’s wasted face.

And then, slowly, a voice that sounds like Cherry or maybe Jewel whispers, “God loves you,” but this isn’t about conversation.

The South Florida dusk drops around me like a damp curtain, and I wonder if Davidson or maybe Buchanan ever thinks about pediatric leukemia or polar bear extinction. The stars of the black sky smirk and say nothing.

The author's beaten one addiction but he's considering taking up another one and increasing the probability that he'll hit rock-bottom faster. MTV raised him to believe he'd live a music video kind of life, and he's slowly realizing this won't happen. During his last job interview he was asked the psycho-babble question about the kind of tree you'd be (if you could be a tree, of course, the interviewer said with a smug smile and collagen-primed lips), and he said he'd be a sanded-oak 1950s capital punishment paddle. He didn't get the job.

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