The trouble down below

Note: the title is in reference to Jesse Winchester’s song “Step by Step”.

A couple of weeks ago I somehow found myself walking around our latest new mall, populated by the same types you’ll always find shopping at the latest new mall, who were hunting, with a determination associated with an athlete sprinting a 100-metre dash, for the clothes that populate the chain stores that populate the latest new mall.

Both of my friends were hungry, and arguing about where to eat; I was lost in thought. Being on the verge of graduating university after three years of failure and three of success at postponing my entry into the big, bad real world for real, childhood dreams traded for enough experience to write the first page of a how-to survival guide, I was apprehensive, and trying to snap out of it. Above, “PF Chang’s” blared in red, a large wooden horse statue baring down beneath the sign. As I was looking, an acquaintance walked out the restaurant doors. Wok’s, another (formerly?) popular Chinese place, was something she’d once recommended to me. The memory came unbidden. The evening carried on.

I was on Facebook that night when a post her best friend showed-up on my news feed. The post, marked from four hours ago, read: “At PF Chang’s!” An onslaught of comments about how jealous people are commences. The food is great. The place is amazing.

I get off the laptop and walk to the balcony. Around me, the remains of the day’s work—construction at a complex, fifteen villas in total—are piled-up, and being the glass-half-empty bundle of joy that I am, it factors into my curious, worried mood. What tiles to pick. How to fix my brother’s drainage pipe. When to repair the broken glass window near my bedroom. So much to do, and it’s too damn late at night to do it.

The next day, my sister off-handedly informs me that my baby cousin is about to enter the second grade. I love this kid. I’ve seen My Neighbour Totoro with her over one hundred times (I stopped count at 121), and would walk with her and tell her stories around five times a week. This stopped because we no longer live together. See the aforementioned villas and complex.

When I see my cousin, I ask her if she’s excited about school.

“Yes,” she says.



“Good,” I say, hoping I mean it. “What’s your favorite subject?”

She looks thoughtful, as if determining what her answer should be; not discovering any inherently right one, she responds truthfully: “Arabic. But I’m not looking forward to dealing with Sally.”

A tirade follows. Sally is stinky and stupid, and always talks behind peoples backs. Cousin does a mean impression of this Sally, who, from the looks of things, speaks using only the word “blah” by moving her mouth like Pac-Man.

Visiting Facebook that night is an exercise in frustration.

Former highschool hotshot is wearing a suit, is a banker, and has a bald-spot. OK. Former pretty boy slash attention whore has started a political party. The boy hasn’t read a book in living memory, and has flunked out of four different universities. OK. Former friend has turned into his father. Qualification, and a boost of nepotism, allows them to run the same company together. OK. Former highschool hotshot couple have broken-up years ago. She’s getting married that same night. He hasn’t been laid in years. OK. There’s a war going on just north. The price of oil has gone-up again. Cancer killed someone. OK. OK. OK.

A waddle into and contentment with okayness. New curtains, repairing the tiles, scoring a new shirt at 80% discount, getting promoted, the exciting new movie, knowledge of all the horrible things people do, rationalized: this is what it feels like life. It’s home, accumulated furniture, comfortable places, the well-earned rewards for hard work. It peaks when you go to a Chinese restaurant that offers slight variation on the recipes the Chinese restaurant you were recommended ten years ago serves-up: sweet is sweeter, and sour more sour. The food is great. The place is amazing.

I get up in the morning anyway. That the babies are turning into us and us into our parents makes me want to do something beneficial, but for now I write; I am not OK, no. My work is going badly, my friends are busy, my ex-girlfriend has turned into an obnoxious, unbearable git, and these few years are a museum of regrets. OK. Wash your face. OK. Brush your teeth. OK. Get dressed. Open that door. Get started. OK.

The day is a swirl of small victories, bigger defeats. In the evening, I put on some music. The work is going badly, but the evening carries on.

My sister walks into the bedroom. “I heard PF Chang’s fantastic,” she says. “Wanna go?”

I hesitate.

“OK?” she says.

Go through the door, and content yourself with new variations on Chinese. Stay, and…

“No,” I say.

“Maybe later?”


She glances at the work. She acknowledges.

“Good luck.”