VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Harry McNabb

The Hope-Crusher

When you go from being a boy to being a young man, you start to find girls very interesting. I was thinking this as I walked around the Brick Gardens student apartments on Halloween. I had selected Brick Gardens before the semester because I thought that sharing an apartment with 3 other students would make me feel less alone. However, the people that lived with me were not interested in socializing. They stayed in their rooms 95% of the time. So that sucked. I thought that we would be partying with each other all the time and that, because of the parties, I would meet girls. Parties, alcohol, girls, sex. The party was the prerequisite for a girl, for sex. The alcohol at the party would function as a way for me to become more confident and then, if I was confident, my winning personality would shine through to create a scintilla of attraction in the hypothetical girl. So that’s what it was. Find a party, drink alcohol (or do other drugs), meet a girl, have sex, and then maybe, dare I say it…fall in love? I had operated under this precept since I was 16. It was one of those things I knew a priori, meaning before anyone told me. Since coming to this understanding at the age of 16, I had seen ample evidence to suggest that most young men were the same way. It’s the mating instinct. Party, alcohol, girl, sex.

I did not know what I was doing. I was walking around the apartments, looking, listening for evidence of a party. Listening, in particular, for music and female laughter. I had a six pack of beer under my arm. I thought it was very mature of me to have a plan to endear myself to a party’s host. I knew that there was a 95% chance that I would end the night drinking it by myself. But, the mating instinct made it so that I, a quiet, nervous, shy, average looking young man, had to try. I walked by the pool with my six pack. Why wasn’t anyone throwing a Halloween pool party? It occurred to me that college-age people had no imagination because they cared too much about what people thought of them. But, I surmised, remembering my limited social skills and experience, there was probably a place where exciting, decadent things were going on. People like me just didn’t know where it was. I walked through the pool gate to the apartments on the opposite side of the buildings as mine. I heard no noise. No music. No female laughter. But I did see a couple of guys my age walking quickly through the parking lot.

“Hey,” I said. They came over to me and I knew that in the fever of the mating instinct, they viewed me as a gateway to party, alcohol, girl, sex, just as I viewed them. “You guys know where the party’s at?” I said, trying to sound as casual as possible.

“Naw, fam,” said one of the guys. “We’re looking right now.”

He used the word “fam” with me. This was new slang that I had not been privy to. It was the year 2015.

“Well,” I said, “why don’t we look together to find one.” Given that I had shown them my hand and had revealed that I knew of no portal to party, alcohol, girl, sex, they now showed no interest in associating with me.

“Fam, if you wanna go with us, you gotta keep up cuz we’re going fast.”

“Okay, cool,” I said.

I followed the two young men and I quickly found out what they meant about going fast. I was out of shape and they were soon 20 feet ahead of me. They felt absolutely no qualms about leaving me behind. The guy who kept saying “fam” talked a lot and the other guy didn’t say anything. I often noticed this pattern in friendships. A talkative guy and a quiet guy. Jay and Silent Bob. A binary pair. I went to the gym at the apartments every day and I never saw them there. How were they so much faster than me?

We soon exhausted the opportunities at Brick Gardens. No music. No female laughter.

“Hey, fam,” said the guy, turning back to me. “We’re going to Prestige Apartments. You can come, but you gotta keep up.”

“Okay,” I said. I was covered in sweat and out of breath. My arm was getting sore from carrying the six-pack. The Prestige was about half-a-mile away. I passed it when I took the bus to school.

We went through the gate to Brick Gardens and walked quickly down a dimly lit street, the two young men now 50 feet in front of me. It was not long before I lost sight of them. I set down my six pack and stretched my arm. I had followed my new friends a long way down this unlit street. There were no streetlights and the shoulders were overgrown and unkempt. There were some train-tracks that crossed the road. I wondered what to do next. I sat down next to train tracks and listened to the night. There was no music or female laughter, but there were cicadas and frogs. I felt peaceful, apart from the mating instinct.

Why was I doing this? I was not the kind of guy who could pick up girls. I had had no luck with party, alcohol, girl, sex in my life. I needed a new approach. I didn’t know what to do, but I needed to do something, because I was so horny that I couldn’t think of anything else.

I heard footfalls behind me. I turned. There was a figure marching purposefully towards me. He was walking faster than the two guys I had followed. In the moonlight, I made out the figure. And he was a strange one. He had slicked back black hair and a milky white face and was wearing a tuxedo. In his hand he carried a small suitcase.

“Hello?” I said.

“Yes, yes,” he said, “yes, hi, yes.” Despite his creepy appearance, his voice was full of music, and I detected a hint of a german accent. He stopped 7 feet away from me. He smiled this big smile and said, “well…I found you.”

“You found me?” I said.

The man’s oddness was canceled out by the fact that I was so desperate to see a person who was happy to see me. At that point in my life, I did not have friends. I did not know how badly I needed to hear that voice and see that smile.

“Yes,” he said. “Gertrude found you.”

“Who is Gertrude?” I said. I was a bit weirded out.

“Gertrude,” he said, patting his suitcase.

“Your suitcase is named Gertrude?” I asked.

“Not a suitcase,” he said. “A crusher.”

“A crusher?” I said.

“Yes, yes,” he said. “She sniffs out people like you. And this might make you feel better, but there are a lot of candidates like you, especially in places like this with lots of young people, yes, yes. You are actually quite lucky, paradoxically, that I found you.” He laughed nervously.

“What do you mean by ‘people like me?’” I said.

The man put down the suitcase named Gertrude, strode towards me, put his left hand on my shoulder, and shook my hand with his right.

“Dr. Quacy Q. Queest,” he said. “But you can call me Quace. I am an inventor and doer of good deeds. I have made it my life’s work to help create a more content, peaceful, and ordered world through finding people like you.”

“What do you mean by ‘people like me?’” I said. “What do you mean by that?”

“In short,” said Quace, “men who have no hope of finding happiness in the fertile crescent of a woman.”

“What?” I said.

“Yes, I know it’s terrible,” said the strange, tuxedo-wearing man. “There’s a lot of women, but not enough for every man in the world. Yes, yes. Despite the fact that there are more women than men in the world at this time, so many men are just not viable mates. And, regretfully, you are one of those men. Yes, yes.”

“How do you know?” I said. “How do you know the future?”

“It’s very complicated,” said Quace dismissively, “it requires mathematics that are not currently accepted at this point in history, but I assure you it is all very sound, and you will suffer no harm. You have a scent, a trace, that all men of your ilk have. My crusher is attuned to this scent and can find those like you. You can, of course, refuse my help, but I must impress upon you that you will not have another opportunity like this in your lifetime. You are lucky. Do you understand?”

“Uh, no. I mean, what are you going to do to me?”

“It is very simple,” said Quace. “I am going to crush your hopes.”

“Okay. Well, that doesn’t sound very good,” I said. “I don’t want that for myself. You’ll have to find somebody else.” I got up, picked up my six-pack and started walking away.

“Do you wish to die depressed?” he said.

I thought for a minute and turned around. “No,” I said. “I don’t want to die depressed.”

“That is exactly what will happen if you walk away from me right now,” said Quace with an earnestness in his voice that had not been there before. “In fact, it could be even worse.”

“How could it be worse?” I said.

“You could go crazy. Yes, yes. Crazy,” said Quace, “people like you have become killers, rapists. Some have completely lost their minds. Not to mention the drug addicts. If you do not accept my help you have a 60% chance of being a drug-addict. Yes, yes.”

I sighed. “Is it really that bad?” I said. “Am I really going to live an unhappy life if you don’t crush my hopes?”

“I am being more direct and honest with you than anyone in your life has been,” said Quace. “Not everyone is meant to be happy. You need this.”

I thought about all the time I wasted. All the time I’d spent having crushes on girls. All the girls who had rejected me. All the nights I’d spent wandering the streets trying to find a girl, any girl to have sex with.

“Okay,” I said. “What do I have to do?”

Quace smiled manically. “Oh, I’m so glad you made this decision,” he said.  “Yes, yes. We are making the world a better place, you and I.”

He opened the suitcase. There was nothing inside it. No space. It was two solid blocks with a hinge and a handle.

“Streamlined,” said Quace. “Economic, sleek. I do love Gertrude. Now come here, step forward.”

I stepped forward and Quace punched me in the nose before violently grabbing my ear.

“Ow, what the hell!” I yelled. Quace pulled back, clutching something in his hands

“Well, that went well,” said Quace, looking at me, that manic grin still on his face. “First try.”

“First try at what?” I said, clutching my nose.

“I just succeeded in purloining the hopes from your brain on my first try. I’m sorry I couldn’t explain before. In order for your hopes to come out of your ear, I had to surprise you with a punch in the nose. Your hopes live in your nose, you see.”

“Jesus,” I said.

“Do you want to see your hopes?” said Quace. “Here they are!” Quace showed me two quivering balls of mucus in his hands. “Horrible little things, aren’t they?”

“Okay,” I said. “What do I have to do now?”

“Nothing. Well, not nothing. You can watch Gertrude go to work.” Quace set the two little balls of hope down on the surface and Gertrude slammed shut before making a whirring sound.

When the case shut, I felt a strange feeling. That scary feeling you get when you have a nightmare, a really bad nightmare, but the sensation only lasted for a minute. And after that minute, I felt great.

“I would really love to stay and chat,” said Quace, picking up Gertrude, “but I have only so much time to improve the world in this small, important way. Yes, yes. I hope you understand. I wish you good health and happy times.”

“I understand,” I said. “Thank you, sir.”

Quace smiled and strode quickly out into the night, in search of other hopes to crush. I went home. I was glad to come home to an empty common area. I really didn’t feel like talking to the strangers that were my room mates. I tiptoed quickly to my room and popped open one of the beers. I opened my laptop, logged into Netflix, and began watching an episode of Star Trek. It was better than I remembered it.

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