This essay was originally written and performed for Write Club Atlanta, a monthly competitive writing event.
Everyone has a wheel.
For some people, the wheel is a grindstone, an oppressive force pushing them down into the dirt as it turns, squeezing the air out of their lungs as it spins against their back. For others, the wheel is a puppy in a velour tracksuit, massaging their shoulders with a tender professionalism, because it is a certified massage therapist in addition to being a soft, wiggly puppy. And for some, their wheel is a grindstone in a velour tracksuit that dropped out of massage school to become a cashier at Target, a place notorious for not giving massages.
But make no mistake. No matter who you are, one day your wheel will spin off its axis and roll you into your grave.
Even Bryan Adams would have to admit that the summer in which he got his first real six-string and gawked at some girl on her mama’s porch paled in comparison to the one I was having in the Summer of 2011. I was living off a a modest inheritance and a generous severance package from having been laid off earlier that year. I was never going to have to work again, for any man. My life was full of limitless possibility.
You see, I had $30,000. I was, for lack of a better term, hillbilly rich.
I had decided to take an honest crack at making a career out of my two passions. Namely, co-hosting a science fiction podcast and writing sarcastic reviews of movies I watched on Netflix Instant with low Rotten Tomatoes scores. “By the time I run out of money” I said to myself, “I’ll have built a media empire.”
Meanwhile, my wheel had turned into a Nerf gun in the sky, the Excalibur of Nerf guns, raining down on me with soft golden pellets of alcohol and Xbox Live points. If I was the Baby Jesus, then surely Apple products were the swaddling clothes and sweet hay in which I lay. I bought an iPhone 4. I bought an iPad 2. I bought a Macbook Pro. I bought an iPhone 4S for the unsubsidized full price, guided by my own Star of Bethlehem, MacRumors.com.
I spent hundreds of dollars at the famous Atlanta strip club The Cheetah. Which, by the way, if a stripper confides in you that she considers the men she takes to the VIP room “suckers”, and you later see her leading an earnest young man to said VIP room, do not give her a hearty wave and yell, “HEEEY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” You and she are not a two-man team pulling a long con.
All this will have earned you is a scowl and squandered stripper goodwill, which is worth twice as much as goodwill from women who do not take their clothes off for money. That having been said, the highlight of my time at The Cheetah was getting a lap dance from a stripper who looked like Baroness from G.I. Joe.
I ate Croque-monsieurs at Atlanta restaurant Empire State South, surrounded by wealthy businessmen. Incidentally, if the members of the Occupy movement had really wanted to get up in the faces of the super-rich, they would have made reservations there, instead of pitching tents in city parks full of hobos, who have to eat regular ham and cheese sandwiches toasted over a trashcan fire instead of Croque-monsieurs.
And finally, I bought the world’s cutest French Bulldog, who I named Gotham, because she looked like Batman.
The Summer of 2011 was so incredible that it protected me from the realities that I was not yet brave enough to face. Like an internet that was hugely indifferent to sarcastic movie reviews and science fiction podcasts. Like the fact that I had lost the best job I’ve ever had in my entire life. Or that my mother passed away after a long battle with cancer in the Spring of 2011. Or that these things happened within weeks of each other.
After losing so much, so quickly, an irresponsible Summer of strippers and bourgeois sandwiches was the only thing that stood between me and a feeling of total oblivion. So I would say to you, appreciate your amazing summers while they last. They are important, finite events.
Now that Summer has turned to Fall and eventually Winter, I am no longer living high on the hog. If anything, I am being lowered into a deep dark well by the hog. I am now so broke, I can only afford a lap dance from a stripper that looks like Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe.
In the meantime, I write. I bring home bones for Gotham. I play a game on my iPhone called Tiny Tower. My tower has an aquarium, an architecture firm and an ice cream parlor called Scoops, all in the same building. Ironically, it also has a 100% employment rate.
I do not know when I will see another Summer like the Summer of 2011 again. Like a more pragmatic Little Orphan Annie, my philosophy is now, “The sun may come out tomorrow, but don’t bet your bottom dollar, because you will need it to buy the least expensive box of Hot Pockets.”
And my wheel continues to spin.