The Easiest Place in the World to do Nothing, and Still have the Best Time of Your LIfe

by | Nov 14, 2023 | COMMUNITY, DOWNTOWN RVA, SHORT STORIES

Vice published an article in ‘99 declaring RVA “a black hole”, “a sedative”, and “the easiest place in the world to do nothing and still have the best fucking time in the world”. After living there for 6 years in my early 20s, I couldn’t agree more. Anyways, I hope you enjoy!

Suddenly, I had forgotten why I was in the kitchen. So I fixed myself an orange juice and was standing there in that afternoon ray of sunshine, thinking about it. Then my phone buzzed, so I walked over and grabbed it. A job offer?

It was a recruiter named Debra, and she was calling on a Friday.

“We’d like to offer you the position,” she said.

“Really? . . . Okay.”

“Congratulations on joining the B Line Family!”

“I must say I’m excited.”

“Great, we’ll just need to set you up in the system. Then you can start working!”

Great!

Then I thought, oh no… how long is that for? They’d be expecting me come Monday. And then what, 40 years until Social Security?

I’d been moseying around all summer, doing everything and nothing and having the time of my life, dodging any honest accounting of things. Now the rat race was closing in on me.

There was a pit in my stomach.

I sat down at our dirty coffee table with the phone against my ear. Desmond was sitting on the couch across from me, his mind in outer space, as Morgan fell down an internet rabbit hole on factory farming. It was nasty stuff, I thought, but what were we supposed to do, raise our own cattle? My dad was in government contracts, so it wasn’t exactly in my blood.

“So what are the hours and pay?” I asked the recruiter.

“This is a full-time position,” she said. “It’s 40 hours a week. The position pays $32,000 per year plus benefits.”

“Ahh, okay.”

Well, do you have any wiggle room on the salary?

“We’ve done our research and feel our salary is competitive.”

“Okay . . . well, do you have any wiggle room on the vacation days?”

“We’ve done our research and feel our benefits are…”

And that was the offer. Four years of college, and this was it; the big payoff, the promised land, the coveted full-time job with benefits. Did anyone ever bother to plan for what happens beyond that?

I hated large corporations as much as the next man. But not because they were ugly or evil. For me, I hated how dull they made everybody. Millions—no, billions—of workers showing up at 8:55 am every day to look at spreadsheets, just to hold onto decent health insurance. And we were still sick; what a racket. Clock in, clock out, and keep your sleeves rolled down so as to not reveal any racy tattoos. Like worker ants. Billions of worker ants. And those that climb to the top? Some of them have talent, no doubt, but mostly it was their enthusiasm. You have to give a shit. You have to believe what you’re doing really matters. Territory Sales. Marketing Pipelines. Executive Business Reviews. Not only do you have to finish your plate of crap, you have to pretend you enjoy it, too. That gets you the promotion, the parking space up front.

“Then I was talking to Debra again: could I speak with my dad and call you back in a few days?”

“We can’t promise the job offer will stand.”

“Okay . . . then I’ll take it.”

Great, that’s really great.

It feels like it.

“Congratulations on joining the B Line Family.”

“This is all very exciting, I almost can’t contain myself.”

She then worked me through a series of paperwork that was both challenging to understand and utterly inconsequential at the same time. I could sense she was rushing to answer the same question in three different boxes.

I nodded along. “Okay . . . uh huh . . . yes . . . absolutely.”

“Sir, I asked if you identify as non-white Hispanic.”

“Oh. My mistake. No, no I don’t.”

It went on and on until she told me my start date and explained how parking worked. She knew this by heart: I was to report on my first day and park in the visitor’s lot. At the front desk, they’d give me a pass to hang from my mirror that was good for 5 business days. But Monday was Labor Day, so if my sticker hadn’t arrived by Tuesday, I’d need to speak with them again for another pass. There was a parking sticker, and a parking pass. Two separate passes…

Eventually she let up on me and ended the call.

Sammie was smirking as he walked into the living room from the kitchen. He had on polka-dot oven mitts and was holding a baking sheet.

“Who’s up first?” He looked around. Desmond was still off in outer space, and Morgan was deeper in that rabbit hole. A few clients were in and out. “Yah man. No problem. What about the old stuff? None left, sorry… Of course, see ya next week.”

Then there were those two musicians who always stopped by to play jazz guitar and would never leave. Jean jackets, patches. One had mutton chops, and the other desperately wanted to be Robert Plant. They were always riffing about some corporate music festival that had just barely left them off the bill. “You’re right, man, it isn’t fair. Live Nation? Yah, it’s fucked. Monopolies.”

Sammie looked at me. “You want one of these babies?”

“I’m not participating in your experiment.”

“Oh c’mon!”

“I didn’t see one measuring cup.”

“It’s impossible to take too much.”

“You and me both know that’s not true… Plus, I just got a very important job.”

Sammie looked down at his Birkenstocks for a moment, pondering. “Do they drug test? If they drug test, I can help you pass.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Fake piss, in a water bottle, attached to your thigh.”

I was scrolling through the company manual on my laptop.

“It says here ‘Honesty’ is one of their core values.”

“Honesty? Then be honest with them—everybody’s doing it.”

“That’s a really good idea.”

Just then, Morgan popped his head up from his laptop and began speaking with a mission. “You shouldn’t call it that,” he said. “Do you know the history of that term—‘marijuana’? It’s messed up… They wanted to vilify the drug by making it sound Mexican. It was all part of The Right’s war on drugs. The proper term is ‘cannabis’. We should all start calling it cannabis.”

Sammie was licking some crumbs from his finger. “Fine. We’ll call it ‘cabannis’, or whatever… I don’t care what we call it, these are going to make me a killing.”

“Not if you eat them all before Bauhaus,” I said.

“Didn’t Bauhaus close down?”

“Not yet . . . the landlord bought their story.”

“About the caved-in floor?”

“Yep.”

Then we heard a knock on the door. Our heads turned in unison. Everyone agreed they heard exactly two knocks. Not too aggressive. That was good. There weren’t any voices, so it wasn’t RPD.

Sammie dropped his oven mitts and speed-walked to the front of the house. He leaned over the couch, then used his fingers to separate a small slit in the blinds so that no one would see in. “The food is here!”

At the same time, Morgan got a ring on his phone.

“Christ,” Morgan said, “embarrassing timing.” He locked his hands on top of his five-panel hat. God, if the stench didn’t give it away… Why can’t we fucking feed ourselves? Why didn’t we just cook our dinner instead of paying corporations to shovel cardboard into our mouths? We should all start cooking more.

Sammie was walking up the steps with the boxes piled high and the sandwiches stacked on top of them and his head peeking over barely able to see. “Eat at home, bro.”

Morgan scoffed.

We sat around the coffee table passing time, working on the world’s problems. Some dogs were barking in the alleyway, and the train was thudding against the tracks behind the Civil War cemetery.

Then Sammie took an interest in my job that started on Monday.

“So this big new job… what does B Line America do anyways?”

“No clue. Something about logistics.”

“Logistics… you mean like trucking?”

“Possibly. Not really sure.”

“You know nothing, yet they hired you?”

“Do you know what your employer does?”

“Something about real estate.”

“That’s it?”

“Well.”

“Exactly.”

Morgan had another important point to make. He had his hand around his chin: “Did you know that logistics is what enables these endless wars abroad? . . . Dating back to the Roman Empire, it’s always been logistics. Even if the factories produce the bombs, they can’t kill anyone without the logistics enabling it all.”

“I don’t think B Line is killing anyone, I think we move rectangular containers of freight.”

“So it’s already ‘we’ now?!”

“Shit. They.”

Another hour or two went by without much transpiring. We couldn’t seem to solve those world problems. Getting some fresh air suddenly felt like a genius idea, and the corner store was determined to be within range. We left Desmond on the couch, who now seemed to be spooning that pillow. Some drool had dried on his cheek.

I chewed a mint and splashed some cold water on my face. Then we marched downstairs and hopped off the porch and turned north up the street towards a convenience store everyone called ‘Sketch Mart’. Morgan never liked that we called it that. He found it offensive, insensitive even.

The sun was falling behind the railroad tracks. Its rays were peering through the cobblestone alleyways, flashing a burnt copper as we walked. The autumn air was both warm and cool at the same time, and everything smelled like damp leaves. Time was moving slowly, and my face felt heavy. I looked up. I could see the bottoms of each leaf fluttering as if they each had something profound to say.

Nothing? No.

We passed a red brick fire station, a razor-wired lot, stray cats, a soul food joint, a vegan joint, and two tattoo shops. Then there was that boarding house that we heard raised its rent to $500, and all hell had broken loose.

Hell of a neighborhood, I thought. All these burnouts and bartenders. People who want to barter for rent. Musicians drifting up and down the east coast, practicing for Brooklyn. Outcasts from Baltimore and Chesapeake looking for a place to crash. Gangs of crust punks walking around without shoes. People sleeping on cots in the living room or in the van parked in the alleyway. Handshake agreements, no contracts. “Collectives” hosting DIY shows advertised on the television pole. Far-out political causes swelling up on corkboards. Anarchists. Communists. Anarcho-communists. People with big ideas for creating their utopia, without any of the funding to do so.

We walked—block after block of row houses. Some red, some purple, some turquoise. All of them on a subtle tilt, leaning to one side, tired after decades of abuse. The back porch propped up on two-by-fours.

And no one cut their grass.

I waved to someone who was smoking on their porch. Andre. Was his name Andre? The guy with the skatepark in his basement and the brown-bag beers on his stoop.

“Sweet couch!” Sammie said to him.

“What, this ‘ole thing?” Andre brushed some leaves off the sagging arm. “Can you believe the landlord didn’t want it?”

“Shit, no.”

“Be safe out there.”

Everybody waved. Was there a murderer on the loose? We kept on walking.

Andre was one of the good guys, always friendly to the ruckus. Of course he didn’t mind. How could he mind? With those scrapped appliances across his front yard.

Not like Hank, at the end of the block with the riverfront view. The man with the Mercedes and the solar panels. Hank was dug in. He was long Jackson Ward. He might’ve been the only man in the neighborhood with a 401k. There’s a guy, I thought, who wants things to go up. Stocks, commodities, property values. Once you’re bought in, the higher prices go, the better. Affordability be damned. And here he was, completely surrounded by people doing everything in their power to keep them down. The grungier your place looked from the curb, the thinking went, the harder it was for your landlord to raise the rent. Reverse curb appeal.

Along our trek to Sketch Mart, Morgan made an effort to acknowledge it by its real name ‘Fine Foods Mart’ on two separate occasions. We got there. There were some mushy bananas and a fly circling around the limes. Half the lights in the refrigerator were burnt out; the other half were yellow. We paid for our beer in cash and walked out.

The walk back felt eight times as long.

Then we were back at the house. Sammie pulled the keys from his carabiner as we climbed up the stoop. “The goddamn door is unlocked,” he said.

“Desmond must’ve forgotten on his way out,” I said.

“Wait… the goddamn door is kicked in!”

“Kicked in?”

He pointed to it.

“That’s unnecessary, isn’t it?”

The three of us circled around, looking down at it. There it was, the deadbolt laying on the mat behind the door. Next to it, a splinter of wood that had been ripped from the door jamb. Some paint chips. We were all quietly examining the damage, taking it in, hoping that might change what we already knew it meant.

Inside, the place had been ransacked. Every door opened, every drawer yanked out, every box flipped over, everything of pawnable value gone.

“Some neighborhood,” Sammie said in front of the empty TV stand.

Morgan was looking down at his Doc Martens, mumbling: “we just moved in yesterday…”

Everybody thought about what they no longer owned.

“Wait a second…” Sammie said.

“Check the oven. I said.

He pulled open the oven door, and there they were.

That was the bright side of the day—the burglars never did check that oven. And I still had that job on Monday moving shipping containers. I wasn’t sure which side of the ledger any of it belonged on.

Oh well.

– CAMERON B. RITTER

Cameron Ritter

Cameron Ritter

Author of "Middlemen: Confessions of a Freight Broker". VCU grad. Student of Gonzo Journalism.




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