Thomas Mundt

Broke-Ass James Taylor

Broke-Ass James Taylor has Mouths to feed.

There’s an Ex-Wife Mouth, for starters. Alimony Mouth. A Mouth with lips caked in shades like Midnight Rampage and Talk to the One-Night Stand and other varieties unbecoming of a woman in her mid-forties. A Mouth that flirts openly with even the most acne-scarred, scoliosis-ridden servers among us. (Broke-Ass James Taylor witnessed this painful act firsthand at The Macaroni Grill, where the two hashed out the key terms of their Separation Agreement over Calamari Fritti.) A Mouth with a seemingly-endless supply of daggers with which to fracture Broke-Ass James Taylor’s breastbone and puncture his occasionally-beating heart.

There’s also the Mouth belonging to Tiny Roger. Son Mouth. The six-year old Mouth that’s turning Tiny Roger into Not-So-Tiny Roger at an alarming rate. The Mouth that never met a Teddy Graham it didn’t like. The Mouth Tiny Roger uses to breathe because all the excess Tiny Roger keeps bearhugging his lungs, rendering his nasal passages useless, ornamental.

And, of course, there’s Broke-Ass James Taylor’s Mouth to consider. The mouth trained to tolerate Five-Dollar Footlongs and sour, been-in-the-bottom-of-the-break-room-drawer-since-the-Clinton-Administration coffee. The Mouth that lip-syncs along to the same ESPN Radio Extra Points, the impassioned pleas for instant replay in baseball and righteous demands for LeBron James’ head on a gold-plated charger, every hour on the hour. The Mouth that hasn’t made contact with a Lady Mouth in sixteen months, two weeks, and four days.

Misery Mouth.

And so, given the existence of these Disparate, Needy Mouths, Broke-Ass James Taylor is presently in the conference room-cum-office suite of his current quasi-employer, SILVERMAN HIRSCH COOLEY & MCKENZIE, LLC, on a Saturday morning, booting up a Dell desktop that sounds less computer and more flight simulator. As the relic’s fans sputter and whinny, he ponders the percentage of Earthlings for whom work is associated with the scent of hot dust.

***

Broke-Ass James Taylor isn’t finding what he’s looking for.

He’s been assigned the task of locating documents supporting SILVERMAN HIRSCH’s contention that the defendant, Danny Ries, broke his fiduciary duty to Brightstar Financial’s shareholders by failing to disclose the potential conflict of interest in contracting with MT Partners, an entity whose Board of Directors overlaps Brightstar’s by nearly three-fourths. Instead, he keeps finding Nigerian scam spam and email threads between Danny and his wife, Mary Fran, wherein they recount the time they fucked on that houseboat on Lake Ontario.

While a rather-large part of Broke-Ass James Taylor is fascinated by the latter communications, the fearlessness with which Danny committed his boatfucks to company record, the remaining part of him that incurred six-figure debt for the privilege of practicing law wonders how it all came to this. (This being shorthand for sifting through the fecal matter that is one ethically-challenged entrepreneur’s life in exchange for a pittance of an hourly wage.)

He wonders aloud if it’s too late to get into dentistry. (He could see himself in those colorful scrubs, the ones that let his patients know that he’s not super-uptight, that he probably likes to wakeboard in his free time.) The room’s empty file cabinets remain silent on the issue, although Broke-Ass James Taylor has a pretty good idea they’d answer Yes, It’s absolutely too late. You made your bed… if they could.

So, he keeps looking.

***

John Ostling used to exist. He signed up for one of those websites, the ones that help like-minded people find one another. It wasn’t even one of those seedy sites that get you Rest-Stop Head or secure your spot in an Argentine Five-Way. It matched you with others based upon approximately six-thousand levels of compatibility. It was supposed to work.

John drummed up some initial interest in his profile, mainly from fellow divorcées searching for dates for upcoming Rascal Flatts concerts. He did so without the assistance of a picture, not out of insecurity about his looks or a desire to be evaluated strictly upon his marginally-impressive bio but simply because he couldn’t figure out the Browse and Upload functions. When his technological breakthrough finally, mercifully, occurred (with the assistance of a much-younger colleague), he chose a picture Alimony Mouth had taken of him a few Christmases ago. It depicted him in a forest-green henley, an acoustic guitar perched upon his crossed, corduroyed legs. There were three red-felt stockings in the background, heavy with candy and replacement razors and Target gift cards.

The response to John’s picture was swift. He returned home from a late night of middle-aged male camaraderie to discover he’d received an Introductory Message from a zaftig, twenty-eight-year old Kate from Crown Point, Indiana. (It didn’t escape John that the Message had been sent at 2:47 a.m. CST. He could envision Crown Point Kate sitting at her laptop with a half-glass of pinot, the Should I, or shouldn’t I? debate having raged between her legs for hours before her body simply demanded that she contact him.) Pleased with himself, he smiled and clicked:

u look like a brokeass james talor :(

There were no other Messages, Introductory or otherwise, in his Inbox. Just assorted great deals at JCrew.com and a cornucopia of pills with which he could become two-to-three inches larger.

He wondered if there was a pill that could instantly make him two-to-three times less likely to microwave and devour a Ham ‘n Cheddar Hot Pocket in defeat.

***

Broke-Ass James Taylor’s cell is having a seizure on the desk. It’s Tiny Roger, as denoted by the luminescent TR in the Caller ID window. As he reaches to answer, he wonders if he’ll ever stop thinking of him as Tiny Roger, if it’ll take decades before he ever sees him as anything but the jaundiced, bug-eyed infant that spent the first two months of his life outside the womb inside an incubator.

“Hey, Bud. Whatcha up to?”

(Heavy breathing.)

“Bud? You there?”

“Yeah. It’s. Me. Dad.”

“What’s going on? You okay?”

“I’m. Fine. I’ve. Been. Invited. To. A. Party. I’m. Calling. To. Ask…”

Broke-Ass James Taylor pauses to appreciate his son’s social calendar. It takes only a second before his lack thereof sinks in.

“Of course you can go! That’s great.”

“Mom. Says. I. Have. To. Tell. You. That. It’s. A…”

(Heavy breathing.)

“Pizza. Party.”

Broke-Ass James Taylor pulls his cell away from his face, so his dramatic sigh won’t register on Tiny Roger’s end.

“Bud. We talked about this. Remember?”

“I. Know. Dad. I’ve. Been…”

“I know you’ve been exercising more, Bud, and that’s great. I’m very, very proud of you for that. But your diet’s important too, and you can’t just…”

Tiny Roger’s smothered lungs suddenly discover a Celine Dion-like inner strength and expel a wail Broke-Ass James Taylor would expect to come out of a wolf, possibly a dingo. But never his son.

“Bud. Bud. Come on.”

(Sustained wolf cry.)

“Bud. Okay. Bud. Listen to me.”

(Heavy breathing.)

“Yeah. Dad.”

“You can go to the pizza party. Okay? But let’s not overdo it. Remember the “M” word we talked about?”

“Yes. Dad. Mod. Er. A. Shun.”

“Exactly. Moderation. Just a few slices. Okay? And don’t drink a ton of Coke.”

“Oh. Kay. Dad.”

(Silence.)

Having never been through a Ten-Step Program of any kind, Broke-Ass James Taylor doesn’t feel like an Enabler at all. He just feels like an Exasperated Dad who lacks the energy to continually lie to his son about there being more to life than gorging himself on Deep-Dish Pepperoni every chance he gets.

It strikes Broke-Ass James Taylor as infinitely less cruel than perpetuating the myth of The Future, where foresight and hard work get rewarded and dreams play out in real time.

***

When Broke-Ass James Taylor returns from Subway, there’s a note waiting for him on his ergonomically-incorrect swivel chair:

To All Contractors:
The espresso machine in the Break Room is for Authorized Users only. There are NO exceptions!

–Claire Kuypers
Administrative Assistant, Litigation

The note is unsettling not because of its content but its mere existence, as Broke-Ass James Taylor was convinced his was the only human presence on Floor Thirty-Two. (He’s unfortunately aware of the thriving gnat community in the men’s room.) Saturdays at SILVERMAN HIRSCH are about escape. They’re about inhabiting the Isle of Broke-Ass James Taylor, free of mainland concerns like ComEd meter readings and weddings for which he still hasn’t bought anything off the registry.

He wasn’t prepared for the existence of other Isles, imagined cartographers had long abandoned the prospect of their location.

In the Break Room, Broke-Ass James Taylor finds neither a list of Authorized Users nor any guidelines for determining one’s status as such. But he’s knows he’s not an Authorized User, has no chance of becoming one.

He is an Espresso Man, however. At least today.

Broke-Ass James Taylor selects a tiny ceramic mug, better suited for a four-year old girl’s backyard tea party, and places it on the black plastic grate. He pushes a button and expects the espresso maker to gurgle, to pop and fizz like the Mr. Coffee back at his efficiency. But it simply hums, as if to Handel. The only objectionable sound comes in the form of the slow drip, a plop plop plop calling to mind his swollen prostate and recent complications at the urinal.

His cup running over, Broke-Ass James Taylor adds vanilla from a glass bottle he was certain contained olive oil prior to his Unauthorized Usage. He sips and Roman Candles go off in his brain, every synapse firing in delight.

He thinks, This is how you treat a Mouth.

***

Thomas Mundt lives in Chicago.  His new(ish) stories can be read now or soon in places like The Cleveland Review, Kugelmass, Bartleby Snopes, and Dark Sky Magazine, all less-than-meticulously collected for your convenience at www.dontdissthewizard.blogspot.com.  He is currently completing his first short story collection, You Have Until Noon to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe

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