Historical events made sure that his prayers would remain unanswered. The trouble on the horizon could first be seen with the opening of the Brandenburg Gate in 1989 and culminated with the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The Cold War was over. Smaller, warmer wars took their place, but none of them held much promise of an ICBM free-for-all.
The 1990s were not kind to Billy. No decade had been really, but it was extra depressing now that the world lacked a kill switch to make it all go away. Lacking other options, Billy made an attempt at living life like a regular human being. Who knows? If all went well, he might someday be able to move out and forget his mother ever existed.
All did not go well. Billy’s stab at being a working man came crashing down when he was caught dipping into the till. His stab at being a dating man suffered a similar fate when he was caught dipping into a 16-year old girl. Such a gaffe might be treated with a shrug when the perpetrator was 18 or 19, but Billy was 28.
Fortunately for him, her parents were not as angry as they might have been if they had someone else as a daughter. Like Billy, she was none too bright and built like a beanbag chair so their prospects of eventually marrying her off were limited. They told Billy they would not pursue criminal charges if his intentions were honorable and he was serious about the relationship.
Billy did not love the girl. He was thumb-it-in drunk when they had sex and if he had it all to do over again, he would have just thrown up on her and passed out. He was not serious about the relationship. However, he was serious about not having to go prison and/or register as a sex offender so he did something he had never done. He asked his mother for advice.
“It’s not like you can do any better,” she said.
So that was that. For the next three years, Billy went over to her house a couple of times a week. They stopped having sex pretty early on with no complaints from either party. Instead, they would sit and and watch TV, rarely saying a word to one another. Billy drank from her father’s liquor supply while she ate whatever diabetes-inducing snack food that was at the ready. Billy imagined the rest of his life playing out like this and it didn’t seem so bad, mostly because it meant he would be intoxicated most of the time.
Alas, it was not to be. At some point, the girl realized that she was a lesbian. “Tough shit,” she wrote to Billy in a carefully worded breakup letter before coming out to her parents. They promptly disowned her because they were homophobes and told Billy he was partly to blame for “turning her diesel.”
Billy was heartbroken. He had a steady supply of booze and now it was gone. With no source of income, he had to get creative to bankroll his alcoholism.
Pawning his mother’s engagement ring brought temporary relief, but the money was gone faster than predicted and she had little else worth stealing. Billy then gave panhandling a whirl.
Begging seemed to be his calling.
He was fat, but it was not the well-off fat of the expense-account business traveler who has gorged himself on so many thick steaks and baked potatoes he has trouble fitting through the door to his room at the Marriot.
No, Billy was the kind of lardbottom who looked like he dived too many dumpsters and always went for seconds and thirds at the rescue-mission buffet line. If he looked emaciated, passersby with his best interest might be inclined to give him food instead of money he would surely spend. Instead, they just threw cash at him in the hope he would unblight the sidewalk by drinking himself to death.
He didn’t look terribly homeless off duty. He exercised basic hygiene and his clothes, though unfashionable, were clean-ish. Prior to going out begging, Billy would give himself a full wino makeover. He rubbed dirt on his face, combed margarine into his hair, and changed into some filthy duds he kept under the desk.
Billy’s panhandling career was lucrative, but not without its downside. He was frequently told to get a job even though he had one and this was it. Children pelted him with insults and occasionally small rocks. From time to time he spot one of his clients from his teen years and these men, now in their 60s, would walk by with their boyish trophy wives and never so much as give him the time of day. He figured he deserved a little something for his silence if nothing else.
Billy sank into an even deeper depression than usual. Fortunately, the year 2001 brought with it two happy tidings.
The first was that his mother said she would start buying him alcohol. Her decision came not out of maternal concern, but embarrassment. Like all panhandlers worthy of the name, Billy had picked the most conspicuous spot he could find to wiggle his change cup and look sad. It didn’t take long for word to get back to her and it often came with a shake of the head and a condescending smile. When she’d had enough, she cut her son a deal. In exchange for a stocked liquor cabinet at home, Billy would give up begging, keep the noise down after 10 pm, and make an honest effort not to throw up in the sink. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
The second was 9/11.
It was about a month into the new arrangement and Billy was sleeping off the effects of September 10 when the planes hit the buildings. He hoped to spend the day watching cartoons, but every channel was chock full of breathless coverage of the terrorist attacks. Comparatively little screen time was given to the Pentagon because the damage had been done and there was not much else to see. The Twin Towers were another matter because you got to watch them fall and you got to watch the footage again in case you missed it three minutes ago.
Billy postulated a theory why it happened while it happened. It wasn’t because the terrorists were Muslim. He had dealt with plenty of Muslims working in the corner stores where he went to buy booze and none of them had terrorized anybody. They were odd to Billy though because they did not drink. Their religion forbade it and like all religions, they got judgy. Billy knew all too well their exasperated sighs whenever he lost his footing and went careening into a shelf of Doritos. The way he figured it, the Muslims in Muslimland also needed to get judgy, but had no outlet because everybody around them were nondrinkers as well. Eventually, they snapped. The more Billy drank, the more sense it made.
It wasn’t so much the attacks Billy liked as the threat of more to come. This wasn’t the Cold War, there was no threat of global annihilation, but it was better than nothing. It also had possibilities Billy had not yet considered. He didn’t unnecessarily have to get vaporized when there were dirty bombs, nerve agents, and anthrax.
At first, the prospect of dying in a terrorist attack was little more than an idle pipe dream. Billy had it pretty good.
His daily routine started with sleeping in until ten, eat a few bowls of Cap’n Crunch, then fall back asleep after drinking some bourbon and orange juice. This was followed by a late lunch consisting of three or four baloney sandwiches washed down with bourbon and Coke. By the time he awoke from his afternoon nap, his mother was home from work and in the kitchen cooking dinner.
The main courses varied, but mashed potatoes and gravy were a near constant and Billy’s favorite part of the meal. He had lost a few teeth by this point and preferred not to worry about guiding his fork full to a part of his mouth still capable of chewing. After dinner, he drank straight bourbon and fell asleep at some unknown hour after blacking out.
Unfortunately for Billy, his mother could not stand to see her son living his life as he saw fit. After a mere half decade, she launched into a campaign of showing her disapproval. Billy’s days of waking up to the sounds and smells of dinner being made were over. She still prepared his evening meal, but not before her daily scowling ritual. He couldn’t tell how how long she had standing in front of him. He only knew she was there when he woke up.