People fling sorry at me.
Sorry, a person cuts in line.
Sorry, a biker knocks me over.
Sorry, my debit card’s been declined. Next customer, please.
There’s no sorry in rejected credit card applications. They speak only of delinquent obligations. Income. Balances.
The applications don’t ask what groceries I’ve had to put back. That I’ve been reduced to eating Ramens when Michelina’s TV dinners ran out. I’ve consumed cheap gifted box wine for breakfast.
But they do love using the word regret. And risk.
Ironic that capitalistic speculators should employ that term. Risk. Who isn’t a fucking risk?
God. And God doesn’t need a credit card.
I lose my teaching position. The cause? Drinking twice to illustrate the idiocy of Prohibition in class.
I’m a hands-on guy. What can I say? It was also the week of the anniversary of my older sister Nan’s run-in with a fifty ton train. And it was Merlot, for fuck’s sake, something I bought because I deserved some small good thing. Even though that week I thought I deserved a lot of things. A chance to go back in time, a chance to take Nan’s place, tenure. A chance to sue the hell out of the railroad, a chance to let out the loudest scream I could.
But policy is policy.
They talk reevaluation, departmental goals. Principles. Parting of the ways.
I fall behind on rent, greeted with past due, prompt attention. Oversight.
They wouldn’t know what it means to carry out your personals in cardboard boxes across campus. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States. My tomes of Richard Yates, Joyce Carol Oates, and Richard Ford. They wouldn’t know the power of stares, a shadow, yet something all too central on your consciousness at the same time.
They absolutely wouldn’t know what it means to give up your few streaming sources. Some might call it privilege; I’d call it pleasure, a welcome to other more fucked-up worlds. Power grabs with Brian Cox, a la Succession. Barry, the tormented hitman, Bill Hader’s masterpiece. Even Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David always taking on conventions carved in stone. Small moments you could play over and over.
I look for sorry in pews, movies, on buses. A smile, a nod, a platitude. A hug even. My older sister Nan was a hugger. Smelled like sativas and sweat. She called me Nicky, accentuated the softness in an otherwise harsh name. Nicky.
But now I’m greeted by scowls, smirks, people jamming into headphones, and pinging phones.. The occasional order to shut the fuck up.
I try out a scowl. Arch an eyebrow too.
It holds a certain power.
I try it again when people make noise on the bus.
They say that word. Sorry. Or they move aside and point, whispering hushed words. They must think me an angry man. A man who’s always been angry. A wife-beater, a pissed-off sort on welfare whose foodstamps haven’t come in. Or a self-pitying fool with no ambition.
At least they don’t deem me a risk outright.
The scowl expands. I stretch it as far as I can, but a tear or two always tugs.
But I’m not sorry. Really. Not just a little.
What could I say anyway? How would I put this all into understandable terms?
Would I call myself a risk, a delinquent, a man of obligations?
It wouldn’t matter.
But once you scowl, it never goes away. It stretches and stretches. It’s an indelible image, something people will store in their consciousness.
And you think of the people who say sorry. The ones who don’t. The ones who employ all those cold nomenclatures. Risk, delinquent. You wonder if they’re sorry. If they go home and cry over the people they’ve rejected. If they drape themselves in their terms with each case, each story they hear. Risk, delinquent, obligation, overdue.
Who knows? I’d like to think some of them do. But it’s business.
I can’t think of it. The notices keep piling, the job apps keep garnering little response.
Sometimes, I wish I could stop scowling. I really do.
But if I didn’t, I’d be a sorrowful man on a bus and those come a dime a dozen. That’s one thing I can avoid. One small thing.
So I scowl. I perfect the scowl. Sometimes, I give it a hint of a smile, a pinch of mystery. Maybe I’m a washed-up actor, a pianist of yesteryear, a famous writer. Sometimes I don old faded fedoras, even if they were my grandfather’s. Fedoras are markers of past years, of achievement and attempted achievement. Go-getters wore them, go-getters who triumphed and go-getters who failed heinously, but kept rolling.
But I never stop scowling.
I’m not sorry.