The Lonely Legend of Smeed

What Absinthe and a Slob Taught Me about Loneliness

My last lingering memory of the awkward summer of ?01 was one of Richard Smeed.? That fall, as I entered my freshman year of college, he remained congealed to my character like how smokers leave the stale stench of tobacco behind, absorbed in clothing and furniture.

Smeed was our workplace ?superior? during my tenure as summer help in my hometown?s Department of Public Works. There were six or seven other college kids who, like me, were using our summer help employment like casual sex, meaning aside from inappropriate and juicy content to fill man-stories the job would be all-but-forgotten by the fall.

We passed our work days observing Public Works? motivationals, which began as, ?If you?re sweating, you?re working too hard,? but as the summer heat intensified, degraded to, ?Lean on a tool and pretend to look busy,? and culminated with a lackadaisical finale, ?Just nap in the truck.?

So the fake work was never a problem. Instead, we earned our weekly wages snapping to the ludicrous commands of the full-timers. Often I?d show up to a morning of work to learn my assignment for the day was wrestling one of my summer help colleagues in the tow of dump truck. Other days, my sole responsibility was rummaging through recycle bins for discarded porn (there?s a lot more than you?d think). But no matter how immature or retarded the day?s tasks might be the prospect of working with Richard Smeed on ?special projects? always loomed as the ultimate punishment.

Smeed had such a despicable legacy at the Department of Public Works that even the other full timers refused to work with him?those full-timers included Russ, a former Deep Purple roadie who?d done so much LSD he was diagnosed as mentally insane; Fat Sullivan whose claim to fame was getting stuck in a manhole and winning a half-million dollar lawsuit against the town (of course, he blew all the money on booze and strippers within a year); and Mick ?The Molester? who needs no further introduction.

None of us understood why, amongst these social undesirables, Smeed was such a pariah. All we knew was that once or twice a summer, Smeed received a helper to ?assist? him, which Smeed claimed was, ?Getting called up to the big leagues.? There was only one known survivor of working with Smeed: a community college sophomore, Bill Hicks. Unfortunately, we never got the full story from Hicks about what happened because he was picked up by the local police for a BWI charge when he tried to pedal his bike home at the end of the work day. His religious parents immediately forbade Hicks from ever going near Smeed, the Department of Public Works, or any of the ?unrighteous? employees of such an institution of sin.

Then, one cloudy morning, when I was in the midst of blasting the powerwasher into the back of a howling colleague, a gnarly finger tapped my shoulder.

?You?re with me today boy!? a voice informed me?the voice of none other than Richard Smeed.

And so the ghost story begins.

He pointed his gnarled finger and grunted, indicating he wanted me in his unmarked van. I sprang forward, not stopping to acknowledge the whooping throng of summer help kids. I hopped into the van and slammed the door, realizing I just locked myself in for 7? hours with Smeed.

He climbed into the driver?s seat minutes later, jerking the van out of the parking with an unnecessary tire screech.

?Know why I picked you,? Smeed said, wasting no time with small talk. ?Cause you?re a smart-ass. You think you?re a real wise guy, always with that smart-ass look on your face. We?ll see how smart you are, we?ll see.?

After cutting up and down a few blocks, Smeed stopped at a bodega. A tiny Mexican ran out with a brown paper bag labeled ?MR. S? and handed it through the window. Smeed took the bag, placed it on his lap, and looked at me smiling a reptilian smile. I could imagine a forked tongue behind those crooked teeth.

?Truth serum,? Smeed said, pulling a long green bottle from the bag. ?Known to you runts as Absinthe.?

He drove the van to where road ended and the train tracks began. Then he passed me the bottle. ?Drink up, wise guy.?

?Look,? I said, holding the bottle close enough to my face that the smell burned my eyes. ?I don?t know what gave you the impression that I think??

?Truth time!? Smeed bellowed, pushing the bottle toward my mouth.

I took a smallish sip then coughed as my throat sizzled. Smeed made me take 3 or 4 more gulps until he sat back content.

?Alright,? Smeed said. ?Now who?s your hussy??

?My what,? I asked, half-understanding him, half-hoping I didn?t.

?Your hussy, your piece, your woman,? he clarified.

?I?ve been seeing this girl, Sara.? I blurted.

Smeed took a moment to consider the answer, ?This Sara, she a piece? A piece of tail??

?Sure,? I said, ?I think so.?

Smeed grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me toward him. I could smell his breath, an unforgettable odor of burped up salami. ?I?ll bet she?s a hog! A little nerd like you probably has a hog for a hussy,? he screamed.

?Okay,? I said. ?Sure, believe that if you want.?

?Let me tell you a thing about women,? snorted Smeed. ?If it wasn?t for that thing between their legs, we?d be hunting ?em.?

?Wow,? I said, taking a voluntary swig of the Absinthe. ?Okay.?

?Please,? Smeed continued, ?It?s not like snagging some floozy takes a whole lot these days. I could steal that little piece of tail from you?what?s her name again? Cara??

Smeed went on: ?Here?s a little advice for you?and if you really were wise, you?d listen up. People suck.? I live alone. I work alone.? And I couldn?t be happier.? Forget people, people are the worst.?

After eighteen years, that was the first time I had ever heard someone voice an opinion on people in general.? I thought people (on the whole) were something you just accepted as good, like Moby Dick or The Beatles.? It was possible to have opinions on such things?

And that?s when the Absinthe took hold of my brain and cut my memories with Sneed short. Although, if I remember anything from that fated and covert special project, it was this: on that late summer afternoon, I saw the true face loneliness.

A lot of guys take on macho attitudes or cowboy dispositions, thinking they?ll somehow outsmart everyone with their lack of empathy. Out of that fortress of bravado comes the cancer of misogyny, misanthropic hatred, and bottles of Absinthe forced down the throats of underage boys.

Richard Smeed will always stand as a testament to what I never want to become: a lonely human devoid of empathy. If truth serum ever did exist, Smeed should drink some himself to discover his own unhappiness?a self-deception buried under a lifetime of finger pointing and special projects.

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About Rob J. Rob J. is a writer and dating instructor in New York City. Themes that resonate in both his teaching and writing are masculinity, genuineness, rational self-interest, and general awesomeness.

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