Hope Idiotic | Part VI
Hope Idiotic is a serialized novel. Catch each new part every week on Monday and Thursday.
THE WEEK THAT LOU ARRIVED IN CHICAGO, FRANKLIN NEWS, ONE OF THE LARGEST MEDIA COMPANIES IN THE NATION, LAID OFF A THOUSAND PEOPLE. In the three months he’d been back, many other companies in his field had done the same. He wasn’t picky about whom he worked for, he just needed a gig. But every newspaper, magazine, radio station, marketing firm, advertising agency and public relations agency he could find wouldn’t even meet with him.
He tried every trick he knew to get a meeting, an introduction, an interview, a call back or an email saying something other than, “Thank you for submitting your résumé. We receive many submissions and are unable to reply to each one personally. However, we assure you that your résumé will be kept in our files. Please do not reply to this address.” In a Hail Mary kind of move, he ordered four large, stuffed pizzas from Dino’s Pie, the penultimate maker of Chicago-style pizza, and delivered them himself to the offices of the Chicago Inquisitor.
The Inquisitor was Chicago’s long-respected alternative weekly newspaper. It was known for its in-depth political reporting and for revealing personal stories of residents from every corner of the city. It did well by the arts like film and theatre. The stories tended to run a little long and sometimes felt too flowery for Lou’s taste, but if he could write for the Inquisitor, he’d feel pretty good about himself. This was becoming ever more important because his self-esteem was diminishing by the day through the onslaught of rejection letters.
He set the four pizzas on the receptionist’s desk. “Hi,” he said. “My name is Lou Bergman. I’m a writer. I’d love to write for this paper. I brought my résumé and clippings for your editor, Janet Brine. I also brought pizza for the entire staff.” He patted the top box with pride so that the receptionist would have no doubt that they were his gift to them.
“What?” she said, looking perplexed. She was older than he expected a receptionist at an alternative paper to be. She had a face that was perpetually annoyed. That’s what Lou hoped anyway, rather than her being annoyed with him.
“I brought pizza for you and the rest of the staff,” he said.
“Are you the pizza delivery guy? Because I didn’t order any pizza. Do you have a name on it? Who ordered it?”
“I ordered it.”
“Do you work here?”
“I’d like to.”
“I ordered it for you.”
“Well, because it’s lunchtime, and I thought it’d be a nice gesture to bring you food.”
“We’re supposed to eat this?”
“I would hope so.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Is Janet Brine available? I’d like to speak with her, please.”
“Did she order the pizza?”
“No. I — yes.”
The annoyed receptionist made the phone call and tried to explain that pizza was waiting for her. A moment later, Janet Brine came storming into the front lobby where Lou and his pizzas were waiting.
“What the fuck is this? A fucking joke?” She was older than the receptionist and looked like she stepped out of a high-priced hipster fashion magazine.
“He said he has pizza for you,” the receptionist said.
“Ms. Brine,” Lou said, “I’m Lou Bergman. I’m a writer. I’m a big fan of the paper. I want to work with you. I brought my résumé and some clippings I think you’ll like.”
“So what’s with the fucking pizzas?” Janet Brine snapped as she grabbed Lou’s résumé and clips out of his hand.
“Just trying to grease the wheels here,” he said. “A little lunchtime bribe.”
“We’re supposed to eat this?”
Lou explained his reason for being there again, shook Janet Brine’s hand and was on his way back to Michelle’s apartment hoping his pizza trick worked. He also hoped Janet Brine wasn’t acting like an angry lunatic because of him. He hoped the rest of the people on staff weren’t like the two women he had just encountered, because that would make for a terrible working environment. Then again, it was a working environment, and that’s what mattered.
“Not your best idea,” Michelle said when she called him during her lunch break.
“There’s nothing wrong with a little bribery.”
“It’s an alternative paper.”
“I wouldn’t hire you if you came into my office with pizza,” she said.
“That’s exactly why I’m not an attorney.”
HIS BROTHER AARON’S BIRTHDAY PARTY HAPPENED THAT NIGHT in Brushwood where Aaron lived with Benjamin. It was held at Molly’s Tap, a hole in the wall that, if it hadn’t been located where it was or been the hangout for the aging kids who didn’t do anything with their lives after high school, he’d have loved it.
Aaron and Lou were five years apart, so they never shared friends or interests outside of familial necessity. They were never close, but got along without any major incident. Since barely graduating from the University of Wisconsin State the previous year, Aaron had fallen into complacency like so many others still living in Brushwood. Always a book-smart student, he discovered pot, booze and sleeping-in once he got to college. He earned a degree in business and was employed at a law firm downtown handling their marketing. When Lou asked what a law firm needs a marketing department for, Aaron replied, “Hell if I know. I’m just winging it.”
He was still living at his dad’s house because he didn’t want to spend money on an apartment downtown. He didn’t like the idea of having to live in a cramped place with roommates.
“At Dad’s, I still have my own room and free cable and a kitchen and a parking space that I don’t have to pay for. Why live in the city?” he’d say.
Lou’s answer was always the same: “Because you wouldn’t be living with your father sleeping in your kiddie twin bed.”
No one seemed to mind the twenty-three-year-old pot-smoking mooch wasting his life except Lou.
Although Aaron lived with Benjamin, he was closer with Sarah. Lou noticed the relationship growing over the years when he would visit or talk to the family. Now that he was living among them again, it was clear how close Aaron and Sarah had become. Since the separation, Sarah did exactly what Lou wished Aaron had done after college: move to the city, get an apartment and act like a twenty-something go-hard. Sarah and Benjamin married young — she was only twenty-one — so she never had a chance to live it up in the big city. For her, it was marriage, suburbs, kids. Her golden years were now her chance to make up for lost time.
She was a woman of grace, so she never prowled the streets of Lincoln Park to hunt young alumni as sexual prey. She kept her nightlife adventures and dating life within her own age group and never looked like anything that could even resemble impropriety. But she threw herself into any opportunity to spend time with her sons and force her relevance in their lives. And so, it wasn’t until Sarah showed up at the bar that shots were bought and Aaron’s friends started ducking out before they became too drunk to make it to work the next day.
Sarah took the train down to Brushwood; Lou drove, so he gave her a ride home back to the city. It was a good opportunity for some mother/son time, which there hadn’t been much of since he moved back. Although he was unemployed, their schedules never synced. She often worked long hours as the development director at Lincoln Park Zoo. Having only been in the workforce since leaving Benjamin five years before, holding a director position was an impressive feat, especially since she was older than most of her co-workers. Not doubting his mother’s talents, Lou couldn’t help consider that diversity hiring had made its way to Chicago, too.
“It’s nice that I get to see you,” Sarah said. “Strange how we live so close now, and I see less of you than I did when you lived in Las Vegas.”
“It’s been a crazy couple of months, Mom. I’m trying to find a job, you know. That’s a job in and of itself.”
“Did you contact my friend, Nate Price? He might be able to help you out.” Lou knew him as Mr. Price. He was a seventy-seven-year-old retired ad man who used to work at the agency that created some of the most memorable product mascots of all time. He lived down the street from Sarah when she was growing up and was close friends with her father.
“I did call him,” Lou said. “He didn’t remember me. Accused me of trying to steal money from him.”
“You’ll find something,” she said. “When can I see you again? Your father sees you all of the time.”
“That’s not true.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I just never see you. Why can’t we have lunch on the weekends?”
“We can, Mom. I’m just… Michelle and I always have plans. She’s quick to get us booked.”
But when he said that she made plans for them, he didn’t mean that they were plans to see other people, or even really do much of anything. If Michelle wasn’t putting in eight-hour days on Saturdays and Sundays at the office, she liked to have what she called, L ’n’ M O.P. time. As in ‘L’ for Lou and ‘M’ for Michelle, then ‘O’ and ‘P’ because when she said “L and M” fast, it sounded to her like she was reciting the alphabet. And that was her sense of humor.
L ’n’ M O.P. time could not involve anyone else. It was strictly time for the two of them to stay home and watch TV or have sex or go shopping (that is, Michelle would shop and Lou would carry her bags), or see a movie. And Sarah was another person, so lunch with his mother was out of the question.
The following day was one of those rare ones when Michelle didn’t have to work. They slept in and had morning sex — their preferred method — then got up to spend a day at the zoo, her favorite place in the city. Lou could have called to see if his mother happened to be at her office, but there were the rules of L ’n’ M O.P. time. He was nervous that they’d run into Sarah and be busted.
“I can’t believe we haven’t been here since you’ve been back,” Michelle said as they walked into the penguin house. “I love these little creatures. Did you know that penguins are the only animals in the animal kingdom, other than humans, that mate for life?”
“Did you know that dolphins are the only animals, other than humans, that fuck for fun?”
“Don’t be a jerk. I want to ask you something.” She turned to him and took his hand. “You’ve been in Chicago for a few months already, and you spend a lot of time at my place. But you’re driving back and forth from the city to the suburbs because half of your stuff is at my place and half is with your dad. Plus, you’re looking for work in the city, and, well, I know we talked about getting a place together once you found a job. But I like having you around. Why don’t you just move into my place now?”
She was proposing to him. And it was sweet. And he said yes. But he wasn’t thrilled about the idea of moving into a one-bedroom apartment. Michelle lived in a great place, but Lou was coming from a three-bedroom house where he lived alone. He hoped he’d get his own apartment for a bit and get used to the idea of living in cramped quarters before moving into even more cramped quarters with Michelle. But she had a point. He was spending a lot of time shuffling back and forth from the city to the ’burbs. And it would be nice to have a place to actually call home—a place to receive the mounting credit card statements without a forwarding address sticker on the envelopes.
They left the zoo after the animal exposés, and she took him to her favorite furniture store. Michelle had planned the entire day, centered on Lou moving in. He sort of wished he had had a say in how his day was spent, too. But what could he do when the whole thing surprised him? Go with it. Just go with it, he thought.
What he went with was a dresser she had preordered for him because it matched the furniture already in her bedroom. That was good thinking, except that the dresser cost eight-hundred bucks, which was money he did not have.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” she told him. “I’m going to pay for half of this dresser. You don’t have to pay me back or anything. Consider it my housewarming gift to you. But I need you to promise me something.”
“I’ll promise you anything.”
“Promise me that you’ll get a job soon. Because I love you, and I want to be with you for the rest of my life, but I need to know that you can get a job, keep a job and be able to support me and our family.”
The store employee behind the counter looked embarrassed.
“I promise you I’ll get a job. I’m doing the best I can.”
“Just keep your promise, and I won’t regret buying this dresser.”
As if Lou needed more incentive to find a job, now he had half the price of the dresser hanging over his head.
The pressure was mounting.