Guilty Pleasures

“Man, go easy on the self-loathing,” I tell Jozine as she swills the potent stuff.

We’re sitting on the stools by her little kitchen counter. Before I knew it, she busted out some of her intense, home-brewed stuff. I know she can stomach it, but it’s still tough on the psyche.

“Force of habit,” she says once she’s gulped down a heavy dose. “An easy answer to my problems.”

“Yeah, if by ‘answer’ you mean explanation and not solution.”

“Solutions can start with explanations,” she rebuts all too blithely.

While that’s generally true, I feel that doesn’t usually hold for self- loathing.

“And I am cutting back,” she adds. “It’s been a good several days since the last time.”

“Well, okay,” I relent, deciding that if she’s really making efforts to cut down, it’s too early to say anything, negative or positive. Hopefully the last time wasn’t a heavy binge.

Later, while we’re sitting on the veranda chairs gazing at the sunset cloudscape with our bowls of half-eaten, steadily melting ice cream, we converse languidly, as if we have barely enough energy to push our words through the thick summer heat.

“Man, the world is huge,” Jozine says, almost whispers.

“And it’s just getting larger,” I reply.

“Definitely. . . it’s enlarging so rapidly that we have to struggle to stay close to each other or end up drifting apart in the expansion.”

“Yeah, whatever happened to all those attractive forces, like artistic creativity and charisma?”

“They’re still around, just seldom strong enough to allow most rela- tionships to withstand the increasing scale of things.”

I nod, wondering then what is strong enough to keep us close to one another.

“How about some iced tea?” she suggests.

“Yeah, that’d be nice. This ice cream won’t last much longer.”

“Okay, I’ll bring out the pitcher.”

“I can get it. I was going inside to use the bathroom anyways.”

“All right, you know where the pitcher is.”

After my brief visit to the bathroom, I go into the kitchen. But as I’m nearing the refrigerator, I pause by the pantry, held before it by my curiosity, by my memories of the glimpses I’ve caught of its interior. The next thing I know, I’m opening it. The door swings towards me. My eyes widen. Hitting me with all the force of an irrefutable testament to a decadent lifestyle—actual, imminent or at best probable—the utter excess of self-loathing in there is mind-boggling. She could fill up her bathtub to wallow in criticality and disgust several times a week and barely deplete the stash.

How did she accrue all this? She’ll being going through this stuff for years, and if she’s cutting down, it’ll last even longer. Maybe she’s just not ready to get rid of it responsibly. Sure, it’d be easy to just dump it somewhere or worse, pass it off to others, but what needs to happen is this dissection and transformation of this cache into constructive criticism. I feel like I could help her with that, at least work on getting the process started. Then again, I’ve still got the shell of sarcasm in my closet, and while I’ve rarely donned it lately, I’ve barely considered disassembling and recycling it.

I take a deep breath and shut the pantry door. I get two glasses from the cupboard and the pitcher of iced tea from the fridge, then head back to the veranda, deciding not to broach the subject of self-loathing for a while, until I can get a better handle on my own indulgences.

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