They say the buildings in Los Angeles are built to withstand earthquakes. That, if one hits, you’d be safe even sixty stories up. The natural sway of a building that tall won’t bend to the will of the Richter Scale. It won’t crumple and fall in a cloud of ash, soot and steel beams because of the colliding tectonic plates. Because of Earth reshaping itself. This is what they say, at least. I’d like to take those people and have them locked in my office right now. My office with a view. My six figures a year, shaking and dissolving all around me.
They don’t tell you how to act during an earthquake, or maybe they do and I just wasn’t paying attention that day, so I’m ducked under my gold-lined mahogany desk with my arms covering my head and I can’t help but feel nostalgic for those elementary school tornado drills spent huddled in the corridors. I can’t help but think of all the poor villagers in Africa kneeling before their corrupt police with their pirated fully automatic AK-47 assault rifles. I feel somewhat responsible. Kharma, if you believe in that stuff.
I’m ducked under my four figure desk, listening to my original pieces of post-modern art shake out of their frames and crashing into the custom made and installed hardwood floor. I’m hearing my world of trophies, my world of ‘look what I have,’ turn to dust. I’m feeling the building’s frame shake and crack and snap. Pretty soon, 55 Somewhere Street in downtown Los Angeles will be bent completely parallel with the earth below and I feel like the reason behind my imminent plummet to Hell (again, if you believe in that stuff) is because I’m the Devil, reincarnated.
Maybe not literally the Devil, maybe not Satan or Lucifer or whatever else He goes by, but I’m pretty sure I’m just as evil and I’m listening to my pens made of precious metals tumble to the ground, scattering across the floor. I’m the personified personification of the Dark Lord Himself and I’m watching the screws shake loose from my six hundred dollar chrome framed Eurotech Fuzion high office task chair and I feel like the suspiciously afraid dog who’s lived his whole life getting beat, ducking under furniture to evade death. Ducking under my expensive name brand self-identity, but this isn’t about my wanting to get over that. This isn’t some I Am Jack’s Need To Get Over The Worldly Possessions crap. This isn’t Fight Club. I’m not going to create an alter-ego to make myself feel better. This isn’t guilt. This is me about to be crushed to death under tons of support beams and glass and steel and stone and wood and pencils. This is me, in all my glory, about to be swallowed whole by the earth. This is me trying to catch all the platinum embossed custom stationary and letterheads as they slowly float off of the steel and oak shelves that line the walls; my floor is now a carpet of paper and pens and birthday cards from the people around the office.
Sixty floors up with a view to die for.
The company I work for, we’re the people who buy lots of the Amazon and the Congo only to sell them to logging companies. Environmental Real Estate. Evil. Evil. Evil. Evil. Evil. Evil. Everything about us is downright iniquitous. We’ve kicked the Aborigines out of their homes and we’ve evicted the Amhara in Ethiopia. The indigenous peoples of the world were falling at our hands, the poor suffering to make the rich richer. We’ve killed off hundreds of the Mayangna in Nicaragua just so that I could afford these five pound solid polished silver letter openers that are now flying across the room like deadly throwing knives. Selling out our morals, one village at a time. Again, this isn’t guilt.
This isn’t me seeking redemption. This isn’t me apologizing. This is simply me telling my story. My life. My legacy. My everything. My six figures a year, crashing out of my floor to ceiling window, falling into the fractured downtown Los Angeles street below. Disappearing. Being eaten by the earth and, instead of my life, all I can worry about is whether people will remember my fifty-five hundred dollar Leonard Logsdail suit when I’m gone. My collection of original and rare vinyl records from bands that I’ve never listened to, the one that I bought only because I could afford it. The golf club set handed to me, personally, by Tiger Woods himself after his 2008 U.S. Open win over Rocco Mediate. The stuff I buy to feel like I belong. I am not Jack’s lack of self-worth, I know exactly what I’m worth and right now all of it is plummeting to it’s demise. Earthquake proof, my ass.
About three months ago, my company sent me to Zambia to finalize a deal handing over three hundred acres of rainforest, for around two hundred US dollars, from the country to us to sell, for around four billion dollars, to National Paper and Lumber United. People thinking they’re getting a good deal normally aren’t, unless you’re already well off. So I’m there with my assistant, the lucky bastard who was off running errands for me today, Ricardo Flores. Ricardo Flores always wore pink pin striped oxfords tucked into short khaki shorts and custom tailored boat shoes. Ricardo and I were somewhere just off the beaten path, a small and sweaty dive bar ran by the locals, for the locals. We were to meet our contact there, some rich (rich by their standards, at least) local bureaucrat with a lack of morals, my type of guy, and he was an hour late. This was before my self-identity was disappearing from existence so I was decked out in a tailor made suit and shoes shipped directly from a village just outside of Tuscany, made from the finest of Italian leathers, and I’m sweating my ass off; the thing they say about the heat in southern California, that it’s a dry heat, well it’s true. Humidity is completely intolerable. We’re sitting there, the sore thumbs of the entire continent, and Mr. Lando walks up to us. This is before my one hundred percent genuine leather love seat goes tumbling twenty stories out of a building that’s snapped in half, parallel with the streets and sidewalks and fault-lines below. Mr. Lando is a tall, balding and freckled white man with lobster red skin. He’s wearing a white t-shirt, frayed jeans cut into shorts and middle of the road non-branded sandals and he speaks with a thick German accent in perfect English.
“Thank you both for meeting with me tonight,” Lando says as he waves his finger in the air, signaling the barefoot bartenders and servers to start running around, making drinks and cutting fruits. “This deal will be fruitful to the both of us. Your company and my wallet.” The bar is silent, but it moves like a machine. The barefoot and sweaty workers piling slices of fruit on top of puddles of liquor in handmade crystal glasses, crystal that was likely dug out by bloodied and crippled hands of the locals.
“The truth is, I know you are both here to try and rip me off. I’m not a dumb man.”
Mountains of liquor and fruit and crystal make their way into our hands.
“The truth is, I am well aware of the value of this land.”
The barefoot workers seem to dissolve into thin air as we all ‘cheers’ our vessels and take our first sips.
“The truth is, I lied to you all. I told you that I was in knowing that, if you all flew out here, you’d be on my turf and I could change the terms of our arrangement.”
This was before my sixtieth floor luxury office was only ten stories from the marble plaza below.
This was before my fully upgraded iMac desktop computer flung itself into the abyss, sparking and flaming and exploding on the way down.
Ricardo and I, we just smile from ear to ear. Our faces are swallowed whole by our shit eating grins. The truth is, we saw this coming. The truth is, this isn’t all that original. The truth is, every deal like this has a Mr. Lando, some European white guy who pretends to run the show in third world countries. The truth is, locals hate every Mr. Lando more than they hate the people destroying their lands. The insubordinate heretics fighting their gods. Ricardo and I, we just laughed. Ricardo, the asshole who’s off picking up my dry-cleaning or feeding my fish at my Santa Clara home.
“Here’s the deal, Lando,” I said as I lit a handrolled unfiltered cigarette. “The deal is this—we get our prearranged agreement and you walk out of here, fine and dandy.”
I’m the Devil and I’m grabbing matchbooks, the ones from all the posh nightclubs in London, Tokyo and Berlin that I used to take my private jets to on any given day of the week, as they shower like heavy raindrops all around my gold-lined mahogany tomb of a desk.
Lando laughs a nervous cackle as sweat beads above his brow.
“Do you know why people often fall to the power of false prophets?” I ask him as Ricardo reaches down his back, gripping a loaded .40 caliber handgun. “People prefer the easy route. Instead of God and Buddha and Odin, people would rather believe in Elvis and Jagger and Hemmingway. The people who don’t require you to change your diet or dedicate hours to pray. The truth is, Mr. Lando, that your locals would sell their souls to a man who promises them that they won’t have to break their backs and swell their hands anymore. They’d burn their homes if they were promised no more work. People are lazy, no matter where you are at in the world. That’s why Ricardo here is safely grabbing a fully loaded and semi-automatic Smith and Wesson hand gun and nobody is reacting aside from you.”
This was before my floor to ceiling window with a view of Los Angeles County was now a floor to ceiling hole in the wall, covered with broken glass and a view of impending doom.
“The truth is, Lando, that you’re absolutely fucked. So,” I say, exhaling a thick opaque cloud of smoke.
“So where do I sign,” Lando says, wiping the sweat from his brow.
“Can I borrow your pen?” Lando asks as the sweat continues to make his white t-shirt more and more transparent.
People will sell their souls with the right amount of intimidation; I am the personified personification of the Dark Lord Almighty or whatever else He goes by.
This was all before none of this mattered.
This was all before I’m mere yards away from feeling every bone in my body shatter. A million fractured bones piercing through my meaty flesh and expensive Leonard Logsdail suit.
I am not Jack’s moment of clarity and self-pity. I am not Jack’s lost and found moment of sorrow. I am not Jack begging for forgiveness. I am not Jack’s acceptance of God or Buddha or Odin.
This is not Kharma and I can’t believe that you actually believe in that stuff.
My legacy, my life, my everything. My six figures a year and none of it matters but I really hope you all remember me for my Lamborghini and not the Kia I used to own.
I am not Jack’s growth. This isn’t some story. This is real, true life. People don’t change. If anything, I am Jack and Jack’s a complete fucking disappointment.
This is all before my whole world collides with Somewhere Street in Los Angeles, Califor