When the Circuit City really did go under in a pile of full-priced cables everyone was yelling about on the Internet, it was like what happened to the banks was happening for real, instead of getting a letter in the mail about where your account was and sitting in your stupid kitchen trying to picture an account. When Ely went on over to check out Circuit City directly from being laid off, he hadn’t even been there since prom 1988 but he wanted to see if everyone was acting insane or buying something for the first time since when they got a stereo put into their El Camino with savings from their job at the PD Quix, which was what Ely did right before prom. I didn’t get a stereo. I didn’t have a car until after Mom lost her eyesight and then my dad died and I inherited his so I could drive her around. Ely went there as if to meet an old friend he ’d drifted apart from through the years. I’m thinking of a friend of mine whose brother went schizophrenic when we were in school and I didn’t get why we weren’t connecting anymore, and then a few years later when my brother went schizophrenic it was “holy shit now I get it” and we were friends again. But this example seems funnier to me because one of the friends is an enormous red electronics store near a mall that everyone’s hated since 1995. Everyone I know always hated it, including those of us who went mad. But Ely felt the cord of kinship. On the way—he drove imagining his car bursting with loot—he was thinking about the end of the movie of Fight Club, the skyline of corporate headquarters collapsing. The first time he saw the movie, in the multiplex, it felt so shocking, impressive, exhilarating, like the multiplex might collapse around them, everyone in it together. The next time he saw the movie was on video, showing it to a girl he was dating, on his couch at home, which suddenly seemed so crappy the second it was clear to him that she was not impressed with the movie, yeah whatever, corporations suck, crappy couch forever sinking in crappy apartment. But now, approaching the Circuit City, speeding within a tangle of highways called The Maze, city skyline across the water, he was feeling epic, high on something like the not-yet-reality of losing his job, like the movie was coming to life. He engaged in a little fantasy of bumping into that girl and having it come up, the prophetic movie ending from that lousy date—she’d have to be the one to bring it up, though—and she’d say something like, “You know, Ely, now I get why you were into that movie—it’s so interesting when an image falls in and out of relevance through time like that, it really makes the nature of reality come alive,” and he ’d say something about yeah and sources of power, plug, plugging, plug you.
When he got to the store, there was one tight clump of cars in the humongous parking lot as close as possible to the doors and he found a space in the clump to pull into. He was not in the long-gone El Camino, he was in a Pontiac Bonneville that had been a gift from his in-laws before his divorce. He ’d been treating it badly since the split and the whole thing was pilled and damp. He got out and leaned against it, taking in the view. The Circuit City was not 100 percent red like the one from his youth, it was camel with red markings. He was unsure whether this classed it up or down. He tried to remember the inside of the Circuit City he had pictured revisiting, moody and dark-lit, shopping for his car stereo in the best shape of his life, a guy buying a stereo for his car, irreproachable as coming of age throughout history, in this place that looked a lot like nightclubs on soap operas, invisible walls and neon. He remembered walking down the path of linoleum between carpeted regions, enormous console systems to the east and household appliances to the west. He remembered a pudgy lady with the tightly curled hair of the time and a face lit like a radish who looked at him and then looked into the depths of a clothes-washing machine, exactly like a person looking into a toilet, wanting so badly to throw up and not quite able to do it. He remembered the money in his pocket for the stereo for the car. Then he felt it in his brain, a microscopic electronic switch spasm going: dated, dated her, dated movie, car, store, dated, and even though he could feel the hands of time pushing him from behind, he could not make himself go into that store with all that coded, inorganic, and somehow still expiring material, but then if he didn’t go in he was trapped, just standing there in the parking lot with his severance.
But what do I know. Since my dad died no one here has had a job, no one here has health insurance. I’m in the kitchen with my mother who is now going deaf. My brother keeps us in sight but just out of reach, too afraid to relax in the house and too afraid to leave it, and I can see his point because this place is falling the fuck apart.