Last Ten


Tag Archive: Alex Higley

My brother, Sanch, addresses a long table of his co-workers in the corner of a low-lit steakhouse near closing. Sanch is standing and swearing joyfully. He smiles for punctuation. The reaction he gets is favorable, but still mixed, which he doesn’t notice. I usually call my brother something else, his name, but I’ve solely heard him called Sanch here at this long crowded table. His nickname only seems invented because you haven’t met his co-workers. Collectively, their tone and rate of opinion delivery is combative, hateable actually, if you are not among them. Brashly raising his voice one man admits without any detectable provocation that he pays monthly for porn; he gives a dollar amount that I believe is a lie, maybe quadruple the real figure. I think: Subscription. The monthly man texts another man at the table a link and then watches for a reaction, but the man receives no text and says, “You must have sent it to the wrong person.” And it’s not so much that this man is paying for porn, or accepting an exorbitant auto-renewal charge for content he could get for free, but instead that he waited until his wife passed out drunk, two chairs away, to begin talking at all.

Some of the wait staff is watching our table from across the room, trying to be seen enough to encourage us all to leave. Leaning around corners in white shirts. I tried to beg off having to come to this thing, but Sanch, it’s infectious calling him that, gave me a spare key to his apartment and told me to leave the dinner whenever I wanted, knowing I’d end up staying. Free meal and all.

I’m in Chicago, staying with my brother for a few months until I can find somewhere to live. He makes more money in a year than I’ll ever hope to make in four-years-work, and is charging me nothing for rent. He has not brought it up, money, and shakes his head whenever I do. Sanch is my younger brother. His beard is fuller than mine, he’s more handsome than I am, but I am much taller. All of Sanch’s close friends are women, despite what this dinner might project, and he sees an astounding number of first run major motion pictures in the theater. Five a month, easily, he told me. I didn’t and won’t ask him this question, but learning these aspects of his adult life over the course of our first days living together since boyhood I think, Is Little Sanch OK?

This is a going-away party for a man that everyone at the table, except me, has worked with very closely for the past three years. The man is going through a divorce and is very friendly. The kind of friendly that, when he saw me enter, said to Sanch, “That your brother? He sits next to me.” So here I am sitting next him. Thankfully though, the others at the table have monopolized his attention. He is changing careers, moving, and thinking of going back to school, this friendly man losing his wife in his mid-thirties, and many at the table are attempting to discourage him from school while trying to stay cheerful. The efforts of the anti-school faction are increasingly pointed.

A heavy man in heavy glasses leads the charge: “Stay with what you know, which is not school, not school and– shit have you read that new, new-ish, Mother Jones on effective altruism? I mean that’s the key for you– not paying for more school, Jesus, I–”

This heavy man seems to be on the margins of his own thoughts. I enjoy being adjacent to the attacks against the almost-divorcee’s plans.

The bald man on the other side of me can’t stop talking about cars. “Perfected technology” is the term he keeps using. He puts his hand up, miming the motion of adjusting a rearview mirror. The bald man says “Perfected technology. When you adjust a rearview mirror, even minutely, it sticks, it’s perfect, it’s perfected. Cars are full of perfected technologies; it’s why we are all so safe now. Automatic braking will be standard in no time and then we won’t even be driving. That’s what I want to do, I want to find more gaps that need perfected technology. Like I turn on my computer I want to know how many emails I have, all my alerts all my notifications, I want that right away, I don’t want to have to click into three different websites, I want it all on one page. I want to know–”

I stop him. “Doesn’t that already exist? That must exist?”

He says “And maybe it does. But I don’t know about it, and that’s part of my point.”

It seems he could fold anything I could possibly say in to his “point.” As he continues listing the small technological achievements that proliferate inside what he is calling the “common modern sedan,” I find “Doesn’t that already exist?” a powerful conversational tool. It allows me to project interest and ask a question without knowing anything. And it is malleable: “That name sounds familiar,” representing essentially the same tactical approach.

The bald man goes on, “Car cigarette lighters. Perfected, yes, but obsolete nonetheless, although not a victim of planned obsolescence­–”

Anyway– a week later this bald man drives to Indiana, purchases a shotgun and blows the back of his skull across his living room and into the kitchen, where it slides down the polished surface of his refrigerator like a wide wet slug. His sister, a somewhat well-known city blogger, writes an article on the heels of his death about how she understands the suicide. Her author photograph looms enormous at the top of her posts, the site’s choice, of course, but still regrettable. The sister looks like a hedge fund manager’s carefully chosen fiancé.

Her interpretation, paraphrased, is as follows: There are options available to the man that wants to kill himself. Pills, razor, car, heights­– my brother chose a gun. And there are options available to the man that wants a gun. My brother chose to obtain his gun in the way most Chicagoans who kill choose to get their guns. Not in the way most Chicagoans buy guns, but in the way most Chicagoans who kill buy guns. His death is not social commentary, but my interpretation is: if we want to kill in this city we know how.

Her piece in full is not stat-heavy but includes a link to an article that states “60 percent of the guns recovered at crime scenes in the city between 2009 and 2013 were first purchased outside of Illinois. Each state in the country contributed at least one gun used in a Chicago crime— nearly 20 percent came from Indiana…”

I read Sanch the piece out loud in his quiet spacious apartment. The most we hear in this building is a dog being shushed in the hall late on a weekend afternoon. We never know why the dog is shushed, or even if it’s a dog, because we’ve never heard barking. The voice just seems like a voice aimed at a dog. Sanch does not have an immediate reaction to the piece. He makes me show him the author photograph again. He says the photograph makes him think of brunch. Her white collared shirt and ponytail. I tell him that kind of reaction might mean he hates women. He ignores me. We agree she has equated gun “crime” with gun “deaths” in places, problematically. And I tell Sanch I find it strange her emphasis on “choice” and “options” when talking about her own brother’s suicide. I tell him I would struggle with those words if I were in her place. “But still,” he says, “the criticism has surpassed the art in this case.”

I tell him within that statement suicide is the “art.”

“Poor word choice,” he says. “Poor choices all around.”

Assuming the bald man’s job requires very little training. I try to keep my memory of him alive throughout these early days in his cubicle by remembering our time together, saying aloud a third variation of the construction he helped me to understand: “That sounds familiar, tell me your approach though.” I look my trainer full in the eye and say this. And when I have enough money from the job the dead bald man has helped me to obtain, I hope to further honor his memory by noting all the small miracles in the car I plan on buying. All the advances that I’m truly not even supposed to notice, all the little perfections humming, trying to keep me alive, on-time, awake, employed, warm.