The streets are filled with garbage in even the best of neighborhoods. On hot days the stench of death and decay and effluvia permeates your nostrils and forces you to cover your mouth with your hand lest you gag and vomit up the $13 salad you ate for lunch, thus making your own contribution to the mysterious melange of rot and body fluids at your feet. It is best not to look at or think about what’s on the soles of your shoes.
During the winters the sun is something spoken of only as rumor, and the persistence of darkness denies you the distraction from the emptiness of your existence that a bright summer’s day helps obscure. As you trudge through the dank, refuse-encrusted streets you are repeatedly reminded that the work you do is meaningless and no one would miss you if you were gone, even the people for whom your passing might mean more insignificant toil added to their own useless list of tasks.
The constant cacophony of construction carries the twinned curse of brutal bursts of deafening sound at unpredictable intervals and the visual reminder that these new shiny glass monstrosities—these blots on the skyline that are doing permanent damage to the horizon—are being built for the people who have somehow figured out the trick of accruing compensation for the magic arts of prevarication which you are either too incompetent or self-important to manage on your own. Each time you cross the street because another expensive tower is going up it is a series of swift blows to the psyche with the implicit rebuke to your failure the sharpest punch.
Your days are spent in a perpetual pageant of activity and everyone takes part in the charade because that is the way we convince ourselves that our drudgery has merit and isn’t actually anxiety-inducing motion gone through for the sake of personal validation. No one stops to question why we suffer through this demoralizing routine when only a small number of people—who have already been the beneficiaries of a system designed to ensure that those with the most are able to keep it and get more—actually enjoy the returns on all the make-work. In those rare moments when you aren’t driving yourself deeper into the hole to keep up your illusion of value there is no respite to be found in stillness, only an echoing chasm the utter hollowness of which is made slightly less empty by your filling it with regret, alcohol and episodic television, which we are all making claims for as the Great Literature of Our Age rather than cop and mob shows with better production values.
Your loneliness is matched by a horrible disquiet, the source of which is the unspoken truth that everything is terribly tenuous and even the meager living you are scratching out right now is but one or two small accidents or omissions removed from that of those sad unfortunate souls you see sleeping on the streets or muttering mindlessly to themselves as you pass them by, pretending not to notice. It would take one tiny tug of the thread for everything to unravel and even all the energy you presently put in to papering over the terrible flaws and dark parts of your personality will no longer do you any good because after a certain point there is no compassion, no forgiveness and finally not even an acknowledgement of your existence.
When you sleep it is only with the aid of powerful prescription medication which helps drown out the sirens signalling the injury, death and wanton acts of human cruelty all around you.