Can't Win If You Don't Play
Lex awakes with a splitting headache. He may throw up. He
will never grow accustomed to feeling this way. He is very, very ill. He may
die. He lets his eyes drift across the room without moving his head. His
vision is blurry. His eyes are scratchy and covered with a filmy glaze. They
really shouldn’t be opened at this point in his life. Sunlight is streaming
through the windows, and there isn't much Lex can do about it at the moment.
Lex pats around the bed until he finds a spare pillow, and immediately
places it over his face. He considers suffocating himself, but it seems like
too much effort.
Lex awakes with a headache. He realizes that before long he is going to have
to venture out towards the bathroom, so summoning up all of his strength, he
rises from the four poster and stumbles into the hallway, and then onwards
towards the john. He pees in the general direction of the toilet, happy that
at least he is managing to miss his feet. He looks for aspirin in the
medicine cabinet and he scores. Lex shakes out three tablets, washes them
down with a handful of luke-warm water from the sink, and wobbles back to
Lex awakes with a dull pressure behind his eyes. I am just not able to
handle my life anymore, he thinks. What a shame. But….
Lex props his head up a bit. He adds another pillow. Things are no
longer spinning. Maybe he really doesn't feel all that bad. After all, it is
Saturday, and his wife is out of town until next weekend. His son is gigging
up in Philadelphia. This makes him King. Sunlight is streaming through the
windows. Lex smiles.
There is coffee, there is orange juice, and there is a wide wonderful world
of Lex-space surrounding him. Oh, what a beautiful morning. I am a free man.
The rules I make are the rules I live by. Oh, what a beautiful day, yes,
yes, I call the shots, I write the songs that make the whole world sing.
There is a funky looking pile of stuff on the kitchen table,
improbable items gathered together to form an oddly interesting
centerpiece. There are handwritten notes, most of them on lined yellow
paper, along with a scattering of small illustrations and slogans done in
black felt tip on small white bar napkins. Hey, there's the car keys!
There must be at least twenty matchbooks from the DownUnder, decorated with
pictures of The Skylite Cafeteria in Greensboro, North Carolina -
apparently, Lex had pocketed a pack every time he lit a smoke.
Look, some tiny little PowerPoint drawings! Mine!
There is a business card with the name, phone, and email for Stan Keaton.
'Listening to Music the Stan Keaton Way' is printed in bold red embossed
letters. There are cigarettes, twisted into a tangled mess, providing him
with absolutely no hope of retrieving a viable smoke from the pack. There is
an odd green cigarette box that looks like the same brand of cigarettes that
Stan Keaton was smoking last night.
Hey, these are Salems, something my body needs anyway. New box. Nice
modern design. That’s a very attractive shade of green they’re using.
Lex tears the top of the damn box halfway off before he realizes that
it has a modern sleek side slide design. Inside of the pack there is one
green filtered cigarette. Wonder if it's drugged, Lex thinks, a moment
before he lights it.
Which seems like a damn fine idea since the day is mine! Lex smokes
the green Salem most of the way down before he is convinced that he is not
going to get high off of it.
Well, thinks Lex. Well.
Lex rarely sets foot in his son's room, so now that he's inside, he might as
well take a good long pause to look around and soak in the atmosphere. The
room is surprisingly neat, he thinks. The bed is made and there is a
remarkable lack of clutter. Of course his son is rarely home long enough to
create a mess. Was I this neat when I was his age?, wonders Lex. Hard to
say, he decides, since he had already been married a couple of years by the
time he was twenty-three.
Lex can identify most, but not all of the pictures and posters on the
wall. 'Corrosion of Conformity'? Okay… Spike Lee. Spinal Tap, in all their
metal fury, standing behind a three foot model of Stonehenge. Linkin Park.
Does he know who they are, or does their name just conjure up an image of
some long ago neighborhood where he used to play as a kid? Now this poster
looks somewhat like Brittany Spears, but Lex thinks that it’s probably not,
since his son is way too hip to have a poster of a teen idol in his room.
Besides, Lex doesn't recall ever having heard of Brittany exposing her
There are framed black and white photos of several comedians; Jackie
Gleason as Ralph Kramden, Richard Pryor, Mister Dangerfield, Woody Allen in
a still from 'Take the Money and Run, almost forty years ago but still
looking like the same nebbish.
The center of the far wall is dominated by a large acrylic canvas that
his son Lenny had painted last year. Done primarily in black and several
gradated shades of blue, it was a damn fine painting of Lenny Bruce, posed
from the waist up, standing in front of a microphone. The paint was smooth
and flat - you could hardly see a brush stroke - and the blues were mixed so
naturally that you would almost swear it was a photograph.
I know that there is reefer hidden somewhere in this room, thinks Lex. I've
smelled it often enough. Surely Lenny wouldn't begrudge his old man a toot,
would he? Possessing a keen criminal mind of his own, Lex only has to check
two places before he finds the plastic bag taped to the bottom of his son's
dresser. And a nice fat bag it is.
God, I hope he's not dealing, thinks Lex, as he removes a skinny but
seedless two inch bud from the bag. The kid should thank his lucky stars
that I don't bust him. Twenty-three years old and still keeping a room at
home. Cheap bastard. The kid should find an apartment someplace, for Christ
I had a good time last night, thinks Lex. When was the last time I had a
really good time? Lex walks into the living room and puts on a REM CD - the
one with 'Orange Crush' - and turns up the volume to mid-level. He never
gets to play what he wants except at work, where he has to keep the volume
low. And sometimes in the car going to and from work. Most of the time not
even then, since he starts out with the news and traffic station, checking
for accidents along the Route 1 corridor. His taste in music is too harsh
for his wife and too corny for his son, but Lex is alone and he is the
master of the house.
'Lenny' he thinks, shaking his head in bemused appreciation, 'what a
wacky talented kid. He must have gotten it all from me'. Lex hadn't been
exactly thrilled when his son decided to legally change his name to Lenny
Bruce, but he had gotten used to it. At the time, he had thought it was an
extremely dumb idea. Why not just call yourself Lenny Bruce, he
advised, try it as a stage name. Everyone's going to think that it's a
gimmick, anyway. Or better still, why not work in Lenny's style but use
your real name. Let others come up with the connection.
The son formerly known as Tommy had explained that this was something
more than just a tribute to the great comic philosopher, it was a standard
for him to strive towards. Besides, it gave him a certain degree of
legitimacy should legal matters arise.
"Dad" Tommy had explained sagely, "the world really needs a Lenny
Bruce." And to this logic, Lex could not agree more. He was really proud of
the boy, charting his own stupid way in his stupid dream of standup comedy.
What a loser. Make us laugh. How truly noble.
The only good advice that Lex had ever given Lenny was, “Son, don't
grow up to be a bureaucrat”. At least the boy was heeding that.
'Hey', Lex says aloud, happily examining the gold-tinged bud that he's
confiscated from his son, 'Let's check this bad boy out'.
It is not hard for Lex to find a proper smoking implement. His wife
Connie had been trying to get him to give up cigarettes for a number of
years, and through her efforts he had acquired a good number of smoking
implements that no real pipe smoker would ever be caught dead using. From
these he selects a miniature meerschaum number with a Viking head for a
bowl, and fills that little sucker up to the brim.
Lex is now ready to get down to business. He starts up his computer, and
drums his fingers on the desk as the system boots up. Oooh, nice buzz. Lex
cannot wait to see that cute little PowerPoint icon. He clicks twice and it
up, selects blank presentation, and cancels out of Autoformat. Like the King
of PowerPoint is going to need Autoformat. He is on his way to unbridled
His cover slide reads:
COMMAND AND CONTROL IN
THE CORPORATE WORKPLACE
Lexter Thompson September 10, 2001
The narrative comes to Lex right away - miraculously he was able to
retain and channel most of what was said last night - but today he chooses
to work from inside a different consciousness. He is Lexter, The Lex Man,
Picasso with a Pointer. He is moving to his own internal rhythm now.
Clickity point clickity point drag drop drag drop clickity point. Now he has
a collection of a dozen blank canvases ready to paint on. He grabs the top
piece of paper from the pile on the table, absorbs it in one long stare, and
then begins to bring it to life. He is instinctively slapping ideas into
their preordained spaces.
Lex goes into the kitchen for more coffee. There is a leftover pork chop in
the refrigerator and he chows down on it. ‘No doubt about it’, he thinks
while licking his fingers, ‘pigs are truly delicious animals, tasty from
head to tail’.
Then Lex trucks on down – yes, he’s feeling fine, and he is literally
trucking - to his special CD shelf in the garage, from which he retrieves
Talking Heads 'Remain in Light'. The first cut, 'Born Under Punches', is
perfect motivational material. Lex repeats the song twice, swaying along in
what could pass as a corpse performing a Hindu dance, and before long, he's
ready to cut it all the way loose and commit to the mouse.
Lex looks at Stan's diagram of the work-flow cycle - too cool by half, he
has to admit. Lex recreates it in less than fifteen minutes, with an array
of functional divisions, divisions that Stan Keaton could never understand.
These replaced the notionally coded version that Stan did, accurate but
empty - AAA, AAB, ABA…
Lex unfolds a sheet of paper which is someone's idea - the writing
doesn't appear to be either Stan's or his own - about tying a Fungal
Propagation interface directly into the Legal department’s ALRTS system. Oh,
why the hell not? That would provide the specific components needed for an
immediate and documented reprimand case file, time stamped, indexed by login
and Social Security Number, valid on both ethical and moral grounds. Lex
moved to slide number fifteen, inserted a RECOMMENDATIONS title, and
suggested that a new IPT be established immediately, preferably to be
chaired by the lead Union rep. Hell yeah. The Union will buy in.
Lex puts aside his work to pause for a shower. It is magnificent shower. He
is in a tropical rainstorm and the ideas are floating over him and through
him. Fungal Propagation. He understands how to make the whole concept work.
He can grab these puppies and make them howl. Ahrooo!
Lex drips all over the bathroom floor, leaving soggy footprints all
over the plush beige carpet. He really doesn't care, if you want to know the
truth. He feels great! Soggy, in a terrycloth robe, he picks up another
yellow sheet and fills in white space on at least half a dozen of his
What time is it getting to be? Well, one thing is certain judging by his
empty pack of smokes, it's half past time to run up to the Seven Eleven and
buy some more cigarettes. Lex dresses quickly in a pair of old gray
sweatpants, white slip-on sneakers, and a DSA Quality of Life sweatshirt.
Although Lex usually drives, today he elects to hoof the three blocks
up to the store. It is warm outside, a beautiful day. After walking the
better part of a block, Lex decides to return home and change his clothes.
He feels the need to be spiffier. He dons an extra large Hawaiian shirt that
he can find with the lights out. His wife would absolutely refuse to be seen
with him if he was wearing a garment as stunning as this one. Not that he
could blame Connie for that. The shirt is a key lime green, decorated with
bananas, sailboats, and a caricature that might possibly be a Rastafarian.
Lookin good! He decides to abandon the sweatpants and put on a pair of
jeans, relaxed fit, and he switches his slip-ons for a pair of Adidas
Lex glides on into the Seven-Eleven, feeling mighty fine. Sweeping through
the store he picks up a twelve pack of Bud and a Doritos Nacho Cheese Big
Bag. When it's his turn at the counter he orders a quarter-pounder hot dog.
Those dogs are certainly a thing of beauty, glistening on their metal
rollers like dewdrops on a rose. Oh yeah, let me have two Virginia lotto
random. Cash payout. You can't win if you don't play. And Duh!, what did I
come here for in the first place, two packs of those new Salem Lights with
the side slide box. Yes, that certainly is a cool new package. Two for one
special? That's great. Thanks. I guess, let me have four. No, two. Two
Oh no, Lex has only got a five and a one in his wallet, and he is
going to have to pay by credit card. Well, cash for the lotto tickets, since
those ring up separately. Maybe he should’ve checked his money supply before
he left home. Too late now. He’s been standing in this line for a long
enough time. The clerk, a young and pleasant looking foreign gentleman,
smiles patiently as Lex fumbles with his wallet looking for his plastic.
There is a weird bearded guy in a flannel shirt a couple of spots
behind him who is staring daggers in his direction. Is he talking to himself
or is he talking to me? You talking to me? Lex finds himself doing a DeNiro
imitation in his head, something to kill the time while his card processes.
Lex thinks that he recognizes the bearded guy from last night at the pub,
but he doesn’t make any attempt to acknowledge him. Bad vibes. How long is
it going to take for his credit card to clear, anyway? Where are they
calling it in to, Bangladesh?
Arriving home, Lex sets the bag of goodies beside his desk, pulling out the
hot dog and a fresh pack of smokes. Turning back to his work while savoring
the meat-like deliciousness of his wiener, Lex grabs one of the napkins that
he had been sketching on during last night’s session. The little boxes are
too small for him to make sense of, and for some reason, it's all stuck
together with some kind of glue. Hope it wasn’t important. He tosses it into
his circular file for two points.
In less than forty minutes Lex has a handful of slides printed out. He
unsheathes a red felt tip pen and a wide yellow marker, and begins his first
edit. Three hours later, his coffee is still sitting untouched – although
the beer shows signs of having received considerable attention - and he is
beaming as he clicks his way through a true masterpiece.