VOL 1: DREAMING

A Life Hack for Slacker Jack

(Sample Chapter 1)

I used to have dreams of people on fire. Oblivious to the flames, they’d walk around like briquettes of gas soaked wood planks that didn’t char. The color and intensity of each flare typically remained identical, but a select few of the wandering bodies glowed brighter, and the tint varied wildly. In these dreams, one particular man always seemed to be present. Whether merely sitting alone in the corner of a room or as a spectator at an event, my slumber buddy was ever present. These dreams reoccurred throughout my childhood, leading into my early teens. Then one day, they just stopped. Mr. Sandman had ceased his routine visits. It took a great deal of time for that void to fill.

 

I rarely spoke with anyone about my frequent mental guest, but often wondered what the dreams of fire and his visitations represented. I searched dream encyclopedias, none of which gave me satisfactory answers. Generalized interpretations like “fire represents anger” were all but useless and, without helpful hints, I gave up the search. After a few years, those dreams faded into the long term brain dump.

 

Then, in my mid-twenties, the dreams started again, only this time they came with a special set of instructions for when I woke. At first, I thought they were unimportant, that my mind had recovered whatever it lost due to adolescent chemical imbalances of puberty and maturation. The difference this time was that I began chronicling the events. Someone was subconsciously supplying a mental message, and I realized it was silly not to pay attention.

 

The dreams soon ended and my cerebral buddy had dissolved once again, leaving only a riddle that I didn’t understand. The final clear memory of the dream was: “To understand the lands of the Old Gods, the mind must be opened. The world is hidden in plain sight and left for the eyes to see. To find the eyes, to open the mind, find the scripts of earth and death.”

 

Interesting as that sounded, it made absolutely no sense. Just like with the fire dreams, I researched for weeks, finding no definitive answers, and the trail went cold. Whatever my dream friend was attempting to communicate was lost on my unenlightened brain, and once again the message drifted from my attention.

 

The message became less relevant as time progressed, and it drifted from my day-to-day thoughts. Then, just as I was about to deposit the message in the recycling bin of my memory bank, something happened. An afternoon of boredom and a television message led to the greatest and most perplexing discovery of my entire life.

I suppose before I describe what that key moment was, introductions are required. Hi, how do you do? My name is Jack and I’m a slacker by trade. I’m getting ready to celebrate hitting the quarter of a century milestone. My hazel eyes accompany a head full of dark brown hair. I’m a six foot, 200 pound video game player. I prefer conserving razors, so my face usually exhibits a trimmed goatee or full-blown beard, depending on how my conservation goals have coincided with my laziness that day. And one extra-credit key feature, I am unemployed, just as any slacker should be.

 

My permanent inhabitance resides within Kankakee, a small city just south of Chicago, also known as a slacker’s paradise. When good folks develop community-driven activities, gang bangin’ nay sayers and other crass ass bags magically slither out the woodwork. It’s a shame, really. I hate seeing our community descend into oblivion, but when it comes to maintaining a low status quo, we are top notch!

 

Neighborhood problems aside, my small circle of friends, with the exception of a cousin of mine, manage to keep ourselves out of trouble for the most part. We razz each other quite frequently, poking fun at each other’s short-comings, just as any good friends should. We have each other’s backs, minimalizing doing stupid shit on a frequent basis. That’s not to say that occasional bouts with the random chaos don’t spark our curiosity. It never ceases to amaze me what sort of mayhem unfolds during the summer, and I really must say that it can be quite entertaining.

 

As anyone from the Midwest knows, the humidity and high temps during August can become incredibly oppressive and, this year, a particularly brutal heat wave rolled through. My family’s sweat patterns had worn into the brown fabric couch cushions, and our bathtub was frequently filled with ice cold water to use as a mini-pool. With temperatures soaring into the nineties and even occasionally crossing the 100° threshold, the air felt stickier than a lint roller. Our corner-lot three-story house should’ve been cooled by central air, but my dad declared the electric bill was too high and, until we wanted to help out by getting jobs, we could fend for ourselves.

 

With two box fans aimed in my general direction, the television filled the background with noise for some time. That was, until a stray commercial stirred my curiosity. “Have you ever wondered what you were doing with your life? Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge to get you going. This is why the members of our organization would like to invite you in to see a vast array of their own unique skills being put to good use.”

 

Usually a bland commercial like this would prevent engagement with my mind, ignored just like any dull ad floating through the airwaves. But this time something stood out. It felt like the man was talking directly to me. The voice was reminiscent of the dream pal that disappeared without saying good-bye. Whatever was in that advertisement, it inspired me to get motivated. What an effective commercial! I love subliminal messaging.

 

I glanced over to see Calvin, a good friend of mine, sitting at the computer table, playing the mind-numbingly dull game of Solitaire. Hovering around 5½ feet tall, Calvin’s father was Italian and his mother was from New Jersey. Considering that, it wasn’t a big surprise he was a huge fan of the way Italians were depicted in mob films. Scarface and Goodfellas were two of his favorites, and I couldn’t blame him since they were great movies. I just couldn’t get into The Godfather like he did. He’d watch it over and over. He always said he wanted to leave horse heads in people’s beds, and frequently mentioned “making an offer we couldn’t refuse”. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about until he forced me to watch the movie. Still didn’t like it, but hey, to each his own.

 

“Hey, man, you look bored. You mind looking something up for me?” I asked.

 

“What?” He replied, lazily sliding the mouse to move a spade jack onto a heart queen.

 

“I don’t know. Maybe look for something, like Harry Houdini, or anything with magic.”

 

“Come on, man, how about something else? Give me a better idea than that.”

 

“Well, what do you know about the Book of Shadows?”

 

“Just the lame stuff from the movies,” Calvin replied dismissively, unwilling to withdraw from the monitor. “Like that stupid Blair Witch Project sequel. I can’t believe you rented that.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re just saying that because it made you jump.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He smiled.

 

“Let’s see what we can discover about the actual book?” I suggested, trying to get the ball rolling. I didn’t want Calvin’s lack of enthusiasm to devour the only inspiration to strike me in quite a while.

 

“Man, I suck at typing,” he replied, although I knew it wasn’t true. Typos, yes, but he was able to quickly search things online.

 

“Are you sure it ain’t your lazy side just kicking in?”

 

“Yeah, it is pretty strong. Maybe it’s nap time.” He yawned. “How about you take over?”

 

“I suppose I can do what you obviously can’t.” I pushed Calvin out of the roller office chair playfully. The bottom flung out, and he landed on his left arm without trying to prevent the fall. He wasn’t amused. “Bitch!”

 

Taking his place, I filled the search bar with “Book of Shadows”. A sponsored link to eBay appeared first, stating ‘find Book of Shadows and thousands of other items by searching on eBay’. Since it was an obvious choice, I clicked on it and hoped it wasn’t loaded with malware.

A massive collection of items was available for purchase, including the DVD of the previously mentioned Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, as well as memorabilia associated with that movie. Tons of other pagan religious mumbo jumbo littered the list, in addition to an overabundance of low-budget books entitled Book of Shadows that I could’ve created in my basement by throwing together a bag of recycled paper, magic markers and duct tape. The search was initially a fun project, but I became annoyed with tediously picking through the garbage until Calvin caught my attention.

 

“Dude, check it out. Look at that one!” he yelled. Apparently, the scavenger hunt drew him out of the sleepy spell.

 

An auction labeled “Book of Shadows” had about five minutes remaining. I clicked on that page and it described exactly what I was looking for, although it was alternatively titled the Grimoire. The book was also only five bucks, but required a credit card or money order to purchase, unless I was willing to use a PayPal account. I had to quickly spawn a screen name, JackieBoy420, and place a bid of five dollars within those five minutes.

 

“What a stupid name,” Calvin teased. “You don’t even smoke weed.”

 

“I know. I just had to put something in there.”

 

I recalled the name Jackie Boy from Sin City. It was simple, but I thought the movie was great, so fuck it. The first few numbers I came up with were already taken, so I decided to use one I was familiar with, the code for potheads. Considering no one else had bid, I was quite skeptical, but a voice in my head commanded me not to let this opportunity pass. As time ran out, no one else submitted, so I ended up winning what I was certain would be a hoax. We’ll see if Jiminy Cricket is right.

 

Even though I didn’t completely believe I had won a real Book of Shadows off eBay, it was a small enough sum of cash to gamble with. I drove over to the Currency Exchange located next door to one of my favorite restaurants, Poor Boy, which was a great cheap place to munch. The exchange charged $1.50 for a money order. Luckily, a collection of loose change had previously pin-balled into the furthest reaches of my ancient multi-grey toned 1988 Toyota Corolla hatchback. I sent the money order to the eBay guy and quickly forgot about the auction and even the book.

 

Spending nearly ten bucks on the book, along with all the related charges, when I was nearly completely broke didn’t go unnoticed. The hamburger that I could’ve bought instead sounded really good. As I cooked up a gourmet batch of microwave-style chicken-flavored Ramen, the kids outside pulled together a game of kickball using notches in the damaged curbs as base one and three, as well as home and second base made from sticks and rocks.

 

As I walked outside with my bowl of MSG infused noodles, Deny and Brian were hanging out on the porch. Deny brought out a little radio for us to listen to, but all his CDs were too scratched to play on the piece of crap. The laser almost never detected a disc inside the player, showing an -ERR- message.

 

Deny (pronounced like Denny’s the restaurant, not declaring something isn’t true) is my best buddy. He’s about Calvin’s height, but nearly double his weight. His best (or worst) characteristic is his monkey-like facial features. His Hispanic mother attempted teaching him Spanish, but half the time he doesn’t understand it, which makes him useless as a translator. I never met his dead-beat father, and never bothered asking what he was like. Deny has the dirtiest mouth of the bunch, that is, aside from my cousin Johnny.

 

Brian is another one of my buds, and he has one of those personalities that you either like or hate. With the exception of a little tension between him and Calvin, we all get along pretty well. He stands taller than me and weighs quite a bit more. He resembles a white Shaq, only 25% smaller. We like to call him Sloth, because he is never in a hurry. NEVER.

 

“About time to get a new CD player, wouldn’t you say? They have these fancy things out now we like to call MP3 players.” I stated as the disc skipped numerous times, creating a ridiculously terrible remix of the groove-heavy “The Way I Are” from Timbaland.

 

“Where the fuck am I getting money to buy one? And besides, I sure as hell don’t want to throw all these CDs away. Fucking took me forever to get what I wanted,” Deny responded.

 

“And now they’re all obsolete.”

 

“Yeah, ain’t that a bitch? Just like when I bought all them DVDs and everything went digital. Fucking industry.”

 

“And most of them suck. Laffy Taffy? You actually bought that garbage?” Brian asked as he sifted through the collection. “And holy shit, is this a Master P CD?”

 

“Fuck you! That shit was hot!”

 

“I got an idea, how about you get a job so you can buy a digital player?” I suggested.

 

Deny frowned, and responded, “Why don’t you?”

 

“Cause I’m lazy,” I countered with my eyes closed, unwilling to use that much energy.

 

“No shit, Sherlock. I’d ask Brian’s punk ass, but he’s lazier than you are.”

 

Brian responded as he cracked open a Swisher Sweet and dumped the tobacco out to roll a blunt, “I ain’t lazy. I just haven’t found anything I like doing.”

 

“Maybe you should become a cigar roller,” Deny replied, nudging Brian with his elbow.

 

Brian nodded. “I’d be good at that, but I wouldn’t want to take the Cubans’ jobs.”

 

“Well, what do you like to do?” I asked.

 

“Man, I need to find a job where I can test beds.” Brian laughed to himself and continued, “Just plop down and sleep on a mattress and tell them how comfortable it is.”

 

I laughed, “Alright, you got me beat.”

 

As if the conversation of laziness jolted his memory, Deny stated, “Hey dude, I got a call from Burger King.”

 

“Did you go in for the interview?” Brian asked.

 

Deny shook his head. “Na, it ain’t until Thursday.”

 

I thought for a second and laughed at his amazing ability to forget the important things. “Today’s Friday.”

 

“Huh?” Deny looked shocked.

 

“Today’s Friday! You missed it!”

 

“Oops. Fuck!” Deny dismissed it with a shrug. “And I wanted some free Whoppers, too. I guess I gotta try some other places.”

 

“Maybe I'll go with you this time. I could use some free food. I’m getting tired of ramen and Kool-Aid.”

 

“Yeah, any more sodium in your diet and your arteries are gonna crystalize.”

 

“Y’all ain’t gonna share this with me?” Brian asked, holding out the blunt.

 

I shook my head. “You know I don’t do that shit. I hate the loss of control. Last time I did, I found myself on your porch with no idea what time of day it was or how I got there, and I didn’t even realize you were talking to me.”

 

“Lame ass. Just gotta build up your tolerance, that’s all.”

 

“Besides, where’re you getting the money for that crap?”

 

“Don’t call my drow crap. This is good stuff.”

 

“Come on, J, don’t let that fuckin’ pothead suck you in,” Deny said, teasing Brian. “We got some work to do.”

 

Deny and I went on a prowl to trap the elusive job, visiting twenty different businesses and collecting applications from as many as we could. A couple of larger corporations such as Wal-Mart and Lowe’s Home Improvement required us to fill the applications out in-store, so we bailed. I wasn’t in the mood to sit at the kiosks for 45 minutes answering the same reworded questions over and over. One lazy baby step at a time.

 

As our day narrowed down to filling out the mass quantities of applications and repeatedly copying identical information like an assembly line, we decided to give the job search a rest. That was the hardest work I’d performed in a while, and the mental exhaustion required four restful hours of Guitar Hero to counteract the effects.

The next day, my cousin Johnny stopped on by. He belongs to my father’s side and has an incredible knack for getting himself into trouble, although many times it’s completely unintentional. Because he doesn’t think before he acts, he built an impressive juvenile record, filled with mischievous deeds. He mirrors the personality of Smokey from the movie Friday, the same dismissive attitude, and always looking for something to do even if it’s nothing but trouble.

 

He stands about the same height as me, but 60 pounds lighter.

 

Alongside Calvin and Deny, Tyra was also sitting on the porch with us. She’s the oldest of my three sisters and the only one with a job. The hypochondriac side of her calls off work a lot, although it’s a fast food chain with terrible management, so she’s never concerned about losing the position. The dirty blonde sets her apart from my other two darker-haired sisters.

“Man, you wouldn’t believe what the fuck just happened!” Johnny yelled as he crept up the porch stairs.

 

“What did you do this time?” Calvin asked. “Rob the jewelry kiosk at the mall and try to give one of the rings to the cashier for a date?”

 

“Nah.” Johnny looked at Calvin who was snickering. “Fuck you, man. I told you that was an accident last time.”

 

“Dumb ass. You need to work on your moves, man.”

 

Johnny ignored Calvin’s advice. “Anyway, you remember that one mother fucker named Jarmel or Jamal, or Jemel?”

 

“It was Jarnel.” Deny corrected.

 

“Yeah, Jarnel. So anyway, he came over with this crack pipe and was trying to sell it to me. You know I don’t do crack. I started steppin’ to him and he got all scared so he pulled out this piece of shit nine and aimed the mother fucker at me.”

 

Deny was instantly drawn in because of prior history with Jarnel. “When did this happen?”

 

“This morning.” Johnny still appeared to be a little shaken. “I almost got scared until I looked closely at the barrel. It didn’t look like metal, so I started bluffing him like, pull the trigger, bitch!”

 

I was stunned. “What’s wrong with you?!?”

 

Johnny shook his head and waved his hands animatedly, “Nah man, if you saw the gun you would be thinking the same thing I was. So I went over and grabbed a bat and he was cornered. I whacked him once across the shoulder and he broke out.” Johnny played it out as if he had a bat in his hands. “He escaped, but dropped the crack pipe and the gun. The fuckin’ pea-shooter was a plastic toy. I didn’t want that crack pipe at my house, so I threw it away. I saw that mother fucker later, ripping through the bags garbage out back looking for it, so I ran after his ass.”

 

“Did you catch him?” Tyra curiously asked.

 

“Come on, seriously?” Johnny replied, “He’s a crack-head. That stupid bastard was gone before I even got out of my house. I saw him all the way down the block looking back for me.” Johnny bowed his head, shaking it back and forth, “It’s like chasing the goddamned Flash.”

 

“I bet. Did you bother calling the cops?” I asked.

 

“Nah, man. Fuck the police,” Johnny replied angrily. “They don’t even like me. Every time they see me, they change their course to just intercept. Shit, I think all of them know me by name.”

 

I smiled and asked, “Don’t you think that’s a little bad?”

 

“Yeah, but what can I do? It’s not like I can just go to the police station and tell them I’m clean. They’d never believe that shit.”

 

“How about you legitimately stop doing dumb stuff then?” Calvin asked.

 

“Man, fuck that. I ain’t trying to be bored all the time. I do what I do because it’s fun.”

 

Tyra said, “Yeah, but you’re gonna get shot sometime.”

 

“Ain’t nobody gonna shoot me. Bullets are too scared to hit me. They just whiz by like whoosh! All those mother fuckers know who they're messing with!” Johnny beat his chest like Tarzan and grunted.

 

“Yeah! Whatever.” Tyra replied, even though she knew he was just joking. “You’re gonna either get beat down so badly you won’t be able to walk, or sprayed with bullets.”

 

“Yeah, I know.” Johnny shrugged. “I got this hoe up the street that wants to mess around. Fuckin’ perfect ass, but I had to wait until her dude went to work. See y’all later.”

 

We all waved him off and waited until he was out of our sight. “Can you believe Jarnel?” Tyra said disappointedly. “That dude used to be cool to hang out with. I just can’t believe they got him hooked on that bullshit.”

 

“I know. How does someone try to pull a plastic gun on the person they’re selling something to?” I questioned. “That’s just terrible customer service. I hope he doesn’t expect repeat business. And Johnny is really gonna run into the wrong person one of these days.”

 

“No kidding, messing around with someone’s woman when they’re working!” Tyra laughed.

 

“Idiot.” Deny shook his head.

Later on that day we were tossing a football around in the street. A late-teen Hispanic kid from the same gang Jarnel belonged to was cruising our block, driving a beat-up rusty blue 1964 Impala. He’d been referred to as Shorty D, but I never found out what the D stood for. All I knew was that he instigated a rivalry that started during Deny’s brief history with the gangs. Deny spent a year with them before wising up and leaving it behind. Deny got lucky with being able to duck out without getting a beat out. But during that time, he messed around with a cutie that ended up being Shorty D’s baby mamma. Shorty D found out and held a grudge ever since.

 

A stare-down between Deny and Shorty D was cut short as Shorty D rounded the next corner and pointed a small Jennings handgun out the window. Deny yelled, “GUN! Everyone get down!” A .22 caliber shot was aimlessly blown off into the air as he sped off down the street, burning rubber and creating a venomous cloud of toxic smoke.

 

“We need to get that fuckin’ asshole!” Calvin howled.

 

“Man, as much as I want to, we can’t.” Deny replied, strangely subdued.

 

Calvin, obviously shaken, yelled, “Why not?”

 

“Man, just chill.” I wasn’t expecting Deny to remain calm after that. Usually he’s the one who flies off the handle. “We’ll get him soon. He’s just mad because of what happened between me and his girl.”

 

Calvin argued, “Come on man, we can’t have him just shooting up our places.”

 

“I know.” Deny reassured. “Don’t worry. I’ll get that pinche pendejo back later.”

 

The incident pissed me off, but I wasn’t the intended target and jumping in the middle of these lame gang tactics has been something I intentionally avoid. A few short moments later, the police made an appearance. Deny was on the fence about providing information, but hesitated and contributed a very weak, generalized description of the assailant. I was impressed with the officer’s promptness considering an unusually high rate of similar incidents had plagued the area recently, most times eliciting a tepid response.

“Well, I gotta get to work. Shit’s getting a little too hectic around here,” Tyra said. “I need to relax some!”

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