Bored to Death

 

Edward L. Wier

 
I was bored. Not with the common over the counter boredom which passes with time but with a bland sickening sense of aimlessness which stretches seconds out into nauseating, endless hours. It was a full-strength, prescription, adult boredom built upon forty years of experience. I was drunk with apathy. I felt like a puppet cut from its strings. Furthermore, the desire to do anything to combat this deathlike mood was shot down at the point of conception with a potent, inaudible, "Nah." It was so thick and personal that I found myself unable to even imagine a time, past or future, when it was absent. It felt like I had been bored all my boring life. I was frozen, but without temperature. Not even a chill to thrill me. I had tried talking on the phone to an old friend, but the words simply fell off my lips like disjointed nuggets of nothing into a small pile of silent husks.

With every suggestion my mind made, I became increasingly less impressionable until there were finally no impressions. I possessed only the bare, minimal pulse of thought, enough to keep me aware of the bland cloud. Immobilized, I sat. I tried to turn sitting into some type of endeavor, but soon lost interest. Finally, in one last attempt, I yanked myself up by my own soul-straps and began walking around my plain living room.

I would simply leave it all behind. But it came with me. The physical activity only served to intensify my sense of uselessness. And walking did not give my limp life much meaning. I was too old to fool myself. I sat back down. Now the memory of walking sickened me. The prospect of walking sickened me. I was down, and everything, from here on out, was a sick prospect.

I had done everything in life I ever wanted. I had achieved my goals. But now there was still some life left over. It was just leftover, extra l ife which didn't interest me enough to keep on living it. I seemed to be just converging on the simple, disgusting facts. That was all. Perhaps I could...,"Nah." Maybe I'll..., "Nah." If..., "NAH!" As the voice of boredom grew stronger, the suggestions weakened like tired, embarrassed children. I had one last chance. Write. Put some words on a page. Anything. I began typing.

I am neither hot nor cold
But vulgar, flat, and stale
A mediocre menagerie
Of a very average tale

My chorus of clichés
Is neither dim nor bright
On my plane of platitudes
Banal, stock, and trite

Typically habitual
My conventional routine
Paints a placid picture
An achromatic scene

Sounding empty brass
Hollow into space
With [] death the only door
Out of this boring place

 

I read it. I was drawn to the last verse. "Death the only door." Did I write that? Well, I suppose it was true. But I had always imagined that people put an end to it all because of some unbearable pain or depression. I had never suspected boredom, but I was beginning to. Ho-hum. Bored to death.

It was only a phrase, an exaggeration. Death should be meaningful. It was either tragic, or inspiring, or both. "I regret that I have only one life to give for my country." He could have borrowed some of mine.

Then there was glorious battle death. I could see the glistening bayonets of young farm boys plunging headlong into a wall of death, their hearts drenched in bravery. Why? For a state? For Virginia. Maybe. But who would die for New Jersey? But to die of boredom? Could one die bravely for a state of mind? Yes, it seemed the only thing left to do was to die. Birth, boredom, death. It sounded right.

With this thought, the voice of boredom showed a little interest. "Hmmm, interesting." Boredom had me right where it wanted me. It was no longer walk or sit, but live or die. I moved a little closer to the door. My whimpering, weak, faithless mind made one last pitiful suggestion. "Live?" "NAH!" That was it. It was all over except the paperwork. I was beat.

But nothing is ever that easy, and, since I was a pacifist at heart, violence was out. No jumping, guns, or knives. I simply needed a fitting, boring death. Since fear was an active emotion, boredom had conveniently removed my ability to feel it. I went to the old, familiar fear cupboard, but it was bare. It looked like it would be drugs. After all, I was a child of the sixties, and drugs were the modus operandi. I remembered I had a bottle of Tuinal an old girlfriend with a sleep disorder had left at my house years ago after she got bored with our relationship.

It was strange. As I got up to go to the kitchen, my life almost seemed to take on a sense of purpose. To die. It was bound to happen sooner or later anyway. Still, I was amazed at how perfectly ordinary the whole thing seemed. What made unplanned death so different from planned death? The result was always the same. This was a tough subject for a bored mind. I wasn't interested anyway.

I found the pills. They had expired. What a coincidence. I took a glass of water and the pills, then went back to my bedroom. I knelt down and said a short, feeble prayer. "Dear God, please forgive me for being so bored with the wonderful gift of life you have bestowed upon me. I'm returning it to you now. Have mercy upon me. Amen."

The words felt like lead. I began swallowing the small, faded pills in groups of five or six until they were all gone. Death the only door. If only I hadn't written that damn poem. Well, it was too late now. I laid on the bed, turned on a light, and began reading a Bukowski novel I had started. Then, I suddenly remembered I was overdrawn at the bank. It took my mind off my impending death for a moment. "Ah, serves them right," I thought. It was their turn for a late fee.

The phone rang. I should have changed my message on my machine. "You've reached three nine nine, five two nine four. Don't bother leaving a message. I'm bored to death." Also, a thousand little things I needed to take care of invaded me. Old habits die hard. But soon my book was across my chest and my eyes were closed. Next came sleep. After that, a coma I wasn't aware of, and then death finally swallowed me like a single tablet.

How did I know? I didn't. I'm using my imagination. If this wasn't how it happened, it was something close. I had started to do some laundry earlier and, as I lay there dead, the dryer continued its rhythmic pulse. The television talk shows went on. My parents would cry. My friends would say "bummer," and I would soon be replaced at work, just as I had suspected. It took dying to learn that death made no difference, only living.

While the dryer's thumping faded, I was coming around. I found myself seated in a scantily furnished room with green vinyl sofas and particle-board tables. The floor was battleship gray linoleum. The room had that meet-the-minimum-requirement look government rooms so often had. Pure function. There were others in the room, seated as I was, except for one woman in the front. A large lady with three chins, polyester pants, and thick glasses which hung from a chain around her neck, walked over and handed me some forms along with a number two pencil. Her jowls shook a little when she spoke to me.

"Fill out these forms please."

"What are they?" I asked.

"You'll find out soon enough. Didn't you say it was all over except for the paperwork? Good guess. Just fill them out, and take your time. There's no hurry."

"Where am I?"

"It will all be explained to you. Please cooperate with us. I have to get to the other arrivals. One thing at a time."

She turned and walked away. Her more than adequate rear end revealed panty lines which looked like ropes the size of sailboat rigging. Her beige pants were a little too short and two sausage-like ankles peeked back at me as she worked the floor.

As I filled out the forms, which were routine enough, someone else appeared next to me on the green sofa. I was beginning to notice that everyone seemed to be wearing similar expressions: They looked very, very, bored. I felt the same look in the muscles of my face. The rope-and-sausage woman walked over to my new neighbor and handed him the forms.

"Could you tell me where I am?" he asked.

"You'll find out soon enough," she said again.

"Am I dead?"

"Well, sort of. Probably not the way you wanted to be. We'll take care of all your questions in due time. Just fill out the forms and wait until your name is called."

He spread the forms out on the table and began checking boxes. He followed directions better than I did. Then he looked up at me and spoke:

"Did you kill yourself?"

"Yeah. How about you?"

"Yeah. Why did you do it?"

"Boredom. How about you?"

"The same."

The conversation was boring. Didn't anyone here use adjectives? We finished filling out the forms and sat back. A few new arrivals appeared. They looked bored. There was a television set with bad reception set up in the corner, prison style. The sound was low and the picture distorted, but it appeared to be a talk show. People kept appearing in the room and were quickly handed forms. Didn't I recently escape all of this? Names were called and people got up, went to the front, had their picture taken, went through a swinging door, then disappeared into an office behind the counter. I felt no curiosity. I continued to wait, or time passed, or there I was, sitting.

"Edward Leon Wier?"

"That's me."

I got up and walked to the front of the room. The rope-and-sausage lady reached out for my papers. I turned them over with the same lack of enthusiasm I used to turn in pop-quizzes in school.

"Step over in front of the screen please Mr. Wier. Look at the red dot."

Her demeanor was beyond casual. It was the feeling you get when you are doing something for the first time, while the other person looks as though they've done it thousands of times before. I recalled the feeling when as a child I would go to the traveling carnival set up in some parking lot. I would stand in line to ride the "Lotus Viper" or some other mildly dangerous ride, and, when my turn came, a greasy guy smoking a filterless Camel and sporting dragon tattoos would lock me in with practiced movements. I remembered the worn steel and the rhythmic churning of the diesel as I spun around and around in my anti-boredom machine. I rode it over and over, by myself. I couldn't get enough. My frightened hands trembled as I handed the jaded operator the sweaty, paper tickets. Over and over. Around and around. Where did the feeling go? When did I lose the ability to feel excitement? When did I stop...FLASH!

She got me while I was looking at the flash bulb. Now all I could see was a huge, blank space where the rope-and-sausage woman's head should have been. I closed my eyes. The space was still there.

"Thank you Mr. Wier. You can go in now."

I walked cautiously back to the office door half blinded. It was slightly open. I knocked, pushed, and peeked all at once. A thin man in a loose fitting suit and crooked tie leaned forward in his chair, placing some papers on his desk. I almost recognized courtesy, but he moved and spoke by rote. I was feeling a bit sick.

"Come in Mr. Wier. Have a seat."

I looked around. For a moment, it felt like I was buying a car. He had a picture on his desk of two children. There were various plagues and framed sayings on the walls. The largest one directly behind him read:

'The average man does not know what to do with his
life, wants another one which will last forever'

There was one on the left which looked like needlepoint.

'Nothing is interesting if you're not interested'

Underneath this was a rough wooden plank routed with the words:

'THE DEVIL'S NAME IS DULLNESS'

Lastly, I saw a small framed saying near the picture of the bored children. It read:

'A variety of nothing is superior to a monotony of something'

"So, you got bored."

I looked at him while I bit my lip.

"You got so bored, you just had to end it all, huh?"

"I suppose."

"You suppose?'

"Okay. Yes. Now could you please tell me where I am and what I am doing here?"

"Well, let's begin with the end. You do know you're dead, right?"

"I was hoping you could tell me. I didn't really want to die so much as I just wanted to put an end to the boredom, but it feels worse than it did before."

"Imagine that."

"I don't have to."

"That's very funny Mr. Wier. Were you a comedian?"

"Not on purpose."

"Well, now look who's boring who. Mr. Wier you are in a special facility for those who die of boredom. I don't know what you were expecting, but this is it for everyone. What were you thinking?"

"I didn't know what I was thinking. Don't you know what I was thinking?"

"There's no need for sarcasm. Mr. Wier, do the words futile, empty, static, vain, perpetual and unchanging mean anything to you?"

"Perhaps."

"Trust me, you will soon know them like you know yourself."

I was beginning to get the big, boring picture.

"How long do I have to stay here?"

"How long? I don't think you quite understand your predicament. Time is no longer operative here. But I'm afraid this conversation has grown tiresome to me."

"Don't tell me you're bored.

"Mr. Wier, despite your cynicism, I like you. You have a quality we haven't seen around here in a while."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"I'd tell you, but I think it would just bore you."

He was wearing a wry smile while my eyelids were beginning to hang halfway over my eyes. I was willing to stand in line at the bank, go to the opera, sit in traffic, anything to end this interview.

"No Mr. Wier. I'm afraid this is it my bored friend."

"What do I do now?"

"Hey, you can do whatever you want, but I'm afraid there's really not much to do around here. By the way, have you ever considered the nature of boredom? What it actually is? Boredom is the failure to incorporate mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions into our lives. Now this failure results in what I call the boredom factor. For instance, if you only incorporate seventy percent of your positive abilities into your life, then you are left with a thirty percent boredom factor. Of course the point at which boredom actually starts to take over our consciousness is still widely debated. Some say we begin to experience it at about thirty-seven percent. Others claim the feeling is not perceptible until fifty-one percent. Still, others claim the experience is not subject to any type of psychological testing or measurement and therefore remains an open mystery. Personally, I find the subject of boredom fascinating. How about you? What do you think, Mr. Wier?"

"Mr. Wier!"

I sat up in my chair and spoke: "Has anyone ever said anything about what happens if you reach a one-hundred percent boredom factor?"

We both found ourselves smiling at each other for a brief less-than-completely boring moment. Then, both of our smiles fell simultaneously.

"But let's get on to the dull matter at hand. We do have job opportunities if you feel so inclined, unless, of course, you would rather just sit around and talk about the good old days."

"What kinds of jobs?"

"I have a list here. Would you like me to read you some of them?"

"Hey! Why not?"

"Let's see...We have openings in fast food, housekeeping, interior decorating, and daycare. Let's see... janitorial, kitchen, yard maintenance, and telephone sales. You could be a shipping clerk, window washer, press operator, dental receptionist, or a computer programmer. There's fabric store clerk, back-up cook. Country music disc jockey...no, sorry, that's filled. And then there is one opening for a quality inspector at a disposable lighter manufacturer."

"Wow, lots of opportunities, huh?"

"Well they say a variety of nothing is superior to a monotony of something."

"So I've read."

"Well, come on now. Help me out. What did you have in mind? Got any special skills?'

"I was a musician."

"Sorry, no music here. Live, that is."

"I can write, a little."

"No books, papers, or magazines. The forms you filled out when you got here will more than likely be the last thing you ever write. Chills the bones doesn't it. Yesterday we had a real psycho in here. He thought he was a poet. This guy wrote FINAL FORM at the top of his information sheet. He gave it a title! No, I'm sorry to say that in the media department all we have is television."

"Anything there?"

"Let's take a look. Here you go, Mr. Wier. They need a floor manager over at channel six."

"What would I be doing?"

"Job description. Let's see. (Did he have to keep saying that?) It looks like you would be making sure no one trips over wires and cables. You would do a lot of taping down of wires and telling guests to watch their step. Things like that. What's the matter? Too boring for you?"

I was leaning back in the chair and looking up at the ceiling while I ran my useless fingers through my hair. Then, I just looked at nothing while trying to hold up my heavy, purple eyelids.

"There is one more alternative."

"What's that? Bookkeeper, toll collector, auditor? Maybe I'll go after your job?"

"Easy, Mr. Wier. That's the kind of crap that got you into this mess to begin with. You bores are all alike. Nothing is boring in and of itself. It's only your arrogance and pomposity which make it so. But I still like you. You would make a great bum."

"A bum?"

"Yes. That's what I said. A bum. It's the most honorable position we offer. You will have to earn your boredom here. But, with your personality, you could be a droning sage or a prophet of indefinitely postponed doom. Use your imagination. You could look at it any way you wanted, but essentially, you would be an honest-to-God bum."

I looked less than convinced.

"Show some enthusiasm. If you could have seen yourself sitting behind that typewriter writing that miserable little last-ditch-of-an-effort poem, you would think becoming a bum was the greatest thing that ever happened to you. No wonder you're here. You've got a short memory, bud."

"Bud? Bud-the-bum," I whispered to myself.

Then he simply stood up and began walking to the door. I took the hint. Then, in a more subdued tone, he said, "Look. The only difference between the live you and the dead you is that now you have nothing to look forward to. But you have plenty of miserable company. You underestimated boredom. Hell, I make my living from it. You saw death as a cure. It's a very common mistake. Don't beat yourself up, unless of course, you have nothing better to do."

His hand was on my shoulder. He flashed a bland smile.

"I try not to use the word 'forever' with new arrivals. It's a little much, but you seem pretty tough. Go out and have a seat and think about it for a while. You still have group orientation to endure. Welcome aboard! Think about the bum idea. It's you. Hey, and if you get bored call me. We'll talk. Ha, ha, ha."

When I left the office, the large woman with the panty lines handed me a card.

"What's this?"

"It's your ID with your classification. We'll issue you a new one when you've decided on an occupation, or you get a job. Nice man isn't he? Have a seat on the left of the partition and wait for orientation. Remember, if it seems like you're having to wait a long time, you don't have anywhere else to be. Old habits die hard, don't they?"

I looked at the card. It had a picture of the most horribly bored face I had ever seen. It was me. In large black letters across the top it read: BORED TO DEATH. Classification 1A. Occupation: undecided. Term expiration date: none

I shuffled over slowly to the seats on the left of the partition while reading my ID card. I took a long, deep breath and slid down into an armless chair. After what seemed like back-to-back eternities, the rope-and-sausage lady appeared before us and began speaking in a voice which perfectly matched my mood.

"So all of you know why you are here now. I'm sure Mr. Jones told all of you what to expect. Few people ever expect boredom to be more powerful than death."

Then she lit an overhead projector and began drawing.

"Now pay attention. As you can see, I've drawn three circles. Each circle represents a different aspect of your makeup. On top we have intellectual."

She pointed to the circle on the top.

"Next we have emotional."

She pointed and then looked over her glasses at us.

"And here," she said," we have spiritual."

Her voice sounded odd saying the word 'spiritual' with such routine. Then I took another deep breath, slumped down further, and crossed my useless arms.

"Please note that the order of their appearance is not intended to indicate their importance. I could have just as easily put spiritual on top." She put her pen to her mouth and looked at the three circles. I looked for a window, but found only painted concrete blocks.

"Matter of fact, I think we should do that."

She rubbed out one word at the top, and another at the bottom. The chart now read spiritual, emotional, and intellectual.

"That's better. Hold on one moment please."

She walked back to the office, leaned in the door, asked something and then returned. Meanwhile, I took a look around at the small sea of bored faces floating like balloons on strings. I never knew misery could be so quiet.

"Okay, Mr. Jones has explained the idea to you. But what happens if, let's say, you give a-hundred-and-ten percent in the emotional area for instance? Can you apply the extra to another area? Of course not. Think of it like this. Let's say that each of you is worth a hundred points. Each area on the chart is thirty-three and one-third points. Now, if you..."

I was drifting. I hated numbers and the charts they rode in on. I was going down fast. The room was starting to fade.

"...then your total points would be seventy-eight. Not bad, but not too good either. Or, imagine that you are an empty glass. Each area on the chart contains exactly enough liquid to fill the glass one-third..."

Then I began to hear a familiar sound. It was a rhythmic, spinning sound, a little monotonous, but for some reason, it sounded good to me.

"...a sixty-two percent boredom factor. Or let's say you have a hundred blank pages. Excuse me. Mr. Wier! Am I boring you? Mr. Wier? Mis-ter Wier!"

I blinked my eyes and found myself face down on my desk. I picked up my head. I could hear the sound of the dryer spinning. I ran my hand across my forehead and a paperclip fell. It must have stuck to my sweaty forehead. A small pool of drool was soaking into the corner of a book which sat before me. The title read: "One Hundred Blank Pages, The Boredom Factor" There was a poem in my typewriter. I read it. The dryer stopped. I needed to get my laundry out of the dryer before it wrinkled.

For some odd reason, the prospect of folding laundry had a strange appeal. I would finish the poem later.

 
 
 
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Author Bio

Born to Polish immigrants in New Jersey, Ed makes his base in Atlanta as a professional musician, teacher, and a freelance writer with a BA. in theology. He has written music for national television specials and film, and his articles and poetry appear in various journals and magazines such as The Formalist, Orbis, SPSM&H, Whiskey Island, The Atlanta Review, The Lyric, Troubadour, The Ledge, The Door, Windhover, Acoustic Musician and Guitar Review.

His first illustrated children's story is due out soon and He has won the Felix Stefanile Sonnet Award. His fiction appears in Sideshow 1997, Fine Print, Lynx Eye, Foliage, The Bitter Oleander, and Reader's Break, among others.

"Self-expression is for babies and seals, where it can be charming. A writer's business is to affect the reader."
Vincient McHugh

 


 

 
 
 

"Bored to Death" Copyright © 1999 Edward L. Wier. All rights reserved. Published by permission of the author.
 
This page last updated 1-11-00.

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