Envy is the religion of the mediocre. It comforts them, it soothes their worries, and finally it rots their souls, allowing them to justify their meanness and their greed until they believe these to be virtues. Such people are convinced that the doors of heaven will be opened only to poor wretches like themselves who go through life without leaving any trace but their threadbare attempts to belittle others and to exclude-and destroy if possible-those who, by the simple face of their existence, show up their own poorness of spirit, mind, and guts. Blessed be the one at whom the fools bark, because his soul will never belong to them.
My brother’s voice slices through the fermented air with muted authority. He always did love deploying the righteous wisdom.
“Hoo boy,” I chuckle. “Be careful with that shit. It’ll rip your soul in half.”
“That’s Zafón for you, bro,” he smiles. “No idle ball-busting from that man. He’ll separate the sheep from the goats every time.”
He downs the rest of the Blue Moon in front of him and looks for the waitress. “Where’d she get to? I’m still unacceptably sober.”
“Probably fluffing some, like, Affliction-wearing ape-man with multiple Jager shots.”
My brother raises an eyebrow, undoubtedly realizing that I’m getting wasted. It’s ten-thirty on a Saturday night in South Orange County, and we’d spent the day moving his stuff into a new apartment only a block away from this bar. Hey, one night playing Andy Capp wouldn’t hurt, right? A trustafarian jam band is due to start playing any minute now, so we can hang out for a few hours before staggering home with impunity. Surely.
“Ey, so can I get you another one?”
An insidious, sultry voice yanks me back to myself. Our frighteningly attractive Colombian cocktail waitress has returned, continuing that crass yet perfectly acceptable liquid dance of superficial concern for her customers’ welfare. She leans right into our faces with a devastating smile and flagrant cleavage, so we really have no choice but to play along.
“Luna azúl, por favor,” says my brother in passable Spanish, and the waitress smiles. She’d humored my own stumblefuck attempts last round, when I’d compared her voice to Elizabeth Peña’s, but my brother can actually speak the language, so they talk a little longer. I flit in and out of their conversation, eyeing the band’s gear, before another accented hook snags me by the throat.
“Oye, pelón!” She rubs my fuzzy bald head with a laugh. “What about you, babyface?”
I blush and murmur something about another Bass. She slithers away and my brother laughs at me.
“You’re hopeless, man. I mean, you know she’s only fishing for fat tips, right?”
I shrug. “Dude, I would walk on my lips through busted glass just to get next to that.”
He rolls his eyes as the band begins tuning up. “Jesus God, she’s really put the claws in you if you’re dragging out those old boomer yuppie lyrics.”
“Hey, there are worse ways to defile oneself than the…like, mutual…um, flattery of cocktail waitresses.”
“You fool,” he sneers. “Tiger Woods will go to hell for what he did with a cocktail waitress.”
“Shut up.” My lame reply is drowned out by the band as they kick into an expert set of vintage hippie-rock, and South American sin soon takes a back seat to some of the sweetest surf-reverbed Strat tones we’ve ever heard. We sit back, drinking it in, and eventually a surprising revelation punches through my drunken psyche.
“This is, uh, really weird, bro.”
“Huh? How so?”
“I don’t…I’m not…I can totally get into their music without, like, being jealous.”
“What?” He leans in to hear me as the band delivers a country-fried take on “Wish You Were Here.”
“I..uh, well you know, back when we were gigging more, I would…like, get really jealous if I went to see other bands playing. Cause, um, we shoulda been doing it, you know? I mean, I felt like we didn’t get any respect, like we should have had better gigs, or more of them, or…”
Thought processes are derailing slowly, and my brother just shakes his head. “That’s bogus, bro. We had plenty of friends who came to see us. Hell, half the time we didn’t know what we were doing anyway.”
“I know, dude-I realized that later, after we’d stopped playing regularly. But now, I…well, I don’t care about it like that. I can listen to these guys do their thing and just, just enjoy the moment, enjoy the tunes.”
I can’t explain myself properly, but I have to make him understand. I go through another three or four tangents while the band shuffles through a bad Marley cover and some good originals. I try to, like, talk about how I’d ditched the hard-core envy binges just in time to back into the marketing business, where hypersensitive souls get chewed up and spit out every ten minutes. I try to get across the no-longer depressing revelations about nobody ever giving two shits about the real things I’d wanted to do, but had been impressed by the garbage that I’d tossed off here and there without a second thought.
It becomes a long purge of vomit about tight-assed gatekeepers in every industry-music, publishing, journalism-consumed by their meaningless self-importance, inflated like bloated puffer fish in evaporating puddles. I go on and on, oblivious to Colombian curves that periodically wrap around our table with liquid confidence in tow. I’m about to start in on politics when the band rips into a disco-infernalicious take on the Stones’ “Miss You” and my brother cuts me off.
“Dude, listen to that! The bass player’s on fire!”
That he is. All my dumb hang-ups and pet theories get rolled beneath a thick, creamy low end that nearly re-arranges my heartbeat.
“Man, that’s what I’m talking about!”
I forget about everything else and ride the groove for as long as it lasts, and get desperate to play my Fender J again. Not in the old envious way-I’m just itchy to make noise-and after that it gets way too easy to work up some drunken plotting for our own band’s reunion. We rant and rave and trade lyric ideas and flatter the waitress again and generally keep approaching middle age at arms’ length for another twenty-four hours, and it feels glorious.
It may be impermanent, it may be totally delusional, but it works right now and that’s all I need. Yeah, someone else can curdle their heart with envy. Someone else can slum with the mean girls. I’m not interested in that revenge-and-guilt trip anymore. It’s time to cook up another serious fireball and jolt everyone out of their twenty-first century stupor.