Moderation


2007 Rodney Cox

Bill Peterson walked into the office on Wednesday and headed to his cubicle. His route took him by the office kitchen where he noticed a figure sitting at the table crouched over a cup of coffee looking miserable. It was Roger from Sales, hung over as usual.

“Hey, Rog, big night?”

Roger looked up, bleary eyed, popping a breath mint. “Oh hey, Bill. Yeah, it was pretty wild. There was this one hot chick. Made her night if you know what I mean.” He gave Bill a wink and a grin. At least Bill thought it was a wink and not a twitch. It was hard to be certain.

“Um... yeah,” Bill said. “Man, I don’t know how you do it. I wouldn’t be able to get up, let alone come to work after a night of partying like that.”

Roger drunk his coffee and chewed his breath mint. “Years of practice, Bill. Years of practice.”

Bill left Roger to recover and got to work. He had been having a growing sense of concern for Roger. Bill’s co-worker was coming to work hung over all the time now and a few days he was sure that Roger was still drunk from the night before.

He shook his head. Roger was the top salesperson so he must be doing something right. But still, it seemed to Bill one couldn’t keep up that kind of pace. Except for the hangovers, Roger was always full of energy, bouncy even, friendly and outgoing with a hail-fellow-well-met attitude.

Bill decided to make a study of his co-worker. During the week, he found excuses to spend extra time with Roger. For the most part Roger was very high energy, always on the go and exuberant about his job. Maybe a bit too exuberant. There were always rumors that Roger was doing cocaine, and bill found that believable, although if it was true, he was adept at hiding it. However at times Roger’s mask would fall and Bill would see a desperation there, briefly, until the mask snapped into place again.

One day, Bill witnessed something that amazed him. Roger had brought in a large bag of M&Ms and put them in a serving bowl on his desk. Bill saw him literally cram his mouth with the candies and then sit back with eyes closed, chewing quickly, glutting himself. It struck him as odd and seemed significant somehow.

It was also obvious to Bill that Roger made frequent mistakes, but was good at smoothing things over. It was incredible watching this man move through his life with such barely contained frenzy. But one thing was certain; Roger was doing too much with too little rest. The real question was why?

One night in the middle of the week, Bill had arranged to go out with his friend, Stan, for dinner. Stan’s wife and Marla would meet them there. Bill mentioned it to Roger. “Hey, thanks for the invite. I’ve got some things to take care of first, though. Maybe I’ll catch you later.”

“Ok, sure,” said Bill although he didn’t believe his co-worker would bother showing up.

Stan and Bill arrived early and got a table and ordered drinks and soon were joined by Marla and Stan’s wife, Janice. They had a nice meal and much later, while the ladies were away at the lavatory, Roger showed up. He was drunk and had two beautiful women in tow, who were also tipsy.

“Hey guys,” Roger slurred. “We were headed back to Inga and Svettlana’s hotel and I remembered you’d be here Bill. Wanna join us?” Roger leaned closer and Bill tried not to cringe from the smell of old alcohol. “I scored some ecstasy. These babes will de anything we want. I mean anything,” he said in a loud whisper and a wink. He was obviously being magnanimous towards Bill.

“Um... I appreciate the offer, Roger, but my girlfriend’s here. I don’t think she’d care for that.”

“Ah, I see,” said Roger. He turned to Stan. “Haw about you, Stan?”

Stan was taken back. “Sorry, man, my wife’s here too.”

“That’s terrible,” Roger said, looking gloomy.

“It’s okay,” Bill told him. “More for you, Rog.”

Roger brightened up. “Yeah, right! See you later guys.” And with that, he stumbled off.

Stan looked at Bill. “You really think he’s going to have sex with both of them?”

“You can count on it. Roger likes to take things to extremes. I’ve been studying him for awhile now.”

“Studying who?” asked Marla as she and Janice came back to the table.

“A co-worker,” answered Stan. “he came here with two women and wanted Bill to accompany them back to their hotel.”

Marla raised an eyebrow and looked at Bill. “Oh?”

Stan added quickly, “Bill turned them down of course. He didn’t want to upset you.” Marla smiled and patted Bill’s hand.

“Wise man.”

“Then Roger invited Stan to go instead,” Bill said with a wicked grin. “Stan, of course, said yes. I had to do a lot of fast talking to change his mind.”

Janice looked shocked. Stan slapped Bill in the arm. “I did no such thing!”

When Bill started laughing, Janice smiled. “You’re terrible, Bill. You had me going there for a minute.”

“So why are you studying this guy?” asked Marla.

“Well it seems that roger is trying to burn both ends of the candle, as it were, and I wanted to find out why. No one can keep up the pace he lives at without getting hurt.”

“And you thought you could help him?” asked Janice.

“Yeah, maybe.”

“Well what have you found out?”

“Like I said, Roger tends to take things to extremes. There’s rumors he takes drugs and from what I’ve seen, I believe it. He even admitted tonight to having ecstasy. After work, he drinks too much to bring himself down from the manic buzz he’s on all day. But then, he’s always coming to work hung over, oven in the middle of the week.”

“You’re not serious,” said Marla.

Bill nodded. “I am.”

“That’s not all. I’ve seen him gorge himself on candy.”

“So, he’s a glutton,” piped in Stan.

“But it’s more than that. He doesn’t seem to have any hobbies at all. Just this constant drive to satisfy his appetites.”

“Like I said,” Stan interjected. “He’s a glutton.”

“But Stan, Bill never mentioned why,” said Janice.

“I think that Roger must have grown up in a non religious household or by someone that was a rabid atheist. He is completely sense driven and I feel that his over indulgence is a mechanism for him to try to access something higher than himself.”

Stan didn’t think much of this idea. “So he’s taking drugs to find God?”

“In a way, yes,” Bill stated. Stan looked unconvinced.

“Ok,” said Bill. “Try to follow my reasoning here. Look at your standard religious experience. You come into contact, however brief, with something much bigger than yourself and go away feeling good, uplifted by that experience. It satisfies a certain need. But what if you are like Roger with no tools for making that contact? When he was doing something that felt good, he could briefly forget himself and at least pretend he was in contact with something bigger.”

“But that’s crazy,” said Stan.

“Not if over indulging your senses is the only way you can come up with to try to reach a higher state. It becomes a vicious trap. He over indulges to feel better, but the side effects make him feel worse, so he does more, and more. I think Roger could be very devout if he learns the proper tools to help himself.”

“You sound like an AA meeting with all this talk of higher power and addictions,” Stan said.

Bill sat back. “Maybe I do, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Roger needs better tools to access the Divine or at this rate he will kill himself.”

Stan whistled. “I guess you’ve given this a lot of thought.”

“I have. But I’m not sure how to help him.”

“Well,” said Stan with a smile. “Just stick with it. Eventually you’ll get through.”

Later that night, Bill was waken up by the phone ringing. It was Roger, sounding very bad and having trouble talking.

“Bill... I need help.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I was in a car crash.”

“Are you okay?”

“No.”

“Do you need me to call an ambulance?” Bill asked.

“No, I did that.”

“What can I do for you?”

Roger hesitated. “Would you stay on the phone until the ambulance gets here?”

“Sure thing. So... what happened?”

“I was coming back from seeing those two chicks. Next thing I know I’m waking up with my car upside down and wrapped around a tree.”

“You don’t remember the accident?”

“No. Must have blacked out. I’m pretty wasted.”

“What do you remember?” asked Bill.

“Um... let’s see... going to the hotel, having a good time with the babes, leaving and then driving for a bit.”

“What were the women’s names?”

“Hell if I know. I wasn’t interested in their names,” Roger said.

“Was there anyone else involved?”

“No, just me. And a tree.”

“You know, Roger,” said Bill, “I don’t mean to sound all preachy, but have you considered that it’s time to change your lifestyle?”

“Man, I don’t want to get into that. I don’t need some Jesus freak getting on my case while I’m lying here bleeding.”

“Hey, I’m sorry. I’m not a Jesus freak. I’m not even Christian. But I’m worried for you. I’ve seen how you live your life. How long do you think it will be before it catches up with you?”

“I can handle it,” Roger said in a tone that hinted it was an often used phrase.

“Roger, look around you. It did catch up with you and you couldn’t handle it. Next time it might not be just you who gets hurt.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” said Roger gruffly. Bill thought he sounded sincere. Maybe Roger was actually past the denial stage.

“But,” continued Roger, “I’m still not giving up everything to Jesus.”

“I’m not asking you to. But you need to find something else to do besides over indulging your senses. Something meaningful.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Find a hobby, or maybe stick with a woman more than one night. You could volunteer somewhere.”

Roger was silent for awhile, then, “Well, the ambulance is here. Gotta go.” Then he ended the call. Bill was left wondering if the ambulance had actually arrived or if his co-worker found the conversation too challenging.

With a sigh, Bill went back to bed, but it was a long time before he could sleep.

The next morning he went to work as usual and stopped by to see Stan.

“I think I had a breakthrough with Roger. Literally.”

Stan looked at him puzzled. “What?”

Bill filled in his friend about Roger’s accident and his conversation.

“Wow, you were kind of rough with him there,” said Stan.

“Not really, considering. He needed to know there are alternatives available. I think he was finally ready to hear it,” Bill replied.

“What a wake up call.”

“Yeah. You know, I don’t think Roger was raised as an atheist. I think his family was one of those super strict fundamentalist types. They must have been so strict and oppressive that Roger went the opposite way, but still, subconsciously, was still trying to make that spiritual connection.”

Stan could only nod in agreement.

“Well,” said Bill, “I’m going to let his superviser know.”

“Ok.”

Bill found that Roger’s supervisor already knew. “Yeah, Roger called me this morning. He’s at County General, but he didn’t want anyone to know but you. It was a hell of a thing you did, Bill.”

“I just talked to him.”

“Sometimes that’s enough.”

Later that day, Roger called Bill. “Hey, Bill, just wanted you to know I’m at County General. Broke some bones, had some internal bleeding. Nothing too bad. I’ll be here for a little while.”

“Hey, would you like me to stop by?”

“Well if it’s no big inconvenience.” Roger tried to sound mater of fact about it, but Bill could tell that he wanted the company.

Bill called Marla and asked if it would be okay to stop by the hospital before going out for dinner.

“Of course. I have to admit to being curious to seeing what Roger is like,” Marla told him.

“Great, I’ll see you after work.”

Bill drove Marla and Tanya to the hospital and they quickly found Roger’s room. He had been moved out of ICU not long before they arrived. Roger looked haggard and depressed, but put on a cheerful face when Bill came in.

“Hey, Bill! Good to see you.” There was obvious relief in his voice, like he hadn’t expected Bill to make it. Then he spotted Marla and turned on the Charm. “I’m not dying, no need to bring an angel to see me.” Bill was sure the effect would have been better if Roger hadn’t been so bruised and battered.

There was a bit of small talk, then Marla excused herself and took Tanya to get a drink in the hospital’s cafeteria. She kissed Bill in parting and whispered, “I think he wants to talk about something serious.”

“Wow. She’s quite the looker,” Roger said when they had left. “I didn’t think you had it in you.”

Bill nodded. “Neither did I, but we have a lot in common. So how’re you doing?”

“Well,” Roger began, looking down, “I’ve been thinking about what you said last night. About changing my lifestyle. I think you might be right. The doctors said I almost died.”

“I’ll help you if I can,” said Bill.

“That’s good of you. But why? I mean...”

“What’s in it for me?” asked Bill.

“Well, yeah. You said you weren’t religious, so that’s not it.”

Bill smiled. “I said I wasn’t Christian, not that I wasn’t religious.”

“Oh, so you’re like Jewish or Muslim then?”

“Not quite,” Bill said. “I’m Pagan.” Then added after seeing Roger’s blank stare. “I follow the old Gods that were worshipped in Europe before Christianity.”

“I don’t know,” Roger admitted. “Sounds kind of made up to me.”

“Well some of it is because a lot was lost over the years. But enough is known to be serous about it. But I’m not here to push my religion on you. I’m guessing you had enough of that growing up.”

“Yeah I did. I don’t talk about it, but my family was one of those scary religious people. My old man would get drunk a lot and then beat the demons out of me.”

“That must have been awful,” Bill said.

Roger nodded. “You have no idea. I couldn’t have any fun and everything I did was a sin. I left as soon as I could.”

Without thinking Bill said, “I can see how that would influence how you live now.”

“What do you mean?” Roger asked. Suddenly defensive.

Bill sighed and sat down in the chair by the bed. “Ok, here’s how I see it. You grew up in a very religious family, twisted though it was. You got used to having religion and the idea of a higher power permeate every aspect of your life. But your father was so bad that you left and rebelled. I’m guessing by how you treat women that your mom was passive and went along with whatever your father did and was probably beaten herself.?”

“Yeah that’s right. How did you...”

Bill held up his hand not to be interrupted. “So you rebelled against Christianity and religion in general, but you still had the desire to reach some sort of higher power, because that was what you learned as a child, an inherent yearning for the Divine or to be accepted. But you found yourself without the proper tools to reach that Divine. You had rejected religion which is designed to give you methods to access the Divine. So you turned to things that made you feel good: booze, drugs, sex, whatever you could find. Because in those moments you could feel truly connected to something much bigger than yourself.

“And instead of a small constant daily dosage of connectedness that religion can provide, you binged in the only way you knew how, by over indulging your physical senses. But we aren’t designed for that kind of extremes.”

Roger had a look of shock on his face. “You ok, Roger?” Bill asked.

“Yeah. I never thought of it like that. My God, you’re right. So what do I do?”

“You need to find better ways to get connected to the Divine.”

“There’s no way I’m ready to go to church,” Roger declared.

“Start small. Get a hobby. Maybe go out with a woman for more than a couple hours. Stop taking drugs. The feeling they give isn’t genuine and will only hurt you in the end.”

Roger was quiet for awhile. “Well, I used to draw a lot as a kid. Maybe I could try that again.”

“It’s a star,” Bill told him.

The next day, Bill brought roger a sketch pad and some pencils and visited while he was mending. Roger turned out to be fairly talented.

“You know,” said Roger one day, “I had a teacher that would say that learning to draw is really learning to see. I never understood that until now. We go through life on auto pilot, not paying attention to what things really look like.”

Bill was satisfied when Roger kept up the art after he got out of the hospital and got back to work. It was noticed that Roger stopped coming to work hung over. He was much calmer as he worked through the day.

A month or so later, Roger came up to Bill. “I just wanted to say thanks for all you’ve done for me, Bill. If you hadn’t stuck your nose in my business, I’d probably be dead by now.”

Bill smiled. “Hey, that’s what friends are for.”

“Oh, and I appreciate you introducing me to your artist friend at that gallery showing. He helped me get a piece in a gallery across town. I didn’t know you knew any famous people.”

“Well, just the one. I noticed you didn’t drink much at the party.”

“I know. Who’d have thought. Truth is too much alcohol affects the artwork. And not in a good way. Priorities.”

“I understand,” said Bill. “You still seeing that woman you were with at the party?”

“Beth? Yeah. It’s hard to believe we’ve been together almost a month. That’s the longest I’ve ever dated any one.”

“And you met at a museum?”

“I know,” said Roger. “Go figure. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you.” And with that Roger walked away, whistling a tune, leaving Bill with a smile on his face.

 

 

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