Chris was a foot soldier in the Coke Wars of ’97, but when he enlisted he was already a three-time loser. Surfing, selling, and stealing had already bested him, so by the Fall of 1996, he had long since laced up his Doc Martens, packed up his Social Distortion collection, and rolled up and over for the proverbial Tour. They were happy to have him. He had always been the most promising of their group, and when he, too, failed, it was a triumph of sorts, a tacit endorsement of their way of life, whether Chris would acknowledge it as such or not.
Battling valiantly against the post-apocalyptic backdrop of the spare living space of somebody’s mother’s house in Lotophagi, a realm beyond the reach of time, ambition, moral development, and fiscal responsibility, Chris held his own in a quest for? death? destruction? the results were hazy. Lotophagi was no kind of place. More of a sleepy stupor than a real location, Lotophagi was most notable for a group of inhabitants who had vowed, silently, unconsciously, never to leave it. And though it boasted the kind of natural beauty that one might see on a postcard, the vows were not made because of these attractions, but rather because they had become unwitting slaves to it–out of apathy, lethargy, the tendency never to move again once ensconced within its foggy confines.
Like any ragamuffin rebellion, the Coke Wars were fought with whatever improvised weapons could be procured at a reasonable price, which is to say free, or next-to-free, compliments of the kinds of shady connections you develop as part of the underbelly of a small town when you have never thought to leave it. Necessarily, video games were played, King Cobra malt liquor was drunk, and whatever illicit substances they could procure from the guys at Pizza King were ingested. Few lines were drawn. Everyone pooled their resources, but nobody turned up their noses: the appellation of “Coke Wars” was, therefore–like many historical events–constructed after-the-fact, and merely the romanticizing of a shared past by those who had lived through it and needed it to mean more than it ever could.
The plain fact was that cocaine had outclassed Lotophagi. They would never be the kind of glamorously debauched people you meet in a Bret Easton Ellis novel, or more especially the movie based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel: they were a decade late, a couple hundred thousand short, haphazardly clothed in whatever free swag they could pilfer from so-and-so’s cousin, who was sponsored by Rip Curl. It is a strange thing to class people by their ability to afford and procure illicit drugs, but then Lotophagi had seen worse. And how else could you think of them?
They were the kinds of people who were always rubbing against greatness, or whose girlfriends were rubbing up against greatness. Greatness in the form of Kelly Slater, at a house party in the Keys–who was, apparently, a “total douche”–but who never expected it for themselves. Nay, they eschewed it for themselves. The greatness to which the Lotophagi aspired instead took the form of collecting rare Morrissey discs and rockabilly memorabilia, an enviable set of drums, a stack of inside jokes and quotable movie lines. You could say they lived life one day at a time, but only in the worst sense. But before you pity them, know that they were happy, after a fashion, because from where they were sitting–on an easy chair, in an easy apartment, in a lifetime of never-having-to-do-anything, they were happy. And in that sense they had won, Coke Wars or no Coke Wars.
Chris had seemed different, even from the start, and though he participated and escalated, procured and pontificated, there was an itch deep inside him that he fought at first, buried deep inside of him underneath a pile of unfinished projects and unmet dreams. This was why, after 20 years, he had moved 300 miles north to take a stab at something new, if transient. He worked as a seasonal fisherman for somebody’s brother’s cousin; the work was hard but it paid the bills, or bought the beer. And though he was 300 miles away, he felt like he was back in Lotophagi again, except working this time, and around people he did not know, doing something he could not stand. And so he had returned, knowing that it was probably the last time, and fell quickly into the routine of sleeping through the day so as to stay awake all night.
They say war is an experience of great intensity, consisting of long bouts of boredom punctuated by short episodes of extreme fear. But when the Lotophagi were high, they ran through conversation topics and cigarettes like air, and everything had a shiny resin to it. And this held true for Chris for a very long time, during which he would do things like write song lyrics, draw up business plans, or offer to clean somebody’s mother’s stove. He was in love with the vitality of it all, maybe because he knew that every time he did it he moved that much closer to the end. Until one night, two or three hits too far into it, when Chris felt his heart beating out of his chest, sweat dripping off his brow, and the world stopped turning for a few seconds as he tried to catch his breath. And when he woke up he reached for a yellow notepad that somebody had left next to him, and on it he scribbled a note before running out the door for the very last time.
When the other Lotophagians awoke, they could not find Chris, but they did find a note that said, “Life is Elsewhere.” And though they thought it self-important and pretentious, they had no words for this in their language, and so rolled back over and went back to sleep.