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"Barry the Millennial" by Daniel Groves

Have you ever awoken in the morning filled with a sense of dread? That today the world might end and you wouldn’t mind because then you wouldn’t have to work late alongside that asshole Michael only to come home afterward and have to finish that six-page paper that’s due tomorrow? That there isn’t really a point to anything because things outside your control have forced you to follow a life path or make certain decisions that you maybe wouldn’t have made under a different set of circumstances? If so, then you understand Barry.

Barry opens his eyes every morning and a wave of thought cuts through the sleep. My goodness, he hasn’t even sat up yet and the day is already a wash at best. The morning ritual – the shower, the pitiful breakfast (you know it’s the most important meal of the day, right?), the rummaging through the clean clothes pile and trying to decide if they actually should’ve been put in the dirty clothes pile, the dressing, the gathering of the things, and the leaving – all happens shrouded by life’s gloomy black cloud. The past was bad and the outlook is worse, and people like Barry are going to be left holding the biggest bag of human excrement ever assembled in the history of the world. Poor Barry.

Barry finally finds the strength to sit up after pushing off the weight of the world. He walks into the bathroom and scratches his ass and stretches and yawns and is a little bit sad. See, that sadness is what makes Barry human.

He looks into the bathroom mirror and sees himself. It’s hard to believe that a spritely, young, and motivated kid used to look back from the mirror. Now, it’s just Barry. Barry: a man for the people. Barry: just like the people. Barry: stepped on and kept down by the people. And it’s not just Barry that appears in the mirror. There are the bottles of shampoo and body wash, shower and toilet, towel rack with the wet towel, and that terrible picture that looks like it was stolen straight out of a Hilton or Marriott (it was).

He sees the bottles. Why did he choose those bottles? Well, the junk mail came and, even though he knew it was junk mail, he looked through it. Barry discovered the advertisements for that big grocery store downtown – the one running everyone else out of the game – and added “shampoo and body wash” to his grocery list. He could’ve bought any brand of shampoo or body wash, but those were the ones on special, so he bought them.

“But why those ones?” Barry thinks.

He could’ve gone to any store. He didn’t have to go to the big store solely because of the special, thus supporting the trampling of local business, but he did. He could’ve gone to the small grocery store which is actually closer to his apartment (though it won’t be much longer; no profits) and saved the money not on buying a cheaper bottle of soap but on the gas burned by his car. He could’ve spent one dollar less on gas and one dollar more on soap. That would’ve been greener and supported the small grocery store. Instead, he spent more on gas and less on soap.

Problem is: Barry is normal. Barry goes to work and comes home and likes to save money and watches sports and gets drinks with his friends on occasion. Of course Barry is going to spend more on gas and less on soap!

“But what about the fish?” Barry asks himself.

See, Barry knows that when the bottles of shampoo and body wash are empty, he will throw them away and his robot brain will make him spend more on gas and less on soap again. No matter the color of the bin in which those empty bottles are thrown, they all end up in the blue. Some garbage collector comes by – they are normal, too – and chucks everything together in the big stinky garbage truck. The path that garbage takes is a mystery except that it starts in Barry’s bathroom – actually, it probably starts at the store, or maybe ever earlier, it’s hard to tell – and ends up in the ocean. Then people like Barry get to see ads on Hulu of fish who swallowed a plastic bottle one day and never recovered. Barry sees the ad and calls to give money to the cause despite having hardly any money left after his excursion of spending more on gas and less on soap. There is always a fish that eats a bottle cap and Michael, who brought the two together, is too busy counting his Franklins to notice. Meanwhile, Barry is left concerned about the fish as he looks in the mirror each morning.

“It’s so exhausting,” Barry considers.

And it’s imperative when Barry goes to work that he smells nice and doesn’t take bathroom breaks, so his toilet and shower perform their functions each morning. Flush. Wash. Rinse. Water and soap = down the drain. Back to the sewer or treatment plant or wherever the flow is directed; nobody really knows. Every day water runs through the house and Barry makes use of it because he has to, otherwise Michael will certainly have something to say about it; Michael has always been a stickler for the rules despite breaking them himself when necessary. Yes, Michael would definitely say something if Barry conserved a little water every now and then. The soap must flow and the water must run and the fish must die so that Barry is acceptable to Michael.

It’s the gym where it’s the worst. The gym is where Barry goes after work because Michael needs longevity from him. Barry spends time moving heavy objects against his will and theirs so Michael doesn’t have to hire someone new at any point in the next thirty years. Then, once the heavy objects have been reorganized, an exhausted Barry goes into the locker room to spill more soap, use more water, and make sure there isn’t enough for the fish. Use, use, use, take, take, take, me, me, me; Michael demands it.

“But for so little money?” Barry ponders.

The towel rack is falling off the wall. It’s a geriatric towel rack, and its primary function (you guessed it; holding up towels) is becoming too much to handle. The towel itself is plush, soft, soaks up the water very well. It’s a tag-team effort to ensure the towel’s dryness when the water runs and soap spills again; Barry hangs up the towel and the towel rack holds it. How big is the operation? Do they hire mostly young people or old people or men of women? The long, tiring hours worked by the workers in the towel factory ensure that the demand for dead fish is always booming. They are paid so little it’s insulting. Michael’s insistence alone should result in higher pay. Days and nights and all around the clock; the showers and toilets and towel factories never stop. The big grocery store and Michael say thank you. Barry and the small grocery store and the fish and the workers at the towel factory are sad.

“Dance for me,” Barry thinks, shaking his head.

And the soap-stained fog which fills the bathroom coalesces on the canvas of the terrible picture. A reproduction. The reproduction factory and the towel factory are on the same schedule and everyone is exhausted except Michael. Barry reaches out and runs his thumb along the canvas and thinks if he presses too hard, the paint (which isn’t even paint) will come off. Then he would have to send the picture off with the next batch of empty shampoo bottles and the fish will not appreciate it.

The artists manage to keep busy but never see the profits. They are chained in place. They have one creation good enough to end up above a urinal before it makes its way to a hotel where it’s stolen by Barry who can’t afford the real thing because he is normal. The artists paint the pictures, yes, but they also do so much more. They dance and write and sing and produce and direct and film and sculpt. And Michael feels entitled to tell them “go,” to kick them off, to set them free. Dance, dance, jump, spin. Ha ha. Tell me a joke. Back to the kitchen.

But Barry can’t; he has work in the morning. The cycle must continue and Barry is the linchpin. What does Michael do? Barry is the one who does. Do, do, do; that’s all Barry. Barry is the one who spends more on gas and less on soap. Barry is the one who spills the water, kills the fish. Barry is the one exhausted at the gym. Barry is the one who steals the art.

“But why?” Barry asks himself.

Michael is the asshole who demands. He demands more is spent on gas and less is spent on soap. He demands the water be spilled, the fish be killed. He demands the exhaustion of the gym. He demands the art is stolen.

And then Barry thinks: “Why not just get rid of Michael?”

Barry flips off the light and walks out of the bathroom. He gets dressed and goes to work.


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