Brian Tibbets watched from the sidewalk as the t.v. in the store window ran a chocolate bar commercial which showed a modernized American Indian smiling on the back of his modernized American horse. He was smiling because he was enjoying the taste of America's greatest chocolate bar. Brian smiled too, glad that at least the Indian had gotten something. Turning he walked slowly back out of the shade of the store and into the sidewalk's brightness. As he thought of the meeting that lay ahead with Father Nyessi, his pace increased. His stomach was still tightening when he looked up and saw a Hare Krishna handing out leaflets on the corner. He longed for days before he had entered the seminary and he was not such an easy target. Wearing a collar is like having a magnet around your neck that attracts all the world's misfits, he thought. In reality, it seemed that he had attracted people with problems all of his life, and not merely as a result of his having entered the seminary. Brian deftly sidestepped the outstretched hand which held the pamphlet. He had gotten used to such things, and he quickly put them out of his mind. There were more important matters to deal with today.

Hurrying up the steps of the Church of Our Blessed Savior in Parson Connecticut, Brian pulled the huge red wooden door open. Inside the vestibule it was dark and cool. He paused for a moment, letting his eyes adjust before opening the double doors to the church itself. Brian pulled on the door, and stopped. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. There before him were the walls of the church, brown and damp as though some one had spray painted mud on them. The musty earthen smell filled his stomach as he gazed over the neat, smooth layer of loam which filled the entire church. It was four or five feet deep and perfectly level. Brian marveled at its deep brown smoothness. He tried to step forward into the loam, but his legs would not move. It was as if the earth had totally surrounded his lower body. Panic suddenly spread over him, and he turned and ran out of the church. Brian stood with his back against the closed door, his chest heaving in the sun's whiteness. He tried to draw in deep breaths, but the air was thick with humidity. His legs were heavy and tired as he sat on the steps, still breathing heavily. I can't believe this is happening again, he thought. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Prayers would not come to him, and his mind turned to thoughts of his childhood and of his days on the basketball team.

Brian was somewhere in the middle of a playoff game tossing in a twenty foot fallaway when he suddenly became aware of the feel of smooth black patent leather sticking into his ribs.

"Brian.....Brian. Wake up. Brian. What're you doing out here? You were supposed to be in my office an hour ago," said Father Nyessi as he drew his foot back from Brian's side.

"I'm sorry Father, I was...."

"You'd still be sitting out here if I hadn't come out for a cigarette. Why haven't you come inside?"

"I was going to. I just.....Well, I did come inside but....." Brian's voice trailed off.

"Not again, Brian! I thought we'd been through all of this before. I don't understand why you keep insisting on all of this."

Brian sat on the stairs in silence. There was nothing left for him to say. It was true. They had been through it all before. Brian stood up slowly, letting the blood come up to his head. He followed Father Nyessi through the door with his eyes half open. Brian drew in a deep breath. He did not want to look, but, as he slowly opened his eyes, he saw that the inside of the church was normal. Its cream colored walls glowed in the pale sunlight which streamed down through the stained glass windows in long, slanting rays full of tiny flecks of dust drifting gently down upon the pews.

Father Nyessi's office was clean and neat and sparsely furnished. It almost felt like the waiting room of an old doctor's office. Brian sat down on the small wooden chair directly in front of the huge black desk.

"Now Brian, I've asked you here because I'm worried about you," Father Nyessi began as he sat down behind the desk in the black leather chair that was his favorite. "And, judging by what I just saw on the steps, I can see that my fears have been realized. Now we both know what you're capable of, and that the church is behind you in this; but it's just that you always seem to make things harder on yourself than necessary and we all pay the price for it. I've been a priest for more than twenty years now, and I can honestly say that I've never really talked to God. Oh sure, I pray to Him the best I can, but He's never responded directly to me and I can't really say that I expect Him to. After all, who am I that God would choose me to have conversations with? And I've been in this business for over twenty years. Do you honestly think that God has chosen you, a second year student in the seminary? I'm not trying to belittle you, Brian; you have a tremendous amount of potential, but you have to put aside these notions of direct conversation with God and all the rest of this visionary baggage you insist on carrying around with you. Visionaries and mystics have had their place in the church, but that was a long, long time ago and those cases were few and far between. Your zeal is admirable, Brian, but you must learn to control it."

Brian sat staring uncomfortably up at Father Nyessi. There was nothing to say.

"Now Brian, I've made arrangements for you to see Father Landers. He's one of the best psychologists in the business. No one has to know about this except you and me, but I think it's best for you to work it out with a professional before it gets out of hand. I'm sure that Father Landers will help you put things in their proper perspective. His work is based on physical activity as a form of therapy, and he seems to think it will be quite helpful in your case. So, I'm turning you over to him for awhile. Until that time, you'll be relieved of all your duties. A leave of absence we might say."

Brian still could not find words to speak. He had known that something was coming, but he had never expected something like this.

"Don't look so down, Brian. No one's accusing you of anything, we're just trying to do what's best for you. You'll see. In no time at all you'll be back with us and we'll have forgotten that the whole thing ever happened," he said as he rose slowly out of his chair. "Father Landers will be expecting you tomorrow at eleven. I've written down the directions to his office," he said, handing Brian a small piece of paper.

"Thank you, Father," Brian managed to mumble.

"No problem, Brian. As I've told you many times, we're always here to help. Now I'll be in touch with Father Landers, but I'd still like you to call me next Wednesday just to see how things are going."

"Okay," Brian said, turning towards the door. He hurried back through the church with his eyes half closed, and ran off to take the subway home.

Brian's apartment was small, but he kept it in order, which made it appear larger than it really was. He sat down next to the kitchen table and tried to figure out what to do next. There was no point in studying. He was through with all of that for awhile. Maybe forever. No, I'll be back in the swing of things soon, he thought. I just have to get through this thing with the psychologist.

Brian flicked on the small black and white television which say on the countertop. He hadn't been following the soap operas, because the school work had been heavy. He sat for a moment, trying to make himself care about Monica's upcoming divorce and marriage to follow, but somehow, no matter how important these events were to Monica and to millions of housewives around the country, they meant nothing to him. Brian turned down the volume so that it was just barely audible, and stretched out on his bed next to the window. He thought about taking his shoes off, but suddenly he found himself too tired to make the effort.

Brian woke to the familiar sound of the World News at seven. For a moment, he didn't realize that he had fallen asleep with the volume down, and as he sat up quickly he tried to shake his confusion. All of the air was gone from his lungs as he turned and saw the figure at the kitchen table. Oh God, please, not again, he pleaded.

"What's up?" the figure said happily.

"How'd you get in here? You scared the hell out of me." said Brian, angry, but at the same time, relieved, when he realized it was his next door neighbor Jim Lyman and not another one of his visions.

"You left the door open, and since you looked like the baby Jesus himself over there in your little manger, I just couldn't bring myself to wake you."

"Well, next time try knocking," Brian said halfheartedly. As usual, he found it hard to stay mad at Jim. They had grown up together, and, when it came down to it, Jim was the closest thing he would ever have to a brother. They had graduated from high school together, but Jim had gone to work in the shoe factory, while Brian spent two years in college before joining the seminary.

"So, how's it going? Did you pray for me today?"

"No. I didn't do much of anything today, except listen to another speech by Father Nyessi."

"Not again. What'd he tell you this time, that the quickest way to get to heaven was to shine those perfect patent leathers of his?"

"No. He just gave me the usual, only with a little twist."

"Oh yeah? What was that?"

"He made an appointment for me to see a shrink tomorrow."

"Oh no. You're not going to go, are you?" "I have to. I don't have any choice."

"Why not? This is America! It's a free country, and that means you can do as you please, as long as you don't get caught."

"Well, I still have to, regardless of how free we are."

"I can't believe it, Brian. I just can't believe you're still taking all that from them."

"What am I supposed to do? What makes you so different? You take it down at the shoe factory, and you hate it there. You tell me that every day, but you still go back and take it. So, I guess you should understand how it is for me."

"What I do is different, and just because I haven't quit yet, doesn't mean I'm a lifer there. Don't worry about me, Brian. I'll be out of there sooner than you think."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. Just don't get too used to the idea of me working there."

"Have you got anything else lined up?"

"No. Nothing definite," Jim said as he stood up and opened the refrigerator door. "Beer?"

"Well, I probably shouldn't, being depressed and all, but since I don't have to worry about school anymore, I guess it really doesn't matter."

"Nothing matters," he said, handing the beer to Brian.

By eleven o'clock, all of the beer in the refrigerator was gone. Neither of them was really that drunk, but Brian was still tired, and the thought of tomorrow's meeting with Father Landers prowled around and around on the edge of his mind.

"Well, I think I'm going to call it a night. I'm getting pretty tired, and I've got that meeting in the morning."

"Yeah, I should be going too. I've got work in the morning. Listen Brian, don't take any abuse from this know-it-all doctor. I mean, if you have to go, you might as well try and make it as enjoyable as you can."

"Oh sure. It should be a real picnic."

"Well, I'll see you tomorrow night and you can give me the full rundown on it."

"Yeah sure, Jim. Take it easy."

Thursday morning was as hot and humid as Wednesday morning had been. Brian tried to decide if it would be okay to wear shorts to see Father Landers. It really doesn't matter, he thought, but I don't want him to think I'm enjoying my so-called vacation. Besides, it might get back to Father Nyessi. Outside, the air was thick and almost unbreathable. Brian walked slowly down the sidewalk next to the storefronts, hoping that even the smallest amount of shade would somehow make the heat more bearable.

Brian was relieved to find Father Landers' office air-conditioned. Maybe this won't be so bad after all, he thought.

"Hi, I have an appointment at eleven with Father Landers," Brian told the secretary.

"He's expecting you, just go right on in."

"Thanks," Brian said as he made his way through the clean white door and into Father Landers' office. Inside, it was even cooler than it had been in the waiting room. The office seemed dark, but it was mostly due to the deep green hues given off by the plants which were spread throughout the room. Father Landers' desk was dwarfed by the overstuffed reclining chair which sat beside it. Brian was about to assume that this was where he was to sit, when Father Landers appeared in the doorway behind him. He was a small man, with a neat grey crewcut and black horn-rimmed glasses.

"Hello, Brian. I'm Father Landers, but you can just call me Paul. It's nice to meet you," he said, extending his hand. Brian shook it lightly, and was about to sit in the overstuffed chair, when Father Landers held out his right arm to block him. "That's my chair, son. I don't make too many demands in life, but I just have to sit in my favorite chair. That's what happens when you get to be my age, you get very possessive about things. Now why don't you just have a seat here on the couch?" he said, sweeping his arm toward the coarse plaid couch in the corner. Oh no, not the couch, Brian thought. Anything but the couch. As Brian sat down, he was glad he had chosen not to wear his shorts because of the coarseness of the couch's fabric.

"Now then son, why don't you tell me a bit about yourself," Father Landers said sitting back in his old chair. Brian sat on the edge of the couch with his knees together and listened to the silence as it grew more and more uncomfortable.

"Now son, unless you tell me what's been going on, we won't be able to help you. Now what seems to be the problem?"

"If I knew what my problem was, I wouldn't need you, would I?"

"Well, maybe not," Father Landers said laughing. "So how've things been going at school lately?"

"Okay I guess."

"Nothing out of the ordinary?" "That depends on what you mean by ordinary."

"Well, Father Nyessi tells me you've been talking to God lately. Is that true?"

"If it wasn't, I wouldn't be here."

"Well then Brian, if you've been talking to God, how do you know it's God; I mean, what does he sound like, and what does he say?"

"It all depends on the kind of mood he's in."

"I see. Have you ever seen him?"

"Not really."

"Then how do you really know it's him?"

"I believe what he tells me."

"I see. Well then, what about these visions Father Nyessi tells me you seem to be having."

"I don't seem to be having them, I am having them."

"I see. What are your visions about?"

"Everything and anything."

"How old are you Brian?"


"And where did you go to school before you entered the seminary?"

"University of New Hampshire."

"I see. And did you have any of these visions then?"

"Not really."

"Does anyone else know about these visions?" "A few people."

"Like who: friends, family?"

"Well, just a few people. I'd really rather not say."

"That's fine. Who do you consider to be your best friend?"

"You mean on Earth?"

"Well, I guess wherever you want," Father Landers said laughing.

"Well, I guess it's my next door neighbor, Jim Lyman, I mean, I've known him longer than anyone."

"Do you spend a lot of time with him?"

"Sort of."

"And what does he do with himself?"

"He works at Parsons Sole and Plastics."

"Have you ever been involved in any type of sport, Brian?"

"I played basketball in high school."

"What about recently? Have you done any playing recently?"

"Ahh....." Father Landers' face lit up with excitement. "What kind of bike do you have?"

"Just an old ten-speed."

"Well, I'm not so sure I hid my feelings well, and as you may have noticed by my enthusiasm, my passion in life is bikes and bike riding. I've been across the country eighteen times, and toured Europe twice. If I had my way I'd be on the bike all the time, but, just like everyone else, I've got my job to do, so, I have to settle for my daily rides. Most of the time I can sneak in two. Usually twenty five in the morning and thirty or forty in the evening, depending on the weather. If it's bad in the winter, I ride inside on the rollers for a few hours. As Father Nyessi may have told you, I'm somewhat of a fanatic about it, but it's all in good fun.

Now, what I usually do every four months or so is take a group on a riding tour of a particular part of the country, say from here to Florida. Once in awhile, when we've got the time, we'll go all the way across from Connecticut to California. We usually go in groups of six or eight, depending on who's available. Everyone pitches in, and the whole thing becomes sort of a retreat on wheels, which, in my opinion, is unique because it stresses the body as well as the mind and the soul. I've had some remarkable results with it, but regardless of the past, I can guarantee you one thing, it'll be an experience you'll never forget for the rest of your life. Now as Father Nyessi told you, you've been relieved of your responsibilities for awhile, so you'll be free to come on this next trip we're planning. As it stands, we'll have nine people, including yourself, and if you'd like, you can bring a friend. After all this is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Besides, I'm sure that if you do decide to bring someone, that they'll get a lot out of it too. As long as they're Catholic," he said laughing. "Any questions?"

"Well, um, I really don't have the money to just go riding around the country on a bike."

"Don't worry about money. The church picks up the tab for the whole thing. We even supply the bikes. I've got about ten or fifteen in the basement that I work on almost constantly. They're in tip top condition, even if I do say so myself."

Brian tried to think of more objections, but there were none. Father Nyessi had given Father Landers too much information, and, since they were obviously in close contact, they had effectively trapped him. His anger grew, but as it did, he realized that it wasn't focused on anyone or anything in particular, it was just a frustrated and helpless feeling that grew up in his stomach.

"Well now, let's see," Father Landers said as he stood up out of his favorite chair and walked over to the desk. "We'll leave a week from Monday. That should give everyone enough time to get ready. As I remember, Dr. Chun has a convention the first week in October, and, since he was one of the first ones to sign up for this trip, we'll have to limit ourselves to a three week period. That should give us enough time to get to Florida and back, but if we run into problems, I'm sure we'll be able to fly anyone back who has difficulty with the time period involved. Well, I guess that about settles it. Any more questions?"

"Well, ah, I guess not." I mean, how can there be, Brian thought to himself. I never got to ask one in the first place.

"Fine. I'll leave it up to you to let Father Nyessi know what's going on, so, until Monday," he said, extending his hand. Brian shook it and turned for the door.

"Oh, and Brian, let me know if you do want to bring a friend. That way I'll be able to make the arrangements. If you have any questions about anything, just give my secretary a call."

"Sure thing," Brian mumbled to himself as he opened the door. Head down, he blew out a long, tight breath as he walked quickly past the secretary's desk. She looked up and smiled, but Brian only half noticed her. He didn't notice anything as he walked to the subway in the hot summer sun.

Brian lay naked on his back on top of his small single bed and tried not to think. His clothes were piled at the foot of the bed in a damp and darkened lump, soaked with sweat from the subway ride. the window was open, but there was no breeze, only the steady hum of the city below. Brian lay still, trying not to sweat, and trying not to let his mind wander over thoughts of the future. There's nothing to think about, he thought. It's all been decided.

Brian woke to the sound of a hard knocking on the door. He thought he'd been asleep only a few minutes, but a glance at the clock radio told him it was six-thirty. I can't believe how tired I've been, he thought. They're probably right, it's.....

"Hey, open up," the voice said, knocking harder.

"All right, I'm coming, " Brian said, grabbing a towel from the back of the chair at the kitchen table. he unlocked the door and opened it slowly. Jim Lyman stood smiling, Budweiser can in one hand, newspaper in the other.

"Oh, it's you." Brian said, closing his eyes and inhaling sharply.

"Don't sound so enthusiastic," Jim said as he walked in and sat down at the kitchen table. He turned the t.v. on and opened the newspaper in front of him on the table.

"Make yourself at home," Brian said flatly.

"What's your problem? God tell you to kiss off?"

"No. He told me you were coming over again."

"Told you it would be like another Feast of All Saints day, huh?"

"Hardly. More like a sinner's dinner."

"Cute. Real cute. So, what's your problem today?"

"Nothing," Brian said as he turned on the faucet. The water was cold and hard on his face.

"Nothing my ass." Jim laughed. "And speaking of which, pull that towel up, your ass is falling out."

Brian laughed as he tightened the towel around his waist. "I suppose it is about time I got dressed."

"How long've you been sleeping?"

"All afternoon I guess. Seemed like it took forever to fall asleep, but once I did, I guess it was for good." "Well, some of us have been out working all day. There is a real world out there, you know."

"I know, I belong to it too."

"That's debatable. I've been working for almost eight years now and I've never seen you out there."

"C'mon, I've had a few jobs myself. We worked at U.P.S. together, didn't we? Or don't you remember back that far?"

"I remember it. But that was a long time ago. For the past few years you've either been in college or at the seminary, neither of which exactly makes you a blue collar worker. I mean, the only collar in your future seems to be white, doesn't it?"

"You never can tell."

"Oh no, not another one of those dark nights of the soul again."

"No, nothing like that."

"Then what? Another dark night of the soul train? What is it?"

"Well, I had a meeting with this Father Landers guy today. You know, the doctor."

"You mean the shrink? Oh God, I can just imagine what he threw at you. That's all you need. Someone else to put ideas in your head."

"I've got enough ideas in there already, thank you."

"I know that, but what'd he say? I mean, what's the diagnosis?" "Well, we really didn't talk all that much, I mean, we haven't had a chance yet to really get into....."

"Wait a minute, you mean, you've got to go back there again?"

"Well, not exactly, I mean, it's not really...."

"All they want out of you is more money. If they knew anything, they'd at least be able to make a guess at something for you. But they must've told you something, I mean, they at least had to give you a reason to come back."

"I told you, I'm not going back. It's not like that. It's more like a kind of traveling therapy."

"A what?"

"A traveling therapy. We're taking a bike tour."

"A bike tour? To where, a psychiatric ward?"

"To Florida. It starts Monday."

"Monday? That's only four days away. It was nice of them to give you some time to think about it."

"There's nothing to think about. I mean, I really don't have any choice. Father Nyessi pulled me out of school and put me in Father Landers' hands, and he insists on this bike tour thing as therapy. Says it's good for the mind to work things out with the body."

"If his mind is so good, then how come he has to keep going on these tours? I mean, they can't be too effective, can they?"

"I don't know. All I know is that I'm out of options and that I'm leaving Monday."

"I can't believe you're going to go along with all this. I mean, letting them bounce you out of school and then going to their head doctor; I mean, that's all bad enough, but this is going too far. Do you even know what you're getting into? Florida's not just around the corner, you know. Your bike won't even make it out of the state, never mind all the way to Florida. And what about money? You're not the richest guy in the world, and yet now you're going to go running off to Florida for some fun in the sun? Talk about crazy, this guy's crazier than you are, although the fact that you've agreed to go along with him makes me wonder which one of you is number one on the list."

"Well, I don't know the answer to that either, but I do know that he's got things all taken care of. The bikes are provided and so is the money. All I've got to do is pedal." "That sounds easier than it is. You know how far it is to Florida? Well, I'll tell you, it's about a thousand miles. You know how long it takes to ride a thousand miles on a bike? Well, I'll tell you, it takes about seventy hours? That's straight riding, no stops, straight riding. What's the longest you've ever been on a bike for?"

"About an hour, but that doesn't matter. No one else in the group has any experience either, so we'll all be in the same boat."

"Yeah, the Titanic."

"Listen Jim, I'm not all that enthusiastic about it either, but there's no way out and that's all there is to it."

"It's your life," Jim said as he separated the sections of the paper. "Ah, here we go," he said, spreading the paper out on the table.

"Oh no, not this again."

"That's right, the Want Ads. Every day's a new day, right?"

"Yeah sure, but you've been having new days for years now, and you've never found a job in those ads."

"Well, that doesn't mean it's impossible."

"I guess not."

"Take this job right here for example. Security guard. Pay starts at five bucks an hour and I bet you don't do a damn thing."


"So, I'm going over there to apply tomorrow. No more factory for me. From now on, it'll be reading the paper and getting paid for it."

Brian and Jim sat up late that night, talking and drinking beer. Jim was optimistic about the prospect of a new job, and his optimism spread to Brian as they drank on. Maybe the trip won't be that bad, he thought. As always when they drank, Brian and Jim felt closer to one another. They had more in common, and argued less. At one thirty, Brian asked Jim to go with him on the bike trip. Jim refused. They quickly changed the subject, and tried not to talk of what their last days together would bring.

Brian tried to keep himself busy Friday, doing little things, and tidying up around the apartment. He tried to think of what he would need on the trip, and even considered calling Father Landers' secretary to ask, but he decided against it because he didn't want to appear ignorant or immature. When Jim came home from the factory that night, Brian could tell something was wrong.

"You didn't get the job, did you?"


"Well, there's always tomorrow."

"Bullshit. Face it, Brian, there are no tomorrows in this place. You're right. I've been in this factory for years now, and nothing's changed. I'm just like all the rest of the lifers in that place. Another product of Parsons Sole and Plastics."

"Then get out of there. Find another job, do something else."

"What the hell d'ya think I've been doing for the past five years? What d'ya think I did today? You think it's fun getting slapped in the face? There aren't any jobs in this town. Everywhere you go they want to see a college degree, and since I didn't go through it by the numbers, I don't have one of those, so I'm up the creek. I'm just like all the other losers in Parson if I stay here."

"Well then, what're you going to do?"

"I don't know, but something has to change, that's for sure."

"So what's going to change?"

"I don't know, but something's going to," Jim said as he walked to the refrigerator and got himself a beer. He handed one to Brian, and raised his own in a toast. "So, here's to the future."

"Yeah," Brian said softly as he held his can toward Jim. "The future."

"And to your last weekend for awhile in this God forsaken place. What d'you want to do? I mean, we should do something momentous to celebrate. Give you something to think about on your bike ride. So, what'll it be? Garney's for drinks? Strippers at Julia's?"

"I'm not really in the mood, Jim. I'd rather just sit around and have a few beers."

"That's all you ever do. C'mon, this is your last chance to be free. On Monday, it's gonna be their ballgame."

"Yeah, I guess so. I don't care, let's just go someplace that's not too dirty where we can drink in peace."

There were one hundred and twenty six bar rooms in Parson, Connecticut. Brian and Jim tried to spend some time in each and every one of them that weekend. If they had had more time, they might have made it, but one o'clock Monday morning came too soon. Brian had a rule about never drinking more than two days in a row, but he had decided to bend that rule just a bit, since this was a special occasion. He wasn't sure when he would see Jim again, if ever. Jim had taken off for the west coast a few times in the past, but he had never stayed for more than a few months, and somehow, he always managed to get his job back at the factory when he returned. This time, it would be different. Brian could tell. Jim had been depressed about the factory before, but not like this. If there was one thing that Brian had learned about Jim over the years it was that unlike most people, he would do almost everything he talked about doing. A few years ago, after an argument with a girl he had been dating, Jim walked the seventeen miles from Jonston to Parson, just because he said he would do it. He could just as easily have driven home and made the girl walk, but since he had said he would walk home, he did. Brian was used to taking him at his word, and, now that he had said he was going to make a change in his life, Brian was confident that he would. He hoped that somehow this change would include participation in Father Landers' bike trip, but Jim would not relent. Brian persisted, growing more and more enthusiastic as they got drunker and drunker, but Jim's pessimism about the trip remained unchanged. At three thirty five that Monday morning in Brian's apartment, the said goodbye. Jim had to be at work in four hours, but he insisted that he wasn't going. He rambled on and on about it being the last morning he would spend in Parson. Ever.

"You can have this place and everyone in it. They're all the same. Just a bunch of robots punching in and out in a useless attempt to make someone's minimum acceptable requirement standards. Remember that, Brian? From U.P.S.? The M.A.R.S.? Minimum acceptable requirement standards. That's all anyone ever cared about. The MARS. That's the way it is at the factory. Every one's trying to keep up with the standards, and not giving a shit about what they're really doing. You know, the whole world is really just one big factory. Think about it. No matter what job you do, after a while, it gets boring. You do the same thing over and over and over and the routine gets to you. Think about it. It's all the same, whether you're an X-ray technician or one of the ladies who sorts heels at Parsons Sole and Plastics. How long do you think it takes before the thrill of telling

someone to hold their breath while you take an X-ray wears off? Well I'll tell you, not long. In about an hour and a half, it's all the same. You don't care whose insides you're looking at or what their real problem is, you just want to get it over so you can go up to the lunch room with the rest of the robots and have your tuna sandwich on wheat bread from the machine. Maybe if you're lucky, a few well oiled female machines will be there too and it won't be as boring as it usually is. Boredom. That's what everybody suffers from more than anything else. We're all looking for a way out of the boredom cycle, and we'll do anything we can to find excitement again. That's why every one's having affairs and taking drugs and drinking and doing all the rest of the things that they do, it's all for the next big thrill. The problem is that no matter how good the thrill is, it's never good enough, and we always want more."

"So, we have to keep looking and looking for that next big thing. It's the same for all of us, even you. Don't give me that sympathetic 'oh he's drunk' look, because you're just as drunk as I am, and we're both drunk because we're bored to tears with this place and with ourselves and we're looking for Mr. Goodbar to come and save the day. Yeah, the church is a factory too, just like everything else. Don't you think those priests get bored after awhile, doing the same thing, day in, day out? How many Sundays do you think it will take before you run out of important things to say? How many impassioned sermons are there to preach? What happens when you just can't find room to care anymore and you're all out of compassionate things to say, but you have to keep going because the show must go on? Well, that's how alcoholism got invented Brian, because someone needed a way to put the fire and brimstone back into their sermons when they were all out of feelings of their own and didn't know what else to do. The bottle gave them feelings again. It made them excited. And that's what we're all looking for and that's why so many of us drink."

Jim paused for a moment, as if to consider what he had just said. The silence grew up at them, becoming more and more uncomfortable, and harder to break. Neither of them knew what to do, but Jim was a little drunker than Brian, and the silence made him even more aware that the end was near.

"Well Brian, I guess this is it," he said as he stood up from his favorite chair at the little kitchen table. He tried to think of something meaningful to say, some way to sum it all up, but there was nothing. He and Brian had always been close, but it was rare that they ever talked about their feelings for one another. Now that they were saying goodbye, Jim wanted to say the right thing, without seeming drunk and sentimental.

"I hope you have a good trip, Brian. If it's what you think is best, well then, I guess you should do it, but remember, don't let them talk you into being crazy. There's nothing wrong with thinking, no matter what they say, so just stand up for yourself."

"I will Jim," Brian said, patting him gently on the back and trying hard to hold back the tears. He didn't want to let Jim see him cry, but he couldn't stop it. It wasn't a lot, just a few drops on the insides of his eyes, but it was still too much. He held his arms tightly crossed, and pressed his clenched fists against the insides of his biceps. Just push, he thought, as the tension in his arms increased. he tried not to tremble as he searched for something to say. "Whatever you do Jim, I hope you're happy."

"I'll try to be," Jim said as he opened the door. He walked out into the hallway and stopped. Turning, he looked at Brian with a smile and said, "And Brian, I hope you always make your MARS."

"You too," Brian said, smiling in the silence.

The clock radio clicked on at seven o'clock that Monday morning. Brian was surprised at how good he felt, but he knew that it would hit him later. He made himself a thermos of instant coffee and gathered his equipment together on the kitchen table. He thought about waking Jim, but he knew that he would never answer the door. There was so much more to say. Brian wrote a quick note reminding him that he had the address and phone number and he expected to hear from him soon. He slipped it under Jim's door and put his keys in the landlady's mailbox. She had agreed to look in on his apartment from time to time and make sure that everything was okay. Brian picked up the green plastic trash bag with his clothes in it and stood staring at the empty kitchen table. His eyes scanned the neat, clean little room. He drew in a deep breath and tried to think of all that he had been through in this little room, but it was all too clouded and confused. That's the alcohol, he thought. Brian took a bottle of vitamins out of the cupboard and swallowed a handful with glass of water. He knew about the effects of alcohol on the brain and the recuperative powers of B vitamins. He put the bottle into the green plastic trash bag, locked the door and headed for the subway.