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Everything Equals Nothing
- By Scott Nicholson circa 1981
(This is a "Bones From The Vault" feature in which I put some of my old work up for public ridicule on a quarterly basis. The guy who wrote this probably suffered depression and took himself way too seriously, wishing he were Hemingway and Vonnegut and lacking an understanding of proper punctuation.)

Standing on the bridge with the wind blowing the collar of his gray jacket against his neck, Adam looked like someone's successful son. He lit a cigarette and watched the tiny tugboats far below straining against the raging water. He took deep puffs of the burning tobacco which the wind tried to steal from him and he held the puffs until he could not stand them any longer and blew out wisps of gray smoke. The wind seized the wisps and stole them off quickly to some secret storing-place. Adam watched fascinated, repeating the process until the fire neared the clean white butt. He crushed it out on the railing and dropped it over the side, watching it shrink and disappear and knowing it would soon reach the ocean.

The sun was sinking on the hazy San Francisco sky and the rush-hour traffic was honking madly on the bridge. Adam did not turn to look because he knew he would become upset again. He knew he was happy and he knew he would always be happy, But he was not so sure that he would risk his happiness by looking at the angry red faces of the sweating and swearing drivers.

Adam had come here to think and he knew that he could not lose his happiness by thinking, but just dull the edges a little to make the happiness a feeling of total satisfaction. He was happy about the novel he had just finished and the two previous ones that were already best-sellers. He was happy about the money he had made and the Maserati and the mansion in Belvedere that the money had bought. He was happy about his beautiful and loving wife and their two-year-old son.

He was happy about the breeze and the bridge and the water. With this happiness Adam lit another cigarette.

Sometimes he wondered if all of the happiness had come too easily. The writing had never been hard. The words were inside him and gushed forth easily from his hand to the paper. The hard thing was not to let the words come too fast but to control the flow. But that was only a minor problem and Adam knew the work was ridiculously easy for the money he received.

Even his wife Ginger had been easy to get. There she had been at some artist’s party holding her drink lightly in her slender hand and watching through the window as the car lights crawled thirty floors below. She was not among the tipsy, cheerful young artists and poets mixing into a social miasma of wine and song. Adam was not that type of person either and when he turned from studying a painting and saw her standing by the window, he had no choice but to go to her.

"Fascinated?" Adam had asked.

"No, I’m bored," she said. Adam remembered her light and matter-of-fact tone and now realized that he had fallen in love with her at that moment.

They spent the night in Adam’s modest apartment. Adam half-expected her to roll out of bed the next morning, slip quietly into her green dress and walk out of his life. But the smell of frying bacon awoke him the next morning and he caught a whiff of her perfume. They were married a month later.

After that his life had been simple. He finished the manuscript of his first novel and it was quickly accepted by a large publishing house. He was given a contract for another book when the first one’s popularity became evident. He had finished the second one in six weeks of hard work and felt a fullness he had never before experienced.

Now with the third one in the mail Adam could afford to relax a little and rest on his laurels. Every morning he drove down to the Golden Gate bridge and when the weather was good he walked to the middle and watched boats scurrying in and out of the bay. When he became hungry or bored he walked the rest of the mile into San Francisco and stopped in the first bar that captured his attention. When the weather was bad Adam drove on across the bridge to the Latin Quarter on Telegraph Hill. He averaged two bottles of wine for every day of bad weather.

Today, though, the weather had been fine and Adam had spent the rest of the day watching the seafaring traffic churn the sun-sparkled water. He had walked into the city earlier and drank too many martinis before dinner and too many beers with dinner. Now he felt fine and the stiff breeze did little to cool the warm glow spreading through his body. He was truly happy.

On days like this one he thought too much, especially after a bout of heavy downtown drinking. He knew the thinking was not good and he tried to force his legs to begin the long walk to the Maserati. But he really did not want to leave because he was very happy on the windy bridge. He breathed deeply of the sobering air and lit another cigarette.

Adam thought it was strange that even with his happiness he was not content. He had a nagging doubt in the back of his mind that the happiness was all a dream. He knew that by simply turning around he would come face to face with six thousand feet of six-lane, car-covered asphalt. The drivers were unrich and unhappy and stayed angry from the moment they arose from their unwarm beds until they climbed between the cold sheets to end the angry day. They carried their hate and anger with them all day to add to the unhappiness of others. It is strange, Adam thought, how money and happiness enable me to enjoy the sinking Sun, the bridge, the breeze, and every cigarette puff I take while others can experience these things every day and feel only empty anger.

Do I have the right, he thought further, to enjoy these things simply because I have money and happiness? Do I deserve my happiness?

Looking down into the dark water Adam thought about happiness. What is it, he wondered. Is it money and an expensive car and a beautiful wife? Is it success and the promise of continued success? Or is it being able to enjoy each little cigarette puff even though having it only a short time before the wind takes it away?

Happiness is nothing, he thought. It is water under the bridge and smoke in the wind. It is fleeting and when it goes you wonder if you ever had it at all. Happiness is not money or success or the promise of either. There is no happiness and there never will be.

Adam flicked the half-finished cigarette toward the blue-green vastness of the ocean two hundred feet below. He watched the wind spin the cigarette around and around until he saw only a faint red glow way down in the bridge’s shadow. Then even this disappeared and Adam knew he was not happy.

But he was determined not to let this realization interfere with his perfect happiness and began his wobbly way to his happy home and beautiful wife.

-copyright 1981 by Scott Nicholson

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