Still a little coked-up, Ray Mercer sits on the edge of a little, stone bench, staring through the tall windows of Charles Family Tuxedo Rental. He’s holding a flimsy deck of cards in his right hand, shuffling, cutting aptly. As Mercer’s hand flips through the cards, he speculates if he can scrape together enough money to rent a suit for his sister’s wedding. Then, he notices the big, muscular manikins donned in black, sleek tuxes just behind the glass, staring off into oblivion. They anger Mercer. But even more so, they tax his spirits.

Mercer slumps a little, looks down at his gut. He’s really let himself go; he doesn’t have nearly enough time to get in shape for his sister Joanne’s wedding. She’s marrying some stud grad student from the south in only three weeks. They’re getting married in the stud’s hometown–Birmingham, Alabama–no less, and Mercer has already saved up enough money from the last four gigs to buy the money for bus fare, a modest present of kitchen utensils, and a much-needed haircut. But not a tux. He forgot about what he’d wear.

Joanne’s fiancé is a pompous fuck anyway, Mercer thinks, and they’re both too young to be worried about marriage. This is an angering idea that he’d probably dote upon all afternoon; however, recently Mercer has ascribed to the more genial idea of “What can you do?” Instead of fuming over the ills of the world, translating every stimuli into part of an intricate plot to fuck him over–a paradigm that he had taken to in his younger, more attentive days–Mercer simply asks himself, “What can you do?” and forgets about whatever had infuriated him.

Luckily for him, cocaine isn’t a drug that fosters anger (within him, at least) and with his newfound axiom, Mercer forgets the issue. He places a thin rubber band around the deck, slips the cards into his shirt pocket and brushes the long, greasy black hair from his eyes. He sighs. It’s Friday and he doesn’t have a single gig lined up this weekend.

He lights a cigarette and looks down the busy street. An old man rides a shiny, red bicycle through the crowd, swerving creatively through the moving pedestrians. It’s an odd sight to Mercer, really. The gleam of the frame, the burnished spokes coupled with the earthy tones of the man’s khakis and wizened face, hands.

Through the smoke of his cigarette, Mercer smells a wet chocolate aroma. Below his feet, a half-eaten biscotti, garnished with a waxen, melted brown fudge. It looks delicious. He picks it up, smells it. It smells new, confirms the idea that it‘d probably taste good. Mercer takes a bite. It’s still crunchy. He tosses the cigarette and finishes the biscotti. When he looks up, the old man on the bicycle has disappeared.

Then, “That your cigarette?”
Mercer says, “Yes,” looks over his shoulder.
A parking authority attendant, donned head to toe in navy blue. Fat. Thick-framed glasses. He instructs, “Pick it up.”
“Like hell I will. You’re not a fucking cop, Meter Maid. You don’t have the authority!”
“Pick it up or I’ll get somebody who has the authority to get you to pick it up. This is my street, dammit and I don‘t want to see your butts all over the place.”
“Ah, shit.” Mercer picks up the smoking cigarette from the sidewalk and holds it over his shoulder, “There. Your fucking precious street is now sanctified.” He puts the smoking butt in his mouth. “And now I’ve got something to eat.” He chews it a little, swallows.
The meter maid–though promptly shocked–walks off, muttering quietly. Some rant about a crazy something-or-other.

Mercer lights another cigarette and then has to extinguish it quickly. The butt he’d eaten burned his tongue more than he’d anticipated and the new cigarette has drawn too much emphasis on heat, on his mouth. He figured, almost instinctively, that the moisture in his mouth would extinguish the heat a little before it hit the sensitive lining of his taste buds.

But then, to give Mercer decisive motive in any action is a futile endeavor. Mercer trusts only his, personal concept of even the most concrete aspects of existence–like the inevitable pains of a lit cigarette on the tongue or possibly, the more thoughtful idea that the biscotti was probably not the most appropriate breakfast.

People (or maybe particularly men) like Mercer are rarely quelled by the sturdier, experienced knowledge of the community of Humankind at large. They are in a constant state of rebellion, distrust. To live like Mercer, do what he does, one must be certifiably insane. Though, to live in a constant mutiny of the Human’s ship may be the definition of what it is to be completely nuts, as Mercer would say, what can you do?

He sits on the bench for another few hours, waiting for a call, for a gig. The silence of his cell phone eventually becomes yet another torturous, pressure in Mercer‘s life. A strange recognition, then: Mercer senses the failure that is resulting from silence. He has known this feeling before–a past lover‘s silence of exasperation, his mother’s silence of disproval–he just hasn‘t been able to put it to words. It feels a little rewarding, actually, to recognize this idea. Then, he saddens at the thought of conceding to silence.

Mercer feels the bland plastic cell phone through the thin lining of his pocket and his eyes get cold, wet. He could cry, he thinks, but then, what do strong men do when broken? They do not cry. They fight. Mercer decides then that he must fight whatever it is that is trying to break him.

And isn’t that struggle what makes Mercer more human? He is very similar to what might be defined as a relatable man, now. Perhaps that’s not his fault, that he has not appeared to be wholly human until this point. His name is only Ray, he decides. With his newfound inner respect, albeit small interest in the man he was before, he decides to get to know Ray more intimately.

Ray admits, with a little reluctance, that he is a full-time magician and a part-time clown. Not in the derogatory sense of the word “clown“, but a dancing, balloon-animal-making, face-painted, huge-shoe entertainer. Though he hates the get-up; especially the more necessary, stereotypical aspects of his custom (the red, bulbous nose, for instance), he’s quite a successful performer. Most of his clients refer him to others and over the last few years, he can count on at least thirty days of work through the year. Usually in the summer, of course, outdoor parties and the like. Something about being inside of somebody’s home doing magic in the winter…it taints the experience. The pristine furniture. The carpets. Snow blowing wistfully over the streets. Ray generally asks his clients if they plan on hosting the party indoors. He always warns them that he isn’t quite as talented in an indoor venue. It hurts business, but then, what can you do?

Ray is a damned good magician, regardless. He knows the game well, has for a long time. Card tricks. Disappearing acts. Even more recently, he learned the how to deceive an audience into thinking he can levitate. His experience really has developed into something worth the two-hundred dollars he charges for an hour.

Ray started in high school. Talent shows, house parties. Since the ripe age of fourteen, Ray has carried a deck of cards with him. Same brand, too. Matador #14. Purple face. Big, almost neon Kings, Queens, Jacks, Jokers. Makes it easier for the crowd to see his successes. His failures. Then, what can you do? Ray is proud of his dedication to improving his trade. Even on the bench, he was practicing his one-hand shuffle.

It begs a curious question about Ray, actually: How can a man not at all see the strange disconnect he makes between his experience producing positive results and the experience that has allowed humanity to generate similarly helpful, if not grander, products? For instance, the cell phone Ray–among others–carries. Though not a nuclear bomb or an epidemic’s vaccine, Ray gives no credence to the technologists, physicists, or skilled laborers who have all worked for hundreds of years to produce one of his main means of providing for himself. But what can you do?

Like many men who doubt the integrity of their job, Ray considers his profession to be an art form. He is not a simple clown as most assume…flailing his arms, honking his nose and bounding to and fro with a large bottle of seltzer. He is an artiste, staying true to the history of magic. Those in lore: Mercutio, Yorick. Those in life: Bozo, Bonkers, Houdini. They are not innovators, to Ray. They are only men imbued with some understood ability to entertain. They did not create, but like ascending towards Aristotle’s quintessence, they approached perfection, truth, the matter that is unaffected by all things, that moves in circles, is not wet or dry, cold or hot. Somehow, those men knew where to go and how to get there. Most of all, they got there.

This opinion, of course, is notwithstanding the hacks on television, at the circus. They are worthless to him. In fact, Ray sees a clown who cannot do magic in the same way we generally see men without sustainable incomes. Sad. Pitiable.

And that, perhaps, is one of the main reasons Ray has difficulty living peacefully with others. He has no fixed income. His success is defined by the whims and beckons of the public and he understands how fickle they may be. Though we–Ray included–hate the old cliché, he truly lives the feast or famine life. Some months–like July–Ray can splurge, buy a kilo or a new pair of Dockers. Other months, he has to eat, smoke, snort whatever he can find.

It comes to no surprise, then, that his financial situation has left him without a prospect in the dimensions of love. He hasn’t touched a woman in at least a decade. Ray generally has to change his radio’s station whenever a song like “Witchy Woman” or “Green Eyed Lady” plays. He’s as horny as he was at fourteen. He rarely masturbates, but when he does, he thinks of the days of groping up the girls who he impressed with a trick or two. Irony sometimes pervades his thoughts and he remembers that the magic that provides for these memories also dooms him to solitude now. What can you do? His sexual drive is odd, in general. For instance, sometimes a strange piece of art or prop can ruin a porno for him. A few weeks ago, he was very close to coming, then behind two women fingering each other, he saw a Salvador Dali painting. It completely threw his mind into a panic.

Ray has a complex attention span, sometimes capable of lasting for hours to perfect a trick, then at others, barely enough to pay attention to clients’ little polite conversations after his performances. It comes with the territory, Ray thinks, What can you do?