The Great American Whatever

By: Tim Federle


I don’t consider myself to be precious, necessarily, but give me air-conditioning or give me death.

Maybe the only thing worse than a midwestern winter is a midwestern summer, especially when your AC is broken. We are going on our second straight week of record-breaking highs here. This is the universe’s way of showing it has a sense of humor, since I am personally going on my sixth straight month of record-breaking lows.

“I have got to get a new air conditioner.”

I actually say this out loud, just to hear a voice. Anyone’s voice, really, these days.

“I have seriously got,” I say again, crawling to the side of the bed and tricking my body into standing upright, “to get a new air conditioner.” And then, a little louder: “I am requesting a new air conditioner from the universe.”

Like if I say it enough times, the air-conditioning fairy will arrive. (Hey, you never know.) I give it twenty seconds. Alas, no fairy. Other than, you know, me.

I dare my feet to walk me to the bathroom so I can take a whiz, and then I lope back out to my bedroom, and all of this cardio makes me hot enough to formally debate “cooling-off options” that don’t involve leaving my room.

I’d remove my clothes, but I’m already wearing only my lucky boxers, and every time I take them off these days, I’m like: What’s so wrong with me that I’m almost a senior and I still haven’t been naked with another person?

Great. See? And now I’m even hotter.

I keep my boxers on and move to the next option.

The mini-fridge that Mom got me two birthdays ago isn’t quite big enough for me to comfortably lay my head inside—believe me, I’ve tried—and if I took out my broken AC and cracked the window, I’d have to confront the reality that I might hear, like, birds, or worse: the merry squeals of neighborhood children. And who has the stomach for that kind of unannounced joy at this hour?

So I go low-tech, slumping into my beanbag chair and fanning myself with a take-out menu. That’s when some sweat rivulets drip from my elbow onto the floor, and not just that—that wouldn’t be so bad—but my sweat hits a random page of an application for this lame student filmmakers’ competition. Apparently I never got around to completing the application last fall, let alone sending it in. I can’t seem to finish anything these days, except, oh, dessert.

I kick the form under my desk and decide to sneak downstairs and just stick my face in the freezer for a minute. Hey—maybe it’ll shrink my pores at the same time. The school counselor calls that kind of thing multitasking, which she also claims is a dangerous myth. No, really. This is an actual, hand-to-God quote: “Multitasking is a dangerous myth, Mr. Roberts.”

She always calls me “Mr. Roberts,” probably as mildly embarrassed to say my first name as I am. Can’t blame her there.

“Studies show that humans are able to pay attention to only one thing at a time, Mr. Roberts—are you listening to me?—and I’d prefer for you to pay more attention to your schoolwork than to your movies.”

But the counselor was dead wrong, because as she was yammering on that day about how there’s no such thing as multitasking, I was nodding and making earnest faces and imagining how incredible it would be if the school was hit by a freak comet. I was, you know, multitasking.

Obviously this was all before I stopped attending classes altogether.

Mom is downstairs on the wicker couch in our sunroom, snoozing as always. I tiptoe by and open the freezer, hoping some Popsicles will have magically appeared (the Popsicle fairy?), only to find a buttload of Healthy Choice meals.

OPEN QUESTION: Is it still a healthy choice if you have three of them in one sitting? Because that’s how many are scattered around Mom’s feet right now. She’s really let herself go. See, Mom sort of eats her feelings—and this year has been nonstop feelings. The difference between us is that I can basically demolish a large pizza in under fifteen minutes and actually lose a few pounds, if I’m also worrying about my future while chewing.

I walk past a landfill’s worth of unopened mail on our kitchen counter, with this hair salon postcard advertising “1/2 off BOLD new summer looks” sitting on top. “Maybe I’ll trim my own hair today,” I mumble to myself, careful not to wake Mom.

She’s actually really cute when she’s asleep.

Anyway, I could use a “BOLD new summer look,” or an anything new summer anything. I’ve had the same haircut since I was a toddler—a style you might call “longish and brown.” So maybe I’ll finally do something different with it. To spice up the day. I don’t know. My therapist has encouraged me “toward optimism.”

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