Fiction from Nicholas Grider

A coil of 8mm film
Photo: Denise Jans

Stock Footage: A Love Story

Here is a picture of a studiously thin white man in a light blue button-down Oxford shirt, tan slacks, and tasseled loafers. He stands in the light gray void of an empty office, not quite smiling, not quite distressed. He is giving you his thumbs up to the extent that he can, having been tied up in big cartoon sailor ropes to indicate that life and work are stressful. Here is a picture of a charming unnamed man being held hostage by American gumption, but in a fun way. This man may or may not be your dad or the devil or both, but he is American, and he’s very proud of you.

Here is some time-lapse footage of you growing into yourself as both your home/work environs and the smiling citizens who inhabit them steadily increase in cost.

Here is a short clip of a shower head pointing downward spraying cold water in a minimalist bathroom, the looping clip locating immanent cleanliness in an approximate and eternal now. Here is a clip of part of a wholesome young man’s face being shaved. Here is a picture of a towel dropping around precisely tan ankles, a proposition that clean adult white men are, if not universal, then a form of humanity easily understood. Here is a picture of a closet being opened to reveal professional attire in a variety of grays and whites and slate blues. Here is a picture of the crumpled “how to tie a tie” photocopy diagram issued to all the young clean white men in your demographic at the cusp of pubescent responsibility.

Here is stock footage of adulthood defined by adventure. Here are evidentiary photos of you pulling your merino wool socks up and keeping your pale blue dress shirt carefully tucked in.

Here is a picture of business people, arms outstretched, cleanly beckoning you into their fold. They want to celebrate, and they want to explain what being alive is like without having to be specific, and they want to warn you about the man in tan slacks, the one being held hostage by the demands of life, but in a fun way. Do not trust him, your glossy colleagues inform you. That man, while fun and clean, is a traitor and a spy. He is not your dad, they remind you, even if he is your dad. His growth charts and quarterly reports are dark magic, they explain. Beware of the cheerful white man in tasseled loafers gliding across the hard carpets of office interiors. Wherever he goes, your colleagues inform you as they strap on bone-white conical party hats for a generic milestone celebration, he sows chaos in his wake. Here is a picture of the people who love you attached to a guide about what the dark arts are and what steps to take to avoid them.

Here is a picture of the countryside through which you run at dawn to keep your body alluringly unremarkable and your heart a frictionless engine as expensive as a designer watch. In the background of the picture, America is waiting in the form of a cheerful populace. Everyone is rooting for you. Nobody is nervous anymore.

Here is a short film about how to stand out from the crowd without being noticed. Here is an instruction manual on how to be your own man. Here is an audio clip of a clean white man in business attire reminding you that you’re only as real as you think you are, like unicorns and Jesus and love.

Here is a photograph of a calendar including a reminder of sunshine. Here is a licensed photograph of an unmarked “outdoors” that always approves of you and calls forth to you to have PG-13 escapades inside its borders and acts as both a place were the only rules are fun and self-improvement, and where wilderness is mostly a buffer zone between small accumulations of achievement in a a clean and modern office park and studious cleanliness at home.

Here is the film clip of you going through your organized folders of self-pity documentation and marking the pages with a precise black Xs every time you recognize your face.

Here is a stock photo of your friends at an upmarket sports bar raising a toast to turning into their own dads instead of turning into your dad, which would be more than the normal amount of dads for any given clean young man and henceforth disrupt the natural order of things, requiring dark magic to bind reality back into a tidy, glossy pile of opportunity costs.

Here is a stock photo of the natural order of things. Here is a high-res image of the entire world. It is waiting. What is it waiting for? Maybe for a happy ending. Probably for you.

Here is a picture of a man who is attractive in an unthreatening way and nice in a controlled and strategic way and who is dressed, like all clean medium men, in a suit and tie flattering enough to make him appealing without making anyone else jealous, even your dad, who is still proud, even if he is still being held hostage by sinister forces and struggling with life-work balance. The clean young man, who might be or have been a version of you no longer recognized or within reach, stands in a clean white void with similar people, who also probably have names. They are either celebrating a decisive victory or are about to do so. What are they celebrating? They cannot be sure, but they want you to know how proud they are of you. They want you to read this important article about the importance of Community Feelings as it relates to working in beige and gray cubicles vs. at home in shadows surrounded by ideal but ephemeral children and pets.

Here is a home movie of your clean dad telling you to blow out the candles on the cake, reminding you he raised you to be the end of the world, telling you he’s pretty sure you’re brave enough to survive, and handing you a photocopied sheet of “how to tie a tie” instructions so you have reading material when you lock yourself in the garden shed in an effort to delay (or learn to endure) a future overstuffed with sunny days and spacious waiting rooms.

Here is a picture of the night sky. Like your dad and the small armageddon he raised you to be, it is inevitable but not permanent.

Here is a picture of you standing in front of the mirror smiling at your own face while you tie your favorite necktie, which is gray with decorative geometric flecks of slate blue. Here is a picture of you with your forehead against the mirror, necktie tied, hands shaking, mouthing the phrase everything means something over and over like a fact or an affirmation or a spell.

Here is a picture of public sunshine. Here is a picture of everyone you love doing a large group victory lap around an authorized fire. Here is a stock image of a friendly community surrounding you to lift your spirit in song and remind you to make sure you’re working hard enough.

Here is a short film of a world in which friends are always being introduced and parties are always starting. Here is stock footage of at-hand but unnamed threat. Here is a picture of you staring at yourself in a department store mirror and telling yourself maybe everything is your fault.

Here is a picture of a thin white man in tan slacks and tasseled trousers tied up with cartoon ropes on your clean and minimal bed. He doesn’t mind waiting, he says. Here is a picture of him telling you what he has been waiting for: he has been waiting for you to be ready. Here is a picture of the man telling you not to untie him, or anyone else. Here is a picture of a thin white man in a suburban bedroom offering to share some special knowledge and make some special promises just to you.

Here is a montage of stock footage of comfortable white men gently reminding you that you belong to them.

Here is a picture of the nice white man who is normal and clean and undefeated telling you he’s more than happy to hash out who is or is not a hostage, and of whom, but reminding you to disrobe and take a shower first.

Here is stock footage of an apocalypse that either is you or includes you as courtesy.

Here is a picture of victory. Here is a picture of stains being cleaned from the bathroom tile, of magic knots tied and untied, neckties tied and untied, celebratory hats and low-calorie cakes. Here is a picture of Instagram candles that smell like your childhood home. Here is a picture of your loved ones holding candles, standing around you in a circle, celebrating an achievement, telling you you get what you wish for, wanting to just let you know that as long as you are very careful and very clean and very still, and as long as you never stop working, you will never die.

Here is stock footage of you as a clean young cishet white man, increasing the after-market value of everything you touch. You are not only this man, but you always are.

Here is a stock footage of your childhood home. It is now an unfathomable void.

Here is picture of a thin white dad-like creature showing you its ropes. Its haircut is efficient and its pores are clean. It promises you that, after a while, even being alive doesn’t hurt. It promises you being relatable is the source of your dark power. It lifts its ropes and promises it will leave the lights on when it’s done.

Here is a picture of what it looks like to live forever. It is an elegant windowless museum beyond the end of the known world in which both your thoughts and your bones consist entirely of right angles, in which your secrets are soundproof and your gray flesh shines. The employees polishing your right angles remind you not to worry. The museum guards remind you as long as you exist you can never go home, but you probably shouldn’t want to anyway.

Nicholas Grider‘s story collections include Misadventure (A Strange Object/Deep Vellum) and Forest of Borders (Malarkey). Their work has appeared in Conjunctions, Guernica, Midnight Breakfast, Okay Donkey, and other publications.

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