Foolish Wisdom

Foolish Wisdom

A Story by Joel McCarthy

The venue was dark and humid and I could already smell the dank freshness of the thick cotton sweaters and black T-shirts that decorated almost every attendee. The rain from early that afternoon had tapered some, but still fell outside, wetting those standing in the sprawling line that wrapped around the side of the building like a human boarder. The security guard didn’t ask to see my ID but requested that I empty my pockets. I dug into my tight pants and pulled out my car keys, phone, wallet and a pack of cigarettes. She asked to see the cigarettes and I didn’t put up a fight, handing them over promptly for her to open and inspect, insuring I hadn’t smuggled in any contraband. When she was satisfied, she patted me down half heartedly and stamped my wet forearm with black ink.

            I walked past the merchandise table without stopping and headed directly for the back of the club. Because I was alone, it was easier to maneuver in and out of the youthful stereotypes that dressed and chatted as though this concert were a rehearsal of some kind. Through the thick bass drum and fuzzing guitar tones coming from the small stage at the front of the room, I picked up snippets of conversations that were in English but sounded like another language. Words like lineage and EP peppered into conversation, entwined with phrases like marginalized post-acid. These words were barked back and forth between these young people over the incomprehensible gloom coming from the PA and amplifiers. I heard someone, a girl, someone half my age, not Fiona, say the word “vinyl” with such confidence that it made me embarrassed for some reason. I didn’t want to think about someone that young claiming knowledge for a technology that ruled the markets when I was a teenager. Then again, what was I doing in her world anyway?

My phone vibrated in my pocket, demanding to be flipped open. I read the name of the sender, Kim, and closed the phone without reading the text.  The vague text message I had left for her earlier still echoed in my head, its connotation the catalyst for me coming to this place. I didn’t feel I needed to give her specifics. I simply left her a formless memo to chew on, I am finished. It killed me to be so quick about it, but I figured that if I want to step into this new world of people, vagueness was par for the course. Vagueness was art to this nation of individuals, and detailed explanations served only as manacles to creative fruition.

I reached the back bar which was less crowed. More and more people flooded in through the entrance, but most took a place in the thick crowd nearest the stage. I ordered a rum and coke. My phone buzzed again, and I told the server I wanted a beer and shot of whiskey instead. She poured the drinks for me and I took the shot first, ordering two more before paying her. I left a substantial tip that she didn’t notice or acknowledge.

I scanned the room looking for Fiona, hoping she wasn’t a part of the dense group of bobbing heads at the base of the stage. I knew my chances of squeezing in there were dying with every second, so I took my drink and began twisting through the labyrinth of fans. There were two large screens on each side of the stage that projected images that were supposed to fit with the music. On the right screen was footage of a surgery of some kind, possibly tendon repair on someone’s wrist. Two forked medical tools held flaps of skin apart where an incision had been made, while a gloved hand holding a thin metal device picked at the gore and bone beneath. The left screen played looped footage of the Budd Dwyer suicide continuously, guttural screams and thick distortion soundtracking the red river pouring from his nose and mouth.

I directed my attention to the crowd, looking for a choppy black haircut with a blond highlight, or cherry red glasses, or the purple praying mantis tattoo over her chest, nestled in between healthy cleavage. Beautiful Fiona. I didn’t know her last name, but I felt like this knowledge was an uncool formality. We knew enough about one another to advance the relationship, I thought. I’d been going into that bookstore for almost a year, sometimes two or three times a week. She was always the one to ring up my purchases or to send out an order for a rare copy that I may have wanted. We talked heartily about literature; she introduced me to the youthful world of transgressive fiction, and I expanded her horizons with the classics of Falkner and Woolf, and most recently Nabokov.

I gave her my own copy of Lolita. It was a bold decision because I knew that the subject matter of the book brushed shoulders with what our real life relationship had began to turn into, at least I hoped. It was not a parallel situation, but the fact was that she was eighteen and I was in my mid forties, and I was beginning to see the inklings of an intimate relationship forming between us with every brief discussion. Not only was she painfully beautiful with her soft porcelain skin and cobalt eyes, but I saw her as an intellectual equal on a level that transcended age. I believed we could teach one another, challenge one another, live side by side eating the fruits of experience and letting their sweet juices run down our chins.

This is why I came to this place, though she had no idea I showed up. While in line at the bookstore I overheard her planning an evening to come to this concert. It was then that I decided the next step would have to be taken if anything were to happen between us. I took note of the name of the band and venue, not mentioning a thing to her. Things would work out better as a surprise, I thought. When I got back to the office, I purchased admission online, printing out a colour copy of the ticket on the company printer.

After work, I got home and hour before Kim and quickly changed into something concert appropriate. Since I hadn’t been to a musical performance in over fifteen years, I debated with myself over what would make me seem hip but not as though I were trying to be. I settled on a snug pair of chino pants and a light blue dress shirt. I rolled the sleeves up and decided to wear the brown leather pair of sandals that I had purchased on vacation in the Dominican, much to the dismay of Kim who claimed they made me look like a surfer. I wondered if Fiona could surf. Maybe I could learn and maybe she could teach me.


The band played on, each polyrhythmic song dissolving into the next, the individuals around me stomping and rocking their necks in chaotic unison. I kept looking around for Fiona but my vision was disrupted by the rapid pattern of the strobe lights on stage. I smelled pot in the air. Someone nudged my arm and I looked over to see a skinny twenty something wearing a ripped leather jacket, open, with a red T-shirt beneath, a yellow silkscreened hammer and cycle peeking out. His hair was dreadlocked and hung off of his head like mummified serpents. He passed me a tightly rolled cone that was half smoked, urging me to take it. I plucked it from his two fingers and sucked in the smoke, only able to hold it in for a few seconds before my lungs exploded. I choked into my forearm, a muted gesture against the crushing decibel of the music. I nudged the dreadlocked kid back, thanking him by nodding my head, holding out the joint for him to take back. He smiled a yellow grin at me and held up a hand, which meant for me to keep it. I didn’t want it anymore but felt obligated to do something. I tried passing it to the people around me but was met with awkward declines, as though their father has just offered them a hit. I didn’t want to drop the thing either, out of respect for my new friend’s generosity, so I forced myself to suck in a few more breaths of the stale smoke, before dropping the roach to the checkered tile floor and stepping on it.

Within minutes my head was swimming, the humidity in the room sucking moisture out of my pours, the whiskey and beer sloshing around my empty stomach like an alcoholic tidal wave. The music pounded at my chest, my heart and lungs pulsating under the pressure of it all. The room began to turn slowly and I knew I needed to get out of dodge as soon as possible.

I weaved in and out of people who gave me the dirtiest of looks, accidentally stepping on their hardened leather boots and converse sneakers. I felt the chunks of vomit crawl up my throat and into my mouth and it took almost all of my will to swallow it back down. Just as I reached the exit, I could hear the band announcing their last song.

The outside air felt like a healing salvation as I stepped out into it, almost gasping. I found the nearest garbage can and emptied out my stomach into it, long strands of spit hanging off of my lips like bungee cables. I sat down on the moist sidewalk and looked toward the sky, peppered with stars that had broken through the dark storm clouds which were now disappearing. It was quiet outside because the concert was not yet over and there were only a few people perched around the doors, smoking and chatting. I took out my phone with the intention of calling a cab and aborting this pathetic mission, but then I spotted the purple mantis.

She sat alone across the street on a concrete bench, next to a telephone pole completely laminated with club flyers. Her head was down, reading, and she hadn’t noticed me. My heart pounded and my testicles tightened with excitement, a sensation I hadn’t recalled feeling since my teenage years. She was reading Lolita. The concert had not ended, yet she had left early to read the book I had given to her.

I climbed to my feet and began moving across the street to be with her. She did not look up, her eyes fixed to the pages in her lap. Just as I had reached the sidewalk, I heard the blaring horn of a taxi that screeched its tires and missed me by a foot. Fiona jumped and looked at the cab and then at me standing in front of her. The cabbie rolled down his window, cursing me in another language and pointing his index and pinky fingers out at me before peeling away.

“Mr. Brice,” she said, taken back.

“Hello,” I said, as calm as possible, wiping sweat from my brow.

There was a long awkward silence that lasted way too long. I broke it by saying “Hello,” again, and laughing as though it were a joke. She smiled back thinly.

“What are you… doing in this part of town?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, catching my breath, “I’m here for the show.”

“The show?”


“You mean in there?” she pointed to the venue door across the street, a stream of people now pouring out of it.

“You bet,” I said. “I love that stuff. It totally… rocks.”

“Uh huh,” she said, her eyes focusing on my shirt. “Is that… what is that?” she asked.

I looked down at my shirt seeing a moist stain, small bits of undigested food sticking to the blue fabric. “Oh this? I, uh, this is just a um, it’s a pattern, you know? Like a design sort of. I wear it when I go to concerts and stuff.”

“I never knew you were into this sort of music…” she said. “It’s very, surprising?” it came out like a question.

“Well, I’m surprised to see you here too,” I said. “Why didn’t you stay for the end?”

“Oh, well I usually cut out before the last song. I hate waiting in that sweaty crowd just to get outside.”

“A good opportunity to catch up on some reading,” I said. “Glad to see you, uh, doing that. It’s an amazing story, almost real, you know?”


“Lolita,” I said, gesturing to the book in her lap.

“Oh,” she said, lifting the pages. “I actually haven’t got a chance to read any of that yet,” she said.

“Well what are you reading?”

She showed me the cover of her book. It was a driver’s educational manual.

“I’m supposed to be going for my test tomorrow,” she said. “Hopefully I can pass this time…”

I felt the awkward tension growing like a tumor between us. The scene was not playing out at all like I had expected. “You’ll do fine,” I offered. “When I took my test… just follow the street signs and you’ll do great.” I said this, realizing it had been twenty nine years since I took my own driver’s test. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” she said, timidly checking her wristwatch.

“So I guess without a license, maybe, I guess you need a ride somewhere? Maybe?”

“Oh, well I’m waiting for my ride now,” she said.

I took a step closer. “Maybe… I could give you a�"”

Before I could fumble the words out, a blue Ford Hybrid pulled up to the curb that looked oddly familiar.

“There’s my ride,” Fiona said, quickly shooting up from her seat and opening the passenger’s door. The driver’s side door then opened.

“Andrew?” a voice said to me. “Is that you?”

I took a double take to realize who was talking to me, but then it hit me like a cold shower.

“My gosh, what are you doing here?” asked my boss.

“Oh, hi Carol!” I said adjusting a necktie that I realized wasn’t attached to my shirt.

Her eyes studied intensely, looking me up and down. “You came here… alone?” she asked.

“Well no, I was just… I’m waiting for my son to come out. He’s probably just grabbing his coat and, maybe a T-shirt. Those crazy kids,” I laughed, desperate.

“I didn’t know you had any children,” Carol said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I sure do.”

“Does your son know Fiona?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Hmm. Well how do you know her?”

I could feel the sweat dampening my armpits as though each had its own facet. “Well we, I go to the bookstore where she works, and I met her there, you know.”

“I see. What an interesting coincidence.”

“It is,” I said, grinning like a fool.

There was a break in the conversation, and though I couldn’t see Fiona through the tinted window, I heard her ask Carol if they could leave.

“Well,” said Carol, “I hope to see you in the office tomorrow.”

“Oh yes, of course.”

“You look like you could use a good night’s rest.”

The door closed and the car took off down a one way street, disappearing into the night. I sat back on the bench, letting out a long lamenting sigh, looking up at the streetcar and telephone cables above me like a kind of technological spider web filtering the view of the night sky. My phone buzzed in my pocket, alerting me of an incoming call. I answered it.


“Andrew? Where have you been, my God I was worried sick,” Kim said through the line.

“I was… I was just at the office,” I lied. “I lost my phone for a while but I found it… under my desk.”

“When I read your text I tried calling back but you didn’t pick up. I almost called the police!”

“I’m okay,” I said. “I’ll be home soon.”

“What did it mean?” she asked.

“What did what mean?”

“Your message, ‘I’m finished’?”

“Nothing,” I said. “It meant nothing. I meant I thought I was finished, uh, work for the day, but I had to stay later than I thought. I’ll be home soon.”

“Okay honey, I love you. Please don’t scare me like this again...”

“I won’t,” I said.

“See you when you get home. I went shopping and picked up steaks for tomorrow night. We’re having the Kennedy’s over for dinner.”

“Right,” I said. “I didn’t forget.”

“Oh, and I also picked up some more Metamucil for you.”

“Great. See you soon.”

I closed the phone and began the long trek home. I passed an elderly homeless man whose legs were covered in a worn red sleeping bag.

“Spare change?”

“Sure,” I said, dropping a handful of coins into his outstretched palm.

A lowered Cadillac pulled up to a stop sign, the windows down, bass and rap music blaring into the night air, a young driver and his passenger both dressed in sports jerseys and fitted hats.

“F*****g youth,” said the homeless man as the car took off.

“Foolish wisdom,” I replied.             

© 2010 Joel McCarthy

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How easily I stepped into the forty-something's shoes, reduced to a human moth unable to resist the beckoning flame. A little voice kept saying "There's no fool like an old fool," and I replied "Yeah, I know, but I can't help it."
This is a fine piece of writing, Joel, and reveals a truth about us male animals. Most of us, hopefully, could discipline ourselves and not yield to that kind of temptation, but it would almost assuredly take some real effort. The passing of years doesn't change men into statues, it just makes our bodies look bad.

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


This is not the sort of thing that I like to read, but it was interesting.
And very well written.
As I am reviewing someone's art, I consider it to be mandatory to read the author as well as the piece, so as to be able to give them information that they can use.
I feel this was a story written in a reasonably authentic way, with the reader being able to catch the drift, if you will. It seems a man has as an unhealthy and imbalanced attraction to a life that he is invisible in. I get the feeling the character was invisible not because he was not personable, but rather, sort of creepy. Not Freakcreepy, no. Less disgusting but to a caring onlooker friend or associate, ..... maybe wasteful, going through a crises,... wherein he is for all intents and purposes
Looking for love in all the wrong places.
I didn't particularly like any of the characters in this story. Which means the writer successfully articulated his story.
Ya love em or ya hate em. It's only bad if we readers cant Feel them.
The summary was Perfect.
Good work, one can tell you are motivated.

Posted 9 Years Ago

I really liked this one. It definitely pulled me in for like 80% of the entire story, which is 40% more than the stories I usually read. This is really great. I'm kind of acting like a suck-up, but I truly really don't know what else to say about it, except that the idea that the story doesn't really have a regular plot, yet it's intriguing and interesting. This definitely has more talent than potential, which is what all writers want. I liked the message and the idea that his life is completely full of lies. Nice job.

Posted 9 Years Ago

How easily I stepped into the forty-something's shoes, reduced to a human moth unable to resist the beckoning flame. A little voice kept saying "There's no fool like an old fool," and I replied "Yeah, I know, but I can't help it."
This is a fine piece of writing, Joel, and reveals a truth about us male animals. Most of us, hopefully, could discipline ourselves and not yield to that kind of temptation, but it would almost assuredly take some real effort. The passing of years doesn't change men into statues, it just makes our bodies look bad.

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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3 Reviews
Added on September 8, 2010
Last Updated on September 8, 2010


Joel McCarthy
Joel McCarthy

Mississauga, Canada

My name is Joel McCarthy and I write. Some of work has been published in magazines like PRISM International, The Feathertale Review, and Macabre Cadaver. I'll review whatever work I find that is polis.. more..


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