What do you do with a life? Given one, beyond the odds. Consider the goldfish in the hotel lobby, swimming endless, monotonous circuits inside a glass tank. Can't even sleep, that goldfish. What's the deal with fish not being able to sleep? Does God hate goldfish? No sex, no booze, no Superbowl (maybe the one it gets flushed down); it's a wonder God even lets them die. Call this a life? Around and around he goes, that little goldfish, the worst delirium nightmare imaginable, endless geometrical deja vu; even a rat trapped inside a maze has purpose; a clear, if futile impetus; that is, to escape. But to the goldfish, there's no escape; incessant, delirious orbits is reality in all it's potential savor.

The seventh collapse of sobriety happened inside the Jena Inn, in Mexico City, across the plaza from the Hotel Garbage. The shrieking magenta neon Hotel Garbage sign struck Cubby Diller as hilarious from his tenth floor Jena Inn balcony. Six airline-sized Don Cuervos... a Hotel Garbage sign... and Cubby Diller was as near to grasping postmodern ironies as could be managed by his thick, sodden, vague, mechanical brain. At the time (seven in the evening, first day in), the name 'Hotel Garbage' was, to him, a big fucking laugh. He figured it was the result of some pretentious Mexican's pidgin grasp of English, and he guffawed and shook his head over and over and over and over, though in the morning, still drinking, and somehow less confused, he realized that the sign said 'Hotel Garage' and was actually a parking structure meant for those Jena patrons with balls enough to wield vehicles through that raw, congested labyrinth. The city was a little slice of hell, ringed by volcanoes, battered by earthquakes, slowly sinking into a massive lake bed; there was cholera in the aquifers, amebic dysentery in the lettuce, lysteria in the chalupas, retroviruses in the prostitutes, thieves in the waiters, and as for the cops, don't even go there... might as well treat them like the Lions Club panhandlers hawking flags at the red lights and pay them off as soon as they approach, without waiting for the details.

Second day in, feeling lucid for the first time in three months, his head as clear as the sky beyond the manila-colored soot-canopy, maintaining his expansive mood, Cubby commandeered a cab, and headed toward a business meeting at the Crowne Plaza, across town. He was utterly tuned into every moment during that cab ride, the minutiae of every moment. Born again. He could subdivide each moment into an endless series of increments. Each passerby seethed, an individual metropolis, an infinite sequence of glittery contractions. Broad, perpetual, counterfeit grins hung on everybody everywhere, big as the one on the Cleveland Indian mascot. Everybody was teeth! So vibrant, extant. So wise. The men all wore green and red flags in their lapels and cast Cubby looks of: 'Don't think I'm not on to your game'.

Cubby's game was extremely complex, far more elaborate than he himself understood. It was an obscure, subterranean performance; it welled from a mystery fountain, like the one from which Samuel Coleridge dredged Kublai Khan while sleeping; and in Cubby, it made itself manifest three or four times each year, when VelCor Bearings (his employer), sent him to Mexico to sort out hysterical quality blips. VelCor manufactured guts that animated automotive driveshafts throughout the civilized world, but there were several insulating tiers of sub-assemblers between VelCor and the big players, the car builders, so these trips were basically meant to offer a show of commitment and a bit of technical support, and were not particularly difficult to handle. Otherwise, Diller would not have gone. He would not have been capable. But the small VelCor office was in Akron, and everybody else in it, chalky, tubby, naive Caucasians, had an irrational fear of Mexico. Cubby Diller, for a number of reasons, did not suffer from this particular phobia, this aversion; at least, not to the point of physical debility. So Diller was the body that went to represent the VelCor viewpoint during the hysterics. Every time.

Other than that, he was a pea for the thrust-bearing industry pod; fifty-six years old; overweight, half- blind, hypnotically unambitious; he'd spent the past thirty-five years doing a sad rustbelt manufacturing ladder-climb, going from an existence of intolerable brutality to one of tolerable dullness, from twelve hour stamping-plant shifts, through union ultimatums, seniority default promotions, mercy raises, to a floppy, non-vital, and largely undeserved white-collar engineering gig with an office and a Palm Pilot. He considered himself both untalented and tremendously fortunate to earn what he earned, and he was right: he did nothing throughout the course of his days but give occasional, unsound, ultimately ignored advice to much younger CAD designers. He had a ghastly wife who corrected his grammar, two grown children to whom he hadn't spoken in a long time, a Lawnboy, a split-level in Cumberland Heights, a mobile home on Northern Michigan acreage, a 401k worth maybe a hundred thousand. He had a low- def, but expensive Magnavox and a preference for A&E shows on Vietnam (an engagement from which he'd been exempted: lousy eyesight); he kept an old list of MIA's in a bureau drawer, and on occasion, he pored over the names with a peculiar, ineffable rapture, perplexed and intrigued by a system where men could melt away, dissolve, leave no trace. Otherwise, his existence moved forward without the slightest tint of technicolor. He rambled through each of his allotted increments, a dutiful myrmidon. He had no particular dreams. No gifts, no outrageous passions. He coveted nothing, neither his neighbor's goods nor his wife. (In fact, he hadn't thought about poontang subjectively since 1984). All his shirts had armpit ovals. He attended weekend Christian Fellowship retreats at Lake Lavigne. The only Byronic, non-predictable, exciting thing he'd ever done was to drunk-drive a blue Dodge 150 into a service transformer at six o'clock one morning and emerge without two of his teeth. From the hospital, in lieu of jail, he'd headed to a series of court-mandated, VelCor-financed, personally-welcomed AA moments, and since then, he'd mostly steered clear of hooch and transformers.

In fact, AA moments were little and late; his career was very nearly over by then and his position would evaporate with the next fiscal downsizing. If he sensed it, he didn't let on. In the meantime, he'd go eagerly to the altar when the automotive Aztecs wanted a sacrifice. From Cleveland to Columbus to Dallas to Mexico; a long day up and down. He spent every minute of it in a kind of Pavlovian dipsomaniacal frenzy, waiting for the final touchdown: he'd worked out his suburban alcoholism so effectively that he scarcely found any temptations in Akron, not inside familiar bars, not inside Vat 69 billboards, not inside hi-tech Miller ads; but these occasional business trips to Mexico had become his pressure cock, and since nothing much was required of him at the meetings, where the reports were generally given by overdressed men from Japan, and he didn't find anything even slightly perplexing in himself falling off the wagon with both feet, several times a year, directly onto the dusty Aeropuerto tarmac.

If it wasn't for a string of brightly-colored souvenirs he'd returned with, over and over and over again, to the utter horror of the ghastly wife... that would have been the end of that.