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A Portrait of the Alt-Bro as a Young Dumbass

The Awl 28 69

Via Medium

A Portrait of the Alt-Bro as a Young Dumbass

It’s 11AM on the 4th day of Spring Break. He’s reading Steppenwolf at a minimal loft cafe that sells tote bags and leather notebooks and beard lube. He’s drinking a $4 Americano and debating whether…

by Gavin Tomson

It’s 11AM on the 4th day of Spring Break. He’s reading Steppenwolf at a minimal loft cafe that sells tote bags and leather notebooks and beard lube. He’s drinking a $4 Americano and debating whether he should step outside to roll a cigarette. Earlier today, when he arrived at the café, which by the way is called “Brooklyn,” he thought to himself, One ought only to smoke on weekends. Yet Spring Break is currently revealing-itself-to-him-as-weekend, so he goes outside to smoke. As he observes, flâneuristically, the soft light play upon the Portuguese Church steeples across him, he feels he’s on the verge of a profound realization, a Joycean epiphany, something that will blow his mind. Google, is he manic-depressive? Sometimes he feels so much, it’s almost unbearable. There’s no way most people feel as much as he does. He’s unique. He might be a genius. He’s certainly heterosexual. He’s probably going to grad school.

He is the Alternative-Bro.

Dumpster diving though his rent is paid for him, arranging gatherings between radicals less privileged than he, calling everything “dialectical,” listening to chillwave, perpetually nodding, feeling “depressed”: this is what the Alt-Bro lives for. This is what intoxicates him “in a particularly Dionysian way.”

The Alt-Bro is now thinking, as he observes an elderly woman enter the Portuguese church, Religion has done a lot of terrible things, obviously, but it has done a lot of good things, also, and this is something most people don’t understand. The Alt-Bro wishes most people thought about things as much as he does. He’s neither elitist nor classist, but he doesn’t trust people who don’t “fundamentally feel ideas.” He says things like, “But then you start to think in iambic pentameter and it’s fucked.” The Alt-Bro takes himself seriously.

The Alt-Bro has a gift for looking like he’s thinking. His desktop background is of Swedish architecture. The Alt-Bro is in “an open relationship” with a girl who doesn’t call it an “open relationship.” He claims to be attracted to “both men and women,” though he finds “something special” about women. He doesn’t know what it is. It is a mystery.

The Alt-Bro is “passed” binary thinking. He’s interested in Buddhism, though only intellectually. He’s “really getting into non-duality these days.”

The Alt-Bro is always really getting into something. He cares about ideas so much! The Alt-Bro has witnessed too many of his intellectual peers succumb to caring about lesser things such as gender and postcolonialism. The group of self-identified queers who run his university’s left-wing newspaper and volunteer at community kitchens and publish their undergraduate essays in graduate journals are “pretty chill,” the Alt-Bro guesses, but “what they fail to realize is that some things transcend politics.” The Alt-Bro never fails to realize.

The Alt-Bro is always “transcending” something. The Alt-Bro uses “Dude” as punctuation. “Dude” can mean “!” or “.” or even “:”

The Alt-Bro tells sad stories about his childhood to girls in their bedrooms. Yeah, well, in one sense, he does consider himself a feminist, but “it’s just so much more complex than that.”

The Alt-Bro believes he’s a good person. The Alt-Bro pretends he has self-hating thoughts. At house parties, the Alt-Bro asks girls if they’ve read The Doors of Perception. He tells them they should read Hunter S. Thompson and “get into gonzo journalism,” though he himself doesn’t plan to write journalism because it’s “too commercially contingent” and besides, he’d rather work on his novel. His novel is tentatively entitled, Towards Death.

In his bedroom, the Alt-Bro keeps a bottle of whiskey next to his case of vinyl records and Kim Jong Il’s On the Art of the Cinema. The Alt-Bro jerks off to X-Art on YouPorn. Afterward he logs onto Facebook without washing his hands.

The Alt-Bro doesn’t have “much faith” in Judith Butler. The Alt-Bro is going to get a PhD. Probably he’ll get a PhD in philosophy but he “doesn’t really know German” (or French) and he’s open to other options “if and only if” he doesn’t have to “fall from the realm of ideas.”

The Alt-Bro thinks things like, Imagine how much more beautiful the world would be if you believed God created it.

The Alt-Bro is deeper than you.

The Alt-Bro lives in a loft space with three other Alt-Bros. Together they arrange “good people gatherings” and ingest psychedelics and play drone music and make ephemeral screen-prints of vaguely Japanese foliage. At the beginning of these gatherings, the Alt-Bro says to the other attendees, also Alt-Bros, “What matters most is not the art we plan to make today, but that we all came together, to be in this space.” The Alt-Bro loves talking about space and he loves nodding. The Alt-Bros all nod together because they’re such good dudes.

The Alt-Bro’s inner world is full of conflict. He keeps death in mind in order to live authentically.

The Alt-Bro says things like, “I’m in love with solitude.” He says, “I love to to take long walks in the forest, as Nietzsche did.” The Alt-Bro manages to be at once earnest and oblivious to what other people think of him. The Alt-Bro romanticizes mental illness. He feels “pretty insane sometimes.”

The Alt-Bro thinks all his friends will become intellectuals. He lives his life like he’s the protagonist of an un-ironic Künstlerroman. “Is it impossible for a guy and a girl to have a relationship that’s not romantic?” he asks women his age or younger. The Alt-Bro finds something cruel about humor, yet he hasn’t uncovered what precisely it is.

The Alt-Bro listens to Ethiopian jazz.
The Alt-Bro wants to astral-project.
The Alt-Bro who reads this will think he’s an exception.

At a party, the Alt-Bro speaks to a queer anarchist with a lisp about beekeeping. The Alt-Bro says, “Don’t affect that lisp. It’s offensive to people who have lisps.”

For lunch, the Alt-Bro eats cheese and baguettes because Europe is better. The Alt-Bro endorses collective politics so long as he gets to lead. The Alt-Bro bikes everywhere without a helmet and keeps his bike chain looped to his belt and never signals. “I know I look like I’m completely out of control when I’m biking,” he tells people, “but I’m actually completely in control.”

The Alt-Bro doesn’t shit talk. The Alt-Bro “discusses what people are like.”

The Alt-Bro will finish his undergrad and pursue an MA at the university where he did his undergrad. He’ll barely pass his classes because he’ll be too busy writing a “philosophical column” in the undergraduate left-wing newspaper which will be run by a fresh batch of precocious self-identified queers who replaced the old ones because the old ones have moved on.

The Alt-Bro will develop a general sense of malaise with the world as he’s experiencing it. He’ll claim to have an existential crisis. He’ll cut his hair and record an EP called Guilt.

The Alt-Bro will actually start to feel guilty. His guilt will impel him to have another realization: I should stop intellectualizing things so much and just act. The Alt-Bro will apply to speak at panels on gender and colonialism. He won’t get accepted to speak at any of them. The Alt-Bro will tell people he’s moving to Berlin but will instead move to Brooklyn because in Brooklyn people speak English. He’ll “live as a writer” for two weeks. Then he’ll return to his loft space because he doesn’t have a job and he hasn’t written anything and everyone in Brooklyn looks like him, just more hip.

The Alt-Bro will receive his graded MA thesis in the mail and check his eyesight. He’ll realize yet another thing: I don’t have the grades to apply to PhDs. The Alt-Bro will call his parents and tell them he wants to apply to another MA program. They’ll say, “But you already have an MA,” and the Alt-Bro will argue with them and hang up. That afternoon, the Alt-Bro will meet a young woman for coffee. They are “really good friends, but it’s platonic.” He’ll complain about his problems. The young woman will finally say, ending their friendship, “You need to grow up.”

The Alt-Bro will begin to feel real depression. He’ll get scared because though he’s talked so much about being depressed, he’s never actually been depressed.

The next four weeks the Alt-Bro will spend unemployed, nodding at drone shows. At one of these shows he’ll meet a 2nd-year Art History student outside having a smoke. The Alt-Bro will ask her for a cigarette and then talk about himself and his problems. The 2nd-year Art History student will mistake his self-indulgence for vulnerability. Later that night, after the venue closes, they’ll eat bagels together at a 24-Hour diner. By then the Alt-Bro will feel too fatigued to talk, so he’ll just keep nodding. The Alt-Bro loves to nod. The Art History student will mistake his constant nodding for listening. The next afternoon she’ll ask him via text message if he wants to hang out and he’ll say, “Yeah.”

The 2nd-year Art History student and the Alt-Bro will hang out a few times in his big loft bedroom. He’ll talk about how scared he feels. The 2nd-year Art History student will try to comfort him by “putting things in perspective.” Soon this pattern will feel repetitive, so she’ll ask, “Why don’t we go outside and do something?” The Alt-Bro will tell her he’s too depressed to do something. She’ll say, “I understand that, but sometimes it really does help to get out of the house.”

Later that week, the two of them will bike to a public park and drink wine and smoke the Alt-Bro’s rolled cigarettes. The wine will remind the Alt-Bro of art, so he’ll start asking the Art History student about her interests and childhood. She’ll tell him a lot, and she’ll start to feel vulnerable. The next day the Alt-Bro will hardly respond to her texts. When he does, he’ll space his responses in such a way that must be deliberate. The 2nd-year Art History student will come over to his loft space and find him in his bedroom. She’ll ask, voice warbling, “What do you want from this?” The Alt- Bro will turn to the wall and mumble something incoherent. The 2nd-year Art History student will ask, “What?” He’ll say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know. I’m just confused about everything.” Feeling hurt and manipulated, the 2nd-year Art History student will leave the Alt-Bro’s loft space and ignore his apologetic texts.

The Alt-Bro will go on to study architecture.

Gavin Tomson is the recent winner of The Dalhousie Review’s inaugural short story contest and his writing is forthcoming in Maisonneuve and Joyland. He lives in Toronto, where he works as a publicity agent for The Puritan and writes for its bloggy appendage, the Town Crier. Illustration by Vincent Tao.