Piano music plays softly as a man in underwear walks through an immaculate apartment. His environment drips clean lines and control. His body is expertly developed, Mediterranean brown and muscle bound, but tastefully.
He lists off his skin routine.
Deep-pore cleanser lotion. Water-activated gel cleanser. Honey almond body scrub. Exfoliating gel scrub. A herb-mint facial mask. Aftershave lotion with little or no alcohol. Moisturiser, anti-ageing eye balm, final moisturising protective lotion.
I believe in taking care of myself, with a balanced diet and a rigorous exercise routine. In the morning if my face is a little puffy, I’ll put on an ice pack while doing my stomach crunches. I can do a thousand now.
A few decades later in an alternate reality, ambient house music plays as a man in underwear walks through an immaculate apartment dripping clean lines and control. His body is expertly developed. A voice oozes over the top of the video.
I do today what people aren’t willing to do, so I can do tomorrow what they can’t. I take a cold shower instead of coffee, it wakes me up instantly and is good for my skin.
He likes to starts his day off with a win, rising at 5am to outwork his competition.
I hate running and I hate morning work-outs. I do both.
Building one brand is nearly impossible so having five is insane, he admits. To aid his concentration, he chooses from two expensive wrist watches. His laptop is cased in Italian leather. His apartment looks like a boutique hotel, he drives a super car.
The first man is a serial axe murderer with borderline personality disorder, the second is a self-proclaimed CEO of five companies who just turned 24. One of them is a fictional character, one is not. This is their morning routine.
As I sat there staring at my laptop screen watching Jose Zuniga exercise, shower and dress in slow-motion it became apparent the spirit of Patrick Bateman in 2020 was alive and well.
By the time Jose had sat down for lunch and cracked a can of zero calorie tangerine & strawberry San Pellegrino to begin working his way through a chicken caesar salad while explaining how eating clean is something he lives by because as he always likes to say, health is wealth, I began to feel physically ill.
I figured my revulsion was down to how ridiculous it all was, how staged and bland, the sociopathic narcissism of Jose’s routine. The slow-motion, the six-pack, the steam rising up from the cold shower. But looking harder I realised it was something deeper, something in me.
Jose and I were the same person.
Staring into those deep brown eyes concealed behind designer sunglasses, I saw me staring back. As he sat there at lunch outworking his competition, planning his next ‘win’, Jose was the embodiment of every time I’d been in complete control of my life. What made me feel sick was the acrid reminder of how totally empty it felt to feel that good. To be that in control.
I don’t have a six-pack or drive a super car, or have 1.3m instagram followers but my life at times has felt like a never breaking wave moving gently along a silvery shore. Times when I was on a roll and my shirt felt crisp on my skin and things were full of possibility, and I’d go into an expensive deli and sit down to eat a fresh salad and sip sparkling mineral water. And the clean lines of the deli and the crunch of the raddichio would mirror my inner peace.
And I would hate myself.
The veneer of wellbeing would float away and just below the surface I would hear the gurgle of fear and self-loathing rise up inside. Like that level of wellbeing could only make me feel dirty. And this happened without fail. As if I could never warm to my life when it was trying to convince me how well it was doing.
Being alive is a bit crap.
It’s not wrist watches and super cars and light bouncing off your abdominals. It’s a string of disappointments and regrets that come packaged together in a cloud of doom as you lie in bed at night thinking back over each wrong turn.
Most mornings I wake up wondering how I’m going to mess up or who I’ll disappoint or what thing will expose me as a fraud while I wade through a quagmire of shrunken socks and empty promises. I don’t really trust anyone who won’t admit their life is a disaster.
Nobody wants to hear how you made slow intense love to a supermodel. Keep telling people how well your life is going and they will stop relating to you. I don’t trust Jose because in my own small way I’ve been there. I cracked the San Pelli, I tasted the raddichio.
You could have a mirror in your office which says look at yourself that’s your competition but there’s still someone out there with more followers and better abs and you’ll stain your chinos and lock yourself on the shitter and some old dude with a red backpack will ruin your engagement photo.
The Taoists believed the right place to walk was the line between order and chaos. Too much of one was detrimental to a balanced life. The way they saw it chaos needed ordering and order required some messing up, but to be on one side of the divide was bad news.
I’d say my life is mainly chaos with a light sprinkling of low-calorie order. But I feel something when I’m a mess, when I’m battling with the world and my emotions. Like I’m contending with what it is to be alive, rolling my boulder up a hillside, bearing the weight of my cross. I don’t feel that when I dupe myself or whoever else into believing my life is fantastic. All I feel is smug. And then empty.
Watching Jose go about his day was a lightbulb moment. The closer I was to that type of control the more squalid I felt. The feeling of clean living, the wash of ice cold sparkling mineral water down my throat, all of it was looking outside myself. And that isn’t where salvation lies, ask Andy Dufresne.
Maybe this is less about living right and more about the masks we wear.
Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth, wrote Oscar Wilde.
But look at Instagram. I don’t see an ocean of truth on there, I feel like the truth lives on the one side of the screen that nobody sees. Odds on the person whose life looks most together is compensating for something. Turns out Jose’s apartment was a hotel lobby after all, and he’d rented his super car for the morning. We should fear the masquerade but the masked might be the most afraid of all.
Give a man too many herb-mint facial masks and watch what happens.
There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman. Some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me. Only an entity. Something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping mine and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable…
I am simply not there.