#FridayFlash: The One Thing You Need To Be Happy

The One Thing You Need To Be Happy

by Tony Noland

"Only one thing? It'd take more than one to make me happy." With a flick of his wrist, the empty bottle flipped end over end, smashing against the concrete wall in a disintegration of green glass. Shards flew outward in a parabolic shell, rebounding off the wall, raining down into the pit. He took another empty bottle from the case, drew back for another throw. "A miserable son of a bitch like me? More than one thing, that's for damn sure." His tattooed arm winged forward and another perfect shower of broken glass erupted and fell.

"There's gotta be something, Stick. How about a winning lottery ticket?" Manny leaned against the steel fence, watching the bottles explode. Stick drank Rolling Rock, not because he particularly liked the taste, but because the labels were printed on the glass. He said it made the bottles break better than most brands, with their glued-on paper labels. Having lobbed many kinds of bottles into the recycling pits, Manny had to agree. Once you'd gotten the hang of smashing empty Rolling Rocks, nothing else came close in terms of destructive satisfaction.

"Nah, I don't want no lottery ticket. If I won a hundred million dollars, I'd just quit working and drink myself to death." One foot canted outward, Stick whipped an empty sidearm. It curled in the air before shattering against the left sidewall of the green glass pit, just ahead of the corner. The fragments smashed off the sidewall, pounded into the back wall and arced upwards in a flat spray, a plane of glinting green light that sliced downward in a line. "As it is, job gives me somethin' to do. I gotta get up every morning to go to work. Beer money don't grow on trees."

"How about a woman? A good woman, not like you-know-who."

Stick's hand paused over his case for a moment, then pulled another empty. "Nope," he said, "a woman ain't a thing. She's a lotta different things, a buncha things that change from one day to the next. We're talking about one thing, just one thing you need to be happy." He considered his throw carefully. With a soft, spinning lob, Stick made the bottle pop against the back wall, mouth end first. The lip and neck cracked off, leaving the intact bottom to drop downward. It impacted into a big, unbroken wine bottle, a thick-walled gallon jug. The beer bottle bounced upward in five big pieces, the chunks arcing outward in a star shape. Stick laughed. "You see that? Did you see that? God bless Earnest and Julio Gallo, huh? That was beautiful!"

Manny clapped his hands softly. "You've got the touch, man. You shoulda been a pitcher."

Stick grunted and spit into the pit. "Pitcher? Like as in a baseball pitcher? Bullshit. A newspaper delivery guy, maybe, throwing papers onto porches out in the suburbs, but a baseball pitcher? Bullshit." He waved his hand dismissively, but smiled as he did so. He looked down into the box at the last empty bottle. This was the last case, too. Once that bottle was gone, it would be another month, maybe two before he came back to the municipal recycling center.

"I always hate to throw the last bottle," Stick said. "Pathetic, huh? How frickin' sad is that, a dumb bastard so far gone that smashing beer bottles is the high point of his life?" He held the bottle for a moment, then threw it backhand against the wall. It shattered as beautifully as all the others had, a perfect starburst of fragments flying upwards, shining in the sunlight before falling into the pit, there to be lost amid all the other bottles and jugs, broken and unbroken.

They stood for a while, listening to the near-silence of distant seagulls on the landfill. Without the sound of their own bottles drowning it out, it was just possible to hear the soft, grinding groan of the glass, shifting as it settled down in the pit. Green glass, brown glass, clear glass... they all shivered and settled in their respective beds, coming to a deeper resting place, rocked by the subterranean vibrations of the shredders in the metal shed.

"Come on," said Stick. "Let's get out of here." They picked up the empty cardboard cases and tossed them in the back of Manny's truck. All the newspaper and cardboard would go into the bins by the exit. Manny started the truck, but didn't put it in gear right away.

"OK, how about this. How about if it's not, y'know, globally happy, not perfectly happy in every way, forever and ever, amen. Instead, let's say... kinda happy." Manny waggled his hand. "Or maybe perfectly happy, but just for a little while. How about that?"

Stick considered this. "For like, what, a day?"

"A day, an hour, whatever." Manny put the truck in drive and drove toward the exit. "It's gotta be one thing, though, just one thing."

With the radio playing and the trash-scented breeze moving through the open windows, Stick considered what the one thing might be that could make a man happy, even for an hour.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. You can find beauty in anything, if you just look. I suspect a romantic streak in this cynical bastard. Nicely done. I love the whole philosophical tone...

  2. Nice slice of life. You show very well how a person can stick firmly with the impossibility of seeing oneself as being good at anything and being quite okay with it. Love the imagery of the dying bottles.

  3. like the thread here of happiness, or at least yearning for it. the smashing bottles quite awesome -- can hear the clunking, the shattering. peace...

  4. Tony...
    One of your best. Or maybe it is just my kind of story, with my kind of characters. Not a bad hour for Stick and Manny. Hope they crop up again sometime.

  5. I love these kind of stories from you, Tony. Another excellent slice-of-life with a fantastic closing line.

  6. I'm with Peg - I dig these characters, Manny & Stick. And the paragraph where you describe the glass settling? Unbelievably good.

  7. I would be very happy to throw bottles against a wall or chop down a tree or toss pebbles into a lake. Your writing is exactly what it needs to be - simple, real, and evocative. This is beautiful in it's rough characters and common humanness.

  8. Ha! It's the little things in life that make up happiness, not one big thing.
    Maybe over the next month he'll figure out what the one little thing is :-)

  9. Love the characters, as well as your descriptons of the glass shattering. Particularly loved the line 'God bless Earnest and Julio Gallo, huh?' as I like their wine!

    They seem like a pair of miserable characters, but likeable all the same.

  10. Excellent use of language in this slice of life. I love the focus on the bottles smash-smashing.

  11. This has quite a meditative quality to it. I venture to think he's possibly already found what would make him happy. Sometimes it really is the little things.

  12. Nice look at these two characters. Too bad they can't see the hour of happiness they already have: breaking Rolling Rock bottles.

  13. "they all shivered and settled in their respective beds, coming to a deeper resting place, rocked by the subterranean vibrations of the shredders in the metal shed."

    What a great piece of observational description, it shines out in your story.
    Really good read.

  14. Seems so typical of life, right? That "one thing" staring you in the face but it seems too simple to be worthwhile. Reminds me of me. Thanks for the view.

  15. @ganymeder: I suspect a romantic streak in this cynical bastard. Damn, I thought I hid that pretty well. Or were you talking about my story?

    @Mari: Thanks, Mari!

    @Linda: Happiness is a popular topic, isn't it?

    @pegjet: Why thank you, I'm glad you liked it!

    @Danni: Sometimes, you just need to open your eyes. 8-)

    @Cathy: This is a true-to-life experience. I used to recycle bottles in just this manner. Cinema verite.

    @Apple: There's a satisfaction in doing something well, isn't there? Skipping stones is a perfect analogy.

    @mazzz: I don't think Stick is ever going to recognized his own moments of happiness. He's not really that kind of a guy.

    @Rebecca: I'm a Yellow Tail man myself. When I'm not drinking scotch, that is.

    @Hayley: Thank you!

    @Icy: Now he just has to recognize what's staring him in the face!

    @Eric: Too bad they can't see the hour of happiness they already have: breaking Rolling Rock bottles. Exactly. It's like Apple said up above - a pleasant activity. Stick is so good at this that, in a way, he's elevated it to a kind of performance art.

    @flyingscribbler: I'm glad you liked that description. That's exactly what huge piles of broken glass really do sound like, if you have enough quiet to listen to them.

    @Bev: Thanks for reading!

    @Raven: Sometimes the deep philosophical discussions can take place in the humblest of places. Thanks for the comment!

  16. The characters in this piece were very real and vivid. I could imagine them sitting there throwing the bottles and talking. I like how you left the ending open, leaving the reader to guess what it was. I'm guessing it was throwing Rolling Rock bottles.

  17. A couple of guys who might want to think they're not likeable… but they are. At least they're busting glass at the recycling bin, you know? Vent some steam without causing a problem for anyone else. Maybe not the brightest bulbs on the string, but decent at the core.

  18. I like these guys. Effective characterization through dialogue and detail. Shattered bottles, shattered dreams? What, if anything, would make Stick happy? The question lingers. I'd like to know more about the woman mentioned. : ) Nice piece, Tony.

  19. The character with which they discuss the situation is endearing, Tony. I liked their rustling dialogue.

  20. Eric beat me to it ... they've got the one thing and either don't recognize it or are refusing to.

    Nice work, Tony, as always.

  21. I love this Tony, one of your best, and I too would love to hear more from these two. Great names, Manny and Stick, I imagine they've been friends for quite some time. Give us more...please!

  22. I don't know what the hey happened, but that "D" person is me, Deanna. :)

  23. made me smile reminds me of my uncle :)


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