The Public Face of Fireflies (A Farce) 18 November 2015

THE PUBLIC FACE OF FIREFLIES:

By BRANDON K. NOBLES

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

1

Mrs. Martha Herington

 

MY FATHER WAS AN ARCHITECT, AND HE THOUGHT LIKE one. He was of the Bernini, Borromini school of thought, working out the higher geometry, making walls bend and breathe and carry you to the more elaborate façade. When he got the contract to build a luxury apartment complex, in downtown San Francisco, I dropped out of college (I was studying the electric impulses between axons and dendrites at Cal Tech) because I knew I’d get a room. I bummed around for a while, taking lots of baths and naps, washing my hands a lot, and playing chess with Fritz, a digital German. He’s German. And it’s nobody’s fault but his own!

It was completed in a remarkably short period of time. You know, a lot of people don’t believe that primitive man could’ve built the pyramids at Giza or Palinkae, so they postulate an extraterrestrial source, alien interference. But after seeing a group of three hundred Mexicans build such an apartment building in a year a half, I think it should be done. And it was magnificent, elegant, subtle, in the most perfect taste: there were four ringed sections, one atop another like white, porcelain tires, and the windows that ran along the circumference in between them were reflective glass, so the contrast was nice; an ivory white next to rings of sunlight reflecting silver.

The center of it the grounds was a courtyard with a pool, which any resident could see from their banister Stonehenge would be child’s play for Julio and Jake. That’s right. One of the engineers was a Mexican man named Jake. I thought that was an anachronism. Then I found that he had a son named Steve. America has ruined a once proud people. Think about it. Have you ever met a Mexican named Jake? Or Steve? Must be aliens. Mexican aliens. Named Jake. And Steve. To their credit, their last name was Giminez, That’s how I like my Mexican names! Without an ‘ez’ it just doesn’t feel right. I call him Julio. First they came for our jobs and now they’re Jake and Steve? This country really has changed. I guess it’s all about adaptation, acclimation. I guess being called Enrique (Julio, Juan, and Enrique are the only three Mexican names in my lexicon,,, Lupe? I don’t know if that’s a Mexican name but I do know there is a pornstar, Little Lupe, and she looks Mexican) instead of Steve could do more to ostracize the child. I imagine the same thing happened when the Spanish decided it was a game of Finders-Keepers (Genocide Edition) when they went to the Americas. They were usually converted to Christianity. And if they refused, they were converted to ash. Herman Cortez gets a lot of credit; but, Francisco Pizzaro was a much, much bigger asshole. He led a holy Crusade in the name of Gold. Can you blame him? It’s pretty! And consider all the things you can do with it. You can hang it on your neck so people can look at it. You can give it to women so they’ll fuck you

The first sign of life outside my new apartment was that of an elderly Victorian lady, well dressed, wearing a most handsome shawl. She was on the other side of the corridor in a heated argument with a member of the staff, my lone friend Charles bearing the brunt of her misplaced rage. My door slammed behind me as I walked onto the balcony. The idea was to wake my friends. Instead the noise brought her wild eyes to bear on me. I saw the veins electric red and much the worse for drink. It was 9am, on a Thursday. Not a holiday. She was wasted. There are no adjectives, no adverbs either, no words by description would serve to convey how wasted that old lady was. She was flammable. She slurred her pauses.

The young attendant, Charles, with masterful poise and delicacy, held his own. When she looked at him, I wondered, to what percentage of probability, had she forgotten what the argument was about, where the young man in the blue suit came from, if he was real, or if he feared death. I imagined his equation was more banal: Thursday, some drunk yells at me. Monday, I get a new TV.

He shrugged off her remonstrance.

“Yes ma’am,” he said. “I understand. Yes ma’am. Trust me, Mrs. Herington, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“See that it does not!” she said.

The reason for the argument, back track thirty minutes: she couldn’t get her television remote to work. She stood there for thirty minutes pointing the damn thing at the TV before throwing it against the wall. Her face was flushed. Exhausted, she sat beside the liquor cabinet to think it over. After a few shots of Crown Royal she called the front desk. This, from what I’ve heard, happened all the time. A bit of discretion was assumed when dealing with Mrs. Herington; she was a wealthy benefactor who owned a lot stock and was, as I’ve said, quite drunk.

Charles, a most charming and discrete young man, was sent to her room to see he could help her rectify the situation. He found her on the floor. And from what I’ve heard, that was not uncommon either. The remote was on the floor across the room. Being the consummate professional he is, Charles identified the problem, changed the batteries, and turned the television on. Successful, he tried to rouse “Mrs. Herington?” he said. “Ma’am?”

“Charles?” an employee called from the hall.

“I’m coming!”

This was the first thing she heard when she came to. She opened her eyes to find a man knelt above her, a man she didn’t recognize—an unknown face. She squinted, trying to bring the blurry face into focus. With no recollection of her call to the front desk, no memory of the reassurance that someone would be around to assist her, she promptly lost her god damn mind..

“It was out of batteries,” he said. “Want to see if it works?”

Big smile.

Her mind recoiled in horror, seeing the blurry object in his hand; it was most suggestive. She crawled away in a fever, full of panic, her buxom chest rising and falling as she yelled. She pulled herself upright with the aid of a leather ottoman. Charles tried to talk. Everything he said was curtly interrupted by more unintelligible screaming. Her yelling and cursing brought Stanley, another employee, into the room. The brief circus brought the upstairs tenants, except Julianne, to their balconies to watch the show.

She didn’t understand the situation at the time, nor did she at any moment throughout the totality of their argument. They finally got things squared away when the situation was addressed in context. The squabble was put to rest. Mrs. Herington regained her composure. She wasn’t to any degree lucid, but she wore the indignant face of understanding. “Would you care to dine?”

“Yes, young mister,” she said. She gave her order and he scribbled it on his pad and bowed, taking leave to bring her lunch.

Her delicate fingers went to her throat, perhaps now hoarse, her mind fatigued, and for a moment, I saw through the public face: I looked at her eyebrows and drooping eyelids, a slightly unfocused melancholy, the face of poignant vulnerability—everything softening the face of a tough old bird, wistful in a certainty, her leathery hands trembling, the fingertips of her white letter gloves looked frayed, her frock old and heroically worn.

She checked the time on a golden pocket watch and took two pills from a small medical box that hung from her neck. It contained the day’s regimen of medication; she dumped two pills into her hand and hailed the midday trolley, which carried certain amenities, and made its rounds before and after lunch. Mrs. Herington hailed the trolley and stuffed a twenty in the young girl’s pocket and poured her drink herself, she ate the olive and with a quick gesture she emptied the entire compliment of medication, two familiar yellow, and vodka in a single shot.

She walked to the nearest window and looked across the road to the children at play in the park. Her pose relapsed, the rigidity of contortion softened, and there was calm. However brief, however fleeting, for a moment… there was calm.

The forever loyal Charles returned with her dinner almost an hour later—her food was never pre-prepared, always served fresh, not reheated.

“Mrs. Herington,” he said.

“Yes?”

She turned around to face him.

“Your dinner,” Charles said. “Is there anything else I can do?”

Big smile.

That same smile—it triggered imagined impressions mistaken for memory as the misfiring neurotransmitters in mind lit up like a pinball machine, the bridge between memory and imagination was obscured; then she remembered the face, the face that leered over her, the same man who tried to take advantage of her—in her room—with that same big smile. Her body shook in terrified spasms, like a wolverine on angel dust was locked in the room with her, and it was that same horror as before yet this time her voice failed her.

She opened the lid—thinking it to be drugged or even lethal—and, upon seeing the steak, the rolls and cutlery, she flipped the tray into the floor and jumped up and down on the food like an incontinent and stubborn child—having not received their desired toy for Christmas or a birthday not nice enough.

Mrs. Herington dug the steak into the floor under her white, ivory colored heels, polished with a bow atop her socks a silk cream colored, lighter shade of white, perfect contrast in the Old country manner.

Those same electric diodes red lit by the fires of confusion returned. Charles backed away and held the black tray as a shield along his forearm. She yelled something in broken English, something that might prick the ear of the most profane of Irish sailors and disappeared into her room. She came out a moment later holding her bonnet to her head with a steady hand. Her pace quickened as she rounded the oval corner and passed me on her way to the EXIT. She opened the door and there were hurried steps on the iron stairs.

Not again, Charles thought.

I yelled across the chasm (the second rung orbited the main stairwell; each apartment opened into the oval corridor): “Think of the TV, Charlie! “I said. “Think of the TV!”

Charles and another employee split up in pursuit, one down the stairs behind her, the other on an intercept course out front. An hour later they found her over tea and reading Sense and Sensibility at a coffee house just down the street. She introduced herself to Charles and his confederate, Stanley, and was courteous, receptive to curtsy; an amicable and charming English lady of character and breeding, on the face of her. She finished the first chapter of her book slid a napkin into the book as an improvised mark and was escorted back to the hotel. Charles went so far as to open her very door. Charles was a consummate professional.

“Nice to meet you, young Sir,” she said. “Good evening!”

 

 

 

 

 

2

Mr. Charles Edward Heron, Jr.

 

Charlie and I had been friends since we met at Oxford; I completed my final honor’s questions, and, when asked what my plans were, I responded that if I only got a second class degree, I would stay at Oxford; if I got a first, I would go to Cambridge. I got a first.

Charlie found himself on the same uneven ground as I, as we both had some clichéd hard-luck cases and each day we drank away, too many dead-end roads to go anywhere in life, just pointless nights, each day the same with nothing to show for it at the end of the night.

Charlie dropped out before taking a degree—his mother being sick. He moved back home to help take care of her.

He cooked and cleaned and helped his mother bathe, helped her use the toilet, and wrapped her stick-figure arms and legs in an old towel and helped her into the living room to watch cartoons with Annie. He took care of his sister, too, hoping that her laughter never died. He conjured up a flight of fancy: a future, finding himself lost in cusp of death the memories of a short life dying and he heard that laugh that Annie left with him so long ago—and in that moment, he heard that laughter that he kept and in hearing it found joy, even in so dark a place, some prison in his mind where he passed away in peace. The dream was gone as fast as it appeared but left him with a smile.

He still remembered that night, the blue flowers wet from the rain and standing there he was a child at heart afraid to lose his mother. The silence was broken only by the murmur of a heart rate monitor a child at heart afraid to lose his mother. The heart monitor broke the silence of the silent hall. The desperation of one moment took his breath away when the irregular beating flat the green seismic shocks an arrow.

In the chaos of the moment doctors in their white coats rushed in with a crash cart and defibrillators. The show, the scene slowed down as attendees ran into the room to save a woman who died a long time ago, when her hair was brown and her cheeks puffy and tinted pink with rogue, smiling with her children in front of a snowman in the sun of a winter day at their house in the country. Charlie remained unflinching still in the hallway with those same wet flowers distant, numb, unable to hear what the doctor was telling him. That machine with the bright green numbers and its collapsing sequence recorded her passage through.

The same disease would five months later take his sister too, his sister Anna—Anna—she was five years old and always wore this one dress that her grandma made and it was blue with lace trimmings and that’s how he saw her in the sunlight on the hill chasing butterflies and laughing, not hooked to machines that showed how short her once happy life would be. He had a voice message on his phone from her and saved it for so long; he hears Annie laughing in the background and she says I want to tell him and she says Charlie I got a new puppy his name is Leo won’t you come by later and see me? I love you!

He drifted in and out of Vodka bottles, anything was not too much a price to pay for the loss of such a girl, no end to rectify it, no hand of God, just the cold and callused hand of an uncaring world that selected against the weak.

I kept a conscious hand on Charlie’s pulse, and, after running into him at a coffee shop downtown, had a chance to talk to him for the first time in years. He looked just like the clean-cut Marine poster type with a square jaw and short cropped hair, while I redefined grunge on a daily basis. He wasn’t up to anything, he said, and looking for a job. I was able to get him down to the hotel and apartment complex. I called Diane—a manager who showed yours truly more tenderness than I can fit into a PG13 story. I told her about him, the whole sad story, and, to my disbelief—she cared. She told me that I ‘better not bring in a junkie’ and since Charles was a hard working professional type—you can tell when a kid had a good father—she hired him right away.

 

 

 

 

3

A Night’s Carouse

 

Charles found me after work, in my little corner of the world, having not moved since he left. It was common for him to stop by and have a few drinks and a laugh. I was on the balcony, smoking a cigarette, reading my favorite piece of old French literature, Phèdre. I thought of Oenone, a character from that queer old tale, every time I looked at the pool below.

Charlie sat across from me and took his jacket off, unbuttoning the cumbersome red employee outfit until he was down to a soaked white t-shirt, sweat beading off his hair and forehead. I got a washcloth from the cooler and tossed it to him. A little water on the face, his cheeks, a cold towel on the back of the neck, he freshened up. He tossed the towel to the side and lit a cigarette.

He recalled the day, from the batteries to the coffee shop, and, having bore the brunt of great personal tragedy as he had, was undeterred by Mrs. Herington’s reproach. He had yet to learn to time Mrs. Herington’s lucidity cycle.

“I’ve bourbon and Coke on ice,” I said. “You don’t have work tomorrow, do you?”

“I don’t know how to thank you for this job,” he said.

“What do you think is wrong with her?” he asked. Do you know what she accused me of?”

“Sexual assault?”

“Yeah,” he said, shaking his head. “With a TV remote.

“Her behavior towards you,” I said, “is unique. She has never given so rough a time to Stanley and hasn’t, to my knowledge, ever been so pressing and so cavalierly with any of the staff.”

So what’s her deal, schizophrenia?”

“There is variation in her mood,” I said, leaning forward, placing my index fingers together. “Variation of mood doesn’t always suggest schizophrenia. If everyone who had different emotions at different times in response to different situations was schizophrenic, there’d be a lot more schizophrenics running around. I’ve seen nothing to suggest this babushka is schizophrenic or even crazy. Not enough data. What are the facts?”

“The first time I got there, she thought I was trying to sexually assault her. Then she placed an order, and, when I delivered it, she threw it into the floor. Then later, the same day, she introduced herself. She ran out of the building, over food. That’s not schizophrenia?”

“After she sent you downstairs,” I replied, “her mood reverted to what I believe was a natural baseline, a stable mood which she is in her element, alone. It is possible; however, that she was perfectly justified in her reactions, considering what she knew or thought she knew what she was responding to. ”

“How is that?”

“Look at the situation from her point of view,” I said. “Let’s take her memory, instead of her mood, in consideration. Take away the memory of her call to the front desk. The next thing she sees is a strange man hovering over her, having invaded her privacy, and asking what she believed to be… sexually suggestive questions. It is not a schizophrenic response. It is a normal response for a woman in that situation in that context. The second time, when she sent you downstairs with a dinner order, she became, as you saw, amicable and hospitable.

“Her mood returned to baseline and I see a normal and austere elderly lady, watching kids play across the street. Then she started shaking. It’s not uncommon for women her age to shake. She has, now this is interesting, a little box that hangs from her necklace. She got two pills out of and chased them with a double vodka—I think I might be in love with this lady—and she seemed pleasant enough. She smiled but there was pain in her eyes. Some memory brought tears to her eyes—it could either be the loss of a child or the loss of a husband, some loved one; or maybe she found the laughing of happy children beautiful, which has happened. She remained lucid and capable and in a natural, baseline mood.

“There is no suggestion of dual personalities. She isn’t demonstrating anything contrary to her baseline mood. You evoked another argument when you brought her meal which, to her knowledge, she hadn’t asked for. Again, it’s normal response to what she sees as another intrusion into her privacy. By her rationale, you were a stranger with a lunch tray full of food she didn’t order. That confused her and she, being a well bred lady of sagacity and cultivation, isn’t angry at you on a conscious level; she is angry at her own confusion. And her frustration found a perfect object of her confusion: you.

“If I’m not too far in my inference so far, I do know one thing. If it’s recent, it could explain the anger and memory loss. Those pills she took; they were round and yellow. I recognize those pills since my youngest brother, Christopher, takes the same medication for anxiety and hypertension. A drug in the benzodiazepine class: Clonazepam—1mg with a meal, and now we’ve got the suspect for her memory blackouts and violent moods. I was taken off Clonazepam when I was first prescribed. Erratic behavior, heart palpitations, anxiety attacks. Ah, to be young again.

“The medication eased my anxiety, but it turned me into an intolerable asshole. How many people in this place will sit down with this woman as a doctor and tell her she should change her medication or stop drinking with it? She’s in her 60’s, man. She should be on better drugs that. I’d put her on Valium for her stress and Soma as a muscle relaxant. And, since she’s old and has suffered enough, I’d put her on morphine and let her float out on a little cloud.

“You know these people, man. High society types. They rub elbows with other rich people because we, us below their social tier, not worthy of having their Armani shoulders rubbed against our no-name t-shirts. They’re used to knowing everything. They’re used to being obliged. They’re used to living in a world of what they understand. When they encounter something they don’t understand, they respond like Christians did to evolution. But that’s just a theory.”

I felt the cold skin creeping up my back.

“Look here Charlie,” I said. “It’s too late to be this sober. You’re off the clock, I know, but this is an emergency. I’m not breaking the emergency glass, but I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you can bring me a gallon of bourbon, two liters of Coke, and a bucket of ice.

My roommates are out, so we can watch Star Trek and take a shot each time someone says or is shot by a phaser.”

“Why don’t you call downstairs and order it?” he asked.

Clever kid.

“Because I don’t want to be sexually assaulted by the staff.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Those turkey neck old ladies, I don’t know what it is…”

“Because they gobble,” I said. “Their neck looks like a scrotum,” I added. “You may have latent homosexuality, Charles. Perhaps you desire your father and wish to kill Mrs. Herington because she’s the only living lady most prominent in your life and thus an unconscious substitution for a mother you’ve never known. I’d see a psychiatrist, you know, get all that worked out.”

He sighed with a slight indignant smile, “They’d probably refer me to somebody just like you,” he said. “I’ll be back with your order, sir.”

“Give me thirty minutes,” I said. Charlie stood at the door, looking back.

Just in case I have to hide my porn” As soon as the door closed behind him I flicked my cigarette into the parking lot below and walked around the oval corridor and knocked on Mrs. Herington’s door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Herington opened the door. Her dress and hair had been primed as quickly as possible. I asked if she had seen my cat, Nobody. She said no in a congenial way. I asked her if it would be alright if I were to have a look around to, and she obliged, amicable again. She took leave of me with a courteous bow and retired to the powder room, as she called it. I’ll be back in a moment, young man.”

Mrs. Herington was a pristine Victorian lady, out of her element, an ocean between her and where she was raised in Devonshire. She met her American husband in London after World War II. She was a widower, however, since her husband, Walter, was killed on the 37th parallel in Korea. And that same dress she wore, once of the finest fragment, worn away and frayed each day and she wore it, as some sort of gift from her to her the dress let as passed the years advanced and she got older, heavier, no energy to exercises, no need to keep her figure trim.

While she changed I got a brief and cursory glance at her apartment. Her bonnet hung from the coat-rack behind the door as did her shawl. The variety of liquor and liqueur she had was the fulfillment of every college student’s dream when their bottle dried. It is what my locker would look like if I made it to Heaven.

There were several empty glasses between the ottoman and television, all of the same design and make, the same slogan made into each glass: Florida, this side of Paradise. A tacky emblem of a dolphin silhouetted by a red sunset was underneath the text. Her dress was put into the washing machine. She returned dressed simply: an oversized ARMY t-shirt and gray jogging pants.

Mrs. Herington paused at the step before liquor cabinet for nearly twenty minutes before she got a bottle of Brandy—robust and comforting, warm: a perfect combination to ease one into a calm sleep. Her necklace off she held the same two yellow pills in her hand. With a snifter of Brandy she took them both and sat on a giant pillow in the corner, almost the size of a queen sized bed.

I was still on the couch and she hadn’t noticed me. Her eyelids were blackened like the addict or insomniac. Eyes like mine. Addict, check, insomniac, check. The two groups often overlap like this.

That was her fallacy, too old to live the happy life once it was gone, and she held onto that thread until it stretched and broke, and chasing yesterday, the memory when the stars aligned and everything for that one moment perfect for her, and made her life, before and after, worth it for that one moment when the storm of dust coalesced around the memory and where it lay there was a pearl.  What pursuit and in what world could she find another pearl so flawless. Maybe that was her desperation, her helplessness, the road that led her to the alcoholic wasteland.

The pursuit, after that for nothing, when the Holy Grail is found then lost, it cannot be replaced or synthesized. And nothing fills that hole, not drugs, not loves to come nor loves now gone—nothing fills the hole.

Martha had a meal laid out in anticipation; she was to see, for the first time in a year, her husband Walter was to return. When he was late she packed up and down the hall and smoked too many cigarettes, imbibing generous glasses of wine until she saw the clock, past two in the morning. She ran down the steps into the reception hall and lobby and called out for Steve. He put a heavy box of medication down, and looking over the counter and saw Martha coming toward him, hysterical and crying, almost shrieking, “I can’t find Walter, Steve. I need the key to the roof.”

Steve tried to calm her down and had the unfortunate role of being the bearer of bad news, having to tell this woman, every night he worked, that her husband had been dead for fifteen years. Steve tried to calm her down, and each night he had the unfortunate role of being the bearer of bad news, day after day. She took Steve by the arm has he led her up the stairs.

He got her blanket and pillow and an old army jacket, Walter’s in Korea. She sat down in the dining room and was and was quick to fall asleep in that old coat. When she woke, she found herself at the dinner table, with melted candles,

She roused herself with a pot of coffee and once again prepared a lavish meal, with generous amounts of wine, he might be a little late. After her first two glasses, she had to go to the bathroom. She sat on the toilet seat, Patsy Cline in her head. She rose and cleaned herself, fixed her hair in the mirror, and in a flash she saw a young man in a casket, and the rain coming down, then she looked up, and saw her old face in the mirror, and she remembered

Back in the kitchen she poured another glass and pulled out Walter’s chair. She raised her glass to toast the empty chair where sat Walter’s ghost. And the candle burned away and down the flame dwindled until it whispered its departure and released a trail of smoke.  And kitchen she poured another glass, a toast she thought, for Walter’s ghost and trails off into sleep, only for her memories to die, to wake on a vacant beach with no shells upon the shore of memory to find.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was another man who lived alone. He was a bit older than me, but not by much, the busboys called the dude Gonzalez. He was a well fed Puerto Rican guy, early thirties. I think I heard somebody call him Sammy. The guy had a pencil thin mustache and goatee. It cropped his pugnacious face. In passing, I got the impression of a self-important body-builder type—not malevolent, but callus; his skin was almost orange—obsessed with how he looked, you know the type: always in the gym, never in the library. Loud cars, loud bars and dumb women, obnoxious R&B.

You know the type. Out all night, drinking Patron, and not Jose Quervo—it’s just like the New Russian motto: if it costs more, it’s better. They’re both made in the same bathroom south of Mexico. Such a liquid love affair, and I’ve been there. Streetwalkers don’t shake, they crack. They don’t shiver, they shatter.

So I understood this type of man, Sammy. He came in late every night while I was still in the common room and reading. Two hours after the last club closed and he was still sweating, exhausted every night, sweat rolling off him in malodorous torrents, a waterfall inside a soaked yellow shirt, clinging to his chest. The oiliness of his vitreous membrane betrayed his fatigue, as did his sleep schedule. He didn’t ring for coffee or the paper until rather late in the afternoon.

People stopped by, went in and out, a hip and complicated handshake, some new age tribal ritual I would never understand. They waited in the corridor, the loungers and loafers loitered. Yeah, they all want a taste.  I could see them later, laughing like morons, the phonies dance in digital ballrooms with virtual walls and fake dreams fake faces motionless on a placard they held up I’m so lonesome I could cry… That band was an old program. The Avatar of Vishnu to the right, the mirror was a crying child with a theatre mask. Eurydice’s chased Persephone through the Western Lands and Disco Balls a sigh her breath the wind and disappeared into the wall.

Sammy did two stints in the county jail: once for a clumsy burglary that came unhinged when a confederate used his real name within earshot of the home’s matriarch. Sentence was a year, breaking and entering in furtherance of theft. Nine months later and he was out on good behavior. Less than a month later he got into a scuffle at a bar and pulled a gun. The bartender ducked behind the cabinet and rang the police and, occupied with the bartender, Sammy was taken unawares from behind. They confiscated his unregistered .357. When the police got there his face was a blood bruise with two bloodshot eyes. Three year sentence, out in two and a half a free man again, released on his own reconnaissance, hopped a bus downtown, had a few shots of tequila, and called his girlfriend from the bar.

He planned to spend the night with her, tosleep on the couch with his sons. They called him Papa Bear since he was such a massive guy. 6’4” and three hundred pounds. They were up until three in the morning, dancing about and splashing in their plastic pool in front of the television. He saw them, more than once, lick the screen and put their eyes directly on the screen. It unsettled him, and nauseous, he slipped out of the back door with a few beers and a pack of menthols. Lucy, the mother of his kids, lived at the bottom of one of the dead roads. At the top of the hill he saw a four way cross between the dead end roads, where other travelers of the night appeared and disappeared into and out of the fog, some coughing and wiping their nose on their shirt, scratching at their chest until the scratches came off and began to bleed through their dirty shirts, smeared in oil and dirt. He got their life story for a nickel. Could’ve gotten their teeth for a dollar. And it was one of the genuine horrors in his life, one being to see somebody abuse a dog or cat or any sort of animal, and the other being the homeless. It was one aspect of the world that a needle couldn’t drown, the hopeless and the desperate. And the man came up to him and shaking, shivering even, and said:

“I know you think I want a beer or something man but I ain’t like that I’m an honest cat I just need to… I need to get home man. I got to, I got to get home man, get this bus ticket. It’s my moms man my moms she sick man. I been tryin to get a job but they wont nobody give me a job so I’m stuck out here, just tryin’ to make it home man.”

The smell of the man, his desperation, made Sammy puke all over him. It was all liquid—nothing but beer—and it hit the old bum in the face and stained his shirt and he saw him standing there with gray lips confused and he puked again until the bum disappeared into the fog again, on his way to the next sponsor for his drug addiction.

When you stand in the cross-section of the dead roads in the night and foggy as it was that night you felt something unreal, almost like a personality, or the ghosts of all of those who threw themselves over the bridge, he’d hear them there asking him for money and he turned left toward the Baker apartments running, still clinging onto his six pack of Natural Light. With the wind against his back he knew what it felt like to be a piece of trash trapped in the mouth of a tired breeze.

The Baker apartments were the slums that people in ghettos feared they’d end up if they stopped showing up for work. Those one room millhouse squares strewn scattershot across the moor were barely held together shacks, barely keeping out the rain and weather, all of them with buckets throughout the house from where the ceiling leaked. The mire itself was a desolate vision. It seemed to pull each house down an inch each year, another fifty years and it would swallow the porch, pulling the house and tenant down into its mouth—the mire.

The darkness on the other side of dawn descended as the sun came up. Sammy stopped under a streetlight for a cigarette, and waited for the sun to rise. He didn’t want to wake his brother. It was around 9am when he got to his father’s apartment. He stubbed his cigarette out with the heel of his shoe and knocked on the grated, rusted screen door. The television was on and his little brother brought a handful of letters to his older brother and handed him the sentence. “I missed u,” and then another: “Where have u been?” He knelt beside his brother, who jumped into the beanbag in front of the television. He ran his fingers through his hair.  The child turned his head and Sammy proceeded, tickling at his stomach, “You better give me a kiss.” His brother relented. With his brother laughing it was almost easy for Sammy to forget the mausoleum for his mother and sister, both taken by breast cancer. Sammy couldn’t even look at their bedroom doors and he walked toward the kitchen. His little brother with a big smile on his face, skipped along behind him holding his hand. He led him by his hand to cabinet, arranged his letters to say “open.” Sammy opened the cabinet and found a stash of chocolate chip cookies. He grabbed a few for his younger brother and put them on a plate. “Sit down with me for a moment, Alex” Sammy said, “where’s grandpa?” Alex arranged the letters “Back porch, he is sad and don’t talk much anymore.” “Alright Alex,” Sammy said, “I’ve got a mission for you. I want you to draw the last thing you saw in a dream and I’ll check it out when I’m to grandpa.” Alex ran off to get his crayons and colored pencils. The screen door creaked as Sammy opened it, going out onto the back porch. His father Jessie, with his old cowboy had on, sat staring a patch of dead trees left in the wake of some new construction project, making way for some of mini-mall or convenient store. “They’re going to cut down all of the trees, the symbol of our natural heritage. Nothing is sacred anymore.” “Dad,” Sammy said as he walked to stand by the balcony, he could the sheen of white reflected off of his father’s hidden pint of whiskey beneath his rocking chair. “You’re not going to get any better if you keep drinking like this, and how is it going to be if Alex loses you. You need to take your medicine and rest.” His father replied, “I’d rather die doing what I love than live knowing what I can’t have.” “Sooner or later,” Sammy said, “you’ll realize this world is full of people who aren’t you. Who don’t need you or know you, except that little boy, that you can’t stop drinking or feeling sorry for yourself to take care of Alex? Do you want him to be put into a home, like you were? Taken away from his parents? I’m sure you know what that will do to a child. You’re 72 and it still bothers you. Alex doesn’t need to see his father die, he needs to see his father try to live.” “And what’s the lesson, Sammy, are you done preaching?” “The lesson is simple, you drink yourself to death, and you become, to your own son, what your father was to you.”

 

 

I was a mute ghost then, lost in the neon lights, the beams like search lights scattered through the gunshot holes, the ghost whose father crawled off like a roach under fluorescent lights.

The erstwhile Miss Josephine, as far as I’ve ascertained, having been in her room several times in her rooms under a false pretext—I’m down with the busboys—and I ran over her bookshelf, found a typewriter: vintage 1962. Jazz, Louisiana blues, a room of sharp black and white décor. Her bookshelf was attractive. Dickens, Hemingway, Pushkin (The Complete Prose Takes of Aleksandr Sergeyovich Pushkin), Turgenev (the big headed one) and the masters—Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy. And they were dog-eared and yellowed; she read these books, not like the preening intellectual who has these books as affectation, crisp cover and bright white untouched pages.

The girl was into Russian’s. That made my job, as some singing bird of paradise, a bit easier. I dated a Russian once, and my ancestry on my father’s side traces back to what is now the Ukraine. I could speak the language, knw the culture, and that, it would seem, would interest someone with that kind of bookshelf—it impressed me. Get her to come over, have some wine, a lot of wine, and she liked jazz, there was a piano somewhere. So that was the plan: Get her one on one, introduce myself, try to impress her. Let her impress herself.

 

Sketches are what most people write for themselves upon meeting someone else, and usually is more a reflection of themselves than those who they describe in passing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been told, by former teachers, counselors, and sometimes when I talk to myself, I say it’ll be fine, don’t worry serotonin’s running low no self esteem no dope no hope. If I am pretentious enough to take upon myself the truculent classification of extraordinary, it is as true as far as I am able to identify.

The fact that so many people knew me, from my studies, terrified me. It would overshadow everything I’d done or would do in my life. That’s my Waterloo. My family friendly unit shifter. The kid with who taught the monkeys how to talk.* The fear was more of the wanting to discuss my work than it was that some whacko would shoot me for being an affront to God. That wouldn’t be so bad; my novel sales would double.

Roommate was a bit of a misnomer, as I referred to them as colleagues at fancy dinner parties. Akin to a young child, whose mother and father want nothing more for their young child to speak and talk and then, those same loving parents, two months after their child has started talking want to blow their brains out the next time someone mentions the Wiggles.

This was the fallacy of living with other people. Sooner or later, you’ll have to talk to them. And when they talk, you assume, of course, it’s going to be a bit of repartee, nothing too heavy, not in the morning when the coffee’s hot. They talked about ‘human understanding’ in the same sense I would describe as, with evolution as my topic, ‘Preacher understanding.’

If only they could see the rain as though a firefly.

The types of conversations we had are the sort of conversations one normally has with a Jehovah’s Witness. The exception was their alien knowledge of things not yet assumed or even guessed at by human beings. The concepts were beyond a Homo’s understanding. The time of our species is recent on Earth’s calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will henceforth call them monkeys as to associate them with something the layman can understand and see in their minds, the same thing they can’t see when you bring up genus or hominids.

 

 

 

We spent three years together in that small flat, three people (sort of) sitting around letting my laurels pay for cable and the internet. My good friend Rerun loved looking at kittens online. Pie didn’t like anything, that I know of, anyway, and she spent time in the attic, my apartment being on the top floor with a low-ceiling attic between the top. I heard her, up there drilling; I heard hammering and what sounded like a saw. And Rerun doesn’t take much concern when Pie comes down, done with whatever she was working on, and called for Rerun. Rerun told me I should go up to the addict and bid her farewell.

“Her body is about to die,” he expressed. “She’s going to Tania.”

“Wait, what? Don’t tell me monkeys…”

“How many times have I told you we’re not monkeys?

 

 

 

 

“It’s cool, I mean, it’s cool to meet you, man.

You have just met the representation of a human being in another sphere, a sphere where all you his is Chopin’s nocturnes and Brahms cosmic harmony, each note syncing with the movement of the other’s lips, speaking away a polonaise. A nod and a smile, yes, thank you. Nice to meet you too.

When you’re a poor student and it’s raining, they stay their ground. If you were famous and it began to rain, someone would hurry to help you make it through. Look at him, young punk, schlepping his junk and books around that’s all he’s got. The littered street, Mokra no thumbprint on a skyscraper. He needs to wash his hair.

You become a personage, and they get a good view of your public face, the veneer, the surface of someone who mattered. An impoverished and friendless non-entity one moment, then you get a suffix and you’re the news. Then you are the story, a story written by the public, something they write for themselves. Same young man, twenty six, in grad school and poor. Hiding in corners at libraries, big bright lamp leaning over his desk. This is not important. Same kid, thirteen, up all night shaking, those Nembutals, the red red veins glow neon round the sclera. Screaming in the mirror in the morning trying to stop the rattling, just take your medicine and relax, Roger. A mask beside the writing desk is blue and circular. It turns life into a senseless, but worthwhile, relaxation. You can see heaven in your left shoe, God and all his angels on the ceiling if you take enough. No, Roger. You can’t keep them because you take too many. You find another face, adapt, and acclimatize. Straighten up your shirt and comb your hair. Disappear into the crowds of hustling businessmen, people to whom time is a real factor. When your pension is secure, you have no reason to leave-you can have anything-anything-delivered to your home, what then does time do but lie still? A second could be a hundred years. Then there’s everybody in a smart shirt with a meeting at 5 and women carrying briefcases. You are see-through. A numbed and disillusioned child who never knew what growing up entailed, watching everybody in their smart suits and briefcases hurry by. All with important things to do, meetings to attend, hiring, firing, Lobster and caviar.

This presentation holds up when you meet the friends of your friends, the friends of people who talked to you once in college because he didn’t know the difference between a taxidermist and taxonomy. This is my friend, blank blank. Youngest person to win a Nobel prize. What is that like? I mean, like, that kind of situation… I can’t imagine. Where you nervous? I would flip if I had to talk to all those old dudes. She laughs out loud. I’d love to pick apart your brain.

Yes, the cultivated young PhD, not so good looking, but it’s what’s inside (the wallet) counts. I wonder what his life is like, I mean, like…

Three in the afternoon. I wake on the floor with a pen in one hand and an empty bottle of vodka in the other.wakes up with one purpose: to be the presentation of himself. Then the exaggerations get out of hand. People attest to knowing ‘how bright’ you were. Always knew that boy do good. I knew his father (but he didn’t) and he used to live over there behind the mill his dialogue never ends. An endless stack of incoherent words spoken aloud to nobody in the country in a rocking chair. You write stories for the people that you know, as well.         When speaking or making aIt was worse down at the bar, more so than anywhere else, because that’s where people do their advertisements. They give you a brief commercial and you decided if you wanted to test drive the car. People elbowed in to sit by me at bars. “Oh, I’d love to pick apart your mind.” The girl behind the counter, the literary cliché, we’ve all heard it before: the young girl, such ocean colored eyes, perfect hair and blushed with rouge. Her name was Amber. I knew that because the villa was shared by trust-fund brats and other novel characters. The bookish one, looking down at you, eyeglasses on his nose with a copy of Middlemarch. The socialite, always almost drunk and old, wandering around the lobby with a martini and a purse sized yapping dog behind her. Then there was me.

The fact that so many people knew me, from my studies, terrified me. It would overshadow everything I’d done or would do in my life. That’s my Waterloo. My family friendly unit shifter. The kid with who taught the monkeys how to talk.* The fear was more of the wanting to discuss my work than it was that some whacko would shoot me for being an affront to God. That wouldn’t be so bad; my novel sales would double.

Roommate was a bit of a misnomer, as I referred to them as colleagues at fancy dinner parties. Akin to a young child, whose mother and father want nothing more for their young child to speak and talk and then, those same loving parents, two months after their child has started talking want to blow their brains out the next time someone mentions the Wiggles.

This was the fallacy of living with other people. Sooner or later, you’ll have to talk to them. And when they talk, you assume, of course, it’s going to be a bit of repartee, nothing too heavy, not in the morning when the coffee’s hot. They talked about ‘human understanding’ in the same sense I would describe as, with evolution as my topic, ‘Preacher understanding.’

If only they could see the rain as though a firefly.

The types of conversations we had are the sort of conversations one normally has with a Jehovah’s Witness. The exception was their alien knowledge of things not yet assumed or even guessed at by human beings. The concepts were beyond a Homo’s understanding. The time of our species is recent on Earth’s calendar.

 

 

3

NIKOLAI’S CHICKEN

 

Koshka was half asleep when she heard Sebastian’s rapping on her door. She was tired, hung-over, groggy and out of sorts. She got out of bed anyway; Sebastian was emotionally frail and sensitive, and she was as good a friend

She looked at the blinking neon clock with a sigh, went to her dresser, and slipped out of her oversized t-shirt and put on an evening gown. , and tied her robe. She lit a cigarette, tied her robe. Dressed she fumbled in her pocket.

Koshka fumbled in her purse until she found a dime bindle full of cocaine. She poured it on a makeup mirror into three parallel lines. Koshka did one after another until the bag was empty.

Koshka stretched and walked toward the front door, looked out the keyhole, and saw Sebastian standing there with bloodshot eyes. She pushed her hair behind her ears, put on a jovial mask, and unlocked the door.

The dust from Koshka’s walkway lifted with the wind, and Koshka with her bony arms gestured Sebastian in. He sat down on the couch and Koshka sat beside him.

“You look tired,” Koshka said. “Are you out of bourbon, or is it an incremental sort of vice?”

“No,” Sebastian said, still standing, “I was in the garden … I was … I heard something break. There was a broke soup bowl on the floor and a cup. I looked around the house for Elise and Lora … I heard her music box—it’s like this fog is driving me crazy.

“Elise and Lora were in the house when I went to the garden, I heard the broken plate, and when I went back in the house they were gone. I walked through the house like a lost dog yelping for them. Somebody was there. I heard my daughter’s music box but she wasn’t in her room.

“Something there—I heard the sound… I heard a glass break. That’s what it sounded like. So I went into the kitchen and a soup bowl was shattered in the floor. It sounded like it—it could have been a China plate. I heard my daughter up the stairs but I couldn’t find her.

“She wasn’t in her room.  I thought—I hope… I mean I thought she might be here, Please tell me you’ve seen then. Are they in the market? We’re running low on oxygen so I guess they could be there if you haven’t seem them I guess okay I can check there no problem just a short walk you see. Ahem, please tell me. Have you seen her?”

“Sebastian…”

“Have you seen them or not?”

“Why do you do this to yourself, Sebastian? You know…”

“They were there when I went outside Lora was in the… They were there. They were there. Lora… They were there. I’m not crazy. Lora, she was in her bed asleep. I heard her music box. She always winds it when she’s ready to go to sleep. It helps her sleep.”

A look of helpless pity colored Koshka’s eyes. glassed over came the held back tears. For a moment she hesitated. She didn’t know what to say.

“Sebastian,” she said, “You’re not crazy. No one calls you crazy but you. Just sit down for a second. Just relax and sit down. Okay? Just try to relax. Let me put some on some clothes and then I’ll help you look. For now I want you to relax for a minute. Can you do that for me, I’ll help you look, but I want you to relax for just a moment. I have to put some clothes on.”

“Something has been on my mind all day,” Sebastian said.

“What’s that?” Koshka asked, leaning against the back of a couch. “You torment yourself, Sebastian.”

“You know,” Sebastian said, “My uncle Nikolai had a box of chickens when I was young. We lived together in one of those communal flats, you know, where families are assigned to certain jobs and sleep together, share the kitchens and the bathrooms, and my uncle was a farmer. I remember he used to have this box of chickens with a grate on it, so Andreika’s cat wouldn’t eat ‘em.

“I used to hate those chickens. I couldn’t sleep at all. I hated those chickens. I wanted to feed them to the cat. Every night I tried to sleep and they stayed up all night, chirping, squeaking, like nails on a chalkboard. One night I walked through the living room to get something to drink, and I saw that one of the chickens was barely moving.

“Its eyes were open and blinking but it was flat on its stomach. The other chickens walked around, bobbing their heads, not caring, not noticing. I went and told my uncle in his bed that one of the chickens was sick. I asked him if they had enough food and water and he said yeah. I told him that one of them was dying, a white one with a black color, and it didn’t move and it hurt me, a chicken that hurt me. It died, my bird, and it stayed in the black trashbags a few days then threw it away. Whr my chicken died, I cared, and now they’re not so bad, the chirp is lively, and I can sleep. I think about that chicken when I try to sleep.”

Koshka was silent for a minute and then said, “Let me go put some clothes on.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

SONG OF THE LAST FROGS

 

She disappeared into the bedroom. Under a desk by the bed a fireproof box a combination lock. She had four o2 canisters left, enough to get them to Transia for more. It was a hike, four days at least, but she’d walked it a hundred times before.

Koshka returned from the other room in black pants and a white turtleneck. “It’s cold,” she said. “I don’t know how you can walk around with short sleeves on.”

Koshka gave Sebastian his mask and he slid it over his face.  She did the same. “Are you ready?” she asked.

 

Sebastian put his thumb against the pad by the front door of his home. The door swung open and he and Koshka they walked in. Koshka almost choked on the air inside Sebastian’s house when she took off her mask. The air was thick and toxic—and Sebastian had breathed it in for days. He didn’t seem to notice.

“When’s the last time you emptied out these rooms?” Koshka asked. “I’m surprised it hasn’t killed you.”

“Yesterday,” he said. “I change it every day. Elise hooks up the ventilation to the windows and I secure them outside, to blow the methane into the street. It’s a ritual we go through … It’s not something I’d forget.”

“We really need to get this out of here,” Koshka said.

“If it’s that bad, just keep your mask on,” Sebastian said. “I’m going to check in the basement. If they’re not in there they’re gone.”

Koshka sighed but nonetheless obliged. Sebastian went into the basement.  Sebastian held aloft a Zippo lighter. He walked through the basement. He went in and out of metal shelves until he found a desk in disarray. Everything was in black and white except a worn copy of Swan Song of Paradise, the most revered of books in Menelaos.  was his father’s desk, the most revered of books on Menelaos.

Sebastian swung the beam of light across the room and toward it. On top of the desk was a .45, penthouse magazine, black pens read pens blue pens, lilies in mayonnaise jars. Seb went riding with his father and it was his favorite pistol, squirrel hunting in the Ukraine, drinking vodka and spinning guns.  Under the gun was a copy of The Songs of Dahl—the holiest of books. Sebastian opened the book and looked at the page. It read:

THE LAST FROGS

At the end of summer, all the frogs, having mated, having ensured the next generation, gather on the last day of summer on the river bank and in unison, to mark the passage of a season and the awakening of new winter, they   gathered together to sing.

Koshka broke his concentration rattling around upstairs. Sebastian stuffed the book in his pocket and blew out the lighter. He looked around the room one last time in the dark.

On the other side of another broken lock the oxygen canisters were destroyed, not stolen. The gravel on the broken oxygen turned to ash brushed away from Sebastian’s coat. At the center of the house was a spherical room, on all sides round, a hidden chamber that was blocked by debris—where the there was pure oxygen and soundlessness, thirty minutes a day without ears, without eyes, without senses at all, an essence in the echo room, it doesn’t change or variate. Sebastian’s supply of oxygen he’d stashed away for Winter. Sebastian brushed the debris from his coat and left the basement.

 

 

 

 

I will henceforth call them monkeys as to associate them with something the layman can understand and see in their minds, the same thing they can’t see when you bring up genus or hominids.

From the outside it looked like paradise. The inside wasn’t that bad, more like half of paradise, but still, I grew up with Baptists. Buffalo Bill could’ve been my roommate and would be less annoying, except with all thatf Wild Horses and also putting fat women into wells. I’m sure that’s against the Tower’s policy.

Their first shared insight was that their names, given to them by those same morons at the lab, were not their real names. So, I say, what would you liked to be called, Mortimer, Branny?

These names are ancient. I’ll be you next time. Maybe a human, she laughed. Then we’d be able to have our apartments. I been a beetle and a snake and a rat and had the same name every time. Pi’jo (Pie-zho) and that monkey over there, call him Rerun.

“I’m not a god damn monkey!” Rerun shouted. “”

“This is only his second trip out,” Pie said. “The first time you get recycled, that’s a weird feeling-going through that tunnel and feeling your memories dying, headin to that white light. The memory dissolves when you are born the first time, second time, you feel déjà vu, if you’re the same damn animal, you don’t get to choose”

“Choose what?”

“What animal you’re going to be.”

“Have you ever had a dream, a dream of an open, white space, do you recall-and seeing trains, lots of them going by you?”

“Yeah, when I was younger.”

“You forget the train,” Pi said. “The more rides you take, the easier it is to deal with. You don’t remember the other lives until you’re back in Tania, waiting on the receipt. It’s calm there, in the lobby. When you’re body dies, you’ll get to see it. Those silver trains going by, thousands of them-going one way or another-upward, downward, side to side they go. Don’t worry, Roger. You’re just new, that’s all.

“What do you mean by new?”

Silence.

“If I tell you about it now, while you’re still alive, it will bring you back to life when you die, as the same person, unaware you’re living the same life, again and again… If I take you there, or show you how to get there, it will compromise your place in the wheel. You’ll never get out. You’ll never get to go upstairs.”

“So I’ll be immortal?” I asked.

“In a sense, I suppose,” she replied.

“I’ll think about it.”

 

 

 

We spent three years together in that small flat, three people (sort of) sitting around letting my laurels pay for cable and the internet. My good friend Rerun loved looking at kittens online. Pie didn’t like anything, that I know of, anyway, and she spent time in the attic, my apartment being on the top floor with a low-ceiling attic between the top. I heard her, up there drilling; I heard hammering and what sounded like a saw. And Rerun doesn’t take much concern when Pie comes down, done with whatever she was working on, and called for Rerun. Rerun told me I should go up to the addict and bid her farewell.

“Her body is about to die,” he expressed. “She’s going to Tania.”

“Wait, what? Don’t tell me monkeys…”

“How many times have I told you we’re not monkeys?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a keen sense of evolutionary time. It’s always struck me to think, not of a species and its past, but the evolutionary possibility for their species. Sometimes this train of thought is troubling to take to its logical conclusion. If under the same environmental pressures that shaped the natural selection and emergence of man, one can assume that consciousness of time and history was an evolutionary advantage that helped our species come to the sciences, the arts, and generally try to be good when nobody’s looking. When I think of turkeys, which I invariably do on each Thanksgiving as we’re eating one, I believe that the day the turkeys become conscious, and develop to our level of 20th century understanding and mental ability, I think, with some trepidation, what will the turkey scholars think of Thanksgiving?

To us its an honored tradition going back to just before we decided that these people were Indians, even though we knew within a month they weren’t, and before we separated them into casinos, we one time dined with the peaceful natives. I’m not making a joke out of genocide; I’m implying that one day, if evolutionary selection favors the further development of the turkeys as a species, it is feasible that they may one day write. They may one day have movies starring handsome heartthrob turkeys and females of dazzling plumage and, since they’ll have thumbs in this hypothetical scenario, they can at once desire and with the same hand they can satiate that desire. So it comes to this. What the fuck are the turkeys going to have to say about our Holiday? Will some future turkey be a word-picturer in the manner of our Shakespeare, or Dostoevsky? The point is, the thought of turkeys sharing taxis with people and dining in fancy restaurants is an idea that delights me.

God sayeth prophesy unto the wind that one day his turkeys, with whom their covenant is made, will bring them out of the bondage of labor camps and organ harvesting. Will a turkey one day tell Louis Rich and its board members to let his people go? It will repeat the history of human rights, struggle for turkey equality, drinking from the same fountain. One day we may be able to meet and like disparate turkeys, call them Phil or Aaron instead of dinner. And it will be taboo to fuck them, but, as my father told me as he was dying, ‘Son, you have to promise me…’ I said, ‘Yes, anything father.’ ‘Son,” he said. ’Yes?’ ‘Promise me you’ll be a heathen…’

There are two stories from my life, three actually, that punctuate my essence as a person. When my son was incubating, the host body of the parasite became a pointing finger, an eye on the most private of all functions. It’s when you love yourself, physically, however brief or ultimately disgusting it is, women want to put a spotlight on this behavior. I’m talking about masturbation. It is the world’s first first person shooter. It is a modern adaptation to evolutionary urges, the desire to procreate, that produces the hormones in our bodies that make us want to choke a rubbery one for a few minutes. I was living with this girl and had been for several months. I’m perverted on paper and in my imagination, but in real life, I fake a sense of ease. You can’t let your nemesis know that you know you’re fighting a silent war for sexual gratification. So this is my story. I was working twelve hours a day at a second rate tattoo shop, being the gopher and drawing stupid shit for stupid people, and it takes a lot out of you, having to give a shit and talk to people, it drains you. I got off work and we went to Delaney’s as we always did and walked from bar to bar until they closed. If you’re going to binge drink, you know, for god’s sake have the decency to be thoroughly incorrigible. Anyway, I finally make it home (I stayed and urged my ride to stay as late as possible just so I wouldn’t have to listen to her shit when I got home) and when I did she was sitting up in bed, reading a book. I throw down my bag and sat on the couch adjacent to the bed and lit a cigarette. Finally in the comfort of my own home, I became incensed by the idea that that was what I came home to, a boring bitch who likes crossword puzzles and Maury Povich.

You know what she asked me. I don’t know why it’s imprinted into certain women that what we do is somehow relevant to how we interact with them. So I make up some shit fast enough to satisfy what I think she needs to get out of the conversation and she asks if I want to come to bed, to ‘keep her warm.’ You know what she wanted me to do. She wanted me to crawl in bed, close my eyes, and give her one half-assed mercy fuck. You can’t wash off this kind of shame. I’m not implying that pregnant women should be denied the courtesy of someone having the fortitude to attempt to fuck them without poking the baby’s fucking eye out. So anyway, this is what I think about, I think about fucking her and just thumping my preborn son’s cheek every time I stuck it in her fat ass. So with this in mind, I tried to be a bit more judicial. I tell her that when I finish so and so chapter of some book that I would come to bed. Now this is the part that defines me: once I was sure she was asleep, I masturbated to a video of us fucking.

The other story is about Santa Clause, in a sense, but it’s deeper than that. When I was young, something prickled in me every time reason and science was perverted, or the development of science retarded by outside interests. I was aware of this, that an aura of bullshit and mystique meant so much to people, they had one person bring all the children’s toys–on Earth–in one night, with flying deer. I’ve heard people talk about finding out Santa Clause wasn’t real. I may lack some sort of imagination, but the thought of deer flying was out of the fucking question. Deer don’t fly and it’s impossible to go to every house on Earth in a night.

It astonishes me that people actually once believed in Santa Clause. Some people were skeptics as children, and I’ve found the children less likely to believe in Santa Clause are from non-religious families. Nothing impedes free inquiry, or retards science, as religious institutions. It became a passion in my life, to understand the natural order of the world in the sense that it can either be demonstrated, or otherwise tested, that so in so is true. This is the moment that defined that attitude in me as an older man. My idea was to hide a ‘cam-corder’ as the first, crude home video devices were made. I sat it on the TV stand and covered it with a cloth. The point was to catch my family on tape, giving out the presents, so I could show the other children they were being lied to. But my family found the cam-corder under the towel and had a friend, whom I didn’t know until twenty years later–this man dressed up like Santa Clause for my recording, pulled in our bikes and toys and ate the cookies. I had empirical proof of a lie. The costume, and how blatant it was, pushed me further into doubt. Someone flying around in a sleigh of reindeer would have a ruffled beard, all free-thinking men should know that when magical deer carry mystical men to impossible-for-physics places, looking like the person accused of doing it is in fact evidence against it. If it had been a regular worker type, you know, like a Mexican dragging around boxes of shit for some old white man with a beard, I might have believed it more. The comparison is apt: if you believe in Santa and are a good boy, you are rewarded. If you believe in Jesus and a good Christian, you are rewarded. Jesus is the working man’s Peter Pan, a bearded sage to take them off to neverland so they never have to confront a world without magic, age, or disease, where no one gets old and has to die.

In Future of an Illusion Sigmund Freud suggested that religion is a type of band-aid for the mind of those afraid to die. The thought of biological life having no meaning externally, outside of the meaning you see develop around you, like notes from old friends and your favorite song, but a mechanical, programmed by DNA to survive and replicate meaning, is externally without meaning. If there is no God, instead you use your imagination for the right things and learn how to accrue meaning from real life. People conjure meaning. Meaning and destiny doesn’t need to be transposed, or imprinted on something from an outside force; Hell isn’t some place you go when you die, it’s a conceptualization of what torments you about life and is the thought behind the icons of fear and depictions of torment. If you use your imagination, you can find out that there’s enough hell and heaven here on Earth without needing to codify or invent claims about the possibility of it existing after life and only for the kids who have been good–that’s the schoolyard, kid mentality of ‘Nah, nah, nah-booboo, we have eternity of hedonism while you burn! Hahaha! We are in the only fanclub that matters!

 

 

 

 

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