Living in such a state taTestaTesTaTe etats a hcus ni gniviL of mind in which time sTATEsTAtEsTaTeStA emit hcihw ni dnim of does not pass, space STateSTaTeSTaTeStAtE ecaps ,ssap ton seod does not exist, and sTATeSt oFOfOfo dna ,tsixe ton seod idea is not there. STatEst ofoFOFo .ereht ton si aedi Stuck in a place staTEsT OfOFofo ecalp a ni kcutS where movements TATeSTa foFofoF stnemevom erehw are impossible fOFoFOf elbissopmi era in all forms, UfOFofO ,smrof lla ni physical and nbEifof dna lacisyhp or mental - uNBeInO - latnem ro your mind is UNbeinG si dnim rouy focusing on a unBEING a no gnisucof lone thing, or NBeINgu ro ,gniht enol a lone nothing. bEinGUn .gnihton enol a You are numb and EiNguNB dna bmun era ouY unaware to events stneve ot erawanu taking place - not iSSUE ton - ecalp gnikat knowing how or what 3/31/2000 tahw ro who gniwonk to think. You are in SiXTY-0NE ni era uoY .kniht ot a state of unbeing.... ....gniebnu fo etats a
Wow, two months in a row.
April Fool's Day is tomorrow.
This is a real issue. I repeat. This is not a fake issue. Well, mostly.
You're asking yourself: "Can they make it for three months? Will it happen?" I'm not a betting man myself, but if I had to set the odds, I'd bet on the zine. Although, for the right price, I'm willing to take a dive.
Yes, that's right. For the right price, I, Kilgore Trout, can personally be bought. I can be your property. Have you ever wanted to have your very own zine editor? Sure you have. They're cute and cuddly (at times), and they'll sit in the corner of your room, endlessly smoking cigarettes and mumbling about various zine things.
Owning a zine editor is a sure way to impress your friends. Who else on your block has one? Not Jimmy. Not Susie. And certainly not the one-armed man who lives in the scary house at the end of the street. Zine editors are good at parties. Your parties are always dull, aren't they? Fill your zine editor up with a bottle of vodka (not included) and watch the fun begin! As the night goes on, the things he talks about get more and more obscure until even the most hardened trivia buff in the room is blown away by how truly meaningless all the stuff this guy knows is. The zine editor is also a surefire partner to win those Trivial Pursuit games, too.
Don't feel pretentious enough when you're trying to study at the coffeehouse? Do you overhear people having conversations about existentialism in Conrad's Lord Jim or the philosophy of E.M. Cioran? Take along your zine editor. Not only will he talk loudly to make everyone aware that you're with somebody pretentious, he will feed you lines so you can join in on the conversation, too!
As an added bonus, your zine editor comes with an extensive collection of music knowledge, made up of bands you've never heard of and probably wouldn't want to, anyway. He can go on and on about how what sounds like noisy crap to you is, in fact, the work of a pure genius, and then he can produce a disc he imported from Japan for like 30 bucks and make you suffer through it. And you thought listening to stuff from Matador records made you "indie." Hah. With zine editor, a world of sound like you've never imagined will be open to you, and soon, you and zine editor will be able to cajole everyone around you for their plebian tastes.
ACTUAL DiALOGUE FROM FLORiDiAN TEST MARKET:
"I just picked up this album, and it's so obscure that I don't even know who it is. The liner notes are in a combination of Japanese and Old English, and if I had to whittle the sound down to one category, I'd call it avant-trip-hop-drum-n-bass-jazz-emo-post-bop-fusion-rock. And even though it's from Malaysia, I still was able to get it for $32.99 from my contacts in New York. Steal of the year. Wanna hear it? You gotta hear it!"
Plus, just when you're catching up to zine editor's difficulty level, a special hidden switch will increase his obscurity setting, and then he'll start talking about the obscurer supporting players of obscure musicians that you talk about.
Zine editor is also packaged with an library of rare texts, from 15th century necromancer texts to strange bivalve erotica. Who needs to go to the library when you've got a zine editor? Can't find a reference book? Has the latest Bloom book on Shakespeare been checked out, and you've got a research paper to write? With the zine editor, all the bases are covered. And if he doesn't have it, then you probably didn't need it anyway.
So act now, because quantities are limited. Very limited. Like, one.
From: rebecca murphy To: email@example.com I thought the next issue was supposed to be out on leap day. That being yesterday, I'm somewhat confused. Come on, you've gotta help me out here....if I don't get the new issue soon, I might actually have to resort to doing something productive.
[i got a lot of letters like this when the last issue didn't come out on leap day, but i really liked the fact that she threatened us with productivity. i keep meaning to threaten myself with that all the time, but i'm usually doing something time-consuming and meaningless, so i normally forget. don't be like me. follow through with your threats!]
From: Styx To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Your new phone number What are your terms and conditions for the new universe? Pull some yardsticks out farther than others? Let some of the little creatures fall through your childs toy sifter? What are your orders Commander Taco? It makes no difference, we won't follow them. Dusty nails, nuts and washers on your workbench. You don't scare me.
[actually, i don't have a new phone number. and, truth be known, this wasn't really a letter to the editor. i just found it amusing. and a bit scary, because he's always filling my inbox with weird rants that are usually more verbose than this. i do, however, kinda like being known as commander taco. although i'm more of the soft taco type of guy, and i dunno how decent a commander i'd make. i'm too flexible without that hard shell, and while that might be good in a war when you need to change strategies, if you put me in a puddle, i'd just become wet and yucky. commander taco gets waterlogged -- film at 11.]
From: Captain Amaze-o To: email@example.com Subject: put me on the SoB mailing list you heard me....put me on the SoB mailing list if you will, great, good, err yeah
[see, captain amaze-o is straight and direct. well, mostly. i wonder how he would fare in a reenactment of the cold war with commander taco? i bet he would have made the first strike, and commander taco would be vaporized by a million nuclear warheads. a million, you ask? well, yes, of course. he's captain amaze-o. er, !!!! anything less would move him down in rank to sergeant a bit on the lower side of a stellar performance-o. and that's why he's been added to the mailing list. trivia: neon is an element used in geiger counters. ask will shortz.]
I Wish My Name Were Nathan
J. Lynn Fraser
And then the story is entered. With a series of knocks on the door in front of them, they change tactics: slashing and cutting with a jagged edge moving quickly -- a cutting forward and reaching up underneath. But it doesn't work, and then they notice the sign in front of them: "Ask the men for the papers." The men -- anonymous men in an anonymous world -- make them sign the papers and then they enter. After weeks, week after week after week, of waiting patiently, quietly, letting time drip by like water coming through a tiny hole in the bathroom ceiling... drip, drip, drip, drip... it dried, and everything became clear: the other light was fake and obscure yet also over-powering like the sun-drenched beach the transport had picked them up on. The obscure light did not allow the eyes to properly adjust: their pupils became too small and it resulted in absolute and total blindness. They had freely walked into the room only to be forced at gunpoint -- not literally but metaphorically because they were alone -- to watch other people enter a room with lights that caused blindness.
Those bastards, how could they? The regime was more tyrannical, brutal and efficient, than they had assumed. And then they figured it out: entering the story was a trap, an elaborate and well-planned scheme -- intricate, devious, subtle, speaking in sexy rather than dictatorial tones. Why hadn't they prepared themselves? Trapped in a room, eternally preparing to enter the story...Were their destines already carved into fate's long, papyrus rolls? Why hadn't they listened to Third Character's advice?
Now there only hope was the Third Character. When the Third Character arrives -- if he arrives -- he will bring the key. A last hope.
Two years later a key is shoved under the door. Fluid and transparent, he motions to Helena to pick it up. She walks over to it, bends down, grabs it like it has a handle, tosses it to him, underhanded so that loops high and descends smoothly. And then they hear footsteps... tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap... moving quickly away from the door. They are too quick to have been the third character they were expecting. They exchange glances, and he takes out a cigarette, then puts it back in his pocket.
"Is the Fourth Character trustworthy?"
"I don't know," replied Helena. "Maybe we should just stay here."
"No, we must leave. The others are counting on us. We've got to get to the mountainous region, tell the Main Character about the regime's plan. He will know what to do, I can feel it, right there, in my chest." He thumped on his chest... one, two -- no three times... and then continued: "He will give a great speech, organize and energize... plug them right in so to speak...all the followers, and then he will swiftly and decisively -- because he's a man of courage and integrity -- resolve the crisis and affirm human dignity in the face of suffering and absurdity. It has to happen. We have to believe."
But when they got to the mountainous region, the camp was barren and destroyed, razed to the bone. All was lost. They went their separate ways. When Helena approached her apartment complex, she saw a young man. For a moment she thought it was the Main Character, but it was not. As she got closer, the Fifth Character said:
"You know, all around us, people are asleep. It is an innocent thing -- safe beds, under their blankets. It's like one big sleeping army, dead now, collapsed from a day of meaningless drills. Of course, tomorrow they will march again."
Pulling her head up, she recognized him, and pushing back her shoulders so that she stood up straight, produced a smile. "What are you doing up at this hour? I thought I was alone with the night."
"I'd like to say that I enjoy watching the sunrise. But the truth is that I can't sleep at night. Sometimes I wonder if there are more of us out there. You can't sleep either, right?"
"The feel of the wind on the my face reminds me I'm alive. And I like that the world is asleep and quiet. If I had to choice between the cold wind carving a bit of life into me and the noise of the cars and everything else, I think I would just avoid walking." He nodded his head and then flicked his cigarette on the ground, grinding in into the cement with the black heel of his boot as they both watched the red embers disappear. Then he replied:
"That I can understand. Though I don't like to watch the sun come up, I have to. Someone has to watch. So that's why every morning I can be found here. It is instinctual for me. If I don't watch, maybe the sun will never rise again." He looked away for a second. Speaking quietly, he said goodbye and walked off into the night. Helena forgot the conversation, took the elevator to her flat, and then cried herself to sleep. She no longer believed.
When he -- the he who had been trapped in the room with Helena for two years -- was younger, he expected too much of people. But as he grew older he knew there was only loyal companionship. Sure, he had had sex with Helena -- it was two years in room -- but it was only companionship. And where was the Main Character? That was the real riddle.
He sits in his chair, lets the walls collapse around him. The colors of his apartment melt together; the words on the newspapers become unintelligible. He gets up, paces back and forth across the room. Desperately reaching up into one of his bookcases, he pulls down one of his favorite novellas. Peace of mind! Lose himself in the story... yes, that is all that is left now. He prepares to enter the story. Getting comfortable, sitting at the table, he opens it.
It is in two parts. Having been read so often, the binding is broken and some of the pages are falling out. In the first part the sentences are short and crisp. From the printed pages springs forth a new world. Through imagination he starts living an alternate life. It is a true life with its discords resolved in the easy play of colors and sensations. The words are neatly ordered, lined in row after row like a marching army. The truth of its power: each sentence adds meaning to the text yet also hints that it could bravely stand alone.
Turning the pages quickly, old and new meanings appear and disappear. He likes the voice of the author and it is easy for him to identify with the Main Character. The ground plan of the narrative is elaborate but the structure remains simple. With power the polished steel beams of its structure interlock tightly with one another, and the mid-morning clarity fuses with its professorial seriousness to produce a profound and far-reaching elegance. The theme is invisible yet always present. The first half ends with two of the revolutionaries trapped in a room.
Turning to a new page, and slightly shifting his posture a little because he knows what is ahead, the second section begins: he lunges forward, reads quickly. With complexity the sentences are tortuous, labyrinthine, darkness visible: a judge in a long black robe sitting at the far end of a long table acting as an impartial observer, and a ragged, voice left over the cancerous apocalypse.... And then confusion, outside... lost in syntactical creases running downward into the page, between the lines, underneath them, a complete loss of lexical and locutionary illustrations and traditional idiomatic devices... approximate equivalents by quoting the text as a sign of erudition and education.... It's too much: he strategically withdraws for a moment. Taking a deep breath, and then letting it out slowly as he closes his eyes, he perks his ears and begins reading again, only to find that all meaning has dissolved into a colorless, invisible liquidity, a compassless pool of water on the floor. But then, descending from the mountain where he had been hiding in a series of underground tunnels, organizing his followers with a great speech, disciplining the rank-and-file, denouncing those too weak to see the truth or too afraid to speak against injustice, the Main Character steps forward, enters the story as the prophecy had revealed. It had finally come! In a brilliant, fireworks display of emotion and logic -- a box of matches set afire, a self-immolating incendiary device unlike anything he had ever seen -- the Main Character swiftly and decisively resolved the crisis, constructed a new civilization from the ruins of all the old temples...and the story ended with a powerful message of human dignity in the face of absurdity and suffering.
The guy who just sat down in front of me smells like birdseed. I'm not sure if it's sweat or his clothes or some fiendishly devised men's herbal shampoo with a fancy label and slogan that he decided to try out. Not entirely appealing. It does distract me from the speaker, some nervous finances guy who's explaining our company's new schema for orientation of career organizational objective alignments. I had been tuning him out and dropping off to sleep after the recent lunch robbing me of my blood, but the birdseed stretch shocked me instantly into wakefulness. I also realized the guy was leaning over to the side, obnoxiously blocking my view. His view from any angle was unobstructed; what possible advantage could he attain from blocking mine? I couldn't fathom it. Perhaps he was handicapped with scoliosis, perhaps from long hours sitting on too fat a wallet. Or -- could it be? -- he was falling asleep like me, leaning heavily on his armrest for support? Ah, brotherhood! Pleasant human enterprise, always surprising me like that. Part of this day's meeting concerned brotherhood, in fact; although a touchy-feely session, it was not couched in those terms. The presenter told us how social isolation was associated with the highest mortality risks. I quite agreed; only when alone do I think I have the freedom to kill myself. Her group demonstration was probably going to involve standing up and introducing ourselves to our fellow employees, sharing names, job titles, and handshakes (it beat the more usual standby of approaching someone with only sexual desperation as an excuse). Instead, she didn't appear to have a demonstration planned. She presented several slides with statistics and inspirational quotes and then was interrupted by an eager human resources representative who announced that there were many bags of candy being opened for the enjoyment of the sugar-starved audience. Several bags of individually-wrapped candies were distributed haphazardly to the people in the rear and front, and the speakers came on playing contemporary adult music. The atmosphere of the meeting was transformed -- the music was actually okay, more instrumental than vocal, and the happy employees started chattering, infused with the simple pleasure of tasting chocolate. Our life resources presenter was also partaking and talking with the H.R. guy, having a lighthearted banter about his enthusiastic outburst. We had apparently started our next break early. We stood up, took a stretcher, and milled about in the auditorium. I made some sarcastic remarks about the mandatory all-day company meeting to a few co-workers, who politely laughed, and leaned back against a wall to laze about and stare at people. While resting my eyes on the last slide from the previous session, I noticed the H.R. guy was editing the computer-projected page on the fly, inserting the message "Candy upfront" in a box. No one else seemed to notice. He put the text in boldface a few seconds later, and looked around for takers. I grinned knowingly at him. At the front, he had emptied several bags of candy all over the stage (Tootsie Rolls, M&M's, lollipops, and such) -- it would have been a ten-year-old's wet daydream. Still no takers. The H.R. guy edited the phrase several times in succession -- larger font, boldfacing, underlining, but never adding a space after "up"; finally he moved the text to a blank page where people were sure to notice. He smiled engagingly, held his hands out, and I finally decided to try some. The Tootsie Rolls had caught my eye. I walked up the aisle to the front and scanned the selection judiciously, and picked the Tootsie Rolls anyway. Interestingly, the music seemed to grow louder as I leaned over. Probably just my imagination, embarrassment at being the only one up front. I walked back to the wall and munched on a Tootsie Roll. Some other people had finally noticed the candy and I watched them also walk up a bit nervously, as I had done. I soon realized that the music's volume wasn't a hallucination. It got louder whenever someone bent forward to snatch the candy. My trusting mind assumed that a trick of acoustics was somehow responsible until, as other people went forward, the amplifications increased until the speakers seemed to blare out like wounded cats. The startled employees soon grokked the joke, playfully approaching and retreating with shrieks of nervous laughter at the baffling fanfares. I imagined that some prankster in the control room in the back was fooling with the volume. What an enviable position of power! I thought, being able to entertain so many people with a flick of a potentiometer. I was vicariously amused with the joke, watching the birdseed hair guy stroll up to the front for his ration of candy, visibly unaware of the ongoing prank. He didn't even feign cowardice or courage; instead, he straightforwardly walked up and seized a handful of Starbursts, and a supernova of noise blasted him, driving him to his knees in shock. Crawling on the floor in pain, he attempted to propel himself backwards with his feet while shielding his ears from any more rude outbursts. I saw blood trickling through his fingers down the backs of his hands. Even then, although so many individuals were aware of the joke, the audience failed to stop approaching. The guy from my office and a few other helpless pawns went up and were mercilessly stunned into submission, speakers rattling across the floor, cones tearing in fury. As astonished as I was, the force was too strong even for me to resist. In a daze, I walked to the aisle and forward toward the stage. The candy beckoned, but my progress was impeded by all the writhing victims in the way. I passed the birdseed hair guy. The blood had worked its way into his hair, making a scummy mess of it. I knelt down and sniffed it. The birdseed smell was gone. I examined the bend of his spine, poking through the taut fabric of his shirt as he moaned, rocking himself in a fetal position. Poor bastard. I lunged for the remaining M&M's. Poor me.
There is a gleam in his eye and just the hint of a lilt in his step as Giacomo Giacomo M.D., Ph.D., LTD., PC, FA CS, etc. practically prances into the doctor's dining room a few minutes before noon. Dr. Giacomo feels a little tingle of anticipation stir in the folds of his impressive belly as he thinks of the two harvested hearts, plump, succulent, and bursting with blood, resting languidly in their twin Igloo coolers, a plethora of undreamed riches.
Suddenly, a thin little moue of distaste moves across his features, crisp and polished as a Chippendale chair. A little dark lizard of gloom crawls slowly from his lips to the corners of his eyes.
"Bullocks!" he says lightly under his breath. "Two hearts at once and only one pair of hands!"
The shelf life of the human heart being so maddeningly limited, unlike that of freeze-dried mushrooms or California prunes, he knows he will not be able to retain both hearts. He will be forced to share. But Dr. Giacomo, an only child, is not accustomed to share. Just for a moment, a little black thought, heavy as a rain-sodden cloud, skids across his consciousness. If I can't have it, no one will, he thinks, as his own heart, safely set in his chest like a diamond on its prong, begins to beat like a tightly-stretched tom-tom.
No, he decides, brushing temptation from his mind like so much lint, I shall have to pass the damn thing along to Rindfleisch. But, the thought of his rival running off with his heart brings to mind immediate images of a pack of savages, members swollen, bearing down on a retinue of nuns. Such musings momentarily take the edge off his appetite. Then a rich, visceral aroma, smooth as panne velvet, caresses his nostrils, causing them to quiver like the strings of an Irish harp.
"Ah," he sighs, "sweetbreads, with just a suspicion of port."
He catches himself quickly and retracts his tongue which is hanging over his chin in anticipation like that of Pavlov's dog. Dr. Giacomo moves swiftly to his accustomed table where his fellow surgeons are already busily at work, forks and elbows flying.
"What's the plat du jour?" he asks hopefully.
"Kidneys in red wine, cow's longs en croute," says Rabinowitz, looking up from his plate of liver and onions.
"Sounds good," says Dr. Giacomo, "but I have my heart set on the sweetbreads."
"I recommend the tripe," says Semmelweiss, "a bit salty, but prepared to perfection."
Dr. Giacomo sinks heavily into his chair like water suffusing a sponge.
"Hard day?" asks Rabinowitz, spearing a blob of liver.
"No," says Giacomo, "as a matter of fact, things couldn't be better." "I have two hearts," he says, trying not to sound smug.
He hears the forks clatter, and the conversation ceases as if sucked up deep into a vacuum cleaner hose.
"Two hearts!" squeaks Rindfleisch like an old lock.
"It's obscene," Rabinowitz says, looking up from his liver and onions.
"Rabinowitz," Giacomo says, viewing his colleague's plate with barely concealed distaste, "how can a man who transplants livers have liver and onions every day for lunch?"
"Why not?" Rabinowitz counters. "None of them belong to my patients. It's only calve's liver."
"Be that as it may," Giacomo continues, feeling compelled to lecture, "your choice of entree does suggest a certain coarseness of spirit, don't you think, a slight slackening of sensibility?"
"Man cannot live by bread and beans alone, Giacomo," Rabinowitz answers with a hint of pique. "I need organ meat for energy. Transplanting livers is no picnic. I have to keep up my strength."
"He's right," pipes in Semmelweiss, spearing a bit of tripe, "couldn't you eat swordfish or a nice breast of chicken? It does seem a bit more sensitive."
"I find all this talk of sensitivity a bit quaint," Rabinowitz says, eyeing Giacomo the way a mongoose sizes up a cobra, "coming from a man who regularly slits his patients stem to sternum, grabs a heart out of a beer cooler, slaps it into the chest like a halibut fillet, and then sews it all up with the flourish of Bela Lugosi. I only trifle with livers. There is something positively ghoulish about mucking about with hearts. If you had any sensitivity, you would have selected a less emotionally charged organ to transplant."
"Hearts are trumps," says Rindfleisch, diving into this lamb's brains.
"I just think," Giacomo continues stubbornly, "that it would be more professional if a man who transplants livers didn't eat them regularly for lunch.
Schadenfreude, with a quick reptilian flick of the tongue, deftly removes a glob of gravy from his chin.
"By the same token," he says, "Wickham, as a neurosurgeon, should never indulge in lamb's brains or sweetbreads, at least not in public."
"Well," Giacomo says, "has anyone ever seen me eating hearts!"
He preens like a pouter pigeon as he plunges into his sweetbreads with the vigor of a high-diving horse.
"Have you ever noticed," Rabinowitz says spitefully as he plops a large sliver of liver into his mouth, "that Giacomo always seems to have a fistful of organs at the ready while the rest of us are shackled to lists?"
Giacomo drops his fork as if bitten by its prongs.
"Are you suggesting," he hisses, "that there is anything unorthodox in my organ retrieval system!"
"Of course not," Rabinowitz says smoothly, "but there are some of us who wonder why you are always hanging around the intensive care unit and giving out boxes of Belgian chocolates to the nurses."
Giacomo opens his mouth and expels two sweetbreads but, before he can reply, he is interrupted by Stein.
"Now that we are discussing the ICU -- the brain-dead girl you have on the respirator, Schadenfreude. I noticed that her color's not too good. How about slipping me her lungs?"
"What's in it for me?" Schadenfreude asks, less than graciously.
"I have two kidneys that I might be able to get my hands on," Steinmetz says.
"Ok," says Schadenfreude.
"I don't wish to appear piggish," Steinmetz says, pushing his luck, "but perhaps you could throw in the liver and corneas as well. Then I could trade with Bongiorno, Augenblick, or Rabinowitz for--"
"Just a minute!" Semmelweiss scolds, putting down his fork. "Is this what we've come to, trading body parts like baseball cards? No wonder the rest of the staff refers to our table as the Auto Body Shop. Gentleman, I beseech you, a little decorum, please--"
"Oh," says Giacomo, with a voice hard as a silver spoon, "they call us the Auto Body Shop do they? Who does -- all the pediatricians who wipe snotty noses all day for peanuts? It's all envy. Sour grapes. We surgeons are like fighter pilots, the elite of our profession. It's only natural that we would get some sniping from the ranks. Our hands move with an inborn grace, like Pavlova dancing the Dying Swan. Remember, gentlemen: surgeons, like Rembrandts, are born not made--"
"Hear! Hear!" his colleagues' voices rise around him softly like a chorus of smoke signals.
"Have you tried the steak and kidney pie?" Semmelweiss asks timidly hoping to direct the conversation to a less emotionally charged topic. "I, myself, of course, being a transplanter of kidneys, would never touch them." He waits expectantly for their compliments on his sensitivity. None are forthcoming.
"Did you hear the story about the South American dictator who cooked his prisoner's son and served him to him in a chafing dish?" Bongiorno offers, hoping to turn the conversation to a more pleasant topic.
"Pass the hearts of palm, please," says Semmelweiss.
"How's the harvest?" Giacomo asks, just to make conversation.
"Heavy on hearts, low on longs, kidneys dipping, skin and corneas holding--" Rindfleisch says.
"I have a heart and two lungs hanging by a cat gut," Rabinowitz offers, "liver's gone though. Drats! Anybody need a trade?"
"Pass the bread and butter, please," says Bongiorno.
"Pass the slaw," says Steinmetz.
"I'll trade you a heart and a kidney for a lung. Any takers?" he asks, plopping a sliver of cow's lung deftly into his gullet.
"Steinmetz!" Giacomo asks disapprovingly, "are you eating lungs?"
"What if I am!"
"I had hoped we had all agreed not to eat what we transplant."
"Ditto," says Rabinowitz.
Giacomo rises from his seat, a tiny speck of sweetbread swinging from his chin like a little flag. "Please, Steinmetz," he says, "no gutter language at lunch."
"Sorry, the pressure is getting to me," Steinmetz mutters, lunging for another bit of lung. "I need a week in Acapulco."
"Might I try a bit of kidney?" Giacomo asks, moving his fork towards Bongiorno's plate, "I do hearts."
"Certainly. As I do corneas, I have little conflict at table."
"Corneas are best. Very uncomplicated," says Augenblick, from across the table.
Steinmetz appears to be losing control. "Listen," he says, rising from his chair, "I'll trade you one of my own kidneys for a lung, half a lung--"
"No can do," Schadenfreude says.
"Gentlemen," Augenblick says, spearing a carrot, "don't we have lists? All this plotting and trading smacks of blackmarketeering."
"Well, Augenblick, as you dabble in corneas, you can afford to be holier than the Pope. The rest of us deal in vital organs," Rabinowitz says, with the hint of a sneer.
"Now, see here," Steinmetz shouts, grabbing Schadenfreude by the neck, "are you holding out again! Everyone knows you're always skulking around the ICU pulling out plugs. Every time you do your rounds, the next sounds we hear is the crash cart!"
"What nerve!" Schadenfreude says, deftly removing Steinmetz's hands from his throat, "this is slander!" He attracts the attention of several podiatrists at a nearby table.
"See here, I have never deliberately pulled a plug on a patient in my life," he continues. "Occasionally, I trip and pull one out accidentally. I have amblyopia and lack depth perception. It's an act of God. If God had wanted the patient to live, He would have made sure that I saw the cord!"
"It seems to me that you've been very clumsy lately," Rabinowitz says sourly. "Every time you need a kidney, you take a pratfall in intensive care!"
"Pass the crudites, please," says Bongiorno, desperately trying to make peace.
"I can't take all this pressure!" Steinmetz says again, his voice taking on a sharp edge of hysteria. "I'm off to Palm Beach next week for a few rounds of golf and I don't want any of you mucking about with my sources while I'm gone, no plug-pulling -- and eyeing Schadenfreude -- no tripping, or else!"
"Or else what?" Rabinowitz asks, laying down his fork as quietly as a velvet glove.
"Or else our Thursday golf game is off indefinitely," Steinmetz says defiantly.
"Gottcha," says Rabinowitz and returns to his liver and onions.
"I don't want any lungs changing hands while I'm gone," Steinmetz says. "It's getting so you can't even take a vacation anymore."
"Listen," he says, beginning to become agitated, "let's come to an agreement -- that girl in the coma -- when she goes, how about I take the lungs, Rindfleisch or Giacomo takes the heart, Schadenfreude or Semmelweiss gets the kidneys, Bongiorno or Augenblick takes the corneas, Rabinowitz gets the liver. Well now, what's for dessert?"
"Blood pudding!" Schadenfreude says sarcastically.
"You know," Steinmetz says, looking at Schadenfreude like a robin taking the dimensions of a particularly succulent worm, "you know you haven't been looking too good lately. Color's bad. Better let me take your pulse."
"I don't like the way you're looking at me," Schadenfreude says. "Don't look at me like I've got potential! You're a ghoul, Steinmetz. One sneeze and he's already mentally snipping our your lungs!"
"You're right, Schadenfreude, I'm losing it, but I'm desperate for lungs and you're the only one at the table who's under forty. No one else's organs are viable. Forgive me. I forgot myself. But I'm like a bricklayer with no bricks! The pressure's building up. I can't take it. Last night, my wife got a headache and for one awful moment I found myself hoping it was a fatal aneurysm."
"The trouble is that we've all become too competitive," Rindfleisch says. "Too goal-oriented, too driven. Medicine has become too much of a business, not enough of an art."
"Right," Semmelweiss echoes, "there's no real humanism left in medicine, no real concern for the person qua person."
"Hear! Hear!" A chorus of nods.
Steinmetz rises from his chair as if to go the men's room and neglects to put down his steak knife. He trips over the rungs of Giacomo's chair and falls onto Schadenfreude, plunging the knife three inches into this chest. The blood sprouts out like a bouquet of Helen Traubel roses, red as plum tomatoes, splattering the remnants of Giacomo's sweetbreads, dusting the last of Rabinowitz's liver and onions, spotting Bongiorno's kidneys with flecks of red.
The table rises as one to staunch the flow of blood.
"Not so quickly, gentlemen," says Rabinowitz, "a colleague is a colleague, but, after all, a liver is still a liver and a lung is still a lung."
"Look," said Lisa, forcing the crusty brown stain into Natalie's face, "What the hell do you think it is?"
"Smells like shit," Natalie replied, turning her head in disgust while pushing the foul blanket away from her face. Lisa sat down on the edge of the bed and stared at the stain really having trouble imagining just why it was there. Natalie, meanwhile, stood in front of the vanity with her eyes squinted searching diligently for blackheads.
"Did you shit yourself in the middle of it?" Natalie asked half-heartedly.
"No. At least I don't think so. I've never done anything like that before. Besides, wouldn't there be more, at least some on me? There's not." She looked at her ass over her shoulder. "I checked already." Lisa sank her hands deep into her hair and fell back onto the bed. "He couldn't have picked a worse night to come over."
"Why?" asked Natalie, now searching the area around her ear lobes.
"I was so drunk. I was in the bathroom puking when I heard him tapping on the window. I was still wearing my uniform. I couldn't believe it. I wasn't sure how long he'd been tapping, and you know how easily dad wakes up, so I went and opened the window. I had puke breath. Puke breath!"
"Maybe he didn't notice." Lisa turned around and sat down on the chest at the foot of the bed.
"I hope not," replied Lisa, still lying on her back holding her hair.
"Now that I think of it, he really didn't say anything the whole time, and he seemed like he was in a hurry. Oh God, he did notice."
"I seriously doubt it. I saw him earlier behind Hardee's getting wasted in that field. There was a ton of people there. He was probably drunker than you were. Can you remember a Friday since you've known him that he wasn't?" asked Natalie.
"Does he wear a rubber?" asked Natalie.
"How do you know?"
"What do you mean, how do I know?" Lisa propped herself up on one elbow and looked inquisitively at Natalie. "He told me he does, that's how."
"Do you help him put it on?"
"No. I don't have to. He puts it on before he comes to the window. And then he takes it with him when he leaves. I never have to fool with the thing at all."
"And besides you can feel it."
"Maybe it's from the dog," said Lisa.
"The stain. Maybe the dog did it."
"Natalie, Dixie hasn't been in this house in years. The thing couldn't get up on the bed anyway. She's nearly 15 years old and wouldn't move two feet from that dog house for a steak."
Lisa walked over to the window and looked outside at Dixie lying comatose in the shade of the doghouse. She picked at her crotch and wondered why it was also so crusty in the morning after sex. Natalie sat and examined her nails, pushing the cuticle back here and there, still thinking about rubbers and whether or not Joe would ever have the courage to actually buy some.
Lisa walked over to the crumpled cheerleader uniform in the corner and picked it up carefully. "Maybe I shit myself when I was puking." She looked at Natalie with a crinkled face. They laid the uniform out on the bed, slowly but carefully unfolded the skirt and hoped it was clean. Suddenly an idea occurred to Lisa. "Maybe he stepped in shit while coming through the yard." They traced the path from the window to the bed.
"There would have to be some on the floor," said Lisa, scuffing the surface of the rug back with her foot. "I don't see anything."
"Thad's pretty cool. Why don't you just ask him if he found some dog shit on his shoe's?"
"Are you crazy? He's the coolest guy in school. What if he says no and then wants to know why I asked?" She placed her hands on her hips and moved her head from side to side. "Oh, it's nothing, Thad. There was just a shit stain in my bedspread."
"Great idea. Then he thinks about it for awhile, realizes he didn't step in any shit and automatically thinks it was me. I'd rather not know."
"Hopefully he was drunk enough not to remember much about last night."
"Did you talk to him last night at Hardee's?" asked Lisa while walking away and into the bathroom around the corner. "I think I love him." Natalie was looking at the blanket as if it were poisonous and deadly.
"No thanks," replied Natalie, not really paying any attention to what she was saying. She tiptoed to the corner and could see Lisa sitting on the toilet through a crack in the door. She moved quietly back to the bed and looked at the stain. She knelt down and took several small sniffs. A small gag popped out involuntarily, and she smacked herself in the face trying to conceal it. "Jesus," she thought to herself, "that really is shit." She heard the toilet flush and hurried back to the vanity and began squeezing at her chin. The foul stench was still on her mind and she gagged again.
"Let's go to the mall," said Lisa, smiling. "The only thing that can help now is a new outfit."
"What did you say a few minutes ago?" asked Natalie. "When you were walking to the bathroom?"
"It was nothing." Once was enough -- she didn't want to say it again.
"Do you think he noticed my puke breath?"
"Hard to tell," replied Natalie, "I doubt it."
Thad's red Nissan skidded through the gravel several feet beyond the driveway on to the lawn. He pulled the e-brake, threw his cigarette out the window, and shut off the ignition all in one motion. Quickly he got out of the car and knelt down so that his head was at seat level. His hand brushed the upholstery in search of something he hoped not to find. He placed his nose on the fabric, took a deep breath, and exhaled in a sigh of relief. The seat was warm from his ass but it didn't stink, at least not nearly as much as it could have.
Ms. Tolley answered the door in her nightgown holding a steaming cup of tea. "Little early for you, Thad?" She turned back towards the kitchen leaving the door open.
"Is Brett home?"
"Come on in. He's still sleeping."
He walked calmly through the entryway and picked up speed as he neared the staircase that led to Brett's bedroom. He quietly opened the bedroom door and inched his was inside. The room was completely black even on the brightest day. A tennis shoe rolled under his foot, nearly causing him to twist his ankle. The acrid stench of morning breath hung like a warm mist in the cool air. He gagged. He paused to swallow the gag spittle and unexpectedly gagged again. He pushed his chin outward and lifted his lower lip, exhaling just the air from his mouth and realized he wasn't much better off. Sometimes sickness was the only buffer for equal sickness.
He eased slowly onto the bed and positioned himself parallel to Brett.
"Hey." He whispered
"Hey." A slightly louder whisper.
"Get up man."
"Something's happened and I need your help." He propped himself up on one elbow and spoke directly to the blackness that masked Brett's head. "It's Carrie, man. I saw her do some shit. You know that dude, the one you hate? Well, they were behind Hardee's and..."
"Why do you have to do shit like that?" Brett interrupted, remaining motionless in the dark. "Go get me something to drink. I'm dying. I can't peel my tongue off my teeth." It was evident in his voice.
"All right, but you gotta get up. I need your help." Thad pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Just meet me in the driveway. I'm taking your can of snuff." He stood up and crouched down in a ready position. With one hand he reached for the edge of Brett's bed comforter, with the other he pointed directly at the light switch, looking back and forth through the darkness at each hand out of habit but seeing nothing. In one swift motion he ripped the comforter from the bed and flipped on the overhead light. He waited for the reaction, braced against the door, ready to block a punch or a flying object.
Nothing came save for the harsh reflection of the white light glaring off Brett's back. The bare exposed skin was too much for Thad. He became overwhelmed with opportunity. He starred at it, searching for just the right spot. So many choices, so many choices. He focused on an area just below his shoulder blade and quickly rifled a jab into Brett's ribs. The mixture of thud and smack was perfect. He fired a lightening two finger slap to the back of his neck then sprang from the bed and out the door. It was his turn today to inflict the pain. It didn't happen very often.
Thad sat on the hood of his car and worked the pinch of snuff with his tongue, massaging it into place and coaxing juice from it. He picked his nose constantly and this was no exception. Bryan emerged from the basement door scratching his head and his balls. He walked to the bushes that edged the driveway and began urinating. "What's up, dick? What are you doing up so early?"
"I lost my wallet last night and I need you to help me find the damn thing."
A cold shiver shot through Brett's body as he shook off the last drops. "How did you lose it?"
"I threw it in out the car window into the woods on accident. Somewhere up the road." He nodded towards the road that led to the up to the high school.
"You what?" Brett zipped up, walked to the car, and grabbed the snuff from Thad's hand. "Gimmie that shit."
"I thought you dropped me off and went home? What were you doing up there?"
"I did. But I had to go back out again to get something."
"Something or someone?" asked Brett. Thad shrugged but did not reply.
"Oh my God. Did you go to Lisa's? You hate that girl."
They got in the car and took off, and Brett rolled down the window and began picking through the ashtray in search of a roach. There were several in there, and he pulled them out one at a time looking for the biggest one. "Why don't you pull over so we can smoke this? You can tell me why the hell you threw your wallet out the window."
Thad pulled the car onto a dirt road and drove several hundreds yards to a shady spot near a cow pasture under a grove of maple trees. There were beer cans and broken glass everywhere. Both Thad and Brett wondered what they might have missed the night before; these were signs of a good time. "I had to ditch my pants and I forgot to take the wallet out first. I didn't even realize until I was home."
"You dick," said Thad holding a flame to the tip of the roach. "Ditched your pants?"
"Yea. Your not gonna fucking believe what happened. But you can't tell anybody."
"I'm serious," he added.
"What?" Brett looked back down at the roach and quickly brought it to his lips and began sucking frantically. The orange glow grew stronger and brighter with each suck. He reached out and handed the roach to Thad, butt first. "Let me guess: Lisa was on her period and you got blood on yourself. Just like Brian not to long ago." He nodded. "You remember, Brian and Kathy. We thought he killed her."
"No, nothing like that. Worse."
"Worse." Brett grabbed the roach took a hit and said, "What the hell could be worse than that?"
"Oh, it gets worse. Trust me." Thad took the roach, rolled down his window several more inches and fiddled with the radio for no reason. Brett made a fist with his middle knuckle protruding slightly more than the rest and landed a quick jab on the back of Thad's hand right between two bones. "Well tell me." Thad grabbed his hand and began massaging it. The roach rested in his lips. The smoke and the pain made him squint.
"You got any money?" asked Brett. "I need coke. A big one."
"Yea, in my wallet. I'll buy you anything you want if you help me find it."
"All right, just tell me the what happened so we can go find this thing. I'm tired of playing games with you." Brett snatched the roach from Thad, as he was about to take another hit.
Thad turned sideways in the seat so that he was facing Brett. "I don't even know where to begin. It was possibly the worst night of my life. After I dropped you off I was starving, so I cruised over to Hardee's."
"Oh my God. You didn't." Brett interrupted. He was becoming high and curious. Everything was beginning to sound unbelievable.
"What did you get?" Although disgusting, he also found that stuff irresistible late at night also.
"Frisco Burger meal, super-sized," he answered. "It was sick and awesome. I could hardly move when all the cuttin' was done." He was becoming irresponsibly giggly and had to pause to remember the point he was trying to make. "Anyway, while I was eating I kept thinking about Lisa and I decided to go up there and see if she was home. I wasn't even sure she would let me again. So I drove up there just to see what would happen. I really had nothing to lose."
"Where do you park when you go up there? It's so dark you'd think her parents would see the lights."
"In the gravel lot just beyond her house by that little mechanics garage or what ever it is. You know that gray building surrounded by those old piece of shit cars?" Brett nodded. "I cut the lights just about halfway past the High School and go real slow. Then I just move from bush to bush, across the road, and normally I stop on the side of the house to make sure there's no commotion and to see if I can hear anything. It's so quiet up there you could hear the TV outside if someone was up."
"I bet it is." Said Brett, his eyes growing itchy and smaller by the moment.
"So anyway, just when I got to the side of the house I heard something, but it wasn't coming from the house. It was my stomach. That Hardee's was moving on me and things were rumbling down there. I felt real sick but it went away so I sucked it up and moved quietly around the back to her window. I tapped a couple of times and then waited. I must have sat there 15 minutes and tapped about five different times. I was squatting down to stay under the light from the shed kind of like you would if you were shitting in the woods. My stomach began rumbling again. It felt real loose; that grease had me lubed up. Something had to give. My butt hole starting quivering back and forth."
Brett began giggling which quickly turned into a coughing fit. He opened the door and leaned out of the car to catch his breath. He spit on the gravel and then turned back towards Thad who was donning a mischievous smile. "I know what you mean. Did it go away?" He asked then opened the door and spit again.
"Yes and no. I waited until it cooled down a bit and decided to get out of there. I must have just forgotten which side of the house I came from so when I made the corner I was eye to eye with her damn dog. I though for sure the thing would start barking. I could hear it growling. I was trapped. I couldn't see it but I could hear the chain rattling like it was moving toward me. It sounded pretty pissed off and mean. All the sudden my stomach starts churning again. I wanted to die. Really die. I seriously thought I could get away with a little fart, you know to release the pressure. I know, I know, famous last words. The whole situation became too stressful and a fucking turd slipped out!"
"You are lying," accused Brett. "You have to be lying. What is your problem? Wasn't it just two weeks ago you shit yourself in Phar-Mor?" He doubled over in laughter and hit his head in the dashboard. "What's the matter with your ass? You are the worst. The worst!"
Brett continued laughing and got out of the car to walk it off. Thad could hear him behind the car trying to hold back some choking. He was feeling like quite the asshole. He got out of the car and walked around to join Brett. Throwing rocks out into the field seemed to help anchor him back into reality.
Brett threw a bottle against a large rock. He knelt down and examined a large piece of broken glass. "So you took off and threw you pants over the hill but forgot to take out your wallet. What all is in that thing? Maybe you should just call it a loss. I'd hate to see those pants."
"Not exactly. It gets worse."
"Please. You shit yourself. It doesn't get much worse than that."
"Like I said that dog was there so I had to back track. I'd accidentally smashed the turd against my cheek, sort of like a reflex grab. I could feel the warm clay patty clinging there. Mostly I was thinking about clean up at this point. I had to crouch to stay under the light and that just pressed the turd more and more securely to my ass. No more than 10 feet from the other corner I heard the window slide open and I froze in my tracks. It was Lisa. I didn't know what the hell to do. I just sat there hoping she would close the window. She must have seen my shadow because she started whispering my name."
"Well who else would be showing up at her bedroom window at 2:00 in the morning, dip shit?"
"I don't know."
"She kept whispering my name and for some reason I answered."
"You did what?"
"I answered and walked over to the window. She signaled me to come in. I must have been delirious or something. I crawled in and just stood there. I was so freaked out I just stood there like a retard looking at her but not moving or saying anything. Panic attack dude. Sheer terror." Thad began laughing at himself. Brett just stood there, mouth agape, dry as a tumbleweed.
"Next thing I know she's kissing me. I'm like numb, I was kissing but I don't know how. I couldn't feel a thing, just that turd stuck to my cheek. She starts rubbing my back, sneaking her hands down toward my ass. I grabbed her hands and moved them to the front by my balls. She starts unbuttoning my pants. I'm sweating bullets." He paused, looked up at the bright sun, and deeply inhaled some fresh air. The smell, or lack there of, reassured him that it was over and would soon be a recollection and not so real.
"Her breath was terrible so I quit kissing her and just kind of hugged her for a second. I guess she thought I wanted something and went down for the score. It couldn't have been 30 seconds into it and, I swear I could smell the turd. I was awful, I felt like gagging. She had to have smelled it. She just had to."
"Oh, of course. Did she say anything?"
"No. I had to stop her. I couldn't take the pressure. I was gonna button up and get the hell out of there. Just make up some story the next day like I was sick or something like that. Then she lay back on the bed. She still had her cheerleader uniform on. You know how I feel about that. Get this. No underwear, the thing was just staring at me.
"She started touching herself which was too much for me to take. I had to get in. I pulled my pants down just enough and got on top of her. Were going at it for like five minutes and then the smell becomes unbearable, even for me. I don't know what happened but it was like a combination of terror, stress, and excitement. I blew the biggest load ever."
"That is so disgusting. Did you wear a condom?" asked Brett.
"What kind of a question is that? Of course not!"
"I blew it all inside of her, like always. Feels damn good, too, man."
"You better hope she's on the pill, there, tough guy." Brett shook his head in routine amazement. "Do you think she knows about the turd?" He asked.
"I don't know. I was pretty careful, but it's hard to tell."
"You know what's really sick though, now that I've had a chance to reflect on it?" said Thad. "I think she had puke breath."
"Oh my God," said Brett. "That's fucking disgusting." He picked a crusty morning bugger, rolled it, and threw it at Thad's head. "Let's go find this thing. I got shit to do, poop boy."
After four hours of standing before the window Germaine needed to take a shit. Because she had vowed to stand motionless, staring out at the body of water she lives near, until she could make the words dance again, she tried to fight it off as long as possible, tightly squeezing her cheeks together, slightly bending over with her knees touching. But eventually it won. First she quickly made coffee, filling the machine with water and then letting her hands, strong, bony and white, grind the black beans. She wanted the smell of the beans more than the coffee itself. And then she sprinted into the bathroom.
A bright woman, she checked for toilet paper before sitting down. With her white panties and linen pants around her ankles, straining and grunting, legs and stomach tightening, and clenching her teeth, she couldn't make a bowel movement. She stopped for a moment, rested, and then in confident anticipation of a struggle, took her glasses off and set them on the tile floor. Before she started again she edged them a little farther away by reaching out with her foot and giving them a little push. Bracing herself, she put one hand on the bathtub and the other on the sink, the second arm slightly higher than the first, like a plane making a slow, banking turn. Taking a deep breath of air as if she thought she could will away the tight lump in her backside by breathing heavier, she pushed again and again until her face was red and the veins in her forehead popped out. With effort she thought it would come. It didn't.
She tried again, breathing deeper and letting out little grunts. Her stomach cramped and the muscles in her arms and legs ached. Pushing and breathing as if in labor, she felt like a barbarian, a barbarian who couldn't shit. (Barbarian not in the sense of uncivilized or vulgar but in its deep etymological meaning-barbaroi-literally one who doesn't speak and think Greek. Her shit was Greek and she didn't know its tongue. Thus she couldn't expel it by calling out its name or negotiating with it.) She stopped, maneuvered on the pot for a better grip, and then it went away like it was never really there at all. The playful magic shit! -- appearing and disappearing as if it were a magician's trick!. Waiting to see if it would come back, she closed her eyes and leaned back, letting her head rest on the wall. Her thoughts chased away the memory of the magic shit.
They were eating dinner at dense restaurant with small tables and even smaller chairs. Done eating, the check had yet to come. And then Blain said: "I want you not as lover, but as wife." The waitress next to them turned her head and smiled. As her eyes widened, the words flooded out of Germaine, suffocating her in silence. Producing the ring and squeezing it, he said he'd patterned it after his mother's wedding ring. A few minutes later (Germaine had yet to answer) the waitress brought them a complimentary bottle of red wine. Germaine motioned for her to take it back. As she was picking up the bottle, Germaine's face flushed with emotion, turning her cheeks red as she said:
"Only a man in love could give a gift that takes!"
Lightly setting the ring on the table, Blain got up to leave the restaurant. Before he left he said:
"I wish I could understand you and your strange languages."
"Blain, you don't need to understand to love."
"Agreed. But I deserve a yes or no, not a lesson in the philosophy of gift-giving."
"I can't answer the question. Not now."
"Germaine, the way in which you search for the perfect image, structure or sentence, so as to impose an order and meaning upon your life, seems artificial and contrived. I find the lack of meaning enticing and sweet, and I lick the sugar of life; this is the way I restrain the life that lives within me, which I know is stronger than me. This part of my character doesn't allow me to give way, and it gives a meaning to my days. It does not allow self-betrayal; sometimes I doubt I know what betrayal is, what color and shape it might be. What, have the words left you? You haven't written in months. And this is a simple yes or no."
And his last words before giving her the ultimatum and walking out:
"And your despair -- your desire to make the world ugly will eventually do so. There is always a point where despair rejoins the richness of the world. One does not call for this rejoinder; it comes of its own accord. Or so it seems to me. This expectation frees me from the past, from pain and guilt, from the history of a violent century and present that weighs on my conscience like a nightmare. All I want is the present in all its compactness. And I want to hold that compactness, my life, between my hands. I want to hold it like one might hold warm bread -- with expectation and joy. Germaine, I want to hold you as wife, not as lover."
The words have never failed her before. What she wanted to say, but was unable to, was this a discourse about silence that I couldn't work into the plot itself.
3. What Germaine Wanted to Say
Silence is a language unto itself. To those who do not understand (or are afraid to learn) the language of silence, this claim is absurd. But the act of looking from the outside is reciprocal. And all discourse begins in silence. With discourse something must be revealed, spoken of, pointed at, and this, in turn, requires someone to listen -- it requires silence. That discourse begins in silence isn't a mystical statement but a concrete acknowledgement of the way the world is. As absolute landlessness is the terrible riposte to metaphysical longing, silence is the fundamental foundation of language.
In sum: she wanted Blain to be quiet, to stop with the over-dramatic words! Be silent for once! Stop giving lectures as if she were one of his students!
Only in light of the thought experiment was it possible to understand Germaine. And also Blain. Now their lives are more clear than life itself, more clear than the Picasso drawing, "Mother and Child" (1904), that hangs on one of the walls in my apartment and reminds me of the inexhaustible beauty of life. Yet compared to the heaviness of their lives it is but a sketch of vague outlines and ghosts daring to peer downward where shadows slowly gather and then quickly disperse. Germaine was seen first. Remember that what the words illuminate was not invented but already there, behind and below, waiting patiently to be excavated and brought to the surface.
Her flat was extremely clean, but a little bare: a wardrobe hung from the ceiling, a dresser with a marble top and large full-length mirror sat idly in a corner, and a large, worn, old rug, with knotted, fraying stitches, covered a quarter of the floor. A multi-colored eiderdown was leisurely thrown over a couch sitting across from a large bed set in a corner on a large platform thus requiring a healthy step up to enter its confines. And in another corner, on top of the trunk she used when she first left home for college, lightly sat a forgotten television.
She rose at six-thirty. The alarm buzzed two or three times and she was up, off into the shower to tackle a new work day. Eating a light, tasteless breakfast, a piece of toast and a plain yogurt, she was ready to work. She went to her work table out of habit and instinct, with bright, eager eyes and a light step, like a dog that wakes its owner when it needs to go outside. The thick, heavy wooden was covered with books and notes and nothing else. As she walked barefoot across the smooth sanded floors her feet were cold, and they let her know that winter was on the way. In her lover's white shirt, the same color as her draw-string linen pants, Germaine's dark hair wire-rimmed glasses contrasted her form and highlighted the curves of her body, her soft skin almost lost in her very form. Then she realized that the words would not flow. As she stood looking at the ring on her dresser, its clear metallic surface reflecting a bluish presence of negation, an active force destroying her words and punishing her with silence, she knew she would write no words that morning.
So she went to the only window in her apartment. (A large window, nearly six feet high and ten feet long. In the summer the sun pours through it and rarely does she need to turn on a light. In the winter she enjoys watching the snowflakes fall. On the fifth floor, the highest one in the building, and at an odd angle, the view lets her see half the city as well as the shore of the Pacific Ocean.) Trying to stand motionless, her chest fluidly pressed in and lifted out and there was a tight tension in her legs that caused them to shake lightly. Her plan was simple: to look out at the ocean and then return to her work table, describe the sunrise over the ocean. The leaves of the plans hanging from her ceiling partially blocked her view.
Talking to herself out loud (sounding out the words is a habit: it helps her write), she said: "In the morning, as the sun begins to rise, the waters of the ocean turn a brilliant, clear color, and they remain like that, fixed and stationary, impotent, while the sun takes center stage announcing to the world that its time is eternal." Then, exhaling through her nose in little puffs, she let out a low, grinding laugh of pain -- the ocean is nothing like that when the sun rises (or at least not the ocean she was trying to describe).
Breathing softly and listening to the quiet of her apartment as she looked out at the ocean, she imagined that the missing words were drowning, and then dead, lodged forever underneath the stones lining the shore. Again she spoke to herself: "Nothing is happening while I live. The scenes and scenery change. But there is no story to my life, no beginning or plot or dialogue. The hours of the day are monotonous: the hands spins round and round in meaningless circles. But everything changes when I write about life." But at bottom there is no desire whatsoever. Rather than a two-headed, raging beast pulling in opposite directions there is only a thin, compassless liquidity, an invisible pool of despair stretched out before her, motionless.
When motionless, psychic pain is nearly unbearable: this explains why the solitary pace or walk in their homes and the social try to lose themselves in the crowd, make their despair become nameless like the anonymous faces one finds in the streets and bars and restaurants of cities. But Germaine wants to defeat it, and the only way to do that is to let her despair grow inside of her like one of the plants hanging from the ceiling in her flat. Make it yearn for the sunlight! She has decided to stand motionless until it grows and matures: her despair is a seedling planted in rich, black soil, watered and set in the sun. With growth will come maturation, and with maturation, fruit. Or so she hopes.
5. Call them Nicolai and Germaine.
And the link, the shared beginning, between Germaine and Blain? He, too, like Germaine the novelist, is a writer, of sorts. He records his thoughts in regular notebooks, often using up several a month. Neither has a need for new idols or the subterfuge of a clique and its concomitant, circumambient citadel. But as Ishmael sought the water, and Cato the tip of his sword, both Blain and Germaine chase the word.
Both were born not of a mother, but of a thought experiment. Yet one cannot sail against the spinning of the world to see them for the first time again: the weight of their memories, like a morning fog over the bodies of water they live near (a lake and an ocean), prevents every attempt to pass beyond uncharted waters into the very beginnings of their biographies. Like fall leaves slowly drifting downward, the unfurling of time moves only ever forward.
Where, then, to begin? This is the problem. How best to create transparency? And a more fundamental question: What is the power behind and within the words? A series of tactile, sensory encounters with mere words, those black, uniform marks on paper, row after row after row, are capable of overthrowing governments and inciting riots, of building alternate spaces, times and worlds, and of mediating meaning and value and purpose. And much else too. For good or bad, this is known and true. But can the words create the vibrant, internal cities and landscapes that are turbulent life and vigilant beauty redeemed from certain death and eternal calm? Excessive and extreme as well as impoverished and deprived, words often tell both too little and too much. Doesn't an entrenched esthesis always express more than mere words alone can ever illuminate?
What is needed is a dictionary of the language of the human spirit. But because this speech is silent, such a project is impossible: words illimitably fail to articulate the enunciations of the pulsating spirit caged within the human animal. An impulse of the spirit, whether born of jealousy and anger, despair and angst, or generosity and love, is a metaphysic that operates outside the borders of locution. For example, consider sexual love.
When transliterating sexual love from the silence of the heart into the lexicon of the ear, an unexplored problem emerges: the need to describe sexual love as it is lived and breathed, not as one might wish it to occur. And to not reduce sexual love to pure physicality: the human animal does not have a mating season like the dog. Sexual love can never be pure and natural, a simple matter of acting and describing. So, where to begin and how to start? Again, what words to use? Between the abyss of nothingness and disconnected shadows it is futile to cry out: the absurd, the irreducible, waits as a site of creation yet to be overcome. And the war among and between angst-ridden shadows and the rustic, earthy color of non-being is never one of language, of crying out in the night, but of blood and soil, of renascent palingenesis, of breathing and unveiling a new vista. One must create from nothing...
"Oh boy," Teresa observed, with a tasteful reserve of emotion. "Just look at those clouds."
Since grey dawn Teresa watched storm clouds simmering low, slow and ominous from her home's cling wrapped safety. Now evening's waning sun sent defiant ocher orange into the cobalt dusk. For two years Teresa, an economist, and broker husband, Bruce, had lived in the gated community of Bedford Estates. The Estates promised to 'bring urban/urbane living to the country,' much to the chagrin of farm families who could not afford to live with the rising taxes the development brought, and whose arable farms were paved over for it. Bedford Estates brought mini vans, Volvos, boutiques, and rising food prices in the main street's grocery stores. Locals called the community the 'Yuppie Plague,' because everything in its path blackened and died. Sprawling houses, like glass and cement buboes, grew on the ravaged skin of once pristine farm land, poisoning it.
Teresa faced a sudden change in her routine life when she was laid off from a Toronto investment firm. Her priorities had to be reset. Arthur, their first child, scheduled for birth the next year, at first was refinanced, then cancelled due to lack of funding. His nursery was restyled into a meditation room, complete with new computer and Swedish furniture made from compressed wood chips, leather, and plastic.
Bruce's life continued on as before: he worked and watched sports. Teresa pursued various, never completed, art projects. They were an unconscious attempt to prevent herself from thinking about life or anything beyond life's surface.
One day, while pinning yet another moth for her collection, she realized that there must be more to life than collecting things. She began reading Eastern philosophies, after buying a new leather bound set for the meditation room. Bruce thought it was all weird nonsense. Teresa would bubble and trill about what he called the "dead writers." Eventually he cut off her philosophizing by saying, "If they're so smart, why are they all dead?"
Occasionally, she would try to regain his interest. Framed by thin window glass and past choices as she watched the storm, Teresa spoke to Bruce in a stilted voice tinged ever so slightly with depression.
"Look at that sky... the clouds are all... purplyblue... like they're... thinking deep.. .thoughts. Look at the wheat fields. They're so... yellow," she paused, moved by her description's poetry. She continued, her voice rising higher.
"It's just like that French painter we saw at the corporate benefactor's reception. Uhm, you know... he cut off his eye. No! His ear... uhm, oh, Rembrandt! That's right. No, it's more like a Heathcliff sky... can't you just see Cathy calling to him?"
Bruce grunted a response. Teresa, he thought, was satisfied with a grunt as long as he remembered to time it properly. He was busy: Toronto was actually ahead one point.
"Come to me, come to me, my dark love," Teresa fervently whispered, imagining herself in a wispy white dress on a storm swept Scottish moor. Bruce grunted. Teresa didn't notice. She was cocooned in fantasy.
To the Others, who watched from within the swirling dark, the scene was Hopperesque. Man and woman turned away from each other in the instance and forever. He, mesmerized by the television's strobing blue. She, still, silent, wistful, silhouetted by the storm's surreal light.
Vengefully, the storm pressed against Teresa's '2 bedroom, 2 1/2 baths, authentically post-modern mock-Victorian with all the amenities,' violently spinning the computer-shaped weather vane. Lightning flashed, unfurling an idea in Teresa. Suddenly she saw herself as Nature's lost child. Teresa took on identities as she would new high heels. She'd keep both on only as long as they suited her immediate emotional needs. Merging with the cacophony of colour and sound outside, she thought, would return her to a state of grace. Bruce, hearing only silence and thinking a response was required, gave another generic grunt. He hadn't noticed that she'd stepped outside.
Teresa stood watching the lightning from within her high-walled garden with its prettily boxed impatiens, espalier fruit trees, and tomatoes staked in military formation. In her insulating Burberry coat with matching leather Prada bag and boots, Teresa felt at one with Nature. However, after a few minutes, Teresa had become bored. When she was about to go back in, she noticed something happening in the distance.
Before her, frenzied wheat was ripped about by cracking wind. Skyward, giant swaths of blackness twirled, leapt and danced with joy. Their joy was sent as a warm pulse which reached where she stood. Looking earthward again, Teresa saw that circles had formed in the wheat. After the twirling, the swaths separated. Bulges formed in each, then spewed out a myriad of small, bright, new, winds.
"That's odd, that's not supposed to happen." Teresa could not comprehend the significance of what she was seeing. She went to investigate.
Stepping into the storm's full force, she insinuated herself into the gold flow whose slick brittle stalks tried to prevent her from entering. Teresa was intent on finding out what was going on. She was oblivious to the fact that she was intruding on an intimate ritual in a private domain. Following the storm's pulse into the field's heart, she found that the air's electricity coalesced into an almost tangible presence. A green aura of electricity flowed around her.
It was then her presence became known. In the staccato light she could see an immense moving colony of dark from which erratic light shot out. >From the main colony two swaths separated, scissoring towards her. It occurred to Teresa that this might be a chance for a new existence. Thrilled deliciously, she fluttered towards the oncoming light. Spreading our her arms in supplication, she cried out in ecstatic glee.
"Gaia, creator of all good, embrace me.... I'm your willing vessel." A beatific smile suffused her face.
Splitting air violently as they propelled downwards, the inked wind masses aimed themselves at Teresa. The last thing she heard was a windy sound that slammed into her ears as she was sucked skyward.
"God damned Yuppies!"
Teresa's bound corpse was found by Bruce days later. He had finally noticed that she wasn't in the house. She'd been cocooned in mud, wheat shafts stuffed into all of her orifices, and left staked on the twirling weather vane of their post-modern, mock-Victorian house.
A modern scarecrow, Teresa was now at one with Nature, and would effectively scare off any new housing developments.
When I came around the bend that night to the sudden steep hill, down which I enjoy coasting before coming to a calculated smooth stop before the light, I noticed a boy riding his bike mounting the ascent below me. I would have never attempted to coast down the hill on my bike, much less go up. I admired him instantly, if not for his tenacity, for his quixotic persistence. I watched in the rear-view mirror.
I caught the first few frenzied seconds of concentrated effort, which added to free velocity which got him easily a third of the way up the hill, but this easy landmark soon became the baseline for the forthcoming challenge. He struggled to push his legs into the pedals as he had done before, and finding himself powerless in this mode, stood up on the pedals, cowboy-style. He began to ascend, using that weapon made available to him through the unknowing wiles of his worthy opponent -- his weight -- thrusting mightily to maintain the rhythm of motion required to surmount the hill.
The boy seemed to have found his victory, cranking yard after yard up the road, determination driving method, until one of the two constants in his mechanics experiment became a variable. Apparently not constructed to maintain such tension, the bike's chain broke. The pedals, unencumbered by restraint, flew free and snapped resonantly into the vertical position implied by the boy's posture.
He was unable to react to this violent thwarting of procedural assumptions, shoes sliding off the unstrapped pedals, the unfaithful supports spinning wildly and scraping ribbons from his calves, and the fork of his legs slamming into the boy-killer bar of the bike. I winced; his composure was shot. He tried to save his dignity by finding some way to get off the street as soon as possible.
The boy hopped backwards up onto the seat, in distraction forgetting to use the hand brake to counteract the unfriendly inertia. Finding himself sliding backward, he pinioned his arms in admirable futility, unable to move forward or steer. The forces of subverted momentum and constant gravity conspired to cast him down, front wheel careening, frame and rider collapsing to the earth in a clumsy of grace.
"Shit," he griped.
A large Suburban had turned the street to find the obstacle in its lane and after waiting for a few seconds, politely honked at it, revving the engine. The mangled heap stood up uneasily, untangled itself into a boy and a bike, and grunted moving toward the sidewalk. His socks were dampening with blood, and he would likely faint soon if he didn't get his legs above his heart, but he had no choice but to struggle up the hill, walking his bike.
My light had been green for a few seconds; I couldn't wait any longer. I wanted to help out, though. At a good moment, he turned around to sheepishly look at the idling spectator. I released my foot from the brake and turned onto the street. I gave him a thumbs-up, smiled, and went on my merry way. Everyone needs confirmation.
Anent our recent discussion, you've received an email and are about to begin reading it. (Please accept an a priori apology for its length.) Hopefully it is an email you wanted, unlike Emails You Dread, Emails You Delete Without Reading, Emails You Read Because You Have To, or Emails You Read But Wish You Hadn't. That said, dispel all other thoughts! Concentrate! Tell your roommates, your co-workers, your inner demons -- in sum, humanity itself -- to be quiet. Scream at them: "Be quiet. I'm trying to read a new email!" Or don't say anything at all. Hope they will go away of their own volition. (Have you considered shutting the door to the room?)
Now then, find a good position to read. As we both know, there's nothing like a good read, so make yourself comfortable, get a cushion, a favorite beverage, adjust the seat, the lights, the angle of your head in relation to the monitor, untangle the mouse cord, stretch your legs -- do whatever it is you need to do. (Do you need to go to the bathroom?) Okay, are you ready? You know best, don't you? Of course you do! You are you! No one knows you better than you! Well, how long are you going to wait? Start reading!
The email begins: you are walking along the edge of a busy highway, and the words flow by like cars, hungry, mechanized rats ready to violently devour your life, streaming after one another, row after row, all at once, an indecipherable, indeterminate blur. (What the author wants you to feel is, around the words, in and through them, a saturation of other words that he may or may not use in some unspecified sentence you cannot yet access. He'd like to create a disharmonious unity contained within and diffused by a skein like magnet, a black and white surface phenomenon, a white page with black marks on them, capable of creating disparate realities through words, words you hadn't thought of, words whose only origins are the deep-wells of instinct, words that speak in clear, deep voices and create with their elongated, bony hands and fingers corporeal substances existing only in your imagination. There is a certain misty vagueness, a puff of smoke from a cigar, synonymous with the miasma of modernity, that surrounds the beginning of the email, and it is so dense that light cannot penetrate it: a series of tactile sensory encounters with its shiny, shimmering surface, in other words, it words, convinces you that life is a dispersion, a slow trickle of words changing places, signifying nothing, pointing at nothingness. Ah, you say to yourself, Life is nothing but worms, graves, and madness! All is given, nothing explained! But then the words come up from behind you, surprise you with tiny fingers that feel like so many caterpillars tickling your stomach, and as the tickling sends tiny ripples of pleasure throughout your body you let out a little sigh, a moan, a reverberating echo of renascent palingenesis, of polymorphic deviations from traditional locutionary devices, axioms, and strategies. It cannot be denied: you're excited, quivering, aroused, stimulated, enthralled, undeniably enervated. You want this to continue. You need this to continue. You want to keep walking alongside this highway of words...) What? What is going on? You stop walking. Deep in thought, you stare past the highway, past the city landscape, past the county, the country, the world, the stratosphere, past the galaxy, the edge of the universe, past Non-Being, past Nothingness, past Absolute Negation. You think for a moment. The email, the cars, the rats, the dense series of sentences contained with the parentheses. You reflect in silence, you realize that even in silence thinking remains aural, you scratch your forehead, arch your eyebrows. Your conclusion: the author is deploying a narrative technique, a snarling, bristling biblical hurricane of speaking mirrors which lose their semantical content in syntactic creases of ever-increasing proportions, a tactic of telling that is an attempt to position himself slightly below the abundant narrative possibilities within his greedy grasp...
For reasons all too clear, you stopped reading the email. You couldn't get your bearings: usually your progress in reading allows you to access meaning and coherence, and by penetrating the pages with a sharp, fluid succession of horizontal slashes within the visual field, a smooth path opens up, thus allowing you to traverse the well-kept reading trail, unencumbered by gaps, jumps, bottomless multiplicities, voids and chasms, suspense that grows yet is never resolved, and painful, mental lacerations that fester and scab over, but never heal. Why do you read? Pleasure, plain and simple. The pleasures derived from reading are many: tactile, auditory, visual, emotional. But the email gave you no pleasure, only pain in the form of backwards, fragmented images, as if you were looking through a glass darkly while wearing someone else's spectacles: reading the email was like trying to bend forward while simultaneously leaning backward. An interesting experiment, but absolutely fruitless! So, you quickly grew frustrated. You got up from the machine, walked back and forth, sat down again, and then (and you regretted it right away) deleted the message. What the hell was he doing? you asked yourself. He said he'd email the reservation time, didn't he? What a jerk! you thought to yourself. Screw him, I'll cancel the date, you thought. But you reassessed the situation. You decided to give him a chance. After all, he said he enjoys writing. What the hell, you said, maybe I'll have a good time. "I'll go, I'll go," you said aloud. "I only live once, after all." But you still needed the reservation time. You looked up his address. You decided to walk to his apartment....
I had finished breakfast, cleaned the dishes, and was sitting at my desk reading a book none too important or drawing a picture in a notebook, when you came to my door and knocked four times. Relieving myself of my position at the desk, I stepped to door and looked out the peep hole. Yet I saw no one. "Who is it?" I asked. In a quiet voice that insinuated and led but was not in the least coercive, the reply came: "It's me. May I come in?" An odd sensation filled me and I did not know what to make of it, but I was sure a peculiar event was about to occur. I was anxious and uneasy. I decided not to let you in. "Did you get my email?" I asked. "We need to talk," you replied. As said, I had no intent of letting you in, and I told you as much. I went back to my desk. Several minutes later you began chopping the door down with an axe. "Stop that!" I exclaimed. "It'd be nice to get my security deposit back!" You stopped and I let you in.
As soon as I had closed the badly damaged door you began chasing me around the flat, shouting at me: "Let's fight!" But I was too quick for you and knew the terrain -- I crawled under tables and pulled out drawers to create obstacles, and then circled around the furniture, which luckily for me were strategically well-placed for retreats and evasive maneuvers. Eventually you stopped, put your hands on your hips so that your elbows pointed outward, and roared: "Coward! Wretch!" Far enough away from you that I was safe and secure (or so I thought) I took several steps forward and began taunting and teasing you, which infuriated you, and in response you grabbed a heavy pillow from the couch and threw it at me, catching me in the head, and I was stunned for a moment. Seizing your chance you leapt across the room and pinned me to the ground, putting a knee in my back and rubbing my face into the floor, all the while screaming: "Victory!" (But I am a grown man and, as a rule, am not easily discouraged.) "Well, then," I said, "it seems a fight you will have. Let us establish a few rules and begin anew. Let me up at once." My commanding voice had an immediate impact. "Only if you promise," you barked, "to fight." "A man of my word, I am," I replied, and then added: "If you let me up, we will fight, of that I guarantee." You let me up, and I straightened my shirt and adjusted my pants.
The only rule we agreed on was that "Stop!" meant the fight was over. After that we moved the furniture -- chairs, tables, books, papers, various objects of varying sizes, shapes, and colors -- about and made a small Fight Ring in the middle of the flat. "Are you ready?" I asked. (Outweighing you by thirty pounds, given the fact of my superior strength, the difference in height and reach, I did not doubt the outcome; the only concern was that I not hurt you.) All at once you grunted and charged, and our bodies slammed into one another. Agile and cunning, trained in dance, for you could kick higher than anyone I've ever seen, you were more than my equal and I knew I had underestimated you and was in serious, severe trouble. Several times your powerful legs nearly took my head off. It dawned on me the only hope was to get in close and not allow you to kick; in short, to wrestle rather than fight. After hours of tumbling about on the floor, sometimes winning, others times near defeat, I (near the point of absolute exhaustion) asked: "Would you accept a draw?" "Are you offering one?" "Yes. This cannot go on much longer," I replied.
Our arms and legs were tangled together like so much wet, knotted string that it took much effort to separate ourselves. You were up before me and kicked me in the stomach as I tried to rise. In truth I had offered the draw because I was near defeat, and so I did not complain. You laughed and went into the bathroom and dried yourself off with a towel, and then said, "Well, you surprised me. Much better than I thought. A very good exercise session." "Yes, yes," I replied. I asked you to join me for lunch, but you needed to leave. You went to the door and opened it and then turned and watched me walk toward you, and because I limped and moaned a little with every tiny movement, you felt guilty about what you had done. "Are you okay?" you asked in a soft, caring voice. "Just a little sore," I said. When I stood next to you ready to say good bye, you unexpectedly pulled me close to your body, and your salty and moist lips pressed against mine. You held me like that long enough to make me temporarily forget the pain. Then you stopped. "And Friday?" you asked. "Of course, of course," I said as you walked out.
Eight-hundred-mile-long storm fronts, more, greater, really -- extending from the Great Lakes up into Maine, down to the edges of Tennessee, Missouri, and Raleigh-Durham. Is that eight hundred miles? It should be. Clouds that throw baseball hail at the ground, spinning tornadoes -- I had a dream of a tornado last night. I don't know if this was before, after, or during the actual tornadoes in Georgia. Who died, if anyone, I also don't know. Some kind of wicked mudslides in California as well -- entire strips of the coastal highway deciding to collapse, earth and clay sliding out from beneath, into the Pacific. I don't know if there was anyone stuck in the middle of that.
Yet, here I come, some kind of Lone Ranger hooha of a warrior -- pretending I'm hellbent to stop whale-hunters in the middle of a storm, or preparing to dive into a righteous act of ecoterrorism. Why ecoterrorism, the blahblahbuzzblablah of the last decade, I don't know. Nonetheless, here I go, riding headlong into this thunderous, dangerous, weathered sky, with full confidence, teeth bared. This will be done.
I'll take that back. I do know. I must take that kind of mindset to believe everything will be fine and well as I fly directly up into, over, under, and through this monstrosity of a trap. I'm not flying through friendly skies -- I'm flying through tornadoes, lightning, falling ice, sulfuric gas, lava, green pools of poison. At least the first three. Normal people simply wouldn't fly at this moment. Not that I am normal, not that I am not normal. I am simply determined. And so I'll put on the masquerade of myself as ecowarrior, as that somehow makes sense, and, more importantly, throws me into some kind of bonsai male mode that males are supposed to be in all the time.
Above Austin, the front side of a cold front was just sweeping in and down from the northwestern plains. The Man from the Hills, old and sinewy. Hm. Ninety minutes from flight time, I haven't left the house, haven't called a cab to carry me the forty minutes to the airport.
"Yes, I need to get a cab."
"Wait -- when? How long?"
"Thirty or forty minutes. You have four calls ahead of you."
"Uhhuh. Ok. Thanks."
Thirty, forty minute wait. Thirty, forty minute drive. Which puts me there ten to thirty minutes before the plane leaves. Ten minutes -- certainly a possibility. Certainly the most likely possibility. As that is certainly the way things work.
No. See. We can't allow that. Why should we settle for a thirty, forty minute wait for a cab? It's 2:45. What kind of mad cab rush occurs at 2:45? It is Friday. And Monday is President's Day, one of the most chaotic party days of the year, of course. Happy President's Day.
There are other cab companies, you know. You saw them there -- in the phone book, when you looked up this checkered cab place -- right, but this is The Checkered Cab, the others aren't. That's absurd. Call Roy. Roy, oh, Roy, bring your green faded pastel cars here, hither forth to your airport -- there is not time to waste. Roy's Taxi.
"Yes, can I get an estimate on a car to the airport."
"From 2305 Guadalupe."
"Ok, an estimate--"
"Time estimate. How long before the car can get here?"
"Oh, one can be there in five, ten minutes."
"Wow. Ok. Yes. Ok."
This was the correct choice. What of the checkered cab, queued and on their way? Morally, not the best move to ditch the poor man who will be sitting at the curb in thirty minutes. But, thirty or forty minutes -- it's not as though they are lacking business, it's not as though they are a hardcore independently owned outfit. Though they say each cab is independently owned, they all fall under the nationalist yellow checkered umbrella. And it's not as though the cabbie will sit and wait twenty minutes before moving on -- there will be a honk, a quick radio communication, then off and off he goes.
Four minutes to be downstairs, I've already made the choice. The only drawback being those four minutes spent in the thick sloppy humidity outside. Must we always complain? Even the complaint about complaining. And so on. Three minutes is not the hellacious wait, compared to what I could have encountered.
In two minutes, the green faded pastel car rolled up to the curb in front of me, Roy's Taxi in red block letters on the side, front, top, and back. The driver didn't really look at me when I approached the back door -- normal four-door sedan-like vehicle, I'm guessing from the late 80s, though I'm not that guy who can spout off makes, dates, and models.
I'm sitting on blue vinyl.
I moved all the way over to the right side of the seat, black bags with black coat on the seat to my left. This seems to be the most logical place to sit, even though I had gotten in on the left side of the car, throwing the bags and coat in first, then making a slight dive over them.
The driver swiveled his read to the right, making eye contact with only his right eye, his left eye attempting to come around, but probably only seeing the vision of his own nose. Late forties, ex-hippie-looking, with a moustache and longer, sandy ponytail. He was wearing some sort of beret on his head, with an emblem I couldn't see, along with some kind of black necklace. I didn't spend much time looking at him -- my eyes darted forward to his dashboard, where dozens of plastic figures were affixed. Yellow, blue, orange, green, clear, tall, short, wide, furry, grinning, sad plastic figurines and toys and other such items were glued atop the dashboard. I'm assuming the driver did this himself, being highly bored, or highly manic. I'm assuming this was not a standard taxi of Roy's.
"The airport." I had thought he would know this.
And off he drove. He didn't reach to turn down or off the music that was playing in the car when he drove up, as most cabbies seem to do. What music? The drumming, chanting thing that is coming from the speakers all around you. What is this? I would venture to say it's almost Indian, Nepalese -- though, it could stem from South America. I don't know where it's from.
"We're going to cruise to the right here, instead of the normal route down the highway, if that's alright with you."
"Sometime lights take longer, but the lines and people on the highway right now -- believe me, I know."
There are no concerns how he takes me to the airport, as long as he gets there, and doesn't take three hours to do so, it is all fine by me. He's a professional driver, right, and should therefore know, inherently, the best route to any place, at any given time of the day. The faith I have in him is perhaps naive. There's someone looking over your shoulder.
Not exactly someone -- a short, wooden, hula-like doll is glued to the top of the back seat, directly to the left of me. It kind of bobs back and forth to the rhythm of the car, and the drumming. To the right of that are three green army figures, a small plastic Mickey Mouse, a black and orange lizard, plastic ice cubes with flies, a dolphin--
"Have you been there before?" the driver asked with a small glance in the rearview mirror.
Is he talking about the dolphin? Or, maybe the ocean? Or, maybe he thought I knew where he got these plastic things from.
"Have you been there before?"
"To the airport."
"Oh, yes, I have."
--a rubber snake with stripes, a dark tarantula, two tiny hard-plastic dinosaurs in a small battle with each other, a small penguin, one of those rolling eyeball toys--
"Did you go into the parking garage?" This time he glanced twice at the end of his question.
"At that airport?"
"Well, I've walked through there, but I don't think I've ever parked in there. I've always parked in the outer lots."
"Why do you ask?"
"Do you know they have a lower level?"
A lower level. What does he mean by lower level?
"In the parking garage?"
"You mean the first level -- level one?"
"No, no. Below that."
I don't remember anything below that. There isn't anything below that. There is the first level, which is ground level, and there is no underground anything. This is Texas. People don't build things underground. Well, that's not entirely accurate. Most people don't build things underground. If an organization wants more parking, they either flatten more land out, or they elevate it -- one more level placed on top of the first one, rather then attempting to slice through the rockbed laying six inches below the surface.
"I didn't think there was anything below that."
"I didn't either."
So there's something below that? I am certain there is nothing there -- I don't remember anything being there. You don't quite trust your memory, though, do you? Aren't you prone to forget names, dates, places, events, occurrences, and anything else you don't wish to remember? I'm afraid there is no way I can deny the fact that my memory is selective. To put it in a kind way.
"There was a guy who stepped into my cab Sunday night, wanted a ride to the airport. He seemed like a fairly normal guy -- short, clean-cut blonde hair, wearing just a white button-up shirt and a plain, dark tie, slacks. It was around 11 at night, a bit late to go the airport, and the guy seemed like he'd been drinking a bit. Not out of control, or anything, but you could tell he'd had something, right.
"There was another guy with him, kind of a stocky guy, with real short brown hair, a short beard, didn't have a tie or anything, but wasn't dressed shabby at all. This guy looked a little more concerned -- looked like he was trying to take care of the guy who'd been drinking, you know?"
"Right," I said, when he looked back to see if I was paying attention.
He kept talking, looking forward.
"Now, this. Let me tell you -- this is going to sound crazy, it really is. I swear to you, though, this happened. This really did happen. Me saying that is probably going to make you not believe me even more, but I know it's true. These guys know it's true. It's been bothering me ever since, and my guess would be, if I tell it right, and you are listening, it's going to bother you as well.
"But, anyway, disclaimer, disclaimer. You believe what you wish, whether I tell you to or not. You've probably already made up your mind to believe me, to believe this, although you've probably gone the other way, right? What old ex-hippie is this, telling me crazy stories about things I don't care about, and didn't ask to hear about? Who is this guy looking back at me, telling me tales like they've been written down in a book, written down and read about, and now told and re-told again -- I never wanted to hear any of this. This is what you're saying -- I'm not going to believe this old hippie-man. And I'll say to that, I'm not telling you to believe, I'm not telling you to listen, I'm telling."
This is the part in the indie album where the mad-raving street prophet gets caught on tape, right? Where he goes off about Justice and Injustice, either crying for all of us to wash ourselves of our sins, or citing Constitutional lines which declare the IRS an illegal, conspiratorial organization? Isn't this that part? Track three?
"So these two guys are back there, and it's the blonde guy who tells me to go the airport. Of course, I'm going wherever they tell me. The dark-haired guy starts talking to the blonde guy:
'Geoffrey, are you sure you want to go to the airport?'
'Yeah. We're going to the airport.'
'I mean, it's kind of late, and, there's not really anything there -- nothing happens at the airport anyway, nothing is going to be open.'
'Mes, we're going to the airport.'
'Mes, look, we're going to a bar.'
'Nothing is going to be open, Geoff, nothing. It's the airport, everything closes--'
'There's a bar there. It will be open. And that's where we are going.'
'Mes. We're going to the airport.'
'Alright. We're going to the airport.
It didn't take any time to get to the airport, 11 o' clock on Sunday night, there is very little traffic flying around. I began the loop around the outside of the place, to the right, getting in the passenger drop-off lane.
'Hey, go ahead and stay to the right,' Geoffrey said.
'I think you're wrong about that,' I looked back at him, 'the drop-off lane is right where I am. We're good.'
Geoffrey leaned up. 'No, see. I don't want to be dropped off there. I want to go to the parking area.'
Obviously, that seemed a little strange. 'If you want me to wait, I can wait in the drop-off area, that's no problem.'
Geoffrey leaned in closer. 'No, see. I would like to go the parking area. I will pay you for your time.' With that he placed a fifty on my right shoulder, waiting for me to grab it.
I kind of stared at it for a minute, because, well, this doesn't really happen in real-life, you know? But I grabbed it, and swung over to the far left lane, heading towards the parking area.
'Go to short-term,' Geoffrey said.
And I did, grabbing a parking ticket from the automated gate, watching the arm swing up as I pulled the ticket from its slot. I drove on, up towards the entrance to the parking garage on the right.
'Don't turn here,' Geoffrey said again, still leaning forward.
'I thought you wanted to go--'
'No, keep driving. Straight.'
'Straight just goes around towards the exit, I mean--'
'Please go ahead and drive straight.'
I looked back towards him, slowed the car down a little. 'Look--'
Geoffrey leaned in closer. 'Yesyes. I know. You are naturally very suspicious of what may occur. Here we are, two strangers in the back of your car, directing you to strange, sparsely populated areas in the middle of the night. And you're thinking -- why should I trust these guys, why should I believe them? Why should I listen to these two half-drunk punks who probably make more than I do? And I say, you surely have the right to question such things -- I would do the same in your position. Please, let me assure you, we are not out to cause any trouble, do not intend any ill-harm towards you or anyone else. There will be no mischief, no mayhem, nothing of the sort. I do give you my word on that.'
Ending with a twenty on my shoulder. Which I took, and continued to drive straight. The short-term parking garage passed by on the right, the long-term on the left -- more cars in the long-term, of course. Near the end of the short-term, there was another entrance, and I slowed down to turn right.
I did without question this time, driving straight another hundred feet, until the road--
'Stop,' Geoffrey said, staring out through the windshield.
I stopped the car only in reaction, looking out in front of us. 'I can keep turning to the right, towards the exit. And that's about it.'
Geoffrey pointed to the right. 'Drive through there.'
To the right was a metal gate, closed and locked, signs stating No Entrance, behind which a few parking attendant structures stood, three or four airport service vehicles parked alongside.
'I can't drive in there.'
'Just please drive up to the gate.'
'The gate is closed. And locked. And we can't go in there.'
'We can go in there.'
'How? I'm not going to plow through this gate--'
Geoffrey chuckled. 'Oh, no, there will be no gate plowing. Just go ahead and drive up to the gate. It will be fine. No worries.'
I've grown quite tired of arguing with him by now -- he's handed me quite a bit of money, and hasn't led me to my death yet, so, I go ahead and drive. I took my time, though, inching up to this gate, not looking like it was going to budge. I didn't see any sensors anywhere, no wires, cameras, detectors, nothing like that. But still, as I was about to hit the gate, there was a loud clank, and the gate swung open in front of us. What were the No Entrance signs good for if the gate would swing open for anyone?
'We are not just anyone,' Geoffrey stated.
Apparently I had thought out loud.
Geoffrey continued to give me directions. 'Go ahead and pull beside those two service vans there to the left, against that wall there. And you may park.'
There were no normal vehicles in the area we were in -- all service vehicles. I went ahead and pulled beside the two vans, reaching over to stop the meter.
'Ah, no, my good driver. Go ahead and leave that on, if you don't mind.'
I looked back again at Geoffrey. 'You do realize the price goes up quite a bit for waiting time?'
Geoffrey shrugged. 'No matter. Well. Here--' holding another fifty out, 'this should rest your mind a bit, in case you are afraid we might run off or anything of the sort.'
I reached for the bill, but Geoffrey wavered. 'Actually. You know, you've been quite understanding with me giving you directions and all -- I insist you accompany us inside.'
'Now, I don't know about--'
'Oh, come on, please. There is nothing to be worried about. We are only going to a small bar, see a few friends, hang around for an hour or so. Please, I truly do insist. I shall buy you a drink, or whatever you wish. And still pay for the time.'
Why do I even allow myself to be coerced into such things? Have I not the will to say no? Especially in such situations as going to an unknown bar in a No Entrance area of the airport at midnight?
'Ok, but I really shouldn't stay long.'
We all stepped out of the car, Mes and I standing together behind Geoffrey, both looking confused and lost.
Mes looked around and finally said something. 'Uhm, Geoffrey? There's no bar here. What are you doing?'
Geoffrey walked up to the small booth we parked near -- it seemed to be a toll booth, no more than three by four, with a small sliding door for the attendant to get in and out, and a smaller sliding window through which the toll could be passed through. Geoffrey slid the door open, and stepped inside, looking back at us expectantly. There didn't seem to be enough room inside the booth for one, let alone three.
'Geoffrey? Why are you doing into the booth? What the hell are you doing?' Mes took a step forward, looking a bit nervous.
'Oh, comecome. Stop freaking out. Come on.'
Mes walked up to him, shaking his head. I just stood there. Geoffrey somehow took a step back in the booth, allowing Mes to step in -- Geoff popped his head out again, motioning me inside. I still didn't think I'd fit in there, and walked up with a questionable look on my face. Looking into the booth, there obviously was no room -- Mes and Geoffrey were shoved up against each other, tucked and nipped, with no room to spare.
'Step in, my driver, step on in.'
I put one foot in the booth, lifting my hands up, not knowing what do to do next.
'Just push your foot in here a little more,' Geoffrey said.
I tried to push my foot in further -- as I did, more room seemed to open up. I was able to completely step into the booth. And as I stepped into the booth, there was more room -- I could fit my entire body in. I brought my other leg up and leaned into the booth. I could now easily fit. I turned around to face Mes and Geoffrey, seeing more than enough room to move around: a few feet between each of us.
I looked at Geoffrey. 'How--'
'Oh, never mind that.' He turned behind him and slid open another door, walking through without a second thought. Mes looked in and followed. I did the same.
There was this hallway we stepped into, very thin, which apparently extended out beyond this booth we were in, but I didn't notice it before. At the end, of course, was another door, which Geoffrey stepped right on through, Mes and myself following without question.
And there we were -- suddenly in this large room, apparently a bar. All sorts of people in there, talking amongst themselves, looking well-dressed, serious and content. Lots of them looked over at the door when we walked in, a few stopped talking. A man in a blue suit walked up to Geoffrey immediately, shaking his hand, smiles and laughs -- I couldn't hear what they were saying, only this nonsensical jazz music playing in this place. I'd hear a beat, a rhythm, and as soon as I thought I had identified it, it would change into something more eclectic. I would catch the beat of that, and it would change again, and I just gave up.
Another man had come up to Geoffrey as we made our way through the bar, shaking hands and talking again -- and another. Apparently he knows quite a few people here. The lighting was dim, coming only from the walls, lit with a subdued blue, only blue lighting, which could explain why everything in the place seemed off-kilter. Lots of things hung on the walls, all blurring into the blue.
I was now sitting at a table, somehow. Geoffrey was talking to a woman who had come up from somewhere wearing a blue dress. Is that a white dress? I still could not hear what they were saying--
'Graham -- hey Graham, you with us?'
Geoffrey was talking to me.
'Yes. Right here.'
'Why don't you go ahead and get yourself a drink?'
'I don't really--'
'Go ahead and get a drink. Whatever you want, it's fine.'
I was walking towards the bar, which I didn't notice when we walked in -- itself was lit only with red lights, sitting against the far wall from the entrance. Did I tell them my name?
One of the bartenders with shortshort blue hair and a blue robe handed me a drink as soon as I reached the counter. I didn't think about this, and simply handed him some cash. He pushed the cash back, waving his hand. This is fine. I'll take the free drink.
I didn't want to walk back to the table, where Geoffrey was now talking to a Spanish-looking gentleman who stood between himself and Mes. Instead, I sipped the drink, which tasted very lemony, and glanced around. A clock sat above the entrance, and I watched the second hand, which didn't move. Apparently the clock had stopped. It was 5:29. Five minutes later, it was 5:29.
My eyes wandered to the right of the bar, where the edge of the counter met the wall, and the red light met the blue light. I couldn't focus my eyes. Very hazy, blurry -- I could look at the counter in red, or the wall in blue, but not both. In fact, this gave me quite a headache. With the wall right next to me, though, I could now see what was hanging on the walls -- a dollar bill in a black frame. Apparently a typical display of the first dollar the bar had received when they first opened. Looking around for the accompanying liquor license on display, I saw another dollar framed in black. And a larger dollar, framed in black. Down the wall my eyes went, seeing nothing but dollars framed in black: immense dollar bills blown up beyond proportion, shrunk dollar bills, a tiled plate of dollar bills, all of them almost glowing beneath the blue lighting. Walking up to one of the frames, I only then noticed there was wallpaper covering the wall behind it -- a very enlarged collage of dollar bills.
I looked back at Geoffrey, and the blue-robed gentleman he was speaking with looked up at me. Turning back to the bar, I finished my drink and walked back to the table, where now only Geoffrey and Mes sat.
'Well, I think I should--'
'Would you care to play a game of pool?' The gentleman in the blue robe had returned suddenly, asking me to join him.
'Actually, I'm really not that good.'
The gentleman smiled. 'Oh, that's quite alright, neither am I. This is only for fun.'
Geoffrey nodded at me.
'Alright, I guess.'
I followed him over to the pool table, which was now ten feet away from us, and was handed a cue to play with. The blue-robed gentleman already had a cue in hand, racking up the balls.
'Graham, why don't we make this a bit more fun?'
'What do you mean?'
'How about, $100 a game?'
Obviously, this is not anything I wished to do. 'Oh, no, sorry, I thought we would just play for fun. I don't really have the kind of money to--'
'I will cover you, Graham -- you just go ahead and have fun,' Geoffrey jumped in, still sitting at the table.
'Very well,' the gentleman said, smiling, and we began to play.
We played again.
The second game seemed to be lasting much longer than the first -- looking over at the clock above the entrance, it said 5:29. It was my turn again, and I leaned over the table to attempt a shot at the five-ball.
The blue-robed gentleman jumped up, 'Wait! Wait! What is this?' He reached out and grabbed the necklace that was dangling from my neck.
'Oh. That's just this thing I bought.' It was a copper-looking coin with Asian-looking inscriptions on it, purchased from a stand at a concert some time ago. 'They told me it was some kind of fortune. Good luck or something like that.'
The gentleman mumbled something. 'I can tell you what that says.'
He dropped the coin again. 'Do you know what that says?'
'Well. I. I don't--' I didn't believe him at all.
He suddenly looked very agitated, placed his pool cue down, and walked off, without looking back.
Geoffrey was standing next to me. 'Ready to go?'
I didn't say anything, and just waited for him to lead the way.
'Oh, no,' Geoffrey said, 'I am going to go ahead and stay -- here's the fare I owe you. Thanks for coming down here, I hope you enjoyed yourself. Be well.' He placed a folded up wad of cash in my hand, and I shoved it into my pocket without checking it, heading towards the door."
The driver was driving through the short-term parking entrance, pulling a ticket from the automatic gate -- I hadn't even noticed we had arrived at the airport.
"Why are we going to short-term parking?" I asked, instinctively reaching over to my bags on the left.
"Oh, I just wanted to show you this."
We drove straight, past the short-term parking garage on the right, past the long-term parking on the left, to where the road veered left to the exit, and he stopped driving.
"Look over there," the driver said to me, pointing to the right. A gate was there, but it was sealed shut -- no locks, just a solid fence-gate. No signs. Small, barren booths sealed shut in an empty lot behind it.
The driver looked back at me, "I just wanted to show you I wasn't making this up. Or, at least show myself."
My flight must leave soon. I don't think I really have time to play urban legend with an ex-hippie cab driver. "I don't think you're making it up, but I really need to go -- I'll go ahead and get out here."
"Are you sure? I can drive around up to--"
"No, that's alright." I handed him twenty-five, covering the fare and giving an ample tip, grabbed my bags and opened the door.
"If you say so -- alright. Hey, you've read--"
"Yes, I've read it. I know."
"Alright, Mike, thanks."
I closed the door behind me as the driver nodded and drove off. It was still humid, and now I had to trek the few hundred yards through the parking garage to the terminal. I crossed the road -- not much traffic -- entered the parking garage, looking at signs stating I was on Level 2. Looking over to the far left, I could still make our parts of the empty booths he pointed out. Down the stairs to ground level, Level 1, and across the four-lane road to the terminal. Glancing back I saw no signs pointing to an underground level, no ramps, no stairs, no doorways.
Walking through the automatic doors, I turned to the right, up the escalator towards the concourse I was to depart from. Throw my black bags and black coat on the conveyer belt to be pseudo-X-rayed, stepping through the arch to be metal-detected -- no alarms. There should be no reason an alarm would go off, though I still always have paranoid thoughts when stepping through such things. Pick up my black bags and black coat again, walking right towards gate E17. Did I tell him my name?
A man in a black robe, looking almost monk-like, sat on a bench against the wall to my right as I continued to walk down the concourse. I glanced at him curiously, and he nodded.
I reached the gate in time, amazingly, as they were just beginning to board the plane. I quickly checked in, managing to get seat 24F, and swum over into the crowd walking through the gate. A permanently smiling woman tore my boarding pass and said thanks, and I stomped down the echoing hallway to the plane. There were always stalled lines -- waiting for people to throw their baggage above or below them, take off suit jackets, grab a pillow from four aisles back -- always something. The line stood for three minutes, and then moved smoothly.
Already seated in row 24 was an older woman, in the middle, and an empty seat on the aisle. She was occupied with speaking to a younger child who sat in the middle seat in the row in front of her -- the two looked very grandmother and granddaughter-ish.
I threw the larger black bag into the compartment above. "I'm sorry, do you think I could get over to the window seat there?"
The woman got up, and I squeezed through into the seat, shoving my smaller black bag and black coat beneath the seat in front of me. The two stopped talking when I sat down, the younger child looking back at her grandmother every minute or so.
I looked at the older woman next to me, asking, "Did you want to switch seats so she could sit back here with you?"
"Oh, would you?" she responded, looking overjoyed, "that would be just so wonderful! She normally travels with us, doesn't really sit by herself -- here, honey, come sit back here. Thank you so much!"
"Oh, that's not a problem," I said, gathering up my smaller black bag and black coat, squeezing back out into the aisle. I took a few steps back to let the younger child move back to this row, and then stepped into what was her row, sitting in seat 23E.
I shoved my smaller black bag and black coat beneath the seat in front of me now, sat back up and looked at who was sitting to my right, near the window.
A gentleman in a blue robe turned his head from the window to me, smiled, and said, "I'm sure it will be fine."
--SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-- State of unBeing is copyrighted (c) 2000 by Kilgore Trout and Apocalypse Culture Publications. All rights are reserved to cover, format, editorials, and all incidental material. All individual items are copyrighted (c) 1999 by the individual author, unless otherwise stated. This file may be disseminated without restriction for nonprofit purposes so long as it is preserved complete and unmodified. Quotes and ideas not already in the public domain may be freely used so long as due recognition is provided. State of unBeing is available at the following places: World Wide Web http://www.apoculpro.org irc the #unbeing channel on UnderNet Submissions may also be sent to Kilgore Trout at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The SoB distribution list may also be joined by sending email to Kilgore Trout. --SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB--