“The condition of man…is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.”
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
IT WAS ELECTION DAY IN GRACELAND. I had lined up to vote in the party room located on the main floor of my condo. By the time I had arrived, the queue had already hit the double-digit mark. The anticipation in the room was palpable like a suspended shark preserved in formaldehyde. It was big enough to eat you. I had never exercised my legal right to vote, but there was something electric about Grace Trudeau that made you stand up on your toes. There was a buzz about “Teenage Grace” that you couldn’t buy nor manufacture, although many had unsuccessfully tried, like Transhumanist Dan Matthews who was running for office with the help of his access control chip implants, “I was born human but I believe it’s something I have the power to change.”
I had been late getting to the voting room because there had been traffic gridlock in the downtown core due to a major department store being blown up. It was probably an IED planted in a mock suitcase or a stuffed animal propped with a whammy charge, two of the more accessible, or mainstream ways, to stage a detonative event, I am told, which must have really hurt stockholders because it was right before the busy holiday season when the dividends were said to be greatest by the finance experts. There were singed mannequins all over the street for the bus driver to studiously maneuver around, or at least I thought they were mannequins, because there were so many scattered blackened limbs, many of which found their way beneath the back tires of the bus. There was no word on the final death and injury toll, or any update on police leads or apprehensions, leaving the spectacle up in the air without any real closure.
Under the umbrella of asymmetric warfare, an incognito terrorist attack was like an own-goal in football: the defending player who scored the own-goal in the football game was credited with the marker on the stat sheet, with an annotation to indicate the precise nature of the goal. In the absence of a non-state actor to take credit for the bomb, the first person handling the bomb on the pitch was likely the bomb technician from the EOD squad, so he or she pseudonymously would get the credit for the own-goal IED on behalf of the state, until the legitimate saboteur happened to step forward.
I was secretly obsessed with all the terrorist activities occurring in Graceland, glued to my smartHub every free moment I got, whether it was on a break at work or during the daily zigzag on the bus, I couldn’t disentangle my thoughts from the news, and much of my time was spent keeping score in the asymmetric warfare that was as much a spectator sport as football, and nearly as national in these provincial times. It’s worrisome to be an expert because I didn’t exactly know where I stood on the subject of terrorism. Was I a supporter of the subversives, a pillar of the state, or did I merely wish to be caught in one of those acts of sabotage myself? The latter idea concerned me most, precisely because it seemed to fill me with gratification instantly, pleasuring me in places I thought were long dead. Throwing bottles at curbs was a senseless act too but that didn’t stop me from smashing soda against cement.
I pre-registered at the first table set up by the entrance. There were pamphlets and loose papers scattered all over the table top, and two ladies were sitting at the edge of the folding table: a young Indian/middle-Eastern girl wearing a burqa, who greeted me, and an older European-looking lady, who asked for my voting card, who’s halter top was filled with breasts that in no way could have been native to her slim frame, but I could not help looking down her shirt anyway. Her full and perky breasts may have been as real as those on a mannequin, but there was no way her nipples were falsies because they didn’t look remotely hard. Fake nipples were always erect because there is no way for the brain to communicate temperature to modified beaks. My mind promptly recalled a slideshow of “the fifteen hottest actresses busted with erect nipples” I saw earlier in the week on the Net, for the express purposes of cataloging and indexing content in my mind. At day’s end, when I finally retired to my den, I would be able to V-R retrieve “Digital Contra Analog Nipples” content and academically masturbate at my leisure. It’s not as creepy as it sounds. Disciplined academic masturbation was the means by which I assimilated the deluge of the hyperreal-authentic-fake. My cock was an invaluable cognitive wand that counteracted my continuous partial-attention behaviors.
It had also been so long that I’d been in a real relationship that I have only recently started to order sex toys in the mail because: A) It was high time I reactivated my genitals to their original purpose, B) I was lonely and I was forgetting the reason for having genitals, C) I was acquiring a comfort with my body in my older age, D) I was finally ready to explore the possibilities of being a bachelor having a tryst with a credit card and cutting edge sex technology. I received a contraption in the mail the other day that could have been from Babylonian times, it was so intricately packed with hoses and suction cups and chambered inner walls. Unable to afford the interactive V-R cams from Amazon, I had to settle for the open-box clearance unit that was probably barely green-lit for commercial use. I’d read the instruction manual to the Geisha3000 three times before I built up the nerve to actually use it. When I finally unraveled the alveolar-colored wreckage from the oversized box that practically screamed fornication to the security attendant, who’s name I dutifully read from his name badge like a third-grader, I undressed and smoked a cigarette on my bed in advance of the coital experiment.
I had only purchased the cigarettes because it’s something I heard adults did when they had sex and I didn’t want to miss out on the full humanistic experience. I was thirty-five years old, so of course I had had sex before, but it had never been this long between sessions. So I smoked a cigarette and relaxed enough to be able roll Hot Wheels cars down the valleys of my slack arms. Low indistinct moans and faint dirty talk bubbled up from the sixty-inch television that was streaming porn from the Net, so I bumped up the volume for good measure. I attached the suctions cups to the various erogenous parts of my body, like the back of my neck and ears, the latter with the help of some bondage tape that was sold separately, and stretched out the mess of hoses so the flow of air was clean, and the machine went to work. The vibrations felt really good at first, so I decided to quickly light another cigarette, but I didn’t smoke it. I just left it burning on the bedside table as incense to heighten the erotic atmosphere, only to remember that the instruction manual made numerous allusions to the usage of oils with the Geisha3000.
Not having a predisposition that quickly leapt onto such subtleties, I assumed that any oil would be well to do, so I rose from the mattress and unplugged the Geisha3000 without disengaging any of the suction cups or the hot box itself, and walked towards the kitchen, more machine than man. To my chagrin, the cupboard was stripped bare of any oily reserve, with the exception of some old canola I’d been using for French fries that was nearly brown from the burnt floating potato husks. There was butter in the fridge that was a better second option, and through some ingenious thinking, I came up with the idea of melting the butter in a fry pan, and using it as the oil specified in the instruction manual.
The butter melted in no time, but luckily in my haste, I remembered to allow the butter to cool before applying it, so I poured it into a gravy boat for easy access. I also thought it better to apply the butter while in the kitchen instead of making a grand mess in the bedroom; so after the butter had cooled, I tipped the gravy boat and poured the warm butter along the length of my pecker, which, to my surprise, was still mightily supporting the weight of the hot box that was molded in the likeness of Jenny Chang’s privates, who was one of my favorite Net pornstars. After rubbing some butter over my nipples and lips with a turkey brush, I put the gravy boat down on the kitchen island and turned as if to return to the bedroom where the sound of live Net-sex was emanating from the television. I licked my lips in hot anticipation and tasted something like Thanksgiving dinner in my mouth and thought how strange. This is when things took a turn for the worse. Not seeing the butter pooling on the parque under the urgency of my ardor, I turned and slipped and fell to the ground, pecker first, causing a collision of such magnitude that it caused an injury to my body of the most heinous kind.
I was writhing in a pool of butter and a tangle of hoses, but I still managed to gather my wits about me long enough to remove the hot box with the quivering chambered inner walls from my pecker, and when I did, there was such an outpouring of blood from the vessel that I feinted and lost all consciousness. When I returned to my senses, it must have been nearly twenty minutes later, or so I gathered from the kitchen clock, and began to inspect the nature of my embarrassing injury, now that the percussive pain from my pecker had diminished to the ebb-and-flow of something slighter like a stumped thumb, or perhaps something just a little greater, say a metal toothpick pushed under the nail bed of a finger.
Not being a physician or having-little-to-no formal knowledge of human anatomy, I was able to deduct that the banjo string on my pecker had been torn and this was causing the bleed. Who would have thought that a little string could hemorrhage so profusely! There was a lesson in this somewhere, a caustic about the nature of the trivial and how everything is insignificant only until we’re in dire need of that thing, whereby it becomes the most important thing in the world, or that everything has its place in the wide world and its up to us to determine its right place, or something to that extent. I figured a pecker string was very low thing in the societal scheme of importance but it was still my pecker goddamnit! so I made an appointment with my Moldovian physician and, to make a long story short, there was a small surgery involved and also a lengthy healing period where erections were banned, plus a care package was given.
I WAS IN THE VOTING ROOM LOOKING AT THE WOMAN’S BREASTS AT the pre-registering table and I thought of all kind of Jenny Chang things I could do to them, precisely because it had been so long since my last fuck, but I figured it was better to obey the care package instruction manual, and fully heal before attempting any strenuous post-surgical sexual activity. There is a neat little bump now on my banjo string that represented where the surgeons had made the reattachment. I handed the lady my voting card and she accepted it happily. I took one last look at her molded fulsome breasts before ushering up the line and I felt the banjo string in my pants sound one last gloomy twang at the capo.
I had tried to remain apolitical most of my life because I was enlightened in ways that made other people uncomfortable. To live and survive in Graceland you had to be a scumbag or well on your way to becoming one. You had to partake in some pretty terrible things to become an official citizen. It was mostly standard schoolyard shit: crushing ladybugs beneath your boot heel for all to hear, placing dead frozen rats into other kid’s lunch boxes, spitting into a girl’s mouth when she was making out with you in the stairwell. It’s part and parcel of Graceland; you grow up here, you do bad things. You do it for the jolt from the audience, for the capitalistic pump, you beat the drum, and announced your patriotism with an angry fist pump. It’s not something that made me evil. It merely made me a taxpaying citizen. Have you ever kicked a hungry dog in the face? Kicking a dog in the throat was child’s play. It was like visiting the dentist or paying your phone bill or tossing your dead goldfish into the flange of your garbage disposal. You do what you have to do to fit in.
The true radicalism lied in the workplace. The things I got away with in the office I couldn’t even pull off on a gonzo paintball terrain. I had invested ten years into my current job for the sheer pleasure of sinking my fangs into somebody’s neck. I will not say what I did for a living or where I did it because it made no substantial difference. All jobs were the same in Graceland. Whether you’re picking up garbage or swinging a gavel, you needed to be a hatchet man. When a country was at peace it turned its gaze within; that’s what one of my old bosses told me. It’s how a country strengthened itself. Always standing on its toes. Being in a constant state of readiness. “Get tough,” he had said. So I toughened up. The tier of bosses just above me was an unapologetic boy’s club. They wore a set of false elongated canines around the office that looked like fangs. One gold cap for each tooth. It was a symbol of their supremacy and it’s what I aspired towards. I was on the cusp of a breakout. I could feel it. So I practiced what I was told and took my lumps as they came. Office life was a blood sport.
There was this one subordinate of mine, Todd Darling, who had made the error of telling me that his mom had cancer as way of explanation for his struggles as of late. It wasn’t really that his performance was any different than usual; he just wasn’t taking his washouts well. He was less jovial and susceptible to the dumps. No fun to pick on. We all took notice and I lighted on his weakness of character. He was killing the morale in the office. So I just poured it on, as per the instruction of my most immediate report. He said, “Fuck him! Don’t bring your dirty laundry to the office.” So I turned up the heat. Poor guy didn’t do anything. But I couldn’t let his sick mother stand in the way of my potential promotion.
I micro-managed his projects for starters. Gave him a hard time when he needed to leave on time to visit his mom, even though there was no real pressing deadline over his work. Appointed one of our entry-level colleagues to supervise his work in my absence, which I was told was an excellent demoralizing tool. Was constantly calling him away from his desk for pointless impromptu huddles that took away from his job and forced him to work through his lunch to get the bare minimum done. He held up for a remarkably long time. When his mother died at last, a few months down the road after I initiated “Project Darlington”, I remember he was making a coffee run for us, probably his third or fourth of the day, and never returned. I mean ever. He didn’t formally resign or call back or pick up his shit or anything. I got huge points in the office for that. I never let work get in the way of people management. I was taught that too. Think as a leader. Strategize for were you want to be. Act as though you already have the job of your dreams. Do I feel bad about Todd Darling? The rat race went guerilla a long time before I got onboard and daddy wanted a set of gold fangs.
But that’s why I was here. I meant to slap my vote on the table. I wanted change. Trudeau was only in her twenties, but she might be good for this country. If everybody changed, then maybe I could change too. It was too hard to swim against the tide. The constituency says that she was legit. Left but not too far left to be ineffective. She’s going to have to give the corporations a firm kick in the butt. Focus more on education and health care. I was reading the card with Trudeau’s platforms. Sanctions against and zero tolerance for domestic radicalism. We’ll see about that. Ending Graceland’s participation in the bombing missions against the Islamic state. That’s a little hasty. Guaranteed benefits for seniors. I don’t care about that. I’ll work until I drop dead. Not having a penny in my bank or a retirement package seals the deal on that front. Cutting EI premiums. Affordable renting housing units. Lower tax-rate on the middle class. These were policies I could endorse. Not to mention “Teenage Grace” was actually pretty hot. That helped secure the vote too.
I knew everybody in the queue by face but not by name, typical for condo living, which is like living in a cramped shoe with a thousand people you potentially loathed; it’s more than a little uncomfortable seeing your middle aged neighbor in his faded dinosaur pajamas throwing out garbage after curfew, secretly sliding his sordid trash down the recycling bin because the other bins are locked in order to avoid a noise disturbance. There’s only a certain class of citizen that would do such a thing, putting their convenience before the greater ecological good. Of course it’s not okay to mix chicken carcass with plastic, used tissues with the cardboard box they came in, because nature will not sort your garbage for you. This category of citizen doesn’t mind getting caught, which is why they dump trash after eleven p.m. in the first place; they’re hoping to meet other degenerates in the garbage closet for the express purposes of mingling; your eyes meet in the bright hallway and say, “You are not alone.”
It’s the same people who hit the gym after dark and sweat all over the machines without ever wiping them down, secretly hoping to transmit some secret communication via their perspiration. The one’s who shit and piss in the salt-water pool and then promptly call the ministry inspector to have the pool shut down on a slew of health violations. They’re anarchists. They crack open the liquid soap dispensers in the men’s and women’s washrooms on the main floor of the condo and mix their excretions in the solvent. Inject candy bars with bordetella pertussis, whooping cough, on Halloween night, using ultra fine diabetic needles that leave no mark, except for a blown vacuum that most parents overlooked anyways.
“What’s taking so long?” The guy in front of me said with a half turn. “It’s not like we have a life, you know.”
”Yeah, I know, geez,” I said to assuage his nervousness, which in turn aggravated my own into consciousness, which I’m fearful of, like the many rows of teeth in a shark’s mouth.
“It’s the Asian guy in front holding up the line,” the guy behind me said, who, judging by the cut of his gib, not to mention his slim mohair Gucci suit, which probably went for something like three-thousand dollars in the thread shop, is either a fresh-out-of-school defense attorney, or a pharmaceutical salesman. I’ve see him in the parking lot tons of times getting into his red V8 Austin Martin, while I pretended to get out of whatever cool sports car was within arm’s reach. “Who gave these guys the right to vote anyhow?”
I couldn’t believe the nerve and sense of entitlement with this guy. “It’s the twenty-first century, buddy, the Chinese have got the same rights as the rest of us.”
“That’s not what I meant, genius. The guy’s obviously a copy job.” I looked and listened closer at the situation brewing near the center table. There was an Asian man, probably in his early thirties, and he was arguing with the two ladies who were operating the voting booth. One was calling for some kind of technical support, while the other was diplomatically addressing the Asian’s concerns, as he looked to be agitated and on the verge of throwing a tantrum.
“What do you mean I’ve already voted? I just handed you my voting card. How can you possibly think I’ve already voted? It doesn’t make any sense!” he said, over-annunciating his words and looking less convincing by the second, almost as if he had something to hide, something rotten, like an iceReliquary in his closet.
“Sir, we have your Lagado contents authenticated and already on record from this afternoon,” the secretary at the booth said.
“That’s impossible. I was at work this afternoon. You can call my employer for confirmation. Here, take down his number,” the Asian reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a cellular, one of those fab, bendy transparent phones, rolled up into the size of a pack of gum, which unfurled on voice command like a dog that could roll or beg on cue, but better.
“That won’t be necessary, sir. My colleague here is on hold with the bureau,” the seated lady said gesturing to the thin black lady who was standing beside her, who had a head set on, and a holoViddy hovering in front of her face like a silk scarf. “This matter will be resolved shortly.”
“It better,” retorted the Asian who may or may not have been a copy-job, but was still guilty until proven innocent and was probably universally hated in the room anyhow for holding up the queue, unless there were supporters of the New Eugenics Party in the room. I don’t think he had a leg of his own to stand on. I noticed the security guards, located on either side of the center table like grim ancestral statues, clenching their automatics just a little tighter because of the ruckus, and then one of them, the guy on the left of the table closest to the door, noticed me noticing him, and he defiantly clenched his teeth beneath his lips, but I noticed that too.
“Who’re you voting for anyways?” The demi-lawyer asked me, chewing his bubble gum that smelled a little like beer.
“Like I’m going to just tell you.”
“That’s a conversation killer.”
“What kind of bubble gum is that?”
“Like I’m just going to tell you. It’s root beer. New I think. You want a stick?”
“I knew I smelled beer on your breath.”
“No, that’s the undercoating. They charge extra for that.”
“Trudeau does looks pretty good.”
“Yeah, but she don’t put out. You seen Mary Ruth’s videos?”
“You mean the campaign O.M.V.’s?”
“No, dude. Her gonzo videos.”
“She does gonzo?”
“Yeah. But not under her Christian name. Her professional name is Charisma Fur and she’s a great performer. All-inclusive, if you know what I mean. White, black, brown, red, yellow, every color of the rainbow. She does DP, DVDA, RTF, you name it. And she’s into water sports. I think I might vote for her.”
“What party is she heading?”
“No way for me.”
“Think about it, dude. It’s much better than Hatcher’s sex reforms. I don’t know about you, but I miss the rippers from the core. They usually gave me something to do after class. The milfs from mid-town. Those were crazy times.”
“Mary Ruth is too far left for my liking. Not that I’m a fan of the prohibition. But I don’t want Graceland to turn into Bangkok either.”
“I guess,” the demi-lawyer said, scratching his nuts like only a salesman could, adjusting his hips, and using his thighs as if they were a gentleman’s ball scratcher.
THE VOTE WAS BEING HELD IN THE CONDO’S PARTY ROOM that was decorated like a ski lodge, with tree stumps doubling as chairs at the bar island, and tea light fixtures shaped like branches. It was my first time here and I had lived in this building for over five years. I didn’t usually party where I lived. A.k.a. I did not shit where I ate. Nobody can eat where I shit because I have this intestinal problem. It’s a diagnosed condition. I feared it was cancer eating away at my ass. But my doctor assured me it was only I.B.S. I’ve been scoped three times and the tests confirmed my bowels were bad-tempered, irritable as a trapped rodent. So when I unleashed my innards, be sure to get out of the way. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve taken to burning things in the bathroom to cope with the pollution. I started small, with matches and match-jackets, but the Horned Beast, as I’ve taken to calling my bowel movements, rose from the brown-and-green waters and unleashed a great plague over my life. Soon I was starting little bonfires on the washroom tiles to placate the Horned Beast, neo-pagan style, sprinkling loose matches onto the lit plicated paper that sparked up like human sacrifices from the dark ages.
I took pills to contain my gas. I also took pills to contain my anxiety. But that’s another story. There were pills for every occasion nowadays. I was also issued a medical card from my doctor to prove that I have I.B.S. because I was having trouble containing my gas in enclosed public places like cinemas and buses and elevators, so I was given a medical card to excuse the stench from the Horned Beast, which, let me say, was always tremendous. I was being kicked off public transit on a regular basis due to public complaint, which I found ridiculous, especially considering how bag-ladies, who were pissed-up all over, were allowed to ride the bus around the city, full circuit, until they awoke from their drunken stupor, but I, a loyal tax-payer, was immediately asked to leave the bus upon farting because I “should know better,” or because I “come from privilege.” Farting was not a privilege; it’s necessity. And my medical card proved it. So up the public’s ass with “right and wrong.” My farts were beyond good and evil.
I reached into my pocket and took out the golden poppy pill-tube that contained the designer anti-anxiety pills that cost me thirty-five dollars per. Ataraxia. My lone saving grace in affairs of the public kind, for before me stood three Lagados that would weigh out the contents of my stomach the way God casts judgment upon all sinners, that is, with balance scales and a wide sword. Nothing confirmed your identity like the contents of your bowels. Sure there were pills that could scramble the information in your shit, but then there were also ways to detect that pills were scrambling the information in your shit, so the point was moot: You couldn’t fuck with Lagados. We had come so far into the future with technology at our command but it was still our shit that authenticated our identities.
It wasn’t the personal websites that did the job, which everybody had nowadays, designed to parade the chambered inner walls of your private life before the world, crying for attention like an orangutan’s flushed ass, exhibiting all your rare talents, you know, the photography, the poetry, the music, which practically screamed snowflake to anybody who was paying attention, which was usually no one, even permitting a live POV cam, if that feature was enabled and the necessary ocular augmentations had been made. No, sorry, it’s your shit that revealed your genetic diversity best. Beads of acid were forming on my forehead. I felt like I was swallowing the little grape that had dangled immemorially at the back of my throat, and it caused me to gag on spit or spit on gag or nothing at all. My feet throbbed in my shoes as if there was bad blood that was dying to be let out. Those were all signs of my anxiety. The Ataraxia should have been kicking in anytime soon
“Oh, man, I had this whale of burrito for lunch that’s dying for a swim,” I heard from behind me.
Who could think of shitting at a time like this? Sure, we’d been conditioned for this job since elementary school, when we’d vote for primary things like who’d be class clown, or team captain of the baseball team, or hallway prefect. They teachers would line us up before the Lagados, which were sort of primitively designed back then, hulking and overbright, like a boxy vintage popcorn machine you’d see at a carnival as a child, or those rustic British phone booths we’d see in docuVids during history class, Our parents would sign permission forms to make the process legal and then make us hold our poo from the night before or even two nights prior, so we’d be full to the brim and bursting come Election Day. Failing that, there was a whole array of pills or liquids the nurse kept in her waist-pouch that would do the job in a pinch, but those were more aggressive procedures, reserved for the stubborn or constipated children. I never had that problem. I could always poo in a jiffy. I suppose this eagerness was early sign of my I.B.S. in retrospect. But I wasn’t nervous about shitting in public back in the day. This was before the Horned Beast reared its ugly brutish head into my life.
All of a sudden the building had made this great snapping sound and we all sort of flinched and looked around at each other for reassurance. The security guards braced themselves and looked around the boardroom with their automatics directing their vision. The jumpiness of the guards caused a few of the men and women in the boardroom to yelp from nervousness, which I found a little disingenuous because we’d all been long accustomed to armed security in public places due to the escalating turmoil in the city, but I guess any attention was better than no attention, so they yelped away, showing off those tight vocal chords and supple diaphragms.
“It’s just the steel contracting from cold temperatures. It’s nothing to worry about,” said the man who stood directly in front of me, who happened to be my next-door neighbor. He seemed unaware of this fact until after he finished his thought and then, having gained the awareness, he brusquely, I would say even rudely, turned his back to me once more, before I could even nod or add my two-cents to the pot. I hated being lectured by know-it-alls. I felt like he had gained the upper hand with the comment on the building’s structure, which I had no way of verifying anyhow. For all I know it could have been a bullshit comment. But he still had gained the upper hand by laying out the idea and not allowing for a comeback.
That same neighbor and I had an altercation a few months earlier, that you might say was a breach of good neighborly conduct. I had been hard up for some picker-upper or a downer or anything that could have been remotely disruptive to the malaise that had spread over me like the measles, but I had extremely limited resources. Not that drugs were scant in the city or even in the building, only that I could be shy about obtaining such things and had little to no social contacts. There was an inherent awkwardness to my solicitations. I was lost without a prescription. I’d left my unit to take a stroll through the building to divert my thoughts, and as I was walking through the hallway in my slippers, I smelled something skunky that I recognized from my youth to be reefer. Incredible that something so agrarian was still in use in the age of designer drugs. I didn’t know what to do because I wanted some so badly. So I began to trace the smell and it led me back the way I came. It was literarily stemming from the unit across from mine, but I didn’t initially notice because of my sour grapes.
The door to the unit had been left ajar and I didn’t know what that meant. These days, front doors were willingly left ajar willingly to either welcome burglaries, to indulge sexual fantasies, or as an open invite to a house party. But which of the three could it be? We hadn’t even formally been introduced; I would have looked stupid if I’d misunderstood. I had always kept my head down whenever the neighbors were around, so we had developed no rapport to speak of. I knew they were a professional mixed-race couple without kids. The man had long dread-locks like he was Rastafari, but I had never seen his face; I couldn’t tell the ethnicity of his wife from the backside, except that she had a skinny white girl’s ass. The question was: did they want me to enter the unit? I was down for anything new as a welcome reprieve; I needed a vacation from the dumps. Reefer was just the ticket. It had been over a decade since my last puff, since my last beer party in the woods.
So I opened the unit door and stepped inside and followed the glorious trail of burning cannabis to its source. Past the hallway silently in my slippers, I stepped into the living room and discovered the Rasta laying on the couch in his boxers and smoking a fat doobie, whilst staring at a holographic image of a topless Hawaiian Hula girl swinging her hips seductively. It might have been a copy job of celebrity actress, Shona McPherson, but I couldn’t be sure. It was only a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity of awkwardness before I had even gained the Rasta’s attention. When he finally saw me beneath a cloud of dreamy smoke, I saw his eyes go comically wide, wider than a tarsier’s, and he said, “ Can I help you?” and I said, limply, “Do you party?” and it all went downhill from there. He stood up from the couch and acted all angry and defensive and made all kinds of idle threats to call security. Before I could even get another word in edgewise, apologizing and what not, I skittered away and was standing the hall fumbling with the keys to my door. He shouted a few more obscenities my way and slammed the door shut. The nerve on him! He was the one who had left his door open in the first place! I thought I was doing him a favor. I could have been stopping an unwanted burglary that was in progress! How was I to know? It was all in the past now. But he shamed me deeply and I was eager to avenge the mark.
Outside, the winds were relentless and unforgiving, shrieking like cats in a pressure cooker. There was a young shoeless Cuban-looking boy playing video games on the couch that was shaped in homage of neo-pop artist Max Headbloom’s “Strawberry Daiquiri Jellybean.” I had seen this expensive line of furniture being sold at Barrymore’s on Lyndon Street. Maybe it was a replica of the Headbloom line. There’s no way a six thousand dollar couch finds its way into a condominium without getting stolen. The constant zapping from the boy’s handheld console added to the tumult in the room like bees out of a dog’s mouth. It was unpleasant and unnerving and frankly I wanted to raise hell about it, but I nervous enough about the Lagados without the extra attention, so I kept my trap shut.
Every time the guard moved around, the hardware strapped to his body convulsed and joggled with the sound of leather stretching, how I imagined the saddle on a camel’s back, with its many pockets, would carp in the desert sun. The guards swiveled with those massive automatics pressed firmly to their chests, which were sized like a small motorcycles anyways, and I thought to myself how did we ever come to accept such grisly military scenes? And then I remembered, oh yeah, there were terrorists scattered all over Graceland like cockroaches, hiding and scheming in every penetralia, just waiting for the lights to go out. Who were these terrorists exactly and where did they come from? Were they our own, programmed from the inside? Or did they land on our doorstep from the outside world?
Willy nilly, I quickly worked myself up into a panic about the terrorist influence. Was it a germ that spread from coated public toilet seats? A compound dissolved into our paper cups that became active when heated? A digital signal sent to our idChips remotely and then disseminated intravenously? I scratched my head in a panic and felt the sweat irrigating my scalp, dripping off my fingernails. And then, just as my anxiety peaked and I prepared to throw myself on my knees, wrapping my arms around the thick burlapped legs of the guard in supplication, confessing every last festering detail of my rebellion, whether it existed or not, the Ataraxia dialed up and eased me back into my skin.
THE CATERWAULING WINDS OUTSIDE REMINDED ME of the great snowstorm when nearly everything froze over in Graceland and we almost entered into the much-ballyhooed Ice Age scientists had been predicting ever since I was in elementary school. It stormed for something like ten days consecutively in December. The snow accumulated waist high in spots. An immaculate white sea had covered the land. Temperatures were freezing. Flurries made it impossible to see more than ten yards. Sweeping power outages made survival tantamount. People were dying all over. Stranded in transit. Freezing in cars. Forget about the homeless because they were an afterthought. Banks and pharmacies and supermarkets closed. Hospitals running on emergency generators, aiding only those in need of critical medical assistance. Graceland was in a state of emergency. Minister Hatcher summoned the army to help free us from our glacial prison. Delivering medicine, food rations, and blankets in their camouflaged military jeeps. It was something out of the movies.
Miraculously, the power in my building remained intact, lights on, heat pumping, service unabated. I serendipitously scheduled time off work before the storm had touched down, so I had been able to fill my cupboards to the brim with dry goods: beef jerky, dried fruit, granola bars, and ready-to-eat canned goods. I stocked up on bottled water. Bought canned juice by the dozen. Purchased a new can opener, a flashlight, a set of variety-sized batteries, and even candles, in case everything really went to shit. I had enough socks and underwear to survive any storm. Restocked the first aid kit. I was all set. So when the snow hit the fan, I relaxed in bed and watched television and ate caramel popcorn like the world’s richest kid. On the news, the army gathered and piled the bodies of the homeless around city blocks, forming neat flesh-and-bone pyramids ready for disposal. Black-and-white newsreel footage I’d seen in school of the Second World War flashed through my mind, and I felt historically validated for a moment, never wanting to wake up from this dream, nor history wake up from this nightmare.
My tenement lit up the dim white lands of Graceland like a Roman candle. The condominium’s underground utilities, the buried electrical lines, kept my neighbors and I with the comforts of civilization, whilst the listless residents of the townhouses down the block, the ones with their million-dollar mortgages and starlit backyard pools, were caught dead in the midst of a suburban, post-millennial horror-movie. I watched the late-night, kith-and-kin, candlelight vigils from my floor-to-ceiling windows, wrapped in a gilded comforter, feeling like a Roman magistrate surveying the wide barbarian lands along the silver yonder. What a figure I must have carved from below, starkly lit from back glow of the lamplight, like a golden god with scales in hand, dispensing grace or wrathful judgment as I saw fit.
The previous summer, I had befriended a local family at a little league game, where nine-year old phenom, Joey Applebee, played first base for the Jamestown Jammers. The Applebees were Joe and Susan and Joey and little Martha. I took an interest in the Applebees and was complimentary of little Joey even though I hated children and only watched the Jammers play because I loved baseball so and rarely got out to watch the big city boys wield real Louisville wood. Imagine the audacity, in this day and age, of having not only one child but also having two, when they should have been halving one. They had it coming, if you asked me, the bogeyman was waiting in the wings, but I still exchanged baseball trivia with Joe at the game, and even got invited over for barbecues and to try the golden lager from the basement bar. The entire time they had me over, I never once allowed myself to like the Applebees, never truly accepting the lawn chairs or the tree house as a reality, which I felt guilty for on a sociological level, because they seemed to take a liking to me.
Joe had a kind of lonely disposition and did things lonely people do all the time, like share too much information about his thyroid problem, or confess to me his illogical fear of “losing it all,” or his scalding car insurance rate, which was “eating into his early retirement plan,” but such earnest showcasing in the Age of Aporia was truly in bad taste; like an abused puppy that only shies away at first, and comes back eagerly to the outstretched palm for the next round of victuals, forgetting that the reassuring hand quickly changes into a fist. And so I raised my malicious hand and steadied it over the Applebees. I’d gaze at them through my widescreen window and enact many a dark fantasy in my mind, lifting and dropping my hands like a jazz conductor, clenched knuckles overcast their three-storey home.
Joe cooked a great steak on his sprawling BBQ and even admitted to having qualms about the whole GMO deal, but this didn’t make an iota of difference when I goosed his wife in the pantry, while she was unloading some crock ware off the top shelf. It was a gambit. We were right in the middle of the Hatcher reforms, and she could have dimed me out to the Sex Crimes unit, who were a telephone call away, who were hot to make an example out of everybody and anybody, but she didn’t blow the whistle for some unknown reason, so I continued to hound her, and began to implement a devious psychological strategy in order to abase her further.
First, I threatened to leave their house and leave Joe friendless and that had a surprising mild effect at first, where I expected no effect at all. She’d allow me to leer at her without calling for help. When that ploy grew weary I began to insinuate vague threats about her children and this stratagem had a more immediate and rousing effect. I began to pat her backside whenever we were unobserved, simultaneously whispering hot menace in her ear about how I’d pick up little Joey after school one day, and dump him in countryside for the farmers to have their way with him, or something crude like that, and then I’d reach around and erotically pinch her nipples, which seemed to deeply unnerve her, but she didn’t know what to do, so we played out the whole predatory charade.
It wasn’t about getting laid or anything like that with Susan; I just sorely wanted to play the part of the bastard. The shenanigans only really had an effect on me when Joe was hovering around the premises. Was there a designer drug that could induce a similar feeling of domestic danger to have spared me the trouble of the Iagogo? I pondered this as I lay on the carpeted floor underneath the crib of little Martha’s bedroom. When Susan had come into the room one day to check on her sleeping baby, I grabbed her by the ankle like some bogeyman from the crypt, and she shrieked loud enough to raise the little urchin from her slumber, who boo-hooed until she was rock-a-bye by her mother. I crept out from my hideaway, half way, my head decisively positioned between Susan’s legs, staring straight above at the interlaced muff that was surely fusty from the days hard-won labor, and my mouth couldn’t help but salivate. I squeezed her thin ankles and she moaned lightly, knees slightly buckling, but did that actually mean she liked the bogeyman gimmick, or was I giving myself too much credit?
And so it went for a couple of resplendent weeks in the month of August before good old Joe broke up the gang. I remember feeding the pigs and chickens in the Applebee’s mini backyard farm one Sunday. The sun was beaming brightly. There were milky butterflies dancing around the rose bushes. The sprinkler was watering the fresh grass and creating the most beautiful rainbow mankind had seen since the early days of the flood. And I had just shared the most intense bathroom experience of my life with Susan upstairs. As Joe was mowing the lawn and little Joey was taking wide swings at the soft ball resting on the tee, I snuck inside the house under the pretense of a shit-break, and I pulled Susan, who was in the kitchen washing dishes, into the bathroom with me for our most ingenious lark yet.
I unbuckled and pulled down my chinos in one fell swoop, before she even had time to question my mental fitness, and squatted over the pristine white bowl, unleashing something foul and primordial into its shallow depths. The Horned Beast came roaring out of my backside with the pent-up fury of a cannonball. Rusty shrapnel sprayed over the pearly tureen and I held onto Susan’s thighs tightly, her khaki Gap shorts pulled down, my face buried deep in her ripe crack, inhaling her rotten perfumes, while my own toxic event escaped the basin as I careened my ass from one side to another. She gagged and coughed and tried to escape my violent clutches, but I buried my nails into the soft pale flesh of her inner thighs and that staunched her rebellion, and thus we shared my deepest shame, the inner chambered walls of my most cherished secret.
When she had managed to regain her breath and ceased convulsing from the putrid cloud that smothered the room, that is, when she accepted the Horned Beast in his truest form, something wild came out of her in response, and she bucked wildly against my nose, which appendage I used to push aside the purple thong that separated us, and oozing from her cunt was this liquid that was sticky like sap, and I lapped it up like an obliging husband was sworn to, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and all that claptrap.
And in that sealed scatological moment, with the bathroom door closed but unlocked, the window open and the curtain drawn, the pink frilly rug scrunched in ecstasy beneath my flip-flops, the tap water running like a brook for pastoral ambiance, Susan and I knew each other in ways few people ever had. When I had finished my fiery deuce, I stood from the bowl, and made Susan wipe my ass on an immaculate white face towel, and in a moment of rapturous transport, I asked her to look down at the tarred cotton, promising she would have seen the revelation of the Horned Beast, if only she would have looked, but she denied me that final satisfaction, and so we parted embarrassedly, as two lonely strangers failing to see each other in the night.
I returned to the backyard and the sun was blistering, having become noticeably hotter, without a single cloud in the sky to placate my need for shade. I had to squint my light-sensitive eyes in order to get around little Joey’s toys that were strewn all over the grass. The little germ nowhere to be found. Joe was watering the grass and flowers along the fence line. I approached him and tried to get his attention by whistling some song I knew from childhood, “She’s up all night to the sun. I’m up all night to get some. She’s up all night for good fun. I’m up all night to get lucky,” but he refused to turn around. I wiped the sweat from my forehead with my forearm and the wetness slicked the hair on my arm to one side, which looked kind of funny combed-over my tanned and freckled skin. Joe finally spoke with his back still turned to me.
“You better leave right now,” he said feebly.
“What’s the problem, Joe?” I replied.
“Please, just go. And don’t ever come back here.” Which meant he must have seen something happen between Susan and myself.
“Alright Joe,” I started, “if you want to be a little bitch about the whole thing, I’ll leave.”
And then I walked away from him, wanting to throw a softball at his head or something, as a final exclamation point to our neighborly exchange, but I just violently slammed the fence gate upon exiting. Just like that I was never invited over to the Applebee’s house again and my picket fence dream faded along with the sunset.
When the great storm had descended on Graceland, the neighborhood quickly went to the dogs, the hoarfrost seemingly dialing us back to the dark ages. My well-to-do Hyde Park neighbors, with their pretentious townhouses and heated garages, might as well have entered a time machine pointed towards medieval times, because they couldn’t have been any further removed from civilization. There was no way for the many Audis and Mercedes to cut through the unplowed streets. It was a solid week before the army managed to get near Hyde Park, so we were left to our own devices, with no easy escape. By day three, the tenants of my condominium had announced for a meeting to be held in the lobby. Even though I was more than settled with my earlier precautionary shopping spree, I still attended out of curiosity and, to be frank, resentment. I wanted to point a finger, or get into my neighbor’s faces and scoff at them. Still I tried to look anxious like the rest of them in order to better fit in. In truth, I never felt more at ease. I was in my comfort zone amidst the white scourge, as if the world had finally acclimatized to me, and validated the deep-seated fear and disgust I nested with on a daily basis.
There were no salty snacks or sugary refreshments waiting. It was a very drab affair. A great many things were discussed but not many of them great. Some people wanted to open the doors to those less fortunate in the neighborhood, a detestable idea, I thought. Thankfully others shot that charitable feeling down without my intervention, reminding the collective that they were sitting on private property, and that a unanimous vote would be required before any outreach program could be attempted. Some people thought that we should pool our resources amongst ourselves, so that at least our community would remain in good standing. Others booed and hissed at the mere mention of the anathema without the slightest prodding. Wouldn’t it defeat the purpose of the gold rush all together? Weren’t we all enduring the rat race for the precise purpose of filling our cupboards and closets to the brim so as to better compete with our neighbors? Wasn’t this just another trial to weed out the strong from the weak, the cunning from the compassionate, and the resourceful from the inept? The majority seemed to think so. Some of the other proposed tenets were uncontested and quickly enforced, such as the barricading of the lobby, which was swiftly performed by a group of us, by simply rearranging and vertically stacking the “pop” furniture that was lying around.
The building’s security guards were to be placed at every entry or exit, who were trapped here with the rest of us here anyhow and had to remain in service, and were to be paid with food, beverage, or entertainment, according to the remuneration of their choosing and in deference to the booty collected from the residents. Everybody had to dispense with something for the tithing. But under no circumstances would any visitors be allowed into the building while we were held prisoners to the storm. Everybody agreed to this last point. Although some yielded uneasily, which made me have my doubts about them. People could leave the building but they could not return. That was the rule we agreed upon. And what of stray parents and grandparents, some challenged? They would have to fend for themselves until the storm subsided, we concluded. Some of the ladies in attendance grew weepy at the presentiment; nevertheless, it made sense to everyone without a prolonged debate. The status quo had to be maintained. That’s what the maintenance fees symbolized, one grandfatherly fellow intimated, and many of us nodded gratefully in fealty to his wisdom.
By day five, the condominium had become a black market bordello for the enterprising. If you needed something, it could probably be found within the building, but only if you were willing to trade. The short squeeze was in full effect. Every day at noon, I heard a knock at my front door from an agent of trade, who according to the grapevine were called “Palmers.” I wouldn’t open the door, being only willing to talk through it: “Yes?” “What do need?” He’d say. “Dishwashing liquid,” I’d reply. “What’s for trade,” he’d ask. “A can a beans,” I’d respond. “Not enough,” he’d declare and then add, “Two cans of beans and two cans of vegetables, or no soap.” “It’s a deal.” And then you’d have to bring the tradeable goods to the door and leave them in the hallway for pickup by the next day at noon, which I wasn’t crazy about, in case of theft or if I was being misled altogether, but that’s how the bartering system worked. I don’t know who led this outfit of “Palmers,” but it was a tightly run operation. I fudged the hand-off a couple of times before the “Palmers” politely gave me the scoop and righted my errors. In total, I ended up grabbing some dishwashing liquid, breadcrumbs I needed for a roasted chicken recipe, fresh cream for my coffee, even though I had the powdered stuff, and fabric softener for the dryer, which I stupidly forgot to pick up before the snowstorm, and I kicked myself for losing that trade by a landslide, but I needed my sheets silky smooth, or else I wouldn’t be able to sleep.
By day seven, the trading market had grown unstable and I refused to open my front door at all. Reports of break-ins had spread across the building: “Knock-knock.” “Who’s there?” And then perchance a big boot through the front door and the thieves would run a spree from your cupboards and closets. Or even worse, after forcibly entering, the marauders would shut the door behind them, and the desecration of home and hearth would know no bounds. I’d call 911 periodically to report these crimes, whether they were a fiction or not, I did not care, but the police stations were so overrun with phone calls that I almost always received a busy signal. When I did finally reach a dispatch officer, they’d tell me to “hold on tight,” because there was no way for patrol to reach our building, and that the army would be arriving soon to save the day anyhow. I imagine anybody in the building with a firearm would be the undisputed alpha male or alpha female and that it was only a matter of time before weapons were brandished in the hallway.
Despite all my selfish preoccupations, I still couldn’t get the Applebees off my mind. I wondered how they were doing. A week without power was nothing to scoff at. Was little Martha still functioning? Little Joey as dynamic as he used to be? I knew Joe wouldn’t let his family go to wrack and ruin without giving it the old survivalist effort. I peered through my floor-to-ceiling windows with my binoculars in tow, and spied on the Applebee’s home that was a good 150 yards away. The snow flurried over the agape windows on the side of the house that were like dead eyelids waiting to be shut. The home was perched upon a hill that was bleaker than a skull. There was no living sign of the Applebee’s and I began to worry for the safety of Susan. Joe could go to hell for all intensive purposes. The children twisting in the wind and on the verge of oblivion. But I couldn’t dismiss Susan altogether. We knew each other intimately and that meant something. She’d encountered the Beast from my innards and lived to tell the tale, nay, she embraced the rendezvous, despite some initial hesitation at the overflowing grotesquerie. I wasn’t beyond throwing the Applebee’s a rope if it meant Susan and I resuming our unspoken courtship.
The task that lay before me was how I would escape the building now that it was prohibited. I left the apartment one night, thickly bundled like an Eskimo, and snuck down the west stairwell. I moved as quietly as a mouse down the steps, fearful of what I would discover at every landing. Before I embarked on my epic journey, I envisioned wannabe gangsters or pushers barring access to the next floor, without some form of currency exchanging hands, but there was nothing shady going on. The newfangled graffiti spattered over the walls cast the stairwell in an indigenous light: zig-zag patterns, obscure geometric shapes, stenciled hand prints, depictions of people making the beast with two backs, and the odd apocalyptic phrase thrown in for good measure. I moved down the flights effortlessly. Apart from some fresh garbage littering the stairs, soda cans, cigarette butts, crumpled tissues, and the occasional condom, there’s was nothing unusual to report, that is, not until I arrived at the main floor, when I heard a whisper bending from behind the staircase, a soft sleepy murmur, and when I turned to look, I saw a woman who must have been in her forties, looking a little worse for wear: hair frizzy and unkempt, face blotchy and makeup-less, yoga pants old and pilly and probably pulled a little too high, revealing an unattractive middle-age paunch.
“I’ll trade you,” she said. “What are we trading,” I said not wanting to ruin the game, despite the fact that she was sort of gross looking. “This,” she said, turning around to reveal an ass that was bounteous as the bushels of paradise. “But what specifically,” I asked. Without hesitation she made an immediate display of her garish wares and I nodded in salivating agreement. “Apartment 603,” I told her. Please understand, should the mission for Susan have failed, I needed a substitute valentine to curb my reclusive misanthropic tendencies. The heart that loves stays young, my father was fond of saying, before he died from heart disease while in his fifties.
In the adjacent vestibule waited the heavyset security guard with a face that was darker than licorice, which worried me at first, but he proved to be just as pliable, so I made mention of the Applebee’s livestock to convince him, my errand being precisely to rescue the pig and chickens from their glacial backyard torments in order to cook them. I led him to believe there’d be a grand banquet with roasted chicken wrapped in bacon and the bastard nearly fainted at the prospect of the great feast in the sky. We arranged a timeline and a secret knock between us for reentry: three full beats, followed by a pause, and then three more beats in a swifter measure. The snow had accumulated to the height of my waist. It took our combined might to force open the door, a tiny crack in order for me to slip out. “Godspeed,” the security guard said before he pulled the door closed. The task seemed all but impossible. I was breathing hard after a mere twenty yards, having to keep moving or risk losing the mission altogether, or worse, dying in my tracks. I kept trying to envision myself as a knight errant on some perilous journey, so as to inspire my march through the snow, but there was nothing heroic in my body to anchor that fantasy. Suddenly newsreel footage of POW’s on a death march flashed through my mind and the prospect of dying in a bed of snow made me shudder uncontrollably, over and over.
The Applebee’s home loomed somewhere in the dismal expanse. It was difficult to see more than a few yards ahead in any direction; the flurries leaching all light from the natural world. If it weren’t for the condo doubling as a lighthouse, I’d have surely drowned in the white sea. I wasn’t a third of the way before I fell to exhaustion. The snowsuit had repelled the blizzard and ensuing wetness with great success, but the excess weight and restricted flexion slowed me down significantly. I looked back to see the falling snow covering my tracks with great speed and realized soon the journey home would prove to be just as difficult as the present odyssey. It suddenly dawned on me that all this had happened before, but I couldn’t say how, or why, or when. Perhaps in a previous life I had undertaken such a journey with mixed blessings and dire results. For every bone in my body cried to return home to the safety of the tower, where my booty waited to be basked and sorted over, and I thought, maybe, just maybe, I should heed the advice of my vertebrae and cartilage, not knowing the full osteon depth of its discernment, but being fully aware of my scalpless own.
I could picture the scenario before my glassy eyes: I’d finally arrive at the Applebee’s home on the verge of death from the hoarfrost, struggling to enter the residence from the swinging back-yard fence, which would be difficult to pull open because of the snow pile, and then stride towards the back door that was all but buried by the blizzard. The home clamped down like a container on a freight boat, which always looked suspicious to me like some magical Rubik’s city sailing on water. I’d break the glass and unlock the door from the outside by reaching through the opening, careful not to tear my coat on the jagged teeth. I’d turn the handle and enter the dark kitchen, scene of so many intrigues between Susan and I. Oh, how many times she washed the dishes, and I’d spy on her stringy khaki buttocks from the common room, whilst secretly stroking the length of my member through my pants, despite the fact that Joe and Joey and even little Martha were in the room. It’s a perverse connection not many would understand and I know Susan felt it too.
I’d raise my voice and it would echo in the kitchen and hallway unrequited. I’d spark a handy battery-operated flashlight, and race up the stairwell to the upper floor like a jealous lover hoping to catch his woman in the act; my boots tracking snow all over the hardwood and carpeted areas, frantically rushing from room to room, looking for Susan, looking for any clue to their whereabouts. I’d rifle through the drawers in the master bedroom, which looked half empty, leading me to believe that the Applebee’s had packed and departed Graceland for a more hospitable place to wait out the storm. I’d throw Joe’s undershirts from the drawer and trample them underfoot. I’d tear at my coat in wild agony, tears choking my breath like some alien substance. I’d look for the hamper in the en-suite bathroom for one last Hail Mary pass in the dark.
In the basket I’d espy a series of Susan’s soiled panties and bras. I’d remove them one by one, extracting each essence from the chilled cotton like a hound dog: the earthier tones from the narthex, a profusion of aromas of coffee and sun dried fruits, the sweetness from the altar, floral notes accompanied by ripe fruit. I smothered my face in the entire spectrum of Susan’s undergarments. I sought out her bras and extracted its crisp acidity, its herbaceous undertones of oregano and black pepper and aged cheese. I’d arrange them over the king-sized bed in a lacy pile and dive in, twisting and writhing in Susan’s bras and socks and panties like they were flames, the bed a bonfire to the majesty of heartbreak. Time was a circular loop. I’d been to Susan’s oriel before, maybe a thousand years hence, perhaps during feudal times, but in this lifetime, we were destined to remain disparate, like Hero and Leander, the white sea holding our bodies as if it were the wreckage from a crashed ship. I returned to my condominium through the same stony path, and forswore the company of Susan Applebee forever, or at least until our next lifetime, my head filled with tales of frozen barnyard animals, prepared to blight the guard’s bacon-wrapped hope.
THE THREE LAGADOS WERE IMBEDDED IN THE CENTER OF THE ROOM like the knuckles of some serpentine giant; the blisters puffed and unpursed themselves, the inner contents of which, still the alabaster bowl, everlasting, from youth inwards, the same pericope retold in flipbook, when will the technology catch up to the shit, that mysterious fruitful technology that multiplies in the earth like a colony of cyborg ants. The Rasta before me, the demi-lawyer behind me, we marched to the cadence of some rabbinic bar joke, the punch line unmistakably involving Jehovah, the accuser, and his witness. The contents of the alabaster bowl fed through the pipe and into some mysterious thingamabob where a doohickey separated the waste from the lossless data and then transmitted the information to the main doodad, whereupon a vote was balloted, where in fact many many things, besides political inclinations, could be extracted if a certain bill from Minister Hatcher hadn’t been vetoed at the eleventh hour.
We stepped into the hollows of the Lagados and the rubicund flaps sealed the entrance with the moist-like faculty of an insect. I dropped my pants just as quick and quicker still, this wasn’t my first dance, after all, and the engine of destruction in my stomach sparked to life, and ground and gnashed its contents in all the hushed tones of a garbage disposal, out dripped the black oil and garbled shrapnel from yesterday’s Mandarin menu, the dim sum and fried dumplings, with mango-pineapple sauce, smoothed along the surface like coral reef. You know how people say when you’re about to die your life flashes before your eyes in a series of rapid images, this what happened to me as my butt cheeks got used to the air-conditioned ceramic of the bowl, and I, worrying that maybe it was a hallucinogenic reaction to the toxic event, pushed the blue button on the panel alongside me to increase the amount of A) fan circulation in the Pod, and B) deodorizer, of which scent, Misty Springs, permeated the Pod thoroughly, but cowered at the presence of the Horned Beast and was engulfed by it’s looming specter.
Was I dying, or were we getting killed, because outside the Pods I heard of wars and rumors of wars, and I, lodged in the middle of the battleground, taking a shit, the bar joke having relocated to feudal times, the butt of some cosmic joke. What an embarrassment to die on a toilet, toppled like a toy soldier, pants around the ankles, drooling like some dumdum, leaving behind a legacy that’s less likely to be parsed for divinations, and more likely to be flushed away for the shit that it is. Images whorled past my vision, dizzying me, popping like firecrackers, sparks scratching my eyes, cauterized wounds sealing the light-sensitive pain on the inside. Where did I go wrong?
I had an inimitable scrapbook to choose from. I thought I had would have been more joyous to chaperone myself through the limitless streets of my youth, riding the classic cherry-red Radio Flyer, hell bent to reach the end of the world or the end of the block, or whichever came first. Was it when I fell in love with that blue-eyed surfer boy when I was sixteen, even though I wasn’t gay, why was it happening, why why why? He never knew how I felt, but if he’d looked into my eyes in the alleyway late that night, after we’d gone skinny dipping in the public pool after hours, he’d have plunged into something oceanic, bottomless. I pumped my fist in the air, after scoring the game-wining touchdown in the semi finals against Whitehaven, after winning the admiration of the coach, the team, my brother and quarterback, Terry Rose, the crowd, and the cheerleaders. I’d seen this happen in other peoples lives, in the movies or something, and now it was happening in mine, if this was a life I was leading, I wasn’t even sure anymore. I flushed and flushed, sending away the Horned Beast from my bowels and more, away too went the sticky images in the brown cesspool, whirling and twirling so much like life and death caught in an arm wrestle.
I stood, dressed, and stepped out of the Lagado like an astronaut returning from an important intergalactic mission. My vote signed, sealed, and delivered. And there stood the guard before me with his smoking automatic and me square in his crosshairs. The boardroom was torn to ribbons or shreds or whatever other word would serve to describe walls and chairs and sofas and people that have been butchered by some mondo caliber gun. Everybody had been wiped out with extreme prejudice in the span of my squat, pinch, and flush. The Lagados beside mine had been bullet riddled but for some unknown reason mine was completely untouched by the heavy fire. The other guard had been slain. He was sleeping peacefully below his automatic now; how a lover of the ocean clutches a rock at the rise of the tide, the waves crashing against the rocks, receding, begging you to let go, fondling the full length of your legs, come find us they say, in the middle of the ocean, come find us. The slain guard looked so peaceful that I yearned to trade places with him. I heard seagulls in the expanse. The roar of the shore. And I pined for the depths of the ocean, to be in the arms of my beloved Leander again.
“Keep your hands where I can see them,” the guard hollered through his gas mask. I showed him my bare palms, arms outstretched, and he clutched his rifle so tight that I felt the veins in his hands would burst from the pressure.
“Are you a terrorist?” He asked me, sounding off like a barking dog through the voice emitter, but I was able to distinguish syllables enough to make a whole.
“I don’t—I don’t think so,” I stuttered in reply, not out of fear, but of breathless anticipation, not exactly knowing what I wanted, or how to get it. The building’s pandemonium alarms had been sounded, which were different than the fire alarms, and a whole different set of effects were triggered. The building was in full shut down mode. Metal bars extended over the windows to prevent easy entry. All exits locked. Elevator service killed. Passage from floor to floor limited by access cards, which only tenants possessed. In other words, we’d entered into a world of hurt to prevent the worst from occurring. Meanwhile I was locked in the boardroom with a crazed assassin and I had to decide whether I wanted to live or die.
“Then why are you still alive? The terrorists—they released some kind of nerve agent! It must have been you. There’s no other explanation!”
“I was in the Pod voting. Maybe the gas didn’t penetrate—”
“Then—how are you breathing—without a gas mask?”
“Maybe there was no gas. Did you think of that?”
“But it smelled like—death.”
“Aren’t chemical agents scentless nowadays.”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
He eased his grip on the automatic and alleviated the thrombosis in his wrist. The nozzle of the gun slackened a little and the odds of a headshot with an instant death decreased with every passing second. The Indian/middle-Eastern girl wearing a burqa was crumpled over in her chair, arms hanging lifelessly from her sides. The older European lady with the luscious breasts was pasted against the wall in crimson. The young shoeless Cuban boy looked like a cherub slain on the “Strawberry Daiquiri Jellybean” couch, ribs protruding from his chest where the man-eating bullets feasted upon him. Hyde Park had undergone a dark transformation and I was on the cusp of that high and beautiful wave once again. The security guard and I were about to share a life-changing experience.
“Consider yourself lucky,” I said to him.
“How do you mean,” he replied through the voice emitter, lowering the automatic even further.
“Take off your mask. There is no nerve agent.”
“How do you know?”
“Consider yourself lucky. You encountered the Horned Beast and survived. That is cause enough.” For some unknown reason, this moved the guard to remove his gas mask and face me, mano a mano.
“What do we do now?” he said unsurely, shaken by the vibrant fleshly colors of the massacre, having now removed the ocular filter of the gas mask, and probably looking for a companion to share in the burden of the slaughter, which was no mean thing in the scale of things. I paused for a moment plus to consider his question. Many of my neighbors, mostly dead, some dying, were laying about me, and something had to be done. Here was the opportunity I was looking for to make a clean break from the bad habits Graceland had instilled in me, to make a positive difference in the lives of my neighbors. I wasn’t the cause of this tragedy. All I did was register my vote. And that was the rub. My whole life had been leading to this one decisive moment. The meaning and final revelation of my I.B.S. The scales had tipped. It had dawned on me. This was my mess to clean up.
“What’s your name?” I asked the security guard, who looked to be on the verge of losing his lunch now, holding his stomach with one hand, rifle languishing in the other, and breathing in a series of rapid gasps.
“Bob,” he burped in reply.
“Round up any survivors for interrogation, Bob.” He looked me in the eye with his wan sweat drenched face. “There’s a terrorist in our midst.” And then he vomited over his combat boots. A great horned mess of pasta and rapini and sausage.