If you're looking for something nice-nicey to digest, then you can just stop right here. I can't do it for you. I can't give you the “summer read.” I can't get my shit together to print out documents. I can't even burn them anymore. And so, if you want something good and nice… go to the Chick Lit section. Rif lit. Light lit. Beach reading. Whatever they call it now.
I have four stacks of single-spaced paper with verbal diarrhea on them. Words, like. Probably over a hundred and eighty thousand. At last count. The way to go about it normally would be to start sifting through all of it and picking and eviscerating. But I can't. I can't even leaf through the damned thing. This is my sofa. You know those guys, those pack rat bachelors who drag along their shit sofa with holes and broken frames and springs? Those sofas that smell like foul ass? That's me and my stack of written papers. Stories. Last year I burned some of them in a pit outside, but I can't even get motivated to do that. I can't even start a fire, much less throw pounds of paper into it. This is my ass-smelling sofa.
On weekends I sign sponsor sheets. Twelve-steppers. Alcoholics, sex addicts, pedophiles, druggies. Whatever. They give me their official sheets and I throw down my John Hancock. And off they go to their support groups. It's my repentance. Sponsorship of the downtrodden. It's how I set things straight with God. I had to re-read that. It makes me laugh. Doesn't it?
What I send out now is made up shit in the form of urban legends. If you've heard any of them, you've read my work. The cell phone one where people pop raw corn is my latest. A phone company bought that one and made a video out of it. I got a residual in the mail for my work. Only the way I originally wrote it, it was an egg that got cooked. Egg in the middle of two cell phones ringing. Or better yet, four mobiles. Someone dials the individual numbers, phones begin to ring. Egg gets cooked. That's it. It was viral. That's what they call it: viral. The 809 area code scam, that was mine too. The Ashley Flores one. Aspartame as the substance responsible for an epidemic of diseases. Coca-Cola becomes carbonated by accident. Coca-Cola as an effective spermicide. Drug runner evades detection by driving a black, fast truck at night while wearing night vision goggles. The gang known as The Crips take their name from an acronym for “Continuous Revolution In Progress.” Its gang members depositing a lethal mixture of LSD and strychnine on pay phone buttons. All of them are mine. Of course, now they're debunked fast by various sources, but still. It's an addiction. It's a vindictive addiction. Middle finger to society. Some people send computer viruses. I send them in stories. We're all addicts. Some of us manufacture the drugs, and some use them. And some do both. Those are the real degenerates. Let the roaches cannibalize themselves. Are they? It beats sifting through two hundred thousand words, trying to pick the best of the best to send out to some gentrified brownstone in Harlem where a privileged twenty-year-old decides which and what to publish in his hip rag. The one about the man who uses his sperm to seal envelopes sent to various government offices. A human penis is found in a jar of fruit punch. Restaurant after-dinner mints contain urine from customers who fail to wash their hands. A girl requires surgery after swallowing a wire that had come loose from a barbecue grill cleaning brush, and was cooked into a hamburger. Baby carrots are made from deformed full size carrots that have been permeated with chlorine. All of them are mine. All debunked, but still… we're all addicts of some sort. I write them to get off, you read them. Food contamination works best. I've done my most brilliant work sending out rumours like this. Insects and weird bugs work well, too. Girl in India wakes up with an inflammation or trauma to her eye. Turns out a spider laid eggs just under her eyelid while she was sleeping and now she has baby spiders filing out of her left retina. And then there's that one about the guy who sits in his apartment at the computer, naked, making up shit and sending it across into cyberspace. He's an addict too. Like all the others. Like all the ones who read his stuff.
You can believe that one if you want. The one about the guy with the 70s permed bush sitting naked at his computer and sending off Urban Legend viruses via spam. You can even believe he owns a Velvet Elvis print. It's hung just above the monitor. It's from Turkey, so it's called El Vishnu. Or from Mexico—El Vez. Believe. Or not. I sign them all the same anyway. I always wanted to have X for a middle initial. It's a pseudonym. It's not even unique. I stole the name from that guy who writes for the New Yorker. I mixed up the last name a bit, though.
Sometimes I get cutesy and sign off: “France's Ex.” But mostly it's the regular way. With the X in the middle.
Japanese software replaces Microsoft error messages with haiku poetry. Joining Wordofmouth.org will enable you to find out what others are saying about you. Apple is marketing the iLoo, an Internet capable portable toilet.
OK that last one sucked. But I sent it out anyway. “France's Ex.” It's like a tag at the bottom of graffiti. I fancy myself that, a graffiti artist. No I don't. I wouldn't say I'm a failed writer though. I haven't failed. I still write. Just in a different genre. You know those guys who make loads of money from their essays, and tour on Spoken Word circuits? You know them. Eric Bogosian, Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra, Laurie Anderson, Hedwig Gorski and all those others? Yea, I wouldn't say I'm a failed writer. Just on a Spoken Word circuit. A Written Word. Not really a failure, really.
Temple Baptist Church was built on land sold for fifty-seven cents; the amount saved by a little girl who had been turned away from its Sunday school for having a mother who was prostituting herself. Having survived a horrific storm, a slave trader promptly gave up his livelihood, became a Christian, and penned the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
It's glurge. It's a sub-genre. Think of it as chicken soup with several cups of sugar mixed in. It's supposed to be a method for delivering a remedy for what ails you by adding sweetening to make the cure more appealing, but the result is more often a sickening-sweet mixture that plunges you into hyperglycemic fits. In ordinary language, glurge is the dissemination of inspirational and supposedly true tales; ones that often conceal much darker meanings than the uplifting moral lessons they purport to offer, or undermine their messages by fabricating and distorting historical fact in the guise of offering a true story:
Child badly injured in an accident is comforted by “birdies,” his description of angels. William Waldorf Astor rewarded a hotel manager's kindness by making him the manager of the grand Waldorf-Astoria. A war-separated couple is reunited by a tablecloth—-an heirloom looted by the Nazis. Description of how laundry was done in bygone days imparts “count your blessings message.”
Glurge. People slop. The more religious intonations, the better. It helps to know history a bit to write this. It also helps to have insomnia and trawl around the cracked streets at night, looking for Jolly Ranchers-Apple flavor.
So one night around midnight I'm driving around somewhere down near Gaffney. As I come through one of your average little southern towns, I realize that I have a pair of near-crisis situations I need to resolve. I'm almost out of cigarettes, and I have completely run out of hard candy. Have you ever noticed that if you buy a Jolly Rancher bag with all of the different flavors in it there will be like… 470 watermelon-flavored and maybe 3 apples? Yea. I hate that. You can buy a bag with nothing but apple-flavored ones in it, but they only sell them that way in one store I know of down here. Food Lion.
Fortunately, you pretty much can't swing a dead cat in South Carolina without at least spattering a Food Lion establishment with some kitty innards. The little town I'm in has a Food Lion right there on main street, so I pull in.
So there I am, in the candy aisle, just across from the school supply shelves, checking out the assortment. The store is nearly empty so there's only one other guy in the aisle with me, and he's down there by the school supply end staring at something. Pretty normal looking guy, really. He has on dark gray pants and a crisp-looking white button-up shirt. No tie.
Whatever. After 30 seconds or a minute of checking out candies I hear this heavy sniffing sound. It's not really loud, but it's good enough to hear it. So out of the corner of my eye I look down there, and Mr. Normal has a box of crayons in his hand. Your average Crayola-brand 16-pack of crayons. More to the point, he's holding this box of Crayons up to his face, and he's smelling it. I mean really, really smelling it. Like, he starts with his nose at the bottom of the box and then works his way all the way up to that tab at the top, inhaling the whole way. Mr. Normal is standing down there with a box of crayons, and he's sniffing the hell out of these things.
But, saying he's sniffing them doesn't really do it justice, because Mr. Normal is really enjoying this sniffing, you know? If he'd had his shoes off, you probably could have seen his toes curling every time he hoovered that box. A hard-on for sniffing. An addict. And a big, long exhalation thing. You ever smoked a real cuban cigar? You know how you exhale after you've got it lit and you get that first really good, satisfying drag? Yea.
On the one hand I have a deep desire to get the hell out of there and give Mr. Normal some privacy with the objects of his devotion, but I'm too fascinated to move, you know? I can just imagine accidentally making a noise or something and having Mr. Normal turn around and scream “You're RUINING it for me you fuckin' yuppie!!” and clipping me with his .38. So, basically, I do the only thing I can think of. I freeze and I let this man go to work.
I think I'm there just like that for at least a few minutes, watching this guy savor these crayons. Eventually, he puts the box down gently, almost reverently, and he grabs another one. Slowly, cautiously, almost lovingly, he opens the top of the second pack, eases a few crayons out into his hand, holds them up to his face, and he starts licking them. I don't mean tasting here. I don't mean just like you might put your tongue on something to see if you could eat it. I mean, I'm standing there in the school supplies/candy aisle at Food Lion in middle-of-buttfuck South Carolina and this momo is licking the crayons. Caressing them. Whispering to them. Gently and sensually.
So after Mr. Normal finishes licking the snot out of each and every single crayon in his hand, he gently restores them to the box, closes the box, and puts them back on the shelf. For some child, some toddler, some innocent little kid to pick up later. So I go to have a little talk with the manager.
But the guy is helming down a fucking Food Lion on the night shift. All he cares about is having enough Diet Cokes on the shelves. Spicy Doritos right next to them. I begin to tell him what's going on, but only get as far as the location of the incident, when he puts out his hand. He pulls up his pants by the belt, over his hips, and says:
“Is that sum-a-bitch over there licking them goddamn crayons again? ‘Cause if he is, I'm a call his goddamn P.O. and have him go back to jail. I done told him a hunnerd times to stop coming in here doin' that noncent. They's kids that buy them damned things.”
I ask what he's out on parole for and the manager licks his lips and leans in and says quietly:
“Fool's a workin' at the Taco Bell two year ago? He done put some roach eggs in the goddamn meat 'cause he ain't like the manager, and made some girly's mouth go all infected with it. Salivary glands, they say at the hospital. All infected. You belie-dat?”
—Francis X. Kline
“Dude, you've got patches of hair growing on your back. Like Bigfoot or something. Eddie the Yeti from the Serengeti. The sasquatch with a watch.”
“On your back. Patches. Like fur stuck on glue or something… like… what the hell?”
“Oh yea? Maybe you shouldn't watch me get dressed. There's something not right about that anyway.”
“But the strange thing is…” and he leans in closer, “… they're only popping up on the left side. Huh. That's gnarly. You must have some sort of hormonal disorder thing.”
By the time you finish reading this sentence, Benny'll ask for a cigarette.
“Dude, can I bum?”
I give him one.
“Fucking menthol? Dude. Please.”
“Got any fire?”
I hand him the lighter.
He says: “So what time's this thing happening?”
This thing happening is me and Benny going to see my father. Only he is me and I'm the nephew sliding into college on partial scholarship. Partial. But then there's books and a food card and monthly parking money. That's how we play it this time. Before, Benny was the accountant and I was the orderly. I had to change him, my father. He'd pissed all over himself. I had to change him. I was the orderly. And the month before that, Benny was the director of Sunny Vale Assisted Living and I was the liability attorney. Sunny Vale. That's like that box of raisins, isn't it?
“When's this thing happening? Dude. Are you paying attention?”
I pull a fancy polo shirt over my T-shirt. To look collegiate and all. Benny takes a long drag and blue smoke comes out his nose.
The thing with my father is, he just doesn't remember. That's how we fleece him. Today Benny is me and I'm the nephew. I'm never me. I can't. He'd never give me anything if I told him I was me. If you think I feel shitty about this, maybe you ought to go back to watching TV. Sign into Facebook and poke somebody. Send them a virtual bouquet of flowers. Pluck your eyebrows. I stopped feeling bad about this right around the time my old man put his fist into my eye socket and re-arranged my cheekbone. When I was twelve.
“How much you think, this time Dude?”
“Stop flicking ashes on the floor. Use that can.”
“Dude, I'm still drinking out of that.”
“You want me to put ashes into my beer?”
Benny's set. He only comes along because he loves me. All right, that's bullshit. Let him tell you:
“Dude, all I ever wanted to do was to be an actor. Hoffman. DeNiro. Fucking Olivier. Dude, OLIVIER: STELLA! STELLA!”
“That's not Olivier.”
“Aww, Dude… how can you say that…”
There you go. Benny may be a first class moron but he's set. His father invented the Cube Lube back in 1982.
Fucking eh. No joke. It was some sort of lubricant specially formulated for the Rubik's Cube. It worked on that pyramid thing too. He incorporated himself into a one man S-corp and called it Bougé Industries, Inc. The way Benny tells it, he meant Bourgeoisie but he was too dense to look it up. It still sounded French with that acute accent and all, so he went with it. He ran his outfit from his garage in New Paltz, New York. Got a P.O. Box where the checks came. Anyway, he made a killing with the Cube Lube. Seems like they all do, don't they? Clueless Gumps falling backwards into bags of cash. Why couldn't I think of something like that. Fucking Cube Lube. Instead, I gotta go scheme out my delusional old man at some country club nursing home.
“Assisted living, Dude.”
“Are you listening in on me Benny?”
And he lights a joint.
He says, “You look mah-velous, you preppy frat fuck.”
I say, “What'd you do with the cigarette butt?”
He says he dropped it into the beer can, only he's holding it and drinking out of it. And he gives me a smug, stupid smile.
Momos, all of them.
Gumps with boxes of chocolates walking around in bliss.
I say: “Let's go.”
Benny needs motivation, scene, and time to get into character.
“Who am I supposed to be again, Dude?”
This is the mile marker on the odometer at which I find God.
Where I find God is, on a large, highway billboard, off 40 West; the gigantic sign piercing the parking lot of the Our Perpetual Lady of Sorrow Something Something Baptist Church in Mebane.
“Looking for a second chance?” the thing says in two-story, white letters. And then a cyclopean arrow pointing down toward the ground.
My guess is the blockheads wanted this clever piece of marketing to include the arrow pointing at the church building, but instead got the hard and fast version from Herb Tarlik.
But my guess comes at nearly 90 miles per hour, so there's not much time for reflection, refraction, cogitation, or any of that other bullshit literary mother sauces the French were so good at.
See also: Jean Paul Sartre.
See also: Andre Gide.
Mile marker 66.6.
Right about now I could use a second chance. Third. Fourth. In God's waiting room He's playing Barry Manilow's “Copacabana.”
Chuck Mangione's “Hill Where the Lord Hides.”
Air Supply's “Even the Nights Are Better.”
The billboard inviting all the lost souls to join Pastor Xavier Rafer Wilmington Jr. every Wednesday night and twice on Sundays, is quickly succeeded by some horrid, orange Hooters sign saying something about family friendly and chicken wings.
Mile marker 66.7.
“Who am I supposed to be again, Dude?”
That's Benny from the last one. Benny Blanco. His stage name. His driver's license says Bernard K. White. Male. Twenty-seven years of age. Wears corrective lenses. “Other” for race. And so, my Benny. Benny Blanco. Not much of a stretch.
“Like John Leguizamo's character in…”
I know. I went to film school. We took down and eviscerated Dziga and Leni and Maya and both the goddamn Lumiére brothers—-Auguste and Louis and their fucking train arriving into the station. So Carlito's Way is not a big stretch. During Battleship Potempkin, some squash head, black turtleneck and Doc Martens freak kept talking about Einstein. Einstein broke the X-axis rule. Einstein employed a circular cinematic visual trick.
Only it's Eisenstein.
Fucking black turtlenecks and Doc Martens. In film schools.
“Dude, are you paying attention?”
I tell him he's supposed to be me.
In a splenetic, anarchic glee Benny says, “Dude, that's like… feeding John Barrymore that ‘nobody puts Baby in the corner' line. That's how wicked that is. You know that line?”
And I do. I went to film school. Nobody got to put Baby in the corner. Not even Jerry Orbach.
Photographs depict damage to automobiles caused by exploding aerosol cans. Photographs show a man falling from a skyscraper while occupants grasp at him through a window. Video shows car striking another vehicle at an intersection, sending the second car into a pedestrian. Security camera footage shows a man with briefcase crossing railroad tracks, absentmindedly talking on a cellphone, suddenly being struck by a commuter train at station in Montauk.
I call these Fauxtography.
(Whaddya call a walking Armenian? A pedestrian.)
Photographs show a KKK member being treated by an all-black emergency room staff. Video clip shows Marc Ecko tagging Air Force One. Photograph shows an enormous, mutant cat raised by a Canadian hermaphrodite. A 119-pound coyote is killed in New York. Photograph shows a parachutist about to drop into a pond surrounded by alligators.
How I feel is…
“Dude, are you listening?”
I am listening. I can follow two conversations at the same time. Benny's nonsense as well as my own.
Everything is a potential story.
1983: Burger King opens on Governor's Island and serves beer.
No Fear, Inc., a popular retailer, is being confused with the National Organization for European American Rights (N.O.F.E.A.R.), a white supremacist group.
The state of Missouri names a stretch of highway adopted by the Ku Klux Klan, the “Rosa Parks Highway.”
During an interview with Congress of Racial Equality's (CORE) National Spokesman Niger Innis, MSNBC displays a graphic identifying him as “Nigger Innis.”
Not even the best urban legends can surpass true stories like the ones above. You can't make that stuff up.
Well, yea you can. You just have to bill more per word.
There is a white short bus that comes and picks up the residents of Sunny Vale Assisted Living every Wednesday.
Those that still have their faculties about them walk onto the thing and go grocery shopping. Some bring along their own bags. Colostomy bags, Ileostomy bags. My father is not one of them. He is not allowed to leave the campus. The room, even. Not without an orderly. Assisted leaving.
“Here ya go, pops.”
That's Benny as me. He hands my father a vacuum-sealed pack of sliced ham and a Kosher pickle wrapped in white paper. I've never called him pops.
“He won't remember anyway, Dude.”
Three hundred and fifty dollars. In travellers' cheques. That's how it's spelled. American Express. That's what Benny gets from my father this time around. Benny as me. Me as my father's accountant. Benny as the Roto-Rooter man. Me as my father's physician. His Lithuanian cousin. Last month we got two hundred. All Benny wants is a slice of pepperoni and anchovies. Large Mountain Dew and garlic sticks. The rest is acting chops. Training ground.
“Pocket, Dude. Gotta have pocket.”
The problem is they're going to amputate my father's foot. The other problem is, he needs a new liver.
The Corporate Angel Network, an organization that coordinates free air travel for cancer patients, began when Coca-Cola executives arranged for the Blue Angels to fly a liver from San Diego to Houston in time for a transplant into a little girl.
My most popular story was the one about the home video showing an attractive, scantily-clad woman licking under the rim of the toilet at an extended-stay hotel in the South, demonstrating how clean their apartment homes were.
That was unclassifiable veracity, which somehow turned legend. The ridiculousness of truth is unsurpassed.
See also: honesty.
See also: pathological displacement of erotic interest and satisfaction to a fetish.
See also: advertising for Extended Stay U.S.A.
Benny says, “Yea Dude I bet every guy ran home to get off on that one.” And then he gives me the travellers' cheques.
That's how it's spelled.
The thing is, they can't be too long. These stupid stories. They can't go on forever, otherwise people stop reading. Believing. And so I need to find a way to end it.
“I know how, Dude.”
We need to find a way to end it.
Benny says: “We off your old man, Dude.”
“It's Hollywood, Dude. It's what they want. The denouement.”
I say, “How do you know that word.”
And Benny makes the double-guns with his thumbs and forefingers and does that chack-chack noise with his mouth and tongue.
See also: Isaac the Bartender.
“We off your old man with a pillow.”
“And then what?”
“He leaves you all his shit. His homes, cars. He leaves all that to you.”
Trite but…definitely Hollywood. And there has to be a kicker, too. A set-up for a possible second part, if this does well at the box office.
Benny says: “There's a detective who…”
Only this time I don't follow the two conversations. Just mine. Benny's tale spins out like a screenwriter's paradise. Twists and turns down Sunset. Hollywood archetypes.
I'm on to the new one. The one about the two guys who work at a major troubleshooting call-in center and go around wealthy neighborhoods at night, drinking the bait beer out of people's slug traps.
“That's sick, Dude.”
Maybe, but those kinds are the best. I ask Benny if he thinks I'm a good guy. Overall, I mean.
“No way, Dude. You're an asshole.”
And he's right. But it's how I get off.
“What kind of beer is it, Dude?”
It's a wealthy subdivision so it's imported stuff. So it gets you drunk quicker.
See also: Tuborg.
See also: Stella Artois.
See also: The Slug-X Trap.
“Kick ass, Dude.”
Everything is a story. For the good ones, you just charge more per word.
All rights reserved.
All six parts of this short story first appeared in "Girls With Insurance" in May, 2010.