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Bus Full of Nuns Goes Over a Cliff
BY JOSHUA MEDCALF I JUNE 30, 2009
"Bus full of nuns goes over a cliff," Syd says. "They all die."
You're only half-listening. What does that have to do with anything?
"You sounded like you could use a little laughter," Syd says. His voice, broken down and reassembled digitally in your left ear is surprisingly dry. "You know, the best medicine?"
He couldn't be farther from the truth, and you tell him so. You're not exactly in the mood for fun and games, just a fresh perspective from someone with a different brand of intelligence. Syd is the closest entity in your social circle to fill that bill. But where you'd usually expect to find heavy philosophical rambling, here instead is only what you can surmise to be an uncouth joke.
The light in your room is dull and muted, coming only from the cracks in the blinds and single paper lamp that looks like something you'd find at one of those antiquity shops in Little China, but is actually from IKEA. A lit joint provides more illumination than what you currently have in here. That's how you like it. Dark, just bright enough to be able to see your hands at the keys.
Where are you? You ask.
"I'm in a bar," Syd says, and you think: of course. He's drinking away a hangover with a bloody Mary, the senseless bastard, and here you thought Friday night was the new Saturday night. Apparently for Syd old habits die hard, but you already know this.
You were hoping to talk, you tell him, and, against your better judgment, looking for some advice. That should get his attention.
"Why don't you come down?" he says. He tells you where he's at, a seedy hole-in-the-wall tucked into a back alley downtown, the final frontier after a long night of serious clubbing. You know the place.
You peel yourself away from the blank word processor that's been slowly defeating you all weekend and walk over to the window. Outside, it's raining. Everything it touches is gray and dreary. You glance down at the street with mounting dissatisfaction. Details. A dripping lamppost, casting its yellow haze onto the slick pavement. A white delivery truck, stagnant. Dumpsters, lined up along the sidewalk like green molars. Red doors in dark niches. Dark windows in red brick. A cheap black grill perched outside somebody's fire exit across the way. An iron ventilation chute, streaked with rust.
The word processor beckons. You tell Syd to forget it; the workload is just too staggering.
"You know where to find me," he says, sending a shiver down your spine, then he hangs up. Crazy bastard.
Being a fact-checker for one of the city's most widely-circulated literary magazines is not your fantasy job, but it's a step in the direction of what you really want to do, which is write. So when your boss gave you an op-ed, you jumped at the opportunity.
You've been trying to write more spontaneously and without fear for years now. You're not a terrible writer; your instructors prided themselves over you. You simply want to "get it right," whatever the hell that means, as if a journal entry in a spiral notebook was the smile on the Mona Lisa or something. That is why you so often and so easily fall into the icy void of writer's block.
As soon as you'd started planning the article, an opinion piece, you'd sealed your fate. By the time you'd sat down to actually write, you discovered that you couldn't bring the piece to life because it was no longer fresh. You sat there frozen for hours, in a cold panic, fully understanding that you needed to be writing specific words in a specific voice, and being completely unable to do so. The knowledge that you had to cover certain ground, that you had to arrive at certain, preordained conclusions made the already arduous task extremely undesirable. You knew even before you started that you would take no pleasure in what you were about to write, in retreading ground that was so very familiar, in making no new discoveries in the process. The desire to make this single act of creation as profound as possible was smothering, and now you can't write a damn thing. You feel completely trapped within a dead frame of mind. You need desperately to cry, but are physically unable to form tears. Now all you want to do is leapfrog past those dead conclusions, those conclusions which would be perfect for the co-ed but which have no life. All you want to do is write "fuck you" all over the
Cigarettes imbedded in the sidewalk cracks.
Outside, the rain drizzles down from the ramparts of the building, clinging to your college sweatshirt. People. On their way to lunch bustle past you on the sidewalks. In tattered clothes behind cardboard signs scrawled in permanent marker petition for loose change. Some even walk right up to you on the street and ask if you'd liked to make a venerable donation.
You walk past the picketers in front of the Congress. You're handed a flyer from a woman on the corner, shouting something about global warming. You're right in the middle of the city. There's a lot of construction going on. A lot of dust on the sidewalks. Cigarettes imbedded in the
You happen to like philosophy. You took Intro last year and it really got you thinking about things. Hardly ever talked in the class, but there was a lot of writing, which you like. But more than that it got you thinking about who you are, what defined you as a person.
This is like asking somebody who's color-blind which tie to wear. Twenty-three years old, and what's your take on the universe? Hell if you know. People look at you every day; you know what they're thinking. You catch them glancing at you out of their peripherals. Their chins tilted up at you, their disapproving shrugs. They pretend not to see you, but they know you're here. The elephant in the room. You catch their frowns, their squints, the inclinations in their voice that betray their criticism. Who do they think you are? You catch everything! You observe everything. Nothing slips unfiltered past your awareness. Those bastards. All of them.
It's the judgment you can't stand. They pretend not to show it, but it's there. You can see it, seething around you. Who do they think you are? You're another bum on the el. A college student with misplaced priorities and a pair of headphones jammed in your ears. A stoned hippy. It's everywhere. And you're drowning in it.
It's the judgment. The constant judgment that explodes into your consciousness and threatens to overtake you. Who the hell are you? You don't even know anymore. Did you ever? Have you ever had a perfectly definitive picture of yourself? Have you ever been certain of your own beliefs? Have you ever known for sure why you do what you do, act the way you act, think the way you think? You should know who you are by now, but you seem to have trouble making up your mind when it comes to soup or salad. Cash or credit. You spend ten minutes each morning in front of the mirror, trying to change the weak jaw and immature stubble, testing different expressions with your eyes, a vain attempt to somehow remedy your bulbous nose. You don't even bother with politics. You used to visually size people up, pick out the more telltale signs of their own biased views, and carefully formulate an answer to satisfy their opinion while revealing as little about yourself as possible. Now you just dodge those conversations altogether. Fuck, maybe you're scared. Scared of investing in a faulty conviction, scared of putting all your chips on one number because you're afraid of losing. So you scatter them all over the table and spread them thin, allowing yourself to accept virtually every idea while not committing yourself to any of them. It's a rather cafeteria pluralist way of looking at the world. Somebody asks you to form an answer about yourself, you're probably going to pick and assemble a collection of different philosophical and religious beliefs, much the same way you pick and assemble your lunch a la carte.
You don't have faith in anything. You ended up acing philosophy.
Lists. Fucking lists.
You're staring back at a rather detailed grocery list pinched between your fingers, as you stand in the center of the cold foods aisle contemplating the futility of your life. People walk past you on both sides. Some even bump into you, then turn and stare at you as if you just materialized there. You swear, even though you're standing here, right here, nobody notices you. You are perfectly invisible. You could just as well be a non-entity.
You keep telling yourself, these lists are going to be the end of you. Jesus. A grocery list, two pages long, even though you already know exactly what you need. You have taken it out, here in the middle of the cold foods aisle, not to consult it. Not to check off that yes, you indeed managed to find the store-brand 2% milk. You stare at it now, desperately grappling with the absurdity of it.
You used to make them all the time. For everything. Sometimes even subconsciously. You would make these long, comprehensive lists, meticulous to the hour within five minutes, telling you everything you had to do in a day, in what order, and exactly how long you would need for each task. Wake up, 8:00. Shower, 8:15. Breakfast, 8:30. Mail credit card bill, 9:00. Call downloading client hotline to cancel free trial version before it runs out, 9:05. Records office, 9:30. Bookstore, 10:00. School, 1:00. Bank deposit, 4:00. Homework, 4:30. Dinner, 8:00: hamburger helper again? Read, 9:00. Make a list for tomorrow, 1:00. Bed, 2:00. And so on.
You would make lists of every book you planned to read over the course of the year. How long you estimated it would take you to finish each. Classics, in the early winter months. Thrillers/Modern fiction, in the spring. Science fiction in the summer. Horror in the fall. Philosophy/Non-fiction towards the end of the year. During your free time, you spent countless hours modifying and revising your lists of your favorite movies, your favorite albums, your favorite Clint Eastwood lines from Sergio Leone's "Dollars" trilogy. Ranking them. Hundreds composed these lists. Always in flux, rotating constantly as you transitioned through varying states of mind. You were never satisfied. The lists consumed you. You wondered how long it would take before you started including bowel movements in your daily
Administer daily caffeine prescription, 10:45.
You're standing in line to get your Iced Caffé Americano Latte, and it's taking longer than usual. The faces around you look dead or dying under the oppressive fluorescent light. The thick aroma of Lysol is everywhere, and you're not sure if it's because of that or your current mental disposition that you suddenly feel the need to decorate the nearest wall with what might hopefully be perceived as modern art. You think maybe the clean corporate sheen of the place is starting to get on your nerves. These things pass out of your focal awareness every other day but for some reason your senses are now over-stimulated by them. You feel like sidestepping out of line and making a run for the door, but that would only make you look confused. Certainly not in control. No, the Latte is what you want and that's what you came for, don't second-guess yourself. You're only upset because you're consciously aware of the fact that you take all of this fake franchised bullshit for granted. Just hand over your money like the consumer whore you are, get what you came for, and be on your way.
Proceed through the turnstiles of the system, 10:47.
The portly gentleman at the front of the line is trying to argue about his order with the cashier; "trying" because apparently the poor minimum-wage slave is only capable of being polite. Somehow his "service with a smile" tactic is failing to turn the battle in his favor, and you feel as if any moment the irritated customer will stage a "let me talk to your manager" campaign. You want the cashier to reach over the counter, grab the fattie by the tie, pull him in close so that he almost trips over his own cankles, and yell, "Yes! I got your three fucking large lattes! I was just trying to calculate if that ratio of caffeine to body mass was proportionate, you asshole!"
That's Syd thinking. Amazing how so much of somebody else's personality can invade your own if you're not careful. Probably his response to the situation if he were backed into that corner. If they ever found a way to get a uniform on him.
How you came to know Syd, a brash, "aggressive intellectual" as he likes to be called (you eventually arrived at a different name for it), was that you both had skills to trade. Your relationship began that way, based on utility. Syd was a very heavy reader, but tackled the likes of Nietzsche, Kant, Descartes and Marx while you were meandering through mostly Stephen King and Philip K. Dick. You met him at a house party neither of you really had much business attending, on account of the fact that neither of you knew anybody except for the host. You were a vastly naïve student-at-large terrified of social interaction; he was a cigarette-packing, Dr. Gonzo-inspired, pretentious socialite who threw a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee your way. You weren't sure whether to like him or hate him, but you caught the Frisbee and two weeks later the two of you were having regular conversations about the meaning of life in the local diner. Over a pot of coffee at one-a.m. you would swap information. You were interested in learning about philosophy; he was interested in getting intimate with some girl you had an unrequited thing for.
Syd was the one to put the germ of discontent in your blissfully ignorant little head. If you were to stretch out the timeline of your existence and map out the point at which your paths crossed, you'd notice a radical shift between the person on the left side of that mark and the person on your right. It was only after that point that you started questioning the bullshit that was being fed to you every day, to put it bluntly. The hand that had fed you for years had grown old and slightly incapacitated; with Syd's eyes you were able to see the wrinkles; with Syd's teeth you began to take little bites out of the flesh.
Until you met Syd, there was no truth when you spoke. Every time you opened your mouth, what stumbled out had already been meticulously diagnosed, dissected, reconstituted, and prepared. Your response to every social or professional situation was to catalogue everything that had worked previously; everything that had been successful in the past. You would use these nuggets of presupposed wisdom as tools, components to plug into an equation. Syd's response was to rewrite the equation. The blank word processing document was his playground.
For years you underwent a self-imposed, and largely private struggle against your perceived antagonist: the education system of your youth. Had you known then that you were only taking the first step on a much larger and all-encompassing journey that would consume your life, you might have gone into it a little less hastily.
Your crusade was borne out of a mounting dissatisfaction with teachers' expectations and a realization that you had expectations to yourself as a student. You began to make a conscious shift from writing the A paper by your teachers' standards towards writing the paper that deserved an A by your own. Your antagonist was personified in every authority figure who made you afraid to fail.
These were the conclusions you made as you wrapped up your college degree and prepared to move on to the bigger game of real life. You had foolishly hoped that you would land a job in some friendly creative environment where you could experiment freely. By the time you shed your student shackles, you'd already been growing increasingly frustrated with writing the same forms over and over. You were tired of writing bullshit. You were eager to finally have the opportunity to cast off your façade and write true.
But you failed to get the good job, you failed to get the steady girlfriend, and you failed to be the rock star in life that you never had been in school.
You'd been failing for so long, it was no miracle that you'd become so damned good at it.
Perhaps it was then that you realized your crusade to unbind yourself from grades was really only a brilliant disguise for your struggle with maturity. By telling yourself you were trying to dismantle your fear of failure, what you'd subconsciously hoped to do was dismantle your fear of growing the fuck up.
So you've come full-circle. Syd is once again just a nagging voice in your ear telling you to punch your boss in the face, and you are, as always, a docile little servant to society, hyper-aware of the bounds of your station; your continual efforts to experiment continually unappreciated. The façade you have built, the prose you have been trained to write all your life, is the
bus full of
"mature" response after all.
Experience random nostalgic memory, 10:54.
The coffee is a godsend. You've been on so many depression meds lately your mind feels like tenderized meat. The caffeine acts as a mental straitjacket, effectively blocking off the adenosine receptors like linemen so you can focus in on the monumental task that lies ahead.
You suddenly recall an image you came across one time at like three in the morning during one such coffee binge. It showed the effect of caffeine on spider web construction; two webs side by side. The first was the product of a "drug-naïve" spider, and looked about as normal as any web you'd ever seen
up close as a kid. The second
bore simply the title "Caffeinated" and it looked as if somebody had been given an armful of white toothpicks and then they'd gone and dropped them all over a black background, scattering them in a randomized, frenetic hodgepodge. The idea somehow has you thinking of Syd, how his approach to a blank writing assignment, if you could picture it metaphorically, would probably resemble something like a caffeinated spider web.
Lapse into philosophical tangent, 11:07.
Every person you've ever met you've subconsciously turned into your enemy. Because of this, it is incredibly difficult for you to forge meaningful human relationships. You don't have the luxury of relying on a close-knit community of comrades for advice and support. Your existence is entirely self-propelled. The group you are an outsider to, which forces you to hide behind a façade, is that which seems to you to be the mainstream society of America — everybody who has their shit together, who's in control of their lives. You're more than just an outsider, you're an alien with a shameful secret: you DON'T have your shit together, and you never will. You are hopelessly, hopelessly INSANE.
This is no way to live a life. You are slowly learning this.
about fucking time
You have recently come to the conclusion that the pursuit of one's own personal happiness usually and ultimately involves embracing, even becoming, one's own enemy.
Go into psychotic fit of rage, 11:15?
You start to head towards the checkout. You begin to pick out how many people in your immediate proximity aren't even aware of your presence. Blind to you, as if you're not even fucking here. You continue to walk in a straight line, wondering if they'll eventually collide with you, or notice you at the last second. This is starting to get ridiculous. You haven't made eye contact with a single other person since you entered this store.
Rising up within you, seething forth with a sudden building intensity, you begin to develop something like a strong resentment towards everybody here. You don't even realize your hands are clenched into tight fists until you feel the vague warmth of blood trickling from your palms. Your rage peaks. Your temper flares
there! Right there. Right now. What's
holding you back, Josh? What's keeping you from speaking your mind? Cat got your
and you embrace it.
Almost immediately you're rewarded with a crazy sensation, the sense that you can do anything you want, and get away with it. The people around you start to disappear. Out of the equation. No longer are they parts of your reality. You continue walking straight towards the checkout line. There is nobody in this part of the store. Nobody in front of you. Nobody in line, even though the cashier is talking, apparently to nobody. His hands going through the motions of ringing up items, the bagger behind him, filling up an imaginary bag. This should bother you, but for some reason you feel perfectly at ease. Besides these two, you are the only person in the store.
You start putting your groceries on the conveyer, one at a time. You don't find it odd that this is the only checkout line available in the store. You're even less bothered by the fact that the cashier is ringing up an imaginary order ahead of yours. You even wait patiently for him to finish.
"How are you?" you ask, once it gets to be your 'turn.'
"Oh," he says, regarding you for the first time, "Could be better,
(could also be a lot worse,)
"you insufferable prick."
He looks at you sternly. "What?"
You look at him squarely in the eye. Not confrontational, not aggressive. Just matter-of-factly, objectively. "Did I stutter?"
"Jesus," the guy breathes, recoiling at once. His eyes dart to the bagger's, like can you get a load of this guy? You don't see that it's necessary. You tell him so. You don't see what the problem is. You're the only ones here. You can't even see the bagger anymore.
He continues to eye you menacingly throughout the entire procedure, as if he has a problem. By the time the transaction is processed, he is no longer a part of your reality.
". . . Bus full of nuns goes over a, over a /
cliff. They all die / . . . "
Sit at the bar, plugging away a couple of beers, 11:39.
Syd talking about your problem without even listening to you, his own brand of reverse psychiatry, he's being very indirect as always. That's his style. Always hinting at things, without coming out and saying them.
"the nuns are lined up at the pearly Gates /
Waiting to be absolved of their sins"
You're starting to get tired of his philosophical meanderings, and you think he's noticed. You swirl the beer around in your glass. Pretend to be slightly amused while sitting there, quietly imploding, trying desperately to control every physical and mental function, 11:42. Like a sentient bomb with too much morality.
"so they can get into heaven. /
"Before you can become angels," St. Peter says, /
"you must make one last confession."
"Hedgehog's Dilemma," Syd announces suddenly. "That's your problem."
What the hell does that mean? You're trying to talk to him about a legitimate crisis, he's babbling on about nuns and penises and hedgehogs.
"Okay," he says, casting a furtive glass around the smoky establishment. "You've made it perfectly clear that you're stressed. Let's do a couple lines of coke in the back, and you'll feel a lot better."
Thanks for the prognosis, you tell him, but
Stand at the urinal, pretending to piss, 12:51. Details. 'FUCK THIS PLACE' is written with a black sharpie on the puke-painted wall in front of you. Underneath, a tiny hole where a screw has been removed. An arrow drawn to it, red ink. Different handwriting: "This hole is too small." Underneath: somebody else decided to write 'NEADLEDICK,' all one word, "needle" spelled with an 'a.' You're still pissing. Well, pretending, anyway. You imagine coked-up callgirls, whores, fucking VP's of bulge bracket firms, yuppies, in the stalls with no doors to your right. Still, pissing, pretending. Bladder, exploding against your pelvis, pain shooting into your scrotum, all those Long Island Iced Teas, Syd, laughing his ass off, calling you a homosexual. Your limp, shrinking dick pinched weakly in your clammy hand. Dry. You still can't piss.
Syd lights up a cigarette behind you. The click of a butane lighter, closed. The acrid stench of the smoke in your nostrils, immediately. Find yourself thinking about random philosophical shit to take your mind off pissing, 12:52.
As soon as a work of art passes from artist to audience, it no longer belongs to the artist, it belongs to the audience. The artist must be factored. out. of. the. equation. and it is the responsibility of the audience to pull their own truth from the work, to judge for themselves what is true and what is false. There is no objective Truth to be found anywhere; no objective Truth can be given.
"I don't hear anything," Syd says, singsongy, in between a couple of quick drags. "Jesus, don't tell me you have nervous bladder syndrome."
Flush the toilet, 12:53.
All works should, speak for themselves, without fanfare from the artist. Creative work is born from the processes and circumstances that guide the artist's hand; the artist is nothing more than a vessel. Once a work is complete, those processes and circumstances are dead, contained within the work. Thus the work reflects a memory, an idea that was killed when the artist committed it to ink and paper, verbalized it. The artist does not own the work, Josh, you glory hound.
"You just wasted a gallon of water," Syd says. "You didn't even piss."
You tell him you didn't have to go. You turn around. You want to piss all over him. He'd probably think it was funny, a joke, the crazy bastard, throw his head back and laugh, piss dripping off his face.
"Let's do a couple lines of coke," Syd says, and you feel yourself sliding, irrevocably, towards a fate that is locked-in, pre-determined, no control, and you can see the consequences, heavy, you can see everything, but you are powerless on this path of cause and effect, events are happening now, very fast. Too fast, and you feel your legs moving of their own accord, shuffling over the dirty tile floor, following Syd into one of the stalls. You're always second-
-guessing yourself," I tell him, separating out a couple lines on the toilet seat. "You're too hyper-aware/wrapped up in your own cocoon of dogmatism/"cone of silence"/absolute terror field."
Josh is nodding, smiling, not getting any of this because he's too in his head right now, always seems to have trouble meeting your eyes/gaze directly, he's deciding which façade/front/psychological projection to go with right now, sizing up the situation searching for the most appropriate response, and I tell him he has an issue with perfection in writing and even day-to-day life. It's fear. Fear of failure, because every waking moment matters and if he loses now he'll lose forever, in the purgatory of his own inaction. What the hell? Why is he so afraid to experiment/play? Is the hulking authority figure/corporate master/big brother of his countless years of education the culprit/antagonist? Has he been irrevocably institutionalized by the grading/reward system? Bullshit. He preens and deliberates over every word, he's in his head more than he speaks or acts. It's fear. Fear that keeps him in a lockdown of hyper-awareness, unable to open up, and I tell him so, but he doesn't get it, just stares at the claustrophobic confines of the stall, trapped in the confines of his own shell, hopeless. It's annoying. It's depressing. I imagine what his head would look like on a
"'So,' says St. Peter," says me, "'have you ever had any contact with a penis?'"
I grab the back of Josh's head and ram it into the plastic toilet cover as I say this. There's no sound except for the sharp crack of hard plastic snapping in half. White Bolivian marching powder goes flying everywhere. "'Well,' says the first nun in line, 'I did touch just the tip of one with the tip of my finger.'"
I dig my fingers into the mat of Josh's hair and pull him up roughly, examining him. His face is frozen in a mask of grotesque pain, it could also be an orgasm, you could flip a coin either way, his lips pursed, eyes squeezed tightly shut, and now a sound is coming from him, tinny and escalating like a squealing tea kettle, and this noise disquiets me so I shove his head down again, this time with feeling, but by now the toilet cover is cracked in half so his head plunges down into somebody's urine, which splashes warmly over the hairs on my forearm, tingling. Now there is motion from him. Now his legs are kicking. I dig my knee into the back of his calf and hold his head down firmly, my strength overpowers him. When I twist my knee into his calf, that's when a tremor jolts through his entire body, and his hands start flailing, grasping blindly at the walls of the stall, fingers finding nothing but the rough grooves of a swastika carved out by somebody's pocketknife.
"'OK,' says St. Peter," says I, "'Dip your finger in the holy water and pass on into heaven.'" I'm already laughing. "The next nun admits that, 'well, yes, I did once get carried away and I, you know, sort of massaged one a bit.' 'OK,' says St. Peter, 'Rinse your hand in the holy water and pass on into heaven.'"
The stench of urine is heavy in the air, and I can differentiate between the old urine frothing about in the toilet bowl and the fresh urine soaking through the front of Josh's jeans. "See?" I exclaim. "There! I knew you had to piss! Was that so hard? Why didn't you do it then/back there?" I shout other things I'm completely unaware of as I force Josh's head deeper into the toilet bowl, struggling to stay on top of him.
"So there's some jostling in the line and one of the nuns is trying to cut in front. 'Well now, what's going on here?' says St. Peter. 'Well your holiness,' says the nun who is trying to improve her position in line, 'If I'm going to have to gargle that stuff, I want to do it before Sister Mary sticks her ass in it!!!"
I'm laughing so hard I forget to let Josh up for air, and it occurs to me that his wild kicking fanfare has ceased. I pull his head up out of the toilet bowl to inspect him. Golden beads of piss drip from the congealed bangs hanging over his eyes. He eyelids are fluttering. Thick orange saliva is dangling from his lower lip. He starts spitting. I look briefly into the toilet bowl. Chunks of vomit float in the urine and the blood. Disgusting. He starts retching, gasping. I shove his head into the marble edge of the toilet bowl. He lets out a low, loud moaning sound. It pisses me off. I think I'm telling him to shut the fuck up, but I can't tell because there's a shrill ringing in my ears. All I want is for him to stop making noise, and I'm slapping him in the face, specks of urine flying in the air, and it occurs to me that I can't hear anything over the ringing. I'm straddling him now, sitting on his chest, his head clasped between my hands, and I'm beating his head against the tile floor, over and over again, and after one of the impacts his head sticks for a moment, and there's a wet schlock sound when I pull it from the floor, and then I notice abstractly the floor underneath us is bright red, not the dark crimson you see in the movies but a bright, orangey, hazard red because it's mixed with urine of course, and my thumbs, slick with blood and sweat and God knows what else are sliding, perhaps of their own accord, into the deep grooves of Josh's eye sockets, falling into the sunken depressions, feeling the hard orbs of his eyes like grapes behind pinched eyelids, and my fingernails dig in to the sides of his face, sticky with blood like dried syrup, and my teeth are very tightly clenched, but I'm only aware of this for a fraction of a second, as my thumbs press deeper into the grapes, and Josh's mouth flies open in an instant, he's muttering "no no no no no no no" and then I jab deeper, the grapes still intact but the eyelids tearing now, and now Josh is shrieking, shrieking, his whole body shaking, and then the grapes explode, but not at the same time, his right eye pops first, then the left, or is it my right and left? but it doesn't matter because now both thumbs are deep inside his head, groping out the hollowed recesses of his eye sockets, and warm, thick blood is cascading over my thumbs, streaming in two rivers over my hands. I sit there, gasping, chest heaving for a moment, Josh is still. Details. Drip, drop, drip of urine from the edge of of the toilet seat, plopping into the standing puddle of blood/piss/puke/coke on the floor. Swastikas etched into the walls. Drawings of fat veiny penises in black magic marker. A hard fluorescent light, flickering overhead
I'm all the ¡fuck about communication with the canvas, with actions instead of words, be'Cause in our information-saturated culture words are becoming meaningless, haha. I am all about the SHOW, not the Tell! The Tell is deady dead. I am much more interested in the canvas_. I believe there is much there yet to be exploited, yes. I believe there exists the capacity! to show a much more interesting story there, in the space between lines.
I stare back at the security camera mounted in the corner of the elevator: an opaque, black sphere, regarding its five by five-foot world with cold objection. My own face, reflected in its surface.
I tilt my chin to check for spots of blood I might have missed in those hard-to-reach places. My eyes burn out from the deep shadows under my brow.
The elevator stops at three and two blonde girls, meagerly dressed, get on. They're immersed in a conversation about a VH1 special, something about a "That bitch" and a bunch of recurring "Hims", and they keep repeating the phrase "Can you believe?" One of them looks at me briefly, for less than a second. In that fragile time slot her
brain processes the deduction that I'm not an important part of her immediate reality, the way a hot guy who's wearing a clever shirt is. I look back up at the camera. I
an obsenity andgrab blondie by the
what sinister machinations
play out behind its faceless shell. I think, you clandestine
voyeur, you watcher from the shadows, to observe so much,
without A presence.
The elevator stops at six and I move to get off. Blondie gives me another look. I feel her eyes on me as I ease past, eyes that are nothing like that of the camera. Presence without observation, without comprehensible awareness. I enter my hallway, fumbling for my keys. A man, down at the end, back to me. Putting garbage bags into the chute. I
thrust my key into the lock and enter the apartment.
Down below, a lone stranger under an umbrella picks his way carefully up the slick sidewalk, passing for a moment under the red glow of a neon REAL ESTATE sign. He disappears into an out-of-the-way, almost hidden, liquor store. Down by the corner, a man in a yellow parka wheels a dolly up the curb carrying boxes of produce. He disappears through an open back door into a deli on the other side of the block. For a while, it is still. I can barely see the curtain of rain, just a flicker of motion against the solid colors, the drips from the concrete bulwark above, the ripples in the gutter stream. The muted bray of a police siren resonates in the distance, half a dozen blocks away.
I have an op-ed to write.