Just one parent in our current generation of parents who’s up at 1 AM listening to ‘90’s music in futile defiance of having to wake up in 6 hours. (And picturing my parents listening to Dusty Springfield or whatever circa 1985, lacking computers on which to read about tarantulas, but otherwise pretty much the same.)
"Get off the record player," said Tess to her cat. The cat jumped off the record player and onto the table.
"Get off the table," said Tess. The cat jumped off the table, walked into the kitchen and lit up a Nat Sherman.
"Put that out," said Tess. The cat glared at her and pissed on the floor while smoking his Nat Sherman.
The cat turned his back to Tess and cleaned up the puddle. He went into the kitchen, got out an Abita Pecan Harvest and poured it into his bowl. He drank it. Immediately, he became visibly drunk.
"Stop it, you’re sensitive," said Tess. The cat threw up in the trash can and washed his hands with his tongue. He brought out his iPhone and started playing the Foo Fighters.
"Sorry, but that’s annoying," said Tess. The cat shut it off and began checking his email.
The cat read an email he didn’t like. He puffed up his fur and hissed, then swatted the phone down the hallway to the bathroom and tried to flush it down the toilet.
Tess entered the bathroom. “What are you doing?” She asked. “That was an expensive phone.”
The cat was sullen and hid behind the shower curtain, hugging the floor with his belly.
"Don’t be like this," said Tess. "Go sit in your place."
The cat went and sat in his place, by the bottom of the refrigerator. Tess fed him tiny bits of ham. He asked for capers and she said no, then asked herself why not and gave him some. He went into the living room and considered the Christmas tree. He could not access it because of a baby gate. The cat cried long and hard.
He gathered his courage and tried to figure out how to move his lips. “Please,” said the cat, “I want to go under there.”
"You’re going to pee on it," said Tess, because she had known the cat for a dozen years and he had never failed to pee underneath the Christmas tree.
"I won’t," lied the cat.
"Yeah, you will," said Tess.
They locked eyes. The cat’s eyes were yellow and unrelenting. They sat there for hours, through Christmas eve, through Christmas day, on and on and on over the presents that were opened and the egg nog that was poured. The cat’s tail waved in the background like a metronome. Tess excused herself for food and other necessities, but brought the cat with her on her shoulder so that she could continue to stare at him.
Neither was willing to break. The tree was hauled away and the gift wrappings put into bags that were thrown in the dumpster down the block. Dean Martin played on the radio, the cat’s favorite. In early 2014, they arrived at a truce. Their cups of eggnog were attracting flies, which distracted them both.
"Next year," said the cat, "I’m going to get you."
"Not if I get you first."
Tess was tired and had to go to bed. She left the room and closed the door so the cat could be alone with his thoughts. She heard him dancing on the record player, smashing the five plates that she considered her best china, and whispering about her in a nasty way. She whispered about the cat — his worst embarrassments, the duvets ruined and the times she had caught him doing unmentionable things to dog toys — and their whispers grew louder and louder through the night, as neither one slept, until she got out of bed in the morning and they shared their first cup of 2014 coffee, regarding each other across the table.
Between them stretched twelve years of cohabitation and familiarity. They had arrived at new apartments and houses together, gone to college together, gotten drunk together. They had seen each other in dirty towels after flu-showers and covered with soot from crawling around in the fireplace like maniacs. They had chased laser pointers as kittens and sat on balconies in the dark listening to burbling pools in separate spheres of intense loneliness. The cat had often crawled into her lap purring when she was devastated by something and massaged her shoulders with soft paws. They had experienced periods of hatred for one another, when she had yelled because he had scratched her face and he had hissed at her in fear and spent the night destroying or eating everything in the wastebasket. He had taken her shoes. She had given up serving him wet food. Now they were both old, but he was (realistically speaking) older, and that made her very sad.
Next year, he would get her, if she didn’t get him first. But soon it would be spring, and then summer (which they agreed was their favorite time together, when they would stretch out on the floor in a patch of sun by an air conditioning vent to read Vanity Fair), and by the time it was Christmas again their whiskers would be even longer and the jump from the cabinet a little tougher on the knees. And eventually it would be the last Christmas, and she would know. And there would be no baby gate around the Christmas tree, only drop cloths and Nat Shermans and catnp and the vague memories of past holidays where they had warred from either side of a door. Those seemed pleasant now. And they would take out an issue of Vanity Fair and stretch out on the floor like it was summer and the cold air would slip in from a crack in a window as they thought of all of the things they’d seen together, and how well they knew each other, and outside the snow would fall like sparkling bonito flakes from heaven.
Hey, geniuses. I have some ideas for you but absolutely no practical knowledge. Can you please make these things for me/the world?:
1. PURSE CLEANING MACHINE
This is a box. On the left there are three settings: leather, pleather, and other. On the right are three more settings: filthy, disgusting and gross. Then there’s a little red button in the center that says AUTO-CLEAN (this feature incinerates all the trash so you don’t have to feel bad about yourself). You put your purse in the box and select your cleaning cycles. The device uses UV lights, cyclonic wind energy, atomized perfume and magic to shake your bag free of gum wrappers, tiny paper crumblies, melted gum, cookie particles and snotty tissues, then adds an aroma that makes you forget about the time a milk carton exploded in its guts. VOILA.
2. A LITTERBOX WITH LEGS
There are litter robots, and they are ill-conceived. I have two cats — my mistake — and I know that if you have a cat who’s cool with entering into a contraption that makes sounds like a garbage disposal and has light-up eyes, you should just send your feline to MIT and let him use the restrooms at college. This is a traditional litterbox with legs so that, when prompted, it can walk itself out to the garbage or your enemy’s lawn and empty itself. I feel like this one I could probably tackle on my own, because those little wind-up toys with legs don’t seem like rocket science or anything, but I’m busy and bad at math and I’m just going to pass this idea along to cat-people engineers. VOILA.
3. HAS THIS GONE BAD SENSOR
You know when you have a little container of dairy-thing and it stinks like it’s bad but it claims to be good? Or you scramble eggs with past-due dates that haven’t come but there’s just something weird about them? We need a scanner that just tells you what you’re in for. A little arrow points to POISON or DELICIOUS, depending on what’s up with your groceries. Take it on the road and see how old the lettuce on your sub is, or when your sushi was fished out of the sea. Never barf again. VOILA.
4. FLOORS THAT OOZE SOAP AT NIGHT AND SQUEEGEE THEMSELVES CLEAN
I fought with a Roomba for five years. It was my most expensive enemy. It jammed, it snagged, it heaved, it expired over and over. Why can’t we make floors with vents that double as black-hole vacuums and sweat Murphy’s oil soap at night (you don’t want to see them do it, it’s bound to be gnarly). Squeegee friends emerge when everything’s slick and glide across your hardwood, absorbing the soap with their microfibers. Then a hologram beams a vase of flowers onto your coffee table that can’t be knocked over by your pets. VOILA.
5. SPEAKING OF HOLOGRAMS, I WANT ONE FOR MY FACE
Makeup is annoying. So is plastic surgery. Sometimes you want to go out to dinner wearing Tupac’s face. This would also be great for criminals. VOILA.
The headline read, “BREAKING: ALL ASPARAGUS INFECTED WITH C. COCCOLETTI VIRUS. THE WHITE HOUSE ISSUED A STATEMENT THIS MORNING: ‘DO NOT EAT ASPARAGUS. YOU WILL DIE.’
It was not hard for Dennis to find asparagus. There was a giant bag of it sitting outside FreshMarket, slumped between two dumpsters. He picked it up and placed it in the back of his station wagon, locked his car, and went into the store to buy lemons and butter.
Dennis texted four of his friends and asked if they would like to come over for dinner. He told them that there would be poisonous asparagus. His friends were journalists, so they instantly agreed. Cate offered to bring wine, and asked if he would prefer red or white. “What would you like as your last drink?” He answered that she should bring both, and maybe whatever else she had lying around.
Sam offered up a coffee cake from his grandmother, but Sam and Dennis agreed that he should eat it himself before he left his house instead. There would undoubtedly be a lot of vomiting after they ingested the asparagus, and if Dennis managed to survive, he didn’t want to clean regurgitated coffee cake off his walls, along with having to dispose of the corpses of his friends. “Totally get it,” responded Sam.
Dennis prepared his dinner table while concurrently emailing Vice back and forth about compensation. Alex had already claimed The New York Times, which bothered Dennis tremendously because it had been his idea, after all. He hoped Alex died first, or just most horribly. Cate had secured xoJane, and Sam was planning to use the material for an autobiography released posthumously (he’d been working on it for years, and had written over 30 chapters of it so far). Everyone arrived and arranged themselves in the living room. Dennis poured them each a drink, and then another, as they all sat around silently clicking on their machines. It almost seemed a shame that they’d all have to move to the table soon and die. At 8:30 on the button, after each had filed part one with their editors, they moved into the dining room.
Dennis steamed the asparagus on the stove, tossed it with butter and squeezed lemon onto it.
"What kind of lemon is that?" asked Sam.
"Regular, not meyer," said Dennis.
"What kind of butter?" asked Cate.
"I splurged. On Plugra."
Tap tap tap tap tap.
Dennis brought the platter into the dining room. Alex had to move his computer onto his lap, and then Sam spilled his wine all over it.
"No!" cried Alex. "I didn’t save!"
"You saved part one, right?" asked Dennis.
"Part one was so short!"
Alex was in a panic. He tilted his keypad sideways and red wine poured out of the return button. The screen was frozen, then went to black. Alex stood up from the table.
"I don’t want to die tonight," he said. "This sucks. This is going to cost thousands of dollars. Thanks a lot, Sam. You’re an asshole."
"You’re going to regret that!" said Sam. "I’m putting that in here, and everyone’s going to rip you apart in response pieces when they read that those were the last words you said to me!"
"I’m sorry," said Alex.
"I’m not even putting that part in, because you called me an asshole."
"You have to," said Alex, "or you’re risking your integrity. There are witnesses."
"The witnesses will be dead!"
Alex sat back down. “Give me the asparagus,” he said as he scribbled on his emergency legal pad. “I want to eat it first.”
"Alex, don’t," said Cate. "Come on."
"No. I want to be the first one to go, and I just want you all to know —" he glared at Sam, "— that I’m going to say what good friends you all are and how I was lucky to spend my last night with you, eating poison. And that I apologized. And that I was the first to die."
"It’s probably about how your body handles it, not who ingests it first," said Dennis.
"Okay, but you’re all going to have to say who ate it first. You’re going to have to say. It was me."
"I kind of thought I’d be first since it’s my party," said Dennis, "and my idea."
"Yeah, but I’m writing this for my autobiography,” said Sam. “I already have 400 pages.”
"Fine," said Alex. Sam helped himself to the vegetables and passed it to Cate. She paused.
"I’m just thinking, you know, I could freeze this asparagus and write my own autobiography," said Cate. "I’m having second thoughts. I could do this in a year. I’m sorry, you guys. I just know I could go long on this."
"That’s a really good point," said Alex. "Do you think you can freeze it after you’ve steamed it?"
"I’m pretty sure you can," said Cate. "You can freeze anything."
"No way," said Sam, his mouth full. "Everybody has to eat the asparagus."
"Yours will be published like a year before hers," said Dennis, "you could leverage with that."
"How long do I have?" Sam stared at his plate.
"I don’t know, I didn’t look into it. You’d think four hours, right?"
"I have to send an email," said Sam. "This is becoming more complicated than it was supposed to be." Sam was looking pale. His fingers were freezing up. "Hey man, you think you could help me get this out?"
Dennis took Sam’s laptop as he dictated the message. He looked very unwell. “Say, you know — I’m thinking double the advance, basically — I don’t know, don’t be too forceful or mean or anything, just be really firm about it. And at the end say ‘thanks’ with an exclamation mark.” Sam spread out on the floor. He was very pale. “Just send it, whatever. I really hope he gets back to me soon. Are you guys going to eat it? You guys? Dennis? Did you send that? Refresh it. Dennis?” Sam died. It was gross.
Nobody could eat in that kind of environment. The asparagus was taken back to the kitchen and divided into three Ziploc bags. Emails were sent explaining what had happened. Tweets were composed. RIP Sam.
Dennis sent Alex and Cate off with their leftovers and condolences about Alex’s computer. He got an email from his editor: “You know, I think it’s an even better story because you didn’t eat it. You might catch some heat for this, of course. The authorities are probably going to get involved. But it’s a pretty big story. Really dramatic, even though you’re still alive.” Dennis tossed his bag of asparagus into the garbage and looked at Sam’s body, wondering what he should do with it.
I wrote about Slow TV last night, and though I generally try to stay away from cross-linking to my stuff on here, I’m going to do it. Pow. Just did.
During the past week I’ve been reading things that made me sort of cynical. For instance: these comments on a piece published by The Hairpin. It’s not really a topic I identify with personally, and I don’t have any terribly strong feelings about the essay itself, but as soon as I checked out the credentials of the young author I was like, “Oh no, there’s going to be a shitstorm in the thread below this post about debt/murder/furniture.” And there was. I’ve certainly read meaner attacks, but not usually on the Hairpin, and though the jealousy (of the author’s privilege, resume, and writing awards) was thinly-veiled (or not at all veiled), some commenters were obviously eager to strike her where it would hurt the most. These weren’t personal jabs in the sense that they tore her down for her appearance or dredged up old LiveJournal posts or anything — instead, they used this essay as the crux of their arguments that the writer wasn’t very good at what she does across the board, and implied that she was somehow a terrible person, fully knowable in this one chunk of non-fiction. That made me sad.
I thought about how it must feel to sit in your room and refresh a page every ten seconds to see what new horrible thing someone had to say about you. I have never experienced death threats for something I’ve written, but that may happen one day. I’ve never been slammed so hard I couldn’t get up again, but sometimes it seems inevitable that a Big Mistake is lurking in my future. I think that this is an anxiety everyone who writes for the Internet has: that eventually, you will be the target — and worse, that you won’t see it coming.
This is all to say that I want to move to Norway and watch cruise ships float for five days or spend a day in the life of a snail. There is no one to cut down (snails are uncontroversial, slippery) and I can’t think of a mean feed that would follow in its wake. Who’s going to diss the majestic fjords? Who can hurt a train on its journey to Oslo? Step up and try. It ain’t gonna happen.
When you were one, the world was fire trucks, dogs, squirrels, apples, peas. The Home Depot fire alarm went off when you were wandering through the house plants and later you had a nightmare that you were lost in a sea of patriotic balloons and dwarf orchids and everyone was a stranger. When you were one you had a preference for shoes: sometimes you wanted your flip flops, sometimes your sneakers. It depended on your mood, when you were one. You were learning to love. The love that your family heaped on you like hot affectionate gravy was overwhelming and claustrophobic — they came to hug, to pinch, to kiss — but then there were times when you’d be playing with your blocks and you would think of mama, and you would say it, her name, just because you were wondering what she was doing and if she was thinking of you. When you were one you smiled at everyone — at the people at the pool, the man sleeping under dirty duvets on Hollywood boulevard in 110 degree heat, the women with inflated lips and immovable foreheads. When they didn’t smile back, you withdrew. When you were one you laughed when you ran downhill and you liked to clean up the yard by gathering the leaves that fell and putting them in a broken plastic watering can, and you would not let anyone take it away.
When you were one you were small. You saw bigger babies who were younger than you, but they couldn’t say “broccoli,” so you knew that it was okay to be in your small, smart, sturdy body, and you loved it there. You scraped your knees and got your leg stuck in the crib slats. You scratched your cheek with the ragged edge of your fingernail. You didn’t understand the way the body can be harmed, or harm itself, when you were one, but you learned to scoot to the edge of a step to get down to the lower level. You were learning fast when you were one, and you didn’t forget. You hoarded words that hadn’t been spoken in days to bust out when you saw a sock or a sweater. You were frightened of strangers because you couldn’t categorize them, but you wanted them to like you because you knew that that would often keep you safe from harm. You threw your blocks when you were one, to experience the loud noise when they hit the floor or the sofa, and to feel the force of having made the noise. You liked to feel the wet sand at the beach in your hands, and later you would squish a grape or a piece of melon between your fingers like the sand, and babble to try to explain that the malleable material was just like — just like! — wet sand, like the damp dirt, like the slugs you find on the apples the squirrels bring into the yard. Nobody understood what you were saying, so you often found yourself alone with your thoughts when you were one. You would whisper phrases with words that were recognizable scattered among mostly ones that weren’t. It was important that you feel understood, and you rarely did when you were one. You would melt onto the floor in a human puddle of anger at being so alone in your experiences, next to your truck, which you would sadly note says “beep beep beep,” and then those idiots would look at you and know that you were talking about the truck, and for a minute you would think — ahh, it’s okay. We’re all friends here.
When you were one you didn’t know the news. The news was a tray of broccoli and a cat climbing a tree. Your mother was reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and there were times when you would look at each other with the understanding of two acid-tripping hippies caught in a divine web of intersubjectivity. When you saw bubbles or felt bubbles on your tongue, and you laughed because how weird is that? And you looked into a human face and looked down a long hall, thirty years long, and saw a snapshot of the first time that other human had felt or saw bubbles, popping them, blowing them, drinking them, and you and the other human laughed for ten minutes as though you were ageless entities, best buddies. This when you were only one! And then again out in the rain, before you were one, when there was cheese in the fridge older than you, when you felt rain on your head and looked up to see vanishing dashes of liquid flying out of the sky — like what? You weren’t even old enough for a suitable metaphor, when you were younger than cheese, but you were looking for one. What is this like? What do I know that this could possibly be like?
Nothing, when you were one. You got blue. You stared out the car window and thought about the sad times you’d had. Perhaps the juice box had shot into your eye or it was time to go to bed, in the dark, with unfamiliar striped curtains that you’d never noticed were completely chilling, if you thought about it. Your teeth had plagued you. All your life they’d been drifting, like tectonic plates, and thinking about them made you feel glum. Who was to say if you’d get teeth on the other end of the pain? What were teeth to you, when you were one? Things you didn’t want. But then there was the moment you first saw a dandelion and thought, this is IT, this is a FLOWER, and how it was the first time you were very hot in the summer and a hose appeared to shoot rainbows and mist onto your sweaty baby forehead, and you are overtaken with gratitude for having happened to be outside when the world conspired to hand you this joy. And you look back at anyone else who happens to be standing around, probably recording you on a little electronic, like, “Hey, are you getting this? This is positively fantastic.” This is how it was when you were one.
Winnie was in the kitchen when she first saw a slobe up close. She was filling the coffee pot with water and caught sight of something slithering up from the drain. It had the texture of a jellyfish but, once it had slid the strainer out of its groove, appeared to be roughly the size of a newborn kitten. Its face was rounded, with a prominent whiskerless muzzle and a blunt nose. Its eyes were on tentacles, like a snail’s. It resembled a small, gelatinous, ugly walrus, and though it had no hands, feet or flippers it quickly oozed its way onto the cutting board, which had been smeared with beeswax the night before to preserve its integrity against knife marks. The slobe’s underside met the beeswax and the slobe reacted by turning black. Winnie grabbed a bottle of olive oil and, impulsively, brought it down on the slobe with a violent smack. The animal emitted a high-pitched squeal even after Winnie had completely flattened it by striking it repeatedly, so she sprayed it with a eucalyptus-scented cleaning solution until it went silent. Its remains fizzed when it came into contact with the chemicals. The slobe’s murder scene was quite a mess. Winnie went into her office and retrieved a clean square of poster board and her phone. She brought them into the kitchen and lifted up what was left of the slobe, arranging its parts on the board. She photographed it from every angle, next to a banana for scale. She posted the photos online with the caption, “Real Slobe I Found In My Sink.”
She left her phone on the kitchen table and went outside to dispose of the slobe. She threw it into the garbage along with the poster board and the banana, which had come been coated with its slime. Winnie didn’t know if slobe slime was poisonous, or if it could penetrate a banana peel, but she didn’t want to take any chances. When she went back into the kitchen and checked her phone, she saw that her post had received a lot of feedback. Some of it, she noticed with horror, was awfully negative. Her pulse quickened. “HOW COULD U,” remarked someone named BattenRude, “KILL A FUCKEN SLOBE??? THAT LOOX LIKE A BB SLOBE. A BB SLOBE WITH A MOMMA SLOBE OUT SOMEWHERE LOOKING FOR HIM. HOW MANY SLOBES U THINK THERE R, SO MANY U CAN JUST KILL THEM W/O THINKING? I WOULD LIKE TO KILL U!”
"Relax," typed Winnie, who was not relaxed at all. "This thing came out of my drain, how do I know they don’t bite? Do you know slobes don’t bite? It could have been dangerous. Like a spider."
BattenRude promptly responded. “U COULD HAVE FOUND OUT IF IT WOULD BITE BUT NOW U DON’T EVEN HAVE A CHANCE 2 KNO,” he or she said. “WHAT DID U EXPECT? SAY SOMEONE HAD NEVER SEEN A PUPPIE, THEN THEY FOUND A PUPPIE IN THEIR HOME AND JUST HIT IT WITH A HAMMER UNTIL IT WAS FLAT? U WOULD CRY OVER THAT PUPPIE.”
Winnie considered this. She really was fond of puppies.
Her inbox pinged. A Dr. Lewis Conway had emailed her about the slobe. “I need more information on this creature,” he wrote, “and I would happily pay you if you would be kind enough to send me its remains — unless it’s alive. Is it by any chance still alive?”
Winnie wrote back, “I’m sorry but the slobe is dead. I didn’t know what it was.” Winnie paused. She decided to adhere to this lie as long as was necessary. She continued, “I just panicked and hit it and hit it and hit it, spritzed it with cleaner and then threw the body away. Do you want me to get the body out of the trash? I suppose I could do that.”
"You threw away the body of a slobe?" wrote Dr. Lewis Conway. "You "spritzed it with cleaner"? I don’t know how a person could do that. Or kill it in the first place. Disregard my request. I need nothing further from you."
Winnie’s post had hundreds of comments. It had been hashtagged with #slobekiller, #slobemurder, #poorslobe. Someone had discovered her Facebook profile photo and was manipulating its image so that Winnie’s smiling face was covered with warts, and in the hand that had held a chilled Corona Light that she had sipped on vacation in Bermuda six months ago, a slobe’s head had been inserted, as if she were throttling it. The slobe had a dialogue box above its head that said, “Someone please…stop her.” The image was on the front page of Buzzfeed, where it had amassed thousands of little broken heart icons and just as many WTFs.
A New York Times reporter named Carolyn Whittleboss emailed Winnie asking for a statement. Winnie supposed she should calm down and think about her situation before she wrote back, but then her phone started ringing. It was People magazine. And then it was TMZ. And the Scientists for Slobe Preservation. She declined to comment. Her favorite online paper, the Cranberry Wagoner, rang and she couldn’t resist. She cracked. “Yes,” she said, “I killed that slobe with a bottle of olive oil and Mrs. Gladys’ countertop astringent.”
"Do you regret it?" asked the Cranberry Wagoner.
"Yes," said Winnie, though she wasn’t sure she did. "I had never seen a slobe before, and I just freaked out."
"Not very many people have seen a slobe," said the Cranberry Wagoner. "Some people think they’re mythological, or from outer space. Did it seem to be from outer space? Just, you know, was that your impression?"
"It looked like a slug crossed with a walrus."
"Yeah, but in your estimation, did it seem like a space walrus?"
"More of a slug."
"A space slug, then?"
"No," said Winnie, "but I was mostly concentrating on getting it out of my sink."
"I see," said the Cranberry Wagoner, who was clearly disappointed to hear it.
"I just want to say for the record that I never intended to do any harm to the slobe or anybody else," said Winnie. She started to cry. "I feel like such a fucking idiot for what I did."
"Yes," said the Cranberry Wagoner, "I imagine so."
"And for posting it online."
"Yes," agreed the Wagoner again, "why did you do that, exactly?"
"I just felt like I had to," said Winnie. "Because you see something weird and that’s what you do."
"Thank you," said the Cranberry Wagoner, "for being so honest."
Winnie felt a little better. She left her phone on the table for a while and lay down on her bed. The light had been shut out by blackout curtains, and outside she could hear the sound of a wireless ice cream truck, which let the neighborhood kids know that they could download popsicles to their smart phones at a discount for the next fifteen minutes if they Shazam-ed its tinkling tune. She practiced mindful meditation, telling herself that all that existed were the bed sheets, the ceiling, her breathing, her body, and the dark air. Her direct-to-brain subscription to the Cranberry Wagoner interrupted her calm, alerting her to the fact that a feature-length piece had been devoted to her slobe murder. “FUCKING IDIOT” KILLS RARE SLOBE IN COLD BLOOD, the headline yelled at Winnie. She pulled on her earlobe to unsubscribe. “Are you sure you’d like to unsubscribe?” the Wagoner whispered.
"Yes," said Winnie.
"Pull twice to report as spam."
Winnie pulled on her earlobe twice.
"Touch your nose to power off," said the Wagoner.
She touched her nose.
"Are you sure?" asked the Wagoner.
Winnie touched her nose again, and powered off. Two more slobes crawled out of her kitchen drain, then made their way silently into Winnie’s bedroom, following the scent of the eucalyptus that still clung to her hands.
John was looking forward to hanging out with Andrew. Usually they kicked back, had a beer, smoked a joint and then, if they felt like it, they would order a pizza and watch 20/20 together. They talked about women, and about hockey, and maybe sometimes about a weird interaction either of them had had with a stranger that had made them uncomfortable. It always made John feel good to know that he had a friend in Andrew.
John had a pizza waiting when Andrew arrived at 5:30. It was an Ultimate Extra Superior Supreme and it had artichokes and gouda on it. Andrew came in with a large messenger bag, went into the kitchen and got himself two slices of pizza. He flopped down on the sofa and John turned on 20/20.
"Hey man," said John, "that’s a nice bag."
"Thanks," said Andrew. "I’m kind of not used to carrying a bag."
"Yeah," said John, and then they watched a long program on the infant prostitution ring in Finkerstown.
"That shit’s pretty fucked up," remarked Andrew.
"Yeah," said John, "the world’s really fucked up."
Andrew helped himself to more pizza. John made them a pitcher of sangria.
"Sangria, my brother," said Andrew, "now we’re talking business."
"I threw in some diced watermelon," said John. "Why not?"
"Go crazy," replied Andrew.
"Right on," said John. They drank their sangria and talked about a date John had had that was not successful.
"I had no idea about the value of this certain kind of rare cashmere whatever," concluded John, "it’s not my world."
"That’s really fucked up," said Andrew. "I don’t even have a response other than it’s fucked up."
"I know, and now I’m humiliated."
"Yeah," said Andrew. The hour had grown late. The dogs that lived across the street from John had gone inside for the night. The streetlamps were flickering.
"Do you want like some coffee or something?" asked John.
"Nah, I’m cool," said Andrew.
"So," said John, "what’s up with tomorrow?"
"Ah, tomorrow," said Andrew. "Yeah."
"Yeah," said John. He went into the kitchen to make coffee anyway. He looked at the clock. It was 11:30. Andrew usually departed by nine. He made coffee, taking a long time and dimming the lights in the kitchen to indicate the deep, chocolatey night. He dropped spoons everywhere and picked them up slowly, one by one. He could hear Andrew texting with someone in the next room. He brought in the coffee service on a silver tray with little cocktail napkins decorated with trombones.
"In case you want some," said John. "I like to have a coffee right before I go to bed."
"I know that about you," said Andrew. John drank his coffee, then put the cup down on the coffee table with a firm clink.
"Wow," said John. "It must be late." He stretched and yawned.
"Yeah, I’ve become a real night owl," said Andrew. "Do you want to Netflix something?"
"Man, I don’t know if I can," responded John, "because I’m pretty beat and I have to get up tomorrow morning for work."
"Oh," said Andrew, "okay."
Andrew was a good and nice friend. Andrew had cleaned up dog vomit when John was dog-sitting for a friend and Andrew caught sight of it in the kitchen before John did. Andrew had bought rounds of drinks for his friends, friends whom Andrew hadn’t previously known. Andrew had gone along on a road trip to Vancouver with him and paid for gas.
"Do you want a bite of cheese?" asked John.
"Cheese I will take!" replied Andrew.
John went into the kitchen and put the cheese on a huge porcelain platter with an array of whimsically-shaped crackers and a cheese knife engraved with his initials. He opened a bottle of Pernod. He dusted off his fine crystal goblets. He tossed capers artfully around a smear of fig jam in the center of the platter. He started a Roxy Music playlist on his iPod at a barely audible volume. He lit a lavender candle and covered it with a red glass cloche.
"Here," whispered John, "is a tiny nibble of cheese."
"Shh," joked Andrew.
"Yes," said John.
Andrew and John lingered over their drinks and cheese for another two hours. John had reached the end of his wits. He had already fluffed the throw pillows, then removed them from the sofa and hidden them in the bathroom. He was acutely aware that he was deliberately messing with Andrew’s comfort levels in his house: elevating them to induce sleepiness, then depleting them to make Andrew crave his own bed in his own home. The plates had been cleared. Andrew went through his bag and retrieved his toothbrush.
"What’s that?" asked John.
"My toothbrush," said Andrew.
"Are you staying overnight?" asked John.
"Of course not!" said Andrew. "What kind of a question is that? I’m just brushing my teeth. Excuse me."
"Sorry, that’s cool," said John. Andrew disappeared for a long time. Sometimes the water was running, then it would shut off, then it would start running again.
Andrew emerged close to 2:30.
"I’m sorry dude," said John, "I’ve got to get to bed. Let’s do this again next week."
"Goodnight," said Andrew from the sofa.
"I think you should go," said John.
"That’s cool, I think I’m going to hang out for a bit longer," said Andrew. He smiled. His smile contained no malice.
"Okay," said John. "Do you want a blanket or something?"
"Nah," said Andrew. And John went to bed.
The next morning, John wasn’t feeling well. Maybe it was the Pernod. He went into the bathroom and saw that he had a considerable amount of gray hair on his head that hadn’t been there previously. He looked haggard. Andrew was in the kitchen, chipper, making scones from scratch.
"Sorry," said Andrew. "I used all your butter."
"That’s okay," said John. "God, I slept terribly."
"Not me!" said Andrew.
"Well, good," said John. "I have to go to work."
"Have fun," said Andrew.
"Andrew," said John, "This is awkward but I need to ask you to go now."
"Oh," said Andrew.
"Yeah, I’m sorry, it’s just that I really don’t like to leave with people in my house."
"I see," said Andrew. He stuffed some tissues and a water bottle into his bag. "Out the door," said Andrew.
"Thanks, bro," said John.
"Okay, ‘bro,’" said Andrew.
"Don’t," said John.
"Fine," said Andrew.
John got into his car. Andrew was dawdling by the driver’s side door. John waited.
"Bye," mouthed Andrew.
"Bye," responded John from inside the car.
John waited. Andrew waited. The sun beat down on the two cars in the driveway. John was late for work. Andrew began to sweat. The mailman came, which meant that the morning had collapsed on top of the afternoon. Andrew texted frantically while John watched.
John opened the car door. “Andrew,” he said, “for God’s sake just be honest with me. What’s going on. What’s happening right now?”
But Andrew was gone, and so was his Pontiac. John went to get the mail and saw that it was all addressed to a Mrs. Eloise Cumbersmith, but the address was his own. The trees that had needed trimming had been trimmed. The front door was green. It had been white. John’s car was filled with garbage, with little cracker crumbs and coffee stains. He could not find Andrew’s number in his phone. In the backseat were a number of Beanie Babies and lottery tickets. John drove away slowly so he could think of a place to go. A band of stray cats followed his car, appearing out of nowhere and refusing to go away.
Myrtle saw a pamphlet in the dermatologist’s office advertising a laser treatment. Lately Myrtle hadn’t been in love with her crow’s feet, so she thought she’d give it a try.
"This treatment is amazing," said the nurse. "The results are dramatic."
"Great," said Myrtle, "what’s the recovery like?"
"You have to stay inside for three days. It won’t be pretty. But it’s worth it."
"You know what?" said Myrtle. "I’ll go for it."
The nurse picked up the phone and intercommed the doctor. “Doctor Framer, you’re needed in room 3,” she said. “A patient wants the laser procedure.”
The doctor entered after a minute. “Did the nurse warn you about the three days?” she asked while she pressed on Myrtle’s skin.
"Yes," said Myrtle.
"And she told you it’s, you know, might not want a mirror around ha-ha?" asked the doctor.
"Yes," said Myrtle, "but is it really that bad?"
"It is," said the doctor gravely.
"But it’s worth it in the end?"
"It is," replied the doctor.
"Then yeah, sure, why not?"
The doctor put on a hazmat suit and turned off all the lights. “First I’m going to blast your face with medical-grade kitty litter, okay?”
"Okay," said Myrtle. "Ow! That stings!"
"This will hurt a lot, and it will take a long time."
"Be gentle," pleaded Myrtle.
"I can’t be," said the doctor. "Now I’m going to apply swabs of liquid fire and pull out all of your nose hairs."
"Is this all really necessary?"
Myrtle’s skin was frozen, then pinched off in bits. Lasers shot from the ceiling and walls while a loud alarm sounded. A cooling tonic of Neosporin ointment and cucumbers pureed until soupy was glopped onto her chin and eyelids while her eyebrows were slowly shaved off with a straight razor. The doctor mussed up her hair and slathered it in coconut oil and peanut butter. An instrument was inserted into her mouth, then yanked out through her ear. A nurse appeared, stood in the back, and made fun of Myrtle while she lay on the table.
"Fathead," said the nurse, "you big flabby fathead."
"Please, stop! Stop! I’ve had enough! I don’t want to do this anymore!" cried Myrtle.
"Great," said the doctor. "All done. Looks good. Let’s bandage you up and send you home."
So Myrtle was bandaged up and sent home. When she got there, she opened the refrigerator and had no food, but she was not allowed to go outside. She ordered a pizza and instructed them to leave it at the door, but sauce got all over her bandages while she ate. She went into the bathroom to change the gauze, looked in the mirror and screamed.
Her face, formerly medium-tan and freckly, was chalk-pale and stretched tight. Her lips had been manipulated into a tight pursed bump like the butt of a balloon, and there were two big pink circles painted on her cheeks. Her eyebrows had been tattooed on as two short, flat lines above her eyes. A dimple had been drawn on her right cheek, and if you looked closely you could see that the dimple was actually a smiling face with its own dimple, and if you looked into that dimple you could see another dimple, and that inner-inner-inner dimple had a little dialogue bubble coming out of its mouth that said, “Hi!”
Myrtle called the dermatologist right away. She was whispering into the phone, an angry desperate whispering, and although she was both sweating and crying her painted-on clownish 3” eyelashes did not run.
"Doctor Framer," said Myrtle when she had been connected, "Doctor Framer, I don’t know what you think you’re doing here but I just changed my bandages and you’ve given me a doll’s face. You’ve given me a doll’s face, Doctor Framer, there’s nothing human in it at all. This was supposed to be crow’s feet, uh, ironed out with peels and lasers, and I was thinking three days of red skin, bad peeling skin Doctor Framer but you’ve taken my face apart and put it back together wrong. I’m like a Madame Alexander doll viewed by an acid tripper on Mars. Doctor Framer. Doctor Framer. I have to come back in right away. Please fix this. You have to fix it, I’ll sue you, you have to fix it today or else."
"Who’s this?" asked the doctor.
"Myrtle," said Myrtle. "I was just there earlier."
"You must have the wrong office," said the doctor. "I just got here."
Myrtle was angry, so she screamed into the phone. She said many horrible things that she forgot as soon as they came out of her mouth, things about Doctor Framer’s mother and her alma mater and her character in general. She felt like she was losing her mind, but that was clearly what was happening here: they were trying to make her think she was insane. Yes, insane, that’s it, it’s a plot thought Myrtle while she palpated her cheeks. She continued to yell into the phone as she walked back into the bathroom. She looked into the mirror and saw a different face, and this face didn’t belong to a doll but to a young Susan Lucci.
"There’s been a mistake," said Myrtle into the phone. "I’m sorry. Everything’s fine. I’m so sorry." She hung up. She stared at herself. She looked amazing.
Myrtle was exhausted and confused, so she went to bed. No, she didn’t go right to bed. I was wrong. She changed her pillowcases, putting the nice satin ones on to protect her Susan Lucci face. She didn’t use bandages because she wanted to see her own beautiful reflection if she got up to pee. She slept deeply, despite moderate pain. When she woke up the next day, she went into the bathroom to shower, planning to train the spray below her neck. There she was in the mirror, Susan Lucci, but something was different again. Her nose was gone. She found it tossed onto the night stand; she must have ripped it off during a dream. She got the phone and pushed redial, holding her nose, a brand new wave of panic swallowing her body in flashes of hot and cold. An Advil was stuck to one of the nostrils and she couldn’t get it off.
"Doctor Framer’s office," said the receptionist.
"I’m calling for Doctor Framer," said Myrtle. "I have an emergency."
"Oh, it’s you, Myrtle. No, Doctor Framer’s on vacation. I’m sorry. Can I take a message? Or would you like to speak with Doctor Badhouse?"
"Yes, Doctor Badhouse," said the receptionist. "Doctor Badhouse is a podiatrist in residence here."
"But this is about my face," said Myrtle.
"Maybe Doctor Badhouse can help you," said the receptionist. Myrtle was connected with Doctor Badhouse, but Doctor Badhouse didn’t seem to know what he was talking about when it came to noses. He suggested Myrtle save the nose by placing it in a cup of milk and head to the emergency room. That didn’t sound like good advice to Myrtle.
Myrtle looked online and found a tutorial that helped her reapply her nose using white vinegar and staples. It didn’t look right. Myrtle was full of regrets. She licked the Advil on her nostril for a few hours, hoping to erode it, and went back to sleep. She didn’t look in the mirror when she got up. She could tell that her face was in total disarray. Her chin had grown a tail and her mouth was on backwards and upside down, she could tell just by feeling around. She closed her eyes and felt her way through the house, looking for her car keys. She gripped the railing that led outside and located her car by pressing the unlock key over and over. She got inside and saw herself in the rear view mirror, just her eyes and the bridge of her nose, the bandit mask part. There were no crow’s feet. There was no one with fewer crow’s feet than Myrtle. Even babies had more.
Her nose fell off again in the dairy aisle, so Myrtle bought a half gallon of Lactaid in which to preserve it. The young lady at the register wouldn’t look at her, so jealous was she of those smooth two square inches of luscious skin around Myrtle’s eyes. So, it had all been worth it. There was a spring in her step as she carried the milk and frozen stroganoff back to her parking spot, and though she couldn’t see it, underneath her rapidly-forming new dermis the face within the dimple within the dimple within the dimple winked, and the word in its dialogue box now read “Bye!”.
Mid-century modern post and beam. Walls of glass on main level, “secret” attic and California basement. Unpermitted addition, buyer use caution. Stunning ocean views, roof deck needs bolting or will collapse into sea.
Dilapidated Victorian. Tear-down: no kitchen, bad plumbing, former flophouse. Rear garden has potential. Bring your contractor.
New England traditional with detached architectural steel workspace. Drought-resistant landscaping, room for a pool. Close highway proximity, some noise is audible (sounds like the ocean!). Convenient to freeways, close to shopping. Built-in bar and wood-paneled library. Buyer to verify various liens.
JOAN HOLLOWAY HARRIS
Rumored to be R. Crumb’s only foray into architecture. Floating stairway, plush ceilings, lush garden, charming in-law apartment. Vintage vanity with period tiles. Large, round jacuzzi tub.
Recently remodeled, open floor plan, bring your toothbrush and move right in! Some water damage, mostly invisible. Atrium with glass ceilings, lots of charm.
Historic monument #317. Old world bones, Eastern influence. Tatami mats in the meditation room and sycamores in the yard. Hurry! This one won’t last!
Rare opportunity! One-bedroom at the Apthorp. Regal and resigned, high ceilings, no view but plenty of potential to expand. Maid’s quarters. Excellent investment opportunity.
500 square foot Parisian-style pied a terre. Bohemian flair, wine cellar and balcony. A fire escape perfect for quick getaways and loft area with plenty of storage for diaries, letters, and Polaroids. Bad electrical, could use TLC.
BETTY DRAPER FRANCIS
Modern beach house with fantastic kitchen. Designer wallpaper, custom blackout window treatments, majestic veranda. Toxic mold and vermin. Shows like a dream.
Foreclosure. Land value. Serious offers only. Seller is unavailable at this time and bids will be entertained by the county’s ghost division.
Gorgeous Santa Monica bungalow for your pickiest buyer: Carrera countertops, Fisher-Paykel [sic] trash compactor, compost heap, rose garden. Difficult to show; current occupants have not been informed that the house is on the market. Small but troublesome terrier on the premises. Clean, clean, clean!
Impeccable traditional in the heart of it all: subway stops, parks, science fiction community center, Whole Foods, dance clubs, barber shops. Stylish and functional, contemporary yet classic. One of the front bay windows has been shot out and needs to be replaced, seller to finance.
Unique Spanish-style in Echo Park. Great family home with a Hawaiian-themed “man cave” in the back (outfitted with lots of signed headshots). Front lawn bordered with palms and night-blooming jasmine. 70’s style wall of mirrors.
Pristine and beautiful Art Deco one-bedroom in Montreal. Jules et Jim et vous can enjoy cafe au laits on the romantic Juliet balcony while watching the sunset under towering, yet lithe, cypress trees. Easy walk to studios and theaters, pre-wired for your favorite Gillian Hills records, efficient and streamlined kitchen and baths. Bedroom is a little dark, but could be opened up with ease. Otherwise cheery and bright.
Treehouse in Washington Square park. Small, but feels cavernous. Stroll to work and then hide from the world in this urban retreat. No bathroom. Disembodied voices echoing in far left corner. Difficult tenants. Back on market.
At the center of Michels’s practice is the Jungian figure of the Shadow, the occult aspect of the personality that Jung defined as “the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious.” In “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” Jung describes a dream in which he was out on a windy night, cupping a tiny candle in his hand. “I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me,” he writes. “When I awoke I realized at once that the figure was a ‘specter of the Brocken,’ my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying.”
If the Shadow has a flesh-and-blood counterpart in the hierarchy of Hollywood, it is the writer: a pasty loser, whose suggestions are constantly being ignored or overruled. “No one looks to the writer to make the decisions,” one of Michels’s writer patients said. “You’re trying to fulfill everyone’s expectations. They think of you almost as an arm to do their thoughts.” “We’re like carnies, always out there trying to sell some idea,” another writer, who sees Michels, and whose husband, also a writer, sees Stutz, told me. It can be a frustrating, demoralizing job; scripts are bastardized to the point of being unrecognizable, if they get made at all. According to Michels, “Writers always feel beaten up. They always feel like an underclass. How do you maintain a sense of self in this environment?” In sessions with writers, Michels listens to pitches and plot lines, an attentive, albeit paid, audience. He reassures them that they are “off-the-charts smart”—a turn of phrase that some are surprised to learn does not exclusively pertain to them. He has occasionally been known to read scripts and, he says, “I give pretty good notes.”
Calvin had captured the bearsnail, and now he had to figure out what to do with it. The animal underneath the upturned mayonnaise jar was fat relative to its length and furry, with long antennae. When he placed it in a more spacious fifteen gallon aquarium, he could see that it had an easily discernible face — a cute face, a bear’s face. Its shell looked like a trapper’s hat. It whistled, but only in minor keys. Calvin observed it for twelve hours, taking notes: it enjoyed being offered strawberries, which it hoarded in one corner of its cage, and it hated when he bared his teeth at it. The bearsnail played with Calvin’s keys. It grabbed them in its jaws and could be convinced to play tug-of-war.
Calvin bought the bearsnail a nest and a water dispenser. It learned a few basic tricks, but after a few days it grew tired of strawberries and apples. Calvin Googled what to feed his bearsnail. The prevailing wisdom was that bearsnails ate mostly psychedelic mushrooms. Calvin had grown attached to his bearsnail, and had begun to wonder why everyone didn’t have a bearnsail or two of his or her own, so he called up his friend Bronwyn to see if she had any mushrooms lying around. She did (she usually did), so Calvin bought a few grams and brought them home to his pet.
It took the bearsnail almost fifteen minutes to devour one cap, because its teeth were very small and so, imagined Calvin, was its stomach. When he offered it another, the bearsnail pushed it back at Calvin and said, “I can’t finish these. And I don’t like to eat alone.” Calvin explained that he had never taken mushrooms, though Bronwyn had offered them many times. “You’ll be fine,” said the bearsnail, “you’re much bigger than I am.” Calvin made himself some tea with the mushrooms and lifted the bearsnail out of its tank in the cup of his hand. The bearsnail sat quietly in his lap for a while, then inched over towards an electrical outlet. It removed a cord from its shell and plugged itself in. Periodically, it glowed purple. Calvin listened to Tame Impala and thought about learning to play the guitar. The bearsnail slid over to Calvin and took a look in his mouth, pointing out which teeth were in danger of rotting. “Thank you,” said Calvin. “I so appreciate this.”
Calvin woke up on his floor in the morning. There was a fresh pot of coffee and a note. The note had been written in paw prints and black slime. It said “XOXO.” He didn’t see the bearsnail for many years until he went to a holiday party at Bronwyn’s. The bearsnail had gotten huge and too fat for its own shell. It was serving drinks at the bar, dressed in a shiny suit. Calvin ordered a gimlet before recognizing the bearsnail, and fumbled to reach for a $20 bill to put in the tip jar. He only had fives. When Calvin got his car back from the valet he saw the bearsnail charging himself in an outlet behind a potted ficus tree.