February 26th, 2017

Yankee Doodle Henry, Part IV

The camp workers were primarily children. Males who seemed old enough to have something else to remember made up maybe ten percent of the whole, Henry figured, leaving about a quarter for grown women. Henry was solidly a minority, which had shocked him on the first day of grueling work but had eventually seemed sensible when Henry considered how often the men complained in comparison to their smaller and supposedly weaker cohorts. One man, not too long a resident by the looks of him, had feigned an injury a couple of weeks into Henry’s tenure. Somewhere in a mess of crumbling rocks he’d yelled out, fallen to the ground, and frantically grasped his leg, the tears and snot turning his fellows’ work to mud beneath him. Several of the children had crowded around him, curious; but their gentle probing, a hundred tiny fingers floating over the dry skin of his ankle, gave him a sounder tickling than he could withstand, and by the time a force rep got to him he was a writhing fetus of laughter, swatting the little mitts away.

Parts of the man were used in the construction of the next day’s wall building segment.

The children laughed. He was a funny man.

Henry slept just a few hours at night, and a few hours again in the afternoons. Just like everyone else. The women said the sleeping schedule had been devised for the sake of the children, who “needed naps”. The men said it kept everyone on their feet but always in a kind of sleepy stupor, less willing or able to make a break for it. Henry didn’t know who was right, but he didn’t think it mattered much. In fact, he liked the schedule; neither nocturnal nor diurnal, a snooze always on the horizon. He didn’t dream, and he never woke up worried that his waking would obligate him; a slave of the present, threats against his future made no purchase. The work lulled him into truer rest than he had ever really known.

But then, the work did other things, too. His posture, before a thing he never paid attention to, was slumped, and his hair was falling out in patches. He had lost a lot of weight –how much, he wasn’t sure, but his knees were definitely knobbier. Sometimes before naps he brushed his hand over his stomach, feeling the bones of his ribs and hips. He thought about Ralph, then, whose sentence had been so much lighter. His belly, paunchier. He wondered where the schmuck was now, gabbing up innocent bystanders no doubt, terrorizing the youth with irresponsible palettes.

One of the favorite topics for complaint around the camp, especially among the children, was the food. It wasn’t so much that it was terrible, but rather, that it was so terribly uninteresting. No matter the day, no matter the meal, food was extruded protein cake in a thin batter, fried. The canteen had the indecency to propose that sometimes they were serving chicken, or veal. Even the children knew better. The stench of the frying oil pervaded everything, became a part of every worker there. It was the first thing Henry smelled upon waking, or upon entering any enclosed space where there were other campers. “You get used to it” was the motto among the adults, repeated too often to be true. Other than sex, peaches and spinach had become Henry’s principal fantasies, tucked into the space between sleeping and wakefulness.

By the start of his third month at the labor camp, Henry no longer felt bad about his predicament. He didn’t feel bad about having been recruited, or about the labor itself. He didn’t feel bad about Wainwright de-wrinkler, or Ralph in his colorblock shirt. Henry didn’t feel much of anything at all, by the start of that third month. His muscles ached with a constancy that made only the very worst spasms register; his hands, cracked and rougher than he’d ever known hands could be, mustered far more eager appreciation for their nightly allowance of moisturizing cream than resentment for their plight. There was a vague sense of loss at any given time, but as he’d gotten used to the experience of it more and more each day, he’d realized it wasn’t really any different than the loss he’d always felt anyhow. If anything, he thought, this sense of loss was better, because understanding it seemed within reach. Closer, with every rock broken and each new brick laid.

Or maybe I’m just losing my mind, he thought.

Henry didn’t feel particularly bad about that, either.

February 23rd, 2017

Yankee Doodle Henry, Part III

The official file on Henry Teasdale listed him as a bilateral post-angular conflict dispersement expert. It noted that his mother Rose had attempted to visit Mexico approximately one month before Henry was born, but had been detained at the gap and administered level four psychiatric repatriation. It listed Henry’s preferred food (potato salad with beets and mackerel), his most frequently used coital position and location (spooning from behind on the lower third of his bed, nineteen out of a total fifty one events), and his lifetime mean morning alarm (07:42). It also specified that following his release from the hospital in which he was born and passed his natal exams, he had no medical record whatsoever.

And it was this particularly rare attribute, hardly noticed by Henry himself, which singled him out for an especially unpleasant fate.

***

“Imagine a new world,” Henry wrote, “a world of tranquility and diversion, where family is all and your family has everything.” Henry grimmaced at the line, but just as he was about to delete it and start over yet again, an inter-office memo from Marion reminded him in flashing pink and green in the corner of his screen that the water park package copy was due before lunch. As the memo also reminded all of Henry’s co-workers, he shortly received several new memos reassuring him that they knew he could do it and warning him not to let the morning doldrums compromise the team. The more he tried to concentrate on his work, the more memos flashed into view, and they grew ever more frantic the longer Henry put off acknowledging them. Henry closed his eyes, exhaled a solid ten seconds, and quickly spewed out the remaining copy in a manic flow he was sure would be nonsense. As he read it minutes later, he was pleased to find it was exactly the sort of nonsense that was expected of him. Errorless, thickly perfumed, and terrible.

“I’m done!” he bellowed from his cubicle as another flurry of memos imposed themselves on his screen. The flashing stopped. It was time for lunch.

Henry went to get his lunch, as he did most days, at the food pits. Broad plexiglass circles level with the pavement were clustered at the nexus of several minimalls near Henry’s, each attended by a thin tube which transported order slips and money down to the staff. They could be seen milling about their business, assembling sandwiches, scraping grills, filling out customer consumption history forms, then shooting the order back up through the tube. Henry preferred burritos; while he’d tried other, less tube-like orders in the past for the sake of variety, he’d found that anything substantially diverging from a cylindrical shape suffered in transit.

He was halfway through the tortilla and extruded cheese when he heard a faint alarm that seemed to grow exponentially louder, buzzing by his head as though issued by a bee. He had the sudden sensation that he was peeing uncontrollably, rapidly followed by no sensation at all. Then the sun went out.

When Henry came to he found himself in an office, a much nicer office than his own. He was seated in a fairly comfortable high-backed chair, and the subtle scent of the orchids on the basic desk in front of him was delightful. Also on the desk were several folios, a pen, a stylish lamp, and the remains of Henry’s burrito, carefully re-wrapped. There were no windows, there were no desk drawers or other pieces of furniture, and, with a sudden start of panic that reached deep into Henry’s bowels, he noticed that there was no handle, apparently, on the only door.

Henry thumbed the papers on the desk into a messy pile and began reading. Several pages consisted of his official file. Though taken separately the pieces of information would’ve seemed innocuous, given over with ease for the asking, together they were a writhing horror. The precision of facts, the utter completeness; himself, in more detail and with an honesty he likely couldn’t muster even without an audience, compiled and available. Henry started folding the pages of his official file one by one and slid them into the pockets of his khaki pants. After seven sheets the file mercifully stopped, leaving only one: it was titled Acknowledgement, and listed Henry’s name and ID number. There was nothing else but a blank line.

Henry looked at the blank line nervously. He eyed his leftover burrito, then the door. He turned in the chair, not sure what he was looking for, finally resting on the blank line again. He had wanted to see what time it was, he realized. He turned in the chair again, finding no clocks of any kind. He contemplated taking the pages of his official file back out of his pocket and reading them over a second time. Instead, he unwrapped and ate what was left of the burrito. He wondered what would happen if he ate the sheet reading Acknowledgement, too.

It seemed to Henry that several hours had passed since he’d awoken, but so far he hadn’t devised any way to be able to tell. His ever-deepening sense of dread kept him well distracted from any practical matters, which is also why Henry ended up peeing on the carpet in the corner furthest from the door. He spent a while yelling, most of which consisted of demands to be let out and queries as to where he was and why. Just as he was starting to seriously talk himself into sleeping a while, there was indistinct noise on the other side of the door, and a man who looked a lot like Henry himself entered.

“Hello Henry,” he said, extending his hand. Henry shook it, cursing himself the moment he heard the door click shut. I should’ve made a run for it. “We’ve been experiencing some abnormally sized waiting times tonight. I’ve been asked to recognize your patience.” And what would you have done once you’d gotten out of the door, then? You know damn well you’d've just stood there or done something stupid. Henry didn’t listen to the man and didn’t notice he wasn’t listening, either.

“I have a lot of new recruits to brief here, so let’s get to it, hmm? Now uh, pursuant to your choice, made of your own free will, to read and consider an advertisement for slack de-wrinkler this day, Wednesday November the sixteenth at approximately oh-eight hundred hours, you are hereby recruited into the defense forces’ reduced leisure program for infrastructure.”

Henry’s eyes widened into tea saucers. He was listening now.

“Given your prior consent to said recruitment by SADFAG performance, you have been assigned a start date of–”

The man frowned and pulled a small notepad from his shirt pocket, flipping through the pages until he’d nearly reached the end.

“Uh, let’s see here. Henry Teasdale, ah. Tonight.”

“I didn’t know what I was doing! It was only for a couple of seconds!” Henry’s flood of panic threatened to rise over his nose and mouth as he sputtered and yelled, choking on his own spit.

“Yes, yes. You did the SADFAG, you’ve been assigned. Don’t make a fuss, now.”

“It was all because of that idiot! Did you record that idiot in the colors who tried to talk to me?! I was good, I didn’t say a word!”

“Mr. Teasdale, the forces are not concerned with the petty details of your private relationships and daily goings-on. You have been selected by way of your SADFAG performance, produced and carried out of your own free will. As I was saying, you will start tonight. You may, at your option, sign the acknowledgement form that was presented to you upon your admittance to this facility.”

The man surveyed the desk, frowning.

“I am sure you were given an acknowledgement form and a copy of your official file. Did you do something with these papers?”

Henry took the folded sheets of his official file out of his pocket and handed them over to the man.

“I’m not seeing the acknowledgement form here, Mr. Teasdale. I highly suggest that you sign and release this form to me as a gesture of goodwill. Long-term studies show that recruits who acknowledge have significantly better results than those who refuse.”

“I ate it,” Henry whispered.

“What’s that?”

“I ate the form.”

“Duly noted.” There was no trace of surprise in the man’s voice. “Your briefing is complete. Someone will be along shortly to accompany you to your barracks.” As the man turned to the opening door to leave, Henry took a daring step towards him, and another two back when the man shot him an icy stare.

“Could you– if you could give me another form I’d sign it. I’d sign it right now!”

The man was silent.

“Can you at least tell me how long my sentence is?” He sounded tiny, made of nothing.

“Mr. Teasdale, you have not been sentenced. Your recruitment, as is standard, has no specific end date.”

The door clicked shut. Henry sank to the floor, his eyes clenched shut.

***

February 22nd, 2017

Yankee Doodle Henry, Part II

Henry’s office was called The Fun Box. Not often by Henry himself, but that was the name scrawled across the front awning in big, awkward letters, and it’s what Henry’s boss Marion referred to it as without fail. When people asked Henry what he did for a living he first weighed the likelihood of their ever actually finding out, such as by patronizing The Fun Box or starting a coincidental relationship with Marion or the other people who worked with him. As long as he deemed it safe, Henry said he was an environmental research journalist. If anyone asked where they might find his writing he clarified that his work was predominantly used by “international governments” and necessarily, therefore, covert. The line had once gotten him laid, but the thought of getting obligated to the forces and exposed to the woman at the same time should lying about one’s profession be declared that day’s SADFAG had utterly robbed him of the possibility of climax.

Unsafe enquirers got something like the truth: Henry wrote attraction pamphlets for a travel agency. When someone paid The Fun Box to arrange a vacation, they were bombarded with, among other unquantifiable flotsam, multiple tri-folds in which Henry attempted to make the highest-paying corporate clients look the most worthy of vacationers’ cash. He found it stultifying, which was a beigeish shade of good.

At the sight of Marion’s maroon minivan parked in front of the office entrance, Henry immediately affected a look of wide-eyed enthusiasm. The expression made his face a little sore and his stomach a little weak, at first, but in the three years since Marion’s Training Summit for Employee Attitude, the affectation and its side effects had gotten easier to bear. They were, at any rate, a lot easier to bear than Marion’s ten-hour morale seminars, ceaseless parades of slideshow psychobabble, stale bagels, and the unfettered jiggling of Marion’s ample wattle as she clucked on about travel being half hope. She never said what the other half was supposed to be.

“There’s a happy face!” She sing-songed at him as she passed by his desk moments into his arrival routine. Marion looked at him, eyebrows raised, her right hand holding a small paper cup of chickory brew somewhat aloft, her left digging into some fold or other of her hip. For a moment Henry felt an intense desire to see her perform I’m a Little Teapot, but it made his smile curl too true, which turned Marion suddenly self-conscious. “Well, back to work, then.” She shuffled off, throwing a confused frown over her shoulder at him as she went.

Henry had graduated from the California University of Pennsylvania. He hated telling people that, and occasionally had even left his diploma off of his job resume in dreadful anticipation of having to go through the entire routine with a human resources rep. The experience as a whole, in fact, from the moment he applied (under the watchful eye of his grandfather, another alumnus) to, well…Henry supposed it never really ended. He’d forever be branded with the stupidity not only of the name, but of the place, and of all the people that expected something other than stupidity from it.

He had majored in Peace Studies, which Henry still reckoned he had little idea of, especially in terms of how it could possibly constitute a major field of scholarship. That was what they had called it, “scholarship”, he’d seen the word more times than he could count. They’d praised him for it, even, his scholarship in the field of peace studies. In the end Henry left the California University of Pennsylvania with a vague sense of it being of paramount importance to be nice to people (which people? That wasn’t a question he ever asked or was asked) if you yourself wished to avoid discomfort, and several hundred thousand dollars of debt. Debt that was supposed to be ground away into dust over time as he inevitably reaped the rewards of his fine penchant for scholarship, but which in fact had increased many times over since Henry discovered that he had no idea what to do with himself and applied for the travel agency job out of desperation while walking through the town’s minimalls in search of discounted sandwiches.

It had taken Henry a lot of time and effort to convince his parents and education counselor to let him attend the California University of Pennsylvania in the first place. Most students chose to go to whatever degree-granting institution was closest to their home city; they tended also to choose to work there after graduating. Too much movement between cities, it was judged, was bad for morale, and encouraged undesirable traits, especially amongst vulnerable youths. But Pennsylvania’s distinction as the third most violent state in the union, certainly far more violent than Henry’s native Nebraska, made it a logical place to study peace, he’d argued. Given that quotas in the state were difficult to fill then for the selfsame reason, a special dispensation had been made to permit Henry limited rights of temporary relocation. By the time he had finished his basic degree nine years later, the paperwork linking him to Nebraska was far outweighed by those mentioning his residence in Pennsylvania, and returning home had become increasingly difficult. Eventually, Henry simply stopped trying to go back.

***

February 21st, 2017

Yankee Doodle Henry, Part I

Inspired by real logvents.

Henry woke up and instantly worried that waking up would be the day’s signification of agreement to the defense forces’ arbitrary goal. The SADFAG. That was one of the classics, Henry knew, and he discussed it often with a smattering of oddballs at his office. To enlist yourself through the act of waking up –it seemed inevitable, for its universality and its inducement of dread alike.

The forces had once or twice hinted at the unlikelihood of such a signification indicator, but they hadn’t come and outright stated that it’d never happen. Henry knew the day would be a bad one if he woke up with this particular conundrum chiefly in his mind, and the more the nightly news showed reels of mysterious out-of-staters riding around on tanks and smiling as they wielded enormous guns instead of the usual eleven o’ clock cat bloopers, the more Henry woke up worried.

“Nothing you can do about it,” he muttered to himself, thrusting his feet into his slippers which left faint impressions of those selfsame words in the cheap carpet as he walked.

Henry tried to keep his worry at bay as best he could as he went on with his morning routine. Maybe it’ll be toothbrushing –or maybe if I look at myself in the mirror just so –shit! Gotta stop actually doing it. He made a few ritual alterations to each task, hoping they’d be modified enough to not qualify for any obvious categories, and pressed on. By the time he was out the door he’d almost forgotten to be concerned. Henry walked briskly in the overcast weather to the bus stop and took his place in the line. He knew most of the other people there, inasmuch as having seen them day in and day out for years without a word ever passing between them counted as knowing. He preferred the ones he knew, because they didn’t bother making eye contact with him. People he hadn’t seen as many times always seemed to be seeking out a reciprocal gaze, which Henry resented intensely. He didn’t want to have to look at anyone. Maybe that’d be the worst official duty, he thought. Having to spend some great period of time looking at people. And then being graded on it.

Henry’s palms grew sweaty in the pockets of his khaki pants. He stared pointedly at his shoes until he heard the bus approaching.

As was the case on the sidewalk and pretty much everywhere else by now, people on the bus took pains to abstain from activities. The occasional nutcase, Henry noted, could be found engaging in outrageous behaviors from working crossword puzzles to humming a tune, both of which had previously been indicated as SADFAGs. There was no stipulation that once indicated, a given activity could no longer be used, and in Henry’s mind, this made anything already on the list especially suspect.

Like wearing certain colors. Henry recoiled inwardly at the thought. That was a common one, even –three times in the past year they’d gotten “recruits” on the basis of green, blue, or red clothes worn that day. He stole a glance around the bus, a sea of khakis and beiges, just like his. Hard to pin down, relief seemingly innate in the notion of a difference between eggshell and ecru. A squat man with a funny look on his face at the back of the bus was wearing a colorblock long-sleeve t-shirt. Green, blue, and red were all present, as was yellow –the audacity! The man suddenly returned Henry’s stare, which made the latter suddenly very interested in his shoelaces. And then he sensed it. The man was coming over to talk to him. Despite the considerable hazard it would conceivably present Henry longed desperately for a newspaper, a set of headphones, anything to put between himself and the rapidly approaching colorblocks.

“Hi, I’m Ralph.”

Henry pretended not to hear him, and stared at the advertisement for slack de-wrinkler on the wall opposite.

“I just started takin’ the bus today, you know, last week I volunteered my car for official use, apparently. Ha!”

“PICK UP THE SLACK — with TIME-SAVING DEWRINKLER from WAINWRIGHT”

“I’d never even been on one of these before, wouldja believe it?”

Henry re-read the slogan and counted the double-us.

“I tell ya, I’m a little worried about the atmosphere in here. I’ve never seen so many quiet, orderly folks before in one place. And the beige! I must stand out like a sore thumb.”

What an interesting play on words, Henry forced himself to think over his silent panic, they say pick up the slack, but it’s also about an advertisement for–

“Hey, I don’t mean to bother you or nothin’. I just thought…well, honestly, no-one else has even thrown a glance my way since I got on this thing, but I guess….”

Henry watched the man’s cheery expression drain from his face from the corner of his eye.

“Well I’ll leave you alone then, pal.”

Henry relished the sudden freedom of looking wherever he wanted once Ralph was safely back in his seat. He drank in the passing trees outside, dallied over the varyingly tight curls that made up the unruly coiffure of the aged woman a few seats down, even gazed shamelessly at his own fingernails, studying the jagged tips bitten into a thin chaotic border.

This is where I end, he thought.

He could feel Ralph staring at him as he got off the bus with a few others. At the last moment he whipped around and looked inside, immediately locking eyes with the man, who smiled warmly.

What a jerk.

***

January 25th, 2017

Feminine Exceptionalism

The following is a[n attempt at] translation of the Trilema piece Exceptionalismul femenin.

You’ve doubtlessly come across at least one side or another of these strategies/social psychopathologies in day to day life (depending on where you’ve found yourself, on the outside or the inside of the disease), even if it didn’t seem in the respective moment that they’d make up part of a structured and describable whole, just as not everyone who trips over a mastodon bone sticking halfway out of the ground will start to reconstruct the entire animal with its habitat and everything. Excusable, but man’ve we got work to do, and man’ll it be tough.

Feminine exceptionalism begins, as the name suggests, with an exception. “Sure, smoking’s not allowed here, but can’t I smoke?” “Sure, it’s written on the card not to tell anyone the PIN, the bank sent letters to remind you not to tell anyone the PIN, on the ATM screen there’s an advertisement to not tell anyone the PIN, but you’ll tell me, won’t you?” The list, in principle, is neverending, but in practice it always reduces to a very simple pattern. The rule is X, surely it’s so, but the girl doesn’t consider it to be the case that it applies to her.

She doesn’t contest that in truth the rule exists, she doesn’t contest either that it’s a good and necessary rule. In fact, any discussion of whether the rule is good or bad doesn’t interest her at all; on the contrary, such a discussion would detract from the real point of interest for her. She doesn’t contest either that she makes up part of the category of applicability of the rule. On the contrary, for feminine exceptionalism to function, a valid, useful rule whose applicability she falls within is absolutely necessary.

Why? Here we arrive at the true psychological reason for the whole operation: the girl suffers from a problem of self-esteem. She feels, she considers, or she was taught to believe herself to be inferior. Eventually all three. Inferior not just to the other men, and not just to the other women, but even to she herself, to her own “potential”.

To combat this psychological sequela, she feels it necessary to prop up her existence with special treatment. Every valid and applicable rule which is broken offers her a bubble of oxygen: maybe she’s not a piece of shit, because hey, in that moment she’s that special.

The poor form of asking to smoke somewhere the owner doesn’t, of the same species and class of asking for vegetable oil when the table’s having butter doesn’t interest her, because she is not in fact well-mannered, but on the contrary, she still carries under her nails the filth of the existence of the low to (about) the middle class which blessed her with the stretch-marks and soul-marks of which we speak.

And of course, like any psychological problem of the transactional class, this complaint exhibits two specific particularities. Firstly, it is progressive. If yesterday she’s been allowed to smoke though smoking’s not allowed, it’s no longer sufficient today, it no longer produces an effect, so she’ll smoke two, four, eight, sixty cigarettes. Until the end, the stimuli have to progress geometrically in order for the receptors to be stimulated in arithmetic progression.

If yesterday you’ve waited on her five minutes, today you’ll have to wait half an hour, and tomorrow we’ll be forced to go to another city instead of the cafe we’d planned on, for no other reason than that the girl doesn’t feel so great. In the head.

And secondly it is, like any transaction, prone to disproportionate reactions. If the girl has negotiated in her mind that for today proof of the fact that she isn’t a piece of shit will be manifested through letting her drive the car, and you don’t let her drive, for whatever reason, no matter the reason, like for instance that the car’s fallen in a lake, or it’s been stolen overnight, wasps have made a nest in there or whatever else, the girl’s head is going to explode, and she’ll bawl on about how could you say that she’s a good for nothing piece of shit.

Which, honestly, she is, preferably to be shat onto a cart headed somewhere in the direction of a hospital for nervous disorders, where who knows, with attentive care and the help of experts, something else might be done with her.

January 10th, 2017

Validation is available for all clientele in the lobby.

“M’am, do you need validation?”

“Yes.”

“Alright. Please proceed down the hall to the left. The associate at the second table will assist you.”

“Thanks.”

“Have a satisfying day, M’am.”

The portly receptionist handed the woman back her identification card and pointed down the hall indicated, her smile more impatient than reassuring. Graciela hated tight smiles like that. She knew they were fake, the smilers knew they were fake, the teeth inside it probably knew too –but nobody said a lick about it. She hastily returned the tightness out of spite and made her way down the corridor to the left of the cruise ship-like reception desk. As she turned the corner she met with a line of others, some with their shoes off, others already pantsless, and most with their arms crossed, tapping a foot or sighing with every exhale.

“God, why are they always so slow?” she thought, picturing the last set of validators she’d seen –portlier even than that receptionist, all in official sweaters a bit too tight, all making no apparent effort to get through the queue quickly. Graciela settled her mouth in for a long haul of tight smiling. The man in front of her turned around, shrugged, and raised his eyebrows, silently commiserating with a complaint Graciela had thought was silent, itself. He returned the smile. She tightened hers.

Ten minutes passed; she’d considered the striated ceiling panels, developed a strong disliking of the dark blue carpeting with its pointless red and gray splotches, and had come to fully loathe the cheap vinyl wainscotting. She kicked at it with her pointed vinyl slingbacks, being as vicious as she could without making any sound, entirely blind to –or perhaps because of– the fact that her shoes were of the exact same stuff.

Thirty bucks for a ticket and they can’t even put in some tile, she thought, her voice suddenly sounding a little like her mother’s, even if she’d only said it in her head. The line moved approximately one person’s-length. Graciela was pleased until she realized she’d forgotten she was in a line, and that the line’d have to move if she was ever going to get validated and go home. She turned around to see how long the line had gotten behind her, always something to throw an “at least” at in times like these. She was still the last in line.

“Oh come on!” It was louder than she’d meant it to be, and her face was instantly warm, her toes and fingers tingling. Nobody responded. Nobody even turned around, including the shrugger in front of her. Last and loud, the worst of the worlds –or at least, the ones that pertained to lines anyway. Wait! There it was! …not really the same though, like that. At least it had been an accident! She stopped looking for an at least, thoroughly depressed at having run out of even this.

Why had she even chosen validation?

Because I need it.

There wasn’t any argument to bring against the fact; inconvenience aside, she had to get it done before she could move on. She knew it. Before she could get back into the lobby with its slightly different pointlessly splotched carpet and its Mark, her date, who apparently didn’t need to be validated, somehow. Maybe he was just insensitive. Irresponsible. If she kept seeing him, would she have to take care of all the dirty work herself? Then again, he hadn’t seemed the least bit put off that she had chosen the left hallway. She tried to picture him waiting for her, standing right outside the service exit, coat-in-arms; patient, understanding, eager to see her again. What an idiot. More likely he was pacing the lobby with a souring expression, or he’d even ducked into another theatre when no one was looking. He could probably watch anything –horror films or porn even– and be fine! For a second Graciela’s mouth betrayed a real grin.

She would probably have been fine too, if that old film hadn’t been mostly about women. Mark wasn’t affected because it just didn’t relate to him, she thought. Old women, depicted as old women. The makeup made it worse, not better. They let the actresses walk, talk, and hold themselves like they really were old. It was sad, it was horrifying, much too realistic. And why would they have done such a thing, make her prefer the evil sister and then redeem her right at the end, taking the feet out from under the character, simplifying and stupidifying her, stupidifying her? And that good sister. Unbearable. Weak, fickle, insecure, desperate for valida–. Graciela’s eyes widened and her mouth lost any and all flavors of smiling.

It was true. She needed to be validated.

The line had moved enough to let her see the intake tables. She glanced at her watch: 5:42, almost three quarters of an hour she’d been in line, but it was definitely speeding up. They work faster when they see dinnertime coming, she thought, bending over to undo her slingbacks. She picked them up and wiggled her toes in her stockings, then took out her earrings. Only a few more people to go and she’d feel all better, and maybe next week she and Mark would go see something less risky. Something about robots, or plants maybe. They could watch a nice documentary about cacti. Or one of those things where you just sit and look at a mechanical arm welding a seam.

Graciela spent the next fifteen minutes musing about plastic and paint, toupe and seafoam, boxes and empty pads of paper, until she was finally called forward, almost euphorically unstimulated. The woman at the second table had to call her three times, breathing heavily in between M’am?s. Graciela padded to the table, a cheap foldout stacked with forms and molded trays of varying sizes. The incredible bulk of the woman attending it was nearly table-like itself; perhaps the fat was courting the furniture.

“Hello M’am, please put any jewelry in the blue tray, shoes in green, dress in red, underthings in white, do you have any prosthetics today?”

“Hello. No.” Graciela stripped and put her things in the respective trays. She held out her hands for the clipboard backed form, which the woman passed her.

“Please complete this form M’am. I’ll take your bag now.”

Graciela didn’t especially want to hand over her purse, even though she knew they wouldn’t let her take it with her. It was unclean anyway, no point in getting validation if her purse was going to stay the same. Still, she couldn’t help but hesitate a little as she slid it off her shoulder and held it out for the woman. She had liked it.

“Thank-you.”

The form was as busy with disclaimers, agency names, slogans, and trademarks as it always was, just as the actual fields to fill in remained straightforward. Graciela filled in her name, address, sex, race, age, occupation, level of education, amount currently in savings, health score, blood type, family and sexual relations, and presidential rating. She scrawled in the name of the film. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Just printing it conjured a rope of nausea in her throat. The theatre really ought to just let you check a box.

Entirely bare and very eager to be rid of the sickness, Graciela gave the clipboard back to the woman at the table. She had been staring at Graciela’s breasts, her mouth slightly open. Graciela pretended not to notice. The woman scanned the form.

“O-kay M’am, you’ll be getting validated in the bubble suite, with uh, who’s working bubble today.” The woman swiveled around in her chair until she spotted another sweater-clad behemoth. “Sherry! Hey Sherry! Yeah, who’s in the bubble suite today?”

“Chuck.”

“Right, you’ll be getting validated in the bubble suite today with Chuck. Do you consent? Into the recorder please.”

Graciela stepped forward until her mouth was only a few inches from the plastic device hanging from the ceiling over the table.

“I consent.”

A moment later Chuck appeared from somewhere in the bowels of the suitery. He was nearly as wide as tall, with an unkempt moustache and short hair that was oddly compressed in places, as though he’d taken several naps with his head crammed against a wall or desk. A thick red crease ran down the side of his face, crusted here and there with what looked like drool.

“Hello Miss, I’m Chuck,” he said. “Please follow me.”

Graciela moved with him down a series of hallways until they came to a door with a cheap printout of a clip-art bubble taped at about head’s-height. Chuck opened the door.

“Welcome to the bubble suite.”

The room was small enough to look like it wouldn’t fit more than about a Chuck-and-a-half, and indeed the man had to use his hands to push his fat out of the way of the furnishings as he entered. There was a massage table, a desk and chair with a lamp, and of course, a bubble machine in the corner. It spit occasional explosions of soap bubbles into the middle of the room, making a faint pooting sound as it released them. Everything was vaguely stained, though evidently swaddled in disinfectant and air freshener.

“Please lay down on the table miss. Face up, huh.”

Graciela did as she was asked. As she was told? It wasn’t a question, even if Chuck didn’t look like he could issue any commands. Why did they always have to be so–

“So you saw a bad movie, Miss?”

Graciela nodded and closed her eyes.

“Tell me.”

“It made me worry about being older, and like maybe I can’t distinguish between good and bad, and maybe I’m stupid. The characters’ house was bigger and prettier than mine, and the cars too.”

“Oh, how horrible. What a bad, bad film, shame on–” There was a pause as Chuck glanced at a form on the desk. “–Davis and Crawford, shame on that Mister Aldrich. You know, back then they really didn’t know any better. They were very insensitive, irresponsible. But Chuck’s here to fix all of that.”

“Mhmmm.” Graciela twitched as she felt several bubbles pop over her abdomen, spraying it with tiny specks of soap.

“Your plans for today?”

“Go home with Mark. Basic sex, eat something, walk Muriel–”

“Who is Muriel?!” Chuck interrupted, his voice suddenly all annoyance and exasperation.

Graciela opened her eyes and saw Chuck frowning over her. His belt and pants were undone, a length of flaccid flesh dangling from the hole of his boxer shorts.

“…Muriel is my Weimaraner.”

“Your what?!”

“My dog.”

“It doesn’t say you have a dog on your service entrance form!”

“Oh. I guess I forgot.”

Chuck sighed deeply, zipped up, and said he’d have to check with his supervisor. “I’ll be back shortly. Please try to prepare yourself properly, Miss.”

Graciela raised her arm to get a look at her watch before realizing it was gone. Sometimes this whole thing took so long she wished they wouldn’t even offer it. Just let people take the risk of having reactions, make them deal with it on their own. Maybe they’d even get better at it over time, if they could practice. But that, the answer came, unbidden, that is how we end up with psychopaths and serial killers. She sighed and brushed her fingertips over the tops of her thighs. A little plumper every time. It was fine to be fat, they said, but wouldn’t you have to say such things if you were Chuck’s size? She wondered how often he was validated, himself. She closed her eyes and imagined his small, floppy penis. Prepare yourself properly, he had said.

She rested her hands at either side of her on the table and shook her head rapidly as if to loosen some bind. She took deep breaths, she giggled as the soap bubbles burst against her. As she heard the unmistakable thudding of Chuck’s mass coming back down the hall, she quickly tweaked her nipples between thumb and index finger to make them stand up, and plastered on her tight smile.

Chuck entered the room gruffly, out of breath.

“My supervisor said we can continue, but your failure to provide a complete inventory of relations has been noted on your permanent record.”

“Oh.”

“So where were we, Miss?” Zip. “Ahh.”

“…Walking my dog.”

“Yes. Any other plans?”

“No.”

“And what would you like to feel?”

“Younger. Stronger…more attractive.” Chuck was getting closer to her head, a fact that betrayed itself in the increasing heat she felt there, and in the growing loudness of his breathing. “…Good, basically good, like I make the right choices and do the right things.”

“Uh-huh.”

His penis was no longer quite flaccid –more like an overripe banana as it landed on her forehead. It bounced lazily a few times over her face before coming to rest on her eyelid.

“You want to be good, do you?”

“Yes.”

“Kiss it. Huh.”

Graciela kept her eyes sealed shut and pursed her lips in anticipation of the bounty she was about to receive. The bounty, such as it was, landed with a plop on her mouth. She made a show of kissing it like a good girl would, eager and enthusiastic. Her stomach churned in disgust.

“You’re very good,” Chuck began, moving slightly away from her and beginning what Graciela knew was a two-minute-maximum masturbation sequence. Thank god they introduced a maximum last year, she thought, There were so many horror stories of people being stuck in validation for several hours, days even, they could take turns, it almost ruined watching movies. Not anymore. Well before even a minute was up, Chuck ejaculated all over Graciela’s unresponsive body, and spent another twenty seconds or so rubbing it all in.

“You’re very good, and very attractive. I like you much more than I did when you came in, Miss. I think you were older then, too.” Chuck’s voice was distant, disinterested, but the words filled Graciela with a sense of calm and safety. Chuck administered the standard set of three injections, making her a little fatter, a little plainer, and a lot more apathetic. “You’re a very strong woman. Mark must be very proud.”

Graciela smiled widely, unrestrainedly. “Thank you.”

Chuck helped her up and opened the door for her, directing her to the final processing room to collect her things.

“You have a satisfying day now, Miss.”

“You too.”

Just before the service exit she met the elephantine attendant charged with equipping Graciela for the rest of her night. She was given a recycled pair of regulation earrings, black vinyl boots, a polyester blouse with matching trousers, and a small purse containing a pamphlet, in-ear headphones, a tiny bottle of water, and a copy of her keys.

She thanked the attendant and with her new and genuine smile stepped out the door.

“Everything set?” Mark asked as he approached her, his jacket folded neatly over his arm, his hand outstretched.

“Yep.” Graciela took it, and they walked out of the lobby.

“What a great movie.” “Really great.”

December 13th, 2016

Argentina Comicon Bombon.

The taxi pulls away from the straight lines of the city as it approaches the riverside, newly-built spirals of asphalt leading it towards a cluster of squat concrete buildings festooned in pennants and printed plastic banners. A stoplight on red curbs our progress, but not my sense that the event to come will suck. In fact, it’s strengthened by a flock of what look like misplaced midwestern soccer moms crossing the road wearing batman t-shirts and hugging giant buckets of popcorn. They swivel to look purposefully at nothing, shoveling in the pochoclo with plump hands terminating in meticulous and retina-burning manicures.

“I guess this must be it.”

And it was, even if it was less of an “it” than anything else ever managed to be. But before we go in I suppose it’d only be fair to hand out a little context; there’s not all that much to go around outside the temples of half-assery and sleepy congregations that make up this city. You see, everyone in Buenos Aires is an artist. They know it just as they know they’re proud, and hungry, and worthy (of what? well, what’ve you got, and what do the neighbors have? that + 1, hoy es el dia!). It’s not limited to the young, to the female, to the left, to the anything. Are there artists in Miami and/or Italy1? Yes? Does saying you’re an artist cost money? No? Dale, entonces somos artistas. This being something of a worldwide delusion (although perhaps not quite to the degree), you’ll be familiar with the artifacts of the fallout: unbelievably shitty murals everywhere, idem rinkydink “workshops” selling objectionable curios with reeeally long “titles”, and a service industry rife with workers who don’t think they should have to be there.

Directory

So many instances of sameness, your knees’ll buckle and you’ll spend the rest of the day sitting on the floor in stupefaction.

Then there are results like the Argentina Comicon, which shed …it’s really an abuse of the term to call it “light”, but we’ll push ourselves sickeningly through; a sad little light is thrown on the mechanism at play among the “artists”. They’re only charged, in their minds, with convincing each other of their artistness. They’ve no need nor any desire to convince themselves, or to show the rest of the world who they are and what they’ve got. We know this, because their Comicon did not involve any artists. I don’t mean they had some panel whatever which was fulla film people or something and how dare they. I mean literally the entire2 space had exactly zero instances of artists showing their work, attempting to sell it, talking to interested people, or otherwise participating. One room, let’s call it the Popcorn Nexus, was where the local theatre conglomerate sold their butter flavoring buckets o’ chum and you could sign up with your DNI3 to fuck with some promo-pushing gadget brought by Disney/local cable company/Sauron for thirty seconds. The other room, which I hereby dub Shuffle & Blow –no wait, that sounds like it could’ve been fun. Let’s see…the Maze of Farts and Purchases. If you were there with me you’d be nodding your head now, I assure you. This room was nothing but tables arranged in completely disorganized rows and cul-de-sacs, naturally placed so closely together they created constant peoplejams, naturally all selling the same 5 – 10 things. You could buy: graphic novels, booklets of hentai, figurines, tshirts, or fucking katanas. No graphic novelists, no hentai inkers, no figurine painters, no tshirt designers, no katana…fuck, I’d've taken a fucking tasselknotter at that point. No artists, no “artists”. Shop clerks with their shop stuff. Five to ten varieties, please ensure you stop to gawk and mill at every.single.table nevertheless.

Popcorn Nexus

Deep within the Popcorn Nexus.

But soft! What light through yonder fartmaze breaks! There was an outdoor area, a doublespoken cordoned-off parkinglot, selling weenies and more popcorn, with a coupla carnival rides for kids, disco blasting. And sure, something like 1.5% of the attendance was “doing cosplay”. Most of it was bought, I suspect, at the pre-comicon-con, where you purchase generic blue cotton overalls and “luigi hats” while having your esophagus mechanically widened to accept the Second and Third Comings of the Popcorn.

The great outdoors.

The patio de gastronomia was so fuckin’ opulent and luxurious I wager that truck was selling straight-up pork sausages.

“And they get away with it; if a kid from San Diego, one from Germany, a Brit, and an Argentine get together at some point and the San Diegan says ‘I went to Comicon this summer’, and the German and Brit chip in, ‘Oh, me too!’, and then the Argentine joins ‘em, ‘So did I! It was great!’ they don’t turn on him and feed the guy his beer bottle.”

  1. Miami is to Buenos Aires what Barcelona is to Romania, which in turn is something akin to what a statue is to a pigeon. It’s the mutually-agreed upon congregation spot away from the rookery, the somehow-logical destination for donating some of your filth and strutting around atop it so the other animals can see your swank. Alternatively, everyone being “Italian”, it’s right and good to do or be something if the thing is celebrated there. Which is how Buenos Aires ended up thinking it has great pizza despite its actual culinary preferences resulting in a sort of oil sponge decorated with julienned nonsense. []
  2. Two rooms, 2,000m2 between them, by the way. []
  3. Social security number, basically. []
October 30th, 2016

Elliot and James, a Drinking Song

Humbly offered for those moments in the adnotated manifesto when you can’t even. Please observe the two-pint minimum!

Gather ye children, and harken your ears
to the tale of the virgins who lived twenty years
lacking titties and cunnies and everything nice
for the sake of your knowledge of prosaic vice.

There was Elliot Rodger, gentleman supreme
who, failing his forefathers, just couldn’t seem
to say so much as “hi” to the opposite sex
and you’ll understand just how much he was perplexed
by the fact that no blonde ever stopped by to flex
her sweet kegels at him in the eve-ning.

Next ’twas James who was loosely called Elliot’s friend,
though he wished that their friendship played out end to end
For where Elliot finished ’twas where James began
And to Hill Top and Round House he frequently ran
to hear Elliot’s vengeful and retarded plans
as he gazed upon him in the eve-ning.

Oh hai la de dadee, oh hai la de dae
Elliot’s a faggot, but James is just gay
They bitch about women all night and all day,
and nobody’s laid in the mor-ning.

Said young Elliot to James “Life is cruel and unfair!
for no lady that’s blessed with a bountiful pair
will walk with me by moonlight while I watch ‘em bounce,
and I tell you I’m scheming to pour ev-ry ounce
of this coffee on girls who refuse to pronounce
my great name ’round my cock in the eve-ning.”

Countered James, “Worry not that you haven’t a lass.
They don’t like you, but I do; come here, make a pass
for I’ve never rejected a dejected rod
and I’ve lusted for years o’er your nice-shirted bod.
Shut your pie hole, do my hole, or I swear to God
I’ll unfriend your Facebook in the eve-ning.”

Oh hai la de dadee, oh hai la de dae
Elliot’s a faggot, but James is just gay
They bitch about women all night and all day,
and nobody’s laid in the mor-ning.

What occurred then, O children, I oughtn’t to say,
Though the two call it now their “Rectibution Day”.
And each year they mark it with an opulent feast
which eleven-months’ long keeps them oiled and greased.
It’s a mess, but it keeps them sequestered at least
from your Alpha Phi fling in the eve-ning.

October 20th, 2016

The Best Things in Eulora are Grimy

Well, thing. There’s just one Grimy Toolkit in game so far, so far as I know, or at any rate it was only released last week. So far as I…look, intelligence in this game is about as easy to come by as talented thieves and honest politicians. Suffice it to say there was an auction for a thing the purpose and value of which were not publicly known, and I won1.

Grimy Toolkit
Looks about as indistinct as you’d expect from a bitter husk of a tool utterly bereft of even the crudest of instructions and entirely intent on obscuring its utility from the feebly throbbing folds of its owner’s tortured mind, no? And the “grimy” apellation doesn’t really suggest anything other than that the kit belongs in this decidedly downcast world, home of disgusting goop, penance clogs, petrified feelings, and so forth. At first I thought it was a gold panning device. But the sea is wide, and I’d have no idea what to do once I got there; so let’s stay in the relative warmth and safety of “town”, that unwelcoming bald spot in the grass populated by quivering humanoid boxes, and fuck around with this thing.

Initial observations: like certain items2 it can be equipped in either hand. Unlike many tools3, it is not a container. That latter bit means using the thing won’t be as easy as putting something else in there and pressing a magic button. But if other tools that are equipped in a hand are any guide, the Grimy Toolkit’ll need some sort of written command to work, just like the mining tools are used via /explore. I was loathe to try that very same command with the new toolkit equipped given the distant memory of someone’s magic bag breaking under that operation. Eulora is a harsh mistress apparently unhappy to be explored by items that don’t meet very strict slag-on-a-stick criteria.

What else is there? Uselessly, /sit and /stand came to mind (I tried anyway). Eulorum has a list!. But it’s mostly procedural stuff for moving around. There’s gotta be a file with an actually complete list of these somewhere though, right? And the command that makes use of this new thing’ll have to be in there, so let’s dig4. Going straight to dev/EuloraV(ersion) seems a safe bet since that’s where juicy stuff like configure lives. Grep it for /sit, no dice, move on. I’m sure plenty of folks would’ve speedily deduced their way to the right file, but I’ve been hittin’ the Crumbly Rock a lot lately as shinohai said and it took me a few minutes of diddling around in directories to find a pretty obvious suspect: cmdusers.cpp in /src/client. Lovely, alphabetized list, certainly some commands I’ve never seen before.

The novel ones were tried (I even proposed marriage to Heina as I moved down the list…alas, I was rebuffed). The novel ones told me pretty much nothing. Until /repair. “You do not seem to have the right equipment for this kind of work,” it said, a suspiciously specific error amidst “Invalid work command”s and unresponsive spittles of syntax. If the toolkit itself isn’t the right equipment for repairing though, what would be? Well sometimes crafting requires the player to wear certain items, like a Chair for the Head…so that and all other such equipment I had in stock was tried on in every permutation possible. Same error message. But there are other wearable pieces of equipment I don’t have, or at least, their blueprints are around. Before commissioning the tinkerers to make me a full set of everything they knew about, I made the one thing I had the blueprint and all the ingredients for: an Early Technicolor Dreamcoat. It happens to call for 24 two-leaf clovers, which would’ve been a bitch if I didn’t have a glut from earlier sacrificing activity. There’s little I love more in Eulora than sacrificing, as it yields either hard-to-find harvestable resources or certain potions that grant skills5, along with special tokens that go for half a million ECU each. But about that toolkit….

Once the dreamcoat was ready (it doesn’t look so technicolored, which I guess is why it’s the “early” version), I put it on, tried /repair again and got…a new error message! Which was slightly encouraging, even if by this point I was imagining myself stuck with the same unusable item in a year’s time. “This item is already perfectly dysfunctional.” I was trying it on my altar, which is the tool used for sacrifice. Mostly because wouldn’t that be awesome, a way to extend the life of that rather rare6 font of unfair advantages? My altar has a healthy durability left yet though; what about another container-tool with such low durability it has no clicks left in it? Coat still on, I gave a decrepit Worn Old Screens7 a try, and behold! They regained about 12k durability points.

The repairing process uses the McGuyver skill, and I’ve yet to determine if higher or lower ranking is ideal for durability points repaired versus Grimy Toolkit decay. I’ll be holding that determination for the day when my altar is broken enough to be saved. And on that day, you’ll most likely also see me gloating, for the toolkit won will recoup its costs at auction in a mere twenty clicks, not counting whatever items I might loot in bonuses. Everything from there is upside, and this in a land where upsides are usually either infinitesimal, illusionary, or both.

***

  1. For 10MN ECU, ten bitcents. []
  2. Pickaxes, adzes, hoes, and magic bags. []
  3. Bandar toolkits, craft tables, worn old screens, samovars, turning wheels, and grotesque altars. []
  4. Stuff like this really makes Eulora shine, I think; whereas pretty much every other game I’ve played would depend somewhat on players not digging around like this, and even attempt to penalize those that did, Eulora outright encourages it. For all I know this was actually imagined as the way to get the mystery demystified []
  5. This is how the mining and lumberjack skills were found this year, via imbibing The Good Hammer and A Butch Man’s Buttered Scones, respectively. []
  6. Public records suggest I have one of three extant, with the other two belonging to Daniel P. Barron. The same fella has some blueprints to make more, but I alone have one of the key ingredients, and we haven’t managed to reach any sort of arrangement, so miserly has the trade made us. []
  7. A tool for shredding recipes to yield maculature, among other things. []
June 19th, 2016

Alcachofa 7515

The house was an eyesore even among the set of crumbling pueblos and thoroughly de-modernized apartment blocks that lined the quiet street. None of the white pickets in its fence were straight, as though each piece of whitewashed wood had an argument of its own, with no point clearly winning. Long ago someone had started painting the exposed brick of its facade in flat black, but it seemed the painter had given up a third of the way in, leaving a tentative malignancy inching towards the entrance. Flanked by unruly rectangles of dirt in which not even the weeds had cared to venture, the door did in fact close but otherwise showed little resemblance to the item that was ostensibly intended.

And it was from this door that Senor Flocop emerged one autumn’s dusk, his arms swathed in an old dander-smothered sweater, his torso still testing the air in a stained franchise uniform polo. Flocop scuffed down the dusty, broken concrete of the pathway, past a worktable covered loosely in a tarp –a decaying monument to some project long since forgotten, but never thrown out. He paused at the threshold of the sidewalk on Calle Alcachofa and peered into the semi-darkness of the intersection at the corner. A few old women walked their yipping cotton-coated mutts; a pair of ancient mopeds droned out what must’ve been, what had to be, but what Flocop knew really weren’t their last drawls down the asphalt, the noise clearing, or rather, eradicating, his thoughts.

A gust of wind sent a cloud of yellowed leaves tumbling from the old oak outside the fence. Flocop started as a few brushed his head, and he shot a hurt look at the tree as he pulled the rest of his sweater over his temples and obfuscated his protruding belly in the indistinct sack of fuzz and warmth. He was nearing his fiftieth year, though he told anyone who inquired (which was, so far as he could recall, only the one, the doctor he’d seen a few months prior) he was approaching forty. His mother had taught him from a young age to subtract always a decade, a lesson that worked better now that he’d grown beyond twenty, even if it didn’t work very well at all.

Flocop slowly came to terms with the increasingly undeniable fact that he couldn’t remember why he’d left the house. The cold was beginning to bite, but then, he reasoned inwardly, he’d gone ahead and fully put on the sweater. After a minute’s worth of resting his eyes on the contemptibly familiar features of the street in front of him, he conceeded the fight and marked putting on the sweater as the height of his conceivable accomplishment. As he turned to walk back inside, he noted that he hadn’t closed the front door behind him when he’d left, and in the modest crack of light the meagre sillhouette of Bombonella, his own vague Bichon-frisee of markedly impure breeding, quivered and shook with excitement. Flocop walked briskly back towards the door, sending the dog skittering noisily inside, where it sought out some other, lesser, vantage point from which to watch the street. The moment before Flocop’s meaty hand reached the peeling plate of the door handle, an unfamiliar voice just behind him growled “Stop!”.

Flocop wanted to freeze where he stood, but his customary reaction of surprised victimhood overrode what his bowels told him was right. So he turned around, and looked mournfully at the young man in the greasy, tilted mini-mohawk, and opened his mouth to ask why he’d said it so unkindly. Then he saw the newspaper folded over the young man’s forearm, which was pointed at the apex of Flocop’s belly.

“You’re coming with me,” said the mini-mohawk, unconvincing to anyone but those he chose to say it to –which, in these parts, constituted just about the whole.

“Please don’t hurt me.” Flocop managed to mumble, feeling his skin shrink somewhere beneath the worn old sweater.

“Yeah, yeah. Come on.”

The young man motioned back down the pathway, towards the intersection, and started walking. Flocop followed him, scrambling to keep up with the young man’s gait. “I’m only forty, well actually thirty-nine, you wouldn’t hurt me, I’m young like you, we can get along, I have many projects–”

“Shut up. Jesus christ.”

At this invocation Flocop pictured El Senor and attendant saints in miniature, their idols swirling around in his fantasy field of vision, offering their protection if only he could sort them all out and put them in the correct order. He began muttering their names in sequence, stopping every few seconds to re-arrange the lineup.

“Jesucristo, Santa Eva, San Francisco de Asís–”

“Jesucristo, San Adria, Santa Eva, San Cornelio Papa, Santo Tomás de Villanueva, San Fructuoso de Tarragona–”

The young man stopped and turned around, looking at Flocop quizically. When the latter saw that folded newspaper again, he quickly spat out a new list:

“Jesucristo! Jesucristo, San Ateo! San Clemente Ignacio Delgado Cebrián! San Serafín de Monte Granario de Nicola! Santa María Josefa del Corazón de Jesús Sancho de Guerra! Santa Potenciana! San Severino recluso!”

“Don’t you ever shut the fuck up?” the young man managed in between saintly outbursts.

“San Telmo Confesor!”

“I said can it already!” The newspaper-covered hand rose from hip to heart. “The fuck you think you’re going, church? Save it, shut up, gaiete, keep quiet. You’ll have the rest of your natural life to disappoint the big man upstairs if you keep me from gettin’ disappointed first.”

Flocop gathered after a few slack-jawed moments that he oughtn’t name any more saints, though he wasn’t sure why and in truth he felt far more wronged by the injunction than the threat of what was under the newspaper. Flocop nodded, and started following the young man again down the sidewalk. He saw Senora Almendrada coming down the street on the opposite side, peering at the pair while her old hound shuffled mournfully a few steps ahead. Flocop felt certain she’d help him escape.

“Hola Senora!”

The young man stopped cold and crossed his arms, tucking the newspaper into his elbow.

“Hola Senor Flocop.” The woman shouted back.

“Como estas? Todo bien? Como esta su familia?” Flocop could feel a mystical wave of help and safety honing in on him from somewhere distant off the coast of his predicament. The dog straddled his owner’s boot and commenced extruding the day’s malnourishment.

“Bien, bien, pero, entonces, sabes que mi primo fue en la hospital para su una encarnada, si? Y esta ahora de vuelta a casa, pero la clima es tan fria y el necesito medias mas gruesas. Es la verdad que la clima actualmente es mas fria de lo que era la semana pasada, no? Ah, si, tenes un sueter! Yo tengo un sueter tambien pero yo no lo puse a cambiar con mi pe–”

“Wrap it up, we’re leaving.” The young man whispered at Flocop’s side.

“Ah! Mil disculpes Senora, necesito ir con mi amigo aqui, perdon, perdon, buenas noches!”

“Buenas noches Senor Flocop, suerte!”

The woman and her dog and its shit walked away, leaving Flocop devastated at the receeding hope of her assistance, and moreover deeply embarrassed at having had to cut her off so very quickly.

Flocop plopped himself into the passenger’s side seat of the car at the young man’s prompting. It was a nicer vehicle than he’d ever been in, one of those European makes, but which actually looked and felt as good inside as its outward appearance suggested. He imagined it must’ve cost the young man a great deal of money, which is what he asked him about the second he got in and closed the driver’s side door.

“Your mother bought it for me.”

The answer was too unexpected and confusing for Flocop to digest, so he just pretended to understand and nodded his head as if considering some sage bit of wisdom.

The young man drove quickly, and Flocop spent more time watching the spedometer and admiring the burled wood finish of the interior than contemplating where they were going; after all, he’d seen the streets around his house thousands of times, but he’d only been in such a car this once. He watched the minutes go by on the softly glowing digits of the clock, appreciating each new number as it appeared. It was nine thirty when the young man stopped the car and turned it off. Flocop had seen the clock at seven forty-five when they’d left, but he couldn’t figure how long they’d been driving. It felt like thirty minutes or so, which must’ve meant they were still somewhere in the city proper.

But Flocop recognized nothing about the street they were on as he got out with the driver.

“I don’t know this neighborhood,” Flocop said.

“I know.”

“So where are we?”

The young man didn’t answer, but walked on towards a wrought-iron gate topped with polished copper finials.

“Come on, I’ll show you the guest house.”

Flocop liked the sound of “guest house”, especially from someone with such a nice car. But he wondered why the young man had been so rude when picking him up if all he wanted was to show him his place. There was no newspaper over the arm anymore, and the enormous, souped-up gun Flocop envisioned beneath it didn’t seem to exist. He felt at ease as he followed along, through the gate, down a cobblestone path to a small, warmly-lit house sitting in an immense garden. The young man unlocked the door and let him inside, coming in after him and locking the door again.

The television was the first thing to draw Flocop’s attention. It was huge –the largest he’d ever seen, and with a soccer match already playing. He eagerly walked towards it until he was only a foot or two away, barely able to take in the whole picture.

The young man poured himself a vermouth at the minibar and put the soccer match on mute, which sent Flocop spinning around.

“Why don’t you come have a seat over here.” The young man motioned next to him on the plush leather couch. Flocop wasn’t particularly interested in anything but the game now, but he wanted to make a good impression on the young man. He sat.

Flocop divided himself between the silent match and the immaculate cleanliness of the room as the young man talked. Everything looked new and expensive; the furniture bore no cigarette burns, he saw no matted pills of dog fur, and all the lamps not only had working, burning bulbs, but were even covered in shades. He wondered if he could get a few pictures on his cellphone without the young man noticing, so he could show his friends. He gazed at the ruddy vermouth in the young man’s highball and wondered if there was any beer. The cameras at the soccer match panned over the stadium’s crowd on screen, and Flocop watched them jumping up and down with mouths wide open, the action suddenly centered on the field again, but he couldn’t tell what was really happening without the sound on.

“…will tell them the meeting is tommorow evening at eight. Hey!”

Startled, Flocop looked over at the young man, without the faintest idea of what he’d been saying.

“Pay attention, I’m trying to work with you here.”

Flocop apologized and moved closer to signify his dedication to his host’s trabajo.

“I was saying: in twenty minutes, you’re going to call your family and tell them you’ve been kidnapped–”

“Kidnapped?!”

“Kidnapped. You will tell them your price is thirty thousand pesos, to be delivered in cash at the Burger King by the Obelisk, tomorrow at 8pm. That means eight, not eight-thirty, not nine, you will tell them the meeting is tomorrow evening at eight.”

Flocop’s world seemed to abandon him as the urgency of numbers beat upon his brow for the first time. Thirty thousand, eight o’clock, it was all too much, too precise, too lacking in jerseys and Quilmes wrappers and that heretofore unassailable guarantee, as if from Heaven itself, that tomorrow would merely be a permutation of today, gloriously indistinguishable and void of change.

“My…we don’t have thirty thousand pesos!”

“Sure you do.”

“But we don’t! We don’t have a thousand to give you once, but thirty times? I’ve never…the most I’ve ever had was five thousand, Senor, please.”

The young man frowned into his glass for a moment. Then he closed his eyes and said, “Five thousand.”

“No, oh, I mean, I had, but that was years ago.” Flocop’s rate of speech was several times faster than that of his thought, a feat he’d never before achieved without the aid of alcohol.

“And?”

“And I bought a LG 552CC-X.” He knew the name as though it were his own, with the exception that he’d never misspelled the phone’s moniker.

“What the fuck is that?”

“Oh, it was a very very good smartphone, all-new, better than ayphone–”

“Was?”

“Yes, it was.” Flocop looked at the young man blankly.

“So where is it?”

Flocop wrung his hands in his lap. “I…dropped it in the toilet.”

The young man tapped his fingers against his glass.

“And it broke.” The tears began to well up in Flocop’s eyes.

“Listen, I want you to think about what your family could sell tomorrow to get some money together.”

Flocop sniffled. “There’s nothing! Ask anyone, we are hit very hard by los buitres, there is not enough even to pay the rent many months.”

The young man sighed. “You rent that piece of shit on Alcachofa?”

“Our house! Yes! But always the rent goes up fifteen percent, always, each three months. It is hard in Argentina.”

“For fuck’s sake.” The young man stood up and grabbed something off a desk behind the couch.

“I want you to write down everything you’ve spent money on in the past month,” the young man said, tossing a small pad of paper and a pen at Flocop’s lap and turning off the television. “Think carefully, make sure you get everything on there. And by you I mean you and your family.”

“My whole family?” Flocop’s eyes widened.

“The ones you live with.”

“Yes, but I live with my mother.”

“I’m sure.”

“And my father.”

“Uh-huh, fine.”

“And my tia, and her five children, and her ex-husband, his two sisters, my brother and his girlfriend, and there are her two children and her brother in law, and–”

“I get it, I get it. Look, write down everything you know about that money was spent on. Okay?”

Flocop hoped he hadn’t offended the young man, who, by the looks of things, was bereft of the particular joys of living with one’s entire extended family and assorted hangers-on. He promised himself to be nicer, and made the sign of the cross to seal it.

“Hey. You understand me?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll do it very well, good and fast.” Flocop wriggled in his seat, paper and pen in hand.

“Alright. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes. Don’t let me down.”

“Yes sir, no sir, todo bien, just like you want.”

The young man walked out, and Flocop heard the door locking behind him. He immediately went to work, scribbling down everything he could remember their money being spent on lately. A few items in, he realized his handwriting was a little sloppy, and tore off the page, crumpling it into a ball and throwing it on the carpet in front of him. Suddenly full of horror at this messing of an otherwise well-kept room, he jumped up and retrieved the ball of paper, stuffing it clumsily into his pocket. He started a new list, carefully printing each entry, but trying not to take too long.

He had run out of ideas five minutes before the young man returned, but he spent the rest of the time wracking his brain, making sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. He perked up when he heard the door opening, and sat up straight as the young man entered the room again.

“Are you finished?”

“Yes sir, everything is there.”

The young man took the list from Flocop’s outstretched hand and looked it over.

“You sure this is everything?”

“Nothing missing.” Flocop beamed.

He watched his host as he paced the room and pored over the list. La casa, of course. Los gastos, almacenes, celular

“What’s this celular? I thought you broke your phone in the pisser.”

“That is for my other phone.” Flocop said, retrieving the battered old Nokia out of his pocket. “The first smartphone I ever have, but we say it’s so-so-phone, not so smart anymore.” He laughed heartily, slapping his knee, waiting for agreement. The young man didn’t laugh.

“This says 1200 pesos. Why’s your shit phone so expensive?”

“Well, it is not my phone, it is my plan, yes? And the plan for my mother. And my father. And my tia, and her oldest–”

“Okay, okay, fuck. Listen to me, you all spend way too much on your celulares, eh? You can’t figure out how to get five thousand pesos, you shouldn’t be spending twelve hundred every month, no way everyone in that goddamned clown car house needs a fuckin’ phone.”

Flocop was stunned. He hoped the young man wasn’t going to take his cell phone away –how else would he call into the sports radio show each day to play their trivia game? It was less expensive to play with his subscription than by using the house phone. But before he could make this very important point, the young man continued reading out the items on the list.

Subte, collectivos, cines, restaurantes –wait, you’re going to dinner an’ a fuckin’ movie here? Six thousand pesos? How many times last month?”

Flocop stared at the carpet, horrified at the idea of having to remember the number of times. The number of times that anything.

“How many times?!”

The answer came after a full two minutes of what looked like profound meditation: “Twelve.”

“Twelve?! In a month?”

Flocop felt a flash of anger at his mother and sister for having pressed him to go out to dinner so often in the past couple of weeks. If only they hadn’t burned the meat and let the vegetables spoil, maybe the young man would like him better, wouldn’t be looking at him as he was.

“It was only three times to the cines, but yes sir, twelve restaurants.”

“I don’t even eat out that often, you know? You ever heard of disposable income?! It’s what you don’t have, and you’re spending it. How the fuck are you even spending it, there’s what, twenty thousand pesos on this list. How much you all bringing in?”

Overjoyed at finally having a ready answer to a question, Flocop immediately belted out “nine thousand pesos, sir!”. His smile was immense.

“So?”

Flocop continued to smile. When the young man didn’t reply, he thought it best to stand up, salute him with hand to forehead, and sit down again.

“You don’t see the problem here?”

“What problem. I don’t want to make any problems!”

“You’re short eleven thousand pesos. Where’s it coming from?”

“But not everything we pay is from what we make! How could that be?”

“So where’s it from, you telling me you’re getting eleven thousand pesos a month in aid?”

Las ganancias, si, claro!

“You said the vultures hit you bad, and you’re getting more than half your monthly expenses paid for?”

Los buitres are no good, sir, no good at all. They come in, they destroy the community, they ruin the businesses, we cannot live in progress.”

“Eh why the fuck am I trying, you don’t have the first clue what you’re talking about.” The young man muttered, rubbing his hand over an aching forehead. He looked at the list again disinterestedly, and noticed an item towards the end he’d skipped over on the first pass. Blanqueador.

“Hey, what’s 200 pesos worth of bleach doing on here, you get yourself into some sort of mess?”

“Ah, si, the bleach, for Bombonella.”

“Your maid moonlight as a stripper or something? What kind of name is that?”

“No sir, Bombonella is my dog!”

“…why’d you spend two hundred pesos on bleach for a dog?”

“Well it is in the first place my sister’s dog, and since it is always walking around the house and picking up dust on its fur, which gets dirty and brown, she has decided she will dunk Bombonella in the bleach once a week to keep her pretty.”

The young man squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled.

“Listen. New plan. You call your folks, your tia, whatever, you tell them to get all the money they have right now, and the dog, bring it to the fucking Burger King at 8pm tomorrow, and they can have you back.”

“You want me to go?” Flocop was genuinely hurt.

“Yes I want you to go, and I don’t want you getting another dog, either. Or any other pet. Got that?”

Flocop thought it was an odd demand. But he was sure some answer or other he’d given had been very wrong, because apparently the young man didn’t want to stay friends.

But there was no more soccer, no hope for the beer he’d been thinking might come at the end of his diligent listmaking, the hardest he’d worked since junior high. There was only the telephone, the old, corded kind, handed to him by the young man. So Flocop dialed.

“Yeah.”

“Listen, Silvia, I have to talk to you–”

“You son of a bitch!” His aunt screamed at him through the heavy apparatus. Flocop held the receiver a few inches further from his ear and wished he hadn’t fucked up his good phone, so he could ignore her and look at the girls from Page 6 instead as she barked.

“Going out for parilla by yourself, you leave the whole house without any dinner, and I suppose also you’re drunk? Where are you?! At the corner? We are coming, you’d better be ready to pay for all of us!”

“Silvia, hold on a moment, listen–”

“Carmilla wants papas con cheddar, and Antonio will have choripan, and–”

“Silvia! I must talk to you about a serious situation, please listen to m–”

“Oh! And you left the door open when you went, and nobody can find Bombonella!”

Flocop felt a new sensation somewhere in his midsection, innovatively uncoddled as it was by the very empanadas and fists of meat his aunt suspected him of gorging upon, as per his usual habit. It was hollow, unsafe, capable somehow of understanding dread more readily than the rest of him.

***
Epilogue

Bombonella padded tentatively past the few blocks native to her nightly piss-and-shit routine, eager for new trees and breaks in the concrete where old rats’ tales might whisper, though she was somewhat unnerved by the lack of monosyllabic imperatives, shouted over her head. But the weather was pleasant, and her grid of interest promised to stretch on beyond the few steps she’d known, and so she went, sniffing, searching, for something better, which in this land was anything and nothing at all.