Klaus. He is a man, twenty-one, lanky, dainty, and—to be honest—bad at painting, yet he is not a painter, in that he is not failed at it, a failed painter—he just doesn’t paint really. Maybe if he tried, he could. Klaus actually had a job though, a poor job. His performance was poor, his pay was poor, and the job’s quality was itself poor as well. Klaus worked in an office mailroom. Most of his days he spent in the mailroom smoking—itself against state regulations—and reading—against company regulations!—and doing what he was.
Was Klaus not a mailman, then? Klaus was not a mailman or, more properly, a mail-room technician. No, Klaus was a writer, a fairly bad one. His words weren’t necessarily wrongly placed, nor were they necessarily harsh to reading, nor were they necessarily boring. These words, however, were unpublished, rejected, and thus made him dejected.
“You have form,” wrote an actual writer to him once, “but you have no content.”
Unnamed actual writer’s writing was right. Klaus had nothing.
“I have nothing,” said Klaus, “What do I have? I have all the means and nothing to write about. I have pen and paper and keys and boards and ink and paper but nothing else. Write about life, they say, but life’s a bore.”
“How about you shut the fuck up and get back to work?” said his boss, in the mailroom, where he (Klaus) worked, for occasionally his boss would stop by to make sure Klaus was working, as a boss does, before he himself would go back to his office and watch sports.
“Yes sir!” On a table there were stacks of parcels and letters. Klaus took a stack and placed it in a bin labeled
Klaus picked up another stack and eyeballed the
mail bin. He tried to recreate the earlier feat, but a letter fell out the stack.
Cut to the fallen letter: white envelope, handwritten addresses.
TO KLAUS SCHREIBER
FROM EXCELLENCE PUBLISHING
A letter! Klaus tore it open, threw away the envelope, and unfolded the paper. (It was an actual letter! from a publisher! an excellent one as well!) Now his eyes did that thing where they move from left to right over a sequence of letters in order to infer meaning. Klaus was hoping a positive meaning would be inferred by his left-and-right symbol processing.
The beginning of the letter was a bore.
Dear Mr. Schreiber,
Excellence Publishing thanks you so very much for sending us such an excellent submission. This selection of short poems and fiction are beautifully written.
Again, how boring.
I am, however, sad to inform you that we cannot publish such a work at the current time or into the future (whether near or distant). Your work was great but absolutely horrible. Poems about washing-machines? Stories about mailrooms? Also your protagonists are all the same: emotionally dead, boring, nihilistic, young, white men.
I wholeheartedly encourage you to resubmit material after you reassess your works’ content and after you are able to write for a wider, more interesting audience.
Mario C. Excellente
“Damn,” said Klaus. How typical, how utterly, utterly typical. With nothing else to do then but work, out he pulled a pack of cigs and lit up. After a drag, he stepped outside the mailroom and yelled out.
“Hey boss!” yelled out Klaus, “I’m going on break!” He had sort of done that thing where you lean into your yell and looked around, unsure of where the auditorial recipient was. Interestingly enough, after working here for a year, he hadn’t the faintest clue where his boss’ office actually was. You’d think he would, as he did manage his boss’ mail, yet Klaus only delivered his mail to his secretary.
His boss peaked out into the hallway from a room (his perhaps?) and looked for the yelling, then settled on Klaus. “I thought you already were on break?” he said.
“That was earlier.”
“Of course…It’s lunch now, then?”
Klaus puffed. “Yeah, I’m gonna eat lunch.”
“Well swell, then. So’ll I. In fact,” he circled his head around, mopping up employee eyes, “it’s lunchtime for everyone. Everyone go eat lunch, boss’ orders.”
“Kay, right then.” And Klaus dipped back into the mailroom.
He picked up his keys and wallet and called the room’s service elevator. As he waited for the 40 year old Austrian, electro-mechanical integrated elevator pulley system to lift the lift, Klaus smoked, then thought, then smoked.
Dearie, does smoke do a number on the lungs.
This cough produced some discolored mucus. Shit, thought Klaus, then he smoked, then he thought. He thought, is this a dangerous sign?
Dangerous. Say it with Klaus. He said it slow. It reminded him of his former formal French teacher. This man, Faux le Fleur, had a penchant for saying English cognates in their original French form. Dahn-jer-roo, said le Fleur.
Klaus smoked. Then he thought.
Why did le Fleur hate me? thought Klaus.
Le Fleur, his former formal French teacher, once chaperoned the French Fall Fantasy Formal. All the popular kids were there, and Klaus. They dressed in their finest medieval garb and drank mead out of large pints. Klaus dressed in a shabby cardboard knight outfit and brought a six-pack of Lacroix with. His mother had insisted he dress as a jester, as they had the clothes and he had the fit, but Klaus insisted on the contrary to be a knight. Yet that knight’s night at the French Fall Fantasy Formal was far from the fantastical fantasy that you’d expect since he started from so strong a strong point in his insistence to be knighted that night as knight, and as such you’d think his night would be fantastic—
But no! Klaus had entered into the gymnasium alone, with an new inmate’s face, and Le Fleur saw the young meat. “Wha-tuh aaahr yooo soo-pohs-duh toooo bee-uh?” said le Fleur.
“Come again?” said Klaus.
“Muss EYE speeek zee Zhjair-mon?” said le Fleur, “Wha-tuh aaahr yooo soo-pohs-duh toooo bee-uh?”
“Yoo loo-kuh lye-kuh a fah-gét,” said le Fleur.
Woah, thought Klaus. He didn’t remember the French Fall Fantasy Formal to be so ridiculous. I mean he did, just now, but was his former formal French teacher such a stereotype? I mean, yes, he did call Klaus a faggot, and yes, Klaus did break into tears, and yes, Klaus was sure that the entire school would think that he was gay, and yes, Klaus thought that le Fleur must have heard from that cute neighbor boy about how they had once—
The elevator was here. Klaus got in that elevator.
Outside the office walked Klaus to a coffee shop. The one he patronized was two blocks down. The bottom floor of his office had a cafe, and on the way to his were several more. Each of these cafes were demonstrably better than the one that he went to, but Klaus went to his for a specific reason: it was quite shitty, and nobody was ever there. Accordingly, the coffee was cheap (and shit), and the cafe was silent.
There also was a barista who knew exactly what he wanted. Not that that’s a feat when your customer base can be counted on two hands.
Klaus opened the door, ordered coffee, and sat down. His table was a two-seater in the back, providing him with a view of the entrance, the barista, and the other patrons.
Go and pick up a sponge right now. Yes, stop reading and go pick up a sponge, the grimiest dirtiest shit sponge you got in your shit home. Do that, then come back to this story.
Now I hope that you have the sponge. Smell it. It’s dank, no? Much bacteria and mildew must be living up inside that, perhaps even your eyes have watered just now. Look at the holes in the sponge. Don’t they look like little wet grottos? Imagine then, but for a moment, that one of these had a counter, a series of tables and chairs, a whiteboard menu, a Yugoslavian coffee machine, and some equally disgusting deadbeats hanging about. This then is Klaus’ coffee shop.
Klaus’ eyes watered, and he sniffled. He rubbed in his eyes, and when they opened, there was a man sitting across from him.
“Hello,” said the man sitting across from him.
“Hello,” said Klaus sitting across from the man sitting across from him, “Can I ask who you are?”
“May you, and yes,” said the man. Klaus could now see the man better, in that, torn out of the shock of a man sitting across from him could he now reallocate his mental will towards discovering the man, in the most strictly phenomenological sense. The man was a quite tall man, most definitely a sweater man—as seen from his wondrous Christmas sweater of two Reindeers copulating—and the man surely was a smoking man. Because he was smoking. Cigarettes. In. Front. Of. Klaus.
Klaus’ eyes lit up, and he exhaled and breathed back again shallow, then coughed up some more mucus. “Oy,” said Klaus.
“Shut up!” said Klaus. He straightened his back, then slouched down to lean into conversation, then straightened his back again and said, “May I ask who you are?”
“You most certainly can.” The man finished his cigarette and lit another.
“Who are you?” asked Klaus.
“I am Luigi C. Excellente, brother of Mario C. Excellente, son of Gorgonzola C. Excellente, and let me tell you something. I come from a family of excellence. I was born into it. I swam in it. I ate, every goddamn morning for breakfast, excellence. In fact, you could say that excellence runs through my veins. In fact—” Luigi slammed a briefcase on the table, opened it, and took out a syringe labelled:
He jabbed his arm. “UUUUUUUUUUUuUughghguhUGHuhguhguh” said Luigi as the excellent morphine swam from syringe to vein. “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOH FUCK!”
Luigi dropped on the floor, convulsed, stood back up, sat back down, shook his face like a drunk horse, and then continued his spiel, “As an excellent man working in publishing excellence, I took notice of your manuscript.”
“Did you like it?” asked Klaus.
“What? No, I only noticed it you fucking dingus—sorry, sorry that’s rude. Not everyone has excellent hearing. I gotta remember that.” Luigi puffed his cig a bit and rocked his head back and forth. “Just be cool, just be cool man,” he said quietly to himself but actually not very quietly and actually really discomfortingly loudly. “My brother read your manuscript, and he loved it—it was excellent! But it wasn’t what we were looking for. It just wasn’t excellent, you dig? But you have talent kid, kid have you got talent! Of course that’s all hearsay from my brother, who’s excellent by the way, just fantastic and excellent.”
The barista put Klaus’ coffee and another on the table.
Luigi to the Barista, “Excellente Signori! Grazi grazi grazi!”
Klaus drank his coffee and lit another cigarette. “Do you have a point Mr. Excellente?”
“That’s my father—call me Luigi.”
“Yes, Luigi, do you have a point?”
“Yeah fuck you I got a fucking point. My fucking shit-stain of a brother—who’s excellent, mind you, an excellent shit-stain—thinks that a writer has to already be excellent to be published, but I have another idea, an excellent idea, although be it one that nobody else thinks is excellent, that is we should publish not so excellent things, but rather things that have potential to be excellent, you dig?”
“By which you mean?”
“You! I wanna give you a book—an excellent book deal.” Luigi lit another cigarette and handed it to Klaus. “You dig?”
Klaus looked at the cig, and shook his head in agreement, but he still hadn’t vocalized it yet, so he took the cig, thinking that it would represent something like a verbal contractual agreement.
“Mama mia! The fuck are you doing!?” said Luigi.
“I thought it was like a symbolic thing, like friendship or—”
“Bruh, I was just pointing.”
“I still got the deal though?”
“Yeah, bet your excellent ass you do. We’ll send you the details by mail and an advance, but all you need to know for now is that in one month I expect a fucking masterpiece, or something of that manner.”
With that, they both stood up, shook hands, and shook heads at one another in agreement until Luigi sort of just slipped his hand out of that and slinked away, albeit excellently.
* * *
How happy was Klaus, sitting there, drinking his coffee like he just won a big publishing deal or sumpin. Although, he was still confused about the whole morphine thing.
I’m confused, thought Klaus, and probably traumatized as well.
Who cares though? This boyo right over here got himself a book deal. In only a month he’d be published.
One month, thought Klaus. I have only one month to write a book. Klaus slunk down his chair, his body melting. Now but his head, neck, and shoulders were on the chair, his legs strewn out. He pulled on his cig.
His eyes stung, his heart raced, his skin sweat, and he saw a briefcase. He saw, beneath the table, a black briefcase. It wasn’t his, and it would be very unexcellent for Luigi to forget his briefcase, especially if it had excellent narcotics within. Perhaps Luigi had two briefcases.
Klaus sat up with the briefcase and put it on the table. It was not a typical briefcase—it was rectangular and whatnot, but it was suede, had two chihuahuas copulating on it, and sub coitu was something printed in golden letters:
MADE IN ITALY
Logically, the next step for Klaus was to open it.
Salt, pork, and oregano smelt Klaus, and so there was, a slab of prosciutto and fresh oregano laid neatly next another on the left side of the case’s interior. On the right were things that didn’t smell: a silver lighter, a revolver, and a pack of cigarettes. And so having happened to need a new lighter, he took the silver one, and having happened to need a gun, he took the revolver, and having needed to feed his addiction, he took the cigarettes. Klaus, however, left the prosciutto.
* * *
Later that night, Klaus was home, a tawdry one bedroom rent-controlled apartment. He sat before his desk, a desk that, besides from the space for him to put his arms as he typed on his computer, was covered in paper. Most of them were pages of manuscripts. In the trash heap that was these papers, red ink glittered through and revealed their movements: a straight line here followed by a twist, then an X which moves into three lines beneath each other, from there the red circled itself around a row of words.
Other papers were other, and so they were literary magazines, tabloids, newspapers, notes, bills, banknotes aka dollar bills, rolling papers, and the like. Next to his laptop, upon a rejected manuscript, was his cup of coffee, ashtray, bugler, and now his new cigarettes and silver lighter. There also were many lists, boring lists, listing things, one, after another, after another, but the problem with lists is that after a while they get so long that they make you annoyed, bored, tired, sleepy, and so on.
Klaus had received the full details of the book deal in the mail alongside a five-thousand dollar advance. The details were as follows:
Dear Mr. Schreiber,
You hereby agree thusly and so forth fully in all legal being and legal Spirit to fully actualize your Self in pontificating the full nature of Essence and Being within thine own book, that which being the very book for that which you were to have thus far and so far as thus received the aforementioned yet unmentioned as of such advance therefore.
Most thusly and excellently hence must thou goest forth and maketh us some money. Mine own father, Gorgonzola C. Excellente, hath to me spoke that “money maketh man, man maketh money.” As such he spent such great sums of currency and so forth to give me the best English education that One could ask for from Exeter—CONTRARY TO THE OPINION OF YOU PHILISTINES, NOT EVERY BOARDING SCHOOL IS HOMOSEXUALLY INCLINED—OF COURSE THINGS OF THAT NATURE HAPPENED HAPPENED BUT WE ALSO LEARNED TO SPEAK THUSLY.
Regardless, thou must for me make a novel sizing itself upon the heights of 150,000 words in one-twelfth year. Thence willst thou receive the full payment of 100,000 American dollars.
Luigi C. Excellente
PS. I know you stole my cigs and lighter and gun.
PPS. I deducted it from your advance which was to be originally 10,000 dollars.
In accordance with these terms, Klaus set out to write one-hundred and fifty-thousands words to be compiled into some sort of novel, and in accordance with that task, Klaus found himself in a familiar land, nowhere.
Nowhere is what some writers call “writers’ block” although not Klaus. Klaus thought that writers’ block didn’t exist in and as a medical condition; rather, those weak willed writers who couldn’t write without instruction, without guidance, found themselves lost for words. Grasping at nothing because they needed to start at something. Klaus, however, wasn’t a total dummkopf and knew that words come from your head, and if you use that head, you can make words. Anyone can always write so long as they are, but sometimes you are not. In those instances of non-being, dissolving into the waves of life, rather than finding himself in being, in life rather, Klaus found nothing. He found himself to be nowhere.
Here was Klaus’ problem. How could he write from nowhere? How when, whenever he was, the ground ripped asunder beneath him, how then could he write about that ground? Klaus’ novel had to be about things, with people in it, or it had to be a story about people with things in it as well. To put it in more practical, dare I say relatable, terms, Klaus needed divine inspiration, a heavenly muse to come down and touch him (with wisdom or whatever they do). Surely there was some second-rate Saint who specialized in providing inspiration to the young useless nihilists of the world, who would give them killer book ideas.
As any writer knows, when the new God fails to help, divinity can be found elsewhere, i.e. cigs and booze. Klaus got himself a can of Hamm’s and got drinking at his desk, and to pair, he reached to the cigarettes he’d bought from Luigi for somewhere between zero and five-thousand dollars of his pay.
The pack had yet its cellophane wrap about it, although tinted yellow was its entirety, obscuring the pack’s brand. Klaus tore this off and held the pristine pack before himself. He read the brandname out loud:
DOKTOR TEUFELS SPIEGELZIGARETTEN
On its side, he read:
SURGEON GENERAL’S INSPIRATIONAL:
ACT AS IF EVERY DAY IS YOUR LAST
This brand he’d never heard of before. Although, based off the simple packaging design and frankly un-American spelling of doctor, it was apparent that these cigs were foreign, strangers in a god-fearing land about to be smoked by someone who buys fifty-cent beer and can’t tie a windsor knot without messing up and having to go at it again.
Satisfied with this discernment of otherness, Klaus decided to reconcile himself with a cig, and so he did.
A klink of the lighter and a tschuh of the flint.
The cig’s smell now took on a hint of chemical after the sweet blended Virginian tobacco, and the flavor matched so: sweet then basic, like soap in your mouth. When the smoke hit his throat, he felt a rush through his body. This buzz was greater than any other. Sound zeroed, time slowed, and our boy felt it: clarity. The formless and empty white he sat hovering over. He willed there to be black and so there was; Klaus wrote and wrote, swirling word onto word, leaving one after another behind as they coagulated into semiotic veins. From veins he formed being, and being begat motion, and so the story became so. Klaus truly felt alive.
Klaus was also really fucking high and under the effect of psychoactive chemicals which had the tendency to: increase clarity (check), increase sense of purpose/knowing of Being (check), and increase the dilation of time so that much is accomplished in little or vice versa (check). He was still giving birth to a beautiful (maybe) piece of art (doubtful), for sure, but what of when the birth was over?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder says the art critic who gouges beholding-eyeballs alongside prices, so what can be said of the Klaus-born besides here it is:
* * *
A WORLD WITHOUT COLOR; or, WHAT A BORE!
AN INSPIRATIONAL AND BRAVE NOVEL BY KLAUS SCHREIBER
Today was then as then was today. By which, it was an ordinary day, same as last as same as before. People walked and talked. Trains chugged and chooed. Rain dropped. And today the city was as gray as before (because there’s no color).
The people were a light gray touching whiteness, but they never achieved it. They wore dark clothes and light clothes and white clothes and at particular times of the day, sometimes with particular people, no clothes.
The trains were uniformly white with black stripes on the side.
The rain, quite simply, looked like rain.
Forest didn’t care whether rain looked like rain or not. He didn’t care if it was dark or light. His job had nothing to do of the sort. Rather, he was a pharmacist. He cared if pills were pills and which pills were dark and which were light. If he didn’t care, someone could die. So was the job of a pharmacist.
On this particular day, Forest had to go work late, as the Fates had wished it.
Typically Forest took the train that left at 7:15. However, on this particular day, that train wasn’t there. See it: Forest, standing on the station platform amid a sea of other tardy white-collars. So the train was late. Forest looked at his watch again—7:21. Now with the indignant fuel of self-righteousness he could sigh, so he did. SIGH. A heavy blow of air out there.
Another man, who was directly next to Forest and who had, as well, looked at his watch and was, as well, now enflamed with polite professional anger, turned to Forest. “Where is the train?” he asked for the purpose of no answer.
“It appears to be late.”
The other man sighed. SIGH he did, a heavy blow only comparable in general contempt with that of Forest.
What these two men didn’t know was the meanwhile; that is, what was happening was meaning in the while that they sighed. For this, a train was stopped, stopped upon the tracks whereupon it should be rather gliding.
In the cabin of the train stood the conductor, a man, with two arms, two legs, one head, and generally a body deemed normal. Generally deemed normal is the important phrase here. To some, blindness is no abnormality, it is simply another beautiful variation upon the already beautiful and universal human body, universal in that everyone was different. As part of welfare-reform, this conductor couldn’t simply take a disability check because he couldn’t work. NO! This is un-American. Said conductor must work for his right to not work, and so he did.
This conductor, let us call him John (’tis a simple name), was on his first day of work. All that he had to do was to pull the lever down, downwards clearly labeled in bright arial black as GO, and when he was approaching a station, he was to pull the leaver upwards, upwards clearly labeled in bright arial black as STOP.
Forest tapped his foot. The other man looked one way angrily, then the other. Forest sighed. The other man sighed. Forest looked around for another angry person—he saw one, they locked eyes, and their eyes spoke:
“What a day,” spoke Forest’s eyes.
“I know, this is where our taxes go,” spoke the other eyes.
“We are taxed enough already!” spoke Forest’s eyes.
“Quite true, quite true.” Thus spake the eyes.
Poor John, a trembling wreck. His hand had managed its way onto the lever, and he pulled down. THUS BOLTED THE TRAIN. You see, if he’d bothered to read the lever (clearly labeled, clearly labeled good friend), he’d have seen written in Arial (point 8) that one must “ease into the pull-down as not to accelerate the car towards certain doom.” John didn’t like doom. I don’t like doom. Who likes doom? The game DOOM is surely fun, but the notion, who likes the notion? The notion is something definite, something finite, like the 90 degree turn the train approached. It’s a permanent notion. Such a notion carries an awful connotation, as did the train carry at least (the very least) a hundred people. What is this connotation you ask? Hell. Doom isn’t death, but death with end, and in that sense, separation from God and his eternal kingdom, separation like how the train cars separated as they smashed into the turn’s concrete siding. Doom is thus a difficult subject, a difficult subject indeed.
Forest and Wolken (the other man, he has a name) chatted.
“My favorite one would be,” said Forest, “Waiting Room.”
“Ah, good one,” said Wolken, “mine is Merchandise.” Wolken, en guard, unsheathed a cigarette from its black and white package.
said the package. Wolken held one to Forest, but Forest denied.
Wolken lit and puffed. “I bet the fucking train isn’t even coming.”
“Yeah I fucking think. What’s your fucking problem?” said Forest.
“What? Calm down,” said Wolken. He looked to his cigarette. “Take this.” Forest took the cigarette from Wolken. A drag and a sigh, but a happy one full of smoke. A small black man in Metro gear appeared on the platform.
His presence enraptured them.
“The Black Line is closed for track-work, so we have a bus available,” he said.
“Where does the bus go?” asked a woman.
“It goes, um,” the Metro-man backed up towards the platform exit, “to New…Carrolton, I think.” Then as cookies do leave from the jar at night, he vanished in a puff of smoke.
“Oh, so that’s where our taxes are dun going,” said your racist uncle.
Cue studio laughter and credits…
Where am I? Who am I? What’s this? Is this blood? Let me taste it to be sure—yes that is most definitely blood, but is it mine? Let me taste again—yes that is most definitely my blood, but wait! I must be sure, let me taste one more time—yes that is mine, deliciously mine. Where am I? I feel stuck. As if I was in a train and that train went too fast, say 100 mph, into a tight curve, say 90 degrees, and in this turn the conductor, let’s say that’s me, didn’t slow down in time, or perhaps at all, and so the train derailed and collided into the concrete barrier, which as we all know, are on such turns. From these facts, I may deduce that I am John, the Blind Conductor.
So were the thoughts of John.
Here were the thoughts of some of the passengers on the trains, also in the metal meat pie wreck:
“MY LEG! MY LEG! AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!”
“JIMMY!? JIMMY!? WHERE IS HE? WHERE IS MY DEAR CHILD?”
“THE INFIDELS ARE DEAD, I SHOULD TAKE CREDIT. ALLAH AKBAR”
So were the thoughts of the train’s passengers. My thoughts are so: train safety is important. Let us increase federal funds to stop such tragedy.
So was the name inscribed on the pub in a large old-type font. Wolken and Forest had long since left the platform and had decided to play hooky for the day. They entered the British-style pub. A man with a large waxed beard and mustache, pomaded hair, thick horn-rimmed glasses, wearing a flannel shirt, and ear gauges caught them at the entrance.
“Hello,” he said, “and welcome to The End, short for The End of History. Have you been here before?”
“Never,” both said.
“Okay then, follow me.” He led them to a table. “We do things differently here. We don’t think of ourselves as much as being a restaurant as being a meeting-space.”
“I love meat,” said Wolken.
“What we look for is some sort of creative Discourse to take place here at the restaurant. People don’t come here simply to wine and dine, but to whine as well, whine about current affairs, art, politics, and so forth. And we believe, as it is central to our business motto, that this whining leads to useful conversation, which is really what we need more of in this country.”
“And what comes after conversation?” asked Forest.
“New shared experiences. Here a black man and a white man can have a dine, a wine, a whine, and then a conversation here together. Perhaps they can talk about class, or sexism, or even racism. Regardless, we believe that from that comes a new mutual understanding.”
“But does the black man gain any sort of empowerment?” asked Wolken.
“No, but he receives something greater than mere economic or political power, for he receives a new understanding. So, a poor person may come and leave here poor, but now he understands more.”
“Oh, so people understand the chains of ideology?” asked Forest.
“No. Say a poor man comes in here—here’s your table,” they sat down in a booth, “that poor man will leave with a better understanding of what it’s like to be rich, and how the rich aren’t too different from us; rather, we are all humans, living in a universal camaraderie.”
“But not of power?” asked Wolken.
“No, of course not, just general feeling.”
“I see,” said Forest. “May we order now?”
“Of course.” The waiter handed them their menus. “Now, here at The End, we do things differently with ordering.”
“Oh please do tell,” said Wolken.
“We actually liberate you from the ordering experience.”
“How so?” asked Forest.
“The chef over there,” cut to the chef looking across the kitchen counter, “he chooses what it will be that you eat, and he does this by looking at you. The idea is that nobody knows what you want better than an expert.”
“So I have no choice?” asked Wolken.
“But we are liberated?” asked Forest.
“Most certainly,” said the waiter. “Let me take those menus off you.” He took their menus back. “I’ll have your order out when it’s ready.” And, he left.
Forest fidgeted. PAY NO MIND TO US—WE’RE JUST A MINOR THREAT. The song played out in his head, and it played out very loudly, it banged on his kopf. BANG BANG BANG, it goes. Forest smiled and glided on high.
Wolken too had music in his head, but it didn’t bang or scream or run. This music was much more like that to be found in an elevator, slow and calming, a natural jamming of claustrophobic boredom.
A teen walked past their table; he wore Doc Martens and a bomber jacket, his head was shaved, a true skin head. Forest saw him, and his mind raced. “Wolken, have you heard of skinheads?”
“They’re Nazis, right?”
“Actually, skinheads started out apolitical, they were just British kids who liked black music but then black music became political and the right wing ones went right while the left went left and the left wing ones did things like Rock Against Racism and Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice while the right wing ones became subsumed by Neo-Nazi culture and also interestingly there was a split in the skinheads between working-class youth and middle-class youth who had longer hair and were less racist while the more working-class youth had to have their hair short because they worked in factories and they were the more racist ones—or at least I think this is so, either way, the way they dress is really cool—who doesn’t love Doc Martens?”
Wolken nodded his head.
Forest violently tapped the table to the beat in his head.
Wolken spoke, “Should I get drinks?”
“Yeah, that’d be good, I like drinks,” said Forest.
Wolken ordered drinks, the only traditional restaurant process to not be corrupted in this establishment. Wolken ordered a beer for himself and a beer for Forest. When both beers arrived, both a light gray (get it there’s no color in this world folks), Forest skulled his and resumed tapping. Wolken drank at a more moderate pace, for he was the more moderate man. All things in moderation are good, said his mother, or perhaps his father, or perhaps it was all things in moderation are moderately better than being purely bad which isn’t in itself necessitating good.
Unsere Fahne flattert uns voran!
Und Forest woke up. Where? Later, at a different time. When? At home. Forest was ready. Ready for something, someone, but he hadn’t the clue who. What feeling is this then? Like the edge of a razor blade. He’d nothing but a T-Shirt and boxers on while he brushed his teeth, but that’s normal, yet he glode, skates on ice: teeth brushed, hair done, body dressed, bed made, food ate, drink drunk.
Today Forest would avoid the Metro, him and Wolken had both decided on this. Wolken would pick him up this morning in his car, and they both go to work. They were, as one might say, pooling themselves in a car.
DING DONG DING DONG DING DING DONG ding donged the door bell. Wolken has arrived. Forest opened the door, and there stood a well-dressed respectable man: black suit, white skin. “Come in,” said Forest.
“I’d rather not, we should get going.”
“Oh, yeah.” Forest took his briefcase and left the home.
Wolken drove fast. You know those speed boards that tell you how fast you’re going? The ones that you speed down for so you can avoid the dreaded
and you may instead get just a speed within the limit. Well Wolken got
which frightened Forest whose head was rather anxious. “AAAAH” screamed Forest.
“Shut up!” screamed Wolken.
And so he did, until music came up, that is the silence didn’t last too long, nobody can deal with silence. Silence reinforces our own thoughts, the thoughts which we avoid, those which tell us to examine who we are and who you are and who they are and who she is and he is.
Thus, we listen to music.
“I have a mix-tape to play,” said Wolken.
“A mix-tape? How old are you?” said Forest.
“I have lived if that is what you mean,” said Wolken.
“No, not at all. But, still, play the music please, I’d like that.”
Wolken pressed play on his phone and the playlist begun.
Not an hour later, they were both at their respective works. Forest worked in a pharmacy, Wolken in an office building across the street. There, he did business. He took memos to Johnson and gave cards to Carol and said good morning to Linda. He was in meetings and meet-ups and meet-outs. It was there in the meets that he did the most business.
“Do a business,” his boss would say, and all the workers would nod in agreement.
“Oh yes sir,” they’d say, “right on it. Lemme just fax corporate some of those business numbers about the money stuff.”
Today, there was an all business meeting on business in the business center’s business room for meetings. The Boss, a well dressed man, with a top hat, monocle, waxed mustache, slicked back hair and golden tooth, stood at center and counted those in the room.
“One hundred, one hundred one, one hundred two,” he counted, “Now let us begin the business meeting on business. As some of you may know, a leftist rag ran an article on us, BIZCORP LLC (in case you forgot), arguing that we are mere parasites who make no value. Well money doth maketh the man.”
“Money maketh man, man maketh money!” cheered the room.
“Ah yes, settle, settle. But, in case we are ‘investigated’ once more by one of these red rags, corporate shall have you prepared with certain knowledge of the company, certain talking points so to say so as to say to stop their say against us, say?”
“Say so, say so,” the room.
“So say that a say so reporter comes to here to say about our model, so say we then? Say us so that we are, say, a Capital firm?”
“Nay so, nay so,” the room.
“Ay so, ay so. Nay, what we say is we make money, so say that we have money, say Capital, which isn’t actually money per se, but still so, we take Capital and invest it so—”
The room’s door opened.
“Say someone wishes to build a store, or—here’s hearsay—a store needs Capital to sow investment—”
“So we come and say, here is Capital, so take it, and we will reap that which you sow.”
“Reap the seeds!”
Wolken out of place, “Yes, rape the seeds!”
“It’s so, it’s so. And keep in mind that here at BIZCORP, you are family, we are family, and family doesn’t tell on family, especially to red snitches—else, youse is bitches.”
The Boss stepped down, figuratively, and a new speaker arose. She wore a suit, and had a normal look, a bore to say (say so say so). “Hello, I am Susan, from HR.”
“I am here to announce that the company has decided that the Washington branch of the company is no longer needed to do business good on the national stage, and so, you are all fired.”
Forest had an easier time at work, for he had it. No one had told him not to come to work the next day. Not that he would come to work the next day—tomorrow is Saturday, and if someone needed drugs on Saturday, they’d have to wait.
Into the pharmacy came a man. He was quite well-dressed. The Man, carrying a black briefcase, wore a brown wool suit atop a white turtleneck, his hair neatly combed, his face sporting sideburns and a bushy mustache, although his glasses were a little too large for his facial structure, but his facial structure was well enough that his glasses didn’t kill anyone. I watched an episode of Dateline where a pair of glasses killed a man, thought Forest—what a bother, death by optic-wear.
“Good day,” said the Man to Forest.
“You’ll need to move closer sir,” said Forest to the Man, who had entered the pharmacy, but only so, only entered. The Man stood right in the entryway.
“Yes, of course.” The Man walked to Forest. He placed one hand on the briefcase, and feeling it still there, he unplaced it so.
“Are you here to pick up a prescription?”
“Yes, I am,” said the Man.
“Yes you are then!”
“I am who?”
“What?…No, just give me your name please, and ID thereafter.”
“My name is…” The Man put his briefcase on the counter and searched his pocket, retrieved his wallet, then searched that too. He found an identification card and read it. He had to squint, probably because his lenses were off for him. “…Pierce…Stolz.” Pierce handed the card to Forest who punched buttons on his computer and promptly retrieved a filled-bag back with it.
“Here is your prescription, sir.” Forest handed it over alongside a receipt too for, presumably, insurance reimbursement.
“Thank you.” The Man, bag in hand, left the store.
Bag in hand was all though. Once the Man had left, Forest took notice of something peculiar on the counter. It was a hard black rectangular box with a handle and snapping latches. Some call it a briefcase. Forest would have called out to the Man to come and retrieve the briefcase back, but a) the man was gone and b) Forest had begun to develop a sore throat from all the yelling that he was accustomed to in his daily work.
A young teen walked into the store smoking a cigarette.
“OY!” yelled Forest, “GET THE FUCK OUT, YOU SMOKY BRAT!”
To which the teen appropriately got the fuck out, leaving Forest back alone in the pharmacy with nothing but himself, the briefcase, and the automated cashier towards the front wherefrom people bought themselves condoms, porn, and cigarettes. Now of those three, porn confused Forest the most. Why buy porn from a pharmacy? Don’t they know that it’s no better here than anywhere else?
Titillating though now to his eyes was this briefcase, and so Forest tried to open it.
The latches laid on lockdown. But if that was so, then where was the lock? Forest scoured the briefcase for some key shaped hole.
Nothing once more.
Well then what are you going to do Forest? Sit and twaddle your dick?
“No I’ll open the briefcase.”
Good, get that MacGuffin open. Yes, just like that Forest, put your hands on it. Yes, go slower now, yes slower—no faster, go faster, try to get it done faster, before anyone comes in here, they can’t know about this. Listen here—look at me Forest—LOOK AT ME. Don’t tell ANYONE what happened because you’ll get in trouble too. You don’t wanna get in trouble do you? Do you Forest? Just do what the Narrator says…
Forest found that fondling the briefcase didn’t do too much, so he stopped.
* * *
We are now at a diner. The time is both late and early. Forest and Wolken were having themselves breakfast after work in the wee hours of the so very early morning. They sat in a booth—as you do, and Tom Jones’ classic “What’s New Pussycat” played softly from the diner’s jukebox, a relic from the diner’s construction back in the 40s.
Forest, still in pharmacist robes, finicked with his lighter.
Wolken, in his business suit, read the Post.
“Ken I tayg yer order, Hon?” asked the Waiter.
Forest pulled out his cigs to light up.
“Sir, I’m gonna have ta aersk yew ta not smohke in here. We have a strict noh smohking policy.” The Waiter pointed to a sign on the wall:
NO SMOKING ALLOWED
TOBACCO IS A SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUE
“No, I’m sorry you must be confused,” said Forest. He handed her the pack:
NATURAL AMERICAN SPIRITS
100% GLUTEN FREE
Forest pointed and said, “See, they’re gluten-free.”
The Waiter blushed. “I’m soh sorry Hon. Yew knoh what, haow ‘bout I tayg yer orders and hook youse up wif some free dringks—is dat ohkay?”
Forest and Wolken both agreed. “Yeah sure,” they said.
“Haow ‘bout a good ol’ toof fuck den?” said the Waiter.
“Pardon?” said Forest looking on the Waiter’s oral cavity in fixation.
“Yeah, a good ol’ Tooth-Fuck. I’z ’n organic soft-dringk dat yewziz pyur cane shyugar.”
“Wow, that sounds healthy,” said Wolken.
The Waiter concurred, “Not jus’ hea’fy, i’z good fer de ‘vi-ruhmen’.”
“And why is that?” asked Forest.
“Weh’uh i’z glew’en free.”
“Wow. How interesting,” said Wolken, “Tell me more about this wonderful product.”
“I’z awzo hypoh-allajenik.”
“That makes sense,” said Wolken.
“Are you sure it’s healthy? Isn’t soft-drinks real bad for your health?” asked Forest.
“Weh’uh its recipe aerctually comes from ’n ancient native-‘murican dringk.”
“Wait! So you’re saying native-americans drunk this?” said Wolken.
“Yeah Hon, fer daowzins of years.”
“Well never mind then you sold me,” Forest said. “Give us two of those, two pancakes, and two coffees.”
The Waiter scurried off, and Forest redirected his attention to Wolken. Earlier he had himself been told by Wolken in a reflexive passive manner that Wolken had been himself fired from his place of work. Moreover had he learned that the Boss man had just been arrested. Wolken hadn’t a faint clue why so, but Forest kept asking him as if he did.
“Do you think he did something real fucked up?” asked Forest.
“Maybe he diddled a kid. I mean you know they all fucking do it, man. When you got everything that we can’t get, what more is there to ask for? Kids.” Forest shrugged like “do you believe me bruh?”
Wolken shook his head like “nah bruh that’s just fucked” and said, “Listen, man, all I know is that it’s the Feds who got him, which probably means that it’s some corporate legal shit.” Wolken leaned back and took a long drag. After he exhaled, “Maybe it has something to do with that company we were trying to buy out.”
“We? Did the Bizcorp ‘family’ all decide on it? and was that before or after they fucked you?” said Forest.
“Just a slip of the tongue.” He wiped his irritated eyes. “I always suspected something was up with that firm. They just didn’t seem to make money as well as they should. But what would you expect from the Italians?”
The talking stopped, and again came back that awful silence.
There was noise though. People were chatting in around them, the grill sizzled, ethnic people said ethnic things loudly in the kitchen—ethnic in their sound, of course, because you gotta remember that there is no color in this world—it’s like, what would we be like then?
Think about it bro.
Forest didn’t think about this. He never thought about his privilege because he was a white man, yet he, himself eager to move away from this conversation that had stagnated and was clearly going nowhere, did think about something else, that he should do something, so he did.
He slammed a briefcase on the table.
THUD went the briefcase.
“Look at this shit!” went Forest.
Wolken observed the black briefcase, noting its lack of latches and locks, its rectangularity, and its impeccable style. Suede, what a fabric, especially for a briefcase. Only fancy folk could have something like this, what with its utter lack of taste or utility, thought Wolken.
Further inspection revealed:
MADE IN ITALY
“Do you have any idea how to open it? or you just gonna gawk at it?” said Forest.
Wolken thought. Did he have an idea? There was no latches, no locks, no obvious way of entry, and for that matter no obvious sign that it even could open.
So naturally Wolken smashed his head into the suitcase.
And as his bloodied face peeled back from the blow, so did the briefcase open with a nice CLACK sound, as if that was the only right thing to do.
Forest turned the briefcase back to himself and looked at the contents.
Wolken put napkins to his face, although it didn’t work too well, kind of like wiping up a spill with a wet sponge. There’s just too much liquid all around.
Honestly it was pretty fucked up though.
“What’s inside?” asked Wolken.
To that, Forest turned the suitcase around.
Salt, pork, and oregano smelt Wolken, and so there was, a slab of prosciutto and fresh oregano laid neatly next another on the left side of the case’s interior. On the right were things that didn’t smell: a silver lighter, a revolver, and a pack of cigarettes.
Never the one to end an addiction, Wolken reached for the cigs with a free albeit bloody hand.
The pack had yet its cellophane wrap about it, obscuring the pack’s brand. Wolken tore this off and held the pristine pack before himself. He read the brandname out loud:
DOKTOR TEUFELS SPIEGELZIGARETTEN
On its side, he read:
SURGEON GENERAL’S INSPIRATIONAL:
LIFE IS PARALLEL TO HELL BUT YOU MUST MAINTAIN
* * *
And that’s where Klaus’ manuscript ended. He had come back down from the high and sat in a sort of post-coital tristesse, staring in suicidal contempt at the ink-ejaculate he’d so unceremoniously laid on the page. Everything he was told was true: he had nothing to say, nothing to express. Klaus was but a dead-souled boy who didn’t even like Gogol.
I ought to give up, he thought, I haven’t the pathos, the ethos, the gyros needed to be a good writer. I never got an MFA, I never had to struggle as a woman or minority, I never earned this.
“Logos!” trumpeted a voice.
“What!?” retorted Klaus. “Who’s here?” he squeaked.
“I am St. Francis de Sales”
“St Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and journalists!” cried Klaus. God had heard his pleas! A muse had been sent! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
“Well mainly patron saint of writers—let’s not get fixated on the whole helping journalists thing—I have to do that—like walking your dog or taking a shit.”
“I see,” said Klaus who was now in a very pious pose: on both knees, hands clasped, body and head bent to one side in sorrowful grace, a single tear rolling down his right cheek.
“I have come to say: keep on.”
“Keep on?” Klaus was so stunned he had broken the pose and fell completely from its statuette grace so that now he was but a tweaked-out boy kneeling in a pool of his own sweat. “Are you sure you mean ‘keep on,’ Blessed de Sales? I haven’t got anything to say…I’m only taking up space. Shouldn’t someone other speak? Someone with something to say?”
“Nonsense! Why must you say anything when there is nothing to say? Why have a pretense of sacredness and solemnity when they’ve been dead for so long? Why the insistence that you must march the rotting corpse of piety around and around? And why must you parade it about the world, accusing every other man but yourself of this great sin, this great murder, when you yourself couldn’t care? Ask yourself, what greater sin is there than this false piety?”
Klaus wiped the tear from his cheek. “Was that a plural you or a singular you or—”
And so he kept on.