I got skinny because I was poor and had my priorities. Chinatown apples were ten for five dollars, up from four sixty, and I had just about that after buying heroin and important heroin things (Dulcolax), so it was my minus-one bag of rotting mealy sugary colleagues that kept me alive.
I opened the door and set the bag gently, as you would a new tiny puppy, on the floor. The floor which was my table, and bed, and my mattress was a pile of dirty T-shirts shoved in the corner of the living room, which was also my kitchen and dining room and foyer and hall. A studio! Yes, studio plus. I still remember now the greasy agent drenching me in all sorts of mutant pluses—microstudy, pied-à-cul—smiling as he held out his twinkling ring-crowded paw. Welcome, you poor fuck.
And even with all that included, today…something new.
A real plump and shiny bastard scurried across the barren parquet, panicked to find anything that could be considered shelter. Then started to slow. Then stopped. It blinked and looked around.
My little intruder realized no matter how far, in all directions, nothing would arrive but more hardwood, flat, bodybuilder-bronzed.
I stared at the roach.
The roach stared back.
Twenty-seven years and still I had no belongings, nothing to fill my current subquaint dungeon.
I went and got a knife from the kitchen.
And I didn’t plan on doing anything to change my situation. And that was my right. For couldn’t a man choose to become a wastoid? Didn’t a country also need those?
I stuck the knife in a waxy hunk of deceased cheddar.
Chipped a piece for my new friend.
Yes. I was a true patriot. Doing a service. It was my duty to live in such a way that subnormals could point and say, “at least not that.” To die dirty and poor and slow. Even ridiculously, if I so wanted. Because writers needed to struggle. (The war won without battle wins nothing, and all that.) I prayed for hangovers and hemorrhoids and debt and really just failure in general. Shit. Big S. The great Saul Purple had emailed me personally and said, “I just needed to get it out there,” so that’s what I was doing. Getting it out there. Welcoming roaches and Shit.
“I’m gonna cut your dick off!” I heard the wife of one of these subnormals scream, my neighbors in the apartment next door. The husband started stuttering a plea, but then a dish or vase exploded into sharp jugular-slicing pieces against the cracker-thin wall: her elegant rebuttal. “My mother was right!”
I flicked the cheddar shard down between roach and me, here, don’t mind the noise, little guy, yes, you’re in the right place, an amuse-bouche for the long dusty dinner that’s to be our quite-literary friendship.
For Shit had obliged. My life in the city had become an overflowing cesspool of withdrawls and debt and shame and boredom. And noise. I’d frequently been told by my much younger boss that “I was doing really well, an exemplary worker,” which unnerved me greatly, and I was eternally constipated, had recently been forced to learn how to administer the digital removal of my own impacted bowels, for I could afford no doctor, or even a desperate prostitute, and here I refuse to explain why I kept on in this manner, yes, I believe it was that limp lecherous Parisian intellectual (is there any other kind), Godard, who said, “he who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch,” and I was drinking plastic-bottle whiskey, which, when people came over, I poured into an empty bottle of Blue Label, and they could never tell the difference anyway, and when it wasn’t constipation, it was diarrhea, derision, embarrassment, isolation, smoking questionable heroin, smoking loosies while waiting for heroin, pain, heroin, heroin, coke, heroin, waiting, constipation, heroin, whiskey, shame, heroin, heroin, waiting, waiting, constipation, heroin, waiting, and finally, when I got unbearably tired, lying down like a skinny translucent dog on my nestpile “bed,” surrounded by crumples of used tinfoil like tiny shining cartoon wrecks.
“Give me your fucking dick!”
I eyed my bag. My apple colleagues. My only comrades in this life.
I knew what was about to happen, and yet, again went through the charade of abstaining, delaying gratification.
I was sick. Maybe even some sort of sex freak. Maybe I didn’t want to let my new roach friend (how starved I was for validation) see the true me, but it was the same every time. Holding out until I couldn’t take it. There they were, shining, throbbing, doing the only thing they could do, like me, which was rot. I felt a camaraderie. My brothers! How could I just eat them? Red, scared, juicy, ready to be sold and used and shit out by someone else, when they were no longer of use, forgotten, another one to add to the pile, the endless hulking dump that was humanity’s aesthetic attempts at pimping truth. I was so hungry.
I reached into the bag, my hand trembling, shaking. I’m sorry! It was out of my control. I took one. Gripped him. The others looked up at me. I put their brother’s hard red belly into my mouth. Bit down. Into the mealy flesh. My God! The beautiful syrupy juices flowed over the sides of my lips and chin. I lit up. When you’re starved, the smallest drip of sugar on your empty stomach radiates powerfully and immediately. I felt the sugar drip down onto the hard cliffs of my guts and mix into my blood and there was a golden glow. I straightened my posture. Rising. It felt so good and I was ravenous. I took another. I heard screaming. No! Please! Not him! Apple Jerry was annoying, a moronic, unfunny, inefficient, thin-nosed, unproductive, ignorant loser—but not Joe! Don’t kill him! I bit down again. OK, but not Clara, too! I devoured another and another and I was eating and crying. It was terror. It was beauty. I was the manwolf. Carrying out a massacre. I ate them all. One sitting.
Afterward, I was buzzing.
The roach at his cheese started backing away.
I got up and stomped him. I cut our friendship short.
Couldn’t take anyone knowing what I’d done.
I puffed out my chest and pounded. I was a corrupt tribunal, hated and feared king of this barren limbo, flowing with golden syrup, hysterical with malicious glee. Master of the parquet wasteland! Killing. Cleaning! I had the energy for the first time in months to clean, and I scooped the crumples of tinfoil I used to smoke heroin, and the apple cores, and threw it all out the window. Sayonara! I was doing simple household tasks like it was nothing, just after I’d conquered, killed. Didn’t that prove it? I had no soul in the way at this point anymore. I was ready to devour anything and make it mine. A true writer! I wanted to write!
I went to my pad and pen and started and it was so brilliant. Live in shit. Become the shit. Eat yourself. The shit that shits, shits out gold. I couldn’t believe the words pouring out. Weeks. Months. Nothing. And now my hand could barely keep up. I was the best living writer on the planet! I finished a page, then another—then yet another. Three whole pages! A genius! Prolific! God had finally granted my wish. After all that suffering. I took the three pages and folded them and put them under my head, because all of the sudden I was getting extremely tired.
I yawned. Couldn’t keep my eyes open. The sugar was gone. I was drifting down into slumber with perfect peace, and I couldn’t be sure, but I thought, just at the corner of my vision, just before I was out—was that another scurrying little bastard?
When I woke, I checked the pages and they were absolute crap.
My dreams; award statues crumbled, were fetid and wormy. European supercars rusted into dust. Poof. Mansions deflated into flaccid rubber piles, and everything smelled like feet and death and asbestos. And my bag was empty. It was supposed to last two more days. My stomach started to croak. Laughing at me. I’d sacrificed my colleagues for nothing.
On the way into work, which cost me two dollars, which brought my total wealth down to $50.32, I started seeing things. Smiles. Morons. Was I really not a junkie folk-hero? They all seemed to know what I’d done, smiling. I didn’t know if I could take it. Another day of orders. But if I didn’t go in and see my boss I’d have to find another job. Or die. Maybe I could give the whole restaurant thing a try; maybe I was doing really well, an exemplary worker. No. Whatever had been said about me over the years, I was very consistent. I was born poor and had managed to stay that way my entire life. I’d resisted all successes. In that, I had the will of ten men and wouldn’t become one of these smiling blankoids bumping into each other, rushing in brain-dead fury.
Entering a completely full train, no seats, I was hit with a tangy cloud of body odor. Why did they make us stand so much? Lines. Trains. Was it really a sin for a cashier to sit? I suspected they loathed us, found great pleasure in our little tortures.
We took a turn at high speed, and I pivoted to brace myself on the handrail, and was met with a woman coughing directly into my open mouth. Hot specks of wet hit my tongue and the back of my throat.
She stared down my throat hole, didn’t apologize, instead looked annoyed, gripping the neck of her coat to cover her saggy wrinkly décolletage, as if all along it was my degenerate plan to take her precious spit.
Oh, I’m sorry! My mistake! To atone, let me get down and open wider for you to piss in!
If it got me out of going into work this morning, I’d let everyone in this train unzip and unload into my mouth. Human toilet. Had a ring to it, compared to what I was headed for, screaming and shrieking round this subterranea of New York.
We were ten minutes ahead of schedule. Likely being driven by a hotshot newbie trying to make a name for himself. This restaurant was the worst I’d ever worked, and I thought an extra ten minutes might actually kill me. I pictured my much younger boss. A recent community college graduate, very pale, very spermy. Tiny, a pimple-faced tyrant. You could tell he’d been told he was special a lot as a child. That he hadn’t grown into that specialness, was confused, resentful. The short list of rules he had to enforce, he did so with buglike joy, cold and yet, behind that, in his beady eyes, fountains of strange sexual squealing, completely tantalized over his subjugations. Shift Leader, I think his title was.
“I quit,” I said when I got in, for the first time early, my childboss sitting there in shock, trying his best to stay professional.
“Well,” he said, shuffling some now-meaningless papers attached to my name and government numbers, “what about rent?”
Text Message to My Stepson
by Cal Freeman
... You remember that tree of heaven, / also called stinking sumac, also called varnish // tree, also called ailanthus altissima / of the Simaroubaceae family ...
Place de Stalingrad
by D. A. Hosek
... I'm not foolish enough to think that I would be able to sell real art ...