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Month: November, 2017

THE KING OF POSTS: PART THE LAST

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[Note: Click here for part one.]

I rode passenger in Clint’s Mitsubishi Mirage. We’d been driving for I know not how long. Time blurs somewhat when one is wearing a hood that looks suspiciously like a hood one saw on the news more than once about 13 years ago. Clint was unclear as to where he got the hood.

“I buy them in bulk on Amazon.” Never mind then. “But you can only buy them in bulk.”

Clint took the time to elaborate his thoughts about the King of Posts. I was unsure what to make of them. His reverence and awe towards him shifted gracefully into rancor and envy before circling back again. I could not tell if the King of Posts was a cherished mentor to Clint or an equal with whom he had a falling out. Over Michael McDonald’s greatest hits at low volume, though, his accounts resembled a love letter written two years after the fact, when every high and every low can be taken into account, at their most confusing but also at their most objective. “Nothing prepares you for when you meet a man like that,” was Clint’s only insight about him that seemed really salient. Most of the time he talked as if he was wallpapering his real thoughts with thoughts from other memories or half-assed Zen koans. “Nothing prepares you for knowing your weaknesses better than you know … your own secrets.”

“Can I take this off, your constant U-turns are making me dizzy.”

“In time, child. In time.”

As soon as Clint abruptly stopped for what seemed like the final time, he pulled off the hood, and I adjusted my eyes to … a pristine cul-de-sac of newly built homes. Getting out of the car I was overcome with silence, and realized that most if not all of the homes were unoccupied. The one we parked in front of looked no more active.

“So where is this place?” I asked.

“This is an enchanted realm, where up is right and left is down, and where magic is as free and easy as candy on Halloween!”

“My phone says this is Bernardsville.”

“Enchantment has many names.”

“Okay, but the King of Posts lives in Bernardsville? That’s closer to me than you are!”

“Will you just shut up and follow me?”

Clint knocked on the door. We heard some steps and a creaking noise from below. The mail slot was opened.

“Who goes there?” The voice asked in a sleepless, robotic deadpan.

“It’s Jared, I’m with a protégé. We’re here to see the King.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“Of course not.”

“What time is it?”

“Oh come on, man, it’s me.”

“No exceptions. What time is it?

“Fine. It’s time for some game theory.”

“Very good.”

“Well?”

“We do two-factor authentication in this household.”

“Oh go impale yourself on a barre rail, Maurice.”

The door opened, revealing an unshaven, unkempt young man of about college age. He was scrawny, with stringy blond hair, pink-framed reflective sunglasses, white Ked mules, and an oversized white t-shirt with EUNUCH #2 custom printed on it. I did not see any shorts. “Right this way, gentlemen.”

The house was sparsely furnished and erratically adorned. There were no personal pictures but many impersonal knickknacks of an office arts and crafts party quality: squiggled abstract finger paints and watercolors on the walls, jagged wooden humanoid figurines on the tables. One table in the foyer had a sizeable mountain of overdue notices from God knows how many previous occupants that looked vulnerable to the slightest breeze. The living room had a recliner and two ergonomic office chairs. The dining room had a card table and some folding chairs.

“His highness will be with you shortly,” Eunuch no. 2 assured us. “You look hungry, would you like something to eat? Bagel Bites perhaps?”

I hesitated, but Clint nudged me.

“Don’t be rude,” he huffed.

“Sure,” I said.

“We only have fish sticks,” he replied automatically, as if rehearsed, and walked upstairs.

“Are … are you gonna make the … okay then.”

Walking over to the dining room, I looked through the sliding glass door and over at the half-painted deck to spot a mound of earth and several shovels laying about it. “Looks like they have a big landscaping project going on.”

“What? Oh don’t mind that.”

“You know what that is?”

“Yeah,” he said walking up to my side. “That’s the Pit of Deletion. It gets deeper every day.”

“Deletion? Deleted what?”

“Deleted accounts, what do you think?”

“Deleted accounts go there?”

“Yeah, what do you expect happens when someone deletes or gets suspended? They go on with their lives offline with their jobs and their families and their corgis and all that? No, that’s not how this works. It goes: all of it.”

“Corgis are buried there?”

“No stone gets left unturned, Chris. Something to think about before you see the King.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Gentlemen,” Eunuch no. 2 said from behind us, “his highness will see you now. He’s waiting in the den.”

The King of Posts’s den had the same stuck-in-time look as Clint’s office. In fact it looked as if the remodelers just didn’t bother to go downstairs at all. The floor was carpeted with bile yellow shag, and was cratered in the center by a conversation pit, fit with cushions and pillows with seagulls, hearts, and sentimental sayings on them. On the walls were printed out portraits of many the accounts Clint had mentioned and a few others like so sad today, da share z0ne, and Nein.

We stood at one end of the pit facing Eunuch nos. 1 and 3 in much the same attire and condition as Eunuch no 2. Eunuch no. 3 was at my left, lurched over with an electric guitar around his shoulders and an amp. Eunuch no. 1 stood at attention on the other side, appearing to be the most competent, or at least the better postured. In between them was a large rectangle obscured by a tarp.

“Hey,” Eunuch no. 2 altered his co-eunuchs, “these guys are here to see the King.”

“Okay,” Eunuch no. 1 said. He threw his shoe at Eunuch no. 3, who plugged in his amp and pressed his guitar against it, emitting membrane-searing feedback. “All hail the King of Posts.”

“ALL HAIL THE KING OF POSTS!” the eunuchs cried in their unison drone.

Eunuch no. 1 pulled the tarp away revealing a fortune-telling machine, but with a George W. Bush Halloween mask placed over the head.

“Will the tributary approach the pit?” he commanded. “Will the tributary bend the knee?”

“WHY HAS THIS NORMIE TWERP SUMMONED THE KING OF POSTS?” the machine asked in a static and guttural bellow like an impatient drive-thru operator. Through the mask I could still see the eyes light up each time it spoke.

“Um, hi … your highness,” Clint sheepishly interjected, “this is Chris, he’s a client of mine.”

“YOU BROUGHT ME ANOTHER LOSER, JARED? WHEN WILL YOU LEARN?”

“We’ve been working together on really upping his online presence.”

“UGH. WHAT IS HIS FOLLOWER COUNT?”

“About 700.”

“Almost 700,” I unhelpfully added.

“HAS HE GONE VIRAL?”

“A few times, your highness.”

“A FEW TIMES? A FEW TIMES? WE’RE REALLY CIRCLING THE DRAIN HERE. BUT YOU CAME ALL THIS WAY, AND I AM VERY BORED. I WILL SEE WHAT I CAN DO.”

“Thank you, your highness.”

“BEFORE YOU CAN BE PRIVY TO MY WISDOM, YOU MUST ANSWER ME THESE QUESTIONS THREE.”

“Okay.”

“BUT BE WARNED! IF YOU GET ONE WRONG, ONE OF MY EUNUCHS WILL CRACK YOUR PHONE SCREEN. IF YOU GET TWO WRONG, YOU FORFEIT ALL YOUR PASSWORDS TO ME. AND IF YOU GET ALL THREE WRONG, YOUR ACCOUNTS GET DELETED. ARE WE CLEAR?”

“Yeah … sure.”

“VERY WELL. FIRST QUESTION: WHAT DID THE LONELY SPARROW ON THE LOWER BRANCH ASK THE POPULAR DOVE ON THE HIGHER BRANCH?”

“How’s the weather up there?”

“CORRECT! SECOND QUESTION: WHAT ARE YOUR DREAMS?”

“There’s a right answer for what my dreams are?”

“THERE IS NEVER A RIGHT ANSWER PER SE, BUT ON OCCASION THERE IS A WRONG ANSWER.”

“I had a dream once.”

“DID YOU?”

“Not long ago, either. I had a dream where I was respected. Not just by unseen onlookers but also by everyone whose respect I explicitly sought out. I remember feeling it very distinctly. I can only assume it was the feeling someone has after not having mapped out their life history with a road paved of hurt and error. It was as if I got every achievement as easily as getting items in a grocery store. It was as if every opportunity fell to me at the right time. I couldn’t remember whose respect it was that I sought, nor could I remember the achievements I owned. But I felt the accomplishment and contentment and I felt that I deserved it. I was sitting in a lawn chair as I felt this. But I was not on a lawn. I was in a very dark room. There were no light sources except those that were behind the walls, which pulsated every few minutes in different colors: red, purple, green, orange, all that. I couldn’t tell you what the colors meant, but the lights revealed that I was not alone. In fact I could hear that I was not alone, a certain clacking and writhing. The right hue, though, could reveal a precise outline of an arachnid creature—many arachnid creatures, actually—about the size of a pizza. And then came the whispers. I couldn’t make out what they were saying until one of them was right in front of me, its legs grasped at my knees. When the wall lights glowed just right I could make out its face. It was of a girl who lived down the street from me when I was a boy, she moved away to Texas or something early on and I didn’t know her well. I think her name was … Meredith … or Diane. Anyway, the girl arachnid looked at me and just said ‘W’ and put a magic marker in my hand. Then other ones came to me and gave me more letters: S, C, O, T, E, D, another T, I, P, M, two more E’s, etc. It was implied that I was to write these letters on the wall. So I did where I could find space, and each time they would crawl up behind me and whisper a new one. After a while they stopped. And so when I had a wall with letters all over it, I turned around and asked what I was to do with all these. By then they were all piled onto one another in the corner, as if they were feeding. I moved closer but stopped when I stepped on something. Through the lights I could see it was a pair of glasses not unlike a pair I owned many years ago. Then I saw a hand twitching out from under the pile. Then I woke up.”

“NOT INCORRECT! THIRD AND FINAL QUESTION: WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE EXTREMELY ONLINE?”

“Because I hate myself and life has no meaning.”

“CORRECT! I SEE THE SPECTACULAR JARED HAS NOT COMPLETELY WASTED YOUR TIME AND MONEY. AND NOW I SHALL RENDER UNTO YOU MY DECREE. EUNUCH. EUNUCH!

Eunuch no. 1 elbowed the side of the machine. A small card fell into the front slot, he instructed me to take it.

“OBSERVE ITS DIRECTIVE WISELY.”

I looked at the card and read it aloud: “‘Everything will work out because you are a good person even if you really kind of aren’t.’ What the hell is this?”

“YOU ARE WELCOME, GOOD LUCK IN ALL YOUR FUTURE ENDEAVORS.”

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

“You do not question his highness’s guidance!” Eunuch no. 1 sternly retorted. “Be gone.”

“No way, I’m not going anywhere until I get a—”

“WHAT IS THAT?”

“What is what?”

“IS SOMEONE SMOKING?”

I look back and lo and behold, Clint indeed was imbibing is nicotine habit indoors yet again.

“THERE IS NO SMOKING PERMITTED INSIDE, PLEASE USE THE DECK.”

“What the fuck?” Clint said as he bent down to his right ankle where a holster was concealed. “No one tells me where I can and cannot smoke.”

He took out a small pistol and shot several rounds into the King of Posts, which emitted sparks and smoke, setting off alarms and sending everything into general disarray. Out of the corner of my eye, a tuxedoed man ran out from a door in the back of the room, along with numerous cats that attempted to defend him by vomiting on our shoes. I looked inside and saw an elaborate audio setup and a laptop counting analytics that were off the fucking charts.

“Clint, this son of a bitch has been podcasting this whole time.”

“Are you serious?”

We ran up after him, dodging equally evadable cats and eunuchs. When we managed to escape the house we found our tuxedoed foe standing statuesque on the front lawn, just waiting for us. Though it turns out he was no ordinary foe.

“Woodrow Wilson?” I asked in astonishment, which was greeted by a severe slug in the groin.

“That’s Governor Wilson to you, shithead.”

While I struggled on the grass, Clint was understandably more overcome.

“I knew it!” he finally said.

“Yes,” the Governor replied with a slight but friendly smile. “I’ve been looking over you for some time.”

“Oh no.” Clint fell to his knees and grasped at the Governor’s jacket. “Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me. I’ve failed you conclusively time and time again. No, actually, do not forgive me. I deserve none of it. I am worthless. I am a worm. A plague upon mankind.”

Governor Wilson remained silent, but placed his hand on the side of Clint’s face, and wiped a tear with his thumb.

“There is nothing to forgive,” Wilson said. “You have done all I have wished of you and more. You’ve brought joy to countless people, you keep an adequate home, and you fill this wretched earth with wonder.”

“I … I do?”

“Yes, Jared. You have earned your place beside me, with all the others. Will you join me?”

“Yes!” Clint said exalting to the heavens. “By God yes!”

“And so it shall be done. You may rise.”

Clint stood up to face him. Governor Wilson’s eyes began to glow a deep red as they met with Clint’s, and beams came suddenly shooting out from them. (I swear this is true.) Clint’s entire body started to glow and he laughed maniacally. Then came a bright, loud blast, and Clint’s material frame had, so to speak, been broken out of.

“Well, that takes care of that,” Governor Wilson said as he dusted off his hands.

“You could have fucking told me to stand back.”

“Hey, language. This is New Jersey, not a pigsty.”

“So what about me?”

“What about you?”

“You’re King of Posts, right?”

“Oh, that. Um … good posts are the friends you make along the way.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“The freshest #content came from right here all along.” Governor Wilson pointed to his chest.

“These are dumb memes, not advice.”

“Oh grow up, asshole. This stopped being about you like three hours ago. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a franchise to consolidate.”

The King of Posts Governor-for-Life of New Jersey rifled through what was left of Clint and managed to fish his keys out of the mess, and while I struggled to pick bone fragments out of my hair and off my sweater, he drove off into the Garden State night to only God knows where, “What a Fool Believes” fading in the distance.

***

ME: So what do you think?

WEB DEVELOPER: About what?

ME: About my mission statement.

WEB DEVELOPER: Oh. I guess I’ve heard worse.

ME: I really need something that strikes right at the core of prospective clients. I need it to make them say, “I am looking for X-type of attitude in fulfilling my needs, and Chris R. Morgan Marketing Solutions, LLC has just that attitude!”

WEB DEVELOPER: Well … I mean, usually mission statements contain words like optimize or dynamic or retrofficient or, like, Ravenclaw.

ME: Hm. I guess you’ve got me there.

WEB DEVELOPER: So, while I have you, I’ve been meaning to ask about my invoice.

ME: What about it?

WEB DEVELOPER: Just this part here where you added “in Bagel Bites” next to my flat rate.

ME: Ah, yes. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that. Gosh, this is so embarrassing. I still haven’t figured out where the Bagel Bites are so it will have to be fish sticks. I need to Google, but the exchange rate should be only a few very slight percentage points less.

WEB DEVELOPER: Yeah.

ME: Very, very slight.

IT’S OVER

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THE KING OF POSTS: PART THE FIRST

John

Those who know me would never mistake me for someone who lacks confidence. I am ever and always assured of the high esteem at which I hold my efforts and myself. Yes, I have exacting standards, which dizzy even the most robust peer, but I meet them almost always. I never bring my B or C game. I don’t even know what properly constitutes a B or C game. I survey all my work and am convinced that I am ascending toward, if not already ascended to, my prime years, which I am equally as convinced will be enduring.

But looks can be deceiving.

Lately I’ve had to contend with the possibility that my achievements over the past decade have been all for naught. Not one speck of my work seems to serve any good to anyone. Sure, I put in my best effort, but is it really enough? Have I misunderstood the multitude? Worse, have the multitude misunderstood me? Clearly I talk a good game, but game is all it is. I stand on this grand marble pedestal, hoping no one will notice the escalator just behind it. I look down and think long and hard of whether I should dive headfirst back down into the swirling, fetid sty where you dwell beneath me, come what may.

It is all very hopeless. Some time ago this feeling reached a marked acuteness, and with seemingly no remedy with which to sort it out on my own—short of selling my wares and joining a monastic order, anyway—I sought the counsel of my most trusted confidant.

Every now and then I would go to an office park over in Linden, a panel-walled, brown-carpeted holdover of everyone’s orthodontia-related nightmares, to get some priceless wisdom from my branding consultant, Clint Emporius. Sure, the plaque on his door read “THE SP  TAC LAR JARE , FORMER MES E IZER,” and his receptionist called him “Mr. Dale,” and he seemed to respond to all three names at any given time, but doubtless people knew the Administrative Dean of Dank Memes when they saw him.

And there I found myself face to face with him not so long ago in his windowless office. To my right was a reproduction of Woodrow Wilson’s official gubernatorial portrait. To my left was a gun rack with a notably empty rung. On his desk was an ashtray not cleaned since maybe 1999. He stretched back, put his feet on the desk, snapped his suspenders, took out a cigarette, and dangled it on his lips. “You know, Chris, there are three unsolved disappearances under investigation in this town,” he said, flicking his lighter and putting it to the cigarette. “They share an important commonality.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Each of them at one time or another were in this very office. Why, I can’t remember. All I know is that each of them, in their own ways, told me not to smoke in my office. My office, Chris. The place where I do business. The place where I help people like you.” He took a long drag and stood up abruptly. “What fascist fucking state are we in where someone can tell me not to smoke? Goddammit, Chris. Sometimes I just get so angry. I lose myself. One thing leads to another and another and another and …” He trailed off getting lost in Woodrow Wilson’s eyes.

“Does that concern you?”

“What? Of course not. Maybe in an older America, sure. But this is a new America. An America that respects boundaries. Now where were we? Ah yes, your numbers.” He sat back down and took an iPad out onto his desk. He swiped at something I couldn’t see and gave me a stern look. “You have garbage numbers.”

“Yes, that’s why I made the appointment.”

“Well it bears repeating. Zero clicks? Two ‘likes’? That’s like the average of your output. This one I’m looking at isn’t even for anything you wrote; this is something from The Cut, with your worthless commentary on top. Your posts are like the spider-sprinkled icing on a strychnine-laced cake.”

“Hey.”

“Don’t ‘hey’ me. I give you solid advice on maximizing your brand, and you blatantly disregard every piece of it. I feel used, quite frankly.”

“No you don’t; I pay you for that advice.”

“You can pay me all you like, I don’t think you’ll ever not suck at posting. Let’s go to the videotape. Your irony is barely detectable, your emoji style is incomprehensible, you have the attention span of a fruit fly, and you’re like three months behind in memes. You’re what they call a ‘smart poster.’”

“Isn’t that good?”

“No, it means you’re so concerned with your posts being smart they circle back to being dumb. About virtually nothing. They’re like sign-offs in a human resource managers’ email chain. You’re dipping your toes in the stream. Yes, it’s ice-cold. Yes, it’s brimming with needles and used diapers. But you need to take the plunge.”

“What do I need to do?”

“Try drinking just before and during your posting time. Set your alarm clock for 4:30 AM, but don’t go to sleep until two. Start posting from eight in the morning until eight at night. 70 percent of your posts should be replies to accounts of high school students and aging veterans. Did you stop taking your antidepressants like I told you to?”

“I haven’t been on antidepressants in five years.”

“It’s a start, I guess.”

“You told me shitposting was like falling into a bottomless pit filled with all the dead people who fell into it before you.”

“That was before your life became a shitpost. It’s time to get with the program.”

“Well … I mean … there must be a way to … to ease back into gear. Say, like, practicing on cosmic brain memes.”

“What did you say?” He stared me down more intently; his jaw clenched so tightly his cigarette nearly cut in half on his canines.

“Co— cosmic brain memes?”

He stood up and leaned at me over his desk, pointing his stiffened, crooked index finger like a wand of ill intent. “No client of mine is going to do fucking cosmic brain memes. Are you trolling me with this shit? That’s like pivoting to snuff films.” He fell back into his chair, rubbing his temples and his eyeballs. “Chris.”

“Yeah?”

“Chris. Chris. Chris. Chris. Chris. What negligible providence brought you to me?” He opened his eyes and stared silently at the Wilson portrait for what seemed like hours. He got up and walked toward the portrait, puppy-eyed in expression with hands clasped. “Governor Wilson, I hate to come to you again so soon. I know I am pitiful and undeserving of your wisdom, though you give it anyway. But … I’m at the end of my rope with this leech.”

“Leech?”

“There must be something I can do to free myself of his bite.”

“Clint, I’m right here.”

“I’ve done everything right. I’ve started a business, I provide for my family. I help people. I can’t let this roach tear that all down.”

“Is this what you do in your off time?”

“What’s that?” He moved in closer and put his ear to the painting. “You want me to do with him like those other scumbags? The ones who came in and told me how to live my life?” He ran back to his desk and started going through his drawers, in search of something I almost certainly did not want to see.

“Wait a goddamn minute. Clint, come on, don’t give up on me like that. You’re better than that. And I never complained about your bullshit smoking habit.”

Clint stood in silence and regained his composure. “You’re right, kid. I always appreciated that about you.”

“Now I think Governor Wilson has a better idea about what to do with me, if you just listen.”

He walked back over to the portrait and stared at it for a few silent seconds. “Yes. Yes of course!” He went back to his desk and faced me with a wide-eyed grin like he’d ingested the whole world’s supply of Prozac. “I didn’t think you were at that point in your life where you’re ready for this. But I think maybe it’s worth the risk.”

“Risk? What is it?”

“I’m gonna take you to see the man.”

“The man?”

“The man.”

“Okay, who is the man?”

“He’s the King of Posts.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s exactly what it means. He’s the head honcho, the big cheese, the final authority on memes, posts, threads, content. The whole enchilada.”

“But … wait, you kept saying you were like the Pope of memes or whatever it was. That was like your main selling point.”

“Yeah I am, but he’s like the Holy Roman Emperor. All the greats bare his noble seal. Krang T. Nelson, Justice Don Willett, Woke Space Jesuit, Joyce Carol Oates.”

“Whoa.”

“I know I’ve been hard on you, Chris. But know that I do it from place of love. In our time working together I’ve come to think of you like a … like a … actually like a client renting out my services. I’m not sure where I was going with that one. Anyway, I’m almost certain that this is going to be the big moment for you. The one thing that puts it all into place.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Chris. Really. Except we have to go right this minute.”

“Right now?”

“Yes.”

“But—”

“No buts,” Clint said. He leaped from his desk to the closet at the other end of the room and started hastily rifling though it. “You’ve had all your life for that.” He hobbled back to his desk with a rolling suitcase and what looked like a bunch of crumpled items of clothing he picked up without actually having looked at them. In the middle of his frantic packing he paused and looked at me. “Before you know it you’ll be blocked by Arthur Chu.” He pressed the intercom on his phone. “Kent.”

“Yes, Mr. Dale?”

“Cancel the rest of the day. Chris and I need to make some … travel arrangements.”

“Yes, Mr. Dale.”

TO BE CONTINUED

 

VAMPIRES WITHOUT TEETH

automat

I am not lonely. I am pretty confident that I am one of the least lonely people in America, perhaps even on the planet. To see me anywhere is to see someone whose life is uncontestably full and alight with friends or lovers or loved ones.

It is a mystery why this occurs. I don’t seek these people out. They have a way of seeking me. I might be at a bar with a book. And a man may come from a dark corner, smiling warmly, holding two beers. “I have the suspicion that this is your favorite,” he’d say as her hands the glass to me. It’d be Rolling Rock, which isn’t my favorite, but I wouldn’t let it phase me. We’d make bland observations about the two different sports on the overhead TVs, and then describe films neither of us has heard of. Soon enough I’d be part of his Slack group. I’d mostly lurk. A woman comes to my apartment, she’d say that she’s my sister and that it is my birthday. She’d hand me a small wrapped box, give me a hug, and thank me for always being there when she needed me. We’d smile and part ways. Opening the box I’d find a flash drive with a picture of me as a child on it. There would be some things on it that were not intended for me but which she forgot to erase; but I wouldn’t tell her. I suspect that is what brothers do.

From simple observation one could deduce that mine is a life of good fortune. I would not discount that outright, sure. Gratification is an infectious thing. It is gratifying to know that I gratify others by my mere presence. But the non-lonely life is not without its drawbacks. For one thing, it is not always possible to keep up with the whos and whys of my interlocking social circles. Not a few times have I misplaced names and had to rely on physical traits as identifiers. One friend I only know as “Beardy” … Simpson, I think. His beard has not once changed in length or density; I believe he does this out of courtesy. A woman at the office has a quirk of wearing the same brown cardigan every day regardless of the climate; I believe she does this because she wants to, but I thank God for that all the same. The point being: much of my free time at home is spent scrolling the internet for funeral homes of a capacity sufficient to accommodate all of my mourners.

My life is something of a chaos; a joyful chaos, but a chaos all the same. And in it I am prone to forgetting that some people don’t have lives as full as mine, so they are not able to empathize with the hazards that I endure. People whose lives are comparably more tranquil, with far less fury, far less demand, far less movement, and far less noise. In fact some don’t have any at all.

I’ve come to understand these to be the lonely. I’m told that in this country by itself, they are in great numbers, with some people even bandying about the word “epidemic” to go with them. Not that anyone can give me exact figures. I’m told that it is nearly impossible to count the lonely proper. I hear this with a sense of dread on my friends’ lips. The lonely are a breed unto itself, they say, that cause the non-lonely to always have to look behind them lest they be lurked upon.

“They’re vampires, dude,” “Beardy” … um … Swanson told me over drinks. “But with, like, no teeth.”

“How are they vampires exactly?” I asked.

“I’m pretty positive they only come out at night. Like, the sun isn’t an issue for them, but they just sleep. And sleep. And sleep. And when they wake up around 4:30 or so, they have nothing to do, so they just stand around in corners and such.”

“And what do they feed on if they have no teeth?”

His eyes darted from side to side. He took a swig of his beer and lurched down closer to me to whisper. “Shame.”

So “Beardy” is kind of a fucking idiot. But there was something to his sentiments, as friends with more tact said much the same thing with little more than their eyes. Though another friend did claim that she actually saw what could only be a lonely person, leading by the hand an elderly neighbor, who she claims died just a few days before, down the hallway to a door that properly does not exist, or in any case leads nowhere. “She was lithe,” my friend told me, “with a serene look on her face like I’d never seen on any adult ever. She was like PJ Harvey, but with some kind of … complex.”

The skeptic in me started to think that these were just sadder projections of their own selves. But of course life has its little surprises, which have a way of setting you right.

One night over the summer, I found myself unusually obligation-free. Somehow I had no dates, no events, no half-hearted hang out commitments, or any work that could not reasonably be put off until later. It was weird, and a little nerve-wracking, but I rolled with it. It was nice enough that I went outside for a walk to a nearby park.

I feel like it wasn’t so long ago when people who went to parks at night had some salacious reason for doing so. But it was oddly pleasant behind the walls. No one really appreciates a park until it is sparsely occupied. There are no Frisbees to dodge, no impromptu concerts on the grass, fewer dogs yapping at you and each other, and no paddle yoga in the pond. It was just a few joggers trying to maneuver around some slow-walking older couples. I sat at a bench overlooking the pond, looking up to admire it when my phone wasn’t amusing me enough. There was a single light off to my right that, as in the movies, beamed straight down onto a small circle of the path. So I didn’t notice anything until She came out from the darkness and into the circle with a liquid saunter.

She was dressed in a long black coat, which was open but I could see into it. It was only black, just as I could hear Her shoes but not see them. Her hair was grey and sinewy, but also kind of frizzy, as if She’d either been electrocuted or just had a haphazard dye job. She crossed the light and sat over at the other half of the bench. She crossed Her legs and stared out at the pond. She said nothing. She did not have a phone or even a book. I stared down intently at my phone opening any app that would hold my attention. I looked around quickly and noticed that the park, or at least that immediate area, was entirely vacated save for the two of us. Still silence. Not even a cricket was chirping.

My body stiffened; I’d never felt so unnatural in all my life. Years of maturity just seemed to melt into air. I decided to glance over very quickly—Like She wouldn’t notice, I stupidly thought—only to find that She was staring at me. For how long I have no idea, but the look was at once piercing and disarming.

My muscles loosened and I turned to face Her. She was smiling slightly. Her eyes appeared as a deep black, which I attribute to the poor lighting. Nothing happened for a few more seconds. It was as if She was throwing down for a staring contest. And then, from what impulse I will never know, I spoke. What I spoke I will not tell you. They were never meant for anyone’s ears. They were my deepest, most concealed secrets, which until then I clung onto more tightly than my seasonal affective disorder therapy light. One secret after the other left my mouth like bombs from a B-52. And She took them all without budging.

Once I’d finished She stood up, still smiling, and faced me. She raised her palm and placed it gently on my forehead. The stiffness returned to me. More than that was a sudden lurch in my stomach, like the punch of an invisible fist. I knelt down on the path, writhing and retching. Soon a dark sludge poured out of my mouth like an overflowing clogged drain. Then everything went black.

When I came to it was morning, and I was on the couch in my apartment. I was chilled from sweat but otherwise unaffected. Making coffee I tried to piece together what had happened, how a pleasant night by myself could spiral out of control as it did. My phone rang. It was my mom. She was distressed by something I’d texted her at four in the morning. When I looked at the text I understood her puzzlement. It was a photo, a poorly angled one at that, of a slight porcelain hand scooping up a dark slime into a plastic Rite Aid bag. Everything came back to me. I told Mom that it was just a failed prank that was meant for someone else. I laughed the same faint and frivolous laugh I always deploy to get from under her scrutiny. It barely worked; I told her I’d call her tomorrow.

I considered sending the photo to one of my friends, but soon thought the better of it and deleted it. After spilling my guts, so to speak, I had found a new secret that seemed bespoke to go to the grave with me. (So maybe don’t tell anyone else.)

I’m not sure that loneliness is an epidemic, or if people who fear it are just treating it as such, as if it is steadily encroaching upon them. Maybe it is, but so what?

I can’t quite explain it, but I felt relief in my encounter. There’s something necessary in the lonely. And maybe everyone is right about them in one way or another. They are relied upon like no one else on this planet. They might be the last great race—the last pure breed. They want for nothing, they oppress no one, and they relieve the burden of oppressors by oppressing themselves. The habitat of the lonely can’t be described, it can’t be seen. The lonely can’t be found on maps. You can’t retrieve their coordinates. You can’t call on them. They are just there, at a moment that seems right for you.

Staring out the window in the direction of the park, I knew that I would never be lonely. It wasn’t my calling. I use that word intently. Because sometimes one person’s toothless vampire is just as easily another person’s collarless priest.

A POST ABOUT POLITICS

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A man sitting across from me on the train put down his tablet device and leaned toward me to ask me what my politics were. What a peculiar question, thought I. Though the occasion that brought me to this train was not one that necessarily earned me quietude on the ride back (say, a hard day’s work), I dearly wanted it anyway. I shall on principle answer with something insipid and forgettable. “I am a centrist.” No. “I am a radical moderate.” That should nix this thing right quick. Then I mulled over for a few seconds the relative worth of spending what’s left of my life in prison for having caused this poor fellow’s head to literally explode with my answer. But our journey had only just begun, and the prospect of an hour decorated with the cranial contents of another man was comparably less appealing. Fine, sir, I thought further, for your amusement and my comfort I shall answer your question with substance.

My politics, sir, are the politics of accident.

What kind of accident? asked he.

The accident. The perennial accident. The royal accident. The accident that fathers, encompasses, and lords over all subsequent accidents. The whole thing.

The whole thing?

The whole thing, which I have acquired, dismantled, and distributed in scraps at my discretion, and which you are to reassemble in near perfect—no, picture perfect—quality.

All of it?

Until you understand.

Understand what?

My politics.

I’m not sure I follow your kind of politics.

Dammit, I’m telling you my politics! Aren’t you listening?

Maybe not enough.

No. No, it seems not.

I am deeply sorry.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Go on, please.

Very well. But I worry if the fault lies with me. I worry that I did not preface this by saying what I believe politics to be and to ask if you agreed.

I see.

It is important to get these matters straight.

Yes, of course.

So with that in mind, I believe that politics is politics. That is, that politics is the act of being political. Would you agree to that?

Yes that sounds correct.

Good, what a relief that is! I think what’s best is that I restate everything I said up until this point but in a different way.

Ah ha.

And maybe you can help me.

How can I help you?

Maybe I can tell you at length what my principals are, and what I understand to be the components of a just and peaceful society.

That fits within the frame of my question.

And maybe once I have told you these things, you can help determine what faction with which they will have the most likely compatibility.

Ah ha.

Because they aren’t exactly moored to anything, so far as I know.

Okay.

And I would like to be moored somewhere. Any feedback would be appreciated.

I’ve never been asked this before.

This is a whole new world, friend.

Oh my …

I need you to get with the program.

I think I can get with it.

You think? We’re thinking now? What has thinking ever done for anyone? Nothing good, I’m pretty sure. It’s time to break out of that shag-carpeted Winnebago we call “thought.” Burn it. Walk away. Don’t look back. Not even to savor the ashes. You are now in the wilderness. It is the time to do. And also the time to be.

I see your point. Okay then, I can get with it. The program, that is.

Wonderful! So I think on the whole there is a lot of overlap between my politics and the politics of most other people in America. It is built by, for, and upon people. People who, despite having their own lives, their own experiences, their own demands, their own cognitive capabilities, and all that, nonetheless find themselves in the same general area, and so they have resolved to pay heed to an obedience they more or less share. Even when they disagree with that obedience, they are hard pressed to deny that it is there.

Yes, I recognize this so far.

Ah good! Now, here is where I believe I part ways with many of my countrymen and women. But please correct me if this is not the case.

I will do so!

Thank you! I believe that the source of our obedience possesses a significant regulatory power. Most people see the source of obedience as being able to regulate wealth or behavior or certain forms of business or whatever; I frankly never gave much thought to regulation until I began to think about the human sense of self-worth. That, to my mind, seems like a paramount object of regulatory imposition. I can’t remember quite how it came about, but I suppose I was out one day and idly took stock of my surroundings and discovered an abundance of self-worth among my fellow citizens. It was overwhelming and confounding, like feeling a midday heat in the dead of night.

That sounds dreadful.

Was it ever! I believe this surplus of self-worth has an unseemly effect on the health of our nation. It gets into the brain, you see? High levels of self-worth can cause the synapses that moderate our collective judgment to short out, and obscure our collective vision with cataracts. My whole being chills over in sweat imagining all manner of misdeed, calamity, and woe that inevitably flows from that source. Now, before you say anything, I am not one of those types who believe Americans are incapable of possessing a good thing in portions of their own estimation. I know not enough about the good things to comment on that. Self-worth is the certainly not among them. So I believe that self-worth should be confiscated from every citizen—every citizen—and stored away. Push all the gold out Fort Knox, and fill it with all the self-worth in America.

That’s not really regulation, though. That’s more like prohibition.

Indeed, friend! It is not my intention to ultimately outlaw self-worth. These are but the messy and extreme measures of getting it under control for the careful process of dolling it back out. The state will be the sole source of self-worth in America. American citizens who want self-worth will not be able to obtain it without going through our permission process. Citizens must fill out a formal request application, they must procure letters of recommendation, they must pay fees, etc. before they can be considered for receiving self-worth. Once an interview process is completed, and fingerprints and DNA samples are taken, the approved applicants will receive their self-worth by post in about 12-14 business days. Each supply has the same amount; exceptions can be made for slightly more, but that requires additional applications and screenings. Once they are received, citizens are responsible for their use. After a six-month period, citizens may reapply for more self-worth. And it goes without saying that this will entail the creation of a policing agency that will prevent hoarding and illegal distribution. I understand that this seems extraordinary, and in any other instance I would balk that the lengths to which I am proposing we go, but I am more confident on this matter than anywhere else that such measures are for the good of the American people.

I see.

You are perplexed.

Only a little.

Do tell.

I can kind of understand how a state would manage to confiscate self-worth from its people. If it causes enough of a crisis, surely a benevolent power would step in and curb its influence. To do otherwise would mean shirking its duty and undermining its authority.

Of course.

I’m not certain what faction would see the appeal in this. Unless …

Yes?

Tell me, friend, will there be an app?

An app?

Yes. When the self-worth is taken, will there be an app developed that keeps the people informed? That helps them with the rigors of the process you laid out? That notifies them of approval or when the next application process begins? And also keeps track of their current supply?

I hadn’t thought about that.

Neither had I really, until just last month I attended a trade conference—

Are you in tech?

I am an associate account manager for a distributor of clowning supplies.

Ah, interesting.

I’m in charge of gloves and face makeup. But part of the conference included a seminar about how integrating artificial intelligence, algorithmic data tracking, and block chains into our business model will maximize efficiency and steady the rate of our quarterly losses.

Oh … I see.

I know, I know. I was skeptical of it at first but since we’ve taken on some new consultants it has shown impre—

And so in the end I was unable to prevent my fellow commuter’s head from detonating. Though it did happen at a more opportune moment closer to home that lessened my discomfort, it shall nonetheless be to my lasting regret. I stand in this courtroom a more humbled and chastened man than ever I was in my life. I am very sorry that your dad, your husband, your ex-husband, your friend, your coworker, your occasional boyfriend, and your neighbor blew up. I am very sorry still that I was the last one to see the state of his head when it was still in once piece, fleeting though that seems now. It was, as I recall, a fine head: in acceptable proportion, a smooth, eggshell baldpate amid a well-cropped shrubbery of hair, and no asymmetry that I noticed.

I return to that event often. Not so much to wonder how it could have gone differently, but to assess why it was so. I never really paid mind to those types of people who thought that everything happened for a reason. What nonsense, I always thought. But these events give me pause. They seem driven by destiny. This is not just about one symmetrical clown glove and makeup distributor’s life; it is about the power of ideas, to which I submit myself as its latest martyr. Your honor, you may pass down sentence on me for “negligent homicide,” or whatever, but in my heart and ultimately, I think, in posterity, I have been sentenced for flawed heroism. Thank you.

Okay, I hereby sentence you to life of copywriting Restoration Hardware catalogs for the crime of flawed heroism. May God have mercy on your soul. [pounds gavel]

Gulp.