real quietly–it’s late–he taps on the phone booth. It’s filled with kids, facing inward over an ipod. They’ve got a song on and headphones over the telephone so who knows who’s hearing it, their mom or a call-in show or someone who hung up after one track to look up stevie wonder memorabilia on ebay and resell it to rural dial-up customers via columbia house-style direct mail solicitations–memento speculation, they call it. He read about this last week, in his minesweeper discussion group. Everybody there has other interests, and they emphasize that. The kids are pressing the ipod’s viridescent display to the glass, it’s an audiobook.
quilty, great to see you. Can i share a paragraph from the introduction-by-the-author of the LM collection I am now reading——
A man takes a novel to the beach. While reading, his attention wanders to an attactive woman nearby. She invites him to lie beside her. He does and he attempts to continue reading, though she is offering sex. He isn’t averse, but he wants to finish the novel. She continues offering. He continues being not averse. She becomes exasperated, and takes off her bathing suit. He puts his novel aside, after noting the page he was reading, and they have sex abruptly. They please each other, but the solicitations of the inner life, and the allure of the outer world, are never reconciled.
okay, me again from now on. I didn’t include the paragraph’s last sentence because of typographical reservations. Almost every paragraph in the introduction sounds like the opening paragraph of a potential introduction, and this is the best one, I think, better than the one about the sixties and the one about the princess, because it’s all true. “She becomes exasperated, and takes off her bathing suit.” Yesterday in Radioshack waiting to be rung up for two products that right now are doing about a third of what I wanted them to do I watched two men, a clerk and an older fella, have this conversation (I am translating, so this could be incorrect): “Where is it.” “The other side.” “Where is it.” “The other side.” “Where is it.” “The other side.” And then the older fella became exasperated and took off his bathing suit. Today around 17th and Noe a pickup truck with six of seven Mexican (yes? South/Central American?) family members in it hit a limousine, that was interesting, I’ll bet. I got there afterward, while a police officer was leading the family toward his patrol car, away from the seething limousine driver. Did they arrest all of them? How many traffic accidents are caused yearly by distracted miscalculations of vehicle length? Don’t answer that.
“I’ll just stay in here,” he said, reaching up to twist the bulb. “There’s powdered milk and cereal.” He would wait it out, and then when they’d left their garrisons he’d emerge fortified by food products and solitude, ready to resume doing the things he’d left off to embed himself in the cellar, which wasn’t how he’d remembered it. There was cereal but someone had spread out the powdered milk into particles so fine that they floated like dust motes and settled on his skin to be reborn as bad milk when the roaring furnace ordered perspiration out of his every pore, as it did. “I forgot about the furnace,” he thought, shitty milk running into his eyes. He took off his shirt and his pants and ran his hands over his arms, trying to whisk the awful rivulets off of him before they began to evaporate and took on solid form for the second time as an unremovable residue that would smell bad. “It’s like I’m a nipple,” he thought, and he was thinking of an animal, not a person, when he thought this. The furnace kept roaring, spurring the process forward. Its plan had worked.
am seized by a powerful e-commerce itch tonight. Why not! Didn’t buy the “painted ceramic steiner… made in an edition of 18” w/removable palm-frond lid–who did? Seems like a good trail to follow. OK:
Everyone–Tim, John, Stan, Sarah, Kevin–went to the reception and fell in the water. “You know,” Tim started, coughing, but John was already saying “The wedding’s ruined!” “I was saying something,” Tim said. “Help,” Sarah said again.
whew, good work guys.
Hi, I read your job posting online. This is my application–thanks very much for reading it.
Desperate for love, Kevin slept with three men in one week. On Friday, ready for something else, he sold most of his clothes at Goodwill. He had about ten days’ worth of clothing, and he sold everything he’d worn that week. Then, alone, with less clothing, he drove to Cow Hollow to spend the money he’d made–the woman at Goodwill had insisted on paying him. “These clothes are too nice,” she’d said. “I’m taking these.” He wanted to buy a bar of soap shaped like a bath toy–not a bar, a toy-shape of soap–and he found a store that sold those. It was called Padilla Realty. “It’s a soap joke,” the guy inside explained. “If you knew about soap, you’d get it.” “No, it’s funny,” Kevin said. “It has to do with the soap-making industry,” the soap man said. “That’s fine,” Kevin said. “I’ll take this one. Can I use your bathroom?”
It took some convincing, but after a minute Kevin was given a key and directed to the back. In the bathroom he rolled up his right sleeve so his shoulder was showing and started washing his arm with the new soap he owned. It was shaped like a pontoon boat and lathered well, better than anything. Eventually, since this lather didn’t dissipate until twenty, thirty minutes after it had been created, the pontoon soap sort of seemed to be riding along on rocky waters every time he slid it up his arm, climbing a choppy waterfall. The boat soap was made to make the world more appropriate to itself through use, Kevin realized, and just when he was working this out and about to break through to the whole “Padilla Realty” joke the soap man came in, having kept an extra key and become concerned. “Aw, you’re kidding,” he said. Kevin, turning, reflexively put up his arms in a conciliatory gesture, but you couldn’t see his right arm at all, it was just a perfect frothy tusk at this point, and now its wide end grew past his shoulder like he was ossifying, like he’d soaped himself to the bone, and the bone had grown, so the gesture didn’t make sense to the store owner–it could’ve meant anything. “I’ll go,” Kevin said.
That evening, having walked to the bay with bone-arm intact and dipped its hoary form in the water like he’d lost something down there until every centimeter of his flesh was visible again and the shore was strung with bits of glowing, robust foam, he found a motel near the marina and took a room. The pontoon he put in the bathroom, on a soap dish, careful not to let it skid and begin its assimilatory mission again. He watched two or three television shows, checked himself for desperation, felt pretty content, and went to sleep. When he woke up, his arm was covered in boils. Horrified, he put on a turtleneck sweater and left the motel, intending to demand recompense from Padilla Realty and its parent corporation, should there be one. “Should there be one,” he said to himself, rehearsing.
“Impossible,” the soap man said. “No allergens. No irritants. There’s no way. Which arm is it?” “My right arm,” Kevin said, rubbing the sleeve. “There you go. you were washing your left arm yesterday.” “I wasn’t. You’re lying. I demand–” “No, no, hold on. Look–when you left, you were fine, right? Where’d you go?” “Nowhere. I–I’m in a motel.” “So? You talk to them. Those motels are owned by multimillionaires, you know. I’m a small businessman.” Kevin felt tired. He hadn’t slept well. He regretted giving up his excellent trenchcoat that everyone always complimented. “You’re coming, then,” he said. “What?” “I’m not going back there so he can send me back here. I know how this works. You’re coming. Bring soap.”
“Uh uh,” the motel manager said. “What are you suggesting? This motel received a score of 87 on an independent hygiene audit last week. Look–here it is.” He tore open a DHL package that a uniformed man had just handed him and showed them a plaque with the number “85” on it, but nothing else. “That could mean anything,” the soap man said. He wanted to settle this now. “You know your linens are worth shit. This guy’s hurt bad, and you’re gonna snowball him?” Kevin nodded. He hadn’t even looked at his arm for hours. It felt like a giant thyroidal Snickers bar, full of angry peanuts. “Oh, fuck you,” the motel owner was saying. “We both know this isn’t on me, Stan. It’s, what–” “My soap? You think my soap did this? Soap makes you clean. Motels–” “That’s a stereotype,” the motel owner said, agitatedly tapping the 85. “I worked for this. I’m still working.”
In the end, they decided that Stan the soap man would sleep in Kevin’s motel bed while the the motel deskman sat in the bathtub, amongst the manifold soaps that Stan had brought with him. “I’ve got these sleeping pills,” the motel man had said, relenting. “We’ll both take ’em. No tricks. Then we’ll know.” Kevin would proctor, alternating between the bedroom and the bathroom, watching each man for signs of infection or avoidance. His arm felt no better, but he was glad he’d taken a stand. He’d know the truth soon now.
The next morning, everyone was covered in boils.