38. Ritual

I have some symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. When I’m in my kitchen, I have a little ritual that I perform. First I tap the right front corner of the sink, then the middle of the front edge of the sink, then the left front corner of the sink, then the counter halfway between the sink and the inside corner, then the inside corner of the counter, then halfway between the inside corner and the stove, then the corner of the counter right by the stove. These seven taps are performed with the right hand, and are followed up with a snap of the fingers of my left hand, which I hold up so I can see the reflection of my snapping fingers in the glass of the display cabinet across the kitchen.

One day I did this, and something happened. Precisely in sync with the snap of my fingers, a woman appeared in the middle of the kitchen. I started violently in surprise and alarm, of course, but even as I did so, I noticed a few things. First, that she was facing me, and that I found her mind-achingly attractive. Second, that her right hand was held out as though touching something at counter height, and her left was held up as though she had just snapped her fingers. She started violently at about the same time I did. She had the advantage of not being right next to the stove, so she was denied the joy of banging her crazy bone against the handle of the oven door.

Of course, I realize now that the quick pain enabled the scene to progress. Otherwise, we both would have stood there gawping and sputtering, I’m sure. As it was, I clutched my elbow and grunted in pain, as she winced in sympathy and leaned ever-so-slightly towards me. It was like having the sun break out from behind the clouds.

“Are you okay?” she asked tentatively.

“Yeah,” I said, “I just bumped… What the hell are you doing here?”

She shrugged emphatically. “I have no idea. I was just… That is…” Her voice trailed off.

“Were you tapping on your counter?” I asked. The painful tingling in my elbow was beginning to fade.

Her face tightened, just a little, in embarrassment. “How did you know?”

“I do the same thing,” I said. The unreality of the situation was melting in the furnace of my desire to be near her, hold her. “It’s just… Something I do.” I chuckled lamely. “In fact, I was just doing it when you, er, showed up.”

Her face relaxed again. “So was I. I always start at the right of the sink,” she said.

“Then the middle of the sink,” I cut in.

“Then the left of the sink,” we said together, starting to laugh. We finished that way, describing our identical counter-tapping rituals to one another, and then shared a little grin.

“That’s funny,” she said.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

I’m not exactly sure how we ended up in each other’s arms. All I remember is that it felt effortless and instantaneous. And then — oh then! I was holding her, touching her, kissing her, tasting her. I was dizzy with wanting. As we embraced, we pressed our bodies deliciously close, moving and shifting slightly until it felt as though we were molded together. Our lips were fused, our tongues dancing. We made little noises in our throats that communicated our deep, obliviating need.

We went all the way, of course. Before we even left the kitchen, in fact. And it was fabulous.

Eventually, we got to talking. Her name was Faith, and it turned out that she lived a couple miles away. I drove her home. That night, I tried to call her but kept getting a busy signal. After a while, I got through, and learned that the busy signal had been from her trying to call me at the same time.

We got married in pretty short order, and it’s been eight years now. We are very happy. People ask how we met, and we just smile inscrutably.

We both still tap on the counter.

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37. Can You Let Me

Can you let me finish a sentence? Can you let me drink this cold coffee with a straw? Shall I pour pie in the eyes of a man I’ve never met and expect a tip for my troubles?

When did the sun go down? When did it come up again? What flowers have bloomed in the night, shedding their perfume like snakeskin into the purity of the night air? Where is the blanketing dark that became so familiar I could no longer smell it? I had to leave and come back. Leave and come back, leave and come back, over and over until a path is worn from the pacing, a smooth track of dirt along a route that goes here and there, a path that leads the one who treads it on a journey through time and space for no good reason.

Here in the synthetic dawn of a chemical process that is no less strange for its proximity, I awake as though from a dream, and find myself in a small room with a man who tells me, “You’re not painting your face green and taking the bus to New York.” He’s right, of course, but what does it mean that he’s right? What is the likelihood of livelihood?

I am fate’s bitch. And do you know what fate is? Fate is a cute little girl with a hidden penchant for creative and depraved spectacle. I perform the private, telling rituals for the pleasure of other things, and the little girl may or may not give me a treat at the end.


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36. Cereal

I can’t turn around without bumping into a big animated pile of breakfast cereal. Wherever I go, it seems to be at my elbow. It can be damned awkward.

For example, it took forever for me to pass my driver’s test, because the tester would always get wigged out by the cereal, and their stress would make me nervous, which would make me drive suboptimally, which would give the tester the opportunity to fail me, thereby exerting some authority in hopes that it would bring some normalcy to the situation. Because, let’s face it: When there’s a big animated pile of breakfast cereal in the back seat, normalcy is exactly what’s called for.

I finally did get my license, though, which indirectly brings us to the present moment. I have driven my car to the mall, and am now at the perfume counter of a major department store. Just behind me and to my left, the animated pile of cereal stands, rustling and crunching quietly to itself as it shifts about in place. The perfume clerk is standing behind the counter, frozen like a deer in the headlights, mouth agape, staring in speechless horror at my breakfasty companion. It is clear that I am not going to get any service today.

Which is unfortunate, because I wanted to buy some perfume for this girl I met a couple months ago and have fallen in love with. Her name is Claire, and the animated pile of breakfast cereal doesn’t seem to bother her at all.

I asked her about it one day. “So, how’s come the cereal doesn’t freak you out?” (At that moment it was reading the Sunday funnies over my shoulder.)

She shrugged one shoulder in that way that I think is so cute. “I don’t know,” she replied. “It just seems so nice. Like a dog or something.” She wrapped a ringlet of hair around her finger and took another bite of her bagel, and I realized at that moment that I really loved her.

And so the plan was hatched to get her the perfume she likes but can’t afford, and to tell her just how much she means to me.

But as a strand of saliva slowly stretches itself floorwards from the lip of the gobsmacked perfume clerk, I can smell an internet purchase in my future. Which means I’ll have to wait for shipping. But should I wait until I have the perfume to tell Claire that I love her, or should I heed the pleading of my heart and unburden myself to her as soon as is humanly possible?

None of this, of course, would be in question if it weren’t for this animated pile of breakfast cereal dogging my every step and making things all complicated. Fucking cereal.

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35. I Can, I Will

I can rise above that which is small in the world.

I can fly to such heights that the only thing between me and the sun is eight minutes of silence.

I can hear the music of the universe piercing the din of a thousand less significant cacophonies.

I can stand with trees.

I can remember the names and faces that swirl around me like leaves in the wind.

I can pay the highest compliment possible.

I can pass unscathed through a cyclone of indecision and regret.

I can see where I’m going.

I can choose a path that guarantees that none shall suffer the consequences of my existence.

I will not be a party to the destiny that awaits.

I will crush the filthy dreams of that broken-hearted multitude.

I will swim to the island in the middle of the sea, stand on the beach, and let the sun and the air gently carry the water away from my skin.

I will emerge victorious from the belly of resolute fate.

I will eat a cheeseburger.

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34. Zebra Hide Butter

Buttered my crackers with zebra hide, thinking: wallpaper could use rehanging. Went to the home improvement store with the holy texts of a thousand miscreant faiths, my plans for a perfectly decorated living space. Sat and waited for the clerk to ask me if he could help me. I would have said, “Yes,” but he never asked. At the end of the day, they turned off the lights and closed the store with me still inside. All I could think of was my zebra butter crackers back home. They would be getting restless, agitated, licked by cats.

And the wallpaper that wanted rehung, hanging in strips, shreds peeling off and dropping to the floor occasionally, like the leaves in fall. Piling up around the mattress that I put my body against to hold away the floor.

Oh, and the wallpaper shred porpoises! How they would leap and splash around the room! It was brilliant, watching them. I used to sit on the bed with a bowl of popcorn and while away the hours.

I was in a reverie of these thoughts when the clerk came in the next morning, jumped when he saw me, collected himself, and finally asked, “Can I help you?”

I came out of my porpoise contemplation with a bit of a start. “Oh,” I said, then, “No, I think I’ll just be going.” I gave an inscrutable smile, packed up the pile of dubious texts, and meandered.

Got home to find the crackers had been miraculously undisturbed by the cats. Tossing the unused, unsung texts in the corner, I went to the fridge and laid out seventy-five thousand delmonico steaks for the cats as a reward for their forbearance. Then sat down at the kitchen table, the crackers arrayed before me, and breakfasted.

Zebra hide butter tastes like shit. Cut breakfast short and wandered into the other room to watch the porpoises. Sat on the bed for hours. No porpoises. I became sad. Eventually it got dark, and I curled up to go to sleep. Dreamt of carpet leopards.

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33. Thinking of You

I was walking to the convenience store with plans of purchasing the appliances of sin when I saw a plastic grocery bag tangled up in a bush by the sidewalk. It made me think of you.

I was driving to the future with a packet of dry roasted peanuts riding shotgun. I was in the middle lane, and suddenly I noticed the white dashes of paint that demarcated the lanes. The dashes on my right were closer together than the ones on my left. It made me think of you.

I was digging a hole on my way to China when my shovel struck a rock that was exactly the same shape as Elvis Presley’s head, circa 1954. It made me think of you.

I was writing a lullaby to quell Cold War anxieties when, through the window, I noticed a pair of foraging groundhogs under the apple tree in my back yard. I went out to talk to them, and we ended up playing some three-way euchre. It made me think of you.

I was pointing out the lunacy in cellular transition when I abruptly realized that I wasn’t making any sense. It made me think of you.

I was brushing my teeth when a small goblin climbed into my medicine cabinet and hummed tunes to the rhythm of my scrubbing. It made me think of you.

When I slept in the belly of the monster that had devoured me, I dreamed of days I’d spent in the light of the sun. It made me think of you.

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32. Armchair

Things dry up. All of your striving is powerless to yield another drop.

So you sit back, and cast about for an alternative source. There is nothing you can find that can touch you. In your armchair, you watch the universe recede until its rim is a razor-thin line on the horizon.

Things explode. All of your striving is powerless to hold together this troubled mass that encompasses.

So you learn to keep out of the blast radius, and every step you take is in reference to what you know is about to happen, yet cannot be predicted. In your armchair, you watch the universe tremble and rage in the space allotted it.

Aside from the drying up and exploding, life goes on like it does. How could it do otherwise? In your armchair, you periodically decide.

There is no eternal lament. There is no cosmic warning label. There is no dentist, no taxidermist, no lawyer, no stockbroker. After the well is spent, and after it shoots its emptiness skyward in a rush of heat and fire and anguish, there is a brief period of mourning and moaning. Eventually, you pick yourself up and go do something else.

Somehow, through it all, over and over, the armchair survives. I am grateful, but I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand.

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31. Rabbits

I was opening a can of soda when, by a bizarre series of accidents, I severed my left hand at the wrist. My liberated hand plopped down onto the counter with a kind of thud, and I was bleeding quite a lot.

The thing to do in those circumstances is to ball up a towel and clamp it under your armpit. This dramatically decreases the amount of blood going into your arm and out the end. Then, with this rudimentary tourniquet in place, you call an ambulance and do what they say.

I knew all that. But instead, I decided to watch and wait to see what would happen. I had a weird sort of a feeling that I would be okay. Maybe that was due to the blood loss. Who knows? The point is, I picked up my left hand in my right and sat down on the kitchen floor. My blood trickled and pooled around me.

After what seemed like a really long time, the flow of blood tapered off sharply, as if it had just finished dumping out of me. The puddle around me was substantial. There were a few drops coming from my arm, the last remnants of my blood. Then my internal organs started oozing down my arm and out the end. Which, believe me, felt really strange.

It took my organs as long as it had taken my blood to come out. At some point I began to wonder why I wasn’t dead, or at least why I wasn’t completely flipping out as my intestines slowly wormed their way out of my open-ended wrist. But everything seemed relatively okay, appearances to the contrary.

When all of my organs and blood lay on my kitchen floor, still I watched and waited. I didn’t know what else to do. After maybe twenty minutes, the whole mess began to shimmer and pulsate. The blood began to move, to join the organs in a gooey pile of biological material. Then there was a bright flash of light centered on the pile, accompanied by a sound like a ten-fingered major chord on a piano, only much freakier. The light faded an instant later, and there where my blood and organs had been was a pile of rabbits of varying breeds, colors, and sizes.

The rabbits untangled themselves from one another and began exploring my apartment, noses atwitch. Where my internals had been, there wasn’t even a stain. What’s more, my left hand was back at the end of my arm where it belonged. And I was really thirsty. My soda can was still on the counter. I got up and drank it.

So now I have seventeen rabbits, and I don’t weigh nearly as much as I used to. I have no idea what to do about all of this.

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30. Passenger

I have a pygmy marmoset attached to my scrotum.

It goes back to when I was a kid. It was the first day of school. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, the other children attacked me in the schoolyard before class. Some pinned me to the ground while others took down my pants and underwear. One of them produced the pygmy marmoset and set it gently onto my genitals. The little sucker sank its teeth and claws right in.

Since that day, I’ve had to go through life with a passenger. Even leaving aside the pain (which, though everpresent, is tolerable most days), the practical considerations make many things rather difficult. I have to wear loose fitting trousers. Most vigorous physical activity is out. Swimming is out, because the only thing worse than having a pygmy marmoset attached to your scrotum is having a drowned pygmy marmoset attached to your scrotum. Even walking requires more care than normal.

My sex life has been pretty interesting, as you might imagine. It’s hard to find a woman who is willing to overlook something like that, but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere. The women who react with disgust and/or alarm are no surprise. It’s the women who are really into the pygmy marmoset that worry me.

Oh, I’ve been to doctors. They claim that my condition is not unheard of. Unfortunately, to remove the pygmy marmoset would endanger both its and my life, so no-one will perform the procedure. I even went to a vet, but I got the same line. The only thing I can get from doctors are prescriptions for drugs to treat the symptoms. The drugs help, but the bottom line is, I still have a pygmy marmoset attached to my scrotum.

Every day, I think about what those kids did to me. What they took from me by attaching this damn monkey to my balls. People tell me I should just let it go, release this negativity I’ve been carrying. They’re right, of course, and I do try. But it’s hard to let go when the pygmy marmoset refuses to, you know?

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29. Oceans

You said offhandedly that you wanted an ocean, so on a lark I looked into it. I figured it would be a great surprise for your birthday, one that might cause you to make that squeaky sound of delight when I unveiled it. I love that sound you make.

Anyway, it turns out that oceans are readily available and reasonably priced. Who knew? You can pick up an ocean for about five grand. Mind you, that’s for a small ocean; we’re talking maybe 5 million square miles of surface area with an average depth of around 9,000 feet. If you want to get into something more in line with, say, the Indian Ocean (28.5 million square miles, average depth 13,000 feet), you’re talking 7 grand. This is the optimal ocean size to go for if you want maximum volume for the buck. Bigger than that and the prices spike quite sharply. If you want to get into Atlantic Ocean territory (41 million square miles, average depth 12,000 feet), you’re talking about 19 grand. And the Pacific? Ha! At 64 million square miles and an average depth of 13,000 feet, buying a comparable ocean would set you back 85 grand.

So yeah, I was obviously looking at the Indian Ocean range. The store I had decided to buy from (Flora’s Ocean Emporium) had three in stock. One was pre-owned but refurbished and certified. It was the largest and also the cheapest, but I wanted a new ocean for you. So that was out. Of the remaining two, one had a lot of reef action with beautiful formations and fish, so I opted for it even though it was the smallest of the three (a mere 26 million square miles and average depth of 12,000 feet), and wasn’t the cheapest.

That was where the problem came up.

“And how were you wishing to transport and store your ocean, sir?” asked the saleswoman.

I hadn’t thought of that. Seems silly that I hadn’t, but there you go. As it turns out, ocean storage and maintenance can get pretty hairy. We’re talking extra-dimensional spaces, entropy dampeners, gravity simulators, some kind of portal technology that I’d never even heard of, and some other things that I’d also never heard of. All of which obviously requires quite a bit of power. Like, enough power to power New York City for fifty years. Per millisecond.

The bottom line? Maintaining and storing an ocean costs about 18 billion dollars per month.

“Well, that torpedoes that birthday plan,” I said dejectedly, shoving my hands in my pockets.

“There is. . . an alternative payment option,” the saleswoman said.


“For a one-time fee, we will permanently house and maintain your ocean for as long as you own it. In addition, we will establish an island paradise resort at a latitude equivalent of your choosing. Staffed by robots, the resort will be available to you year-round as a vacation get-away. In addition, the purchase price of the ocean itself is waived.”

She paused, waiting for her words to fully sink in. Then she said, “Are you interested?”

“You bet,” I replied. “What’s the fee?”

“Your appendix.”

They had the facilities to remove my appendix on site, and could perform the out-patient procedure in a few minutes. I did ask what they wanted my appendix for, but they said answering the question would nullify the agreement, so I let it go. They used some sort of funky laser/teleporter thing for the operation. It left a little mark, but that’s about it. I didn’t feel a thing. Four seconds under the device, and I was one appendix lighter.

So anyway, that’s how I got you this Pacific-class ocean (62 million square miles, average depth 12,500 feet) for your birthday, along with the ultimate vacation spot for the rest of our lives. It’s also how I got the small scar you asked about. But I got to hear you make the squeaky sound.

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