Daily Fiction 14: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve read a lot of strange things in my day. Sister had all these books about wizards. Harry Potter, she called them. Kids running around casting spells, flying around on broomsticks. That’s some weird stuff. The wife’s into Fifty Shades of Grey, I think that one’s pretty strange, how this business executive gets this lady so hot with all these rules. My son likes these Game of Thrones books, and he says there’s all kinds of weird shit there, like there’s a funny rich dwarf who winds up controlling everybody. Strange, I know.

But that don’t compare to all the shit that’s happened to me on the police force. I tell you, if you haven’t been out there, you might think books have some crazy things, but seven years in these streets, you see things stranger than anything anyone could dream up. Why, a few years back, I fell asleep in my squad care and awoke from uneasy dreams to find myself transformed into a talking goat.

The uneasy dreams weren’t the weird part. I mean, some of the dreams were kind of weird, sure. There was this one where I was walking along this bridge, like the pedestrian part of a railway bridge, but the bridge kept spiraling off, and not just like a spiral staircase, but like a corkscrew, so I was going sideways and upside down, and it had looked like it was only about 80 feet across when I started but the distance of the bridge kept getting longer and longer, and I forgot what city I was in. But that was just a dream. And even though the dream was weird, it wasn’t weird that I had the dream. I ate two kielbasa and a Dr. Pepper, and I usually have weird dreams when I nap after a kielbasa.

But when I woke up, I found my front hooves on the dashboard, and my horns scratching the fabric on the ceiling of the Vic. When I’d gone to sleep, I’d had hands and hair and a hat and a uniform, like a normal person, but suddenly I had hairy, bony legs where my arms used to be and face felt very furry. I looked around for my radio, and tried to grab it, but I just kicked it under the passenger seat, and I went down to look for it. My horns got wedged under the glove compartment, and I had to shake my head really hard to get free. The glove popped open. There was a map of the State of New York in there, and an old roll of Necco wafers. I started gobbling them down, wax paper and all, and I was still hungry so I started eating the map.

Around then I heard my partner Wong calling my name, and I was relieved. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure of what was going on, and he sounded as concerned and confused as I was, so I was glad he was on the case. I raised my head up and “baaaa”ed at him, and that was another weird thing, because normally I don’t “baaaa.” He didn’t respond, but he kept calling my name. I “baaaa”ed louder, but he just looked around. His eyes wouldn’t meet mine. He even looked behind him.

“Kulawik!?” he said, “There’s a goat in the car!”

I realized he wasn’t talking to me at all. He didn’t see me, or didn’t recognize me. “Baaaaa” I said. “I’m right here.”

“Kulawik?” he said? He seemed confused.

I looked i his face. “Wong? Yeah, Wong, it’s me. Wong? What’s the matter? What’s this about a goat?”

“Kulawik…you’re a goat?”

“A goat? I look like a goat?”

“Wait…what!? Look like? You are…”

We went back and forth like that for a while. The whole thing was really strange. Earlier that day, I had been getting along pretty well with Wong. He’s kind of reserved and a little mean, so we weren’t the warmest partners at first, but we had started to bond more in the recent months. We were talking a lot about exercise routines that morning, some about basketball, and a little bit about our families. But now here he was, talking to me like a stranger, and I was talking weird too, basically like I couldn’t get through to him. There’s a way that one strange thing—getting transformed into a goat—made everything else in my life different. That was one of the strangest conversations I had with Wong. And on the way back to the station, I ate the whole map, that was another strange thing. I never used to eat maps or anything like them. I ate a stack of napkins too.

Things kept getting strange when I went back to work. Nobody knew how to handle the fact that I was a goat. All the union rules were written for people. But cops had a culture of sticking up for one another, and though nobody had ever worked with or been friends with a goat before, nobody wanted to say anything bad about me or acknowledge anything unusual or imply that I should be taken off my shift. But I could tell people didn’t want to sit beside me at the cafeteria, and there were little things, like going in for my physical. The doctor noted that my height and weight had changed. “This is highly unusual,” she said “you’ve lost 3 feet 8 inches, and 47 pounds. And you’ve grown a significant amount of body hair. I’ve never met a medical specimen that changed this often. However, your vitals are in working order, and, uh, I don’t think it would be right to fail you based on human standards, so I’m going to advise you be approved for field duty.”

But no sergeant wanted me on their unit, even though I’d been a pretty popular cop and had my pick of assignments before, and even though I was pretty popular on the force, maybe even more so after becoming a goat. They said they didn’t want the paperwork. I said if they didn’t want the paperwork, I’d eat it. It was a little joke I had. I was trying to use the joke to get them to actually throw away some paperwork, because at the time I couldn’t get enough paper.

They put me on boat duty, on one of the escort boats that goes alongside the Staten Island Ferry, but I said I didn’t know if I could swim. None of them knew if goats could swim in general, either. Eventually I got put in a foot patrol in Red Hook.

They fixed me up with a hat with horn holes in it so I could wear it without damaging it., strapped a gun to my back leg—even though I couldn’t shoot it or even pull it out or even hold it, they thought a cop should have a gun, and they also gave me a badge and an ID in the form of dog tags. Now, even though I was a goat, they called them dog tags, that’s as strange as anything I’d said.

First block of patrol, we got a man walking up the other way, and I just got the feeling he was a threat, and got it in my head to head-butt him. I lunged forward and hit him the middle of the stomach. He staggered back on this right foot, spun, and fell.

“What the fuck, you crazy goat!?” he said, and stood up, moving toward me pretty violently. I ducked under his punch and butted him again in the stomach.

Then he became pretty abusive, screaming about crazy goat cops, and I got ready to butt him again, and I connected. My neck hurt a lot more than I had thought, and so did my head, and held it with my hands in pain. That’s how I found out I had hands, and was a human again. And some onlookers got it on camera, but only that last part where I was human again, in full cop uniform, headbutting this man.

So that’s strange. You’ll never find that in any book. How could you make that up? The truth will always be stranger than fiction. Now let me tell you the story of how I saw a woman swallow a whole Italian sub—well, a whole half of one—in one bite.

Daily Fiction 13: Marine Corps

When I get really embarrassed or humiliated because people don’t think I’m as great as I want them to think I am, or when they think someone else, even themselves, is better than I am, I think about joining the Marines.

The Marines are good soldiers, and I want to be good at something. And I like to know that I can kill other people, not so that I can do it, but so that when I hate them I can imagine beating them up, making my hatred their truth. This stops me from having to do anything, but lets me hold on to the hatred. When I’m fantasizing and hating, I always imagine a conflict at the end of that fantasy. If I were to lose that imaginary conflict, I’d be left with a sour taste in my mouth, I’d feel bad about my hatred, I’d see it as something dangerous for me. If I win, I feel good, and even though I never want to push it and destroy the fantasy, I can at least feel that my enemies are at my mercy, that I am a good and powerful and merciful person. I can fantasize about winning a fight even if I’m not really able to win it, but I just think being a Marine would help me imagine this result more strongly and more confidently, and that would be good enough.

The Marines also are impressive. Even if the cause isn’t good, or the outcome, or the individual actions they have undeniable personal virtues far beyond what most of us have or need. I wish I could focus more, I wish I could endure more physical pain, I wish I could better withstand stressful situations, I wish I could easily muster the will to do things which I do not want to do, but which need to be done. My proficiency in all these skills is well short of what Marines have to do at a minimum. I can’t imagine being thrown into one of their situations. I’d freak out, break down, and suffer. But I can imagine having already gone through their situation and coming back into mine, and being almost embarrassed how overqualified I am in these areas. And most people know it. I like the idea of being able to say just one word that indicates an abundance of enviable virtue, barely needing to say anything about myself.

It’s not just the ability to withstand suffering, either. It’s having gone through the suffering itself. It’s something other people wouldn’t want to do. And better, something they’d want done. They fear going through it, but they wish for someone else to. You’ve fulfilled their wish. And there’s a gratitude that comes with having suffered that way. People give it a certain respect, provided it’s sanctioned and branded and revered the right way. They know they can’t tell you anything, can’t speak for your experience, that you’ve already lost something that they’re afraid to lose. They’re always below you in that way, even when they’re above you in so many others. Imagining having that kind of suffering makes me feel good, because some kinds of suffering just make people have less respect for you, for allowing it to happen, or being there for it to happen to you.

Another I like about Marines—Marines are interesting. Their lives have high stakes. Their stories do, too. I want to know what happens to them, and not even to find their embarrassing secrets. If I had been a Marine, everybody would want to know my stories. I could tell the stories or not, but I would have that feeling of control, of having no limit to how much people wanted to know about me. And I wouldn’t ever need to know their stories, because I’d have the stories in myself.

But the main reason I’d join is to be different from everybody else. Nobody who’s like me, or the people around me, would ever think of joining the Marines, or actually go through with it. Me neither. But if I would, it would make me different, it would take me out of that context, it would put some distance between me and whatever embarrassment I felt at the hands of my peers, and the old rules would not apply, and I would come back having transcended their world.

I want to join the Marines so that I can win a petty conflict in my mind with some people I shouldn’t care about. I’ll never go through with it. But I like to imagine. My motivation may be shitty, but if I did it people wouldn’t be able to say that I didn’t do it. I like to imagine that I did it even though I won’t.

Daily Fiction 12: The Rich Fellow

Daily Fiction 12:

There was a rich fellow. He’s the one we care about.

He lived in a big metropolis sprawling with people. He was a generous and thoughtful soul, so he was always grateful that the people went about so much activity, for so long, just to create the world he walked around in. The world was good. It was good at doing what it was supposed to, which was to give the rich fellow an interesting life.

There were street vendors, chess players, men standing outside beckoning people in to comedy shows, women preaching the word of Jesus, police officers riding horses, families having dinner outside in the summer night outside the streetlight. The rich fellow took some joy in all of them.

The fish market was one of his favorites. They had hundreds of varieties of animals, all pulled up from the sea, many copies of each one, but with slight variations between the specimen. No two were exactly alike, but all of one kind were alike enough to have a standard price, to give the customer an expectation of quality.

He was amazed at how much work they put into the fish market. The stalls were made of old wood, painted yellow, and it was chipped just enough so that he would know it was old, but not enough to dampen the yellow or his mood. The vendors, and even some of the customers, had funny customs, special ways of using words, idiosyncracies in how they exchanged money and parcelled their product, that provided him mild fascination but never fully confounded him.

And this for a place he only went to three or four times a year! They kept it running all the other days, just in case he would show up. They kept it running even if he’d already come and left for the day and there was no hope of return.

He knew it went beyond the fish market. The fish market was just an example. That was another use of it, besides the amusement, the fascination, and the occasional seafood, (though he only bought seafood every third visit or so, barely once a year—all those multifarious species being pulled out of the ocean just to afford him the occasional dozen oysters or fresh salmon).  It was an example of how much work everybody was putting into the rich man’s rich life, even without knowing if he was ever going to make us of it. Every day they would deal in fish, staying in the fish world, just practicing for his arrival, as he crossed through the planes of existence with ease.

He was grateful with all his rich soul.

They also were doing an incredible amount of work to make him stay rich. He talked about money to people, and he got money for it. It was a good deal, but luckily some idiots were taking lesser deals. The ones he saw most immediately were the ones who moved the money around while he talked about it. They didn’t get as much money as he did, because they worked under him. And yet they worked harder. They were working hard rather than working smart. At least they were working. But they hadn’t done enough work, because they still weren’t having his job, much less doing it, which was kind of an afterthought to the having the job.

He had friends who would muck around with certain other work. One of them was talking about a system he had created to make it easier for people to buy bread directly from bakers. You could use the system on your telephone, which was the iPhone 6s, (although the rich fellow could still remember a time when your telephone was the iPhone 6, because the iPhone 6s had not been made yet.)

The rich fellow considered it crude and a little alarming that his friend had been able to become rich doing something that wasn’t moving around money. It seemed to him that money should go to the money-makers, not to people with idiosyncratic other pursuits. He wished that everyone at the world worked for his bank, so then everyone would be on the same system and there would be no chaos and everyone would understand more clearly that he was above them because it would be right there on the org chart. People usually got the message without it, but he figured there was no reason to be taking the chance.

Anyway, his friend, not a professional money-maker, had managed to make money just by building a system that went on telephones and computers, and dealt with baking. The rich fellow wasn’t sure what to do about it.

But in the middle of their conversation, the rich fellow’s friend mentioned something peculiar: that the bakers baked bread in order to try to make their own money.

This seemed very stupid to the rich man. Why would anybody bake bread? There was clearly no money in it. You were grubbing around in flour and water. There was no way to change that quickly enough into money to justify not going into money-talking instead. And yet people did that! It seemed to him that they had pursued a life of extreme poverty, and deserved anything that happened to them on account of their irresponsible decisions. But because it was hard to get that point through, he thought it would be good to use incentives—which he dealt with a lot at the bank—to punish people who didn’t make responsible decisiions like going into the field of money-moving.

At a party, he professed his love for all the actors who shaped out his world, and his contempty for all the failed businesspeople who were content with their insane plan that they could get money by moving things directly.

He called himself a social liberal and a fiscal conservative

[end to be completed later or never)

Daily Fiction 11: Mission to Mars

Daily Fiction 11:

It’s been 11 years since the ship accelerated. I don’t even think of it as taking off from EarthI think of the feeling. That weight, the pressing, the whole body being there, feeling your presence. It felt permanent, solid, beyond even how it had felt to walk in the world. Many of the others couldn’t stand it. They passed out, vomited. I helped some of them through it. Pulled them to the infirmary, administered their drips, talked them through their anxiety. I knew I was built for this, I knew they should be too. I could see them marveling at me, wondering how I was still healthy, unafraid. I knew I was built for this.

I’m not built for what we are now. Floating through space, just trying to stay normal, to stay healthy. Be positive. Be social. Be excited about the fact that we’re on the cutting edge of humanity, that we’re joining the Founders and adding a second wave of life, that we’re valued members of The Company.

I know how we’re supposed to keep ourselves strong. Exercise routine in the morning. Endurance, then flexibility, then the main muscle groups. Light breakfast. Keep ordinary hours. Come to social call. Highlight something from your work. Meet with your accountability partner. Discuss any problems. Even reciting the routine gets tiresome. I can’t get through it.

But I have to. Not because it’s good, not because it’s necessary, but because I cannot become a problem. Cannot rely on goodwill to make it through space. Can’t have the others smile sweetly with false concern as they help me through my problems, knowing their power and standing is eclipsing mine, with every duty they cover, every allowance they grant megrant me, already assuming the legitimacy of their control. And then I’ll have to start smiling more, laughing at their jokes, taking care not to get in their way, spending more of my energy appeasing them, countering their resentment.

I’m not a monster. I’ve loved, I’ve had a family. I know for some people care is a way of life, and though there’s always power being exchanged, always a battle, there’s often enough love not to see it. But these people don’t love me. I’ve spent the past seven years withdrawing more than they have, as their bonds have grown stronger. I see people laughing, smiling, in their accountability meetings. My partners are bored, uncomfortable, a little hesitant, trying to be nice. But there’s still enough to talk about, still enough for me to say about my work, still enough fog, that I don’t think anybody’s fully worried about me yet. At least I can drag it out another four years until we land on Mars. And then I can lose myself in the town, flee that dynamic entirely, never return to the group I never really was part of.

But that’s in four years.

Daily Fiction 10: Bike & Caveman

Daily Fiction 10

Bike

Billy needed a bike, but the bike shop wasn’t open until 10. He needed the bike in the morning to go to work, because his subway line down and there was no way he was going to pay for a taxi.

“Goddamn,” he said. “What the fuck am I supposed to do about that?”

He didn’t want to sit around like a sap waiting for the bike shop to open. On the other hand, he didn’t have a way to get a bike otherwise, except going far away, by which time he might as well have walked to work.

He was really mad that the place wasn’t open until that time. Here he was, willing to buy a whole bike that day just so he could go to work. Not even shop around, just get their cheapest good bike that fit him. He thought that was a pretty generous offer, and yet still, they stubbornly sat there, with a 10 am opening time, not hearing his offer, not even aware of it, confident that they didn’t need to be aware of it.

He decided that he would break in and steal the bike. One brick through the front window, kick out the glass a little, grab the bike, go. Jesus, the glass could be a problem, huh? Gotta carry it through so it doesn’t get cut on the glass. Damn. He had problems on top of problems.

He considered leaving some money to show them that he wasn’t stealing the bike out of malice, just that it was a last resort that they forced him to because they wouldn’t open their store on time for him to go to work. What was the point of a place that was only open when he was working? That was the least convenient time. They were supposed to be there waiting for him, that’s the deal he had had understood when he was waking up. He was supposed to be waking up to a world that was ready. He was sure the people who ran the bike shop got coffee. Come on. Of course they did. People who are that into bikes are definitely into coffee. Well, how would they like it if the coffee shop opened at the same time as their bike shop, and they couldn’t get coffee before work? Not much, not much at all. They probably wouldn’t even go.

Billy realized he didn’t have a brick. He went to the hardware store to get a crowbar or something. They were closed.

What could he do? How could he get a bike? Steal one? He didn’t know how. The bike shop. But they weren’t there. Right. Break in. But no brick, no crowbar. What else? A car? How would he get a car? Rental? ZipCar? SmartCar? Did you need to sign up?

He considered calling a car operated by a person finding customers through a service called Uber, and hijacking the car. He refused to call the car an “Uber.” He would not accept their nouns.

(to probably not be continued)

Caveman

Once upon a time there was a caveman. He thought of himself as a fairly advanced man, because he lived in a cave. Most men walked around outside, exposed to all the elements, never really having a place to call home. He had aspired to better, he had turned the environment into a tool. He had art on the wall. Some of it he made himself, some of it was drawn by noted artists. He’d invite artists in for a dinner party when he killed a deer. He had a nice fire pit in his home, and he couldn’t eat a whole deer himself,. so he’d gladly trade meat for art, because it raised his status.

Sometimes he’d have women back to his cave. They liked that he was a caveman. That made him attractive, more attractive than he usually was outside in the light. The subtle lighting of the fire made his features look a little better. And the women usually felt secure, it being a nice cave, relatively clean, protected from the elements.

This caused some resentment among the forest men. They’d make him of him for being a fancy boy, needing a nice clean cave to sleep in, being afraid of the elements. “Hey caveman,” they’d say, “sure you’re not lost? You seem to be out in the forest.” It hurt to hear them say that, because he’d been born in the forest like them, he’d walked the forest floors, he’d hunted all sorts of forest animals, foraged for all sorts of forest vegetables. And still they taunted him, looked at him like he didn’t belong.

So he began spending more and more of his time among other cavemen, because they wouldn’t taunt him, and they understood his lifestyle, and they would appreciate his cave design, and comment on his stalactites, recommend the best kind of firepit to give him the right balance of heat and light.

It still saddened him that he had lost his place in the forest a little. He still was a good hunter, and he’d still meet with forest women, and they’d catch him up on all the latest news going on among the forest people, and it’s not like the forest men didn’t talk to him, But he never felt like he was one of them. He felt like he was on the outside looking in.

So despite his very good cave life, he grew resentful. If he couldn’t be of the forest, he would take it out of play.

He had been practicing building fires every day for a while now, he kept count actually, 11 seasons now he’d built a fire every day. He was beginning to become a fire expert.

(to probably not be continued)

Daily Fiction 9: The Frog and the Scorpion Story

The frog took a deep gulp of beer. His bright white throat—so white it was probably bleached, Milton thought—flapped as he swallowed.

“Scorpions!?” he said. “Let me tell you what happened to a buddy of mine. He’s on his way home—and this is a good, hard-working frog—when a big, scraggly yellow scorpion, with hairs coming out of every part of his shell and everything, asks him for a ride across the river.”

The frog slapped his hand down on the bar, flexing his long, spry fingers.

“So my buddy tells him to fuck off, he doesn’t want to get stung. Scorpion says, ‘look, I know you’ve heard a lot about scorpions, but really, I’ve got no reason to hurt you. If I sting you, you’ll drown, and I’ll die too.’ And my buddy, he’s a generous guy, a bit naive, too nice for his own good, really, starts to feel guilty, and so he offers him a ride. And what do you know, three quarters off the way across, he feels a sting. And he says ‘why did you do that?’ Scorpion says, ‘I’m a scorpion.'”

The frog slowly glanced up and down the bar. His eyes caught Milton’s, and bugged out a little. “Really,” said the frog, “right in that river over there. Three years ago today.”

Milton got his beer and went to sit down with the other toads.

“You hear all that?” said Milton.

“Yep. The old scorpion story.”

“You believe him?”

“Not the way he tells it. Nobody knows what anybody said in that river.”

“But that a scorpion killed that frog?”

“Here’s the thing,” said Milton. “I don’t like scorpions either. But you know that frog said some shit. At the very least. First, scorpions aren’t stupid. They got short tempers, sure. You can’t piss ’em off. But if he wanted to kill that frog, he could do it on dry land as soon as they were getting out.”

“He could kill him before”

“Well then he wouldn’t get across the river.”

“He didn’t get across the river.”

“True.”

“And here’s the other thing. There’s no way a frog was doing anyone a favor like that. When’s the last time you seen a frog volunteer a favor, not to mention a dangerous one, just anything that’s out of their way. Hell, they’d rather not see anyone got helped at all even if it’s no bother to them. They’d rather see us down in the muck. Lets them think they’re better than us.”

“You know how you know frogs hate helping other animals? They keep telling stories like that one. The whole point of the goddamn story is that a frog’s not supposed to help anyone. Doesn’t matter if it’s true, at that point. They’ll tell it because it makes them look like saints and excuses them being assholes.”

A silence set in for a second as toads sipped their beers. An old, fat, bumpy, dull-red toad at the end of the table drew his hands together and spoke.

“I can see it happening,” he said. “I don’t know. You’re a scorpion. You just want a ride across the river. This frog looks at you like you’re about to kill him. Like that’s all you are. You’re pushed to the point where you have to argue that you’re sane. You’re trying to convince himand maybe even failing—that you won’t kill yourself just to sting him.”

A few salamanders and a newt cocked their head to listen.

“And so eventually he lets you on. And he lets you know he’s doing you a big favor. And that he trusts you. And you just know he’s gonna run back and tell his friends, puff out his frog chest, about how big he was for giving a ride to a scorpion. How magnanimous. And you realize that this is who you have to rely on just to get a ride across the river. And you think that whatever’s on the other side, some things will never change. And you just look at the frog’s stupid, bigotted head in front of you, and you think, well, it would serve you right if I was crazy. And you begin to hate that the only thing holding you back is your own self interest. And you think ‘sting, I’ll show you a sting’. And there it goes.”

There was another silence. Some of the animals were nodding.

“What the fuck do you know about being a scorpion?” said Milton.

“I can imagine” said the red toad.

“Yeah, you’re imagining a way for his story to be true. While you seem wiser and more generous. Hell, you’re acting like a goddamn frog.”

“Shit,” said the red toad. “Yeah, I am.”

“Fuck it” said Milton “See, a frog would never admit that.”

“Listen to yourself,” said the red toad. “You sound like a frog, too.”

“Yeah,” said Milton, “Fuck us all.”

The sun was going down and the crab behind the counter turned up the music. The toads sipped their beers. Over in the doorway, a few more frogs were walking in. Little green tree frogs, poison dart frogs, a glass frog. Heads were turning. The toads sipped their beers and shrank lower in their chairs, tried to stay out of the way. The big goliath toad working the door looked at them.

“Well,” said the red toad. “It’s time to go.”

Daily Fiction 8: Some Pain I Didn’t Want

I had some pain I didn’t want to feel. My plan had been not to feel pain, and the pain was disrupting my plans. I flittered from activity to activity, trying not to feel pain, avoiding landing on any one spot. I was neglecting my duties. The pain from these neglected duties started creeping in around the edges. I knew I had to be on-guard from that sort of thing, didn’t understand why I wasn’t better. I tried to return harder to my plans, even though they were splitting apart. But I was afraid of pain, and I was afraid that it would fuck me up. I detached and watched everything unravel. I felt sick watching it, but I thought that I should suppress the sickness like I suppressed the pain. It was better to be healthy than sick. Using this health I could get back to whole. Time kept passing.

The pain was that things weren’t gonna go as well for me as I had thought they were, and I was never gonna be who I thought I could be, and that I was fool for everything thinking I could.

I had some pain I didn’t want to feel. I felt it most nights when I went to sleep. I would wake up feeling it in the mornings. Sometimes I would wake up from a dream not feeling it, and I would notice that I wasn’t feeling it, and then I would feel it return. I would feel it walking down the street, and stop and think. People would bump into me, walk around me. I was an inconvenience to them. I’d keep poking the pain to see if it still hurt. I was impatient to feel it be gone. Sometimes it would disappear and come welling back. I never felt well or whole. I felt the burden of a chronic ailment. I didn’t want to be a patient. I didn’t want to let people worry about me. I told people I could trust not to care enough, or who didn’t have enough power over me to tell me to change. I knew that it would pass. But it didn’t feel possible.

The pain was some fucking bullshit. I don’t want to talk about it.

Had some pain. Didn’t want it. You know the story I’m telling. Everybody has pain. Most more than me. “You think that’s bad…” people say. They bounced back stronger. I couldn’t deal with the pain they had. It would break me. My pain, I made it myself. I let it mess me up. It was never anything.

Fuck pain.

I had some pain I didn’t want to feel, though.

Came from someone else’s pain. I didn’t have the right feelings. Or didn’t want to feel them. I wanted there to be no pain in that. I remembered when I was on the other side, and there was pain for me in someone else’s feelings. I hated that pain. I never wanted to create it. I didn’t want to look. In trying to look away, I caused more pain. I felt more pain. It took more and more of who I was. I couldn’t let it pass. I looked in the face of it. It wasn’t as bad as I had thought. It wasn’t okay, though. Nothing is okay. It’s just that sometimes we’re out of it.

I had some pain in my knee. I didn’t want to be the kind of person feeling knee pain. I tried to ignore it. It grew. Sometimes it comes back. I kept telling myself I wasn’t getting weaker. But that’s only “not yet.” It will happen. And it’s a piece of that real pain, the pain I keep putting off confronting, the pain that first cut my mind when I was a child, that I escaped only because childhood seemed so long, seemed so far from it, the pain I defined myself by when I was coming up, because I felt it so often, thought it was my special pain, the pain that I told people about like I had some special insight into it, that became my obsession, that haunted me when other people didn’t acknowledge it, that I later began to see as not mine, not anyone’s, not interesting, but that still would come for me in the night, would encompass all pains.

Sometimes my heel hurt, too.

When a pain would leave me a calm would set in. And then the calm would dissolve, slowly, and shape into a pain more dull, dispersed, barely pain at all, and I’d think of how much I felt like a person when the pain was acute and there was some triumph over it. And I’d think “good times.” And I’d be afraid to create more of them.

Daily Fiction 7: The Cannibal Dentist

In a small village there lived a dentist who was a cannibal. Everybody in town knew that he was a cannibal. People laughed at him for it, and his reputation suffered a little bit, in the sense that people took him less seriously as a person. A lot of them liked him for it, in the way that they liked anyone who could never be their social equal, and whose accomplishments they could easily disregard.

He poisoned his patients. He told them he was doing it. “I may be a cannibal,” he’d say, and usually with laughter, “but I’m not gonna eat you.” To prove it he would dose them with little bits of poison, which would barely harm them but with make their meat horrible-tasting and poisonous to anyone who would eat it. If they were a particularly tasty-looking person, he’d make a show of being sad to say goodbye to them as potential meals. “Are you sure you don’t want another dentist?” he’d ask. Nobody supposed that he ever really meant it, he was glad to have a patient and there were plenty of other people to eat.

One day a local lawyer got it into his head that the dentist was using cannibalism for an unfair business advantage. He argued that since the dentist didn’t eat his patients, he was implicitly threatening everyone who didn’t choose him as a dentist with cannibalism.

The dentist hadn’t meant it that way. He just wanted to take care of his patients, because he thought that after he’d made a personal connection with them, it wouldn’t be right to eat them. And it would set them at ease about his cannibalism, because to be cannibalized by someone you know felt like a special betrayal.

And he didn’t think people were coming to his practice just to not be eaten. There were a lot of people in the world to be eaten, and he didn’t think the chances of any one person being eaten were enough to make that person come to him just to avoid it. If anything, the people most afraid of cannibals would be less likely to choose a cannibal dentist, even one who never ate his own patients.

But he agreed that the lawyer was technically correct. He tried to offer a few solutions.

The first was that he would choose to eat one or two customers, enough to balance out the field. But he didn’t want to mistreat his customers, so he wanted to choose those who wouldn’t mind. The lawyer didn’t think the solution worked, because the people who volunteered wouldn’t mind cannibalism, and all his other patients would feel safe.

The second was that he would only eat people who weren’t potential customers. So, people who didn’t have teeth, or who had teeth so perfect they’d never need a dentist, or who had a personal dentist and would never consider a professional dentist. That way, he couldn’t be influencing their dental choices at all. But the lawyer said this was a problematic solution, because then he would be targetting people who were disabled, or extraordinary, or rich. And each of these had its own pitfalls.

The third solution was to make flesh-poisoning a standard practice among professional dentists, so that everyone was doing for their customers what he was doing for his. And cannibalism would never come in play for any of them. The lawyer accepted this solution, provided the dentist could make it happen.

He pleaded his case before the dental association. 4 out of 5 dentists agreed. They liked the dentist, they weren’t threatened by his business, and they wanted to see him continue to eat people. It gave them something to talk about.

It later turned out the lawyer had been paid by the company that made the flesh poisons. It was a great get for them: now they were selling many more units of flesh poison.

And so the lawyer got paid a lot of money. He went home to his family and talked about how much money he’d gotten. He liked that the money gave him status within his family. His wife and kids seemed to respect him more. And having the family enhanced the experience of having money in a different way. People didn’t call him greedy, because he was accumulating money for a family, not for himself. They saw all his decisions as things that he had to do, and in fact they admired him for sacrificing the fun of doing the right thing for the responsibility of giving money to his family. They knew that he had to do it, but doing what you had to do was greatly admired.

The children in the lawyer’s family were very attractive and popular in school and they drove good cars, which he had given them. They attained very high grades. The oldest son, the second oldest child overall, crashed his car into a tree and died. It so happened that he was brought to a morgue where the dentist’s friend was walking as a mortician, and after the autopsy the dentist ate the son’s flesh.

As part of the settllement from the lawyer’s case, the dentist was required to provide the court a running list of everyone he ate, just to be sure he wasn’t doing anything unfair with his choices of who to cannibalize. The dentist asked the mortician for the name of the person he’d given up to be eaten. The dentist saw that the last name was the same as the last name of the lawyer. He looked him up online. It was the lawyer’s son, it turned out.

The dentist was sick to his stomach. He was worried that the lawyer would take it as a personal attack, and take revenge.

The lawyer did take it as a personal attack. He was sad that his son was dead, and was touchy. His son had had perfect teeth, and so he had not gone in to the dentist. And then, as his oldest son had developed talent in football, the lawyer had sent him to a premium dentist once a week.

The lawyer successfully turned the people against the dentist, who was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. The people said it wasn’t enough. The lawyer said he agreed. He wanted the dentist killed. And he let them choose the method.

They chose the shooting gallery. Second place vote was the gas chamber.

Daily Fiction 6: Bone Broth

I needed soup bones, so I went to the bone store. I didn’t know any better. This place called “Bone Emporium” had opened up just down the block from me, and that was with “Skeletons, Skeletons, Skeletons” and “Bonez ‘R’ Us” both at the mall a mile away.

I didn’t know what people needed bones for. I’m not plugged into the culture like I’m used to. Mostly I’m happy if I get through the day with eight hours of productive work, some good socializing at lunch, some exercise in the early evening, a good dinner with Susan, some work in the studio after dinner, an hour with a good book, some good correspondence with old friends after reading, some good conversation with Susan after that, good sex after that, a light midnight snack, and a decent night’s sleep. That’s all it takes, I don’t ask for much. I don’t have the energy to be up on trends most days.

So on Tuesday Susan told me she was gonna make pho Thursday, and asked me to pick up some bones on the way home from work so she could get the broth going. I was glad to do it. One, I love Susan. Two, it was in my own interest, I love phoin a different way than I love Susan, more consistent but less emotional, more hungry and less humane, more like an object than like a human. Three, it was very practical, Susan works from home most days, whereas I go out for work Monday through Friday. And four, I had been meaning to check out the Bone Emporium ever since they set it up down the block.

The Bone Emporium was in this big warehoiuse space that had been a record store a long time ago. They had tried it as a PC Richards & Sons, too, and a shoe store, sort of a knockoff Payless. None of those businesses had caught on, and as the neighborhood had priced up it had seemed even harder to fill. The new residents liked smaller stores.

But the Bone Emporium was really popping.The sign that said “BE” (for “Bone Emporium”) spanned two and a half stories, and the glass facade was festooned with whimsical skulls, bones, and skeletons. I saw people goiing in and out of it all the time. It had even made it onto the bus stop map, and the pizza place had put “across from the Bone Emporium” on its menu.

I came in after work. It was a rest day from my weights anyway, so it didn’t disrupt my routine.

The ceilings in the main room were very high, at least 25 feet, maybe 30. Skeletons dangled from the walls on the right. On the left, the wall was made up of little cubbies, each of which had a different bone in it. In between, the floor was covered with tables, or maybe you wouldn’t call them tables exactly. They were square slabs about three feet high. These slabs were covered in burlap or canvas, and bones of all shapes and sizes were spread across them.

I must have looked confused, or at least stood out it some way. I assumed it was confused because that’s how I felt, but now that I think about it the employee could have been reacting to something else.

“May I help you?” he said.

“Sure. I’m looking for soup bones,” I said.

“What kind of soup bones?”

“Oh, damn, I didn’t ask. Hmm… what kind do you make pho with?”

“Are you saying that because I’m Vietnamese?”

I told him no, I didn’t even know he was Vietnamese.

“You couldn’t tell? Are you saying all Asians look alike?”

He was a blue-eyed blonde kid. I didn’t tell him that, though, I just apologized.

“And I wasn’t saying ‘you,’ you. I mean, what soups does one use to make pho?”

“Jessica! Someone’s here with a broth question.”

Jessica came over in about three minutes.

“Are you making a bone broth?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Pho.”

“Pho isn’t a bone broth,” she said.

“My wife said there’s bones in it.”

“A broth with bones isn’t a bone broth. Pho is a soup broth. Bone broth is a superfood broth, sold on its own.”

Eventually she stopped explaining bone broth to me and I tried again.

“So could I get bones for pho here?”

“No. Pho would be made with cow or chicken bones. You need a grocery store or a butcher.”

I was surprised that a place with bones, and bones specifically, wouldn’t have all the bones I wanted, but then again I did feel like I had never really gotten this place.

“So, if you don’t mind explaining, what is this place.”

Jessica was very friendly and understanding, and seemed happy to explain the whole thing. Basically, a lot of people had been getting killed recently, some by the government, some by civilians, but most by corporations trying to collect on a debt. Usually, even if it wasn’t a corporate killing directly, the corporation would hold some kind of bone-collection rights. The skeleton was the most valuable part of the body. But sometimes they could be got for good prices.

Skeleton resale was branded pretty well—it was sold as a vanity purchase, a spiritual thing, a good luck charm, an aesthetic choice, and a political signalling mechanism for a variety of causes, many of which competed and each of which had their own singature skeleton style or bones.

Most recently, people started ironically buying bones as a statement on the destruction and consumerism of our capitalist society. This was helped along by a very strong ad campaign by the bone people, which include overt, gauche pro-bone ads to establish the item as campy, and a subtler placement-based, low-key campaign to establish buying the skeletons as a way to react to skeleton marketing. Bone emporium served the ironic wave of skeleton-buying customers, but most of its customers were still early-wavers who either missed the irony or were seduced by the prices anyway. To the more ironic customers, shopping alongside genuine credulous bone buyers gave the place more cred.

Jessica was happy to explain this, she said, because they had a way to fold honesty into their customer engagement strategy. “Honesty is marketing. Marketing is honesty,” she said.

I asked her again about the broth bones.

“Sorry, we only have human bones. They could be great for a bone broth, but I wouldn’t use them for a bone-based broth”

to be continued?…

Daily Fiction 5: Colin Matthews, Inner City Basketball Guidance Counselor

I don’t like to think of myself as a hero. Hero is a problematic, retrogressive concept, and to think of myself as a hero really wouldn’t fit my brand. I’m a giver. I’m giving voice to the voiceless, humanity to the inhumans. And it turns out they were humans with voices after all. I give them themselves. I am the identity function. I am times one. I am one. The alpha and omega, if you will, but I won’t. Alpha is a problematic concept. But betas are even more problematic. I am neither alpha nor beta. I would say I am delta, but I don’t want to appropriate the culture of New Orleans.

It’s a challenge not to appropriate. It’s a challenge I know very well, as I work in the Inner City.

Hello. My name is Colin Mathews, Inner City basketball guidance counselor, and I’m here to allow everyone playing basketball in the Inner City to save themselves.

I’m highly educated. If I were to play basketball, here’s the path I’d follow:

1) Declare myself to be a professional basketball. Never disqualify yourself. Never doubt your qualifications. If YOU don’t call yourself a pro nobody else ever will.

2) Get on Twitter. Curate your Tweets carefully. Your basketball playing WILL NOT get noticed if you’re not on Twitter. Tweet every day!

3) Ask your friends and family if they know anyone playing professional basketball. Ask them for an entry-level basketball job. Demand it. You ARE good enough.

4) Go to a four-year liberal arts college and major in Basketball. Go for Wesleyan, Oberlin, or Amherst. Don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars—and the basket! 😉

What I see instead is that the students who are very interested in basketball obsessively play basketball, like they can never be good enough. It’s very problematic. I wish I could find a non-problematic way to descrtibe how problematic it is, but so many of the ways we describe these phenomena are fraught.

Less than 5% of your time should be done doing the thing you want to do. 95% of it is marketing. Not to be prescriptive. I’ve just found that to be true, as I’m sure everyone else will and would find it to be true if they allow themselves to experience it. Not that I wish to erase anyone’s experience should they surrpise me with it.

What I’m saying is, I want to get laid.

Before you say no, let me assert again how much I believe in your right to say no. It’s as important to me as it could possibly be to you. I couldn’t even enjoy getting laid if I didn’t feel safe in your right to say no.

I do think it would be problematic if you were to reject me and choose some cishet alpha male again. Yes, you’re a woman, and yes, I do fufill and enjoy a male social role, but that doesn’t make me het or cis. I may only have sex with women, but I identify as queer. I may be biologically and socially a man, but that doesn’t mean my maleness is necessarily at play in sexual interaction. I may be a capitalist dom, but the fact that I’ve read 50 Shades of Gray shows that I’m both a non-elitist and a feminist.

Okay, now you can give your response. You always could, of course. I was just enabling you to be just as able as you were.

Oh.