Hot Tub Time Machine 2

“Why did you say Christmas? Now I can’t stop thinking about Christmas.”

“Listen, you can use whatever memory you want as your passkey, okay?  But you have to calibrate the system first if you want to check out. You can change it later at home.”

 “But why say Christmas though?” I ask.

“Oh, man, sorry, just like…force of habit I guess. Everybody has strong Christmas memories, you know? I don’t know.  Just a suggestion.”

He is really embarrassed.

I know why he said Christmas. It is a week until Christmas is why.  I can’t really blame this man for saying Christmas. My reaction is instinctual. I know I am being a bastard, but I can’t help it.

“Why wouldn’t you suggest my birthday or something secular, such as for instance, Thanksgiving or the 4th of July or uh perhaps even such as Bastille Day?”

 “Hey man,” he says. “Look, it just needs to be any strong memory in a real, real specific category, so there are like…deep grooves around it…which make it easy for the computer to find. I wasn’t trying to offend you. Do you have a lot of strong Bastille Day memories?”

I do not.

“Honestly, though, now I can’t stop thinking about Christmas,” I explain.

“It’s real easy to change at home later. We just gotta calibrate you so you can check out. Your EZXpress passkey memory is good at a hundred different stores and restaurants and theaters.”

I am trying to set up an EZXpress account at the new Trader Joe’s in my neighborhood. The new two-story Trader Joe’s with a wine lab and a cheese print shop annex in the basement has destroyed all the other grocery stores in less than six months.  Now I either have to shop at Trader Joe’s, leave my rent-controlled apartment and move to a different city, keep doing my grocery shopping in an entirely different borough, or die.

I have held out for as long as I can, but I am tired of buying my oatmeal and condoms and beans and rice and coffee in the Bronx. It is crazy to go all the way to the Bronx every week to do my damn shopping. But the thing is, Trader Joe’s won’t take cash.  This means I have to sync up my bank account with their dumb mnemonic passkey system.  Once I am synced up, I can just walk in, pick shit out and put it in a sack, and leave. Of course, this means I have to integrate my entire deck with my bank account, something pretty much everybody in the world has already done, but which I am really, truly, deeply, pervertedly not into doing for reasons I cannot articulate. Just spite, I guess.  Petty spite. Natural born goddamn white trash sign of the beast barcode tattoo antichrist slackjaw naysaying wormguts skinrash 666 apocalypse spite.  

They don’t even have self-checkout kiosks here. It’s sync up my deck or nothing. I am doing it.  Goddamn it, I am doing it.

From now on, whenever I leave the store, the system will check my head for my passkey memory, and money will be debited from my account automatically. 

Everybody loves it.  I hate it.  I know I am wrong to hate it.  I have lost so many arguments to so many smart people about why I am wrong to hate it.

I still hate it.

“So, okay, cool...you are logged into Trader Joe’s, right? Is this you?”

He points at my deck avatar.  I nod.

“Cool.  When I say go, think about Chri…think about some really specific category of linked events.  Uh, think about your birthday, okay? It’s going to pull up memories and cycle through them until it finds the strongest one, okay, and that’ll be your passkey.  Sometimes it takes a bit. Okay, ready…hold on, gotta calibrate…you just keep thinking about…uh…your birthday, right…here it comes…hold on…ready…go!”

Of course, I think about Christmas.


I am drunk on the F-train, traveling at ponderous MTA holiday speeds from the ass-end of Brooklyn to the ass-end of Queens.  It is Christmas, and I have been drinking at the Coney Island Applebee’s, which is miraculously open and staffed with cheerful teenagers getting double pay to serve me double whiskeys.  

I wasn’t expecting any restaurants to be open across from the NYC Aquarium, where I have spent the past few hours watching piranhas swim up and down, and watching sea lions do tricks for fish, timed to hip-hop remixes of the year’s pop favorites, while a team of fit women in head-sets and brown polo shirts have tried so goddamn hard to be cheerful about the tricks that sea lions will do for fish that it has actually worked and I feel pretty good.

Now I am headed home. I am too drunk to read a book, but I am not drunk enough to sleep.  There are two other dudes on the train and I am checking them out, trying to establish some kind of demographic truth about what we all mean here together.

Is the F-train on Christmas demographically what prison looks like?  Or is it closer to the demographics of astronauts?   Are we too smart for Christmas or too wrecked up and sad?

I just don’t even know.

One guy is so drunk that he is doubled over and I am sure he is going to fall out of his seat onto his head every time we hiss to a stop.  But he does not!  He is balanced perfectly, clenching his butt-muscles to stay upright, sliding along in his seat while his nose grazes his knees like a piano player who is doing a really good job.  He wants to be doubled over: it is not where he has ended up.

He has chosen this place and time, like I have.

I decide that this means we are more like astronauts than felons.  We are better than other people for being drunk on this train during Christmas; not worse.  Demographically, we are the princes of the universe. Here we are, born to be kings.

I feel great about this. I send out some triumphant text messages, knowing that my friends will receive them while sitting around with their families and loved ones, bored and depressed and envious.

There is a bald man in a suit across from me who is also dicking around on his phone.  He is very serious, perhaps he is even utterly sober.  He looks like a recently divorced dad and I imagine that this day is hard for him. His children have chosen their mother, even though at his apartment he has a tree decorated for them, and expensive presents, and marzipan chocolates. 

Maybe he has been drinking after all.  He is just better at it than I am.  

I am terrible at drinking.

But this man drinks scotch while sitting at a drafting table drawing blueprints of typography museums for socialist Scandinavian countries; he does not drink Evan Williams served by teenagers at Applebee’s while wearing a black velour track suit. He wears a real suit.

I wish I worked at Applebee’s on Christmas. I wish I was at work anywhere instead of on this train. Any kind of job.  I wish the holidays were optional, but they are not. Where I work, you have to take the day off.  You have to be alone with your life.

Now I am back to staring at the doubled-over man, sure he is finally going to fall over as the train picks up speed while coming down from the Smith and 9th stop.  But he does not.  Instead, he begins to drool.  A long strand of saliva leaves his mouth and attaches to his shoe.  He shudders; his shoulders clench up.  Now he is silently urinating, sweeping his feet up onto the bench seat and curling into the fetal position.  He urinates unstintingly and without pause.  His urine is foamy and full of iron, liquid broccoli and cauliflower, the color and strength of hardcore unflavored mouthwash.

I look at the bald man across from me, but he is still intensely focused on his phone, oblivious and imperial.  He has not noticed.  He does not care. I also vow not to care.

Here we belong, fighting for survival.  We have come to be the rulers of your world.

I think about identity politics.  I am fine with having some kind of real allegiance to the people of this F-train. Here on this F-Train, I have never felt more like I belong, not since being forced to ride the bus back in silence after losing yet another Junior High school “C team” football game.

“You’re not supposed to be proud you’re on the C team,” the coach would say. “You are supposed to try and get better. You are not supposed to take comfort in a loss. You shouldn’t feel relief. You’re supposed to get mad.  I’m mad. Now you just sit there and think about how you got out-played.”

The only identity politics I believe in right now is that each of us must all be grouped into how we spend Christmas (such as drunk and alone on the F-train). 

Perhaps, as a distant second, I might also accept that each of us must also all be grouped into what kind of superpowers we would have if we could have superpowers.
If I could have a superpower, it would be to be able to breathe underwater so I could walk straight into the ocean and live in the wreck of an old downed Cold War-era Russian submarine.

If I could have a second superpower, it would be to be just a little bit sad all of the time, but not all-the-way overwhelmingly sad, just sad enough so that I would never knowingly and without thinking about it be a dickhole to anybody, and always have something wise and mysterious to say if anybody suddenly turned to me and asked for my opinion about something.

The train stops.  The doors open and close.  No one gets on. No one gets off.

I watch the drunk man’s urine slide down the length of the subway car.  He has urinated enough so that it is quite a sizable puddle.  His fulsome urine crawls down the length of the car in tentative, fretful little pulses as the subway jerks down the track.  Amoeba-like tendrils of piss branch off and start new peninsula of piss real estate.

The bald dude in the suit who drinks scotch while drawing typography museums is in grave danger. My brother!

“Hey man,” I shout.

He doesn’t look up.

I walk over and double-finger-tap him in the shoulder.  I am too late.  The urine overtakes his nice shoes.

“I don’t have any change,” he says.

“No man, watch out,” I say.  He looks down.
“Fuck,” he says, leaping away from the urine and grabbing the pole on my side of the subway car.

The train comes to a stop.

“Hey, you look like that guy,” he says. “From that TV show about New Orleans.”

I don’t know who he is talking about. I can’t really watch TV anymore. Or anything else.  I can barely even read books. I don’t know about anybody new and even if I did, I wouldn’t care what their name was or what they did.

Getting older means: first you stop caring about the nouns, then you stop caring about the verbs.

“Are you that guy? From that show…fuck, I can’t remember what it is called. Something French.”

“I am just a fellow like you. Dodging urine on a Christmas F-train.”

“Uh, okay.”

The bald dude in the real suit (not a black velour track-suit) gets off the train. 

He is replaced by a villain. A smell lord gets on, a homeless man who drapes himself in layers and layers of his own filth and disease-covered clothing in an effort to generate a smell so awful and strong and vile and full of chemicals that he can have a whole subway car to himself by choking and suffocating and poisoning his fellow travelers. 

The smell is so strong that even the passed out dude who has pissed himself is roused.

I lean back in my seat and bury my face in the crook of my arm. I don’t even care about the smell lord.  I respect the smell lord and his superhuman stench.  Here we belong. We are fighting for our lives, in a world with the darkest powers.


It is Christmas. My mother and my step-father are yelling at me because I don’t want to travel with them to go watch my great-grandmother die.

But the thing is: I can’t handle it.  I have only come home for Christmas because I am completely broken and exhausted and my life makes no sense.  I am fairly certain that watching my great-grandmother die will not help my emotions make sense to me.

I have been “broken up with” for good in Austin by my girlfriend, the woman I love, the woman I thought I might even marry. In fact, in a fit of desperation, I have even proposed marriage and been told I am being crazy.  Maybe I am being crazy.  I hardly know anymore.  I definitely have the mind of a crazy person.  Any time a person calls me crazy, I have to seriously consider the fact that they are probably right and I should do the opposite of what I have been doing. 
I have been broken up with for good for cheating on her, even though we were partially broken up technically when I started fucking somebody else.

She found out that I was fucking somebody else while I was supposed to be coming to terms with my own inner poison and has now decided that I am unfixable.

This feels unfair to me: wanting to fuck other people was a strong component of the inner poison I was coming to grips with in the first place.

I haven’t figured out yet that you are not actually supposed to talk about your problems or share your thoughts with the people you love.

The last person I want to share all this with is my dying great-grandmother.  All I want to do is get through Christmas without leaning too heavy on the Dilaudid that I still have left over from my botched tonsillectomy, where they had to plunge into my infected throat to cut out a gross throat-closing abscess.

“So what are you going to do?” asks my stepdad.  “Just stay here? You can’t just stay here.”

I blank out.

I know that from now on I will need to choose between “feeling okay and getting through life” or “having feelings that I am able to enjoy and express” and all I want to do is click “feeling okay and getting through life” as soon, and as often, as possible and be done with it.

“You are such a selfish little shit,” says my mother.

My step-dad looks at her like she has gone too far.

“I wish you weren’t mine,” says my mom. “I don’t understand you. I don’t think I can be your mother anymore.” 

“She doesn’t mean that,” says my step-dad.

“No, I do mean it,” she says.  “I really do.  I am done with you.”

Now my mom is breaking up with me because of my horrible yet insurmountable nature.  Seems like too much.  I click furiously on “feeling okay and getting through life.” Nothing happens.

“Fine,” I say.  “I guess I am disowned then.”

My baby sister has led my baby brother out to the old grey Astrovan and they have already buckled in, waiting for us to finish arguing and come to some kind of conclusion: will I go with them or will I stay home.  I can see them through the kitchen window.

“You have always been such a selfish little bastard,” says my mom. 

“But the good news is you don’t have to worry about me anymore,” I sneer.  “Bye, have a nice time.”

My mom told me once that my only real talent was making people angry.  That I should try to find a way to do that for a living.

That’s when my step-dad comes at me.  Later, he will say that he thought I was going to hurt my mom, a thing I have never done.  But I guess I have been institutionalized for being crazy before, though never violent. He will say that I looked funny to him.

He takes a swing and his giant Texas A&M college ring crashes into the top of my head, splitting my scalp wide open.  Blood spurts everywhere.  I start punching back and get him on the ground. He is overweight, out of shape, but also probably 150 pounds bigger than me and certainly a foot taller.  He goes down easy enough though after a “form tackle,” and then I am sitting on top of him, grabbing his hair, telling him to calm down over and over again.  I am bleeding everywhere.  Telling him to calm down.

I feel pretty calm.

“You are getting blood everywhere,” says my mom.

“I am not trying to get blood everywhere,” I say.

Eventually, my step-dad says he is calm.  I turn him loose and stumble away to the hallway bathroom to see if I am going to die, to see if my brains are spilling out of my head.  I feel dizzy.

I am bleeding pretty bad, but it is already starting to gum up in my hair. 

“Can you get me a needle and some thread?” I tell my mom when she comes in.

“What are you going to do?” she asks, bringing me a hatbox full of sewing supplies.

I stumble back to the kitchen and turn on the stove.  I stick a needle in the burner to sterilize it.

 “Why don’t you just go to the hospital?” she says, disgusted with me.

“Because I am too mad to lie to the doctors about what happened.”

My mom gets me some needle and thread.  I have done this before, but never with so much blood and I have to do it in the mirror, which makes it like a video game. I take my time. I put in about ten stitches, just enough to close the wound. My stitches are close together.  The gash starts to get clotted and crusty, which is a good sign.  I feel a little nauseous, but then it fades. 

What does it feel like to sew up your own head?  It is the best way I know to forget about everything else. The trade off is: you will remember doing it forever.

I guess if I was a girl, this situation would be sad, but instead it is funny to the three of us. My baby brother and baby sister also think it is funny.  My step-dad drives me back to Austin.  My mom tells me not to forget my Christmas presents (couple shirts, an Annie Proulx book that I will never read).  I am not sure if my mom has still disowned me or not, but I suspect this is not completely the case. 

I return to my one room apartment sandwiched between two rooms rented to sex workers who are always borrowing over-the-counter drugs from me….Tylenol and Benedryl and Sominex.  I fall asleep in the chair where I sleep. The best thing in my life is my Russian Blue cat, named Juliette, who never tries to escape even though we share a room the size of the back of a van. My Christmas present to myself is that my head does not get infected.


IT IS CHRISTMAS, and I am a college graduate, kinda, which makes me king of the homeless people here at Speedway Copies in Austin, Texas.

They could not turn me down…here I am, got a degree, willing to work on Christmas to make course packets for the spring semester.

Everybody else here willing to work on Christmas is right off the streets.  They wear the same shitty sweaters every day.  They get high right in front of the building, right on the front steps of the Dobie Mall. Many homeless people are not crazy drug addicts; but I would say 80% of my fellow course packet engineers do have some kind of glaring substance abuse problem. 

There is a hard double-finger-tap on my shoulder.

“What are you doing?,” says the owner of Speedway copies, a massive man who watches us all work on closed circuit televisions in the back room while listening to conservative talk radio.  “No, no, no, no, no, no. I am very concerned about how you handle paper.”

He has left his office, where he has been watching me knock paper on the side of a desk to get it all lined up.  He grabs the paper from me.

He shows me how to use the electric paper jogger to get the edges of the course packets flush. I didn’t even know we had an electric paper jogger.  

I have been hired as a temporary course packet production manager: my job is to clean up the scans that the professors have provided us with for the spring semester, scans from books, literary journals, old faxes, print outs, and even some handwritten charts and graphs.  My job is to crop out all the “artifacts” on every page, the smudges and copy machine toner blurs, making sure that each scan is white and pristine and glorious.

What my title, course packet production manager, means is: I have been hired to manage all the homeless people who have been hired to do the same job. I am supposed to make sure they stay productive and keep showing up for work and do not steal any equipment. 

We get paid in cash at the end of each day.  I get an extra twenty because I am the course packet production manager. I am king.

Besides the owner of Speedway Copies, there is one other actual employee, this guy Andrew who has no front teeth. He just got back from Iraq, but doesn’t like talking about it and appears to have no interesting stories.

I asked him once, during our fifteen-minute break.

“Do you have any interesting stories?” I asked.

“I guess not,” he said.

We have been working for a week here, but now it is Christmas Day, and everybody is rather melancholy, as you might expect.  We are seasonal employees, temporary people.

One fellow named Peanut, who everybody at Speedway copies treats gingerly (with reverence, suspicion, and fear), is drinking from a thermos that is clearly full of whiskey, but also cropping down scans at a remarkable rate, talking all kinds of nonsense as he hustles.  We are allowed to wear headphones while we work, but a lot of people don’t have any and I can tell Peanut is getting on everybody’s nerves.

“If you don’t WANNA know how everything is all connected up, then I can’t help you,” says Peanut to no one in particular.  “You know the Confederacy was run by a Jew?  Look it up, look it up, run by a Sephardic fellow named Judah Benjamin, one of the Rothschilds.  Spent most of his time negotiating favorable cotton prices with France and Belgium with the other Jews.  He was Secretary of State.  It’s all connected; always has been.  We’ve been a cat’s paw for French BANKING INTERESTS since the Louisiana Purchase.  We’ll NEVER go back to the gold standard, but look how the media treats people who talk honestly about gold.  Demonizes em’.  You know why?  Because gold is THEIR game.  They don’t want anybody getting in on THEIR game. Columbus used to make them Indians bring back a pound of gold a day or he’d kill them.  If you did your duty and brought back your gold, you got to wear a necklace for awhile that said you couldn’t be killed or raped to death.  But if you weren’t wearing one of them Columbus necklaces, you were fair game to them Spaniards.”

“Thought it was the French we had to worry about,” mumbles one of the other hung-over wrecked-up dudes just trying to make course packets without having to process any weird ranting.

“Hey Peanut,” I say.  “Hey Peanut, maybe you could keep it down a little.”

He looks at me.  He takes a sip from his thermos. 

“Hey Andrew,” says Peanut.  “How you been?  How’s your wife?”

“She’s doing real good, Peanut,” he says, coming over, smiling and shaking his head, as if he can’t believe Peanut has remembered that Andrew is married. Of course he remembers. Peanut remembers every single lizard person who has ever been vice-president, in order.

I decide to take my fifteen minute break.  I bum a cigarette from one of the guys sitting on the steps of the Scientology center and stroll over to the 7/11, smoking as I go.  I buy a couple pairs of headphones, spending the extra twenty bucks I make as king of the homeless people for the day.

It is Christmas, after all.

I bring the headphones back to the copy shop.  The next time one of the bearded-up, twitching malcontents groans out loud because of one of Peanut’s conspiracy spirals, I slip him a pair of headphones. THERE WILL NOT BE VIOLENCE THIS DAY.

“Part of the conspiracy,” I say.  We both grin.

Later, after the 14 hour shift is almost over, Andrew pulls me aside and sits me down. He is in a suit and tie and I am wearing jeans with holes in them over thermal underwear pants and a matching white thermal underwear top. All I want to do is get back home to my pretty girlfriend and watch some cartoons with her.

“Hey,” he says.  “You are doing real good work.”

“Thanks,” I say.

“No really,” he says.  “The owner is very happy.  We are way ahead of schedule and it usually never goes this smoothly.  Usually a bunch of people quit by now.”

“Cool,” I say.

“I gotta know,” he says, sitting down on an empty mop bucket.  “Are you trying to get my job?”

There is desperation in his voice.

“What?” I say.

“I see how you work,” he says.  “I see how you talk to people.  Are you trying to get my job?  You trying to get into a management position maybe?”

“No man,” I say. 

He relaxes a little bit.  “The owner…he really likes you.”

“Trust me,” I say.  “Even if he offered it to me, I don’t want to manage a copy shop.”

“It’s not like this the rest of the year,” he says.  “It’s not always so busy.  We joke around, you know?  It’s a pretty good job.  Benefits and all.”

“I don’t want your job, okay?  Dude, you were in Iraq.”

“Okay,” he says.  “Man, I just had to ask.  I get so crazy, you know?  I spent a lot of money…that I didn’t have…on Christmas presents this year.  And the way the owner keeps talking about how much he likes you...”

“Never in a million years,” I say.

“He’s gonna ask you,” he says.  “I am warning you.”

“Next time I get paid, I am out of here.”

Andrew grins.

“You know, he doesn’t trust the bathrooms around here,” says Andrew.  “The boss.  He doesn’t think they are clean enough.  You know what he does instead?”

Andrew nods his head to the trashcan by the owner’s office.

“In little ziplock bags,” says Andrew.  “He does it in ziplock bags. Number one AND number two.”

“That is horrible,” I say.

Andrew laughs, whistling through his missing front teeth.  “It’s pretty horrible,” he says.





“Whoa, you DO NOT smell good,” says my roommate’s little sister, the woman I have been in love with for several years now but who doesn’t know it, or, perhaps, maybe she does. 

For lack of anywhere else to go, and after only three months of being back in college after spending the summer on soul-obliterating atypical antipsychotics and trying to convince myself that we do not actually live in hell and that all of manifest reality is not actually an elaborate punishment to checkmate us into suicide and I am not actually an angel who is supposed to tell everybody this, I have been invited back home to spend the holidays with one of my roommates, for lack of anywhere else to go.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” I say.  “I probably do smell bad. Not good at showering lately.  Or, uh, shaving I guess.”

“The beard isn’t so bad, though maybe you could trim it up,” she says.  “But you should definitely grab a shower. You can use my bathroom.  I think there is shampoo in there…?”

I can’t tell if she is hitting on me, in which case it is fine that she has such opinions about my personal hygiene, or not, in which case I might should be offended.

I can’t tell a lot of things though.

Some nights, I don’t sleep at all. I lay there in my bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the alarm to go off so I can go to class.  I am taking something like twenty hours a semester just to keep my brain occupied.  The more real, pragmatic, intellectual shit I do, the less bad I feel. 

I don’t have any money, so I am alternating between ramen, macaroni and cheese, and toasted bread with an egg in it as far as food goes.  There is a nice wooden chessboard in my room that I bought at an estate sale for ten bucks.  I have a standing offer: I will play chess against anybody, any time, day or night. My roommates deal a little bit.  People like to smoke meth or do coke and then come play me at chess.  It is fun.

I have perfect grades.  I was a C student in high school, but I have perfect grades in college so far and I am on track to graduate a year early because when I close my eyes all I see is the burning fucking void.

But I am not at college right now at this very moment, which is good news.  I am at my roommate’s childhood home, back in west Houston for the holiday.

We drink champagne and eat cinnamon cookies with my roommate’s crazy artist mom, who is painting elaborate reproductions of old pulp magazine covers, blowing up details of the women’s portraits to catch their sneers and gasps.  She doesn’t watch any movies that aren’t black and white, so we watch “Some Like It Hot.” My roommate and his little sister (with whom I am in love) argue about everybody we know, trying to determine if they are fuck-ups or not.  It seems like it is not on the table if I am actually a fuck-up, which I take as a good sign.

“Remember that time you had a party and fucked that girl on our POOL TABLE?” says my roommate’s little sister. 

“Yeah,” says my roommate. “The hot tub was occupied.”

Eventually, my roommate’s mother goes to bed. We all go upstairs and my roommate promptly falls asleep on the couch, still wearing sunglasses, one leg twitching through his trousers like some kind of electrical current is running through his knee.

My roommate’s little sister is younger than me, but she is already dating a dude older than both of us.  She will be starting college soon; will be coming to the University of Texas instead of one of the nice private schools she has got into. She wants to make movies, a medium that I consider utterly debased and politically compromised.  Her current boyfriend makes movies. 
We start arguing about action movies, whether they can ever be any good.  I make the mistake of making fun of “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” My penalty is that she puts the film on and we watch it, sitting on opposite sides of the love seat.  She says she is getting ready for bed, so she puts on tiny shorts but she doesn’t take her make-up off.  She stretches out on the love seat, putting her legs over mine…

I am so glad she made me take a shower. Maybe this world isn’t actually hell, maybe there is a better life for me somewhere and we are not victims of our brains. I can beat this thing, I can get better, I can find evidence that being alive is not just punishment…for future sins…for past mistakes…time is not a hell-spiral that slowly reveals all of our inadequacies to us, proving to us that we deserve birth, deserve death…

It isn’t snowing or even cold.  We are in Houston, where it never feels like Christmas.  I’ve got to get out of Houston. I know for a fact that I have the brain of a fucked-up crazy street person. The sun will kill you here in Houston, on the streets.  How do I stay alive?  How do I stay indoors?  What if I move to New York? Maybe I could fake like I am smart, in New York?


“Okay, all done man,” he says.

I stumble backwards a little bit, putting my hands to my eyeballs, expecting to find they are bleeding or something.  But no: I am perfectly fine.

“Ha ha,” he says.  “See, nothing to it, okay?”

“So I can just leave with all this junk?” I say, gesturing to my sack full of pasta sauce, wafer cookies, pepperoni slices, and frozen raviolis.

“Yeah, sure, if you found everything okay,” he says.

“Yeah man…feels kind of weird…just walking out of here…like I am shoplifting or something.”

“You’ll get used to it,” he says. “No more lines!”

“What if it calibrated me with a terrible memory?” I say. “What if it took a terrible memory that I don’t want to think about every time I gotta buy paper towels and discount lemon-scent dish soap?”

“Oh, man, you don’t have to REMEMBER the memory every time you walk out of the store,” he says.  “It just pulls it out of your head automatically.”

But I know that I won’t be able to help it.  Now, every time I leave a store I am going to think about Christmas.

I think about how useful it is to make us all feel like criminals all the time. Like shoplifters. Even when we are doing what we are absolutely and unequivocally supposed to be doing and not fighting back or complaining or being rebellious, but just trying to get through life in a straightforward and dignified manner that harms no one and could never be considered selfish by even the most shrewd and pitiless judge.

“What makes one memory stronger than another, do you think?” I ask him.

“Oh man, I don’t know,” he says. “Context? Trauma?”

“What happens if I lose my passkey memory or something?  Like, say I get kicked by a subway dancer doing some pole trick and my mind gets wiped clean like a deleted text doc?”

“Oh man,” he says.  “Then you wouldn’t be you, I guess.”


The Avengers: Age of Ultron

“Hey, can I borrow twenty dollars so I can buy a bar of soap and a bag of rice and eighteen cans of beans?” I ask my roommate.
“I don’t have any cash,” she says, shivering, staring at the wall with doom in her eyes. There is a plastic bag beside her. She has been puking non-stop all night, it seems like. Some kind of stomach flu. Surely infectious. Every time I leave my room, I wash my hands. I am running out of soap, in fact. It is legendary and brave of me that I am talking to her at all. “You don’t have any money?” she asks. “I have plenty of money,” I say. “The problem is that the fuckers at the bank have frozen my bank account and now I am fucked as the dickens, ardently and with great care.” “What did you do?” she asks. “They don’t just freeze people’s bank account for no reason. That is a thing that happens to dictators and war criminals. Don’t be offended, but you are not important.” “I got this letter about some hospital bill that I didn’t pay,” I say. “I didn’t know they could come after you for hospital bills. Aren’t hospitals like, you know, home base, like in freeze tag? It’s not like I wanted to go to the hospital.” “I should go to the hospital,” says my roommate. “Maybe I have ebola.” “Have you been licking the bleeding face wounds of any dead people from Liberia lately?” “No,” she says. “Then it is not ebola.” “You can get ebola from the air,” she says. “That’s what they’re not telling you. People might be bleeding from their sinuses and sneeze or something.” I wash my hands again. I go back in my room and sit down on the mattress on the floor where I sleep. I am so angry that I am not even angry, just defeated-feeling. I admit that I am partially honored to have my bank account frozen. Getting your bank account frozen is something that happens to advanced, adult scumbags. I know I am a scumbag, but I have always felt larval, primordial...a scumbag nymph. No longer! I have clawed out of my scumbag pupa and as soon as my wings dry, I will triumph over morphogenesis and programmed cell death, finally becoming a delicate scumbag butterfly. I think back to the years when I stalked lawyers on social media for a living, working for a legal recruiter, scanning through all the calcifications of their secret online lives just to find an angle. I try to remember if any lawyers owe me favors. Surely there is one out there that I hooked up with a good job that is willing to fight this ludicrous financial pantomime for me. Then I remember that I don’t have any money to hire any kind of lawyer, no matter how cheap. I don’t have the money to even get to a lawyer’s office. All the money that I have is on “hold.” My accounts are zeroed out. I can’t even buy a subway card until I pay what I owe. I have negative money, because even when my direct deposit comes in from my new job, it will also be frozen. “Fuck,” I say, kicking one of my shoes across the room. I hear my roommate moaning through my door. I return to where she is now lying on our couch, staring at the ceiling. “Why don’t you lie down in your bed?” I ask. “I am getting food delivered,” she says. “I can’t hear the buzzer in my room.” “What should I do?” I ask her. “Should I call this lawyer who says I owe the hospital money and who is suing me? Or should I just go down to the bank?” “You aren’t going to be able to get out of it,” she says. “But you might be able to get on some kind of payment plan if you sweet talk them in person.” “I am too angry to be charming,” I say. “If I go now, I will just come off as some kind of shrill asshole, speed-talking all kinds of Bolshevik nonsense, straight-up ranting about patrimonial capitalism, growth coefficients, and illegitimate state coercion.” “Then sleep on it,” she says, shivering. I watch her shiver. It is impossible not to feel bad for her. I envy her. “Man, it’s incredible and so fucking dangerous that they can just freeze poor people’s bank accounts like this without any warning. What if I were sick like you? I could be in the middle of nowhere out of gas, or there could be a big freak snowstorm coming. I could need to buy insulin...or fucking heroin for that matter. You can die if you don’t get heroin. Babies could be depending on me to buy quality fruits and vegetables. What if I was renting a storage unit full of organs that needed to be climate controlled, you know? They should at least text you to tell you: ‘hey asshole, just so you know we are cutting off your entire ability to provide for yourself tomorrow. Probably take all your shit to Coinstar if you want to eat calories in the near future. Sincerely, your bank and lawyers you’ve never met.’” “Yeah,” says my roommate. She doesn’t look very good. I go back into my room while she vomits, heaving fiery contagious chunks of stomach lining and sports drink into the plastic bag beside her. As soon as she sounds like she is done, I go back out and sit in the chair across from her. “You want a glass of water or something?” I ask. “I got Thai soup coming,” she says. “But thanks.” That’s when it hits me. I realize what I must do. I realize the only way I will be able to get out of this quickly and pay the least amount possible. I walk over and pick up my roommate’s plastic bag of vomit. “Hey,” she says, suddenly protective of -- and embarrassed by -- her own communicable egesta. However, she is too weak to fight me. “I don’t want to get you sicccccck,” she says. “Shhhhh,” I say. “Don’t worry about it. You need to rest.” I take the plastic bag full of warm vomit into the kitchen. I retch a little bit, but then the flames start up in my head and my Manic Glee Bad Idea Chemicals hit me and I grab a spoon from the kitchen drawer and suddenly I am spooning vomit out into a glass and filling it with tap water all the way to the top and I am chugging the tap water down and I am feeling so victorious and smart and I swear I can already feel chills and disease crawling up my spine and GODDAMMIT THE LAW SAYS I AM TOO IRRESPONSIBLE TO BE TRUSTED WITH MY OWN FUNDS WELL I WILL SHOW THEM JUST HOW IRRESPONSIBLE I CAN BE THIS IS WAR AND MY ONLY WEAPON IS THE ONLY THING I HAVE LEFT WHICH IS MY OWN BODY WHICH IS WHAT THEY WILL GET AND I AM LAUGHING AND MY ROOMMATE IS MOANING AND THIS IS THE MOST DISGUSTING THING I HAVE EVER DONE BUT I ALSO FEEL FREE AGAIN LIKE THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO CANCEL OUT THE PERMANENT FEELING OF PSYCHIC INVASION AND DEPENDENCE THAT COMES WITH ALL OF THE MONEY I HAVE EVER EARNED BEING SEQUESTERED BY THE GOVERNMENT I AM TAKING CONTROL OF MY OWN PHYSICAL TRAJECTORY EVEN IF IT MEANS NOSEDIVING IT AND TURNING MYSELF INTO A WHITE HOT VECTOR FOR CONTAGIOUS DISEASE. The vomit water doesn’t taste bad or anything. It doesn’t taste bitter or anything like that. It just tastes like regular water. I was probably going to get sick anyways. *** My roommate feels terrible because she thinks she is the one who infected me. She is physically feeling much better, but I am peaking. I can barely stand up. I have been puking every hour on the hour, like some kind of vomit clock, and it is a ten minute walk down to the bank. Every time I throw up, I am able to convince myself that it will never happen again...that I have defeated puking altogether because I momentarily feel normal. I’ve got the chills and a little bit of a headache. There is puke up my nose and it is making my nose whistle. I have a low fever, but mainly I just feel like I shouldn’t even be standing up. I throw on a t-shirt and a sweater and put on two pairs of pants and socks. I know I only have about an hour before the nausea will come back so strong that there will be no way to fight it. I shuffle out the door and down the stairs before I can second guess myself. The bank is not crowded, but there are a few people ahead of me in line to plead their cases before the holos. I shuffle forward dutifully, my hand curling in my pocket where I am crumpling a plastic bag that I can whip out just in case. There are attractive human beings in tight suits working behind the glass, but in the center of the bank are four massive, glowing ten-foot-tall holograms: the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America. The AI holos are sorting out people’s problems, performing bank triage and sending people in different directions: to various windows and offices. Captain America opens up. I step up to Captain America when it is my turn and blink up at him. “HELLO,” says the giant Captain America. “WELCOME TO BANK OF AMERICA. HOW CAN I HELP YOU?” “I am...very ill,” I say. “I AM SORRY TO HEAR THAT,” says Captain America. “HOW CAN I BE OF ASSISTANCE?” “My account is frozen and I need to get it fixed so that I can pay rent,” I say. “And possibly buy a sandwich.” “HA HA HA,” says Captain America. “WELL THEN! LET’S TAKE CARE OF THAT IMMEDIATELY. CAN I HAVE YOUR ACCOUNT INFORMATION?” I hold up my phone and the hologram scans it, hands at his hips, his giant shield at his side. I am right at about cock level, but I am too nauseated to find this funny. “Could I please see a human being?” I ask. “HA HA HA,” says Captain America. “I AM HEARING THAT YOU WOULD LIKE THE ASSISTANCE OF A CIVILIAN. PLEASE BE PATIENT WHILE WE FIGURE OUT YOUR NEXT STEP.” Captain America says civilian. Thor says mortal. The Hulk says meat-thing. Iron Man says Banker-American, and winks. “PLEASE BE PATIENT WHILE WE ANALYZE YOUR ACCOUNT INFORMATION,” says Captain America, admonishing me with one raised index finger. I shift around on my feet. I look around for a chair, but there isn’t any place close by where I can collapse. “IT APPEARS THAT THERE IS A LEGAL HOLD ON YOUR ACCOUNT BY THE STATE OF NEW YORK,” says Captain America. “IN ORDER TO PROCEED AND CLEAR YOUR HOLD, YOU WILL NEED TO GET IN TOUCH WITH THE LEGAL ENTITY WHO HAS PLACED THIS HOLD. THE CONTACT PERSON FOR THE HOLD ON YOUR ACCOUNT IS CARLA ROSCOE FUENTES, REPRESENTING ELMHURST HOSPITAL.” Captain America gives me a number to dial. I try to write it down on my hand. I get him to repeat it a few times. “Can I please speak to a human though?” I ask. “I feel really really sick.” “HA HA HA,” says Captain America. “THANK YOU FOR USING BANK OF AMERICA. IF YOU NEED FURTHER ASSISTANCE, PLEASE HAVE A SEAT IN OUR CUSTOMER LOUNGE AND WAIT FOR THE NEXT AVAILABLE REPRESENTATIVE.” He points. Fiber optics light up along the floor, indicating where I should go. “Okay,” I say. I shuffle over to the bay of plastic chairs and couches, where several projectors are playing cartoons about saving money. I sit down in one of the chairs. The room is so clean and climate-controlled that I realize how disgusting I smell and how sweaty I am. A mother steers her children away from me, chastising them in Spanish for veering too close. I take the plastic bag out of my pocket and hold it in my lap. I remember that I am supposed to call the legal entity that has actually placed the hold on my account. I stick a bud in my ear, closing my eyes. “The law office of Carla Roscoe Fuentes,” says a woman on the line. “Yes, hello, you have frozen my bank account and I would like to unfreeze this bank account so I can pay rent and perhaps buy some chicken ramen,” I say. “Let me pull up your file,” she says. “First and last name, please.” I tell her. She clears her throat. “Okay,” she says. “Looks like there has been a judgment against you on behalf of Elmhurst Hospital.” “I heard,” I say. “Are you agreeing to remit to Elmhurst Hospital the amount owed?” she asks. “I have to pay my rent and eat food and not die,” I say. “Get me to that.” “Okay then,” she says, typing. “In that case, I need you to go to the bank and they will have the appropriate forms for you to sign there, remitting the amount due to us, in which case we will remove the hold from your account.” “I am already at the bank,” I say. “Actually, I think I am about to throw up. Hold on.” I get out the plastic bag from my pocket and hold it open, staring into the bottom of it. The woman on the other end of the phone is silent. “Nope,” I say. “I’m good.” “Listen, the justice system works for you, too,” she says. “We are collecting on a legal judgment. I am sorry you are not taking this seriously, but as soon as we hear from the bank we will remove the hold and your debt will be discharged.” “Oh awesome,” I say. “I hate debt and debtors and all that.” I hang up. I hang my head, crossing my arms over the back of my neck. I try to breathe in one nostril and out the other. I can’t help but imagine the cilia of my stomach as a roiling wall of infected flesh, bubbling and frothing, a latticework of churning cottage-cheese and pink meat slime. I burp, and taste the powder from the guacamole-flavored tortilla chips I ate for dinner. To take my mind off my insides, I look up Marvel superheroes on my phone. There are ads for Marvel everywhere in the bank. I try to find the shittiest superhero with the shittiest stats. I find a dude called “Tatterdemalion,” who is technically a supervillain. Also known as Arnold Paffenroth, from Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a tapdancer who got swindled by the Las Vegas mob, and so now he is insane and hates money. All his stats are 1, the lowest they can possibly be. His only superpower is that he has special gloves treated in acid that he uses to dissolve cash and ruin people’s nice clothes. I guess he tapdances while he tries to dissolve the dollar bills from people’s wallets? I imagine the Tatterdemalion trying to fight the Hulk. He tapdances up to him and dissolves a twenty dollar bill right in front of The Hulk’s confused eyes. The Hulk smashes him into the ground, driving his brain into his spinal column, his shoulder-blades caving in and his shoulders smashing together and then smashing into his knees. My name is called and I walk right through Thor on my way to a human representative, weaving and stumbling like a horrible drunk. “Oh sorry,” I mumble to the confused pair of gentleman in blue work shirts and long sideburns who gawk at me as I fall to one knee inside the Thor hologram. “Are you okay?” says the bank representative who gets up from behind her desk to meet me beneath the giant glowing superheroes. “Yeah, I am probably gonna throw up right here right now though.” Everybody steps away from me. I begin heaving into the plastic bag, trying very hard not to splash any of my insides on Bank of America’s nice marble floor. Everybody in the bank is watching me puke. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you leave,” says the bank representative. “You seem to be in need of medical assistance.” “Unfortunately, medical assistance is suing me, which is why I am here,” I say. “I can’t really pay a doctor right now because my bank accounts are frozen.” I hold out the bag of vomit to her, trying to show her the contents. “It’s mostly just water,” I say. “See, I can’t even buy food.” “I am really afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave the bank now,” she says. “Sure thing,” I say. “I think there are some forms I need to sign, though. The lawyer who is suing me on behalf of the hospital said I had to sign some forms if I wanted access to my money. Do you need to scan my card or something? Probably might want to put on a glove or something, if you are scanning this card. I got this flu from my roommate, so it is probably viral. But I swear, as soon as you unfreeze my bank account, I swear I will go right to the doctor, you know? I won’t fuck around, buying, you know, lube and comic books and fried chicken and lotto tickets or whatever. I swear I will go right to a doctor and get my urine tested and everything, no matter how much it costs.” “Uh,” she says. “Yeah, let me see your card.” I hand over my card, sitting cross-legged in the junction of the superheroes, who all seem to be slightly glitching out, walking over to me and asking if I need help, and then returning to their resting state. “It does seem that there is a hold on your account,” says the bank representative. “I am going to need you to sign a document that says you are willing to remit the amount due. Shouldn’t take very long, okay? We will just fax the document right along.” “Probably just going to lay down right here then,” I say, stretching out. “DO NOT CALL AN AMBULANCE. I cannot afford it. If I get sued again, I don’t know what I will do. Something desperate.” “Let me get you those forms,” says the bank representative. “Really, all you have to do is sign and then you can go.” “Bless you,” I say. “I just want to pay my debt and then I will go lie down in the street until I gather enough strength to get myself home. I think I have probably lost a lot of fluids, you know?” I am actually feeling much better now that I have thrown up again. I am really hamming it up, but a bag of puke is a great prop. “HULK DEPOSIT OR HULK WITHDRAW?” asks the Hulk, coming to squat over me, his giant green muscles flickering like dappled light on a lake made of biomedical mistakes. “Hulk remit my debts to my debtors,” I mumble. “HULK NOT UNDERSTAND,” says the Hulk. “PLEASE REPEAT FOR HULK IN A CLEAR VOICE.” The bank representative returns with a form and clipboard. I look it over. “Is there any way I can get on some kind of payment plan? I mean, you just looked at my bank account. You know how I am doing in life, how I have done in life thus far. Probably there is a button you can press that will tell you how I should expect to do in the future? Don’t let me know though...I like surprises.” She lifts up the first sheet of paper and there is another piece behind it with the terms of some kind of Bank of America wage-garnishing agreement that will only take a little bit out of my paycheck each month. “I took the liberty,” she says. “Appreciate it,” I say. “Would you mind uh holding this...uh...while I sign?” I hold out the bag of vomit. “Oh, right probably not,” I say, squeezing the bag of vomit between my knees instead while I sign her clipboard. “That’s it,” she says. “You don’t need to do anything else.” “I promise I won’t beg for change for sports drinks and chicken broth in front of the bank. I promise I will just be on my way.” “Sure thing,” she says. “I swear to fucking god I will not leave this bag of infectious puke right in front of the bank on the sidewalk. I swear to fucking god I will take it back home with me." As I am walking out, the security guard by the door mutters something under his breath. “What was that?” I say. “You’re a fucking asshole,” he says, snorting. “You shouldn’t be coming in here all sick like that.” “My bank account was frozen,” I explain. “So you should learn to be more responsible,” he says. “There’s people in here with families and kids, you know? You don’t see them falling down on the floor, acting like fools. They just go about their business. With honor, you know? And dignity.” “You could almost say I just robbed this bank with a biological weapon like some kind of supervillain and I am getting away with it.” “You’re a fucking asshole. Get out of here.” “Right in front of Iron Man and Thor and you and everybody else.” “Asshole.” I stand there next to him, right outside the bank on the sidewalk. I try to seem dignified. Full of honor. Like I have superhero powers. He shakes his head at me. He spits on the ground; not at me, but as if the mere fact of my existence has filled his mouth with bitterness. Everybody who passes by us looks at me with pity and horror and at the security guard for reassurance. “It’s okay,” says the security guard to no one in particular. “This asshole was just leaving.” But I don’t leave. I stand there holding my bag of vomit, staring at the security guard, waiting for him to start to see how dignified I am. I start to tapdance. NOTE: read more junk at http://www.miraclejones.com


Pancake Spring

Mandy did not learn that her granddad was dead from her family, from Facebook, from the police, from a witch, from a Wikipedia article, or from Jezebel.  She learned about it from a representative of the International House of Pancakes, the company that Mandy’s granddad Russell Irwin Fox started back in nineteen hundred and fifty one, back when coffee cost a dime and a television set cost exactly the same price as it does now.

She was stoned and sitting cross-legged on the tiny concrete balcony of her apartment, smoking cigarettes and ashing into the same dead plant that was here when she moved in.  She was staring at the storage closet at the opposite end of her balcony. The closet was painted a deep forest green. She didn’t have a key for the storage closet: it was locked with a sizable deadbolt, and so therefore the closet gained mysterious, occult-like properties whenever she got high and found herself staring at it, listening to the shrieking summer cicadas, a noise which, when commingled with the ringing in her ears from her weed-pumping heart, made her feel like she was slowly merging with the universe and also slowly going insane. She liked to imagine that there was a Soviet nuclear bomb in there, something leftover and forgotten from the Reagan years, and the digital timer was slowly counting down to nul.

She was thinking about Kip and how things were not going well.  It was politics: she was basically a punk and he was basically a fascist.  Everybody seemed to think he was only pretending, but she was pretty sure that deep down in his gleaming steel heart, he was always wearing leather boots and kicking a baby in the face for The Future. They needed to break up, but she wasn’t sure how. Their fucked-up sex life was regular, malignant, and satisfying. Also, she owed him four hundred dollars, a whole month’s rent.

Her doorbell rang and she quickly put her cigarette out. She left the balcony, and stood in her bathroom in the dark.  The doorbell kept ringing, interspersed now with intermittent knocking.

“Amanda?  Amanda Fox?” shouted a British man, definitely not her landlord.  “I am with the International House of Pancakes, Amanda, and I really need to talk to you about your grandfather. If you are at home, please answer the door. I am only going to be in Austin for three more days. ”

She sighed, flushed the toilet so she would seem not-crazy, and put on a sweatshirt.

“I will come back tomorrow,” he said.  “I am leaving my card, and—“

“No, no,” she said, unlocking the door and opening it right as the toilet crescendoed.  “I’m here.”

He stood there on her doorstep, wearing a full business suit even though he was soaked in sweat.  He was thin and round-faced and pale and bespectacled and there was a corona of acne covering his hairline, where his hair gel mixed with his sweat and flesh juices. He was holding a glass vase full of white flowers.

“Aha,” he said.  “Sorry about the yelling, but I came by yesterday and the day before, and there wasn’t anybody home and you don’t seem to ever answer your phone or check your email… and my job, my actual job right now, is to get in touch with you in order to give you a very alarming sum of money.  I am here from our London office.  It’s sort of a working vacation, you see. I mean, um, tragic circumstances and all.  Sorry about the circumstances, first and foremost, above all else.”

He coughed into his hand.

“I don’t have a phone,” she said.  “So I don’t know who you’ve actually been calling. And I barely check my email; just have it to pay my electricity bill once a month. Sorry! What’s up? Who are you?”

“My name is Rory,” he said furtively.  “Very nice to meet you. May I come in?”

She frowned, not really into this idea.

“I mean, it is a bit of a private matter, I’m afraid.  Sort of a corporate thing, really. Can’t really speak about it where just anyone could hear. The money is real, I promise. Ha ha ha!”

He laughed as if somebody had just pointed a gun at him and said: laugh, motherfucker, laugh with your whole face.

He held the vase full of flowers out to her.

“Ah yes, and these are for you!” he said.  “I’ve been buying fresh ones every day just in case, so they are fresh. I am very sorry for your loss.”

“My loss?”

He frowned, darkening.

“Yes, well,” he said.  “I mean, perhaps you and your grandfather weren’t very close.  I mean, I have heard that this is the case.”

“My granddad?”

He was silent. 

“Oh Lord,” he said.  “You don’t know then, do you?  No one told you. I’m so sorry.”

She took the flowers from him, inferring the rest.  She let the door swing open wider. She backed into her living room, and collapsed into a bean bag chair beside a massive plastic yellow table where she had been breaking up weed.  She fished her pack of cigarettes out of her pants pocket.

The representative from IHOP tentatively crept into her apartment and then gently shut the door behind him.

“Sit,” she said.

He lowered himself into the other bean bag chair, his knees popping and his suit pants riding up so high she could see his pale skinny shins.

“I am going to smoke this cigarette,” she said before flicking her lighter.

“Yes, of course, go ahead,” he said.

“So what killed him?” she asked, lighting the cigarette. “Did he break his hip? Was it cancer?”

“I don’t actually know,” said Rory.  “I mean, I work in the London office, you see and just recently transferred to the States.  I think I am here because I am so new and nobody else wanted to be about this particular business. It is a weird old world.”

“Well, you are doing fucking great at your new job, Rory,” said Mandy.

Rory turned bright red.  He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a check which was folded neatly down the middle.

“This is for you, and then I have some papers for you to sign, if you don’t mind, and then I will be out of here and that will be that.”

Mandy looked at the check, frowning.

“This is a lot of money,” she said. “This is life-changing money.”

“Ha!” said Rory.  “Yes, I’m sure it’s no true solace, but there it is. Something to have.”

“What’s the deal here? My granddad hated us. I think the last time I saw him, he wouldn’t stop talking about how I was going to grow up to be a phone sex prostitute.  I was thirteen and he told my mom I needed to get spanked for texting at dinner. That was before he disowned her, back when we still lived in California. She was high.  I wanted to be high.  He was a horrible hateful old man.”

“Yes, actually, it’s a little bit funny, really.  This money isn’t from his will, although it is related to your actual inheritance.  Your actual inheritance is a particularly odd bit of intellectual property. Worthless to you; very valuable to us. This money represents an offer from the International House of Pancakes to...hmmmm…purchase something that’s been deeded to you, uh, perhaps in a not entirely kind or, rather, charitable way.”

Rory took two folders from his suitcase and set them on the yellow table, carefully moving the weed to one side with the side of his hand.  One folder was pink and one folder was blue.

“Deeded to me?”

“I guess, ha, it is a bit funny really, with what you said about his being concerned about your telephone usage and texting in your early years.  He has actually deeded you the IHOP social media accounts, which we did not actually know that he had the rights to use and manage, but which were specifically enumerated to him several decades ago in a contract about computer game rights—OF ALL THINGS! CAN YOU IMAGINE AN IHOP COMPUTER GAME?—but which was never updated nor examined.  We were able to get in touch with Facebook and with Tumblr in order to have those accounts shut down and reopened, keeping our same followers and so on, but unfortunately the good people at Twitter have been exceedingly difficult about allowing us to exchange executorship and management without your express agreement.  They have run into some trouble with this recently, it seems, with some early novelty accounts. So they want to keep everything to some kind of official legal standard, which is fine, just a bit annoying.”

“What are you saying?  My granddad gave me the Twitter account to IHOP in his will?”

“Ha ha, yes, exactly that,” said Rory.  “Perhaps it was intended to be some kind of chastisement or life lesson, but I assure you that it is worth a great deal to the International House of Pancakes. As our sum presented suggests, we are willing to compensate you quite adequately if you will just go ahead and deed the account right back over to us so we can continue posting deals, specials, news, and additions to our menu to our three and a half million followers who crave our daily IHOP updates and pancake-related jests.”

“Wait a second,” said Mandy.  “You mean I have three million Twitter followers now?”

“Well, the International House of Pancakes does.  But yes, I suppose you could say that, as a temporary and hilarious quirk of circumstance. Ha!  It’s funny to think about.  Now these papers stipulate that…”

 “I don’t even have a smart phone.”

“Aha,” said Rory.  “So you can see that such an account is very much useless to you, and vital to us, and so therefore this sum of money should exchange hands as soon as possible. We’ll just sign all the papers in this blue folder here and I will be on my way.”

“What’s in the pink folder?”

“Oh, that’s nothing, that’s just the account information which I am legally required to give to you, though the password will of course be changing once you take the money and sign these forms.  Just a formality, really. Part of “Twitter law,” which is really quite fascinating. Gosh, I wish I had the time to explain it all.”

Mandy picked up the pink folder.  Rory watched her, joggling his knees, not sure how bean bag chairs were supposed to make you feel mellow, or how any human beings could tolerate these insane Texas temperatures.

“The password is MARIOKART6969,” said Mandy. “Come on, man. Really?”

“Yes, well, the way I hear it, one of our marketing interns set up the account back in 2006, and this has stayed sort of an inside joke.”

“What happens if I don’t take the money?” said Mandy. 

“What a fun thing to think about,” said Rory.  “In that case, we would of course be forced to set up a new account and people would slowly trickle over to us as soon as they realized they were no longer getting official information from the real International House of Pancakes. We would also be forced to file an injunction against you. If you ask around and consult with experts, you will discover that the amount we are offering is more than fair and reflects our wish to respect the only granddaughter of our founder.”

Mandy didn’t say anything.  She carried the pink folder onto her balcony, lighting another cigarette.

“Let’s sit outside for a minute,” said Mandy.  “I need to think.”

She opened up two lawn chairs and they sat in the heat, smoking as she leafed through the folder.  The vase full of flowers was on the ground between them.

“This shit is pretty hilarious,” said Mandy.  “This is like giving your porn account to charity when you die.”

Rory didn’t say anything. Sweat and oil covered him like latex, sealing his juices inside a slick and dripping membrane.

He closed his eyes in silence while she smoked and read.

“Let me see your phone,” she said finally.  “You have a smart phone?”

He handed her his phone.  She frowned at it, pressing buttons.

“How do I get on the internet?”

He opened a browser for her. 

“Cool,” she said.  “Oh never mind, there is a button that takes you directly to Twitter.  Neat.”

“Hang on,” said Rory. “Hold on now. What are you doing?”

She sat on the railing of the balcony, swinging her legs.  She typed for a few minutes, starting to smile, and then she tossed him back his phone.  She stood up, took all the flowers out of the vase, and festooned them around the lawn chairs.  She poured out the water.  She looked around for people watching, and then she threw the vase as far as she could into the parking lot. It smashed into jagged multitudes, making a chalk-white smear.

“Come on,” she said.  “Let’s go. I am done mourning and I am also sober now.”

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“To IHOP,” she said.  “We are going to get free pancakes.  All pancakes are free at the IHOP on Cesar Chavez today.”

“They are?”

 “Sure. Free Twitter pancakes. It has already been retweeted 11 times.”

Mandy hopped over her balcony and started walking out of the complex.  Rory followed her, running to catch up.  He was looking up the number for the IHOP on Cesar Chavez, and then he was calling and explaining the situation to them, telling them corporate would cover it, telling them there was an emergency, telling them they should only extend the offer to people who specifically asked for it.

“What are you doing?” seethed Rory.

“Let me see your phone again,” she said.  “Don’t worry. I just need to make a phone call.”

He hesitated.  He took his phone out of his pocket.

She snatched the phone out of his hand. She dialed a number while he glared at her.

“Hey daddybags, meet me over at IHOP,” she said.  “It’s an emergency.”

“Why don’t you have your own phone?” asked Rory. 

“Technology is bullshit now,” said Mandy.  “What is cool about a smartphone?  Everybody has a smart phone. Old racists with blood diseases have smart phones. YOU have a smart phone. I can always get someone else to look something up for me. It is not very hard to pretend that every single person these days is your own personal robot slave.”

Kip was waiting for them when they arrived, straddling his bicycle in the parking lot.

Kip had a tattoo of an elaborate "< a >" on one forearm and an equally elaborate "< /a >" on the other one.

(“Anchors,” he once explained to her.  “You know, like a sailor.”)

“Kip designs websites for Nazis and skinheads,” Mandy explained to Rory.

“Hey man, I will write code for anyone,” said Kip.  “Market forces and freedom of speech and all that.”

“But he specializes in websites for North American hate groups,” said Mandy.  “Somebody has to do it right? His other favorite thing to talk about in the world is torture, which was part of the initial attraction, but now I’m not so sure. He is my boyfriend.”

“What do you mean you’re not so sure?” asked Kip.

“What do you mean torture?” asked Rory.

“You know,” said Kip.  “Coercive violence.  Pain with goals.”

They got a booth and all ordered coffee.

“So what’s going on?” asked Kip. “You said it was an emergency.”

“It is an emergency,” said Mandy.  “An emergency of FUN.”

The waitress returned with coffee.  She was built like a matador, whip-thin with veiny forearms. Mandy knew her name was Dinah, like Alice’s cat.

“What a day,” said Mandy. “Free pancakes!  You must be busy, Dinah.  I bet you are going crazy.”

Dinah was suspicious.

“Haven’t heard anything about any free pancakes,” said Dinah. 

“It’s a thing,” said Mandy.  “Today only.  It’s on the internet.”

Mandy ordered six short stacks “for the table” and a side of sausage.

Dinah snorted and walked away.  “Lemme check on that,” she said.

“Hey, I want to see your phone for a sec,” Mandy said to Kip.  Kip handed her his phone. She logged into Twitter and typed while he watched.

HI KIP #WHATISUPKIPYOUASSHOLE she typed, messaging him.

She handed his phone back to him and it buzzed in his hand.

“You hacked the IHOP twitter account,” said Kip. “Cool.”

“Not exactly,” said Mandy.  “I never told you my granddad started IHOP?”

“I thought you were joking,” he said.  “I thought we always ate here because of the free refills on coffee and the strong American values.”

“We always eat here because it is the best restaurant in the world,” said Mandy.  “Let me see your phone again.”

Kip handed it back to her.

“Man, the IHOP twitter feed is just a bunch of hipster jokes about pancakes,” said Mandy.  “Every single tweet is some annoying joke about a pancake.”

 “Is this about money?” asked Rory. “You want more money? Is this extortion?

 “Just a minute,” said Mandy.  “I am trying to write something. Ya’ll should talk about torture or something.”

“What are you more interested in,” asked Kip. “Theory or practice?”

“Why do you know so much about torture?” asked Rory, exasperated.  “Who are you people?”

Mandy opened a new Tweet.


She chuckled to herself.

“Twitter is really stupid,” she said.


“With respect to Western torture techniques, we are really seeing something special happening lately,” said Kip.  “It’s been taking place since the Global War on Terror, really, but watching it happen is great for the industry as a whole.  Sort of a torture revolution, really. Nobody talks about it.”

“Kip is a fascist,” said Mandy. “I used to be into that, uh, romantically.”

“Yeah, right,” said Kip uncertainly.

Rory stared at his coffee, unsure of what to do or what to say.

“What do you mean ‘torture revolution?’” asked Rory, trying to be nice.

“What we are seeing is the supplanting of Vintage Prep with French Modern techniques all over the world, but especially in America and other western countries,” said Kip.  “It’s rad.  I never expected such an enlightened outlook coming from us, you know?  South Africa, maybe.  I wonder if internet porn has something to do with it? Probably, right?”

“You have to explain the difference,” said Mandy.  “Not everybody spend their afternoons reading torture blogs and masturbating to 80s children’s cartoons.  I can’t believe I used to think you were so hot and cool.”

“It’s a rivalry as old as the seasons,” said Kip, glaring at her. “Vintage Prep torture techniques are things you wouldn’t even really consider torture, because they are so awesome and ubiquitous. For instance, handcuffs, right?  Or being forced to be inside a jail cell?  Or prison guards looking the other way whilst you get raped by some of your fellow inmates to teach you a lesson about class and manners?  All of these techniques have filtered down over the years from the finest Anglo-Saxon prep schools, and have been modified and adjusted to fit our modern incarceration needs.  Forced sitting, forced standing, solitary confinement.  Terrible food that makes you sick.  Stuff like that. It is the kind of cruelty that children do to each other, with the main goal of inflicting maximum psychological damage without requiring many resources.  It is also the kind of torture that anyone can do and which requires no specialists, which is great because you don’t want somebody on your payroll whose job title is ‘torturer.’   You can keep somebody in solitary confinement their entire life and people will just shrug, though this is probably the worst thing you can possibly do to a living creature of planet earth.  But what I am saying is that Vintage Prep torture techniques are giving way to French Modern, and not just in South America or Southeast Asia or China or Russia.  But everywhere, everywhere!”

YES THIS OFFER IS FOR RL @TheRealEdwardSnowden she tweeted



“What is French Modern, then?” asked Rory, miserably.



“These were the techniques that the Nazis and the Vichy government developed jointly together to deal with the French Resistance, basically,” said Kip.  “Now this is top notch stuff, stuff meant to break people without leaving a mark.  Until the Germans started employing French professionals, they were just snapping people’s fingers and beating them senseless while tied to chairs.  That doesn’t work at all. You don’t get the feeling that your torturer is enjoying it, that they don’t care whether you talk or not.  French Modern techniques are artful, require professional attention, and do not scar.  Most famously used in Algiers and throughout South America during the Cold War, we are talking here about electricity, experimental surgery, and water stuff, coupled with acts of explicit sexual degradation which are designed to tap into a subject’s unconscious needs and make them fall in a kind of submissive 'love state' with the torturer.”

“Which definitely wears off after awhile,” muttered Mandy.

Kip looked at her.  Frowning.  Hard.

“You think uh…French Modern is better than Vintage Prep?” asked Rory.

“Almost certainly,” said Kip.  “French Modern is passionate romance; Vintage Prep is a cold sexless marriage. I admire you British, I really do.  Very efficient, very careful.  But with French Modern, people are interacting in a hands-on, intimate way instead of just coldly extracting confessions through the brutality of time and the body’s own natural weaknesses.  It’s artisanal.  It’s authentic. It’s professional, not a relationship of convenience.  It’s a craft, like Martha Stewart, you know?  Which means we will get scientific data about torture, figuring out whether it really even works or not, and we will have professionals doing this work instead of amateurs, leading to fewer casualties, fewer mistakes, and vast harm reduction across the world.  Everybody knows French Modern techniques work better, and once we get prisoners signing release forms, we will…”



“…we will finally be able to make torture a permanent institution instead of just a scary word that means whatever bad thing you want it to mean.”

They all sat there in silence for awhile, pondering torture as a permanent institution and pancakes, respectively.

“Rory,” said Mandy.  “I am not going to do a deal.  I am not going to sell you back this Twitter account.  I will tell you why for four hundred dollars.”

“Fucking Christ,” said Rory.  “I am not going to give you four hundred dollars just to tell me why we are going to have to sue you.”

“There’s an ATM in the front of the restaurant,” she said. “Call your boss or whatever.”

Rory threw his napkin down on the table and stood up.

“We are breaking up,” Mandy said to Kip as soon as Rory was gone.  “I can’t hang out with any dudes from Stormfront anymore at your damn 'shitkicker' bars.  It’s not funny anymore.  Maybe it never was.  It’s fine to have ironic and cruel beliefs about things, but like, maybe that’s what fascism actually is, you know? Everybody just saying the worst things and playing pretend. You are good at sex, but lots of people are good at sex. I can find about ten people as good as you on the internet in about ten minutes.”

“But you hate the internet,” said Kip.

"That was before I had a twitter account," said Mandy.

Kip slunk down lower in his booth.  He started sulking. 

Rory returned, glaring at her.  He handed her the cash and she handed the cash to Kip.

“Why are you being such a jerk?” asked Rory.

“Yeah,” said Kip. “How come?”

“Because I believe in things for real, including IHOP, especially IHOP,” said Mandy. “It's basically the UN, but tons better. An international organization dedicated to pancakes. You can sue me if you want, but god help me, I will be the voice of pancakes until you cut my throat.  It is my destiny.”

“You should take the money,” said Rory.

“Being poor as shit never changed anybody’s life,” said Kip.   

“Fuck you dude,” said Mandy.  “I just paid you back!”

“Listen,” said Rory.  “What do you mean you believe in IHOP?  I mean, I sympathise: I vote labor when I am back home. But it’s just a stupid corporation same as the rest, same as Twitter, you know? Just take the money.”

“There was only one restaurant in the town where I grew up, the town we moved to after my mom left California. I spent every Saturday night there.  Every time I snuck out of my house, it was always to go to IHOP.  This was before the internet, so nobody believed me when I told them my grandfather started this place.  It didn’t matter. IHOP is the opposite of Twitter.  It’s a place where real people talk about real shit face to face over giant plates of cheap food.  There are infinite coffee refills for infinite problems. How many people do you think have fallen in love inside an IHOP?  How many people have written beautiful novels sitting at an IHOP, or come up with crazy ideas that have changed the world?”

They looked around the restaurant.  No one seemed to be falling in love or writing a novel.  

But they could have been.  There were plenty of empty booths.

“You are going to have to get your own phone,” said Kip.  “You sure as hell aren’t going to use mine.”

Mandy turned around in the booth and tapped the guy in the next booth over on his shoulder.  He was a giant man with a luscious and disgusting beard who was eating a massive plate of chicken fried steak alone and reading the entirety of the New York Times.  It looked like he probably did this every day.  There was a battered Graham Greene novel on one corner of the table and a personal bottle of hand sanitizer.

“Hey man,” said Mandy.  “Can I use your phone?”

“Um,” said the man, trying to be polite.  “What for?  I mean, I can dial the number for you.”

“No, I just need to tweet something,” she said. 

“I don’t use Twitter,” he said.

“Oh, me neither,” she said.  “It’s for IHOP.”

She started to explain.  Rory sighed and got up to leave.  Kip followed him, realizing she was just going to keep ignoring him, and plus also they were broken up now.

ARISE YE WORKERS FROM YOUR SLUMBERS! ARISE YE PRISONERS OF WANTS! IT IS TIME FOR PANCAKES she tweeted.  She handed the phone back to the man with the hand sanitizer, just as her six plates of pancakes arrived, just as the Soviet nuke locked up in her storage closet counted three, counted two, counted one, counted zero.