TRYING TO READ THE newspaper is like trying to get it up after imagining your parents making out. The headline that screams the loudest is Vet Charged With Sexually Abusing Caged Animals. The paper gets left behind on the dining room table. People like me, well, we already know more about that subject than we care to. "Hey bro--you still there?" It's my brother, always bothering me with his whiney Sunday phone calls. "Yes Shame. Still here."
"Damn man, can't you just call me Seamus? Like everyone else?"
"Well, thanks for thinking about it at least." He snorts. Then he adds, "So what're you up to today?"
"I'm waxing Ms. Clinton right now." And it would be a lot more enjoyable if he wasn't being so needy all in my ear.
"Mmm, Ms. Clinton, right. Tough old broad."
"She's what, pushing two hundred now, if I'm not mistaken."
"She's older than that, Shame." She is, and it shows. No matter how much waxing she gets it'll be the same story: elegant build, witness to decades of torture in some nutjob's dungeon, eventually recovered and put on display by authorities as evidence of progress. See folks? One less thing you have to worry about. One less torture happening in a world full of pain.
Shame snorts again. "Hey, that's between you and your Missus. Really, I figured you'd be doing, like, your ten-thousandth jumping jack of the day."
"There's no need to get sarcastic. It's in my contract. Got to work out, man."
When the buffing cloth strokes Ms. Clinton's dangerous parts you can almost hear the screams and wailing and sobbing. She's only getting a work over because she gives me a place to hide. There's a bogus telephone company repairman "repairing" the lines outside my apartment building. From this position the dude can be spied on by peeking over Clinton's left arm ... whoa, was that a click in the phone line just now?
"Hey man, you just hear that?"
Shame snorts again. "Hear what?"
Oh well. No need to upset him by busting out with the 411. If it gets hectic he'll find out one way or the other. Or maybe he's already hip to it? Convenient that one of my brothers should just happen to call while a "repairman" is hacking into my line. The TV is on with the volume cranked up, just in case there are listening devices. A highlight of the Austin Ass-Rippers/Cleveland Clusterfuck game is running, sponsored by Todo Bell's new mild Green Card Chilli and Tortillera combo. The Todo Bell jingle plays briefly: "Get chipot-layed ... tonight! Yeah!"
"There it is again. You heard that, right?"
"Dude man: you need to seriously take up medication or meditation." I inform my brother that where I work meditation means solitary confinement. "Okay, here we go with the prison slang again. You know what? Nobody cares about that, man. It's a language of anger and hostility and, shit, the language of death. I'm trying to talk to you about letting Buddha's calming power change your life."
"Not this Zen shizzo again. Buddha lived like what, five thousand years ago? What's he supposed to know about my life?"
"Didn't Buddha tell us that life is suffering?"
"Life is suffering? Life isn't a living thing, so how can it suffer?"
There's silence on the other end of the line, followed by what may or may not be another click. "Try to follow me here, Ken. For living people the experience of life itself is nothing but suffering."
My hand falls away from the wax container, my eyes drop from the window. "Shit man ... that's some negative shit! How's that supposed to make anyone relax? Anyway, everybody knows life is about happiness!"
"Oh yeah?" he scoffs, hitting me with the day's forth patented Shame Snort. "Yeah! It is too!"
"Well, why don't you ask your friend Pillory Clinton about it and get back to me." Smug bastard.
Okay, so she's a pillory. What can I say, I'm an antiques collector. Since when is that a crime? "You know what? Now that you mention it, I think I will work out. It's my form of meditation. So..." No witty tell-off lines come to mind and it boils down to, "Put that in your pipe and smoke it!" The last thing I hear before hanging up is him laughing. That, and what sounds suspiciously like a suspicious sound.
Maybe I shouldn't have hung up; it's not like the phone rings every day. Then again, things are that way on purpose. Don't get too close, don't let anybody know what I do. As for exercize, going to my favorite place--the pool--really isn't an option. The staff has started making fun of me for spending more time in the water than on the land. "Living proof of de-evolution," they tell me.
What else is there to do, anyway? Zone out in front of the television, watch the Washington White Devils beat up on some other franchise, maybe let the thirty minutes of commercials per hour soak in. Sure. That's what I used to do anyway, before Leena. When we first met I was what she called "a five-corned square," so she set to hipping me up. Still, vegging to sit-coms and infomercials has its appeal because, let's face it, it's not like I'm going to have a real social life any time soon. A lot of people lose interest when you give them your job description, especially if you've got a job like mine. That's just it though: nobody else has a job like mine.
In my contract it says that I'm not allowed to masturbate. That's a Code 21 in the penal system--the Powers That Be don't want inmates masturbating either. They for sure don't want an employee like me curbing his sexual appetite, since the ability to perform is my only worth in this world. How do they know if a person played hangman with the chicken? They have their methods. Code 21 is also known by the prison population as killing; masturbation is one of the few ways to kill time behind bars. You're not beating off thinking about your high school sweetheart, you're killing her, the same as shooting another inmate is having sex with them.
Everything is just words. If you call somebody something different, does it actually make them different? Is the way that you think of them different? Or are you just paying lip service, trying and failing to trick yourself, keeping up a lie just for the sake of living a lie despite the fact that everybody else also knows it's a lie. Well, maybe nobody knows. Maybe nobody cares enough to notice.
Lately the dictionary has been my book of choice, but the words don't seem to stick, like undercooked spaghetti thrown at a wall. Maybe it's because Leena is too much of a distraction. All paths flow back to her: we've got a "date" in just a couple hours and she still won't be impressed by my vocabulary. For just once in my life I'd like to have my mind noticed, to let it step into the spotlight--but it seems like you have to do something with your mind first. All this thinking is giving me a headache. Looks like some stretches are in order if I want to relax for our get-together.
Newscasters inform us that S.I.S.T.E.R. is on the attack again. This time they've burned down the home of a right-wing Supreme Court judge. There's probably not a need to listen to how insane the world is--I'll bet now that Shame isn't on the line the interest level has dropped. Sure enough, a peek around Pillory Clinton confirms the bogus phone dude is gone, so it's safe to lower the noise level.
Cute name, right? Pillory's a young gal, for her kind anyway. Only a couple centuries old. Pretty busted up though. I mean, what do you want after so many years of service? Not that she's been used lately. The hole for the prisoner's head is a bit decayed, and the wood is marred on both sides of the hole from where they nailed people's ears down. But the hand restraints are still in decent shape. Hawthorne said in The Scarlet Letter that there's "no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame." In Hymn to the Pillory De Foe said, "Tell us, great engine, how to understand/or reconcile the justice of this land." Makes me feel kind of smart knowing all that, but the quotes came from Leena. She's always lurking in my thoughts, isn't she? In my dreams she's here, locked in this pillory.
The device itself is the main feature of my dining room, against the center of the wall, with small shelves on either side. One of the main features, anyway. The other is the dining room table itself: a long, flat item with ankle and wrist restraints at the ends, better known as the rack. This one doesn't have a name yet, but maybe soon. Hey, a guy's got to have hobbies, right?
Or a job. Usually they don't call me in on jobs, though, and that's something to be thankful for.
Sometimes I almost feel good about myself.