A monologue by Beethoven, the great composer.
I’m a pretty girl who’s popular and good at school and I play basketball and do cheerleading.
I also have telekinetic powers.
Telekinetic powers let me move things with my mind. So I can put on makeup while I’m driving.
It’s helpful after basketball practice when I’m on my way to a date with my boyfriend, Russ.
I can just put on my makeup without using my hands, making the brushes and pencils float around in front of my face.
Russ and I like to help out at a soup kitchen.
That’s our idea of a fun date, helping others who are much less fortunate than ourselves.
At the soup kitchen, I use my telekinetic powers to give really light shoulder massages to the homeless guys.
I read that homeless guys often haven’t been touched in a kind way by anyone in years.
So I thought it would be nice if there were a way to give them an almost subconscious feeling of human contact.
Telekinesis lets me do that without being inappropriate.
It’s cool, because the shoulder massages do seem to help, but I don’t have to actually touch the homeless guys.
So it’s win-win.
I haven’t told Russ about my telekinetic powers yet. But we’re both very trusting in our relationship.
When I do tell Russ about my powers, I think he’ll handle it really well, because he’s cool under pressure and not high-strung or conceited.
I’ve done a little bit of research into telekinesis and it turns out that people usually get their telekinetic powers when they undergo a stressful event of some kind.
That’s true of me.
I first got my telekinetic powers in a situation where I was under a lot of stress.
I have a job serving coffee in a coffee kiosk in the parking lot of a Home Depot. But that job isn’t stressful at all.
Everyone’s so nice when they order coffee and they tip me really well.
All I have to do is be kind and friendly and pay attention and everything goes really smoothly.
I guess I just have to be myself.
So my job wasn’t the source of stress.
I saved up my money from the coffee job and went halfsies with my dad on a Jetta.
When we bought the Jetta, we got a loan, and I had to sign the papers. We didn’t need to get the loan, because I’d saved up half of the entire amount, and Dad was paying the rest and he definitely didn’t need the loan, because the Lord has been very good to him.
We were taking the loan out because actually being on the loan and paying it back would help establish a credit history for me.
Which is really important for my future.
Russ and I are both thinking about our future. He’s already taken out a loan and paid it back and has great credit.
He used the loan to buy a really nice zero point turning radius mower and makes amazing money on the weekends.
He practically has enough for a downpayment on a house. It’s hard for me to not think “our house” even though I know we’re young and need to stay open to a multiplicity of paths.
And all of that was going on in my mind in the moment that I was signing and I was so excited and nervous that I couldn’t remember my signature.
I’ve practiced my signature like a whole lot, all over my notebooks at school, so this was freaking me out.
I just sat there looking at the papers and trying to make it look like I was reading them very carefully, but I was actually just trying to remember how to write my name.
I’ve never been so stressed out in my whole life.
And that’s when the pen started to float out of my hand.
I found that I could twitch my mind and bring the pen back to my hand. No one noticed.
I held the pen, and then I suddenly remembered how to write my signature.
Then I wrote my signature with my mind and it came out perfect. My hand was holding the pen, but my mind was doing all the work.
Now that I can just use my mind to write my signature, I do it perfectly every time.
I signed the papers and we got the loan and bought the car.
The sales guy at the car lot was like, “Very nice signature.”
I love that car so much. It has a high safety rating, which really gives me peace of mind.
I’ve found that are pretty much no downsides to being telekinetic.
Except that one lame thing is that the homeless guys at the soup kitchen have all ended up getting jobs and apartments and getting back into society. It seems unlikely that this is a result of the light shoulder massages, but I guess I don’t know for sure that it isn’t.
So the soup kitchen closed down, and now Russ and I feel a little restless and don’t have any good ideas for nice dates.
So that’s lame.
I’m having a dictionary party. Please come to my dictionary party. Bring your favorite dictionary.
I got the idea from the Amazon page for the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED on Amazon is a 20 volume set and can be yours for $1000 and there’s an ad on the Amazon page that features the OED in an apparent party context, with confetti and ribbons draped over the straight faced volumes. They look like tax examiners for the Internal Revenue Service in party-hats.
I will provide Doritos Cool Ranch and Doritos Max Cheesiest with extra Dorito flavor Level 5, but this will be a Bring Your Own Mountain Dew Event.
But please come to my dictionary party. Unless you’re planning on bringing your physical copy of the Microsoft Encarta Dictionary. Even though it has the word dictionary in the title, you need to admit to yourself that it’s not a dictionary. I’m sorry, but if you bring the Microsoft Encarta Dictionary, you’ll have to leave. This is a party after all, and we want it to be fun, so we have to draw the line somewhere.
It’s a party, not a soup kitchen.
He handcuffed us to a water pipe running along the floor next to a pile of boxes full of chocolate. Then he lit the boxes on fire.
“This is what love gets you,” he said. “Killed. It will tear you apart, every time.”
“You didn’t get killed,” I told him. “You loved your wife.”
“This isn’t living,” he said.
Then he left.
The chocolate boxes burned, and the chocolate in them melted, and for awhile the melted chocolate slowed the fire down slightly. The melted chocolate flowed toward us and soon we were sitting in a pool of melted chocolate. I put my hand in the chocolate and lifted it to Emily’s face. She tasted the chocolate. She lifted some chocolate up to me and I tasted it. Houseman just sat there looking depressed. The smoke and the chocolate fumes were filling the room. We started to cough. Soon we were coughing so hard, that I felt like I was going to die. Then I realized I was going to die.
At that moment, the smoke of the burned chocolate started to billow more substantially, like the smoke was becoming thicker than smoke, more like cotton or something. And out of that smoke a figure began to form. An old woman’s face, then a crooked neck, and a bent back, and the rest of her. She was striped black and white. Her clothes shimmered like waterfalls.
I was losing consciousness.
“That’s Tonacatecutli,” I said, through a series of coughs.
The old woman nodded.
“Thank you,” I said, “For saving us.”
The old woman shook her head. She gathered up the chocolate and made a gesture that would be rude coming from anyone, and disappeared. The smoke dissipated somewhat, but I could see that several desks set further back in the room were still burning.
Houseman kicked at the complex of levers and things at his end of the pipes.
“She just came for her chocolate,” Houseman said. “Love is worthless. I thought that ancient Mexican goddess was coming to make some point about love and save us. Right and wrong are worthless. Gods don’t even do the right thing. We’re going to die.”
“Even if we die,” I said, ”love is going to continue to be a real thing in the world. I believe in that. Even if love destroys us here, it’s still real. In fact, love destroying us proves that it’s real. And I’m willing to be a sacrifice for love.”
That’s when I realized that I, being chained closest to the burning desks, now without the obstacle of the burning boxes could actually slide my handcuffs along the pipe a pretty decent distance.
“Emily,” I said. “If I get you a paperclip, can you get us out of these handcuffs?”
“Maybe,” she said.
“Do you know how to?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. Her head was lolling. Houseman still looked depressed.
I kissed her and shuffled toward the burning desks. Once I reached them, I realized I was going to try to pick up a paperclip from a burning desk with my foot. Maybe there was a box of paperclips that I could kick towards Emily. I started kicking the living hell out of the desk. It was hot. I kept kicking. I smelled my leg hair burning. I kicked the desk until the drawers came apart. And there, in the burning debris, was a box of paperclips. I kicked them over to Emily, coughing uncontrollably. She pinched the box between her feet, and passed it up to her hands. And that was it. We made it out.
My leg isn’t what it used to be. And I had to get a new job. And they never caught Byron.
But after we staggered out of that building, faces dark with soot, I took Emily in my arms. In the face of searing pain, in light of the spite demonstrated towards us by lesser divinities, I kissed a beautiful federal agent, still slightly high on the weird fumes of burning chocolate. And in that moment, love and law and virtue and impossible human striving towards goodness and the divine existed all in the same place.
I’d thought about it before that moment, about how kissing is weird. About how love makes itself known when two people feel like pressing their mouths together. Their gross mouths. But mouths fundamentally mean communication. That’s the whole thing with mouths. Kissing extends that communication into the realm of unutterable expressions. Kissing acknowledges the failure of verbal communication to adequately express our vulnerability and possession of each other. At the point at which two lovers kiss, we have two people who have come to an impasse, two people who feel that action must be taken, who have come to the end of one kind of communication, and must enter a new wordless place of teeth and tongues repurposed and transformed.
I mean I didn’t think that in the moment. I thought a bunch of stupid things like “wow” and “I can’t believe this is happening” and “sweet”. But the other stuff popped in, you know, upon reflection.
I watched Emily leave. Not in a like a leering way. More in a “feeling the impossible yearnings of the heart” kind of way. And then I became aware all at once of Byron’s eyes on me from behind the door that separated front-of-house from back-of-house.
I knew that if I went back there, bad things were going to happen. I feinted toward the door and then rolled off for the bathroom which was on this side of the front-of-house line. But even in my scramble Byron had only to nudge the door open and speak my name.
“Yes,” I said, already completely motionless, as if Byron’s speech altered the process of inertia itself.
“Come back here.”
And I did.
“Who was that?” Byron said.
“I have no idea,” I said.
Houseman, over by the mixer, put his hand to his temples and rubbed.
“Oh, yeah? That looked pretty familiar. A pretty girl like that, leaning in all close. Leaning.”
He leaned in toward me.
“And I gotta say, I hate to say it, but hearing someone yelling about right and wrong, hearing someone yell about the law . . . Pal, I hate to say it, but that language like that makes me nervous. It makes me feel like it’s about time for a Klonopin. Get me a Xanax, you know.”
I leaned back from Byron slightly and smiled.
“I wasn’t talking about right and wrong, or the law,” I said. “I was talking about love.”
“Love,” Byron nodded and smiled at this. “Love doesn’t make me nervous. It’s easy to talk big with love. Easiest thing in the world. Just to talk about it and not mean it. And they don’t mean it. People don’t mean it. It’s just lips and larynx and air, vapor, nothing. Listen, I’ve seen lots of love. I used to do a little work on the New York Stock Exchange, ever heard of it? They called me Lord Byron there. I’ve told you that before. I saw how people who talk about love make decisions. Love doesn’t play a part in the decision-making process.”
“That’s great,” I said. “Thank you, sir. Helpful advice.”
Byron cocked his head and regarded me.
“Here’s the thing. I’m going to let you in on something. Something I need your help with.”
“I thought you were muttering things about me and a hammer earlier.”
“Ah, it helps me relax,” Byron said, waving it off. He pointed towards Houseman and the mixer.
“You see all that chocolate there? I’ve invested in all of this chocolate. All of this chocolate that no one has used. Pristine, beautiful, virgin chocolate. And I’ll tell you why. I bought out this Brazillian chocolate factory, completely bought up their stock. For two reasons. One was, I got word that the IRS was about to freeze all my assets, and I needed to offload an enormous amount of cash quickly. But I chose to buy that factory because my ex-wife loved this chocolate. And I found out that she didn’t really love me. She said she did.”
Byron walked across the room to the mixer and chocolate bearing shelf. He continued.
“So now, what I’m doing is I’ve got a monopoly on this stuff. Anyone wants Gilberto chocolate, they gotta come through me. And I ain’t selling a pin-head of chocolate to my ex-wife.
What I need you guys to do is to keep a nose out for the feds. They could be watching me. I need you to keep a nose out and let me know if anyone’s hanging around, acting funny, asking questions, anyone that don’t belong. Can you do that?”
Houseman was quick with a “Yes”, but I was faster.
“So,” Byron said, looking at me and then turning away, towards the chocolate. “Who were you talking to?”
I did a lot of work in a very short amount of time, contemplating how to answer. But I didn’t have to answer, because Byron stopped and went up on tip-toes to look at the chocolate. His body stiffened.
“What’s this? What the hell is this? One of these bricks of my spite chocolate’s been opened. What the hell is this?”
“Someone got into that spite chocolate?” I said, shaking my head and imagining what it looks like when someone shakes their head and means it and trying to approximate that.
“If I find out who did this, and I’m going to find out who did this, I’m going to hurt them. I’m going to do bad things. As in things that are morally wrong.”
Byron glared at Houseman. Then he glared at me. Then he glared at Houseman. And I’d be lying if I said that this pattern didn’t repeat for quite some time. It was a little bit like those cats watching ping-pong or whatever it is. Then he sort of shook himself and stomped off downstairs.
Houseman looked at me with eyes that did strong impressions of straight razors. I did a quick calculation and then made my move.
“You’ve been stealing that chocolate,” I said.
“Yeah, exactly,” he said.
“After all your loyal service.”
“I’m going to tell Byron what you’ve been doing.”
“What have I been doing?” I believed in my path of denial. I clung to it the way a president clings to his airplane when attacked by terrorists, if that president is Harrison Ford in Air Force One.
“It’s really frustrating that you went behind my back for so long, stealing. It’s one of the commandments.”
I told myself that if I gave in to Houseman, the terrorists win.
“What? You were giving free hot chocolate to that girl? Was it worth it? Did you get what you wanted? Seducing her with your ill-gotten hot chocolate. Did you tell her you loved her? Did you believe it? Well, you’re wrong. Doesn’t right and wrong mean anything to you? Stealing chocolate from Lord Byron is so very wrong.”
I swung at Houseman, but he turned agile again, a swift walrus, and teleported himself to a spot in front of the walk-in freezer. I smashed my hand into the mixer.
And then I heard the voice from the front-of-house.
I scrambled for the door, kicking at Houseman as I passed, and instead drawing my own shin-blood on the sheeter.
Emily stood on the other side of the counter and her aspect shone as though through a glass darkly, a bit dimmed.
“I was wrong,” she said. “I need to come clean with you. I’m with the feds.”
She showed me a convincing badge and an even more convincing gun. I tried hard not to be impressed, but I wasn’t that surprised. I mean I had no idea that she had anything to do with any kind of law enforcement activity. But it had been a long couple of hours, and I was kind of taking things as they came at this point.
“Here’s the thing: That chocolate. I’ve been getting it analyzed. And it’s such a distinctive molecular structure, the way the theobromines bond to the lipids or something, that we think we have a case. We just have to connect Byron with that chocolate. It’s a very minor technicality, but there’s actually a law on the books that prohibits bakeries from importing chocolate from Hispanic vendors without filling out form IJ4300. It’s just how we’re getting our foot in the door. If he’s got that chocolate on the premises, we’ve got him nailed. But, because you’ve put other things in the hot chocolate, we don’t have a pure sample. We need a pure samp . . . ”
“I can get you one,” I said.
The haze around her dispelled.
I turned around and walked into the back-of-house.
Houseman stood in front of the chocolate shelf.
“My friend,” I said. “Let’s do the right thing. Let’s take that chocolate out to the Federal Agent I’m in love with, and let’s bring this sonofagun down.”
Houseman’s face did not change.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “Byron’s been wronged. By his wife. By you.”
“But he’s a bad guy,” I said.
“How do you know?” he said.
This was a very reasonable question.
“Well,’ I said. “Apparently, the feds wanted to freeze his assets.”
“I don’t know. I just assume that they don’t do that unless they have a good reason.”
“That’s not good enough,” Houseman said.
I went back out to the counter, to Emily.
“So what did Byron do that was so wrong?”
Her eyes flamed.
“Do you know anything about the mortgage crisis?”
“Do you listen to ‘This American Life’?” she asked.
“Sometimes,” I said.
“Did you hear the thing they did about sub-prime lending and all of that?”
“Here,” she said. She pulled out her phone and downloaded the episode. We listened to it for the next hour.
“That’s incredible,” I said. “I had no idea. And Byron was responsible for all of that?”
“No,” she said. “He had retired from Wall Street by that point. He actually owned a bakery which, through a complex series of events, got screwed over on the sub-prime thing. He lost everything. Byron was so incensed that he set out to ruin a number of the key beneficiaries of the crisis. By whatever means necessary. He gathered an elite team of mercenaries and ruthlessly murdered the fat cats responsible for the housing crisis. The chocolate is just a thread that we can pull at to unravel his whole operation and bring him to justice.”
“Hold on,” I said. “Byron killed the guys responsible for the housing crisis?”
“Yeah. It’s murder.”
“But it’s kind of a bit of a gray area, right?”
I saw her point. I went back to Houseman.
“Byron is suspected of multiple counts of murder,” I said. “Surrounding the sub-prime lending fiasco, which . . .”
Houseman nodded and looked glum. He handed me a picture.
“I found this photo while you were talking to that girl. It was under the bucket of Craisins.”
The photo showed Houseman and a bunch of total badasses, each holding the severed head of one those sub-prime jerks. I threw up. Then I looked at the picture again, because it was sort of cool. And then I threw up again.
“I’m going to grab that chocolate, and we’re going to take it to Emily, and she’s going to blow this case wide open,” I said, wiping my mouth.
“Why don’t we just take this picture?” Houseman asked. “That should be proof enough, right?”
“That’s a good point,” I said. “We’ll take the chocolate too, though.”
When we pushed through the door, we were confronted by the sight of Byron holding a gun to Emily’s head.
“Let’s all go downstairs,” he said.
He noticed the photo.
“I’ll take that,” he said.
I called to Houseman:
“A customer is asking for me. I’ll be right back. I better help this customer who’s asking for me by name, just because they’re calling my name.”
I said it as though I didn’t care if whoever might be coming up the stairs could hear me say it.
I don’t know where you stand on the existence of a divine being, transcendent of, and yet immanent in, creation—but if you reject the claim that there is such a being, let me offer Emily as an argument that there is. She’s a beautiful girl, sure. But I find that she radiates with a sort of beatific light. She says she eats a lot of lacto-fermented foods, so maybe it’s probiotics. I don’t know. I err on the side of divine.
The bakery has a front-of-house counter staff. But in the mornings it tends to be this Gerald, a genial-enough-bro, but one who can happily remain in a sort of daze, staring at the light fixtures, until you switch him on. I waved at him, and indicated he could leave himself in the off-position for the moment, that I would handle the customer. He smiled and moved his head vaguely, which meant that he understood, and would continue to dream of electric sheep.
“Why, hello,” I said to Emily.
“Why, hello to you,” she said back.
“How are you doing this fine day?” I said.
“I’m doing well,” she said. “How are you?”
“I’m doing well too,” I said. “It’s beautiful out there.”
“It really is a beautiful morning,” she said.
As you can see from the above, the love light shone with blinding intensity.
“Would you like some hot chocolate?”
“Why, yes I would,” Emily said, and beamed brightly.
I decided to break into some prepared remarks as I turned to get the chocolate. It was then that I realized that I couldn’t get the chocolate. Byron was, in all likelihood, waiting for me in the back. The chocolate there was in plain sight. I couldn’t get access to, or prepare a thirty dollar cup of hot chocolate. Also, since I’d actually reckoned the amount, I was generally inclined not to continue my thieving. I live by a code, whenever possible, and I didn’t want to perpetuate such evil as I could avoid. I would have to pour Emily some of our standard issue hot chocolate.
As I did so, I launched into some prepared remarks.
“You know, Cacao is a new world plant. It’s considered an aphrodisiac, but I don’t know why that would be important. The active ingredient in Cacao is called theobromine. Isn’t that a great word? Theobromine. Pharmacologically, it acts like caffeine, but it isn’t caffeine. The south American tribes called it ‘food of the gods’ which is what ‘theobromine’ means. The primary Goddess of Chocolate in Mexico is the ‘giver-goddess’ called ’Tonacatecutli.’ She appears striped black and white, with a glorious raiment that seems to shimmer like the waterfalls which she frequents. Some tribes would offer human sacrifices in order to ensure that the divine food would continue to grow and prosper in the land. Now that’s what I call ‘Death by Chocolate.’”
Emily was watching me dispense the chocolate from the carafe without pleasure. Not even my monologue seemed to please her. Not even the “Death by Chocolate” line.
“As I was saying, that’s a real case of ‘Death by Chocolate.’”
Emily said, “I heard you,” and there was a stoniness in her voice, like the first pebbles of an impending rockslide.
“And it’s an aphrodisiac . . .”
“I heard that too.”
I handed her the cup of chocolate. She stared me right in the eye as she lifted it to her lips and drank. She recoiled from the drink, and the rockslide commenced.
“What is this?” she said.
I did not have a ready answer.
“What are you trying to pull?”
I seemed to have lost the ability to generate utterance.
“Where’s the real chocolate? Where’s the straight-up South American style stuff you’ve been giving me? I don’t want this weak-ass nonsense. I want the can’t think straight, see visions of Quetzalcoatl, and realize-that-all-humanity-is-one stuff. And I want it now.”
She had apparently grasped me by the collar at some point in this speech, because she now let me go.
Even with the stoniness of her earlier glare, and even with the intensity of her current attitude, I still felt the heartbeat of love was alive somewhere in her. There was anger, but was is anger if not evidence of passion? Yes, it seemed to be directed at a fierce, near addict-style desire for this hot chocolate. But I was the source. Surely, I wasn’t inconsequential in the equation.
“I hoped you liked me, because I’m in love with you,” I said.
Emily’s face softened slightly, and then resumed it’s stoniness, like she’d patched a crack in a wall.
“I love you,” she said, through her teeth.
That was my favorite sentence ever. A nuclear weapon of joy detonated in the center of my non-corporeal self, wherever that’s located.
“But I need that hot chocolate,” she said.
“But I need you.”
“But this hot chocolate thing is a big deal.”
“But I’m talking about love. Which is about accepting people as they are. And this weak-ass hot chocolate is me as I am at the moment. Please don’t reject me because I’m weak-ass hot chocolate.”
“Love isn’t about accepting people as they are. Love is about sacrifice. Love is about human sacrifice. And besides, behind all of this love stuff is something a lot deeper. There’s wrong and right behind everything. There’s the law. This isn’t about love. This is about doing the right thing and getting me that hot chocolate.”
She leaned in close to me.
“Get me that flipping hot chocolate,” she said.
There was heat in that phrase. The embers of love glowed.
“I will get you that hot chocolate,” I said. “I will.”
Houseman clumped up out of the basement with a bag of flour over his shoulder, like an underworld creature performing a dread task or whatever. Hauling malignant tumors to the concupiscent I guess.
I pushed the gin and tonic I’d just poured sort of out of the line of sight. On Saturday mornings we had an unspoken rule in the back-of-house at the bakery that it was okay to start drinking at 7:30—but since it remained completely unspoken, and I appeared to be the only one who indulged the rule, and might have been the only one who knew about it, it seemed best to keep it quiet. That’s the hard thing about unspoken rules. Houseman’s eye fell on me with force.
I grabbed the sprayer and tried to seem more or less utterly absorbed in my dishwashing.
Houseman had been across the room, but now here was his finger jabbing me in the ribs, like a detachable or spiritual finger sent to torment me from a distance. He turned the clumpy thug routine off with a switch. He moves from one state to another without even trying. Potato-footed to faun-limbed in the blink of an eye. A faun with a meaty finger buried in my ribs.
“Byron is unhappy with you,” he said, widening his eyes at the end to impress me. “He’s muttering about things he’d do if he had a hammer.”
“Oh,” I said. “Like the folk song? It’s good to know that even ruthless thugs take an interest in preserving the national heritage.”
“I think he suspects you.”
“Of what?” I asked.
“Of something. I don’t know. He mutters.”
“He would. He’s suspicious. When you’ve got suspicion, everything looks like a nail. Especially if you’re wishing you had a hammer.”
“You’re doing a great impression of a nail. Stay loose and light. Don’t piss Byron off today. He seems tense. He said he wants you to go downstairs when you get half a chance.”
I’m not a brave man, but I’ve never really been put to the test.
I once took a wrong turn in Philadelphia looking for a cheese shop that sold particularly excellent pecorino, and ended up stuck behind an Eldorado whose captain and first mate harbored it in the middle of the street and unloaded groceries for what seemed like five-hundred weeks, at a rate of about a head of lettuce per half-hour.
The streets around me were crowded with a diverse group of children who looked as though they’d never actually eaten the flesh of a scared white guy, but would try anything once. I survived the ordeal by never making eye contact with a particularly hostile sub-group of eight-year olds as they crowded around pointing and shouting some pretty racially charged slogans. The Eldorado sailed on, seemingly out of boredom, and I drove straight to a health-food store, then purchased and drank a China-Cola and started to feel really safe again.
The point is, I don’t like going into the basement if I know Byron’s down there, due to a natural inclination to avoid conflict. And a natural fear of boiling hot basements that smell like sulfur, and which are generally considered to contain six of the nine circles of hell.
Houseman scattered ingredients into the mixer and flipped it on. He stared at the shelf which contained vanilla, grand marnier, and impossibly expensive chocolate.
“Why would we ever need chocolate this expensive?” he said. “Do you know how expensive this chocolate is?”
I shrugged. Houseman became instructive.
“A pound of it wouldn’t quite be enough for a downpayment on something with six bedrooms and a guest-house on a substantial acreage, but it’d get you most of the way towards something modest.”
I shrugged again. My shrugs were lies. I knew how expensive the chocolate was, but I had reasons for not telling Houseman that I knew how expensive the chocolate was. Or I had one reason: Emily.
I saw Emily for the first time one morning several weeks previous, and she had one of those faces that inspires men to make thirty dollar cups of hot-chocolate and give them to the owner of the face for free, so that maybe the face will keep coming to the bakery so that the dishwasher—and occasional bagel-maker and rogue hot-chocolatier—can believe in hope and joy and beauty again. If my reckoning was correct, Emily had consumed over five hundred dollars of hot-chocolate for free.
I realized suddenly that I hadn’t reckoned this amount. The thought surprised me to such an extent that I actually uttered the word “snap” with real feeling. “Snap,” I said, meaning every ounce and nuance of the syllable. That had to be what Byron wanted to talk to me about. He was onto me. And I’d stolen more than five hundred dollars right out of his pocket.
The sulfur smell of the basement wafted up. I heard footsteps. Byron. Coming up out of the basement.
But the voice saying “Walt?” wasn’t Byron. That was a voice from the front-of-house, wreathed in music and light. That was Emily.
My parents let me house-sit for them for two months while they went on a cruise of the mediterranean to see what it feels like being unhappy somewhere warm. I got the run of the house, in a way I hadn’t had when I was growing up, because I’d been the middle of five children, which means I was surrounded, like South Dakota. It was nice except that in the history of my family, my parents went from Spartan to Libertine and then re-Spartanized just before I moved back in, meaning we’d lived without cable when I was at home, gotten dish-network TV when I left, and now that I was back, my parents had discontinued it again. The dinner plate dish was still pinned up like a button on the house, but dead. Which I said was fine, except that a night or two a week NBC and HBO seemed to be suddenly excellent. I was alone in the house except for Drake, the dog.
I had a stroke when I was 24. The best part about having a stroke is all the ice-cream you get during your recuperation period. But the whole piano thing was over. I was ascendant in the art music world and then retired in the time it takes a blood clot to move all of about 6 inches. Before I gained my feet again, I started playing, but one finger at a time, MISSISSIPPI hotdog, MISSISSIPPI hotdog, and even that gave me an old frustrated feeling I used to have while developing pathways in my brain back when I was 4, and the frustration went right to my bladder and I had to get up to urinate 4 times a lesson. I don’t know if this is common, but frustration makes me urinate. Except from my position in bed, a little MIDI keyboard on my lap, I didn’t even have to get up. The glory of catheters.
I was allowed to live in the house while my parents were gone, but they weren’t inviting me back on a permanent basis. I didn’t want to go back, but I wanted to be invited. When you do the math on my situation, disabled guy in his mid-twenties, once promising, maybe permanently convalescing, from bright and rising star to night-light, I’m not in a hurry to add “lives with his parents” to the equation.
My other siblings have all left. They all have a company together. Very successful. They make high-end wheel chairs for paralytics. Quadriplegic, paraplegic, any plegic. They all have advanced engineering degrees.
If a prophet of any size were to arrive and move from mat to mat saying “rise and walk” etc., my siblings would probably hunch their shoulders and look on with generic eyes, maybe run through a few choice words. But just in their heads, for practice. When they see a paralytic in the street, pushed by a parent or whatever, they see a loose conglomeration of high-dollar bills arranged in the shape of a problem they know the answer for, and that parent is practically thrusting the problem-shaped person towards them. When they see the “DON’T WALK” sign illuminate at a crossing they feel whiskey-warm and nod.
The first few days in the house I circle the piano and my nerves grind and I can’t sit down. The third day I’m there, at night, Theresa comes over. Drake goes a little nuts and Theresa kicks him. That surprises me. I’ve wanted to kick Drake—forgive me, Father—he’s got that idiot dog brain. But I know him. Theresa plants a high-heel in his chest and that sends him off to the girls’ room, probably to desecrate their rug. The rug they made by weaving all those loops. They started with hot pot holders and decided to make the ugliest rug a dog has ever urinated on. Theresa has never kicked me, but as Drake whines away I know what he means.
Theresa makes sausage and bacon the next morning and I get ready for the camera crew. I look like TV me. Theresa wraps the bacon around the sausage and calls it a sausage McMuffin. I am kempt. I tuck in my shirt, which billows at the sides, because I’ve lost weight. Theresa eats the sausage McMuffin without thinking, like she’s singing in the shower.
The cameras do not float in and just capture me and my life. It’s a waste of my time to explain the artifice of any documentary when everyone knows already. But this time every month they check in with me. I’m the subject of the most depressing film I can imagine. It’s one in which nothing will ultimately happen. I won’t make my way back to my former glory. But in the editing they will show me really make a good try at it, and I will be a triumph of the human spirit, just for learning to play through the first several Alfred’s Piano Books again, never touching Bach, but the triumph will only be for the viewer. Because they plug in and watch the easy thing happen, and me slopping through The Malaguena from Book 2 will warm hearts, but I still have to live with me and everything still has to be ditches and holes at the bottom of ditches. And Theresa will look supportive, even though she’s only here for the cameras. And of course, I don’t care because at least she’s here.
While the crew does endless takes of me practicing 18th Century Dance I feel the thing happen where the pulse in the music becomes easy, and I’m no longer wrestling the individual dolphins of my fingers. They’re as obedient as Flipper. This is an alien feeling, and I feel a light go on in my face. I play and don’t think. I lose myself in this song, which is called 18th Century Dance, a generic name, and a song that has never imported feeling and probably can’t evoke feeling. But I play it so well. I don’t mind saying that I play it better than anyone else in the world has ever played it. I play it and the sweat drips off my face. I’m dripping sweat and playing 18th Century Dance so well. I look up and the camera is turned away from me, focused on Theresa whose focus is out the window. And I watch this part of the movie in my head where Theresa is listening to the saddest thing, me playing this naive, idiot song. It’s like watching a eunuch dance. And you can tell at this point in the movie, that she’s just waiting to leave. The scene isn’t about me having this moment where I break through. In the scene as I watch it, unlike the scene as I live it, this is the scene where I play the inane song, again and again, and no one can believe Theresa’s bad luck.
I used to play Ravel and Theresa would cry every time. I’d have her so happy and then I’d play Le Gibet and she’d cry. I did it during a fight once. She had a thing or two right about me, and I made her cry with Ravel and it made me feel like I was kicking a dog.
And right then I suddenly feel surrounded, by the camera and sound guys, the producer and Theresa. The pressure in my bladder increases. I break off in the middle of 18th Century Dance and walk to the bathroom—cameras now snapping back to me, following, covering me from different angles, producers amazed that I’m giving them such a gift. They’re hoping I’m on my way to stand in front of my own window, look out the window, roll some tears down my cheeks. Then they can cut back and forth between doomed figures, both looking out windows.
They don’t know that I am directing my rage in all four cardinal directions, in a million compass between between. That I am stuck between every component piece of my life and on my way to my sisters’ room to urinate on the rug. For the cameras.
It’s true that I was wearing a wire,
but it was a thin one wound around
my right thigh; just a piece of raw metal.
and it wasn’t connected to anything.
I just like to wear wires occasionally.
But when Tony Caprizzi asked me
“Are you wearing a wire?”
I answered truthfully, and didn’t
have time to explain before he
Luckily, I was also wearing a tiny
webcam embedded in my glasses,
and the feds rushed in, shot Tony,
and I didn’t bleed to death.
Now I have a scar running across
my stomach, about the width
of a thick piece of wire,
hidden underneath my shirt.
I’m adapting this story I’m telling you,
changing it to fit my needs.
Mostly my need to just keep talking
now that I’ve begun
and have started to realize
that this story isn’t very good.
It’s kind of off topic actually.
And I can tell by the look on your face
that it’s not as funny as I thought it was.
Oh, and that last part
would have made more sense
if I had remembered to tell you
this other thing.
That I always thought of you
whenever I told this story before.
No, it’s true.
I thought of your patient demeanor
even when confronted with
and pointless stories.
But now I see you’ve changed.
Which is fine.
I can adapt this story to include that.