One of my first projects is to run a steam generator all day long, cleaning about two thousand off-white, plastic folding chairs. Which get surprisingly dirty, mainly because people insist on standing on them. The steam genny runs on kerosene and stinks like the tailpipe of a diesel dump truck. Even while running it out of doors the kerosene fumes burn the lungs. There is plenty of something like Oakite that we cut into the steam carried along by the velocity of the flow, lo and behold, the chairs get somewhat clean. I set them up in the parking lot behind the building, next to a huge junk wood pile, and in front of a bunch of retired trailers that have been scavenged for parts.
At lunchtime I notice that the only thing I can taste is kerosene as I section a mango.
“What’s that?” Kyle asks, pointing with his cigarette.
“A mango, you wanna piece?”
He screws up his face, “What’s it taste like?”
“You haven’t had mango?
He shakes his head no.
“Just try a piece, I can’t tell you want it tastes like.”
“Is it like an apple?”
“No,” I chuckle, “nothing like an apple.”
He leans back in his seat and continues smoking, “You know, of all the fruits, I like apples best.”
“Uh huh,” I nod, “Do you guys have any air masks, like a filter mask, . . . painting mask?”
Kurt nods, “Yeah, you need a mask?”
“Yeah, I need something . . . that kerosene is killing me.” I can’t help thinking of the Big Black tune. I also imagine I’m knocking years off my life.
The phone rings, I slide my chair back and grab the huge black handset off the wall receiver, a rotary dialer with big clear chunky buttons to select the line, “Good afternoon, Warwick Shore Rentals.”
“Do youse guys rent bone sauces?”
“Youse guys rent bone sauces?”
Suddenly it hits me, Row-die-lanese for bounce houses, ah, “No, sir, we don’t have those.”
“Bounce house,” I say to the guys as I hang up, “but I swear they asked for bone sauce.”
We have a good laugh.
Soon enough I’m back outside with a white painter’s filter on my face. I crank up the genny again, hit the sparker, the coils get hot. It stinks immediately, a heat vortex rises out of the huge cylinder and distorts my vision. I’m beginning to feel a little nauseous from the fumes but I stand firm. I am no pussy.
It takes about an hour to wash forty chairs. There’s only so much room so the back rows have to be moved back into the stacks as they dry. The back pad is a mucky mess, oil, grass masses, wire and twine piles, the entire place is covered in a variety of trash. It needs to be cleared off weekly.
It’s tricky business to clean things while standing nearly ankle deep in oily shit. I am careful to not let the steam blast touch the ground and launch the mess into the air.
When I’m done cleaning chairs for a bit, I’m hammering dried cement out of the returned cement mixers, or I’m splitting wood for the wood-stove situated in the middle of the garage. This last bit I’m expert at, having been so well trained by my old man, but the wood is the worst of the unsaleable junk, stumps and rotten logs, the stuff my old man would never stand for. Landscapers have basically talked the guys into letting them dump this refuse wood here for free. Another angle of the bottom of the food chain, how to save a dumping charge.
It’s rather astonishing how many of the landscapers who come in to get their equipment serviced are incapacitated in some manner. Most of them limp, a few of them severely. One of the fellows can barely bend. He walks with a kind of forward swing of one of his legs and posting it, catches up behind it, then swings it out again, like a Monty Python silly walk. Quite a few of the fellows are missing digits. One of them is clearly hunchbacked, the guys refer to him as “Lumpy”.
One of the more terrifying of the fellows, hasn’t injured himself in any usual way, but he has a great many skin tags around his eyes, sprouting like little plant buds. I find it very difficult to look at him. His regular visits are upsetting. He has the look of a bush-nosed Plecostomus, something tremendously appealing in an aquarium fish but horrifying in a person.
Kyle laughs at my squeamishness, he refers to the growths by the large, blustery fellow’s name, calling them “Lutheroids”. I’ve had nightmares about Lutheroids growing out of my face all over, around my mouth, eyes, nose, terrifying, but why the Lutheroids, wouldn’t it be worse to be unable to walk? Why doesn’t Luther get them removed? Does he see it as a kind of unnecessary cosmetic foolishness? Luther famously tells the guys a story about letting a homo give him a blow job for twenty-five dollars. The story seems remarkable in that Luther himself is amused by the punchline that he’d only be a homo if he didn’t take the money.
Later, I find out that this is a story from a Hunter S. Thompson book about Hell’s Angels. Why was Luther telling this story? Another popular story involves a lovely woman luring you to her home with sexy promises and sweetness and after rubbing herself all over you and playfully getting some handcuffs on you, reveals a lunatic boyfriend who jumps from a closet with a huge hard-on. Who, dressed as Batman, and singing the “Batman Theme”, proceeds to rape you. The guys swear up and down that this happened to an old landscaper named Crosby, and can’t imagine why the fellow would relate such a legendary tale about himself if it weren’t factual. I have to admit it’s a conundrum.
Every one of the landscapers expects a kind of preferential treatment, they expect their equipment repairs to take priority over others, when they run across one another, dropping off or picking up gear, they are cordial, like bears in the wild, until they’re alone with us, and then they tell stories. I’m amazed to find out that a few of these guys are police or formerly police. Boss Morrill has had interestingly amiable relations with many of the Warwick cops.
They come in, hang around, and tell bad jokes. . . . “So this guy, he goes up to a taxi and says, ‘I’ll smooch your pickle for a ride to the hotel’, and the taxi driver says ‘git the fuck outta heeya!’ he he he, so he goes to the next one in the line, ‘I’ll smooch your pickle for a ride to the hotel’ same result, the taxi driver tells him to fuck off, so he goes to the third taxi and just says, ‘how much to go to the hotel?’ and pays it, but as he goes by the other two taxis he gives them thumbs up and grins.”
Har har har, we all laugh. I marvel at the phrase “smooch your pickle”, is it impossible for this cop to say “suck your cock?”
Another of the boss’s landscaper cop friends tells us about a traffic stop he had, abusing some poor Asian guy as though it were the most enjoyable thing he’d done in his life, like he got lucky to have found this Asian guy he could take his frustration out on.
“I took the bastard’s keys and locked them in his trunk! Har har!” the guys all nod appreciatively.
There was some consternation about him going to Brown. “My kids don’t go to Brown,” he croaks. Implication being, why should this “gook” kid be going to Brown? Officer Kennedy . . . what a piece of work. . . .
At least while doing these outdoor jobs I’m not expected to chase after customers, but, as business picks up the idea is to go back in and help. I rush back in as I notice a few customers come in, and grab the phone, “Good afternoon, Warwick Shore Rentals.”
“Do you guys have one of those things that you attach to your car that follows along behind you?”
I’m at a loss for a second, “A trailer?”
“Yeah, how much?” I give her the price, and she hangs up suddenly after shouting the price to someone on her end. Just then the U-haul line rings. Dammit, she’s not going to be able to attach it to her car, most cars don’t have anything but a plastic bumper and so the temporary hitch can’t be attached. She’s gonna send her husband down for it, and be pissed off.
I press the button for the U-haul line, “Good afternoon, U-haul.”
There’s a curious pause and then a gruff voice, “Can I blow ya?”
I hang up with a sigh. I walk out to the front counter and help Kyle set up a floor sander rental, grabbing the various sheets of sanding grade and demonstrate how to attach the sheet to the barrel of the big sander, bending the ends in the bending slot on the front of the machine, showing them where the wrench to tighten the sheets to the drum is deposited on the back of the sander, “Don’t forget to bring that back!”
The main reason I’ve been hired is that I can hoist about eighty pounds to my chest without much issue, I can put the sander in the trunk of a car and lift it out, which, often enough is more than the customer can do. Often they get home only to find out they can’t move it.
I can hear Kurt’s cranky customer saying, “Fuh dat price a nigga should come wid it! Haw haw haw!” He wants to rent the wood chipper, a mechanism of legendary misuse and peril. Wood chippers are famous for pulling in the branches faster than workers anticipate, the branches often whip people silly, pull their clothing or glasses off which get shredded before they can be retrieved. And then there are the people who have been maimed or killed as well as the outrageous urban legends. A specific story of a wife killed, frozen and run through it, the outlet chute firing all her bits into the sea, supposedly the killer didn’t wash it out when he returned it and so he was caught. This story is recounted so frequently I begin to understand that there might be a bit of a desire around it. The worst I witness is someone running about a million pounds of potatoes through it, causing us to wonder about the massive servings of mashed potatoes being prepared.
On the way back into the shop from hefting the sander into the car, I run into Pete from Pete’s Lawncare, he’s shoving an off-kilter Lawnboy mower into the shop for Kurt to look at. Pete’s sneakers, looking like he may have been wearing them since the 70’s, leave little puddles of green-grass juice on the concrete as he walks. The mower he pushes is off-kilter because its wheels are worn through and are now only the hollow sides of wheels, but instead of replacing them, he’s filled them with acorns.
“Hey Pete,” I offer as I pass him.
Pete’s got a glass milk bottle of something that looks like tobacco spit tucked under his arm, he opens this now and takes a slug of it, “Hey Ted, is Kurt here?” he replies, wiping his grizzled chin on his sleeve, his voice is mellow — that’s cool — relaxed.
“Yeah, man, he’s right up front, he’ll be right back in a sec.”
“It’s a wheat germ juice,” he adds after he notices my eyes on the jar.
“Why’s it black?” I can’t quite tear myself away.
“Well I add a few other elements, you know, . . .” he chuckles.
“It looks like motor oil,” I screw up my face as I look over my shoulder at him.
“Naaa man, I put a beet in there, they’re loaded with folates, that’s good for your dee en ay . . . what we gotta worry about is free radicals . . .” he swirls the jar in the light, I notice that it’s got a deep reddish tinge now.
I go around the corner and let Kurt know that Pete’s back there.
Once the front of the shop quiets down again Kyle asks me, “Did you get the cock-sucker?”
I laugh as I suddenly realize they know about the blow job call I got, “I did, is that a regular call?”
“Yeah, he’s about a weekly call on the U-haul line, usually right about this time,” Kyle chuckles, shaking his head, letting a pen tap on the counter. “One time we all grabbed the line when he was on and started asking him if he was a real life cock-sucker, and what it’s like to be a poor bastard jerking off on random phone calls, but he just hung-up.”
“Crazy, I wonder what he expects?”
I circle back into the repair room, and Pete is showing Kurt the Lawnboy with the acorn wheels. Kurt is on one knee, already has the air cleaner off, and is listening to the piston as he pulls the recoil, no-compression, bad.
“I can’t afford new wheels, man,” Pete moans, “I tried to raise my rates, but they said that they might have to get a more respectable lawn service,” he smirks a kind of resignation. “What can I do?”
REM is on the radio, Kurt has already given the song altered lyrics: This one goes into the one I love, this one goes into my boyfriend’s tight be-hind!
“How’re ya stocks doing,” Kurt wants to know.
“Ah, you know, nothing’s movin’ right now, it’s flat-lined, it ain’t like it was, man.” Pete walks back out to his F350, creaking door hinges, a bible on the dashboard. Pete, of course, walks with a distinct limp. While he has all his fingers and toes, he’s got a distinct layer of grime all over him, enhancing a fierce, blue-eyed stare of a depression-era, Walker Evans photo. Free radicals, he says.
I wander back to steaming the chairs, the idea is to have a good portion of them done for the weekend, busiest time for chair rentals. The dirtiest have been being set off to the side so they don’t go out for rental, and the clean chairs are getting scarce.
Recommended listening: Mission of Burma—Vs.
” . . . He assumes that that is the impression he makes—a
remarkable example of self-deception . . . but who does not live by
self-deception?” ~Eric Maria Remarque
“At what age was Newton weaned in order to conceive the law of
universal gravitation?” ~Foucault
Names have been changed. Some of them many times. On the one
hand, change is good, science is not supposed to be stagnant, new
information informs new and improved conclusions. On the other hand
is the cost of ceaseless indecision, eventually it’ll be impossible
to remember who or what to call anything.
Les’s chair creaked softly, its uneven wheels, and somewhat
broken back-rest, created a tipping hazard whenever Les leaned back.
Les leaned back. He felt the torn vinyl between his shoulders, and
sighed. On the desk before him were his dissecting scope and light,
his dissecting tools, and large numbers of tiny insect specimens on
pins, glued to bits of paper, or submerged in little wells of
What is the purpose of a name anyway?
Then . . . he lazily reached out a lanky arm and pinched a
leafhopper specimen on its pin, crushing it to smithereens, the way
one might pinch and distribute paprika. Then, allowing the pad of his
finger to withdraw across the top of the mounting pin, he thrummed it
like a tiny spring door-stop. The dried remains of a leafhopper were
strewn all over the desktop and the lighter bits into the air.
He sighed and moved his hand over the next specimen in the row.
They were itty-bitty bugs collected in western China by some wizened
old raisin of an entomologist, long dead. Les mashed the next tiny
insect. The dried leafhopper was glued to a bit of paper and pinned
into a cardboard box many decades ago. It was an unidentified
Erythroneurini leafhopper from Kuomintang China. Caught, no doubt,
with a sweep net built like a white flag, by an elderly Victorian
Les envisioned the scene, the thick lenses in heavy black
glasses, the hay-stack of 19th century hair under a wide-brimmed
field hat. The collector on one knee with a bronze loupe examining
the tiny insect in a phial. Yes, a rare one indeed. Les rubbed his
fingers together distributing the fragments onto his desk, and
thrumming the pinhead like a note struck by a teeny African thumb
piano. Les had an idea. He lined the pinned leafhoppers up by tribe,
Empoascini, Erythroneurini, Dikraneurini, in a longish pinning tray—a
small white box—just an inch or so wide. The heads of the pins
standing out of the cardboard at different levels. He nodded to
himself as he began to realize the creative beauty of his vandalism.
The arrangement now appeared much like a right-skewed curve when
viewed from the side. Holding the box on his lap he allowed his
thumbs to range over the pins, pulling them back in turn and letting
them snap freely producing a tiny melody when he held it to his ear.
The dried insects, no bigger than grass seeds flipped about the room,
ricocheted off the walls and disappeared behind the desks and into
the sink. A few bits were in his hair.
Les let the specimens lie. Dust floating in the air, some of it
inhaled. The sun shone through the particles of dust guiding low
afternoon light across the room from the windows. . . .
Les sighed again, letting go of the destructive fantasy. He stood
up shoving the creaky unbalanced chair out of his way, it was time
for a refreshment.
Les strode out of the office, he avoided Dr. D’s office, turning
left, and stalked rapidly to the stairs at the opposite end of the
hall. He then ran fast down three flights of stairs, and bashing
through the double doors—enjoying their slamming on their rubber
stops—out into the sunlit brickyard. Here was the ever present,
brown-jacketed preacher mumbling with his bible, pacing his small
path under the oaks, his head down his mouth moving over the text.
The brickyard teemed with casually dressed young folks, all
drifting in various directions, and almost all of them laboring under
the weight of a backpack of some kind, causing extremely
unattractive, bent, falling-forward postures in otherwise attractive
young women. Les marched the couple hundred yards directly to the
bank of soda and snack machines lined against Griffin Hall and began
pushing change into the first machine available. He wanted something
sugary, a breeze ruffled his shirt, he pushed the dispensing button
and waited for the usual mechanical grumblings of the mechanism. A
Sprite emerged cold and already producing condensation. He shifted
over to the snack machine and began shoving change into that as well,
letting his eyes drift over the possibilities for the limited spare
change, peanuts, no . . . gum, no . . . popcorn, no . . . it will be
chips . . . chips and soda. Les imagined a little song in his head,
chips and soda, chips and soda—to what melody? To the melody of
Chips and SO-da, chips and SO-da, sang in his head. He walked in
a straight line back through the sunlit oaks, past lounging
undergrads sprawled on the benches, so young, how old are these kids?
Les had not been so academically oriented at their age. What did he
spend his time doing? It wasn’t easy to remember, and the barrage of
low-paying job experiences, disappointing hook-ups with the young
women co-workers, and the fantasies of punk rock guitar hamming were
Chips and SO-da, chips and SO-da! Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie
“Yardbird” Parker played in his head as if it were fifty years
earlier, blame Ken Burns. Les could have selected the theme of “Who
Let The Dogs Out?” which was otherwise the song most in evidence that
summer. Dr. Dufresne could not stop himself singing the lines, “Who!
Who! Who! Who!” The professor barked this while stamping his feet in
time. The chips and soda song evidently not a particularly solid
concept in Les’s subconscious, now mutated into a current pop chant:
Chips and Soda . . . Chips! Chips! Chips! . . .
There was no one he recognized on the brickyard to interrupt his
steady procession back to work. He passed the brown-jacketed preacher
mumbling from his bible and always pacing. Once inside Les shot a
quick look down the hall, and then ran back up the stairs two at a
time, striding up the hallway toward Dr. D’s and his own offices,
unlocking his own office door, office mate must have stepped out, and
finally dropping into his creaky chair, his own particular spot, of
all the places where butts settle down, allotted to him. Pauliewallie
came in right behind him and dropped back into his particular
allotted spot, on the other side of the filing cabinet and
refrigerator office barricade that divided the room, my side—his
Sipping his soda and munching he felt the overwhelming weight of
the project that lay ahead, crushing him again, the spiral again, the
dread of something insurmountable. The first steps of such a long
trip, only to find out you’ve been going the wrong direction, each
time retrying and each time not finding the right direction, the
horizon never getting closer. There were few things worse than boring
repetitive labor that in the end would need to be entirely repeated,
perhaps several times.
On the desk next to him was a chart of numbers, large pages
divided into tiny boxes, each box with a 0, 1, 2, 3, or nothing,
things undecided, unseen. Les was creating long digital
representations of insects. At the start of each row was an
identifier that represented a tiny critter in a vial or in a glass
well of glycerin. There were “Dick” 1-27, and “Shit” 1-9, and “Junk”
1-11 and more.
Les shoved some papers off a stack with his elbow as he reached
for his soda. They scattered as they hit the floor on their bindings,
some opening up, others slipping under the large oak desk, and under
the creaky chair.
“Goddammit”, he mumbled to himself. Running the creaky chair over
the paper wedged under his wheels he bent over and attempted to
collect the articles without having to lower himself to the linoleum.
Most of the papers were forty or more years old and included line
drawings of wings, and male insect genitals. In fact, all the
articles were of male insects, no females of this vast group of tiny
bugs could be identified. They could only be identified to species by
their ridiculously miniscule and improbably shaped penises. Dr. D
called them “dingers”.
The papers were yellowed and crackling a bit at the edges,
chipping like the antiques they were. Many of them had been repaired
with yellowing tape at some point in history. Many of the papers were
by one old Eastern European woman named Dworakowska. She was famous
for never creating a diagnostic key to any of the species she
described, and this made it impossible to follow her classification
logic. She was also notoriously territorial about the entire
leafhopper subfamily Typhlocybinae. Lastly, because her personal life
was something of a well protected mystery, it had been rumored, or so
Les was told, that she was a paranoid schizophrenic who imagined
secret government forces were after her, presumably needing to
silence her about some important entomological discovery or other.
Perhaps there was more to her than met the eye, or didn’t meet the
eye, as there were no photos of her anywhere. No, not even on the
Les had laughed when he first heard about this character, but was
less amused when he realized how much he would have to rely on her
decades of pure descriptive efforts, like the ink cloud of a
disturbed squid. It was easy to imagine her, dressed head to toe in
black, sour-pussed, wizened, short and wide, like an early twentieth
century prohibitionist—her eyesight ruined by decades of staring
through lenses into bright lights. If Les’s life were a thriller he’d
have to confront her someday, possibly armed, and possibly someplace
dark and corrupt. Les got the papers together and stacked them on the
end of his large wooden desk again, ending with a slam of his hand.
As if this violence would warn them to behave.
Les steeled himself for work, and pulled one of the glycerinfilled
well-dishes out, and glancing at the card associated with it,
lifted the abdomen of one of the specimens for study with the point
of a pin, carefully. Coffee is off limits to keep the small motor
skills fine. He placed it carefully on a slide under the dissecting
scope. After fussing with the focus, Les located the tiny bit of
insect for study, and raised the magnification.
The section wanted for study was the pygofer. A capsule at the
end of the abdomen about the size of a poppy seed. First the pygofer
capsule had to be coaxed out of the abdomen where it had been neatly,
and somewhat inanely, stored after a previous examination. Ridiculous
standard operating procedure. Then with a few rotations of the pins
in the gelatin swishing near the little lump to try to orient it just
so, and playing with the lighting and focus with the other hand, Les
tried to see if there was a patch of tiny hairs on the side, the socalled
“disk” of the pygofer.
The old Leitz microscopes had been in service for at least three
generations, maybe more, they were black, serious-looking affairs,
with block construction, and sharp edges. Nothing like the cheery,
modern, bright white, smooth-lined, pleasing Meiji scopes down the
hall that were used in the classrooms. The Meiji scopes would zoom in
with the twist of a knob, smoothly, continuously, nice. The old Leitz
scopes had red velvet-lined boxes of lenses that had to be pulled and
shoved back into place like F-stop steps on ancient box cameras. It
wasn’t easy finding a complete set of these lenses, but Dr. D
insisted on them.
The pygofer drifted out of focus again, and Les swirled the
glycerin counter-clockwise near it, tiny circles like signaling to
taxiing aircraft under magnification. It didn’t look like there was
any patch of tiny hairs, but it was tremendously hard to see: the
field of view was dark, the focus shallow, and the proper angles
combined with the lighting—difficult to create. It was a painstaking
process to be able to look in the right direction to really see—or be
sure you did not see (much harder!)—something as tiny as microscopic
insect hair on an object as small as this. Yes, there they were!
Visible as the capsule rotated out of focus yet again, casting
improbably small shadows. Les sighed a deep sigh, leaned over and
marked a 1 in the box that said “hair on the disk of pygofer” in the
row for “Dick 22”, 1 for yes 0 for no.
The soda was already empty, chips gone. He rubbed his eyes, the
twin beams of light back-focused on his pupils and irritated him. He
yawned deeply, and stretched his neck. He sensed a migraine coming
on. He closed his eyes and leaned back in the creaky chair, it
threatened to topple, but he’d learned how to position it just right,
feeling the back of the chair touch the brace just before it lifted
off the floor to dump him.
Les heard Dr. D in the hallway, he sighed to himself, hoping the
boss was not coming his way. The boss had a very heavy walk, not a
quiet hunter’s step, which was a good thing, because Les worked with
his back to the door.
“Lessy-wessy?” he called out as he entered the room, his voice
almost a refrain from an old Neil Sedaka song, “Have you seen the
Blatchley Journal, the green one?” he twisted his pen in his mouth,
chewing on it.
“No,” Les said simply, he had no use for the Blatchley Journal,
not any color Blatchley Journal.
“It’s the one with the Wallace article in it, you know the one I
mean?” he whined, hoping Les would make a late afternoon effort of
urgency, arrange a posse, hunt the damned thing down.
“No,” Les responded again his hands pressing on his eyes. Dr. D
blustered past him, bellied up to the desk Les was working at,
forcing Les out of the way, and nearly capsizing him. Les leaned
forward fast and slapped his hands onto desk and filing cabinet for
balance. Dr. D began pulling open the cabinets with a frustrated
expression of expelled air, sounding like a threatened momma snapping
Doctor D was a large man, and the cramped space did not
accommodate both he and Les.
Les recovered himself from nearly falling over with amazement,
“No, I said, I don’t have it.”
Dr. D rifled through Les’s personal books and stacks of papers in
the cabinet, irritatedly not finding the Blatchley Journal, the green
one with the Wallace article in it, which was sensible because Les
had no use for it.
“Paulie-wallie, have you seen the Blatchley Journal?” Dr. D
But Paulie-wallie also did not have it. Dr. D was beside himself
Dr. D’s office was half filled with filing cabinets which
reminded one of a Marshall amp wall from a classic 70’s era Ted
Nugent concert. The rest of the office was a huge desk piled with
papers and books barricading a central computer. The journal was most
“You know the journal I mean?” Dr. D whined to Les and Pauliewallie.
“No,” replied Les.
“Yes,” replied Paulie-wallie. “It’s the green one with the
Wallace article in it?” Les looked at Paulie-wallie but the senior
graduate student would not meet his gaze.
“It’s the green one with the Wallace article in it,” Dr. D
repeated and nodded, chewing desperately on his pen, a pair of
glistening gold rimmed glasses dangled around his neck by a grandma
chain, his huge running shoes were scuffed and he shifted weight one
foot to the other. Doctor D now expected Paulie-wallie to produce the
journal, straight from nothing, “You know which one I mean?”
“No,” replied Les.
“Yes,” replied Paulie-wallie. Paulie-wallie had begun opening
cabinets and drawers at random in the lab space. Paulie-wallie had an
expression on his face that was a reflection of Dr. D’s.
“I need it . . . I had it . . . I don’t know where it is . . .
You boys sure you didn’t take it?” said Dr. D chew, chew, chewing on
his pen, rolling his eyes, shifting left to right, right to left.
“Yes,” said Les.
“No,” said Paulie-wallie.
Les went back to returning the specimen “Dick 22” to its tiny
pool of glycerin, in the dish, associated with the card. To do so he
manipulated the glycerin around the pygofer so that the pygofer
aligned with the wide end of the disembodied abdomen and could be
inserted back into the tiny insect body package it came out of, like
pressing a tiny change purse into a tiny pocketbook. The process was
laborious, a little like threading a needle that wasn’t quite big
enough for the thread.
In Les’s head was a sequence he had seen many years ago, of the
“Chicken Dance” being preformed on the old Lawrence Welk show. It
featured a number of desperately smiling people in a line, miming
chicken movements, and moving lock-step to accordion music. It had
always struck him as something magnificently tepid and pathetic.
Paulie-wallie and Dr. D were rifling through every nook and
cranny. Soon a stack of old phone books was capsized. Doctor D saved
old phone books because, as he often said, “New ones have mistakes in
“It’s crazy,” Paulie-wallie said with exaggerated amazement. It
was one of Paulie-wallie’s favorite things to say, he usually did so
shaking his head slowly and looking deeply pained, at least three or
four times a day.
The chicken dance continued. You make the beaks by raising your
hands and putting your fingers together, then you make the wings,
folding your arms and flapping your elbows up and down, and finally,
shaking your butt as if shaking the tail feathers. Hand clapping and
twirling with your partner round out the sequence.
The pygofer stubbornly refused to be stuffed into the little
pouch of the abdomen. The lights were brightly beaming back into
“Where did you last see it?” Paulie-wallie asked Dr. D.
“I was just using it . . . I was looking at the Wallace article,” Dr.
The people doing the chicken dance in Les’s head seemed to be
doing so at gun-point. Their lack of joy was entirely apparent. They
seemed to be victims of some diabolical mind-control plot launched by
Simon Bar Sinister.
“That’s crazy,” Paulie-wallie said yet again, finally done
opening each of the cabinets and drawers a number of times.
“Oh, it’s just not here,” Dr. D finally moaned and stomped out of
Paulie-wallie settled back down quietly, as unperturbed as a
glassy lake after a storm. The pygofer finally slid into the
abdominal package, as if it was made to and now could be lifted with
the tiny pin and replaced in the glycerin dish.
Les closed his eyes and snapped off the microscope light. As he
rubbed his eyes he imagined the fire that would rip through this redbrick
building, all the research fuel to feed the flames, the piles
and piles of ancient and recent journal articles, the fluid tons of
alcohol preserved and dry specimens stuck in cardboard trays. The
fire would annihilate the research. The flames would rip through the
halls, the ceilings, the floors. The entire historic building, Lebrun
Hall, pregnant with fire-loving capacity, absolutely pyro-phillic.
Les imagined standing outside the building as it burned,
mesmerized by the fantastic, golden and sanguine flames, feeling the
tremendous drama and childish joy as years of work were consumed. He
also imagined, as he was standing outside watching the fire, that
Laura would be there. Her first floor office would already be gone,
the cockroaches immolated, the ants popped like popcorn. She would
saunter over to him and wanly smile at him as their respective future
hopes burned away and say, “Hey”.
That’s enough for now. She would just come over to him and
acknowledge him. Her short brown hair would be pulled back, showing
off her small delicate ears and pale smooth neck. Her big brown eyes
set in her soft rounded features would meet his. He enjoyed the way
the corners of her lips down-turned slightly and opened brightly when
she smiled, and of course, he loved her inspiring round behind
tightly held in her white slacks. The ones she was wearing this
morning when Les saw her in the hallway and smiled at her. “Hey” she
would say. And that would be fine.
Recommended listening: The Mekons—Punk Rock
Les walked out under the garden trees near the bus lane in front
of the poultry science building, and parked himself on a bench to
wait for Lea. He carried a book for her, an old copy of Darwin’s The
Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms. This was a
book he had stolen from a cabinet full of discarded old books
belonging to some long dead professor of the Entomology Department.
Les excused himself this behavior, the book would be in better hands,
cherished rather than collecting dust in piles of junk that the
current occupiers of the offices were wholly ignorant of. The cabinet
where he found it had obviously been long neglected. He ran his
fingers over the embossing on the title page, 1881.
She would pick him up and he would assist her with her massive
soil arthropod project. She had lured him with free food and
friendship. Lea Lopez was a runner, she ran every day with compulsive
regularity not common to Les. She was also a vegetarian, also not
common to Les. But they did share a love of books, and nature.
Ultimately what brought them together was something akin to trench
Lea was from Peru and had the high cheekbones and the dark
almond-shaped eyes of an Inca princess, or so Les imagined and
enjoyed teasing her about. Her wide features seemed utterly exotic to
him and he often embarrassed her by staring solidly at her whenever
Les began having sex with Lea on the infamous morning the World
Trade Center towers collapsed with hi-jacked jets rammed into them.
They were thrown together, and hadn’t the ability to concentrate on
anything else to stave off the outrageous surrealism of the unfolding
horror. Sex had not been out of the question for them had a terrible
attack not occurred, it was probably inevitable that Les and Lea
ended up sexually engaged anyway. It’s just how it happened.
Sometime back Lea had begun feeding Les at her nearby apartment.
It was a convenient stop. She lived very close to the university, and
close to her lab of mites. Lea had millions of tiny mites in vials
collected from agricultural fields across the state, growing various
crops and having a variety of pesticide treatments. Les helped her
identify and mount the little critters on slides so they could be
examined under a microscope. Sometimes she forgot herself and spoke
Spanish to him. Her accent was a strong aphrodisiac, and it did not
take Lea long to learn to tease him with it.
“Am I eating vegetarian again?” Les said, moping at the table.
Lea’s apartment contained: a small sofa, a tiny table, two chairs, a
cribbage board, a deck of cards, a small book shelf in her office
where there was a computer on a wooden wire spool, turned on its
side, a double bed, an exercise bike, and a small television in the
bedroom. There were also an inordinate amount of shoes strewn
everywhere, sometimes seemingly not even in pairs, . . . sandals,
flip flops, wedges, boots, pumps, and several pairs of sneakers with
the dates of purchase written on them in Sharpie.
“Con buen hambre no hay pan duro!” she laughed. Lea laughed
easily, almost as if under pressure, she had to let some out every
“And what’s that mean?” Les smiled.
“It means, if you’re really hungry you won’t complain too much
about the old, dry bread,” she kissed him.
Les leaned solidly back against the wall, leaning on the table,
sitting sideways on the chair, his long legs sprawling out in front
of him. Lea entwined her bare brown legs and feet into his legs.
“How was Dr. Dufresne today?” she asked him, looking at her feet.
Les didn’t move, he sighed a bit, and closed his eyes, “The
Lea untangled herself, sprang up and checked her pan, now warm
enough to cook some plantains. She put the smashed slices into the
oil. She poured him a glass of cheap port and left it on the table
“How’s Paul?” she asked, flipping the slices in the pan.
“Paulie-wallie is fine,” Les murmured.
“Paulie-wallie,” Lea corrected herself, mimicking what Dr. D
called his senior graduate student. “So why are you so worn out?”
“I think I’m getting a migraine, it started a couple hours ago,”
Les said, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Oh, you need a distraction. You let yourself get so stressed
out.” Dees trrrahct shun.
Les smiled as she returned with the plate of hot salty snacks.
They sat munching on the plantains for a few moments.
“You know,” she said, flashing her eyes at him, “I have a lot of
cleaning I need to do.” It sounded like she said “Juno”. Lea watched
him eating with bemusement.
“Oh yeah?” Les said, chewing absently.
“It’s going to be a lot of work,” she blew on one of the browned
plantains and nibbled at it delicately.
“It looks like a real chore,” Les said, smiling at her as he
slowly understood her.
“I have to clean that floor, it’s really filthy. I have to be
like a maid, scrubbing on my knees,” she sighed and widened her eyes
at him. She got up and disappeared around the corner, then she
reappeared with a brush and a bucket. The bucket already with some
soapy water in it. Les smiled as Lea went into her performance for
Lea got down on the floor her skirt rode up as she leaned over
with the brush.
Les changed seats, stealing her chair and pulling it much closer
his attention on Lea’s round behind poised over bare soles, little
toes clinging to the floor as she dipped the brush in the bucket.
“It’s so dirty, and I’m going to have to scrub all this,” she
said, durr-tee. Lea began scrubbing at the floor, sliding out arms
extended, diving forward, and pulling back, her hair hanging in her
face as she worked. She puffed her hair up out of her eyes, and
looked over her shoulder to see if Les was enjoying her efforts.
“You see? It’s such hard work, how will I ever survive! I’m not
strong enough to do it!” She slid out again, the brush chuffing the
floor, her knuckles pronounced, her exquisite round ass softening
thickly as she extended herself, leaning out over the slippery floor.
A damsel-in-distress, clinging for her life to a ledge. . . .
Les’s heart pounded and he made an appreciative sound.
Lea pushed her brush up and pulled back, her arms straight her
weight on the wet surface.
Les got up and knelt behind her, putting his hands on her rump as
she slid forward and pulled back—feeling her muscles and soft curves.
“Oh, Les, I think I’m getting sweaty, look!” she showed the top
of her chest to him, her tawny skin glistening with a sheen of
exertion. He wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her like a
wrestler preparing a suplex. She let out a shriek and laughed,
dropping the brush, and kicking her feet, as he carried her to the
bedroom and dropped her unceremoniously on the bed.
She squirmed on her tummy as he held her down and pulled her
skirt off her bottom and down her legs, then sitting on her legs
pushed her flimsy peasant blouse over her head and outstretched arms
and tossed it aside while marveling at her gorgeous body. He squeezed
her bottom through her skimpy, pink panties—a cheek in each hand.
“You have such a great ass!” he said, squeezing ever tighter as
she writhed softly against his hands.
“Oh?” she gasped, wiggling herself.
He rolled her over and pushed her feet up together, and reached
down and peeled her panties off, they stretching over her
voluptuousness, snapping back into a little knot, and tossed them
aside as well. He pressed against her, leaning her legs against his
chest and pushing his pants and boxers down, his erect cock springing
free as he tipped clumsily over for a moment causing Lea to cry out
as he almost fell off the bed—she screams I fall—regained his balance
and pulled off his shirt without unbuttoning anything. Lea maintained
her position, waited for him to push her legs up again, her head in
the pillows. He grabbed her ankles, resuming the posture, and pressed
his erect cock against the crease of her voluptuous hams, as he
pushed her legs upward again. She allowed his cock through her smooth
thighs by squirming slightly, letting him press through despite his
grip on her feet. Her heels reached only to his chin, and she pointed
her toes at him, he bit her toes playfully, she wiggled them with a
laugh, and then he let her legs open. She relaxed her legs down
around him and then, reaching under her he lifted her ass with one
hand, she wrapped herself around him. Les let his cock trace through
her fuzz, and then pushed forward, missing once, and sliding into her
on the second thrust. He was surprised at how hot her pussy was and
his head reeled with the sensations. Lea gasped deeply as he pressed
into her, leaning over her, breathing hotly on her neck. She threw
her arms around his neck as he lifted her ass toward him with his
hand under her and quickly found a rhythm.
After a moment he was bashing his crown against the wall with his
exuberance, so he stopped and pulled her back toward him away from
the wall as she giggled softly.
“Get yours, take it!”
He resumed his thrusting, gripping her bottom. She gasping,
encouraging him, “Take me! Have me!” and causing the belabored bed a
lot of creaking. He came powerfully, moaning with each spasm. He bit
softly into her trapezius muscle.
Finally, he lifted himself onto his elbows to ease the crush of
his weight on her, and she inhaled smiling. He rolled off of her
panting softly and she slid under his arm and stroked his chest, her
brown skin exaggerated by his paleness. She pushed herself up and
pressed her lovely brown breasts against his chest and blew air at
his sweating brow. She nuzzled around his lips for a few moments.
“You’re such a big strong man,” she said without irony, her dark
She put her knees between his, wiggled herself down between his
legs and pressed her boobs to his spent cock. He squeezed his legs
around her. He felt her small warm curves, his pants and underwear
were still attached to his ankles, his wallet and change all over the
bed, she pushed his clothing the rest of the way off with her feet.
“I’ll wake him back up,” she said, and nuzzled him tickling and
kissing until, sure enough, he rose again. Les played with her jet
black hair as she teased life back into his cock. Then, she deftly
slipped her legs over his hips and mounted him like a gymnast. Her
hands on his chest as she eased down, her thick lower lip slack, her
eyes closed. She moaned softly and Les reached up and squeezed her
boobs in his hands. He was endlessly astonished by her beauty. He
stroked her flanks, and squeezed her meaty thighs. Then he reached
around and squeezed her behind and helped her with the rhythm of the
“God, I’m like a toy to you,” she gasped.
“You’re my little sex toy, darling,” he smiled, enjoying the
idea, and the fact that it seemed to please her as well. She
quickened her pace.
“Sex toy made in Peru,” she panted and reached her hands up over
her head stretching herself as she rode him.
“It’s where the best ones are made!” he let his fingers trace her
legs and reached back up for her bouncing boobs again. Within a few
moments the intensity grew and she came, like popping a few caps and
then hitting the whole roll with a hammer—boom!, and again to pop
those remaining, and she fell forward into his arms and mouth.
His erection lasted a long time on the second rise and she took
advantage of it, wiggling herself and enjoying his hands on her.
Later they played cribbage. She was an excellent cribbage player,
and he was a distracted one. Lea often had to show him the points he
“You’re gonna need to clean up that mess you left in the
kitchen,” he joked.
She blew dismissive air between her lips and waved her hand at
the wet floor.
“Fifteen two, fifteen four, and a pair is six?” Les laid his
“You’ve got more,” Lea sighed, sitting in her pink panties
swinging her legs under her chair. Her flawless thighs wobbled as she
did so, Les could not keep his hands off of her.
“Look, you’ve got eight points in that hand,” she pointed with
“Eight! Yes, I see it,” he grabbed another cold plantain chip.
“Are we gonna study for Med Vet?” she said quietly.
“I suppose we should,” he said, pegging his points on the board.
“I suppose we should,” she mimicked.
“I reckon,” he said with a drawl.
“I reckon,” she tried, but her rolling r produced a cute Latin
“It’s most likely our best prospect at obtaining favorable
“Why do I listen to you? I do worse than you on the test,” she
said with a pout.
“There’s only been one test, we know what to expect now.”
“Are you gonna peg your two million points or what?” he teased
her. The game was over.
After a pause she said, “It is sweet how you treat Harmonica,”
Lea had a far-away look in her eyes. “You dote on her.”
“Yeah,” Les said quietly, wanting to avoid discussing his wife.
By the time they were done with their studying they had made
almost five-hundred three-by-five flash cards loaded with jargon and
Latin names of animals.
“My husband is coming later,” she said sadly, looking over at her
“That’s nice,” Les said with a sigh, knowing damned well she
“I hate it, he keeps coming around with more stuff, and looking
at me like I’m a bitch,” she looked miserable. Beach.
“But he brought your Star Trek costume,” Les smiled as he pointed
at the small pile of clothing on the corner of the sofa, the red
pull-over dress with black trim completed with the well-known
swooping insignia over the left breast.
Lea had recently modeled her Trekkie outfit for Les, admitted her
affection for the classic show and confessed to having attended an
unspecified number of conventions. . . .
The landing party materializes, sparkling and effervescent on the
weird, sandy-floored, planet surface, Kirk, Spock, Bones, Sulu, and
Lea. Lea notices that she’s the only “red shirt”, fueling
trepidation. But she looks good and curvy in her dress and boots and
soon gains confidence.
Kirk saunters over to Lea with a boyish grin, “Ensign, get some
readings from those rocks over there, maybe there’s a life form.”
Unexpectedly, Kirk grabs Lea up in his arms and lays a kiss on
her, she goes weak-kneed. Oh shit, don’t say you love me-
“I love you, Lea,” Kirk says earnestly.
Lea sighs and slumps her shoulders. Then turns on her heels as
Kirk firmly swats her wonderful ass—”Hey!”
“Captain,” Spock says interrupting the captain’s encouragement of
his subordinates, “I do believe we have exactly six point five-two
minutes before our clothing will disintegrate in this polyesterpolyvinyl
“Our sun block should protect our skin for a few minutes while we
are here, but let’s make sure Lea isn’t exposed too long in that
mini-dress,” says Bones, “where did she go?”
Meanwhile, Lea has traipsed through the rocks and found a cave
with her tricorder out, taking life-form readings—”Nope, none, none,
nada, wait—no, nada . . . “, one of her boots has become rather
floppy, she shakes her foot, looks down, something has dissolved her
boot, her brightly-painted toes are coming out—what the?
“Lea!” Sulu yells.
“Lea!” Kirk calls to her, “that woman is my responsibility, I
sent her to those rocks to check for life signs, if anything should
happen to her . . . ”
“Dammit man,” Bones bawls, “listen to me, we’ve only got a few
moments before we’re naked down here.”
Lea kicks off the remains of her boots, and wiggles her toes in
the beach sand of the planet, staring into her tricorder. She then
suddenly realizes her red dress is in sexy, dangling tatters, and her
perky breasts are finding their way through the top. She looks like a
semi-topless hula dancer. No matter, Captain Kirk needs to know if
there’s a life form, and I will not fail him, she rallies herself.
Lea pokes into the mouth of the cave, the tricorder gives a blip,
woah, that’s something! Lea swings the tricorder around, just as the
bottom of the dress drops off her magnificent caramel colored hips—
something is in the cave—yes a life form, a big’un too!
“Jim, we have to go, we can’t wait for Lea, Spock’s almost down
to his skivvies, for God’s sake man!” Bones gestures emphatically,
old skinny-guy legs showing providing the real reason he’s called
“Alright, alright,” Kirk sighs. He pulls out his communicator and
just as he begins to pop out of his girdle commands, “Beam us up
Scotty!” They beam back up to the Enterprise in sparkly dissolve,
leaving Lea behind.
Lea, having walked a few paces into the cave, lets out terrified
scream as a huge tentacle envelopes her midsection and pulls her
deftly into the darkness, the tricorder bumping on the ground where
she stood, her shriek abruptly silenced. The silence is soon followed
by a gooey belch, and the remains of Lea’s red dress come flying out
and land in a wet heap on the sand. . . .
Les held up a card for Lea on it’s face it said: Trombicula
“I don’t remember,” she moaned and leaned forward onto his lap
her face buried, he stroked her hair. “Help me professor Lester! I’m
dying!” She exaggeratedly rolled all of her rs for him.
“Cooked and et, huh?” Les stroked her hair.
“Cooked and et,” Lea murmured into Les’s lap.
“It’s the southern chigger, and I know you know that one,” Les
laid the card down.
“Sí, I know it,” she said into his pants, exaggerating her
He read her another card: “Orthinonyssus sylvarium.”
“Let’s go for a run!” she raised herself up, snatching the card
from his fingers and slapping it down on the table.
“What? Now?” Les said, looking at the clock.
“Please? You will be back in time to be good for your wife.”
He kissed her instead of answering, “Northern fowl mite, my
She collapsed onto his lap again. “Northern fowl mite, my dear!”
she said into his crotch.
Recommended listening: Echo and the Bunnymen—Heaven Up Here
Les lays his pen to yellow legal pad paper for a letter to his
best friend Perry LaRoche, sometime near the end of the forth
semester, heading into summertime.
Monica and Les, Les and Monica, I realize I didn’t tell you
everything, I couldn’t, it was too hard—listen, in the beginning it
had been late-night supermarket clowning, making homemade eggrolls,
laughing at bad movies, sex at the beach, and people-watching at the
cinema. I don’t need to tell you, I stole her away from that schlub
of a live-in boyfriend (you met him a few times, the computer geek,
Bob), who in later years, I was not allowed to even mention. She
affected queasiness at the mention of all manner of topics, old
boyfriends, old girlfriends (hers!), religion, kinky sex. I feel like
she and I had continued a course of on again-off again dealings,
perhaps best described as indulging one another’s lousier
idiosyncrasies, punctuated by something like grudge-match wrestling
(was there something of a Benedick and Beatrice I was expecting?).
All of that circled a drain of frustrated poverty for the better part
of an entire decade. Ten years, man, was it all a waste?
I think Cicero wrote something about how one in a hundred
marriages are happy ones, and it’s the folly of man that we assume to
elevate ours to that exception, or we elevate the exception to
normalcy—whichever it is I’m now sure we married when we should have
ended things. It had been clear that she was far more pugnacious than
I could possibly be bothered to contend with. But hope was always
that things would get better, like those drivers sitting in stalled
traffic on the highway, hoping the accident fowling things up is just
around the corner and things will get back to normal—a folly likely
etched into mankind’s very genome.
You’re the only one I can really talk to about it. You were there
for many of her outbursts, her attitudes, her carelessness—you even
remarked at how impressed you were with my patience. It wasn’t
patience, Perry, it was emasculation!
She sneered at me to “just grow up” harpooning me with her
disappointment, her arguments. Her endless “I hate this place”, and
her constant, “I want you to hurry up and get done so we can get the
hell out of here!” I tried to be patient, I tried, and I tried. She
threw pots and pans, she called me all manner of names. I know you
and Rachel think I’m overreacting, like there’s some kind of pill I
should take, but honestly, there’s nothing more I can do for her. I
have to start doing something for myself—call it selfishness, it
don’t matter anymore.
You asked what was going on, you asked for an explanation, and
you’re getting a flood. In some ways I need to write this all down
just to have a “Declaration of Independence” version of it.
One of the more painful of her purposeful affronts was her
tardiness. She was stubbornly late for everything. She dawdled, took
up projects moments before she needed to leave for things, then in
the car she was off the leash, an uninhibited Red Queen screaming at
other drivers, and racing through intersections in her rush to make
up the time she’d squandered.
You remember I left my truck behind when we moved. I thought we
could get by with one vehicle it was a mistake. She took great
pleasure in never getting me anywhere on time, nor picking me up on
time from anything. She shrugged this off as unimportant, she just
laughed at my protests. Or worse she denied the reality of the
regular lateness—she’d want to make a fight out of even that. It was
always a no-win situation for me. It wasn’t important to be given a
ride on time. She insisted she wasn’t late anyway, and any
disagreement may as well have been a lethal one. Arguing with her is
like trying to give a cat a bath, going from docile to fighting for
its life in a heartbeat.
On one particularly frustrating morning when I had hoped for some
compliance, and had pleaded with her to drop me at work on time for a
meeting, she was, as usual, busily on her computer printing out
various pages of something she had promised for someone, and
neglected to do earlier.
I’m sure I pleaded, standing there, pathetic. She didn’t
respond. So I went into the computer room, I saw her printing her
crap, completely focused on the screen. “Isn’t there some other time
you could do this?” I asked her, though I’m sure by then there was a
lot of stress in my voice, and of course, she couldn’t be bothered to
respond. I grabbed up the pile of printed material (I don’t know what
the hell it was), and as Monica let out a piercing scream and reached
for the pages, I tore it to shreds. I just tore it all up. I could
hardly believe what I was doing, it felt like I was jumping off a
cliff. She jumped to her feet, and began kicking and punching at me,
she landed a few shots, most of them to my legs and torso. And so I
grabbed her in a kind of bear-hug and yelled at her, “Don’t ever hit
me!” When I released her she crawled under the computer desk and
howled angrily for long minutes.
I was left to fix that, print her pages for her, lure her back
out like a wounded child . . . apologize profusely. It was fucking
pointless, there was no impressing her of anything. She is willing to
escalate the battle well past any decency, well beyond any level I’m
willing to tolerate, and she knows it. That’s the dissolution of the
relationship, the end of respect for one another. It’s beautiful
Some months back we took a little overnight trip out to the
mountains. After a fairly good day of hanging out and driving the
Blue Ridge Parkway, and hiking around Mount Mitchell I was amazed
that it had gone so well. But on the way home we ended up having a
ridiculous argument about some habit she had developed while driving—
flashing her headlights every time she signaled. The signals and
high-beams are on the same lever and a heavy hand triggers both
simultaneously. I was just interested in why it was happening, but it
turned into a screaming fit—I was being accused of everything she
could think of, carelessness, thoughtlessness, meanness, rank
stupidity, there wasn’t anything she couldn’t tie in to being
something I had caused her to suffer. Soon enough, she pulled the car
over, jumped out and started walking down this dark country road (we
had gotten off the main highway as it was bogged down with weekend
traffic, I don’t even know where we were, it was mostly farmland). I
took over driving and was left with the ignominious task of trying to
talk her back into the car. We could not spend even one good day
together without behaving like idiots. There’s nothing in this to
salvage, nothing to enjoy. No future to look forward to.
It’s an alienation practically demonstrated one night, when I,
reading in the bedroom, heard Monica laughing while watching TV on
the other side of the house. I had stopped watching TV with her,
she’s obsessive about those crime drama shows, and every one of them
is some horrible rape episode where some guy rapes and kills a woman
and I swear, during the commercials she just glares at me, like she
expects it of me. Anyway, I heard her laughing, Perry, I had so
forgotten her laugh that I was stunned to wondering who it was
laughing in the other room. I thought we had company for a few
Jorge Louis Borges said that sometimes something no longer seen
ceases to exist. There may be hidden back doors used only by a single
street person that vanish when that hobo dies. I kind of feel like
this little observation fits the diminished spark of whatever love we
originally had. We are done in all but actual admission to one
another about it. It’s too painful to say what needs to be said, I
don’t see the point of continuing the argument. We’ve been living
virtually separated for ages now, we were just occupying the same
Eventually, Monica’s attacks were aimed at my parents. It’s hard
to listen to someone insulting your father because she’s upset that
he didn’t fulfill her wishes, or he made some comment that she didn’t
agree with. My old man had sided with me on the issue of children,
she had been trying to talk me into having kids. Jesus, Perry, that
woman tortures everything—and we’re poor as shit, and she was trying
to to get my parents to side with her to talk me into having kids?
“My parents weren’t rich when they had us,” she said, her voice
rising during a short car trip we all took, dad driving. “We just
made do, it’s not about money!” “Well you have to have some kind of
financial stability,” my old man said, lucky for me he’s as stubborn
as she is. “It’s not about money!” Monica screamed, slamming her hand
down on the back seat of the car. “I’m just saying, that life will be
a whole lot simpler if you can afford some of the primary basics,” my
father maintained, “kids need to see the doctor, and grow out of
My mother had finally provided advise in a rambling, badly
punctuated email which read to this effect, “Get out of that
You know, as I write this, I don’t remember a time when I
witnessed my own folks ever showing one another a smidgen of
Now I come to the more embarrassing aspects of this upset, I lay
on the bed and contemplated, as seriously as I know how, shooting
myself with the Ithaca. It wasn’t really about alleviating my pain,
it was more about wanting to save others the pain and frustration of
what I felt I needed to do. I have no money, Monica allots me about
five dollars a week for afternoon sodas. So I had no idea what kind
of plan I could develop—where could I go? Who listens to this crap?
No one wants to hear about your problems! It’d be nice if there were
plans or advice programs for seriously discussing ending a marriage.
The internet is, of course, full of the goofiest of romantic cult
nonsense, people just want to accuse one another of being cheaters
and generally bad people, there’s nothing serious going on about the
ends of respect and passion.
But I am guilty of fantasy as well. Do you remember that kiss
from my co-worker, Sarah, who was doing the catering at the wedding?
How she’d just mashed on me with closed-eyes, draped herself round my
neck, her tongue in my mouth, all that just moments before I was to
marry Monica under the trees in the park? And you, not missing a beat
said, “Marriages get women hot.” You may have been right. I’d be a
liar if I said I didn’t sometimes think about Sarah. It really was
probably nothing though.
Sometimes I think that what I miss most were the little
expressions of love, jewelry bought, books exchanged, tiny hand
written notes lodged where they would be found, extensive letters of
rambling and beautiful prose, late nights, or warm afternoons waiting
with heart thumping for the curvaceous beauty I wanted to devour—and
whom wanted to be devoured by me—to please arrive already!
I want my hand on the soft curve of a delicate rump pressed
against me as I nuzzle the fragrant hair, and suck her tenderness.
The bed nest joyfully warm, the music playing, disturbances fixed,
routes to satisfaction cleared of the muddling fogs, playful loving
exhaustion, being a child placated, at least once in a while. Being a
beast and carrying the damsel to the lair while she laughingly chides
me, her little fists playfully thumping my back, feet swinging in the
air, satiation – life worth living, emasculation reversed. That’s
what I must be after, no more of this being paralyzed and only
dreaming a paradise I can’t earn!
You know that stupid Forrest Gump movie, where Gump is talking
about how life is like a box of chocolates, that you never know what
you’re gonna get when you reach in and select one—but, if it were all
chocolates, what could we complain about really? I mean I feel like
life is more like reaching into a box that might have chocolates, but
also might be full of used syringes and set mousetraps.
You can’t memorize every possible chess match so that you have
the perfect correct response each time you play. The best you can do
is be the best possible player you can be. There is only extensive
practice, and devotion to the game. And just because you have a
fishing line in the water and hook baited, doesn’t mean you’re gonna
have fish for dinner. I’m out of cliches at the moment.
Who was it said: “The conceit that we know something is the start
of all the trouble?”
I’m sorry this was so long, brother, but there it is.
Recommended listening: Faust—Faust
“Hey boys, are the insects more closely related to Myriapoda, or
Crustacea?” Dr. D asked, his voice a surprisingly shrill octave.
Les had heard Dr. D rolling his chair back from his desk, and
heard him tromping down the hall to them, his mettle was hardened
with the expectation of the encounter.
Paulie-wallie jumped up, “Markus’s recent paper, says Crustacea,
based on eye structure and a number of other larval characteristics,”
in retrieval mode at his filing cabinet.
“I’d have guessed Crustacea based on the tagma alone, and also on
Kukalova-Peck’s hypothesis of the gill leg being the origin of the
insecta wing,” Les grumbled.
“That’s good!” Dr. D squealed, hopping from one foot to the
other, his glasses bouncing on their grandma chain at his chest.
Paulie-wallie located the Markus paper and handed it over to Dr. D.
He never failed to have exactly the right object under his finger
tips. Les fought back his resentment, and the there’s-no-sense-incompeting-
with-him angst. I can succeed at this too—I hope.
Les was suddenly reminded of a time when in the same morphology
class together, Les had scored a respectable B on one of the tests
and had asked Paulie-wallie how he had done on it. Paulie-wallie had
evaded the question by saying “Oh you know, I could have done
better.” Later Les had seen Paulie-wallie’s test paper, absently left
on his desk, with the red 100% written across the top of it, and
snorted to himself, “No you couldn’t have done better.” After that he
never asked Paulie-wallie about anything again, he dropped all
attempts at earnest socializing.
“There’s still some fans of the Myriapoda, even Markus himself
not long ago,” Les suggested, unable to control himself, though it
was a fact.
“I think you’ll find,” Paulie-wallie said, calmly stepping around
the refrigerator to confront Les, “that current Markus paper has the
best accepted phylogenetic results.”
“Oh absolutely,” Les replied. “I’m a big fan of it myself. I’m
merely pointing out that Markus, . . . you know, . . . quite recently
published a paper that showed the sister to the Insecta the Myriapoda
—it’s just interesting is all.”
“So are you suggesting that the most recent work is somehow less
relevant?” Paulie-wallie shook his head. Les could see him preparing
one of his customary “that’s crazy” remarks.
“No, no, I’m just saying that sometimes they go to press too soon
. . . you know, publication requirements and such . . . they have to
present work that’s half-baked sometimes, I think, I mean, . . .
truth isn’t about tenure, or maintaining academic . . . you know,
bureaucracy.” Les waved his hands and stammered a bit, “Markus has a
set gig, he can publish a new paper every other year, flipping back
and forth between the choices.”
Paulie-wallie raised his eyebrows, he shook his head.
Dr. D was deep in the paper, “Thank you, boys, I’ll get this
information over to Bryan right away.”
“Who?” Les asked a bit stunned by the professor’s remark. “You
don’t mean that museum guy, do you?”
“Oh, yeah, Bryan Peterson, he wants to have this information for
the kids he’s talking to at the natural history museum. They’re doing
a kid’s bug day,” Dr. D tromped away, back to his office.
Les felt himself reddening. Bryan Peterson’s Bug Day for the
kiddies, that’s what this was all for. Les had once helped out on one
of these Bug Days and had been responsible for show and tell about
spiders. Instead, he spent most of his day listening to people tell
him they’d been bitten by Brown Recluses. To hear it, you’d think
everyone in the Southeast (well out of the spider’s natural range)
had been bitten by one, though somehow also evading the dramatic
So many people only interacted with nature when they left the
front door of their houses and arrived at the doors of their cars ten
seconds away. If something managed to interrupt them in that short
trip they were usually stunned by it. An unrecognized spindly-legged
creature, hanging from a gleaming thread might give them pause. They
might examine it and presume they’d discovered something unknown to
science. But once a naturalist told them what it was they had managed
to run into, a marbled orb-weaver say, they lost interest. They
realized their fame for the discovery was not forthcoming, or they
were skeptical of the identification. . . . No, mine was a little
different! They might then go on to insist on having found something
that doesn’t exist. Les had had people tell him that adult
butterflies had transformed into beetles, as if just anything at all
were possible, as if nothing were known.
Les summarized: a lack of knowledge in oneself often included an
outward presumption. These imaginative reports were a little like
those casual antique hunters who fantasized locating million dollar
paintings, languishing in some well-traversed flea market—a child’s
“There were something like forty-eight hundred equally
parsimonious tree topologies in that study,” Paulie-wallie offered
quietly from his side of the filing cabinets which divided the
office, breaking Les out of his grumpy reverie.
“So was it a good percentage of those that paired the insects
with the crustaceans?” he could hear Paulie-wallie fumbling with the
paper. “What was his consistency index like?”
“Well, not bad, forty-three, the retention index was seventytwo,”
Paulie-wallie said after a pause. “It’s just about picking the
right trees, the most supportable ones.”
“And add some fancy statistics . . . close enough for science,”
Les said, standing up and heading out for his soda and chips.
“There was a pretty good consensus, well a consensus of the
regions conserved,” Paulie-wallie continued, still staring at a
second copy of the paper. “And he can’t publish almost five-thousand
Why not?, Les thought as he hit the stairs hoping Laura would be
visible in her hip-hugging white pants. It’d at least be honest.
LATER IN THE DAY, Les and Lea worked on her mite project bent
over microscopes on a low bench, side by side.
“I have entirely lost track of the number of software products
I’ve had to learn,” Les said. “There’s something like—not including
the standard office stuff—eleven programs that I’m expected to be
handy with on this systematics stuff. Plus it’s all scattered around
on six different machines, some Macs . . . some Windows.” He talked
while staring into the dissecting scope, picking the little critters
out with a pin and dropping them onto a slide.
“Have you ever looked at the little library in the computing lab
at Lebrun Hall?” Lea asked.
“It just seems to me that we spend a lot of time training in
these various programs, . . . it’s work that’s not ever recognized,
you know, it’s this ridiculous extra secretarial, sort of . . .
“There are all these published manuscripts and dissertations down
there, going back a hundred years. The old ones are really funny, I
mean, they’re so obviously handmade. We could never get away with it
now,” Lea was marking off specimens as she sight identified them.
“They have hand drawn graphs literally pasted into them, with actual
paste. I get that’s the only way they had at the time, but the
reality is it was perfectly fine.”
“That’s what I’m talking about! And then the images, I had to
take that stinking scanning electron microscopy course with the four
hour a week darkroom attached to it, just so that I could learn how
to make proper images,” Les moaned.
“Wait, a darkroom, you didn’t do it digitally?” Lea wrinkled her
nose at him.
“No! The entire course came down to showing them one actual hard
copy picture, which was always too contrasty. I got a B,” Les huffed.
“What’s wrong with contrast?” Lea asked, “doesn’t that help you
make out stuff you might need to see?”
“Not according to them. The mavens who teach the course say that
you have to keep contrast low because as you lose shades of gray, you
lose data. It’s a pain in the ass, you’re always reducing contrast,”
Les said. “I’d go into the lab to show my image, and seriously, you
feel like a child looking for approval, . . . and I get it, . . .
it’s like anything, it’s a type of internship. . . . But still, you’d
go with your one good image and the technician would say, ‘It almost
looks too good, you know what I mean?’ I never knew what she meant.
So I’d reduce the contrast, and that was always better.”
“I’m glad I didn’t have to get involved with that,” Lea shook her
head. “So many people get into these little niches of authority, and
spend their time justifying themselves by abusing people.”
“In class they would love to show pages from the big
journals, . . . Nature, or Science, and talk about how bad the
images were,” Les laughed. “It’s so silly to deal with people like
that, they’re amazingly immature, . . . insecure . . . and it’s just
Lea was smiling at Les sideways her forehead against her scope,
“This is your topic again, you’re back on that passion rant.”
“I just think that much more time should be spent by entomology
students actually doing entomology, that’s all, collecting,
identifying, knowing the insects.”
“And the mites!” Lea smiled.
“OK and the mites,” Les laughed.
“Do you have any idea how often Dr. D makes a back-up of any work
he’s doing?” Les asked after a minute went by. “He’s got reams of
back-ups. He backs up his work every time he makes any change, then
he stores the stinking floppies all over the damned lab. He loses
them all the time, plus he’s always convinced everything is infected
with viruses. . . . His paranoia is-”
“He shouldn’t be allowed near a computer,” Lea chuckled. “He’s
too . . . what’s the phrase? So cautious he fucks things up?”
“Yeah, that’s the phrase,” Les nodded. “There’s disks all over
the lab, all over the offices, in all the cabinets, in the back rooms
of the insect collections, . . . usually they are wrapped up with a
manuscript, but too often these projects go on for years—most of the
really important ones do anyway—and so there’s many piles of these
disks, you know, . . . spilling out all over the freakin’ place.”
“That reminds me, I need you to show me how to use that PATstring
program,” Lea said, referring to the popular phylogenetics
program that Les was the current student champion of.
“Oh sure, that’s another one, it’s tough to remember the
unintelligible strings of commands. You wouldn’t need help if they
wrote the thing properly,” Les complained. “But I’ve got my cheat
sheet in my wallet.”
“P-A-T is phylogenetics analysis tool, right?”
“Yeah, The ‘string’ part is just letting you know that you have
to learn a lot of clumsy command lines. The goddamned thing can bog
down even the best desktops. It can take days for the analyses to
run, and if someone interrupts it, you’ll want them dead,” Les
“Ooh, that’s an issue, there’s only one good computer in this
entire building.” Lea suddenly sat up straight, rolling her chair
back from the scope. Her big dark eyes moved slowly as though she
were trying to locate the origin of a trail of ants on the ceiling.
She had a Maria Conchita Alonso look about her.
“You’re pretty,” Les said with a grin.
“Shut up, I’m thinking,” she said, blushing a bit. But then she
rolled her chair over to him and kissed his cheek.
“Aw, will you put your Star Trek uniform on for me again?” Les
“Will you write me another story?”
“You liked that last one, huh?” Les said happily, “I need to
write myself in there too, maybe I should be an officer–”
“You were in there, in the cave,” she rolled her chair over to
“I forget who I’m talking to,” he chuckled, feeling himself rise
and grabbing her around the waist, pulling her to him.
“You ate me,” she whispered conspiratorially pressing her hand
into his crotch, “you ate me all up.” She let her lips brush his ear.
He leaned his head into her and sucked on her brown neck.
“Si papi, yo se lo que quieres!”
“Did you call me daddy?” he chuckled into her neck.
“Uh, you don’t know anything,” she said, laughing her bubbling
Recommended listening: King Crimson—Red
Les had finally concocted a cowardly method, though, one he felt
inspired by, of telling Laura what he felt from behind a mask of
internet accounts. Something propelled him in between burying the cat
(the poor cat had been missing a few days and turned up seemingly
asleep—aside from the slugs crawling on her face—under the front
porch), doing poorly on a physiology test, and the dying flutters of
his drowned marriage, still somewhat extant, and with all the appeal
of an autopsy.
As he signed his letter of admiration to Laura as E. Dantė, it
seemed to him like something anyone would enjoy, an anonymous fan.
Wouldn’t it be sweet to find out someone thought you were
beautiful, . . . that someone was so moved they wanted to send you a
love letter, imagine that. How many love letters have you gotten?
As he typed he felt groundless, the world spinning out under his
feet, like the Marcello Mastroianni character from Fellini’s 8 1/2—
attached to the kite string, soaring, and being pulled back to earth
a little too late. He had been dreaming poetically, . . . with
transcendent elation. Life hoped much bigger than a simple world of
living just to die (his marriage), political polarization (also his
marriage), TV police rape dramas (his wife’s outlook of him), and
failed physiology tests (career plans panning out). He had felt
entirely giddy and stupid as he hit the send button. It seemed so
entirely sweet he couldn’t bear himself. What he had sent, he
estimated to be an invitation to play. Where is our inner Lord
Byron . . . how can we live always in fear?
“It is nothing for you to concern yourself over,” he had written
her, “but I find you dramatically gorgeous.” Now he was having
nerves, perhaps anonymously telling a woman she’s so deeply etched
into your thoughts isn’t such a fun idea. It started to feel like he
shoved the knife through the rind of the grapefruit he was preparing
for breakfast, letting all the juice leak out onto the cutting board.
“It only makes sense that good ecological niches are full,” Lea
had said to him. “Good people will likely already be circled by other
people, good resources are not laying about waiting for you to find
them, like a bag of money on the sidewalk.”
In fact, wouldn’t it be more likely that people who are alone are
warning enough of their probable propensity toward trouble? Of
course, being in a relationship is no proof of value. “I don’t
profess to know anything about love,” Lea had shrugged demurely. She
was in the process of extricating herself from her second husband,
but despite it she seemed weirdly unable to map her own experiences
and anxieties onto Les. The whole world thinks of itself as unique.
But Les could not argue with her points, the ecological sense of the
argument was a new one on him, and he immediately adopted it.
Was there any point in behaving within the confines of the
oppressive social regimes instituted by people who largely behaved
and thought like children? Were we not the educated? Here at the
university no less. Should we not make the world we wish to live in,
despite the lack of funds? . . . Hilarity. . . . Picasso had three
wives each of them a demarcation of his biggest artistic movements.
Is simply being a good square peg fitting into a good square hole all
that matters in the world? . . . No, goddammit, I am thirty five
years old, I am a grown man, a fist raised! And whether or not these
kids care to accept that, or me, it does not matter. I will live the
way I see fit, and the way I please, and I will do the best I can
with the advantages at my disposal. I will try anyway, and . . . I
will give my spare change when I can to the poor, and I will
encourage my friends toward the arts, and sciences as I see them. I
will make a stand for these things. He interrupted his mental tirade,
cautiously perking his ear—had he been speaking aloud? No, maybe just
the lips moving.
It did not take long for Laura to respond, from two floors below
him, and she did so unimpressed with any of Les’s current psychic
affectations, of course. She was not in the midst of a marriage break
up or a Count of Monte Cristo multiplied by Fellini fugue. She was
curt, and simply demanded revelation. She also expressed concern that
this was just a form of stalking.
Les felt his back getting up. He was reminded of something else
Lea had said about how a pretty woman only has to let her guard down
a little and there will be a man ready to nail her at any moment.
Attractive women have to be vigilant. Their lives aren’t just like
men’s lives. Their world is one of being selective prey, men are the
constant goofball predators ceaselessly bumping into them like
hammerhead sharks in the open ocean, pressing and jostling for a
chance of tasting their goods. Ladies have to pick which sharks they
actually want to be bitten by, the rest have to be skillfully
He tipped himself back in the creaky chair, and found the balance
point. His romantic state evaporated, so many unjustified excuses—so
maybe this was not such a clever way to go about this. On the other
hand was the potbellied desire to say “fuck you!” that sat ready as a
well aimed ice ball. A nostalgic remembrance of a Bill Cosby joke
about childhood. No, thank you, is all you needed to say, Laura,
that’d be just fine.
People were all too ready to be offended and upset, the entire
world seemed joyfully poised for a fist-fight at the slightest
provocation. Screw her if she couldn’t handle his innocent offer of
pleasantries. Everyone seemed so prepared to fire off accusations of
stalking and creepiness. Monica’s cop shows come to life, but with
even more nearly passionate callousness. It’s all so damned
pointless, enraging, fashionable, oppressive. How are people supposed
to find each other, quality people we’re talkin’ here, . . . the good
resources—buy them a beer?
He played with an insect pin as he leaned back. It was quiet. Dr.
D was somewhere, and Paulie-wallie was otherwise engaged. The hallway
was quiet, no professor orating from down the hall.
He knew that he didn’t have the patience nor the self-control to
let it drop. It was a gamble but he had cataloged his desire to know
this girl as a serious life giving need. He wanted a friendship with
her at the very least, and was looking for a way to force one to
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” he wrote, forcing himself like a
penitent into a polite response, “it’s only Les, upstairs. Forgive
me, but I felt overwhelmingly good this morning and wanted to say
something nice to you. And chose what I thought was a playful though
cowardly method. Sorry about that! Sincerely, Les Paul Miller.”
This time the response took only seconds.
“Les! Oh, my god! I was worried that it was Billingsly, you know
that dude? Been here forever, always hits on me. But YOU, You I have
been head-over-heels in love with since I saw you two years ago. I’m
amazed you haven’t spotted me stalking you.”
Les had to keep restarting his reading, he could not imagine that
what he was reading was as good as he was registering. He felt like
his senses were on a high definition exposure setting, he was sure
what he was learning had to be a mistake. Stalking me?
But of course, now that she mentioned it, she did seem to keep
turning up in unlikely places. He recalled her at the run down
laundromat he sometimes used after work, and on her bicycle over at
the gym he occasionally visited. In fact, she was often in view on
She continued, “You are someone I’ve had to control myself around
all this time, like, holy crap here he comes, down the hall, act
Les felt his temperature rapidly rising, his heart pounding in
“I know your name, your age—you’re 35, and I’m 32—and that you’re
married. Bad man. Thank you for your compliments. What can I do for
Les reread the email a few times. And despite his unexpected
elation could not stop himself teasing her, “So you think I’m better
than Kyle Billingsly? Hmmm! . . . I am flattered. Until I sent you
the email this morning I was still not sure of your name, there was
still half a chance I had the wrong girl,” not bloody likely, “as I
say this I wonder if you’ve got the right guy,” he typed carefully,
feeling almost blind and simple with the thrill of discovery and
possible affections. He felt sweat trickle on his forehead. “I am
married. And I am a bad man. But, maybe we can talk. Sometime over
coffee?” Les didn’t drink coffee but knew that most graduate students
thrived on the halitosis causing, oily fluid that left his teeth
feeling coated in machine grease.
Seconds and she replied again, “I know who you are, silly man. I
told you, I’ve stalked you. I’ve made excuses to pass your office
just so I could march by you and smile.”
Les suddenly did recall seeing her do that, when he’d been
working on the email computer.
“I’ve hidden behind curtains and watched you do your laundry.
I’ve ridden my bicycle to and fro when I knew you were there just
waiting for you to look up so I could smile in your direction.”
This also suddenly became memories recalled. These were the times
he recorded in his mind having seen her and imagined it coincidence,
but at least some of them had been planned.
He remembered damned near walking into her on her bicycle when he
was deep in thought, crossing the parking lot near Lebrun Hall, they
had laughed together that time, and he had noted how her stunning
smile brilliantly lit his morning. On another occasion she had
surprised him and Dr. D when they were coming back from a dinner to
discuss some work. Had she actually been cleverly planting herself
like seeds to germinate in his subconscious?
“I can’t meet you for coffee this week, I’m preparing to go on a
ski trip, but I will leave a package in your mailbox tomorrow,” she
This was a little disappointing, but also allowed him to catch
his breath. Les sat back and wondered what he could do now with this
elation. He felt virile, and capable. He flexed and clenched his
fists several times. He recalled the times when waiting for his ride
to work with Lea, he had seen Laura pedaling by on her bicycle, and
she had smiled at him quickly. There had been a few times when as he
left the building in the evening, she had left with him, they had
walked together for a short distance, a bit awkwardly, saying pithy
things and chuckling together. But when was the last time that
happened, it’d been a year or more.
The gamble had paid off, a Bayesian snooker-table ball position
prediction, then a moment of embarrassed frustration—and now a
He stood in the restroom and studied himself under the harsh
fluorescent lights, . . . both skeptical and thoroughly stirred up he
walked out of the restroom, his head sparking with wonder, was it
There would be a package for him tomorrow, A package from Laura
Swain, that beauty! And then he thought, maybe I’m making more of
this than I should. He staggered a bit as he rounded the corner,
bumping roughly into the cinder block edge, ha ha ha, I’m an idiot.