“I don’t care how reasonably priced the château is,” I said to the realtor. “I’m not moving into a house that is known to contain velociraptors.”
I told them I could no longer take care of the greenhouse, that it had become too filthy and the creatures inside it too unusual. When the creatures heard me tender my resignation, they tried to wrap me in vines. I fled to a hotel room, and thought I was free of them. But I soon realized that an orb-shaped bug had hidden itself in my anus. I yanked it out and shattered it into hundreds of petals. There were two conventions being held at my hotel, one about gardening and one about bondage. I was supposed to go to the gardening convention, but decided the other would be more useful. The leaders of the bondage convention were skeptical of me. They told me that if I wanted to prove myself, I would have to do something I was completely unaccustomed to: sit in the driver’s seat of a stick-shift Volvo, complaining about the baseball team. I sat for four hours. When I eventually became bored, I tried to see if I could wear the brakes out through dangerous maneuvers. A fire engine’s siren annoyed me, so I rammed it off the road. The fireman confronted me, furious, but I noticed he was made of tofu so I just began tearing pieces off him and eating him. His hair was grated cheese.
His fate is sealed the moment I accidentally pocket the keys to his truck. I try to prevent two cats from having sex; they attack me, but I am stronger than two cats. It is 1915, and I laugh with some cousins about how transit in 1915 means I rarely get to see them. A woman is shot before she can make it to the Range Rover. I explain to a moviegoer that an entrance and an exit are really the same thing.
I had been appointed interim drummer for the Sex Pistols. I was dreadful. I ruined every show. I refused to play with drumsticks, would only play with brushes. I insisted that this added “complexity” to their sound.
* * * *
John Cage, Jr. had spent his entire life creating the Melanie. He had never done anything else. I described the Melanie to people this way: It was a metal box, about two feet wide, three feet long, and one foot deep. The outside was a dull brushed tin (though that, too, had its secrets), but when you opened the door of the Melanie, you saw a small cluster of coloured plastic triangles arranged into a star on a bright white surface. When you flipped one of the triangles, they would begin to clatter, producing more triangles seemingly from nowhere, erupting and cascading like a thousand Jacob’s Ladders. They grew in every direction, forming an array of three-dimensional geometries in every colour. Mountains grew and disappeared, arising as much as two feet out of the Melanie. All of the shapes could be flipped in order to cause the Melanie to make still more shapes, or return to its original formation. And all of this was only half of the Melanie’s function (so we thought.) For if you rotated the background, the other side of the Melanie contained a massive, intricate diorama full of wooden figurines that lived their own independent lives. But this half was so detailed and endless that it cannot be described.
John Cage, Jr. had intended the Melanie to be the most precious object in the world. It was.
I do not know how the Melanie came into my possession. But most of my time was spent staring at it, showing it off to others, and then guarding it from their jealousy. Eventually, my brother and I decided the Melanie was not safe in the city, and took it to the beach. That was where we discovered the secret of its xylophone.
The metal exterior of the Melanie was divided into hundreds of small sections, and each section was a note on a xylophone. Deceived by the Melanie’s dull appearance, my brother and I had never thought to strike the segments. But when we did, each emitted a note of such perfect beauty that we could hardly breathe. One did not need skill to play the Melanie; every sequence and combination of notes produced a harmonious perfection.
Unable to contain himself now that we knew the full extent of the object’s magic, my brother shot me in the head and ran away with the Melanie.
“Please,” I said to the owner of the diner. “He’s my friend. And he’s wearing a suit this time.”
“I told you,” he replied, sympathetic but unyielding. “Harry Nilsson is not allowed in my restaurant.” Harry, standing outside the window, made puppy-dog eyes.
“It’s not 2009 anymore,” I protested. “And he has a beautiful singing voice.”
“Give me your cell phone,” said the restaurateur. I obliged. “There, see. Pending criminal charges. I don’t care how turquoise his shirt is, he’s going to beat it.”
For hours, I sat alone at the counter, commiserating with the chef over the death of my friend.
* * * *
I had a beach ball between my legs, and the fitness instructor was telling me to squeeze it as hard as possible. I told him I couldn’t do it. “It’s easy,” he replied. “Just imagine it’s the head of a Supreme Court Justice.”
* * * *
In the hallway, Emma Goldman managed to swindle me out of $1.2 million worth of colourful handicrafts, which I had been appointed to look after. I wasn’t upset about that, but when she questioned my ethics as a documentary filmmaker, the situation became intolerable. Nobody in the dormitory of the screenwriters’ camp would make eye contact with me after that.
* * * *
Biggie and I were robbing a bank, along with a small boy. We went in carrying a cardboard box filled with dollar-bills, and told the bank manager we wanted that much “times two.” But when we came out, the boy realized we had only two boxes on the cart.
“Where’s the third box?” he shouted. “This is just our first box, plus another!”
“That’s right,” replied a nearby security guard, with a satisfied smile. “Your original box was 1. Times two is 2. Two boxes.”
“No, we meant you give us two times the number of boxes that we already had. We’ve got one. Multiplied by two is two. So you give us two boxes and we already have one which makes three! THREE BOXES!”
“Sorry, kid. You asked for two boxes, and you’re leaving with two boxes. You got exactly what you asked.”
The child swore. But there was no time to return and argue, for the police had showed up and begun shooting, riddling the child with separate holes for each of his profanities. Biggie and I made it to the SUV, but we could not save the child, who had tarried too long counting boxes.
In the car, it became clear that Biggie was bleeding profusely from a bullet-wound. “Would you like to go home, or perhaps to a hospital?” I asked him sweetly. “Hospital,” he gurgled.
When we arrived at the hospital, a parade of nurses came out and carried me in with an elaborate musical welcome-routine, leaving Biggie in the car moaning.
“No, no,” I insisted feebly. “I am not the patient!”
“Of course. Do not worry. You must see the hospital director.”
They brought me into the director’s office. He began to prod me.
“Any recent aches? Pains? Troubles? Woes? Can I fix you up with any medicine?” I told him that I needed nothing, but that I had a dying friend. He was entirely uninterested.
“Hang on a minute!” I exclaimed. “This is because I am WHITE, isn’t it?”
The director paused.
They were, however, kind enough to give me a complimentary miniature top hat to place on Biggie’s corpse.
The prosecutor knew what I was up to, and stapled my hand to the desk.
“I may be a prosecutor, but I’m no snitch!” he bellowed.
When he had left, she freed me and kissed me against the window of the 14th floor.
I arrived in a small Argentinian village, and was immediately impressed by its network of underground funicular transit. There were at least two subway stops for every house. When I realized they kept the newspaper stands open past midnight, I knew I could live here forever, though an optical illusion meant there were fewer streets than I had first thought. I bought a copy of the Paris Review, which was running a special issue devoted to Suey Park’s poetry.
Walking into a bakery, I burst into tears. I tried to explain what the reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu meant to me. It meant, I explained as I bawled, that we had given up all hope of not killing ourselves. That everything I loved and believed was despised by others.
When the village talent show came, I was asked to fill in for Ethel Merman, who did not show up.
The Nigeria Bridge was a Gothic bridge, which encased the Pan-African Highway as it traveled across the Niger, one thousand feet in the air. In addition to the highway, behind its windows and spires, the Nigeria Bridge contained endless cavernous rooms and a series of breathtaking viewing platforms.
I had entered the Nigeria Bridge after being warned that Boko Haram was looking for me. The woman who had sold me a hamburger, a fellow American, had bonded with me over the fact that neither of us realized it was vegan. She operated her stand out of the freshly-painted white shell of a Volkswagen bus.
My aim was to get across the Nigeria Bridge to the Houses of Parliament, which were at the bridge’s exit on the other side of the river. But the bridge’s chambers were teeming with bellhops, whose loyalties I could not count on. I ducked and wove through hallways and across platforms, before coming face to face with a bellhop, who winced. I decided to tell him everything.
“I am trying to escape from Boko Haram,” I said.
“You must speak to the Federal Prosecutor,” he replied, and showed me the way out of the bridge.
The Houses of Parliament were filled with elaborate murals, which at alternate moments seemed either like crude cartoons or delicate masterpieces. I attempted to take pictures of them with my phone, so that I could show you, but then realized I was dreaming and felt like an idiot.
The Federal Prosecutor sat amid filing cabinets, in a pale blue Oxford shirt. He was a white South African with ginger hair, though he used “mate” like an Australian. He agreed to show me the parliamentary staircase that people took to get away from Boko Haram. But as we passed back through the foyer, I ran into a tour group, which derailed the whole plan.
The last thing I remember, I was attempting to strangle a fat man who had threatened to give me away.
It was Brandeis Day, which meant that all of the lawyers in Paris were gathering in the stadium. As we mingled with the undergraduates’ families, light entertainment was offered at various booths. An elderly hippie was performing failed card tricks, a woman cried because she couldn’t play the ring toss. As for myself, I paced frantically through the stadium, desperate to find Playmobil. But in the canteen, I was stopped by Glenn Greenwald, who asked if I knew any prison slang I could teach him. I emitted a garbled series of nonsensical syllables, and he walked away disgusted. (That night, however, he would kiss me softly on the lips.)
Later, I ruined the dinner party of some exceptionally touchy French people.
As I ran a series of red lights, I finally realized that I had once written one of George W. Bush’s State of the Union addresses for him. I was overcome with shame.
When I arrived at business school, we were asked to define what an innovation was.
“Innovation is a single piece of glass,” I said profoundly.
In large capital letters on the whiteboard, the instructor wrote GRASS: THE FIRST INNOVATION.
I tried to ride a horse to the coffeeshop but it wouldn’t stop defecating.