ďWhat this is, is salvation.Ē His hot, dry breath puffed out at me from across the cramped basement room. The range on this guyís breath stench, he could set a world record. He could long-range exterminate legions of flies. God only knows what the guy ate to get his mouth to rot so bad. As smart as he claimed to be, youíd think he could at least invest in some mouthwash. As rich as he claimed to be, he could at least invest is some decent rope.
The rope this guy has, itís the plastic kind. The yellow, thick-stranded kind. The thing about the yellow plastic rope is it hurts like a bitch when youíre tied up by it for any length of time. Iíve been tied up for any length of time. When youíre in a place with no windows, with just those buzzing cheap Home-Depot shop lights, time gets real fuzzy. You can fall asleep and not know if you slept for minutes or hours or days. You can fall asleep, and the only measure of time is how numb your hands are from being tied behind the chair youíre on while your sleeping body strains against them, leaning forward. You can fall asleep, and the only thing that keeps you from sleeping so long that your hands die from lack of oxygen is luck or having to pee. The trick is to drink enough water so that you have to pee so often that you canít sleep long enough to kill any parts of yourself that are tied up. When a part of your body thatís still connected dies, thatís bad news. Once significant pieces of you die, thereís no going back. You sort of lose hope. If my legís gone, why not my arms? Why not my head? Why not my soul? I start to wonder how long Iíd need to be asleep with the rope cutting off my circulation before my soul gave out. For my hands, I figure itís a couple hours. My feet I havenít felt in days.
ďTry to imagine how all this looks to somebody who hasnít been all filled up with bullshit yet,Ē he says. ďTry to picture things without the meaning you were told. See the world through the eyes of the uninitiated, and youíll see what I mean.Ē The things this guy says, with the lights blinding me shining off his big bald high-gloss head, with his swamp-gas words suffocating the poor rats in the cages, they donít make a lot of sense. I just nod a lot, and he keeps on talking to me.
The whole thing is like the ending to a bad spy movie, where the villain is telling the hero all about his devilishly clever plan to turn the whole world into whatever, and you know the hero is listening, biding his time until his triumphant escape, learning how to undo the evil villainís plan. Except this is all in the beginning of this movie, as far as I can tell. And Iím sure as hell not about to escape. You wouldnít think a little thing like pants would help you to escape, but being pantsless, running out into the street is a lot less pleasant. The guy could probably untie me and put me in front of the unlocked door, and I still wouldnít go outside without my pants. Donít ask me why, because I donít know. Something about my flapping balls taking away from the thrill of the escape.
This guy, this smelly lab-coat guy, he looks like a flasher in the park. Heís got that creepy look on his face, his squinty eyes all beady behind his glasses. His short hairy body looks like somebody took a wax doll and heated it up, so all the hair ran down the back and sides, all away from the top, and the whole thing ended up a half-sized freak.
Iíve been in this fucked-up chair for who knows how long. What I know is that my beard itches like a bastard, and I didnít have a beard when I pulled up to this house where I donít even remember the address. This chair, itís got a hole cut in the seat. This hole lets my shit run down into a bucket. I have a burning circle of splinters where the edge of the hole wasnít sanded or anything. It was just sort of hacked out of the seat.
ďThe only reason babies cry is when they know what they want. The rest of the time theyíre smiling. Adults, the only time they cry is when they donít know what they want. The rest of the time theyíre scowling.Ē This shit just keeps on coming. Itís hard to concentrate when you have no pants on. ďWhen we all think like babies, weíll all be smiling all the time. Imagine a life-sized nursery full of bald monkeys smiling at each other. Now imagine a world size nursery of bald monkeys not shooting and stabbing and building and breaking. Just eating and copulating and smiling.Ē This guy is cracked.
This guy doesnít sleep. He has food scattered around this little room, all over the place. Half of it is covered in mold. He eats it anyway. When he canít find any, he goes into a door across the room and comes back with a pile of cans and bags of beans and potato chips and rice cakes and beef jerky. Seeing this guyís diet, itís not hard to see how he looks the way he does. When I was little I had these toys, these Weebles, and what they did was wobble, and what they didnít do was fall down. They looked like goose eggs with heads and no legs. This guy, heís a bald Weeble with legs.
Most of the time, when heís talking to me, he doesnít look at me. This is fine with me, because his death-ray breath is aimed somewhere else. Most of the time, when heís looking at me, heís not talking. Just staring. When heís looking and talking at the same time, thatís when the really creepy shit comes out of his mouth.
ďWe didnít ask to be born, but we can ask to die. They tell us itís wrong to die, so we donít do it until we canít help it. They tell us itís a terrible thing, so we get terrified of it. You donít see dogs running away from a fight; you donít see elephants taking vitamins. People walk around with dumbstruck looks on their faces, for all their smart brains theyíre lost.Ē Here I just woke up. All the lights are out except for the one over us. Heís sitting in another chair facing me, his face in my face. His breath is making my eyes water. Heís so close, I can see the black pores stuffed full of sebum. Heís so close, I can count the nose hairs that escaped from his pulsing nostrils. Heís so close, I can see the face cheese trying to escape its skin prison in all the zits on the guyís shiny head. If his head was gray, you might start looking for the Apollo lander on there, all those craters and lumps.
ďPeople here, they think there has been some terrible mistake. They canít possibly belong here. This isnít what life is supposed to be. Somebody made a wrong turn at dimension X. They wander around waiting for somebody to tell them ĎThereís been a terrible mistake! We took you to the wrong place. Come on, Heavenís this way.í They canít believe they have to spend their whole, only life on a rock that looks pretty at first, until you realize itís the same as all the other rocks, just the dust on it is piled in funny shapes. Being a person who just realized youíre dust, you want to die. But you canít because youíre scared. You donít want to break your dust-pile body. You donít want to mess up your pretty shape, because you donít want to disappear. You just donít know you already disappeared.Ē Sometimes, I canít tell if this guy is insane or crazy. These days, I canít smell his breath that much over the stench of the shit bucket and my armpits.
The box of pizza I brought is still on a table by the door that leads up the stairs. I should have known that anybody who wanted a large Hawaiian with onions and bologna and a two liter bottle of diet Coke was a little off kilter. When youíre sitting naked in a chair with shit running down your thighs, youíre too embarrassed to think about your mother long enough to wonder if she knows youíre missing. You canít think back to the last time you called her, or when you should have called her. When you canít feel your feet, running away isnít a possibility. Crawling away might be.
With a lunatic swirling a bottle of salvation in front of your face and breathing VX nerve gas into your eyes, youíre too confused to cry.
ďMonkeys, they donít jump off buildings when they go bankrupt. Snails, they donít buy a shotgun when their wife cheats on them. Squirrels, they donít rape little squirrels to get their kicksĒ The guy knew his animals.
Hours, seconds, and days later, the guy was lying on a table. He swept all the bottles and vials and tubes on the ground. There were broken things and sharp things all over the floor. He looked like he was asleep. He was there when I woke up. He was breathing really slow, and every few breaths, his ass would take one of its own. Farts and mustard gas breath had filled the room to eye-watering levels. This was in stark contrast to the usual smell of shit and body odor.
Itís not like I have anything better to do, so I try to scoot my chair across the room to the door. So I start humping up and down in the chair, twitching sideways, trying everything to get this chair to move. It doesnít move. Look down, the thing is glued to the floor. Each skinny school-desk leg has a heap of yellow foam looking stuff around it, sticking it to the tile shit on the floor. How I feel right now is I wish I had known that pizza delivery was such a risky field. This is the point where you start making promises to God. You look to trade things for your life, like you arenít being held against your will, youíre just at a swap meet. ďHey, God, Iíll give you every Sunday forever for one quick escape. Shit, if youíll throw in some pants and a shower, Iíll even stop whacking off.Ē God, of course, is out to lunch. Either that, or Heís not much of a bartering type.
Since Dr. Assbreath is asleep, I take this opportunity to cry a little. But only because while I was humping the chair, a giant splinter worked its way right into my balls, and now I canít do anything about it.
Being held captive isnít so bad. I mean, getting raped, being tortured, held for ransom, that sort of thing. That shit you can live through. You can sort of shut off your brain once you know what youíre in for. When youíre locked in a basement naked with a guy in a lab coat, you never know what to expect. The guy has to be holding you for something, but you arenít going to know until it happens.
Waking up several units of time later, my friend is sitting in front of me again with just the one shop light on. Thereís other light coming from a new addition to the room. The hiss of static blurts out sporadically from behind this guyís head. Iím guessing itís a TV. He apparently doesnít get HBO.
ďGood morning Elan!Ē My name is Joshua. ďHow are you?Ē Just peachy.
ďDo you know what DNA is?Ē
I have to consider this a little while. Itís been some time not only since I spoke to a rational human, but since I was in high school biology. First I have to remember how to talk, and then I have to remember how to explain what DNA is. The guy obviously knows, but when a fat guy in a lab coat has you tied up in his basement, the least you can do is humor him and shit in his bucket. ďItís like the building blocks of life and stuff,Ē I manage. I realize now that my breath is just as bad as this clownís. All those years of oral hygiene, down the drain. Miles of floss, all for naught. I can hear the gingivitis eating my head from the inside.
A little creepy smile grows on Docís face, and he starts to giggle. Itís a little girl giggle, and it would be cute if only it were coming out of a little girl. ďThatís right!Ē he blurts, and starts bouncing up and down in his chair, giggling. He reaches his hand out and tweaks my nipple, and this is, to say the least, disconcerting. ďLittle life Legoís! What it really is, is a chemical, Elan. People talk about it like itís a program for a computer, or like itís a little robot that tells bodies how to do things. But itís just a chemical. It just happens to react with other chemicals and make more chemicals and more of itself at he same time. Itís a little virus that infected the planet. Weíre the pustules. Us and trees and dogs and cows, weíre symptoms. Symptoms with symptoms! Iíd write that down if anybody could read it. You and me, Elan.Ē
He scoots up from his chair, and whacks a switch panel, and all the lights come on again. He walks over to the TV, and starts fiddling with the back of it. I try to swallow my tongue. I read somewhere that people can die that way, swallowing their own tongue. Itís harder than it sounds.
Turns out, this dude, he does have HBO. He also has cameras around the outside of his house. He switches between the channels and his cameras, looking for something interesting. When one of his camera views comes up, I can see my car outside. Itís parked across the street from the front of this guyís house. I wince at the number of parking tickets on the windshield. Thereís a boot on the wheel. Looks like some dick spray painted something on the door. Getting all worked up about my car at this point is like dying of cancer then realizing you left the garage door open.
Fall asleep, wake up. Drift off, surf back in. The guy is always in here. He sleeps sometimes now, but heís always got the damn TV on. I wake up and heís in my face again.
ďThe little virus, the DNA, see, it just copies itself and it just happens to make a body when it does. Itís like a pile of dominos when you knock down it happens to make a nifty shape, but it also makes another pile of dominos. But, see, when the chemical got really big and made our bodies, it went way too far. I mean, this is just crazy. Who needs these things running around breaking shit? You donít shit where you eat. Our brains are whatís too far. We know too much. Especially now, we know so much we get bored and break things to keep us entertained. We mess things up to have something to fix, except we never fix it, we just sort of forget about it and go mess up something else.Ē
My beard is itching my neck. The best way to scratch it is whip my head around with my chin down as far as it will go. The problem with this is the snot thatís running out of my nose flies out and wraps around my head, gunking up my hair.
ďThe DNA, its shape determines the shape of the body that it makes out of the dust. The shape, it makes other shapes, depending on the shape to begin with. Shapes make shapes make shapes make us. Elan, I changed the shape! Itís like taking a Lego house and replacing the bottom bricks with Jell-O! Monkeys!Ē
I canít swallow my own tongue, so I use it to shoot some spit into this guyís face. Maybe heíll kill me. Maybe heíll do something besides feed me moldy food and warm water and babble his rancid breath in my face. Anything besides being crazy so close to me. With the little white flecks on his glasses, running off and dripping onto his lip, he frowns. I close my eyes and wait for something, but when I open them again heís playing with his fucking TV. I almost succeed in swallowing my tongue when I see his face on the screen. I wish I knew what was going on, but the sound is in Spanish.
The news show that had his face up, it switches to a shot of some downtown street. This street, itís full of what looks like homeless people, but it must be all the homeless people in the city all gathered into one block. Theyíre all looking around, picking through trash cans, eating shit off the ground that obviously isnít even food. I see one of them taking a piss on what looks like a twenty dollar bill.
The guy, the one in the lab coat, not the guy on TV, he cackles and dances and walks back over to me.
ďMonkeys! Ha! Soon, Elan! Soon!Ē He really had his super villain impression down. The guy was Dr. Claw and Skeletor and Dr. Evil all shoved into one pudgy package.
The Spanish news kept showing the same thing, on different streets. The roving bands of homeless, I mean. Some of them, they were suspiciously well dressed. Iím thinking that this is some kind of homeless gang that robs rich people and then pees on their money. The news show had our friendly neighborhood super villain on the screen a few more times, usually followed by a shot of the police. This makes me happy, because somebody is looking for this turd. When they find him, maybe Iíll still be alive. I have to stop trying to swallow my tongue. Its making my mouth hurt anyway.
This shit keeps going on. News reports, more and more homeless people. I notice after a while that the homeless people arenít talking much. They never speak to the reporters. One thing about the TV being on, I know what day it is, because of that little bar at the bottom of the screen. Turns out, Iíve been in this place for a few months now. I canít feel my hands any more. My toes, theyíve gone black, and my feet are unripe-eggplant purple. My big toe on my right foot, itís bent at a scary angle, but it doesnít hurt, because I think its dead. I donít mind any more. I figure Iím going to die anyway. Or go crazy. Thatís okay.
I wake up one day, and the TV is all static again. It keeps changing channels, but theyíre all static. Each time it cycles through the channels, it goes by the cameras on the guyís house. Thereís a police car in front of the house, but its not running, and thereís nobody inside. The guy isnít around, not in the room Iím in anyway. Thereís somebody sleeping under my car, across the street. It looks like a woman, and she looks like sheís naked. The cameras on the house, theyíre good cameras. The woman under my car, sheís attractive. I look down to be surprised to find my penis looking up at me. Iím glad it still works properly, but this is mixed with frustration because I have to pee. Urine hitting your chin and running down your chest, this isnít fun. Its warm, and its smelly, and its embarrassing. My penis, it doesnít agree, because it stays up. The splinter in my balls, itís burning. Iím pretty sure my sack has been infected for a couple weeks.
I wake up again, later, and I have a big speckled nose right in my face. Heís breathing at me again. He must want to talk.
ďI did it. Itís all done. It wasnít just for the rest of the world. I set them free too. They could never be happy the way they were. Here.Ē
He cuts the ropes, and I slump forward and fall out of the chair. With your face on a guyís shoes and shit caked all over you, dignity is a word in a foreign language. Crying suddenly seems insignificant. My tears wash the guyís shoes, and he keeps on talking. Some point, I try to stand up, and my feet are just soft clubs on the end of my legs. I try to stand up, and it doesnít work. Feebles wobble, and they do fall down. Since I canít do anything else, I listen and cry. The guy, he starts to make sense. Donít ask me why, because I donít know.
He tells me what he did.
He made a chemical that fits with DNA. Little life Legoís. What it does is, it gunks up the DNA. It makes part of the DNA not work any more, and it canít make some chemicals when it mixes around with the junk in your body. Instead, it makes more of itself. So you get new DNA thatís still gunked up, and more gunk to gunk things up. This gunk, itís like a disease, except its not alive, and it can be transmitted by anything. You touch a subway turnstile, presto, youíre gunked. You let some rainwater get in your eye, pow, youíre gunked. You eat some beef from a gunked cow, alakazam, youíre gunked. This gunk, it messes up a part of DNA that people all have, and only people need. The chemical it stops, its some kind of brain chemical. Some neurotransmitter.
With your face on the floor and all the people on the earth gunked, hope is a word in a foreign language.
What all this gunk, this messing with DNA, what all this means is that people canít think. This nutjob had it right. He made people into monkeys.
ďThey will be so happy. Before, their lives were planned, even if they had no idea. Even if they got shot, they probably wouldnít die. They had nothing to worry about. When you have no worries, you canít have any excitement. Before, people, they jumped out of planes. They jerked off in public places. They flashed old women in the park. They searched out little fake adventures to try to fill in the holes. Every day now, each minute is an adventure. They are finally living their lives instead of watching them on TV. They know what first-person is. They arenít detached. Theyíre really, really aliveÖFuck going to the gym, fuck climbing the corporate ladder, fuck rejecting the unwanted, fuck accepting the status quo.Ē
He knelt down, squatting over my head. He whispered.
ďItís just you and me Elan.Ē
I mumbled. I cried, and I asked him if he really did that. I asked him if how he could do that to a whole city. I asked him to let me go.
He laughed. He whispered. It wasnít the whole city, he said. It was the whole world, he said. It traveled in the clouds, he said. It was all in the ocean, he said. Once he had one person, that person gunked every surface he touched, every toilet he shat in, every place he peed. The ocean was crawling with whatever this crazy ass made two days after he let it into the water supply. We were the last two left, he said. The monkeys, they needed an audience he said.
With the world all fucked up and your brain the last one on the planet that works, how you feel is suicidal. With all the world with the IQ of an orangutan on heroin, this is how God must feel. Thereís glass on the floor still, from when this dude cleared off a table for sleeping on. Thereís still pizza on the table next to the door. Thereís still shit coming out of this guyís mouth.
I pull myself across the floor while he talks. Heís watching the TV now. The glass on the floor, itís pretty sharp. I figure I can get a pretty good chunk out of my wrist or my neck or something before he notices. I laugh a little, and he laughs a little.
How you feel with your life in your hand, all shiny and clear, and shit on your legs, and your feet dead on your legs and your balls burning, how you feel is like laughing until you canít breathe any more.
How you feel is like seeing if God is back from lunch yet.
How you feel is like seeing what you can get in trade for your life. It should be a lot, since lives are pretty rare these days.
When youíre tied up in a chair with plastic yellow ropes, it takes a few months for your feet to be dead on your legs, and when youíre crying on the floor, it only takes a few minutes for your soul to be dead in your chest.
How you feel with your blood in a huge puddle around you, and your neck making funny sucking noises, and a fat bald man yelling your name thatís not your name and crying, how you feel is like dying.