When he got to Chicago he got lost. He took a different road and this took him far away from where he’d meant to be. In the parking lot of a car dealership he screamed his head off. His cellphone rang somewhere far away, under his seat. To reach his phone he had to climb into the backseat and fish around the floor. He screamed at the floor, at the phone, at the missed calls. His back hurt. He swore at his back. His voice went out. At work the next day he talked softly and economically. He coughed softly, his vocal cords red ribbons chewed on and frayed. His managers thought he was sick again. When he got off work and napped he dreamed about work, about yelling, about the food the night before—yellow curry. The city was a nebluous hell, every pocket full of boiling spoiled meats, the neighborhoods filthy with trash, pulsing with sirens wailing past gaping shop windows. Mr. Bender was in an unforgiving mood.
Goodness, he thought as he drank another. And another. And another! Mr. Bender, he said inside, you should really slow down!
Sitting on the couch there in his underwear in the cold, he found scissors under the rug. Now who left these under here? he thought.
Mr. Bender took his wedding band from his fourth finger. He took a scissor-blade and carefully sliced into the pale skin there. He cut away until he could see the bone, sucking the blood away every now and then, scraping the bits of viscera into his lap.
Now this, he thought, looking at his finger-bone, now this is my lazy bone. Systematically then he searched for others. That night he slept like a battered king.
Wow, Sarah, your wedding sounds awesome. My wedding, however, is a sunrise affair. Guests are required to smear themselves with ceramonial menstrual blood before entering the grotto, and the attendants will be wearing stormtrooper armor. Mark and I will ride up on wolfback, I in a clear body suit encrusted with diamonds at the collar and he in traditional Zulu attire. Kate Bush will perform our vows in Italian and there will be special music performed by a band made up of all of our mothers. Instead of flowers, I will be carrying a bucket full of corn. At the reception we will feast on stewed leather shoes and pineapples. Toasts will be given through charades only, and Mark and I will have our first dance to Justin Timberlake’s “Damn Gurl.” Thank you.
I will provide wedding updates on a day when work was not quite so exasperating. Sometimes you just gotta bust, knaw?
Mr. Bender brought home Celeste to watch Breathless with him. He only wanted to watch the movie. “No hanky-panky,” he said, “you got that?”
Celeste didn’t care either way. Mr. Bender was paying good money for her to pay attention to whatever he wanted her to. If he wanted her to watch some dumb French movie, by God she would, and she’d smile all through it. She’d smile until her face hurt if it meant he tipped.
"No hanky-panky," he repeated as he started the film. "No hanky-panky." He hadn’t said those words in decades. Just saying them seemed to release the vitality of jockish high school assholes, able to cum their buckets at the drop of a hat. He felt so virile, here beside Celeste, watching Breathless, repeating the sacred phrase: hanky-panky.
Celeste was transfixed. To her, actor Jean-Paul Belmondo was a revelation. Her face went slack with longing. She ached to kiss Michel, to taste the cigarrete on his full lips. Actress Jean Seberg baffled her. How did she get her hair so short and keep her face so pretty? Did it take having such a pretty face?
Mr. Bender wondered if to break his loves, he would ever inform on someone. He was no Stasi, sure, but this was different. No politics involved. Could he betray a lover to cleanse himself of love?
Celeste cried as Michel stumbled down the road. When his knees buckled she released an animal groan. “Why—why?” she sputtered. She turned to Mr. Bender. “Why?” she repeated.
Did other men still drink seltzer water? Or was that just classless—like lint-rollers. Mr. Bender sipped his seltzer water pouting. The arc of the continent below seemed pre-historic. No trace of mankind, only the vatic forests and the limbic rivers as still as lead. When the mountains came Mr. Bender fell into a deep sleep. He snored so softly in his sleep.
The lady sitting next to Mr. Bender pitied him. She had an idea that only acute anxiety or a slovenly character produced such low, careful snoring. Her husband was positively sonorous in his sleep. Cacaphonic. Her husband was quiet and focused during love-making but loud and sloppy in slumber, snarling and choking all through the night.
Mr. Bender woke to the evening’s meal. He had dreamed that he was a ball-turret gunner. There were no enemies in the sky. But he had a big gun, and there lived live-stock far far below, and he swept the fields to fell them all. The evening’s meal was steak and salad, with a roll and brie. As he cut into his steak he felt painfully responsible for the meat, as if he had killed the cow and carved the steak from it himself, although he could not fathom why.
For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost my life. —Wilbur Wright, in a letter to Octave Chanute, 13 May 1900.
He was furious that even after inventing the aeroplane, he had to travel by train to reach his dying brother with any speed or assurance. Trains! A tension headache put him to sleep on the tracks between Washington D.C. and Dayton. Flight made the courtesy to appear stolid, unmoved, and handed him a parcel in the dream.
He unwrapped it silently without asking who was the sender. With Wilbur on his deathbed, Flight resigned herself to sending this instant mail between the brothers. Only there were no words, just strange pictures. Curves. Wind. A buzzard’s pinion.
When Wilbur died Orville focused on finances and tried to forget her wings. He tried to distance himself from everyone, really
When he got into the little voting booth, Mr. Bender punched for a straight-ticket. His ballot was entirely committed to the Democratic party. He liked queers and Jews and blacks. He like Hispanics, too. He liked everyone today. When he had finished with that he went to Starbucks and got his free coffee. He had a sticker on his vest to prove that he had voted. He beamed at the cashier. He beamed at the barrista. He loved America. Hope filled Mr. Bender.
In the parking lot, his guts heaved with so much hope. He threw-up on a nearby Nissan. Hastily he left the scene. A leaf fell from a tree and stuck to the sick on the side of his face. This made him laugh. He wore the leaf to the post office.
Ah, the fond memories of childhood. Mr. Bender wondered at them as they passed behind his eyes. When he looked backwards like this, he got a migraine. If he remembered too much, he was bound to spend the afternoon and late evening with his head under a damp rag, all the lights in his room turned off and the fan positioned to blow cool air on his feet. What was there to remember of Mr. Bender’s childhood? The images came as thick as stew, and bitter, or bland, depending where his mind’s ladle fell. Nothing was nourishing anymore. The past, especially, only gave him a massive headache.
Mr. Bender couldn’t stop thinking about his childhood. One memory in particular—or only the crumbs of a memory—haunted his palette (to continue with the previous metaphor). He remembered his father giving him a cookie after dinner and patting his head and telling him, “Good-boy, such a good-boy.” Mr. Bender smiled at his father, at papa, at Daddy, and then looked at his hands. His little fingers were clean but they felt slimy. He licked his thumbs. His father said, “Ah. Ah, what is this? Is my good-boy still hungry for a cookie?” Mr. Bender smiled wide and nodded his head vigorously. Of course he wanted another cookie. His father gave him one and said, “Eat. Eat it up.” And so Mr. Bender did.
Mr. Bender’s fingers were smeary again. He licked them. His father sighed and said, “Still hungry, my boy? Still searching for morsels? Have another cookie.” But his father gave him two, one in each hand. Mr. Bender lightly squeezed them. He could eat four cookies. He was delighted to eat four cookies. But his father seemed unhappy. He tried handing them back to papa, to Daddy.
His father shook his head. “No, go on. Eat your fill, my boy.” So Mr. Bender did.
And he licked his fingers again. And his father gave him three cookies this time, practically shoving them into his son’s face. “Eat them up!” he screamed. “Eat them up you filthy pig! You dumb sow! You fatty fatty little fart-eater!”
Mr. Bender sobbed. He spit the cookies to the floor.
His father went berserk. He shook Mr. Bender. He shouted, “Eat them up! Lick them from the ground! Do this! Do this, you disgusting boy!” And his father imitated the humiliating enterprise of getting on ones hands and knees to eat from the floor.
Mr. Bender marveled at the memory of his father’s big bushy mustache. An acre of the fierce man’s face seemed entirely the property of the dark, lush thicket with the merest tremble of dribbling lips below it. Lips like a squished cherry tomato.
Mr. Bender wondered where his mother had been during this awful time. “Ah,” he recalled. She was getting her hair done. He wondered if she ever learned of this formative encounter. He decided she had not. His head was starting to hurt and he needed to get some reading done.
Mark Greif is consistently illuminating and entertaining. His television analysis (especially from n+1 4, where he digs into reality television) fills me with guilt, dread, delight and a sense of superiority not found since Arendt’s Eichmann and the Holocaust.
it was under a steel gate, dead and rotting, murdered. its face was split open and it looked like hell. he was gone the next day. i was depressed for two days straight. strange things happen when it rains.
2 of my cats died today. what a life. my mom called and left me the message, and then added a curt, “I’m telling you this on your voicemail because you never return my calls.”
Sometimes on the shortest of fall days, Mr. Bender took a morning train into Chicago proper, and there he walked through the urban canyons feeling the heights like suction. All his worries went up, up and away. The South Loop also had discreet massage parlors that he considered frequenting beside the banking men. He wasn’t certain, in all fairness, if bankers also frequented the massage parlors. But it made sense to him.
"One day, I’ll come into Chicago and a taxi will strike me dead." He relished this thought as he went inside the parlor.
How did Mr. Bender find the address? A cybernetic entity on an erotic website forwarded it to him. He thought at first that the whole thing could be a scam. Mr. Bender was a simple man: he frequented certain sites for a quick jerk-off; he didn’t need to develop relations in them. Yet he did develop a certain rhythmic repertoir between certain cybernetic entities within the erotic sites, and among the entities he had developed a culpable amount of trust. As Mr. Bender appeared before the mistress of the parlor he began sweating. His shortness of breath prevented him from speaking.
While having his toes sucked, Mr. Bender stared out the window and began to hum a song his mother had taught him. He had never felt so insensate in his life. He wondered when he might drink until he slept again. “How soon, how soon,” he said aloud. The young woman sucking his toes misheard Mr. Bender and so she stopped and stared ravenously at his crotch, a place as insensate as the rest of Mr. Bender. She stared and stared and then went back to work on the gnarled old potato-toes, bewildered, disappointed.
Mr. Bender continued to hum. Incidentally, the young woman also knew the song. Unconsciously, she began to hum along while laboring over his heel and ankle with her tongue. Mr. Bender and the young woman hummed together for the remainder of his hour, neither realizing they were in harmony.