Army of Fun

 

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Tuesday, May 27, 2003

 
Even when lashing out in fear it is very poor form to kick a baby. That's today's lesson, and I know it seems obvious but I recently had to relearn it the hard way. I didn't set out to do it, I mean it's not like I was feeling a little anxious and just decided to kick a baby to take my mind of things and feel like a big man for doing so. I think it's pretty obvious I could take most babies down pretty easily, the possible exception being those profoundly obese babies you see every once and awhile in the weekly world news and that's just cause I'd wear myself out punching the cooing, obscene sack of fat before I could do any real damage, so it's not something I need to prove I can do. On the other hand, and let's remember that hindsight is twenty/twenty, it's not like this baby presented a clear and imminent danger to me (aside from the threat of infection some bodily excretion-borne illness commonly present in the burbling little disease vectors), though there was some confusion on this point. But enough with the explanations and excuses, let's move on to the story at hand, and I'll let whoever might be reading this judge for themselves.

Tuesday morning was a morning like any other. I was hung over. I was on my way to work. My hair, freshly showered, smelled of strawberries and papaya. I was on the first leg of my commute, the part that actually involves my legs, keeping up a good pace despite the feeling of thickness in my head and an accompanying hatred of the sun induced by the previous nights typical overindulgence of red wine. Ah, Syrah, or Shiraz, whatever the vagaries of its spelling I celebrate it, from its heady nose to its fruit-to-long-in-the-sun-but pleasantly-so-and-not-all-sugary-either finish (though in truth I really don't care what it tastes like after I finish the first tumbler), and the Persians who gifted us the grape they first cultivated in the fertile hills of their storied empire. Often when in Shiraz' thrall between the first rush of drunkenness but before the inevitable stupor I write poems to the grape, the wine and its cultivators past and present; poems I won't bother relating to you now or probably ever because to a stanza they are all very bad and largely illegible due to the lack of fine motor control that comes with serious inebriation and the ink smearing splotches of purple spittle that come from me hitting the poems' plosive syllables as I recite them to my faithful cat and advisor in the ways of romance, Texas.

So there I was striding down the street wondering if I should solicit Texas' opinion on my latest coffeshop girl crush while the heavens teased me by briefly, blissfully blotting out the sun only to strip the back the shroud of clouds seconds later allowing the sun's rays to torment me to the fullest when out of the corner of my eye, I have extraordinary peripheral vision, I caught a glimpse of something tailing me closely. I stated at the sight but then forced myself to continue on a before. Whatever it was moved in a relentless, inhuman manner and I didn't want it to know that I knew it was there.

I first thought that it might be a vicious, aggressive animal escaped from captivity. Perhaps an Improbably Large and Vicious Mongoose that despite all precautions and safeguards (and note that even ordinary mongooses (mongeese?) are so savagely rapacious that they are normally illegal to import into the States under any circumstance unless they are dead or legless) had managed to burrow its way out of the Improbably Large and Vicious Mongoose Exhibit at the nearby zoo and was now intent on tearing me a part. However, I quickly discarded that idea as nonsensical since I knew there was no such exhibit at the zoo and it seemed improbable that such a mongoose would even exist. Still, what leapt next into my mind was if anything more discomforting.

Some years ago I had fallen in love with yet another coffeeshop girl. A deliciously sarcastic sprite with piles of curly brown hair and eyes that twinkled with all the possibilities in the world behind her stylish glasses. Sadly, while she would give me coffee, naturally enough, and the time of day and even occasionally ask me how I was doing my daily entreaties of marriage were getting me nowhere.

A psychiatrist later told me that a more balanced personality would have changed tact; would have gone in different, les extreme, less absolutist direction; would have in fact avoided the whole marriage thing until a reasonable amount of interest had been engendered on her part.

"Well, duh," I'd said, "I know that now. And, in point of fact, I did change tact."

"Really?" he asked, and lapsed into a silence that lasted for at least five minutes until I realized he was waiting me to tell him how or maybe just to see if I was ready to address the issue or something. I hate when they do that.

"I, uh, sold my soul to devil or at least I tried to," I said.

There was another silence as he tried to gauge whether I was being serious. I was. Finally, he spoke.

"Ah, hmm, and how did that work out for you?"

As it happened, it didn't work out so well, and I can't even say that I wasn't warned.

I'd pushed all of my furniture, there wasn't much of it, to one side of my studio apartment; I'd drawn a circumscribed five pointed star on the floor; I'd incanted; and then nothing happened so I waited; I'd gone to the kitchen; I'd gotten myself a beer.

"Mind grabbing me one of those?"

I spun around. Horns, mottled harlequin skin, cloven extremities, demonic ungenderable genitals...okay, then. I gave him, unfamiliar genitals aside and protuberances that could have been called tits if tits could look like that aside its voice had a timbre I associate with masculinity, a beer.

"Are you the devil?" I asked stupidly or so I thought.

"I'm a devil," he said.

Satan himself, once Lucifer," I tried?

"Mmm, not so much," he said.

"Oh," I said, and I must have sounded and looked rather crestfallen because he started explaining himself straight away.

"The Lord of the Dark Pit is very busy you know. Fixing election, corrupting small-town youth, spontaneously creating and destroying chemical and biological weapons, and Hollywood is just a constant headache. However, I am a fully accredited and authorized agent of the Master with the power to contract any deal as I see fit."

"Oh," I said, "Cool."

"I like to think so," he said.

"Well, then," I started, "there's this girl, Eli..."

"I know want you want."

"Okay then you probably also know that I'd sell my soul..."

"It's not worth it," he said.

"Excuse me," I said.

"It's not worth it," that very slowly emphasizing every word, indeed every syllable which admittedly in this case amounted to the same thing.

"I'm sorry," I said, "I thought we were here to make a deal, you know the standard thing, I sell my immaterial soul you give me what I want here on the material plane."

"I know," he said, "and I'm telling you it's not a good deal."

"See, I don't get that, I mean as a minion of evil..."

"Fully Accredited and Authorized Agent."

"Alright, agent, whatever, but an evil agent. So why do care whether the deal is good for me? Isn't screwing me over part of the deal?"

"Yes and no," he said. I rolled my eyes.

"Don't roll your eyes at me boy," he said.

"Dad?" I asked.

"Don't be stupid," he said, "but I am where he picked it up. Look, we're going in circles," which was literally true incidentally as we'd be walking along the circle that enclosed the pentagram on the floor and I was starting to feel a little dizzy, "and this dialogue isn't going anywhere so let me cut to the chase. First, you're really over-esteeming this girl and second we don't even want your soul at this moment. Don't interrupt, there's still a deal to be made. See, your soul is a melancholy one and we've got too much melancholy right now. We've got melancholy up to here," and he lifted a cloven hand to what might have been called a breast if breast could look like that.

"So what we need for a deal...You're familiar with the theory of humors? You know blood, bile, phlegm and so on? Well, what we're lacking right now in the Fiery Dominion is anger and anger is centered in the spleen."

"Wait," I said, "there's not enough anger in Hell?"

"Yeah, I know," he said, "it's weird, but everyone’s just been so depressed lately. There's none of the passion, none of the fierce joy, none of the fire figuratively speaking, of course, and..."

"Wait. So you want my spleen? That's it? I mean it doesn't even really do anything does it?"

"Nothing important for you. In the sense that you could live without it. As for us, we've got this thing. It's sort of like those plug-in air fresheners except we put in spleens and it generates this splenetic aerosol that wafts about and gets the anger back up to approved levels. And hey, we don't even need the spleen right this minute. We'll just, per standard deal with devil protocol, consummate the bargain at some point in the future. So what do you think?"

Well, I thought it sounded great at the time and I said so.

"Well, it sounds great," I said. "My spleen for the girl of my dreams? What's not to like?"

"Just to be clear," he said, "that's not the deal."

"What? You get something more than my spleen? I mean besides the anxious terror of never knowing when exactly you'll come to collect it?"

"No, it's just...I've already told you, it's the girl. She's just not all that."

"Huh," I said.

"Yes, she's attractive, and she's got a delightful little aspect of evil that endears her to me almost as much as it does to you but she's not, as they say, the one. At least, not for you."

"Oh, I see," this knowingly, "this is one of these little demonic tricks where you set me up to fuck up my end of the deal myself."

The devil in my studio apartment opened his mouth to say something but al that escaped was a little exasperated sigh.

"Believe what you want," he said then, "people always do."

And, as far as the negotiations, went that was that. The actual contract, printed it would seem on some kind of thin leaf of skin (what kind exactly I don't know as it seemed preferable not to ask) then materialized from nowhere like the demon himself. All that was left was to affix our signatures though to my disappointment this was done with ordinary ink and not blood at all. Blood, as it turns out, tends to fade and flake off during the course of a modern human lifetime and in recent years the illegibility of many a blood signature had led to many long, drawn out and, from Hell, Inc.'s perspective, unsuccessful metaphysical lawsuits.

After everything was taken care of, we stayed up, the demon and I, and we chatted for a while. Mostly about what hell is really like I think, but thanks to the beer and all the mystical energy fogging my mind I don't remember any details clearly, and at some point I passed out.

I woke up feeling groggy, wondering if, like a disappointing conclusion to a television program story arc, it had all been a dream. My suspiciously undone belt, suspiciously unbuttoned pants, and a suspiciously placed cloven hoof/hand print dipping below my waistband suggested not but given that nothing seemed missing, or transformed, or mysteriously, additionally hairy (though admittedly in my case this would take quite an addition to be noticeable), the only real way to make sure it wasn't a dream was down at the coffeeshop slinging espresso for some obscenely low hourly wage. Eschewing a shower, why bother if it was all true, I walked the four blocks to the store at a record speed.

I approached the counter. I ran my hands along the sides of my pants. I ran them through my hair. I asked her for a latte. I asked her to move in with me. She gave me the most quizzical look I've ever seen. She said yes.

And, it turned out pretty much the way the demon had said it would, which is to say not well at all. The sarcasm I had thought so delightful when dispensed in discrete helpings became absolutely intolerable when I faced it eight hours a day, sixteen hours on weekends from morning to night. It was about the dozenth time that I heard a deadpan "You call that fucking," that I decided to leave. This, mind you, after what I can honestly describe as reasonably good fucking and given the vocalizations and body spasms, I'm sure she should too. It's not that she was kidding; or rather she was but entirely at my expense and in a mean-spirited way. And, it was the same with everything else; a hundred different takedowns for a hundred different situations; 10,000 lacerations of my none too pure yet still affectionate heart; some familiar to all relationships, some of a character I would imagine associated with arranged marriages which our situation kind of resembled, many no doubt unique to her, bred and nurtured in an exquisitely sharp mind that for reasons unknown (to her) had lost control, hell been enslaved by, one of it's most basic drives. But this isn't Scenes From A Malefically Induced Cohabitation. No, the point is that I left, and that leaving wasn't enough, not by a long shot.

It's possible that may have neglected to mention that the exact form of my proffer to the mephitic minion with whom I negotiated, and thus the terms of the contract itself as I, with trepidation characterized by much eye squinting and a gagging nausea, later verified, called for the woman in question to love me for ever. Was it brimstone or crack I had been inhaling in that devil's presence? Whichever it was, it had certainly compromised the soundness of my judgment; the upshot, or downshot as the case may be, of which was that I could not get rid of her though Lord knows I tried.

When I moved out, the biggest clue you can give someone that it's over short of hiring someone else to fuck you on the sofa, she basically set up camp on my new doorstep. She was there when I got home and it was an odd morning that she wasn't there when I left. So I sold everything that owned that was sellable through ebay, had shippers pick up the pieces one by one until my apartment was essentially empty, abandoned everything I couldn't sell on various floors of my apartment building, so that one day I could simply walk past her endless watch on the apartment stoop and never return. I moved across town. I went further than getting an unlisted number I got a cell phone.

She found me anyway. I don't know; she must have followed me home from work the most obvious method of tracking me down. I knew this had been the flaw in my plan, and so I had spent the month after my surreptitious move inventing ever changing and ever more intricate paths home. Hopping on the el and then a sudden dash at the second, third, fourth stop through the chiming closing doors, up or down the escalator whichever the necessity may have been, into whichever bus was leaving immediately for whatever destination, and then disembarking randomly again and sprinting down a nearby alley before hailing a cab for the last leg of the journey home, or ducking into a bar in that final interstice of my convoluted commute where I'd drink myself silly while splitting my worries between (1) being abruptly confronted by Elise for that was the name supernaturally sear upon the unnamed skin of the contract (in German Gothic script, natch), (2) whether the odd girl at the bar who would fix her glance with mine was a collection agent for the Stygian Syndicate that technically owned my spleen and if tomorrow would be the day I woke up in an unfamiliar room lying on a bloody mattress in acute pain, the spleenless victim of a literal surgical hatchet job, and (3) whether my plainly evident affection for alliteration add a pleasing poetic patina to my literary efforts or were instead an annoying, insufferable affectation. But it was all for naught. As I've said, she found me anyway.

One night there was a pathetic yet vindictive knocking upon my door if a knock can ever be said to be anything other than rhythmic or desperate. Already knowing who it was I looked through the fisheye lens in my door to behold the onetime object of affection standing in the dim hallway looking as conflicted and possessed as she had for the last six months and would be forever hence I suppose. I didn't open the door or say anything. What was the point? I stood there watching her until she turned her back to the door and slumped against it whereupon I did the same thing. That's how we spent the night, back to thick slab of wood to back, her waiting for me, me waiting for her to go away which just wasn't going to happen.

The next morning, sighing excessively no doubt, I quietly packed two bags and exited my apartment via the fire escape in a klutzy, stumbling fashion nearly breaking my leg in a process that would have been funny if the leg in question hadn't been mine. Four hours and many hundreds of dollars later I was on a flight west to a city I hadn't been to in years and with no good plan whatsoever. All I had wanted was love and now I was an exile stalked by a demented lover and with a contract out on my spleen that could come due any day. It was hard to imagine what I'd done to deserve all of this.

And so it was on a Tuesday morning, a Tuesday morning increasingly unlike any other that I found myself stricken with visions of impending attack by beasts, natural or superly so; either way intent on tearing my precious if heretofore under appreciated internal organs from the relative safety of my torso. I swear I'll never poison my innards with booze again if I can just get to work safely, I thought. But that was a lie and I knew it before I had even completed thought. Besides, false promises and sob punctuated whinging wasn't likely have any effect on slavering predators or demons come collecting.

I stifled my impulse to wheedle.
I stifled my impulse to run.
If a fight was what was coming
My opponent would surely get one.

I turned quickly and I hoped unexpectedly, and in a paroxysm more of fear than of bravery I lashed out my foot in a tremendous kick.

And I kicked a baby. Or, more precisely, I kicked a pram or a baby carriage, one of those old fashioned sorts that the baby lies down and has a bonnet that can be and in this instance was pulled up to protect baby from the elements. Though in truth, and just to belabor the point, it would be accurate to say that that I kicked the baby in the same way I could say, well, to be precise I kicked the hammock you were in while you who were in the hammock could say, well, to be accurate I kicked you, because when I kicked the carriage the baby, with a wretched "mwaaa" rose out of the carriage and up into the air. Time, to repeat a useful cliche, slowed to a crawl.

Just as I was convinced the baby would be thrown out of its carriage and dashed upon the ground it reached the peak of its ascent and fluttered, almost gently it seemed, back to its resting place. At which point I would have breathed a sigh of relief if I hadn't noticed out of the corner of my eye, my senses at this point were preternaturally keen, the mother tense up ready to strike.

I threw my hands up to protect myself at the same moment she lunged magnificently, miraculously, easily clearing the carriage, her long, curly, nut brown hair streaming behind her, her hazel eyes flashing with anger and horribly, sinkingly familiar. The long skankish nails embossed with glittering red acrylic hearts, those were new, as was the tattoo (Gothic German lettering (also distressingly familiar) reading Liebestod and entwined by serpentine flames), visible thanks to her haltertop, which ran beneath her collarbone. Oh, she certainly looked worse for the years that had separated us up to this moment but there was no doubt about it. Elise.

And after the lunge, after the recognition, but before the impact, in that slow-fast bullet time moment, I managed to sum up my feelings about the whole situation succinctly if not manfully.

"Oh, poopy," I said. And then she tumbled in to me and we tumbled to the ground in a tumble of flailing hair and flailing clothes, flailing hands and flailing accessories.

We tussled, which her meant that she sat on top of me and punched and scratched and hurled a melange of invective and endearments while I fended off the blows and the raking nails and tried not to roughly to push her off of me. As for the rain of invective/endearment spittle that pelted my face, well, there wasn't much I could do about that short of the left cross I would never deliver thanks to my inability to transgress the somewhat sexist rule that one should never under any circumstances hit a girl. So I vigorously squirmed and batted her hands away especially whenever she managed to grab a hold of my hair since the idea of her banging my poor wine-thickened head against the sidewalk while declaiming her undying, and alas unkillable, love for me was particularly appalling.

It took awhile but eventually she did expend the maddest edge of her mad energy. The pummeling trailed off and naturally we started making out. She because, well, I think I've explained her motivation in some detail and me because it was better than, you know, being beaten. When I thought she was really into it, transported perhaps, tongue everywhere, an absurd amount of slobbering, I tried to make a break for it. She bit my lip drawing blood for the trouble.

"Ow," I said.

She said something incomprehensible less out of love-addled incoherence than that her teeth were still buried in my lower lip.

"Ewise," I tried, "whub a subpwise."

"Hah," she said.

"Bastard," she said.

"Yeah, well, uh…"

"Shut up."

"Okay."

We eyed each other for a bit, warily on my part, on her part…well. Cars whooshed by. I imagined their occupants staring at the tableaux as they passed but I wasn't about to take my eyes off of Elise to confirm that. The baby wailed. The baby! I'd almost forgotten.

"What's with the baby," I said?

"What do you mean?"

What did I mean? Actually, it was a good question. It occurred to me that I should have meant is it, the baby, okay? Shouldn't we, you know, check on it? I mean, I'd just kicked it, but that wasn't what I meant at all.

"Erm, whose baby, I mean, besides yours," I asked, "is it?"

"Our baby," she said, "it's our baby, silly."

Yikes.

"Our baby," this preceded by an authentic gulp. But, come on, I hadn't seen her in like three and a half, almost four, years, and there was no way this kid was anywhere near that old unless it suffered from some rare, perplexing and downright disturbing form of retarded growth, though in the unlikely case that that was true it would probably live to be like 320 years old. I tried to splutter such to Elise but she pre-empted me.

"All of my babies are our babies," she said.

There was absolutely nothing to say to that. Given the entire 320 years of her, our, wholly retarded baby's life span I could come up with nothing to say to that. Instead, I goggled and tried once again to struggle out from beneath her. She smiled a condescending smile and kneed me in the balls.

"Urgch," I said. "Christ, you're even more vicious than I rem-ahck," I started and then stopped saying as she dug her garish nails into my arms.

"Darling," I said trying a different approach. Her eyes if not her grip instantly softened. "Maybe we should check on our baby."

She nodded and slowly eased herself off me, not however lessening her grip on my left arm in the least. She escorted me over to the carriage. Inside was a terribly cute, if plaintively wailing, Eurasian baby. She rolled him over and pulled up his little shirt. As far as we could tell he wasn't even bruised and she pronounced him no softer than usual. I tried asking her about the baby's origins again, this time a little more obliquely. As it developed she'd met someone in her travels (the ones where she was searching for me) who "totally reminded" her of me. They got together for a while "since he was even more weak-willed" than me (like she was one to talk given that her will was totally bent by my nefarious machinations) and amenable to playing J. Fyrste/Elise dress-up/roll playing games. Given that I wasn't Asian at all I didn't quite get how that worked, but I decided that it was better to leave that whole line of inquiry alone.

"So," I said, "what do you want?"

"You, of course," she said.

I knew that, but, but what?

"But what exactly?"

"We're going to get married."

Oh no, we weren't.

"That's nice," I said. "But right now I've really got to get to work."

"I think our future is more important than that."

"No doubt, but how am I supposed to support us if I don't get a job."

"I don't trust you," she said.

"Fair enough," I answered. "How about this? Why don't I give you my keys? House, car, everything. I won't be going far without those. And you can even call my job, verify I work there." I offered her my phone. "You'll know everything. How could I, er, get away?"

She thought about it a second. Then she took the phone.

"Okay," she said, "but I'm gonna call."

"Okay."

She had to let go of me to dial the number.

"Promise not to run," she asked?

"Promise," I said.

I let her get about three numbers in and then darted across the street through a fortuitous break in the traffic. Home free, I thought. Sure, I couldn't go home, or to work, and my car was lost to me, but I figured that even though she hadn't shown herself to be a paragon of motherhood so far there was no way she'd abandon her kid. All I had to do was get across the street and keep running. But, I'd under-estimated her. I'd reached the dead median of the median when she plowed into me with a brilliant tackle. She put her shoulder right into the back of my left knee. As I did an ungainly, unearthed pirouette I wondered where she learned that, and then I crashed to the ground directly atop a water pipe jutting from the ground. Something cracked with a snap or snapped with a crack, whichever came first, and a wave of pain with a whitecap of bile washed over my body ending in the back of my throat.

"Oh god, my spleen."

"What?"

"My spleen. I think I've ruptured it." So this was it, my comeuppance, the settling of my debt in writhing, wrenching pain on the median strip of a suburban thoroughfare. And wasn't a ruptured spleen potentially fatal? Didn't it loose its payload of internal poisons into the bloodstream leading to some kind of toxic shock? Oh, I needed medical attention. And what if they just tossed my spleen into the medical waste? Could my demonic partners get to my spleen before it was incinerated with all the other offal and gore and fats. If they didn't would they want my soul or worse some body part I wasn't inclined to part with. I started crying, tears and huge whimpering gasps just sort of sobbing.

"Elise," I said, "call 911. Help me please."

"No," she said.

"No," I said! She looked at me with a mixture of concern and desire, pity and, and like she finally had me where she wanted me.

"Say you'll marry me."

Now, I was really sobbing, no two ways about it.

"Please," I said.

She pushed down on my chest. The pain was almost unbearable.

"Ask me to marry you," she said.

"Duress," I cried. "This is duress. Whatever I say doesn't count."

"Quit your whinging."

"Oh, god."

She pushed a little harder.

"Okay, okay," I said. "I'll marry you. Call 911"

"You have to ask me," she said.

"Elise, will you…"

"No, wait," she said and dug into her pocket. "This is my mother's engagement ring. Now ask me properly."

Painfully, resentfully I took the ring.

"Elise, will you marry me?"

"That wasn't very enthusiastic."

"Elise, will..."

"Start again. And we'll hear nothing now or ever about duress, right?"

I nodded.

"Elise, I'm in a lot of pain here," I said, but I mustered every ounce of fake enthusiasm I could and said through a clenched smile, for which the descriptors rictus and gritting would be too mild, "Elise, will you marry me?"

"And make babies with me?"

"Yes, as many as you want. Ten babies, dozens of babies, a whole passel of babies, I'll feed you fertility drugs and we can have like seven babies a year for the next ten years."

"No, stupid, you ask me if I'll marry you and make babies with you. And, anyway I only wanted two or three more."

Oh Christ. I seriously considered death and/or eternal damnation, but pain will out.

"Elise, will you marry me and make babies with me," I asked?

"Yes," she cried genuinely ecstatic. She got up and started doing a dance of triumph. A pretty lewd dance of triumph, but at least it reminded me of one of the reasons I'd originally fell for her.

"Elise," I said, "my ruptured spleen." She kept dancing.

"Elise, if you don't call 911 you'll be dancing on my grave."

She toned down the dance a touch and dialed the phone.

"Hello? Yeah, my fiance," said my fiancee, "he fell down and got hurt and keeps going on about rupturing his spleen. Yeah, I don't know, I guess…"

She went on and on, not describing my injuries anymore but about our miraculous engagement and our fabulous wedding to be. She did take a moment out to tell me help was on the way. I sighed with something that wasn't quite relief and tried to will myself to pass out. It didn't work but it felt better just to keep my eyes closed. I figured I'd just do that a lot from here on out.

Fyrste, 10:42 PM