Pique

Nina Ficenec

The tenant in 2C has been ill for quite some time. I expect she won’t return. Any day I’ll get a call from her mother who cosigned on the place to tell me, apologetically, they’ll need to cancel the lease and I’ll tell her, of course, given the circumstances there will be no cancellation penalty and I hope her daughter gets well soon, really, and what a lovely young lady she was or, I mean, is.

I imagine them sending the girl to the Alps for treatment, nuns dressed in white and blue lacing her food and drink with holy water, a vision of the Virgin in the garden, crowds of people throwing themselves down at her withered feet, each one wanting a touch of her frail grace, each one becoming more enthralled, limbs crawling over torsos and reaching out, wanting, clawing, eviscerating, the girl’s consecrated molecules being handed out one by one, paraded and encased in individual lockets, blessed lockets that are modest and sacred, yearly pilgrimages to her pearl adorned altar which shines brightest atop an attainable peak. Attainable because, after all, people need assurances with salvation.

The tenant in 2C painted her living room blood red when I specifically told her she can’t paint the walls. She’s only physically lived in the apartment for two months and it looks like she’s been here all her short life. She keeps pictures tacked everywhere in her bedroom. She has lots of friends. I wonder if they know about her condition or if they think to check the obituaries to see if she died.

She hasn’t. She’s still here.

She wears only thong underwear. Her cup size is a 34-C. Her pillows smell like honey and lavender. She has a cute blouse I think looks better on me. It compliments my smaller breasts and the eggshell looks nice with my tanned skin and dark waves. I take it. Her Ipod consists of radio pop and a few surprising ones like Eazy E and The Cars. I play Boyz-n-the-Hood and pop and lock badly. Her fridge is almost out of wine coolers and I grab one, a green one, and make a mental note to buy a 12-pack later, just in case. I want to ask her mother if I can have her couch. The leather licks my body and I let it. I’ll let it swallow me whole. But now I can’t. Because my husband Alan just text asking what I want for dinner.

U mean ur eating here tnit

Yes shd I brng food

Yes pls

My husband Alan has been fucking his best friend Louis’ wife Penelope for the past three years and I honestly don’t quite mind. I know I say don’t quite mind, implying my honesty isn’t genuine. I guess I should say I don’t mind my husband fucking his best friend Louis’ wife Penelope who is prettier and more accomplished than I am with bigger breasts and nicer teeth and a job with my husband at an environmental non-profit which they both clearly find fulfilling except during those times when I feel like I need my husband. Like when there’s a jar of pickles I can’t open, a casserole dish at the top of the cabinet he can reach more easily than me, or like when I go to the trouble to cook a meal and he says he won’t be home until late. How late?

Vry lt sry

His best friend Louis works from home in computer technology. Occasionally I’ll text him during these moments of solitude and, of course, he’s alone, too. When he texts back I can tell he has no clue.

Shes out fighting for the cause [smiling emoji]

Shes being a superhero [fireworks emoji]

Out with our boy working on the fundraiser [smiling emoji] [hands clapping emoji] [planet Earth emoji]

I grab a bottle of wine from 3A. The couple who live there are out to dinner at a French joint about twenty minutes away. He’s proposing to her tonight. He left the receipt and insurance for the ring in a shoebox under the bed. By the price, I know it’ll be a lot nicer than mine. He makes good money. She doesn’t have to work but does anyway at the college. When I see her at the gym we chat for a little bit about mundane things, most of which I tend to lie about. She’s reading the collected stories of John Cheever and I tell her I’m reading Raymond Carver even though I’m reading Robbe-Grillet and isn’t it funny how when Cheever and Carver taught together they did more drinking than teaching? No, no, not funny ha-ha, but funny as in odd and sad and how many good stories do you think we missed out on from so many brilliant writers because of cancer, yes, cancer, my brother had cancer I can’t remember what kind but he’s okay now.

Yes, so sad. So not funny at all.

Alan brings Chinese for dinner. We eat it on the livingroom floor from the cartons and watch a show about the inner workings of the universe. We don’t really speak much these days, though I do tell him about the girl in 2C.

“You mean the college girl? Such a shame. We should send her family a card.”

“That’s a good idea. Why are you always so full of good ideas, babe?”

He looks at me and smiles. We’ve been together thirteen years and we both look a lot better than we did back then. We’ve grown into ourselves, our bodies toned, his obviously a bit more muscular but I’m better at pacing myself. We work out together sometimes and while he wears himself out after an hour I can keep going for two more. This is how we’ve always been. It’s why I took this job as property manager for this building eight years ago, because we get a discount on the rent and I could manage the bills while he figured out who he wanted to be, while he went to school, to different career paths he ended up hating, real estate, acting, writing, even at one point opening a TexMex food truck to now being an environmentalist who doesn’t even recycle but is still well-intentioned.

I’ll probably outlive him.

When we fuck that night I keep a close eye on his face to see if his eyes are open the whole time. They’re not. While he’s inside me I squeeze as hard as I can and he lets out a low groan and pulls on my hips. He feels erect, but not as erect as he used to, at least from what I can recall. A part of me wants to take him out and measure him, start keeping a record of his erections to chart their consistency. I could group them by season, by work flow, Pen flow, the cycles of the moon. Is Louis fucking Pen right now and is he thinking she’s been wetter before? Probably not, because he’s a fucking idiot.

The building consists of nine apartments spread over three floors. Ours is the street-facing bottom right two-bedroom. When I look out the window from our livingroom I can see Mr. Farmer across the street at his deli checking out two college boys. His husband Mr. Farmer whose name is Dylan joins him and checks out the boys, too. Then they look at each other and laugh, put their arms around one another’s shoulder and walk back inside, flirting and smiling.

One night while Alan was out late I turned off the lights and watched them while they closed up. They were arguing and Mr. Farmer whose name is Dylan stormed out into the night, leaving Mr. Farmer to clean the place by himself. I followed Dylan to the bar around the corner and sat at a high-top near him. He drank gin and tonic with two twists of lime. I ordered the same. He started chatting with the bartender and when they laughed I laughed, when they smiled I smiled, when they watched a bullfight on T.V. I watched with them. The bull and matador reacted to one another like rivers converging and emptying into the ocean wildly, wave swallowing wave swallowing wave, the surface rising higher and higher until the oceans covered all the land and ripped the ground from under me, my legs kicking and kicking but just never hard enough, Alan sinking by my side then remembering he had a lifejacket on and rising happily to the blue sky above. I found myself gasping for air at which point the bartender asked if I was okay and I lied and said my drink just went down the wrong pipe. Mr. Farmer, Dylan, that is, had already left.

I replace the wine coolers in 2C which leaves me three to drink myself. Halfway through the second one I get a text from Louis.

Hey.

Hey

What are you up to right now? Want to grab a late lunch? [chicken leg emoji]

For a brief moment my chest feels like it’s going to crumble before logic kicks in and tells me he probably wouldn’t be using an emoji if it were about Alan and Pen. In fact, he’d probably call.

Dpnds do I hv to rder chken?

We meet at Bell Point Park where every weekday about thirty different food trucks line the perimeter. I order a lamb souvlaki with pita bread from Opa’s Little Greece. Louis orders a meatball sub from Lino’s. I’m wearing my new blouse from 2C with some cuffed jeans. He’s dressed in dark-wash jeans and a worn Jawbreaker t-shirt with a gray cardigan sweater that reminds me of Mr. Rogers. We sit in the amphitheatre where a local theater group is rehearsing a series of Beckett’s one-acts.

“Which one is this, Jeanne?”

A man on the stage is sitting on the stool with a fiddle talking with another man in a wheelchair about women and corned beef.

“One of the Rough for Theatres. I don’t remember which one.”

I hand Louis a napkin and we begin to eat. Louis, like Alan and me, has also gotten better looking with age. His eyes remind me of the sea in winter and are contrasted by his dusty brown hair which looks gold at different times of the day. He and Alan met in their high school Spanish class. Mine and Alan’s first date was a double date with Louis and this girl named Kelly who Louis dumped after a year because “she wasn’t going anywhere.” One would disregard such harsh judgments as premature as none of us at the time were old enough to even legally drink, but Louis actually was normally pretty spot on with his assessments.

The last time I saw Kelly was two years ago outside of my old therapist’s office. She had just moved back to town and suggested we meet for lunch to catch up. When I got to the restaurant she was sitting at the bar already three sheets in while some guy had his hand up her skirt and fingered her indiscreetly. Because I knew how easily it could have been me or anyone else, how close we all always are to breaking down and giving up, because I didn’t want Louis to be right, I grabbed her and pulled her out of the restaurant where she gave me a sloppy but effective right hook and left with the guy. I didn’t tell Louis or Alan about it, blaming my bruised face on my usual clumsiness.

Louis told me that night on our double date that Alan has a tendency to dream too much and I should try to keep him grounded. When Louis started dating Pen around six years ago I told him she’s a keeper and not to let her get away because he seemed really excited about her and I’ve never been very good at judging people.

“So how’s Wonder Woman doing these days?”

We sit in silence for some time while he chews and swallows his food. I didn’t notice he’d taken a bite when I asked. “She’s doing good. Working a lot. Like Alan. That’s why I asked you to lunch, actually. Thought that since they’re spending so much time together why should we sit around alone? No, not that, I mean, I know you can handle being by yourself. We both can. Maybe because we, neither of us had any brothers or sisters. Just sometimes it’s nice to change things up in your routine. I haven’t talked to you in a while. I mean, we text, but, you know. I want to know what’s going on with you.”

I’m not sure what to say. I’m still a little buzzed from the wine coolers. “Well, everyone paid their rent on time this month, which is nice. But one tenant is about to move, or probably will. Illness. 3A just got engaged. 3B’s little girl is taking ballet lessons and pirouettes in the halls sometimes. The woman in 3C has been leaving various literary paraphernalia on 1C’s doorstep. I’ll have to evict her because of it.”

“Literary paraphernalia?”

“Weird stuff, like, um, pages from Emerson’s Self-Reliance folded over a Polaroid of a disemboweled hamster. A copy of Camus’ The Stranger with every other sentence Sharpied over. 3C has been living in the apartment since before my time. It’s kind of sad, really. 1C’s husband is overseas right now. It’s stressing her out.”

“I imagine.”

“A guy, a writer, just moved into 2A and his brother helps him pay his bills. I don’t think he’s published anything, yet. Sometimes when I see him getting his mail he hesitates before opening it, like he’s scared of what could be in there. The woman in 1B is a hoarder and I probably won’t renew her lease.”

“Really? Like on T.V.?”

You can’t even get into her bedroom the trash is piled so high. She receives packages every other day and most of them are left unopened. She hangs all her clothes in the bathroom and takes showers at the hospital where she works as a nurse. One whole wall in the dining room is dedicated to plastic grocery bags hung neatly on row upon row of small hooks. Stacks of take out and cans of cat food fill up every inch of counter space, all though I’ve yet to find the cat. A small path from the door leads to an ottoman in her livingroom where she sleeps amongst piles of clothes and coffee cups and bubble wrap and more boxes and picture frames where the same newlyweds and the same nuclear family smiles and holds one another behind precisely cut sheets of glass.

Louis looks intrigued. I ask him if he wants to see. He says yes.

We take a cab because we didn’t catch the bus in time. I don’t really feel like talking so I look out the window. When we stop at a light, I watch an old woman trying to walk her cat, bits of fur catching the concrete as the cat struggles and hisses, the old woman pulling and never looking back. The driver, a Latino man I’ve seen a few times at the Farmers’ deli with his three daughters, squeezes between a large tour bus and a catering van and I feel like a sardine and tell him he’s like the James Bond of vehicles for hire. He smiles proudly and blows imaginary gun smoke from his index finger. I want to tell him James Bond never did that but decide against it.

When we first enter 1B we’re hit with a blast of warm air smelling of ramen noodles and cooked eggs. Three medium sized box fans are placed randomly atop stacks of magazines to circulate the air. Her air conditioner must be out and she’s too scared to tell me.

“Hurry up and lock the door.”

Louis suppresses a gag as he quietly turns the deadbolt. He takes off his sweater and wraps it around the lower half of his face. He’s hesitant, so I take his hand and lead him through the dining room to more or less the center of the apartment so he can see everything. I tell him not to touch anything so as not to inadvertently cause an avalanche. He says something and I can’t understand with the sweater over his mouth and when he moves it I see his face distorted, pained, a sort of disbelief.

“How does something like this happen? I mean, look at this shit.”

“I know. I couldn’t tell you how it happens. Just does.”

I take his hand again and lead him to the ottoman where we both crouch with our knees to our chests so he can know how she sleeps. His face reddens and he sniffles but I can’t tell if it’s emotion or environment driven or if he’s allergic to something. He stands and maneuvers his way back to the center of the apartment. I follow him.

“How often do you come here?” 

 “Not often. Whenever I feel like I need to.”

The door to the building unlocks. It opens. It shuts hard. We freeze. Footsteps come down the hall, pause, checking the mail, pause, then carry on, settling at the front door. The sound of keys sorting. I grab Louis’ hand and maneuver us as quickly and quietly as possible through the kitchen, past empty pickle and spaghetti jars, past cabinets dotted with food, past the refrigerator whose door is ajar and oozing something sweet smelling onto the laminate, into a small nook in the pantry which barely fits just me. I push us hard against whatever is in there and get us in. The folding door won’t close all the way so I grab Louis’ sweater and place it over our heads and wrap my arms tight around him. We both try to calm our breathing as the door opens.

She shuffles in with what sounds like a bag. We hear her go in the bathroom. I try to get my phone from my front pocket but my pants are either too tight or my phone is too big.

“Your phone.”

My head is pressed against Louis’ chest. His hands are resting on my hips.

“Back pocket.”

I slip my hand around and down into his pocket and slide the phone out. I press the Home button. 6:13. I’m hoping she’s just taking an early lunch break from her swing shift. I relay this to Louis in as few words as possible and he nods. I slip his phone back into his pocket. We hear more shuffling. A television clicks on. The local meteorologist says to expect thunderstorms tomorrow. He tells us not to forget our galoshes. He says it’s going to be a doozy. My eyes have adjusted to the darkness so I look up at Louis. He’s smiling. So I smile. He starts to laugh quietly. I cover his mouth but start laughing, too.

“I really hope there’s no roaches in here.”

“I’m more worried about rats.”

We hear a cat purr at our feet. We muffle more laughter.

My phone buzzes. A few seconds later his phone dings.

Around 9 o’clock 1B leaves. Louis and I go to mine and Alan’s apartment and take a shower together to get the smell off. I carefully wash his hair, making sure the lather doesn’t seep into his eyes. He runs a wet cloth over my back and up my neck. I give him some of Alan’s clothes to wear and place his in a grocery bag. He watches me while I dress and when my shirt slides over my body I feel his hands free my hair from beneath the fabric.

He follows me to 2C and we lie on the couch together and share a red wine cooler that matches the color of the walls. I wonder when I’ll get the call to go ahead and paint it back to white, to empty it out, scrub the whole thing down. I hope the next tenant is just like her. Louis holds me but we don’t say anything. I take a drink. The water in my hair bleeds into Louis’ shirt, or Alan’s shirt, or Louis’ new old shirt and feels warm on the side of my face.

Louis gets a text from Pen and says he has to leave and I go back to mine and Alan’s apartment. I open all the windows. I put on Otis Redding and let the volume drown out the chatter from the street. I make myself a bourbon and water and lay on our less comfortable couch and watch the strangers strolling by, some of them stopping when they hear the music, some adjusting their pace to match the tempo. I don’t know what time it is when I see Alan cross the window. I don’t hear the lock turn. Or the door open. I don’t hear his steps as he walks to the stereo to turn off the music. When he says my name I start laughing at how silly it sounds.   

Netanyahu in Swimwear

Joe Bedford

Nobody assumes that Netanyahu will hold out forever. Eventually, everybody goes. But nowadays, when elections come around, few of us bother to hang out our flags. Bibi’s re-election has become an inevitability; the ballot is a kind of bland, seasonal activity – a family ceremony, best ignored.

He’s been in office now for twenty-six consecutive terms. You’d assume there was a law that even miracles of modern medicine (Bibi turned 130 just yesterday) must be moved on after a century at most... We could, of course, vote him out. But Bibi is 130. It would, at the very least, be impolite.

The truth: Bibi still walks unaided into Parliament. He still commands the same fear and respect, and still directs all debate, no matter what the starting subject, to the borders. Since the West Bank settled cosily into free trade (and the less said about Gaza the better), Bibi looks to the East, to mystery warships floating down from barbarised Europe or to our old conspirators Egypt, Syria, Lebanon. Even the Jordanians get the brunt of it every couple of decades, though they haven’t fired a gun between them since the turn of the century. The war, it seems, will chug happily into eternity.

Everyone counter-Bibi stopped trying to oust him around ten terms into office. Attempts on his life ceased as if in awe of his superhuman age. At some point, Bibi stopped trying also. His election campaigns dimmed to the occasional billboard shrugging ‘Bibi – L’chaim!’ in plain lettering. He began to wear Hawaiian shorts – not just on the beach but in the Knesset and even, by the twenty-twenties, at the UN. Nobody in Israel seemed to mind; he was by now a part of us. The opposition leader (what little left of him) jumped on the swimwear bandwagon, but selected Speedos and was duly embarrassed on national television. Eventually, ‘Bibi – L’chaim!’ was replaced by a clipart image of Hawaiian shorts: an icon of the era.

When he passed the world record mark for old age, and became the oldest human being on the planet, we knew he was here to stay. No point in trying to explain it; physicists have tried and failed. The simple fact is that Benjamin Netanyahu is 130 years old and shows no signs of flagging. Whether its stem-cells or voodoo or yoga I cannot say. The zealots who re-branded him ‘Methuselah’ may not be far off. All I know is that he has made no funeral arrangements. (Naturally, there are controversies. It would be unreasonable, I think, to expect a man of 130 to still have it all upstairs, but then there are those who say that he had been a loon from the beginning. That’s about as far as any detraction of Bibi goes. Even the Hawaiians find it odd for a President to lead a NATO summit in Hawaiian shorts. But here, we have gotten used to being led by someone as clinically-insane as our Bibi.)

It doesn’t overly bother me that he is seen sometimes walking shirtless around the ski resort at Mount Hermon, or that in 2035 he commanded his bodyguards to follow him for a year dressed only in Dead Sea mud. The man is 130 years old. That’s what I expect to see. Nobody is surprised that his voice is all cracked now; his English still shines with a Presidential glean. Even if a good number of his speeches are now delivered in rhyme, or scored for full operatic orchestra, he is still received in reverence all across the country. Most attribute the tenacity of our borders (surviving against all odds) to Bibi’s firm hand. There’s no fanfare about this; we exist now as Bibi exists, comfortably and forever.

As for what the rest of the world think, how can I say? He’s done nothing for the sale of Hawaiian shorts; the surfboard youth that first disrobed in protest on a California beach are now old men. Occasionally I see burning flower-print shorts on the news: a staple image of shouty get-togethers in Arab countries. His books have been translated widely, though his last collection of stream-of-conscience poetry was both too racist and too erotic for the common market. ‘C’est la vie,’ he said, in French, at the last Knesset committee on the future of the war. The BBC call him a dictator, but he’s probably better thought of as a fluke of democracy. He has no need to murder his opponents; he simply outlives them. ‘C’est la vie.’ How else to respond to a 130-year old man in Hawaiian shorts?

It’s possible that he will never expire. The old dictum stands: we cannot know whether all men are strictly mortal until the last one dies. At this rate, Netanyahu may just be there to watch the sun go out.

And if not? They will bury him in his shorts, I suppose. I can picture the day, bare-kneed generals carrying the coffin, dignitaries and war heroes in a parade of flower-print – some sunny afternoon far into the future. Until then we can only watch dumbfounded as Bibi survives critic after critic. I could complain, since I’m currently fulfilling my civic duty down in Ein Gedi. They issued us with surf-shorts for a photo op.; we wore them obediently. He says constantly that he appreciates us, and it’s obvious he means it. I receive my three meals a day; my gun works and I get to write letters. So what does it matter to me that a lunatic in swimwear will keep sending young people like myself for a two-year march up and down the desert every single year till the end of time? The boredom is excruciating, but in a few months I’ll be finished, and then... East Asia? South America? I will travel the world, and when I’m good and tired I’ll come back to this nation of eternal Bibihood, and rest, and be happy. Maybe I will get to shake the President’s hand.

C’estlavie.

The Center of Everything

  Brian Cator

They’re both standing there looking at the camera. He’s leaning forward a little from the waist, hands hidden somewhere behind his back. His suit looks too big for him, but that could have been the way they wore them back then. But I really think he didn’t wear a suit much. His bride is young, like him. Her dress is mostly lace and short with a ragged edge. Her head is down, eyes lifted up. She is standing with a young boy, my grandfather, who looks nothing like I imagined he would at that age. He looks like me.

Grandpa used to say his father, his papa, was magic with a mule team. He said his papa would talk to each mule softly, like it was personal. He said he would talk to them by name, saying “step” to command them, and one would, the one called by name. Grandpa said his father used to hire out to the oil fields where there was a need for a team that pulled precisely. That’s where his papa was most of the time, in the oil fields. It was hard work my Grandpa said. He said that's why he became a cotton farmer, to get away from hard work.

My grandfather’s father chewed tobacco, even when sitting in church where he’d just swallow, instead of spit. When he got older, he had his teeth pulled. His wife would mush up his food for him. Grandpa used to chew tobacco too, but he had false teeth and didn’t need to mush his food. 

My grandfather’s father looks stern in the few pictures I have of him, but Grandpa used to say that he wasn’t. He said his papa used to cut up at parties and want to be the center of the whole thing. There was a big stack of pictures in a box Grandpa used to keep in a side closet. I used to rummage through them at my grandfather’s feet. In one picture, his father is in a uniform. He looks like you might expect he’d look; a little proud, a little afraid and very young. Grandpa said the picture was from just before he went off to war. He meant the first world war, I suppose.

In one of the pictures, toward the bottom of that big stack, I saw his papa trying to make the girls laugh. But, I’ve imagined the girls. Really, it is just a picture of him with his hat sideways, mocking a goofy grin, and winking at someone off camera. Girls, I imagine.

Grandpa used to say that for a long time, whenever he’d be out at the home place and see dust flying up on the road in the distance, he’d look. He’d look before he thought about it. He would see, as he watched, although he knew without watching, it would be somebody else. It wouldn’t be his papa. But he looked. For a long time, he looked.

 

Final Lecture

Gael DeRoane

Good morning, my young scholars.  I would like to begin with a few comments about cloning.  Yes, I am aware that the subject has been done to death in cheesy science- fiction thrillers.   It will soon be evident, however, that I have some rather novel ideas to impart.

For example, let us ponder the sexual applications of cloning.  Their significance, I assure you, is staggering.

Consider owning a fully mature clone of yourself—a “you” that has been custom-designed to be free of all inhibitions.  Curious about homosexuality, but mildly repulsed by the thought of mucid intimacies with a person of your own gender?  Fair enough.  But you might be “turned,” as they say, after dallying with a self-clone, a throbbing, flesh and blood love-toy with textures and smells quite pleasant and familiar.

But who would be content with a clone of oneself?  Imagine a bordello of starlets, raised, through agile intracellular contrivance, to a level of perfection glimpsed only in the drawings of Vargas, the airbrushed libidroids of the foldout, the oiled, rippling torsos of young men in pornographic magazines—and each one ready to please, to perform any act, no matter how nauseous or degrading!  For the ladies, an escort service providing companionable clones of Mr. Tom Cruise and Mr. Brad Pitt.  Disinterment and DNA scrapings from the stars of yesteryear will yield gamboling simulacra of Harlow and Rita Hayworth, broad-shouldered replicants of Bill Holden and Burt Lancaster. 

I see the waving of hands.  Alas, recent troubles have left me in a weakened condition and I dare not pause, for want of energy to carry on.  If I am able, I will entertain your questions at the close of this lecture.

I admit that the idea of putting a nubile screen goddess or dashing matinee idol in every Tom, Dick and Mary’s bed is a pipe dream, for who but the wealthiest could afford such an extravagance?  However, I predict that legions of obscure but achingly beautiful youths will provide budget-priced clones for the average working man and woman.  These young people, often college students burdened by debt (like many of you, I suspect), will gladly trade cell matter for cash, thereby avoiding the indecencies of prostitution, which, sad to say, many fall into as a way of augmenting the meager wages of a teaching assistant or fry cook.  I know this to be true, for I have seen notices in the so-called “Craig’s List” by “coeds” offering massages (“satisfaction guaranteed”), or a good spanking.  And one summer night as I strolled the quadrangle of a campus in Georgia (where I was the keynote speaker at a conference on sociobiology and speculative literature), I encountered a raven-haired boy of nineteen who sat on a ledge, his bare feet suggestively dangling, his unbuttoned shirt revealing a hairless chest and muscular abdomen.  He admitted during our conversation that he was in the habit of being paid by middle-aged businessmen and academics to endure their sweaty palpations and worse. Naturally I took the waif back to my hotel for a room-service cheeseburger with fries, then a shower and a clean bed.  As an afterthought, and with the full consent of my guest, I performed certain measurements and sensory manipulations for acquiring data useful to the bioengineers at Somatech, a company for which I am a consultant.  Breakfast at a pancake restaurant was accompanied by a stern lecture, though I doubt it was taken to heart.  He is, in any case, exactly the sort to attend a cloning center, just as he probably lines up to sell blood during hard times.

Do you see the possibilities? Consider a vacation resort where every staff member, top to bottom, is a celebrity clone.  Rafael Nadal will instruct you in tennis.  Michael Phelps will be your lifeguard.  In a comic touch, Donald Trump will carry your bags to your room.  At the buffet, Gandhi will serve the roast beef.

I’m glad to see that some of you are taking notes, but in fairness I must say that none of this will be on the final exam. 

How many of you are troubled by our modern epidemic of random and serial violence?  Take heart, my darlings, for the cure is nigh.  Yes, that’s right—clones.  

Forgive me, but I must stop for a moment.  It is hard sometimes to continue with my train of thought.  I’ve been having headaches, and my task here is made more difficult by the unpleasantness of my surroundings.  I don’t mean the place where I do my writing and studying—which in fact is a well-lighted scholar’s alcove complete with mahogany desk, journals, reference books, foolscap, and fine writing instruments leaning like a dozen or so miniature Pisas out of a blue ceramic mug—but the university—this university—where I am forced to toil amid whispering backstabbers.  I have, for instance, just now come from the faculty dining room and a session of vapid chit-chat with certain colleagues who bear me no affection and are in all likelihood plotting against me.  

Let me ask you something.  Before you came here, when you were stuck in your little cow-town high schools dreaming of higher education, what did you suppose a department chairman should look like?  Updikishly tall and slender?  Salt and pepper hair, glittering sardonic eyes, tweed jacket and pipe?  Or perhaps stereotypically bald and mutton-chopped with black-rimmed glasses, repp tie, brown sweater-vest.  A bit of a let-down, then, was it not, to find that the lunk presiding over the study of Shakespeare and Swinburne has the massive hands and dull gaze of a hog butcher?  And a drunkard, to boot, his face a mask of sagging jowls and ruptured capillaries.  One’s eye moves queasily away from his poorly shaven, wattled neck.  His white hair, unwashed and plastered to his gigantic head, shines in the dining room’s track lighting like greased chrome.  His jeans, sneakers, and corduroy jacket are preposterous attire for a man in his sixties.  He will bore a listener senseless with jibber-jabber about boxing or baseball, and has an antique crossbow mounted on his office wall.  Manly posturing, all of it, to distract the observer from his true nature, for I have seen him break into a sweat when overwhelmed by the pheromonic allurements of teenage boys.  At a factory-like university in the Midwest he earned his stripes with a dissertation on Hemingway, and later wrote a bad novel in the master’s style, a novel which, I am told, smart-ass English majors read aloud at pot parties, howling with laughter at its pretensions and clumsy dialogue. 

Where was I?  Oh yes, the faculty dining hall.  The lout takes his morning meal every day at the same time, and half of it ends up on his tie.  Today his sergeant at arms (let us give her an initial only—P) sat leaning toward him, hanging on every word.  Conversation stopped the moment they saw me.  Their table was littered with breakfast components: styrofoam cups of coffee, half-pints of milk with protuberant straws, inefficient little beverage napkins, cheese Danishes on paper plates, and a banana with one big bite torn off, its trisected foreskin pulled back in horror.   Tray in hand, I sat down with my chums.  Don’t stop on my account, I said.  Their bright smiles hid their discomfort.

Scheduling problems, said P. 

Fiddling with my milk, snack-cake, and apple, I stared challengingly into her lichen-gray eyes.  Anything I can do to help?  I have an eight-o’clock I’d be happy to trade for something in late afternoon, when the lads and lassies are drowsy and dreamy, and there is an ambient sense of good will and one soliloquizes at a leisurely pace about literary theory, one’s shoe collection, all sorts of things.

No, she said.  I’ve got it covered.

The Chair cleared his throat.  How’s the book? he asked, feigning interest in my annotated bibliography of John Rechy, a work long in progress.

I shrugged, fingering the scabrous pate of my Drake’s Cake, and told him it was coming along just fine, thank you.  Why should I let him in on anything?  I dined cheerfully, then, satisfied that I had spoiled their little confab. 

But there is only fleeting satisfaction in such victories.  The workday still lies before me like a frothing ape manacled to a vivisectionist’s table.  I drag my aging, heavy frame through the corridors of academe amid throngs of lithe, laughing students, a diplodocus among faery folk.  I do my job.  I lecture, I grade essays.  At home, exhausted, I half-heartedly watch an old movie—Breakfast at Nuremburg, Judgment at Tiffany’s, I can never get the titles straight.  While performing ablutions I try not to stare at my mournful face, that sarcophagus of youthful dreams.  Like the Godhead, I have only phantoms to play with. 

As I was saying, the proliferation of serial murder, rape, torture and other forms of abuse has reached epidemic proportions.  I believe the solution is to create special houses wherein sociopaths can enjoy the application of violence upon clones, thereby exhausting sadistic impulses that would otherwise be directed at human beings.

One can thus envision a future very like the Paradise depicted in the colorfully drawn pamphlets of certain religious sects that canvass door-to-door.  A pair of clean-cut young men in suits and ties stopped by my house recently with just such a pamphlet.  When opened and laid spine-upward on my coffee table, it showed a panorama of attractive people sitting beside a lake, traversing a path in a flower-strewn meadow, sauntering through an orchard filled with tame jungle beasts (clones, certainly), and throwing a Frisbee, of all things.

Remove those awful jackets, I said.  For heaven’s sake, get comfortable.  This is rich stuff and we have a lot to discuss.  (Since I live alone, the lads were all mine.) 

They began their spiel.  I listened a while, then interrupted, asking their opinion of cloning.  I was not surprised when the taller of the two, a blond, bony boy with enormous hands, red-scrubbed knuckles, and the hint of some shaving cream or soap mingling with the provocative odor of perspiration, said that cloning was the work of the devil. 

Let me assure you, I replied, my avuncular smile keeping them at ease, that the scientists I have met during my consultations for Somatech have no interest in Satanism.  In fact, I said, many are fine family men who attend church regularly, and the CEO of Somatech was once a devout Scientologist.

Well, said Mr. Shaving Cream, we don’t mean to offend you, but we feel that it is not man’s place to create life, and if you will look in that pamphlet, on page—

Later on, I said, I shall read your material with great care and an almost sensuous languor.  And by the way, in my capacity as consultant I also have pamphletic materials, but I’m not going to show them to you. Not because I’m a tease, you understand, but because they are for the eyes only of stockholders and clients. 

The shorter boy, dark-haired and beetle-browed, had a look suggesting rigidity of thought.  He said they would leave the pamphlet without requiring payment, but must be on their way.

I didn’t want them to go.  You realize, I said, speaking rapidly, that clones are not people.  On that point, at least, we agree, for only God can make a he.  Smiling at my little rhyme, I suggested that we might enjoy refreshments.  I’m a skilled baker, I said, and can whip up a batch of brownies before you can say Merle Oberon.  Are you aware, I continued, that since a clone has no soul you can do whatever you like to it?  I then explained my concept of torture houses.  And this would not be merely for the deranged, I said.  Quite normal chaps who just need to let off a little steam.  Think how the world will change if aggressions normally funneled into business, marriage, and politics are dissipated in the savage maltreatment of gagged, hogtied clones.  What a splendid catharsis!

They edged to the door, opened it, fled to the porch.  Still I addressed them.  You are young, I said, and not yet men of the world. You fail to grasp that even trusty old Jim Anderson, who sits with pipe and slippers and evening paper in his easy chair, while Margaret prepares the roast and Bud and Kathy play at his feet, even he is plagued in the privacy of his dreams by visions that would send a jaded habitué of a Sadeian dungeon howling into the abyss of night.  Outwardly bland Rotarians, I tell you, long for unnatural congress with pulsating hermaphrodites of the infernal regions.  Imagine the anatomical deviations, the supernumerary organs and body parts sprouting from the necks and torsos of clones special-ordered for timid librarians tormented by secret fetishes!

By now they were in their little Toyota.  God bless you, shouted the blond one through the open window of the passenger side.  They sped off down the wide suburban avenue.  For a moment I stood squinting in the late afternoon sunlight.  A terrier was barking at me from across the street, and I felt the beginnings of a headache.

As I gaze upon you I see expressions of confusion and dismay.  No matter.  I have decided that this will be my final lecture.  I am not a well man, and the strain of teaching while under the Damoclean swords of gossip and innuendo has left me unable to acquit myself in a professional manner.  To be candid, I was unaware that I would make this decision before I ascended to the podium.  And now it is made.  Iacta alea est.

Some of the information I have presented to you this morning can be explored in more detail at a website I have constructed.  If you are interested, go to www.manclone.net.

I am looking forward to a long rest.