Sick Day

Dear Great Great Grandpa.

I know you will never read this letter, because you are dead. You died of heart disease in the year 2043 and I never met you. I'm writing to you because this is an assignment in my level 12 English course. I'm not sure if you had computers back when you were alive, but now instead of going to an old brick building to learn job skills we do it at home on the computer. The computer also makes food, and it's also where you put your head when you want to go to sleep.

I was having trouble thinking of what to talk to you about, because the only thing I know about you is that you are dead and that you died of heart disease. I don't know anybody that's died or anybody that's had a real disease, so I guess I'll talk to you about that. Also I asked my dad about you and he said he never met you, but that he hated his grandpa. That's your son. I could talk to you about why did you raise a son that my dad hates, and accuse you of being a bad dad to my dad's grandpa, but I won't. Because you died. You died when my dad's grandpa was a baby and that's why he grew up to be a sour-puss that was to be hated by my dad.

In the world I live in no one dies from heart disease, because disease has been eradicated. Humans are born perfect and healthy, genetically guaranteed, and live easy lives; never worrying about lung cancer or anthrax or restless legs syndrome. And when someone gets an injury: a chopped off arm or leg, a burnt eyeball, a intestines getting vacuum-sucked out -- we can simply fix it with nanobots. Nanobots are seriously great. They build all of our cities, they eat all of our waste, and they live inside of our brains. That's why we don't worry about psychological scars. When Janice Toaster dumped me so she could focus on running track, and also to date that guy Pete who runs track, my brain told me to be sad. But then the nanobots went to work and told my brain to stop telling me to be sad. Now when I see Janice and Pete running track I just smile, even when I don't really want to.

I said before that I never knew anybody that's had a real disease, and that's true. But I have known lots of people who have had fake diseases. You see, Great Great Grandpa, in the current time, since we don't have illness, sometimes people go to a Sickness Engineer -- which is a guy who designs special drugs that make you feel like you have a specific disease -- and they pay that guy, and then they take those drugs and then they feel sick.

I imagine it might sound strange to you since diseases used to kill everybody, but it's regular for us. When someone wants to take a day off work and relax they do a "Sick Day". That means they stay home and take drugs and feel sick for 8 to 12 hours. They lay in bed and moan and hold their stomachs and heads and drink chicken soup. It's a restorative experience, and the next day they're ready to go back to work and be productive.

The computer told me that back when diseases were free and everybody had them that no one realized how lucky they were. Getting sick was an excuse to stop working or going to school, and you could just lay around wallowing in pain and let your body die. I don't blame you, because I know you had no choice, but if you stopped working and died now, in the present, everyone would think you were an awful person. Like a bum or a thief. Somebody who got to live in society for free and then clock out before they've paid off their birth-debt.

That's why when my dad wanted to take a Sick Day he had to schedule it three months in advance and before that had to make an appointment with the Sickness Engineer to talk about the kind of illness he was interested in having. He thought he wanted schizophrenia or rabies but the Engineer talked him down to getting low blood sodium. My dad asked if he could get hallucinations with that and the Engineer said sure. Then when the day finally came my dad diarrhea'd and vomited a lot and saw evil shadows crawling around the house. It made him really happy.

I think when I get my first Sick Day I'll try the flu, or maybe food poisoning. Those are pretty common for first-timers. I don't think anybody ever does heart disease, sorry. I know it was popular as an actual disease, but I guess it's just not an interesting enough experience to bother with as a fake one. Plus it's one of those things you can't really do in a single day. You'd want to set aside a week or two to get fully into it, and who has that kind of time?

I do know one girl though, a friend of Janice's named Gwen, whose family is super-rich and last year they took an entire Sick Month. Their whole family got cancer of the gallbladder and went through all the stages together. They were all bone-thin and shaking and crying and wouldn't shut up about all the cool lessons they were learning about mortality and stuff. They took staged photos where it looks like a surgeon is removing a tumor from their gallbladder. But that guy isn't actually a surgeon, and they never had any real tumors. One day I saw Gwen at the mall and she was wearing a wig and it fell off to reveal her bald head, and then she bent over and vomited blood. I was so jealous.

But when I think about the time you lived in where diseases were common I have to remember that it's a trade-off. On one hand it would be nice to get sick once every week or so and have a day off, but on the other it would be a drag to get heart disease and then die. I bet if you had a choice you would rather live in my time, huh Great Great Grandpa? But you might not like it. My dad told me that back when you were alive people could take off work even if they weren't actually sick, that sometimes people would take off two days a week even if they felt fine. That sounds crazy to me, and I guess that's why your society collapsed. I think overall it's good that it's illegal to stop working, and that when you take a Sick Day the police come and make sure you've taken your disease pills -- that way people don't abuse the system.

Now the computer is telling me that my dad is a liar and that it's time for me to stick my head inside of it and go to sleep. I surprisingly enjoyed writing this letter to you, even though I hated it. I guess that's the nanobots again. Talk to you later, Great Great Grandpa. I hope you enjoy being dead and I hope someday I will be dead too.

Living In Hell

I'm not going to lie to you man, Hell has problems. Hell isn't perfect. Are there places I'd rather be than Hell? You bet. Heaven, for one. Or even South Dakota. But you don't always choose where you end up. Sometimes you end up in Hell and the only choice you have is either belly-ache and moan about how bad you've got it or buck-up and make the best of the situation.

Again, is Hell my favorite place of all time? No. But do I think about how awful it is while I'm going about my day? Do I cry and carry on about it instead of doing what needs to be done? Yeah, sometimes I do. Very often in fact. But not as much as I did when I first got here.

You might say we "Do things a little differently" here in Hell. It takes some getting used to, I'll give you that. I find myself looking down on the new arrivals, the transplants and gentrifiers, and scoffing at their naive attempts to assimilate. I went through it too, and I know it ain't easy. But it's almost a sacred duty to give these bright-eyed dreamers a rough time of it. A little taste of reality to go with their pre-conceived romantic notions of the place.

Are you going to suffer unbearable pain for all of eternity? No. Are you going to be tortured? Not likely, nobody has time for it. Is some demon going to rip your guts out and wear them as a scarf? Probably not. Depends on the neighborhood. Are you going to be haunted by visions of your loved ones moving on with their lives and forgetting you ever existed? Yeah, but that goes away after a while.

You get used to the permanent twilight, the noise, the sulfur smell. You'll even get used to the food. I can honestly say I get cravings for the rubbery translucent things we skim out of the blood swamp. Dry 'em out, fry 'em in goat fat, pinch of salt. Delicious.

And the locals? What you call "Demons"? Some of the nicest creatures I've ever met. Well, once you learn how to act around them. Obviously they don't like when you sneak past them shivering in wet fear, or like when people wail and scream and run away. It's disrespectful. Would you like it if someone you just met started crying and begging you not to torture them? No, I bet not. You might even torture them just to prove a point. The locals can be a little cruel, sure, but they were here first and if you wanna get by out here you'll learn to deal with them just like they've learned to deal with us.

Once you get acclimated you'll start to appreciate the area. The landscape is amazing, first of all. The Terror Valley, The Lake Of Mercury, The Bone Spiral, The Fear Zone, The Impossible Mountains, the list goes on. And some say if you stare into the sky long enough with its strangely shimmering surface like molten glass that you'll go insane. It's that impressive. But besides the nature spots we've got the best cultural scene around. All your favorite actors, musicians, comedians. They all end up here eventually. There's always something going on, given that we've lost the ability to sleep.

But the most important thing you're going to discover is your own strength. The fact that you ended up here, whether you wanted to or not, and you stuck it out. It can be weird, it can be hectic, it can be overwhelming and alienating and even scary. But you still gotta get out there and do your best. That's all that matters. You're in charge of you and despite whatever might happen you'll at least have the knowledge that if you can make it here you can make it anywhere.

Ant Farm

One of the first things we develop our imagination for is pretending to be God. The actual first thing is imagining how you would act as an adult. You see mom as a giant who takes away your toy and asks you to eat a plate of spaghetti instead of a fudge pop. Even though you made it perfectly clear you want the fudge pop. This is the most important thing you can learn about God and if you don't get this lesson then you'll probably get sucked into religion. God can't be bargained or reasoned with, God operates on another level. You get the spaghetti because God knows something about spaghetti that you don't. Your human wants and desires amount to squat next to the cosmic order.

Of course, you find out later that mom is also driven by human emotions, not some kind of transcendental genius. She gets a lot of stuff wrong, actually. And maybe she gave you spaghetti because you were being a little shit and somewhere inside of her, even though she loves you, she wanted you to suffer. That's another lesson about God.

So anyway you imagine what if you were a giant adult. You would step right over mom and reach up into the freezer in the sky and take the entire box of fudge pops and eat them all. Then you would get into your car and drive to the beach and tame a shark. Then you would make the shark eat all the bad people in the world: teachers, fathers, babies. You would also drink beers because that's what adults do. Adults drink a lot of beers and then fall down and hit their head and blood comes out, and then they yell at each other. They like drinking beers so much they forget to make food and then you cry and they give you a fudge pop, which is great.

But even in your wildest imaginations being an adult isn't enough to sustain you. They have to go to jobs where they have a boss that scares them and they always talk about running out of money. None of the adults in your life do anything exciting. Your dad drives a garbage truck. Which would be cool, except he has to drive it to where his boss tells him. He can't just drive down the street throwing cars and mail boxes and people into the trash compactor and he's never once found a treasure chest full of gold in the someone's garbage.

Adults are powerful but they can't do the things you really desire: they can't ride dinosaurs or fly in space or become a super-villain. So then you imagine that you're God, and you remake the world so that cool things happen all the time instead of never. You create in your mind your version of Heaven. The world is magic and everyone is rich and happy and anything is possible. Eros actualized. It's an entertaining thought for about two minutes and then you arrive logically to the real meaty chunk of fantasy, the thing that will occupy you for the rest of childhood and dig itself deep into your subconscious and color your outlook forever and be a force you grapple with in therapy and relationships and when you're alone and can't just enjoy the nice things in life like sitting in the sun eating a piece of tropical fruit and listening to bland folk-rock.

You get into pain.

The thought of utopia gets old quick. It's hard to figure out a world where everyone's happy.  What would that even look like? On the other hand it's easy to imagine a world where everyone is in constant horrible agony. Entertaining, too! You figured it out young, you little Buddhist. All is suffering. You step into your God-shoes and take back the advanced alien civilizations and the super-powered mutants who keep order, the talking dogs, the shining cities of smiling brainless beauties and you replace them with wars and famine and evil aliens that wear human skins like mittens. You've stopped playing with your toys. Now you roll around on the floor for hours, eyes unfocused, lost in your own personal apocalypse, drunk with power.

It's even better when you have this game running side-by-side with real life. A big lady is in line ahead of mom at the grocery store and it's taking too long. Well, what if she exploded? A big dog scares you, but it wouldn't be so scary if you kicked it into the sun. And then the sun exploded. This is another lesson you learn. The fantasy realm is where everything important happens and real life is gray and slow and impossible in comparison. An earnest attempt to function in this miserable disenchanted world would be like admitting defeat.

Dad loves his beers more than you, but would he love being trapped inside of a giant beer bottle? A giant beer bottle that's being drunk by a giant You? Probably not. Probably he would hate being sloshed around in your giant guts and being attacked by the creatures that live in your belly. Maybe one of them would take pity on the human and drag him back to the village and tend to the wounds he sustained from your stomach acids. Then he would have to live in the town and get a job where he drives a truck down to the butt hole and dumps the village's trash into a pile that gets turned into poop.

I think every kid discovers ants as a reasonable substitute for actual tiny humans to lord over. You dig up your backyard with just your hands, capturing dozens of workers at a time and occasionally finding valuable pockets of pupae and drones. You fill a baking pan with dirt for them to live in, and decorate their new home with geodes and plastic army men and a flag you make out of notebook paper. You smile down upon your kingdom and are proud of what you've created. On the first day God made Ant-topia, and God saw that it was good.

On the second day you get home from school and find the ungrateful little shits have fled your kingdom in droves, and are currently carrying the last few pupae back to their neglectful mother Queen. So you fling the baking pan across the yard and send the fuckers flying. Well, the Garden of Eden was a failure too. So you re-build. A bigger container -- your dead cat's litter box -- and a plan. You line the bottom with gravel and pile dirt high in the center. You place a couple Little Debbie Honey Buns on top of the dirt and grab just a few workers and drop them in.

Meanwhile, Mom is starting to complain. There's holes all over the backyard, her baking pan is missing, and ants are in the house. At night when you take a bath you discover a few stowaways have clung to your body and they float on the surface of the water, dog-paddling. It gives you an idea.

The next day there's a bunch of ants in the little box breaking up the Honey Buns and you pat the dirt down tight around them, creating a gap running around the container. You come back with a gallon of water and slowly pour it. An island nation of cast-offs. Paradise. Ant-lantis. You watch for hours as the workers slowly piece together what's happened. At dusk their tiny dark movements blend into the dirt and dance in your vision like a black flame. A hallucination. You can almost hear them.

The next day you hurry to the backyard and see the litter box empty against the fence. Wet clumps of mud pocked with dead ants and Honey Bun crumbs sit all around it. You tear into the house screaming murder. Mom, what have you done? It's an Ant-pocalypse. Over and over you've been shown to be powerless. Someday you'll come to terms with it. For now, you take a jug of bleach and dump it all over the spot with the pupae and drones. Mom wants the ants gone, fine. I'll do it my way.

When the Queen dies the remaining colony begins a funeral procession out of your yard and down the street. They're going to find a new home. You've never seen so many of them and in such a neat line, about the width of a pencil. For fun you drop a grasshopper and few roly polies on the line and watch them get quickly taken down and swept along like twigs in a river.  They were never yours in the first place, just part of the world. A world you can't control.

When God retreats and allows his stubborn creations to live for themselves, what's left for him? What is power un-exercised? Does he simply cease to exist? Or does he occupy himself with the fantasy that things could have gone another way? I don't believe in God, but I do believe in powerlessness. When the day-dream of control vanishes and you find yourself trapped in real life, it's something you can truly rely upon. Not just for yourself, but your parents and bugs and dirt and everything and all of us. Powerless. Start there and you can do anything.


To the book community,

I want to start by saying I have the utmost respect for your voices, and I am listening. I am grateful for those who have raised questions about my yet-to-be-published debut novel "Death To Goblins". I'd like to clarify a few misunderstandings I feel must be addressed.

I was born in a bathtub floating in the ocean. My parents abandoned me to steal a jet-ski, which I later heard they crashed into an oil derrick, killing themselves and several others. I recall thrashing about in the tub, blind in the sun, skin burned and peeling off, surviving by sucking up blood from seagulls who would dive-bomb my floating prison and crack their skulls against the porcelain. I was found by a gang of pirates who tied me to their mast. I would squawk if I saw land, and they fed me fish guts to sustain me. After some time I was sold to an evil scientist who attached me to a shaking machine that shook me for 23 hours a day. He wanted to test the effects of shaking someone 23 hours a day. I vomited quite often and sufferend braind amage. This was the happiest time in my life.  The evil scientist's compound was raided in the revolution and he was executed for being a brainiac. I was then allowed to go to the work camp, where I broke rocks all day with my head and ate bugs. I taught myself to read by imagining letters, and I taught myself to speak by listening to the voices in my head. Then there was another revolution and the new government chopped everyone's arms and legs off. I went to work in a poison factory, supplying power by rolling continuously on a treadmill. I sold all my teeth to a guard in exchange for a book -- Harry Potter -- and that's when I fell in love with literature. Before I could finish the first chapter, however, war broke out. The ruling government had raised poison prices, and an international coalition led by the United States demanded regime change. Our military leaders refused to back down and so the country was bombed into oblivion and I was buried in rubble. Six months later my charred body was extracted by a cleanup crew and I was dissected as part of a lesson for medical students. I felt someone poking my liver and began howling. They were shocked to discover I was still alive. I was then imprisoned for my role in the poison industry.

I wrote a poem on the wall of my closet-sized cell using my own blood. It was this poem that caught the eye of Lars Mancandle, the famous literary agent, and he quickly arranged for my release. I was flown to New York City and signed a forty-six book deal and put to work writing Young Adult fiction from morning to midnight. I finished "Death To Goblins" in three weeks, which is considered an average amount of time to spend writing a YA novel, as to my understanding they are not meant to be good. Unfortunately, since YA novels do not go through an editorial or even spell-checking process the advance review copies my publisher sent out contained material which drew reasonable criticism and concern. I regret that my writing has caused alarm and pain in the YA author community, and I'll briefly try to elucidate some of my questionable creative choices.

Firstly, I regret my decision to base the novel around the conquest and subjugation of the Goblins. I want to state emphatically that the Goblins do not represent any real existing race or nationality. In the excerpted selections floating around Twitter there are descriptions of Goblins being shoved into mass graves, Goblins being fed into giant metal teeth, Goblins being launched into the sun. These sections make up a small minority of the finished novel, which mainly focuses on the young girl hero Solstice and her journey of self-discovery, as well as her gradual development into the world's best Goblin killer.

Some reviewers felt the story was one-sided and could have included a sympathetic Goblin character; that a Goblin perspective would have been refreshing between the scenes of slaughter and destruction in the Goblin homeland. I can also understand how the fifteen page anti-Goblin rant in Chapter 4 might have seemed out of place. My intention was to show that Solstice's desire to become the world's greatest Goblin killer was fueled by how awful, nasty, strange and irredeemably bad the Goblins are.

Additionally, I've seen understandable and indeed helpful negative feedback regarding Rory, Solstice's romantic interest. In particular, many readers found the scene where his arms and legs were cut off to be quite problematic. As I stated above, something very similar happened to me in real life and I myself am a quadruple amputee. I respect that there are those in the community who feel the scene is too graphic for a YA novel, and I share their concern. No child should have to suffer the thought of losing their arms and legs. Others remarked that Rory appeared to struggle "excessively" following the loss of his limbs and that the character might be hurtful to the quadruple amputee community. Here I can only emphasize that Rory's portrayal draws on my own personal experiences and that in no way did I intend for him to represent all arm-and-legless persons, whose stories are as diverse and complex as anyone's. Later in the novel Rory overcomes his self-doubt when he uses his mouth to pilot a giant battle mech and wipe out several thousand fleeing Goblins.

Finally, although I haven't yet received any comments regarding this particular issue, I feel I should say something for the record: at the time of writing I did not know there was actual country called "Australia". It's no excuse that I lack a formal education, I simply should have done the research. If I had, I would not have located the Goblin society there. I'd heard the name Australia before and assumed it was a kind of Atlantis or Land of Oz -- a fictional country with fantastical creatures such as the kangaroo or the crocodile hunter. It's unfortunate that in my novel I used the word Australian interchangeably with Goblin, resulting in long passages where my young heroine dismembers and tortures Australians, razes Australian villages, rants against the Australian menace, and stomps to death unborn Australians in their larval stage. Strangely, no one has seemed to notice this. It might just be a minor enough problem that no one felt the need to point it out.

In response to these problems my publisher and I have decided to delay the novel's release, which will allow me time to correct errors and re-work plot elements. Instead of Goblins, the evil creatures will be called "Orcs". Instead of having no arms or legs, Rory will struggle with seasonal depression. Instead of Australia the conquest will take place in a nameless country located to the south of Indonesia which happens to share some characteristics with Australia. We hope to release the updated novel in the very near future, as it is the first in a series of seven and the movie adaptation starring Natalie Dyer, Ansel Elgort and Vin Diesel is already in production with a planned world-wide release next Summer.

In the meantime my sophomore novel, already finished, is about the daughter of a powerful wizard who uses magic to dominate the competitive eating scene.


Hey Kim, you might not remember me but we met in 2010 at Ryan and Shannon's party in the off-campus student housing complex. The newly constructed cheap one with the loud stairwells and weird chemical smell everywhere and the small crappy pool that guy dropped a plate of hot wings in. Remember that? I think you were at that party too, but I avoided talking to you because that was later on. The plate of hot wings was drenched in sauce and the whole top layer of the pool was grease and orange clumps, kind of reminding me of how drowning ants cling together, and for some reason the chicken pieces floated, which everybody tried to figure out in a science way and then Ryan did a cannonball into the pool and splashed everyone with the sauce-water and people yelled at him and then he got some of the sauce in his eyes and needed help getting out the pool and by the time he did he'd swallowed a lot of water and he puked in the beach volleyball court next to the BBQ pit.

Anyway, I've recently been on a bit of a self-improvement kick and I just finished this amazing book called "It's Okay To Be Strong". The hypothesis is that in our society nowadays we teach people to be weak and passive as a way of narcotizing them against the brutal antagonistic forces of modern life. Otherwise they might flip out and start punching the Quiznos sandwich boy for example. For most people this indoctrination works fine, because deep down they actually are weak and passive. But for people who deep down are secretly strong and powerful, this coward-worshipping culture makes them sick. It gives them anxiety because they're always worried they're going to hurt someone and depression from pretending to be weak their entire lives. This has been my problem, basically.

I remember this time when I was a kid I was playing in the backyard and randomly decided to see how high I could throw this dirt-clump into the sky. I have no idea how it happened, I wasn't aiming at anything in particular, but the dirt-clump came down into the neighbor's yard and cracked Big Sheryl on the head. I called the neighbor lady Big Sheryl because she was big and my mom had a skinny friend who was already named Sheryl. Big Sheryl cried and screamed like a baby, I guess the dirt-clump was mostly rock, and I felt awful. I unfortunately learned that day that if I acted without thinking I could hurt someone, and if I hurt someone I would feel bad, and so I subconsciously started to act like a "Passive Pete". That's from the book.

Part of the process of unlocking my "Inner Hercules" involves revisiting incidents in my life where I felt I'd done something wrong. Things I can't let go of and find myself returning to in my head. The time I met you, Kim, is one of those times. Shannon was playing dash-cam videos from Russia of cars mowing down pedestrians and I left the room and found you in the kitchen. At that point in my life I was really interested in cheating on my girlfriend, I'm not sure why. I think I was just worried that if I didn't cheat on this girlfriend now that I might never get the chance to cheat on a future girlfriend, because it's a different thing when you cheat as a middle-aged guy as opposed to as a college student.

So I started to talk to you before I realized I had nothing to talk about and you weren't very interested. We talked about what classes we were taking, which meant the conversation was failing. Then you said you haven't had Biology yet. I said Biology is pretty interesting actually, and you said "Is it?" I guess I didn't expect you to say that and I kind of freaked out, internally. Also I drank about six cups of coffee earlier. I was jittery and I felt like I had to justify Biology being interesting and so I said Well yeah for example did you know that bacteria and humans share 99% of their genetic material. That's how it started, was I said something that didn't make sense and then you asked me about it and I just kept talking.

I said that bacteria and humans co-evolved in a kind of genetic nuclear-arms race, and that before bacteria humans were two-feet tall and only ate bugs. I said that scientists now agree that bacteria isn't harmful, but actually seeks to improve our species by killing off our weaker members. It's like how crops grow better after a controlled burn. Bacteria is interesting in strengthening us because they use us as vessels, so the more resilient the human body the better. It's like doing home-improvement.

Bacteria made us who we are and still contributes to society in ways you wouldn't expect; like for example did you know gasoline is actually a bacterial waste product? Did you know space shuttles are coated in heat-resistant bacteria to keep them from exploding in the atmosphere? Did you know modern super-computers don't use microchips, but instead are just tanks filled with bacteria? Yeah, scientists come up with complex equations, convert them into a string of genetic code, and then inject that code into the tank and observe how the bacteria respond to it. Most guys working at Google are doing this. You looked confused, so I kept talking.

The current problem, I said, was between two warring groups of scientists. It started in the late 80's, when Norwegian researchers genetically altered ancient bacteria to birth a new life-form, dubbed "The Anti-Sickness". This man-made, Frankensteinian creation would not only kill and consume any and all bacteria it came in contact with, but it could also multiply and spread like a bacteria. This meant, simply, that once unleashed The Anti-Sickness would wipe out all bacteria on Earth. The Norwegians wanted to introduce it into the wild immediately and usher in a new era where humans can thrive without the threat of bacterial disease; but ethical biologists from around the globe demanded they destroy their invention. The world would be a radically different place without bacteria, they claimed, and there's no way of calculating the possibly catastrophic repercussions. The Norwegians insisted on going ahead with their plan, and in 1991, just days before the launch of their creation, the experimental genetics research center in Oslo was bombed by a pro-bacteria extremist. A dozen scientists died and the sole batch of Anti-Sickness was consumed in flames. The few surviving members of the research team disappeared, some say to an floating laboratory in international waters funded by a shadowy Wall Street billionaire.

So why don't they simply make more Anti-Sickness? As I said, the Norwegians used ancient bacteria to create the first batch. This bacteria is found only on a ten billion-year old chunk of meteor called "The God-Stone", which was discovered by a famous Russian geologist named Chucky Slomanov. Slomanov split the God-Stone in two and gave one half to the Norwegians. The other half he left to his eldest son, Pyotr. After the 1991 bombing the Norwegians' half of the God-Stone was confiscated and destroyed by the International Biological Police (INTERBIOPOL), but when they attempted to locate Pyotr Slomanov they found he'd boarded a plane for Calcutta and then vanished somewhere between there and the Himalayas. Interbiopol feared that Pyotr would join the Norwegians and so they took the entire Slomanov family hostage and imprisoned them in an underground facility in the Somali desert, where they remain to this day.

The Pro-Bacteria Group themselves have transformed from a loose network of rational, pragmatic skeptics into a fanatical pseudo-religious organization called The Cell, which claims that the God-Stone is a volley from an alien civilization which seeks to elevate the human species into a higher state of consciousness, and that when we are sufficiently evolved we will join our alien mother-race in colonizing the universe and possibly other dimensions. The Cell has also allied itself with a South American disease-worshipping cult, Los Buscadores de la Magia Microsc├│pica, who believe that all bacteria is actually a single living organism, and that we must help it achieve its mysterious goals by eliminating anti-bacterial persons and organizations by any means necessary, including violence, which is why every few months you'll see news stories about beheaded biologists washing up from the Baltic Sea or anthrax attacks on research labs in Hong Kong or the CDC performing house-cleaning operations to purge suspected Pro-Bacteria double-agents. And why do you think Purell hand sanitizer is delivered in an armored van? Even now The Cell and Los Buscadores are developing new diseases which might very well wipe out the human race. Bio-apocalypse -- they call this event The Ascension. On the other side, the Norwegians and their backers hope to eliminate bacteria altogether, which would fundamentally alter Earth's biosphere, not to mention us. Did you know that in our bodies bacteria outnumber human cells 10 to 1? What is a human without bacteria? We wouldn't even be able to digest food without them. We would starve. So certain death awaits us if either group gets its way, and they're both in a race, along with Interbiopol, to find Pyotor Slomanov and the remaining God-Stone.

I looked away from you in a dramatic way that was like "I'm really deep and haunted by my wisdom" and then turned back with an intense glare and said Only Interbiopol stands between these zealots and the end of the world.

At this point you stopped me and asked where I was getting all this from and I said "Uh, Biology class". Then you called over Alex Plummer, and Alex was your boyfriend, which I didn't know, and he was also a Biology major. The next few minutes were awful, and I quickly lost my chance to play the entire thing off as a joke when I decided to have a panic attack. Some shit may have gotten knocked over and Alex may have threatened to punch me in the head and I may have counter-threatened to poison everyone at the party with anthrax.

The thing that remains with me all these years later though is that I left without saying sorry to you. In this book, "It's Okay To Be Strong", it says we must have the strength to apologize. When you feel like you've done something wrong it's important to say something, or else it will just eat at you forever. So, Kim, I'm sorry for ranting at you in the kitchen at that party, and I'm sorry for making things up, which I now see was just a way to avoid an awkward silence, and caused an embarrassing and painful confrontation. It may not have meant much to you and I'm sure you forgot all about it, but I hope you'll accept my apology.

And now that you've accepted my apology, I would like to take back my apology. According to "It's Okay To Be Strong", it takes strength to apologize, but it takes even more strength to rescind that apology. After all, the whole point of my new life-path is that I'll no longer feel bad for exercising my power, nor will I pretend to be weak. My mistake at that party wasn't telling you insane made-up shit, it was feeling bad when I was called out for it. I should have been proud. It takes courage and wit to tell a lie, I shouldn't be ashamed for that. And I definitely wasn't afraid of Alex freaking Plummer, are you kidding me? I was pretending to be a coward so I wouldn't have to hurt him.

My mom made me go over to Big Sheryl's house after I hit her with the dirt-clump and I stood there and said sorry like an idiot. It was one of those defining moments that ensured I would safely walk the coward's path for many years and it directly influenced my behavior that night at the party. I should have told her that sometimes when a powerful child gets ahold of a dirt-clump people get hurt and that's just the way it is and we would both feel better if we just accepted that fact. I found out Big Sheryl is still alive. She's in a nursing home upstate. Her mind is gone and she can't even get out of bed to use the toilet, but if there's one thing I've learned it's that it's never too late to take back an apology.

Sick Man

Theme music: Heroic, orchestral, booming.

Voiceover: He was once a normal scientist, but after being hit by a blast of experimental radiation Tom Powers became... Sick Man!

This episode takes place at the DOWNTOWN BANK. Masked robbers have taken hostages and are in the process of emptying the vault. The LEADER barks orders. All the cash into sacks! No funny business! Nobody's gonna get hurt unless someone wants to be a hero!

Oh? a voice rasps off-screen. Someone like me? SICK MAN hobbles into the bank. He wears a dirty hospital gown with an "S" scrawled on the front. He is pale and gaunt. He looks like a stack of used tissue paper held up by tooth picks. He looks like a thin plastic bag filled with sour mayonnaise. 

The Leader jumps down from the counter and steps over a few quivering and sobbing innocents. What? he says. I can't understand you. Sick Man lunges forward into action and launches an empty pill bottle toward the masked villain with all of his strength. It lands with a soft, hollow clatter at the Leader's feet. The Leader bends over and picks up the orange container. Tom Powers, he reads aloud. That you?

Sick Man thinks to himself: Tom Powers. Yes, that's the name I was given at birth. But Tom Powers is gone. Ever since the accident I've only known one name. Sick Man. So they've learned your secret identity, but so what? The people of this city don't know you by the name you sign on insurance forms, but by your deeds. They know you by your strength, your bravery, and your dedication to Justice and Truth. Those things which are more powerful than any name -- even more powerful than these ingenious rogues and their ability to sniff out your greatest secret, the long sought-after prize-jewel of the Criminal Underworld. Things will change now, of course. I'll have to move the Sick Cave to another location. Perhaps the arctic, or in a floating fortress hidden in a raincloud, or outer-space. And I'll put off the search for Sick Lad. True, the city will need a guardian after I'm gone, for evil never rests. But now is no time to put a child in danger, even if in the necessary service of training them to eventually replace me when I fall in the line of duty, or, more optimistically, retire to an island in the South Pacific (where I will monitor the city from afar using a wall of screens which show even the forgotten shadowy corners of my former home, for that is where Crime most often bubbles up from; and wherefrom I will direct my former protege when necessary and offer wisdom, for although he will be an expert in the art of crime-fighting, mostly due to my intense and demanding training regimen but also because I will have selected the ideal orphan to adopt and enlist in the battle against evil, which is just to say that no amount of training will turn a dud or weak-hearted individual into a Hero and so it's of great important to select that person which, even as a child, a vulnerable and orphaned child, displays the resilience and courage and wit necessary to face darkness and absorb those lessons bestowed upon him by a patient, fatherly mentor, he will still seek my guidance from time-to-time, for example when he is facing his greatest nemesis, whom may very well be the son or apprentice of my greatest nemesis, in the very likely scenario that my evil counterpart also selects an orphan child to inherit his moniker).

The Leader approaches Sick Man and points a gun in his face. Get down on the ground, ya fruit. Sick Man coughs up a wad of dark, sticky blood onto The Leader's pants and then falls face forward onto the marble floor and bangs his head with a loud WHAP. Christ, The Leader says.

The hostages whisper among themselves, saying someone should call an ambulance. The Leader looks around for something to wipe the blood off his pants and grabs a stack of deposit slips. Oh man this is gross, he says. We got a doctor in the house? This guy's gonna die or somethin'. All the bank robbers stop what they're doing and come over to look at Sick Man as he asphyxiates in a slowly growing pool of blood.

Just then -- the POLICE barge into the bank with guns drawn, catching the crooks off-guard. Sick Man's inventive yet risky gambit paid off. He counted on the villains having some humanity left in their cold hearts, and this is precisely what led to their downfall. The criminals surrender peacefully and are quickly hand-cuffed and marched into waiting police vans to be driven off to prison where they will be rehabilitated into productive members of society. Another job well done, thinks Sick Man as the blackly glowing empty field surrounding him seems to come alive and rush inward like violent waves toward the last garrison of willful consciousness in the center of the universe and memories vanish like stars in morning light; black morning light that comes from no sun or like black rain that falls from the ground into the sky or a massive black eye that snaps open as your eyes shut for the last time like the birth of a black cloud at the end of a moon-colored tunnel at the end of an infinite spiral in time.



Cops are in heat. Cops are coming down from the mountain tops. We discovered parking tickets on our car hoods one morning -- evidence they've passed through town. Maybe they're still nearby. The neighbors say they've seen their badges flicker in the moonlight in the woods at the end of the street. Old Jack took me into his cellar and showed me a pair of handcuffs he swiped off an injured Cop back in the 80's. Back when guys would trap Cops and extract their scent from their glands and rub the noxious discharge on their cars. The idea being that they release a different scent when they're afraid and so if you spread the spray from when they're trapped the other Cops would get a whiff of it and stay away. Of course, we now know Cops have a poor sense of smell.

I found a Cop egg the other day. I brought it in for Lainie to look at. I told her wouldn't it be kick to hatch the thing, raise it as a Human. Or maybe train it as a kind of spy, send it off to Cop country and have it come back with intel. Let us know what the blue bastards are planning. Lainie smiled in that nervous way, because she knew I was joking but not unserious. Then she took the bowling-ball sized egg, soft and sticky like a wad of dough and told me it wasn't fertilized. Her father had been one of the town's best Cop-sniffers, and she'd inherited a lot of his wisdom. 

That night I dreamed of the egg dissolving, leaving a tiny Cop in a puddle of pink juice. I dreamed that the tiny Cop opened his mirror-shade eyes and held an adorable little baton. The Cop took his cautious first steps and then looked around our living room, which was covered in pictures of Lainie gasping in horror. In the dream we were asleep, and the small Officer found us and used his radio to alert his Brothers. Our home was quickly descended upon by thousands of Cops of all types, some as small as fingers, others giant and winged like dragons. 

When I awoke in the morning I found myself alone. I rushed to the front room and saw Lainie hacking the egg into little pieces with an axe. I love that woman. She caught me watching her and motioned me over for a kiss. We wrapped the gooey remains of the egg in newspaper and stuffed it in a garbage bag, then I walked it down to the lake and left it on the shore. A flock of Cops might stop for water and find the litter, but I doubt we'll get a ticket. 

Human Meat

I think the worst part about eating human flesh, if you can get past the universally ingrained taboo, is that the parts are so unfamiliar. Human legs aren't the type of legs we normally chow down on. They aren't bulging on one end like a chicken or turkey leg, and they aren't short and stubby like a pig's leg. Although if in a stranded on a desert island scenario there is a guy with a leg like a drumstick you know he's first on the menu, assuming he doesn't break you with powerful kicks.

When the question of cannibalism for survival purposes is posed people answer pretty quick, it's one of those things you just know about yourself. Me for example, I loudly proclaim that I'd eat a guy no problem. I say it so forcefully that if you didn't know me you'd think that I was hoping a situation would come up where I could prove it. Then people start in with the tired old routine of "when it comes right down to it, you couldn't go through with it".

It's the other way around. You guys will be begging for a bite, especially when you see all of the cool ways we can prepare the former person. As I already pointed out, no one wants a human leg or arm as-is, but there are ways to make human meat more palatable, more like what we're used to. Ground Human is a good idea. Human sausage. Pulled human. Human tenders, assuming we've got stuff for breading and a deep fryer.

My willingness to push the culinary envelope on the desert island will end up saving us all. Or not all of us, obviously, but at least some of us. You'd all come to respect me and I would be last up on the rotation for getting an arm or leg chopped off for dinner. I would brought to taste the food before it's served and say No no, this needs to stay on the pit a bit longer it's not succulent enough. I don't know what a roux is but I would probably order someone to make a roux.

I would openly support a democratic decision making process but at the end of the day people would find themselves voting my way. After all, these are scared folks. They want a leader. And I live to serve. Like if we spotted a ship on the horizon some brainiacs on the island would say hey let's stoke up the fire and throw in some brush to make smoke, that will attract the ship and we'll get rescued. But I would deliver the cold hard truth: that ship is likely full of pirates, and after killing the alpha male, they would force the rest of you into slavery.

Which is way worse than what we have here. Sure we eat some people, but we have democracy and freedom of expression. Do you think they'd let you vote on a pirate ship? And then we would take a vote and after my side wins we would have to imprison the guys who wanted to contact the ship, because after all there are limits to freedom of speech and those guys would have destroyed our society and then we wouldn't be able to vote on anything at all, because we'd be slaves.


I was in second grade when I first learned about the subconscious mind. I had stopped taking baths at night and instead, right before leaving the house to walk to school, I would grab a bar of soap and rub it all over my face and in my hair. It remember it was Irish Spring soap because the bar was swamp-green and it instantly dried out my skin on contact. I'd arrive to class red-faced, bubbles behind my ears, my scalp drying and falling out onto the desk and floor. The beginning of my long struggle with dandruff.

Most kids were dirty, and I was too because I didn't take baths. But I also reeked of this awful soap. Kids would make fun of me, call me soap kid. Say I ate the soap or that I lived at the soap factory. Say I said cuss words like puss or shithead and had to have my mouth washed out. My mom finally noticed one morning when she saw me with my arms and legs crusted over with dirt and my hair covered in sudsy green slime. I looked like a newly hatched elf-prince of the woods. She asked if I was just rubbing soap in my hair instead of washing myself and I said yeah but I got places to be, mom. Time is money. I was always saying stuff I heard on sitcoms because I wasn't socialized properly.

My mom looked at me the way she always looked at me and said You know what I bet it is. And she told me a story about how when I was a baby I would scream in the bathtub and point at the drain and say that the Witch Hand was going to come. She said for months they couldn't get me in the tub, and once even stood me naked in the back yard and sprayed me down with the hose like a dog.

I didn't remember this at all. How can something effect you if you don't remember it? It smelled like a lie, a convenient tale to explain my current weird behavior. It was just like the lie that we were poor, that old stand-by mom would trot out whenever I asked for a toy. In any case I wasn't avoid baths because of the Witch Hand. I actually didn't know why I was avoiding them. There was a blank spot in my head and my mom filled it with a story that was the right shape but seemed all wrong.

What's a Witch Hand? Did I make it up? Did I dream it? Why did I stop being afraid of it the first time? Why couldn't I remember something so apparently traumatic? Why did the shadow of this repressed memory re-emerge as weird behavior later on? Was that what was happening? Or were the two spells of non-bathing entirely unrelated? Is there any reason behind anything?

In a move I would later repeat many times in therapy, I casually discarded this unearthed nugget of self-knowledge and chose instead to use spite as a motivator for change. I started bathing again. But only to prove to myself that mom's story was complete nonsense. If it were true I would still be afraid, but I wasn't. If it were true I would have remembered it, but I didn't. I make my truth. I bathed defiantly, to show that everything was decided by will alone, and that I was not a slave to the unseen spectres which lurk in the primordial soup of the Self.

I didn't say all of that exactly, but that's what was going on.

Here's a story about my drandruff from later on. In middle school this girl I liked sat across from me at lunch and I got nervous and started itching my head. I was trying to think of something to say. She was looking at my pizza and I looked down and it was covered in dandruff. It looked sort of like parmesan cheese, on the pizza. It was pretty gross so as a joke I said Hey do you want my pizza? And she said no and didn't laugh. She didn't get the joke.


I was in a restaurant the other day and the waitress was really pretty. Maybe one of the prettiest girls I've ever seen. I felt like "I have to do something". So, I imagined that I asked her out on a date. But she said no. Then I thought Welp, that didn't work. So I imagined that I asked her out on a date and she said yes. Then I imagined that we went on a date. I was very careful to pick something that wasn't a restaurant because she works at a restaurant, you know.

So we went on a date to a museum. Kind of dorky, but it could be fun. There's lots to riff on. We could talk about the paintings. If she likes them, great. It's a positive experience to share some positive feelings. Towards paintings. But if she didn't like them we could just make fun of them, and that's where I really shine. So I was kind of hoping the museum wouldn't have anything good in it. But, in my imagination, I wasn't able to imagine a museum that wasn't good. So I imagined a really good museum. And in my imagination we didn't end up having that much to talk about. So the date didn't go so good.

Then I imagined that in the restaurant where I was currently eating while I was imagining this that there was another girl that could read minds and she read my mind and she saw that I was imagining this. And she came over to my table and she said "This is pathetic. You were never going to ask that girl out anyway, and even in your imagination you fuck up the date."

And then I imagined me saying to the girl, "You know what, you're totally right and it's really cool you can read minds. And I think most other guys would be really upset about you reading their mind but actually I think it's really cool the way you called out my bad thoughts. I need someone to police my thoughts."

And she said "You're the first ever guy who's mind I read that had this kind of reaction. I can tell you're very sensitive and mature." And so I imagined we started seeing each other, and I imagined we got into a long-term relationship and it seemed perfect because she would be constantly yelling at me for things I was thinking, and I would get to appease her. I've been in this relationship before so I knew it was a good match.

But then I realized she's going to control my thoughts forever. It's like I'm in prison. And then I realized that the only way out was either to run away, or kill my psychic girlfriend. And I thought that was a horrible thing to think. But as soon as I thought it I knew she'd know I thought it. And that's scary. And then I thought that's maybe a good idea for a horror movie. A guy who's wife can read his thoughts.

So then I imagined that I took my movie idea to Hollywood and they made my movie and it was a big, big hit. Huge hit. Then suddenly I'm somebody. People know my name and when they see me they smile. Then I imagined I came back to the restaurant a year later and I'm Mr. Hollywood. And the waitress sees me, and she doesn't want to look at me because she's shy and I'm very cool and important. Here's the guy everyone loves.

And then I sit down at the seat where I was currently sitting and she comes up and she asks me out on a date. And it goes wonderfully. And then I imagine the rest of my long, fruitful Hollywood career with my beautiful waitress wife by my side. Who's name I do not know. Nor will I ask, because I'm not some weirdo who hits on a waitress.

Vow of Blindness

In fourth grade I heard one of the kids in the gifted program was doing a "Vow of Silence". From the first bell until the end of the school day he wouldn't talk at all, even during lunch, and instead would only nod or make hand gestures. If he had to answer a question in class he would motion the teacher over and write it on a piece of paper and the teacher would read it aloud for the rest of the class and everyone would clap and cheer dumbly for the enlightened little freak.

Even worse, his non-divorced parents cleared the scheme with the principal, and the dork got the idea from his non-alcoholic uncle who spent the summer in a monastery. I on the other hand had no responsible adults in my life. I was a latchkey kid who constantly struggled to steal attention from my teachers and classmates, which was especially hard since they had wised up to my bullshit years ago. Meanwhile this kid who was already so blessed with love was getting whispered praise and nods and smiles all around, practically right in my face (although I wasn't in the gifted program to see it). It was unfair.

So I had the idea to copy him and do my own Vow of Silence, except mine would be even better because I wouldn't tell anybody about it. Everyone would have to admit that I was much more humble and enlightened than the gifted kid because I wouldn't make a big fuss out of it. This lasted maybe half a day because nobody noticed I was being silent. They just thought I was being quiet, which is different. Everybody's quiet sometimes, it's not hard. It made me realize the whole Vow of Silence thing was lame and the kid shouldn't be celebrated for doing something so easy and unremarkable. Nobody would notice if he hadn't told them about it.

The next day I came to school, sat at my desk and shut my eyes. It didn't take 30 seconds. Someone asked if I was sleeping and I said No, I've taken a Vow of Blindness. Instantly this bit destroyed. Kids were barking. Mrs. Eldridge couldn't control them. Invocations of detention went unheard.

When one wave of laughter died and learning threatened to return I'd pull something like knocking the books and pencils off my desk in a spastic blind grope. I'd fall to the ground and flail around like a dying fish. I'd shove my gross little boy hands into a girl's hair and say What's this? Is this a dog? Is there a dog in the school? I was unstoppable.

A gang of kids guided me to the cafeteria for lunch, helpfully explaining my condition to hall monitors and lunch ladies. I was a celebrity. I heard the voices of popular kids I'd never talked to asking what's his deal. Asking if I got in trouble, asking if I would ever open my eyes again and if pretending to be blind could actually make you blind. Answering these questions was beneath me, so I let the other kids handle it. You've got to know when to delegate.

Andrea M. wanted me to touch her face because she saw a blind guy on TV do it. My first instinct was to slam my palm right into her nose, since it'd be comedy gold. But I had a crush on Andrea ever since we were square dance partners in gym. She was the first girl I ever held hands with. Plus I'd already made her cry when I let go of her hands during the spinning part of the dance and she tumbled backwards and crashed into another girl.

The touch of a face is not like the sight of a face. If you don't hold the image of that person in your mind while moving your hand across their visage the thing you touch won't be them but some alien wall of soft leather and bone. Noses are bigger and stick out farther than you'd expect. The chin and cheekbones are round and smooth like rocks from a creek. Eyebrows are islands of carpet in a sea of skin and the eyes make little movements as you brush your fingers over them. You can't help but imagine something insectoid, a larvae fighting for life beneath the thin greasy web of flesh.

I opened my eyes and when I looked at her she was no longer beautiful. It's a good thing I regained my sight at that moment, too, because my lunch was covered in spit. At recess I played red rover with the popular kids.

I got to P.E. and the gym was set up to play volleyball, which was one of my least favorite activities. So I was blind again. By this time nobody was laughing, even when the gym instructor crouched over me yelling, trying to pry open my eyes with his fat fingers. The other gym teacher, an older lady with my dad's haircut who smelled like cigarettes, told the fat-fingered teacher not to mess with my eyes because if I got hurt then it'd be a real shit show. Everybody freaked out because she said shit and gym was basically over at that point. They carried me by the arms and legs up to the principal. My body swung and my butt hit the floor a couple times but I never opened my eyes.

The next morning my mom got home from her night shift to find me still in my underwear in front of the TV. I pointed to the out of school suspension slip sitting on the table. She didn't question me but called the school and heard it from the principal. She asked why I faked having a disability and I said I didn't. She asked if there was really something wrong with me, like mentally. She asked if I was really disabled, but in the brain. I said being blind isn't a disability, it's a choice. Like a Vow of Silence.

My mom told me she didn't have time for this shit and that I was going to school tomorrow. Then she went to bed and I spent the day playing Mega Man. When I got to class the next day I heard the Vow of Silence kid got picked on by a bunch of guys trying to make him talk and that he cried like a baby when someone whacked him with a book.

Vomit Gum

I sometimes come up with an idea that on first blush seems like only an idiot could have thought it up. In fact, most of my ideas are like this. But actually, upon closer inspection only a Genius could have proposed such an idiotic thing, a thing everybody else would have dismissed as a bad joke. And sometimes I do propose idiotic things as a joke. Sometimes I say something as a joke and a fellow innovator will say "Actually that's not a bad idea," and then it turns out I wasn't joking at all and I didn't even know it. Vomit Gum is one such idea.

We've all tasted the surprising relief following a good chunky vomit. One minute you're dog-sick, sweating and foggy-minded with a pounding headache; and then after a quick barf you're magically better: clear in thought, empty in gut, and radiant and energetic like a newborn. There are few experiences as satisfying as the instant transition from agony to triumph afforded by a nice puke. The only lingering effect is the stench of partially digested food (pre-shit) and stomach acid on your breath, and that can be fixed with a couple pieces of gum. Here's the comedy bit: what if instead of chewing mint gum to cover up the vomit smell, people chewed vomit-flavored gum to cover up the clean smell of their mouth.

Hidden inside of that admittedly great bit is an even greater bit; one that could, if a crafty businessman had the guts to partner with me, revolutionize the gum-based mental health supplement marketplace as we know it. I'll explain.

We all know the classic fable of Pavlov's dogs. Pavlov was a man who, every day just before feeding his dogs, he would ring a bell. Except one day he rang the bell, the dogs came running, and then old Pavlov dug into the pantry and discovered he was plumb out of kibble. Pavlov thought he would have to go to the store and pick up some more, but after watching the dogs for a while he saw they were satisfied all the same. The dogs were happy just to hear the bell go off, since in their minds the bell and the food were connected. This is called "conditioning". Pavlov stopped feeding his dogs and eventually was able to buy a nice big house with all the money he saved on dog food.

Vomit Gum uses this same principle. The taste of vomit in your mouth reminds you of the serene and powerful moment after puking, even if no actual puking has taken place. Your mind makes it real, as Morpheus from The Matrix once said. Imagine you're feeling depressed because you got divorced, or lost your job, or you just found out your genitals are the average size and not the above-average size like you'd hoped. Just pop a stick of Vomit Gum in your craw and you'll feel better in seconds. Nervous before a big speech in front of the Mayor? Think you might puke? Why not chew Vomit Gum and skip the tired old toilet routine altogether? All the relief with none of the clean-up.

CBD oil works pretty much the same way.


Like you, I was born into a world of Products. My fondest memories of childhood were of riding with my Father in his big rig. In the back of the truck his cargo was certainly Products. The truck itself was owned by his employer, but before they owned it, it was a Product. Made for sale on the marketplace. We would stop at a diner on the side of the road in some dark place outside of a city before sunrise and piss on the side of the truck. And when we got inside and sat down next to the lifers eating eggs and sausage my dad would order a coffee and I would scan the restaurant. I couldn't read much yet but I recognized some of the Products on the counter. Heinz Ketchup. Morton Iodized Salt. Bisquick.

I've always known a love for Products. Every kid is happy on birthdays and Christmas, but I also looked forward to trips to the grocery store. We were poor so there was never much in our cart, but it was enough to visit Products in their natural home. To see them beautifully on display, competing for our attention in the marketplace of our hearts long before dollars and cents can be factored into play, prized jewels in an enchanted realm of fluorescent lights and linoleum floors.

When I would show my mom a Product I wanted to bring home with us she would have this sad look on her face and I understood that the Product wasn't meant for home. It was meant to stay at the store with the other Products. And I would say Mom, some day, we will live at the store. And all of the Products will be our family. I will take you away from dad and your bullshit house full of garbage and we will be where we belong and we will want no longer. I don't remember if I exactly said all of that but it sounds like something I would say.

Which brings me to the Product I've been asked to present to you today. It's called "Vermont Bag Balm". This is a Product you can truly love. I don't know if it's effective for dry skin, I've never used it. I haven't even seen it in stores. The Product I mean, not dry skin. I've seen dry skin plenty, especially on the people who shop at Ross Dress For Less. But back to our Vermont Bag Balm. When I first saw this Product I laughed. Because Bag makes you think of a testicle Bag, right.

Which probably isn't what's going on here. It's probably a balm named after a guy named Bag. John Bag or something. I do think there should be a balm for testicle bags, however. I haven't heard anyone talk about testicle balm. Certainly there are dry testicle bags out there that need balmed, and I myself don't look forward to being an old man with dry testicles and in my weakest hour finding nothing on the marketplace to sooth me. Perhaps that's why old men turn to religion.

In any case, it would be funny to buy this Product and prominently display it on your mantel and tell your guests that you use it on your balls.