I recently received your correspondence detailing the upcoming title, "Otters of Stratagem." Admittedly, with my mounting medical expenses, due to an early-onset of acute children's water-sickness, I was unable to afford the necessary patents for my intellectual property. For the sake of continuity and context, I have included what will most likely be the final installment of my proposal for the hypothetical video game "Bed Bug Mountain."
Mr. _____ effortlessly descends the mountain via jet-pack and is greeted at the base by a horde of bed bugs gathered around a gigantic billboard.
"What's all this about?" he asks.
"This is the world's first alternative-energy generating advertisement", they all chirp in unison.
"What?" goads Mr. _____.
"It collects and stores solar and wind power. They'll be everywhere soon! Or, at least, at every View-Tainment location-spot. Whichever comes first."
"Do they have to look like billboards?" asks Mr. _____.
"Well, who do you think is paying for all this?"
"I thought you all believed in a resource-based economy."
"Well, we're going to have to generate more resources before that's possible. Who knows, if we can make enough money selling breezes and sunlight back to our advertisers and Reef Co. Woe N' Bone Medical Catering, we may not even need your resources."
"What are you going to spend the resources on?"
"Mostly strippers, I'd imagine." The bed bugs all nod approvingly. "They obviously need the resources the most. I mean, would you be willing to get naked, dance around, and run the very real risk of being pushed off a stage for resources?"
Mr. _____ takes a moment to consider. "So you're going to make it so no stripper has to strip anymore, by equally distributing the world's resources among them?"
"Precisely, though the kind of resources we're prepared to throw at them may make it a pretty attractive career option for most people. Hopefully." The bed bug paused. "You know, if you want to get in on the ground floor of this, it could be pretty lucrative."
"You're looking for investors?"
"No, investing is a patented Pipe-Dream. Everyone should have to actually do something to accumulate resources, the way we see it."
The clicking of Bed Bug nodding erupts like a chorus of camera phone keypads.
"So you want me to do the actual dancing?"
"Yes, and we'll pay you for pursuing what is most beautiful to you, as opposed to paying you because we are into your body, though we're not too dissimilar from dolphins and avocado trees in that way. We will have to watch, just for quality control and authenticity-regulation purposes."
"But I don't want to be dancer."
"You'll learn to love it. Pursuing what's most beautiful to you, and, bear in mind, when I say "you" I'm implying "you and us", is it's own reward. Besides, you'll need to learn to love it in order to be a decent person."
Mr. _____ drops his jet-pack and makes his dejected way down to the valley, where his keys will open a few doors of his own in the now invisible shadows of apartment complexes.
He automatically swings in the door and clears his throat. Busily crossing to the bedroom, he proceeds to sit on the bed and watch the curtains blow around. Tapping his fingers in the dark, he sees how slowly he can breathe and periodically checks to see if his heart is still beating. He lies down and falls asleep for three hours before getting up moving his operation to the non-bedroom.
He thinks about the way that at regular intervals over the course of any given night he will go to the bathroom to make that weird, understated face at himself in the mirror while fixing his hair. The shame and his seeming inability to not care that getting a little sun has made him look really healthy makes him want to throw up.
He vomits until radiant.
He tries to gauge his role in history.
He contemplates the myriad ways in which he is pregnant with the universe.
Mr. _____ puts on a pot of water for something he will forget to make and waits until the kettle needs attention. After rectifying the boiling water situation, he wanders around trying different lighting configurations, until he sees someone down on the street looking up into his window. Extinguishing the lights, he stands up against the far wall. In time, he walks to the kitchen, calibrating some crooked frames on the way. Opening the cabinet, he performs a lengthy cost-benefit analysis of how much time will be jeopardized by making a box of Mac 'n' Dust. He decides to eat a package of crackers over the sink. He starts washing the beautiful Redwood-stump cracker-plate, hand-etched with depictions of the three ages of the Sea-Otter long-year count. Just as the plates' narrative nears the end and begins to start again, there's a barely visible picture of an animatronic albino gorilla sitting high up above the ocean in a brick building. The ocean is gathered up around the foundation, and a halo of dim luminescence warps and ripples on the water's surface. Each room is bursting with pants, shirts, coats and coffee tables and playing on camera phone screens are pictures of pants, shirts, coats, and coffee tables.
The gorilla can be seen running up and down the side of the building salvaging the wreckage of mid-size boats washed up against the side of the apartment building. With these free resources he turns a profit by converting the wood into very handsome coffee tables. These coffee tables, though every tenant in the building knows are made out of sea-junk, are deeply coveted and are thus, owned by just about everybody who's everybody and cost more than you'd think.
At some point, the gorilla makes enough resources to not have to make coffee tables anymore and decides he no longer wants to live in an apartment building. Late one night he takes all the coffee tables back ("They were made out of free garbage,” he reasons) and, with them, builds a boat before sailing off to Goddy knows where.
Shortly thereafter someone from the same building can be seen being inspired to genetically engineer barbeque grills with wings, so that jet-pack picnic enthusiasts don't have to lug a barbeque up to their favorite View-Tainment location-spots. The best part of the these grills is the patented Edible-Wings feature.
Turning the plate over, a tag Mr. _____’s never seen peels off on his hand:
COMMEMORATIVE PLATE ONLY, DO NOT USE FOR EATING. THIS PLATE'S LACQUER IS HIGHLY TOXIC AND MAY CAUSE HALLUCINATIONS IF INGESTED.
Mr. _____ walks cautiously over to the bookshelf and pulls out "Mellow Sword." The inscription on the page before the official first page reads:
THE AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK NEVER INTENDED TO PUBLISH THE PROCEEDING PAGES. HOWEVER, IT IS HURL FINCH'S ESTATE'S INTENTION TO PROVIDE CONSUMERS THE OPPORTUNITY TO PURCHASE THIS LOST INSTALLMENT, WHILE RESPECTING THE WISHES OF THE AUTHOR, WHO DIED OF AN ALTITUDE-RELATED BRAIN HEMORRHAGE IN HIS SLEEP.
IN CONSIDERATION OF MR. FINCH’S WISHES WE KINDLY REQUEST THE READER TO REFRAIN FROM READING THE FOLLOWING:
HUMPY TANTRUM’S ATTEMPTED RITUALS
Every Wednesday morning, in addition to every other morning of the week, strictly exempting Thursdays; Humpy Tantrum could be found aloft the sole bench taking up residency on the small-piece-of-paper strewn bank of the Rio Mall. The bench had been dedicated in memory of his ex-wife, a deceased polyamorous dancer who’s name he could hardly remember, but without whom, he wouldn’t have a bench to facilitate his most cherished pastime. His dedication to her and their live-in lover also afforded him the virginal purity of mind-and-member that so crucially informed his yet-to-be undertaken watercolor picture-novel.
As he threw cigarettes to the vibrating ducks amassing at his own webbed feet, small pieces of paper liberated with each blind pocket-grope; H.T. breathed deeply of the rising fog of chattering duck smoking and, when he closed his eyes, could imagine himself back in Hamburg. H.T. had moved there 25 years prior with the express intent of skipping every class offered by Western Europe’s premier watercolor conservatory: Fun With Colors, Now You Can Paint. He knew he could only be truly great if he avoided formal instruction altogether, but had thousands upon thousands of dollars proverbially burning a hole in his pocket since recently acquiring his parent’s not-insubstantial fortune. Humpy’s father had patented a flame-resistant pocket which had become industry standard for everything from wetsuits to over-alls.
Back then, in Hamburg, he had spent his afternoons in pitch-black beret-bars, sitting in rising fogs of smoke, unable to understand a word of the surrounding chatter of stylish depressives he would have recognized as the world’s premier students of watercolor had he attended a single class. Conversely, the name “Humpy Tantrum” was known to just about everyone at FWCNYCP as it had never once been echoed back during attendance-check at the dawn of any number of classes (including Drip Maintenance, Brush Mashing, and Softness) , and a growing mythology H.T. could have easily capitalized on in dark beret-bars full of dehydrated co-eds tragically went unused.
As H.T.’s most vital art-production years unspooled at an alarmingly rapid clip, H.T. eventually cultivated, utterly unbeknownst to him (due in part to the fact that he never learned German), the unofficial rank of Europe’s most renowned watercolor artist. Inches upon inches of newsprint were devoted to his philosophy, his total disregard for philosophy, and his alleged meat-eating, womanizing ways. As the German watercolor world had produced no master, and the production of masters is imperative to the commercial viability of any inspired act, H.T. single-handedly instigated a country-wide watercolor renaissance. People were abandoning vegetarian diets and life-partners left and right. The school was reporting record-high suicide rates as students abandoned themselves to the despair tandem with the ambition of ever achieving the presumed vision and scope that came to H.T. so literally effortlessly. In studios all over campus, they would stare at blank canvasses, terrified of committing a single stroke, profoundly doubting the ability of someone who so obviously attended class.
Most students best bid for immortality was to paint something with urine or beer and then jump out a window. As most were under the impression H.T. had killed himself ages ago, the best their swan songs could merit from history was “vaguely Tantrum-esque”. The exception was one truly gifted student named Marla Phi, who skipped only most of her classes. On one particularly inspired rainy night, the woman who would have gone on to, not only be Europe’s greatest watercolor painter, but expose the fact that none of H. Tantrum’s fabled triumphs (though who’s to say myth has no value in and of itself? Right? Right?) had ever existed, drank just under a gallon of water and jumped from ten stories up directly onto a huge canvas on which she had placed a few packs of watercolors. The combination of rainfall and gore-splatter mingling with primary colors created what was retroactively named “The Birth of Adam Upon The Crest of Mont Blanc”. There was some dispute as to whether or not the body was intended to be part of the definitive work, or whether bodies are useless and flailing in general. Phone messages left by the gallery curator seeking the consultation of H.T. went unanswered, due mostly to the language barrier.
Around that time, H.T.’s primary source of income was his part-time employment as an anonymous member-model quasi-starring in instruction hand-job VHS’s that, it turned out, were sold almost exclusively on campus. They had become explosively popular among students who had been enrolled in art school for the entirety of their sexual emergence, and who’s classes were, unintentionally, scheduled during the early, involuntary erection hours. This conditioning, combined with the stress of living in the shadow of a mythical contemporary who was widely regarded as the master of the medium, resulted in a rampant condition, wherein the school’s male population was unable to be aroused outside of the educational context of learning to masturbate. Thus, the heterosexual-female quotient of the school, even just casually interested in intermittent heterosexual sex, made sure there was always a copy underneath the TV in the sleek, icily modern German cabinet located in lieu of a nightstand. They also never got laid.
Aside from unwittingly ruining life on planet Earth for any and everyone unfortunate enough to have taken up watercolor, as opposed to field hockey or macro-chemistry, at an arbitrarily formative impasse in their adolescence, H.T. was becoming an incredible, obese artist with a fossilized herb garden in the windowsill of a one-bedroom apartment he split with a dancer named Empress, who’s sole source of income was giving instructional hand-jobs in a VHS series which had recently really taken off with the college crowd. H.T. had planted the herb box in a rare fit of activity within the first week or so of relocating to Hamburg, and since, had decided he preferred to exclusively eat out at bars where only beer was served.
H.T.’s pragmatic sexual dependability, as evidenced by the VHS tapes, stood in stark contrast to the kind of disposition you might expect given the nature of his reoccurring night terrors. He would later manifest a more psychologically appropriate response by serving as the neglected, platonic element of a three way marriage with Empress and her lover, Darren.
He had spent the ten years of his hypothetical education perfecting the portrayal of shame. In hundreds and hundreds of artistic renderings of his RNT, he attempted to capture the facial configuration denoting self-loathing he assumed each night, when he realizes that the threesome he’s engaged in is located in the middle of a beret-bar, with patrons lined up around the perimeter of a glass observation-cube, trying desperately to figure out how to draw the shades. Every night he wonders how disgusting he can actually be, that the kind of people who frequent a bar they must know features an obese man temporarily writhing around with multiple partners, are so dismayed as to alert their waitress and, after explaining how they have gone to the trouble of acquiring the consent of the entire bar, inquire as to the possibility of finishing their drinks in total darkness.
So far, he had only been able to paint his face after this part of the dream, where the waitress, wondering how exactly she’s supposed to run drinks to tables with all the lights off, begrudgingly, but insofar as her humanity is concerned, gratefully, runs around unplugging everything, to the muted cheers of her customer base.
“When the hell are you going to get all those black canvases out of there?” asked Empress one afternoon on their way out the door to film Trial and Error: Inferior Hand-Jobs.
H.T. can recall exactly what he screamed as he walked over to her side and courteously, with an Old World flair, opened the car door.
“I’m going to move those black canvases, that happen to be portraits of my shame, when they are all sold to the smartest person alive!”
“You’re going to come to hate those things a long time before that happens, and when it does, you’re going to be too broke to say ‘no’, is what’s going to happen to you.”
As it turns out, many years later, they would be purchased by Germany’s premier experimental artist, known simply as “Darren” at a real steal of a price as H.T. was completely oblivious to his renown in the German art world. Darren, known professionally as “D.’”, had made a career out of subverting and repurposing slow, vulnerable art; used the black canvases in an installment that very compellingly unleashed a stunning, widely-acclaimed visual polemic against the small-minded cultural perspective responsible for artistic modes of expression as limp and limpid as watercolors.
“Here and only here, nothing more for the writhing man!” he would whisper, before painting portraits of himself, over top of H.T.’s portraits of his shame, with his back to the audience.
“Black watercolor won’t conceal you from the intentions your art harbors for you!” he would howl before a dancer, played by Empress, would stalk dancelessly onto the stage and hurl a bucket of black paint in Darren’s face. The world rejoiced.
Many years later, Darren, Humpy, and Empress all decided to relocate to a barren, confusing corner of Minnesota, where land was cheap and Humpy had enough free snow to melt down for his watercolor landscapes of pure white formless expanses of white nothing.
One day, many years after Hamburg, while bumming smokes to the ducks at the Rio Mall he was approached by an amateur psychologist, a young boy by the name of Garrison Tremaine. Garrison was clutching a fistful of herbs he just picked from the bank of the Mall’s lake.
“These are going to be just lovely in the midnight snack sauce!” he squealed with no small degree of composure. “No paralyzing uncertainty in front of the fridge tonight!” Garrison was an Old Soul, or so had been classified by his Magnet Montessori Child-Militia outpost.
Humpy tried to proceed as if this had been a singular interaction run it’s course, and was absolved of any further unsolicited pleasantries.
“You must come on an adventure with me!” Garrison informed Humpy in a nauseatingly Mid-Atlantic accent, while jumping up and down like a child. The ducks were rolling their eyes and making a measured retreat.
“Adventures don’t exist anymore,” said Humpy, careful not to sound too cantankerous, and thus, complete the circuit of trope.
“Why would you say that? Is it because you’re old and tired?”
“No, I don’t mean that they no longer exist for me,” he explained, hoping that enough words would exhaust the boy’s conversational stamina. “I mean that they don’t exist in general, at this stage in human culture. For example, as early as the 40’s, a guild of young wizards called ‘Existentialists’ were embarking on internal adventures, which can only be undertaken under the influence of a hallucinogenic volume of alcohol, administered by a shamanic bar-tender, ideally of the world-weary female variety; in dimly-lit bars, as a response to the horror of war, and the meaninglessness it traumatically conceived within the cultural consciousness. Our culture makes such a commodity out of human life that no one any longer must die needlessly on the mountaintop of war.”
“You seem to have a pretty narrow definition of ‘adventure’. Why is death so integral for you?” Garrison made a steeple with his fingers and carefully examined the rib-cage flying buttresses therein.
“Well,” Humpy blathered on, unsure of where he was going to take this exactly. “Adventures were a pre-God mode of attaining salvation. Or, more specifically, they were a prerequisite. Once that adventure was undertaken, so that one could own, or earn, God, no one needed to be an adventurer, in the classical, literal sense. Once modernity, that’s us, rendered God useless, by way of science poetry, sex became the next most viable means for personal redemption. Once my VHS tapes made the pursuit of sex unnecessary, people could divert the sex impulse into art. Once critics discovered they could utilize art as their own hand-job instructional VHS tapes, creation became little more than dying serenely like a blind, three-legged dog with ejaculate-matted fur. Not to mention the inevitable invention of the Jet-Pack, which will, someday, pretty undeniably formalize the death of adventure.”
“Isn’t the fear of dying like a matted dog why people undertook adventures before God?”
“I suppose you could look at it that way.”
Humpy was becoming exhausted.
He found himself dreaming of the time he had dreamed of a different life for himself. He was so far from that point now he could hardly believe it had existed. It was difficult to even flesh out the dream of being someone who had dreams. His was a dream of a feedback loop of attempted rituals now.
He had never been able to relate to anything resembling collective urgency. The urgency to celebrate, to accomplish, to recognize. He had, in fact, travelled extensively, though he could probably tell you less about where he’d been than someone who had read a book about said places. Though he recognized the ultimately subjective nature of ‘adventure’ and the fact that even just being licensed to operate a car was probably the equivalent of discovering an alternate universe to little Garrison here, he refused to relinquish his choke hold on objective futility. Least of all for a child psychologist’s benefit.
“Do you have any children of your own?”
Humpy’s three way marriage was strategically engineered to make this particular topic conversationally unfeasible. It had never come up. However, he had rehearsed a bureaucratically unrelated set of reasons.
“Look, my father had kids, his father had kids, and I don’t want my child to look at me and say, ‘Hey, look at this pathetic, mouth-breathing busy-body! Following orders, I take it? Joining the family business? Proudly sporting your ejaculate-matted crest-laden cardigan?’ I want my son to be proud of me. Proud that his Old Man had a myriad of things to do other than procreate.”
Humpy’s second life had been as a critic. Early in the morning he would scour the beach, harassing beached sea otters and absorbing creation. He had only regained human-form after a sea otter who claimed to be a patented Savior accosted him for not having the courage to enter the sea and take down an otter who wasn’t slow, vulnerable and helpless. That had been the last great revelation of Humpy’s life, and robbed him of his fantasy of dying dog-like.
Garrison was the product of a potent nicotine-induced hallucination well in progress, as well as being a manifestation of Humpy’s deep-seated desires to be a father and to justify having sex with multiple women. With a minty mouth, Humpy gathered his belongings and trudged off with Garrison in the direction of the farmhouse.
Along the way, Humpy followed Garrison back around the gift shop where a glossy three-legged dog lay; dying serenely, taking his time.
“Hello, there, strangers.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” replied Humpy.
“No bother, no bother,” grumbled the dog, in a sort of affected way. “Wait, sorry to hear what?”
“Oh, didn’t you say you were dying? ‘Dying serenely’ or something?”
“No. I said ‘hello, strangers’ but since you seem to know me so well, I guess ‘strangers’ isn’t exactly the word.”
The dog turned his head lifelessly to where Garrison was standing and his eyes sparkled with recognition. “Garrison Tremaine! I loved ‘Otters of Stratagem’ and ‘Bed Bug Mountain.’ Obviously, if I ended up like this!”
The black dog put his head down as if in resignation and said to no one in particular, “Hurl, I’m going to die around the back of any location you can envisage. I am covered in bed bugs. Your children will never forgive you. Your art harbors no intentions. It is dead on the page, lacking even the dignity of dying. You have failed in converting nothing into Nothingness.”
Mr. _____ skims the pages, trying not to read, but is soon distracted by an alert blasting from his camera phone, which he hasn't used for any significant photo essays just about ever.
I HAVE NEW MESSAGES. SOME HOLD THE PROMISE OF THE PERFECT LOVE OF STRANGERS. STARE DEEPLY INTO ME. I CONTAIN SECRET KNOWLEDGE ABOUT YOU, BUT YOU MUST BE DILIGENT.
Mr. _____ can barely remember what he did that day, which is just about the only thing he uses the camera phones' computer for anymore. He walks to the kitchen, picks up the plate, licks it blankly, and systematically repeats everything he's done since getting home, but with purpose.
The Bed Bugs, crammed into an observation terminal, turn to one another, profoundly unsettled by their inability to intervene in the affairs of such a sick little animal. Goddy looks down and chuckles good-naturedly, “Tell me about it!”