The first offering of a multi-part and multi-weird story by Elmo Dung himself, the legendary underground artist most known for his wordplay and self-perceived cleverness.
I am on the pot. Pooping.
It all starts here. With the great fertilizer of the biosphere. The brown icing of Cupcake Earth. The lacquer of life and the resin of re-birth. Oh, Poopie.
Don’t get me wrong. I am averse to it just like the rest of y’all. I conform to all behaviors related to poop. I don’t eat it; I excrete it. But I respect poop. I respect it as the font of consciousness. I respect it as the Expression of What Is Inside. I respect it for what it is. My name is Dung.
I examine my namesake in the porcelain bowl beneath me. It is a long, soft snake of Eden. It is the progenitor of ambrosia, fertilizer of forbidden fruit. Before there was knowing, there was letting go of ourselves. Adam and Eve saw that they were naked and that their butts were stained.
At one second it is living and inside of ourselves; at the next (sh)it is out there, exiled from the mainland, being not quite anything because, though it is not quite alive now, it just recently thrived in an internal culture, a teeming septopia which no individual human wishes ripped from them. Outside, poop’s perceived purgatory between life and inanimateness ends as quickly as the contemplation of its nature by its beholder and maker.
I wipe my ass.
But in doing so, my hand kowtows at the Temple of the Anus. And then I flush the toilet. It is gone.
I pull up my pants and look through the bathroom window. Is my landlord watching me from across the small apartment courtyard? She is the type of woman you want to nickname “Big Boy.” She’s brawny and sports the biceps of an experienced plumber. She hikes up her jeans when she bends over for yard work and her great mannish ass flourishes into an expansive People’s Square. She often looks at me with predatory eyes, but asks nicely for the rent. She likes me.
One of these days, she’s going to tie me up with the garden hose, strip me naked and tell me what she has told me a dozen times already: “Your people are so good at math.” Then she will slap me and force me to do her taxes. Though I fear this woman – she reminds me of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs – sadness pierces my brow. The greatest tragedy is not being dehumanized, but rather being dehumanized in a stultifyingly boring way.
Allow me to apologize for this, my opening passage.
“Yeah. About those ten thousand years of Chinese civilization,” I say.
“Twenty thousand years,” impresses my father.
“Twenty thousand? That’s ten more thousand years of wasted effort. I mean, what is it all for? Survival? That’s okay. But that’s all taken care of by food stamps now. What do we need all those Confucian texts for?”
“ To remind us how to live.”
“ The dead remind the living how to live?”
My mother finds no need to think about this. She wonders why I would ask such a silly question. “Yes,” she says. “It won’t be too long before I am dead. And you will remember my words.”
“Yes, I will remember them,” I tell her. “But there is no logical reason I should heed them.”
“Heed them. Like, there’s no reason I should listen to you,” I say, and then I remember that my mother is Chinese and believes in Chinese things. “Except in that you are my mother, I should listen.”
“Da pi-gu!” says my mother. Meaning: “Spank Ass!” She turns to my father, who rolls his eyes. “Elmo is too old to be spanked,” he says. “It doesn’t work after twenty.”
“Da pi-gu!” I say, but I say “Da” with the fourth tone, changing the meaning to “Big Ass.” I think about my landlord, who I believe, is watching us through her horse-racing binoculars.
My mother shakes her head. “I should have given up on you a long time ago. Mei yong.” Useless, she says.
My father pulls me aside. “Look, Elmo,” his breathe aches of coffee, “just make some money.”
“I knew this was what it was all about,” I nod wisely.
“What is it about?” he wonders.
“It is about money.”
“It is your life.” Says my father. “Your life as Dung.”
My Life. As Dung. Springing to mind is Tupac’s chest tattoo: “Thug Life.” Across my chest, is inscribed “Dookie Life.” On my hip I carry a loaded intestine. I bow my head in name-shame.
My mother looks through me, at something behind me. “Yi qian,” she mumbles. From the front, literally, meaning, “back,” “behind” or “in the past.” I try to move away from her eye-rays, but that past she focuses on is directly behind my spine, connected to me like a tail.
The words wag the dog jog my brain, and I shake my head. My father watches my eyes as they twitch, looking for something to look at.
“You,” starts my father. “Are not you,” completes my mother.
I will not be lumped in with the pile. Do we really need more Dung? Come here, honorable farm worker, here is my father, mother, and grandparents. Please put them in your wheelbarrow and use them to fertilize your field of maize. Please! Please do it.
Let me walk away.
Oh, but can the head escape the tail? The words come to me singularly, individually, like they were popping up on the screen of Sesame Street:
I have just awakened from a nap. It is the second dream in a week I’ve had of my grandmother, my father’s mother. She does not say anything. She wants to say something. Or maybe I am projecting on her. But it seems she is trying to tell me something and the breath is not there, not in her lungs, or in her limbs, or in her pork-laden stomach. She was not a fat woman. She was a woman of few and strong words. She cannot speak, or she does not speak, and I am right now listening as hard as I can to what she is saying.
They are calling me again. I pick up the phone. “Hello?” I say. “Yes,” says a young woman most likely in the United States. “May I speak to the man of the house?”
Am I a man? Or just a retired boy? “Who specifically do you wish to speak to?” I ask.
“Dung Elmo,” she says, and I hang up. Too much information has already been exchanged. She knows the sound of my breath. Am I being paranoid? She likely knows nothing from nothing. What better agent than the one who acts unknowingly. What did they ask me last time? Something about laundry detergent; which do you prefer, Mr. Dung? Ancient Chinese Secret, I replied. I need to write all these happenings down.
Why is it, with my life on the game board, I cannot even keep track of the keeping track?
And yet, and yet, that voice. I know that voice. I’ve heard that voice somewhere. I know her.
I walk to the drug store and buy a newspaper. I throw away the news; reserve the sports for toilet time; and split open the employment section. Modern homo sapiens that I am, I know a lot and I can do very little. Of that which I can do, I do but a tiny fraction. Why? My actions are moot.
Now I am at the unemployment agency. This is where the last hopes of the hopeless are dashed. “You have attained one and a half graduate degrees,” says the lady behind the computer screen between us. I’ve purposefully obscured our faces from each other; I have no idea what this woman looks like.
“What skills do you possess?” she says.
“I can teach an anthropology class on comic books,” I tell her. I wait for her face to pop out from behind the screen. Is she the woman I hung up on earlier? The question is moot; if they are as powerful as I imagine them to be, they can disguise their voices.
“I know a lot,” I say, “I can help a lot of people.” I take a deep breath. “Is there anything I can do that is useful for people in need?”
“Well,” she says, “who is going to pay you for that? People in need? If they had the money to pay you, they wouldn’t need you.”
I don’t read much. Of what I do read, I remember little. But I do remember reading about one attractive and doable occupation: “I wanna be the catcher in the rye.”
The lady smiles. I don’t see her, but I can feel her. She is either sincerely amused, or they’ve got me exactly where they want me. I look under the desk at her feet in her open-toed shoes. Indeed she seems like a real person. Not a robot. I touch her red-polished little toe, just to make sure. It feels warm. My heart beats faster, faster. What am I doing down here? And yet my finger seems to be stuck to her toe. Our hangnails are hooked together!
“You want to catch the kids before they fall?” she asks. “That’s beautiful.” That voice! It’s that voice!
And thank God she cannot see me down here with her foot. It really is the only way I can communicate with her without shame. It is! I’ll tell her straight to her face. But why do I like her toe this much?
She turns around, her foot moving far, far away from my lonely finger. I sit back up. I can only see the back of her head now, which is okay. I feel okay about that. The back of her head. Her occipital ridge is exquisite! And from the sides of that planetary shelf, hang the most vicious black sickles. Her name . . . . her name is Natasha Vodka.
I walk out.
The buttocks are the center of human dichotomy. The buttocks are right-wing, left-wing. They are open and closed. They are beauty and excretion. They are breath and exhalation. They are sphincter and flesh mound. They are active and apathetic.
Do you not understand it? We come from the buttocks, and we seek it for the rest of our lives. The buttocks are Home – the warm, flabby, muscular igloos of all desire and all satisfaction.
They came from the Fabric Store! Today’s buttocks. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for our Daily Buttocks.
I was there, at Hancock Fabrics, seeking nothing but some part-time employment. There was work to be done with fabrics, and my people have a long history of manipulating cloth.
Came in the front door, did I, grabbing off the countertop a box of needles, seeking out immediately the most emasculating item in the building.
Small, thin needles were in my hand, slipping out between my fingers and falling aimlessly to the floor. It did not matter if I held one or one hundred, they were short, thin and relatively harmless. I frantically tried to gather my 1.3 billion needles and replace them into the box.
As I poked and pierced my own hand with these quickly reproducing needles, I noticed the Derriere Du Jour hovering above me like nothing else can hover above a male human head.
The Bodacious American Buttocks come in more than one species. The greatest belong to the Goodly American Matron. She is here seeking stern and subtle cloth for her priestly children; they must take on the look of innocent authority, and she will dress them in the flags of her heritage.
This Goodly American Matron’s rear is more substantial than my face. Substantial is the word I choose because it connotes all those things that I seek and fear. I lack substance in this world. If the main event is on stage, I am not even the concession stand. I supply some corner of the concession stand, with my concessions.
I cannot approach these buttocks directly, not with my face forward. I must sidle, slither like a sidewinder, look askance, dance and twirl about the perpendicular of the puckered asshole. This is not sexual. This is not reproductive or orgasmic. This is Dung, and Dung approaches the buttocks as a defeated soldier returns home.
I want to bury my Dung Face into those pillows and cry; to mark them with tears, to bark out my agonies and my cheers. But mostly just to weep. Between those maximal gluteus, that cleavage of the hipbones, I wish to emit the whimpers of a flaccid petticoated boy. To cry is one thing. To cry between large, flabby, forbidden cheeks is yet another shame altogether: an accomplished shame I can truly be proud of.
I wonder if I can even exist in the shadow of Her Grand Canyon. My entire existence, both tangible and spiritual, would slide right into that Canyon like a token into some great American slot machine. My body would be spent. It’d be spent on a chance, just a slim hope. Ain’t that the US of A? Falling into a fantastical chasm and coming up cherry-cherry-cherry?
Ouch! She backs That Thing up into my handful of needles. She scowls at me as if I were an illegal alien tea-bagging her polar bearskin rug. And she walks away not bothering to speak.
I look down. It was not a handful of needles. It was just one. And it had drawn blood. Horrified, I rush to the door to apologize before the Matron disappears. But she’s already in her car. I turn back to the fabric store, and face the grim Help Wanted sign.
A manager asks me if she can help me. I tell her that I make myself sick.
“You are right,” I tell my landlord. “My people are good at math.” She raises an eyebrow.
I tell her, “I am here to do your taxes.” She invites me in and one thing leads to another. It is true that she has been watching me, wanting to make my stay more comfortable.
I stand naked before her. She sits with her knees to each side of me, her solid oak thighs serving as the walls to my confession booth. “I know,” I say. “I know I look like a teenaged Japanese girl with a giant, wrinkly clitoris.”
She laughs. “And I look like a pregnant linebacker,” she says with Texan delivery. I close my eyes and try not to laugh because it is a perfect description of Mrs. Hornbecker, my sweaty landlord.
A long pause, and I tell her, “I don’t think this is right. I can’t do it with you.” What I mean is, I cannot do the ultimate thing with her. I cannot make love to a linebacker in his third trimester.
Another long pause, and I feel obligated to satisfy her. Hop Sing from Bonanza, Archie from Happy Days, I don’t know, M. Butterfly, they all shove their way up through my subconscious. And even as I know I am succumbing to some stereotype, some inherited role, some ascribed fantasy, my knees fold like the falling robes of a geisha. I am face to face with Ms. Hornbecker’s giant vagina.
“Come hither. Look inside,” it says. “I am an open book.” Indeed the pages of her labia are encyclopedic. One could get lost reading those many volumes; I wonder if it is all punctuated by an appendix.
“My story is sweeter than you know,” it says.
“How can I accept that you are something I do not know? I know only what I know.” This vagina brings out the Neo-Confucianist in me.
“Not every hole is a cipher,” says the Vagina.
“Perhaps you are,” I say, “and perhaps you ain’t.” I wonder if Ms. Hornbecker notices the contraction I’ve imposed upon her vagina. “Do my taxes,” she says, and Mrs. Hornbecker presses my flat, greasy low mien into her poontang panini. My forehead plunges deep into her belly and is repelled by a force greater than physics; as if Nature Herself rejects our combination.
I fall back supine. I can hear some laughter from outside. That voice! That voice again. Is it Natasha Vodka? My heart races. My body flushes full of blood. Things begin pumping as if a septic tank were being drained with ferocious intent.
I am completely ready for Mrs. Hornbecker now. And I do not want to be. That voice! But no, it’s my mother’s voice: “Where are my grandchildren? I don’t have much hope for them.”
How fertile are linebackers? I stand up to run away, and my father shoves me back into the arms of Mrs. Hornbecker. I am now bent over her feverish thigh, and my ancestors holler from outside, from deep within the old cotton field, “Learn him respect!” Apparently, they have adapted the local vernacular. “Learn him respect the old way!”
My father spanks my petulant tail with a disciplined hand, screaming, “Show me face! Show me face!” I want to cry, “No!” or “Yes! Yes! Yes!” But, no, it is, truly, only Mrs. Hornbecker for whom I return to my knees, lift up her belly like a heavy, hairy white veil, and give heartless, tearless face.
*Read Part 2, here!