I stand before the fishmonger at the compact grocery west of the university. I am sick with letters; broken with images; music has shackled me; I have undermined Nature, Father Time skips over me.
Phrases of unknown origin Chinese my brain. Can “Chinese” be used as a verb? Of course, I do not mean actual Chinese people. I, like America, only use the word “Chinese” as a stand-in for something, well, unspeakable. I dare not say. I cannot say and my lips are glued shut with dried spittle. You see what I “mean”? I make no sense, in every sense of non-sense. What can I do for a living? Perhaps I must work as a cunning linguist. The Chinese have Chinesed all ways of life from me.
When I tell the fishmonger all this, he shakes his head, wags a seabass at me.
I wander the university, the university I earned some degree from, how, I wonder, as I wander, looking for what it is I am looking for. The Political Science Department vies for my attention; the leftists there remind me that fascism is a natural human instinct, that chimps will gang up and eat another of their species, and we humans do what chimps do bigger and better; Hitler was the winner of a democratic process, a voting process, a digestive tract of majority rule.
Having walked south to the English Department, I listen to students argue the many interpretations of a free verse poem that weaves together dozens of unrelated phrases. Snatching the poem from their hands, I look it over and declare it meaningless. A girl with bacon-strip pig tails tells me that there is much to explore in the vast territory of meaninglessness, that meaninglessness comprises much more of the universe than meaning, just like dark matter overwhelms matter lite. And also, she says, meaninglessness is an art.
I tell her that I seek an artless meaningfulness – I seek the it. She lifts her two bacon-strip pig tails to reveal two anuses beneath each tail. Not really. No one can have three anuses, however shitty that might be.
Next in line is the engineering building, where I see students huddled around computers and drafts of structures.
These people are actually building things! Things that I use. They speak of numbers and calculations and lines and curves. Very good. And these people are the salt of the earth, until they build bombs. And they are almost entirely male, so I leave.
Amongst the penny-fountains and statues of Confederate generals, I weave in and out of crowds of psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, alarmists, therapists, pianists, sado-masochists, rap artists, Marxists, and religious apologists. Each of these “ists” is quite fastidious, and so I call them “fists.” All of these fists tell me the same doomsday story: that people are driven by non-rational, irrational, sinful, amoral animal instincts, insecurities, fears, desires, and hungers; they intimate that civilization, morality and religion are the pathetic and valiant attempts to subdue and pacify some of these salivating, salacious, supreme drives long enough to create order and security for the general masses, including the weak, the unfortunate, and the oppressed. We are animals! Misguided, ill-educated schools of fish! Monkeys pounding typewriters into the sand! We are the crabs of the Singular Testicle Earth! We fumble mindless for short teats long gone dry! That warm womb six feet under the surface of the Earth! We are simultaneously parasites and carrion, and the best we can do is carry on. Go forth. Go fifth. Multiply through division; find peace in war; rage on in our agony; fly, fly, fly for the sake of pooping explosives; sustain ourselves with toxins; run in place, tread water, and chop air in our break time; answer questions quickly and never question the answers that soothe the dancers and cancers within. I cannot stand it, or sit it, or even fish with it strapped to my belly.
Do you know what the “it” is? I ask to all fists. No one knows. I stomp away, angry and indignant in my superiority; I know. I know, at least, that I speak nonsense. I Chinese!
I approach the Department of Economics, and stand next to an open classroom door, listening to a lecture. I am ready to be disappointed by a fist. But who is this cat? He’s different. I walk to another door, crack it open, and listen carefully. These economists in the Milton Freedman Building theorize about how people behave rationally, yes, that’s what I said. That actions are considered, thought out, debated, planned, optimized. In every other Department, the fists demonstrate again and again that humans behave according to glandular and electrochemical impulses and determinations, according to distorted perceptions and pretzel logic. But in the Department of Economics, they posit that we possess free wills and will ourselves to act according to our self-interests, rationally. This is where I will find my place – as I lack in will and willfully act neurotically. At least here, in the Department, they will believe that whatever simultaneously self-aggrandizing and self-destructive behavior I partake in is rational and in my self-interest. Yes, come to think of it, we, as a human whole, must all huddle around the scattered Economics Departments worldwide to glow in their smoldering scrap heaps of Optimism.
Here in the Milton Freedman Building I smell the soothing aroma of right-wing economic models. I am caressed by the tinkle-tinkle of uncompromising numbers; numbers proving that despite the rationality and predictability of humans, no group governing these rational masses – at least no government – can help those masses except by sitting back and letting the rational tribes rationally allocate resources at maximum efficiency, naturally, as rationality dictates. That is, the best thing we can do is watch ourselves eat ourselves. But that is my nay-saying nabob within, the nabob that refers to the people in a rhythmic chant: “The Masses/The Masses/Da Masses/Dumb-asses.”
Whatever you call whatever, only economists know the right way to perceive and interpret a violent, hateful, rational world. No! What I mean is, they’ll know where I can find a job.
I climb the stairs. I never use the elevator. I don’t want anyone, myself included, to be trapped in an elevator with me. I watch each foot as it floats up, slides upon concrete step, each foot a voodoo-foot, possessed by an unnamable urge. I hope to God that no former professors tunnel through the stair well. I can smell my nipples.
A blonde girl passes me, going up. She’s young. Twenty-one probably. I follow her to the fifth floor. She’s wearing a short skirt. Her boobs buoy up as her legs heave them skyward with each step. I catch a glimpse of undie. What am I? A teenage boy? What am I to do with this, rationally? How do I rationalize this? Underwear. Wet, soaking underwear holding back Neolithic, carnivorous blonde ass. How do I economically model her buttocks? What should I plug into her variables? Listen to me. I’m a juvenile. No wordplay. I am a juvenile.
I fear that I lactate.
She surveys the fifth floor. She knows what she wants. She heads to a cubicle desk, sits, and opens the book she took out of her backpack as she was walking. Efficient. Why do you have to dress so, I want to ask her, just to open a book and study? But the book is just a vibrator for her brain; at her age, her whole being screams for orgasm, vaginal or intellectual. Perhaps if I sing a Taoist Confucianist poem to her I can make her brain think – no, chink – itself into spontaneous ejaculation, spewing Zen koans out of her eyes, not understanding any of it except that she has been Chinesed.
I’m staring! I hide behind a shelf of Austrian military and social critiques. I peek at those strong American legs. American with a big A, with those legs balanced and spread just like that capital A. And what’s that cross-bar between the legs? Is that me? Yes! That is me. My whole body stretches the length of one of her thighs. No, she would never allow me to be perpendicular to her in any way. If I approach her, she will stand up. Simply stand up. That’s all. The wind from her rising would lift me up long enough for her to tie a string around my waifish waist and fly me like a kite.
A glass-enclosed quadrant of the seventh floor I now approach. This place is utterly transparent, uttering “transparent” as a modern mantra with its conspicuous glass walls. Transparency is the new conspiracy, I don’t know how, I don’t know how I know this, but I know. I know!
The door on the glass door is labeled, “Department of Department.” I feel as though I have made exactly the correct wrong turn.
I open and enter. I am ignored by a young bespectacled woman whose ankles cross tightly, locked beneath her desk. Her eyes are pulled back by her vicious hair-bun. She is the Department’s tight-fisted, inconspicuously and precisely self-conscious, seat-rotating dismisser of detritus. Stomper of stupids. Identifier of idiots. She will discard my name and soul into some better rubbish compartment than the lukewarm level of hell I now facilitate. I cannot face her, but I must. I must, for no reason, for no rational reason, face her, and drink what the glass encapsulates.
“We wish to divide you,” she utters each syllable precisely, “to know you better than we have ever known you.”
I say to myself, reflexively, with no rationale, “Mao I know I am Chinesed.”
“Do you mind telling me where I am?” I ask her.
“Yes,” she says. “Of course,” she says, as if she meant, yes, of course you are lost. “Welcome to MaMA,” she says.
Well, come to Mama. That’s what I hear. I do feel a bit lost now.
“Welcome to Measurement and Measurement Assessment,” she says. “You may call us MaMA, if you wish, the accent being on the second syllable.”
“Right,” I say. “I was wondering if you might be able to help me; I’m in a bit of an underemployed region of my life.” I am amazed at how direct I sound, how plain and purposeful. “I need more paid work.”
“We may be able to help you,” she says.
Silence. Long silence. No sound breaks through the glass. I can hear my knee bouncing up and down. My frayed slacks rubbing my thighs, I can hear them. She said she can help me; does she mean with employment? Or with the way I smell?
“Or maybe not,” she says. She fingers a long list on a legal ledger. She pokes at it with hard French nails every so often. Her breasts boast pridefully up like the demonic horns of Lilith. She wears a thin gray bra underneath a white wool sweater. Is she a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Her hair is split in such a way that a clear line of scalp runs from her widow’s peak back to her nape. That perfect line of scalp looks so pink between her dark, straightened hair, I imagine myself sliding into her brains, literally fucking with her mind. I shake my head. What is wrong with me?
She looks up from her list, and I nearly eject from my chair. She gives me a look acknowledging that I am what I am and that nothing I do will ever surprise her. She points to the list and says, “You’re not here.”
“Well,” I say. “That’s only half-correct.”
She smiles. Licks her lips. “I knew you’d come.”
I check my pants. I do it inconspicuously. I mean I know that nothing could have happened down there, but still you have to do that whole-body scan just to make sure that the lotion is still in the bottle. It is. The bottle is at full capacity. And my nipples are engorged.
She tilts her head down, forcing me to stare at the thin pink line in her hair. “We know things,” she says. “We are the Department of Department.”
“I am the descendent Dung of Dung,” I proclaim.
“Yes, Elmo Dung,” she says, looking at me straight on. “We have information. Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone.”
“Hey! That’s the name of my favorite hip hop artist.”
“It befits you, does it not? A so-called philosophical rapper who doubles as a drug dealer? It feeds your carnal urges, your urges for moist hugs and launching missiles, while sustaining your intellectualized moralism with Afrocentric calls for better Black History education. Since there is no acceptable Chinese American identity, KRS-ONE and other convenient black identities available for less than 20 dollars become your morning coffee.
“Putting on a black mask helps me un-Chinese at the end of a really long adolescence.”
“Yes. Thank you,” she jots down some notes using pencil and paper. Odd. I think of standardized tests. I once took a personality test and left half the questions blank. I broke the pencil in two, as if in defiance, and then I looked around to see if I might get picked up by the personality police. There is something wrong with me, and I must have my further development arrested.
“How do you know anything about me?” I ask her. “And how did you know I would be here?”
“What do you mean,” she pauses for a second, “by ‘here’?”
“Don’t you mean to ask, ‘What do you mean by ‘know’?”
“No,” she says. “Where are we?”
I look around. The room spins a bit. It’s all glass. The walls, the ceiling, the floor, all glass. It’s all transparent. And it is all seemingly seamless now, as if there are no corners to this cube, or any cube, and there is no door for us to have entered. Nor one to leave.
She shouldn’t be asking me where we are. She should be dancing around the question of knowledge, what it is, really, and what does anyone know. Everyone knows that knowledge is the questionable notion in any intellectual discourse. By not questioning the question of knowledge, and focusing the question on where here is, I am lost. Did I evaporate into another dimension? Perhaps a lower one, I assume, since ascension is too lofty a goal for me. My face is so flat, perhaps my mien has slid into the second-dimension, where it is now lo mien, and where words can occupy an entire horizon and where “here” can literally encircle me and then squeeze my entire being inside the truncation, “her.” H-e-r. Yes, it is through letters, and in another dimension, that I will lose my virginity. I am twenty-six. I tell all of this to, to “her.” She listens and nods, dots four i’s on her notepad: the word “indignities.” Each dot seems to punctuate my breathlessly aroused worthlessness until I almost climax at the height of my nadir.
She takes note. I cannot seem to stop talking. I put my mouth to my hand. I take a shaky breath. The temperature has plummeted, somehow, and the oil on my face has coagulated. A perfect time to pop a pimple, but I would have to undo my pants first. I suck drool back into my mouth, as her cologne makes me thirsty. She raises her left eyebrow, squeezes her arms mechanically, like a primitive Asimovian robot. She runs her finger down a schedule. “Why can I not find you anywhere? It’s like you don’t exist.”
“You cannot find me?” I say. A wave of relief washes over me. I take a deep breath. Relief is perhaps the only good emotion I ever feel; but it is in fact the best emotion. It requires nothing special, not winning, not becoming one with another. All relief requires is knowing that you have not been killed or killed another person by sliding a broadsword down their throat. I say all of this to her, and she looks up from her ledger, her schedule, and the white doily she wears around her neck. “You’re interesting,” she says. “But why are you here?”
I wait. She must know why. This must all be a test. They know everything. I am the sample. I am the solution they draw into their pipette. They are the knowers, the questioners, the experimenters. They, and their Confederates. That’s right, you of supine mind: They are the Ku Klux Klan!
“You said you need a job.” She adjusts her two hair-buns. “All you have to do is answer a few questions. We’ll get back to you. Goodbye.”
Wait, why not just ask me the questions now? But I am outside of the glass already, somehow, peering in. At her. The vanguard of White Supremacy?