Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

(dé)jàmais vu

BY JOHNATHAN WILBER

 us i

We stand — suckers, dupes — at the Fantasy Amusement Company Carnival in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and look through the smudged glass of the proverbial claw machine. For 50¢, we can aim the claw, attempt to aim the claw just so, and pick the stuffed item of choice. We move the claw to (what we — comme on dit — “guesstimate” is) the right position above the pink deer. Maybe the claw drops too quickly. It clips its fingers together: a half-hearted, milquetoast tool, which can shift said items enough that the pink deer is no longer accessible or even desirable — at this point, a green kitty may vie for our attention; at this point, we may just be too fatigued — it may succeed one time out of ten but is ultimately a hopeless loser.

concerning huxig 1

It is an 8:30 a.m. A television runs static in a Chicago-Loop hospital waiting room. Fluorescent light tubes highlight the room’s off-primary colors. A misplaced toy fire truck is stranded on an insular blue tile, haphazardly encircled by laminated, numbered squares of white paper: some skulking pseudo-sea-monsters. A forgotten Kleenex-brand facial tissue, a careless vessel of infection, lies furrowed on a Duplo-inspired coffee table.

The tele-blizzard is replaced by salt-and-pepper President Burgess.

He declares war on Huxig: a new-ish nation-state at the tip of Baja California that has allegedly produced a butt-load of crystal methamphetamines. President Burgess doesn’t say butt-load or new-ish; he does, however, stumble on the word methamphetamines.

I believe I speak for all Americans when I say that the new Weapons of Mass Destruction is [sic] the caches of methamphetamines 2,2A we have uncovered in Huxig. I speak for all Americans when I say, if there are illegal drugs directly across the border, there are drugs inside the border. (applause)

Why are methamphetamines 3 Weapons of Mass Destruction? Because there are [sic] no such thing as a victimless crime. Because methamphetamines 4 destroy the nuclear family while encouraging perversities such as: STDs, “modern” art, the internet, and homosexuality. (applause)

Let us pray.

Jesus walks in when others walk out…

 sachi i

Below a flat-screen Sony television mounted on the ceiling of her playroom, ten-year-old Sachi Orville lies in snow angel position on a red square of carpet. A TiVo box, a piece of equipment that allows her to rewind the television, is pancaked between a Hitachi DVD-player and a government-mandated Freedom Filter. She rewinds to the daytime shows she’s missed while she is at school: Eureka’s Castle, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. She fast-forwards through several commercials and a PSA featuring an animatronic Shirley Temple, who/which warns children against mixing household chemicals. A cylindrical receptor on the side of Sachi’s tongue beeps: the national Food-For-Kidz’s program, reminding her to eat.

While searching the kitchen for hidden chocolate shavings, Sachi discovers white crystals of Drano under the sink. She sprinkles them on her Skippy reduced-fat peanut butter — for aesthetic appeal. Her mother Olencia often calls her her little epicure. Sachi uses an ice cream scoop to spoon the mélange onto her tongue and lets her golden retriever puppy Gordy lick the bowl. She sings sweetly: One, two, buckle my shoe while Gordy barks in harmony.

 gerald i

In a semi-hip/-gentrified/-northern, formerly Swedish Chicago neighborhood, in a recently renovated apartment building, in a bedroom — the kind in which the bed takes up the whole room — in front of a colossal desktop Gateway looping an illegal homosexual pornographic mpeg, Marty hands Gerald a tiny pouch of crystal meth and a pen cap. Gerald holds the pen cap and meth in separate hands, tries to funnel the Ziploc into the cap, tries not to spill any meth. “How do I do this? I don’t want to spill it,” he says.

Marty takes the pouch from him and scoops a small amount onto the clip of the pen cap.

“Like that. Simple. You don’t need as much as coke.”

The meth is supposed to burn Gerald’s nostrils. It even burns Marty’s veteran nostrils; Gerald imagines Marty’s cartilage is for sure like Swiss cheese, like a nose-mouse’s ultimate fantasy maze. When he gets back to his car, he blows his nose as hard as he can and continues to blow it until he returns home.

At his apartment, Gerald drinks six glasses of water. He retrieves Albertson’s saline nasal spray from his medicine cabinet, tilts his head back, and lets the liquid run through his nose. He takes four vitamin C capsules, his last B-complex chewable, and two acidophilus chewables from his fridge. He drinks four bottles of PomWonderful, each with a splash of heart-healthy flax oil. One glass of aloe juice. He blows his nose. He takes a bath and tilts his head back again and lets the water run through his nostrils. He takes two sleeping/anti-anxiety pills — one milligram of Klonopin — to counteract the meth. He stands on his head for ten minutes.

He reproaches himself: I am sick of your OCD BS you a-hole! He thinks: witty acronymony, and then he tries to set his alarm for 8:30.

 the virgin marty i

Marty learned how to make meth in Huxig, back when it was still Baja California. He was stationed in one of San Jose del Calbo’s many underground meth labs as a spy for the US government. It was there that he had a very off-the-record, torrid affair with Javier López, an intimidating Mexican “top” with sexy black hair, a masculine demeanor, and three testicles. After Squirrel News unveiled said sex scandal, Marty probably resigned, became an addict, returned to the US, and has since worked as a self-effacing underundercover underburner in a suburban cemetarium.

  gerald ii

Gerald tries to set his alarm for eight-thirty. The leather of the couch is cold against his scrotum. He pushes the minute button frantically. He passes eight-thirty. Now at eight thirty-one. He has to start the whole sequence again. One two buckle your shoe. And he’s pushing the buttons again. Three four open the door. Nine ten start again.

  olencia i

Five months before Olencia gave birth to Sachi, she performed the Drano gender test — as recommended by babygenderprediction.com. The directions were printed on the flip-side of a piece of junk-mail: to save paper/the world. The test must be performed outside in a glass jar 5. Olencia considered her patio but decided it lacked sufficient privacy. She dumped rubber bands out of a Musselman’s jar and returned to her bathroom.

After some trouble positioning herself over the toilet — some +75° from the floor — Olencia placed two heaping tablespoons of the white granules into the jar, eyeballed the white granules, and closed her eyelids. Her hands grasped the sticky rim of the toilet, as she braced herself for (a reluctant and very yellow) spray of pee. Said spray erupted in toxic smoke, like a less-than spectacular magic-show-poof. She inhaled the smoke and passed out onto shards of glass and brown urine. If the mixture darkens to a brownish color within the first 10 seconds, it is a boy.

 huxig ii

Jody Griesgraber, a blonde, gauche, female Squirrel News anchor sports a crass pink business suit and an Arden B synthetic sapphire brooch, the vestiges of crow’s feet mostly obscured by Mary Kay makeup and bleached bangs. She wears White Shoulders perfume. She peers over her own intimidating rack to see the TelePrompTer.

Today, Secretary of State Dennis Deaner admitted to Squirrel News Correspondents that recent attacks on the nation-state Huxig have revealed little evidence of illegal methamphetamine labs:

(A still-framed image of Deaner) “What we thought were drug caches turned out to just be laboratories experimenting with some form of eco-friendly beet sugar.”

President Burgess, however, is unwavering; he assures skeptics that the caches of methamphetamines will “turn up.”

 gerald iii

When Gerald’s first symptoms appear, he believes that this is finally the natural consequence, the payback for all the anonymous sex, the reckless rump riding. He has gonorrhea. The tip of his penis, right around his urethra, is swollen. Emiction is a tiny trip to hell; it feels as if a syringe were being slam-dunked into his urethra. Morning piss is the worst: when he wakes up, his penis adheres in a patina of yellow-brown pus to the fabric of his white ribbed hip-briefs. Gerald has a pussy penis. Drinking excessive amounts of water mitigates the pain, but also makes the pain more frequent.

In the basement of a suburban Department of Public Health, Gerald fills out a questionnaire. It asks questions like who [sic] have I had sex with and then you have to mark Male. Female. Have I snorted street drugs. Have I snorted street drugs while having sex. Have I ever had sex with a known drug user. Have I had sex with a person of unknown HIV status.

Then Gerald chats with an unctuous counselor named Howell who sucks on a Valentine’s Day lollipop. Howell has licked away most of the white frost from the red center. He holds on to a white cardboard loop, which functions as the stick.

That night, Gerald dreams that he is standing in front of the claw. The sky is static; the air is sultry. The Fantasy Amusement Company Carnival is entirely vacant: a desert of asphalt, derelict monuments, and airborne litter. The glass case is filled with STIs, with malignant cells of gonorrhea, chlamydia, scabies, what appears to be vaginitis, HIV, and a colony of crabs housed in a clear plastic egg.

 sachi ii

Sachi lies prone next to her dead golden retriever Gordy. She is convulsing on the floor, attempting to clutch its body for support. Olencia induces vomiting with Ipecac syrup and Looza papaya nectar. She shouldn’t do this; Drano is corrosive, and papaya tastes like shit. She should have called the Poison Control. Sachi loses consciousness. Olencia is flailing her arms above the bodies of her child and dog. Running to the phone. Running to the toilet; running; rummaging for the Drano package. Running to her Toshiba; Googling “Drano”; closing pop-up ads; reading that Drano is strong enough that if you were to fill a standard bathtub with it, it would dissolve an entire human body.

 gerald iv

Howell looks at the questionnaire.

“Says here you have sex with men and women?”

“No.” Howell hands Gerald the form. “No.” Gerald follows the line with the tip of a Bic pen. “I’ve marked that I have sex with men, and I have snorted illegal drugs.”

Howell considers the sheet. “So you have.” He pauses. “What did you snort?”

Gerald rips a thread from the bottom of his distressed jeans. “Crystal.”

“Many people don’t make the connection between snorting street drugs and STDs. When you’re snorting drugs, when you’re liquored-up, son, you don’t know what your dick’s doing. You may go limp or forget the condom altogether.”

“STIs.” Gerald corrects him. “It’s PC.”

“ST-what?”

“I.”

“I work in a professional health clinic; we say STD. D is for disease.”

“Word on the street is — well — I is for infection.”

“Disease.”

“Your clinic is so un-PC.”

“Disease.”

“Infection.”

“You’ve got dark circles under your eyes. What’s that from?”

“You asked me that last time I was here. It’s because I don’t sleep.” Gerald bites his lip. “Poppers,” he adds — as an afterthought. “Are they illegal?”

 us ii

We run out of quarters. We put a twenty-dollar bill into an isolated change machine, and we purse our shirts like marsupials. We load five pounds of quarters into our cotton-blend pouches. When we return, the machine is gone. The whole carnival is gone like a towed car, without warning, without keepsake. Empty kernels of popcorn and greasy napkins thrash in asphalt storms.

 the virgin marty ii

Marty doesn’t know he has gonorrhea. Many sexually active Americans don’t. After all, gonorrhea’s super easy to catch. Marty probably got it from having his dick sucked in a mild to super-sweaty session — it’s that easy. Marty drives to work in the suburbs, so he doesn’t see the ubiquitous PSA in the trains: the cursive checklist:

    do the dishes: √
  I’m soo5 glad I got tested for (insert STI)! 7 walk the dog: √
    pay the DSL bill: √
    get tested: √.

His Samsung camera-phone rings.

“You think you got it from me? Who else did you — Did you talk to them? What are the symptoms? Not yet.”

 olencia ii

Olencia fidgets in the vinyl waiting room chairs. The doctor approaches.

“As you know, Sachi ate the crystalline Drano with peanut butter. The peanut butter neutralized the Drano. When you induced vomiting, however, the Drano did further damage.” Olencia stares at a television screen while the doctor speaks to her.

“Because it’s corrosive,” she says.

The soap’s actors’ mouths’ movements; the doctor’s slowed-down-cassette-tape voice; his words: dead, passed, I’m sorry.

She glances at the scars on her arms and her thighs: antepartum burns from the Drano test; she wonders: why did I keep it (the Drano) in the house?

 the virgin marty ii

For Marty, the carnival machine is no longer filled with stuffed animals but instead with an addict’s paraphernalia and a flimsy metal claw that will never catch said paraphernalia: prescription bottles, syringes, spoons, rubber bands, lighters, squares of aluminum foil.

 olencia iii

The Drano test nearly killed Olencia. Her hired help Harmony had been cleaning the pisser regularly with Soft Scrub in white-on-white Rohrschachs, scrubbing it around with a Target-brand toilet brush, and leaving it to, basically, disinfect those obdurate fecalities or — say — the congealed yellow driblets that clung to the bowl.

That portentous day, the Groeger family was flat out of SoftScrub. Harmony made lemonade out of lemons: 1 pint of water, 1 tbsp of laundry detergent, 1 tbsp ammonia. The bleach in the Drano crystals interacted with the ever-present ammonia in the homemade household cleaner. Five six makes you sick. Olencia’s cat Gertrude licked up the spillage, seized, died.

 gerald v

Gonorrhea is also known as the Clap. Gerald likes to tell people he has “the—”” and then clap, and then explain. He takes Ceftrixone for “the—”” and then he claps. He likes to tell people he has a pussy penis.8

 olencia iv

A ding. A DMV-inspired screen flashes Olencia’s number. You can now pick up your body. She grabs the black drawstring garbage bag from a dispenser in the corner. A nurse behind the counter points to Sachi’s body, which is uncarefully draped over a metal cart by the door. Olencia drops the body several times before she can get it in the bag. She doesn’t know whether to put in the head or the feet first. It requires two bags. One from the top and one from the bottom. Olencia underestimates the weight. She rents a pushcart from the hospital, which she will return to receive a full refund of her $50 deposit.

The drive to the cemetarium is time-consuming and tedious, a drive that requires a trip home first, to retrieve Baggies of toll-road change and her iPod9-FM radio adapter. Olencia pulls down the backseat of her BMW to create an expanded trunk. She places cement blocks on either side of the body, but it still rolls around when she makes abrupt stops and sharp turns and hits unforeseen (speed) bumps.

The cemetarium is an old refinery with spindly structures sprouting, looming overhead; the surrounding sky is bleak. Male underburners wear costumes, like yellow tarps smeared with black, like human Hocus Pocus roses. They throw bodies onto a bonfire, which they stoke with burnt sticks and half-logs. Sachi’s body burns mostly like other bodies, except for perceptible crackles: tiny Pop-Rock fizz from the Drano.

Marty is one of the underburners. He has pulled off his yellow suspenders and is pissing on the fire. On Sachi.

“Would you like to keep your garbage bags?” Marty asks Olencia. “As a souvenir?” She nods.

Just before the piss disappears into the ash, it turns slightly brown. He should expect a baby boy.

 gerald vi

Gerald sets his alarm for 8:30 to take his Ceftrixone; he takes one tablet twice daily. One at 8:30 am and one at 8:30 pm, but — see — Gerald can’t set his alarm for 8:30. His maladroit fingers are forever setting his Timex travel-clock for 8:31. If he misses one dose, he misses the next. For symmetry. If he is late for one dose, he skips it altogether and logically, the next dose as well. His gonorrhea thus goes untreated and leads to epididymitis, a condition in which his testicles become inflamed. His doctor recommends rest, rest, and rest — and iced, elevated scrotal support. His testicles are, in fact, so inflamed, that he cannot get up from his bed to walk to the bathroom. When he covers himself with a sheet, only his testicles are visible, appreciable monuments to his sickness, grapefruits — if you will. His testicles are so large that he has trouble reaching over them. At 8:31, Gerald’s monolithic testicles become empty, infertile balloons; his sperm a willful child’s backwash.

 huxig iii

Olencia returns home and TiVos back to 8:30. Typhoid and tuberculosis are the newest terrorists in the nation-state Huxig. Huxi insurgents have looted and destroyed hospitals. The camera zooms in on news anchor Jody Griesgraber’s blanched face.

It all started when. She pauses. Javier López got gonorrhea. (And then he claps.) The health-care staff in San Jose del Cabo10 lacks the medicine to treat this normally mild STD. (I) Javier’s symptoms worsen. His testicles inflame; his urine is discolored with blood; he feels acute pain upon voiding: epididymitis. Because Javier’s gonorrhea goes untreated, he is unaware that he has developed chronic epididymitis.11 He also has genitourinary tuberculosis. Jody stumbles on the words genitourinary and San Jose del Cabo.

The news report is followed by a PSA about OCD; it features best-selling author J.K. Rowling.

 gerald vii

The vitrine is now filled with clocks and watches, some digital, some analogue, all set at 8:30. For two “tries,” Gerald inserts four quarters. The claw is inert. Gerald rams the joystick in every direction. He pounds on the glass; he searches for a disconnected power cable; he even shakes the machine.

 the virgin marty iv

It is 8:31 am, and the underburner holds his head over his latest boyfriend’s toilet. He has called in sick today. Some undissolved Drano Crystals have crusted on the rim of the toilet. He is suffering from the Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy, known in some circles as “morning sickness.” He does not know that he is suffering from NVP; he has only noticed a slight distension of his belly in addition to the vomiting, both of which he attributes to the six-packs of MGD he has been drinking after work. The underburner is the Virgin Mary’s sequel — he is not a virgin by any standard, but the conception of his fetus was categorically immaculate — for all intents and purposes, call him the Virgin Marty.

 olencia v

Olencia tries to position the claw over a spa package: a — comme on dit — “nice” weekend getaway complete with forest yoga, feldenkrais, mud baths, meditation sessions, and lacto-ovo vegetarian meals. It’s been a rough week for her: she deserves it. She pushes a red button at the tip of the joystick. The claw clatters against a Yanni CD, clasps onto nothing, and returns to its inexorable center.

 gerald viii

You can make crystal meth from generic Sudafed, Iodine tincture, and the strike pads from matchbooks.

Here’s another way:

Tweeker485: take the lithium strips out of ur car batterie — put em in a bucket with a bottle of drano

FeralGerald: i put the whole bottle in?

Tweeker485: then pure ammonia

Tweeker485: put 4 boxes of suddifed pills in. then a ball of aluminum foil and toss it in — that’s thesulfuric acid.

FeralGerald: can’t that kill u? :-/

Tweeker485: where a fuckin gas mask, just trying to help

Tweeker485: get a two liter bottle of coke — put a hole in the cap and run a tube from the cap to the bucket — and put the bttle upside down to let it drip.. then you wait like five hours and get the gunk out of the bottom and let itdry — that’s the shit.

Tweeker485 signed off 8:31 pm.

 the virgin marty v

The Virgin Marty gives birth to a cyborg baby at 8:31 am. Dr. Hwang and his colleagues cut Marty’s stomach open, searching frantically for the source of the tumescence, the barfing, the cravings. The baby’s right hand juts out: out of the blue, out of his stomach; it is a TiVo remote control. The baby has two eyes in addition to a Casio LCD screen in the center of her forehead and a Sony antenna, which can be pulled out the back of her head like a rat-tail. She has wireless internet. Marty names her Donna.

Squirrel News’s paparazzi are on the story right away. However adept Dr. Hwang is at warding off the media — he prefers to keep things hush-hush for the time being — sly Squirrel News anchor Jody Griesgraber sneaks into Marty’s paternity ward, disguised as a nurse, her top button: a hidden camera; her pen: a microphone.

 gerald ix

Gerald sells his first batch of crystal meth at a discounted price to a trophy wife from the suburbs. He then holds a butcher knife to his scrotum. He can take the pain no longer. His testes: now the size of small basketballs.

 olencia vi

Olencia is sweating; the sweat is dripping down her forehead in impossible streams, almost squirting out of her hairline. She sees dark spots on the carpet like dirt spilled out of a pot, like the puppy pee-pees of our departed Gordy. Her temperature is 105°. She has so-called Superman Syndrome. You get this from the meth; it means you think you can do anything. She wants to remove the flat-screen television from the ceiling because somehow, who knows how, she senses this is the source of all this unhappy happenstance. She stands on a folding chair with her feet arched up, her hands stretching toward the ceiling. She falls to the floor, bounces. The television screen goes directly through her body, like a screen through a dog, like a blender through tofu, like some kind of perilous adult Hula Hoop.

 gerald x

His entire sex life flashes before his eyes.

 olencia vii

She is convulsing hardcore. The Hula Hoop circles around her hips.

 the virigin marty vi

He tries to hold Donna. She rewinds the television.

 gerald xi

And then his basketball-balls in his hands, like the prize, like the pink deer, except he won’t cuddle with them to fall asleep or even put these on his shelf. He throws them into Lake Michigan, where they bob: odd fleshy buoys.

When he returns to his loft, the police are camped out at his door. They suspect he is involved in meth trafficking and spying for the new-ish nation-state Huxig. Former secret agent Marty Larson tipped them off. Gerald thinks: I should have known Marty was a scab.

“Just a minute,” he tells them, checking his Kyocera for the time. “Let me bandage my scrotum. Five minutes.” He motions with his hand.

 us iii

Huxi fighter jets drop atomic bombs on Chicago, New York, and LA. This is the 9-11, the Pearl Harbor of 20__. Survivors lose their hair. This is called epilation. They have severe keloid burns. We doubt our cyborg baby can save us from this.

Perhaps, we think, the atomic bomb is our redemption. In its holocaust, it destroys the gonorrhea, the Drano, and a latent sprinkle of jingoism.

Perhaps, we think, TiVo is our redemption. In a recent survey, 98% of TiVo users claimed they “could not live without” the TiVo service.12

Perhaps, we think, the claw machines will one day take all major credit cards and travelers’ checks, but for now, we look for another quarter.

We have reimagined the carnival claw machine. Instead of filling the vitrine with cute but inane fuzz, we fill it with household products. Drano, SoftScrub, Windex, Clorox, 409, Toilet Duck. The claw will be slightly reconfigured for durability.

Just imagine a world of indestructible cyborg babies, using major credit cards to win household cleaning products for their re-peopled families. When we imagine this, nothing eludes the imagination.

 donna i  -i

Donna TiVos the world back to an 8:31, before the bomb. The mushroom cloud is sucked back into its casing. The Virgin Marty’s hair gravitates back to his head. Minus a few details, Sachi is back on the cart, then back under the television watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Unsinging her threnody: .eohs ym elkcub ,owt ,enO If Donna TiVos back far enough, Gertrude unlicks the Drano mix and undies. Olencia is upright. The rubber bands are back in the Musselman’s jar. Olencia unconsiders her porch. Gerald unmakes the meth. (Olencia unbuys his unmade meth). FeralGerald unIMs his conversation with Tweeker485. Unsnorts the crystal. His testicles fly up out of the lake, collide with a Canadian goose en route, reattach, and detumesce. He ungets gonorrhea. We unattack Huxig. Javier ungets tuberculois, gonorrhea, and epididymitis. Donna, the cyborg baby and second and unidentified messiah, is unborn, immaculately unconceived, and ungendered.

Seven eight open the gate. Nine ten start again.

 us iv

And we try, one more time, to get that impossible pink deer out of the vitrine with a frail metal claw. Thinking. Maybe this time it will happen. Maybe this time we’ll position the claw just right. This time we’ll catch it. We have OCD. We have the Superman Syndrome. We get it from the meth; it means we think we can do anything.