The Pile – Chapter Two

In the days following his initial encounter with Nico, Raymond found himself crushed under the weight of an unshakable malaise. His thoughts were consumed with memories of those few seconds during which he believed his wait for salvation was over. He compared it to how the Jewish nation must have felt after the Jesus Christ debacle. He had major messiah blue balls.

In his mind, Raymond clearly understood that hard work and luck, along with hundreds of other unique, situation-dependent variables, were essential in creating the life he wanted. He was very practical in this regard. Less clear, however, was the origin of his faith that once he checked off the boxes he’d defined as his path to happiness and success, he would invariably achieve his desired end state.  His ability to focus solely on action, and a conviction that that action would always produce the hoped for outcome, was the prime mover in his headlong rush through life. According to Raymond, as long as he stayed active, he would be successful.

Thus far, his life had attained a moderate level of success. In addition to his job as a mental asylum orderly, Raymond wrote for an online newspaper called Mudsling Nation. The publication’s stated focus was to expose the institutional corruption running rampant throughout the nation’s bureaucratic infrastructure. However, after a weak initial public offering six months prior, the journal’s need for click-generated ad revenue prompted a minor shift in the site’s focus; namely away from governmental corruption and towards celebrity sex tapes. Raymond, who’d previously felt immensely proud to mention to acquaintances that he was well into his fourth year as an unpaid intern, was increasingly embarrassed with this particular association. Unfortunately, with the sorry state of the news industry, an equally prestigious unpaid internship was impossible to find anywhere else.

Whenever he took a break from searching for famous flesh, Raymond built his reputation as a fearless crusader against entrenched political interests, bravely exposing corrupt practices and moral failings wherever he found them. When engaged in this specific pursuit he felt a pseudonym[1] was prudent, as he feared future reprisals from traditional powers he wished to one day join. His ultimate career goal was to achieve a level of conventional power and influence that would allow him to enact the radical changes he fervently believed human systems for power distribution required. To reach this position, however, Raymond knew he had to keep his head down and play the institutional game. Though he feared being viewed as a shill or sell-out, he believed it was the only way to initiate a systemic revolution. In this he considered himself a type of martyr; sacrificing his dearly held personal principles for the greater good of the future of humanity.

The majority of Raymond’s life was spent in motion, probing the imposing battlements of his definition of success for a reasonable avenue of approach. During the brief hours in which he ceased moving, his thoughts would catch up to their source and overwhelm him. During these still moments he’d find himself dragged into the quicksand of his unhappy mind. So he kept moving, lest he bury himself under a mountain of self-doubt.

Usually when Raymond felt depressed he’d admit his depression, identify the root, and then contextualize[2] it out of existence. How dare he, a privileged white male and card-carrying member of the historical oppressor class, pretend he had the right to suffer! This depression, any depression, was nothing but one more insult to every demographic his ancestors had repressed in order to place him on his undeserved pedestal in the global racial hierarchy. The pleasure he felt at being aware he was self-aware on this subject also greatly contributed to his ability to drag his mind out of its mire.

His typical anti-depression strategy, however, was proving less effective when applied to the Nico conundrum. Continuing to taint every possible solution was the nagging sensation of a lost raison d’être[3].

So, Raymond naturally asked, “Should I kill myself?” As with all decisions large and small, he systematically weighed the pros and the cons of the proposal and consulted with experts in the field. Of particular interest was Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, which had been a favorite touchstone of his on the subject of death since childhood. Raymond felt thinking about suicide intensely connected his own suffering with the overarching anguish of humanity and projected the image of a deep, eternally suffering and sensitive person. Though it had always served as an essential feature of his constructed character, now the work had to function as more than a mere accessory. He clung to each word as a vital part of his shield against the rampaging desire to terminate his own life. Where he, Raymond, had struggled to logically justify not committing suicide, In Raymond’s interpretation, which he’d read online, Sisyphus, in his eternal labor with his absurd and impossible task, was a hero. Instead of allowing absurdity to defeat him, Raymond felt he must use it as a new reason to keep living. The more he struggled in his ultimately meaningless life, the more absurd his life would become. From a certain perspective, a perfectly absurd existence was a magnificent achievement.

After considering these lessons, Raymond decided to take a large number of prescription sleeping pills and drink a large amount of alcohol.

As far as he was aware, the only effect this had on his life was wasting twenty-two hours, during which he missed a public watch party for the finale of the only television show he watched with regularity[4]. He considered this highly regrettable.

Regardless of regret over missed opportunities, Raymond felt his induced rest had refreshed him enough to start rebuilding a lattice on which to fabricate a new track for his life. As he reflected on his previous mental orientation, he felt like a fool for allowing a fantasy dependent on a mystical other to serve as the locus for his being.

A week after meeting Nico Leftiè, Raymond Clock had undergone a radical transformation.

The centrifuge he used to separate life’s precipitate had been recalibrated. Though he was still unclear as to why he existed, he was reasonably comfortable with the idea that a new raison d’être would emerge in due time. His new motivation to participate in everyday actions now came from his desire to be prepared for whatever his new purpose might require him to be. This dramatically expanded the number of activities open to him. Instead of narrowly defining himself through his prestigious cultural interests, which he’d hoped would attract the mind of his savior, he was now able to pursue potentially useful skills such as computer repair, whittling, and kayaking.

With his new lease on life, it was now only on every third day that Raymond would arrive home from work or whittling or kayaking and sink back into depression. Rather than feel depressed about his depression, Raymond decided to enjoy the legitimate emotions he experienced during these moments spent in oblivion.  He was happy to be experiencing any sort of strong emotion, regardless of their positivity. According to Raymond’s new opinion, it might even be impossible to properly appreciate positive emotions without also knowing the intricacies of their antitheses. He thought of his depression as a valuable learning experience and potential benefit for his future happiness.

Two weeks after meeting Nico Leftiè, Raymond’s life was drastically altered once again when he received a visit from a man named Alistair Squidge.

The morning of Mr. Squidge’s visit, Raymond awoke to waiting arms of a familiar depression. A newly minted grizzled veteran of these emotional chasms, his pathos had been gristled and subsumed into a knotty growth of unwavering resolve. And so, in the course of action he knew as his best possible option, he gritted his teeth, dragged himself out of bed, tossed a Dave Brubeck recording onto his vintage phonograph, and put the kettle on. Making tea to Take Five on a Sunday morning while reading the latest New Yorker profile of a visionary Icelandic Economic Minister allowed Raymond a moment of succor. Moments where he controlled the variables of his existence momentarily enraptured him by feeling exactly like the person he wanted people to think he was. Grabbing his publication of choice and a cup of plum tea, he settled into his gorgeous Ligne Roset recliner, the only piece of furniture occupying his high-arched, burgundy-walled living room[5].

Raymond had barely finished the opening paragraph describing the crags of Dagbjört Baldursdóttir’s weathered features when Raymond noticed a prim tapping noise on his solid-wood front door. Annoyed, he opened the gateway into his life and very nearly slammed it back shut in the face of a powder-coated mystic standing on his stoop[6]. Before he could deliver his prepared excuse claiming he was in the middle of cooking an elaborate anniversary meal for his boyfriend who would be home any second, the grime-encrusted stranger brushed by Raymond, leaving a smear of green powder wherever he went. Confused but curious, Raymond inquired as to the man’s identity.

“You may address me as Alistair Squidge,” came the reply in a posh Oxbridge accent. “I assume you are Raymond Clock?”

Disoriented by the grand gulf suddenly opened between his expectations and reality, but not wishing to appear as if he’d stereotyped the person he’d just stereotyped, Raymond responded politely, “Yes sir, I’m Raymond Clock. May I query past your name, Mr. Squidge?”

“Certainly, Mr. Clock. I am a founding partner in the firm Squidge, Quaker, and Bunt, and lead counsel for Ms. Nico Leftiè.[7]

“Then I must assume Ms. Leftiè sent you to discuss the acquisition of my idea. Is that correct, Mr. Squidge?”

“Very astute, Mr. Clock.”

Under the layers of dirt, matted and tangled hair, Raymond could make out charcoal-black skin, a well-tailored dhoti, and lily-white Oxford shirt. The barrister was coated in a layer of green abir, some of which would escape from Mr. Squidge’s gravity whenever he moved, slowly floating to the ground and settling like a thin powdering of brightly colored snow[8].

“Well, if we are going to discuss business, I suppose it would be best if we sat down first. I apologize for making you stand around while I remember my manners. If you would, please follow me into my dining area. Do you take tea?”

Raymond immediately regretted his last sentence. Was it racist to offer tea to a British man? Or did it seem like he was overcompensating? Or as a British person who…

Before he could reach the bottom of his white-guilt death spiral, Mr. Squidge interrupted.

“Thank you for your kind offer, but that is entirely unnecessary. My instructions are simple. Ms. Leftiè is prepared to pay you $200,000 for the outright purchase of all rights associated with your “Dance Deprivation Location” idea. I have a contract here that I will leave for your review, though I recommend you assess the terms with your personal barristers. If you are sufficiently pleased, please contact my office directly and we shall complete the transaction. I do warn you, however; Ms. Leftiè is not to be trifled with over financial matters and this is a generous offer. I await your response.”

As Mr. Squidge turned to leave, Raymond responded through a cloud of green particles.

“I have your answer now, Mr. Squidge. As I told Ms. Leftiè during our meeting, the idea is free. It is hers if she wants it.”

Shaking with pride and self-satisfaction, he inhaled sharply to assist his self-control.

“I see. You are determined to refuse our offer and insist upon donating your idea?”

“I am and I do.”

“Ms. Leftiè foresaw this possibility and instructed me, in the case of both this specific refusal and this specific insistence, to increase our offer to $2 million. If you sign today, the money shall be yours tomorrow.”

Raymond was baffled by this new viridescent tact. As his mind explored possibilities, an answer presented itself: Nico was testing him. Perhaps he’d made some sort of impression on the indomitable Ms. Leftiè after all. Or, he reconsidered, maybe he was reading too much into this. Perhaps she was too proud to take the idea for free, or she didn’t want to feel like she owed anyone anything.

No matter the reason for the offer, he considered himself a man with firm principles. He’d never compromise himself for something as vulgar as money. The great benefit to never having very much money, in Raymond’s eyes, was the ease with which one could say and truly mean that they were above such petty things. That sense of moral superiority was worth far more to him than any amount of cash. In fact, the larger the sum he rejected, the greater his sense of pride in his own choice and disdain for those who might be tempted. And so he persisted in his refusal.

“I apologize for wasting your time, but either you take the idea for free or not at all. I will continue to refuse any amount offered.”

“Very well then. Good day, Mr. Clock,” sniffed the legal professional in a professional tone as he professionally stuffed six other contracts he’d slid out of his satchel back inside. He was soon gone, leaving an emerald trail lazily drifting in his wake.

Raymond closed the door and set about vigorously scrubbing his carpet.

As the next two weeks unfolded, Raymond alternated between two very distinct states. He found he was either manic, characterized by frequently roaming the streets of Georgetown at all hours in fevered desperation to find anything with a capacity to refurbish his passions; or gripped in lethargic depression, during which he would lie on his living room floor for sizeable segments of time staring at his ceiling while mentally poring over and rejecting every possible pursuit he could begin in the next five minutes.

No matter the particulars of the current condition of his mind, the unifying theme behind every thought was the ever-present spirit of Nico Leftiè. He repeatedly set himself to the task of repairing the philosophical bulwark that had been destroyed by Alistair Squidge’s visit, but his efforts were in vain. After observing how easily his internally-vaunted deep-thinking cerebrum was wrecked by an encounter with a mere proxy of Nico, he was forced to admit the irrationality behind rebuilding any new structure. A character flaw Raymond simply could not imagine letting himself tolerate was lying to himself. So he faced what he reckoned to be the truth with shoulders firmly squared.

This was an issue of emotions, which meant he would have to deal with it on an emotional level rather than mental. To have trouble controlling his emotions was outside his area of expertise, so he had to consult the authorities once again.

Raymond spent hours reviewing a range of modern literature discussing emotional regulation. Through his research, he found that these inappropriate and inconvenient feelings seemed to boil down to varying levels of serotonin and dopamine. If this turned out to be a chemical problem, conceivably a chemical cure might work as the best solution. To this end, Raymond made an appointment with a physician he’d seen previously[9] who also happened to frequently but subtly advertise her heavy investment in GlaxoSmithKline during her patients’ visits. Shockingly, when he spoke to her of his current mental state, he was prescribed Ezkalith CR.[10]

Taking this drug did infuse Raymond with an enhanced capacity for pleasure and a definite feeling of well-being. These initial positive sensations soon gave way to an intense desire for self-analysis. His typical level of happiness sans drug use, on the rare occasion he felt happy, was always thoroughly vetted and defensible. The existence of this artificial, unjustified emotion felt akin to a foreign army invading his psyche. The result of his experimentation with Ezkalith CR was acute paranoia of his own emotions and the psychological rejection of anything he deemed synthetic.

As he came down from the chemical compound in a muddle, the medicine had at least one positive net impact. The familiar buzz of his normal neurotic thoughts and a return to his usual low-level-but-intellectually-certifiable happiness, when stacked up against his recent discomfort, allowed for a favorable comparison. The sub-par happiness he was once again experiencing felt like a return home, which led to an increase in his perception of his overall level of relative happiness. Raymond was pleased with his improved condition and felt better equipped to regulate his periods of mania and depression.

This relative recovery was maintained until the day, precisely two weeks later, he received another knock on his door.

Other than his thick coat of purple abir, Alistair Squidge’s appearance was unchanged. He stepped into Raymond’s home with his distinctive professionalism.

“It is a pleasure to see you again Mr. Clock. Have you been keeping well?”

Raymond, initially surprised by the reappearance of the colorful Mr. Squidge, was annoyed. Though he was certain he’d made his position clear last time, it was not in him to be rude to a guest.

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Squidge. Life has its ups and downs; one can only do their best to adapt.”

Mr. Squidge smiled and nodded sagely, “Very good, Mr. Clock. Now I do not wish to take up too much of your time, so I will be brief. Ms. Leftiè has sent me here to make you another offer.”

Raymond’s tolerance was tested. “I have already informed you that I will not accept any amount of money for this idea.”

“This offer is not monetary, Mr. Clock,” the lawyer replied.

“…Oh, I see…”

“Ms. Leftiè has secured for you, at great difficulty, a post as the American Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire. If you agree to our terms, you will begin your training at Foggy Bottom immediately.”

Raymond was stunned. A real ambassadorship? The maddeningly opaque hiring process at the United States Department of State had dashed his dreams for years. Every winter he’d take the Foreign Service Officer Test, pass, and submit his Personal Narrative. Every May, he’d receive the same letter thanking him for his efforts but informing him the Qualifications Evaluations Panel did not deem him sufficiently competent to move on to the Foreign Service Officer Oral Assessment. The dizzying hope that perpetually sprouted from his yearly congratulatory letter notifying him that he’d passed the written exam did nothing to alleviate the misery he endured on the subsequent rejection.

He was now presented with not just a station in the long-coveted organization, but a position of real, traditional power. He could finally take his proper place as his generation’s Talleyrand, with peaceful solutions to the world’s woes just a high-level engagement away. He could even do so without having to first slog through years of bureaucratic trenches, compromising every moral in pursuit of the greater good. Never in even his wildest fantasies had he imagined this scenario.

As his mind processed the possibilities, his thoughts continually foundered on one undeniable point: he’d sworn to give Nico this idea for free. He was now being asked to use it to purchase a future. No matter what rationalization he attempted to exploit in his efforts to surmount the wall of his doughty moral fortress, nothing could find a foothold.

“I am afraid my position remains the same, Mr. Squidge, The idea is not for sale or barter. It is a gift given freely, or not at all.”

“Ms. Leftiè is prepared to offer the ambassadorship to France in two years’ time when the current position is vacated.”

It took the concerted force of every brain cell believing in every principle he’d ever constructed to reject this offer. But he did it.

“Very well then. Good day to you, Mr. Clock.”

The lawyer left and Raymond began to rid his life of purple.

Raymond was disappointed he was unable to preserve either his mental or emotional resolve through this latest encounter. The moment he’d opened the door to Nico’s representative, the increase in happiness he’d felt since coming down from the lithium drained out of his body onto the plum-coated floor.

He’d tried and failed to construct both mental and emotional shelters in which to weather the storm created by his affection for Ms. Leftiè. For Raymond, it seemed a physical option was the obvious and only choice remaining to him. A cessation of all those pesky neurons firing all those negative signals through his highly sensitive dendrites would certainly result in a significant and sudden alteration in the way he felt. But that course was perhaps a bit too extreme. Perhaps a focus on exercise and healthy living might serve him better than a lobotomy.

Though Raymond was decidedly non-spiritual and miles removed from any sort of superstition, he did readily acknowledge the physical benefits inherent in certain practices rooted in mysticism, such as yoga. Coupled with the chance to clear his mind, the physical exertion involved in exercise-focused yoga had the effect of releasing chemicals similar to the ill-fated lithium carbonate. The difference, which made yoga preferable to drugs, was the happiness chemicals released during physical exertion were happiness chemicals he felt he deserved; happiness earned through anguished ligaments. The greater the suffering wreaked, the happier Raymond could justify feeling. Therefore he turned to Bikram Yoga in order to inflict the most egregious distress upon his person.

In preparation, he spent a few days researching the best studios in the Georgetown area. For his first lesson, he chose the third-highest rated company[11]. His plan was to start out at a sub-par studio where he could embarrass himself as a novice with fewer concerns than if he were at the top rated institution. As he improved, he would move on to the second-highest rated company[12]. This would increase his quality of instruction, but also continue to allow him to practice with a margin of error. Finally, when he had perfected his techniques, he would move on to the top-rated company[13]. There, he would claim he was a novice and then surprise the yogi with his seemingly natural abilities, causing a sensation. With this method he could receive both the exercise and attention he craved.

After settling on his plan, he purchased, with much deliberation on the color and its implications for his projected character, the necessary equipment from an accredited local yoga supply store, and headed to Phillip Morris Presents: The Seven Heavenly Gardens Yoga Experience.

The sweltering, softly lit Bikram studio was sparsely populated with sweating stereotypes. The scattered, multi-colored yoga mats were claimed by six Aphrodities and a single, pony-tailed Adonis. Two of the women were chatting with the preening man, who would occasionally toss back his hair as it crept over his shoulder while turning from one partner to the other. Distaste for the entire population occupying the room immediately overwhelmed him, but Raymond worked to suppress this feeling, which, incidentally, allowed him to believe he was both open-minded and charitable.

Raymond set up camp in the back of the room to appear aloof and mysterious. While doing so, he made the unfortunate mistake of peering in the direction of the conversationalists, catching the eye of the male participant. Though he felt rude for admitting he believed so, Raymond was sure the man was the definition of a strutting jackass. The jackass smiled and excused himself from his companions, who looked after him with a disappointment transitioning to annoyance as their gaze fell upon the lone figure of Raymond.

“Well hello there, sir! Welcome to ‘Introduction to Basic Bikram’!” The talking V-shaped flesh and muscles said as it extended its hand. “I’m your instructor, Flowing Empathy.”

Raymond caught himself just before bursting into laughter. This hilariously over the top, new-age hippie stuff always annoyed him with its insufferable crystals and “alternative” cures. Of course, his annoyance never stopped him from shopping at health food stores run by such “long-hairs,” or nonchalantly mentioning his affinity for goji berries; but his fellow health food store shoppers and goji berry aficionados, in their infinite pretension, drove him crazy. This was the primary reason he’d long avoided studio-taught yoga sessions; it was a haven for these feel-good types who always turned out to be creeps. But regardless of his personal misgivings and bias, Raymond politely introduced himself.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m a bit nervous – this is my first time doing Bikram.[14]

“Oh don’t be! You’ll be fine! We take it pretty easy in this class. Everyone’s a beginner!” said the pony-tailed idiot in a kind and comforting baritone. “Okay, grab your mat! It’s time for us to get started!”

The students lined up as directed in front of the yogi. Raymond noted, with no small amount of disdain, that the most attractive women among the pretentious buffoon’s ardent admirers were assigned to the closest positions. When the class was settled, a twinkling shimmer of spacey music, played by something that sounded to Raymond like an electronic didgeridoo, wafted over the room. Suppressing his amusement at the ever-increasing absurdity, Raymond bent his torso into the Half-Moon position, holding it for longer than any other student. When the instructor praised his fortitude, he grimaced. Thoughts of David Foster Wallace’s “Good Old Neon” immediately sprang to mind with such intensity that he almost lost his balance transitioning to Eagle. The story had related a remarkably similar situation. The main character had attempted to outdo every other member of the class to craft a specific perception of himself in the minds of those around him.  Raymond prided himself on heeding lessons taught by literary characters and proceeded to intentionally lose his balance and tumble to the ground. He faked embarrassment and muttered ashamed-sounding apologies to the instructor and other yoga practitioners, who were, he was satisfied to note, stifling their amused pity. Now he could not be accused of trying to create a false impression of himself for his own misguided edification[15]. Pleased with himself, he assumed a perfect Triangle position.

As the minutes spent in the unconscionably warm studio dragged by and he switched from Cobra to Locust to Bow, his vision began to swim. It seemed the Bikram yoga Raymond had lied about not having experienced was, in reality, not actually Bikram yoga[16]. Due to his misunderstanding of the basics of Bikram, Raymond had severely underestimated his need to hydrate prior to this lesson. By the time he reached Half-Tortoise, he was delirious. When Flowing Empathy gently pushed for a switch to Camel Position, Raymond vomited on himself, rolled onto his side, and sank into darkness to the drone of what he assumed to be the same electronic didgeridoo.

He emerged from his fog to the drone of a kind and comforting baritone voice.

“You’re classically beautiful, has anyone ever told you that?”

Raymond opened his eyes to a ponytail in an ambulance. The words he’d just heard registered with him as odd. He gasped: was this yogi a homosexual? If he’d possessed the ability to move his arms, he would have slapped his own forehead. This changed everything! Horrible thoughts bulled their way into his brain. Though he’d been outwardly polite to Mr. Empathy, in light of the revelation of the instructor’s sexual preference, his inner monologue was despicable. Raymond was terrified that the lovely Flowing had sensed his subconscious feelings and believed him to be homophobic. The thought was more than Raymond could bear. He’d been an active supporter of marriage equality and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender issues as far back as high school. He’d marched in protests, attended rallies, and even spent time lobbying Congress. His pro-homosexual credentials were impeccable.

There’d been little to no indication that this fine gentleman was a gay person, or at least none that Raymond had picked up on. He’d assumed the kind and generous Mr. Empathy was a typical new-age, douchebag breeder using yoga to pick up physically fit, liberally-minded women. But now that the yogi was making a pass at him, Raymond felt the circumstances had changed entirely. Though he’d rejected the flattering propositions of gay men many times in the past, never had he been placed in a scenario where he had to decline while also defending against accusations of bigotry. Though unsure how to proceed, he knew he needed to say something.

“Oh, thank you. You’re truly beautiful as well. Your body reminds me of a figure painted on a Grecian urn.”

The yogi looked down at Raymond with alarm.

“Oh, you’re awake! Um, how are you feeling?”

“Not horrible.” Raymond responded. “I’m mildly embarrassed, but I’m sure my pride will survive.”

“Oh…yes well that’s good, good.” Flowing said. “It looks like you’ll be right as rain in no time.”

Raymond interpreted Flowing Empathy’s unease as fear he was being rejected. Feeling it would be heartless to lead him on any longer; Raymond told him the truth in the gentlest tone he could manage.

“I am very, very sorry Mr. Empathy, I don’t mean anything by this, I promise. You’re a wonderful and lovely person. Any man you choose to be with should count himself lucky. But unfortunately for me, I’m attracted to the opposite sex.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Wait, aren’t you gay? Weren’t you just hitting on me?”

“No! I’m not gay! Why would I be hitting on you!?”

“Are you kidding me? What year is it?” came a third male voice from the front of the vehicle. “You’re still in the closet? Sorry Tim, I don’t date guys who’re ashamed of who they are.”

“Wait, no, Jeff! I’m not in the closet!” Flowing pleaded, “It’s just a professional thing!”

“What, like you’re not allowed to be gay as a yoga instructor?” Scoffed the voice from the front seat. Raymond, who was still strapped to a stretcher and penetrated by a needle delivering a steady flow of Intravenous Fluid Drip, could not turn his head to get a clear view of the angry party.

“No…well you see the thing is, a lot of my students are women who come to class almost exclusively to see me. And yes, I intentionally flirt with them to keep them interested. I admit it. But it’s all harmless! I swear! Most of them are married! They just come in for a little innocent thrill on the side; just something to get their blood flowing, you know?”

“That’s so gross. You’re manipulating these poor women’s emotions for your own professional benefit! You can go fuck yourself with your Friday plans! Or better yet, why don’t you take one of your harem?”

Flowing Empathy looked down in disgust at Raymond, “Thanks a lot, jackass.”

Out of instinct, Raymond shouted, “I swear I’m not homophobic! I’ve worked with Human Rights Campaign, Stonewall and a ton of other nationwide organizations to help promote gay rights ever since I was in high school!”

The ambulance traveled the remaining distance to the hospital in silence.

Raymond spent the better part of the next two weeks recovering from this traumatic chapter in his life. As a silver lining, however, the intensity of his embarrassment and shame helped drive his Nico-induced depression to the outer rim of his consciousness.

His misery remained stable and Nico-free until he heard a familiar knock on his door. He opened to find a blue Alistair Squidge smiling at him professionally.

“To be frank, I was hoping to never see you again Mr. Squidge.” Raymond intoned glumly as the lawyer made his way inside.

“Well I can see it doesn’t take much for us to forget the basics of cordiality.” chided the blue barrister. “I am here entirely at the behest of my client.”

“Yes, and I apologize for my lack of manners, but I figure by this point we’re old friends. What have you brought for me to reject today?”

“Ms. Leftiè has directed me to offer you a position as the manager of the rock and roll band, Death is the Opiate of the Masses. In return, Ms. Leftiè requests the use of your idea pertaining to her Dance Deprivation Initiative.”

Raymond’s heart buckled. DOM was his favorite band, both in public and in private. Their perfect blending of cinematic post-rock with electronic dark-wave spoke to him on a primal level. If he were to agree to accept this position, it would be his ticket into the heart of a culture he’d spent his entire life trying to infiltrate.

But, of course, he could not accept this position. He told himself it was his morality; he told himself it was his principles; he told himself it was everything he believed in and how he defined himself that prevented the trade of his trivial idea for this life changing opportunity. In reality, however, it was his pride that prevented him from making the transaction. And he knew it; underneath his self-delusion Raymond knew it was pride. But he also knew that pride was the only thing he had left.

“My answer remains unchanged, Mr. Squidge. Please inform Ms. Leftiè there is nothing in this world she can offer me to change my mind.”

“Very well then. Good day to you, Mr. Clock. And good luck.”

When all that remained was cerulean, Raymond wept.

He called in sick for the first time in his life. He called in sick for the entire week, claiming to have come down with a highly infectious strain of Mononucleosis. He’d always looked down on the very notion of calling in sick[17]. Now, however, Raymond was too sick, physically, emotionally, and mentally, to summon the energy he needed to exist in a public environment. He again began to dismiss his daily activities as pointless and unfulfilling. Feeling that he’d exhausted his reparative options, the permanent rest found in death began to consume his mind.

Raymond’s viewpoint on end-of-life matters was highly practical. He felt that though life has no intrinsic value, human beings could, at the very least, pretend their lives held meaning. This pretense would then act as a personal raison d’être. Once that individual had accomplished enough to both satisfy themselves and meet the parameters defined by their raison d’être, they would finally deserve to die. Death was something to be earned after a life filled with suffering and struggle; the ultimate reward for excelling in an existence steeped in absurdity and horror[18].

The only method to mitigate the terror of reality, from Raymond’s perspective, was to live every second in the most self-aware and hyper-sensitive manner possible. In this state, a human being could hold up a goal, or a raison d’être, as an achievement of such significance that it triumphed over the deterministic impulses of nature itself. The accumulation of these achievements could, over time, push humanity onto a better path, creating a society where the natural, vicious impulses embedded into the human mind were fundamentally moderated by a mutually benevolent and self-perpetuating societal infrastructure. The ascendant beings who assisted in this social transformation qualified for the reward of no longer existing in an arduous reality where every moment was spent vigilantly keeping their own base selves at bay.

Though Raymond did not believe in any sort of afterlife, he could not conceive of a worse fate than to die embarrassed by his own insignificance.  A human’s death should be seen as a chance to celebrate a lifetime of accomplishments; a moment to observe the summation of that individual’s contributions to humanity. How horrible it must be for those beings whose consciousness faded with the knowledge that they’d done nothing worth dying for. Yet Raymond now found himself in a position where he was running a cost/benefit analysis of being dead. While the benefits column was robust, it was not enough.

By his estimation, if he could alleviate a moderate portion of the negatives contributing to the costs of offing himself sans major life accomplishments, then perhaps the benefits might be able to squeak over the top during his next assessment. This would leave him free to kill himself with impunity.

He spent the next few days probing the limits of his imagination for a creative solution to his dilemma. The main issue, of course, was the current state of his opinion regarding his own contributions to humanity. An odd moment here and there had made him feel proud of himself: his acceptance into an Ivy League institution for example, which resulted in his decision to attend a public school to ensure he was not contributing to the enlargement of the nation’s class gap, or the time he’d lectured a group of human rights protestors on their lack of efficacy while he was protesting a corrupt developmental aid focused Non-Governmental Organization. These were highlights, bright points in his life. But they had no strong connecting theme that would allow him to build an empire out of his reputation, or serve as a catalyst for change in the lives of millions, or assist in carving out a place for himself in future elementary school students’ official social studies textbooks. As his goal of effectively terminating his life could be categorized as short-term, he needed to find an opportunity to change the world as quickly as possible.

In estimating his own skill set, the only talent he felt he possessed that could directly translate into an immediate, tangible achievement was his skill with the written word. Though he acknowledged he was no Fitzgerald or Nabokov, he felt he did possess both a unique voice and something worthwhile to say. And, he thought as a sudden, brilliant notion struck his brain, if he committed suicide right after he wrote his masterpiece, his work would take on dramatically increased significance. Nothing in the world was better for the promotion of a work of art than the tragic death of its creator, particularly if that tragic death was made even more tragic as a result of the misunderstood individual’s painful suicide. He could even litter his story with ambiguous clues that, in retrospect, literature critics and professors could piece together like some grand conspiracy theory and interpret as indications of his plans. This work could be an inspiration to a generation of besieged individuals who only needed a guiding light to show them the way to their salvation. His work could serve as a lone lantern in the darkness.

With this plot in place, his mood improved significantly. One might even have described Raymond Clock as chipper. And so, happily, he set about the task of writing the story that would allow him to die[19].

The powers themselves were nothing to be sneezed at. At an early age, Boswell was able to lift an extraordinary amount of weight, which grew exponentially with each passing year. In addition to strength, the man possessed speeds that made supersonic jets look like paper airplanes. Oh, and he could fly, and turn invisible, and was immune to bullets. Actually no one, not even Boswell, knew the limits of his powers because Boswell had never really tested the limits of his powers. A thoroughly unambitious man, his greatest dream was one day moving into a neighborhood up the street that was slightly more respectable than the one he and his wife now occupied. But if they never made the move, he knew he could still be satisfied with his life.

In his younger days, Boswell had used his powers to ease the burden of everyday tasks. Rather than ride the bus to school, he would run the distance in almost no time at all. His strength he put to use during his assigned chore of taking out the trash; instead of it making three trips to deposit a week’s worth of trash on the sidewalk for the garbage collector, the number of trips his mother had to make, Boswell could accomplish the feat in one fell swoop. Things like that.

As he entered his teenage years and fell in with a normal group of friends, Boswell began to feel out of place whenever he did something that seemed impossible for his much more average companions. They would never say anything or make fun of his differences, but Boswell could tell they felt uncomfortable around him whenever he did something they couldn’t hope to try. And so, from this perceived slight ostracization, the frequency of Boswell’s use of his power declined over time and eventually nearly ceased altogether. By the time he married Barbara, a girl he met while attending the local state college. Boswell was, for all-intents-and-purposes, normal.

On one clear mid-summer’s afternoon, while sitting in the soup-and-sandwich café he frequented during his lunch break, Boswell was involved in an incident. As he sat in the outdoor patio next to a busy intersection, a driver, distracted while responding “LOL WTF????” via text to a zany link his friend Bruce had sent him regarding a chipmunk wearing a facial expression that appeared hilariously serious in a selfie of an oblivious young couple the chipmunk was totally photo-bombing, ran off the road and careened straight towards Boswell and his fellow diners. Without thinking, Boswell leapt up, ran forward, and lifted the vehicle above his head, allowing the driver to finish his last “?” and look up to realize he was no longer on the road. Surprised by his own decisive response, Boswell placed the vehicle gently back on the ground, after which the terrified driver backed up off the sidewalk, took a selfie with Boswell in the background, typed out the hashtags #almostdied and #suburbansuperman, posted it to twitter, and sped off down the street.

Turning to his fellow diners, Boswell, embarrassed by his untoward behavior disturbing their pleasant meals, apologized profusely. While most accepted his apology and returned to their food, one young woman in her early 20s, with short dark hair who, by Boswell’s estimation, had one of those hard-to-know brownish ethnic make-ups, walked over to the table to which Boswell had returned to continue eating and placed herself assertively in the seat opposite his.

“That was amazing! How did you do that?” she asked enthusiastically.

“Oh…well I can do that sort of stuff. I was born that way and…well it’s not a big deal,” Boswell replied sheepishly.

“That sort of stuff? What else can you do?”

“Well…” Boswell hesitated. The woman was very attractive in a way that was different from anyone he had ever associated with before. Of course he had seen her type in a movie or two, but other than John the black accountant and Tim the Indian accountant, with whom Boswell was always cordial but never overly friendly, his life was awash in white. Maybe it was her exotic nature that made Boswell feel more reckless, but regardless of the stimulus he decided to continue, “I’ve got a lot of superhuman powers, like speed and strength. I can even fly.”

“You can fly?! Seriously? Who are you? How are you not famous?”

“I mean, I don’t like to rub other people’s faces in it, you know? Sometimes I use it if I’m running late for work, or there’s a really stubborn root in the garden that just refuses to come up…”

“But you can do so much more! With all those powers…you could change the world!” the woman looked at him fervently, “See, I’m part of an organization that deals with refugees from war-torn developing nations. Every day I volunteer, I hear stories about villages being destroyed for stuff like diamonds, families being killed with machetes…horrible things! You could really help those people! Or you could even pressure developed nations to intervene. Hell, if you wanted to you could probably be the leader of the world and bring about some sort of new order or something!”

“Oh…well that sounds like a bit much…I’m pretty happy with my…”

She moved closer to him and grabbed his arm. Boswell could feel the pulsing glow of her warm body and smell her rich perfume. Her passion was cute, but her body was intoxicating. She beseeched him, “If you’d just come to the center with me you’ll see what I’m talking about!”

“I suppose I could come…some volunteer work might be a nice change of pace…” Boswell agreed, his head swimming with thoughts centered on how her breasts looked under her revealing tank-top. One of the online pornography websites Boswell frequented had a section catering to men with exotic tastes in women. Whenever he felt like he needed a bit of spice in his life, Boswell would masturbate while watching Asians, Middle-Easterners, and sometimes if he was in the right sort of mood, even black people, have sex with white men. The thought that here, holding his arm, was just such a woman, aroused him greatly, and helped direct his actions. “I get off at 5, so I can meet you back here around then.”

“Perfect! See you at 5!” the woman said as she stood up to leave, regrettably releasing her hold on his arm.

“Oh wait, what’s your name?”

“Fadilah. What’s yours?”

“Fad-eel-ah? Fad-ill-uh? Am I saying that right?

“Fadilah…but yeah, that’s fine. You can just call me Fad.”

“Alright then Fad, I’m Boswell. I’ll see you at 5.”

The rest of his day was filled with a giddy, school-boy excitement Boswell had scarcely ever felt before. The time dragged as he glanced at the office clock every few minutes, begging it to advance at a swifter pace. When 4:45 arrived, he hastily gathered his possessions, bid adieu to his colleagues as they were gathering theirs, and all but sprinted towards the elevator. Once outside, he made his way a block up the street to wait in the previously discussed location next to the café.

5 o’clock came and went, followed by 5:01, 5:02, and eventually even 5:03. At 5:04 Boswell began experiencing doubts as to whether this Fad girl would actually show up and his thoughts turned to his wife and how this would be such a betrayal of the faith she placed in him. At 5:05 he decided this whole thing had been a mistake and it was probably better this brief fling with exoticism had been with an unsurprisingly unreliable and fickle creature as it relieved him of the guilt of having to break it off himself. He could now return home and greet his loving wife as per his usual routine. At that thought, Fadilah rounded the corner of the café. Seeing her, Boswell ceased all notions of greeting his loving wife and became aroused once more.

The tantalizing creature was adorably huffing a bit as she panted, “Sorry I’m a bit late. Shall we go?”

Boswell smiled at this and gladly replied, “Yes, of course. Lead the way.”

As they walked, Fadilah chattered to him about how excited everyone was to meet him and that with his abilities her organization could have a greater impact on the horrible human rights situations in these horrible countries she rattled off like she was name dropping famous friends. She also prattled on about some of her personal details, though Boswell was having trouble understanding some of her slightly accented words. He gathered she had spent her early years with her parents in England, and then came to the United States to live with…someone, like a grandparent or uncle or something, sometime later. He felt a little uneasy when she told him what her name meant in Arabic.

“Oh, are you Muslim then?”

“Well yeah, a pretty liberal Muslim. I believe in Allah of course and follow the teachings of the Koran…but…”

“Do you eat beef?”

“You mean am I strictly Halal in what I eat? I mean I try but…”

“Well we have this Indian guy in the office, Tim, who doesn’t eat beef because of his religion. I’m pretty sure he’s a Muslim.”

“Oh…well if he doesn’t eat beef at all I assume he’s probably Hindu. There are some Indian Muslim’s but…”

“Ahh, well sorry, I don’t really know the difference. It’s all just the Middle East to me, so I’ve never really looked into the little nuances of the region. We have a guy, Bob, who was over there in the war and he said the people are incredibly primitive, no offense. They tried to give them toilet paper, but they preferred to wipe with their hands! Isn’t that crazy? He told us that’s why it’s improper to shake with your left hand in those countries; because they wipe with their left. Was toilet paper hard for you to get used to when you moved to the US?”

“I…I came from England. I was born in England. My parents were born in England…and…well… anyways, here we are.”

As he sped up in order to reach the door before her so that he could display his gallantry, Fadilah also increased her pace, causing the pair to cross the last few meters to the office in an ever-accelerating speed walk. Despite his last minute attempt at chivalry, she ended up opening the door.

“Well that was fun!” She said, laughing, “What were you doing?”

“Trying to open the door for you!”

“Ahh, well you don’t have to as I’m not really into that sort of stuff; it kind of infantilizes women. I appreciate your effort to be polite, however.”

“What do you mean infantilizes? It’s just to be nice! Chivalry isn’t dead!”

“Oh, hey, Jacob! This is the guy I told you about!” Fadilah turned her attention towards the young, attractive man in a T-shirt and jeans approaching them.

“You’re the guy? I heard you lifted a car! That’s insane, man! Can you show us something here?”

A bit embarrassed and annoyed by the entrance of this young, attractive rival for Fad’s attention, Boswell hesitated, “I’m not sure if that would be appropriate.”

“Oh, come on Boswell!” Fadilah urged.

“Fine, fine.”

And with that he crossed the room in an instant, picked up a stapler from a desk on the far side, and returned to them with equal speed, stapler in hand.

“That’s incredible!” Jacob looked stunned, “So you can do a bunch of stuff like that?”

“Sure, a bunch, it’s no big deal,” Boswell said, feeling pleased with the way Jacob was admiring him in front of Fadilah.

“Well let’s introduce you to some of the refugees we’re trying to get asylum for right now. Over here is Sarah from the DRC.”

“DRC?’

“Sorry, Democratic Republic of Congo. She was raped along with the rest of her family. She survived by playing dead under to corpses of her mother and sister for three days and eating the maggots that infested them. She’s obviously traumatized, so please be careful about what you say.” Fadilah added, looking at him with some apprehension.

“Of course. Like I said, manners and chivalry are my bread and butter!”

Over the next the few hours, Boswell met children and adults from countries he never knew existed, each with a story more horrifying than the last. By the end he felt close to tears from all the dreadful new information they had told to him.

“And this is why we need your powers! You can help these people and stop things like this from happening in the world. With a person like you, we can change the face of humanity!” Jacob told him afterwards while the three of them were sitting around a small, round table in a corner of the volunteer center.

“After what I’ve seen, after these stories from these people, I know something has to happen, I just don’t know what! What can I do?” Boswell asked, emotional.

“Let us come up with a plan which we‘ll present to you tomorrow. In the meantime I’m sure you want to get back to your family. Tomorrow same time, same café?”

Disappointed she wasn’t coming with him for the dinner and hotel tryst as he’d imagined, Boswell agreed and took his leave. Back at home he explained his new volunteer work to his wife, of which she enthusiastically approved. Barbara had always told Boswell he should get out more and try new things.  That night, after his wife had gone to bed at her usual hour and he made certain no one would disturb him, Boswell spent a sweaty five minutes on the internet furiously masturbating to a video of an Asian woman being penetrated in multiple orifices by multiple men.

The next day’s meeting saw an exhilarated Fadilah and Jacob lay out a detailed month-by-month action plan in a boring PowerPoint presentation he could barely follow, though he did enjoy watching Fadilah get worked up over these global issues. It seemed appropriate that she, a foreign presence in his life, would present him with all these foreign concepts, very fitting. Jacob, however, was beginning to wear on him. He’d never had much patience for the bleeding hearts; too many moral hysterics and too much hand-wringing. It wasn’t proper for men to worry themselves in such a way, Boswell thought to himself as Jacob explained the impact of chemical attacks in Syria in what he considered a rather shrill and effeminate voice. He was also beginning to suspect Fadilah and Jacob might have a romantic connection, which was bothersome, but not something that overly concerned him. In that case he was confident his powers and traditional masculinity would prove that he, Boswell, was the superior man.

At the end of the presentation, the pair asked if he was on board. Not knowing what else to say after not exactly following their point, he said he was.

“Wonderful! We’ll buy the tickets to Syria tomorrow!” Fadilah exclaimed.

Boswell spluttered, “What? Syria? What about Syria?”

“That’s the first step, Mr. Upman. It was in the presentation…” Jacob said with a slight edge of annoyance in his voice.

“I didn’t hear that! I can’t go to Syria, I have work!”

“But…that’s the only way. It should only take about a week, so you can take some vacation days,” continued Jacob.

“Out of the question. That’s ridiculous. Why in the world would any sane person want to go to Syria?”

Fadilah approached him and placed her hand on his arm. He immediately felt blood flow to his nethers. “Boswell, please. We need you. The world needs you. You’re so special and can accomplish so much!”

Inspired by her urging, Boswell had an idea, “I…very well. I understand. You’re coming with me, right?”

“Yes, both Jacob and I are coming, don’t worry about that.”

“No, I’m sorry Jacob, but I think you’ll just get in the way. I don’t think I can work if I’m always worried about you. Besides, Fad is from there and speaks the language, so we’ll be fine.”

“Fadilah doesn’t speak Arabic, I speak Arabic…this whole thing…” Jacob started to object.

Fadilah gave Jacob a strained look, which silenced him, “We’ll be fine. I have some friends in Beirut who can help us get to Aleppo. We’ll be fine.”

Pleased with his own cleverness, Boswell shook Jacob’s hand and kissed Fadilah’s, telling her he would make all the necessary preparations and be ready to depart within the week.

After telling his wife he was leaving for a mission trip to the Middle-East, which she seemed pleased to hear as she’d always told him he should get out and try new things, and his boss he needed the next week off for some family time, Boswell purchased a plane ticket to Beirut, as Fad had instructed, and looked up the hotel where they would be staying. Surprised at the sophistication of the accommodations in such a backwater, 3rd world country, he found himself immediately aroused at the thought of traveling alone with his exotic companion. That night he masturbated to a naked black woman whose vagina seemed to have a few superhuman powers of its own.

The day of his departure arrived and he bid farewell to his wife, who in the last week had felt like nothing more than a speed bump on the road to his new life.

Fadilah was a joy to be with at the airport, on the plane, and, finally, in the hotel. Her passion for serious issues and certainty that they could change the world was sweet, if a bit naïve. Boswell adopted a strategy of simply agreeing with whatever she said and complimenting her on how articulate she was when she said it. He figured in this way he could get her in the best mood possible before they reached their destination, at which time he assumed they would immediately have sex.

To save money on accommodations, they were sharing a room with two beds, something Boswell had cleverly suggested to sound like he cared about the finances of the organization as well as to get Fadilah in a hotel room with him alone. Ensconced within their chambers for the night, with nothing left to do but wait for their contacts to take them across the border, Boswell, who had been disappointed when Fadilah seemed exhausted by the journey and took a shower to refresh herself, and then went out to get some local food while he ate a sandwich he’d brought from America in the hotel room alone, figured he could finally have sex with the little tease after she’d returned.

“So…Fad…”

“Boswell? Is everything alright?”

“Well…what do you want to do now?”

“I mean…go to sleep I guess? It’s been a hell of a trip and we need rest for tomorrow.”

“Alright, well, do you want to share a bed?”

“Share a…why? There are two…”

“Well…I thought…”

“Boswell! What?”

“Well, I mean you just seemed like the type…”

“You wanted to sleep with me? You wanted to fuck me?”

“Hey, excuse me. Why is that wrong? You’ve basically been throwing yourself at me since we met.”

“Throwing myself at you? How have I been throwing myself at you?”

“The touching, the flirting. YOU came up to ME in the café. Remember?”

“Because of your fucking powers! Are you serious? You thought I was trying to sleep with you?”

“Why not? I have these world changing powers. Once we start, lots of women will want to sleep with me.”

“Well they can go right ahead and sleep with you. Look, Boswell, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but no thank you. Let’s just keep our relationship friendly and professional. You have a wife!”

“Is it because of Jacob? Are you interested in Jacob?”

“No I’m not interested in Jacob. I don’t derive my value from men, Boswell. I can say I don’t want to sleep with you without a reason.”

“If not Jacob, why? Why are we in the same hotel room? Why did you agree?”

“Because it sounded like a good idea to save money? Seriously, dude? This is happening right now? We’re about to change the world and all your concerned with is whether you sleep with me or not?”

“Well I didn’t know you were like this. Maybe I don’t want to go through with your plan anymore.”

“Boswell, come on! This is bigger than just us! Let’s not let something like this get in the way of the greater good for the world!”

“Well I just don’t like being led on is all. I don’t think someone who leads men on like that is a very good person, and I doubt they know what’s good for the world anyways. Now, I mean I understand if you’re just playing hard to get…in which case don’t worry at all, I promise I won’t think less of you”

“Hard to get? Are you delusional?”

“Well then, I guess if this isn’t happening we should just go home tomorrow.”

“Woah…woah…are you blackmailing me? Are you saying if I don’t sleep with you that you will just go home? You’ll just abandon this whole world-changing event because you didn’t get to fuck me?”

“That’s not blackmail! I’m just saying maybe I don’t agree with you as much as I used to. I mean, who am I to change the world anyways? It’s not even my job; everyone should just take care of themselves. I’m an American and believe in people pulling themselves up by their boot-straps, so I’m not here to help out these charity cases. They need to fix their own problems.”

“You have fucking superhuman powers! You can bring about a new age of peace, something humanity has never known, and you’re hung up on me sleeping with you? Like you said, I’m sure when you’re powerful lots of women will want to sleep with you! Fuck them, not me.”

“Look, I appreciate what you’re saying, but in the end I can only take care of myself and my family. They have to come first. If we aren’t leading a happy life, how could I possibly help anyone else? Trying to change the world is a nice idea and all, but come on, don’t be so naïve.”

“You are such an asshole! You have the power to do anything, but you can’t see past your own fucking nose!”

“Well, like I said, I don’t think this is going to work…”

“You stupid motherfucker,” Fadilah called as she grabbed him and pushed him onto the bed. She ripped off his clothing and started to remove her own.

“Wait, slow down, wait, just a second,” Boswell said, surprised but pleased. He sensed his arousal, which had been constant since she’d entered the room, was becoming overly enthusiastic in relation to this sudden change in events. He could smell her foreign aroma surrounding him as she clambered on top of him.

“You said you wanted to fuck me, so here it is, fuck me and then finish our plan, we need you,” Fadilah growled menacingly as she mounted him and moved her pelvis over his.

“Just…wait…wait…no…stop!” he shouted as he accidentally threw her across the room and through the outer wall of the hotel where she plunged 12 stories, breaking her body on the pavement below. Panicking, his pants sticky and damp with his wasted sperm, he leapt out the hole her body had created and spent the next few moments flying back to his home in the United States.

The remaining years of his life were spent in relative happiness. Occasionally while eating dinner, Boswell would turn on the news to see some new massacre or horror perpetrated on a group of primitive foreigners in a country he’d heard the name of once but nearly forgotten. On these occasions he would pause over his food and think to himself maybe he really should do something about all this tragedy in the world. He’d make a mental note to put it on his to-do list, right below exercise and cleaning the gutters.

 

[1] Raymond maintained three separate writing identities. He figured spreading rancor from exposed public officials across a number of entities would make scrutiny on individual writers less severe. Joshua Gibson he used to expose Department of Defense and congressional corruption, Sam Ridgeback was for non-governmental organizations and governmental departments outside Defense, and Bradley Freeman was on the corporate beat. If the story was particularly controversial, he’d create a burner identity to take the heat. It’s important to note that no official Raymond exposed was ever particularly bothered by his accusations. It was a common practice to make whatever specific type of corruption officials used to enrich themselves legal prior to partaking. They were also both aware of and uninterested in the easily unspooled false identities of Raymond Clock.

[2] Shame

[3] The central pillar in his life, the desire to find the person who would save him from the traumatically mundane existence to which he’d been subjected had been blown to pieces. His daily routines were now called into question, with the point of every action in need of re-analysis. Why would he go for a jog? Why would he read a book? Why would he go out to test the quality of that new Thai restaurant that’d moved in next door? The answers to these questions had previously been justified through his clearly defined reason to exist. With that foundation now unstable, his capability to see past the maddening dullness of life’s banality was faltering.

Raymond held that the universe was inanimate and uncaring, with the concepts of good and evil existing entirely as human constructs. If he had to choose a label, he preferred to be called an optimistic existentialist, believing that meaning could be found for those who chose to walk the path. Finding himself in a new set of circumstances, with his self-defined meaning losing shape by the hour, he now felt the optimistic qualifier on his existentialism slipping away. All that was left to him was the absurdity of his petty existence in a meaningless universe.

[4] BBC’s Urban Planet, in which an elderly British anthropologist explains the lavishly shot cultural habits of inner-city humans.

[5] As he refused to settle for subpar furnishings and the chair alone had cost more than an entire IKEA drawing room set, he’d reconciled himself to the necessity of piecing together his perfect living space over an extended timeline.

[6] Members of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness had been haunting his neighborhood recently, and this was a depression day, so even in retrospect he deemed his initial reaction justifiable

[7] At the external mention of Nico’s name, the carefully constructed intellectual structures Raymond had built over the past two weeks collapsed into rubble. The only factor that saved him from a complete physical disintegration was his unwavering commitment to the ancient codes of public decorum and etiquette.

[8] Raymond, initially annoyed with the mess this was making on his white carpeting, quickly corrected his brain by reminding himself he must always respect the traditions of other cultures. He was curious, however, as to the ancestry and history of this obviously wealthy, obviously British lawyer; though he kept this curiosity to himself out of fear these thoughts had subconsciously racist origins. He asked himself if he’d be equally curious as to the ancestry of the man if he were white. Or was he only curious because it was unusual to see a black, upper-class British man with an affinity for eastern mysticism? Was asking that question, or even considering race a factor, racist? His mind held no answers.

[9] Raymond generally avoided going to the doctor, considering it an impractical waste of time for a healthy young man. While he’d read many articles imploring young people to understand that preventative care was necessary even while healthy, he considered himself so exceptionally healthy that this idea did not necessarily apply to him. His paltry health insurance also made frequent visits impossible in the context of his current lifestyle.

[10] A brand name 450mg lithium carbonate controlled release tablet manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.

[11] According to various aggregate user-generated business ratings websites.

[12] According to various aggregate user-generated business ratings websites.

[13] According to various aggregate user-generated business ratings websites.

[14] This was not true. In college, he’d briefly participated in a series of private Bikram lessons offered by an extremely attractive instructor. Raymond wanted to set the initial bar of expectations as low as possible so wouldn’t have trouble exceeding their expectations.

[15] He admitted that he was still erecting a fabricated version of his character, but he was content in knowing it was not in pursuit of creating the impression that he was better than he actually was.

[16] The attractive female yogi at his university was actually just a knock-off artist only in it to pick-up physically fit, liberally minded men.

[17] He preferred to use sickness as a chance to display his resolve by going into work even on days he was severely ill. His employers would tell him how much they appreciated his commitment, but that it would be best for everyone if he went home. In this way he could get some time off while also increasing his standing at his workplace and in the minds of others.

[18] Consider the grotesque nature of human existence; a creature born into pain and imbued with a psyche at once both shortsightedly self-destructive and selfishly self-preserving told to peacefully socialize with others exactly like itself. The human brain is capable of just enough awareness to understand how hopeless its species truly is, but must first transcend and fight its own nature to even consider the concept. Most members of the human race choose to embrace the happy lies they create for themselves, all while either intentionally or unintentionally inflicting their learned pain on others. The guilt that should be associated with hurting other creatures is so constant and overwhelming that humans, out of necessity, adapt by becoming numb to its effects, justifying their exploitations as the best possible reality in an imperfect world.

[19] An excerpt from Raymond’s novel, Superhuman:

Boswell Upman would be the first person to tell you how normal he was in spite of his superhuman powers.  He held a job with room for slow but steady growth at a mid-sized accounting firm in the city, owned a ranch-style house in a respectable-if-not-overly-impressive neighborhood, and maintained a family full of normal, well-adjusted children managed by his doting housewife.  Boswell himself was a pasty, short, balding man in his early 40s with a slight paunch and jowls just beginning to show whenever his head hung in the wrong position. He often told himself he needed to start exercising, and his wife Barbara worried him with her concern over his expanding physicality, but the daily grind always seemed to offer a ready excuse to avoid the strenuous physical activity he required to avoid further growth. Overall there was nothing particularly interesting about the man other than that he happened to have superhuman powers.

The powers themselves were nothing to be sneezed at. At an early age, Boswell was able to lift an extraordinary amount of weight, which grew exponentially with each passing year. In addition to strength, the man possessed speeds that made supersonic jets look like paper airplanes. Oh, and he could fly, and turn invisible, and was immune to bullets. Actually no one, not even Boswell, knew the limits of his powers because Boswell had never really tested the limits of his powers. A thoroughly unambitious man, his greatest dream was one day moving into a neighborhood up the street that was slightly more respectable than the one he and his wife now occupied. But if they never made the move, he knew he could still be satisfied with his life.

In his younger days, Boswell had used his powers to ease the burden of everyday tasks. Rather than ride the bus to school, he would run the distance in almost no time at all. His strength he put to use during his assigned chore of taking out the trash; instead of it making three trips to deposit a week’s worth of trash on the sidewalk for the garbage collector, the number of trips his mother had to make, Boswell could accomplish the feat in one fell swoop. Things like that.

As he entered his teenage years and fell in with a normal group of friends, Boswell began to feel out of place whenever he did something that seemed impossible for his much more average companions. They would never say anything or make fun of his differences, but Boswell could tell they felt uncomfortable around him whenever he did something they couldn’t hope to try. And so, from this perceived slight ostracization, the frequency of Boswell’s use of his power declined over time and eventually nearly ceased altogether. By the time he married Barbara, a girl he met while attending the local state college. Boswell was, for all-intents-and-purposes, normal.

On one clear mid-summer’s afternoon, while sitting in the soup-and-sandwich café he frequented during his lunch break, Boswell was involved in an incident. As he sat in the outdoor patio next to a busy intersection, a driver, distracted while responding “LOL WTF????” via text to a zany link his friend Bruce had sent him regarding a chipmunk wearing a facial expression that appeared hilariously serious in a selfie of an oblivious young couple the chipmunk was totally photo-bombing, ran off the road and careened straight towards Boswell and his fellow diners. Without thinking, Boswell leapt up, ran forward, and lifted the vehicle above his head, allowing the driver to finish his last “?” and look up to realize he was no longer on the road. Surprised by his own decisive response, Boswell placed the vehicle gently back on the ground, after which the terrified driver backed up off the sidewalk, took a selfie with Boswell in the background, typed out the hashtags #almostdied and #suburbansuperman, posted it to twitter, and sped off down the street.

Turning to his fellow diners, Boswell, embarrassed by his untoward behavior disturbing their pleasant meals, apologized profusely. While most accepted his apology and returned to their food, one young woman in her early 20s, with short dark hair who, by Boswell’s estimation, had one of those hard-to-know brownish ethnic make-ups, walked over to the table to which Boswell had returned to continue eating and placed herself assertively in the seat opposite his.

“That was amazing! How did you do that?” she asked enthusiastically.

“Oh…well I can do that sort of stuff. I was born that way and…well it’s not a big deal,” Boswell replied sheepishly.

“That sort of stuff? What else can you do?”

“Well…” Boswell hesitated. The woman was very attractive in a way that was different from anyone he had ever associated with before. Of course he had seen her type in a movie or two, but other than John the black accountant and Tim the Indian accountant, with whom Boswell was always cordial but never overly friendly, his life was awash in white. Maybe it was her exotic nature that made Boswell feel more reckless, but regardless of the stimulus he decided to continue, “I’ve got a lot of superhuman powers, like speed and strength. I can even fly.”

“You can fly?! Seriously? Who are you? How are you not famous?”

“I mean, I don’t like to rub other people’s faces in it, you know? Sometimes I use it if I’m running late for work, or there’s a really stubborn root in the garden that just refuses to come up…”

“But you can do so much more! With all those powers…you could change the world!” the woman looked at him fervently, “See, I’m part of an organization that deals with refugees from war-torn developing nations. Every day I volunteer, I hear stories about villages being destroyed for stuff like diamonds, families being killed with machetes…horrible things! You could really help those people! Or you could even pressure developed nations to intervene. Hell, if you wanted to you could probably be the leader of the world and bring about some sort of new order or something!”

“Oh…well that sounds like a bit much…I’m pretty happy with my…”

She moved closer to him and grabbed his arm. Boswell could feel the pulsing glow of her warm body and smell her rich perfume. Her passion was cute, but her body was intoxicating. She beseeched him, “If you’d just come to the center with me you’ll see what I’m talking about!”

“I suppose I could come…some volunteer work might be a nice change of pace…” Boswell agreed, his head swimming with thoughts centered on how her breasts looked under her revealing tank-top. One of the online pornography websites Boswell frequented had a section catering to men with exotic tastes in women. Whenever he felt like he needed a bit of spice in his life, Boswell would masturbate while watching Asians, Middle-Easterners, and sometimes if he was in the right sort of mood, even black people, have sex with white men. The thought that here, holding his arm, was just such a woman, aroused him greatly, and helped direct his actions. “I get off at 5, so I can meet you back here around then.”

“Perfect! See you at 5!” the woman said as she stood up to leave, regrettably releasing her hold on his arm.

“Oh wait, what’s your name?”

“Fadilah. What’s yours?”

“Fad-eel-ah? Fad-ill-uh? Am I saying that right?

“Fadilah…but yeah, that’s fine. You can just call me Fad.”

“Alright then Fad, I’m Boswell. I’ll see you at 5.”

The rest of his day was filled with a giddy, school-boy excitement Boswell had scarcely ever felt before. The time dragged as he glanced at the office clock every few minutes, begging it to advance at a swifter pace. When 4:45 arrived, he hastily gathered his possessions, bid adieu to his colleagues as they were gathering theirs, and all but sprinted towards the elevator. Once outside, he made his way a block up the street to wait in the previously discussed location next to the café.

5 o’clock came and went, followed by 5:01, 5:02, and eventually even 5:03. At 5:04 Boswell began experiencing doubts as to whether this Fad girl would actually show up and his thoughts turned to his wife and how this would be such a betrayal of the faith she placed in him. At 5:05 he decided this whole thing had been a mistake and it was probably better this brief fling with exoticism had been with an unsurprisingly unreliable and fickle creature as it relieved him of the guilt of having to break it off himself. He could now return home and greet his loving wife as per his usual routine. At that thought, Fadilah rounded the corner of the café. Seeing her, Boswell ceased all notions of greeting his loving wife and became aroused once more.

The tantalizing creature was adorably huffing a bit as she panted, “Sorry I’m a bit late. Shall we go?”

Boswell smiled at this and gladly replied, “Yes, of course. Lead the way.”

As they walked, Fadilah chattered to him about how excited everyone was to meet him and that with his abilities her organization could have a greater impact on the horrible human rights situations in these horrible countries she rattled off like she was name dropping famous friends. She also prattled on about some of her personal details, though Boswell was having trouble understanding some of her slightly accented words. He gathered she had spent her early years with her parents in England, and then came to the United States to live with…someone, like a grandparent or uncle or something, sometime later. He felt a little uneasy when she told him what her name meant in Arabic.

“Oh, are you Muslim then?”

“Well yeah, a pretty liberal Muslim. I believe in Allah of course and follow the teachings of the Koran…but…”

“Do you eat beef?”

“You mean am I strictly Halal in what I eat? I mean I try but…”

“Well we have this Indian guy in the office, Tim, who doesn’t eat beef because of his religion. I’m pretty sure he’s a Muslim.”

“Oh…well if he doesn’t eat beef at all I assume he’s probably Hindu. There are some Indian Muslim’s but…”

“Ahh, well sorry, I don’t really know the difference. It’s all just the Middle East to me, so I’ve never really looked into the little nuances of the region. We have a guy, Bob, who was over there in the war and he said the people are incredibly primitive, no offense. They tried to give them toilet paper, but they preferred to wipe with their hands! Isn’t that crazy? He told us that’s why it’s improper to shake with your left hand in those countries; because they wipe with their left. Was toilet paper hard for you to get used to when you moved to the US?”

“I…I came from England. I was born in England. My parents were born in England…and…well… anyways, here we are.”

As he sped up in order to reach the door before her so that he could display his gallantry, Fadilah also increased her pace, causing the pair to cross the last few meters to the office in an ever-accelerating speed walk. Despite his last minute attempt at chivalry, she ended up opening the door.

“Well that was fun!” She said, laughing, “What were you doing?”

“Trying to open the door for you!”

“Ahh, well you don’t have to as I’m not really into that sort of stuff; it kind of infantilizes women. I appreciate your effort to be polite, however.”

“What do you mean infantilizes? It’s just to be nice! Chivalry isn’t dead!”

“Oh, hey, Jacob! This is the guy I told you about!” Fadilah turned her attention towards the young, attractive man in a T-shirt and jeans approaching them.

“You’re the guy? I heard you lifted a car! That’s insane, man! Can you show us something here?”

A bit embarrassed and annoyed by the entrance of this young, attractive rival for Fad’s attention, Boswell hesitated, “I’m not sure if that would be appropriate.”

“Oh, come on Boswell!” Fadilah urged.

“Fine, fine.”

And with that he crossed the room in an instant, picked up a stapler from a desk on the far side, and returned to them with equal speed, stapler in hand.

“That’s incredible!” Jacob looked stunned, “So you can do a bunch of stuff like that?”

“Sure, a bunch, it’s no big deal,” Boswell said, feeling pleased with the way Jacob was admiring him in front of Fadilah.

“Well let’s introduce you to some of the refugees we’re trying to get asylum for right now. Over here is Sarah from the DRC.”

“DRC?’

“Sorry, Democratic Republic of Congo. She was raped along with the rest of her family. She survived by playing dead under to corpses of her mother and sister for three days and eating the maggots that infested them. She’s obviously traumatized, so please be careful about what you say.” Fadilah added, looking at him with some apprehension.

“Of course. Like I said, manners and chivalry are my bread and butter!”

Over the next the few hours, Boswell met children and adults from countries he never knew existed, each with a story more horrifying than the last. By the end he felt close to tears from all the dreadful new information they had told to him.

“And this is why we need your powers! You can help these people and stop things like this from happening in the world. With a person like you, we can change the face of humanity!” Jacob told him afterwards while the three of them were sitting around a small, round table in a corner of the volunteer center.

“After what I’ve seen, after these stories from these people, I know something has to happen, I just don’t know what! What can I do?” Boswell asked, emotional.

“Let us come up with a plan which we‘ll present to you tomorrow. In the meantime I’m sure you want to get back to your family. Tomorrow same time, same café?”

Disappointed she wasn’t coming with him for the dinner and hotel tryst as he’d imagined, Boswell agreed and took his leave. Back at home he explained his new volunteer work to his wife, of which she enthusiastically approved. Barbara had always told Boswell he should get out more and try new things.  That night, after his wife had gone to bed at her usual hour and he made certain no one would disturb him, Boswell spent a sweaty five minutes on the internet furiously masturbating to a video of an Asian woman being penetrated in multiple orifices by multiple men.

The next day’s meeting saw an exhilarated Fadilah and Jacob lay out a detailed month-by-month action plan in a boring PowerPoint presentation he could barely follow, though he did enjoy watching Fadilah get worked up over these global issues. It seemed appropriate that she, a foreign presence in his life, would present him with all these foreign concepts, very fitting. Jacob, however, was beginning to wear on him. He’d never had much patience for the bleeding hearts; too many moral hysterics and too much hand-wringing. It wasn’t proper for men to worry themselves in such a way, Boswell thought to himself as Jacob explained the impact of chemical attacks in Syria in what he considered a rather shrill and effeminate voice. He was also beginning to suspect Fadilah and Jacob might have a romantic connection, which was bothersome, but not something that overly concerned him. In that case he was confident his powers and traditional masculinity would prove that he, Boswell, was the superior man.

At the end of the presentation, the pair asked if he was on board. Not knowing what else to say after not exactly following their point, he said he was.

“Wonderful! We’ll buy the tickets to Syria tomorrow!” Fadilah exclaimed.

Boswell spluttered, “What? Syria? What about Syria?”

“That’s the first step, Mr. Upman. It was in the presentation…” Jacob said with a slight edge of annoyance in his voice.

“I didn’t hear that! I can’t go to Syria, I have work!”

“But…that’s the only way. It should only take about a week, so you can take some vacation days,” continued Jacob.

“Out of the question. That’s ridiculous. Why in the world would any sane person want to go to Syria?”

Fadilah approached him and placed her hand on his arm. He immediately felt blood flow to his nethers. “Boswell, please. We need you. The world needs you. You’re so special and can accomplish so much!”

Inspired by her urging, Boswell had an idea, “I…very well. I understand. You’re coming with me, right?”

“Yes, both Jacob and I are coming, don’t worry about that.”

“No, I’m sorry Jacob, but I think you’ll just get in the way. I don’t think I can work if I’m always worried about you. Besides, Fad is from there and speaks the language, so we’ll be fine.”

“Fadilah doesn’t speak Arabic, I speak Arabic…this whole thing…” Jacob started to object.

Fadilah gave Jacob a strained look, which silenced him, “We’ll be fine. I have some friends in Beirut who can help us get to Aleppo. We’ll be fine.”

Pleased with his own cleverness, Boswell shook Jacob’s hand and kissed Fadilah’s, telling her he would make all the necessary preparations and be ready to depart within the week.

After telling his wife he was leaving for a mission trip to the Middle-East, which she seemed pleased to hear as she’d always told him he should get out and try new things, and his boss he needed the next week off for some family time, Boswell purchased a plane ticket to Beirut, as Fad had instructed, and looked up the hotel where they would be staying. Surprised at the sophistication of the accommodations in such a backwater, 3rd world country, he found himself immediately aroused at the thought of traveling alone with his exotic companion. That night he masturbated to a naked black woman whose vagina seemed to have a few superhuman powers of its own.

The day of his departure arrived and he bid farewell to his wife, who in the last week had felt like nothing more than a speed bump on the road to his new life.

Fadilah was a joy to be with at the airport, on the plane, and, finally, in the hotel. Her passion for serious issues and certainty that they could change the world was sweet, if a bit naïve. Boswell adopted a strategy of simply agreeing with whatever she said and complimenting her on how articulate she was when she said it. He figured in this way he could get her in the best mood possible before they reached their destination, at which time he assumed they would immediately have sex.

To save money on accommodations, they were sharing a room with two beds, something Boswell had cleverly suggested to sound like he cared about the finances of the organization as well as to get Fadilah in a hotel room with him alone. Ensconced within their chambers for the night, with nothing left to do but wait for their contacts to take them across the border, Boswell, who had been disappointed when Fadilah seemed exhausted by the journey and took a shower to refresh herself, and then went out to get some local food while he ate a sandwich he’d brought from America in the hotel room alone, figured he could finally have sex with the little tease after she’d returned.

“So…Fad…”

“Boswell? Is everything alright?”

“Well…what do you want to do now?”

“I mean…go to sleep I guess? It’s been a hell of a trip and we need rest for tomorrow.”

“Alright, well, do you want to share a bed?”

“Share a…why? There are two…”

“Well…I thought…”

“Boswell! What?”

“Well, I mean you just seemed like the type…”

“You wanted to sleep with me? You wanted to fuck me?”

“Hey, excuse me. Why is that wrong? You’ve basically been throwing yourself at me since we met.”

“Throwing myself at you? How have I been throwing myself at you?”

“The touching, the flirting. YOU came up to ME in the café. Remember?”

“Because of your fucking powers! Are you serious? You thought I was trying to sleep with you?”

“Why not? I have these world changing powers. Once we start, lots of women will want to sleep with me.”

“Well they can go right ahead and sleep with you. Look, Boswell, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but no thank you. Let’s just keep our relationship friendly and professional. You have a wife!”

“Is it because of Jacob? Are you interested in Jacob?”

“No I’m not interested in Jacob. I don’t derive my value from men, Boswell. I can say I don’t want to sleep with you without a reason.”

“If not Jacob, why? Why are we in the same hotel room? Why did you agree?”

“Because it sounded like a good idea to save money? Seriously, dude? This is happening right now? We’re about to change the world and all your concerned with is whether you sleep with me or not?”

“Well I didn’t know you were like this. Maybe I don’t want to go through with your plan anymore.”

“Boswell, come on! This is bigger than just us! Let’s not let something like this get in the way of the greater good for the world!”

“Well I just don’t like being led on is all. I don’t think someone who leads men on like that is a very good person, and I doubt they know what’s good for the world anyways. Now, I mean I understand if you’re just playing hard to get…in which case don’t worry at all, I promise I won’t think less of you”

“Hard to get? Are you delusional?”

“Well then, I guess if this isn’t happening we should just go home tomorrow.”

“Woah…woah…are you blackmailing me? Are you saying if I don’t sleep with you that you will just go home? You’ll just abandon this whole world-changing event because you didn’t get to fuck me?”

“That’s not blackmail! I’m just saying maybe I don’t agree with you as much as I used to. I mean, who am I to change the world anyways? It’s not even my job; everyone should just take care of themselves. I’m an American and believe in people pulling themselves up by their boot-straps, so I’m not here to help out these charity cases. They need to fix their own problems.”

“You have fucking superhuman powers! You can bring about a new age of peace, something humanity has never known, and you’re hung up on me sleeping with you? Like you said, I’m sure when you’re powerful lots of women will want to sleep with you! Fuck them, not me.”

“Look, I appreciate what you’re saying, but in the end I can only take care of myself and my family. They have to come first. If we aren’t leading a happy life, how could I possibly help anyone else? Trying to change the world is a nice idea and all, but come on, don’t be so naïve.”

“You are such an asshole! You have the power to do anything, but you can’t see past your own fucking nose!”

“Well, like I said, I don’t think this is going to work…”

“You stupid motherfucker,” Fadilah called as she grabbed him and pushed him onto the bed. She ripped off his clothing and started to remove her own.

“Wait, slow down, wait, just a second,” Boswell said, surprised but pleased. He sensed his arousal, which had been constant since she’d entered the room, was becoming overly enthusiastic in relation to this sudden change in events. He could smell her foreign aroma surrounding him as she clambered on top of him.

“You said you wanted to fuck me, so here it is, fuck me and then finish our plan, we need you,” Fadilah growled menacingly as she mounted him and moved her pelvis over his.

“Just…wait…wait…no…stop!” he shouted as he accidentally threw her across the room and through the outer wall of the hotel where she plunged 12 stories, breaking her body on the pavement below. Panicking, his pants sticky and damp with his wasted sperm, he leapt out the hole her body had created and spent the next few moments flying back to his home in the United States.

The remaining years of his life were spent in relative happiness. Occasionally while eating dinner, Boswell would turn on the news to see some new massacre or horror perpetrated on a group of primitive foreigners in a country he’d heard the name of once but nearly forgotten. On these occasions he would pause over his food and think to himself maybe he really should do something about all this tragedy in the world. He’d make a mental note to put it on his to-do list, right below exercise and cleaning the gutters.

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