A steadily expanding sliver of light stretching from Tantalum (Ta) to Rhodium (RH) cut across the Periodic Table of the Elements. Measuring approximately 1 meter in width and .75 meters in length, the chart was the centerpiece of the décor bedecking Raymond Clock’s living quarters. He’d built it himself with a pack of picture flashcards. The deck was assembled in proper rows and columns with tape holding the left side of each card to the wall. This innovation, besides making Raymond feel very clever, allowed the curious observer to flip each card and delve into the specifics of each building block of the universe. When Raymond opened his eyes to the world, his gaze was met by Nico Leftiè draped in his bed sheet reading about the reactivity of Cesium (Cs).
Sensing him stir, Nico asked, “Did you know Cesium literally explodes when it touches water?”
Happily but groggily, Raymond responded, “Sure, but I think it has to be cold or something first.”
Nico smiled and walked around the dimly lit room peering at the posters covering his walls. She saw indie band tour promotion posters, vintage Miles Davis concert advertisements, the French print of a Kurosawa film premier, scenes from every broad genre of nation and culture, replications of dramatic Goya pieces, and radical propaganda from the Spanish Civil War, Russian Civil War, Chinese Civil War, and the liberation campaign of the Arabian peninsula famously involving T.A. Lawrence during World War One.
“You’ve curated a nice little collection of culture here. Do all the girls swoon at the sight of a Spanish revolutionary proclaiming, ‘Los Libros anarquistas son armas contra el Fascismo’?”
His wits returned to him and he grinned, “Didn’t you know, Nico? Propaganda is humanity’s greatest aphrodisiac.”
“Well aren’t we all sorts of post-coital clever,” she hummed blissfully as she slid back inside the folds of the linen to rest beside Raymond. “You get naked with a person one time and all of a sudden they assume you’re on a first name basis.”
“My humblest of apologies Mademoiselle Leftiè. You can rest assured that in the future I will observe proper decorum at all times.”
“See that you do.”
Nico and Raymond stared up at the fabric mobile of the Milky Way Galaxy Raymond had sewn together in an unprecedented burst of craftiness. The lumpy, misshapen balls of fabric twirled on their fish strings against the backdrop of a white-paint-speckled black sheet meant to represent the stars.
“So…was everything alright last night?” Raymond asked sheepishly after a moment of silent reflection.
“Yes… Well, you’re very…attentive. It was strange to have sex with someone who seemed entirely focused on providing pleasure rather than experiencing pleasure themselves.
“Well for me, sex is a kind of performance, like an overly-intimate ballet duet. Both dancers have their part to play and I’ve always wanted to be really good at performing my piece for whenever I encountered an extraordinary person, so I practiced and tried to learn new techniques and read up on the latest theory.”
“What do you mean ‘practiced’? Like, you slept with women just so you could get better at sex?”
Instantly horrified by how he felt that idea portrayed him, Raymond clarified, “No, no, I’m sorry. That isn’t what I meant! Practiced as in each woman I slept with was a unique and remarkable experience, so I was always learning how to become a more adaptive and creative sexual partner. Each person had such wonderful individuality in the way they reacted when stimulated in specific areas of their body. Each new experience forced me to retool my style and method to perfectly suit my fellow sexual pioneer. When I say practice, I’m talking about practicing this flexibility and becoming adept at gleaning from my partner’s reactions what I should do next.”
“Why don’t you just ask? Can’t you just ask me, ‘Hey Nico, does that work or do you know some other method that works better’? Because, you know, it’s my body and all. That basically makes me an expert on how to pleasure it.”
“Sure!” he parried eagerly, “I could and I have. But seriously, not every woman is an expert on what might pleasure her body. Sometimes people just don’t experiment, or they have a history of bad partners without knowing they have a history of bad partners. So sometimes, with permission of course, you have to see if something works without being told what to do.”
“You can get into dangerous territory with that type of thinking pretty quickly.”
“Sometimes even asking is exerting pressure on a person to comply with something that could be interpreted as a request. I understand you just mean you’re asking for permission to do something she might enjoy, but she might feel like you really want a specific thing in bed and are requesting she comply. This seems like you’re pressuring her because if she denies what you want, it might upset you or diminish your sexual pleasure. If she cares about you then she cares about you experiencing pleasure just as much as you care about her experiencing pleasure. So when you ask to do something it can feel pretty obligatory for her.”
Raymond paused and contemplated this idea before replying. “That’s a risk I’d not really considered. Let’s make a deal then; if I ever ask you something during sex, whether it’s a personal request or a question about your preference, please reply with complete honesty and without any regard for upsetting me. Is that okay?”
“Well first of all, I don’t need to make a deal as I would do that anyway. Second, you assume we’ll sleep together in the future?”
“Wait, what? Isn’t this the start of a relationship, or if not a relationship yet, at least some sort of romantic affair?”
“To be frank”, Nico began, drawing herself up to sit on the bed, “I’m not sure what this is. I wanted to sleep with you and spend time with you, so I did. I don’t know whether that satisfied me or whether I want to continue spending time with you and sleeping with you. I don’t really like the concept of traditional relationships.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to assume. I understand what you mean though. I’ve never really been a fan of normal relationships either; monogamy’s pretty unnatural for our biological impulses, I suppose.”
“That isn’t what I meant and I don’t support the idea of biological determinism. I acknowledge biology plays a strong role in pushing us in certain directions, but, particularly in the realm of romance, I feel that people use it as an excuse to justify a selfish behavior they choose to pursue.”
“So…” mumbled Raymond in confusion, “Why are you unsure about the projected idea of perhaps thinking about the possibility of considering a relationship with me.”
“I’m sorry for this, Raymond.” she said, holding his gaze with her own. “I really am. I wish my feelings were simpler and that I could just be with you and be happy, because I do like you. However, it isn’t simple and my feelings are complicated. Maybe we can build towards something, maybe it will never happen; honestly I don’t know. But I know I can’t commit to a traditionally defined relationship with you right now.”
With difficulty, Raymond managed, “Ahh yes, that makes sense. I understand. But, if I may ask; I’m trying to understand what you might want to get out of knowing me.”
Nico looked into Raymond’s eyes with carefully concealed hope, monitoring them for their reaction. “I want you to be my dog, Raymond. I want you to be available and come whenever I call. That is the type of relationship I want. Can you do that? I understand if I’m asking you to do something you can’t.”
Shards of glass tumbled from his throat, “I can do that. Don’t worry about me.”
“Are you alright?”
“Of course, I’m always okay.”
“I hope so. I do want to see you, but I can only see you at my pace and on my terms. I know this because I know me. I know I would feel suffocated by anything else. And…as I said, I have no idea if this will work, but I think one day it might be nice to be in a real relationship with you. Please though, please do not let yourself believe we will ever be in that type of relationship. If you do, I think it’ll ruin everything.”
“I will do my best.” he said woodenly, “I can control myself.”
Nico and Raymond pondered the roughly sewn planets and fake stars.
“Why are the planets so oddly shaped?” Nico asked after an extended period of silence.
“I’m not very good at sewing,” he responded in a hollow tone.
“Why didn’t you practice until you became better, and then create something to display?”
“I could say the same thing to God.”
“Don’t’ start being trite, you’re above that. I’m sorry you’re upset, but, as I’ve said multiple times, I do still want to talk to you. I enjoy talking to you more than I’ve enjoyed anything in my recent memory. It does mean something to me; I just can’t give you exactly what you want.”
“I’m sorry; I suppose I’m just recovering from the mild shock and disappointment. But you’re right; I can’t demand anything from you. Okay. So I guess there are two reasons for my commitment to sub-amateur design. First, I sort of like the aesthetic. I think it has a type of raw charm to it; trying and failing can be very endearing. I look at it and it reminds me of all the things I’m not very good at, but also lets me know that just because I’m not good at something doesn’t mean I can’t still use my creativity. That creativity will simply be judged by my own individual standard.”
“That’s a nice thought, though I think I value seeing the evidence of hard work that went into a craft honed over years of practice.”
“That’s probably right. My idea is most likely a justification of laziness. So that’s why I have a second reason. Basically, someone who strives and creates after practicing and practicing leaves themselves exposed to stronger criticism than someone who’s trying something for the first time. There’s a built-in expectation from the audience of the veteran professional. I would say most of the time, though few admit it, the result of the professional’s creativity rarely meets the standard set by the audience’s imagination. Maybe they might even tell one another they’re satisfied, but probably only because we’re so used to disappointing our dreams. Being an amateur or worse means you don’t deal with any of those imaginations or expectations. So when these conditions are in place your creativity can almost universally exceed zero.”
“That’s even more of a justification for laziness!”
“I’m fully committed to justifying my laziness, I just wanted to explain the nature of that commitment. Besides, if art is the transfer of ideas from one brain to another via whatever medium, why spend time on perfection if a lesser example serves just as well?”
“How are you so wonderful and so insufferable at the same time?”
“I’m big on diversity.”
“What time is it!?” she gasped; now noticing the strength and tone of the light infiltrating the room.
Checking his phone, Raymond informed her it was currently 10:43AM.
“Shit!” Nico yelled, springing out of bed, “I’m late for a board meeting.”
She scrambled to make herself ready as Raymond threw something on to see her out the door. Though desperately wishing to ask when he would see her again, he restrained himself, heeding her dire warning. Walking downstairs behind her, he thought that maybe this enforced stoicism might even be a source of entertainment and growth. He was born to be a martyr.
As Nico walked out the door, she turned back to him and said, “I’ll call you,” before hurrying down the street to the intersection two blocks from his home where she’d told her driver to have a car waiting.
A week elapsed before Raymond received a phone call. The entity on the other end was not Nico Leftiè, but rather Raymond’s closest friend from his days studying International Revolutionary Politics with a minor in Thinking Globally and Acting Locally at the small liberal arts institution Trotsky University, Asher Rose.
Raymond and Asher had achieved a minor level of notoriety around the TU campus for their overnight art installations and well-loved music venue, The Grotesque Grotto. Asher, who’d been born in Korea but was promptly adopted by an exorbitantly wealthy Jewish family from Kansas, served as artistic director, financial backer, planner, talent, and primary labor for the vast majority of their projects. Raymond provided a more holistic type of support, something Asher never complained about and always appreciated. Where Raymond’s work elicited uncomfortable nods of polite non-disapproval, Asher’s natural talent garnered him rave reviews and adoring fans. If Raymond had ever felt jealous of Asher, neither of them was aware as Asher’s inclusive spirit always made Raymond feel equally loved and successful.
The friends had met as roommates in a dormitory for international students they’d both mistakenly been assigned to; Asher due to his ethnic background and Raymond due to a clerical error in the housing office. Raymond’s experiences within Pap Smear Tower had a dramatic effect on his worldview, solidifying his idea that all human beings all over the world are the same and cultural differences are artificial edifices emplaced and promoted by entrenched elites to separate and control segments of humanity. Asher and Raymond would spend hours every night on the dormitory-standard bunk-beds debating this and thousands of other thoughts that passed between them; continually refining, codifying, destroying, and recasting their personal philosophies. Asher was always the more grounded thinker, tethering Raymond’s lofty ideals to reality, or bringing them back down to terra if they began to resemble the ill-fated Icarus. The friends loved one another as deeply as non-romantic love allowed, even attempting to take the next step to see if the possibility of experiencing sexual desire for one another existed. The ensuing twenty minutes of physical awkwardness left them equally displeased with the results and confirmed their regrettable heterosexuality.
When college ended, Asher was taken from Raymond by his insatiable urge to wander. He implored Raymond to accompany him to continue their adventures, but Raymond, in the only decision he regretted, turned him down to set his own course. The absence of Asher seemed to remove a piece of his own identity. After being so attuned to the mind of another, Raymond felt out-of-balance without him. Though he developed numerous friendships in the years following their parting, no one brought sense and meaning to his life in the same way Asher had. Or at least not until Nico.
Raymond was speaking to Asher for the first time in more than four years. Both men initially felt the time and distance hovering between them, obfuscating the other.
“Raymond! I’m so happy to hear your voice! It’s been so long!” Asher gushed in intimately familiar tones. It was a voice Raymond knew better than his own, making the slightly stilted cordiality jarring.
“I’m happy to hear from you, Asher. Is everything alright?”
“Sure! When has anything ever gone wrong for me? You used to say I got all my bad luck out of the way when my birth parents died and the universe has felt guilty for it ever since, remember?”
“Ha! I remember!” Raymond said, genuinely laughing while fondly recalling the recurring joke he used whenever something extraordinarily fortunate befell Asher, which seemed to happen with a much higher frequency than a random, unbiased reality should allow. “Have you balanced out your Karma yet?”
“I guess not, though I’ve surely spent the last four years trying. Wow, there are so many stories I’ve got to tell you! I’m glad you’ve got the same number from college or else I’d have had to hire someone to track you down.”
“Ummm…we have the internet…”
“I refuse to paste my life all over social media. It’s just so gaudy! I don’t have the time or desire to keep up digital appearances when I’m actually doing things.”
“Well, that’s not the only point…”
“I know, it’s considered an obligation now, but you of all people, really…”
“Yes, yes, you’re right, as usual.”
“Oh, who knows? Tweets could end up saving us all. Anyways, where are you living now?”
“I’m working for Mudsling Nation and a mental asylum in D.C.”
“Of course you are! Okay! I’m in New York; I just got back to the US like thirty minutes ago. Could I fly down today and stay at your place for a while?”
“Absolutely! I live in Georgetown, but I don’t have a car to pick you up. Though I’m sure you’ll manage. I’ll text you my address.”
“Fantastic! I’ll see you in a few hours! I’m so happy we’re seeing each other again!”
“Same here. Bye, Asher!”
Raymond knew no affectations or showy baubles were necessary to impress Asher, so rather than cleaning his place and carefully littering the apartment with interesting objects, he chose to relax in his single piece of living room furniture and reminisce.
For a relationship where one member was, from the perspective of an outside observer, so entirely dominant, it was surprising even to Raymond that the thought of envy or jealousy had never impacted their dynamic. From the first moment they met, Asher had never treated Raymond as anything less than an equal; never caring that it was he, Asher, who paid for and created 90% of their ideas. Even when one of the few projects Raymond did conceive, a display in the campus quad involving faux-crucified white children, signs with information about the ongoing massacre occurring south of Lake Malawi, and panels asking the question “Would you care more if the victims were white?”, flopped and received a scathing review in the Trotsky Times, Asher stood in the line of fire to share equal blame for something he’d attempted to dissuade Raymond from undertaking. Neither money nor talent, both of which Asher maintained a near monopoly on in the relationship, ever came between them. This was entirely thanks to Asher’s genial and genuine belief that everything was transient; that one’s situation in life was nothing more than the summation of a random series of chances and choices that had preceded that moment. Thus his possession of money and natural talent meant absolutely nothing.
Adrift in warm memories of his faithful cohort, and feeling hopeful for his future, Raymond slid into a pleasant slumber.
Vibrant memories flitted in and out of his mind: Asher’s resolute and reassuring laughter rescuing him whenever Raymond began to sink into depression; Nico’s haughty eyes masked by strands of blue-streaked hair rumpled in the same way as on the morning they awoke under the same roof; smiling, crucified white children waving to their apoplectic parents. They drifted in front of him, accompanying his aimless voyage through an endless space as comfortable as his mother’s amniotic fluid.
Abruptly, the soothing scene cleared and the haze lifted from his mind. He found himself back inside the concrete starkness of The Grotesque Grotto. The basement venue had always been subjected to a frustrating level of flooding. No matter how many renovations Asher paid for, the water never seemed to abate. This gave the Grotto an eternally musty odor, which Raymond and Asher worked into the venue’s dark cave-themed interior. Raymond looked around and his eyes fell upon the crucified children, who were now nailed to their crosses rather than tied, crying out for his help. In the murky room, thick gray fog spouting from a machine Raymond insisted enhanced every musical performance by making the event an “ethereal, visually engrossing experience” billowed around the screeching, waxen figures. He watched in fixated horror as blood languorously oozed from their punctured hands and dripped down their bodies, creating dark red lines running the length of their bare torsos. He rushed to help them down from off their crosses, away from their torture. As he pulled at the bindings, their voices harmonized into a soul-splitting “NO!” Drawing back again, Raymond looked on in shock and confusion as Nico and Asher stepped out of the shadows and urged him to save the forsaken.
“You must help them, Raymond! Only you can help them, Raymond!” They called amid the resumed cries of the crucified. He attempted to ease the pain of the afflicted by lowering one of the crosses to the floor. The reaction from the stricken child was so violent that instead of gently placing the heavy beam on the ground, his startled hands slipped, causing the full weight to crash to the floor on top of the wailing youth. The unfortunate’s life was extinguished amid a blood-chilling squeal and the blunt crunch of unforgiving wood crushing a skull. Trembling with terror and tears, Raymond turned back to Nico and Asher, who wore identical, appalled expressions.
“Monster! You hideous fiend! You have the power to help, but all you do is destroy!”
They turned their backs on him and disappeared. Left alone in the foggy Grotto with the still howling youngsters and the bloody corpse of their dead companion bound to the overturned cross, Raymond despaired. At that moment, a shift in mood lifted the fog and the venue’s bright spotlight hit an object on the floor just a few paces in front of him. He stooped with his fingers mere centimeters away from the surface of the unknown object glinting in the harsh white light.
“Is that my knife?” he asked himself, though the answer sped ahead of the last syllable as it slithered across his cortex. His thin fingers embraced the blackened handle as if delicately caressing the body of a new lover; hesitantly at first, but with increasing confidence as the touch is gladly received. The blade came with his hand as he stood upright, now noting the stillness and silence that had descended. He looked to the children, the crimson streams still trickling down their wan forms; they were smiling at him.
“Yes,” they whispered to him, “Yes,” they intoned, their volume rising, “Yes,” they repeated until their voices became a steady chant bidding him to act. A terrible shock of understanding staggered his body and dropped him to his knees as he gripped the implement on which the abhorrent, bulging eyes of his young preceptors were greedily affixed. “Yes,” they called to him, “Yes,” they willed him, “Yes,” they demanded. Rising once more, he pitched himself forward, possessed with depraved purpose. He neared a child and watched himself lift the knife. Heavily veined eyes quivering with rapture looked unflinchingly into his own. A blade plunged into a chest.
He awoke to a steady knocking on his front door. His rest had lasted too long and Asher had arrived.
“Hello my dear, you look like hell,” were Asher’s first words to him.
Asher had always been a beautiful man, but the creature who entered was beyond anything in Raymond’s memory. He was a gorgeous and lithe animal with dark hair and brilliant light-hazel eyes sparkling with good natured kindness and a love of life. His features were enhanced and infused with years of enriching experiences, giving his presence an instantly fascinating quality. He possessed a level of infectious energy and vitality that might qualify for the World Health Organization’s definition of Risk Group 4, indirectly transmitting his spirit of limitless possibilities to all surrounding biological organisms. This aspect of Asher’s character made him a much sought after commodity for people of all stations in life. His good humor allowed him to oblige those wishing to use him, though his charmed existence always saw him come out on top during any attempt to exploit his gifts.
“Even you’d look mildly less deified if you’d had the dream I just woke from.”
“You’re sleeping your days away now? Come on, surely you have some projects in the works that require your keen intellect. But tell me about this dream.”
Raymond related what he remembered of the experience to a dutifully respectful Asher. After finishing, the iridescent Mr. Rose beamed at him.
“I don’t think that’s such a horrible dream! Sure there were some unpleasant aspects and strong themes, definitely wouldn’t get by with a PG-13, but I think it was full of confidence and hope as well! We always knew you were destined for something great, we just didn’t know it would involve stabbing those poor crucified kids from TU. Ha! I remember the look on the faces of their parents when they walked up and saw little Jimmy Shithead bare-chested, placidly waving from up on a cross. I thought they were going to crucify you for real!”
Asher’s diffusion of Raymond’s intensity worked wonders on his psyche, deflating the accumulated stress through the comfort of old memories with his closest friend.
“I was just happy TU’s admin board didn’t kick me out for that one. After a few years of reflection, I have to admit you were probably right about the Cracker Crucifixion Project being a bad idea,” Raymond chuckled.
“Probably? That’s a bit of an understatement.”
“I mean, the idea was sound! Speaking of Southern Malawi though, have you been following the most recent lobbying efforts regarding the PPA?”
Asher grimaced, “Yeah…God, what a bunch of amateurs! I’ve only heard basics, but those jokers sound horrible.”
“Oh they are; I promise you. They’re treating Manda like a legitimate actor! Do they really think some idiotic awareness campaign using minimally informed college students, memes, and pop culture credibility is going to help this incredibly complex issue? Apparently they even got Senator Lomax all hot and bothered about it. The other day he was on C-Span raving about the need for drone attacks around Monkey Bay. The PPA isn’t even operating in that region anymore! It’s seriously a mess.”
“Yeah, I totally agree. I read your awesome column a few weeks ago on Mudsling. You’re too good for that crappy site and you know it. Why don’t you start your own? You’re a great writer with great ideas, and people are starting to recognize your name, or your pseudonyms at least. Seriously!” he enthused, seeing Raymond’s skepticism, “I was just talking with this Russian foreign ministry official I’m friends with about one of your columns on the importance of defining Islam as a normalized part of a malleable European culture. He told me he’d read a few of your pieces and enjoyed your perspective and passion.”
“Wait, who was it? Where did you meet him? That’s ridiculously cool!”
“Do you remember Gleb Kirillov from our first year in Pap Smear?”
“Sure, though I remember him as pretty pompous. When I tried to talk to him about The Brothers Karamazov he said something about how I could never really understand Dostoevski because I wasn’t Russian. I got mad, remember I was like 18, and said that translations are different, of course, but that I could still understand the concepts and enjoy the work. Then I mentioned that at least English has Dickens, Shakespeare, and Joyce. After he responded by saying they were all overrated and Shakespeare didn’t even write anything, I got too upset and left the study room.”
“Yeah, he’s still an idiot, but he’s got some great friends! So I was on this trip to Moscow with this group of eunuch nudists who were pretty well known in the Kiev music scene for doing these crazy renditions of Carmina Burana in the middle of winter and…”
“Wait, wait, what! Eunuch nudists? Where did you meet eunuch nudists?”
“Oh, while I was helping set up a new music venue in Kiev for a few months. Cool dudes.”
“Why were you setting up a venue in Kiev?”
“Oh, well when I was doing some work as a photojournalist in Syria we…”
“You were in Syria?! What the hell, Asher!”
“I mean, yeah, I stopped by, but I wasn’t really even that close to the war. And I was only there because I was in Tokyo and met this amazing woman who…”
“Stop! Seriously…what? Just start at the beginning, man.”
And so Asher regaled Raymond with tales from his years of travel, which saw him meet a mysterious love interest on every continent including Antarctica, accidentally get drawn into and end up leading a successful neo-Marxist revolt in Western Sahara, become a national rock icon in Ukraine, a folk hero in Bhutan, and a demi-god to a previously undiscovered tribe on an uncharted island 152 KM off the southern coast of Sumatra.
“If it wasn’t you telling me this, I wouldn’t believe a word of it. Didn’t you worry about the whole white male imperialist fantasy problem? It seems like a few of those experiences were right on the edge.”
“I know, that’s one of the reasons I had to move around. Being non-white and Jewish did help a little with that dilemma, but I acknowledge that I was raised by white parents and benefited a great deal from white privilege. So whenever people started propping me up as a leader, I had to take a step back and be like ‘Whoa guys, I’m just here to support your self-determination.’ It was frustrating.”
“I can imagine! Okay, so while I don’t have anything even slightly as entertaining as all that, I did have something pretty nuts happen to me recently.”
“Hit me,” said Asher, leaning forward eagerly.
“Have you heard of Nico Leftiè?” Raymond asked cautiously.
“Who hasn’t? What about her?” Asher responded, clearly intrigued.
“Well, what have you heard about her?”
“Basically that she’s like the most elusive billionaire in the world. And I know Leftiè’s Luxury Suites are a horrible idea if you want to get the homeless to work, but there’s no denying they’ve basically eradicated the issue of homelessness in the US.”
“Well, of course you’re right but…you see, so I kind of ran into her while I was volunteering at an LLS and…basically I’m sort of in a type of…romantic agreement or something with her at the moment. I’m not really sure what it is…”
“What?” Are you serious!? That’s insane! How did you let me babble on with a bombshell like that waiting to be unleashed? How did this happen? Tell me everything!”
Now it was Raymond’s turn to tell a story, which he did in extreme detail, only concealing the episodes that would violate Nico’s privacy and dignity. When he finished, he faced an open-mouthed Asher.
“You turned down millions of dollars, an ambassadorship, and the chance to manage your favorite band because of a stupid principle about keeping your word or something?”
“You’re both the dumbest and most respectable person I could ever hope to know. You know I love you, but Jesus Christ, Raymond! How did they even find out about all that stuff?”
“Probably from my social media. That information isn’t exactly hidden from the public, which you’d know if you ever set one up. Though I guess this is just one more clear demonstration on how you’re smarter than the rest of us for never making one.”
“Lazier is more likely. So you’re just waiting for her to call you? Are you alright? And are you still writing that suicide book? Why didn’t you contact me before you did something so stupid?”
“I would have! But I had no idea how to get in touch with you!”
“Sorry…That’s my fault. I was so focused on just living in the moment and having all these direct experiences; I really wish you came with me.”
“Honestly, so do I.”
“Well it’s past now, and we’re together again. Besides, you don’t seem to be living a horrible life at the moment.”
“…Asher, why did you come back?”
“Well…” Asher began, a strange ripple of discomfort moving across his features, “I was bored. Everything was easy as a nomad. If a situation became unstable, I could just move on. I met people, but everything always felt temporary. I liked it at first, but it started to feel like a cancer hollowing out all my interactions. Experiencing one event or culture in one part of the world made me want to experience other events and other cultures in other parts of the world. There’s always more to do. But I knew if I moved on too quickly I would turn into a damn tourist and not really have a chance to understand a place. And I couldn’t stay too long because I needed to collect more and more experiences. It was like a mania. So my life became this painful equilibrium of staying just long enough to feel connected to the people who lived in a place, and then as soon as that happened, as soon as I felt like I’d made these deep connections, it was time to go. Honestly the whole thing was exhausting for my soul, or whatever you want to call it.”
“I’m sorry, Asher. That sounds draining and depressing.”
“Don’t feel too sorry for me now!” Asher said, perking up, “I did see about 30 countries and met thousands of incredible people, so I can’t complain! Just the complaints of a poor, self-absorbed bourgeoisie with too much time to think.”
“What are your plans, then? Any idea where you’ll settle? From your story, that seems like what you’ve decided on, right?”
“I’ll have to see what’s in the cards, but my immediate plans involve hanging out with you. We can get that old Room 436 creative synergy flowing again!”
“That’s a lovely idea! There are so many projects I wanted to work on, but nothing ever felt the same without you.”
“I know how you feel. In all of those adventures, after each one I always thought about how much I wished you were there with me.”
“But now I am.”
“As long as we’re on the topic of projects, why don’t we start a media company? Right now! I have the whole thing planned out. We can purchase a domain and start in with initial teaser advertisements. It can be really small and direct at first, with just the two of us as writers. There’s nothing out there like that right now; as in nothing entirely issue and philosophy based with two of our generation’s greatest minds working with substantial financial backing!”
“I am so on board with that. I…” Raymond was interrupted by the vibration of his cracked cellular telephone.
“It’s Nico! I’m sorry, just a moment.”
He darted out of the room to take the call, leaving Asher to smile and begin preparing their new venture.
 Trotsky University had recently changed its name from Che Guevera University, which itself had been a change from John Lenin University. The frequent name changes were directly related to the school charter’s unique rule stating that the student body possessed ultimate authority and could collectively decide on anything they wished to implement with a simple majority vote during the student elections each spring. This rule gave the school a reputation for possessing one of the more colorful campuses in the country, with university buildings being repainted nearly every year in highly vivid, often clashing, tones and patterns.
 The unfortunately named building was changed to Mary Shelley Hall their Junior Year after a vigorous campaign by the residents of the building. However, it was changed again the following year, much to the displeasure of its inhabitants, to Cock-Mongler Ranch after an unprecedented political effort from TU’s lone fraternity, Alpha Sigma Sigma.
 As Asher pointed out while attempting to cheer Raymond up, the review didn’t focus on the idea or philosophy, but rather on his use of children between the ages of seven and ten, whom Raymond had become acquainted with at a local tutoring and mentoring center. The review’s main argument was that Raymond hadn’t received permission from the children’s parents, and that the event was held during hours the kids were supposed to be studying rather than hanging from a cross, ostensibly sans flash cards.
 From the Trotsky Times’ review of the Death is the Opiate of the Masses performance at the Grotto; an event Asher had engineered as a surprise for Raymond’s 21st birthday.
 The pseudonym/deity-handle he used throughout each of these scenarios was always Jay Orpheus.