Mums the Word

Fallacy Frosting and the Blood Hunt

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Why am I awake? Confronted directly, the darkness answers back with more darkness. It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I have stumbled into consciousness for no detectable reason or purpose. I don’t have to be up yet, and Andy the Android is silent. If it were wake-up time he’d be vibrating all over the desk and singing his alarm for me, whining for attention like a puppy with a full bladder. Instead he lays silently on his back, snoring softly through a green charge-indicator light, suckling the USB cable from my Macbook.

Confounded, I listen carefully for the crackle of gunfire. My roommate wakes me up sometimes in the middle of a firefight, trading hot lead with South American drug cartels on the X-box in the next room. Tonight there is no sound, and yet I lie awake, pissed. I need to be asleep. I need to hit something.

This is hell week, eight straight work days in the hotel. It’s a scheduling anomaly, the bi-product from honoring the time-off requests of co-workers. Ours is a 24-hour operation, open for business 100% of every passing moment in the year. We are constructs of brick and beams, holding up the same tower. If one of us takes vacation, someone else has to reach up and keep the roof affixed snugly to the walls. I’m happy to do it - but not without my sleep.

I can’t face those faces, goddammit, not without rest. It’s not so much the work itself. Boiling coffee into a pot and wheeling Eggs Benedicts into a bedroom isn’t much of a calorie burner. It’s the mask we have to wear; the all-day lie I’m telling. Therein lies the struggle. One example: my corporate masters have a completely absurd prejudice against facial hair. If I would like to continue working for the company, I am required to participate in a daily ritual that rages against my lifestyle.

Every morning I stand in the bathroom for those bastards, scraping hot razors against the grain of my skin to meet an arbitrary “grooming standard” that didn’t apply to such bearded legends as Jim Henson, 16th President Abraham Lincoln, Aragorn son of Arathorn, and Lord and Savior/Jew Carpenter Jesus H. Christ of Nazareth. I suppose the residents of my hotel would prefer to own slaves in a Muppet-less universe ruled by the dark lord Sauron, unaware of whose name to scream in vain over a stubbed toe.

That’s just the frosting of the fallacy, not yet part of the cake. One guest from a major hip-hop label abandoned all street cred by throwing a fit when we brought him Tropicana instead of juice squeezed to order. Insane. Our species doesn’t eat regionally anymore; we don’t even know what “squeezed to order” would mean. Oranges don’t grow in winter. Nothing does except kale and roots. Produce doesn’t keep well either, unless you put it in a can. Your best hope for freshness, if you aren’t smuggling shipments up from Chile, is to keep crates of apples in cold storage. Desiring fresh, imported orange juice is acceptable. Demanding it is despicable. I have to smile at these people through sinewy hatred, apologizing for unjustified reasons against my will.

So why the hell am I awake? The answer comes from my skin: I’m on fire. I itch everywhere, and my face is covered with welts. This is bad.

A lot can go wrong living in New York. You can lose track of your dreams; get your heart broken. You can lose your faith in God or fall on the subway tracks, barbecuing your organs on the third rail. Some folks get mugged walking home from the bar, or clipped by a cab driver distracted by his cell phone. Others get their credit card numbers “borrowed” for strange overseas purchases. You can also get bed bugs, Cimex Lectularius, a near microscopic cunt of a species that lives in wood and feeds on human flesh. The little bastards are resistant to pesticides and can survive up to a year without eating. Getting rid of bed bugs is a simple two-step process: first you throw away all of your possessions, and then you give up. If I had bed bugs, then this New York adventure was ready to sing its death rattle.

Then I heard him, my ancient foe - a mosquito - whittling away the silence with his signature whine. I have never been so happy to cross paths with a hated nemesis. Mosquitoes are real bastards to me. I grew up in New England as their own personal chain restaurant. Parky: the Cheesecake Factory of mosquito casual dining. I attract them in droves, and my skin likes to react by erupting into nasty golf-ball-sized welts. I hate mosquitoes, but at least this meant I wasn’t facing bed bugs. This was good; I could roll with this. Sometimes you just need someone to kill.

Combat! Coursing with adrenaline, I assumed an attack stance, leaping to my feet on top of the bed, my body nude and pulled taught, ready to spring. I sleep naked, my skin is an organ and it needs to breathe. I flattened my hands, fingers clenched tight against each other, fashioning two lethal paddles. I was hunting a microscopic predator, but my stance was appropriate for battle with a much larger beast, a wyvern or a basilisk.

My walls were blank, nowhere to hide, a stark wasteland and there he was, bold as the weather, perched just over my pillow like a fat kid vulturing the chicken-wing table at prom, drunk with blood, hiding in the open. It seemed a shame to kill him, an otherwise worthy adversary caught in a moment of anomalous weakness. Normally a stealthy predator, he was caught sleeping off a food coma on the sofa. It would be like gunning down a Nazi Stormtrooper mid-shit.

I cocked my wrist back like the hammer on a pistol, bug wings line up in my sights. Then I paused, pangs of guilt and empathy staying my blow, cream and stock, the base ingredients of hesitation bisque. What would his last thoughts be? Weekend plans? Maybe he’d house hunt for a stagnant puddle, settle down and raise a family of millions. This bastard had earned my respect. It’s December, after all. He survived long past his season and somehow permeated a sealed windowsill to snack on my flesh. Who am I to halt the course of his life? Perhaps the best thing would be to grant amnesty and usher him out of the apartment?

Enraged yet pensive, enemy’s head on the block, I gazed into the bedroom window, my reflection gazing back. The nude executioner, axe raised, nostrils flaring as the appointed priest solemnly delivers last rites to this death row inmate, dead bug walking. There I was, strung tight, glazed with stress, swarmed with anticipation of the pending kill strike or a last second stay of execution from the governor of my conscience. And there, in the center of my reflection’s forehead, a fresh welt blossomed on a hairless scalp. He got me good. I saw red, my mouth tasted like batteries, my toes curled in rage. No. Fucking. Way. This son of a bitch sat on my face like it was a bar stool, running a tab on stolen credit, drinking heavy and tipping light.

I know how he saw me - nude, bald, pale - a hulking monster, talking food. I saw him right back, the part time predator, a hack foe, incapable of originality or self love, dangerous but hardly insurmountable. My hand swung free and true, flat and deadly I slapped the wall with excessive force, hard enough to kill a dog - because fuck him anyway, that’s why. In that last moment, before his body lost dimension, before I smeared my blood from his distended belly across the drywall, I swear to god, I think he asked me to shave.


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