What Richard Said

Lisa Barense, Medicated. 2020, cut book pages, washi tape. 9 × 12.5". Courtesy of the artist.

Entra nel petto mio, e spira tue
sì come quando Marsïa traesti
de la vagina de le membra sue.

Richard said, It begins with blood. Science fact, 90 percent of the earth’s surface is covered in blood.

I was sleeping twelve hours, Richard said, from 6 PM to 6 AM. I could sleep all day Saturday and most of Sunday. And I wasn’t getting along with my friends. I listened to them talk until I felt the ears of my mind begin to bleed, then walked upstairs in the middle of dinner and snorted a benzo.

With three weeks to go until Christmas, Richard said, I had a cough like a pounding hammer. The doctor put me on codeine, which metabolized to morphine in my blood and gave me insomnia. Now I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up nights, watching Clue and An Officer and a Gentleman and The Professional and Goldfinger and Raising Cain and Alien and Throw Momma from the Train and Innerspace and The Man with X-Ray Eyes and Sorcerer.

I went to work anyway, I was self-employed, and it is a promotion, isn’t it, to go from merely fucking things up now and then to being in charge of fucking things up on a consistent basis.

Another greasy sunrise, with all the tide panthers perched on the beach like a swimming pool waiting for an accident. But I couldn’t sleep, Richard said. Eleven days passed.

I took tranquilizers and, sky-high, cleaned my basement closets and the attic, throwing out eight black trash bags of what I no longer needed. I could have thrown out more, I could have thrown away the house. When Diogenes saw a man drink from his hands, he threw his cup away.

My doctor said she wanted to run some blood tests. Her technician, the phlebotomist, was cheerful.

We have one man, she said, he comes in here and he’s relaxed and calm until he sees his own blood on the counter, in the vials. Then he becomes enraged. We’ve learned to keep security on hand, to subdue him. Sometimes it takes three of them. He says we’re stealing his blood from him. He’s embarrassed later. He can’t control himself.

He sounds sick and unhappy, I said. He sounds crazy.

She shrugged and said, What do you mean, crazy.

She fixed a white cotton ball to the crook of my elbow with gauze tape. You’re all set, she said.

My doctor was glad she’d ordered my blood tests. My problem was simple, she said, and it could be fixed by taking a pill once a day.

It doesn’t matter what my problem was called, or what the pill was called. I don’t want to talk about it. I couldn’t sleep twelve hours a day, I had things I wanted to do. I picked up my pills in a striped paper bag from the corner pharmacy, from the bald pharmacist who sat on the stairs and read the racing form all day. I took one pill every morning, before breakfast.

 

Almost right away, Richard said, I could no longer concentrate enough to read. I didn’t panic, not yet. I’d had a good year. Benabou, Türcke, Persson, Shestov, de Tocqueville, Bayard, Verhaege, Laing, Bion, Hassoldt Davis in French Guiana, Carrère, Josep Pla’s Gray Notebook, Modiano.

Christmas came and went. New Year’s, too, with a big party at which my date said I’d been brilliant and mysterious. I liked that, and wondered if I had been reading too much, maybe for years.

I spent most of the next day crying, until, after dinner, I threw an hour-long screaming fit about where a neighbor had put his orange plastic snow shovel, displaying the patience of packaged macaroni and cheese.

With a mighty effort, Richard said, I took control of myself and played a game I had invented when I was a child and had lost my temper. I wrote out permutations of long numbers in ascending order. 123456. 123465. 123546. 123564. 123645. 123654. 124356. 124365 and so on until 654321, if that was what was needed.

I also had alphabet games to play, in case of emergency, but I hadn’t needed or remembered them for many years.

 

I began taking secondary drugs, Richard said, to temper the effects of the primary drug, swallowing the dog to catch the cat. I took my first drug and all I wanted to do was drive to the fights in Rhode Island, but in order to be able to tolerate the crowd of other fight fans, I had to take a second drug.

My first drug was a tiny round blue pill, I took it first thing in the morning with a lot of water. It made me feel sexy, I had a recurring dream in which I had four testicles.

I took a second drug, a tranquilizer, and stared out the window at the falling snow. I thought of William R. Pogue, the astronaut who went on strike in space. He wanted more time for himself and the crew to look out the windows and think. Oppositional defiant disorder, said Richard, also known as thinking for yourself.

Even through the hazy layers of the drugs, one night I dreamt of a bright red postcard from my father, on the back of which he had written, You’ve got it. Got it.

I emailed the Semitic museum, asking about tutoring in cuneiform. I was given permission to audit a course and I mail-ordered a copy of Grammar of Akkadian. Excited, I told a friend, who snarled at me that he could not imagine a bigger waste of time. He urged me to investigate Machine Learning instead.


Richard said, Feet of snow fell. Twenty inches on this day, twelve more on the next.

I walked across the street to the hospital and donated a pint of blood, and, as usual, over-thought it. I thought about piercing Anzieu’s skin-ego, I thought about blutbruderschaft, I thought about blending my private interior with the pooled blood of the group.

My doctor tested my blood again and raised my dose. The next morning, my cock was drooling semen. I took a tranquilizer before dinner, and a different tranquilizer after dinner, and I slept eight hours.

I had lunch with a friend who gasped when he saw me. Are you losing weight? he said, and it was true I didn’t see much point in food.

I couldn’t read, but I could listen to music. Idris Muhammad’s Power of Soul, Grant Green’s Alive, Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, Gould playing the Partitas, Sonny Sharrock.

I was starting to have trouble at work. I began an essay on Richard Rhodes, on the similarities I seemed to see between his two books with the word Making in their titles, his Pulitzer Prize–winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Making Love, a memoir of his life as a sex addict. I felt they could be a single book, called Making Life, Making Death. Nuclear fusion of cells creates life, and nuclear fission is the power to destroy reality. The sun, our life-giving star, is powered by nuclear fusion, l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle. 

I wrote about the liebestod, the love-death of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, about eros as thanatos, the pleasure-principle’s alliance with the death drive.

I wrote about a friend of mine who had found his unlucky charm, his disaster horseshoe, he had been fired for fucking a co-worker after hours on their office copy-maker. How confusing, because what is fucking itself if not the copy-maker.

It was at this point, Richard said, that I stopped writing my Richard Rhodes essay, you should not write about people with whom you share a name, it’s transparent wish-fulfillment, it stinks like piss in my nostrils.

I once knew a writer named Dixon who once wrote a long article praising another writer named Dixon: a lemonade herald paddling fruitlessly, by attempting to break the laws of cause and effect he became a coincidence dictionary.

“What I’ve found most remarkable about Dixon’s fiction,” said Dixon, Richard said, “is the quality of his revelations, his ability to unveil temperaments, habits, natures.”

“Part of what makes the story so remarkable is Dixon’s sense of what language can do,” Dixon said.

“Dixon makes the urgency of a thought, and the energy of its pursuit, palpable,” Dixon said.

“Dixon manages to capture a state I haven’t felt so powerfully before in fiction,” Dixon said.

And so on, spare me your dungfly jamboree. What Dixon most admired about Dixon was Dixon’s empathy. Empathy, empathy, said Richard, these people make me sick. Empathy is like butter, red wine, coffee and egg yolks. First, everybody’s got to have more empathy. And when you’re full up with empathy, next thing you know empathy causes cancer.

The Dixon-Dixon affair was a depth-fuck of the mind, Richard said, resulting in what can only be called a mind-fistula, I couldn’t believe Dixon had done it, I couldn’t believe the people who cared about him, and I was said to be one of them, had permitted him to do it.

I thought it would be best if I did not write about Richard Rhodes or Richard Wagner, Richard said.

 

Next, Richard said, I began an essay about Lovecraft and stopped that, too, embarrassed and why not, at long last a line I wouldn’t cross, the supercollider discovers its integrity particle.  This nasty Lovecraft article I didn’t want to write, slangy, shitty and also about shit, its working title was “Surprised By Shitting.”

The thing came abruptly and unannounced; a demon, ratlike scurrying from pits remote and unimaginable, a hellish panting and stifled grunting, and then from that opening beneath the chimney a burst of multitudinous and leprous life—a loathsome night-spawned flood of organic corruption more devastatingly hideous than the blackest conjurations of mortal madness and morbidity. Seething, stewing, surging, bubbling like serpents’ slime it rolled up and out of that yawning hole.

I thought I put it down but clearly I am carrying it, I have a textually transmitted disease. That’s enough, I am wary of the quotation racket. —Do not misunderstand me, I feel some sympathy, Richard said, otherwise I wouldn’t be interested enough to criticize him, that much is obvious, after all when I was a child I loved going to the cucumber farm so much that it made me sick. We grew cucumbers for the pickle company, and weekend mornings in the summers I sat on the toilet and sobbed, shitting, convulsing, we were unable to leave for the farm because suppose I had not finished shitting, suppose I were to shit in the truck, we will not leave until you have shat so shit now, you must shit right now, but also unable to stop shitting, we will not leave until you have stopped shitting, you must stop shitting now. Shit right now, this instant, but also do not shit, stop shitting immediately.

“And then from that opening beneath the chimney a burst . . . out of that yawning hole”!

But what is the point of writing such an article, anyone who doesn’t already know it himself isn’t going to understand it no matter what you say.

 

Richard said: I was working on two novel manuscripts at the time, one called Are You Capable Of Prismatic Refraction? and the other called What Does It Mean To Have A Psychotic Personality Structure?, both of them haunted-house novels. I was listening to a lot of Handel. I was planning a bicycling trip with my friend Jamie through Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. I cooked a lot of chili. I felt like a reverse-eunuch, all balls but no longer attached to a human body.

I was sick of literature. I wanted to be a normal person, to obey norms, to get closer to the group—to get re-attached to the body. Nothing is simpler, the rules are right before our eyes. I had done it before. I’d spent grades one through five at a nice private school with the children of the people who owned my city while my own father was, at that time, an air-conditioner repairman, wearing my tie and a blazer and singing the song about our school’s colors, blue of staunchest friendship’s color with thy golden hue will glow, until the burden of my tuition became too much for my parents to shoulder and I was bused down to the Jackson Street housing projects. I’d worn a uniform at my elementary school, so my mother took me school-clothes shopping, and I remember I was allowed to buy a loud yellow shirt with tropical birds on it because I liked it but, by October of that year, I wore the shirt I had liked as a costume for Halloween, as a “nerd.” I was tired of being an outcast, Richard said. The margin is exciting, but now and then someone on the margin pulls a knife. What would it be like closer to the center, with its warmth, ease and privilege? I watched the center and I learned its ways, and soon high school girls jerked me off behind the gym. Now I would try blending in again. No literary storytelling, not for a while. My first step? I would watch the most popular movie ever made, I would think the thoughts and feel the feelings that so many others had thought and felt. But how could popularity be measured? A good place to start was what they had paid to see, what they had paid more than two billion dollars to see. I watched Avatar, a silly movie, but I was surprised to see that it addressed my project directly. It, too, is about joining a group, about destroying one group and joining another. The hero is sent to wage war on an alien planet, but falls in love with an alien and joins the alien insurrection. A perniciously anti-real fantasy, but this must go a long way toward explaining its fantastic popularity. —Somewhere Freud says: Psychoanalysis is no way to make friends. —The hero-soldier’s superior is a big-knife-wielding father figure, who calls the injured hero “son” all through the story and offers him reality. “Look, son. I take care of my own. Get me what I need. I’ll see you get your legs back when you rotate home. Your real legs.” The big-knife father is slain, and the Great Mother removes the hero from his imperfect but real body so he can enter perfect union with her, gaining a new place within the body-politic, or volk. “You are now a son of the Omaticaya. You are part of the People.” But the destruction of reality is psychosis, plain and simple, just as Norman Bates in Psycho destroys all other people in order to have, and to be, his own mother. “Mother! Oh, God, mother! Blood! Blood!”

As it began to snow, fourteen inches had been predicted, I cooked more chili, and I started writing a third haunted-house story, A Single Candle, about the death of Longfellow’s wife. I had a dream in which my own voice said I’m a bad fellow, but I’m a Longfellow, Richard said.


As if in freefall on a velcro gondola, I next began an essay about Don Quijote, Richard said, but stopped, wanting to save it for later in my life, when I hoped I might be wiser. I could still read in Spanish. My Spanish is poor but I could read my annotated student edition of Don Quijote, a book that, if you read it, will drive you insane with pleasure.

Freud and a schoolmate of his had taught themselves Spanish, I knew, so that they could read Don Quijote in the original, just as Unamuno had taught himself Danish in order to read Kierkegaard. I re-read Unamuno’s Our Lord Don Quixote and cried.

I could understand a lot of Spanish if I read it out loud, reading aloud limited the speed at which I could read and this seemed to make reading possible. The discipline of pronouncing each word kept me from speeding along, blending it with my pill-eyes into a blur of information that pill-haste or pill-greed reduced to noise.

One way to tell the story of Don Quijote is to say that it is about a man who read so much that he went insane.

It is believed, says the introduction to my volume of the short stories of Cervantes, said Richard, that the undisciplined nature of his education is the main factor contributing to his originality; and this single sentence has been used to justify a lot of undisciplined behavior in my own life.

I could read some Carlos Fuentes. I could read Vargas Llosa’s La civilizacion del espectáculo. I could read Baltasar Gracián’s Oráculo, a work I knew well in English, if knowing it well does not mean living by its admirable precepts, by its good advice, if knowing it means only remembering the order in which its words are written.

Stop trying so hard, I thought. Consider instead the unforced operation of grace, as opposed to that time they forced Grace down and operated on her.

I slept, but nosebleeds woke me. My hair began to fall out.

 

I walked to the museum, Richard said, and I looked at Rubens, at his Saint Paul holding the sword of his own martyrdom.

I looked at Monet’s red mullets on the oceanic white expanse of their napkin, like the black background of the Death of Marat. I liked their silver fish bellies, I liked the sloppy-looking brushwork in the northwest quadrant of the napkin-to-background border.

I came home just before a big storm broke, splendid lightning, crashing thunder, pounding rain.

I told my doctor that my nose bled, but that now I could sleep without tranks for eight hours in a row. She drew my blood and tested it, and raised my dose again.

I don’t know about this, I said.

There’s nothing for you to know about it, she said. Your blood tells me what to do. The proper course of action is clear.


Mother’s Day, Richard said. I was going to watch the annual showing of Psycho at the Brattle. But my mother called while I was eating breakfast and she said, Ricky, I need you to listen to something.

I don’t like the sound of this, I said.

You aren’t going to want to hear it. But sometimes you have to give me permission. You have to. Ricky, you are special.

So far this sounds all right, I said, Richard said.

Do you know how much we love you? Do you know that once when I was pregnant with you, your father and I were making love, and I started bleeding, and I bled so much, soaking the sheets, that we were afraid you were going to die, and your father got down on his knees, covered in blood, and he prayed to God that you wouldn’t die. You weren’t even born, and we already loved you that much. Did you know that?

How would I know that?

And you didn’t. You didn’t die!

What makes you so sure?

But you didn’t die.

Not yet.

Thank you for giving me permission to tell you that. That’s how much we love you.

You love me.

Yes.

Is that why you called?

Yes.

And I listened to you. Right?

Right.

Now you can listen to me.

Okay.

It’s a nice story, but there’s a part of it I don’t understand.

What part is that?

Here’s the part I don’t understand. I don’t understand why you can’t just tell your son you love him and leave it there, instead of telling a story about how you and dad were fucking.

Ricky, we weren’t fucking, we were making love.

A story about how the two of you were fucking, and you started to bleed, you thought you were having a miscarriage as if you had fucked me to death, and dad prayed, and so on. Why can’t you just say I love you?

Ricky.

Wouldn’t that be a lot simpler?

Ricky.

What’s wrong with you? Are you aware that something is wrong with you?

Ricky. God damn it.

What is the matter with you?

Ricky. Ricky.

I can tell you what’s wrong, if you think you’ll understand it. The reason is you don’t want to tell me you love me. What you want, and you don’t even know it, is to tell me, the last person on earth who should ever have to listen to this shit, to dump your shit into me. You’re like all the rest, you see my beautiful empty white life, like a blank sheet of paper, and just like all the rest of them, the only empty white thing you’ve ever seen is a toilet, and you believe you are entitled to shit all your dirty emotions into me. Just like all the rest.

Ricky, stop it.

Learn to listen. The point isn’t that you love me, even though you do. The whole point is you telling me about you and dad fucking, and imagining that you killed me, and blood everywhere. You think you love me, and you think you want to tell me you love me, but if you want to know what a machine is for just look at what it does, look at what happens when you open your mouth, all this crazy shit comes out. Think about it. Can you think about it? Will you think about it?

My mother started screaming. Aaah. Aaah.

Oh, stop it.

Aaah.

Stop screaming.

Aaah.

Stop it. Strength through weakness, that’s your motto. Pity is a weapon.

Aaah.

You pretend I am the cause of your distress. But you know that isn’t true, you’re not a fool.

Aaah.

That’s enough. Calm down. And I will too.

Aaah. Aaah.

You are insane, I said.

Aaah.

You are insane, and your love, which is real but insane, has contributed to making me insane, and I am also insane. It’s a problem for me. Can you understand that?

Aaah. Aaah. Aaah. Aaah.

Will you fucking stop fucking screaming, for Christ’s sake.

Aaah. Aaah. Aaah.

Of course I don’t expect you to agree that you yourself are insane, but I am confident that you will agree that I am insane, after all you have said so many times.

Aaah. Aaah. Aaah. Aaah. Aaah.

Are you drunk? It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. Are you drunk? Are you drunk? Are you?

Aaah. Aaah.

I can listen to you and your story, but you won’t listen to me. Is that fair? Do you think that is fair?

Aaah. Aaah. Aaah.

I’m hanging up if you don’t stop screaming in five seconds, I said. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

Aaah! Aaah! AAAH! AAAH!

Goodbye, mom, I love you, I said, Richard said.

 

Richard said, Now I wasn’t oversleeping, I couldn’t sleep more than four hours in a row. I went back to my doctor, I told her my fingernails had stopped growing.

It means you died, she said.

They keep growing for six months after death, I said.

Then it means you died seven months ago, she said.

She tested my blood again and raised my dose.

 

At my first dosage level, Richard said, I was hornier than two squirrels fucking in a tube-sock.

At the second level, sex was mixed with aggression, I was eye-fucking anyone who walked within range of me and the results were interesting.

At my third level, all I wanted was to check the oil and the tire pressure in the car, and the bike, and the snow-thrower.

At a fourth level, my hair, which had stopped falling out, began to fall out again.

And I still couldn’t read, Richard said.

 

Richard said: I dreamt of my childhood house. False-front garage doors, architectural façades, had become true doors, and had opened, and beautiful jazz music playing inside could be heard in the street. I had a chat with Thomas Mann as we both floated above the house. Later in that same dream, I cried and told a woman that I missed my mother.

My mother called the next morning.

Ricky, I had a dream, she said. I want you to tell me the meaning of my dream.

You’ve got me mixed up with somebody else, I said.

I dreamt of our old house, where you grew up. What do you think was there?

I don’t know.

There was a secret door!

Yes, of course.

I found a secret room up there!

I believe you.

There was a secret door in the ceiling, a hidden attic, a hidden room upstairs. But it was boarded shut. Do you want to know what kind of board it was? It was raw and unfinished.

Is that right?

What do you think was in the secret room?

Shut up, Richard said, I don’t want to know.

You were! You were a little boy, she said, standing at the edge of the attic door, throwing down rolls of toilet paper to me. When you’d thrown me all the toilet paper I needed, I went and put it away. I came back, but I didn’t see you. I sent up into the secret room and you were standing at an open window, ready to jump. You were going to kill yourself. But I grabbed you, my mother said, I turned you round, and right between your eyes—

I am not able to continue telling my mother’s dream, Richard said. She told me a secret. She doesn’t know she told me a secret, but she did. I didn’t want to know it, but now I do know it.

That’s the difference between us, Richard said, that’s what makes me the good guy in this cowboys-and-Indians project-and-destroy melodrama, I admit other people are as real as I am.

This stance is practical and accurate, but it has many disadvantages, I can admit that too, Richard said.

So many well-meaning people in my own family confront me, they instruct me, they denounce me, Richard said, they tell me You only have one mother. They say it like it’s a bad thing. One is enough. These flagrant children, boil them like corn, boil them in a sack. It is other people who tell us who we are, other people who tell you what you can be and whether or not you have become it yet, all these other people. Other people are reality, Richard said, other people who want to drink your blood, this is well-known.

 

I ate dinner at a neighbor’s house, Richard said, where her guest of honor was a famous American filmmaker, fat, with a lazy eye and a pouty, smirky mouth, pleased with himself. He opened his bite-window and displayed a tongue-basket of hideous teeth.

I like to hear myself talk, he said, as if this mitigated the difficulty rather than compounding it. Take your homemade privilege and go.

A giant baby, I thought, and this might explain his dirty productivity, shitting in his crib, unending shit-talking, his fecalization of his environment.

Nice table settings, Richard said. All that beautiful flatware, hurl it in tribute.

Sure enough, this unsteady trample-griffin was soon throwing a drunken tantrum about an older man, a former teacher who hadn’t approved of him when he had been in school more than fifty years ago. He still raged against that male authority, still ached and longed for the approval of that powerful senior male authority figure.

You didn’t have to be a genius to figure it out, and maybe being a “genius” meant not figuring it out, maybe instead being a “genius” was a kind of stupidness ensuring incapacity, forced indirection, oblique strategies, inefficiency, processing a balls-simple conflict in complex masks and in obscure symbols, as Perseus was forced to approach Medusa not head-on but in the mirror of his shield.

The filmmaker’s personal problems were dumb, Richard said, I could have explained them twice on one side of a sheet of paper, but his knowing them intellectually might have meant no movies from him, although it might also have meant maturity, insight, progress if we want to call it that, and not his making the same movie again and again, about as edgy as a granite spoon.

Enough of this smelly floor-show. During our drive home, my date, who had long ago known the teacher who’d disapproved of the filmmaker, Richard said, described the filmmaker as an art-monster. But I felt his art-to-monstrosity ratio had not been optimized.

This was what interested me, Richard said, cracking his knuckles. Why did a fat, late-middle-aged filmmaker feel that he could safely shout at other people, including me, and call me names, when I could kill him with my bare hands, and why was he correct? How had the filmmaker coerced others into telling him what he could be, into giving him the right to be who he wanted to be? Why did he want to be a screaming, shitting maniac? And why had we agreed to let him to be that?

A strange sunny day in the garden, Richard said. I pulled out the lavender with the broken cane, two burnt germanders and a peony that had died on its feet. I mixed topsoil with manure. Hot sun, shirt off, allergies. I saw, in the garden, the sweet but pesky rabbit. He had an entire prairie winecup in his mouth, bitten clean through at the base of its stem. I thought God damn him, wasn’t my toad-lily enough for him, I hope it tastes good, loose all the demons, this is what I care about. I spooked the rabbit, Richard said, and he dropped the prairie winecup, and I picked it up and ate it.

 

After yet another argument with my doctor, Richard said, I agreed to keep taking my drug. But I was freaking out.

I read an article in The New York Times about guinea pigs. “After eight weeks, said Dr. O’Haire, a researcher in human-animal interaction, many children, both typical and on the spectrum, described the guinea pig as ‘my best friend’ . . . ‘If you ask the children what the guinea pig is thinking,’ Dr. O’Haire said, ‘a common answer would be, ‘That he loves me.’ ”

I couldn’t read anymore, Richard said, I cried all day.

You have got to get me off this drug, I said to my doctor, there must be another solution. But my doctor said No.

A newspaper article about guinea pigs, that was all I was good for, Richard said. I couldn’t read.

I read fifty pages of the big new novel, thinking all along of what Lawrence had said, “It becomes harder and harder to read the whole of any modern novel. One reads a bit, and knows the rest; or else one doesn’t want to know any more.”

I skipped ahead to the novel’s ending, “You are infinite. I see you. You are not alone.” Three sentences, three lies.

I put the novel down, picked up Yalom’s Existential Psychotherapy, and read, “Existential isolation. The process of deepest inquiry—a process that Heidegger refers to as ‘unconcealment’—leads us to recognize that we are finite, that we must die, that we are free, and that we cannot escape our freedom. We also learn that the individual is inexorably alone.”

What could I say then, Richard said. I could say that the new novel was not part of “the process of deepest inquiry.”

But maybe shallower inquiries are also permitted, he said.


I am surrounded by high-functioning sickos, Richard said. Of course, I myself may be a high-functioning sicko, in which case maybe what I see “outside” myself is my own disavowed brain circuitry, the classic project-and-destroy switcheroo. They hate and fear silence and emptiness, Richard said.

—This place is empty. It looks like you just moved in. You live in a haunted house. Why don’t you buy some little tables?

Why don’t you go shit in your hat?

They evacuate their shitty emotions into me, that’s what they think emptiness is for, filling with shit, that’s what they think I am for, Richard said. These are not the human beings the brochure led me to expect.

Program or be programmed, you’re going to need a plan. Drift, wait and obey is not a plan. Instead steer, act, command. Learn to strike preemptively, or rest assured these people have a plan for your life, it is for you to become an organ in their bodies. The data they are so proud of isn’t in the cloud as they say, it’s not the music in the air you imagine over your head, it is down in the undersea cables, the dark wet guts of the ocean, deep in the world’s unknown body. Step lively, or you will be suborned to digest their experience. They do not want their inner lives. As for digestion, their servants can do that for them.

High-functioning sickos don’t stop talking, Richard said. The haunted house of conversation is filled with little tables, it’s a regular furniture showroom in there. Their terror of silence is easy to understand. It is the fear of idle processing, which might lead to learning from experience. In order to learn from experience, first you have to be able to have an experience: many are those who speak ceaselessly, in order that nothing may occur. What mouths, they don’t stop eating, they’re pure oral violence.

Are you going to finish that?

I haven’t even started it, Jesus Christ.

They’re not just eating off my plate, Richard said, these psychic cannibals are eating my me.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so they say. Go ahead, nature, abhor it, who cares what you abhor. Loathing is an acceptable response. Meanwhile reality itself is not an obesogenic environment, reality is mostly empty space. What these high-functioning sickos do is abhor reality and fecalize the environment, mediating reality, opening their mouths and eating reality, then incontinently re-painting reality with their thick coats of verbal sludge until immediate reality’s odor is more to their liking. In this shadow-show, relevant boundary-apertures of mouth and anus are acted by this or that high-functioning sicko, who outsources the remainder of his life to me, his bleeding ear, his food processor.

I have received the Cosmic High Command’s transmission, Richard said as he finished his drink, stood, and shot his cuffs. Your messenger’s face was streaked with dirt and burned brown by the sun, his shorts hung in tatters. He stopped shifting from foot to foot, pointed at me and said, in a clear voice,

—Don’t worry, you still have time. But you need to start making some changes.

—All right, I said, I will.

It wasn’t until I was in bed that night, staring at the ceiling, that I realized it’s what Rick says to Ilsa.

Ilsa I don’t know what’s right any longer. You’ll have to think for both of us. For all of us.

Rick All right, I will.

—Rick was a dope, Richard said.

Earth is a peanut, I am allergic to it. This concludes my report from Dimension-Zero Hell-Planet to Cosmic High Command. Requesting immediate transfer.

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