Psychedelic Martial Arts Novel 1.7

A Joke in Poor Taste.

“Wow, okay,” said Lydia. “I guess you’re just back from the Ukraine. How was your trip?”

“Nothing much to talk about really,” Greg said with a friendly smile. “I’d much rather hear about how your day is going. You have an air about you that tells me you’re in the middle of something interesting.”

As a habitual liar and manipulator, Greg had a policy of never discussing sensitive matters in front of more than one person at a time. It’s hard to deny something you say to two people at once. That aside, Greg was right. Lydia was more interesting, and hearing about her would be a nice change of pace.

“Funny you should say that, I’m in here waiting for a message from my brother,” she sighed. “He’s got my birthday wrong again and thinks it’s today. So, he’s asked me to wait here for some kind of special message. God — he’s such a goofball!”

In the two years I had known Lydia all she had told me about her older brother was that he existed, that he was a goofball, and that she loved him. Research on my part had uncovered two more facts: He had a fashion blog, and he liked to speed-run video games. The fashion blog was straightforward enough. He knew enough about search optimization to make 6k a month showing off his pants. The speed running was a better window into his soul. In the corner of the internet where misfits with hyper efficient nervous systems vie at beating video games as fast as possible he was revered as genius for developing new “strats” for saving frames and microseconds on various Nintendo 64 games, but also reviled and mistrusted for his history of faking world record runs. An archetypal case of wasted potential, and a polarizing figure in his subculture. My only feeling towards him was mild annoyance at his being more important to her than me. My contempt was a liability because I knew Lydia would not sleep with a man who made fun her brother. No matter how many “Breath of the Wild” runs he spliced, I had to remain a nominal fan of Kleenax08.

An edible arrangement.

Greg’s eyes widened “That’s exciting. What a cool guy. Every brother should have a sense of the dramatic. I hope this is a singing telegram.

“If it is I’ll have to kill him,” said Lydia. How I wished she were serious! If it was a singing telegram she would jam an icepick in my heart by finding the gesture endearing.

As we talked, A young man came in carrying what seemed to be a cubist rendering of a bouquet of flowers. On closer inspection, the bouquet turned out to be made mostly of slices of cantaloupe held together with toothpicks.

Oh God,” said Lydia, her head sliding into her hand. “Please say this is a coincidence!” She pretended to be embarrassed by her brother’s antics but was actually impressed by every stupid thing he did.

The delivery boy looked around. Seeing a dark-haired Amazon on the premises, he seemed to recognize Lydia and walked up to our table, trying to smoothly maneuver his legs around an incipient erection, as likely caused by the smell of cantaloupe as the sight of a woman.

“Are you Lydia?” he asked in a squeaky adolescent voice.

When she didn’t immediately deny the charge, he put the sculpture down on the table and hobbled out as fast as his pants would allow.

I’d already been troubled by the fact that he wasn’t wearing a uniform, now the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. From the furtive way he left, it was obvious that this was not an employee of a delivery service. This was a kid pulled off the sidewalk, shown Lydia’s picture, and given 10 bucks to deliver a fruit sculpture to a woman in a coffee shop

The elaborate social engineering seemed less the act of goofball and more like the work of a manipulative person who was trying to incorporate Lydia into some sort of public exhibition. I didn’t like the look of the card that came with the sculpture either, but it comforted me to think that whoever set this up couldn’t possibly have anticipated the presence of Greg. If it was poisoned, he’d probably end up eating most of it.

Greg could be relied on to fuck things up.

“Hey! That must be one of those ‘Edible Arrangements!’” Greg shouted with the joy of a simple-minded person seeing for the first time, something that he has previously known only by reputation. He probably would’ve reacted the same way if the arrangement had been a steaming jar of jenkem.

“He’s finally remembered that I don’t eat junk,” Lydia reflected as she opened the card. Her face fell almost immediately and she crumpled the contents into her hip pocket and snatched out her cellphone.

“I’ll be back for my stuff. Don’t follow me,” she said. Then she half-walked, half-ran out the back door of the cafe and into the rear parking lot.

“Some goofball, huh?” said Greg casually. “You’d better run out there and comfort her. I’ll stay here and watch the stuff,” he added, his mouth full of cantaloupe.

I wanted to punch him in the throat, but I knew he was right. I stood and walked towards the back door. As it shut behind me, I could hear a waitress asking Greg what part of “no outside food or drink” he didn’t understand, and Greg protesting that he had “special dietary needs” in a wounded and indignant voice.

College towns combine the sparse economic opportunities of a small town with the hellish parking challenges of a metropolis. Since the general population of America is either so old and rich that they only shop online or while on vacation or so young and poor that Walmart is the be-all-end-all of their consumer profile, the only game in town is to establish your business within walking distance of campus. Students are a painstakingly selected elite of America’s youth, charged with the important task of borrowing huge sums of money at interest and spending it all on coffee and tacos so that the rest of us can keep up appearances and pretend that we’re not in a second Great Depression. While I appreciate the noble sacrifice of America’s best and brightest, I don’t enjoy the way it forces businesses to cram into a five-mile radius, creating a parking shortage which is an affront to the very concept of small town America.

The rear parking lot of this cafe, which the proprietors must have negotiated very hard to secure, consisted of three narrow parking spaces, each coupled with a dire towing warning and separated from the rear of the building by a narrow strip of sidewalk. The area was poorly lit and further crowded by the giant trash receptacle, the businesses adjacent to the parking lot were forced to share. I’d often toyed with the idea of coming by one morning just to see how the intrepid sanitation engineers managed to back a full-sized garbage truck into this tiny slice of hell, but somehow there was always something more important to do and then by and by it was too late.

Lydia was balancing on the thin strip of sidewalk. She was holding her phone by her side and she was crying.

I’d never seen her cry before, even in my imagination.

Her face was red and swollen, and the obligatory salty liquid was leaking out of her eyes. She was one of those criers who doesn’t sob and keeps decent control over breathing. She looked about as dignified as a severely distraught person can look when standing next to a dumpster. I was conscious of a deep sense of discomfort, tempered by the consolation that something interesting was happening.

This is Jenkem

Before insensitivity became practically illegal, you used to hear heterosexual men wondering aloud about how on earth “the gays,” or women for that matter, could stand the sight of penises. I understand that Gore Vidal used to ask similar questions, so obviously these issues are more complex than popularly understood. Be that as it may, the people who really perplex me are hardcore sexual sadist types who get off on inflicting severe physical and emotional suffering. If you ask me, sobbing or silent, severely distraught people look like shit. Lydia was a work of art, and an unwanted guest had just intentionally spilled his cocktail on her. I was seized with a strong and oddly specific desire to find the person responsible, and make that person eat glass.

Hampered by rage and lack of details, I took stock of the situation as best I could. My first approximation analysis was as follows: Her worthless pig of a brother had done something nasty to her. Something as elaborate as it was vile. Maybe he had coerced her into a bad investment and destroyed her financially. Perhaps he had done something of a similar nature to her parents or used lies to destroy one of her friendships. Perhaps he had tortured her as a child, and the letter had contained some sort of trigger word or phrase that brought all the pain and humiliation back in an unstoppable rush of agonizing panic? This last thought made me realize, I was over excited. In real life, evil tends to be banal. Which is why, if you want to get people excited about solving the world’s problems, the most efficient course is to start lying your ass off.

Most days, Lydia didn’t even seem capable of tears, which meant that something very bad must have happened to her. As I stood there, taking in the situation, she turned to notice me, giving me about ten seconds to make my move or to watch her walk right past me without saying a word, collect her backpack and half-eaten fruit sculpture, then head home, and turn her phone off.

Even though I didn’t stand to lose any time or money under those circumstances, something inside me didn’t like the idea[JW1] .

“Lydia, what’s wrong?” I blurted out, before I could remember that I never blurted and always spoke on the basis of strict rationality.

The words seemed to catch in her throat before she could force them out. Her answer reaffirmed my maxim about the banality of evil.

“My big brother committed suicide,” she said.

“So Mr. Kleenax decided to speed run Life?” was my immediate, although thankfully internal, response.

Before you get upset with me for “lacking empathy,” try to see things from my perspective. That is to say the perspective of someone with a total lack of empathy. When you set aside the emotional anguish which causes suicide and which suicides occasion, something my brain does automatically, they are pretty funny.

Even the word is funny. As far as inherently funny sounding words go, “suicide” is up there with “pumpernickel” and “spaghetti.” That’s why, when I need to keep a straight face about it, I always say, “self-annihilation.” Pushing air through the sinuses kills the smiling reflex.

The fact that death, the one thing which we all dread and seek to avoid at all costs, is utterly inevitable, is funny on its own. Now here comes someone who sacrifices whatever portion of fleeting existence remains to them, all for a shot at being the center of attention. Funny? “Guess Kleenax decided to run the any% category?” If you haven’t laughed yet, then I withdraw the point.

Of course, many suicides are noble as well as comical. Think Socrates or the apocryphal nonagenarian who drove her Corvette off a cliff at 90 miles per hour. These are the ones that embrace the humor of the situation and use the attention it generates to make a point. Socrates’s remarks in Apologia, which can be summarized “You may have sentenced me to die, but you don’t even know what that means.,” are an eternal inspiration to all those who value freedom of thought and self-examination.

Lydia’s brother seemed to fall into the opposite category, the “by the time you read this I will already be dead” variety of suicide. He had delivered a slap to the face and run away. Taken his ball and gone home. He had deliberately denied closure to the people that cared about him and made an effort to add public humiliation to his sister’s suffering by forcing her to receive the news in a coffee shop which he presumably knew would be full of her friends and acquaintances.

It was damn hard to feel sorry that he’d been taken out of circulation. On the other hand, to comfort Lydia, I needed to share her grief. A very strong emotion at the opposite end of the spectrum from the one I currently felt. Obviously, I can feign concern, but I’m no Laurence Olivier. Feigning grief on this scale takes a degree of craft I don’t possess. I contemplated my situation and regretted not taking advantage of opportunities to participate in Community Theater as a child, and not for the last time.

There’s a lot more to emotion than moving your face :’(




Fiction for and by people who are in on the Joke. Your work is welcome just let me know.

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Martial Arts, Law, Science, Philosophy文武双全, body hacking, dyslexia

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