The Importance of Staying Educated
By James Lewis Matthau
In the early morning, his homemaking wife still in bed, the Wall Street Journal not yet delivered, Gunner Fahey, Trump supporter, peeled the electrical tape off his laptop’s webcam. He thumbed at the adhesive until it felt dry and told whoever was there, through his computer — NSA or CIA possibly, maybe some organization tied to Google or Yahoo! or Israel — that he was not going to live in fear. He wasn’t going to let their digital panopticon prevent him from living his life the way a man is born to live his life: free, unshackled, uninhibited, unafraid, 1st and 2nd amendment, a weathered snakeskin upon which there’d be absolutely no more treading, especially by Jews.
He unzipped his pants. The adventurousness of unpeeling the tape had made him fully erect, ready for the day ahead, a sign of his prized masculinity. With said full erection, he proceeded to urinate pinchedly onto his own face and in his eyes a little from his chair.
At work later that day — gun store, NRA-affiliate, outskirts of El Paso — a customer, black man in a wide-brimmed hat, approached him, asking him to turn his music down. Gunner had a boombox and his door was open because of the heat and the man in the hat was afraid, understandably, that someone might be offended by the messages in the country rock song Gunner was playing. Gunner looked the man over, searching for signs of physical weakness, though found only the man’s glasses to make fun of.
“Whatever you say, four-eyes.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Hey, I didn’t know they made colored nerds, go figger… You gonna buy something or what?” Gunner said.
The man, with a stoical, undefeatable glare, looked at Gunner. He studied Gunner’s eyes and it looked and felt, to Gunner, as though the man was peering through his skull, examining academically the sources of his own gun-brandishing hate — his underfunded schools, his scouts leader who refused the gays — then turned and walked out of the store.
When Gunner got home in the evening, he told his wife the story. His wife, pregnant with their sixth child, was polishing Gunner’s Pall Mall bowling ball and trying to comprehend the importance of what her husband was telling her.
“He just stared at me, Kat,” he said. “Like he was reading the poetry in my soul or something, and he wasn’t impressed.”
“Is that right, dear?”
“Yeah — and I felt really uncomfortable, like that guy is plotting something, something to bring us down.”
“Is that right?”
The following morning, Gunner didn’t piss onto his face. He slept in. Slept in so much that he was late getting into the gun store to relieve Winston, the owner whose house was attached to the shop, the man who opened it each morning, ran the books.
“Sorry I’m late, Winston. I was having these crazy dreams, man.”
“Oh, no worries, a man will be late when a man must be late, I understand… But, hey, tell me about your dreams, I love dreams.”
“Oh well, I mean, they were crazy is all — I mean, capital C, man. I kept falling asleep inside of them and every time this guy who came into the store, yesterday actually, and… I mean, it was all really disturbing. This guy just appears, right? I might be doing any number of dream things, like running or kissing or whatever, ha, you know, but this guy doesn’t do anything but watch me, like he’s scrutinizing me.. the guy appears and I fall asleep in my dream, like a goddamned movie, you seen that movie?”
“Hmm. And this guy — yesterday you said?”
“Yeah, this one guy, had the strangest way of looking at me — strong, you know, for his type, at least.”
“Hmm. Colored guy?”
“Yeah, well, alright Gun, I’m gonna leave you to it. We’re out of 48s, I reckon. Will be till next Friday, we’ll see how that pans out.”
Winston left so Gunner got to it.
As the day went on, Gunner still couldn’t get the man out of his head — the power of the man, the physique, the eyes, the dreams. And, come lunchtime, enough was, as they say, enough; He resolved he’d have to see him again. Was he a neighbor maybe? There weren’t any houses or apartments nearby, were there?
He’d have to put his music back on, maybe that would lure him in.
So he put his music on. Loud. As loud as it would go and he put the boombox right out his opened window. He went out the front door and, in his confederate flag cutoff t-shirt, stood with his arms folded, his tattoo-free forearms made to look larger pressed against one another, smoking cigarettes. He mouthed along with the words he knew to the songs he knew — ”I’ll drive MY FORD sudda sudda sudd sudd OVER AND OVER, NOW sudda sudda sudd sudd.”
Within the length of an hour, no one came to buy guns. There’s a theory that America, as I’m sure you know, is “waking up” to the danger of guns, an idea that in itself could give Gunner nightmares. Had his name put him on track for his career? Wasn’t he born for his profession? What a horrible idea gun restriction laws were! He started thinking about terrorism and the 1980s, Reagan was dead, rather, and he could feel his death, and that made him feel quite existential.
When he needed to use the bathroom and had his first Miller craving of the day, it was going on noon, Gunner went to the side of the shop, reached through the window and fiddled the boombox off. He urinated on the side of the building, he needed quiet to urinate, and watched and listened to, with mild excitement, the strength of his stream as it splashed onto his combat boots a little.
From the window, a black man’s voice: “Ahem.”
Gunner looked up, startled. It was the man. The nightmare man. The strong man. “It’s you!” He said.
“Ahem… Excuse me, are you finished?”
Gunner looked to see that he’d finished urinating. “Yeah, I — ”
“No. Not that,” he sounded aggravated and shook his head toward the ground. “Are you finished with your little whiteboy concert? Some of us have jobs to do around here.”
“Yeah, like me. What the hell do you do around here?”
“I study the natural patterns the wind makes in the unique kind of dust — chaos! — you all have blowing around here, actually, for the University of Cambridge, all the spirals and — you can picture it now, can you not?” He turned and looked into Gunner’s eyes. He seemed to hum or mumble in between words, Gunner took it for some madness, some academic madness.
The sound of a passing car on the gravel from the road.
“Get the hell out here, man.” Gunner said.
“I study Polv — ”
“No, I mean, get out of my goddamn store, guy, I’m not — ” Gunner bit his lip in what, at the time, he took for frustration and put his penis back in his pants and zipped them up. He marched around the side of the building and into the store.
The man was still standing with his shoulders up and his hands on the sill, looking out the window.
“Get the fuck…” Gunner walked up behind the man and tried to turn him around.
The man reverberated. Hollowly. He was cold. He didn’t budge. It was as though he was made of some inorganic compound or microcarbon alloy.
Gunner stepped back and slowly, with a hideous inhaled screech, the man began turning , delayed, lagged— a slow, footless, fluid turn. The phenomenon was so shocking that it seemed slow motion like a movie or something.
The man’s face had lost all stoicism, all life. His eyes were the color of dirty pearl and his breathing was pneumatic, full of pus or blood or something even more wretched, something foreign, multinational, something impossible — an oil or tar that at once seemed both faceless but that also had lots of little fucking tortured alive faces. His teeth were peeling and twisting off from the inside of his mouth with the tar, then landing, one by one, in horrid splashes upon the ground. Then the tarring stopped.
The man’s head began levitating, empty of all imaginable and unimaginable fluids, and coming apart in odd trajectories — squeezed clay, incorrect directions. There was the sound of what could have been a parrot in the distance, or maybe a child learning an instrument, the sound of gravel from the road seemed to snicker. “Heh heh heh,” went the gravel on which no cars were passing.
Or so it seemed. This is another nightmare, Gunner thought.
But he didn’t fall asleep or wake up. Wasn’t he supposed to fall asleep or wake up?
Would his dreams be this vivid? He could smell his urine from through the window.
He thought of reaching for a gun only after the fact.
And like that, the man started exhaling out his nose. A sudden, unintentional exhalation, light, like a laugh. Followed by another exhalation. Then another. Then another that wasn’t like a laugh, it was a laugh.
The man started laughing, uncontrollably. He slapped his knee and halfway keeled. “Oh, boy. Oh boy oh boy,” he said.
Gunner was still paralyzed. Unable to fathom what had seemed absolutely unfathomable.
“Lord, you people are easy to fool. So easy to fool. This is your master race?” And he laughed and keeled some more, stepping off his rotating platform and through the puddle of tar and teeth.
When he regained his poise, in between fits, he removed a handkerchief from his front pocket and slapped Gunner, still paralyzed, though now by confusion, not by fear, on the chest with it. A flapping sound. Another choked laugh.
“I’m sorry if I have offended or frightened you, sir,” the man said and walked out the door.
The man, it turned out, was neither black nor a chaos theory guy — he was a magician and Syrian refugee. And he paved that gravel road to Gunner’s salvation. Within a two year period, Gunner and his wife moved from El Paso to Austin, then from Austin to Portland, and Gunner gave up hunting for hiking, smoking for meditation, and finally accepted his sexuality. His wife offered full custody to him for their kids before she passed away from natural causes — he and his lover are raising said kids now in a large house with property with lots of trees, the eldest is becoming a videogame designer, the youngest wants to be one of the first men or women on Mars. Gunner realized that he neither needed, nor wanted privacy, because he was finally happy.