Archive | March, 2012

Consume Me, Part 2

15 Mar

I follow Katie, the small brown headed woman in charge of the study, down the hall. She leads me to an office, glass doors and walls of which have been covered by a series of black and blue tarps.

“Looks like a scary circus tent,” I say. Katie laughs.

“I assure you, there’s nothing scary in here.”

She opens the door and gestures for me to enter. I do. Inside the room there is a table and on that table there are four undershirts and four pairs of men’s underwear.

They tell me that I have to try on each undershirt and pair of underwear and then write down how I feel about each based on comfort, support, the feel of the fabric, etc.

“So just put them on, walk around, see how you feel in them. We had a guy earlier that said he sat down and stood up with them on to see how they’d move. Just move around so you know how they’ll feel in real life.”

I scan the underwear and undershirts, my brow furrowed. Without looking at either of the women, I ask “Can we clear the hallway, please?”

They look at each other. The blonde says “We assure you, Mr. Irion, you are totally unseen in here. It’s private. No one can see in.”

“Or see out,” I respond, my voice gravelly. I turn and glare at each of them. They don’t know what to do with this statement and neither do I.

“Why do you need the hallway cleared?” Katie asks.

“Sprints,” I say. “I do those from time to time, in my life.”

“Oh, you work out?” the blonde viper says, her tone suggestive and dripping with suggestiveness, as if to suggest something to me.

“I occasionally run very quickly to and from places,” I respond. “And that’s all I’ll say on the matter.”

The yellow-haired woman continues to look at me. Things are getting tense and I’m moments from bolting for the door when Katie interrupts.

“Okay, so we’ll leave and let you get to work.”

They leave and I get to work on the underwear and undershirts. I try on each shirt and each wear and move about the room slowly, gracefully. I jump around and hoot and scream and I trip the table over and throw myself against the walls. All the items hold up well. Several knocks by the women go unanswered, as I am working and cannot be disturbed.

The underwear for the most part, support my genitals well. There is only one incident in which my lunch meat rodent slips from a fold in a pair of GAP briefs and I am momentarily chilled. While doing a hand stand, a fight breaks out between my scrotum and taint but I quickly squash the conflict when I squash my scrotum and taint, sending myself into a frenzy of pained moans (meows).

Finally, I walk out of the room. I am wearing every pair of underwear and every undershirt under my regular clothes. I look buff and also like I’m wearing a diaper.

“Kyle, where are the–” Katie scans my frame. “You aren’t supposed to wear them like that. We need them out. We were going to go over each pair individually.”

“There were no underwear in that room,” I say, my nose in the air. Katie sighs.

“If you don’t take those off we can’t pay you. Can you go back in there, remove the underwear and shirts and come back out?”

“Yeah, absolutely,” I say.

I go back into the room. I shut the door. It’s wonewy. 😦

[Editor’s Note: It’s what?]

I remove all the clothes, piece by piece, get dressed and bring the underwear and undershirts in a pile cradled in my arms, into the interview room. I toss them on the table. Katie begins to pick through them.

“Okay, what did you think of these?” she looks down at a clipboard and then to the briefs and then to me.

“I liked them. I just wish they weren’t white. I felt silly putting those on.”

“Why is that?”

“Because they’re white and only children and the fat and indolent wear white briefs.”

The blonde one and Katie both scribble on their notebooks.

Katie begins to pick through some more until–

“What are these?” she asks, lifting a pair of underwear from the pile. They are yellow and have the phrase “Don’t go there!” embroidered on the crotch and “Wanna hear a secret?” embroidered on the rear.

“Oops!” I say, leaning forward, snatching them from her hand then violently tucking them into the front of my jeans. “Those were my underwear.”

“You put your underwear in with the rest?” the blonde wretch says. “I thought I smelled something strong,” she looks at me again with suggestion.

“Please stop,” I whisper.

“So I think we’re done,” Katie says. “If you want to go head on to the front desk, we’ll get your gift cards.”

They got me my gift cards and told me thanks for coming. The blonde one shook my hand and then tried to make me spin her like in ball room dancing. I pulled my hand free, pushed her to the ground, and ran for the elevator.

Consume Me, Part 1

10 Mar

Have you ever bought a consumer good? Seems like a good enough idea, doesn’t it? You need things, and things are rarely free, and you don’t want to steal, do you? (Remember what happened to Aladdin?) [Editor’s Note: Wait, what happened to Aladdin? He found a genie, married the woman of his dreams, and then he was made sultan of Agrabah.] [Kyle’s Note: Yeah, but people kept calling him ‘street rat.’][Editor’s Note: Well, I mean, I guess that would be a little unpleasant.] [Kyle’s Note: He was clearly disturbed by the remark. He sang a song about it.]

A lot of these companies that sell you these goods employ consulting groups to find out what people want–much like in middle school when you’d send your friend over to see if a girl liked you or not or thought you were cute.

Well, these consulting groups in real life actually pay you money for your opinions. You go to a thing called a focus group and they ask you a bunch of questions and, at the end, compensate you for your time. I went to one of these. I was given VISA gift cards totaling $125. The group’s purpose was to look for why men buy certain underwear and undershirts.

The building is tall, lustrous, and modern. It is as if the building itself is attempting to dress for success. Outside it is raining and cool, but too humid for comfort. I’m wearing a jacket, but it’s more to keep the water off of my arms and my shirt than to keep me warm.

I find parking, head upstairs and approach reception.

“I’m here for the focus group,” I say. “About the underwear.”

The receptionist, a woman with thick, masculine features and hair that looks somewhat dour and unkempt for a place as beautiful and put together as this, takes a sip from her large RaceTrac cup of cola.

“I’ve come a little early and was wondering if there are any spots available at an earl–”

“If you’ll just take a seat over there, they’ll come out to get you.” She looks back at her computer.

“Over there?” I ask, gesturing to two strange looking chairs and a coffee table in the corner of the space.

“Yes, over there,” she says. She does not look up to say this.

I pause for a second, because I’m not sure she understands the situation, that I’d like the consulting group to be aware that if there’s a free spot that there’s someone here now to take it, but she’s shut the conversation down so violently, I lose all my gall and pace to the waiting area.

The chairs look like a three-dimensional rendering of a child’s drawing of some brown quadruped. I wish I could be more specific, but I can’t. Children are by nature terrible artists–their tiny hands and lower-to-the-ground vantage points make it difficult for them to execute still-life art that are acceptable to adult tastes.

I scan the room. I look over to the receptionist and cough loudly. She looks over at me.

“Whoever did the lighting out here must hate school,” I say.

“Why do you say that?” she asks.

“Because it’s all recessed!” I deliver this line with perfect comedic timing and enough charisma to make a circus clown blush. All of this is lost on the receptionist as her eyes bounce around from fixture to fixture.

“Yes,” she says, then returns to her work.

The room really is lovely. The floors are marble, the walls made up of panels of dark wood that stand out from the wall. Between these panels lie lines of brushed silver. There is a kind of awning over reception of fogged glass. The far wall–the wall to the right of reception–is a large window, looking out into a network of highways, where hundreds of cars are lined bumper to bumper, the long string of headlights looking like an asteroid belt against the blue-gray colors of the overcast day.

I look down at my shabby attire. Brown Levi’s, a beaten-up charcoal jacket, a gray v-neck that was given to me. Even the book I’m reading is used and ratty. I feel under-dressed. This feeling is only amplified when I see an employee of the consulting group walk by, immaculately dressed, who seems younger than I am. It’s more than under-dressed, really. I feel outclassed. I feel like I am in a place where I do not belong. I feel like the hired help. I am the test subject. It feels terrible.

Another man walks in, whose appointment is before mine. He speaks briefly to the woman at reception and then sits down. He is wearing a black ribbed v-neck and basketball shorts. I don’t understand this. I just do not understand this. It’s like his top half is headed out for drinks and his bottom half is–I don’t know, going to play basketball. The point is that he looks like shit. His hair is spiked up and his goatee neatly trimmed, so I know that this guy is in fact not going to play basketball. He’s lying to me via his attire. I am going to fight him, I decide. I am going to fight him and then I’m going to pick him up, dust him off, and tell him that when he’s out doing business, he should at least be wearing pants.

He asks me if I’m here for the study.

“No, I’m just here to hang out,” I say, then offer a smile to show that I’m kidding. He chuckles. Then I drop the smile to catch him a little off guard. His chuckle drops off and his smile fades. Then I wink and smile, getting him on his guard again. His smile comes back and he nods in understanding. Then I pull my lips back to show all of my teeth make a soft growly noise, to really get him. He is extremely uncomfortable and so am I. I don’t understand why I put myself in this position. I open my book and continue reading. From my peripheral, I can see him looking at me. I ignore him.

Eventually a woman comes out, introduces herself, and leads him to another room.

Half an hour later a man comes into the waiting area. He is extremely bald and extremely Asian and extremely friendly.

“You must be Kyle!” He says. “You’re here a bit early.”

“Yes, I know,” I say, wanting to get out that I had a reason for being so early, that I wanted to try to get an earlier spot, but I don’t get the chance because before I can explain, he cuts me off.

“Can I get you a drink?”

“Sure. What are your specials?” I ask, smiling, still thinking that jokes are good.

“Specials?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m not sure. Do you think water is special?” he pauses and looks to the ground. “No, water isn’t very special. Water is everywhere.” He seems genuinely troubled by this, and I regret making the comment I did.

“Hey, I was j–”

“Is Coke special? Is that how consumers see things now? Special or not special?”

“No, I–”

“What if I put water in the Coke? Would that make it more special?”

“A little whiskey in the Coke would, I think,” I say, winking.

“My father died of liver disease,” the man half whispers, his mouth arcing to a slight frown.

“Oh my gosh,” the receptionist says, glaring and shaking her head at me.

“How could you say that?” the man in the basketball shorts yells from down the hall, only his head sticking out of the doorway of the interview room. This all seems terribly unfair.

“This all seems terribly unfair,” I say. “How was I supposed to know your–” I turn from him to the receptionist “–his–father died of alcoholism?”

“Compassion,” she whispers. “The Lord.”

I roll my eyes and turn to the Asian man. He is gone.

“Where the Hell did he go?” I ask, getting a real Black Swan vibe from the moment.

“He ran home,” the receptionist says.

“I hope there’s a bottle of water at home,” I respond, then return to my seat. “And I hope he comes back from home with it and gives it to me.” I flip open my book, feeling a little unsure of myself. Wondering if the last bit was really necessary.

After an hour or so, one of the women come out to get me. She is short and petite, with short and petite hair and a short and petite face. “Kyle?” she asks.

“Kyle,” I respond.

“I’m Katie. Welcome! Thanks for coming!”

“My pleasure,” I say. “Although I hope you also find it a pleasure when I come.” I deliver this line then want to throw up from embarrassment.

“Yes, I’m happy you’ve come here,” she says, now trying to avoid the double any possible innuendo.

I go down a hallway with small offices on either side. The doors are glass as well as the walls facing the hall.

The woman slides one of the doors back and ushers me into one of the offices.

Inside the office is a small table and three swivel chairs. On the table are two spiral-bound notebooks and next to each notebook is a very expensive-looking pen. One of the chairs is occupied by an unattractive blond woman in her fifties. She is wearing glasses that appear slightly tinted, obscuring her eyes. She may be cross-eyed. I realize that the tinted lenses may be a way to obscure her disfigurement from other people. It might actually be backfiring though, because the tinted lenses seem to draw attention to her eyes rather than away from them. Her teeth look like the bellies of schooling fish, gray-white and glistening, one running onto the other.

“Well,” she says as I sit. “Do you know why we’re here?”

“Oh, I don’t think anyone knows, really,” I say in complete honesty. While looking into her frightful visage, I couldn’t help but contemplate my own feeble mortality.

She makes a kind of click sound from the back of her throat, then Katie interjects. “Um, I know–and Sheila knows. We know why we’re here.” She gets opens one of the notebooks. “Did Stephen not tell you what we were doing today?” Stephen is the man from the consulting agency who contacted me. Now that I’m looking away from the blonde harridan, my mind clears and I realize what they were talking about.

“Oh! Like the study. Yes. Yes, I know why we’re here.” I lean back in my chair and I ease into a reclined posture. I cross one leg and fold my hands over my lap.

“Good,” Sheila says, smacking the table. She smiles at me with her broad, toothy, slimy grin and seems to look into me too deeply and I’m suddenly aware that I did not see the man in the basketball shorts leave.

Katie sits down and each of them pick up their fancy pens. The pens are thick and black and get bigger towards the back. There are tiny display screens at the end that seem to be keeping time. They write down my name and the time.

“We’re using digital pens that save our notes digitally so we can put them on the computer later.”

“Ah.”

“And Kyle, for better record keeping, we sometimes record the interviews. Do you mind if we record this?”

Pushed in to the adjacent corner, sits another table with a camcorder set up and several small objects covered by a torn black trash bag. I imagine that they have cut the guy before me into little pieces and put him under there, filming it all the while. I start getting hard.

I nod and Katie stands, points the camcorder at me, and presses record. A small red light appears and I wink into the camera’s black eye.

Without moving my gaze from the camera, I begin:

“It seemed like kind of a weird situation. I mean, talking about underwear? In front of a couple of women old enough to my grate grandmother?”

“I’m forty,” the blonde hag says.

“I’m thirty two,” the brown headed petite one says.

“They randomly say their ages, although nobody asked them–” now I turn to each of them “–how the hell old they are because nobody gives a shit how old a bottle of wine is if it tastes like cow piss and looks like a furless Shar-Pei puppy.”

“You’re mixing your similes,” Katie whispers, her eyes downcast.

The room is quiet except for the ticking of a clock on the wall. In order to do everyone a favor, I begin breathing heavily through my nose–to fill the awkward silence.

“Okay, Mr. Irion, I think we should just get started.”

“So do I, I say,” I say. Then we begin.

Breakout

2 Mar

My hands are cold. It is 2021. The President is white again. Snooki retains a modicum of fame and no one has seen “The Situation” in years. People are eating carbs unapologetically. No one gives a shit about high fructose corn because now all corn is high fructose corn, so ingredients lists just say “Corn Syrup,” which isn’t nearly as scary.

I am grizzled. My chin-beard, which for most of my life has resembled that of a 13 year-old boy’s, now has more black hairs than blonde hairs and from a distance you might really think I have hair on my face, or you might think I fell down and my face got rolled around in soot. The skin under my eyes is puffy. Even on my best days, I look like horribly sleep deprived.

I walk into the train yard. Across the yard there is a group of bums circled around a metal barrel, an orange glow flickering from its belly. I am hungry. I consider approaching the bums, but as I get closer, I see that one of the bums is Benji Madden, former member of Good Charlotte. He is attempting to trade songs for food. I hear a snippet of one of his sample songs and recognize it as a Boxcar Racer song. One of the bums calls him out on this, saying that it isn’t his song. Benji says that sure it is, that he’s Tom Delong and this breaks my heart.

I continue past them, pulling up my collar and avoiding eye contact. None of them speak to me. That’s fine.

Behind the train depot is a large hangar where the old cars are stored. There is a set of tracks that run up to massive doors. I pull at the doors, but they won’t move. I pull again, really meaning it this time, really trying to show the doors that I’m serious, but they don’t buy it.

I walk around the corner and find a door propped open by a cinder block. I pull the door back and instead of moving the block, step over it, in case the unstopped door would lock me in. A long plank of light from the cracked door lays across the vast, open building. The walls are covered in small holes. They resemble the night sky. I see a raccoon rummaging through an overturned trash can.

“Toilet cat,” I say. This is the name I invented for raccoons. They hate it.

The raccoon looks up at me. His black, beady eyes of indeterminate emotion or focus. He is like, if in Kitty School, he is the retarded kitty. He is the kitty that you only see from time to time walking down the hall with other kitties of similar appearance, some of which using little kitty wheel chairs and walkers. The animal looks at me and I stare back, sure that to him (or her), I appear equally as strange.

I turn away from the animal and continue walking to where the old engines are stored. I see them in the distance. From far away, they resemble upturned refrigerator boxes or a trailer park at night. The air is dank and stale and makes me feel old. I exhale sharply and walk toward the rusted boxes.

“Thomas?” I call out. I’m walking between two of the rusting hulks and I can smell their metal and there’s another smell, something more sickly sweet, and I know that this is the smell of humans.

“Thomas!” I call out again. There is scurrying in several of the boxes and I can only assume there’s some absentee father named “Thomas” in one of these cars. I remind myself to come back later, find this man, and say “You Thomas?” And when he says yes, say “She’s dead, Thomas,” then walk off without saying another word.

Before I call out again, I see him. Sitting in a faded blue, rust clumping around his axles as if he was sinking into the floor. He is not facing me, but I know he is aware of me. I pass along his left side and then I’m standing in front of him. He’s looking away from me, abject.

“Thomas. Why didn’t you answer me?” I ask.

“I didn’t want you to see me this way.”

“What way?” I ask. I place my hand lightly on his cheek. I’m surprised by how cold it is.

“Old.”

“You’re not old, Thomas,” I say. “You just need a paint job. You just need some rust removed.”

Thomas cranes his neck to view as much of his body as possible. He cannot. Trains do not have necks. Instead, he looks to a plate of glass standing against a rusted fuel drum and seems unsurprised by his ragged appearance. I follow his gaze, walk to the plate of glass, and toss it across the room. It shatters and there’s a scurrying of more vagrants.

“Lots of vagrants in here,” I say.

“There are like six in me right now,” Thomas says. I get a broom, walk into Thomas’s cabin, and scare the vagrants away. They scatter like cockroaches under a light. I come back out and stand in front of Thomas.

“We’re getting you out of here,” I say. “I loved you as a boy and I love you now. You meant too much to my generation to just sit here and rot.”

“But how?” Thomas asks. He shrugs a bit and I can’t help but cringe as his rusted joints creak into the echo chamber of the depot. “I’m too rusted.”

“Oh, I think I know a way to get you out.” I take off my shirt, throw the lid off of the old fuel drum, dip it in and drop it to the ground. It falls in a wet plop. I then walk to a shelf of tools, find a book of matches and return to the scene. I drop to my knees, light the shirt ablaze and begin chanting low. After a few repetitions, my voice no longer sounds like my own. My face turns up to the sky and all that can be seen are the whites of my eyes as all the light in the room vanishes, as if my eyes have absorbed it all.

Suddenly Thomas’s whistle blows and the sound is as if it is coming from everywhere. His eyes and mouth burst open and a brilliant light escapes them. The light warms me and the air smells sweet.

“Thomas!” I call. “Thomas!”

From the conductor’s booth I hear the voices of George Carlin, Billy Mays and Richard Karn. They leap from the booth and bend to rub their beards all over the rusted axles and wheels.

When the three of us explode from the depot, the vagrants outside are gone, the trash and wreckage are gone. They might have all died, I don’t know. I don’t know what happens to vagrants. I’m so happy, I’m moved to tears, but we’re moving so fast, the wind whips them away before they hit my cheeks.

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