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CHAPTER 1

Here’s my shitty book, that no one’s ever going to read, about a complete asshole, and a totally fucked up world. Don’t listen; I’m just depressed. The TV blares her chipmunk voice, “I’m The Pretty Pie Girl!” She waltzes with a chocolate cookie. Computer generated smile happier than human. She’s a pie with tiny gloved arms, and booted legs. She twirls. Her partner dips her, crooning in lowest bass, “I’m your Ookie Ookie Cookie.” Her adorable face sirens, “I’m The Pretty Pie Girl!” I tune out the brainwashing as I proceed on my mission. Select a mix from the cupboard, The Hexachocolator, a six sided cake with six kinds of chocolate. On the front of the box, a star burst with bright yellow letters proclaims, “Zero Grams Trans Fat.” The giggling pie slides down the side of the cereal bowl, shouting, “Kooky Cookies are part of a nutritious breakfast,” and splashes into the milk. Crack two eggs. The directions call for rendered pig lard, but I use olive oil. The box says one cup, but I use half. One cup, that’s crazy. Beat the mix with a wooden spoon. The “real” children in the commercial, the ones less cartoonish, the ones planning to eat The Pretty Pie Girl and her illicit lover, bang their silver to the performance, chanting, “Ookie Ookie Cookie!” How many impressionable minds are watching this whorescrappening? “Ookie ookie cookie!” The volume rattles the teacups in the cabinet. The narrator’s voice is kindly and wise as your grandmother on Christmas. “Capsulsgrave Confections are made by mothers, for mothers.” Halos sparkle off the sentiment. The program is back. The volume drops from eardrum busting to inaudible. Pour batter into pan. Bake at 383. Set timer. Go upstairs. My roommate Barry is sitting on his bed, so fat he has to struggle not to roll off. I feel bad for him. By comparison, I’m lithe and fierce, like a tiger. Lie on my bed. Open my magazine. I’ve been spending all my allowance on logic puzzle magazines. Worked out a chart system for solving them quickly. Write in bent spiral pad, with low on blue ink pen. Boring. Get up. What can I say to Barry? Good luck with your operation? He’s so fat, they have to cut his legs off. I will not end up like him. I will eat normal portions. I will work out an hour a day. No seconds. Get up. “Good luck with your operation.” He says, “Thank you,” between breaths from the oxygen hose in nostril. He has to carry a heavy green oxygen tank wherever he goes. I will lose 70 pounds. I will find a girlfriend. I will be worthy of love. Look down the winding staircase at my coat which is hanging at the bottom of the banister. Burt is in my pocket stealing a cigarette. Go to office and tell Diane, perfect face and body, no chance she would ever want me. Staff can’t date residents, but even if they could, she wouldn’t. She tells me, “West House policy is to not leave things out.” My life is not so much a life, as a series of awkwardnesses. Fill out the application from the Office of Disabled Services, so I can go back to school. Sit on couch in TV-room. Pat is on the other couch. She has a blond French poodle hair cut, smokes continuously, and cocks her head to the side every so often, reminding me of a chicken. Oh boy, here we go: ETHNIC GROUP. They don’t even ask name first. Two boxes–one for white, one for black. Draw my own box, up and to the left, and check it. Pat snores. Cigarette in mouth burning. “PAT.” No response. “PAT!” “Huh? What? “Your cigarette.” “Thank you.” She taps it in the ashtray, turns her head, and puffs. Second question-AGE. Write legibly to prevent error, “40”. Move through the form fast and efficiently. Third question-Describe how your disability prevents you from working? They’re asking me? Ask the doctors; they have file cabinets full of records. It’s hard to put in words. I think and think. Crumple paper in ball, and throw in basket. Nice shot. JORDAN! Step out for air. The guys are smoking. Davey is squatted down with his back against the side of the house. He can stay like that comfortably for a long time, because he’s skinny. If I tried, my legs would snap. A rollie burns between his blackened fingers, he spits mucus on the blacktop between his legs. Burt has a long handlebar mustache and bushy black hair. He smiles and says, “What’s up, man?” He talks funny. Big Dennis offers me a Red Pyramid 100. Tastes like cheap cardboard. “Thanks Dude. I try not to buy cigarettes. It helps me cut down.” Chubby cheeks Nate says, “He just mooches off of other people.” Burt and Pretty Tony laugh. Burt hesitates when he talks, and doesn’t say all the letters. “I … got … fie women … in Canton … Ohio.” Pretty Tony raps, “I can get you ho’s.” His camel face drools, when he laughs and grins. Nate chuckles, and Davey guffaws. Davey’s laugh goes on longer than appropriate. He is boyish for a guy in his forties. His voice is slow, pleasant, and rhythmic, “God bless you, Fox.” “How are you, Dave?” “Oh, fine. Fine. Fine.” “What you up to?” “Vivian kicked me in the butt.” “I see. You shaved.” “Trimmed Miss Martha’s bushes yesterday.” His face brightens, “Oh, Miss Martha is a pretty girl.” He giggles and mumbles unintelligible syllables as he brings his face into my face. I back up so he doesn’t spit in my face. “She gave me five dollars.” “I hope you invested it wisely.” “I got these and a pop.” He coughs. “So, what are your plans for today?” “Oh, Nuthin. Nuthin.” Why does everyone keep saying that? “Nuthin.” “What ya doin?” “Nuthin.” “What’s new?” “Nuthin.” He smokes more than anyone would possibly need to. Shouldn’t criticize. The fingers closest to the cigarette are stained darkest. Same pattern on his teeth. Got to quit. His father told him to stop for years, then died from lung cancer. You could say it matters, you could say it doesn’t. Is one death better than another? Why live at all? Loucarla comes out the screen door. Pretty. Petite. Farm girl. Blue jeans. Mane of bangs and curls. No chance with her either. She announces, “Dinner,” in Snowchester accent. In Snowchester, Snowchester is one syllable, Snochstr, “I’m from Snochstr. Are you from Snochstr?” Dennis has a deep voice. “Kiss it.” Pretty Tony says, “Bust dat out da frame.” Burt pronounces certain words funny, “I hae a gir-frien in Can-ton O-hi-o.” <Ding.> The cake! Run in. Take it out. Just right. Dump it on a platter. A perfect steaming dome. Cut it into two, four, eight, sixteen pie slices. Place it in the center of the long dining room table. Pick a good seat before they fill. This house is a mansion. Huge rooms. Fancy moldings. Ornate ceiling moldings frame the crystal chandelier with four energy saver bulbs. A hundred years ago, it was owned by a single rich family. Now it has 15 residents plus staff. The whole neighborhood was rich back then. Each mansion had a whole block for itself. You can see how the smaller houses were added later. Those are mansions too. Still a nice neighborhood. Ten people sit on each side. Rich, the director, tall, with black hair and beard, says, “A secret Manicotti family recipe.” Pat asks, “You made the lasagna, Rich? It’s good.” Burt says, “Very . . . good, Richhh.” Pretty Tony whispers to me, “I tapped dat in the phone room,” glancing at Loucarla, and smiling big. “Went right up to her and pulled down her pants.” Not sure if he’s serious. I say to her, “The tuna is good.” She replies, “I added some chopped garlic. . . The hot dogs have half the fat.” Morality compels me to speak, “And what about carcinogens? Do they have half the carcinogens?” The table gets quiet. Bingo. Burt says, “Car-in-o-gen.” I hold up an invisible pack, and say loud and sarcastically, “Hello. Carcinogens. . . Sodium Nitrite, Sodium Nitrate. I rest my case.” Hippo says slowly with his big round face, “Hot dogs don’t cause cancer.” He chuckles. Pat clucks, “I’m going to be sick.” Burt responds, “Say goo’night.” Rich says, “The hot dogs are fine. They’re the best, Roscoe Mueller.” I don’t want to make a scene, so I don’t say anything more, but I sneer knowingly. Oh no. They wouldn’t put anything bad in something people eat. Lindsay says, “Do you freak out every time you eat?” and giggles. An attractive girl is talking to me and smiling. Has to be a set up. She lures me back to her room, then her boyfriend jumps me. Why even hope? No attractive woman is into fat guys. “Well not every time. Pretty much, yea. Most times.” She stares, eyes grinning. “Probably a few times I didn’t.” We take a few bites. “Scones are evil. Fruits and vegetables are good, as long as they’re organic, otherwise they’re evil. Cake, meat, anything that tastes good, is evil. Boring is good. Oatmeal.” “So pretty much everything causes cancer.” She laughs without a care in the world. “Hydrogenated oil is heart attacks, but yes. Hot dogs, cold cuts, fruits with pesticides, anything plastic, and of course coffee stirrers.” “Coffee stirrers?” “Well yeah, think about it, you put a strip of plastic into piping hot liquid and swirl it around. Do you have any idea how many thousands of carcinogens leech into the coffee? A lot.” “They wouldn’t put anything harmful–” Louder, “You would think! Sounds like a good rule. DEATH TAKE ME NOW! . . . Please tell me you’re joking. They don’t care if they kill people. They only care about one thing–” Lindsay smiles. “Follow the money.” “Yes!” Loucarla doesn’t see Pretty Tony secretly thrust his hips like Michael Jackson in her direction. I look at him skeptically. He laughs. Crude manners. No one else notices. “What they don’t tell you, is to dial 9-1-, then take a bite, then dial the last 1. Pretty Tony imitates Reggae style, “Birds…drop-ping… from da sky.” “It’s a pyramid scheme. The dollar bill, a pyramid. They’re all in on it.” Pat asks, “Foxavier, do you want fries?” Shouldn’t, but take some. Don’t do evil. It tastes good. You’ll feel sick after. I feel sick now. Try not to take too many. Burt pushes the mashed potatoes towards Ralph, who has a David Niven mustache, “No, you finish your ve-ta-ble.” Ralph smiles, pushes the plate back, and says in strong Indian accent, “Have some more potatoes. You’re a growing boy.” Burt, “You-r a gro-ing bo-y. . . I don’t want any more, Ralph. I had a whole bag of chi-ps.” He always carries a large bag of tortilla chips with him. Ralph looks like a serial killer. The perfect opportunity, a counselor in a group home. No evidence, just a hunch. Barry slowly pulls his clunky oxygen tank cart, and is last to sit. No seconds on fries. He says, “It looks good,” and crosses himself. Sonny is elderly. She takes a bite of my cake and says, “Mondays at six,” referring to her painting class. She’s not shaking. Her face looks like it’s falling asleep. She drops onto the floor passed out. Pat calls out, “Oh!” Dennis and I look at each other. Then he stands. Nate chomps down mashed potatoes. Everyone gathers round. Rich tells us not to touch her. Pat says, “Don’t worry Sonny.” We stare. Diane takes everyone in the backyard. The ambulance transports her. She’s lucky we’re so close to University Hospital. Did she have a stroke? It couldn’t have been the cake. The box specifically said, “Zero grams trans fat.” Pick it out of the trash. “Zero grams trans fat per serving.” Per serving is in small letters. Read the ingredients: Water, bromated flour, hydrogenated rapeseed oil! Hydrogenated!? Those sneaky bastards. It was the cake.

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After dinner a bunch of us sneak out the bedroom window and sit on the roof. Rich would have a fit, if he caught us. Mild summer. Clean night sky. The stars are clear. Dennis looks like Hank Hill, a big dude with a crew cut and bass voice. “I was stationed in Germany.” Nate rolls a cigarette. His voice is deep too, but not as. “You was in Germany?” Dennis smiles and giggles, “I was in Germany for three years, and I was married for a year and a half.” I say, “Cool. Did you see any combat?” Dennis says, “Dude, this was 1980.” Chuckles. “Peace time.” Nate puts it in his mouth, and asks, “Does anyone got a light?” Dennis immediately lights him. “You asked the right person. Three packs a day.” His eyebrows go up and he laughs. Nate takes the first drag, then says, “Never married. No kids, Free agent.” He laughs, then takes another drag fast, and hands it to Dennis, who says, “Kiss it.” Nate asks me, “How about you?” “What about me?” He and Tony laugh. Pretty Tony translates, “Do you have a woman?” “Not really.” I avoid the subject. I count my lovers on one hand. I turn to Dennis. “Did you see any interesting action in Germany?” He answers, “I was a mechanic. I saw a lot of grease.” Nate says, “I know that’s right. Bet.” Pretty Tony says, “I bet you saw some action when you was married.” Dennis breaks a smile. Pretty Tony takes a drag, then states with confidence,“Pimps up. Ho’s down.” How do you even respond to something so backward? Shake my head. He laughs, “You’re problem is you need some pussy clop.” He’s right, but I don’t agree with his terminology. Meanwhile the butt is burning down. Nate says, “Are you going to pass that thing?” We all laugh, because we were all thinking the same. Baby face Nate chuckles deep, and passes to Burt. Pretty Tony says to Nate, “I know you get some.” Nate says, “I get more than some.” Tony, “I know you do.” Nate, “What about you.” Tony, “I give all my money to ho’s.” Nate chuckles. Burt takes a long drag, coughs it out, sour face. “I… got… my gir’friend…in Can-ton O-hio.” His boyish face smiles. He always has bed hair. Dennis says, “I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and my wife left me.” I take as big a drag as I can, and pass it to Tony. Dennis says, “Intercourse,” and chuckles. Nervous about getting caught. “I’m going back in.” Pretty Tony tells me, “They ain’t gonna do nuthin,” as I climb back in. Burt says, “Say goo’night.” Brush teeth. Hear Ralph downstairs announce in his thick Indian accent, “MED-I-CA-TION!” Hurry down to beat the rush. Hippo comes up, so big I look like a troll. “I was here first.” I just stand there. “My place,” he says with his big dumb face. “Obviously not.” He yells at maximum volume, his whole head turns red,“I WAS HERE FIRST!” Everybody looks. IS HE GOING TO GO OFF? Let him go, just to be the bigger man. This isn’t the money line, jackass; it’s for medication. Guess he needs his really bad. Can you blame him for being raised a pig? My turn comes. Take two green and yellow capsules, Noeffenwayazil. Read the ingredients of the cake mix again. It’s hard to focus my eyes that small, but I can make it out, “Water, Bromated Flour–” Why are the letters so small? Do you think they’re trying to hide something? How can water be the first ingredient for a dry mix? There it is: Hydrogenated rapeseed oil, a code name for trans fat. How can they say, “Zero Grams Trans Fat,” if it has trans fat? Rich makes an announcement, “Guys, I have some sad news to report. Sonny passed away.” I’m a murderer. Sonny had a stroke because the cake had trans fat in it. A person is dead, because I didn’t read the ingredients carefully, because I didn’t have a microscope on me. Life is an ocean of sorrow and I don’t have a paddle. Oh the bastardtution of my birth. The devil wants me to think evil thoughts, but reject them. Fugtropolous. Reject them. Dirty. Everything is dirty, the whole world, soil, the thing rich people fight over, without which nothing could grow, composed of corpses and manure. You can’t get away from it. It’s everywhere. You might as well lick the floor. Life is dirty. The Earth is dirt. It’s not necessarily meant as an insult. The Earth will burn, I mean that in the best possible way. Stinking, filthronicus, filthitution, lousy nippin’, jiskertutional, son of a spuchite— sometimes just can’t make up words filthy enough to express the utter lowliness, the destitution, the unbearable darkness of being. It’s not even them, it’s me. Angry at the world. Angry at me. Just angry, afraid, and sad. Don’t want to be. Next morning rise and take shower. Get an erection that won’t go down. Must be a side effect of the medication. Dress and descend the stairs. Theresa cheers, “Yippie. We’re going to Schwegman’s.” Rich counts the people, twenty, plus three staff. He drives the van. Theresa sits in front. Three people per seat in the back. Diane takes another load in her car. We are a pack of special people set loose in Consumer World, Schwegman’s, the Disneyland of supermarkets. Imagine fifty gourmet stores put together, for movie stars. Imagine every kind of restaurant you can think and a fleet of salad bars all under one roof. There’s a pet store with a row of beauty salon chairs, dogs and cats sitting under hair dryers, while their nails are manicured. People are so stupid. We treat dogs and cats better than people. A dog can pee on the ground. A cat can have black and white spots; they’re not blemishes. A dog can run up and lick you. A cat can be fat with short legs, and everyone will love him. Too many kinds of bakeries to name. A car dealership and repair station. Fifty sushi chefs, lined up behind a counter the length of a football field, sing and chop in rhythm, while the wall behind them does a light show. Foodstamps go fast when you pay seven dollars for a sushi plate that’s only last two minutes, but it’s so good, and it’s healthy. I should learn how to roll my own. By the time you buy all the ingredients, and chop them up, it’s not worth it. If I make a big batch, I’ll eat it too fast. Remember: Stock up on fruits and vegetables, but not too much, because it goes bad, and you’ll have to throw out half a cabbage. Buy a wedge of Stilton. Just what you plan to eat in one sitting. A whole aisle just for cat food. Buy meat, but not too much. Too many choices. A whole aisle for bottled water. Theresa is in the paper towel aisle, she is hard of seeing and must put her face right up against the wall of napkins to read the labels. Everything looks delicious. Don’t buy too much. My budget is eight dollars a day, but I already have fifty in my cart. Everywhere you turn- gourmet cooking demonstrations and free samples. In the middle of the blue cheese aisle, a performance of Romeo and Juliet. Want to eat everything. Feel bad I can’t. Have to choose. Yogurt has good bacteria, but a single is so small I can finish it in my mind, before my hand can grab it. Pretty Tony is at the little McDonald’s. I say, “We’re at Schwegman’s, man. You can get any kind of specialty food in the world, and you’re eating here?” “Niggaz don’t eat specialty food.” He takes a plastic tray with burger, fries, and soda. “I know what I like.” Sit with him a minute, then shop more. Where else can you find a three ounce loaf of millet/hemp bread cooked by real monks in Uganda? It comes in a burlap sack, so you know it’s authentic. Twenty dollars? The great whore of stores. A sign of the end times. An abomination. Overload. Read the labels on everything first. If it has the word hydrogenated, don’t get it. Put it back on the shelf with the ingredients facing out, so people can be warned. Don’t forget the budget. Remember, I have to walk an hour to burn one cookie. Not worthy of love, unless have six-pack abs. Feel bad because it will all be gone by tonight. If I can just stick to an impossible diet for a year, then I won’t be disgusting. Once they remove the excess skin. It must be nice, being one of those people, who already is okay. Why do I have to exert such effort, while others look good without having to do anything? Some people aren’t meant to be happy. I don’t want to be one. Why did You curse me? Is this a test? How long will the test go on? Did I do something bad in a previous life? They sure don’t make it easy trying to read the ingredients. They print the letters so small, I have to strain my eyes. They purposely used red letters on a pink background to make it hard to read, because they don’t want people to know. So many hot successful women in here, it’s pathetic. Don’t get bitter, when their eyes shoot out those ‘You’re too short and too fat to even have to be polite to’ rays. They are the ugly ones. They are the haters. Fat is beautiful. They’re ugly on the inside. But so am I because I hate them. Thin people think they’re superior. One day there will be justice. The law will require skinny women to date fat men. They don’t have the right to think fat people are disgusting. Their cruelty is disgusting. I shouldn’t say people; I should say me. I should say we. And stop obsessing about food. Exercise three hours a day. Must try harder. Must be entertaining. Under no circumstances be yourself. When I’m rich and famous people will want to be my friend. Then I’ll say, “Too late!” You had your chance. You mocked me. Now, who’s better? Anyone who likes you, because you’re famous, isn’t your real friend anyway, especially me.

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I’m on to their little game. If there’s less than .5 grams trans fat per serving, they can call it zero. You think you’re eating nothing, but you’re really eating .49 grams. Those dirty bastards. Legally, it’s not murder, if you can’t prove a specific biscuit caused a specific heart attack, so flood the market with GreesBalz. Poor people can’t sue, and it’s even harder, when you can’t move one side of your body, so poison away. If we’re stupid enough to allow this, then we deserve it. That’s the problem with the world; people are stupid. The cure for ignorance is education. Those companies feed off us, but then larger companies feed off of them…so you see: it all works out. A big heart shaped box of chocolates. The wrapper seam conceals the nutritional information. They did that on purpose. This injustice shall not stand. Get the manager. “Excuse me. I can’t read the ingredients.” She can’t either, so peels the wrapper off. I say to the cashier, “Gee, do you think they have something to hide?” The manager hands it to me. I raise my voice, so all the customers can be educated, “Thank you. . . . Ah hah! Fractionated Palm Seed Oil! I guess they didn’t want anyone to know a SCHWEGMAN’S PRODUCT CAUSES HEART ATTACKS.” The cashier looks at the manager. “What are we going to do? I’ll take it.” She reaches in her pocket for change. “I wouldn’t. Hydrogenated oil.” The manager walks away. So, this is what it’s like being a nut/pioneer. How else will people learn? The spirit walks me over to the pharmacy. The tall, silver hair man behind the counter stands at attention in white lab coat. “You guys have quite a racket here.” He says, “Excuse me?” “You sell food with trans fat in the front, and when people have heart attacks, you sell them medicine in the back.” He just looks at me. “Thank you.” I leave. It’s my fault for listening to a crazy person. But who says you’re crazy? I do. Food does not equal love. You have emotions, you are not your emotions. Men have eating disorders too. I have a big heart, but nobody sees, all they see is a fat guy. Maybe they’re right. I’m evil for hating. So stop. People should see my quality. Nobody said anything. You’re talking to yourself. Reading the labels on boxes of tea. This one is high in antioxidants. This one is good for the immune system. Fumble the boxes, try to put them back, but it creates a chain reaction, and the whole wall of tea boxes falls on me. Roll my cart out of the aisle casually hoping no one saw. Meet the group at check-out. Diane’s perfect legs are highlighted by intricate pattern black lace. “Would you mind helping us carry these?” I retort, “If I do, will you sleep with me?” Pretty Tony hears and exclaims, “Ha,” with big winding grin. She walks away. I know she’s getting Rich. Rich says, “You’re suspended for three days.” “What do you mean?” “It means you can’t come to the house til Sunday.” “Where am I supposed to go for three days?” Walk away. Into the ice cream aisle. Where the hell am I supposed to go for three days? In the toilet paper aisle. As a kid I used to build forts here. I used to hollow out a cubby hole, like this, and go inside, like this. Then use more to build a door. Happy in my igloo. Free to think my thoughts and be alone with God. They are not doctors. They are not licensed to practice psychiatry in New York State. My life is the worst hell a man can know. No. Remember the wheelchair rule: You’re not in a wheelchair, so be happy. I see lady’s legs pushing carts by. One takes a pack away from my door. I replace it. She cries with surprise, “Wha?” The wheels of her cart squeak louder as she hurries away. Soon after, I hear a group talking and approaching. They lift away my door. Two cops, and the store manager. The tall female cop says, “Are you having fun in there, buddy?” “I was til you guys barged in.” “Alright, let’s go.” I climb out. “Where are we going?” As I turn, I see two ambulance drivers, a short woman, and a tall man. “Can I buy something first?” The short male cop says, “No, you can’t buy anything.” With ambulance and police escort, pass the condiments. If I tried to make a break for it, they would beat me down with relish. As we exit past the registers, I see Rich talking to the store manager, all the people from West House standing together, watching. Pretty Tony holds up his fist and chants, “No justice. No peace,” as they take me away. Good one.

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