Archives for posts with tag: My Neighbor

I’M LYING ON A SHEET with my toes just out of reach of a fan when my new neighbor wakes me up.

 

“Did you ever hear about my early days?” he barks.

 

Compelled by some authority he seems to have gained over me since I closed my eyes, I start the coffeemaker and wash my face, scraping up attention like a high schooler at the sound of the morning bell.

 

As soon as I get to the wall he talks to me through, he begins:

 

MY PARENTS had two sons — myself and another. As they aged, and began to consider their Will, they reached the conclusion that only one of us could prevail.

 

What they had to bequeath, they determined, was not enough to split but was more than enough for one: “The one of you will have twice as much as the two of us ever had,” as they put it.

 

They consulted two Transmogrifers until they chanced upon a method of combining us.

 

ONE NIGHT they took us into the backyard in thick wool caps, and began the ceremony.

 

“The two of you will now be one. One of you will be both, and the other will be none.”

 

They sprayed us with the garden hose, our feet pressed together like roots in a pot of fertilizer. It proceeded like so, my brother and I uncertain as to which of us would be which, until dawn.

 

AT DAWN, it was done: my brother had become both me and him, and I had become neither.

 

When they removed my cap, wet with what’d seeped out of me, my head felt like a dry bulb sitting loose on a stalk.

 

I stole back into the house while they were cleaning up, washed my feet in the tub, and packed my things. I took a plastic garbage bag and gathered only what mattered most: my J.G. Ballard collection.

 

I stuffed all my Ballards into this bag slipped nameless into the night … through our neighborhood and into another and then a third.

 

*****

I ROAMED for days, eating from dumpsters, compulsively removing phone numbers from bulletin boards and telephone poles only to ball them up and throw in the dumpsters I ate from, like tiny seeds that grew stale bread and lettuce.

 

As the days got hotter I worried my Ballards would melt. A fermented smell began to issue from the bag, which grew puffy with gas.

 

I SPENT stretches of three or four days in the woods between towns, sleeping among roots and bathing in streams. In one such wood, I came upon a wedding.

 

I approached thinking perhaps to glean some canapés and tapas and champagne.

 

THE BRIDE AND GROOM, belonging, it seemed, to one of the anti-sex leagues, had sealed all their orifices with a skin-looking putty.

 

I mean all of them — not just the leg ones, but the head ones too. Their bodies were completely impermeable, except maybe for pores, though even there I wouldn’t have been surprised if some blockage had been achieved. And not only between their legs but even their legs themselves were sealed together, so they were both balanced on thick tan pedestals tapering to a ten-toed foot.

 

They were both naked, and almost indistinguishable, as the bride’s breasts had been mashed down and all hair on both of them shaven. She was only slightly smaller than he was.

 

The Officiant mumbled awhile, then slathered the bride and groom with glue and tipped them into a whirling device, like a cement mixer.

 

Once they were both inside, the Officiant closed the flap and, mumbling tunefully now, began to spin it around with a crank. Those in assembly bit their lips and hummed through their noses.

 

The newlyweds spun for quite a while. I was transfixed by their motion, the gist of which was visible through the translucent plastic of the device.

 

Then the Officiant finished the mixing and opened the flap.

 

“All Hail the Skin Ball!!” chanted the Officiant, removing the single fleshy mass inside.

 

The sealed-up exteriors of man and wife had fused into a ball that had no humanoid characteristics except a few imprints of teeth and spinal declivities, like a painted pattern on a smooth spherical surface.

 

Soon the guests started on the canapés, tapas, and champagne, more or less forgetting the Skin Ball, which was propped between a tree and a large rock.

 

When I’d eaten my fill, I approached the Officiant and asked where I might purchase a mixing device like this one.

 

*****

SUFFICE IT TO SAY, the mixer, which I purchased on credit in the first town on the far side of the woods, was even more effective than I’d hoped.

 

I rolled it into a park by a river and said my goodbyes as I fed it my Ballards.

 

I began to turn the crank.

 

I watched as all the Ballard of my childhood — the semen-soaked steering wheels and bestial apartment towers, the irradiated beaches and inescapable traffic islands, the war-zone shopping centers and zombified airport concourses — was melted down into ample white dough.

 

The smell of highly sugared baking bread issued from the mixer, and soon a crowd of children encircled me.

 

I held them back until the process was through, but as soon as it was I opened the flap and shouted, “Ballard Doughboys! Ballard Doughboys! Get ’em while they’re hot!!”

 

Even at $2.50 apiece I took in enough to rent a room in that town and begin a new life there.

 

I knew my supply was limited and that — though this was before Ballard’s death — the odds of replenishment were low. It was really his 60’s and 70’s work, from The Crystal World through The Unlimited Dream Company, that made the sweetest and tenderest dough. I tried to cook up 2000’s Super-Cannes, but the children found it bitter and went back to the ice cream man on the other side of the park.

 

So I parceled out that prime dough judiciously, using only a small piece for each Doughboy, with plenty of strawberry jam and powdered sugar to fill it out.

 

Those were the good years … I was just a young, nameless man in a nameless town trying to make my way, and though I struggled, and was alone, I was happy, though I didn’t know it then, as the young never do …

 

MY NEW NEIGHBOR TRAILS OFF HERE, and I give in to dreams of going back to sleep.

 

But my ear is stuck to the wall, like a tongue to a frozen flagpole. I knew this might happen, but my ear didn’t. It throbs and roils.

 

The ripping sound, when I pull free, must have reverberated through the wall, because my new neighbor shouts, “Whoa! What was that?”

 

I can’t tell if his surprise is from the alien sound of my ear-rip or the simple fact of my presence here — perhaps, all this time he’s been talking, he was unaware that there was someone listening.

 

Taking advantage of his momentary silence, I start tiptoeing toward my bed without expecting to make it there.

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MY NEW NEIGHBOR AND I get to talking through the wall between our Rooms:

 

“In the course of my wanderyears following the dissolution of my anal marriage to that nun and the crossing of God’s DNA with mine,” he begins, in a tone like it’s a long story he’s gearing up to tell, “I was imprisoned in one of the towns I passed through.”

 

Opening the last beer from my Room’s mini-fridge while tasting my willpower not to drink it dying inside me, I resolve to listen though there’s no way my neighbor can tell whether I’m actually up at the wall unless I ask questions or grunt in understanding.

 

“It was one of those situations,” he continues, “where I hadn’t actually committed the crime they booked me for, but since there were so many crimes from previous towns that I had — and gotten away with — it seemed more or less fair to do some time here. Kind of make up for all of them, you know?”

 

I nod, inaudibly.

 

“So they locked me away and I thought that was it, like a life sentence. They wanted to watch me rot, more for who I was than for what I’d done.”

 

He pauses here long enough that I sigh to prove I’m listening.

 

“So I started doing my time, and before long these photos of me in there, deep in my cell, surfaced on the Internet. A man from the apartment next door had been photographing me, shooting straight into the prison.”

 

“Shooting into the prison? It wasn’t in a … like, secure location?” I ask, proud that I can picture what he’s talking about.

 

“Nope. It was right on Main Street, above an Indian restaurant.”

 

AS MY NEIGHBOR pushes the story forward like a cart along an alley, I find myself drawn into the Internet, picking up the story there, looking at the prison pics rather than listening to him describe them. His voice sounds like the humming of a generator in the background, powering my computer while I search.

 

In the pics he looks much younger but not much healthier … though I can’t say what he looks like now, since I’ve only ever heard his voice.

 

The fact that I’ve never actually seen him starts to seem weird and menacing, not least because it hasn’t occurred to me until now.

 

I get frightened and part of me wants to go back to listening to him, in case he starts casting spells, but I’m too deep in the photo gallery to climb out. I get that water-filling-the-room feeling, but try to keep my breathing even and push past it.

 

I keep scrolling through pics and reading digests of what happened:

 

Lester Mance, the guy in the apartment next to the prison, started out taking pictures of all the prisoners, in the most predictably compromising positions — shower stuff, beat-off stuff, some submission and punishment stuff, whatever he could manage through the windows … his aim was low.

 

BUT SOMETHING MORE PROFOUND MANIFESTED IN HIS SHOTS OF MY NEIGHBOR: total resignation covered my neighbor’s face like a skin condition, an apartness from the usual grim flux of prison life, too sad and peaceful to be called despair, though it wasn’t enlightenment either. More like the profound knowledge that he was right where he deserved to be, in a cell the size of all the space he deserved on this planet after all the waste he’d laid to the spaces he’d passed through on his way here … and a humble, almost reverential acceptance of this knowledge.

 

“A sort of beatification through confinement, the limits of his soul expressed in terms of the limits of his cell,” according to the Artforum article which first popularized the pics in the art world.

 

“A man who knew he had God in him and yet had used that God for nothing but the most predictable sort of debasement,” the article, by Rachel Kushner, elaborated.

 

Soon collectors were coming to town, eager to get up close to the source, in on the ground floor.

 

When the demand to possess my neighbor in the flesh got high enough, the art world submitted a petition for his release to the judge who’d put him away.

 

This judge, aware that he was being offered a rare chance to put his hand in art-world greatness, released my neighbor after taking the minimum requisite time to appear as though he were weighing a grave decision.

 

When my neighbor got out, the art world hosted a Release Day Parade to welcome its newest celebrity onto the open market. The expectation was the he’d take his saintly face on an international tour, posing as a modern-day Augustine, bloated with a Dead God decaying in his tissue.

 

*****

BUT AS SOON AS HE WAS RELEASED into the arms and lap of Larry Gagosian and prepped for his first junket in Paris, my neighbor reverted.

 

He simply went back to how he’d been before prison, like he’d been on PAUSE.

 

The beatitude that had crowded his face when all alone in his cell facing a lifetime in there cleared up like a bout of teenage acne and the full skeeze of his previous self seeped back to the surface.

 

As the art world had no use for a man like this, Larry Gagosian sent him to Cleveland with a bus ticket and $35 in spending money.

 

Lester Mance, who’d been held on retainer as the official photographer of my neighbor’s saintly passage into the art world, was let go. He pulled a Jerzy Kosinski soon thereafter.

 

The original photos of my neighbor in prison, sweating soul-sickness, sold for tens of millions while my neighbor, in his present incarnation, kept along the path he’d been on until it deposited him next door to me in Dodge City.

 

*****

I close my computer and find that my Real/Not-real circuitry is too scrambled for comfort: I’m suddenly less than certain about whether what I’ve just read refers to the person who actually lives next door to me, or to some historical figure as remote as Marlon Brando.

 

Part of me wants to get up and knock on the wall and try to rouse my neighbor so I can ask him to vouch for his story, but another part can’t shake the fear that, were I to knock on the wall, it’d cave in and I’d fall through into some pit-dream where I’d just keep falling.

 

So I end up dozing in a hammock-like middle zone stretched between one decision and the other, flexing my abs with the prayer that morning will come if I hold this position long enough.