The Jew’s Tale

I wanted to get my watch fixed before I hung myself. The battery had run out weeks before, and I hadn’t the energy to replace it. Nor the money. And then I worked all month painting walls, loading trucks and folding shirts until the holidays came. I made some deliveries and held a sign on a street corner. I still couldn’t cover the rent, but at least I made enough to get my watch fixed. At least I’d know what time it was I died.

There’s an old Jew with a kiosk at The Farmer’s Market near my apartment. I handed him the watch and asked if he could replace the battery. He told me he was busy on account of the holidays and I should come back in a couple of hours. It was 1:50 in the afternoon. If I came back in two hours, I’d still have plenty time to hang myself before Intimate Relationship #9.5 came home from work. A body needs to dangle a good fifteen minutes for there to be no chance of resuscitation, and I didn’t want IR#9.5 getting worked up trying to save me. I felt no malice toward her and only wanted to be out of the picture so she could return to her family and raise our unborn child in a better environment than I could provide.

I decided to see a movie to kill time. Nothing interested me at the multiplex, but I bought a ticket for Blood Diamond because it was about to start. It was a terrible film. The story felt like it had been concocted by mooshing together three articles in an issue of Vanity Fair: an expose of the diamond industry, a report on ecotourism destinations and a fluff piece about a Hollywood star who cares. The star is, of course, Leonardo DiCaprio, who hops and jumps about the frame with the frenetic grace of a wet marmot. Though better suited to playing a disgruntled figure skater, DiCaprio is somehow cast as a Rhodesian mercenary, who, over the course of the film, goes from being a racist soldier of fortune to a hero who will sacrifice his life to save a young black boy and bring down the biggest diamond company in the world. And in case we don’t know what we should think of this unlikely scenario, the director, a talentless hack by the name of Ed Zwick, forces his actors to indicate what they are feeling at all times while providing a soundtrack that tells the audience exactly how it should react.

Blood Diamond is the kind of movie Hollywood makes in order to raise awareness about an issue. Or so they claim. In this case, the issue is conflict diamonds: stones used to fund both sides of various civil wars in Africa. According to the film, diamond companies mix conflict diamonds into their store of regular diamonds and release them into the market without notifying consumers of the blood spilled between their mining and their distribution. By making Blood Diamond, the actors, producers and Zwick get to show that Hollywood cares about the content of its movies and strives to educate audiences about parts of the world that hold our natural resources. I believe their motives, like those of Angelina Jolie and Madonna, are sincere in their desire to raise awareness. What I don’t believe is that raising awareness is worth a rat’s ass.

While watching the movie, I began to wonder when in the backsliding values of our country the definition of altruism became so watered down that it no longer involved sacrifice. In their attempt to raise awareness, the producers, actors and Zwick risk and sacrifice nothing — especially not their eight figure salaries. They change the names of the diamond companies in the movie so that no slander suits could be levied against them. They don’t shoot where it takes place in Sierra Leone, thereby supporting the local economy, because it would have been too dangerous and therefore uninsurable. They don’t even take the time and effort to make the movie with artistic integrity or believable characters. In fact, it can be argued that movies like Blood Diamond do nothing to raise awareness about an issue because they place that issue in the context of a fantasy world where heroism is rewarded, good triumphs over evil and everything works out in the end.

“You’re just a cynic,” cries the voice of protest to my argument. “You think it’s better to make movies out of comic book characters? Or art films composed of empty formalism? Or would you rather do nothing but sit there and criticize?” Quite the opposite. So angered was I by this film, so inspired to action by the drivel I had been subjected to in these final hours of my life, I decided the only sensible recourse was to use the last four hundred dollars in my checking account to buy IR#9.5 the biggest fucking conflict diamond I could find.

I approached the old Jew at the kiosk and made my demand. “I want a blood diamond,” I said. “I want a stone that came into your possession at the expense of an African village. A gem that was mined by limbless children and trafficked by unsavory arms dealers. I want the bloodiest diamond my four hundred dollars can buy.”

Behind his long gray beard, the old Jew, tall and rotund, frowned at my request.

“If you are looking for a cheap stone,” he said, “I can show you some synthetic gems that only the most practiced eye could discern.”

I told him that I was not looking for a cheap stone so much as I was looking for a stone with history. “A history of suffering,” I said. “Because in these, the final hours of my life, I have come to realize that value is not determined by color, clarity and carat, but by risk, sacrifice and the shedding of blood.”

The Jew smiled, revealing teeth that were yellow and rotten with decay. “I recognize you as a connoisseur,” he said, “though of something much more perverse than precious stones. And whereas I do not do business in the kind of gem you are looking for — at least not to my knowledge — I do believe I have something that might be of interest to you.”

He motioned to his wife to watch over the kiosk while he bent down to unlock a file cabinet behind the counter. Inside I could discern the first steps of a staircase that descended into the ground. It seemed too narrow a passage for the Jew’s girth, and yet he maneuvered his body inside with great ease. “Come,” he said, and I followed him into the darkness, spiraling beneath the market with one hand on his shoulder and the other grasping at the damp, stone wall. “A little further,” he said, as I listened to the sound of his footfalls and a steady dribble of water on rock. “A little further,” he said, as I became lost in the circular motion of our descent, wondering if we were actually moving downward, deeper into the Earth, or just spinning blindly in a pitch black room. “A little further,” he said, as we reached the final step, where a faint light from a gas lamp revealed the contours of a room cluttered with antique furniture, curtains and tarnished Judaica. “A little further,” he said as he took up the lamp and led me to another room, and then another, unlocking door after door to reveal more rooms filled with books and scrolls and broken tablets made from rock. “A little further,” he said, and the old Jew handed me the lantern as he stooped to lift the sheet from a cracked wooden desk that stood at an angle on two uneven legs. He opened a drawer that was so small, it could only fit the bit of cloth the old Jew pulled from it.

“Have a look,” he said, as he unwrapped the cloth to reveal an indistinct diamond, half the size of my pinky nail. “Hold it,” he said, as I took it from him and rolled it about in the tips of my fingers. “Let me show you in the light,” he said, as he held the lamp near my hand. “Now sit,” he said, before collapsing his weight onto a dusty couch. I sank down onto a chair that seemed to slide beneath me the moment I considered sitting.

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The Procreant

Intimate Relationship #9.5 is pregnant. She informed me of this while we were eating lunch at a diner in West Hollywood.

“We’re due in February!”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s great.”

“I can’t wait to tell my parents!”

“I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.”

There I was talking to someone I’d known for years, someone I’d lived with and been in a relationship with for years, and I had never before seen this glassy-eyed look on her face. It was a look usually associated with young jihadis committed to blowing themselves up on a bus, or with malnourished Scientologists wandering Hollywood Boulevard offering free personality tests to baffled tourists. It was the look of someone who had taken faith in an entirely irrational belief: that these same parents, her parents, the mother who speaks about her daughter as if she were dead and the father who twice hired thugs to beat me, would suddenly rejoice upon hearing that their daughter was pregnant with my child. I understand that all parents, once they’ve reached that age, desire to be grandparents, but only insofar as their sons or daughters expect healthy and respectable offspring with a mate of whom they approve. Did IR#9.5 actually believe that her parents were going to forgive their grudge against me and accept me as one of their own just because one night their daughter and I were drunk enough to fuck but too drunk to remember our contraceptive responsibilities? How could she delude herself to such a horrible extent? And yet, judging by the tone of her voice and the gleefully stupid look on her face, IR#9.5 seemed to think that the phone call she would make to her parents would somehow go as it does in the movies or on television or in healthy families built around love, respect and understanding, instead of fear, prejudice and other evangelical values.

“That’s wonderful!” her mother would say. “Oh, sweetheart, I’m so happy. Let me put your father on the phone. Honey, come quick, your daughter has news. Remember that Jew she brought to Thanksgiving last year? The one who showed up drunk and clogged the toilet? Who chewed with his mouth open, dropped his fork so he could peak under your niece’s skirt and petted the dog in a suggestive manner? Who clearly had no money, no prospects for making money and no intention of ever having prospects for making money – yes, remember that virus your daughter introduced into our home in order to humiliate and get back at us for the wrongs we committed against her in her youth? Such wrongs as grounding her when she was 12 and got caught smoking with her friends? Or buying her a Volvo for her 16th birthday instead of the convertible she wanted? Our daughter, who has always despised us for raising her in the bosom of prosperity; for protecting her from poverty, disease and miscegenation; for showering her with love and affection even after she quit college to pursue a career on the stage – do whatever it is you want, my angel, my rosebud, Mommy and Daddy’s little actress! We will always support you, dear, whatever career you choose, dear, even if it is clear to all and every that you lack the talent, the looks or the drive necessary for prospering in such a competitive field — but come quick, honey, and pick up the phone! Our wonderful daughter, 37 years old now, an adult herself now, has made the very adult decision to enter the next stage of her very adult life. She has decided to eschew tradition, skip marriage, cut right to the chase, and to do so not with any of the nice boys from the club (who are no longer boys really, but men themselves now, with jobs and families and fortunes of their own now, with houses down the block – what houses! – I see them on their way to work, in their suits, a kiss for their wives as they descend their driveways, briefcases in tow, to provide wealth and security for their families, for their community, for the country they love) — but our daughter has no interest in these young patriots and has instead decided to have her child, her firstborn, with that thing that floated here from the East, much like his shit floated onto my hall runner that fateful Thanksgiving Day. With that thing from New York our daughter has decided to couple and bear fruit. With that thing that shows none of the attributes of a human being other than his apparent ability to impregnate another human being, and not just any human being, mind you, but the very human being we hoped would bring meaning to our lives, who instead brings forth the mixed-blood child of a Jewish mongrel, polluting our line and forever sullying our family name. So pick up the phone, husband, and hear this wonderful news, straight from the mouth of the babe. Tell her how proud we are of her accomplishment. How grateful we are of this gift. How much we respect her choices, admire her decisions and look so forward to the miracle of this degenerate birth.”

How else could her mother respond, and how could IR#9.5 imagine otherwise? Unless this was precisely the response she hoped for. Unless an angry and bitter response was the very aim of her carelessness — or her very careful planning, for who’s to say this pregnancy was truly the accident she claimed it to be? It certainly wasn’t my idea to have a child, but convincing a 37 year old woman to have an abortion is no easy task. Especially IR#9.5, whom, I must admit, I had never seen looking so happy. Not even when we first met, before I had drained her of any hope and optimism, any feeling that the world was not the cruel and meaningless abyss that it so blatantly is – not even then had she ever glowed with the greasy luster she glowed with now, ordering herself a bacon burger, a waffle, a biscuit, a vanilla milkshake, a diet coke and a slice of pie. As if the reason for getting pregnant was to justify a guiltless eating binge, her face shining like that of a cultist-religious-zealot, enlightened by the seed that sat festering in her womb. You’d think she was pregnant with the child of God Himself and not the spawn of an unemployed writer living on the Hollywood skids.

“What about your career?” I asked, as she slurped the last clumps of her shake.

IR#9.5’s favorite topic of conversation had always been her career. The woman had worked all of five days in the last ten years, and yet she could hold court for hours on the exhaustive research that went into every role. Roles that included the audience member with a question in an infomercial and a victim of strangulation on a cop show.

“I can still do voiceovers,” she slurped. “And after the baby’s born, I’ll lose the weight and start auditioning again.”

I didn’t believe for a second that IR#9.5 wanted a baby. She just wanted to be pregnant. Wanted to see the mugs on her opponents as she strolled down Larchmont Boulevard in her maternity dress. “When are you due?” the competition would smile. And IR#9.5 could tell them. She could tell them when she was due, what method of childbirth she preferred and what names were being considered. And wasn’t that what she really wanted? To make other women jealous? To create the illusion that she had found love? That she was worthy of love? That she was worthy of the attention she could never garner as an actress. That she could never garner from me. That she could never garner from her father, who found his other daughters more interesting, especially the middle one, who had developed perky little breasts at puberty, who may have been touched by the old man, one lonely night, in the bath, while her mother lay asleep in the next room. In their home, the accusations were echoed and denied for years. This Orange County Treasurer, friend of Oliver North, linked to missionary groups in oil-rich South American jungles, careful with his finances, careful in his council, careful in his testimony before Congress — but careless one night with an eleven year old girl. So careless, in fact, that, years later, bribes would have to be paid to prevent her leaking it to the press, as she threatened, even though her mother never believed the scheming bitch was telling the truth!

And what effect did this have on IR#9.5, the youngest daughter, who normally would have benefited from the full range of her father’s affections, but instead, due to the man’s shame, he could never dote on her the way a father wants to dote on his youngest and most precious child? Compelled by these accusations, true or not, to deny, to ignore, to neglect his baby daughter. To turn away and re-enter the house every time she sunbathed by the pool, so that IR#9.5 became ashamed of her body and thought her body abhorrent to men. So that she began vomiting up her meals at the age of thirteen in order to have a body worthy of Daddy’s attention, or so the shrinks would argue when her parents carried her 80-pound skeleton to that recovery center in Ojai. He never attended her swim meets, dance recitals or gymnastics tournaments. And then, even when she was older and he too feeble to ever accomplish anything untoward, he walked out again, this time from that production of Equus at Chapman University.

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Praise Monkey

J- was sitting at his desk, at home, struggling, typing a report for The Patent Office when he heard a knock on his door. Must be my elderly neighbor, he assumed. Asking me to carry his groceries up the stairs again. I’ll have to talk to the building manager. Can’t have these disturbances while I work.

But it was not J-‘s elderly neighbor who had knocked, it was, instead, a deliveryman carrying a small, coffin-shaped box of insubstantial weight. According to the postmark, the package had been sent from a city in China, the name of which J- did not recognize and could not pronounce.

“Are you certain you have the right address,” he asked, but after the deliveryman provided sufficient confirmation, J- accepted the package and carried it into his living room, where, upon further inspection, he discovered the following note attached to its corrugated cardboard:

Dear J-,
Hope you enjoy the gift. They’re the next ‘big’ thing!

Well it’s about time, J- thought, relieved that his generosity was finally being acknowledged.

A- had been a classmate of J-‘s from their days at The Academy. A decade after their graduation, the two men became re-acquainted at a reunion where A- approached J- and requested of him a certain favor. It was the type of favor that was strictly prohibited according to the bylaws of The Patent Office, but was, nonetheless, often performed in exchange for a small bribe. Though never by J-. Though well aware of the corruption quite common at The Patent Office (particularly among the poorly paid clerks whose prospects for promotion were in doubt), J- himself had never taken part in any illicit activities. In fact, he found it quite brazen of A- to ask such a favor, especially considering the sort of penalties he could have incurred should J- have turned him over to The Authorities.

But A- had always had a reputation for brazenness, both in his personal and in his professional life. It was his trademark. Something people admired about him. Brazenness was a quality J- liked to think he possessed as well though he never had an opportunity to express it. Instead, his reputation was for thoroughness and diligence, qualities that served him well and earned him his current position. Qualities that didn’t make it easy for him to break the rules, though in the end, after much deliberation and for reasons which he did not at the time understand, J- did, eventually, grant the favor A- requested.

What J- did not do, however, having been a novice in matters of corruption, was ask for anything in return. Which isn’t to say he didn’t expect anything in return. Which isn’t to say he didn’t want anything in return. And in the coming year, when J- didn’t receive so much as a phone call from A-, he began to suspect that he had made a grave mistake. He had made a moral compromise only to be taken advantage of by someone far more experienced in the world of duplicity. In retrospect, J- wished he had demanded compensation and negotiated a specific amount before doing the favor. Or just refused A- from the beginning. The whole fiasco bothered him even more when he heard rumors that A- was involved in an enormously lucrative enterprise while J- remained chained to his desk, working for the paltry salary of a clerk at The Patent Office.

After reading the note, J- ran it twice through his paper shredder in order to eliminate any trace of incriminating evidence. He jumbled the confetti in the trash and grabbed a knife from the kitchen drawer. He approached the strange, coffin-shaped box and thrust the blade into the corrugated cardboard.

“Dear God!” cried a voice from somewhere in the room.

J- jumped back and looked about his apartment searching for the source of this strange outburst. Must be my neighbor’s television, he decided. He is hard of hearing and plays his set so loud.

Once more, J- stuck his knife into the package only to hear the same frightened voice scream out, “Please be careful!”

There was no mistaking it this time. Something in the box could speak!

Casting aside the knife, J- peeled open the cardboard box to reveal that inside, covered in packing foam, stood a pudgy little man no more than one-and-a-half feet tall wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches and gray slacks held high by suspenders. He was a living, breathing man, ugly and curious, like nothing J- had ever seen. He wore a horsehair wig hastily sewn to his scalp and a striped tie too wide to be in fashion. Beads of sweat had collected on the little man’s brow. Flecks of Styrofoam clung to his beard. And though he appeared to be a middle-aged little man, beyond 50 perhaps, the tags attached to his wrist would suggest he was brand new.

“What kind of a shit gift is this,” J- asked.

The little man cleared his throat, licked his palm, and wiped it over his mussy coiffure. He thrust his stubby, little paw into one inside pocket of his jacket, then into the other, from which he produced a small sheaf of papers. He unfolded the sheaf several times and kept unfolding it until the papers reached the size of a small booklet.

“I am, good Sir,” and here the little man cleared his throat again, “hm, hm… obliged to hand you this upon delivery.”

He extended the booklet to J-, who, upon receiving it, read out loud the following title:

Congratulations on the purchase of your new homunculus!

The pages thereafter, printed in several languages, contained warranty information and instructions for care and maintenance. It was, as far as J- could tell, an owner’s manual of sorts. An owner’s manual for an homunculus. For some sort of pet given to him as a gift. Only there was nothing cute about this pet. Nothing cute about an ugly little man in a suit.

J- wondered if the homunculus was truly meant as a gift and not as some sort of an insult instead. He remembered that A- and he were hardly friends at The Academy. That A- was older and born of a family with a long tradition at the school. An elitist who rarely stooped to speak to an upstart like J-, unless it was to mock him or impress his friends with his ability to “communicate with the people.”

But that was years ago, J- reasoned, and A- would never be so foolish as to think that the status he held over me then would still apply. Not after the favor I granted him from my station at The Patent Office.

But as J- stared down at the homunculus, twitching, clearing his throat, and patting down his hair with a slickened palm, his hypos began to get the better of him. He couldn’t help thinking that A- was gloating over him. That he had given him this gift in order to call J- an ugly little man in a suit, a suck-up, too timid to ask for money in return for a favor. That this offered gift was a most malicious display of arrogance if ever there was one. That it represented an attack on J- and the entire tradition of The Patent Office – an intolerable affront to all that was decent in human behavior!

The homunculus cleared his throat again prompting J- to backhand him with a ferocity that sent the little man flying across the room and crashing into a bookshelf. Hoping to catch A- before he left his office, J- dialed his number and demanded the receptionist put him through. While on hold for what seemed an eternity, he jotted down on a pad some of the many things he wished to say should his old acquaintance have the courage to take the call. And if he couldn’t get him on the phone, J- was fully prepared to speak his mind on voice mail, or in a strongly worded email that A- would not soon forget.

“Isn’t it great,” A- asked, when he finally took the call. “These babies are gonna sell like hotcakes! I’m gonna mass produce the things, market ’em up the wazoo and, in two years time, there’s going to be one in every home in The Land!”

“Mass produce them,” J- asked. A-‘s excitement unnerved J-, catching him completely off-guard and forcing him to wonder if his initial reaction might have been inappropriate. “Do you mean to tell me that…”

“One of our R&D guys came up with the idea about a year ago,” A- interrupted. “Yours is the latest prototype. Top of the line. A real beaut if I don’t say so myself.”

J- was baffled. He still suspected that A- was getting one over on him, but he couldn’t think of a way to prove it. “Do you mind telling me first what in God’s name it is,” J- asked. “I mean, what is its purpose? What is one supposed to do with the thing?”

“Personally,” A- replied, “I have mine sing to me. Turns out the sonofabitch is a heck of a baritone!” From the pit of his belly erupted a loud and raucous laugh.

J-, however, was not laughing. He still found no humor in the situation. “Do you mean to tell me you’ve given me a slave,” he asked.

“Oh no, no. Not at all,” his old acquaintance protested, ending his laughter in order to take on a tone of seriousness that expressed his disdain for the institution of slavery, long gone from The Land, though it had existed some time ago. “It’s got to be human to be a slave. And this thing is definitely not human. At least not according to the patent on its manufacturing process.” So that was the favor, J- realized. That was why A- needed me to move those papers at The Patent Office. “Of course if you don’t like it, I can always take it back,” A- added in a manner that suggested not only that J- was an ingrate but also an accomplice in a crime. “I just thought I owed you something. After all, you did make it possible for me to…”

J- cut him off rather than be reminded explicitly of the mistake he had made a year ago. The whole business was making him sick. If A- was telling the truth about the homunculus, then J-‘s favor had been a key component in its manufacture. His transgression had a consequence, embodied in the form of an ugly little man in a suit. A soon-to-be mass produced ugly little man in a suit.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” J- offered in a bewildered state of contrition. “It is a lovely gift.” Though one that made him nauseous to look at. “Do I have to… feed or clean up after it?”

A- told him that the homunculus could pretty much take care of itself.

“And does it… have a name,” J- asked.

“I don’t know,” A- replied. “Maybe you should ask.” The homunculus stood facing the bookshelf, browsing through titles, pretending to ignore the conversation J- was having on the phone. “It is made from the root of mandrake and the sperm of hanged man,” A- explained. “They are born of an ancient tradition and reconfigured to exist in the modern age. Consider yourself lucky that you’re one of the chosen few who can have one before everyone else.”

It occurred to J- that his old acquaintance could very well have lost his mind. How else to explain this delusional behavior? How else to explain why a person would invest what must have been millions of his own and other people’s dollars in the hope that the general public would want to buy what was essentially a middle-aged midget? It occurred to J- that perhaps A- was no more malicious than he was brazen. Perhaps he was merely a misguided entrepreneur who had gone insane.

The two acquaintances made a non-formal, non-committal commitment to have lunch sometime in the near but not too-near future. They hung up their respective phones, A- so that he could get home to his wife and children, and J- so that he could return to his desk and finish typing his report. There was, however, the matter of dealing with the one-and-a-half foot man standing in J-‘s living room. He walked to the bookshelf and asked the homunculus if he had a name.

“My name,” answered the little man, twitching and clearing his throat, “hm, hm… as in the one which was given to me at the factory, hm … or the plant, I should say…”

“Please,” interrupted J-. “Just tell me your name.”

The little man smiled and tilted his head obsequiously to the side. “My name is Randolph,” he announced, clicking his heels and lengthening his posture. “Randolph, the homunculus!” He bowed and swung his arm in a flourish, then looked up sheepishly for approval.

“And is Randolph your Christian name,” J- asked, unimpressed by the performance.

“Oh good heavans!” replied Randolph, with a laugh followed by another clearing of the throat. “It is a name, which I assure you, hm, hm… is neither Christian, Semitic, Mohammedan nor of any other particular denomination. It is my entire name. It is what I am called, hm, hm… though I’d be more than willing to change it hm… if that is what you require.”

The little man forced a chuckle, but seeing no approval from his owner, allowed his gaze to fall downward in what might have been the saddest expression of defeat J- had ever seen. But it was not an expression that elicited any sympathy from J-. It elicited nothing but more nausea and frustration. For J- had not asked for this little man. He had not asked for this gift. Nearly half an hour had passed since the deliveryman knocked, and in that time, J- had made no progress on his report, and his position at The Patent Office was not so secure that he could afford to waste time on some toy — especially not one that served no purpose other than to remind him of a crime he committed a year ago for which he could still serve a stiff sentence if caught. Deciding he was better off before ever having laid eyes on the damned thing, J- returned the little man to his cardboard coffin, sealed it up with duct tape, and placed it on the uppermost shelf of his closet where he kept old laptops and other objects he had no use for but wouldn’t, for whatever reason, simply throw in the trash.


Clerks in The Patent Office are each expected to hand in one detailed analysis report (DAR) at the end of each and every week. The DAR’s are then graded by the managers on a scale of one to six, with a “one” representing a failing mark and a “six” meaning the report is virtually perfect. As explained in The Patent Office Handbook (POH), any clerk who hands in a DAR that receives a grade of one will be immediately terminated. An accumulation of twos, i.e. two in the same month, is also enough to force a clerk into early retirement. Even a steady diet of threes and fours provides no guarantee that a clerk will keep his job. Indeed, the only way that a clerk can feel at all secure in his or her employment at The Patent Office is to score fours and fives (F&F’s) with consistency on his or her DAR’s.

But scoring F&F’s is no easy task. F&F’s require discipline, determination, and an unwavering mind-set, the scope of which is beyond the nature of the great majority of the population. And as for a six – well, that is nearly impossible to attain! Any time a clerk can “six” is cause for celebration in the office, not to mention a bonus and a good deal of envy amongst his or her peers. And if a clerk can score “repeat sixes,” i.e. three in a month, the clerk, according to the rules outlined in POH, is to be immediately promoted (upon review) to the rank of “manager.” In fact, repeat sixes is the only way (with exceptions) to be promoted to the rank of manager, which is why The Patent Office is often called a meritocracy (of sorts), and why each year thousands of graduates from The Academy apply there for a job.

It is also the reason why there are so few managers employed by The Patent Office and why their positions are so enormously coveted. Not that anyone knows what they do. Even the clerks who work in close proximity to them have no idea what goes on behind the closed doors of the managers’ chambers. They know only that the managers are well paid; that they can get things done without going through normal bureaucratic channels; that they are the keepers of a great many secrets; and that the ladies of The Public Sector are eager to bequeath to them the treasures of their loins.

What it takes to write repeat sixes, thereby gaining promotion to the rank of manager, is the ever-present topic of discussion amongst the clerks of The Patent Office. But the criteria for evaluation remains an enigma to them. Sure, the managers provide rudimentary instructions. They issue copies of past fives and sixes in order to serve as guidelines and set parameters for quality. But reading a six, or even studying one in depth, is little help when it comes to actually creating one yourself. Clerks often turn in what they think is their best work only to get back scores of three or four, which is enough to make them wonder if there really is a standardized system by which they are being evaluated, and not some sinister machine spitting out arbitrary numbers.

There is even a story that circulates the office concerning a pair of clerks who were having an affair and who promised each other one evening that whoever was promoted first would tell the other “the secret of the sixes.” As the story goes, it was the woman who first achieved promotion, and, thereafter, when her mate asked her to divulge the answer to the riddle, he received instead an icy reply that it was strictly forbidden for her to tell him anything other than what was contained in The Patent Office Handbook. When the clerk pushed the issue and demanded that his mate keep her end of their bedroom bargain, the newly promoted manager informed him that she would sooner end their relationship than respond to what he was asking. Even when the clerk’s anger approached the threat of violence, the manager would only add that up until the very moment of her promotion, she had had every intention of telling him the secret, but that the knowledge of the secret had changed her — “had transformed her understanding” — to the extant that it was no longer possible to tell him and, indeed, that it would never, ever happen.

In pursuit of repeat sixes, J-, like most of his fellow clerks, kept long hours at the office and carried his work home with him, spending weekends and holidays staring at the screen of his laptop. He regularly pulled all-nighters at his desk, washing down amphetamines with coffee to keep himself awake, and even when he did get to bed, he often tossed and turned worrying about whether he had taken the right course in his writing, or whether his forays along the roads of style were leading him astray. He worried about whether or not he could keep up with his overly competitive rivals in the office. He worried that age was getting to him, slowing him down and sapping the very strength he needed to remain afloat. If a clerk was going to get promoted to manager, he usually did so within his first seven years. J- had been at it for ten, and though he scored F&F’s with consistency, he felt no closer to repeat sixes than he did when he first started. And there were personal concerns as well. Work prevented J- from having anything resembling a social life. If things kept up the way they were, J- worried he would remain a permanent bachelor, stuck to his desk and its never ending pile of reports. If only I had more talent, he often wished. Or savvy. Or a different perspective. Or maybe if I just put a little more effort into it. But alas, nothing seemed to work.

One night, as J- lay in bed thinking about the report he would hand in in the morning, he heard a strange tapping noise emanating from the closet in his living room. It was Randolph, no doubt, probably clearing his throat as was his annoying habit. J- had not had any dealings with the homunculus since the day, several months prior, when he had first received him in the cardboard coffin. He had surmised, however, that Randolph had escaped his packaging and enjoyed the run of the house when home alone. The evidence was subtle but clear. There were chicken bones in the trash that had been broken open with their marrow sucked out; books had been rearranged on the shelves; and, at night, J- often heard noises in the bathroom as the little man moved through the ritual of his toilet. Since his mind was so completely occupied by work, J- didn’t worry much about the homunculus’ presence. He thought of Randolph as a leaky faucet, a sore shoulder or just some other nuisance that needed to be dealt with at some infinitely later time. This particular night, however, J- could not leave well enough alone. The noise was keeping him awake, and this particular night, J- wanted his sleep.

He threw off his covers, stumbled into the living room, and approached the closet door. He could hear Randolph’s breath, some mumbling, and more of that strange tapping noise. J- was about to knock when it occurred to him that this was his house and he was damned if he had to knock on his door to be polite to an uninvited homunculus. Instead, he decided to yank the door open and catch the homunculus unawares. But in that moment, when he finally did yank the door open, it was not only the homunculus but J- who was caught unawares. Unawares and completely unprepared for the shocking sight that lay before him. For the closet bore no resemblance to the room as last J- saw it, several months prior, when he first condemned the little man to its uppermost shelf. Since then, the closet had been entirely transformed into a scaled-down replica of J-‘s cubicle at The Patent Office. Even the furniture matched. Only upon closer inspection did J- realize that the swivel chair had been crafted from stapled shoeboxes; that the desk was made from the cardboard coffin Randolph had arrived in; that the lamp was actually an old, carved-up boot holding a hemp oil candle that Randolph must have taken from the cupboard.

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The Blessed King

I was talking to Alan at the bagel shop one day when he told me he was thinking of killing himself. He’d had enough, he said. He was tired of living on the street. “All around me I’m surrounded by wealth, and I have nothing. Not even a place to wash.”

Alan is a large man, black, early forties. Bald with a mustache. He keeps his appearance well enough that you wouldn’t guess he lived in the alley behind my apartment.

“What do I do?” he asked.

I told him I didn’t know.

“I don’t know either.”

I thought about buying Alan a bagel, but one bagel for him was one less for me, and I wasn’t sure I had enough money to make it through the week. And Alan kind of annoyed me. He was always talking while I tried to read the racing form.

“Can you get me a job?” he asked.

“If I hear of anything.”

I told Bart, owner and proprietor of The Blessed King Bagel Shop, about my conversation with Alan. I knew that Bart often hired some of the homeless in the area to wash dishes or clean up around the shop. That he let them use the shower in the back and gave them whatever bagels were left at the end of the day.

“Fuck ’em,” said Bart. “He’s a hypocrite.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Did you know he wears a dress at night? All day long, he sits in my shop, and it’s ‘faggot this’ and ‘faggot that,’ and then he puts on a dress and rides around town on his bike.”

“What do you make of that?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

Bart is an angry, potato-shaped man, who wears shorts with black socks and sandals beneath his apron. He is angry because he has to open his shop every morning at 2 AM to have the bagels ready for the people who line up to be contestants on The Price is Right. The line winds outside the CBS lot across the street from his store. Fans camp out into the wee hours of the morning wearing T-shirts that say “Pick me Bob” or “Omaha Loves Bob.” The “Bob” they refer to is, of course, Bob Barker, long time host of The Price is Right, a staple on CBS morning television for the last 40 years. And therein lies the problem. Bart’s livelihood depends on the people who line up for The Price is Right, but being that The Price is Right depends on the popularity of its star, Bob Barker, and being that Bob Barker is 85 years old — Bart’s livelihood is anything but secure.

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Enter the Dragon!

There were neither doors nor windows in the room. How I’d entered, I could not recall. In fact, I could recall nothing. Not even my own name. I knew only what I could see before me. That I was seated on a cushion in front of a table full of raw fish. That I was unarmed. That someone had stolen my shoes. Keep your cool, I thought. Don’t say anything, and you won’t say anything stupid.

There were two Japanese across from me – one fat, one skinny. They appeared to be ventriloquists. Whenever one spoke, the other would move his lips. I suspected they had poisoned my sake.

Sitting next to me and controlling the conversation was my old friend, Arty from Philly. He appeared to be representing my interests. I gathered this from the fact that he was wearing a red track suit and a fake mustache. Better warn him about the sake, I thought. But how? Fat Man and Little Boy are watching my every move.

“Where is the restroom?” I asked. Unfortunately, my words didn’t come out the way I’d intended. They sounded more like, “Camus was a French existentialist.” The Japanese nodded and went back to listening to Arty. It seemed some sort of negotiation was taking place. They could have been discussing who would get the contract to build a two-billion-dollar 450-megawatt hydro-electric dam in Sumatra. Or a price for my kidneys.

Quietly, without attracting anyone’s attention, I took the empty sake box near my plate and lowered it beneath the table. With my free hand, I undid my trousers and surreptitiously urinated into the box. Or onto Arty’s leg. I couldn’t really tell.

A screen wall slid open to reveal a beautiful Japanese woman in a kimono. I became aroused at the sight of her. Even though I was peeing.

“Freud would say,” responded Arty to a question I didn’t think I’d asked, “that there are similarities in culture between the Asian and the Jewish female. Both place a strong emphasis on education, achievement and expensive shoes. But unlike her Semitic counterpart, the Lady from Shanghai is recognized by her straight hair, slanted eye and slender buttock. Thus the Jewish male can accept in her the familiar comforts of a shared culture without the paranoid fear that he is fucking his mother.”

The poison was allowing him to read my mind. It was also making the sushi swim around the table and argue amongst themselves in a language that can only be described as angry Yiddish.

Who are these Japanese, I wondered. Clearly, they want something from me, but what could I possibly have that is of any value? My mother always told me I had potential. Is that what they’ve come for? I better warn Arty.

‘”They’re after my potential,” I whispered.

“Scoundrels!” Arty screamed, thrusting a chopstick in their direction. “You’ll never get his potential without paying for it!”

There was pornographic anime playing on the TV in the limousine. The Japanese enjoyed it immensely.

“We have to be careful,” I told Arty. “They’ve already got our shoes.”

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