EAT ME: CHAPTER 1.

August 12, 2018

EAT ME | OFFICIAL BOOK TRAILER

Author’s note:

I was on an international flight to the Ukraine in July of 2017 when the bones of this story fell into place. As it goes, I was in the perfectly wrong place to be writing anything, surrounded by coughing foreigners over the Atlantic with about seventy small headrest TV screens playing everything from The Godfather to Keeping Up With the Kardashians. For the rest of the flight I jotted down notes in the margins of a paperback I had picked up from an airport kiosk in Chicago. To that paperback, I say thank you; I’m sorry I cannot remember your name.

 The constant themes of naivety, repetition, irreverence, and spectacle horror are what kept me invested in the story while putting it together. This book was a chance to take a stab at framing our daily, American hypocrisies. A chance to poke fun at all the things we do when no one’s watching, shining a light on our proclivity for ritual, highlighting our superstitions; these motifs ground this narrative to the bitter voice of the narrator. I wanted Eat Me to be a constant attempt to nail down a movement of thoughts; it’s not meant to be a dissertation. There’s no art in perfection, I wanted it to be a little messy. I wanted to write what came out; form be damned

 For me, there has to be an uphill battle for each character; there has to be an exhausting aspect to the way I deliver the work. I’m not interested in creating a world you can escape to. I want to show you a prison, maybe a prison you’re already in. I want to dive headfirst into the most human parts of us, our ability to judge, hate, cover our eyes. There’s something so familiar about these things, the things that make reality TV so entertaining. I wanted to draw from our need to establish the moral high ground; then I wanted to level the playing field. 

 Taking my own experiences and the experiences of those close to me, I made a court room, a place where nothing is safe. Eat Me is supposed to be all the things life is naturally; dark, humorous, conflicting, sad, dirty. It came out just the right amount of each of these for me and I’m glad to have it out of my head and into your hands.

 I so respect the archaic writing style of old religious texts as well as many who teach from them. Pulling form from big tent revivalists and fire and brimstone preachers offers what I believe to be a rich dimension to this book. There’s something so inherently familiar about these old rhythms. Throughout the book I use them to enforce the cyclical nature of dread and self importance. The reincarnation which is the passing down of traditions and practices. Looking at what we value today and holding that in contrast to ancient speech was a way for me to see fear in a new light. The fear of missing out, the fear of disappearing. More of the intensely familiar. 

 So much of this book is me holding no bars, cutting at the things that made me. I was looking for that bitter narrator to influence the minimal cast of victims along the way. For me, what you write isn’t yours; it’s anyone’s who reads it. It’s my chance to suck you in then suck you dry. I wanted it to be a violating experience at times. I wanted it to make you laugh when you shouldn’t. 

 Tear it up, burn it, use the margins to write your own book. At the end of the day it’s a story. Grotesque, bitter, exhaustive, hilariously depressing - it’s a story. 

 

122 Days                                                                                                Chapter 1.

September 1, 1999

 

 “You heard him, the preacher man said it was real this time. They’ve gone too far, Charlotte. They got too cocky and now everyone has to die.

 I know it doesn’t seem fair. I know we haven’t gotten to do any of the things we talked about. That’s just the way it goes, you do what you’re supposed to do and then you die. The TV man said it’s what we deserve.

 Yes, I know I complain; and yes, I know I can be difficult, down in the dumps, angry, bitter but don’t you think I deserve a little more than this? A little more than being torn apart by  mushroom clouds of nuclear whatever it is. I mean, I go to work everyday, I haven’t killed anyone at all, I don’t even speed. Where’s the space ship for me? Where’s the one way ticket off of this miserable earth? Don’t I get a pass on this whole nuclear meltdown situation? I don’t even own a computer, someone out there has to know that.

 No Charlotte, I don’t think any of it’s my fault. I shouldn’t be punished for anyone else’s crimes. I’ve been sitting here, minding my own business, clocking in and out. You can’t tell me I should’ve seen this coming. You can’t tell me this is what you deserve when you work you’re whole life making this American dream work for someone. I’ve been in the trenches, I’ve been saving the day with my nine to five. Now they’re going to blow us up, Charlotte. They’re going to kill us, just like we deserve apparently. 

 

This isn’t fair. 

This isn’t fair at all.”

… 

 

 It’s one hundred and twenty-two days until the end of the world, and Roy Hurns sits in the passenger seat of his own 1997 Toyota Corolla, outside the post office. 

 Roy’s car is brown, like the wood paneling in your grandparent's trailer. Lighter than that though. It’s more of a decomposed brown. Like if you turned the trailer inside out and left it in the sun long enough to fade to roughly the same color as Roy’s vehicle. 

 It’s a beautiful car, despite being a 1997 Toyota Corolla. You know he’s taken excellent care of this machine because the year is 1999 and there’s not even a scratch on it that you can see from ten feet away. Everything works on her notwithstanding Roy’s lack of mechanical know how. Ever since he drove her off the lot, he’s changed her oil five hundred miles before the sticker in the upper left corner of the windshield told him to. He’s made sure to have her tires rotated routinely, he’s washed her every week, even when she was clean, and he drives her like she's about to fall apart, so she won't. Her name is Charlotte, and he loves her, which is sad. 

 The inside of Charlotte is grey. No leather. All cloth. Roy didn’t, and doesn't, like leather in a car, or out of one. He’s never sported bovine skin, the leg garments of 80’s idols. He doesn’t relish anything that makes him sweat harder than he already does instinctively. If there’s anything Roy Hurns is, it’s consistent. Desperately dull. Aggressively inattentive. Wholly critical. Roy is compliant, meek. A man raised by Donna Reed brought up by Ed Sullivan. A man who has done nothing he has seen in movies and daytime TV. A man who is furiously chafed by a world that has laid out zero red carpets for his fat ass. Choleric and bitter behind a damp husk of sour rind. 

 The type of air freshener you're thinking of right now is hanging pendulously from Charlotte’s rearview mirror, swaying like a scented uvula. It smells like Arctic Blast, crisp and unusual, dichotomized against the heat. Charlotte’s backseat is barren, dusty, aseptic. The cloth is virtually useless, holding pockets of impotent air in between callow cushions. If the past ten years is any indication of Roy’s social habit, then the only person sitting in Charlotte for the next ten years will be him and only him. 

 The glove box has a driver’s manual in perfect condition. Absolutely. Perfect. Condition. It could last two hundred years in the care of Roy Hurns, propped up by spare air freshener, shielded by vinyl panels, embalmed by the abortive air of that gloveless box. Underneath the perfect driving manual is Roy’s vehicle registration and a three pack of that Arctic Blast air freshener. From Dollar Tree, or Dollar General. Somewhere poor people buy party supplies. He switches over to the passenger seat when he knows he’ll be parked for more than five minutes, just to spread-load some of the wear and tear that will eventually befall his loyal Charlotte. He’s in the passenger seat of his car, outside of the post office, where he works. It’s West Memphis. Crawfordsville, Arkansas, 72327. Crittenden County. Population 454. 

 Crawfordsville is only nineteen miles from downtown Memphis Tennessee. Unlike in the city, the population of Crawfordsville is going down, gently plummeting like the grade point average of anyone still in high school there, languidly sinking like the footers on your neighbor's trailer.

 Arkansas mud.

 Although it’s Arkansas, they call it West Memphis given the proximity to the city across the river. With a total area of half a square mile, Crawfordsville Arkansas, 72327, isn’t a destination. It’s a finish line. The place your grandparents live, the place only grandparents live. The little hometown they beg you to visit. The place you’ll end up dying. Your last stop before heaven. 

 Roy has had the distinct pleasure of growing up among the hundred and fifty families that make up this half a square mile in the middle of Crittenden County, born Jeb Roy Hurns at Baptist Memorial Hospital in the year of our Lord 1957, the peak of the Baby Boomer years. The year The King bought Graceland. The year the Russians launched a refrigerator-sized middle finger into orbit named Sputnik. Nations were building nuclear reactors for the first time, Vietnam was on the edge of becoming the caustic memory it still is to this day, and Toyota started selling cars in the US. 

 Roy graduated from a senior class of twenty, at the age of twenty, from a school where drinking, driving, and arithmetic were all you needed to know. Most of the west was still reveling in the panoptic verve of post World War II ingenuity. Everything was perky pink, bubbly blue, carbonated cherry. Roadside diners coast to coast. Most of the west was this, but still, there was mud in West Memphis. And when there wasn’t mud, there was dust. 

There is a history to this place, the flyover states. This dust, these armpits of the American plane lands, collecting generations of truck drivers, farmers, nomads, traveling preachers catching souls on the move, reaching out to moving caravans of trappers and settlers and gold rushers. With these holy men came their shills, the people hired to fake miracles. Paid to rise out of wheelchairs in the name of Jesus. Men and women employed to increase your faith in the preacher man with every healed case of gout. This preacher man would sermonize the end of the world, the end of the road. Teaching a final peace, a place free of carnal velocity, using his fake miracles to catch your ten percent. Restoring eyesight to the blind, burning pretend cancers out of real actors, curing gluten allergies with the blood of the lamb. Some people didn’t make it all the way West. Some settled in the mud, tying down their trailers, everyone a variable pallet of black grease from some type of machine that was keeping the food on the table. The place where everyone stopped moving is Roy’s home.

 There was a spiritual bond between man and engine back when Roy was born. Men communed with the divine, elbows deep in some motor, soaked in transmission fluid. These men, giving their silent trauma of war over to the mechanical, baptized in gasoline. The salt of the earth resented for their inability to say ‘I love you son.’  

 You’re just going to end up doing whatever greased collar job your Dad did in places like these. Roy’s Dad drove trucks and drove drunk, and never said ‘I love you son’ no matter what Roy did. Keeping with tradition. Roy’s father was the coldest man in the world, with the most tired eyes you could ever see out of. A man with a scar above his right eye, and a scar on his chin too. A man who knew when to throw in the cards. 

 Roy’s Dad would work so hard he’d be gone for weeks and weeks and weeks, but no matter how much time he put behind the wheel, he always seemed to be strapped for anything that could buy bread. Roy’s Dad, before he left forever to save the whales, and fight in the war, and conserve the rainforest, he’d sometimes pull into the driveway with bags of used toys from God knows where. He’d pour mounds of stuffed animals, miniature bulldozers, dime store kaleidoscopes onto the ground of the living room, slash great room, slash room with the door Dad would always slam to show he was leaving, maybe for good. 

 Roy would sit in front of the TV while Momma and Dad substituted communication with deafening threats of marital dissent. Roy would lock into whatever was happening on the tube, whatever reality was being subliminally advertised to him. TV land, the great Santa Clause. Lying to you about how good things could be. Selling you precisely what you need, during the break, before The Twilight Zone. 

 Roy would be Indian style, Lost in Space. Eating cut up hotdogs in the light of Dick Van Dyke. Getting fat off of processed anything that Momma can afford after tithing to discount tobacco. And Jesus. Bewitched by Bonanza. Memorizing My Favorite Martian. Dreaming of Genie. Lost in Green Acres. Leaving it to Beaver back in the day before public service announcements mutated the magic of television into some antiseptic attempt to hypnotize you into buying laundry detergent. Before mister Ed became glue. Before everything killed you.

… 

 

 Roy spent Sundays sweating in the Church of Christ at the end of the road before they got central air pretty much anywhere in town. He’d dreamed of becoming anything he saw on the television. Anything other than every impoverished influence bearing down on him, making inroads on his discount destiny. Anything other than just another store clerk, living forever, selling pastel boxes of that laundry detergent you were hypnotized into buying during the commercial break. He wanted to be someone worth syndication, someone worth a pilot at least. He knew he’d grow up to be someone who left this place, probably for good. 

 West Memphis is full of immortals, people who have not lived so never entirely die. These people wax, incarnate, slack-jawed, standing in yards. Watching cars go by, practicing poor posture, recycling into younger forms. All souls floating out of the slumped bodies of drunk driving accidents. Hovering over this small, Arkansas town. Morose, formless, devil-may-care. Penetrating the soft pelt of single mothers, searching for a womb to invade. These spirits perform the epigenetic will of generations, inebriated and weary. 

 And oh, does the Budweiser find refuge in the stomachs of God’s progeny. And did all the employees of the Tractor Supply Company rejoice in harmony, covering the ruin of their mud village in mirth. And does the exhaust floweth strong into the air cutting the night with diesel byproduct, turning the trees into scarecrows for the children to play in, and further destroy.

 This lifecycle is the ongoing oral history of middle America. The dark model Roy has built in his head. A bitter representation of what it feels like to live on the edge of the dust bowl. This safe existence, shielded from uncertainty, protected from irregularity, it represents the fallacy of happiness. The thought you’ll be fulfilled by doing what you’re supposed to do. The hope that purpose lies in safety and routine. The idea of bumpers on bowling lanes, the dream of lottery millions. The fantasy of being some kind of movie star. Every horrific news story reminding you not to leave your little town lest you find something like turmoil in this world.     

 This is the home Roy hates, where, “Nothing changes Roy, people just leave.” The home sweet home he’s kept alive on by the 454 people who refuse to pull the plug. The people he works for. A place where all the dreams you don’t remember come true. 

 Roy is continuously daydreaming, replacing the faces he sees on television with his own. Riding horses with Mr. Wayne, captaining speedboats with Mr. Bond. Being Dr. Phil for a day, then spending the night fighting Yakuza on the streets of Tokyo. When you work for the Postal Service, the American daydream is as close as you are going to get to the white picket fence. A fool’s paradise most Americans live, desperate and in their heads. This first world desert where people replace tumbleweeds, gliding haphazardly through discount department stores, always tired.

… 

 Roy is beholden to the people he serves. These grandparents, mailing children’s books to new grand-babies, sending cured sausage to extended family in any state in the union. Midday drunks mailing letters to loved ones who have already changed addresses two or three times by now. Roy makes their dreams come true by getting their mail where it needs to go. If this is the purpose all mighty God planned for him, then he wants a mulligan. He wants a do-over. He wants to rewind, taking back all these years spent in the belly of your local post office. He wants reparations for his poor decisions.

 Applying for a position with the United States Postal Service was a choice he made on a Tuesday when he was twenty-three. You hardly ever know when you’re making a nineteen-year decision, and Roy was no exception to that truth.              

 He’s forty-two now, nineteen years into a career that he abhors. Nineteen years of caring for your correspondence over his own. Going to work every day so you can receive that gift from grandma that will look great on the shelf at your local thrift store. 

 Roy’s living the most terrifying horror story of all. An entire adult life behind the wheel of a soul-sucking career, skirting the hair-trigger reality of those existing nineteen miles away in the city that must be much more exciting than his autopilot life. A modern-day village charged with skepticism, brimming with the romantic brand of poverty you see shooting up under catwalks. A megalopolitan vista, magnificent if viewed from across the river. Dark and dank once inside its belly, the viscera of a gut bag. Sewage, carrying plastic bottles, and lottery tickets, and piss at the speed of gravity into the molten core of its heart. Everyone, over or under an overpass. Always one wrong decision away from bankruptcy. The tightrope walk of those who live on top of each other.

 It’s not like Roy can pick up and move, or change career paths. Nothing he has is anything anyone wants, and for better or for worse, this is his home. He’s pledged to it with the commitment of a spouse nineteen years into an abusive relationship. He’s finished with looking for the silver lining at the end of the tunnel. It’s all brown and gray shades from here on out. Just like the inside of Charlotte.

 

 Roy Hurns is not a tall man. He’s garden variety height, mediocre, achromatic. He’s sporting those sexy shorts they make you wear when you work for the post office, and that racy button up, short sleeved, tucked in oversized, grayish blue shirt. He’s balding because he’s a loser and forty-two.               

 There are plenty of people who are forty-two and not balding or are forty-two and are not losers. But Roy Hurns is balding and forty-two, and a loser to boot. 

 To cap it all off, he’s overweight. Like Golden Corral overweight, or Shoneys’ overweight or somewhere else poor people eat. And develop diabetes. And make memories. He’s the kind of overweight where it makes you uncomfortable to watch him swallow, like you’re party to a crime. You might see him in the food court at your local mall and feel the need to intervene when he sits down to two plates of Cajun food and a comically large Coca-Cola. He’s the kind of obese that breeds the delusion that he’s exercising self-control when he doesn’t supersize it.

 Roy gets to work fifteen minutes early every day and clocks in precisely at 7:57, three minutes before he's late. He’s not early to work because he values punctuality, he’s early because he’s always early. Routine is laziness after nineteen years. Showing up late is the unknown, and Roy Hurns has a fear of the unknown. He gets there fifteen minutes early to get his parking spot, to collect his bearing, to start the 8-hour countdown.

 It’s 7:49, he’s sitting inside Charlotte watching the early birds come in and out of the loading bays behind the Post Office like ants back to a colony. He thinks about how long the day is going to be. He thinks about how slow time crawls when the walls of his postal prison surround him. He adds up the missed opportunities, failed attempts, and the wasted years of his life as he sits behind a glove box, mounting dread.

 Charlotte is his church. Thirteen minutes every day. He never misses church, and he always leaves redeemed. Redemption through habit, redemption through consistency. Redemption through restraint, and perspective, and neatness, and regular oil changes, and Arctic Blast air freshener. Everything correctly in its place for the sake of asylum. A sanctuary where he can mourn the day before it even starts.

 This rolling world that holds Roy’s whole life is just the billboard of his soul. A PSA of his potential disguised as a sedan. An entirely stock, unimaginative example of what happens when you lobotomize someone’s idea of what life owes them. A spaceship to carry him from space to space, meal to meal, bowel movement to bowel movement. Always a commercial break away from getting out of this hell he thinks only exists where he is right now.

 Now it’s 7:51 and he’s still there, thinking about blood clots, and cancers, and car crashes, and oil spills, and women. A million emotions repressed. Breeding resentment with his false expectations. He shifts his weight and makes Charlotte shutter as he ponders the end of him, the beginning of nothing. He believes in thirteen minutes, alone, redeemed by the subtle ‘whirrr’ of Charlotte’s air conditioning, staving off the inevitable beads of sweat beneath his seductive, grayish blue, short sleeve, button up, authorized, postal service shirt. 

 “Just another day, Charlotte. Just another shift. Might as well come in, what else am I going to do? 

 There’s nowhere else to go, no one’s on their way to save us. If I’m just a speck of dust about to be blown into oblivion there’s no reason why I shouldn’t stay busy. 

 If I don’t matter, if no one’s going to remember me, maybe this job is as close as I get to being apart of this blip of a world. If I can’t live forever I might as well clock in.” 

 Roy Hurns lives a brown and grey life, behind the wheel of a brown and grey car. His purchased surroundings are just the representation of his consumer’s brain needing to mirror his own beauty. Just like the people who have dogs that look disturbingly like them. The people who stare at pictures of themselves wishing their tits had more perk. The people airbrushing wrinkles and tan lines and track marks out of every single family photo. The ladies and gentlemen producing perfect results. Selling their brand of happiness, their immortal image of godlike remembrance. Like existence is some kind of corporate struggle for market visibility. These people collecting trinkets around them, wearing precious jewels around their necks and all over their fingers like warlords. The primeval version of status embalmed in polypropylene sheets, framed and hung above the hearth to remind you how actually, for sure, definitely happy your neighbors are.  

 We want to see ourselves in everything. It’s not nearly enough to conquer or to have the most, or the best. We have to have ourselves in everything, over, and over again. We are all together trying to clone ourselves. Trying to create miniature me’s. We’re trying to pry open the mouths of whoever we can and jam ourselves down their throats. And we all think everyone is waiting with their mouth wide open. Roy wants the same thing you want; to matter, to be seen, to have everything he wants and to remain the same. To have the world treat him the way Momma did, like some kind of fat prince. Unfortunately, Armageddon is approaching and he hasn’t come anywhere close to shoving anything down anyone’s throat. According to whatever channel news Roy watches three nights a week, Y2K is the ticking time bomb that is going to ruin his chances of ever making something of himself. In four months, the end of the world is going to throw a wrench in his plans to “Turn this ship around.” Why give up on his routine now? It’s all he really has left.

 It’s 7:55 and Roy’s taking communion. Pornographic levels of self-delusion are all he has within Charlotte’s metal body. He thinks about God. He thinks about himself, and his image. God’s image. How divorced he is from everything he would want God to be. We believe we’re the God this world has been waiting for. We need to have things. To create things, in our image. Even God couldn't help himself. 

 The God he’s been trying to emulate. The God he keeps falling short of impressing. The God who’s going to be destroying the world in 122 days. Right before Roy collects his pension. A real cosmic bummer. 

 We all think we’re the only drivers on the road who know what we’re doing or the only parents who won't raise a rapist, or a prostitute, or a novelist. We dilute ourselves into believing our prayers leave our head, that they float up into the sky impregnating the thought pattern of some celestial mind, that they shake something up instead of just pressing against our temples giving us migraines, reminding us of our comical lack of control. We buy what we already are. We remind ourselves of our failures with the things we surround ourselves with. We’re all in a waiting room, waiting to have our number called so we can walk up to a gold-plated counter and find out that the story we’re reading has nothing to do with us. The life we’re building has zero to do with what we think, or feel, or shove down the throats of others. 

 

    (Cue the offertory)

 

This is Roy’s thirteen minutes, busy picking apart the lives of everyone around around him. Analyzing what everyone else is doing wrong. Having so much to say and not saying it to anyone at all.

 

 Confidence, spontaneity, and willpower have been slowly beaten into submissive, pitiful creatures in the backroom of his psyche. There’s no room for them any longer where he is. There’s no purpose for them. He’s a flaccid man, not even a shell, stepping out of Charlotte at 7:57, making the walk to the back door of the post office. He moves the exact way a predator does not. Apathetic. Defeated. Soft. The sweat is beading up under his meaty man breasts because it’s September and he’s moving. His hammy thighs rub together like poker chips in the hand of a nervous gambler who’s about to lose it all to the house. Roy’s loose, pot roast arms swing exaggerated, back and forth along the side of his spare tire. That halo of cellulite around his waist. A gastric chastity belt only the most pious adorn.

 Roy’s neck is rolls. Dinner rolls. A small hill of hotdogs. An in-flight neck pillow of all the meats we say we would never eat. This neck, this thing, carries his head that’s also sweating, wobbling side to side as if this one hundred foot walk from his church to his prison is some kind of reason for a spike in heart rate. He pulls himself against the cold metal of the mailroom door, palming a combination lock. Spinning the dial, hunching over the combo. He’s a natural at hunching. 

 24-02-12 and the lock pops, swings limp, then is pocketed. It’s 7:58 as one of his meat paws wraps a collection of sausage links around a doorknob far too familiar to him. He twists and gains entry as his other hand scratches his travel neck pillow of unwanted brawn. Short, unkempt hairs protrude from the folds of Roy’s neck as he scratches out a sweaty itch, making his way into the sharp, sterile air of the mail room. This cold draft is his redeemer now. 

Saved by freon. 

 

Air conditionally loved.