Jon Konrath is a failed musician, former dishwasher, and horrible human being. He has been blogging at rumored.com since 1997. He has written about a dozen books and won’t shut up about cough syrup.
The Metaphor of Poundcake
By Jon Konrath
“We seek comfort in patterns.” I awoke to a cop talking truth and fantasy while taking a piss on the cardboard cutout of Barbara Bush in my fireplace. “Each of us look to the future in determination, to help us feel at peace with the present. But we will never reach it.”
The police officer moaned and started to piss blood, a brown, chunky, sewerage stream of bacteria-infested kidney disease and failure. “Celebrate the journey of the natural hierarchy, the sacred path of the warrior.” He shook twice, zipped up, then grabbed his nightstick from his belt holster and smashed my commemorative Alan Alda urn, containing the ashes of my great-uncle Theodore, a habitual peyote user and manager of a mini-mart on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. “Never stray from the path. And clean your kitchen. It looks like an anthrax research lab in there.”
* * *
I must have fallen asleep waiting for the phone call about Virgil’s execution. The fever dream of the evening involved walking on a desolate college campus in the waning, vanishing hours of what I thought was the immaculate romance, something that happened for a third of my life, causing me to wonder if the dream really did happen.
It took sixteen hours of travel to get to the campus from the city: three trains, two layovers, and a four-mile walk in a snowstorm that caused my wheeled suitcase to flail around like a subcompact car with bald tires on an ice skating rink. I lost a dozen pounds during the journey, like a baseball pitcher putting in the nine full innings of a complete game, all of the labor from fidgeting in my seat and trying not to throttle the man sitting across from me, who kept babbling about alternate realities and stock speculation. The train had no food, the bar car destroyed by a group of abolitionist terrorists who didn’t understand the basic fact that you could drink an entire 401K’s worth of alcohol on an Amtrak and not get drunk. This was a government venture; of course they water down the drinks to the point of absurdity. Joe Biden’s not going to get you fucked up on top-shelf liquor.
In the weeks of phone calls and emails prior to the voyage, I was promised unlimited sex, all-you-can eat of her young ass, and as many trips to Denny’s as I could muster. But we both managed to catch a destructive viral pneumonia that no amount of over-the-counter syrups or pills could touch. The closest we got to the promised week of torrid, unprotected sex was a midnight brunch at a place that served almost raw eggs Benedict, and a reluctant handjob in the parking lot. (Come to think of it, those eggs could have been how we got sick.)
After a two-day puke and shit marathon, I spent the rest of the week killing time in a motel while she went to work. My only solace in the high fever hallucination state was a hack I found in 2600 magazine with an article on cable phreaking. A magic code enabled me to watch all of the 90s-era soft-core porn for free, an endless stream of basketball-sized tit implants, frizzy hair, long Predator-like whore nails, and over-enthusiastic fake lesbian threesomes. How did they finger so much with inch-long long acrylic press-on nails? And why did my breath smell like a seventies landfill? This sickness was killing me, even in my dream, like those Freddy Kreuger movies.
Desperate for a lunch other than the year-old extruded peanut butter and cheese crackers from the motel lobby vending machine, I stumbled outside, and tried to hoof it to a Wendy’s Hamburgers distant on the horizon. Its sign, with the cartoon ponytailed redhead, stood atop a five hundred foot steel pole, telling people on the highway to pull over and meet their maker, for only $2.99 plus tax. I crossed a series of grassy knoll medians, which chopped apart a grocery store parking lot from a series of used car dealerships, forming a maze of torment that threatened to face-plant me into the asphalt with every dozen steps.
A man painted on the windshield of an old Chevy with white shoe polish, spelling out “ELECTRONIC CAR” and a price point that seemed too good to be true. The front of the car rose from the ground at a sharp angle, like a converted low-rider with air shocks, about to launch from the ground in a sideshow parking-lot maneuver. I could tell, even at a distance, that some asshole tore out the old V-8 and hastily Rube Goldberged some kind of household appliance motor into the front, maybe a powered golf cart’s drivetrain.
“It’s a real electronic,” the used car salesman told me. His jacket looked like the tablecloth to a defunct pizza joint from the 70s, and he reeked of cheap cigar smoke. “You can apply for the tax credit and everything. I don’t have the paperwork here, but I’m sure the DMV can set you up. You don’t do much highway driving, do you son? It only tops out at about 38 kilometers an hour. But it gets a thousand miles a gallon, theoretical. And lots of torque. Torque is all you need. Torque wins you races. Torque is Jesus. Torque from Ork — nanu nanu! How’s your credit, boy?”
I kept walking past, turned up the headphones and blasted the Anal Cunt tape louder, so I would not exist, be invisible. I needed food, fried food, heavy, grease-laden food to survive. Lay down a bed of solid grease, and you can ride out any chronic diarrhea. My temperature was at least 104, and everything looked like a direct-to-video John Carpenter movie about Armenia. I wanted a frozen beverage and enough extra bacon to kill god. I wanted this dream to end, but after I woke, I sort of wished it would continue.
* * *
I muted the TV, found a spiral notebook and a pen. The ballpoint was from an Uncle Kenny’s Sex Dungeon in Wailea, the one in the basement of the Maui Four Seasons. The plastic barrel was covered in tooth marks, which I hoped were only mine. I thought about death a lot that week, with Virgil on the way out. I hastily prepared a note:
In the event of my death, I want a funeral where my body is not embalmed or preserved. It will be propped upside down on a geodesic dome playground monkey bar thing, like the cover of the first Suicidal Tendencies album. There will be no Pepsi. Donate my orthotic inserts to the Salvador Dali motorcycle museum in Clearwater, Florida (NOT the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg. They are false prophets.) Serve Taco Bell Doritos Locos tacos at the reception. DO NOT invite my cousin Marty or his whore wife, because not only will they will eat all of the fucking tacos, they will only eat the meat and cheese and lick the shells but not eat them, and then they won’t shut the fuck up about how carbs are an evil conspiracy to keep us all fat. Play “Free Bird” on repeat, and the first person to suggest that it should be turned off should be buried alive in the coffin and grave I purchased ten plots down from Bruce and Brandon Lee’s crypt at Lake View cemetery in Seattle. Burn my body and have everyone snort the ashes. Don’t forget the thing about Marty. I finger-fucked his wife at Thanksgiving dinner in 1987. I’m not proud of this, but it was before they were married, and I’m dead now, so fuck it. Peace out.
I read the note carefully, chugging from a warm can of Meister-Brau, then sealed it in an envelope and put it on the fireplace mantle, now an altar to broken urns and diseased cop blood. Having a friend get killed makes you question your own mortality, and that was about to happen.
* * *
Virgil had a dad that got the electric chair for mortgage fraud when we were ten, an absurd irony in the wake of his own pending death sentence. Virg Senior was the kind of old-school, trapped-in-the-past dad that still slicked his hair back with Brylcreem like a Sha Na Na reject. He talked about chopped deuces and daddy-os while we cringed and hoped nobody at the mall saw us with him. After his old man rode the lightning, Virgil went from bad to worse, a series of alcoholic and drug-addled stepfathers that beat him like a used golf ball at a driving range. He finally decided to run away, leave the state with ten dollars in change and a stolen LaserDisc player he’d fence for tacos somewhere in rural Nebraska.
I got the post card months later: no return address, no name signed, just a picture of the country’s third-largest ear of corn, on the outskirts of some town in Iowa or Montana or Laos, a car-sized husk with two goofy farmers in front of it. The inscription said “FOUND YOU’RE MOM’S DILDO!” in sharpie, with a smaller note scrawled in ballpoint, his unmistakable, illegible cursive. “Met a shower curtain salesman — let’s dudes bang his wife in motels — said he’d give me his car if I sucked his dick — just borrowing it for now — his wife’s a good lay, but too quiet — will send pics — fuck the puke, and Jesus! — V” I hoped he meant fuck the puke and fuck Jesus. I didn’t want a 3AM phone call of drunken bible platitudes from a borderline illiterate high school dropout. I already got that pretty much every day when I went to public school in Indiana.
I brought the card to my state-appointed therapist. During the breaking-the-ice meeting, she told me she saw Forrest Gump 200 times and only wanted to date mentally disabled men. I think it was supposed to turn me on. I’ve slept with enough mental health care professionals to know the warning signs, but also knew you always hold out for someone who can prescribe drugs. Even if you don’t want the drugs, even if you’re one of those health food freaks who isn’t into the idea of loading up on deadly narcotics, you get the doc who can write for meds, because then you know they love you. Love is drugs. I saw it on a t-shirt once; it must be true.
After therapy, I paced the halls of the hospital and thought about Captain Beefheart dropping out of the music business, moving to the desert and painting, and wondered how it applied to my job making roast beef sandwiches and wiping uneaten food off of plates. They told us not to feed potatoes into the insinkerator, so I threw a chili bowl into the spinning blades, just to see what would happen. The entire kitchen vibrated like an alien abduction roto-rooter stuck in a whale’s asshole, and I watched the time-space continuum become dislodged, and start to reverse itself. I tried to calculate how many pieces of china I would have to feed into the machine to get me back to a point where I could feel. I didn’t think the town’s power grid would hold out.
A deformed man in a custodial uniform cleaning an unnatural amount of puke from a hallway broke my reverie. “I can’t remember who got blamed for the Princess Di assassination,” the janitor told me. The puke smelled like candy corn and ammonia. “I think the Mossad got the blame, but we all know ConAgra foods did it. I don’t have proof, but it just feels right, you know?” He wore Halloween makeup — Dracula lipstick, zombie face paint, Frankenstein’s monster stick-on neck bolts — and tried to look sexy with it, like a Dead Can Dance drag queen. I thought it distracted from the janitorial work, the pure craftsmanship involved in mopping down a vomit spill, spreading the puke sawdust, applying the pink germicidal spray cleaner. He seemed happy, or at least more happy than I was at the moment.
* * *
The phone echoed hold music on speaker, while an hours-long marathon of stupid clip shows echoed in the background, late on a Tuesday night. Industrial Robot Disasters Caught on Tape was the ambient soundtrack for my panic state, because I was too lazy to pick up the remote and change the channel. The robo-call would confirm the execution schedule, or announce it was pushed another 48 hours. They liked to schedule their killings to knock the latest scandal out of the news cycle, and the Assistant Governor just got caught having butt-sex with a dead illegal schoolteacher, so I figured it would be a go.
But the robo-call didn’t simply spit out the pertinent information I needed; it first played an ad for a 90-minute VHS tape of Randy Savage taking a massive dump. I mean, it’s not one dump; it’s like three or four spliced together with a bunch of retrospective footage, and the play-by-play is done by Mean Gene Okerlund. $99, or three easy payments of $49. And Okerlund refers to Machoman as his close, personal, long-time friend 168 times, too.
* * *
You read the only magazines you can find, Vibe For Pregnant Teens and Country Shitkicker Kitchen, while the guards get the man from the insides of the prison to the visiting room. I would have killed for an issue of Juggs, or even Us Weekly. You expect the maximum security facility to look like the pit where they keep Hannibal Lecter being plexiglass at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, but it resembles an elementary school built in the eighties, the kind with open rooms and no sharp corners, and big, round sinks like fountains you operate with your feet, that utopian element of bizarre ergonomics that never quite caught on outside of the Epcot center. Add a ring of guard rows with shotgun slots for firing in teargas canisters during riots, and heavy locked doors to protect the minimum-wage employees from crazed and psychotic men, broken for life by their 50-year torture sentences for getting caught with two matchstick-sized rocks of coke. Schools and prisons are all built by the same lowest bidder, with identical lead paint and asbestos-stuffed walls. At least that’s what the urban legends tell you.
Virgil earned the prison name of Poundcake, even though he’d never been raped in the showers. The nickname alone is hazing enough to keep him just a hair’s width outside of sanity. You ask him why he killed her, the basic Q&A for your dissertation. “She was the kind of bitch that lived for pregnancy scares and high drama. Fucked her with three condos and she still said they all broke. Gave her six bills to hoover out the little fucker, and she used the abortion money to go swim with manatees in Florida. Posted the shit on Facebook and everything. So I say to myself, either I put a gun in her mouth, or I watch her fake breast cancer and make mad bucks online. The judge didn’t buy it, though. Fucking Obama.”
Before prison, before the girl, when I first met Poundcake, he was obsessed with Anne Frank, to the point where he dressed like her, with a horrible synthetic wig and a bright yellow star hand-sewed to all of his clothing. By the beginning of junior high, he started skipping classes every day to hide in the attic of his mom’s house, pretend all of the people in our subdivision were Nazis (which was at least partly true, if you ever took a look at our homeowner’s association newsletters,) and scrawl his thoughts in a spiral notebook diary.
His attic was lined that Owens Corning pink fiberglass insulation, which tore apart his skin like a chemical warfare weapon every time he hid up there. And modern notebook paper contains so many chemicals and post-recycled waste, it turns brown and disintegrates and gets eaten alive by dust mites in a matter of months, so all of his entries were basically unreadable, the deranged ramblings of a man gone insane by insulation toxicity. The poor fuck ended up spending two semesters in the lockdown ward of the local children’s hospital, hooked on oxycontin for insulation exposure, babbling incoherent conspiracy theories about how Anne Frank’s diary really talked about chemtrails and the upcoming UFO armageddon, but her dad cut out everything before release. He got off oxys by smoking hashish his uncle brought back from ‘Nam, but liked to dabble in schedule-ones after that.
Now, twenty years later, the cycle repeats, the same madness, a different plastic window and intercom system, a different end game. You talk about nothing, about sports and which neighbors have fallen down the drug k-hole, have ended up in other prisons for stealing copper wire or killing people at Black Friday sales. He asks for a Satanic Bible, but you can’t get it past the guards. You promise to mail him a cake with a bottle of your aunt’s Percocet baked into the center, but you know it won’t get there on time. You think his death will be a huge thing, like when they fried those Lindberg baby guys, but the state kills people more often than Gucci Mane drops new albums. Virgil’s death got a single line on the news pages, and it got pushed out of circulation when Kim Kardashian tweeted that she liked coffee enemas. You think death would bring closure, but like every other thing in life, it doesn’t.
You leave, and stumble through the streets of a previous era, a different city, another case of horrific digestive system failure. Your rental car looks like every other car, and you think you parked it by a Chinese restaurant, but it’s Chinatown and everything is a Chinese restaurant. Every car is the same, every restaurant is the same, every life is the same. You consider ditching your entire life, maybe starting over, spending another ten years in school, becoming an autistic biologist who sits around slicing up brains and mounting them on slides, anything that doesn’t involve people or talking. Poundcake is a metaphor for the voice in your skull telling you everything is wrong, nothing is worth living. Even after he is no longer alive, the metaphor remains.