cybermorphic beat-up, get-down, subterranean
homesick, reality-sandwich blues

lance olsen
© 1994


I'm a, like, poet. Mona. Mona Sausalito. I write lyrics for my boyfriend's band, Plato's Deathmetal Tumors. Plato's Deathmetal Tumors kicks butt. It's one of the best Neogoth bands in Seattle. My boyfriend's name is Mosh. Mosh shaved his head and tattooed it with rad circuitry patterns. He plays wicked cool lead and sings like Steve Tyler on amphetamines. Only that's not his real name. His real name is Marvin Goldstein. But so. Like I say, I'm a poet. I write about human sacrifices, cannibalism, vampires, and stuff. Mosh loves my work. He says we're all going to be famous some day. Only right now we're not, which bites, cuz I've been writing for like almost ten months. These things take time, I guess. Except we need some, like, cash to get by from week to week. Which is why Mosh one day says take the part-time job at Escort à la Mode. Why not? I say. Which I guess kind of brings me to my story.

See, I'm cruising Capitol Hill in one of the company's black BMWs when my car-phone rings. Escort à la Mode's a real high-class operation. Escortette's services go for $750 an hour. We usually work with foreign business types. Japs and ragheads mostly. Politicians, too. With 24 hours' notice, we can also supply bogus daughters, brothers, and sons. You name it. Except there's absolutely nothing kinky here. We don't even kiss the clients. No way. Handshakes max. Take them out, show them the town, eat at a nice restaurant, listen to them yak, take them to a club, watch them try to dance, take them home. Period. We're tour guides, like. Our goal is to make people feel interesting. Therma Payne—she's my boss—Therma says our job is to "give good consort." Therma's a scream. But so. Like I say, my car phone rings. I answer. Dispatcher gives me an address, real chi-chi bookstore called Hard Covers down by the fish market. My client's supposed to be this big-deal writer guy who's reading there. Poet. Allen something. Supposed to've been famous back in like the Pleistocene Error or something. Worth bazillions. So important I never even heard of him. But, hey. It's work.

Now I'm not being like unmodest or anything, okay? But I happen to be fricking gorgeous. No shit. My skin's real white. I dye my hair, which is short and spiked, shoe-polish black, then streak it with these little wisps of pink. Which picks up my Lancòme Corvette-red lipstick and long Estée Lauder Too-Good-To-Be-Natural black lashes. When I talk with a client, I'll keep my eyes open real wide so I always look Winona-Ryder-surprised by what he's saying. I'm 5'2", and when I wear my Number Four black-knit body-dress and glossy black Mouche army boots I become every middle-aged man's bad-little-girl wet dream. So I don't just walk in to Hard Covers, okay? I kind of, what, sashay. Yeah. That's it. Sashay. I've never been there before, and I'm frankly pretty fucking impressed. Place is just humongous. More a warehouse than a bookstore. Except that it's all mahogany and bronze and dense carpeting. Health-food bar. Espresso counter. Dweeb with bat-wing ears playing muzak at the baby grand. Area off on the side with a podium and loads of chairs for the reading. Which is already filling. Standing room only. People are real excited. And books. God. Books. Enough books to make you instantly anxious you'll never read them all, no way, no matter how hard you try, so you might as well not.

I'm right on time. So I ask the guy at the register for the famous rich poet. He points to the storeroom. Warming up, he says. So I go on back and knock, only no one answers. I knock again. Nada. My meter's running, and I figure I might as well earn my paycheck, so I try the knob. Door's unlocked. I open it, stick myhead in, say hi. It's pretty dark, all shadows and book cartons, and the room stretches on forever, and I'm already getting bored, so I enter and close the door behind me. When my eyes adjust a little, I make out a dim light way off in a distant corner. I start weaving toward it through the rows and rows of cartons. As I get closer, I can hear these voices. They sound kind of funny. Worried, like. Real fast and low. And then I see them. I see the whole thing.

Maybe five or six guys in gray business suits and ties, real like FBI or something, are huddling over this jumble on the floor. At first I don't understand what I'm looking at. Then I make out the portable gurney. And this torso on it, just this torso, naked and fleshy pink in a Barbie-doll sort of way, rib cage big as a cow's, biggest fucking belly you ever saw. Out of it are sticking these skinny white flabby legs, between them this amazingly small little purple dick and two hairy marbles. Only, this is, the chest isn't a real chest. There's a panel in it. And the panel's open. And one of the guys is tinkering with some wiring in there. And another is rummaging through a wooden crate, coming up with an arm, plugging it into the torso, while a third guy, who's been balancing a second arm over his shoulder like a rifle or something, swings it down and locks it into place.

I may be a poet, okay, but I'm not a fucking liar or anything. I'm just telling you what I saw. Believe it or not. Go ahead. Frankly I don't give a shit. But I'm telling you, I'm standing there, hypnotized like, not sure whether to run or wet myself, when this fourth guy reaches into the crate and comes up with, I kid you not, the head. I swear. I fucking swear. A head. The thing is so gross. Pudgy. Bushy. Gray-haired. And with these eyes. With these sort of glazed eyes that're looking up into the darkness where the ceiling should've been. I could hurl just thinking about it.

Anyway, after a pretty long time fidgeting with the stuff in the chest, they prop the torso into a sitting position and start attaching the head. It's not an easy job. They fiddle and curse, and once one of them slips with a screwdriver and punctures the thing's left cheek. Only they take some flesh-toned silicon putty junk and fill up the hole, which works just fine. And the third guy reaches into his breast pocket and produces these wire-rimmed glasses, which he slips into place on the thing's face, and then they all stand back, arms folded, admiring their work and all, and then the first guy reaches behind the thing's neck and pushes what must've been the ON/OFF button.

Those eyes roll down and snap into focus. Head swivels side to side. Mouth opens and closes its fatty lips, testing. And then, shit, it begins talking. It begins fucking talking.

I'm with you in Rockland. I'm wuh-wuh-wuh-with you... But my agent. What sort of agent is that? What could she have been thinking? Have you seen those sales figures? A stone should have better figures than that! I'm wuh-with you in the nightmare of trade paperbacks, sudden flash of bad PR, suffering the outrageousness of weak blurbs and failing shares. Where is the breakthrough book? Where the advance? Share with me the vanity of the unsolicited manuscript! Show me the madman bum of a publicist! Movie rights! Warranties! Indemnities! I am the twelve percent royalty! I am the first five-thousand copies! I am the retail and the wholesale, the overhead and the option clause! Give me the bottom line! Give me the tax break! Give me a reason to collect my rough drafts in the antennae crown of commerce! Oh, mental, mental, mental hardcover! Oh, incomplete clause! Oh, hopeless abandon of the unfulfilled contract! I am wuh-wuh-wuh-with you... I am wuh-wuh-wuh-with you in Rockland... I am...

"Oh, shit," says the first guy.

"Balls," says the second.

The body is a prosthesis for the mind! the famous rich poet says.

"We should've let him go," says the third guy.

"When his ticker stopped," says the first.

"When his liver quit," says the second.

"One thing, "says the fourth. "Nanotech sure ain't what it's cracked up to be."

"You got that right," says the third.

Thirty thousand books in 1998 alone, the famous rich poet says, but they couldn't afford it. Tangier, Venice, Amsterdam. What were they thinking? Wall Street is holy! The New York Stock Exchange is holy! The cosmic clause is holy! I'm wuh-wuh-wuh...wuh-wuh-wuh...

"Turn him off," says the fifth one.

Pale greenish foam begins forming on the famous rich poet's lips, dribbling down hi chin, spattering his hairless chest.

"Yeah, well," says the second.

"Guess we got some tightening to do," says the third, reaching behind the thing's neck.

But just as he pressed that button, just for a fraction of an instant, the stare of the famous rich poet fell on me as I tried scrunching out of sight behind a wall of boxes. Our eyes met. His looked like those of a wrongly convicted murderer maybe like one second before the executioner throws the switch that'll send aquadrillion volts or something zizzing through his system. In them was this mixture of disillusionment, dismay, fear, and uninterrupted sorrow. I froze. He stretched his foam-filled mouth as wide as it would go, ready to bellow, ready to howl. Except the juice failed. The power paled. His mouth slowly closed again. His eyes rolled back up inside his head.

And me? I said fuck this. Fuck the books, fuck the suits, fuck Escort à la Mode, fuck the withered old pathetic shit. This whole thing's way too fricking rich for my blood.

And so I turned and walked.