My dad kept a two-gallon pesticide sprayer in the basement. FLO-RITE, it said in raised letters across the handle. In the summer, he used to walk through the backyard, gently tapping the earth in intervals with the long, slender nozzle, dispensing chemicals. When he finished the yard, he walked inside our house and continued to spray, lining the baseboards with poison, wetting the carpet against the wall. Every year. Was it pesticide or insecticide? Now I’m not certain. It could have even been herbicide. Whatever it was, he believed it would keep the spiders away from our beds.
“Spiders?” I said. “What kind?”
“Slippery little black ones,” he said. I felt relief. I had been picturing something bigger and hairier.
“What’s wrong with slippery little black spiders? Do they bite?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head solemnly, “but when they gang up on you, it can be bad.”
“I’d like to see that.”
“I don’t think you would. You’re too young for that kind of reckoning.” His voice was pitched up a notch, like someone I’d never met. The chemical fumes must have been toying with certain important parts of his brain.
“Why do we kill them if they don’t bite?” I said.
But the conversation was over, he was putting the FLO-RITE away and whistling.
Later, at dinner, my mom produced a lump of pork from the oven. It was a pig when it had gone into the oven. When it came out it was pig-shaped pork. The oven had accomplished this. Our house was full of such awesome tools. The shower, for example. The bed. The central air and heat. All meant to speed along or induce change which would have occurred eventually in nature, but it might have taken months. Or longer. The pig would have died eventually and cooked in the sun. What would its death have meant then?
My mom called for my older brother to come to the table. He remained in the living room, playing Xbox at a terrifically high volume. It was one of those games in which you shoot an antique rifle into the soot-coated landscape of a foreign country. Our kitchen reverberated with gunfire and the mortal grunts of my brother’s enemies.
“Wait a second,” said my dad, “did you cook this in the oven? I sprayed in the oven.”
“No you didn’t,” said my mom.
“I did. I sprayed it up and down.”
We all three stared at our plates of pork.
“I’ve seen spiders in there,” he explained, his head laid sideways across the kitchen table, beside his plate. In the living room, my brother activated a rhythmic series of explosions, a sound which drew me away from the table, into the living room. On screen, I didn’t see any trace of war at all. My brother’s character stood on a beach, staring across an ocean. The sound came again when a wave crashed.
My Idea for a Building Plus One Joke
I had an idea for a building. It was simple. It had to be; I didn’t have much space in my apartment. I kept my idea for a building in the top of my apartment’s rear stairwell, which meant my idea for a building was a genuine fire hazard. In the event of a fire in the front stairwell, I would be forced to smash through my idea for a building with a hammer. Whether or not it was even possible to do so in under an hour was debatable. But I decided to live with the risk. There was no other place to put it.
I’m embarrassed to say what my idea for a building was.
My idea for a building was a concrete cube in every way but one, which was this: the idea for a building featured a slot I could open which lead to a crawl space with just enough room for my body to fit inside. Entering was difficult. I pulled myself in with an idea for a rope. Once inside, I pressed an idea for a button, and the slot closed, concealing my presence in the idea for a building from the outside. Inside, the air was cool. I had some ideas for a surreptitious ventilation system which kept the air cool and fresh. And the darkness was absolute. It wasn’t an idea for darkness, but darkness itself. When I was ready to exit, I would press the idea for a button again, wait for the slot to open, then wriggle out slowly (the idea for a rope was useless on the way out).
One afternoon, while I was inside the idea for a building, the idea for a button stopped working, which meant the slot wouldn’t open. I was trapped.
I began to pray. I said, “God, if my idea for a building is what’s going to kill me, please make it swift. I can’t stand to suffer for long inside something that has brought me such happiness.”
I said, “God, maybe you’re right. My idea of happiness needs to be reshaped entirely.”
I said, “God, help, help, help.”
Finally, God, in his great mercy, answered my plea. He gave me an idea for a new button—an idea that came out of nowhere. I pressed this new idea for a button. The slot opened. I wriggled my way out.
Have I told you the one about the surgeon?
Somewhere, in some far-off idea for a building, a surgeon walks into an idea for a surgery room.
“Hello?” he says. “Is anyone here? Where is everyone? Hello?”
By this point his heart is full of dread.
I’m on the phone with my therapist when I hear a commotion in the kitchen and, looking up, discover my roommate, possessed by a demon. He has returned early from work. I’m at the opposite end of the apartment, near the living room window, the only place in the apartment where my phone works. Service is bad, I suspect, because the walls are lined with lead paint. Sometimes, even beside the window, I have trouble making out what my therapist says—a potentially hazardous situation for me. Suppose I tell him a story about my week. A story about how I didn’t sleep for three days and on the third day, a pizza crust I was gnawing on clamped down on my cheek with all the ferocity of a cornered animal, biting me back. My life has been in a tailspin ever since, I conclude, and I don’t recognize my own thoughts.
Suppose I tell my therapist this story, and in response I hear him say, “Sounds like you’re dying. Death.” Now, what he actually said was, “Sounds like you’re trying your best.” But it’s too late. The misinformation is a part of me, changing me in nameless ways, at a molecular level, with no going back. Something like that has almost certainly happened. Probably more than once. How should I know? Unfortunately, it’s a risk I have to take because there is nowhere else for me to make the calls. I can’t very well sit down in a coffee shop and start making strange utterances about my mother, or pizza. The private rooms in the library are always occupied. The apartment has to do, bad service and all. Except now my roommate has come home from work early, possessed by a demon.
“Hold on,” I tell my therapist.
“I’m talking to my therapist,” I say to my possessed roommate, “Can I have the apartment for another twenty minutes?”
“Oh, sure. I’m sorry. Take as much time as you need,” says my roommate, possessed.
“Thanks,” I say.
“No problem. I totally forgot about your appointment on Wednesday nights.”
“I’m back,” I say to my therapist, “and I think my roommate is demonically possessed.”
“What makes you think that?” he says.