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Whatnot by Tao Lin
'Purge (Excerpt)'
by Ben Tyree

Art by Brian Hutzell
i am unemployed

i wake up at 2 p.m.
i am alert
i feel strange and alert
panic is moving through me, tentatively, like it's not sure of itself
panic is saying, 'is this right?'
my panic is saying, 'is this how to do it? slowly like this?' and i am saying, 'yes, just keep
      on moving through me and never go away, that's it,' and i am being sarcastic, but my
      panic has no sense of irony and it gets a little confident and moves through me a
      little quicker now and it is smiling now too and moving through me with confidence
      and speed
and then it is nighttime and i am in bed and can't sleep
because in my head it sounds like this:


but really it doesn't even sound like that, but this:

ahhh, ahhhh, ahh, ahhhhhhhhhhhh

and that sounds really nice
and i fall calmly asleep
and the next day i am on the seventh floor at a job interview
and the interviewer is asking me a question that i will have to answer in ten seconds and
      i think it might be a three-part question and i feel kind of alone in the world, on the
      seventh floor and lonely, and even though i am staring at the interviewer's face and
      mouth i am not really paying attention because my hand is in my pocket and i am
      shocked at how much stuff i have in there

and it is a mystery, really, what might be in there, and i cannot resist this mystery and so
      i close my hand on some of the stuff and slowly take my hand out of my pocket while
      staring at the interviewer's face and then glance and see that in my hand in my lap
      there is a package of mixed nuts, a metrocard, a five-dollar bill, a piece of yarn,
      sunglasses, and a scrap of paper that says 'prepare for the interview or else you are
      a worthless piece of shit' on it and i feel afraid and doomed and i know that i am on
      the seventh floor and a little lonely
and then the interview is over and i stand and smile and the interviewer does not stand
      but smiles up at me and i laugh and she laughs and i say, 'i hope to speak to you
      soon,' and she says, 'it was nice talking to you,' and i laugh and she laughs and i
      think i might ask her for a walk in the park even though she is sixty years old but so
      what because we can be best friends and finally learn something about life and
      mortality and death and other things you learn when you hang out with someone
      forty years older than yourself but then i am in the elevator and then i am outside

i buy bottled water
i say to myself, 'give up'
my brain says, 'yeah, just give up'
i say to my brain, 'when i run out of money i'll just curl up on the sidewalk and eventually
      i'll disappear'
my brain says, 'drink your bottled water'
and i say, 'no, not yet'
because i know that secretly i want my bottled water to hire me
i want my bottled water to be the C.E.O. of a corporation and for it to emanate an aura of
      hiring me; and i want the C.O.O. of that corporation to be trained in interpreting
      emanations of bottled water and be watching us and approach from a distance and
      tap my shoulder and say, 'hey, i think the C.E.O. is emanating an aura of wanting to
      hire you for a part-time job that pays full-time'

i look around
my brain says, 'do something'
i go into a deli and feel afraid
because i am holding bottled water and they will think i stole it even though i waved it in
      the air at the deli owner right when i went in; because he might forget that i waved it
      at him and shoot me in the back with a copper bullet because he might hallucinate
      and think that my bottled water is a grenade because it looks like a grenade actually

i leave the deli
on the sidewalk my bottled water says, 'hey, calm down, just drink me'
i say, 'i know'
and i fidget
i say, 'i was going to drink you anyway, even if you didn't say that, so don't think i'm
       drinking you just because you said that'
and i open my bottled water
and i say, 'i am superior to you and you can't control me'
and i quickly drink my entire bottled water before it can respond to what i said and the
       water is cold and it goes directly to my heart and my heart pumps it like blood to my
       brain and my brain squirms and my heart says, 'take that,' and my brain says,
       'AHHHHARRRRRGHHHHHH!' and my brain says, 'just kidding; i just wanted to
       scream,' and i go home and lie on my bed and roll over and i am having a nightmare

but the nightmare is like a movie and the plot is both coherent and convoluted and i am
      impressed and it has a large cast of restless and eccentric characters and i think it
      might be directed by woody allen even though it is a psychological thriller because
      the dialogue is pretty great and someone does a somersault and stabs someone in
      the heart and cartwheels into a pit of fire and this is all essential to the plot and there
      are themes also and it is really well-written and i think i might want to give it the
      national book award and i am writing an essay on it and having footnotes and
      extrapolating those footnotes into a second essay that is critical of the national book
      award people for excluding my nightmare from its award just because my nightmare
      isn't a book and i am angry at the world and i am pitching both these essays to
      harper's while still writing them inside of my nightmare and watching my nightmare
      like a movie and i am writing the first line of the second essay and the first line that i
      am writing is, 'the worst award committee of its generation,' and then the nightmare
      is over and the ending does not disappoint at all but teaches me—not rhetorically but
      epiphanously—to not be angry at the national book award people but to channel that
      anger into taking a hammer into a forest and attacking wild animals and smashing
      trees and wearing an owl suit and dropping out of tall trees like a real owl and
      screaming and mauling campers and smashing deer and paralyzing them and eating
      them alive and i think that wait a minute, that seems wrong, is bad advice maybe; but
      then it seems that there is a prologue to my nightmare and i watch it and enjoy it and
      it is horrifying and shocking and it is in pill form and i swallow it and it changes
      everything and it's brilliant and i wake up smiling

i shower

put on sunglasses

and go outside

it feels like i am dreaming because every light is green

but really only the first two lights are green

the third is red

and i feel disappointed that i am not inside of a dream

and at the next red light i am still disappointed and my disappointment says, 'i dare you
      to keep walking even though the light is red,' and i say, 'no,' but i was being sarcastic
      when i said 'no,' and so i keep walking even though the light is red and a bus almost
      kills me but doesn't and honks and keeps honking even when it is at the next block
      because it thinks it'll use honking as a kind of siren and that that'll actually work and
      my heart is beating very hard and people are staring at me because they are angry
      that i risked my life and it's hard for them to articulate why they must be angry about
      how i just risked my life but they know they are angry and that is good enough and i
      am wearing sunglasses and i stand there and my brain releases adrenaline and i feel

and the light turns green and all the people who are furious at me cross the street and
      turn their heads and stare disapprovingly at me except for one person who grins at
      me and my brain gets confused and releases more adrenaline and then my brain
      says, 'wait; let me try something,' and releases more adrenaline, all of it, and i feel so
      alive and restless and ambitious and maybe even happy and my brain says, 'yeah,
      just make it be happiness,' and i say, 'okay, i will'

and i do it

i am happy

my brain says, 'don't waste this'

i say, 'i know,' and i go into a deli and stand there
and my brain says, 'this is a deli'
and i turn and leave and when i am outside i run away because i feel afraid that the deli
      people must think i did something devious and financially crippling to them because i
      went in there and stood there and didn't buy anything and ran away and that can only
      mean one thing which is that i robbed them deviously which is even worse than
      robbing them straightforwardly because at least in a straightforward situation they
      would know what was happening and would feel psychologically stable instead of
      psychologically destabilized which is how i feel

and i see a bookstore across the street and the bookstore says, 'hi'

i sprint wildly across the street and into the bookstore because i am in love with anything
      that says hi to me on its own volition and i look at all the literary magazines

they all say, 'read me'
and i stare at them
and one of them says, 'i rejected all your stories'
but then it says, 'buy me'
and soon they are all saying, 'buy me'
and i go to the café
and eat a cookie
and the cookie says, 'thank you'
and i go to the fiction section and i see a literary magazine on the floor
and it is saying, 'subscribe to me'
it's saying, 'don't ignore me'
it says, 'save me'
and it says, 'donate and you get a free t-shirt'
but i have sunglasses on and so i can pretend that i don't see things even when i am
      staring directly at them and so i pretend that i didn't see the literary magazine or hear
      it because when you wear sunglasses you can also pretend that you don't hear
      things and people accept that and so i step over the magazine and then it is
      nighttime and i am in bed and having another nightmare

but this time there is no plot or theme and i am writing an essay about how the book of
      my nightmare shouldn't even have been published and was only published because
      of connections in the publishing industry and because of how good-looking and
      charismatic and good at networking the author of the book of my nightmare is but i
      am not even writing that essay because i am inside of my nightmare and i created it
      and part of my nightmare is that i have no creativity and can't write and now i am
      pitching the essay that i can't write to harper's but i pitch it to the unabomber by
      accident instead of harper's because this is a nightmare and not funny at all but
      deadly serious because this nightmare has no sense of humor and i think it might be
      about death but i know it isn't because this nightmare has no theme or meaning and
      six weeks later the unabomber sends me a form-letter rejection of my essay proposal
      but i send it again to him because maybe one of the unabomber's interns rejected
      me and i really need to have the unabomber's approval and this time he responds in
      one week with a handwritten note praising my prose but he also sends me a bomb
      and the bomb explodes and i am dying and i can't remember anymore what the
      essay i was going to write is about and at the end of my nightmare my nightmare
      cartwheels out of itself and runs away into my real life

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last update: November 19, 2008