Saturday, 30 March 2013

Adrian decides to kill (excerpt from "Ich Will")

Stage Setting: Adrian Norton hates his MacDonnell's job, his manager Mike, and all of society. The only objects of his love are himself, libraries and ... the music of Rammstein.


"I left work at four in the afternoon, stopped at Mac's for cigarettes and then headed home. A thin, white envelope was taped on my door. It looked ominous. I opened it with trembling, violent hands. It was from my landlord. He wanted to increase the rent by 15%. He was offering a complicated economic argument about inflation in support of his decision. It was all very ridiculous. The increase would start at the end of May. If tenants decided to vacate they would have to inform him by the end of April.
They’re after me, my skeptical self said. They’re closing in.

Once inside the apartment I threw the letter in the garbage and collapsed in the armchair, my right hand massaging my temple.

I opened the new pack of Hollywoods, lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

The rent increase complicated things. Now, the fry-cook job seemed like a great job. But it was also an unpredictable one. Mike was unpredictable. Who knew what he’d come up with next? They’d always come up with new ways to humiliate me and study my reactions with sadistic, amused eyes. On the other hand, quitting and trying to find a new job was too risky. What if it took a few weeks or a month? Would I dip into my back-to-school fund? No, I rejected the thought immediately. Also, what if I hated the new job even more than MacDonnell's? Although the fry-cook job was crappy, I already knew how to do it, I was used to it. A new job would require a renewed effort of adaptation. Plus, I didn't want to fall into the habit of quitting jobs.

My mind went in circles like this for a long time. I felt like a polar bear that, in its desperate search for food, got lost in the frozen dark waters of the Arctic. Seeing a white small island of floating ice, he would swim towards it. He would put his large paws on it but the ice would break under his weight. Then, he would swim towards the next one, his limbs heavy, and his mind weak. But the new chunk of ice would also crumble. Seen from afar, the bear would be surrounded by never-ending waters, and only a dozen fragile, white floating islands. From that distance, the animal would look more like a mouse lost in the maze of a nightmare.

Like the bear’s paws, my mind measured the strength of different possibilities and its scrutiny made them crumble.

I suddenly stood up and felt light headed, dizzy. And the dizziness turned slowly into vertigo; it engulfed me like an avalanche. I sat back on the armchair, holding onto its sides with panicked hands.

Frowning, I looked at my watch and couldn't believe it was already six. I had been sitting there for two hours straight, trying to come up with an escape plan.

I also noticed I had smoked half of the pack of cigarettes. I’d smoked them one after another, lighting new ones from the butts of old ones, a nasty habit I had cultivated since middle school. I got a can of Boxer from the fridge, hoping that the cheap elixir would drown my pain. I chugged it and closed my eyes. I imagined the alcohol entering my blood stream and flooding my brain. Then, mechanically, I seized another one, chugged it, squeezed the empty can and threw it against the wall. My stomach churned and some of the bitter liquid came back into my mouth. I swallowed it again, willing it to stay down. The sudden intake of alcohol amplified my bad mood and turned my emotions into sharp, blind anger. It also made the present even more dangerous and oppressive, like a squid from a graphic novel which gradually comes to life and crawls out of the page right in front of your unbelieving eyes.

I was miserable and drunk. 

Slowly but surely I realized all was lost. There was no way for me to redeem myself. Not in front of myself, at least; not in my own eyes. And, as I already said, I didn't care about redeeming myself in front of others. Take the episode when Mike showed me how to shake the fries container. How do I redeem that? Or helplessly watching my inferiors succeed in areas that were rightfully mine? These experiences stung a bit at first, but the incubator of my mind would soon turn them into venomous black snakes with a deadly bite. Instead of throwing them away like garbage, my brain would put them under the magnifying glass. There I was, stuffing fries in the red, carton container. When full, I would shake it a bit for good measure. Mike would smile at me, pleased that I obeyed his will. I was just a complicated, well-programmed, automaton under his command; a domesticated, well-trained, zombie; a toothless peasant.  Why was I put on God’s green earth, you might ask? Oh, to offer people fries and shake them before I do it. Yes, that was my job. Sure, other people build rockets and study science, technology, art or philosophy. Others write novels or make archeological discoveries and analyze them on The History Channel. Yet others break records at the Olympic Games or release perfect musical albums. Others, but not me. No sir. I’m an expert in shaking this fat, red container with fries, in masturbatory fashion. That’s my line of work, what I was born to do. My passion is serving the customer. I’m very much into it 24/7.

I looked at my hands again, saw the fries container and felt Mike’s infectious touch.

He grabbed the container with his fat fingers and started shaking it.

But wait, those weren't fries! No, the yellow sticks were carefully sliced and fried sections of my brain. His crude fingers were touching my intimate nerves, the holy place of my identity. They were playing with my sacred tissue, ripping apart my ideas, my memories, my imagination—his fat, greasy, alien hands. 

The troubling image came to my mind repeatedly. I tried to push it aside but then it would pop up again. My brain felt like a broken digital device, an out-of-control camera spitting bizarre pictures in response to basic commands.

More terrifying was the understanding that these vivid memories would show up in my recurrent nightmares. They would make copies in my brain and tirelessly combine in hideous new ways. They would live there like a nest of flies, lying eggs, buzzing around and sucking on my brain tissue with their hairy tubes.

Sitting there on my armchair, I felt doomed. It was a feeling that normally came at night, but now it paid me a visit in the early evening. The pallid sun rays made it more real.
My tired brain concluded that my life could only be a downward spiral of humiliation, compromise and self-deception. Unfortunately, I was all too familiar with the voice of deception; I knew its intonation, its rhythm, its grammar and style. Its magic wouldn’t work even if my brain were soaked in alcohol. Moreover, my skeptical self pointed out, even if things go my way and I manage to go back to school in a year or two, I’ll still be tainted, worn out, scarred. My accomplishments can only be second hand outfits meant for the meek and the poor. It was too late now. The damage was done.

The thought that I’d work at MacDonnell's for at least one more year came to me. Two years of my life would be associated with Mike. At least two years. How did that scumbag become a central actor in my play? On my own stage? Sadly, I realized that I couldn't ignore him without ignoring my own life and my own self. I couldn't look away from him and think of something else. How did it come to this? My vision was trapped forever, attracted by his disgusting being like a magnet. And you know why? Because the hand feeding me was his. Driven by the basic need to survive, I was eating from his hand. I was like Whiskey, the wiener dog, desperate to feed and blind to the pins and razor blades stuck in the chunks of meat. The survival instinct made me Mike's slave.

Coiled by a tentacle of disgust, I felt like the only way to stay alive was to participate in an orgy with morbidly obese, handicapped, old, and senile people. It would be a decayed orgy of dying lips, dry popcorn farts, whizzing breaths through oxygen masks, wrinkled skins, sightless hungry eyes and fermented semen. But yes, that was the nasty hand I’d been dealt.

This was the orgy assigned to you, sir, the game show host said, looking at me over the glasses fixed on his nose, trying to keep a straight face. You’ll be stuck with it forever so you might just as well make the most of it and try to enjoy it. Good luck with it, dear sir.

Suddenly I couldn't breathe. What is this? Why did it come to this? My brain thought in the claws of panic and vertigo set in again. My room started spinning wildly.

Then I was still, still like an unfortunate victim who, after twisting and turning in a coffin, finally realizes that she was buried alive. She stands still as if anticipating rigor mortis. My desperate mind formed two ideas almost at the same time, breaking my full paralysis—two logical ideas.

The first one was that I didn’t have to accept the deal. After all, my high school and first three years of university had been pretty good. I lived them as if they were leading to higher, grander achievements, but now I saw they were good in and of themselves. That's what Napoleon must have felt while exiled on the island of Elba, contemplating his great victories, frantically searching their hidden meanings. I remembered reading Kafka for the first time in my dad’s den, which slowly became my sanctuary. The late afternoon sun was leisurely caressing the books covering the wall in front of my armchair and the yellow, crusty pages of the old volume in my hands. The narrative infiltrated my brain like a drug. Time dilated and then came to a full stop. It seemed I would be there forever, trapped under its spell, and that was okay by me. While my eyes were dreaming the story, my nose was absorbing the thick, musty, magical smell of the book—the smell I would come to associate with hot summer days. The back of my mind registered the shouts of other young boys playing soccer on a field across the street from our house—the other boys, the stillborns. 

I recalled how afraid I was after reading Crime and Punishment. I had gone out for a walk to clear my head and almost got hit by a car because my mind was still pulsating in the frantic rhythm of the hypnotic story. Oh, and studying the rigorous imperatives of Kantian ethics always made me feel like I had the divine power to judge others, to judge humanity itself. There were many happy moments I looked forward to reliving. I didn’t have to take the rest of it, to hell with the rest. Adult life is pointless torture. My childhood, what I remember of it, was quite happy; I had enjoyed scoring goals in soccer games, dribbling and making long passes and shooting the ball from impossible angles; I loved skating and playing hockey in the winter and street hockey in the summer, with the crazy twins, Dave and Curtis, who were always cursing at each other; I liked playing chess with my dad, riding my bike as fast as I could down the street and eating lots of cookies made by my grandmother—and crepes and pancakes, yes, thick pancakes with strawberry jam were the best.

I indulged in nostalgia for a few more minutes and then focused my mind on a more practical idea. My enemies didn’t know about the Eternal Return. They didn’t know this life will repeat again and again throughout eternity. They had no idea how high the stakes were. Their ignorance gave me an advantage: the element of surprise.

Quickly, my mind fit these insights together like two Lego pieces. If I reject the deal, I might as well do some damage first, go down swinging. Things couldn't get any worse, so I had nothing to lose. Furthermore, I would die in control of my destiny and would thus create one last happy memory. I would go out with a bang, giving my life the ending of a good old Shakespearian tragedy.

The ideas electrified me and I started talking to myself, trying to build my confidence.

I’m still in control. Yes, yes, control. I can change the future without them knowing. Things can still go my way. I’m still the master of my own destiny. Still the master.

I started pacing again and repeating the statement, things can still go my way, like a magical formula. I began laughing hysterically and then, abruptly and for no logical reason, I felt infinite pity for myself and started crying. Oh, I suffered so much, I whined, tears covering my face and spittle dribbling from my mouth. Oh, poor me, how much I suffered. I’m so lonely. 

Suddenly, I heard a deep, sinister voice coming from everywhere: Ich Will! Ich Will! The floor pulsated rhythmically as if in the grips of horror.

The incantation became louder and louder. I didn't know whether or not it was my voice.

Without thinking about it I started marching, military-style, to the rhythm of the song. In the middle of the room I stopped and looked up at the ceiling. I pressed my right hand on my heart and then pointed it upwards shouting “Heil Hitler!” I repeated the gesture numerous times. I can swear now that, in that moment of almost mystical excitement, I saw the severe face of the F├╝hrer taking form like graffiti painted on the ceiling by an invisible hand. It was a bit fuzzy because of all the smoke in my room. But I saw the short black hair carefully combed to the left, his large forehead and powerful nose and his famous toothbrush moustache. His eyes were so focused they seemed to burn my face. The imperatives hidden in those eyes pressed on me like dark walls. The bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling seemed to grow from his forehead like a third eye, its stare dazzling. I looked up at the apparition in horror and awe. I kneeled down on the carpet and lifted my hands up as if in prayer. His lips weren't moving but his mind spoke to me. It spoke to me clearly.

Exterminate to survive! Kill Mike the Merchant! Eliminate the Merchant!

Protect your Lebensraum.

I accepted this immediately, like someone who sees the truth of 2+2=4.

Yes, Master, I murmured through salty tears. Yes, Master.

Then the image disappeared and I sat down on the floor, heart racing, both happy and terrified at the vision. I felt I was about to do what I should have done for a long time. The course of action was clear.

My mind was made up and I was relieved, able to breathe again.

What felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my chest.

Smiling, I crawled into bed and hugged the blankets with all my strength, like a woman dreaming of her lover. 

Soon, the logical side of my psyche reeled its head, spitting gas on my fired will. Although my parents were links in the causal chain which led to my unfortunate situation, they weren't blameworthy. They themselves were victims of a terrible accident. My dad didn't choose to have a stroke and ruin me. Maybe he could have seen the doctor more often but both he and my mom lacked awareness in this respect. Nobody in their families had strokes and in their minds, strokes didn’t exist. Their actions weren't the expression of bad will, but rather of a cruel destiny annihilating the power of their good will. On the other hand, Mike knew what he was doing; he was humiliating me in full consciousness. I recalled the poisonous smile he gave me after he finished his ridiculous pep talk during our crew meeting.

I’m in charge here Adrian, that smile said. You’re nothing but a lousy fry cook whom I tolerate. A useful but disgusting worm is what you are. 

Mike had betrayed his own generation and castrated the younger generations. He was the essence of the oppressive system—a system which obliges you to work to make a living rather than enjoy life, humiliates you by making you wear silly costumes and make-up, a system that smirks at your dignity and backhand slaps your autonomy. Why should you struggle to survive when you can explore your talents as a free human being? He, Mike the Merchant, in his absolute perversity, was fully committed to showing everybody that MacDonnell's was an important restaurant. That it wasn't 'just a job'. That it was something to be proud of, something cool. It was something you could dedicate your life to. 
The next thought intensified my disgust. 

It wasn't only that he was humiliating you, but he wanted you to be thankful for it.

This revelation electrified me and I repeated it obsessively.

Not only serve but serve with a smile.

Crave serving!

Love serving!

Miss serving!

In my mind Mike turned into the treacherous Judas, the most repugnant demon designed by Satan; such a filthy pest that even Lucifer couldn't help but spit on him in disgust. The Merchant was fully committed to stuffing your mind with fries and burgers, to covering your eyes with ketchup, to sculpting a smile on your face with a fork, to making you perfectly obey the customers 24/7. I had a mental image of me reciting the MacDonnell's menu in my sleep and moving my arms under the covers as if preparing a sandwich. Then, my frenzied mind spat another picture. I was in the coffin and heard a voice saying “Come on out Adrian!” I made my way out of the grave and then the voice said “Make me a chicken burger, Adrian!” I looked around and realized that on my grave there was the grill and the deep-fryer, and my cross was a soda-pop machine. Instead of resting in peace I was still satisfying customers, right there in the cemetery.

They want you to think they are nice guys, because they want to trick you and steal your soul.

Steal your soul.

The idea injected black sadness into my brain. As if on a large internal screen, I saw a small girl falling down a dark well. Her scream was instantly swallowed by the hungry darkness, her white soft skin disappearing under the all-powerful mud. 

Trick you and steal your soul … steal your soul….

This expression echoed in the deep caves of my consciousness like a high-pitched alarm call. Yes, killing was the only solution; the punishment must fit the crime. If I wanted to emerge victorious and face eternity with courage, I needed to kill, I needed to inflict extreme pain. I would be the bringer of blood. Not only resist the system but also fight back, regain what had been lost and conquer new territories. 

A strange calmness engulfed me, cementing my decision. I got out of bed and lit another smoke. I felt again the heaviness of the simple action of puffing from the cigarette, the eternal ripples born from the small gesture, but it was a more joyous feeling this time. Infused by my will, the simple action became more swift and artistic. My newfound strength was there with me and that made everything better. I really felt for a moment like a Hollywood star, like Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Nathan's favorite movie). I wanted to dance but, unfortunately, didn't know any moves. Then it occurred to me:

Maybe I will dance in his blood, skate on the Merchant’s brains spread on the tiles in the middle of the restaurant.

I started to laugh hysterically.

Still smiling, I went out on the balcony and stared at the MacDonnell's, like a soldier looking at the battlefield the night before the fight.

The smile turned into a frown as I began thinking of ways of killing Mike. I thought first of throwing boiling oil on him, but the deep-fryer couldn't be lifted. Also, I didn't think I had the physical power to just grab his head and push his face in the fryer. He was much bigger than I was, and I had no experience in fights and didn't trust my instincts.

What if you fail? What then? Skeptical Adrian whispered from behind the curtain. 

Yes, the skeptic was right. I needed a contingency plan, ways of exiting the scene.

When it came to suicide I had always thought of either sleeping pills or tranquilizers like Darvon. I couldn't inflict great pain upon myself; stab myself, shoot myself, hang myself or jump from a tall building. These notions didn't sit well with me.

But if I failed then Mike would hold me and call the police, unless I managed to run away.
If I got away I could come home and ingest a bottle of Darvon.

I needed a detailed plan for the worst-case scenario. Hitler’s generals had cyanide. I didn’t have any and didn't know how to get it. I had heard that drinking a few tablespoons of insecticide could kill you instantly. If I bought a bottle and kept it in my backpack, I'd probably find a moment to drink some of it before the police arrived. No one would know about it. 

Hurriedly, I ripped a blank page from my notebook, grabbed a pen and started making a list. I wrote Darvon, and Insecticide. As I was writing I remembered another poisonous substance. I added Paint. I then underlined Insecticide and Paint.

Then I seized the eight-inch chef’s knife from its wooden holder and started playing with it. The small inscription on the blade read J.A. Hanckels International, Fine Edge Pro IV, German Stainless Steel. In the middle was a logo: a guy holding a spear. I read again German Stainless Steel and rubbed the cold blade against my scruffy cheek. The knife was my new German friend.   

I imagined Mike lying in a puddle of blood. A weak doubt formed in my critical mind: wasn’t that wrong? Isn’t killing people wrong? My philosophical self started formulating arguments from ethics classes. Sure, intellectually I agreed that killing was wrong and the idea of killing innocent beings revolted me.

But was Mike innocent?

Kant said that a rational being is an end in itself and that a person’s good will has intrinsic value: value in and of itself. By contrast, money doesn't have intrinsic value, but only instrumental value—as means for buying goods and services. But Kant also said that we should never treat a person as a mere means, that we should respect their freedom, autonomy and their capacity for good will. We can treat an animal as a mere means because an animal doesn't exercise freedom and rationality. But wasn’t Mike treating people as instruments? And, once he did that, didn't he compromise his own humanity? Thus, my reasoning went, Mike had lost his status of a human being and killing him wasn't wrong. Stripped of his humanity, Mike only had the moral status of an inanimate object: a table, a chair, a knickknack, whose destruction was of no ethical consequence.

I needed more; this abstract argument didn't satisfy me at the gut level. Then I thought of myself and the other employees at the MacDonnell's branch. Didn’t we have better things to do with our lives? We had wasted months and years working in that ornamented pig-sty. We could have done so many other things. If you have a day off, for instance, you can plan ahead and do what you want; pick up a new sex partner at a local club, finish the book that has been lying on your nightstand for weeks, play a FIFA 2001 marathon with your gaming friends, check out the new shopping centre they built down the street, or organize a protest against the government. If you have a month to yourself you can read some good books, or go on a trip abroad, or learn how to play the guitar. You can go to a gym and discover that you like staying fit. You can go to an MMA show, get into martial arts and start watching movies with Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. You can go to a play and realize that you'd like to give acting a chance. Think of how many other things you can do in one year. If only you had one year to yourself.

But all these possibilities appear only against the cloudless blue of the summer sky. Their seeds grow in the minds of the students, boys and girls, wearing their high school uniforms, who, after hearing the bell announcing the summer vacation, run through the forest covering the river valley and throw their textbook and notebooks into the water and then empty a few bottles of hard liquor and build a bonfire, thus kick-starting the party season. One of them, the tall skinny one they call David, the one with thick glasses and pimples on his face, who is already unsteady on his feet, plans to study microorganisms and use the microscope his dad had bought him on his birthday. Instead, by the end of July he will jam with his new punk-rock band in his garage and they will call themselves The Pervs. The chubby blond-haired boy, Jayson, is thinking of studying math and physics but, in early August, he will start getting regular hand-jobs from the dark-haired goth girl, Melissa, the one talking to him right now. They will both go to the Traveling Vampire Show and discover their love for horror and kinky sex. Algebra, geometry, and the theory of relativity will be distant memories in his horny mind, remnants of a previous life. At the end of summer, in a ritual performed on the riverbank, the lovers will slice their palms with a shard of glass and swear to spend eternity together, flying around the city in capes, driving their teachers insane and then feeding on their expiring bodies.

What happened to that? Where is our summer vacation? Is adult life the collective nightmare of people with unhappy childhoods? When did it become a crime to eat your breakfast without having a clue what you're going to do with your day or where the evening will find you? Who desecrated the pure, infinite blue of the summer sky with inept ideas like rent, taxes, jobs, careers, marriage, relationships, family, insurance, banking fees, and pension plans? Is this a global conspiracy of accountants and senile priests? Is grown-up life designed by a frustrated, paraplegic autistic child? No wonder everyone has a shrink and pays them in exchange for counterfeit memories. In their blind rush to obey the cold will of neurotic accountants, people step on themselves like soldiers of World War I, who, in the grip of fear and panic, steps on their injured comrades, burying them deeply in the mud. After the battle, filled with remorse, the soldiers look for their friends’ faces in the infinite swamp of corpses. Just like we look for our faces on the labels of drug bottles.

Another thought hit me then. It was about us, the employees: Sam working in front and Jenny, the Filipino woman whose name I finally remembered, at the drive-thru, me grilling patties and Jack preparing sandwiches, Danny filling drinks, ice-creams and milkshakes, putting the order on the tray and saying, “See you,” and, “Have a nice day.” We all wore the standard uniform: black pants, blue shirt and blue cap. And inside us, beneath the uniforms, there were cages, metallic cages with small dead children inside. It was as if we were pregnant and a doctor drugged us, erased our memories, used scalpels to cut out our babies in a panicked, rushed way, and then let us go. We had no idea what happened but we knew that we were bleeding and that something was dead inside. However, we would never look down there; we would stay focused on our jobs and look at the customer, patiently tracking his needs. Never look down; there were red stop signs and yellow tapes saying, 'Crime Scene Do Not Cross' at the edge of our vision. But the infection would grow in us and make our eyes rigid and terrified, like the eyes of a person who just finds out they got cancer, the enemy inside. Then we'd go to the psychiatry unit and kneel and beg them for what we don't remember and they can't know. We all want to forget about the private cages and the private cemetery and we try to cover it with the snow of drugs or the peace of afternoon soccer games, but it is always there like a cyst; our minds feel it and send us the message of essential physical weakness. We are just mobile cemeteries, and we always feel, deep down, the venomous pulse of paralyzed babies.

No, I concluded after the long soliloquy, killing was required in this case. Mike had to be punished for crimes against humanity.

Or, more precisely, it was a simple act of destruction because Mike wasn't really a human being, but rather a meaningful object, the symbol of a perverse system. He was a mindless disease, a spreading cancer. He was the pirate flag waved by the class of merchants, the flag with a skull painted as a clown.

I needed to capture that flag and burn it, then wait for the eternal recurrence of my heroic act with a smile on my face and the joy of victory in my heart.

I looked at the German-made knife in my hands. It was a good weapon. The stainless steel looked very sturdy and the pointed blade was as sharp as a scalpel, since it was basically unused. I made some moves with it and imagined burying it in Mike’s back or abdomen. There was only one problem: I didn’t think one stab would take him out. If I stabbed him in the back, then maybe he’d have enough strength to turn around and fight me. Unless the knife penetrated the bone covering his spinal cord, which would leave him paralyzed. But I couldn’t count on that—it required a degree of accuracy and strength I wasn't sure I possessed. I needed to stab him in his belly or his heart to make sure he'd die. But then I’d have to face him and he’d see my intention and defend himself. More importantly, Mike was a big motherfucker, a huge mechanism of meat and bones. I was tall but very skinny, maybe 160 pounds, and not really fit. I needed a weapon that would either kill him immediately or knock him out in one second.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a gun and knew no one who owned one.

Then I had an idea and made an addition to my list.

In big capital letters I wrote, HAMMER"

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