10/15/14

Jesse Kohn

Cleaner

For a time, I awoke each morning with cash in my hand. I was unemployed and had been for some time, voluntarily at first but gradually less so, and thus accustomed to living frugally. The twenty or thirty dollars a day was about all I needed. Yes, there was still the usual scramble at the end of the month, but day-to-day the miraculous accumulation afforded me a level of luxury I hadn’t known for some time. Still, my problems weren’t over. It couldn’t last, and I knew this even before sleep stopped being salaried. But for a moment, I let myself be seduced by the sense that maybe living was going to be possible for me, that maybe I wouldn’t need to succeed.

Success had to do with making enough money to live, but little to do with actually living. Many like me had been lured into life by the presumption that living was possible, a presumption based on the simplicity with which an accident called being born could be made. It was not success we wanted, but making it.

Making it was a kind of living that was possible, the making of a living by actually living—being paid to fornicate, defecate, and in other ways populate a given vacancy. Making it, however, was a kind of living which had no precedent in either history or mythology, in virtue of the purported fact that there were no vacancies—why should I have been paid to sleep while plenty others were already sleeping without expecting remuneration of any kind?—and there never would be, nature abhorring vacuums.

Like many like me, I was a kind of vacuum. Unfortunately, abhorrence, unlike, say, love, didn’t require reciprocation in order to flourish; an integral aspect of what made a vacuum a vacuum was its failure to reciprocate seething nullification, a practice more commonly known as becoming a productive member of society, a practice which was, incidentally, a prominent cause of global warming.

I was rather fond of nature—the reason I had been accidentally born—which was why I had no chance of success, success being predicated on reciprocating nature’s abhorrence, which I was neither interested in doing, nor adequately equipped, vertebrae-wise; spines abhorred nature the way nature abhorred vacuums. Since Jacob, certain humans had retaliated against nature by acquiring spines.

Like Jacob, I was born into a habitat comprised largely of the sort of elements that cannot be stepped upon, waded through, or properly washed off. A salty atmosphere that coated, caked, and eroded any body ill-fated enough to cower within it whirled outside my house. It defined no clear delineation between what in other towns was called sky and what in other towns was called ground. Our stuff was a haze diffusing sunlight that collected more thickly but never quite condensed into a solid as it neared the molten core below us, a kind of second sun only slightly more occluded than the first.

Leaving the house was something that only those who were making it could do. They, lacking neither reasons nor the fortitude to do so, left the house regularly and for extended periods of time. Making it, I imagine, was probably like watching shadows at midday: it could potentially signify that the sun was still arcing across the sky, the earth, however reluctantly, spinning—a luxury that I’d long ago learned to do without.

Do without?

Did I ever do without anything? Yes, there was much deprivation for the sake of frugality, but to say I did without is inaccurate. I was without, but I never did without.

To be without was something different. The difference involved the way in which what was without came in. To do without involved withstanding which entailed standing which was predicated on having a spine. To be without, by contrast, involved being without contrast in terms of what was without and what was within. To be without was the de rigueur status of a vacuum, being abhorred without abhorring, a proto-Jacob fainting before any grappling could happen.

Since Genesis, grappling had been the only way to make enough money to live and had little to do with actually living. Those who had presumed that living was going to be possible—which is to say most human beings, many animals, and a growing contingency of inanimate knickknacks—were natural born invertebrates. Acquiring a spine in order to grapple was a matter of doing without the luxury of leaving the house—only by withstanding deprivation could success be attained. Many vacuums acquired spines in this way; many like me were having consistent success. But of course, success was only a euphemism for taking longer to fail, and chief among its many consequences was global warming.

I wish I could say that my spinelessness was an expression of my love for nature, a heroic refusal to destroy what I loved, but the truth is both less complex and more abstract.

When I, like proto-Jacobs, fainted before grappling could happen, my eyes were, I confess, only half-closed. My spinelessness was subterfuge. My genitals were tittering. From under eyelids, I watched nature’s abhorrence approaching. With parched, parted lips licked, I wore my devotion and defeat like a dress of wild flowers, an inspired orchid to lure untold angels. My throbbing heart was the dangling orb with which anglerfish fashion traps. I sought to captivate with my captivity, to rouse lust with the ruse of having lost.

But it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill masochism. I didn’t want to be abhorred. I’d been abhorred all my life and it wasn’t interesting. Nor was I an abhorring sort of person. I was a vacuum, being without without doing without, and what I wanted, plotting and craving, tittering with excitement, fainted at the feet of all that abhorred me, was to be the unprecedented vacuum that nature didn’t just not abhor, but tolerated, and possibly even—was it too much to ask?—now and again, maybe, fellated.

Oh, that’s what I wanted!

I wasn’t interested in success; I wanted to be fellated by nature, and not fellated because angels felt like I was owed it after all the wrestling. This wasn’t the sort of reluctant fellatio I was after.

However selfish it sounds, what I wanted was for nature to turn itself into a vacuum for my sake. I wanted nature to surprise me with unexpected and, frankly, unwarranted sexual favors. I wanted to be able to leave the house.

I never expected it. And I didn’t think I was entitled to it. A sense of entitlement wasn’t one of my problems. My problems were of a sexual nature; whether nature continued to abhor me or miraculously joined me in fictionally fainting, fictionally fainting was vastly more arousing than being the manager of a coffee shop, which was how I’d hitherto successfully wrestled abhorring angels.

That said, I nevertheless believed that nature, inspired by my relentless devotion, aroused by my fervent vacuity, was going to fellate me.

That, I believe, is what it was.

I knew it wouldn’t happen, but I believed it would. And it was precisely this belief that had lured me into making the mistake called being born. This was what made the mistake so easy to make. Or maybe it wasn’t so much easy as it was enthralling, an impossible wager in the face of history and mythology, a challenge to the passerby’s stoic admonition that you can’t play with every dog—it wasn’t that I believed nature owed me blowjobs as much as it was that if I hadn’t believed that nature would surprise me with blowjobs, I’m not sure I would have been born.

You can thus imagine the dejection I felt once I’d suffered the terror of being born only to find that blowjobs were clearly not forthcoming. It was as though I was the leashed dog to whom that passerby is now reiterating with added emphasis: you can’t play with every dog.

No sooner was I born, abhorring angels swooped down to wrestle with me, and while I know I’m not alone in this experience, I reserve the right to have found it uninteresting, sexually speaking. Nature’s abhorrence was just so much swifter than I thought it’d be, nature all but blind to my vacuous seductions, blind if not incensed by my see-through attempts at subterfuge. My infantile efforts were quickly quashed, so I sought out means of survival.

But my half-hearted attempts to attain success were not merely unsatisfying, they were radically unsuccessful; my swizzle stick spine, a gadget better suited to collapsing than withstanding, withstood grappling for only a brief and hideous spell of managerial responsibilities, after which I withdrew into my vacuity as into a warm bath, breathing a sigh of relief as I fictionally fainted at the feet of encroaching nature.

So, prostrate and devoted, a supplicant wildly insatiate, I waited again for nature to surprise me. This kind of unreciprocated devotion was called unemployment, and though it was voluntary at first, it grew gradually less so, as I grappled with doubts like,

“What if nature gets off on being abhorred, and my failure to abhor it is only making fellatio less likely?”

“What if success is uninteresting to me because I, unlike so many others, am not capable of attaining it?”

“Were nature actually to fellate me, would it even count as a surprise?”

And so on and so forth.

And I again sought employment, but rather half-heartedly, and found no success. Perhaps, because I had shunned success, success now shunned me.

I was losing hope, and, what was worse, my erection was growing resentful, having given so much and received so little. In other words, I was running low on provisions, and to run out was to have the necessity to leave the house but to lack the fortitude. It meant either starving inside, or else venturing out where I would surely be coated, caked, and eroded in salty air; neither possibility was remotely related to the reasons for which I’d been accidently born.

No, I’d been accidently born because I believed living was going to be possible, because I believed nature was going to turn itself into a vacuum for my benefit, was going to surprise me with sexual favors, me, a vacuum who, or so I believed, would be the unprecedented human who was going to really make it, who was going to leave the house, not only because I had to, but because I really could, because nature was going to fictionally faint with me because it was so aroused and inspired by my vacuity, a vacuity I had been born with, born because I had a belief, and this belief which was also known as my provisions was being depleted, and nature was about to deliver the full weight of its abhorrence when suddenly, to my surprise, I awoke one morning with twenty-six dollars in my hand.

It was spring, the sun was arcing through a clean sky, and a pigeon climbed onto the back of another pigeon and flapped its tattered wings. 

Jesse Kohn sleeps in Brooklyn, but dreamed recently that he was in Santa Fe where he was raised. He was handed a book by an old teacher of his who thought he had said "Metaphysics" when he had really said "English." Some dreams like this have appeared or are forecast to appear in stories published in The Atlas Review, SAND Journal, Keep This Bag Away From Children, and Spork Press. The book in the dream was written by Leibniz and began with the words "Dear Bennett."

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