Hot Glue by Michael Nagel
The woman in front of me is reading a book called Never Give Up. I’m impressed when people say things like, He has a certain genius for the cello. Using genius that way. I would never do that. That would be too weird. My headphones were coming apart so I hot glued them back together. It’s spectacular the things you can accomplish with hot glue. A money-making idea: Sell the dust jackets of famous books so people can walk around with War and Peace or Gravity’s Rainbow or whatever instead of books called, I don’t know, Never Give Up.
And I mean that: whatever: who the fuck cares.
I’m sorry. I’m in a sort of mood.
As recompense, a story: When I first moved into my apartment, I burned the top of my mouth in the exact shape of a Totino’s Pizza Roll. I held it in my mouth, smoke between my teeth, screaming. That night, I spit blood down the shower drain.
Anyway, I’ve been learning to sketch. Not that I want to be an artist, just that I want to know the rough shape of the world, its converging/diverging lines. I’ve drawn my living room in ever-increasing detail. On Christmas Eve, I found a brown corduroy jacket for $6 at the Salvation Army and walked home looking at myself in windows and puddles. Can you tell when men are attractive? a friend once asked. Of course, I said. I am devoted to the way things look.
It’s been raining. I take naps in my car and sleep better than I’ve slept in months. A friend introduced me to Dead Man’s Bones and I became, briefly, obsessed. When the creative director called me into his office, I could think of nothing but the smoke seeping from the fabric of his sport coat, the folds of his skin. He offered me a job, my endless succession of occupations: I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. The McRib, however, is back.
Samples again? I ask the girl handing out samples again, steam rising from the coffee cups.
I spend the first thirty minutes of my day in pure delirium. I’m not sure, in that time, where I exist. I slip seamlessly between worlds. This, I tell my wife, is my favorite kind of sleep. Especially now, when everything feels so paper-thin. I could fall right through. Before bed, though, I stand in our living room and move my body in all the ways it moves. A genre of dance, a contortion, purposeful writhing. My joints groan like hinges, and when I’m done, I feel calm, as if the sadness had been built up between the bones.
Sometimes, though, the only way to be happy is to listen to I Belong In Your Arms by Chairlift twenty-seven times on repeat.
My passport is expiring. My inspection is due. My hair has gotten long. In March, Janessa and I will have been married four years, the majority of our twenties. I’m talking about time passing. It’s foggy now. I exhale a lungful of smoke. My guts, apparently, aflame. I am a citizen of the smoldering world. At the pub, I drink a Spaten and Greg shows me pictures of Chinese women with doughnut shapes injected into their foreheads. I’m not the only one who knows what it feels like to be left out. I drink the Spaten slowly, feel nothing. I pull my hood over my head and tighten my coat against my shoulders. I get myself together. Outside, the trees begin to glow.
Up on the roof, I sketch the skyline. The shape of the world is a mouthful of teeth. I write, beneath it, There is more to life than any one thing. And, down in the courtyard, an old man is smoking a pipe, the embers flaring with the pulse of his breath. We try the German place. The table is small and we sit, the four of us, knee to knee. What’s schnitzel again? Janessa says, looking beautiful, while the rain outside freezes to the awnings. Winter has been coming and going. Everybody is flu-ish. We can taste it in our saliva. And the rooftops are starting to catch and our clothes are getting singed. Before fire departments, in the early days of the colonies, a spark could take out a city. When the waiter comes by, we ask about the pretzels.
I’ve picked up some freelance work from a company in Fort Worth. Every opportunity, I tell myself, is an opportunity to fail. I can hardly bring myself to open the files. It’s freezing in the mornings, a chill settling into our blankets. I wake up and count down from ten. I dress in thick cotton layers. Any day now, I tell myself. Any day now will be the end. I am working toward an impenetrable indifference, an effortless way of being in the world. I am setting realistic goals.
When it snows, steam lifts off the driveways. The flakes fall like parachutes, like an air raid. I scrape my windshield with a CD jewel case. Look at it out there, the barista says, everyone holding their coffees with both hands, standing at the windows, looking at it out there. But don’t worry, I say. Eventually, nothing will hurt us. Don’t worry. Eventually, we will know what we’re good for. Don’t worry.
In the cupboard, now there’s nothing but ash. In the refrigerator, a cold, black smoke. When Janessa opens her mouth, something is glowing down the back of her throat. I look at myself in the rearview mirror and smile and frown and smile and frown.
Never Give Up, I think to myself, sometimes, out of nowhere.
At the concert, we stand around, breathing our grey breaths like small diesel machines.
Today, I am thinking of new names for lemonade. What is the value, I wonder, of a person who thinks of new names for lemonade? What is he worth? I am wearing a loose-knit sweater. I am picking at the skin behind my ears. I am meditatively breathing. I go see a woman about a typewriter and she says, Here it is, and I say, Can I try it? and she says, Try it. When I open the case, there’s already paper loaded. Someone’s already been typing. And what they’ve been typing is, HOT GLUE, HOT GLUE, HOT GLUE. What’s it mean? I ask, and the woman says it means the typewriter works fine.
I stay up late thinking about my lemonade problem. I stand in the shower with my arms behind my back like a priest walking around the Vatican. The answer, I think, is that lemonade should be called lemonade and that I am worth nothing. This city is burning from within: each piece aflame, ablaze. There is, at this point, no escape. Never give up, I think to myself, all the time now, out of nowhere, for no reason at all.
Michael Nagel has an aversion to bees, but an affinity for beeswax. He lives near an airport, but has never flown. His lawn grows to regulation length, then stops. You can find his work in other online journals. He’ll give you fifteen seconds to find out which ones, starting–now.