Mister Gedy Barnes picked up the jar and twirled it in his hands. He squinted at the print, laid the jar aside and reached for an oblong alligator print case. Inside was what he referred to as his ‘specs,’ but only to distract him from the persistant fact that his aging eyes required the aid of reading glasses. He flinched reflexively when the temple of his cheaters brushed his brow and read aloud from the jar, “Mr. Sneaky’s Fart Muffler, a salve for your asshole.”
The label went on to explain how age and dehydration caused the anal sphincter to harden and fissure. This aging caused the passage of gas to become amplified at its exit. It was a matter of topography; like the singing boulders in New Mexico or barking sand beaches in Hawaii. Just as the bugle amplifies the bugler’s raspberries to make a note loud enough to wake a regiment, so too functions your asshole; “Silence the Foul Note” urged the print on the jar.
Barnes’s mind conjured an image of the phenomenon. He opined that the deeply lined skin around his eyes had a similar effect, amplifying his gaze, sharpening each wink to a needle’s prick. Perhaps that was the reason strangers flinched when spoke. He glanced sidelong at the bathroom mirror, squinted and blinked a few times at himself, as if engaged in a spirited conversation, but he couldn’t discern anything particularly edgy emanating from his eye sockets or prickly eye beams to pique. The idea that, not his mere physical presence, but something characteristic of his nonverbal communication could cause a physical reaction in another intrigued him. That he, not just elicited, but caused, a flinch with a wink and tinnitus with a fart, awed him profoundly with a renewed appreciation for his body and being.
He massaged a dollop of the salve into his rectum, pensively, thoughtfully; like a musician wiping down his strings after the final set of his first union gig. He removed his specs and placed them in the case. He took one more glance at himself in the mirror, anticipating half heartedly that a crack would appear through its depth. Gedy Barnes wanted to be normal. He envied the Smith’s as they coveted what the Jones’s possessed. “I’m a regular guy”, he told the mirror.
Gedy skipped breakfast. He did that a few times a week, just to enjoy the feeling of hunger. The knot in his stomach reminded him of what it was like to feel apprehension. For some time now he had been without the company of that particular emotion, having lost it to the feeling of security that comes from the complete belief in the idea that everything would turn out alright. He made his way to the bus stop two blocks away and waited alone. “Nobody rides the bus anymore”, he said to the route marker eight feet up at the top of the pole.
When he reached his destination, Barnes entered the office of the local syndicate of national public radio. He had agreed to a one hour on-air interview covering his biography and his last novella to go to print. The publicity basically consisted of a lone press release from his publisher, had called it “Hellarious”. The phrase was supposed to stir up feelings in the book buying public and cause them to buy quantities of his books in order to scratch a nostalgic itch for all things post war American.
The interviewer launched into things immediately. “Perhaps we should talk about your last novella, I’ve read it several times and it has a place in my permanent library. Could you tell us about the typeface and the bond?” A cotton ball dropped from his mouth. “Maybe you could read a few lines…”
“Sure thing.” Barnes licked a finger tip, turned a page and began reading.
The Mega Celebrity laughed and patted another, younger mega celebrity on the back. The fine vodka was flowing. Hundreds had gathered to see the unveiling of Mega Celebrity’s new recycling machine. He spoke, “We can bring the distillation of our goodness to the masses. Let them touch finery. Let them touch the things we have touched!” With that, he flung his cocktail glass into the machine. With a quiet whir, it produced a thick white paste that was collected in a clear tank. “I give you Tartare Tanaka!”
The hoards of journalists pressed forward with their questions and cameras. “Tonight we will fill this tank and distribute it to the neediest neighborhood in the city. This is only the beginning.”
Other celebrities joined in, one dropped her plate of hour‘d ours into the chute. The act of charity brought a great applause. Peels of clapping and roars of approval followed each donation. Soon, they started flinging everything in reach into the recycling machine. The food on the buffet, glassware, even a chair went into the recycler. When they had run out of objects to recycle, they frantically looked around for something to put into the machine– something to prolong the adulation. When the room was finally empty, they began to vomit into the machine, eliciting oohhs and ahhs. Mega celebrity and his protégés looked exhausted and triumphant.
Outside the ballroom, a large tractor and tanker trailer were parked. Dressed in appliance white jumpsuits, the driver and nozzle men matched the truck and tanker. The tanker had a deck gun and platform near the cab. The words “Tartare Tanaka” were stenciled on the tanker in fire engine red paint. The nozzle men donned white gloves and hard hats, and after climbing onto the platform, waved to the crowd. The truck the cruised slowly down a dimly lit block of row houses. The driver stopped the truck and picked up the microphone. “Tartare TANAKA!” he announced. Windows were flung open and children ran into the street with little plastic cups and buckets. A soft aria blasted from the truck’s P.A. system. The nozzle men braced each other against the high pressure flow as pumps specially made to move the thick paste groaned against weighty stuff. A mixer in the nozzle injected the paste with a little bit of air to give the Tartare velocity.
The dispensers moved slowly down the street spraying each open window and door with a generous amount of the glorious stuff. Men and women alike stood hopefully in their windows and doorways, arms outstretched, waiting, hoping, begging for a taste. One said to another, “they say you can taste the stars in this stuff…. It’s like licking God said another.”
Doorway by doorway, window by window, they exhausted the bulk of the Tartare before opening the tank’s belly drain. With the drain open, the remainder of the tank’s contents slowly leaked out and formed a thick, slow moving river down the middle of the street. Children clamored to collect cupfuls.
Celebrities all over the world got into the recycling craze. Everything went into the recyclers that could fit in the chutes. Food scraps, discarded pets, designer handbags containing vomit, expired prescription pills that were too stale to be ground into powder. All things great and fine: It was the liquid version of a celebrity magazine. Like all things that were intended for the ghetto, it became fashion in the suburbs and suburban housewives carried little vials of the stuff around their necks.
As he was finishing the passage, Gedy saw the interviewer stuff a handful of gauze pads into his cheeks. He passed the box to the producer who had just regained consciousness. “That was Gedy Barnes reading from his latest book, Tartare Tanaka”.
He thanked Barnes, and all ten listeners. Pushing the mic away he leaned close to Barnes and murmured, “My god, you’re brilliant Mr. Barnes!”
Barnes continued with the rest of the interview, sometimes waiting for a question, but most of the time, he just answered his own as they occurred to him.
“The dream was really grand, but as I awakened, it was fleeing. I probably chased that dream harder than any of them. The whole thing was so vivid when I’d finally caught up to it. The camera flashes, the flicker in Mega Celebrity’s eye as he threw the first starry object into the machine. I decided to call the objects that constituted the Tartre Tanaka “starry objects,” that wasn’t in the dream; it just grew from it in the writing process. Anything they (the stars) touch becomes a starry object. It’s sycophantic isn’t it? It just came from the process, not the dream and I can’t really be held directly responsible for those things.”
“I don’t have any idea where the dream came from; what planted the seed, as it were. It was pointed out to me that the whole thing was quite homoerotic. From a metaphorical point of view, it is. However, if you approach the story in a literal aspect, it isn’t at all. I certainly do understand the imagery, but I think it would be worthwhile to give it a literal read. That was the way it was intended in any case. The disdain for celebrity that you so keenly detect is intentional.”
“The way a book feels in the hand is just as important as the bond and typeface. These things harmonize with the words. That’s why the paperless office/ e society thing hasn’t quite worked out. People send and receive email, save and archive it, but when something is really important, they print it on paper. It’s something to touch. We underestimate how important that is to humans. There’s evidence for it everywhere, even our mobiles have touch interfaces. That tactile feedback is supremely important to a species with thumbs and sensitive fingers. Sometimes I print offensive emails just to have the pleasure of tossing them in the garbage. Why wouldn’t I?”
Having finished the requisite interview for his new novella, he thought about how best to flesh it out. A pang in his stomach reminded him that he had skipped breakfast. Having had enough of the self imposed hunger therapy, he looked for a place to eat, deciding to indulge in a cheeseburger at his favorite diner.
It was a place at which he was regarded as something of an oracle. Before his loss, he spent many nights here drinking coffee and other “mange-air.” As he opened the doors, he got a blast of glorious char smell from a grill that had been hot since its installation in the early 1940’s. His preferred table in the corner was currently occupied by a resident ghost that began appearing soon after he started patronizing the place. He selected a daring counter top stool and quietly praised himself for the bravery. Overcome with the moment, tears welled up and tightness spread across his chest. He feigned a laugh to conceal a sob. The tears evaporated. The ghost let slip a fart to mock him.
Over a plate of rapturously grilled 80/20, he reminisced the hours spent in the place. Chewing cow and ruminating decade old conversational missteps, Barnes winked at the ghost in the corner, paid his bill in cash, and left. Perhaps his sagacity came from the aroma of the grill, coffee maker, and mixed brands of cigarettes, he mused. The ultra modern spice mélange– Tartare Tanaka!
He turned the key in the lock on his home’s front door; he detested using the back entrance in his own home. The lock turned with a quantum of drag and a sharp click as the bolt’s throw cleared it from the jamb.
Gedy had disassembled and polished the lock-work to make it smooth and efficient every year since he purchased the lock to replace the one left in the door by the house’s last owner. He was pleased it continued to work with such grace. And that was grace, he thought, to be something worked, polished, and improved– and to persist in the maintenance of such improvement despite the onslaught. Every keystroke introduced dirt and grime into the lock, yet it resisted. He lamented, “with an order of care, I’d be so…with a measure of attention I’d be so too”.
Then the door bell rang. It was Ms. Smitty from next door standing on his front porch with a plate of food she’d assembled after cooking for herself and mother. He looked through the peep hole and considered smashing her in the face, but relented, opening the door with a smile. She had brought him a small ham steak, cornbread, and black eyed peas.
Barnes ate his food and relished the thought that the people eating in the home next to his ate the same food that night. It made him feel embarrassingly normal. He was both shamed and emboldened by his normalcy. “Maybe a little shame is what I need in my life right now. I need to be humbled: Don’t I? Tomorrow, I’ll go down to the post office and purchase a single stamp. That’d be humiliating and humbling.” He mused.
Barnes decided to go to sleep after finishing his plate of food. He walked into the bathroom and considered the mirror. A hard squint failed to crack its surface. He thought for a moment that his theory regarding the sharpening of his gaze may have been in error. He picked up the jar of Fart Muffler and tossed it into a bin by the sink. “Good riddance.” Barnes washed his face, flushed the toilet, and slid into bed.