Li’l Box of Love: a novelini
1. Gagging Rena
Alone in the warehouse of the Novelty Factory, I wore a mask of fame, gagged Rena with a plum. Rena almost-woman million dollar tits and ass and not a scent – it freaked me, the not-smell sterile darkness in her mouth and my reflection in her eyes; so, I stretched a false face taut over my own. Tight as drum skin tight as denim cross a big fat tuchas tight tight tight, thradah bing, baddah boom
All I wanted was to talk it’s all I ever wanted was to talk. I mean communicate. Me here in mind, you there out mind. An I for an I. I didn’t work out the way I thought I. Majored in Media and Communications and came back to the Novelty Factory to work for Dad. The Old Man. Jokester. Fun-fella. Boob. Boss. Behemoth. The Manufacturer.
I said to the doll, Rena, "I’ll sell you the Nation. I’ll sell you to the Nation."
She–it–lay spread-eagled on a crate of rubber heads. Her crotch, tufted with genuine human pubes, oozed Tasty Gel. I unzipped my fly, then in a moment of lucidity, zipped it back again, sealing my heretofore pedestrian wiener from unnatural acts with rubber/plastic/silicon icons. What was I thinking?
"The Manufacturer took me under his wing and I smelled what frailties grew there," I said. "And anyway, who is he compared to Papa?"
So in the weird lighting of the warehouse I deflated Rena, folded her neatly and stuffed her into my old school knapsack. I tossed the plum across the warehouse where it would rot among crates of false mustaches and plastic thumbs. I went down to see the Manufacturer, my Father.
2. I Spoke to The People of the Nation
I was your worst nightmare: a telemarketer. I sold novelties by phone. I spoke to the people of the Nation. I sent them catalogues, made them aware of choices. I schmoozed and probed them, teasing whatever potentially lucrative interests and perversities I could out of their weary chit-chat. These were the people who bought stuff. They had desires–this had been confirmed–they wanted. I tried to explain to them how much they wanted what The Novelty Factory was selling. All the Salesmen at the Novelty Factory–for that was what I was, a regular salesman; my father wanted me to start low, with no advantages besides the expensive education he himself had paid for–received lists of names from market research firms. Once your name is on a list, anyone might call, even me.
The Manufacturer, dear old dad, was a genuine success. He started out at seventeen with a portable souvenir stand at a dying amusement park and now he owned the largest, most profitable novelty factory in the Nation.
Once, I believed in my father, not so much for his paternal abilities as for his stupefying success as the Manufacturer. I looked to him for guidance. I believed the Manufacturer was, in his way, a great man. This belief had given me confidence to succeed–as a boy playing boys’ games; as a student at the University; and then as a Salesman hawking dubious wares.
"You are my chosen one, my greatest salesman, the brightest star at the Novelty Factory," the Manufacturer had told me, at home, across the dinner table, where he expertly juggled the roles of Novelty Manufacturer and father, and consequently, it was so.
3. The Manufacturer Behind Closed Doors
The Manufacturer sat at his desk. I occupied a swivel chair across from him. The Manufacturer drank vodka, I sipped beer. The Manufacturer fiddled nervously with the hand-carved wooden bison with an arrow jutting from its side–or perhaps it was a bull with a sword in him; I could never tell–that served as a paperweight for important documents. Beside the bull/bison was a square black box just large enough to contain recipe cards or a small, dead bird.
The Manufacturer appeared subdued as he only appeared in his office behind closed doors when I came to see him. He looked glum.
"You’re too thin," the Manufacturer said to me, his only son.
My clothes were indeed too big for me. It had always been that way. I didn’t mind.
"You feed me," I said. "How could I be thin?"
The Manufacturer opened a drawer and pulled out two Corona cigars.
"Are these gonna explode?" I sneered.
"They’re not from the factory," the Manufacturer replied. "They’re from a reputable tobacconist in the City."
We smoked and drank in silence until I reached the cream of the cigar, the final third, when my saliva has insinuated itself into the leaf, and each damp draw was rich with the blue-gray ether of myself.
I said, "When they laid my mother out in the funeral home, half of her face was fat. She looked absurd. Yet you insisted on an open coffin."
My mother died while undergoing liposuction.
"It was a standard jowl-reduction with state-of-the-art instruments and the most advanced surgical techniques," he said. "Who could have foreseen…?"
"With all the money you’d spent on doctors, morticians and whoever else, all the technology," I persisted, "You would think that someone, someone would have allowed my mother the dignity of, of symmetry at her own damn funeral."
"My son, the college graduate. My how time flies," the Manufacturer said.
"An open coffin," I spat. "Big Daddy and his Castle of Jokes."
"Novelties keep people sane," said the Manufacturer. "The people need new, amusing things. We keep the people hopeful through the shocks and disappointments of the Life. We enter, by proxy, the bedrooms and living rooms of the Nation. We bring laughter, even ecstasy to the dreary moments of the people. We bring comfort to the lonely and confidence to men who wouldn’t or couldn’t appear at parties and social gatherings without a joke of some kind, some thing to capture the center of attention while at the same time diverting that attention from the spectacle of their miserable selves."
The Novelty factory supplied such people with a lifetime of jokes, gags, curiosities and intimate gadgets for the jaded, the restless and the sexually adventurous: the 20 inch Black Mambo; the Velvet Vulva; the Tan ‘n Tasty; the Erotic Skull; gels, creams, ointments and inflatable girls–like Rena herself.
"I worked hard all my life," the Manufacturer said.
I did not disagree.
"I worked hard so that you should never work hard. So you could go off to the University and pursue pure talk. That’s what you were meant to do, the son of privilege. Go off to the University and talk."
I glared at him in filial protest, but the Manufacturer continued.
"You don’t understand. This is what I wanted for you. To refine yourself. One manufacturer in the family is enough for generations. How proud I was to send you off to the Academy to fill your head with words. I didn’t ask you to come back. Did I ask you to waste your talents here?"
The manufacturer raised his glass in a toast, and said with some sarcasm, "Nevertheless, I have the utmost respect for true heroes of the Nation. I salute you."
I had forgotten to remove my disguise. I still wore the face of a great and famous man. With one deft motion, like a matador maneuvering his cape, the Manufacturer unmasked me.
"So it’s the sad young man who haunts the factory. Is this the secret of his success?" the manufacturer held the mask aloft. "Does he impersonate our national heroes over the phone?"
"There are no secrets, nor is there success," I said.
The Manufacturer pointed to Rena’s shriveled leg, which hung over the lip of the knapsack like a botched embalmment. I had stuffed her away improperly in my haste. The Manufacturer laughed deeply.
"No success," I repeated. "No sales this week. Not one. My numbers have been steadily declining."
The Manufacturer waved me away.
"You are young," he said. "A prosthetic companion like Rena is for older men who’ve already been broken. You are not yet broken. In fact, I see no reason for you to break at all, if you live right."
"You’re going to be a grandfather," I said. "Yet I can barely pick up the phone, much less sell novelties to the people of the Nation. How will I support Lucretia and the baby? What will become of us?"
I couldn’t concentrate. I wasn’t moving product. My mind whittled the hours into grotesque totems of Lucretia, Papa.
Again the Manufacturer waved my words away and with them the significance of my woes.
"My chosen," he said, misty eyed. "My finest."
In his eyes, I could do no wrong; my embarrassing slump was not even worth mentioning.
"I’d like to take this bull or buffalo or whatever the hell it is and bash your head in," I said.
The Manufacturer nodded. He paused, and nodded again, as if agreeing with whatever I hadn’t yet said.
"I have despaired," he said in the voice of both Manufacturer and Father. "I too have experienced disappointments in my life."
He pushed the black box toward me and opened it. Pasted to the ceiling of the lid was a stage-view of a theater depicting rows and rows of audience ascending toward infinity. The box emitted cheers, whoops, whistles and applause. When the Manufacturer flipped a toggle the applause turned to supportive laughter. The Manufacturer had invented this device to distract him from nightmare days and sleepless nights.
"I kept it at my bedside. It helped me sleep," he said. "I’m going to share this with the world."
The Factory was in the process of mass-producing the boxes for the Nation. The Manufacturer expected the "Li’l Box of Love," as it was called, to yield millions.
"Now every hard-working citizen will have his audience. You’ll sell these to the Nation, you, my best and brightest salesman."
I left the Novelty Factory bearing the Li’l Box of Love as a gift for my Lucretia.
4. Everyone Reports To Papa
Papa owned the largest cosmetics company in Europe. Lucretia wore his top-of-the-line uni-sex cologne, URN, the ultimate in olfactory technology. It stirred the molecules of the individual wearer, eliciting fullest scent potential of her DNA. It was Lucretia’s scent that stoked the first spark-flickering of my desire The intercourse of URN with deep-musk estrogen; a blast of pheromones that knocked me for a loop.
"Papa began as a salesman," Lucretia had told me. "As a teenager he went door-to-door, or in the market-place with his suit-case full of cheap perfume. He educated himself. He read Demosthenes and Cicero. He learned English mingling with American tourists; he learned French reading Proust. They sent him to head the branch in London, then Paris. Steadfast was his climb. He worked like an animal, day by day, year by year. This was everything to him, to ascend. Now he is chairman. All branches report to him. He commands the most powerful people in the industry. The models, the designers, advertisers, executives–everyone reports to Papa."
Papa was everywhere and all-consuming. Lucretia had to cross an ocean to think clearly. Papa owned sprawling estates. The blood of his vineyards fermented to world class wines. He dined with the most powerful humans on the planet.
Papa taught Lucretia to fish, ride horses, shoot a gun. She’d hunted, sailed, kicked footballs with her brothers.
The eau de cologne she splashed over her smoldering glands belonged to Papa. Papa was the czar of olfactory technology. He made people smell the way they should, the way he wanted them to.
5. An Abduction Would Be Absurd
I came home to find two strange men in my apartment: Allain, the youngest, most hot-tempered of Lucretia’s brothers, and Dr. Spaeiouk (pronounced "speak," but also "spoke, spake, spike and spook" in various regions of his native land).
Dr. Spaeiouk was an older man, a year or two past sixty, dressed impeccably in a suit that might have been fashionable fifty years before, which made it all the more appealing.
Allain wore smart black shoes. His hair was brilliantined, he wore dark glasses. His scent was Lucretia’s cologne untempered by Lucretia: the raw bouquet of Papa.
He uttered a string of curses, but realizing I spoke neither German, Italian nor French, switched to English, which he pronounced only a little less perfectly than Lucretia.
"Look at him, the bastard. He takes her to live with him in the toilet bowl."
Disgust distorted his face as he surveyed the apartment.
It occurred to me that speaking another language in addition to the language of the Nation might be a very great thing. Despite attending the University, I spoke no language but the one that formed me, the one I manipulated to sell novelties to co-linguists throughout the Nation.
Allain looked down at Lucretia, sprawled and sweating on the bed in her unlaced boots.
"She’s in a state. Her eyes are irregular," Dr. Spaeiouk said. "They’re dull and cloudy. Like semen."
Both he and Allain stared accusingly at … me.
Allain knelt beside Lucretia, stroked her wild hair. The siblings communicated in French, Italian and German, as if to mock me. Allain caressed Lucretia perhaps a bit too intimately for a brother.
"An abduction would be absurd," I muttered.
Dr. Spaeiouk explained that Lucretia had left Europe against his expressed medical advice and Papa’s handwritten command.
"This is a situation," I said cautiously.
"Yes, precisely," said Dr. Spaeiouk. "A situation."
Lucretia had gotten herself into situations before, though none so grave as this one–the Doctor pointed to her swollen belly. There’d been a situation in Belgium–something to do with a Swedish fellow on a Suzuki motorcycle–and that troupe of psychic drag queens in Berlin. Wildness, dissipation–with me it had been neither, just a withering–the futile attempt to dodge the scent of Papa.
6. A Toenail Shaving of Omnipotence
Every so often, Dr. Spaiouk would break away from the tedium of explaining things to me and engage Allain and Lucretia in clever, polyglot discourse. I grabbed his sleeve.
"Has he contemplated me here in the City, plunging wild-eyed into the furrows of Lucretia, rendering her thick and agonized with child?" I asked, desperately.
"Papa is a busy man," said Dr. Spaeiouk.
"It was the milk thing that freaked her out. That she who could create intricate, complex paintings must also produce, against her will, a substance of nourishment, a tepid cream," I admitted. "After the face appeared she stopped painting. She stopped eating, she stopped bathing, she stopped doing. She moped the apartment, her clothes unwashed, her hair a pungent clot of night."
"She should never have left Papa’s side. And to come to the Nation of all places…"
"I thought he might send me a token, a flake of his enormous empire, perhaps some toenail shaving of omnipotence," I begged.
"Such lunatic dreams are born of desperate minds," said Dr. Spaeiouk.
"I’m drowning in alien sounds," I moaned.
"There, there," said Dr. Spaeiouk. "Now, now. Lucretia and the child will both fare better at Home, in the proximity of Papa."
He motioned to Allain, who lead Lucretia from the bed, past me and Dr. Spaeiouk, and toward the door. I kissed Lucretia as she passed; her cheek was dry like wood. Allain dropped a wad of foreign currency, like dirty napkins, to the floor.
Dr. Spaeiouk studied Lucretia’s painting: a sea of abstract shapes and colors from which a monstrous face emerged, a gargoyle at the vanishing point–it sucked all light and vigor from the work. It seemed to escape from the bowels of the design, an image born of the very womb of the canvas, bursting the fragile membrane of Lucretia’s colors. She had worked furiously, but was unable to camouflage or erase it. With every layer of paint the face grew more defined.
"You see," said Dr. Spaeiouk. "She’s been thinking about Papa all this time."
Dr. Spaeiouk folded a dollar bill, clean strong currency of the Nation, and pressed it into my pocket.
"You’ve made the smart choice," he said. "If you’d caused even the slightest bit of confusion, Papa would have squashed you like a bug."
7. Until The Batteries Weaken
Alone, I opened the Li’l Box of Love and listened to the laughter through the night, until the batteries began to weaken, then flipped the toggle to "applause."
"Papa!" I screamed at the exhausted machine.
ADAM ENGEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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