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I couldn't work for the Lonely Planet, I knew that much. For starters, the name made no sense to me and I didn't care to find a way in which it would. I supposed it was a reference, Jacques Cousteau or Ponce de Leon could have said It's a lonely planet! in a journal while writing at sea or something like that and then the phrase took off, but references are only useful if you get them right away. Looking up a reference is pathetic, like doing 23andMe—it's better to feel the answers in your bones. One of the clowns running for Branch Manager (BM) of the country recently got in trouble for her own DNA results, I mean, she never should have done the test, identity lives in the shadows of myth, why prick a finger unless you have diabetes or need to do blood brothers with a cousin? Don't get me wrong, I don't like this potential BM, she reminds me of my preschool teacher who accidentally murdered all of the baby chicks our class was raising by turning up the incubator too high (foolish, utterly), but I don't think our BMs should be running around proving weird shit and doing tests like that. I really don't.

 

If I could find a job maybe my headache from yesterday would go away. The interview with Lonely Planet was pure shit, I kept bringing up this picture

 

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and repeating the male founder's name, over and over again, to his face: Tony Wheeler, Tony Wheeler...Tony....Wheeler. I couldn't stop, it was one of those tics, I mean when someone's got a really good name, I mean really good, like Tony Wheeler or

                Hella Jongerius                                I. M. Pei                                                 Rem Koolhaas                                                                 Walter Gropius                                                                                 Eero Saarinen

 

I just can't get enough. Wheeler was dressed like ass and visiting New York for the weekend from Melbourne. We were in the West Village having a latté on top of a gay bar that had become a monument, then a coffee shop, then a coffee shop monument. He had the waddle of someone who doesn't understand the concept of home and said "Melbourne" in the worst way possible, you wouldn't believe it, MEHL-LA-BOW-NUH, a place he described as a livable wine city before bullishly switching gears to blab about the process behind the Lonely Planet's first guide book, Across Asia on the Cheap, co-written in 1973 with his stunning Irish wife, Maureen. When he finally exited memory lane I looked him dead in the eye and said No sooner does man discover intelligence than he tries to involve it in his own stupidity. He thanked me for my time and declared the interview over. That quote's Cousteau. That one's definitely Cousteau.

 

It's for the best I told my mom on the phone afterwards. She said I should treat interviews like sampler platters, sometimes you need to order one to figure out what you don't want, and I told her I understood. Tony Wheeler was the pig anus calamari—not for me, not this meal.

 

It was February and brutal outside. I had to scooter home to Chinatown so I was pissed off. The sky was acting like the cement and I hated using labor-saving devices to travel, but I was still enslaved to a free trial with SCOOTLE; if they found out I was walking during the gratis period I could get arrested. There were some real cretinous fucks at SCOOTLE.

 

Mounting my SCOOTLE, I also told myself the failure of the meeting was for the best, but I knew it wasn't. These days I was dead from the neck up everytime I entered an interview and it wasn't a joke anymore—I needed to land something soon.


The next morning I was woken up by a shrieking neighbor, wishing life was like this

 

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or this

 

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but it was definitely more like this

 

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How do people do it? Five of my six friends had girlfriends and each of them a job. I was jealous of them all but refused to admit it and instead texted stuff like how's jail? and enjoy your pottery class lol when they had date nights planned. The last time we all went out, I was asked to go home before midnight because I told Garrett's infernal girlfriend that natural wine was an illusion. She started going to great pains to explain "skin contact" and I had downed just enough poison to say when's the last time you gave Garrett skin contact and she understandably lost her shit. Garrett told me to go to bed; I SCOOTLE'd home. Garrett hasn't called me since.

 

I sneezed three times, molted my sweaty sheets, and surfaced from my bedroom groggy and wan. My bathroom-kitchen smelled like wedding soup again and I remembered that I ran out of coffee a day earlier. Before I could get my coat on to go buy beans from BEAN, the new spot across the street, my phone rang and it was my mom whom I always answer on the first try. You won't believe who I saw last night she said. I asked who and she said your old hockey buddy Kyle McCracken, a dude the girls called "Stallion" in high school. The last time I saw him was about a year ago when he dumped himself right next to me at this dive bar where I grew up in Altoona. Kyle was a specimen back in the day, 6'6" and perennially tan from his family's timeshare in the Caymans. His build was busted now from boozing too much, but his face still held the vague charisma and good-cop authority of a vice-principal. Altoona's a small place, the kind of town with jerks that think the state of a lawn reflects the homeowner's spiritual integrity. And if your brothers play hockey you really ought to as well unless you want your dad to kill himself or something. Real predestination crap if you ask me. Anyways, you can't go anywhere in Altoona without running into everybody, so I think I ordered a Leinie's and some beer cheese soup from Tanner, the owner's son, and I remember getting out my book—this depressing memoir by Mary McLane. She spends about 200 pages just disemboweling Butte, Montana, which isn't so bad a place if you know what to look for. There was this one line that really stuck with me, still does, where McLane announces I have in me the germ of every crime. I loved that. It's a bit childish but I even wrote it underneath the bill of my Packers hat, and I wear that thing a lot. It smells like ass. For all the callous stuff I say about the goings on back home, our football team can play, I mean really play, and those boys are class acts especially when you consider the athletes we're dealing with across the border, not only west of us but to the south too. Anyways, Kyle had initiated with Well isn't this a blast from the past and I wasn't in the mood so I just went ahead and asked if he was still putting tobacco between his toes. You see the whole hockey team used to cut up their feet and put chew in their skates to keep a buzz going on the ice. I'm actually working at Royal Credit Union, you dickhead and he meant this to impress me on some level, I recall that really bummed me out, so I had to adjust my tempo. That's cool, Kyle. Was just giving you shit I cleared up and took a spoonful of my soup, which is basically just hot, salty Velveeta if you've never tried beer cheese soup before. He said You would be reading at a bar and I told him he would be drinking at a bar. Well I'm off Tuesdays and it's dollar pitchers. I remember launching into some kind of diatribe about the dignity of affordable living in Wisconsin compared to New York and Kyle started ignoring me, coolly, moving his attention to the front of the bar where a former gymnast had walked in. Her name was Allie Kristen and her knees were as hyperextended as the day we graduated. Fortunately, her pecs had finally turned to tits. I did not like the way gymnasts' joints bent the wrong way, especially in public, it made me sick. They all had these bone diseases with German names by the time they were fourteen or fifteen so you almost felt bad for them. It made my beer cheese soup lose it charm, it's one of four foods that get cold on you quick from my experience. Chai tea lattes, sautéed mushrooms, and scrambled eggs are the other three. I asked for the check, paid, peed, fist bumped Kyle, then Tanner, and left. Allie didn't fist bump me but blew a kiss without puckering, moving only her hand toward her mouth and away again like a thank you in sign language. I wasn't too mad because she never was one for major emotions, even her gymnastics coach, whom she loved and had sex with I think, had to slather Vaseline on her teeth to keep her smiling during meets. So that was the last time I saw old Kyle. Lucky you mom I replied, and told her I couldn't talk at the moment. Okay sweetie pie, keep on keeping on...

 

It was past noon. My apartment hovered above a store called The Golden Shower that sold bathroom appliances and I had to walk through the place every time I left the house. The proprietor, Ken, wore a chubby face with an excellent sense of humor and always said stuff like The king emerge! when I walked past him in the mornings. I liked Ken, he knew a lot about porcelain and shower heads and that kind of toilet and sink thing. My dad never taught me any of that.

 

Outside the wind was coming off the East River making it about another twenty degrees colder than the existing zero. I hustled over to BEAN and was pleased to see the news on, a rare pleasure as domestic usage of cable had been banned last August. Manhattanites were strong-armed into patronizing businesses to watch cable news; streaming services now only hosted one network with godawful pundits, "Lizz n' Justin," these totally zestless losers whom I privately referred to as "Jizz n Lustin" or, more abstractly, "Jizz Eruption." On the television, the current BM was discussing his most recent plan for New York, Make the West Village Sexy Again, which would force NYU to accept only the children of actors and models. The screen flashed

 

BM MAKES STATEMENT

"The West Village used to be sexy and now it's no fun. Not a single g-string in sight. No frills, no seduction, just BORING. Changing things after a perfect conversation with the reasonable NYU dean."

 

and then

 

STUDENT INTERVIEW: SON OF BOBBY CANNAVALE MAKES STATEMENT

"The area around NYU was expensive in a cool way when I was growing up, but now things have gotten expensive in a bad way, not hot at all. I can't explain it, but I want to see more of my parents' friends' kids and fewer randos when I go to the library to drink. Thank you to our BM for understanding this."

 

Cannavale's son was incredibly handsome which made what he was saying kind of digestible. It probably would be nice to blackout and read Heart of Darkness with good-looking classmates. NYU was kind of shit anyways so I decided I didn't care. Let the celebrity children be. I picked up my beans and made a pact with myself as I crossed the street: only one game of Fortnite before applying to more jobs.

 

Upstairs, I got situated with my PC and fresh-brewed joe. The apartment now smelled like wedding soup and coffee, which was discretely more disgusting than it smelled before. It didn't matter; no one came up here anymore except for myself and sometimes Ken to recommend movies. I hadn't slept with anyone in about a year, not since my ex left me for someone in Critical Chain Project Management at SCOOTLE. Those are just words strung together I had told her as she picked up the last of her things. You're a monster she responded, enjoy your games.

 

I was settling into some building warm-ups when an email notification lit up the corner of my monitor: New Message, Benji Hartman. It took me a second to place the name. I repeated it out loud and ere long recalled it was the guy I had interviewed with weeks ago for the Editor-in-Chief position at the Fearless Flyer, Trader Joe's circular. I hadn't completely bombed that meeting, Benji was also from the Midwest so we were able to connect over the Minneapolis hardcore scene, but I never heard anything back. I paused my game and opened the message.

 

Dear [redacted],

 

I'm so sorry for the delay. There was an outbreak of salmonella caused by our Organic Coleslaw Kit that did not leave us in a good position the last couple weeks. I don't want to lie to you, our first choice candidate, a real enterprising writer and strict thinker named Teddy, bailed. So you are our second choice. Don't focus on that. I think you could be great.

 

Can you come by our LES location this afternoon around 3 pm to get the ball rolling? The Fearless Flyer needs a new image, can you be that person?

 

As warm as can be,

 

Benji

 

Vision Consultant

The Fearless Flyer

Benjihartmanvibes.com

 

I was shocked, offended, confused, curious, and replied that I could be there at 3:00.


I rolled up to Trader's a few hours later, maddened by my journey's psychological toll. Every fifth ride with SCOOTLE, you were required to listen to a trip-long promotion for their pioneering ergonomic stance, throughout which the app strobed this soul-stirring image

 

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across your helmet's plastic shield. It was impossible to determine how many accidents this had generated, SCOOTLE is excellent at burying bodies. I alone had killed two pigeons because of that Quasimodo and her optical insurgencies. I dismounted and looked down at my shitty henley, its dizzying pattern of vaguely Navajo signifiers, and wondered how I chose such a thing, how I chose anything. I began to question my motives for taking this job at all. The Fearless Flyer was an elevated coupon book with recipe suggestions done in the tradition of home-ec instruction, the core principles being ease, efficiency, and grace. A year ago I was writing shit I actually knew about for SHAWKER and talking about marriage with my ex. SHAWKER got absorbed by the BM's son's friend's uncle and his media conglomerate last April and my ex could be dead for all I knew. I had to keep my cynicism at bay, I didn't want to pull another Wheeler. No Cousteau quotes, no bullshit. I zipped up my fly and entered the store.

 

When I got off the elevator, I quickly realized I didn't know exactly where I was going. Benji and I had met our first time at BEAN. I crept up to the customer service zone, manned by three Hawaiian shirted helpers, and asked where the Fearless Flyer office was. We SO get your confusion the tallest of the three said, It's in the basement. I joked that they looked ready for a Jimmy Buffet concert, but the jab was somehow too adjacent. How do you figure! the youngest employee practically screamed, her septum piercing doing a complete 360°. These people were nuts. How could you wear a Hawaiian shirt every day yet not know about Parrotheads? The tall helper insisted on accompanying me downstairs and I was too out of my element to argue.

 

The Fearless Flyer headquarters turned out to be one windowless room reminiscent of the offices assigned to nascent, but obviously sinister investigations on TV shows about the FBI. Three desks were arranged in the center of the room, a hackneyed rendition of the coworking pod, and one dumpster loomed in the far corner. Benji got up from his desk and strode toward me, while the other staff member, presumably one of my writers-to-be, remained pecking at her computer. How do you do good sir! Benji asked, approaching me hand outstretched, raising his eyebrows up-and-down in a remarkably imprecise impersonation of some sort of old-timey actor. His hair was piled on top of his head, gauges poking out on either side, and I thought to myself that he was a pretty handsome guy despite the insane vibe. He apologized for the offices and we flipped through the basic geography of the space, the expectations of the position, and the Trader Joe's way of life. Having done editorial work in the past, there was little need to dig too deep into logistics, and so we spent most of the afternoon talking about my new ideas for the publication. He seemed open to shaking up the branded content and recipes with more essayistic food writing, and I was relieved to find that he was someone who could be persuaded easily by a thoughtful proposal. Less settling was the third employee who hadn't yet been introduced. She hardly moved and used her long, black hair to create a parasol around herself and her screen, furtive and cooky, Allison Reynolds style.

 

Apart from her, the most urgent snag was Benji's impending absence the following day. You have literally one day to get the February issue done he admitted anxiously. He was leaving early that very evening for a silent day retreat in Montreal. I need this, I trust you he lobbed rather prematurely. It was true, I could handle the administrative side, each issue of the flyer used the same template, and all of the promotional pieces had already been written and uploaded. I had two slots to fill, but Benji wouldn't be available for final approval. The issue had to be sent to print by the end of the next day, and the words would be on flyers, ready for distribution, the morning after that. Kind of thrilling, no? I obligatorily agreed that a tight turnaround could be a rush, and Benji beamed with performative faith. I'm off! On his way out, he turned momentarily, walking backwards, flushed with the shame of someone with something better to do. I never introduced you to Megan! Megan, come! You'll have to do it yourselves, I'm sorry he feigned and got on the elevator. And don't forget your Hawaiian shirt!

 

Megan rose from her desk slowly, exaggeratedly, and I saw that I'd misjudged her look entirely. Under the skirt that hid her bottom half when seated, were comely, excessively pale legs atop a pair of metallic Pleasers. She wore a rose-patterned button down, a daring interrogation of the Hawaiin shirt genre, with a tightly pulled, black bustier peeking out beneath. Her every feature was caricatured; I felt my gaze darting between them, unable to choose the centerpiece. Drawing closer she rolled her eyes, offering a French manicure to...shake? Kiss? I was hurtling toward a weird remark when she saved the day. Benji is such a tool sometimes. I'm Megan. I gathered my boyish thoughts, my braindead impulses, and strung together a pleasant version of myself to submit.

 

It was nearly time to go. Before we parted ways, Megan told me she was recently struck by a sign on a telephone pole in her neighborhood, showing me this photograph of it

 

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to which I responded That's an interesting theory. I asked her what she made of it. It's not a theory she replied, You should trust me.

 

I told her I did and that I'd see her tomorrow.


The next morning, I flew around the house trying to piece together something reasonable to wear. It was useless. I concluded that I owned nothing, a sentiment I remember my ex repeating every weekend before we attended dinners and parties. Luckily, I could focus on the bottom-half, as my Hawaiian shirt had arrived that morning courtesy of SCOOTLE's overnight delivery service. The teen that fulfilled my order was yawning when I opened my door. I handed him a five-dollar bill and he told me it was against SCOOTLE contract to collect tips. So wack I offered in its place.

 

Descending into the Fearless Flyer basement, I mulled over Benji's truancy, wondered why he saw me fit to hold the reality of this world in my hands. The day had invented a plan for me but I was not yet willing to accept it. I felt acutely then that a study had been designed for me to blindly enter as variable: as capuchin, prisoner. It was better to be aware of the test than not, I concluded, accumulating some semblance of oversight by way of paranoia. Elevators had this effect on me. I got off and walked to my desk.

 

Megan had beat me to the office. Sitting in a flattering ankle cross, she seemed to be enjoying herself too much on the computer to be working on anything Flyer-related. She let out a big snort, took a swig of coffee, and I asked what was so funny—a stupid in. Okay narc she joked, thumbing a tray of Trader Joe's milk rolls with newly painted nails, now Ferrari red and filed into points. The rolls looked like yellow-fever victims spoiling under the prods of a sadistic new nurse. I swatted her hand to stop. Don't play with your food. The familiarity I intuited in her name-calling was making me bold. She pulled back her hand. Bossy she said with a wink, throwing her hair into a loose bun. I had read in some pick-up artist book, a joke, sort of, that women fiddling with their hair signaled emotional vulnerability. Following Tucker Max, it was time to neg Megan, to criticize her strategically, but something about her cracked this model. Her forceful expressions, amplified by cartoonish dermal fillers, suggested a will too pliant to insult into affection. I wasn't good at it anyways.

 

By early afternoon I had finished writing the first of the two submissions for the February Flyer. I landed on an op-ed about Valentine's Day and its austere cuisine, the nearly punitive nature of its non-indulgent indulgence. I argued that candy hearts were at best tortured Altoids, and chocolate boxes a dangerous guessing game of gooey entrails. I wondered on the page who could possibly be enjoying these unpalatable candies, and proposed that the holiday's culinary tradition undergo a radical transformation. I asked Megan to proofread it.

 

I like it she said after a round of line edits. I could tell she was holding something back. No seriously, it's nice she doubled down. I pressed for an honest reaction. It's just she hesitated, don't you think people are sick of reading about food? I agreed, but didn't think Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer was necessarily the right content platform to disrupt. Think about it, she continued, the Flyer is one of the last physical publications in New York, sure it's lame as shit, but I, I don't know. I have so many ideas for this stupid place. I wanted to hear about them; I suggested lunch. Sure she agreed, there's an Italian spot down the block. I followed her lead out the basement's emergency exit and into the bright, bitter day.

 

We took a three hour lunch. It was completely inappropriate. Megan spoke fluent Italian, a language she taught herself in order to read The Name of the Rose in its native tongue, and ordered three main courses for us to share: gnocchi with clams, spinach and ricotta ravioli, and a caper capellini. She believed deeply in the intertextuality of all words and references and stories, and said so crazily between spoonfuls of sauce and sips of soda. I told her I understood, had also read Eco and Borges, that I loved those guys, but she said reading them in English is pointless, so I hung back, yielding to her vocalized reverie. She told me about her poetry, a practice she had gotten into after experiencing a certain psychic death, I guess, from concurrently seeing so many wealthy men—guys who happily bankrolled her in return for what sounded like very little effort. She had worked part-time at the Flyer throughout to maintain a writing credit on her resumé. Her big idea for Trader Joe's was a kink section called Trader Hoes. It could be massive she insisted, look at all the freaks in line at that place on any given afternoon, look at the fucking staff. I couldn't argue. There was definitely a squirrelly aura to the Trader Joe's consumer. Maybe she was onto something. I asked if she'd show me some poems and she got out her bedazzled iPhone, pulled up the Notes app, nails clicking appealingly, and handed it over. I scrolled through a few pieces, lurid but undeniably eye-catching, and told her she should email me the one called THIGHBROW. I didn't want to fawn. It has a strong motor I cleared up, immediately embarrassed by my long gone knack for workshop language. Oh no shit! I recently performed that one at a stripclub in Midtown. She took her phone back and sent the poem to my work email.

 

It was dark out when we left the restaurant. Stopped at a light and looking at traffic, I felt the night sky to be awake in its own way, lines of cars seeming to dodge its advance rather than the other, usual way around. I told Megan that I never felt the Butterfly Effect anywhere so acutely as in New York, where the mistake of a person miles away could haunt the trajectory of your entire day. Oh sick, you smoke weed? she joked in response.

 

Arriving back at our pods, I told her I appreciated her edits and that she could take off an hour early if she'd like, I could handle the final slot on my own. She thanked me. I'm off on Fridays, let me know how things go with Benji tomorrow. She handed me her number and asked what neighborhood I lived in. I told her my apartment was across from BEAN in Chinatown. Cool she virtually breathed, Hope to see you around this weekend. I contained my delirium.

 

Beating with adrenaline, a pressure I noticed in that moment had become alien to my soft, shitty body, I pulled up the Fearless Flyer template, uploaded Megan's poem and pressed send. I repeated to myself: You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star. Nietzche said that I think.


Friday morning I walked into the store, not quite triumphant but not altogether humiliated: a small feat for me on any given day. Through the windows outside, I had seen a crowd gathering by the registers. It felt good to know that the commotion might have something to do with me.

 

May I read what our good man, he who has just graced us ten minutes late with his presence, thought might be appropriate to put in the Fearless Flyer? No no, not Playboy, not Maxim, but our Fearless Flyer: a family publication, a wholesome publication Benji roared from the helm of his ship, if you will, surrounded by the unswerving crew and dependable mates that constituted the store's colorful staff, gesticulating wildly, summoning the strength he'd need to share Megan's poem aloud. He opened up the paper with unthinkable gravitas, as though leading chautauqua, and drew a deep breath: Thighbrow...

 

THIGHBROW Megan Michelle Mitchell

 

Burrow in them, curl not, your brow and mine Tangle me up again                       "get me a comb caddy"

 

I don't want to grow up                                I just want your $$$ daddy

 

Keep it real with me, Chief, are you Sad Can we, I mean me, be here         This apartment makes me         Want to die         Who did this?                                      Where's your Miss?

 

I don't want money I want ____                  I lied

 

Emulsify the fillers, don't mind just bill ‘em Intermix and coalesce, dot dot, kiss kiss

 

Squirt         Water Pee?          Or jizz :(

 

Hello, I'm dancing up here Ballet flats weren't in the cards                SCORPIO ARIES SAG         Where's your fuckin BADGE

 

Always kiss me goodnight

 

You get Sunday Scaries        I get Friday Fright

 

I thought it was pretty good. A couple people clapped. I looked up at Benji, shrugged my shoulders, and started to laugh. His glare said I trusted you, but his audience-driven charade necessitated a bloated final scene, a "To be, or not to be." Taking center stage once again, Benji activated every inch of his figure to mime zipping his lips and throwing away the key, followed by two rounds of an umpire's "HE'S SAFE" gesture, landing finally, brilliantly, with a stiff arm and trembling pointer finger directed at the store's sliding glass doors.

 

I was too ambivalent to retaliate and waited until I got outside to toss my Hawaiian shirt in a garbage can.


It was fittingly my final day of the free trial with SCOOTLE. As I parked across from my house, my phone prompted me to leave a mandatory review. SCOOTLE is freedom I wrote, Four Stars and Feeling Nubile.

 

Feeling somewhat dissociated rather, I walked towards home replaying Benji's expansive soliloquy. As I got closer, I saw a tall girl vaping outside. Dressed in a leather skirt and blood red corset, I couldn't believe it: it was Megan. Eyes twinkling knowingly, she had seen the issue. It was all for Megan. She apologized for her pussing lip injection and I said she was perfect. I grabbed her hand, led her through The Golden Shower, and up to my apartment. For the first time in years I felt like myself, like someone with a living sex drive, with untaught predilections and needs. A rare midwinter sun shot through cracks in my walls making Megan look like a deity and I didn't even apologize for my mattress on the ground. As I eased her onto my bed she looked up at me with total candor, an unabashed and earnest abandon like that of an orthodontist praising you for completing simple instructions. You were fearless for publishing me she whispered, my fearless flyer.

 

We are living in an interminable succession of absurdities imposed by the myopic logic of short-term thinking I quoted with a smirk as I entered her. She smiled: I love Cousteau.