The first two chapters from a work-in-progress satirical novel.
American. Porn Star. President.
“Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.”
– Calvin Coolidge
“. . . The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”
– George Bernard Shaw
“You can’t talk about fucking in America; people say you’re dirty. But if you talk about killing somebody, that’s cool.”
– Richard Pryor
“Having sex with beautiful women for money? My God. I want to shoot myself every night when I get home.”
– Porn Star
1. THE JAM
SITTING IN TRAFFIC—is there a better metaphor for life?
Coldcut City has the worst traffic congestion in North America. This isn’t statistically true, but it’s what I was thinking as I sat next to my wife of three years, Karen, in the back of a cab which crawled along 99th Street at a pace more appropriate for an escalator.
We were flanked by skyscrapers, and I watched as people passed by on the pavement, moseying, hurrying, trudging to their respective destinations; handbags strewn over shoulders, heads bowed consuming information from their cell phone Gods; rucksacks straddling backs. A few of them would glance in the direction of the cab, one or two catching my stare.
I checked my watch: 6:45pm.
I turned to Karen, who was looking out the window.
“I read somewhere that we spend at least three months of our lives stuck in traffic,” I said, to no response. “Approximately thirty-eight hours a year.”
“Fascinating,” she eventually returned tenuously.
‘But think of what you could do with that time,” I said aloud, which was greeted with silence.
I looked out the window again: Autumn had set in. The sidewalk was littered with crinkled bronzed leaves, and the evening sky in the distance looked as if it were a canvas on which a frustrated painter had lashed out with aggressive streaks of blues, pinks, reds.
“We’re going to be late,” Karen said, checking her pallid reflection in her pocket mirror. Sometimes when she spoke she would close her eyes and her eyeballs would engage in some kind of scanning activity, reducing her appearance to that of the woman possessed. This is how she looked as she clamped the pocket mirror shut in the palm of her hand.
I sat up and leaned forward to address the cab driver. “Why don’t you get off 99th at the next turn? We’ll be here all night.”
The turban-wearing, bearded driver looked at me in the rear-view mirror.
“That is what I plan on doing. You know there’s bin a crash, yis? You know traffic is more congested now going north ‘cause of the crash, yis? Do you think I like sitting here like a slug?”
“Hey, padre, I’m just asking—”
Karen wrapped her fingers around my arm. “Please don’t get into a fight with the cab driver.”
“I’m not trying to get into a fight, I—” but I wasn’t interested in explaining myself, so I sat back in my seat and looked out the window once again.
More people: man, woman, child. American, Chinese, Zimbabwean, Irish, Polish, Afghan, Canadian, Scottish, Japanese, Mexican, Russian, English, Indian. Multiculturalism — love it or hate it — at its finest. All of these passers-by were possibly mocking the two idiots sitting in a cab that moved a few yards every couple of minutes.
I was tempted to get out and walk, but then I’d just be another person on the pavement.
“That meter works on distance covered, right?” I asked.
“Yis, yis. Don’t worry; the foreign man isn’t trying to rob you,” the driver replied with a jerk of the head and a roll of the eyes.
I turned to Karen, raised my eyebrows: What’s with this guy?
“I wasn’t implying that you were trying to rip us off, hombre” I said. “Not everyone who gets into your cab is racist, OK?”
“Just leave it,” said Karen.
The driver made some kind of frustrated noise — a wide-open-mouthed yahh! — and waved a dismissive hand before muttering something in his mother tongue. I rested myself against the backseat, fingered my phone from my trouser pocket and opened the browser. I’d forgotten to clear the browsing history, and I was greeted by a thumbnail featuring a supine couple nude and engaged in a not-so-subtle sexual exercise. ‘Alfie B. Lee/Raspberry Rose in The 2nd Annual Fuckathon’ was the title of the video. I experienced a momentary snippet of recollection: me furiously masturbating as I watched the video earlier that day, in the en suite bathroom before I took a shower — one hand gripping the sink as I looked at the video, the other hand wrapped around my chafing stiffy — while Karen did her make-up in the bedroom.
I quickly swiped the window closed, not before checking to see if Karen had noticed, but she was busy staring out the window people-watching as the cab picked up the pace — finally — only for the driver to brake a few seconds later resulting in deeply felt desolation for the two passengers.
I tapped my way to the settings menu on the phone and selected Clear History and Website Data.
I thought to myself: Who knows about my internet history? Who was aware that I was watching two porn stars fuck like bunnies only a couple of hours earlier? Who’s monitoring me? When will I be exposed?
“Will you text Steph and tell her that we’re going to be a little late?”
I looked at Karen as if she’d asked me to undress for the driver.
“It would be good for you if you tried to engage with her,” Karen elucidated.
“That’s what I’ll be doing at dinner, sweetie. Dinner is one thing. Texting, that’s a whole other level of interaction. That could almost be misconstrued as amiability.”
“Could you just try? For once?”
“She’s the one who holds grudges, Karen. She’s the nutcase.”
Karen shook her head and sighed as she leaned forward and fished her bag for her cell phone. I watched her as she typed; her manicured fingernails glossed with a deep red polish ferociously tapped against the screen.
I took in her facial features, because there had been times recently when I had closed my eyes and ordered my brain to present to me an image of my wife, but the result wouldn’t be entirely accurate; the visage presented to me in my mind’s eye was mostly made up of Karen, but some of her — minute details like a fleck of color in her eye, or a slight variation in the angulations of her eyebrows, or a more obvious structural misrepresentation — would be made up of previous lovers. Lately in my mind Karen was an amalgamation of almost every individual I had met underneath the cover of bed sheets.
There, in the cab, I registered her firm, confident expression, an expression that rarely changed and which communicated determination. I observed her bold blue eyes which were garlanded by unnaturally long eyelashes. Her blonde hair, which she had recently trimmed, fell obediently around her boney shoulders. Her exterior was both sexy and cold, and her interior could be both frosty and warm, depending on her mood.
“Just try, please,” she looked at me with those blue eyes. “Just make an effort.”
I nodded: Sure.
“Don’t forget your appointment with Dr. Lillard tomorrow.”
“Great, let’s talk about our personal problems in front of our cab-driver friend here.”
Unexpectedly, the driver looked at me in the rear-view: “I don’t give a shit about your personal life, yis?” he said before turning his attention back to the road.
I raised my eyebrows: Fair.
I looked at Karen, who ignored the driver’s comment.
“Maybe you should consider talking to him about Evan.”
“What good would that do?”
“Because it’s an important issue, Lukas.”
“It has nothing to do with why I see Dr. Lillard.”
“I know it’s important. But we’re his parents. We’ll deal with it.”
“Is that a word?”
Karen, not amused, sighed.
I reached for her hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
“It’s something every parent has to deal with, I’m sure. Maybe we should talk to Stephanie and William about it.”
Karen withdrew her hand.
“God, no. I don’t want Stephanie knowing about this.”
“Well, how about Janice and Elliot?”
Karen considered this proposal.
“Maybe Jan and El.”
I didn’t respond; I was in no mood to further discuss the recent revelation about our only son; a disclosure he didn’t know his parents were aware of.
The cab fell into silence yet again, the traffic surrounding us — the impatient honks and frustrated engine revs being the only source of conversation.
Eventually Karen said, “Maybe we should see Dr. Lillard together.”
“No,” I said immediately. “No way.”
“My father recommended him to you — I’d seen him before you began your sessions. It could be good for us. To talk about Evan . . . and us.”
“We need to address these things.”
“And we will,” I said. “And now I’d prefer if we stopped discussing all of this in front of a stranger.”
This time the driver didn’t look at me. Karen pulled on her seatbelt absently as she stared out the window again. There was a deep sadness about her that I hadn’t observed in a while.
“That poor kid,” she whispered.
“Who?” I asked. “Evan?”
But she didn’t respond.
Then, a hint of success: The car moved a little faster, picked up the pace. The asphalt below us became the running belt of a treadmill, and eventually the driver accelerated hard as he turned off 99th, and now I could enjoy looking out the window at the pavement walkers who drifted behind and out of my life, like a memory unworthy of preservation.
2. THE DINNER
AS I EXITED the taxi, having paid the driver and providing him with an obscenely generous tip — an ironic fuck you of sorts for his unwarranted hostility — I breathed in the crisp autumn evening air which was diluted with exhaust gas from vehicles passing through the busy street, a vague odor of sewerage (the result of nearby construction work — there was always something being built in this city), and the jarring cigarette smoke which came from the direction of a group of suit-wearing gentlemen puffing away as they stood by the front entrance of The McDonald Hotel. The natural grace and splendor of autumn could be spectacular in this city if you kept your distance from downtown.
I thumbed the waistband of my flat front trousers, ensured my shirt was neatly tucked in, and fixed my suit jacket with a single, synchronous tug from both hands. Following chivalrous tradition, I took Karen’s hand and guided her out of the cab. She took the lead while I slammed the cab door shut, maintaining my pose for a moment as if I’d just launched a bowling ball down the slick, lustrous wooden lane.
After I turned and scratched the two-day-old stubble on my face, I took in the spot-lit visage of the hotel where I’d be conducting my next interview — possibly my final exposé — in a little over a months’ time: The seven-storey hotel’s distinctive, elegant châteauesque style belonged to a European vision of old; that of the 16th-century French castles.
I pocketed my hands as the taxi pulled away. Looking up at the Salem limestone-covered exterior I regarded each window with squinted eyes as I considered the innumerable potential scenarios taking place behind the expensive, luxury curtains that hung from the equally expensive rails which were mounted above each expensively glassed window.
I thought to myself: Plenty of fucking.
I, too, would be in one of the executive suites in less than six weeks’ time at the expense of my employer. And while the thought of the upcoming interview excited me, it also sent my stomach into an anxious knot.
“Lukas!” Karen’s widened eyes reprimanded me. I slowly withdrew my hands from my pockets and approached the entrance, before waving cigarette smoke out of my way as Karen and I entered the hotel.
“Immigration,” drawled William, pointing his fork which proffered a piece of medium rare steak; the bloody juice dripping into the small pool on his plate next to the cut of meat and assortment of in-season vegetables. He was a rotund man who perspired almost incessantly, and when he spoke he regularly elongated syllables, and would sometimes jitter like a car attempting to start as he emphasized a point or a vowel. His grey hair was neatly combed back (as always) and the elasticity of his face had waned in recent years, causing the skin to sag under the cheekbones and below his chin and jaw.
I thought to myself: Gravity and Time always win.
He was beginning to look every bit of his sixty-four years, and then some. Originally from the United Kingdom, and still possessing a sonorous, haughty accent, he had been living in the United States for more than thirty years, and considered himself an Anglo-American. “This country was built by immigrants. We’re all immigrants. Every last one of us. Immigration. That’s your next piece.”
“Yes, yes. Immigration,” he said impatiently. “I want you to interview the everyday man who came to this country, or whose parents or grandparents came to this land. I want you to tell a linear story through a dozen or so immigrants. I know what this country stands for.”
“It’s quite a shift from the Alfie B. Lee article—”
“It’s important, Lukas, boy,’ he interrupted, jittering. “It’s relevant, with the current administration . . . And, well . . .” William paused, as if something had struck him there and then, his expression melancholy for a beat, but he shook it away before repeating softly, sadly: “It’s important, Lukas.”
“With the greatest respect, Bill,” I began. “Immigration. It’s a little stale. I know with everything that’s going on in Syria and Europe and even here with the wall it’s been talked about, but right now . . . I don’t know. It feels like it isn’t the right move. People are getting tired of it . . . And, again with the greatest respect, you don’t assign me my jobs.”
“That I don’t, but I do pay your salary, along with that of your editor-in-chief.” He leaned forward and pointed his fork at me again, smiling wryly. “And if I tell Melissa that I want you to write a story on immigration, you’ll write a damn story on immigration.”
“Are you boys discussing work at dinner?” Karen asked cheekily and cheerfully (always the perfect actress when in the presence of family and friends) as she checked her cell phone; I noticed her “like” a picture posted by a friend on Instagram. She kept touching her nose, and for a moment I wondered if she was using again, and whether that was the source of her sadness that was so palpable in the cab.
“Your wife has spoken,” smiled William.
“What took you two so long, anyway?” asked Stephanie. She was wearing an outfit that I would call sexy if I could bring myself to compliment her. It was an Alexander McQueen sheer stripe dress that Karen had first noticed while watching Milan Fashion Week, after which she had called Stephanie to inform her of its existence: These days she used her sister to vicariously live out her sartorial fantasies having made a vow to herself that she would no longer frivolously indulge in her penchant for expensive fashion. The final straw was the January 1st 2016 purchase of a Dior dress along with a pair of Prada ankle boots, topped off with a Karl Lagerfeld suede bucket bag. That night she had dressed in each item she’d purchased and sobbed openly and uncontrollably on our king-sized bed.
“Racist cab driver,” Karen said.
“There was a crash, traffic was terrible,” I explained. “And yes, the driver appeared to be racist towards anyone he considered to be potentially racist, i.e. the white male.”
“Ah, the white man: the oppressor. The privileged,” said William before he released a brattling cough, after which he patted his mouth with his napkin.
I thought to myself: He’ll be dead in a few years, if not sooner.
“Maybe he just didn’t like you,” Stephanie offered.
“He wouldn’t be the first,” I replied with a sardonic smile.
“Well,” said Stephanie, ignoring my retort with well-rehearsed apathy. “Karen, guess what I’m having shipped in next week.”
At this William rolled his eyes and jerked his head in a single upward motion.
“What?” asked Karen.
Stephanie sat forward and placed both hands on the table, each side of her dinner plate which housed a half-eaten Cajun chicken salad.
“A miniature camel.”
“A what?!” replied Karen.
“A what?” I repeated.
William shook his head, remaining silent.
“A miniature camel,” Stephanie beamed. “All the celebrities are getting them; they’re the latest trend.”
“Jesus Christ,” I said involuntarily, another response that was ignored by Stephanie.
“Caitlyn Jenner is rumored to have two, although People had no pictures to accompany the article, so I’m a little skeptical. But I’ve seen them. They’re genetically engineered, or something. Or inbred — like the micro dogs. They. Are. The. Cutest little fuckers. You have got to get one.”
“A miniature camel?” asked Karen incredulously, mouth agape, as she swirled the cocktail pick in her dry martini.
“They are so adorable!” said Stephanie as she unlocked her phone and presented a picture to Karen of what to me looked like a retarded monkey.
“But . . . they’re camels,” Karen reasoned, or attempted to.
“Miniature, Karen,” replied Stephanie. “Miniature camels. They’re teeny. They’re so cute with their two little humps and their dopey expressions. And they’d be great in the event of a drought; you know how dry it can get here in the summer.”
William looked at me; his face had turned a deeper shade of red.
“Camel’s humps are mounds of fat, Stephanie,” he said, exasperated. “They’re not filled with bloody water.”
He turned to me once again and took a deep breath.
“Anyway, I was thinking about something else for you to sink your teeth into. You know, Venezuela,” he said, and I felt a flurry of butterflies in my stomach as soon as he mentioned the state which had recently descended into chaos. This was followed by a flood of intense heat permeating my body and draping my skin.
I quickly rose from my chair and excused myself.
“Sorry, Bill. I’ve to . . . run to the little boy’s room.”
William looked surprised, but as he did the math — considering that I had just eaten and my sense of urgency — his expression morphed into one of concession, followed by a look of empathy which was solidified with successive, approving nods of his head and raised hands.
I exited the restaurant hurriedly and in the lobby I leaned against the wall, loosened my tie and released a long exhale as I attempted to banish the thoughts of the socialist state from my mind. Sweating, I removed my phone from my pocket, looking around the foyer to check if anyone had noticed my rather obvious mental disintegration, but thankfully nobody was staring at me.
I immediately dialed the Friedman Hotline.
As usual it clicked after a single ring, and I held my breath as I was greeted by a sage voice which said:
“Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else’s resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property.”
When the voice ceased a prolonged beeeep followed, and I ended the call with an unintentionally loud exhale framed by circled lips as I reached into my trouser pocket and fished out two loose Ativan I’d stuffed in there earlier, before our taxi arrived. I placed them in my mouth, fixed my tie, re-entered the busy restaurant, and as I returned to the table I raised my eyebrows and smiled apologetically, before reaching for my glass of Nebbiolo and washing down both pills.
“All okay?” asked William, concerned probably not for me but for the mere idea of a fellow diner shitting his pants and returning to a table afterwards.
I smiled, still a little choked. I managed to force out a couple of labored words: “Okay. Good,” I nodded, mildly red-faced. “Great.”
“Now,” William resumed. “Where was I?”
“We were talking about immigration,” I said as, surprisingly, I found myself returning to a calm state almost immediately after ingesting the pills.
“Well,” began William, before hesitating. “No, I wanted to talk about something else, uh, Venu—”
“I think an article on immigration is a great idea, actually,” I said as quickly as possible.
“You do?” asked William, surprised by my calculated U-turn.
“Yes, yes,’ I nodded enthusiastically.
“But I don’t want an opinion piece,” William replied. “I’m fed up with the unholy bombardment of opinion pieces adding to the nonsensical Sturm und Drang we’re constantly experiencing these days. It’s all identity politics, self-obsession, political correctness, lazy journalism. And it’s not only blogs on the internet; the heavyweights, they all resort to it now. They’re using emojis on the BBC. Emojis, Lukas. I don’t know what’s happened to journalism. It’s dead, in the reportage of Western issues. Foreign Correspondents, more of them are — they’re still well-versed in the art of old-fashioned reportage. But pick up any paper, click on any US newspaper’s website covering national news, click on a link on Facebook and you’re guaranteed to find overwrought and melodramatic, often factually scant articles laced with ‘I, ME, ME, I, ME, WE.’ It’s a shambolic state of affairs.”
I shuffled in my chair uncomfortably as I took another sip of my wine.
“You do know that my next interview—”
“With the porn star,” interjected William curtly.
“Yes, with Alfie B. Lee . . . it is something of an opinion piece.”
“Well,” said William, shrugging his shoulders and looking down at his dinner plate. “It’s a popcorn article, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he nodded firmly before looking me in the eye. “It’s a popcorn article, Lukas. It’ll entertain — it’ll help boost sales. It’ll please the shareholders. He’s a big name. He’ll grace the cover of The Cutter. But we’ll have you back to real journalism once it’s wrapped up.”
I thought to myself: Ouch.
And then I thought to myself: Miniature fucking camels.
Later, the four of us sat at the hotel bar. The elegant glass bar countertop underlit by neon-blue light gave the place a false vibrancy, because this was countered by the lazy jazz playing low, emitted from multiple wall-mounted speakers, and with the bar being only half full the atmosphere was unquestionably relaxed.
Right before Stephanie brought up the recent murder which had happened not far from our house on Rutherford Drive, and which I’d learned was connected to the most famous porn star on the planet — the man I was scheduled to interview in December — Alfie B. Lee . . .
I had immediately thought to myself: Will he still make porno videos?
After that, I’d thought to myself: Will this affect our interview?
I flashed back to earlier that day in the bathroom, and the momentary reminder of the pornographic video I watched gave rise to a mild erection, and I hunched slightly so as to ensure it wouldn’t be noticeable; my elbow rested clumsily, but not ostentatiously, across my thigh, as Stephanie opened with:
“It’s scary as hell. To think that it happened not far from where you guys live. Seriously. It’s, like, how many blocks from your place?”
“It’s five or six blocks away,” Karen said with what I thought was an affectation of concern. But she followed this with “They’re saying he was just a kid,” with sadness in her voice, which led me to believe that her worry was genuine. And which also led me to believe that this is who she was referring to in the cab on the way over.
To be precise, they were saying he was Leighton Le Ché, an up-and-coming pornographic actor who was hot property within the industry, having only starred in a handful of videos which had quickly become some of the most popular on major porn sites. He’d been found in his downtown Coldcut apartment which overlooked the Dalloway River — which was seen as the divider between the north and south sides of the city — with multiple stab wounds to his cherubic face. His well-toned torso was gashed and sliced, and on his left wrist (which bore the tattoo Forever Young — how prescient he was) were what appeared to be two puncture wounds; deep bite marks, although this last detail was mere conjecture. A quick Google search would lead you to graphic images which had been taken by the cleaner who’d found the teenager’s blood-spattered and eviscerated body. The revelation that he was in fact seventeen — ergo underage — was causing a stir, as expected.
As tempted as I was to share the Alfie B. Lee revelation — which had been passed on to me by a producer contact at PleasureVille Studios, Jay Jay Bonch, during a post-dinner bathroom trip — I felt it was best to keep it to myself for now; I couldn’t be sure that Bill wouldn’t pull the plug on the entire piece, and it had taken me months to persuade Maggie — the editor-in-chief of The Cutter magazine, the periodical for which I wrote, and which Bill owned — to give the article the green light, and I wasn’t going to lose it now.
“It’s the viciousness that I don’t understand,” said Karen as she rested her elbows on the countertop and sipped her fifth martini of the night. “The poor kid suffered a terrible death.”
“Rent boys are always at risk of meeting such an end,” said William as he sipped his scotch.
“He wasn’t a rent boy,” I corrected. “He was an adult performer.”
“And the difference is?” asked William rhetorically.
“Don’t be so heartless,” said Stephanie, who was the only one of the party of four who wasn’t drinking alcohol. “He was some mother’s son.”
“She’s right,” said Karen, her face still draped with concern, sadness.
“And what was with those bite marks?”
“Bite marks?” asked William.
Stephanie rested her elbow on her husband’s shoulder.
“There were two holes on his wrist.”
“Bullshit,” I said.
“Oh yeah? Why so, detective?”
“Those photographs are blurry as hell, and even if there were puncture holes on his wrist, I doubt they’re the result of a bite.”
“Well we live in fucked up times. Who’s to know?” replied Stephanie. “Karen, you’ve read about the elite and all that Satanism — the sacrifices, the pedophilia, right? I sent you articles, lots of them.”
“I never got around to those,” said Karen.
“There’s some fucked up people out there. Powerful people.”
Stephanie removed her cell from her handbag and proceeded to show us all what she referred to as a ‘video on the occult,’ but which in fact was a mix of scenes from the movies Eyes Wide Shut, The Hunger and The Brotherhood of Satan. Afterwards she moved on to a video called Dogs Do Funny Things, and as Karen and Stephanie made thrilled noises like puppies whimpering as they watched the cute canines, and while William sat in solemn thought, I sipped my whiskey silently and willed the end of the evening.
I thought to myself: Bill’s a powerful person.
And then I thought to myself: This is your life, Lukas Lazaruk