Wake up, son. Your job isn’t coming back. You should learn to code.
Learn Python, learn SQL, learn Java, learn TypeScript, learn C++, learn Swift, learn Go, learn PHP, learn R, learn Matlab, learn Ruby, learn Kotlin.
We all agree it’s good that you can read a little Spanish. But now you should learn a programming language.
All languages are programming languages. Do you know how Molière died?
I don’t know. Tell me.
He slit his throat with his own tongue, that’s how.
Sure he did.
Listen. Almost the last words Molière spoke were die, Molière, die. Then he started coughing up blood. He was on stage, he was acting in his own play, The Imaginary Invalid, and his character, Argan, gets invited to a Molière play, and Argan, played, let’s remember, by Molière himself, starts ranting about how much he hates Molière and wants him to die.
That’s why you don’t want to learn to code?
Proverbs Eighteen, man.
Just tell me what it says.
It says the words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters. It says a fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds. It says death and life are in the power of the tongue.
Sure. That’s like the Gospel of Thomas. Nothing that goes into a man has the power to defile him. Only what comes out of a man’s mouth has the power to defile him.
You know your Gnostic Gospels, but not the Proverbs? You fucking people.
So you’re telling me, what, you’re telling me what.
I’m telling you God said Let there be light, and there was light.
And Molière said Let Molière be dead, and he died. Is that it?
Some of his last words were Oh, good Lord, I’m a dead man. Some of his last words were, Isn’t there some danger in pretending to be dead? And the answer is yes. There is no pretense, there is only the present tense. You can never pretend, you can only tend. So let it be written, so let it be done, as Pharaoh says in The Ten Commandments.
That’s why you won’t learn to code? because of Yul Brynner?
You’re acting like it’s all program or be programmed. As if learning to program will give me frame control. But my agreement that learning to program can give me frame control means that I have already consented to operate inside of your frame.
Jesus. OK. So how did Molière die?
Just like I told you. More or less.
No. He didn’t die of saying die, Molière. What did he die of?
He hemorrhaged right there on stage. He started coughing up blood. He died later that night.
So he died of tuberculosis. Am I asking you to learn how to die of tuberculosis?
No. But listen to this story.
OK. What’s the story called.
I don’t remember. It’s about the boy Pharaoh and how they taught him to sit as if he were a god. That was all there was to it.
Dear Egypt, I write to apply for the post of Pharaoh.
Let there be light. Ride your horse in the direction it’s already going. Pray for events that have already happened, pray for what you already have, pray for things to be as they are. These wishes will come true.
Let there be intractable, endemic global coronavirus, let there be chaos and denial, let there be ruin and poverty, starvation and death.
Let me not lift a finger to stop it, as if my finger ever stopped anything. Let me drink too much, let me read magazines and newspapers. Let me break contracts and be unemployed, let me spend my meager savings. Let me shovel snow, until the floods and wildfires come.
Let me play obsessively through my charts of “Body and Soul” and “All The Things You Are” for months before I realize that body and soul is all the things I am.
Let my far-away aging parents be injured and need surgery. Let my mother fall, again, why not, and need wrist surgery again, that’s both of her wrists now, and let my father need spinal surgery as well. Let them convalesce, lonely and fearful, among unvaccinated death-worshipers such as their next-door neighbor who will die, screaming, of the coronavirus, and let that neighbor, wheeled on a stretcher toward the ambulance waiting in the rain, rip off his oxygen mask in order that his dying words can be I don’t have the virus! It’s all a hoax!
Let there be corruption and general failure of competence, from high to low. Let every leader fail to lead, let their followers fail to follow.
Let all be diminished, scattered and stymied. Let the country fail. So let it be written, so let it be done.
O Lord, do not hear this prayer.
You Can’t Pretend
Weather too good, the tall girl at the counter said. Good summer mean hard winter. Everybody feel it.
Micah, not listening, with that vague, free-floating attention of his that made people snatch and grab at him, heard her say hard and body and feel and thought, This chick is into me. Then he thought, Shut up, you’re an idiot.
She said, Your food out ten minutes. Sit down and have a beer, honey. Micah heard the words honey and beer.
The kid’s father had lost the restaurant in a hand of poker, the girl told Micah, who had known plenty of men who lost money playing cards and a few who’d owned restaurants, although the combination of those elements was new. The kid was a little prince, he was pre-med, the kid was about to get married and his family was set to buy him and his wife a starter house in the suburbs near the train line, with an easy commute. Now the family restaurant was gone out from under them like a tablecloth in a magic trick, and the kid’s grandfather would have to wire the necessary out of their home country. It could only be in fifty-thousand-dollar increments, and it couldn’t go to members of their family without attracting unwanted attention.
You like to make two thousand dollars easy? she said.
People have thrown money at me my whole life, he said, and it never sticks.
You like two thousand dollars?
I like three, Micah said, but I don’t believe a word you’re saying.
You believe when restaurant close next week.
And what about you? Micah said.
What about me, she said.
Micah and Ronnie went for lunch to the other restaurant, down the block, and Micah said, Listen. What ever happened to Big Jim?
Ronnie said, You don’t know? You ought to call home more. Jim’s in the pen doing thirteen. He did six already. His sister catches him looking at child porn in the office again and she says, I love you, you’re my brother, but you got to go. She threw him out, now he’s on the street, he makes his way to Louisiana. My cousin saw him in New Orleans, says he was shacked up with some teenaged boy and had a pile of hard drives under a blanket on the passenger seat of his new S-class, the boy’s asleep in the back. Next comes Hurricane Katrina and what does Jim do, he starts robbing casinos, Keno games. That’s thirteen years in Louisiana State Penitentiary, home of the Angola Prison Rodeo. Look at Louisiana, man. Would you look at the city of New Orleans. Now tell me something. What do you think their prison is going to be like? That is the worstest.
Ronnie said, And speaking of prisons. Did you see what the President tweeted yesterday?
I don’t even know who the President is, Micah said.
When are you going to pull your head out of the sand?
Is that what you all think, I’ve got my head buried in the sand. Meanwhile you, I guess you are busy watching cable television, looking all around you, observing information. But that isn’t information, Ronnie. It’s just more sand. Now listen. I got to go away for a while.
Then give me your cell phone number.
I don’t have a cell phone, Ronnie. I have something better than a cell phone, it’s called a tachyonic anti-telephone. I use it to call myself from the future, to tell myself how everything worked out in the end.
Yeah? and how does everything work out, in the end?
Not bad. Naturally I fuck up here and there, I’m just a man like all the rest. Now listen.
Ronnie said, Why don’t you get a cell phone? You could use Venmo.
No man might buy or sell, said Micah, save that he had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
What the fuck do you fucking mean what, Ronnie. You fucking people.
Whoa, hey. What’d I do?
Listen, Ronnie. Promise me something. You like movies? I want you to watch a movie called The Greatest Story Ever Told. You’re going to like it. It’s got Charlton Heston in it.
Like Planet of the Apes.
Listen to me. I went to an art museum last week, I’m looking at a painting of the Crucifixion, and a little girl said to her father, Daddy, why is that man nailed to that piece of wood?
What is that, crucifixion. You mean like Jesus and shit.
Yeah, Ronnie, like Jesus and shit. That’s what I mean. Now listen. I want you to sell me your car.
The Pontiac? What happened to your truck?
Yeah, the Pontiac. What would you take for it?
I don’t know.
Well, get to where you do know. Micah signaled for the check.
Just say a thousand. I’ll give you a thousand.
Ronnie said, What the hell?
You’re walking home, is what the hell, said Micah.
A thousand in fifties, Micah said to the teller, and a thousand in twenties, and a thousand in tens, and forty-seven thousand in hundreds.
I’ll have to call the manager, she said.
Call him, then.
But all the manager said was, I don’t believe I’d date a girl who said she wanted to roll around on my bed in fifty thousand dollars in cash. I’d find a nice regular girl who likes hamburgers.
He zipped his rolling suitcase shut and chucked it in the trunk of the Pontiac. He had a staple-gun he kept next to him on the bench seat. He knew the fixative that held the fabric to the roof was liable to melt and give way and droop in the heat, like a first-act curtain falling.
They had broken up, but no one ever breaks up. She was still emailing him pictures. After she had stopped sending pictures of her body, she started sending pictures of orchids. A plant that sustains itself using sexual mimicry, he thought. Shut up, you’re an idiot, he thought, as he pulled up to the drive-thru window.
You. You bum, Lori said. Last time I saw you, you were dirty-dancing with my cousin Becky.
Last time I saw you, Micah said, you and Kirby didn’t have any clothes on and the two of you were wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, giggling and stumbling down the hall to the kitchen.
That might be true, she said. What do you want?
What do you think I want?
You can’t pretend you are pursued by furies, Lori said, if you keep ringing a dinner bell and wearing a sign that says Come And Get It. You would wait until now to come around, when I been working in this dump for six months, eating this food. Look at my ass. She turned round for him, twirling.
Just like that?
Ripley’s believe it or don’t, he said. Get your things, get in the car.
Where are we going?
Why are you asking me, Lori, he said, you know you don’t care.
This was the story he told her.
He had just come back from four days on the Cape, sleeping in a friend’s distinguished mold-palace with an overgrown tennis court and a deck with a view of the bay. He got out of his truck in his own driveway, and his long-haired dachshund, getting on in years, jumped down too. Neither one of them saw or smelled the coyote. They were happy to be home. He was reaching into the truck bed for his suitcase when the coyote snatched his little dog Roscoe up like the snack Roscoe was, and that was the end of the first part of the story.
He sat in the driveway and leaned against the driver’s-side front tire and thought, The sooner you are able to cry about this, the better it will be for all of us. But he couldn’t cry.
What are you going to do? his doctor said.
What do you think I’m going to do? Micah said. What would your dog do if a coyote killed you?
I don’t know what that means, his doctor said.
He threw the leashes away, both of them. He threw the little green plastic bags for dogshit away. He threw the box of pills for fleas and ticks away. He threw out both dog beds. He threw out the stuffed tiger and the stuffed possum and the little red plastic bone. He tried to throw himself away, but he couldn’t find a handle to pick himself up by.
He had a couple of beers up the street and came home and listened to a Victor Feldman CD. He stir-fried red and orange peppers in the wok and sat up all night reading a science-fiction book his friend Jamie had recommended, Philip K. Dick’s The Divine Invasion.
The divine invasion of Dick? he said out loud.
He said, Listen, God, I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
He baited the coyote with a pet-store rabbit in a metal cage. The rabbit was white, like a lab rat, with pink eyes. It was scared when he bought it, scared when he plonked it in its cage at the end of the driveway, it stayed scared.
This is one good-looking rabbit, he said to the boy at the counter. You could pull this rabbit out of a hat.
Will that be all, sir? the boy asked him, staring at the cash register.
He slid a twenty-two long into his squirrel rifle. He didn’t know anything about his guns, it was creepy to be romantic or a gear-head about them, although he did have a subscription to Guns & Ammo, but he knew what he felt. There was nothing like your first rifle, the one your father had given you, the one your own father had taught you to shoot. His father, a military policeman, had been an angry, unpredictable figure, but with a gun in his hand he had become calm and responsible, and as a consequence the times the two of them had spent target-shooting together had been the happiest moments of Micah’s childhood.
When the coyote came round to the end of his driveway to sniff at the rabbit, he shot it with his squirrel rifle from a second-floor window. One in the skull. All the lights in coyote town went out. Better than you deserve, he thought. Like one of those zombie TV shows, he thought, or like a movie where they have to destroy the brain bug, or the super computer, destroy the brain.
You’re fucking right, he thought, with his own destroyed brain. I wish my dad and my grandpa could have seen that shot. And what would they have said. They would have said it was a foolish risk to shoot from that angle onto a paved surface, where’s your backstop.
He would have told them, A twenty-two won’t have the power to punch through the other side of the coyote’s skull. It’ll flatten on the far side, bounce around in there like a hockey puck and scramble his eggs for him.
His father would have said, Boy, what is this you’re trying to tell me about, a mob hit?
And Doctor Gardner, who had told him a story about doing an autopsy on a man who’d been killed with a single shot behind his ear from a twenty-two, would have said, That is a sweeping conclusion to reach from a single data point.
And his grandfather would have said, You seem awful sure you’re not going to miss your shot, son. His grandfather, who, when the family doctor had told him he had testicular cancer and if he didn’t have his balls cut off he would die, had said, All right, I’ll think about it.
God, I wish my dad could have seen that shot, he thought. He put on a pair of dirty white thick cloth work gloves and his tennis shoes. He walked down to the end of his driveway.
Did you hear a bang? his neighbor’s window said.
Everything’s fine, Brenda, he said to the window. Go back to sleep.
Now he got right up on the dead coyote. You smell like two skunks fucking in a litterbox, but you were a good-looking beast, he thought. In the movie scene of this confrontation, he thought, now you would tell me we’re not very different from each other.
Okay, the dead coyote said. Would you like me to say that?
You scrawny little shit. Why’d you make me kill you? You shouldn’t have eaten my dog.
Let’s just get on with it, big mouth, the dead coyote said.
He walked back into his house and punched a rush-hole in a tall boy with his jack-knife and re-watched the first hour of Ice Station Zebra. Then he went back out into the dark and he stepped with either foot wide across the aperture of a big black force-flex plastic garbage bag and held it open in a triangle high with his free hand and used the garden shovel to drag and tump and roll the coyote’s dead body into the bag. It was dead, all right. He rolled up the open ends into a tail and knotted the tail shut and chucked the garbage bag in the bed of his pickup. He drove over the bridge, over the river, and threw the bag with the coyote’s body in it into a dumpster behind a veterinarian’s office in Jeffersonville, where some blameless twenty-year-old girl with eyeglasses would have to find it. She would have been listening to The Cure all morning on her commute to a summer internship. Her name would be, what, Amy. Her passion was for rescue dogs, especially for Australian Shepherds, her aunt Debbie’d had one named Scooter with different colored eyes, or heterochromia, and she had been fascinated by Scooter’s eyes as a little girl, but now she hadn’t even finished her vanilla latte and she had a dead coyote in a garbage bag to deal with.
Fuck, he said out loud, driving home, and that was the end of the story.
And did killing the coyote bring Roscoe back to life? Lori said in bed, looking at the hotel room’s wall clock.
Sure, he said. He’s waiting for us out in the car right now.
What about the rabbit? she said.
Rabbit? What rabbit?
The rabbit in the story. What happened to the rabbit?
What happened to the rabbit, Jesus, Lori. The rabbit died.
It died? Of what?
What did the rabbit die of, it died of fear. That’s what it died of. It died of fear.
Micah stood up and looked out the window, into the parking lot, not at his truck but at the Pontiac, now his. What was that noise? It was his tachyonic anti-telephone, ringing with news from his future. He answered it and listened.
The rabbit died of fear, Lori said. Is that what happened to you?