phone rings and Bill winces once and automatically pulls his hand
out of the waistband of his pants, sweatpants riddled with stains
less than distinctive, stains less than honorable. Stains not to
pants, he calls them.
phone rings and he starts to swing his feet off of the coffee table,
but thinks better of it, and remembers, remembers the stack of unopened
bills that came in today's mail.
maybe it's work, maybe they're calling him back, maybe things are
picking up, maybe the place is falling apart without him.
he plans ahead: shave, shower, maybe a haircut, maybe a load of
if it's work, they'll leave a message and he grabs another slice
of pizza from the partially opened box that is placed haphazardly
on the coffee table, the box teetering on a stack of magazines.
that should be hidden, really, in case someone comes over.
case a girl comes over.
that won't happen. Guys unemployed with fat pants riddled with stains
don't have girls over. Besides, there are girls in the magazines
on his coffee table. Lots of girls, their faces riddled with anguished
what Bill likes, though he doesn't know it, he likes the anguished
pleasure, the anguished pleasure glowing from the pages.
no one will come over until tomorrow when his mother will arrive
for her weekly foray into his apartment to clean and do his laundry
and bring a check.
check to supplement his unemployment.
phone rings and Bill wishes for caller ID; he must be the only dude
on the planet
without caller ID.
phone rings and one more ring the machine will pick it up, the machine
will answer and electronic Bill will say, "Hello
Hello?" a pregnant pause "Oh, I forgot, I'm not here,
leave a message."
he will laugh at that, again, taking a bite of pizza, taking another
swallow of the fifth beer of his six-pack.
favorites - pizza and beer - and he tells himself, he told himself,
"Shit, I can't afford pizza and beer."
he can't help himself, there's a game on TV today, a big game and
one can't watch a big game without pizza and beer.
he doesn't watch much of the game, the remote control mirroring
his attention - short, shallow, fleeting - his hand always caressing
the up button, the down button, his focus on the game long enough
to take in the score, long enough to focus on the cheerleaders who
only remain in the camera for a moment, long enough to see their
pleasure. He sees their faces of anguished pleasure.
phone stops ringing, and no message is left.
means it was a bill collector, another bill collector. Another bullet
pizza. More beer.
his one hand relaxes in the waistband of his fat pants whilst the
fingertips of his other hand dance lightly on the face of the remote
control and he has a sort of rhythm to his surfing.
knows the channels where the girls are, where the women are.
knows where to find the faces of anguished pleasure.
takes in all the shopping channels and pauses long enough to see
if they're selling women's clothing, to see if there are models
twirling underneath so much track lighting, and then there's all
the music channels and the news channels.
face it, there are no ugly women broadcasting the news.
now, he's found a Spanish channel, and the phone rings.
winces on the first ring, his hand coming out of his pants.
feet twitch on the second ring.
relaxes on the third.
swallows tepid beer on the fourth.
laughs at his electronic voice on the fifth.
attention returns to the television. He flips through the channels
in rapid fire, deciding which channel has the prettiest girls, which
channel deserves his attention the most, for the moment, anyway.
order: The shopping channel, the news channel, an infomercial with
women in spandex, another with women playing with makeup.
finally, it's decided, back to the Spanish channel, and it's some
soap opera. It looks just like an American soap opera except all
the men have dark hair and mustaches and the woman are fuller figured
with dark skin and dark eyes and the women are bigger on top, and
their asses are bigger.
that's not a bad thing, he decides, bigger asses.
gets lost in a scene, inside some mansion in Mexico or Argentina
or Venezuela. Bill can't tell where and he doesn't care, he's fallen
in love for an instant with a woman in lingerie only vaguely conservative.
She is sprawled on the couch and talking on the phone.
her face is anguished, in a pleasurable sort of way.
forgets his pizza, forgets his beer.
gets lost in her face.
hand reaches deeper in his fat pants, gets deeper as the woman's
long and dyed blonde hair comes into his focus.
then his screen goes blank.
Bill says, "Shit", and then he says, "Fuck,"
and he wonders when he last paid the cable bill, the one bill he
made sure he paid.
can't live without cable, he can't live without the shopping channels,
the news channels, the video channels, on some nights the weather
he can't live without his new favorite: the Spanish channel.
picks up the remote as he sits upright for the first time in hours
and days. He presses the up and down buttons in a forceful way,
but nothing happens, the screen remains blank.
he should have answered the phone.
he paid the cable bill, he can swear, and he starts to rise from
the couch, starts to wander through the cluttered living room floor,
starts to make his way into the kitchen and sift through all those
unopened envelopes piled on the kitchen table, maybe he forgot just
this once. Maybe
then a voice emerges from the speaker of his television, a smallish
television on top of what would be considered a nightstand.
for Bill it's an entertainment center and bookcase: DVD's are in
the top drawer, and his magazines are in the bottom drawer.
me, Mr. William Williams?" a voice out of the television asks.
halts his rise; his buttocks drift back to the indent in his couch.
rubs his head. "Shit," he tells himself.
only been five beers. Not even five. So what the fuck?
me, and I am sure you must be confused, but I must congratulate
you," and the voice is Indian, just like every other bill collector
who ever calls.
are the first recipient of a call over the television. Congratulations,
I guess," Bill replies, reaching for the sixth beer that he
has at the ready underneath the coffee table.
very very welcome, Mr. Williams, and how are you today?"
fine," Bill replies.
well, those of us at BankCardAmerika would like to wish you good
evening, and we were wondering if you knew you were past due on
your BankCardAmerika account?"
yeah, but I lost my job, so I haven't had a lot of money lately,
you know, I gotta eat."
yes of course, of course Mr. Williams, we at BankCardAmerika understand,
we would be very happy to work with you," the voice of the
television is enthusiastic in a singsong sort of way, the Indian
accent rising with each adverb and with each adjective.
have been trying to contact you," the voice continues. "We
have sent you notices, first, second and third!"
Bill replies, too drunk in a drowsy sort of way to reply any more.
problem, no problem," the voice replies, and it is indeed a
very helpful voice, "and please, Mr. Williams, call me Jay."
yes, Mr. Williams, our records show that your account balance is
five thousand dollars, and you were to send a minimum payment last
month of 250 dollars. And now you owe a minimum payment of 500 dollars,
along with a late fee, which brings your new minimum payment to
600 dollars. Can you mail it today?"
I don't have any money. I mean, my unemployment barely covers rent
and groceries (he deliberately doesn't mention his mother's benevolence),
I was working when I used that credit card, I mean, I thought I
could cover it."
yes, I see here on your application that you were a forklift operator,
what happened to your job, Mr. Williams?"
is too drunk to lie, even though the truth is painful, and damn,
he was the best forklift operator in the whole warehouse, he could
make the sharpest turn without the tines of the lift touching a
got replaced by a robot
." Bill explains.
yes, yes, I heard about that, the new RoboLifts, very economical
and simple, I hear."
shrugs his shoulders, drinks more beer, flips open the pizza box,
which is now empty.
Mr. Williams, I took an RFID scan of your apartment, you know, via
your cable box, and it seems like you've made some purchases that
you don't need. It seems like you are not as broke as you make yourself
out to be."
yes, Radio Frequency Identification. Your cable box has allowed
us to read all the chips on your purchases, bye bye bar codes! You
have very, very many magazines, Mr. Williams, and six-packs of beer,
surely you could pay us some of the money you owe, rather than indulge
yourself, I mean, why so many magazines?"
is flabbergasted and beyond confused.
cable television? And we know you watch a lot of television, Mr.
Williams, perhaps you should forego cable, and perhaps pay us?"
" panic forms in Bill's stomach, panic rises and seizes
his heart, and the taste of panic rises in his throat.
we are not unreasonable, Mr. Williams, no, no, not at all! We here
at BankCardAmerika are your friends! We can make some arrangement,
I mean, after all, a man has needs, right, Mr. Williams?"
nods and says nothing as the panic starts to recede.
well, Mr. Williams, very well. So you say you have no money?"
much, just what's in my wallet," and Bill goes to reach for
his wallet, buried somewhere on top of his coffee table.
your folding money, Mr. Williams, keep your folding money. I do
have another suggestion, in lieu of the six hundred dollars you
owe us, an arrangement that will bridge you until the next payment
of 250 dollars is due. What do you say? It will be much easier,
if you take my suggestion, rather than sending our agents to your
apartment to seize your property."
mulls this over. He really doesn't have enough money to put a dent
in his debt, and he doesn't really want anyone in his apartment,
even though there isn't much in the way of property to seize.
his television and magazines.
Bill says, "whatever."
good, Mr. Williams, very good. Now all anyone ever wants is a piece
of you, that's all anyone ever really wants, so I suggest we take
a piece of you, just a piece of your insides, you will hardly notice
it's gone. It's very, very easy to do."
part of my insides?" and Bill is wary.
small part," Jay replies, "a very, very small part, a
part you don't really use, and it will probably make your life easier,
you know, not having this part inside you."
decides it sounds easy enough. "Okay," he says, "whatta
I gotta do?"
very, very, very easy, Mr. Williams!" And Jay sounds more gleeful,
more triumphant. "You must take your shirt off and stand in
front of the television, no more than a foot away."
pulls off his t-shirt, a gray rag with little holes forming in the
armpits and at the waist. He rises from the couch as he drops the
t-shirt on the coffee table. He is uncomfortable with his near nakedness,
uncomfortable with his flaccid and bare and pimply torso covered
with wispy hairs, uncomfortable with his stomach that suffers from
too much gravity.
me know when you're ready, Mr. Williams."
stands in front of the television, the top of the screen level with
Mr. William Williams, just stare at the screen
This will only
take a moment, and then you can continue on with your evening, I
know you are a very, very busy man, Mr. Williams."
humming noise erupts from the cable box and the screen shows a kaleidoscope
of colors, countless colors that glow and swirl in a seemingly random
Bill can feel little fingers feeling around his heart.
little fingers scurry across his skin and he can feel them enter
the cavity of his chest and he can feel them massage his head and
enter his skull.
little fingers are almost ticklish, but not quite.
little and invisible fingers are almost painful, but not quite.
humming increases in volume and the colors glow and swirl faster
and faster as the fingers scurry in his brain and in his chest.
Bill feels dizzy and he can feel the panic start to rise again.
all, he thinks, what the hell is this?
then, after a moment, the humming stops and the screen goes blank.
you, Mr. Williams. BankCardAmerika looks forward to your continued
patronage. Good night."
the television returns to the Spanish channel; the credits of the
same soap opera scroll down the screen.
returns to the couch, donning his t-shirt as he sits down.
did they take? He does feel a difference, but he can't put his finger
on it, he just feels sort of
* * *
mother comes over the next day, bringing a grocery sack full of
milk and frozen dinners and apples.
eat the frozen dinners but ignore the apples and the milk.
he notices a difference as soon as his mother takes off her coat
and begins her furious rush through his apartment.
pretends not to notice what sort of magazines he reads as she stacks
them neatly on the coffee table, she pretends not to be disappointed
as she opens up a garbage bag and fills it quickly with the discarded
trash scattered across the floor.
is always glad to see his mother, but not this time; she seems different,
like a different person, like someone he's seen before but doesn't
like he doesn't love her.
spends an hour tidying and vacuuming and scrubbing his place and
leaves him with a check and a peck on the cheek.
you," she says as Bill stares at the television, viewing a
channel off of his usual menu.
says nothing, even though "I love you too" has been an
automatic response for all of his thirty-three years.
wrong?" his mother asks as she puts on her coat, her face looking
saddened and concerned.
has always been a disappointment, but a loving disappointment.
shrugs his shoulders and stares at the television.
once you get a job and get on your feet, you'll feel better. See
you soon," and she leaves the apartment and Bill feels himself
relax the instant she's gone.
grabs the phone, orders a pizza and melts into the couch.
couch that smells like sweat and dirty feet and something else.
picks up the remote and starts searching.
shopping channels, the music channels, the news channels and the
settles on the news, he settles on a middle-aged newscaster, her
face masked with surgery and make-up and shrouded with shoulder
length blonde hair.
she does indeed have news to tell.
tells of the latest business, the latest venture entered by a variety
of companies - bio-medical and financial.
selling of emotions.
a child who is suddenly indifferent to his or her parents? We have
love for sale. Have a spouse who is no longer attracted to the other
spouse? We have lust for sale. Are you a salesman who has lost your
competitive edge? We have greed for sale.
the list goes on.
can sell their emotions to one of these companies, and, in turn,
the companies find clients for those emotions.
the price is very, very dear.
is too angry to listen to the rest of the story, too angry to hear
the therefore and the why and the how. He doesn't care how the process
knows J took his love, took his love and sold it.
walks to the refrigerator in his bare feet; the soles callused and
dirty. He grabs a beer and returns to the couch and his anger disappears.
all, he wasn't using his love anyway.
* * *
month passes. Bill ignores his mail and tosses it unopened onto
the kitchen table, the pile of envelopes forming a misshapen pyramid
that spills onto the floor.
are bills in that pile of mail, and he sees the BankCardAmerika
logo on several of the envelopes.
knows he should figure out a way to pay on that card. Maybe he could
ask his mother, but he decides to wait another day, and then another,
and then another.
busy, watching television, finding the faces of girls, reading his
then his television turns blank again, and a voice with an Indian
accent interrupts his evening.
not Jay this time.
the same banter ensues. Mr. William Williams is informed that he
is past due on his account, and would he like to make another arrangement?
sighs and agrees and removes his shirt and readies himself for the
invisible fingers that will almost hurt and almost tickle.
asks, "What are you taking this time?"
you have the most of," Vijay replies.
* * *
month passes and Bill's mother is so hurt by his indifference towards
her that she stops coming over to clean the apartment and stops
providing him with his weekly check.
is no more money for pizza and beer.
he ignores his rent and buys pizza and beer anyway, and his fat
pants are no longer quite so comfortable.
the fat pants have become unrecognizable, their original color camouflaged
by a thousand different stains.
would go and find a job, any job, but BankCardAmerika took his pride.
spends his days and nights in front of the television, mindlessly
fingering the remote that is so worn that the numbers and letters
are no longer legible.
Bill doesn't need to read the remote, he is intimate with every
function and feature and number.
And again, a Saturday night and the screen becomes blank and his
old friend Jay interrupts his surfing.
William Williams, good evening!"
seems that you no longer have a telephone."
can't afford it."
you are late on your payment again
sorry about that, things have been a bit tight lately," and
he thinks about his mother. He is angry with his mother, for the
moment, anyway; those checks sure did make things easier.
would you like to take another suggestion?"
bother, I know the routine," and Bill rips off his t-shirt,
not caring about his near nakedness, not caring that his stomach
now hangs well below the waistband of his fat pants.
Mr. Williams, may I make another suggestion?"
Bill says, standing less than a foot away from the television.
is probably no way that you will ever pay off your BankCardAmerika
account, is there?"
how about we take all of your insides, you know the insides that
you don't really need, and wipe off your debt. What do you say?"
of it, all five thousand dollars?"
all of it, and how fortunate for you, Mr. Williams!"
remembers that emotions are going for about five thousand dollars
apiece, and lust is going for well more than that.
now BankCardAmerika wants to take all of his emotions, countless
emotions, for just five thousand dollars.
a deal," Bill says, and the fingers go to work in an instant.
time, they tickle.
time, they're painful.
* * *
gone, they're all gone.
Bill watches television, but the glowing female faces do nothing
for him, the pizza and beer satisfy no hunger, even though a hunger
still exists. He flips through magazines out of habit, out of hope,
hoping something will stir.
is no joy in anything; there is pleasure in nothing.
left him feeling only one thing.