I've got a gift
but the gift needs batteries.
In some way I'm sick.
I can't get it out of me.
I've broken all the wishes that I can.
And if you leave me now,
If you would leave me now,
then my death be complete.
But I'm a tin man.
I'm a toy soldier.
And you know where I sleep.
It was the year after I graduated from college.
In January, I go down to Baltimore, to do some voice
acting for a tiny production company making their first
game. They operate out a disheveled house, owned by a
recovering alcoholic--the president of the company's
father. The president himself is a quietly impish man,
as hospitable as he is enigmatic. As gaudy as he is
impeccable, as much a conceptual humorist as a
businessman. There is a trophy that says "Number One
Rapist" with his name printed underneath, sitting on
his desk. Sometimes he wears a dress. His girlfriend is
fat, but pretty. I spend two weeks drinking, going to
the mall and watching movies. No one in the company
seems to do any work, but the vice president does
receive packages from record labels who think he might
be in a position to afford licensing their artists,
from time to time. We're making a dance game.
Ten days into the trip, my girlfriend comes to visit
us...and a woman who will eventually become a stripper
buys her a nightie. She is the ex-girlfriend of the
vice president. They aren't on good terms but she needs
a place to stay for the night and he's going to drive
her to the airport in the morning, after they sleep
together. Me and my girlfriend sleep together too, as
do the president and his, the one who is fat but
pretty. And for one night, the whole company is
swallowed up in sex. In the morning, which is four PM
for us, we go down to the basement and record the voice
overs. The session only lasts about four hours and it's
the only session. But for the next five months, when
people ask me what I've been doing since I graduated
from college, I tell them I've been doing some voice
From February to May, nothing of significance happens.
My girlfriend flies to Japan to be an exchange student.
I get a three-month trial membership at a gym and the
highlight of my day becomes fifty minutes on the
elliptical. This is because, during this trial period,
it's the only thing I leave the house for. I spend a
lot of time chatting online, which I call "networking."
I change my dietary habits: no cheese or red meat,
empty carbs or fried food. I eat garlic, and raw
ginger, and I will live forever. A twenty-dollar rice
cooker improves my quality of life. I lose fifty
pounds. I make an appointment to have that hand surgery
I've been putting off; for two years carpal tunnel's
been stealing my ability to play guitar, but I can
In May, I get a job in a writing lab at a local
community college. It's a good job. It doesn't give me
any satisfaction from helping people. I'm not even sure
I am helping people; I'm probably under qualified to do
that, but what's important is that it doesn't give me
the dissatisfaction I would get from working retail—the
only other viable option. I discover previously
unimagined nuance regarding correct usage of the
In July, the surgery goes well, but heals badly. I
can't type anymore. The only potentially marketable
skills I've ever had become inexpressible, dormant and
begin to atrophy. I write off this disability as
temporary until October, when I slip into a slow,
sustained panic. I start to worry that my limited
ability to use my left hand is affecting my brain, as
I've read that doing activities that use both hands in
consort, like playing piano, or guitar, or typing,
improve general cognition. Maybe they're vital to
general cognition; maybe they don't just improve it. At
work, my change in demeanor does not go unnoticed. I
overhear my boss saying she's going to fire me and I
tell her I won't be coming back next semester in order
to save myself the disgrace, and immediately she cuts
my hours, leaving me with more time to go crazy. My
girlfriend returns from Japan to me in this state and
is not unaffected. She leaves me for a guy named Bob,
which ruins “Bob” as a throw-away name for me. Which is
a shame, since “Bob” kind of my go-to throw-away name.
In November I shave my head down to stubble and, for a
while, I feel monastic. Then I feel cold. I find myself
sitting several times a week in the same Burger King,
at the same time of day, eating the same meal: Diet
Coke, small fries and a BK Veggie. The worst of two
broad-spectrum dietary paradigms. The healthy eater
wouldn't get the fries. The big fat guy would get a
real burger. Typical American martyr. I gain back the
50 pounds. One weekend I go to Philadelphia with a
small film production company for a convention, and, in
the dealer room, I run into the vice president's ex
girlfriend. She's become a stripper and has a lot of
money now. I invite her back to our hotel and she has a
lot of sex with one of the guys from the production
company in the shower, and on the bathroom sink, and in
one of the bedrooms and, for the first time in a long
time, I'm reminded of Maryland, and the vice president,
and the president, and his fat but pretty girlfriend.
The next morning it's my birthday. I don't tell anyone,
letting the rough cut film premieres and hotel room
drinking proceed sans any potential minor complication.
And, for the first time, during long on-screen pauses
that the director asserts, addressing the audience as
they occur, will be filled up by music in the finished
version, I feel old. I thought I'd felt old before, on
previous birthdays, but I hadn't. What I'd felt was the
fear of feeling old. The severity of the difference
between the two cannot be emphasized enough. Consider a
roller coaster vs. a car crash.
I don't do very much in December. I fantasize about web
log entries I will never make, in which I would
fantasize about things I would never do, were I to make
them. A whole new layer of inefficiency opens up to me.
I shave my head down to the skin, as though doing so
would prepare me for my own death. I give up writing
music. The willful cessation of self-defining activity
as a way to experience one's own death and the
hereafter. And the hereafter stretches on.