The Whole Vile Lot
by Jacob Austin
I eat my Oreos with relish. No—I mean I relish in the Oreos I eat. It is important to me to be clear. I do not eat Milk’s Favorite Cookie with any sort of pickled condiment. It’s only that I attempt to enjoy each Oreo to its full potential. It is easy to neglect enjoyable things. It is easy to do things and neglect the joy, that is.
How much potential joy does an Oreo have? Upon further reflection, an Oreo is impossible to relish. They are so impermanent, and isn’t it sort of disgusting that the advertisement is baked in? They have zero potential for true joy and I regret each one I have ever eaten.
A glob of black spit fills my hand and the word Oreo is no longer distinguishable. I shake my hand and most of it drops to the sidewalk. What is left, I wipe on my pant leg.
There is a stoic belief that if you truly know something is bad for you, you will no longer be tempted by it. If you accept their definition of the word know, then I suppose that is true, so maybe it is only that I know nothing. That is okay with me: the knowing of nothing. I don’t want to know anything. I don’t want to think anything. There is a plague upon us. A plague of orig—
“Yes, hello,” I greet a woman who looks at me as she passes by. Is it possible to transmit anything more than that without losing the meaning? Yes, hello, I am acknowledging that you exist to me, or that I exist to you in order for me to acknowledge your existence. Yes, hello. Would you like the rest of these Oreos I have here? But no, I won’t put that evil upon you. I throw them in the next trash can, or resolve to, if ever I come upon one, and there one is, as I round the corner.
There are five Oreos still in the slim sleeve as I toss the package out. When I was a child and my mother packed my lunch, she only ever gave me two, if she gave me any. My dad, when he packed my lunch, would double that portion. Nabisco claims three cookies are an appropriate serving. What, then, is this sleeve of six? I suppose they could have been imagining a young, happy couple walking into a gas station or a supermarket on a spring day, purchasing a sleeve, and a pint of milk, and walking out, following a municipal sidewalk, much as I am now, to a favorite place on some public land, a bench or some grass near a body of water, sitting down and peeling back the blue plastic, delicately selecting the first cookie as they giggle and the boy twists the two halves until they come apart, and all the cream stays on one side, and he eats the creamless side first, then he scrapes the cream off the other with his front teeth and eats that, and then he eats the second, now creamless half, all while his lover watches him, laughing.
“That’s how you eat an Oreo?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve just never seen someone do that, eat it piece by piece like that.”
“Really? Huh,” as he tries to think of how he learned to eat an Oreo. Another kid at the table in the elementary school cafeteria? His father, mother? Intuition? A commercial on television that he watched as a baby and the Oreo stamp had imprinted his mind much as it imprints every cookie which goes through their factory?
“Well how do you eat them?”
“I just eat them,” she says. “Like this,” and she bites into one.
“You animal!” he tackles her softly to the grass and they laugh and exchange cookie kisses and live happily ever after…
It is a sunny day and the sidewalk reflects the white light. It takes a few blocks for me to realize just how miserable it is to walk like that, squinting, looking down, getting a headache from it, but, once I do realize it, I turn and walk back the way I came. Meursault, if only you could have done the same!
There is a man about my age riding a bicycle and smoking a cigarette at the same time. There are a lot of cars, so many that I wouldn’t be able to give an accurate number unless I took the time to count, and, if I did try to count, the light would turn green and the number would change before I finished. Some are parked along the side of the street, others are sitting idle at the red light and still more are driving up to join them. There are a few other people on the sidewalks, but it is a miserably hot day and the heat bakes on the concrete and it is so bright that it isn’t all that enjoyable to be out. Accepting this, I stop in some shade at a storefront.
“Yes, hello,” I impatiently greet another woman who passes by, but really I am thinking that I don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to make the effort to move myself somewhere else. That’s when I decide to walk into one of these bars and just drink. I go in the nearest one which is down a flight of stairs, a basement bar that is neither pleasant nor remarkably repulsive. There are a few people eating lunch and one or two people at the counter with pints of yellowy liquid. I order one for myself and sit at the bar and stare into it, no longer feeling much like drinking, but it is a little better in here than I first thought. It is dim and forest green, and cooler than outside.
I force myself to take a sip and try not to think, but that same thought returns: The Cult of Originality has infiltrated all! Look at these hideous creatures drinking and eating and talking and thinking and breathing and being! I can hardly stand to be in the bar with them any longer, so I rush out, back onto the sidewalk where the sun pounds me in the face and stops me in my tracks. I turn and slink back into the bar and get to my beer before the bartender does. He gives me a strange look, so I hiss at him in return. Then I pick up my beer and take it to a corner table, trying to lurch as obviously as I can and hope that he is watching, hope that they are all watching. Then I sit at the table and brood over the glass and watch the scene and curse Hermes, the serpent, Baudelaire, Pan, and the whole vile lot.
Later, back outside, at a stoplight, the mechanics of the light soothe me. Now this is necessary. The creation of the stoplight had been a worthy cause for any mind. Why can’t people just do what is necessary and nothing more? But even if the stoplight is perfect, its application certainly isn’t. I’d be happy to make a life out of traveling from place to place, sitting and studying each stoplight, and perfecting the timing to allow the easiest flow of traffic. It would take time, yes, I think excitedly as the long blank future before me begins to fill with purpose. Yes, many stoplights wouldn’t be so easy. They do not exist in a void, after all. Often you have another a block or so away, and another after that. They all have to be in sync. I think greedily of this idea and wonder who to approach about it. I wouldn’t need much. Maybe just an RV to move around and live in, and money for food. I’m not greedy like everyone else, not warped by this insane Cult. Originality, phooey! The need to be seen, to stand out, to create, to think; to think! To have an opinion on everything! To see a movie and be expected to have an opinion on it? To talk about it afterwards? No, that is just too much. A reaction to everything? Impossible, no, no more. Let me just sit in the dark room for an hour and a half and fill my hole with popcorn and afterwards move on to whatever is next.
I rush home, declaring my resignation to myself, my resignation from being a self, and knowing what I need to do: stuff handfuls of clothes from my dresser into plastic garbage bags, tear pearl snaps from their hangers and stuff them in, too, dump all my shoes into a box. I only stop when there is nothing but a few pairs of underwear, a couple of plain t-shirts, and pants of grey wool.
Next, I sweep all the books off my bookshelf. They hit the floor hard and many splay out across their pages. I find another box and begin making stacks of the books in it and then rush both boxes and all the garbage bags to my car and leap in without a second thought.
The radio comes on and my hand flails out and twists the knob until it quiets. Disgusting: the sound of guitars, the idea of people running their fingers across the neck and plucking the strings, spending years locked away in bedrooms, thinking to themselves…well it doesn’t matter what they are thinking because it is all so obscene. Thoughts, actions, words, I want to claw it all out of me.
Panting, I pull out of my neighborhood and onto the main road through town. The sight of a stoplight soothes me and I pull over in the parking lot of yet another bar and rush inside. As I approach, I decide to act like some great slobbering idiot, for the hell of it. I put on an act that is little more than Dog and am still served. About a minute later, I go back and, in a sophisticated accent, order a martini. The bartender doesn’t even blink an eye. I hoard my drinks at a distant table outside, for this is an outdoor bar, and the sun has gone down, and the temperature isn’t so oppressive anymore. I sit over my beer and my martini and try to think of what to do next, but I don’t want to think or else I might attempt to do something original and if I attempt to do something original then it won’t be organic. Either I must sit perfectly still, act without thought, or do something that is absolutely necessary.
I chug the martini.
I dump the beer over a plant and roll the glass under the fence and into the street and then I jump up and go to the bar and surprise myself by ordering in German, a language I don’t speak. Then, giddy with joy, the kind of pure joy an Oreo can never provide, I rush with my new drink back to my table and hunch over it, panting with excitement, but I have to be careful or else I will break my three new rules: stillness, acting without thought, and only doing something if it is perfectly necessary. Yes, the tendrils of the Cult are being severed. The next step is to burn through all my money as quickly as possible. That will make it all easier, but no. That’s planning.
“Yes, hello,” I greet a couple who sits down at a table near mine. Then, noticing the woman has red hair, I blurt out “Top of the Morning to You!” in my best Irish accent, and then I hunch back over my drink, protecting it with my shoulders so that they don’t take it. I think if they try to, I will bite their hand, but no, that’s a thought! I banish it and chug from my glass, trying to drown my thoughts, but I keep thinking of what I could do to the couple, but no! Thoughts, plans! I want to banish them. I take a mighty chug from my glass and drain it and then I jump up and rush back to the bar and ask for Oreos, which the man says they don’t have.
“You ever notice the name Oreo is on every Oreo?” I ask. True, I had been pondering that earlier in the day, but I hadn’t known I was going to ask it now, so it was okay.
“No, can’t say I’ve ever thought about it, but, now that you mention it, it’s true.” I want to say how creepy it is, so I don’t. Instead, I tell him it would remain true whether or not I had mentioned it; that, more than arriving at the truth, we have soiled it by considering it.
I need something, some way to punish myself for these thoughts, so my brain will stop having them, but no, there I go, planning again. Always planning, always thinking!
“Give me, give me,” I say, my brain frantic, trying to work without working. I just want to say a drink, any drink, but I don’t want it to be premeditated. Wrestling with my brain, I finally say something, and quickly, actively, forget what I ordered. A few moments later, the bartender hands me my drink, but I know I won’t be able to get many more, not after that display. I bite my tongue as hard as I can as punishment for that thought and I taste blood. I swallow it down with my drink and more fills my mouth.
Hermes, I spell out on the table, dipping my finger in my mouth and writing in blood, but it can hardly be read. The bleeding doesn’t last for long, and now my tongue aches, and I am unable to make my teeth clamp down again. They won’t listen to me and that is good, actually. I want every part of me to act independently, free from the tyranny of the mind. Yes, be free jaws!
I go to sit down with a group of friends. They are friends, that is. I do not know them. They look younger than me and they all stop and turn to me as I sit down.
“Do you have a light?” I ask instinctively, and imagine and hope that my teeth are stained red with blood, but I chug my drink to punish myself for that. The Cult of Originality has reached deep inside of me and it just may be impossible to escape. Oreos, even Oreos are so desperate to distinguish themselves as original that they stamp themselves with their own name. Who to blame? Capitalists? If only it were that easy. Adam Smith, Eve, the serpent, God for making the apple? Hermes for showing us the way? That damn Baudelaire? Entrepreneurs for creating the unnecessary?
Someone hands me a lighter and I hold it in one hand and begin to burn the palm of my other hand, but I can’t maintain it for very long before my hand jerks away. Yes be free! I can feel the shackles breaking and soon I will have no control of my hand or my jaws. What next? What next? I think desperately, and just as I am going to burn myself again for having those thoughts, a hand reaches out and snatches the lighter from me, and a voice says “What the hell, dude?” so I begin to bark at the thief:
“Arrrgghh-ough! Roufff! Arrrghh,” I growl low and long until strong hands drag me out of my seat and towards the exit. I am tossed out and I begin to run before I let myself think of what is happening. I run as fast as I can along the sidewalk, not pausing or looking when I cross streets, now quite drunk, and far beyond the soothing power of stoplights.
Cars blare their horns as I run through downtown, shoving my way into the throngs of people who now populate the same sidewalks which had been so empty earlier in the day. I run until I reach the trashcan where I threw away my Oreos, and I rip the lid off to claim what is rightfully mine. I dive in and dig through the trash and come up with the plastic sleeve and oh yes I eat one, I was always going to. I put all four remaining cookies in my mouth at the same time and swallow them and then I lie down on the sidewalk to either choke them up, or to die.