the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




WORK
BY DAN BELLIS

THE BAG

I decided I was going to end it all. Admit defeat. Just give up. Sign it over. I was working at the mall when I gave up. I had a hand in my pocket, cigarette smoke in my eye and a barrel of espresso at the end of my arm. Oh, and a pretty shitty take on how my life was going.
"It's over." I thought.
"I just can't handle this anymore."
"Fuck this."
"This sucks. "
"This is not how I want this to be."
I knew it was all going to go away. I knew I was going to go away. I was going to join the US military. And I mean, why not? I was a US citizen, healthy (ish) and I needed a steady job. I was bouncing between retail management and traveling pseudo-carpentry. I was either building pre-fab shelving for one of those toilet stores that sells fluffy fuckin' towels and soap shaped like mollusks in some rum-dumb part of the country where people are actually named Bo and urinating outdoors is a spectators' sport or, I was getting manicures regularly and cunningly convincing mall-dwelling mouth breathers that our furniture was the tits because it was fashioned out of medium-density fiberboard with a genuine cherry veneer and a mahogany finish. To translate: build-it-yourself furniture-shaped turds, with a cherry veneer and a mahogany finish. "And you can clean it with Windex!" I would boast.
I looked pretty posh in both a tool belt and a shirt and tie, separately, of course, but maybe I'd look better painted up in full camouflage and combat boots while barking things like "Stand fast!" and "Fire in the hole!" Maybe I could get one of those extra-fancy florid uniforms with all the accoutrements. Chicks love those. Crap hanging off the uniform equals handjobs, at a minimum. Besides, the retail thing was getting to be like the mullet guy with the Iron Maiden T-shirt and the lazy eye who loitered outside the WaWa for 13 hours daily: boring and stupid.
I once had to fire a sales woman from the furniture store because the boss caught her drinking on the job. She was the oldest saleswoman on record, maybe 130 or so. One morning, she smelled not unlike Robert Downey Jr's swizzle stick collection, so the boss searched her tremendously oversized hand-crocheted hand luggage. Jackpot. She was nippin' on gin out of a Tupperware container big enough to hold a grapefruit. We weren't sure if this was a daily occurence or if she thought this Tuesday morning was happy hour.
The boss, a bog-mouthed pussy biter with the golden heart of a rapist, thought it would be best if I handled the dismissal of our little maraschino cherry. Sure, Lady Lesbyterian could grab Xena by the upper thighs and make her scream "lubby-lubby la-la", but she couldn't lay off a grogged-up grandmother. I was fearful for the safety of my upper thighs, so I conceded. Fire away; fuck it.
"Peggy, can I see you in the stockroom please?"

P K Q

I gave the old lady a chance to explain, since I was such an understanding asshole.
"Peggy," I cooed, "what's this we found in your bag?"
"You went through my bag?"
"Yes, as management we have the right to search any employee and their possessions."
"Oh. Shitters."
"Shitters...yeah…um, so what's this for?"
"That?"
"Yes this."
"That there?"
"Yeah."
"Ooooh, that!", she giggled, "That's medicine, silly!"
I never really liked to be called silly, especially not by a gin-soaked geriatric furniture fluffer, so I decided to turn toughie and put some lean on this bitch.
"Medicine? C'mon, Peg."
I wasn't playing anymore. I had coffee to mainline and high-school sweet meat to leer at in the food court. After all, I did have a car. Teenage hotties get sweaty over a Dodge Aries K. Teenage hotties get sweaty over anything with more horsepower than a moped.
"What kind of medicine?"
Silence.
Apparently, Peggy had never gotten this far when her Peggy little head had worked out this Peggy little scenario. She probably thought I would just buy off on the medicine line and encourage her to self-medicate freely throughout the day. She wasn't nervous… probably too drunk. She just perched on a boxed Queen Anne console table wearing a stare that was blanker than her next paycheck.
"You know…medicine."
"What kind? What for?"
"It's for…um…"
"Peggy…"
"Ya know, for the uh…"
"Peggy. What is this stuff?"
Silence.
My stomach gurgled. Coffee.
Silence.
I didn't feel right at all. Here I was, the leading authority on The State of New Jersey's statutory rape laws, with a caffeine addiction that would've given Chris Farley palpitations, and I was firing her. She was old enough to have niggled Napolean, but somehow I was in charge.
"Medicine!" she insisted.
I worked up my best "I've been lied to by everyone from ex-lovers telling me I've got an impressive cherry bomber to kindergarten teachers telling me I have great potential" look. Her face wilted. It was hanging dough. She looked like a little kid who's favorite plush bunny had just gotten sucked into the garbage disposal. She was destroyed. She was scared.
"Gin", she admitted. "It's gin."
"Yeah it is," I sighed, "I'm sorry Peg, but I have to ask you to leave the premises. I'm sorry, but we can't have this. Please try to understand my position here, Peg. We can't…well… have...uh…well…ya know…this. "
Silence.
She slid off the box, collected her things, quietly, timidly, -gracefully even. She never looked up. She sheepishly negotiated the thin smog of customers and had almost made it to the Antebellum coffee table display when she lost it. I don't think I've ever seen a woman so old cry so hard.
        
P K Q

I was sitting in the food court sporting a Starbucks Venti Chai Latte zeroing in on pre-voting booth honey holders and playing with my nuggets through a hole I "accidentally" cut in my pocket with a utility knife from the stock room, when Peggy danced across my gray matter. I wasn't thinking about her because I was coddling my buddies, mind you. The two activities were totally disconnected. Honestly. Handshaking my husky hams was just something I did without much thought, like paying rent, which might explain why my landlord called me "fuckwad" every time he saw me.
Peggy was old, completely out of her brain box and couldn't sell a nickel of dope to a junkie with a propensity for sucking cock. Sure, she was inept as hell, suffered from verbal incontinence from time to time and couldn't walk a straight line at eight o'clock in the morning, but I felt pretty damn shitty about extinguishing her dreams of…of… of selling antique reproductions that only dong flog-a-phobic Jewish housewives thought were "startlingly elegant." Oh, and she often smelled like a bus driver's fart.
But, Peggy was always prompt, polite, courteous and entertaining. Invariably, she'd have ridiculous stories about her ill-mannered, butt-sniffing beagle or her grandson's growing pains, or "When Peggy was a little girl…" (She often referred to herself in the third person, which I found absolutely charming. Really.) Her yarns were always unorganized and often nonsensical, but every line would come boiling out from behind smoke-stained teeth accompanied by rave waves of titters, snickers and gestures that made it easy to imagine that even though she was older than Thanksgiving, Peggy was indeed, at one time, a giggly little girl.
She was a part-timer at the old salt mill. Her grandson was in first or second grade and she would work from open till about one or two o'clock, so she could be home when he got there, to serve him freshly baked cookies and gin. Her husband would drive her to work and pick her up daily. I don't know what he did all day. Maybe he paced frantically up and down the dog run in the city park sipping a flask of Karo Syrup while mumbling quotes from Ronald Reagan movies. Maybe he volunteered pushing the book cart in a nursing home, trying to get a little ass from the senior tenants.
"You gotta time it juuust right," he'd say to the orderlies. "Right after mid-morning tea is the best time to split the whiskers. Their blood sugar is up, they're usually in a pretty good mood and their breakfast ain't peekin' into the colostomy bag just yet. But if you wait till after lunch, especially on soft taco day, you're risking an oil slick, if you know what I mean."
        Peggy didn't tell her family about her termination for quite some time. I knew it was out of shame. I knew she blamed me. She continued to let her syrup-drinking husband drive her to and fro. She would just float around the mall like the plastic bag in American Beauty until it was "quitting time." She probably got some pretty good drinking done during that time. I never tried to confront her when I did see her, and she did a pretty good job of dodging when she saw a 57 and a half-ounce tank of Gloria Jean's Mega-Motherfucker Blend hot-footin' it down the lane, with me following it.
        

* * *

A few weeks had fluttered past and the Peggy sightings had tapered off. The faggot mall had gone non-smoking, so I was outside enjoying a chuck and giving myself a much-needed testicular exam. I was hanging happy in my usual form: a hand in my pocket, cigarette smoke in my eye and a barrel of espresso at the end of my arm. Again, Peggy staggered across my gray matter.
 I wanted to tell her I was sorry; I was just doing my job. I wanted to run after her when she slinked out of the stockroom, embarrassed and ashamed. I wanted to tell her we could go to the back room and dump the stupid booze in the sink…together. Most of all I wanted to be the one who helped her stop crying.
I don't know where she went right after our chat. Did she go to the public restroom and try the old "cold water on the face" trick? Did she go outside to try to get herself together? How long did she cry? If you saw an elderly woman in the mall weeping so hysterically that she couldn't take her hand from her brow because she was afraid to show her face …would you stop to help her?
         What was I supposed to do? I couldn't have a 247 year-old saleswoman, who liked to impersonate a bar rag, climbing ladders and handling breakable merchandise. That's just bad policy. I hated firing her; I really did. Who the hell was I? I was some early-twenties punk with a huge cock, great potential and the keys to a poofy furniture store.
Then, like a 10 year-old's noggin cracks the hot-dog cart when he goes flying outta the Tilt-a-Whirl, the idea cracked me so hard I unconsciously gripped my nut with the excitement that only an extremely poorly thought-out life-changing decision can bring. I viced it so hard I thought I was gonna need a new ham.
When the sweating subsided and the retching retreated, I regained some semblance of a man who hadn't just inadvertently twisted the tartar out of his testes. I decided I was going to stop controlling other peoples' lives. Hell, I was going to stop controlling my life. I was going to join the military.
I would travel the globe and see distant enigmatic lands that suburbanites only wet-dreamed of -or if they did get there it was for two months, the summer after high school and they bragged about it at wife-swapping casserole parties for rest of their kid-ridden pathetic penny loafer lives. I would visit provinces, colonies and countries where a salubrious spray of diarrhea is nothing less than a compliment to a fine meal. I would fondle my furbag in Bangladesh. I would grubble my gonads in Berlin. I was ready for anything…anything but the freakish act I would witness soon after signing on. Turns out, there was no way I could've been ready. Turns out, there's no way I could've ever thought it up, even with the gentle assistance of Jesus, hallucinogenics or a good crack on the ol' brain box.

* * *

        I went through the whole dog and porno show. I talked to veterans with beer breath and T-shirts displaying "Jane Fonda takes broken bottles in the butthole" slogans. I talked to my uncles, my friends and even a few high school chickadees. My uncles said, "Go Air Force. Go Air Force!" My friends said, "Go away. Go away!" The sophomores said, "Go faster! Go faster!" I fulfilled all their fantasies and signed up for a four-year stint.
        I've heard people say, "I got drunk and joined the military." How the fuck they could ever accomplish such a feat, I haven't a clue. When I'm good and crocko, I can't even generate enough synaptic snaps to be mindful enough to take my pants off before letting the boneless pony out of the yard. Enlisting took months. They wanted paperwork from anyone who had ever had the misfortune of inhaling one of my homemade hiney huffs, and even a few people who hadn't. I had to go to the community college that I had successfully bombed out of. I had to visit a German shrink in Brooklyn Heights with a yappy dog and a bullshit no-smoking policy. I even had to go to the high school I had once frequented. The faculty's still not too happy about me actually walking outta there with my name on a scroll. This time I walked out with a cheerleader on a hall pass.
The initial military physical exam was about as enjoyable as a Dauchau Fantasy Camp. I had to mill around a morgue-cold room in my underpants with about seventeen of my peers. I had to walk like a duck that had spent a festive afternoon with Peggy. I had to let a dirty old man with ill-fitting rubber gloves examine my asshole with a flashlight. When he took a stroll to the front of the property and started rocking the boys on the porch swing, it was immediately apparent that this clown had never gotten past the rank of Private in the Private Parts Army. "Amateur," I scoffed under my breath.
Judging by his unfamiliarity with the proper care and feeding of the human testes, I suspected my new best pal wasn't even employed by the military processing center. Or if he was, it probably wasn't in the nut and butt inspection section. He was probably the boiler guy who spent his thumb-twiddling time diddling his dingus to life size effigies of panty-waist pop stars.
"Hey Frank!"
"Yeah?"
"We're short one. Wanna work in spare parts today?"
"Hell fuckin' yeah! You know how I love my plumb weights and O-rings. Lemme just rub this one out. Sir Elton looks disappointed. I'll be right up. Hot diggity! Can I bring the palmcorder this time?"
I decided to keep my thoughts to myself. After all, he was currently in command of my platoon of two.
These are just some of the more memorable highlights of the process, but I assure you silly civilians, it was lengthy, tedious and overly sucky, but it worked -only because I surreptitiously "forgot" to relate to the shrink the fact that baby-bushed blondes give me a serious fucking boner. I shipped to Lackland Air Force Base a few weeks later.

* * *

        Basic training consists of many many non-smoking, mindless yet well-planned activities that are somehow supposed to turn you into a highly trained, well-equipped dealer of death. These include folding your underpants, marching in circles and trying to figure out how to discreetly coax a puke out of your aching apparatus without 400 other bouncing baby bald recruits taking notice. All this primping, walking and planning doesn't allow much time for a speedy cup of the steamy brown brew. Frustrating. And they won't let you cut holes in your pockets, so if you join up, don't even bother. It's not as brutal and cruel as the other services, but the Air Force gets a very fragile breed of morons, so they handle us delicately.
The esoteric art of becoming a bloodthirsty underwear origami expert is not the point of this tapestry. One specific event during our transformation is. Like I slobbered earlier, it was unthinkable, unforgettable -and not the Nat King Cole kind of unforgettable. This is the kind of unforgettable that buries itself in your brain's backyard and decides to play Lazarus at the most inopportune times: like at a funeral, or when you're trying to stall the milkman when you've got the valedictorian bent over the locker room urinal. This is the kind of unforgettable that makes you wonder if God is a total asshole.
The first thing you learn when you get off the bus is that you're a total asshole. The second thing is what you, the asshole, will say every time you open your pie-hole, as the training instructors (TI's) so sweetly referred to it.
"Six simple words, ladies! These will be the first six words out of your mouth every time you speak to me! You will say this! You will say it loud! If you can't learn this, I don't have room for you in my air force!"
The words are as follows: "Sir, Airman Frog-in-the-butt reports as ordered!" It's pretty simple, especially if your last name happens to be "Frog-in-the-butt." If not, you have the arduous task of replacing "Frog-in-the-butt" with "Smithson" or "Eggers" or whatever they named your granddad when he sailed past the big green lady. I got it right away. I'll admit; I cheated. I practiced before I got there.
When you get through the first few weeks of being chased around by a foaming beef probe with a stupid hat and an undying urge to hear your last name every time the two of you engage in non-conversation, you get some free time to fold your underpants and develop your plans of self-dong domination. Basically, they just sort of leave you alone. You're never actually alone, by yourself, so you can't play with your balls a whole lot, but there aren't any screeching weenies scuttling behind you mocking your inability to remain stoic at all times. It's you and your fellow assholes, a collection of complete strangers, locked in a sweaty cinderblock room that looks as though it was painted by a trembling triumvirate of eyeless epileptics. Party favors include: fifty-three bunks, a bevy of ironing boards and plenty of time to write letters to the Hackensack High School girls' field hockey team. This is when even the healthiest of minds start to march in circles. This is when weird shit comes to be.
        Our instructor instructed us not to leave the building. We stayed anyway. He didn't intimidate any of us, except the kid from Nebraska: Airman Mulholland. Mulholland was a special case. I still, to this day, suspect that the Air Force participated in an exchange program with one of those "I can do it" halfway houses for socially and intellectually challenged Nebraskans. Somewhere, wandering the streets of Omaha there's a handsome young lad, with dreams of becoming a fighter pilot, trying to figure out why he's wearing an Arby's apron and sharing a 5 bedroom colonial with 7 or 8 of the state's greatest retards and everyone is being just so nice to him.
"Mornin', Jimmy! How's the burger biz lookin' today, big guy?"
"How the fuck should I know? I'm supposed to be in the Air Force!"
"Sure you are Jimmy, sure you are. Now just make sure your chores are done by Friday so we can go to the hobby shop and get you that model airplane you wanted. Remember, we're a team around here…and you can do it! "
Mulholland couldn't do it. It didn't matter what it was. He failed so miserably at everything he tried. Marching, folding underwear, completing sentences -all very far away from this poor plat. He couldn't even hustle his own happy sack without a trip to the emergency room. Amateur.
He was a sizeable boy, but young and fair, undeveloped and soft. He looked like you could beat his bulbous body with a railroad tie, and it would just kind of bounce off his arm, head or butt and make a sound like "Booop!" He lanked, lumbered and blobbed about like his new bones had just arrived in the mail and the owner's manual was printed in Polish. He was upright pudding. As if being mistaken for a flesh colored garbage sack of baked beans wasn't enough, his voice was incongruously high and comical. It wasn't feminine; it was distinctive, absurd even. It was the voice of "fat kid #2" on every after-school cartoon imaginable; the voice that snidely chimed in when cartoon evil implied that our most cherished main character was indeed, a chicken. Speaking of chicken, his head was a fat, featherless one with two assholes struggling to lay a matching pair of pristine white ping-pong balls painted with tiny blue irises and glazed with fear and confusion.
        I imagined Mulholland (I never did learn his first name) living a challenging life of constant ridicule. I doubt anyone every really assaulted him physically; he was just too damn big. I doubt he ever struck out against anyone else; he was just too damn slow. While the bus kids concocted nursery rhyme songs about "Mud-holland" wetting the bed, he just stared down at his discount store Velcro sneakers. They peeked up at him empathetically from under blankets of frayed, grass-stained corduroy. He would imagine them as the only two kids on the bus who wanted to sit next to him and rest their arms across his shoulders, on top of his Spiderman backpack, while he tried, ineffectually, to hide his humiliation. He did wet the bed. "How do they know?" he'd wonder.
        In high school, poorly composed involuntary nocturnal bladder evacuation chants were replaced with creative digs like, "Dude, I fucked Mulholland's mom, dude." His books, clumsily tucked under his pork rind arm, were too much temptation for a star running back to resist. Mulholland was the kid who spent more time trying to gather the contents of his Trapper Keeper from under the rushing feet of the hasty hell between the bells than he did in class. He partook in every activity that was hellacious death to any teenager's social armor. He played video games at the town luncheonette by himself; he went to the mall on Friday evenings with his mom (who I hear is a pretty good lay) and held her hand in the parking lot. He spent the weekends trying to annihilate the bushes in his front yard with a wiffleball bat, hoping the star running back could feel the sting of yellow plastic voodoo.
        In boot camp, Airman Mulholland was disturbingly distant and had the attention span of a three year-old hopped up on a handful of peanut butter cups. He took constant refuge inside his Play-Doh head, his only sanctuary from years of fear. I couldn't get a clear snapshot on the poor sod. When spoken to by anyone but the instructors, he'd answer with an awkward trickle of inextricable dribble. We tried everything to help him, but he either couldn't grasp what we were teaching, or he wouldn't trust us. I guess after years of "Hey, Mulholland, if you go pick up that Doberman by its front legs, swing it around the yard, and blow in its asshole, the owner'll come out and give you a new bicycle" kind of got to him. At least he learned something. We'd show him the right way to bunch up his Beetle Bailey briefs, and he would just chuckle, "Yeah right. Like I'm gonna do it that way!" Granted, the Air Force formula for sculpting skivvies has its roots somewhere in Euclidean Geometry, but we weren't making this shit up; none of us were that bright. He really thought we were kidding.
        He formed his own splinter group. He adopted an ironing board and tried, fruitlessly, to crack the Air Force code of inside clothes. He marched in a fashion that very much resembled an evening of performance art I had once witnessed in Greenwich Village while under the influence of some pills my friend had affectionately nicknamed "Hydra-Watsons." He didn't want help. He stuck out like a pubescent pussy in a…a …
He stuck out like a pubescent pussy.
The TI made prey of him immediately. Mulholland was the whipping boy. It didn't matter what he did at that point; he was the leper. He could've marched 27 miles with rest of us on his back without slipping a step and the foaming beef probe would've chained him to a rotting log in the basement and let the Washington DC Gay Men's Chorus have a go at him. Airman Mulholland's pink bagel would climb up his cave every time the instructor boob came within the length of a Nebraska cornstalk. (Does Nebraska grow corn? I know they grow incompetent, gelatinous ass bags pre-destined for ignominy…but corn? Dunno.)
The boob sucked at his job. The only things scary about him were his beef probe breath and the realization that, legally, there was nothing stopping him from knocking up a nasty and adding more ruin to our great green planet.
He was about 6 feet tall and weighed maybe 182 pounds with a 22- pound sack of erections tied to his belt. The minute I saw him, I knew the war of the wedgie had been waged on him more times than I had parked my pudgies on cherry veneer just to watch the steam ring appear around my salty salmon sack. The boob had grown up as a Mulholland too and had obviously taken this job because it was his turn to push the power. He bobbed around the cinderblock palace like a rusted pogo stick and his pores pumped a pungent perfume that I could only identify as baby formula. His teeth seemed remarkably yellow considering I often pictured him sucking on quite a few turdsicles during his off time.
"Listen up, you meatballs!"
The instructors aren't allowed to curse. Pretty fuckin' stupid, if you ask me.
"Y'all ain't ta leave this here room, see? The only way you're to be gettin' outta here without a good, big answering to me is if there's a…uh…fire…and it better be a big 'un. Hear?"
His grammar was stunning.
A resounding "Yes Sir!" ricocheted off the cinder blocks and into his turd sucking ears. He pivoted on his heel. We were alone.

* * *

        I was in the back corner of the palace giving a brief seminar on Advanced Clandestine Testicular Manipulation to a small group of promising young recruits.
"So, once you sew the edges of the hole so they don't fray, and you get used to leaving the underwear at home, the rest is pretty much dexterity and timing."
"What if someone catches you and…ya know…calls you out?" inquired one nervous neophyte.
"Good question, Sadler, but don't worry about that now. We're gonna do a little role-playing on that when we get to the 'Friendly Fingers Require a Fertile Mind' block of instruction. For now, let's stick to the subject at hand. Has anyone been practicing the 'pinch and roll' technique?"
The students never had a chance to demonstrate the fruits of their diligent studies. A tumultuous tussle had arisen in the latrine.
"Mulholland! What the hell-fuck are you doing?"
Colorful chords of profanity plagued the poo-doo room.
-"You fucking fuck! Who's gonna clean this shit up?!"
-"Aww shit! We're all fuckin' dead!"
-"Someone get a fuckin' mop. Not you Mulholland….you take care of …that!"
The entire bathroom floor, five stalls wide, was now pirate treasure. It was the murky deep under about a half-inch of putrid, poopy water flecked with wispy bits of used toilet tissue. They swirled about like Sea Monkey specters out for a swim. The leftmost toilet, my favorite, was now the tributary that fed the newly formed Lake Mulholland. He was helplessly stranded in the middle, a love-handled lighthouse, staring at the floor with his shoulders slumped down to his enormous mid section. About half a baker's dozen recruits were bitterly belittling Mulholland and doggy paddling dung water. They clumsily collected mops, paper towels and pre-folded underpants…anything with the mystical ability to absorb. But the fecal floodwaters were only half the problem. The "that" that someone had referred to earlier was concealed by confusion until now. Mulholland wasn't staring at the floor; he was staring at what was on the floor.
        A monstrous mud missile, roughly the size of Mile-High Stadium, lay listless at his feet. It was fucking huge. Huge! There was no way this thing could fit down an American Standard toilet. There was no way this thing could fit in a family sized Crock Pot. How big was this kid's asshole? Tiny waves of Lake Mulholland lapped up against its mass. Nothing. It crouched on the tiles, motionless, scowling at passers by, staring them down, daring anyone to infiltrate its personal space. It was out of its nest and it was pissed.
"Mulholland," one of our more uppity recruits had spoken up.
Mullholland stared downward in horror at the demon child he had birthed.
"Mulholland."
He couldn't break eye contact; he was hypnotized.
"MULHOLLAND!"
"Oh." He spoke. "What?"
"'What?'…' What? ' Are you fucking kidding me? Whaddya mean 'what?' You gotta get that fucking thing outta here…that's what! If the TI comes in here and there's a fucking turd in the middle of the floor, I'd say we're pretty fuckin' screwed, wouldn't you?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess," he mumbled, barely intelligibly.
"You guess? You fuckin…y-you…..what the fuck is wrong with you, Mulholland? "
Mulholland looked up slowly, his eyes as wide as his rectum was when accommodating the recent eviction of his unwelcome assguest. There was plenty wrong with him, but right then, there was nothing to be wrong with him. He was completely blank. Pale. He wasn't thinking. He wasn't looking. He was numb.
        I was numb. I was thoroughly confused. I stood on the shore looking out at him. There was no shortage of moisture around us, but we were both dry of ideas. I meticulously yet mercurially began to spread the last 189 seconds over and through my goosed-up gray matter as signs of life reappeared and Mullholland crept out of his coma.

-OK. Let's recapitulate. Mulholland had crapped a turd the weight of the average human newborn into my favorite toilet.

He jostled his head about, took a deep sniff and the lids of his ping-pong eyes flipped and fluttered a few times.

-He then tried to banish "the product" from Air Force society via the usual channels.

His jaw waggled from side to side as he began to tremble.

-His attempt to do so was thwarted by the unforgiving laws of physics. Shit big? No go hole.

His hands shook and twisted at the wrist, frankfurter fingers spread wide, like a junior-year gymnast's thighs.

-Then, the Hudson River, complete with raw sewage, miraculously appeared in the latrine as if through some sort of sortilege.

Someone flipped the breaker; the beast was back on line.
        
The spikes of light that liken us to living types snapped and cracked his rapt, retarded gaze. He lifted his leg high, stepped over the enormous intestinal escapee and steamed through the lake with such speed and determination that I honestly thought he was somebody else. He actually had a sense of urgency. Mulholland had moved with motivation! Mulholland had a plan.
He splashed, flashed past me and out the door. I remained at the water's edge. I had a mission of my own. Come hell or shitty high water, I was gonna guard the gooey gourd. I didn't know when Mulholland was coming back, but I didn't give a damn. I took it upon myself to protect my fellow recruits from the wrath of the rancid ass ranger. This was my duty. (This was Mulholland's doodie.) The turd and I stood, locked, mere feet apart, planning our strategies, sub rosa. Its stink wafted my way, its only defense. I held my ground at the cusp of the moat. I held the bile rising in the back of my throat. We silently battled for turf, each of us using turd telepathy to decipher the combination to release each other's weaknesses. It knew I knew it wanted to take over the world, ruling with a dastardly dung dictatorship, but not on my watch. I had folded too many pairs of underpants to let that happen. "This is what the Air Force is all about." I reassured my ready self. "This is a true moment of honor."
Just as I was ready to pounce on the poop and furiously fold the offender into a pretty package of death, Mulholland stormed back into the room. He was armed with a white plastic shopping bag and the rage of a lifetime of defeat. He wore the bag over his humongous hand like a falconer's glove as he traversed the shit-soaked sea with the might of Moses himself. Once within striking range of the crap commando, he began ferociously berating it.
"You motherfucker! I gots you now! You're a piece a' shit, just a piece a' shit! You ain't shit, ya shit!"
His plastic covered pointer finger pointed condescendingly at the curdled croissant. I couldn't believe my eyes, or my ears. Not only had Mulholland barfed up more words in the last 15 seconds than he had during the entire first 3 weeks of training, he was directing them at his own shit. He was cursing a turd. There, before my tear weary, bleary eyes, was a grown man, technically speaking, standing in the middle of a sea of ass-tea, in the poo-doo room of an official US Air Force training facility, with a plastic bag over his hand, having an extremely aggressive one-sided discussion with his own fecal matter. You just don't see that kinda thing on recruiting posters.
"I gots you now. You's comin' wit me!"
He bent at his Firestone waist and pulled his dime store armor tightly around his wrist. With the speed and grace of one of those idiots in the Middle East who taunts cobras for recreation, he swooped, swiped and wrapped up the turd. He had bagged the bitch.
Mulholland posed proudly. He was a bronze god on the cover of a check out line
romance novel, his trophy dangling lifelessly at his side, like the pelt of a mythical beast, gently rocking against his thigh. All he needed was a busty barbarian blonde in leather undergarments hanging all over him looking longingly at the strong, yet supple spot on the side of his neck. Mulholland was king of his own world. He had defeated his own dejecture. He finally knew what it felt like to be a winner. He was standing in a flooded restroom with a knotted bag of shit in his hand.
        His moment of glory was brief; he had to transfer the prisoner. The boob could be back any time. Mulholland, still in a mode of movement that was unlike his usual sluggish half crawl, grabbed his cap and made for the front door.
"Mulholland, where are you going?" I inquired with genuine interest.
"I'm 'a throw this thing in the dumpster."
He answered as if I was the jack-ass who was about to defy a direct order so I could dispose of the now highly portable contents of my own bowels.
"Mulholland wait," I pleaded, "why don't you just break…."
He was on a mission.
"Outta da way, guard," he grumbled, interrupting me.
The recruit on guard duty had no problem sidestepping the messenger once he caught sight of the cargo. Mulholland could've robbed a bank with a weapon like that.
"Good luck, dickhead!" called a well-wisher from the back of the palace.
With a bag of shit in his left hand, the front door push-bar in his right, he turned and retorted with a hearty "FUCK Y'ALL!"
He shook his head in anger and, like he was busting through the Oakland Raiders' offensive line, shouldered the door open wide….just in time to let the instructor inside.

"Airman Mulholland! What the hell are you doing? Why do you have your hat on? Are you going outside, Airman Mulholland? Why are you going outside, Airman Mulholland? What the…what the fuck? Mulholland, WHAT THE HELL IS IN THAT BAG?"
It was over. We knew it. Mulholland knew it. But without missing a single step of military etiquette, he snapped to attention, shoulders back, stomach in, chin up, bag of shit clasped in his fist at the end of his perfectly perpendicularly extended arm, he bellowed in his perfect cartoon voice,

"SIR! AIRMAN MULHOLLAND REPORTS AS ORDERED! IT'S MY POOP SIR!"

Instantly, the TI morphed to an amazing shade of festive fuchsia and started to quiver all over his beef probe body. His bottom lip went vibrato as if a schoolyard toady had just inferred that he was a "baby" and was going to "cry for us, baby!" He and Mulholland were eye-locked, 5 inches apart. Mulholland was proud of his poop and the TI knew it. That only exacerbated his explosive expulsion of emotion. He erupted, all over Airman Mulholland, in a spastic splatter of sticky saliva. He was laughing hysterically.
"Mulholland," he sputtered between convulsions, "I've seen a lot of fucked up shit in my day, but…ha… you're outta control! Haaaa! Ha ha!"
Everyone else was as silent as a first date fart.
"Now get the fuck outta my dorm! Haaa! When you come back, you better not have that bag o' shit wit you or I'll…I'll…ha ha…make you name it and sleep with it like a…like a…brown fuckin' teddy bear!"
That was enough to ignite our collective fuse. 53 bald recruits started cackling and collapsing at the instructor's loss of composure, like a bunch of first-day-in port sea-worn drunken sailors. We jabbed one another in the upper arms like we had been members of the same rugby team for the last 12 years. Some buckled to the tiles in need of oxygen; others motioned toward the scene of the disturbance with heads nodding wildly in approval of the Vaudeville show that had just reached its pricelessly poignant punch line.
Before now, everyone had just been the guy who flapped, flopped and folded his underwear next to you. We had all talked, but just to pass the time. Even though I didn't know anyone's first name in the whole palace, and had begun to forget my own, I could now at least assume every recruit had one. They all had parents, maybe even pets. The layers of their lives became limitless.
Even the instructor boob had triumphantly transformed into a person. He propped himself against the cinderblocks, weak from knee-knawing laughter. He supported his head with his hand, thumb on one temple, tobacco tarred fingers on the other. He was real. I could see him in his dingy, orange, worn-out baseball cap with the mesh back, leisurely sailing his Ford F-150 down the interstate, cigar ashes speckling the cabin everywhere but the ashtray, German shepherd coasting in the cargo bed, delightedly sniffing heavenly scented highway breezes.
Mulholland stood a few feet from the open door, exactly where he had announced the contents of the bag. He was looking down at his boots. His arms lay languid at his sides; the knotted white plastic bag hung and swung from his fingertips. His shoulders heaved heavily up and down with a quick subtle rhythm, but Mulholland wasn't laughing.