“The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifference.”
Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation
Joplin stands in the hallway. A thick bead of sweat rolling slowly down his large round forehead as he swipes at it with his pinky and thoughtlessly sucks the drop with his dry mouth. To him, it tastes like a tepid drop of pickling liquid. But then again it might have tasted like seawater. The type of seawater after a rain.
Up and down that bright hallway which looks more like some backworld hotel out of a travel brochure for purgatory, no one is seen nor heard. The yellow walls that look like mustard make him feel sick and faint and the growling of his stomach can be heard and it murmurs along with the slow electricity of the shrill lights. He shifts his feet over the vomitstained carpet and wants to knock at the door again. The door, colored a placid red, like the color of some child’s toy fire truck, lurks there in front, taunting him and remaining closed.
He knows this is a bad idea and he rubs his hair back over his receding hairline with two thick hands, placing the poor little bouquet of cheap spray roses, button chrysanthemums, Monte Cassino asters, and limoniums in between his legs. The hands not of a carpenter nor a laborer, the thick hands of an employee. He sniffs and hears shallow, muffled footsteps from behind the door. Standing up straight and adjusting his shirt with two hurried brushes, he tries to force a smile.
The door opens and a short, portly redheaded woman with carious teeth widens her eyes. He-ey, you! Oh my God, you’re so much more handsome than your photos aren’t you — come, come in please.
The redheaded woman takes him by the wrist and makes a comment about the flowers before Joplin has time to say anything. He smiles and steps over the doormat, inside, into the dim-lit apartment.
Sometimes he wished it was as easy as taking his clothes off. Like the cam girls he’d see advertising themselves online. Just as simple as standing in front of a live webcam and showing some virtual horde of sexually deprived — or depraved — men his body. He often wondered what his life would look like. He never fantasized — because that is what these thoughts were, fantasies — of having sex on camera. That thought more frightened than excited him. Simply masturbating for money online, that was all. An act he did for free quite regularly — more and more lately it seemed.
Despite how most other guys he’d known thought, Joplin didn’t think women had it easier and men had it harder in life just because of the obvious ease with which most women could obtain sex. In fact, he hardly thought about the world in such terms, and for that matter, he hardly thought of women in such terms. It was only in the late hours of the night, after another day at “the office,” when he would sit in his bed with his Fieldcrest down comforter he’d bought at Target when they finally put it on clearance, that he would think in these terms. And of course, by these terms, he meant in the differences of sex and how one goes about having it. He would open his Macbook Air that had a smiley-face sticker plastered ironically over the Apple emblem and fetch his lotion which, depending on the time of day, could either be the perfect way of moisturizing his dry and cracked face or moisturizing quite another part of his body and type in “P-O-” and that was it. That was all that was required. Then he would press enter and lay back into his pillows and wait for the blue, infinite circle to conclude into the site and he would stare at the screen like some aimless horse, anxious and waiting for some desert cistern out on the plains of another type of abyss beyond the physical, and he would listen to the girls sigh in some other form of pleasure he neither understood nor felt.
Pornpalace was obviously his preferred choice — and of course Google understood this and they accommodated him. Other times it might be Xtube or Sitesex or Xxxporn, sites which Hayes — in the times they discussed this matter of their existence at work — would perennially demonize and belittle.
Those sites are some fuckin bullshit, Hayes would say — his large eyes glistening with sleep-deprivation and his red collared shirt flipped up around his neck like some dejected turtle-neck sweater. They make you pay for all the good shit anyway, might as well go to Brazzers.
I don’t know, I feel like you still get a good variety of the amateur stuff though.
What? Hayes would raise his eyebrows. Are you kidding me? All the good amateur stuff, besides fuckin Cam-topia, is all on Pornpalace, fool. You gotta know that.
And he did. That’s why he favored it over the rest. Although any of them were fine. Any of them — all of them — were the same.
To Joplin, porn was exhausting these days. It just wasn’t the same as it used to be. The experience, as a teenager, used to bring a certain amount of excitement simply on the merit of the act’s mild rebellion. Which, as he well understood, could be way worse — or at least that’s what he told his mother when an in-home I.T. woman gave her a copy of the wifi’s history when their computers all got some strange, unexplained virus. Of course, she wasn’t happy with her son, who at the time was displaying an incredible amount of potential and aspiration, and who she didn’t want to see veer down some sexual derelict’s path.
Mom, it’s not like I’m harming anyone, or even myself! It’s fucking normal—
Honey, I understand, but you can’t be doing that.
Mom! Jesus! Just chill the fuck out!
Joey, honey, I just don’t want you to think that this is how girls and boys are supposed to behave, Joplin’s mother had said, her voice calm and measured with that inflection of dire seriousness that only mothers seem to be able to express. And he understood what she was telling him was true — of course boys and girls don’t act like that, Mom. He’d think. At least not the boys and girls he’d known.
Now, as an adult — if you can call a twenty-six-year-old an adult — it was more like a chore than a pleasure. More of a sentence than a stay. Even the muscles in his hands felt heavy and bloated and exhausted like the hands of a beggar. The act ceased to be that luxury which most of the guys he knew talked about with the humorous and ironic embarrassment as if they were discussing which male celebrity they’d fuck if they had to fuck a male celebrity.
Oh, Gosling for sure–
You guys are so fucking gay — what the fuck. And they’d all laugh and talk about porn in this same way. As if it was something to be ashamed of, and yet they talked about it. This was, in a way, far more pleasurable than the act itself — this comradire of insecurity and sexual promiscuity with his coworkers and friends.
Although, of course, he knew he had to be careful when talking about porn, or sex, or even women in general with anyone. However, he understood a fairly common trait amongst people — certainly of himself — and especially amongst people with whom he spent a considerable amount of time with: it is assumed, rather than known, that everything is already known about a person if one spends a certain amount of time with said individual. That is, once a good amount of time has been spent with a person, it is common to just assume that one knows all there is to know about them — as if a year or two is simply enough time to get to know someone intimately, totally. And Joplin understood this and took advantage of it. This blissful, arrogant ignorance of him and his history — in their eyes, he was just one of them. Just another guy who talked about all the things you talk about as a guy. Sex, money, job. However, oftentimes Joplin would look at his friends, talking about things which to him seemed alien and strange and embarrassing, with ease. He knew that he had no relation to the incidences, he knew that he had no experience, and in these moments he would feel like so much had passed him by — like he was a child listening to the rest of the kids playing outside, feeling left out, but having no idea why exactly he felt the way he did, no idea what exactly he was missing out on, but knowing he was missing out in a bizarre and uncomfortable way. But he never said anything. He would smile and nod along, thoughtlessly fitting in.
He would sometimes hear them talk about things which he would be absolutely horrified if someone had found that out about himself, much less if he himself divulged such a thing. This was especially the case with his deskmate, Hayes, a guy with whom he spent most of his time — and had been for the last two years — and who seemed to tell Joplin damnnear everything about himself, or so it seemed.
Got this fucked up razor burn on my balls from this electric razor I ordered off Amazon, dude, he’d say. Or, Yo, you ever wish you were gay and that way you could just fuck whenever you wanted. Cuz I got this cousin, right — and he’s gay — and he says there’s like this Tinder for gay guys and–
Yeah, Joplin would laugh, it’s called Grinder.
Yeah yeah whatever, Grinder. Yeah, that motherfucker gets laid all the goddamn time.
Oftentimes, Joplin felt the burden of the reciprocity of friendship — or co-workership. Such as the times when these types of conversations with Hayes, or with any number of his dwindling friends — but mostly it was Hayes — inevitably led to the topic of So when was the last time you got any? Or, equally as cruel, Show me that chick you banged, yo. And he would tell him. He would show him. However, he understood all too well, as it came to weigh on him more and more throughout the years, the last time was never — and that chick didn’t exist. But, he’d think, that’s what porn is there for. Right?
And so, alone at night in his one-bedroom on the second-story of the beige Shady Park Apartments off Madison and Los Alamos across the street from the Ashley’s Home Furniture, with his legs tucked underneath the down comforter with his MacBook Air — the act felt boring. The equivalent of eating some iceberg lettuce with no dressing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for years and years. Nonetheless, he clicked, uncapped, and continued into the night until after he was done he would watch Netflix until he trailed slowly off into whatever dreamscape dared inhabit the head of such a man.
He worked his way up diligently and with fervor. Over the course of the last couple of years at his job at Staples, he’d gone from a floor clerk, to a shift manager, to a customer service rep, and now, currently, the customer service manager in charge of the subsidiary customer service department for the Los Palmas location where he’d now worked for two years. A title he understood as needlessly bureaucratic and purely ceremonial — it was only him and Hayes in the department, and the only reason he outranked Hayes was because of his long tenure at the company — but nonetheless enjoyed the title and took considerable pride in it.
Mom, they promoted me, he’d said as he called her on his way home, his Joseph & Feiss executive-fit suit he’d bought from Men’s Warehouse, which hadn’t been worn since, still smelling of the aerosol and linoleum of the store.
Oh honey, that’s awesome — are you still going to be near your house?
Yeah, the office is just in the back of the same store.
He knew his mother wasn’t as happy as himself. She would have liked for him to pursue a job in marketing which had been his major at UC Riverside. However, when he’d gotten a job at Staples during his sophomore year of college it just made sense to stick around. They treated him well, he liked everyone he worked with, and when he moved back home after graduation there ended up being a location close to his new apartment.
Don’t you think you should maybe work somewhere, I don’t know, more like in-line with your major, bro? A friend of his from college had asked him over the phone one day shortly after he’d moved back.
I mean, Joplin began, I really like the company. I get good deals on all the office supplies, it’s close to my house, and I don’t know, there’s room for growth.
It wasn’t like Joplin was unhappy either. He could honestly say that he enjoyed his job and his coworkers and his life in general. There was always the pressure to get a real job, as his mother put it, and of course he came to realize this as well to some extent. However, in the back of his mind he knew he’d have time. Even now, he was only twenty-six. And it wasn’t like he was just some free-loading simp living at his mom’s. He had a respectable job, if not the most glamorous, paid his own rent, made car payments, and did his taxes through TurboTax. He also maintained a simple and pleasant life.
Which was far more than Hayes seemed capable of.
His deskmate, Joplin was fairly certain, had a bad drug habit. Hayes would always show up late, although not too late — but just enough to raise some concern as to his reliability as an employee. And if it wasn’t for Joplin being his immediate — and only — supervisor, Hayes might have had a more difficult time at the company. But Joplin considered Hayes his friend, and he wouldn’t want to make his friend feel like just because of his position of authority that they couldn’t hang out and talk — which became more and more his only source of this kind of interaction. And so on days like this, when Hayes would show up late, nearly shoving the eggshell white door down on his way in, a battered aluminum tumbler with cold coffee in hand, and his eyes wide with a childish smirk on his face, Joplin would look up from his screen and shake his head and smile.
Yeah, yeah, Hayes said. I know, my bad.
You’re good bro, Joplin answered with that slightly patronizing grin on his face.
The walls of the room they worked in were as white as the door, and the mineral fiber ceiling above them rustled along with the impersonal air conditioning that ran through the ducts above like some kind of strange arctic breeze, never seen and only experienced through the movement of the ceiling. Everything was the same and Hayes sniffed loudly and sat down and opened up his computer.
You ever figure out that one customer’s carpet-chair-mat issue? Joplin asked.
Fuck, dog. Nah I completely forgot to call him back — shit…
Joplin would later look back on this day and realize that this day, more than any in the last several years of his mundane life, changed everything. There was nothing particularly fascinating about the day — there was no major news, nor birthdays, no joy necessarily. Obviously, when he looked back on this day, as he often did, he knew why it had been a benchmark for him. But like any day in a person’s life that has significance, one typically expresses — or at least hopes to find — a fondness for its surroundings, for the air, the smells, the sights. He saw none of that. Just the fathomless whiteness of the office and the buzz of impersonal fluorescent lights overhead and outside was the hymn of heat off the foam-black asphalt and stoplights and concrete painted beige. If anything, it was a horrible day. But much like the music of a radio station after the incandescent hum of the whitenoise is vacuumed up into the ethereal realm of the world out there wherever it exists when it is not heard by the ears of man — like that, this day was like the music of a radio station. Or rather, he thought, at least like some new noise.
They were working together on processing a complaint for a large order of paper that shipped out to the wrong address. Joplin was on the phone with the client, a very kind woman by the name of Susan White who was the administrative assistant at a law firm, while Hayes checked the inventory for the tracking number which they couldn’t seem to find. Joplin was trying to reassure Susan, who didn’t sound upset but did, nonetheless, sound slightly irritated.
I know it’s not you hon, Susan said. It’s just a little hassle for me, is all.
Joplin knew she was just being nice to him and he appreciated it — if he was in her situation he’d be upset too, maybe more so, he thought.
Yo, so I checked through these numbers and I think I found it, Hayes finally said as he looked up from his screen.
Sick, what does it say? Joplin whispered, covering his palm over the phone’s mic as Susan’s muffled voice murmured on the other end.
Here, lemme talk to her. Hayes reached out with his eyes still on the screen.
Aight hold on — Su-Susan, sorry to interrupt. But I’m gonna put Hayes on the line with you, he’s got you all pulled up here. Susan thanked him for being such a tremendous and patient help and he said you’re welcome, of course, and said that if there’s ever anything she needed she could call back and they’d get it straightened out. He handed the phone to Hayes.
As Hayes went over the shipment mistake and figured out the location of the order in correspondence with the date the order was placed, the low zizz of a phone from the top of the cream-colored filing cabinet near the door of their small workspace interrupted the semantic chatter.
That you? Joplin mouthed as Hayes glanced up from his screen. He furrowed his brow and nodded and motioned with his hand, asking Joplin to hand him the phone.
Standing up and hearing the high-pitched creak of the office chair with the Fellowes Office Suites Mesh Back Support attachment he bought with his employee discount, he thought about how he might want to buy that Flexispot, or maybe he’d go big and finally get the Aeron he’d always eyed on his way into work every day. He walked over to the file cabinet where the phone continued its low brazen whirr, picked it up, and looked at the contact name: ImUrBunny1122.
What the fuck? Joplin quickly mumbled with a faint, amused smile. Hayes didn’t have the humor to nickname, the inclination to make fun in such a specific manner. The contact name, which whispered the hint of playful, explicit joy, also suggested some kind of impersonal deprivation — for what is a nickname if not the deprivation of the real, the replacement of one’s name? Who the hell is ImUrBunny1122? Why would Hayes have that contact saved under his phone? And why call, ImUrBunny1122? Why call? With a glint of cheeky, embarrassed interest these thoughts approached him.
Joplin handed Hayes his phone, still busy on the line with Susan, with one eyebrow raised as in a compulsive, harmless inquiry. Hayes smiled a cheeky and petulant smile and mouthed the words: Just wait. And let the phone ring out until the humming stopped and Hayes seemed as focused as ever on his job.
Minutes later, after Hayes squared everything away with Susan and the order, he was silent taping his wry fingers on the oily screen of his phone in a perpetual motion that resembled a watchmaker or some sly tradesmen counting change in some far away and ancient bazaar.
So? Joplin said finally, staring at Hayes intently with that same playful eagerness on his face which he originally adopted when he saw the penname ImUrBunny1122 on his phone screen — a name which, now that he thought about it more, implied, if not outrightly screamed, an ironic innuendo of the most primal nature. A name which implied the stripping off of clothes and the acts of a kind at once unspeakable, and yet, soothing and needed for some beguiling reason. And despite his prudish temperament concerning the initiation of subjects such as this — as it was inevitably going to be — Joplin was nonetheless curiously amused, if only for the look Hayes elicited at the sight of the name. One of subtle jouissance, of dereliction.
A grin crept up on Hayes’s face as he was tapping away. Hang on — one sec… And finally. Dude you won’t believe this shit.
You know those sites, or whatever, they’re those sites that say, like, Fuck for Free, No Bullshit, No-
-No Credit Card, Joplin interjected, yeah yeah what of it?
So anyway, my brother’s buddy — this fool Carl — is all up on this shit. He told me that this shit actually fuckin works! So I’m all, No way, there’s no way. But this fool was telling me — well, showing me — all these chicks he’s been smashing-
They hot? Joplin asked with enthusiastic amusement.
I mean, dog, fuck yeah, Hayes laughed. It’s not, like, hella supermodels and shit, ya know. This ain’t some Ashely Madison shit, or Passion.com. But yeah. So anyway, I go up on this site — it’s called findandfling.com — it’s for like chicks that just wanna fuck. And dog, he paused and smiled with wide eyes on the verge of hysterical laughter, it’s fuckin crazy.
So, ImUrBunny1122 is-
Dog, that chick is only just like one of em.
There’s more? Joplin asked, this time leaning in more serious.
Fuck yeah. I’ve already smashed like three times. This was a lie of course. Hayes only had had sex once through the site. However, he wasn’t lying about the potentials, nor of the number of women he’d been talking to. In fact, he said three times because he’d been laid once, and he had made definite plans with two other women for later on that week — one of which was, of course, ImUrBunny1122. It goes without saying though, Joplin knew none of this and remained intrigued, and now, strangely compelled by something in him one can neither call primal nor plastic. Something in between curiosity and fever.
So it’s like Tinder or something? Like, you don’t gotta pay?
Nah dude, not even-
Yeah, cuz I don’t really fuck with Tinder, Joplin lied. What he really meant was, I’m too ugly for Tinder. I’ve never had a match that didn’t ghost me on Tinder. I can’t get a girl to talk to me in person, what makes you think Tinder would be any different. Guys like me simply look at the girls of Tinder as the shades of the dead look from the banks of the Lethe at the living.
Dog, it’s nothing like Tinder…
The two continued to hash out various details concerning the site’s legitimacy, the women’s physical appearances, the vulnerability one makes themselves when applying.
You should, yo.
Fuck, he thought in silence for a few moments as Hayes clicked through a spreadsheet on his computer.
Dude, I’m telling you, they really don’t ask for a credit card or nothing.
It’s really no bullshit then?
Incredibly, as Hayes had said, the site really doesn’t ask for much: is he single? does he agree to wear a condom? — a popup ad — what kind of women is he into? he will be seeing women he most likely knows, is he going to be discreet about it? what is he looking for? and so on. The application process reminds him of signing up for the various live webcam services he’d, at one point or another, signed up for — and then inevitably, shamefully, canceled. Only this time, there are no fees — no credit card, minimal sign-up, no bullshit.
After the conversation with Hayes earlier that day, they resumed business as usual until he went home and got into bed — a task which he had forced himself to adhere to. How do you know these women actually want to have sex? He had wanted to ask. Is it legal? Do you think the company is going to find out? What if these women are married or are in a relationship? What if their partners find out? Do you think I will see one of our female coworkers? Susan? What if she’s on there? Are you sure it works? Do you feel comfortable with this? Do you think they’re going to know I’m a virgin? Do you think I’m going to be okay? Are you okay?
The latter question, he thought, entered his mind out of some kind of misplaced sympathy for whatever person would want to have sex this way. What kind of people would be found on such a site — no credit card, no sign-up, no bullshit. Really? What boundaries of standards and norms does one have to subvert in order to take part in such a bacchanal? And yet, here he was. His fingers gyrating in a queasy nervousness that let no part of his body rest. From his eyes which twitched and would go numb, to his thighs which felt somehow heavier than usual. This anxiety and aimless feeling of both excitement and fear crept up and down his nervous system and ossature until it felt like moths were flying in his blood, like beetles on his bones, like fruit flies within his nerves.
Just chill the fuck out, he told himself. This is what you wanted, right? Just look and see if it’s legit and if you still feel like you don’t wanna go through with it, don’t. But at least try. Please.
And he did. He let himself venture further and further along with the questionnaire until, finally, he was asked to give his email. He typed and pressed enter. He is now in.