Like a soapbox preacher on a poetic rant, Steve Katz declares, "Dysfiction is right now and beyond." Kissssssssssss is a miscellany swarming with American kooks and modern primitives who demonstrate the absurdity of our reality. A man's head detaches during cunnilingus then continuously recites scientific formulas of flight. In a parallel universe Los Angeles, a young boy embarks on a strange bildungsroman to avoid being eaten by his parents. An African Grey parrot pontificates on the plight of parrots in war-torn countries.
Steve Katz comes off the loping forward rush of his latest masterful novel, Antonello's Lion, with a collection of short pieces: acerbic, innovative, humorous and above all, perversely engaging. —Rudy Wurlitzer, author of Nog, Flats, Quake, Slow Fade, Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid and etc.
Steve Katz's comic genius is subversive. Readers beware. You may die laughing. —Walter Abish, author of How German Is It, Alphabetical Africa, Eclipse Fever and etc.
Steve Katz is an American treasure: a delirious imagination in a major stylist. His 2006 novel, Antonello's Lion, is an epic comic lament. Reading these stories you can imagine Flann O'Brien crossed with Nathanael West. No one has chronicled the impact of the women's movement more vividly and with less bias. No one has performed more loving surgery on the international art scene. —Wendy Walker, author of The Sea-Rabbit, Stories Out Of Omarie
In my opinion, Steve Katz is the greatest living novelist in English, and the one most likely to keep our hearts and minds in good-working order, to keep us truly human in a world where brainless tech-loving Moorlocks hog the sunshine, and thoughtful, life loving Eloi have been driven underground. —William Bamberger, Bamberger Books
THE INFORMATION HIGHWAY
The sexual act deflates the imagination.
"Roger, sweetheart, please stop," Adeline complains. "I'm not your snack-o-matic." He's a passionate guy, with great feelings, the sweetest lover, but his face has been rooting between her thighs since one a.m. of Halloween. "I love it, but there's a limit, even to pleasure, mighty mouth. It's been twenty-four hours, no, twenty-two, no, twenty-seven hours by now. It's almost five." She went as a bag of golf clubs, and he as a marijuana plant; however, the big party they had anticipated turned out to be a sedate gathering of her corporate cronies dressed as company products. So they cut out and walked the streets for a while, taking in the human marshmallows and spareribs and shish-ke-babs. Barbecue was a big theme this year. They saw some superheroes, too; and wizards, and one couple dressed as the twin towers, and a whole sorority of witches that emptied out of the Lido bar and marched down Broadway. There must have been sixty of them.
"Stop, Roger. I love you bunches, but please now, stop." She doesn't want to hurt the feelings of this sensitive, caring, long-haired, gentle vegetarian guy, the one man she loves; but they have hardly slept. "Save some for a rainy day, Rog, honey. You know I'm happy to be where your next meal is coming from, forever. I promise." Even in their ordinary life there is some truth in that. She's the one who brings home the brie. "I'm a whole person. You don't have to think of me all the time as some munchies." She feels her sense of humor slipping away.
Roger lifts his head to face her face. "Almost finished. It's the abc's of it, even the xyz's of it," he intones. His face looks as if it has been dipped in a vat of lanolin, her stuff thick even in the eyesockets, and the whole prolate sphere textured here and there with her pubic curls. Can he see? She hopes not. She hates to look at it, so she sinks it back down.
It's five a.m. now, Sunday morning. Good thing she doesn't have to go into work. She's hungry, but can't think of anything she really wants to eat. Shoah is on the all-night art film channel. She can't remember if she saw it years ago at the theater or not. It's engrossing, but very painful to watch; even in the throes of this pleasure. Full of stink, of lies and hypocrisy. Maybe that's why it comes on at four a.m.
At the commercial break she pulls on Roger's pony-tail. Enough is enough. She's a woman who works for a living. "Sweetheart, come on," she entreats. To her astonishment the head starts to separate from the neck. She stops, but it wont fit back. It continues to separate with a pleasant, velcro-like crackle. Velcro is one of the few benefits to the population at large that she can understand from the cost inefficient space age. "Stop this, Roger," she says, and rolls the head back, pushing from the crown to refit it to the neck, but no luck. It is already half detached. She looks around the room, as if afraid there might be a witness.
When they got home he said, as if he had learned about romance only from pornography, "I want to give you head all night." So this is what happens when words of lust take a literal turn. It wont screw, it wont chink back in. She will either have to leave it dangling, or take it off the rest of the way. She's famous for finishing whatever she starts, so dangling for her is not an option. There's a reason she has climbed the corporate ladder, has penetrated the glass ceiling. She knows it sounds ridiculous, but she says, "Okay, relax, sweety," and she gives the greying pony-tail another tug. It comes off easily, just like ripping wet newsprint. Then she lies back and holds it above her face to look at this. "Gosh, pumpkin. What happened? I'm so sorry." The head is thickly coated with herself. The tongue, curled into a tube, sticks far out from the lips. One eye winks at her. A slight sneeze.
"Sweetheart, yuk!" Her revulsion reflex makes her toss the head at the bathroom door, where it rolls into the fresh kitty litter, one of her company's original products, picking up most of it on the face before it comes to rest near the sink, its features spackled with green, chlorophyl-impregnated chips.
"Roger is a novelist," says Adeline aloud, another irrelevant thought. The novel is something to read on a flight to Indianapolis, when you don't have work to do. She had shown Roger how to use the Mac in the first place, and that was a help to him. By itself the novelist is an anachronism. A novel can be written as well by committee or a computer can be programmed to produce it. She factored all this in when she chose to live with Roger. He presented a contrast to her professional life, put a quaint spin on her personal time.
She shakes the nightgown loose from where it's sticking to her thighs, and follows Roger's head into the bathroom. It rests on its side under the washstand. "Everything will be perfect, darling. I can handle everything." She drags the head across the floor to lean it face out in the crotch the clothes-hamper makes with the bathtub, and secures it in place with a beach towel rolled up.
"Oh Roger, baby," she says, after gazing a few moments on the face. "If this has happened to you, what do you think God has in store for me?" The word, "God", from her own mouth, unnerves her. She uses that word only with her grandmother.
As soon as she steps back the eyes open and the lips move. The head starts talking. "Lift is produced by the difference in pressure between the upper and lower surfaces of the airfoil, or wing. Since the pressure of a gas is inversely proportional to its speed you shape the wing to maximize the speed of the air across the upper surface. The characteristic lifting airfoil profile has a maximum thickness of six to eighteen percent of the chord aft of the leading edge. The normal component, or lift, may be expressed in equation form as L = C sub l sub q S. The variation of C sub L with geometric angle of attack..."
She finds his voice more nasal than before, although she recognizes it as Roger; but she can't bear to listen, and decides to wash downstairs in the guest bathroom. Roger's body now stands on his own two feet in the bedroom. An erection has developed. "So that's what it takes," Adeline thinks, then thinks better. The right arm is extended and bent, pointing at the baby bazooka with a crooked forefinger. The body seems to follow this stiff thing around as it bumps into things, like someone in love. She's afraid at first to approach, but then finds it quite docile as she takes the left hand, leads it to the bed, and lowers it to the sheet. The penis seems to be pleading for someone to grab it. Not her, not now. With another sheet she covers this, so the thing stands like a tent-pole in the midst.
As she scrubs in the guest shower she maps her whole week. It will be Thursday before she has time to get back to this Roger situation, but it isn't so catastrophic to delay since everything is more or less alive. The ability to speak, the sustaining of erection, that was life enough for a man. She could wash the head when her schedule permitted. The kitty litter is a stellar product. It would keep the thing fresh at least until Thursday.
She spends most of the day in her bathrobe in the office downstairs, editing the manual some of her writers produced for a new investment-tracking program. They made the new software seem too complicated. Better the other way around. Then she works on her laptop on a power-point presentation she is going to make for her board. To avert a hostile takeover she has fashioned a sexy offering for their stockholders, and leveraged a distribution deal that will get their swift new RAM expanders into every computer store in the country. This is only one aspect of the diversification she has designed for a corporation that before herself languished in the business of pet products.
At 9:30 she's ready for bed. The morning disaster has almost slipped her mind, but approaching her bedroom she hears Roger's head still yacking in the bathroom.
"Partially balanced incomplete blocks form a very general class of experimental design in which not all treatments occur in every block. 1. Each treatment is replicated "r" times. 2. Given any treatment..."
Roger's poker has doubled in length. Business has doubled twice since she became CEO, she reflects. So she appreciates doubling. But Roger's thing could be like Jack's beanstalk. Who knows where it will end up? For the first time in the three years they've lived together she feels ambivalent about crawling into bed with Roger, even though the snoring problem is probably eliminated by this coup; but realistically, the longer erection has pulled the sheet into a higher tent now, and she will be at a definite disadvantage in what sometimes becomes a nasty battle for the comforter in the middle of the night. She intended to get a second one, but as with a lot of things domestic hasn't found time or motivation to shop for it. The major concerns of the day always distract her from the minor difficulties of the night.
She hears the head, still blabbing in the bathroom.
"After having been twice driven back by heavy, south-western gales, Her Majesty's Ship "Beagle", a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitzroy, sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831. The object of the expedition..."
Wrong! She can't tolerate this talk, but she has to suppress her response until pressure from work eases off. Meanwhile she will sleep alone in the guest bedroom. In Roger's closet she finds his bowling ball in its soft padded bag. It's been at least a year since they've gone bowling. The ball has his name etched on it, as well as the "All American" logo. She kisses the name and places the ball carefully on a pillow at the end of the neck. The three holes look almost like eyes and nose. It rolls side to side on the pillow, as if something about the presence of the body disturbs it. "Yipes," she thinks. " Even a bowling ball has feelings." Something like that always makes her wonder. To quiet things down in the bathroom she carefully places the head inside the bowling ball satchel.
"The day was glowing hot, and the scrambling over the rough surface and through the intricate thickets was very fatiguing; but I was well repaid by the strange, Cyclopean scene. As I was walking along I met two large tortoises, each of which must have weighed at least two-hundred pounds: one was eating a piece of cactus, and as I approached, it stared at me and slowly stalked away; the other gave a deep hiss, and drew in its head. These huge reptiles, surrounded by the black lava, the leafless shrubs, and large..."
Wrong! She zips it up, and then curious to find out if it still talks while the bag is closed, quickly zips it back down.
"The women, on our first approach, began uttering something in a most dolorous voice, they then squatted themselves down and held up their faces; my companion standing over them, one after another, placed the bridge of his nose at right angles to theirs and commenced pressing. During the process they uttered comfortable little grunts, very much in the same manner as two pigs do, when rubbing against each other. I noticed that the slave..."
Wrong! Talking. Wrong!
She gets up early to head for the office. Almost out the door she remembers she has neglected to look in on Roger. He always has an especially sweet kiss for her on her way out, and she still wants one. Usually he stays home to write his novel. She runs upstairs to look in the bedroom. The whole sheet now has lifted way off the body, as if being raised to fly from a pole. It makes her think. Unless attached to a brain, the erection does not interest her; but she could appreciate a kiss sans body. She shleps the bag downstairs so the osculation can happen at the familiar threshold. How, she wonders, will the fact that she has to hold up the head affect the kiss? She zips it open. "Sweetheart, I'm off to work."
"Bode's relation may be stated as follows: write down a series of fours; to the first, add zero; to the second, add three; to the third add six equals three times two; to the fourth, twelve equals six times two; to the fifth, twenty-four equals twelve times two, etc; the resulting numbers, divided by ten will give the approximate mean distances of the planets from..."
This is unbearable. "Wrong!" She cries. She zips the bag, and drops it into the closet, next to the umbrellas.
In the cab as she reconstructs the moment she reflects that, unless her eyes have deceived her, Roger's head now appears much smaller than it was when attached, as if it is shrinking away. Everything keeps getting curiouser, but Thursday is still the soonest she'll have time. She puts it from her mind and focuses on work.
The two short morning meetings go well, as does the big board meeting, where she presents her successful strategies to the general approbation of the other execs. She is a kind of hero in the tight inner management circles of Darkl-Melma Ltd.
So much accomplished in the morning, leaves her with a lighter afternoon schedule. She declines the executive lunch. She isn't up to it. As she was making her presentation something strange happened. While she explained some of the graphs, the events of her weekend started to appear to her in images on the screen, then she heard Roger talking, then the sounds of his head separating from his body thundered into her skull. She was well prepared, and confident enough to muck through the presentation, but now she is shook up. She wants to talk to someone, anyone but another executive. Is she going crazy? Will she cease to function?
She decides to grab a lunch in the employee's cafeteria, where she can be anonymous. One thing she misses from the days she worked in the trenches as a computer operator is casual conversation with other women. Now her lunches are mostly with men, sometimes accompanied by wives or girlfriends, who frequently seem to resent her. Very rarely is there another woman with her rank, and with those there is usually uneasiness, because often there seems to be some tacit competition. What she would like to have back is the coffee breaks or lunches with women -- talking salaries, talking husbands and kids, laughing down the harassers in the office, comparing shopping notes, women's problems, dating, friends. She found more good humor, more laughter in the ranks than at the tables of the CEO's.
She leaves her jacket in the office, shakes her hair out of its bun, and unbuttons her blouse a little to let show the tip of the wing of the dragonfly she in her wilder days had tattooed above her left breast. Her boyfriend then, Mouse Bernstein, was a tattoo artist, and a Harley freak. Something about Mouse she misses. She gets a bowl of chowder and a Greek salad and sits down in a corner, hoping not to be recognized as the boss, and hoping one of the women will sit down with her.
Before long someone does settle in across the table, with a pasta salad and a peach melba. The woman wipes her spoon and fork with a napkin that she puts in her pocket, and then unfolds another for her lap, tucking the corners under so it makes a hexagon. She smiles at Adeline. The metal braces in her mouth are disturbing, like visual static. Metal braces on older faces make Adeline uneasy because her mom never had money for an orthodontist when she was young, and she grew up thinking her mouth needed improving. Now that she has the money, she doesn't want to bother; but now, seeing this woman makes her run her tongue across her teeth.
"I'm Sybil from accounting. I don't think I've seen you in here before. Are you from customer service?"
"No. I'm a programmer. My name is Dolores," says Adeline.
"I thought it was just customer service and accounting in here from one to two. Aren't your people supposed to be eleven to twelve?"
A woman who knows the rules. Adeline likes that, "They made an exception today, because of my problem."
"Pleased to meet you, Dolores." She sucks down a few swirls of rotini. "Which problem is yours?"
"Oh, boyfriend problem."
"Yeah, that one." Adeline swallows a spoonful of chowder, and then starts to speak. "We've been living together more than three years. He's a great guy, a little old-fashioned, a writer; well, not really a writer. He's a novelist. I actually love him a lot. He's sensitive and he's loyal. I don't know. Sometimes we take separate vacations, but we're usually together. Sex is good. It lasts forever." Adeline suddenly feels in her belly she is going to tell too much too fast, but she can't stop herself. "He knows things. Like the history of the forklift, and how it changed warehousing. Sometimes he tells me that. That's good. Isn't that good? He was a forklift operator for years, before he changed his name from Ralph to Roger and became a novelist. We always get along great, until this weekend, and we didn't even argue." Sybil is expressionless. The recessed lighting glints off her braces as she slowly eats. "But I'll tell you, he was doing something to me; I mean, down there, like he does. Usually I like it, but this is going on too long, and I pull on his ponytail to see if I can get him to stop, and something very weird happens." Adeline waits for Sybil to ask what, but her silence continues. "I pull on his ponytail and his head comes off."
The pause is heavy, a moment like a balloon that can't shed its ballast. Nothing rises. Nothing from Sybil. Sweet Roger, Adeline thinks. She wants to say, "O woe is me. Oy yoy yoy yoy yoy!" Sybil remains expressionless, and Adeline feels the silence packed with monotony. Tears heat her eyes. A fleck of pasta is caught on Sybil's braces.
Sybil asks, "What is his social security number, please?"
"I don't know, Sybil. Right now I feel like I'm out here, you know, on the edge of nature, with all the smaller shadows. Shadow of the inch. Spoonshadow. The wild minkshadow. Wee shadows. Of a comma. Shadow of the tampon. But I just held his head up and it was still talking. That's impossible. Wrong! But he was talking. Oy yoy yoy yoy yoy!"
"What is his middle initial? His daytime phone number or a number where he can be reached, like a cell phone or fax number?"
"And then his body was walking around with a big, you know? Everything going into the deeps. Down the well. Shadow of the chestnut. Shadow of moth. Pillshadow." Adeline was earnest, but also enjoyed the words she was starting to talk. She could be the queen of shadows. Or King Shadeline. "It was a big erection. You know, shadow of a tiptoe. Dropshadow. Shadow breathshadow."
"Has he done business with D-M before?"
"I need to find something out. What does the red mean? What happens in the blue?" Adeline brushes a tear from her cheek. "And then when I was working, I started seeing it and hearing him."
" Is this a private or a corporate account? Is there an 8oo number? To what address will we send the statement?"
Adeline sees now that the employee is looking into her face as if it was a monitor, and she is waiting for the responses to come up. There is no satisfaction here for Adeline.
Back at her office Adeline succumbs to an invitation to dinner from Eduardo Nifty, CEO of their Perpetual Pet Food division. He has fielded her refusals regularly twice a week for a year and a half and automatically turns to walk away because he can't fathom that he hasn't been rejected this time; so, she has to shout a repeat of her affirmative. She's in no hurry to get home. Quite the opposite. Eduardo is a career executive, with little in his life except his job. They spend a long, boozy evening at the kind of upscale surf and turf she never goes to with Roger. Roger is strictly Asian or Middle-eastern vegetable chow. Eduardo's monotonous conversation is not satisfying, but it does relax Adeline.
They leave the restaurant after ten and find separate cabs home. Adeline has yet to prepare a pep-talk for the morning meeting with her middle managers. A small piece of work, but it will keep her going till after midnight. Not till the cab pulls away does she realize how tired she is, and her problem with Roger suddenly looms. She takes some comfort that she's a well-known problem solver. She looks up. No lights on in her brownstone, but every room that has a t-v -- bedroom, living room, even the small black and white in the kitchen -- someone switched them on and the walls glimmer. How can that be? In the little window of the computer room , modem, fax, cd rom library, a screen flickers, in use. In that very room sweet Roger processes his words. Who is using this now? Has Roger's erection unzipped Roger's head? Is a bowling ball playing with her laptop? She fears what she will have to face on the inside, but can't let that stop her.
On other nights she has stepped across the homeless man lying under cardboard cartons across her stoop. No big obstacle. The box covering his uppers has "Do not open until the millenium" marked on it. She is suddenly enfolded in fear, terror of what is now. She feels vacant, without inner resources. Her life is merely a flicker. Windows glow onto the street.
Adeline backs off to lean against a car and breathes the night air. Tasty. She recognizes something. It's acrid, a hint of sweetness in it, this waft of burning flesh, human burning. She knows that smell from her trip to Bali with Mouse Bernstein. They were there for the cremation season, and for the family they stayed with this was a joyous aroma because they had finally saved enough money to cremate a grandfather and a child, both of whose bodies they had kept in shallow graves till they could afford the priest. And she had smelled it again when she first moved back to the city, and the vacant building near her apartment burned almost to the ground. Her cat, out for the night, rubs against her legs and makes a doleful noise. Has Buster been fed? She gazes at the window for a long time. Her fear finally goes away, like a broom on a truck, but she still can't go in. She just can't. She doesn't even want to know what has been going on in there. If ever the aliens in their UFO's are going to come and whisk her away, now's the time. Suddenly, rather like a mudball some kid splats against a window, she is hit by the recognition that she has forgotten how many letters there are in the alphabet. She thinks it's an even number -- twenty-two, or twenty-six, or twenty-four. It's in the twenties. Maybe twenty-eight. Or maybe she's wrong, and it's an odd number after all -- twenty-five or twenty-seven. Maybe that's wrong and it reaches the thirties. She's quite sure it's not in the teens. That's too few.
She'll recite the whole thing, she decides, and count them each by one; so, she leans her head back against the car and starts from the beginning. "A B C D..." She gets pretty far, all the way to K, before she has doubts. She sniffs the air. Still something familiar. She isn't so sure about the J. Maybe she put it in too early. It comes after O, before T. O J T P; then she can't remember if N comes first, or M. At least she knows they come together in the sequence, she's pretty sure. M N L U R? N M W...? M O N U R Y...? N U M I N O...? numino? minemony? No. Not two N's. She pushes ahead with it, and knows it's coming to the end when she hits L U W Y Z V X. She's satisfied. X at the end satisfies Adeline.