First, this is a lengthy excerpt from Florida Man: Battle of the Five Meth Labs: A Love Story. Second, my deepest and most sincere apologies to those who were forced to click once from Facebook to my actual blog. I know–there goes your energy reserve for the rest of the day. Fuck. I did try to just post it in a FB note, but it came out as one massive paragraph, so it came down to me spending a half an hour or more going through a re-inserting each paragraph break (fuck that) or you clicking a link. That’s why you had to click a link. I am so, so sorry. There is no third thing, so…read.
This is Edward. Edward is a scientist—a self-taught Entropolgist, despite holding no higher academic degree, his brilliance on the subject, and in general, landed him a job with the prestigious Spliphsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, DC, studying and working out his theories on entropy, which is pretty impressive considering he applied for the janitor’s position (just like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, no shit). Entropy, broadly speaking, is to be deficient on order or predictability, a steady degeneration into chaos. It’s very complicated. You’ll hear more about it later, because Edward is fairly fixated on the subject. Or rather, it will engulf you, as it has Edward, and you’ll cease to notice it and only eventually come to accept that your life is but an exercise in falling apart, from birth till death, until you yourself have disintegrated into nothing. For Edward, it begins from the time he wakes up and collapses bit by bit until he gives way to a mental scrap heap into bed.
Right now, though, Edward is not in DC, but, ironically, he is in a janitor’s closet. It is nine o’clock at night and the closet inside the Solar Shore Polytechnical High School in Sarasota, Florida is sensory-deprivation quiet. It is dingy and badly lighted, considering the rest of the school is immaculate. Here, the walls are grey up until about four feet, and then it’s a grimy Breast-Cancer-Awareness pink from there to the ceiling, which is dropped-tile and stained. It smells strongly of old mop heads that have been used regularly, yet never cleaned. Or even rinsed. Towels that have dried stiff hang on nails hammered into the concrete wall. And outdated vacuum cleaner stands next to a floor polisher, both wrapped with what looks to be about 350 feet of cord. A pile of mostly unidentifiable high-school-related items sits in one corner, while bottles of cleansers, large and small, cluster beneath a chipped porcelain sink, huddled around its rusty U-pipe. Finally, there is a banked drain on the floor in another corner, presumably for emptying the old, grey, rolling mop bucket. Atop this bucket is sits a woman Edward met about a half an hour before. Her jogging pants are pushed down around her ankles and her greasy black hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail that sits almost on top of her head. She wears bright orange-framed sunglasses and too many picked scabs to pass as an acne problem. Her t-shirt has an American flag on the front with the words “If your offended, I’ ll help you pack!”
Edward sits on the cleanest area of the floor he could find, against the wall between the sink and the bucket drain. He is extremely uncomfortable, his six-foot-ten-inch frame squeezed into the space, knees pulled up, cement floor cold against his ass. In the preceding months, his hair has gotten a little nappy and his beard as well. Edward looks like no one else and that alone makes him intrinsically handsome, though he doesn’t know it. He should be described as multi-racial, if you’re talking lineage, but then, shouldn’t everyone? More directly, Edward is bi-racial, born of a Caucasian house-husband and an African American Enthonosociobiologist who studied, specifically, how African Americans used turnips greens, most often used in Soul Food, which no one in their family ate. She—Edward’s mother—also preferred “black” to “African American,” because, “Boy, damn, that’s a mouthful.” Edward is only slightly lighter than his mother, and when he is not addicted to methamphetamines, in the sun, is a very attractive tawny beige with golden undertones. Here, in this closet, in this light—one fluorescent bulb shaded by a filthy plastic cover—he is a pale taupe. Like a wealthy woman’s bedding set in her bungalow by the sea.
“Surely you can wait,” Edward says, sighs.
“We could be in here for days,” Shit Pail replies.
He has no idea what her name is. They’re only together to get high, here in this janitor’s closet. Which they have apparently inadvertently locked themselves into.
She’s pressing buttons on her cell as she’s relieving herself. Edward quickly realizes that she is not draining the tank, but is in fact releasing a brown trout into the bucket.
He sighs again, deeply, then regrets it immediately as the inhalation was, to him, like eating infinitesimal, microscopic floating pieces of shit.
“Who are you calling?”
“911,” she answers and farts. “Oops. There’s goes the Tasmanian Barking Spider. Better watch out, I think it got loose.” Shit Pail smiles with what’s left of her meth-destroyed teeth.
“Christ,” Edward puts his head in his hands. “You know they won’t come.”
“Never know.” And now she’s peeing. “You gotta poo first. Then pee. Don’t want to get splashed with pee as the ol’ brown snake hits the water.”
“There is no water in that bucket.”
“Hmm.” She now checks her text messages.
Edward does not own a cell phone, for various reasons that will become obvious. He listens to her phone beeping and booping, chiming sometimes, which sounds pleasant, but then a waft of fecal fetor assaults his nose as the invisible stench cloud makes its way around the tiny enclosure in what seems to be a circular fashion.
This scenario might seem like it couldn’t get much worse, but it does. Shit Pail left the pipe and meth, which she kept calling “crink” because it sounded cute, in the glove compartment of her rusted-out, yellow Chevette. Edward had barely fit in it. They don’t even make that model anymore. He feels he should have considered it a poor omen when she referred to his canvas cross-body bag as a “man purse.”
Shit Pail is reading something funny, apparently, laughing without parting her lips, but when she’s not laughing, she’s sucking on her teeth, which makes this sound that Edward refuses to allow his brain describe, and so, he makes conversation. This isn’t exactly his forte.
“So,” He begins. “Tell me about yourself.”
He looks at her and regrets the question instantly, because it can’t be anything good. But then, he’s not exactly “winning” either. Charlie Sheen is winning harder than Edward is.
After a few seconds she looks up at him and clicks off her phone. Shit Pail, her pants still down and clearly having made herself comfortable, sighs and leans her chin on an elbow/knee-propped palm.
“Not much to tell, really. I use a lot of shard and crank. When I’m feeling mellow, and poor, I like a candy blunt.”
She thinks some more.
“This one time I was ballin’ and some buffer bitch got all agro up in my shit . . . ”
Edward stares blankly at Shit Pail.
“I got in a fight. I grabbed her right between her tits, grabbed her bra through her shirt, so I could get a good hold, you know, while I’m laying into her face. Bitch musta got that bra in the Buck Bin ‘cause that shit ripped right off. Her shirt came with it. I’m standing there with a hand full of this broad’s topsies and she’s buck-ass nekkid.”
Edward can at least smile at this. “Funny.”
Shit Pail’s smile disappears. “Why don’t you tell me how great you are, Klingon?”
“Is . . . what did you just . . . is that racist?”
Shit Pail thinks about it for a minute. “No,” she says. “It’s like a crack head.”
“I don’t smoke crack.”
“Oh, well let’s get you a fuckin’ trophy.”
Edward sighs, inhaling again the tiny particles of Shit Pail’s recent release, then makes a mental note to stop doing that, which he forgets as soon as he thinks it.
“Go on,” she says, settling onto, almost into, the bucket. “What’s your deal?”
Jimmy Spliphson, an eminent 19th-century Astacologist and self-made millionaire sadly passed away mid-century, leaving all of his wealth to the District of Columbia to establish a lavish museum and laboratory for the study and dissemination of the great body of knowledge of the crawfish. The building itself took fourteen years to build, mostly delayed by a superfluity of pointless legal wrangling. For the first seven years, everything went as Spliphson desired, hence the two massive neo-classical style crawfish guarding the main entrance on Constitution Avenue and other assorted crawfish-related architectural flourishes. But eventually, someone said, “What?” and put a stop to all that madness.
Today, the only thing reflecting its not-so-humble beginnings is the name, the Spliphsonian. But instead of the Spliphsonian Museum of Astacological History, it covers all species, and is simply a natural history museum.
Edward, hair neatly trimmed short, face clean-shaven, climbed the many granite front steps of the building, taking two at a time without thinking, bag slung over his shoulder and across his body. This May day was bright and the air fresh from the blooms of nearby parks and potted city plants.
Edward’s life in DC was, in a word, boring. He usually worked from home and rarely needed to come in to the actual building, which worked for him due to his borderline-crippling general social phobia, among other things—issues planted as sad little seeds during his childhood. His mother’s favorite topics of discussion, with him, his father, and with just about anyone, were 1) how horrible and judgmental the world was, and 2) Edward’s amazing ability to persistently fail. Failures not only included grades and that sort of thing, but mostly his location in any area as related to herself. No matter where he was, he was “in the way.” He figured his first words were, “I’m sorry,” as he slipped guiltily from her womb, a nuisance already.
But today, Mr. Pyrdewy called him in to “discuss something.” This made Edward more anxious than he would usually be, and his anxiety on a regular day—on a scale from one to ten—was about an eight. This morning he made breakfast, threw it up, did some yoga, some deep breathing exercises, dressed. Dressed again. Then packed his bag full of everything he thought he might need, mainly a note pad, pen, and some chamomile tea bags, and climbed aboard the Metrorail for an ungodly, socially horrific ride to work.
Up the steps, his chest tightened as he neared the top, two giant stone crawfish eyeballing him with their freakish eye-stems, then he slipped through the old brass-and-glass revolving door that he had to somewhat duck through due to his size. Inside, the space opened up. It was a weekday afternoon, so though there were fewer visitors than he’d expected, there were still more than he’d preferred. More than two was too many, and the recycled museum air didn’t help matters.
It had been so long since Edward had been to the museum that its geography baffled him for a moment. He knew that in order to get to the administrative area, he had to get onto an elevator. But left, or right? Edward chose left and as soon as he’d exited the massive main foyer area, he was lost. He spent the next fifteen minutes wandering up and down a number of hallways, some of hard wood, some padded softy in a muted red, all full of people looking at things. Too many people.
He felt his heart rate increase and his palms start to sweat when he finally rounded a corner and found, not exactly what he was looking for, but certainly what he wanted to find: The Archaeologist.
He’d only seen her in person a few times, considering his hermit-like existence, but he followed her work on the museum website. His friend, Stanley, knew her and spoke well of her, though never actually called her by her name. Just, “The Archaeologist,” despite that there were several at the museum. Technically, she was an Anthropological Archaeologist, but whatever. She wasn’t beautiful, and she wasn’t svelte and long-legged. She was, he’d say, pretty average. Light, imperfect skin, not mousy hair, but more like chestnut, long and wavy. Or so he’d heard from a holiday party Stanley had attended.
At work, her hair was always pinned up. Edward was ambivalent in how he felt about her. On one hand, he couldn’t tell if his racing heart and sweaty hands was a result of the people, or if it was because he liked her in some special way into which he could not put words. He’d heard it was like that. On the other hand, he had to admit he didn’t really know her, so how could he feel either way about her? Except he was attracted to her benign appeal, and from Stanley he did know a few things. She laughed too loud, which made him nervous, but it also made him feel like maybe she was socially awkward, like him. She liked éclairs, as did he. But most intriguing, she believed their culture, and possibly the planet as a whole, was in a state of extreme ethical and moral anomie, the most acute condition of social entropy that can be managed just before an apocalyptic collapse.
When Edward thought of that, his heart fluttered a little, and he surprised himself because it did, indeed, feel different from the usual stress-inducted fibrillation.
Edward had zoned out staring at the back of her head, but now realized she had not only turned, but was walking toward him. He felt his gut contract and a wave of nausea came over him, though luckily, he’d already thrown up breakfast.
Leenda smelled like berries.
“I’m sorry. Hello.” Edward’s voice rarely needed to go above the level of funeral volume.
She leaned forward to hear better among the chattering kids and their perpetually-exhausted parents.
“Hello,” he said a little louder.
She smiled and put her hand out.
“I don’t think you know my name,” she said, her voice womanly and not at all that high-pitched girly refrain so mainly adult females unfortunately retain from their childhoods. “My name’s Leenda.”
But Edward did know and he felt that not telling her so constituted some form of lie on his part. He was screwing up already. He didn’t dare shake her hand with the deluge now issuing from his palms. He took a half-step back and nodded, not just his head, but most of his torso.
What did I just do? he asked himself. What the shit was that move I just made? His forehead now broke out. He took a deep breath that he hoped wasn’t noticeable and began letting it out slowly and slightly through his nose.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Are you . . . Latina? Is that the word to use?” He asked, already regretting the words, getting up that morning, and being born.
“I don’t know.” She said, puzzled. “I mean, I don’t know if that’s the word to use or not. I’m not, um, Latina? Why do you ask?”
Some kids ran between them causing Edward to pull in his limbs reflexively. Linda? Is her name Linda?
He said her name in his head a few times—Leeeeeenda—then shook it as that might help clear the stupidity. Was that racist? Great. I will never know what her name actually is.
“I’m sorry. I have no idea. Stanley’s mentioned you,” he said. “And your work.” He added that quickly to avoid seeming like he and Stanley locker-room-talked about her. “Mostly your work. I mean, all of your work, really. Nothing about you at all.”
There was an awkward pause. Then Leenda shot her thumb over her shoulder to the glass display case from which she’d come.
“Wanna come take a look?”
Edward moved one foot in front of the other, somewhat robotically, and he cursed the white side of his genetics, wishing his black side could just kick in instinctively at moments like these, when you want to be smooth. He tried to be cool.
“So, what are you working on over he—?”
His gaze fell into the scene of the display case—a Native American scene, where an older, gracious-looking native is handing a pipe to a younger, grateful-looking white man. Edward turned abruptly, but not completely around, just far enough to not have to look directly into the scene. Leenda seemed not to notice.
“Well, it’s a scene of acceptance. With this particular tribe, we found that there were certain rituals in place for tribal integration from another social or racial group.”
Though his stomach growled, Edward felt like throwing up now more than ever.
“Foreign men were assigned a native mentor and went through a long period of learning in order to fully merge with the tribe.”
“And the women?” Edward managed so as not to seem like a complete mental wreck.
“Oh, they just let the women in. They pretty much knew they weren’t going to do anything too stupid.”
Edward nodded, still turned, not at all looking at what she’s referring to and pointing at.
“Anyway, at the end, there would be this very private ceremony where the white man would be given this pipe to smoke—it’s an interesting pipe. It’s got this long stem and a kind of bulbous end into which the tobacco would go . . .”
Edward was miles away, some might say mildly catatonic. He knew all about this tribe, this ritual, this pipe: He’s ten years old, sitting on the floor in front of their massive 1978 Sylvana console television set, watching PBS. Most of the things in his family’s unit are pistachio- and cream-colored and slightly off-putting in no strict, definitive way.
The program is about “Indian” customs. His parents are preparing for some kind of social gathering. Edward doesn’t care, he is ten, he is watching a totally awesome show about Indians, and at this point he’s learned to block out the arguing and tune in on what he wants to hear.
At this point, the man is ready . . .
His mother is screeching something about her own idiot friends from work.
. . . and his guide hands him a special pipe . . .
His father is yelling that “these people are scientists”—her own peers—but that seems to piss her off more, so she yells louder.
. . . it is filled with powders and herbs . . .
Then there’s a knock at the door, and everything is silent for a moment before his mother yells, “Edward, get!” But he doesn’t hear. All he can hear is:
. . . specially foraged for this distinctive occasion . . .
And just as the white man takes the pipe and looks thankfully to his social-spiritual guide, Edward’s mother opens the front door and about twenty people rush boisterously in, voices raised in jubilation, because, hey, it’s a party and they’ve brought cocktails and fondu.
Edward is surrounded by swinging, stomping feet and the hems of coats fwap him in the face. Occasionally someone notices him and either say how cute he is, or question whether or not he should be in bed. The program has gone on. What happened, he has no idea, but there’s music now, a drum, the tempo of which sounds with the feet clomping around him, the chants and native singing blending in with the, “Hazel, did you bring those little wieners?” He tries to escape, barely able to get up from his cross-legged position. His knees and hips and shoulders ache as he’s already begun the growth spurt that wouldn’t stop until he outgrew everyone he’d ever known and ever would know. He can’t find leverage, more people flood in, flared trousers and patent leather, plaid, plaid, and so much plaid. Too much plaid. He feels sick. He can’t move. He’s nowhere. He screams, and his mother screams back, “I told you to go to bed!”
“Edward?” Leenda leaned toward him a little, but was obviously aware and careful of his space. He saw this and a small piece of him crumpled inward. He trembled and grasped his bag. If he was lucky, he’d make it out of this without his usual panic attack. Since that night back in 1984, Edward hadn’t been able to look directly at any kind of pipe, particularly a native relic, without his throat constricting, his heart rate elevating, and more often than not, his lungs just forgetting what to do. Next thing he’d know, he’d be on the floor, gasping, and waiting. Waiting the long, long wait to take that desperately needed inhalation, as his face gets tight and red, as his sight goes TV static and his brain clouds over, and then suddenly, his lungs kick into gear and there’s air, there’s oxygen, and he’s crying because thank fucking God.
“Are you okay?” She actually looked genuinely concerned.
“Sorry. Fine,” he said, his throat tight. “I’m fine.” He took a deep breath. “Tell me . . . then what happens?”
“Um, well, okay. If you feel alright. I could get you a glass of water.”
Edward shook his head and waved his hand. No, I’m fine. Really. I think I am dying.
“Well, the white man who wants to enter the tribe must smoke the entire contents of the pipe, which we understand had a hallucinogenic affect, and then—and this sounds odd—and then he must fight his mentor. If he beats his mentor, he’s welcomed into the tribe as a full-fledged member and treated as such, and the mentor himself is highly honored for producing such a good tribal citizen out of the white scum that had been screwing them so badly.”
“If he doesn’t win?”
“Social outcast. He can either go back to the white devils, or he can choose to stay with the tribe, but never within the tribe. Always on the outside. Not allowed to socialize, not allowed to take part in the rituals, not allowed to marry. None of that. Either way, it’d be a pretty sad life.”
Edward nodded. He felt a little better. He realized, not since the night of his parents’ party had he ever heard the conclusion of that documentary. And here it was, live. And lovely. Her profile was a bit off, but Leenda was actually pretty, if you got to look directly at her, close like this, and not from down a corridor or around a corner.
“So what are you here for?” she asked.
“Well . . . ”
“I’m late. I think I’m late. I’m supposed to see Pyrdewy. I can’t find his damn office.”
“Ugh, I don’t envy you. Come on.”
Before he could pull back, Leenda grabbed his hand and pulled him with her. They jogged down one hallway, then another, turned left, turned left, turned right, and they were at the elevators, slightly out of breath. She’s even prettier out of breath, he thought and his face went red as if he’d said it out loud.
“Thank you,” he said instead.
“No problem.” Leenda pushed the button for him. “Third floor, right off the elevator, you can’t miss his door.”
The doors dinged and slid open.
“Oh hey, and I’m really sorry to hear about Stanley. I liked him a lot. I know you guys were friends.”
Edward frowned as he stepped onto the elevator, nodding, trying to think of a reply.
Before the door shut, he heard Leenda say: “But he’s only missing. He’ll turn up. I’ll bet you dinner.”
And she was gone. Edward had no idea what the hell just happened.
But yes, Stanley was missing. Edward had known Stanley for a few years, having met when he’d started his non-janitorial job at the Spliphsonian. Stanley was a social anthropologist and with Edward’s entropic background, they’d often worked on various studies and projects together. They’d made a good team, as Stanley was far more extroverted, more outgoing. In the past, they had bonded over their screwed up childhoods. Edward was the product of what he was the product of and Stanley had managed somehow to seem like a whole human being despite coming from a family of addicts. They had mostly worked on projects focusing on esteem and self-worth within the family units of certain cultures, but Stanley’s current project, the one Edward had been in the process of consulting on, dealt directly with drug use, thus tackling Stanley’s pet issue and not Edward’s, so naturally Edward was happy to help in any way he could.
But then, Stanley was gone.
He found Pyrdewy’s door, the sort with the mottled glass panel in the top half. Pyrdewy had had the letters MUSEUM DIRECTOR removed—letters that have likely been there since at least 1900—and replaced, in a more flashy modern font: MR. CLAYTON PYRDEWY, and in much smaller letters below MUSEUM DIRECTOR.
Edward knocked, then a loud, slightly nasally voice pierced the glass and made Edward wince.
“Just come in!”
Edward shut the door behind him.
“Sit,” Pyrdewy said, not yet having looked up from the papers on his desk.
Edward squeezed himself into a vinyl and chrome chair that looked less like a chair than something that should have been across town in the Spliphsonian Museum of Art, though bad art it would be. Pyrdewy seemed rather absorbed in the two sheets of paper he was staring at, so Edward looked around, palms sweating. The office was period to the building’s initial construction, around 1860 and although it was adorned beautifully with decorative birch shelves lining the walls, and a still highly polished maple floor, Pyrdewy seemed to have gone a great distance out of his way to modernize, hence, this non-chair chair that was squeezing Edward’s hips painfully.
The area rug—which still contaminated the air with its new, toxic stink—was black and grey and white, with offensive geometric shapes that snottily insisted your senses to fuck themselves. What had presumably been shelves full of old, wonderful books on various intellectual, scientific topics had been replaced with current mass-market paperback thrillers and military/spy/special-ops testosterone fiction. But not very many. It was mostly empty space punctuated rudely with one piece of “art” or another.
There was a marked absence of family photographs. This was the single aspect of the office that actually contributed wanly to Edward’s mostly non-existent ease.
Pyrdewy face was red. All of him seemed to be red, or as much as Edward cared to see. At first glance, one might think it was from over tanning, but the tale-tell Trumpesque white rings around the eyes were absent. Whole-body Rosacea, perhaps.
“Did you hear about those Goddamn Nig-Nogs over in Baltimore?” Pyrdewy said without looking up from paper number two. There didn’t even seem to be much writing on either sheet.
“Um,” Edward began. “I heard there were some protests.”
“Protesting against what? You act like a thug, you get treated like a . . . ” Pyrdewy’s beady eyes finally met Edward’s.
“We’ve never met,” Pyrdewy said, getting up, as if the conversation had never started. He did not reach for a handshake and Edward was relieved for a number of reasons.
“No, we have not.”
“Well, as you know,” Pyrdewy said, starting to pace the area behind his desk slowly. “Stanley’s dead.”
“He’s not dead. He’s missing—”
“Whatever. The point is that he’s gone. But his work must go on.”
“It must?” Edward couldn’t imagine what interest this man could possibly have in continuing to fund a study on the effects of addiction within a family of addicts and the disintegration of the family and the community concept of family as a whole.
“Yes,” Pyrdewy answered, looking out the window at the Department of Justice. It was open a tiny crack, just enough to hear the faint sounds of traffic and people. “I know you worked with him, I know you consulted on this study, and I know your specialty is Endocrinology . . . ”
“That’s the study and treatment of the endocrine system.”
“ . . . and I know you are really only qualified to mop the floors here.”
Edward’s stomach did a slow, confused, flip.
“Are you listening now?” Pyrdewy didn’t really ask, still gazing out the window, and Edward discovered that a smile could actually be heard in words. Hmm.
“This study is going to continue, though it has been slightly altered, which you can educate yourself on tonight.” Pyrdewy had turned and pushed a thick file across his desk toward Edward. It was labeled D.E.A.T.H.
Edward’s eyes widened.
“You’re on a plane tomorrow morning,” Pyrdewy finished.
“Wait. But. Wait, what?”
Pyrdewy sighed deeply.
“Should I read the whole file to you?”
Edward just stared at him. He thought of the military/spy/special-ops novels dog-eared on the shelf behind him and wondered what shitty Michael Bay movie he’d slipped into. All that was inevitable now was a series of explosions. Surely, that would not happen.
“Drug Enthusiast Activity Treatment Harborage,” Pyrdewy said, matter-of-factly.
“You know, like a safe haven.”
“Look, we can’t have the public . . . ” Pyrdewy stopped, then inhaled deeply through his nose and turned back toward the window.
“The Drug Enthusiast Activity Treatment Harborage is a charitable program designed and implemented by yours truly.”
“That’s very nice of you.”
“It is a work program designed to help those who are addicted to methamphetamines and barbiturates get clean, save and manage an income, and become productive members of society.”
“I—” Edward began, but Pyrdewy swung around and hairy-eyeballed him. “—am very impressed. Stanley surely would have approved. I would like to help in any way that I can.” Edward imagined tossing sawdust over some kid’s puke outside the museum’s special crawfish exhibit. “Where is the program located?”
“You won’t know until you’ve infilt . . . found a worker within the community who will show you. Top secret.”
Pyrdewy returned to his study of the Department of Justice. More silence. Edward looked around, breathed in, then out. Slowly, almost cautiously, he laid his hand on the folder and began to slide it toward himself.
“Who are you voting for?”
Edward jumped. Presidential primaries were coming up.
“I . . . haven’t . . . I don’t know.”
Another deep, disgusted sigh from Pyrdewy, and as Edward got the folder into his hand and was about to slip it into his bag, Pyrdewy said one last thing.
“Is that a purse?”
“What? No, it’s a bag, a man’s bag. It’s a cross-body bag. It’s ergonomic and very good for your . . . ”
But Pyrdewy was back at his two papers, studying them intensely. Edward felt dismissed, but it was hard to register because he often felt this way.
He zipped up his bag and closed the office door behind him as he left. Now, if he could just find his way out.
It apparently takes about three minutes walking at a normal pace to get from the front entrance of the Spliphsonian to Pyrdewy’s office door, elevator ride included. It took Edward a half an hour of elevator riding, hall walking, and stair climbing to finally find himself confronted by the large stone crawfish ushering visitor’s down the steps and back out into the streets of our nation’s capitol. He hadn’t run into Leenda again, and he was both relieved and disappointed. The disappointed part felt new. Hmm.
But soon he was back at his apartment, making a batch of his favorite comfort food: English muffins split in halves, slathered in pizza sauce, topped with shredded mozzarella, and then popped into the oven under broil until turning a lovely golden-brown. He usually ate three muffins for a total of six mini-pizzas, because of his size—he considered himself Megafauna—and needed to eat a fair amount, fairly often.
The D.E.A.T.H. folder was still in his bag, now slung over the back of a chair flanking his two-person dining set. Edward’s apartment did not look like that of a shut-in. It was reasonably neat, not too much stuff, but not sparse. Wooden floors, hemp rugs, shelves and shelves of books, warm, low lighting. Edward’s dream home was a fake castle he saw once driving through Berkley Springs, WV. It was really a large mansion in the shape of a castle built by some old rich guy to woo some young chick who wanted to be a princess. Presumably, things had gone sour in the six years it took to build and when he died shortly before the completion of his princess’s perfect little castle, he stipulated in his will that she would get nothing unless she finished the building (which she did and then she blew through the rest of his estate. She moved to a tiny house in 1909 and raised chickens before one of her offspring eventually whisked her off to Idaho to spend the rest of her days wondering what life would have been life had she just been kind—turns out, the joke’s on everyone. Kindness counts for nothing in the real world).
Edward didn’t think about that much. He mostly thought the stone turret kicked ass. He’d never been inside, but he’d seen pictures. Cush. He’d have filled it with books and dim general lighting. The smell from the oven signaled that the mini-pizzas had reached that crucial point between tasty browning and burnt beyond consumption.
He set himself up at the table with his pizzas, a massive glass of water, and a slightly less massive glass of white grapefruit juice to follow up. He liked to stay hydrated. Now, the folder was out of the bag and in front of him, getting speckled and smudged with the occasional drop of sauce or greasy thumbprint. But it was getting read.
The study, as laid out here, bared little resemblance to the one he’d been helping Stanley with, however, much to his surprise, and shameless glee, it involved many more entropic ideas than Stanley had been willing to consider and allow.
Once the pizzas were gone and the water glass empty, he grabbed the folder and his grapefruit juice and relocated to the sofa, stretching out his long legs and flipping through the pages one more time.
So, basically, Edward’s job (if he wanted to keep his job) was to observe and collect data on the social interactions within the addict communities from which the “workers” that participated in the D.E.A.T.H. program came. The part that almost sounded like a proper study was: 1) to see how well the addicts took to certain types of work, and 2) which types would be most productive to society and could be optimized for addict participation, while at the same time, 3) benefiting the addict to the highest extent possible. This almost sounded reasonable. Edward was specially instructed to observe any entopic patterns that might emerge within the program’s execution so that it might be better designed to avoid chaos.
Avoid chaos, he thought. That’s rich.
Edward would have to somehow infiltrate the society—societies?—of meth- and crackheads. Where?
Sarasota County, Florida.
He shuddered. He’d seen the headlines. Florida Man Dials 911 and Demands Ride Home ‘To Change His Underwear,’ Florida Man Arrested for Urinating on Waitress at Nightclub, Florida Man Attacks Mom’s Boyfriend with Samurai Sword Over Missing Can of Shrimp. You couldn’t make this shit up, so of course it would be Florida.
Edward tossed the file onto the floor and thought, draining his glass of juice. His Megafauna stomach rumbled and gurgled, sated for now.
He felt that someone must have tipped Pyrdewy off on what a social idiot Edward was, because some of the language sounded as if they’d met before it was written. It stressed that, no, Edward could not ingratiate himself to small time cookers; he had to get into the larger super lab operations. It wasn’t spelled out clearly and directly in the file, but information peppered throughout—stupidly, in Edward’s opinion (he did sport a very sexy IQ of 146)—was that part of the program was also a front for the DEA to identify and bust big pushers. What wasn’t spelled out in the file was why Pyrdewy would risk the program, if he was feeling so charitable, to have it outed as a meth/crack Donnie Brasco operation.
None of this felt particularly safe, and worse, it left Edward open to all sorts of clinical social anxiety scenarios. The file itself read as if answering every possible protestation Edward could have (and, clearly, Pyrdewy didn’t like black folks protesting). Infiltrating meant finding out how they lived, not just how they worked, so it would have to be up close and personal. It also, for some reason, required actively recruiting addicts for the program. Edward didn’t even like to leave his apartment or talk to the cashier at the store. So, just going undercover in the workspace of the program wasn’t good enough to gather the information the study required. He must gain their trust completely, out there, “in the wild” (the file actually said). He was to report to Pyrdewy regularly on the activities of the leaders of the group or groups. It was all in order to better improve the D.E.A.T.H. program and thus, better improve the lives of these “poor, lost sonofabitches.” (Edward wondered exactly who revised this study and whether or not Pyrdewy was even remotely qualified to do so. He suspected the red-faced carbuncle of holding an MBA.)
Edward’s mind ached, so he pushed all the papers off the sofa, pulled a pillow over his head, and slept. He was not at all equipped to do any of this.
When he woke, it was dark, so he melted down into a medium-sized anxiety attack—muscles tense, chest tight, hands shaking. The one-way ticket to Sarasota had him arriving at the airport at 4am. It was only nine o’clock in the evening, so he still had time to pack, think as well as he could, and wonder if maybe mopping floors wasn’t such a bad job. It would certainly give him a first hand look at individual mental and emotional entropy, but then, he was about to get a good look as it was.