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Jesse Kohn

How To Swallow Water

Are underserved boys still stealing sneakers from the shoe salesman who sells sneakers to give sneakers to underserved boys?

Am I, in other words, in my rage, still stealing from the better parts of myself?

And when ex-girlfriends who have been strongly dissuaded from returning return to impart old over easy eggs, how do I keep my skin clear? Is this the sort of crisis that can be assuaged by my sister buying a pair of sneakers, or is it time to get in the car as over-educated pets disengage from headstands and dismember every panicked picnicker within reach? Will it, in other words, be possible to survive without merely hiding, or is this simply another case of being one of the imperceptible shrimp in New York City tap water, a creature so minute and ubiquitous not even vegans can avoid murdering it with impunity?

Because the thing about others insisting that I'm not wearing deodorant is that even if their accusations are false, I still must smell. And when, for economic reasons, I try to circumvent the issue by scaling a mesa in order to witness a natural disaster (natural disasters tend to overshadow and undermine the ordinarily imposing artifices of any puberty), my attention, regardless of how remote my lookout, will nevertheless be stolen from the more worthy spectacle of lightning and thunder as soon as off-road racers arrive, their labored navigations around the mesa absconding my gaze from the threatening skies I’d come here to witness. Witness, for instance, how, when human fluids splatter the window of the car in which a woman escapes over-educated pets, nu-metal vocals drone: the monster inside me.

We must learn instead to sing the song entitled “Le Peau Beau de Remorse” [sic], to learn that not every instance of an upside-down animal is unnatural. Consider, for instance, the panda: he who pees the highest becomes the most celebrated, just as, among Americans, there is a way to kiss for pictures that isn’t necessarily duplicitous, though it requires that one of the kissers steal the kiss from the other, that one kisser be—counterintuitively—duplicitous, one and usually no more. Know, moreover, that not everything that is swallowed is murdered—bears do this to each other all the time—and that perhaps there is a way to drink New York City tap water that can mean giving shrimp a new home.

Like any bear, a shoe salesman knows how to swallow others. Do not assume that just because the underserved boys steal from him his agency has been overshadowed or undermined. Discover and suffer the weight of the shoe salesman’s magnanimity (a feat better known as witnessing a natural disaster), a magnanimity which appertains not just to his selling sneakers to give sneakers to underserved boys, but also, and more importantly, to his allowing underserved boys to overshadow and undermine his agency, to break him, him who is lovely. This is how light works: by being both lovely and broken by the violence of vision. The desire to repair what we have broken, what is essentially irreparable—be it shoe salesmen or sunlight—is the origin of clearer skin. This is a verse in the song entitled “Le Peau Beau de Remorse”—it must not and cannot be taught.

Teaching your animal to comport itself upside-down for hours on end is no way to be the one who pees the highest.

Headstands must come from within.

Mating season is a season and as such is necessarily affected by global climate change. Spring cannot be trained to arrive; its arrival cannot even be assured. One can no longer presume that our extremes will tolerate it. Under such conditions, light can seem unlovely and unbroken, its beneficence overshadowed and undermined by gifts from ex-girlfriends who have been strongly dissuaded from returning.

Such gifts are not the eggs we wish to see turn over easy. Such eggs are eggs that have been trained to turn over, and such training is never easy. Such gifts come from impoverished givers and thus are likewise impoverishing—givers like this teach their gift eggs to turn over with ulterior motives in mind, motives like stealing Chloe’s attention from a natural disaster (another name for the author), to affix it to their own labored navigations around the mesa of our love-life. Ex-girlfriends gift only cold, congealed yolked spectacles, unpalatable snacks, eggs capable only of originating and exacerbating a mysterious skin infection known as puberty.

Puberty is the ritual with which Americans, as a species, decide to conceal the way they smell. Deodorant—in that it serves to make what is natural insufferable, thus engendering the problem it can be sold and purchased to address—is the root of all puberty. Deodorant takes many forms, and each one demands a different puberty to coronate its presence and justify its rule. The eggs that ex-girlfriends who have been strongly dissuaded from returning gift us—ex-girlfriends here acting as agents of an impending deodorant—bear within them the seeds of such an infection, an infection even worse than physical maturity, which, in the American species, can be particularly devastating.

Americans have several methods for concealing the hideousness which the series of puberties they call ‘life’ has marred their skin. Most choose to hide behind a desk—the quest for divertissement while hiding in such a manner has given rise to what many call ‘work’, which usually involves, oddly enough, manufacturing, advertising, or selling deodorant. But one is only permitted, biologically speaking, to work for oh so many hours a day. Hiding in bed takes care of many other hours, but invariably more remain. This is what parks are for. A picnic is the name for a strategy of hiding in plain view, concealed by one’s minuteness within the ubiquity of similarly hideously skinned Americans.

It’s while hiding in such a manner that one grows envious at the apparent lack of embarrassment of those rare (mostly either newborn or unborn) Americans consumed by their remorse (they do not lack embarrassment so much as they have no room for it, clear skin, like any fiction, requiring constant duplicitous reapplication). Envy is the root of all education, and education is the origin of animals soundlessly turning upside-down at their owner’s behest. An upside-down dog is a monster, its limbs straight as a yogi’s, its spine elongated, its inverted ears perked, its drooling jowls upturned, its hollow eyelids weighed open.

And there’s no escaping off-road racing, not even on remote mesas where lightning and thunder can finally be witnessed—much less, therefore, in public parks. Off-road racing vehicles—cars, trucks, SUVs, coerced into turning like old over easy eggs—follow the first black sedan like it’s an ant that’s found a bird, featherless and rubbery, fallen from its shell, crumpled and crushed into the concrete steps that lead up to our building. As the off-road racers loop and stall and bump into each other, all we can do is watch them, our gaze stolen from the natural disasters that might overshadow and undermine the fact that others may think we smell.

This is why no one ever sees the animals disengage from their headstands. Or, if anyone does see, they are already gone, reduced in a flash of fangs and claws to a hand or ankle, a mist of blood, dark stains on picnic blankets. The problem with being just another shrimp in the New York City tap water is that when over-educated animals rampage, it’s not just their hideously skinned owners that are slaughtered but a great many more or less remorseful park-goers as well. In fact, no one escapes except one woman, screaming as her car window is splattered by surprise human fluids while nu-metal vocals drone: the monster inside me.

Such undeserving picnickers are better known as underserved boys, and their rage is justified, albeit misdirected, misdirected because of the infectiousness of the nu-metal vocals, the apparent coherence of the message—much like the apparent generosity of ex-girlfriends—rage stolen from where it ought to be directed, rage at natural disasters instead of ex-girlfriends, unnatural educators, progenitors of deodorant. The infectiousness of the nu-metal vocals, convincing underserved boys that they smell, incites a new skin infection to inaugurate a new deodorant, in this case sneakers, which in this case must be stolen—such that underserved boys steal sneakers from the shoe salesman who sells sneakers to give sneakers to underserved boys. We learn to steal from ourselves.

But, unbeknownst to all, duplicitous and magnanimous, the shoe salesman is singing in a softer voice. He sings different lyrics, lyrics that aren’t infectious, but that are both fictitious and true, lyrics from the song entitled “Le Peau Beau de Remorse”—lyrics like: the Chloe inside me; the sister inside me; the shoe salesman inside me; and perhaps eventually, if and when the skin clears, the panda inside me—turning over easy of its own accord, sprinkling the tree tops, splattering the skyscrapers, dazzling the stars with the odoriferous, shrimp-thickened gift of New York City tap water.

Jesse Kohn lives in Brooklyn, but was reared in Santa Fe. His fiction has appeared in The Atlas ReviewSleepingfish, Everyday Genius, SAND Journal, and Keep This Bag Away From Children, as well as pseudonymously in Tripadvisor and his friend Ross’s job application for the position of ping pong table attendant in Bryant Park. More can be found here.