graphics mode c r o s s X c o n n e c t previous | next

| main page
| issue contents
| contributors
| e-mail us
   r a g e

---   K E V I N   D O L G I N  

Adolphe's name was Greiveldinger. That made him Adolphe Greiveldinger, which is a problematic name. He was to learn that this was not his only problem. His other problem only came to light when his son refused to make caca (poo poo, doo doo, poopy, whatever). The little tyke simply refused to defecate. He up and said so one day to his mother, shortly after he had graduated from diapers.

"No, Mama. No caca. No caca there," he had said, pointing his tiny finger at his tiny bum.

"Come on, Bennie, I know you need to make caca."

"No, Mama," Bennie responded, pointing to his bum ever more emphatically and creasing his little brow. "No caca THERE!" He said, in the kind of voice that clearly indicated that had he a larger vocabulary at his command he would have included an insulting remark about her intelligence.

This became an increasingly pressing issue, since for the next several days, Benito Greiveldinger held it in. He held it in so effectively and so obstinately that he was often doubled over in pain and could not walk. They ended up taking him to a pediatrician, who prescribed suppositories, which were administered over the histrionics of little Bennie, who decidedly wanted no one to have anything to do with his anus.

Adolphe and his wife discovered that it is not pleasant to administer a suppository to a gyrating and highly vocal not-quite-three-year-old who is concurrently trying to rip out your hair. They persisted, however; forcing suppositories on him twice a week and sitting him on the potty until nature and gravity took their course (much to his distress), since Bennie steadfastly refused to make caca of his own volition. They even tried to put diapers back on him, against the advice of every book they could lay their hands on, but Bennie refused diapers as well with a rock-solid argument:

"Bennie not a baby," he insisted, as he clutched his abdomen and howled with pain.

Adolphe had no idea how to handle this. He sat down with Bennie and tried to reason with him. Bennie listened attentively, kissed him lovingly on his cheek and said "No caca, Daddy." And that was that.

They went to see a therapist specializing in children. It was the Therapist, after three one-hour family sessions, who informed Adolphe that the problem was not Bennie's, but his.

In that rather remarkably short time, Adolphe and Lydia Greiveldinger had been able to explain enough of their own history and their parental methodologies for the Therapist to reach certain inescapable conclusions. He had listened in great detail to their stories and had taken many cryptic notes (Adolphe assumed that they were cryptic even though he didn't see them, because the top of the Therapist's pencil wiggled in a cryptic manner while he was writing, and because the Therapist would, from time to time, furiously erase things in a cryptic way). These notes must have allowed him to reach said inescapable conclusions, although he didn't refer to them as he explained his diagnosis.

Adolphe was surprised by the therapist's analysis, since in his opinion, Bennie's problem stemmed more from Lydia's obsession with filth than from any subconscious stimulus on his behalf.

Lydia Greiveldinger harbored not one but several robust neuroses about dirt. These so fueled her soul that she rarely left the house, preferring to spend her days bouncing off the walls with manic energy, scrubbing everything that fell within her field of vision, including Bennie. When she saw anything to which any adjective less than 'pristine' could be applied, she washed it.

This trait somehow stemmed from her own parents, who were pretty neurotic themselves, although not in the same way. Her father, Bennie (yes, little Bennie was named after his maternal grandfather at the insistence of Lydia, who loved her father with an ardor that was vaguely suspicious. The original had been named Benito by his own parents who, although they had not a drop of Italian blood in their veins, were fervent admirers of Benito Mussolini, until the latter was strung up by his feet in a Milanese gas station. By then it was too late, the boy's name had been chosen. For Lydia, who wasn't quite sure who Benito Mussolini was, the name brought only sweet images of her own father to mind) had an obsessive fear of insects who live in hair (fleas, lice, that sort of thing) and so washed his hair three times a day for the majority of his adult life, until he went prematurely bald. Her mother, unimaginatively named Sue, had such a morbid fear of water that she only ever drank gin and never bathed, thus freeing up the shower for Bennie, but causing other problems. All things considered, Adolphe figured that his wife had come through her childhood with a minimum of debilitating psychological scars and that he could put up with her idiosyncrasies.

Nevertheless, the Therapist rapidly discounted Lydia as the source of the problem and instead concentrated on Adolphe's inability to express his emotions.

"I have no problem whatsoever expressing my emotions!" Adolphe insisted.

"Mr. Greiveldinger," replied the Therapist, "I am not saying that you are abnormal, I am only saying that you bottle up the seething rage which torments you, which gnaws at you from within."

Adolphe Greiveldinger was perplexed.

"What seething rage?"

"The rage you feel because you father, whom you see as being inadequate, had repeated sex with your mother."

Adolphe was slightly shocked. He stammered a couple of incoherent sentences, not sure whether he should feel offended.

"Mr. Greiveldinger ...Adolphe," the Therapist leaned over toward him and smiled, "Ado. Listen, it's normal to feel rage at your father, what's abnormal is not to be able to express it."

"But I barely knew my father, he died when I was five. And I certainly I never saw my parents having sex."

"We can pretty well assume that they did, however. As for his dying when you were a child, this is the greatest inadequacy of all. The simple truth is that you hate him and you can't express it. This has led you to hold in your deepest, most passionate emotions. Your son is simply following your example, holding in his filth."

"That makes sense," Lydia said, as she furiously rubbed a speck of imaginary lint off of her sleeve.

Adolphe looked back and forth between the two of them; both were convinced.

"But I assure you, I don't feel any rage."

"Exactly," said the Therapist. "That is your problem. Inside, however, that rage is seething. You've simply created very efficient defense mechanisms.

"I'm telling you, it makes perfect sense," Lydia Greiveldinger explained to her husband that night in bed. "Think about it, you spend your entire life coasting along, not making waves, trudging out to the countryside whenever you can to splash watercolors on paper and pretend you've painted trees, la de dum. At work you have at least one incompetent underling - that Fisher woman - who you should have fired years ago and who you never had the heart to get rid of. It's clear - you've been bottling up all your ambition with your bottled up rage, that's why you never got as far as some other people I know. Like Phil."

Adolphe sighed. He left aside all the potential comments that buzzed around in his head regarding his brother-in-law, Phil, and instead said, "Phyllis Fisher is not incompetent."

"OK," Lydia responded, "maybe she's competent, but she's nothing special. You've said so yourself."

"Why does everyone have to be special?"

"Nobody has to be special - but if you want to succeed you have to have the knack of surrounding yourself with special people."

"But I have succeeded. Aren't we happy? Don't we have everything we want? Don't we..." Adolphe's comments were interrupted by Bennie, who erupted in screams of terror induced by some undoubtedly scatological nightmare.

Phil was more successful than Adolphe. This was a fact of married life. Phil was Lydia's brother, Phil had been Adolphe's boss, Phil was the one who had introduced them in the first place some six years before when Phil had secretly determined that the calm, smiling engineer who worked in emissions reduction might just be laid-back enough to put up with his sister. Phil had since risen to dizzying heights within the company and was now the kind of focussed executive who strides forcefully down the halls with a small group of protégés scurrying along behind him. Phil earned enormous amounts of money. For Lydia, the only thing Adolphe had that Phil didn't have was hair, but she had always preferred bald men anyway. Lydia talked to her brother about the situation and Phil talked to Adolphe.

"Come in," he said, once Adolphe had responded to his secretary's summons and gone up to the eighteenth floor to Phil's cavernous office. "Come on in, Adolphe. Sit down. Take a load off your feet."

Once Adolphe had unloaded his feet, Phil smiled at him like the Cheshire cat. "Lydia tells me you have a psychological problem."

Adolphe winced. "I wouldn't exactly say that."

"Come on, Adolphe," Phil replied, "You can't hide anything from me. I've known about your problem ever since I met you." Phil sat back and put his hands behind his bald, gloating head.

"But...we're talking about Bennie's problem with doodoo."

"No, Adolphe, we're talking about your problem with motivation."

"I don't have a problem with motivation."

"You do have a problem with motivation."

"But I'm motivated."

"Damn it, Adolphe!" Phil shouted, pounding his hand flat on the desk with a resounding bang. "You're motivated for all the wrong reasons! Anybody can see that. You go cruising through life like you had no worries when you have a neurotic wife, a plugged-up kid, a bunch of mediocre employees and no real opportunities for advancement. Adolphe, think about it, what motivates you?"

"What motivates me?" Adolphe repeated, with the trepidation that comes from knowing that there was a right and a wrong answer to the question. "Uh...happiness, security...."

"Wrong!" shouted Phil, slapping his desk again. "Hunger. You have to be motivated by hunger to get ahead - all that gushy stuff follows naturally. You have to be driven, and you, friend, are not driven. You never have been."

"But Phil, I'm happy, I'm...."

"You're a wimp, and it would seem that your wimpiness has affected your son. Is that what you want?"

"Well, no, of course not, I...."

"Good! Because it's not hopeless. You heard what the analyst said - there's rage inside of you, you just have to let it out! Go ahead, stoke the fires of your life!"

Adolphe didn't want to stoke the fires of his life. He saw life more as a bubbling stream than as a blazing furnace. However, Phil was implacable and there was, after all, Bennie to be considered. Who knows? Maybe the therapist was right.

Phil had a plan, a way to help Adolphe, and the plan necessitated going to a rough bar, downtown. Adolphe didn't want to go, although he had nothing against bars, but Phil insisted.

On the appointed night, when Adolphe put Bennie to sleep he asked, "still no caca, Bennie?" as he tucked him in and fished Mr. Tubbybear from under the bed.

"No caca, Daddy."

Adolphe turned on the Piglet nightlight and said, "you know, Bennie, it would save me a whole lot of trouble if you made caca now."

Bennie grabbed Mr. Tubbybear by the ear and hid him under the covers. Then he threw his arms around his father's neck.

"Please Bennie?"

"Caca dirty, Daddy."

Adolphe sighed, kissed his son, and went out to 'The Ditch Digger" with his brother-in-law.

"The Ditch Digger" was not the kind of place that Adolphe would have expected Phil to frequent. It was a topless bar featuring almost-naked women rubbing bits of themselves against steel poles in some kind of rhythm that was a faint approximation of the loud, thumping music that filled the place to the point of making conversation impossible. It was not a classy place. There are classier places where almost-naked women make love to steel poles, but this was not one of them. Adolphe could tell the general level of class in a bar by its floor - the very best bars, for instance, tend to have impeccable black polished floors made of some seamless tile that was beyond his grasp of material science - tile that reflects the cuffs of your trousers. "The Ditch Digger" had a warped wooden floor that seemed soggy with beer, to the point where Adolphe's heels made only a dull thud when he walked on it. He didn't understand how coming here was going to help him get in touch with his rage.

They elbowed their way up to the bar itself and ordered watery beer. Upon seeing their ties (they were the only men in the place that were wearing something more formal than T-shirts) one of the topless women walked along the top of the bar in their direction, studiously avoiding the drinks and somehow managing not to skid her four-inch heels in the puddles of beer. She started gyrating in front of Phil, who seemed to enjoy himself immensely and began stuffing bills into the pink elastic band that passed for her clothing.

Adolphe sipped his beer and looked at the women, many of who were attractive. He also looked at the men hooting and whistling like a bunch of howler monkeys and he pondered the purpose of coming here. Then Phil made his move. He motioned for Adolphe to approach and when he got close he leaned over to shout something in his ear. At the same time, however, he shoved his hand up between the legs of the biker who was standing, drooling, in front of them, facing the bar. Before the very surprised victim of this grope could react, Phil had withdrawn his hand and taken a step back, leaving Adolphe directly behind the leather-clad behemoth, who spun around and glared into his eyes.

The biker threw out his open hand and shoved Adolphe in the chest, knocking him to the soggy floor.

"Fuck?" he asked.

"I...I didn't...."

The biker stomped over to him. A couple of other men turned to see or came over to watch.

"What the fuck?" said the biker, gaining vocabulary with every utterance.

"It wasn't me," Adolphe said, crawling away over the floor like an upside-down spider.

"That's right," Phil said, smiling, "it wasn't him. It was...someone else. Certainly not him. He doesn't usually do that."

"Huh?" asked the biker. Phil helped Adolphe to his shaky feet as the biker continued to approach, his fists clenched. Adolphe turned to him - "Holy shit, Phil, I don't get it. Why did..." Phil interrupted him and said, in a rather loud voice, "well Adolphe, you have to understand him, most men just don't appreciate that sort of thing."

"Fuck!" yelled the biker, who ran the last couple of yards to Adolphe and hit him in the mouth, sending him flying onto the floor again with a squidgy kind of whump sound. The bouncers from the bar, who were even bigger than the biker, immediately pulled him off and threw him out, to a chorus of 'fuck's, but the damage was done. The other patrons of the bar turned back to the women, who hadn't missed a beat. Phil knelt down next to Adolphe.

"That asshole!" Phil said, "can you believe that? Don't you hate him? Aren't you enraged by this? Don't you just want to go out there and kill him?"

Adolphe lifted his hand to his aching jaw and felt the piss-warm flow of his own blood. He looked at Phil and shook his head. "You bastard," he said, without passion. "You stupid, pitiful dick. Look, right now I don't need a psychologist. What I need is a dentist."

Lydia wouldn't let him in the house when he got home, she made him go to a hotel to wash off the blood and the stale beer.

To Phil's amazement, even this incident didn't produce the hoped-for breakthrough. Adolphe was angry all right, but not with the biker. He was angry with Phil and with Lydia, who, over the following weeks, continued inventing ways for him to get in touch with his rage. He was willing enough to try, if it could help Bennie, but he wasn't really convinced about the whole thing and the insistence of his wife and his brother-in-law were just adding to his growing frustration.

He tried to counter that frustration and their more absurd schemes by tapping his habitual fonts of peace and well-being. The principle source of happiness for him was Bennie himself, who even with his self-imposed constipation was still a very joyful little child. He also had his painting. His hobby consisted of going out to the countryside with an easel and paints to make modest but pretty landscapes. Ever since Bennie was born, Adolphe had taken Bennie with him whenever he went on a painting expedition. Bennie would spend his time looking for bugs or frogs, or just playing hide and seek with himself in the tall grass. Some days, Adolphe wouldn't get much painting done at all, and would instead help Bennie in his pint-sized pursuits.

Although his painting expeditions with Bennie helped, Lydia was becoming increasingly difficult to handle - particularly because she had determined that Adolphe's rage repression was the cause of their evident social inferiority, that he too could have been a vice president who strode down the halls with a gaggle of protégés behind him if he had learned how to get some focus in his life, how to set his priorities. She had taken to seeing the Therapist twice a week, without Adolphe, and this seemed to strengthen her conviction. As the significance of Adolphe's repressed rage grew in her mind she began to view it as a kind of spiritual goo that clogged his personality. She dreamt about this one night, a dream in which Adolphe was sitting on a horse on a merry-go-round, going up and down, up and down. As he turned, the calliope played "Yummy Yummy Yummy I Got Love in My Tummy". He began to expand, to stretch out like a balloon being inflated. She was standing near him, as she sometimes stood near Bennie to make sure he didn't fall off the horse, and she knew that it was his bottled-up rage that was inflating him like that. It stretched his dream-mouth into a hideous widening smile and she saw his skin tighten, tighten, until he exploded and she was covered with repulsive green slime.

She woke in a cold sweat. Adolphe immediately woke up as well, and reached out a hand.

"What's wrong, darling?" he asked, but she screamed "don't touch me!" and gathered the sheets up around herself. She panted rapidly, almost hyperventilating. "Downstairs!" she said quickly, "downstairs, you sleep downstairs until you get that...that rage out of you."

Adolphe was bewildered.

"But darling," he ventured - to no avail. Lydia was immovable. Not only did Adolphe have to sleep downstairs, but it was absolutely unthinkable that he put any part of him into any part of her until he "got that vile rage" out from within him.

This was the last straw - the absence of sexual relations added a certain burn to his frustration that no amount of painting could quell. This is why he listened carefully when Phil said that he had discovered a definitive cure.

"The Run Against the Grain Experience, Adolphe. Just the thing for you. The cutting edge of leadership training."

Phil seemed very enthusiastic about it.

"Christ, I wish I could go myself, it's always a good idea to sharpen the old fangs! Too much work to do, though."

Adolphe sat at his desk and looked over the brochure they had sent.

"It's a jungle out there!" It warned on the cover, written in stylized bamboo letters over the top of a snarling tiger. On the inside the same theme was developed further, over a backdrop of tropical plants: "Only the fittest will survive in the corporate jungle - the fittest companies and the fittest executives! As for the unfit..." the text was interrupted with an image of a sprawling corpse, seemingly shot in the back of the head. "Learn the survival skills you need from the real survival experts - men and women who can teach you how to get in touch with the corporate warrior inside you!"

Adolphe was not enthused by this, but Phil, Lydia and even the Therapist had decided that it was just the thing. So he signed up, said a long goodbye to Bennie, and flew to Arizona to get the rage out of him and become a "next generation corporate warrior".

He stepped out of the airport to a blast of super-heated air. He felt like someone had pointed a gigantic hair dryer at him. He got a cab and quickly learned that Arizona was crawling with snakes and strip malls and old people. He was actually anxious to get out into the desert, where there were only snakes. The only positive thing about the whole thing, from Adolphe's point of view, was that at least it had something vaguely to do with nature.

He was to be in a group of fifteen executives, most of whom didn't seem to have any trouble at all manifesting their rage. He was clearly the only one for whom this was a remedial course, the others apparently wanted only more efficient means by which to express their 'hunger', as Phil would have called it.

They were all men. They were all white men, for that matter. They were all very successful white men with expensive hiking clothes and complicated backpacks that they had bought for the occasion. They were all aggressive, successful white complicated backpacking urban men and they didn't like Adolphe, although they liked his name.

"Cool name," said one youngish executive. "Takes guts to name your kid Adolphe."

But Adolphe didn't think it took guts to name your kid Adolphe, he thought it took oatmeal for brains and he had mentioned this to his mother many times in the distant past.

They were issued 'kit'.

"You stay close to your kit out there," the instructor had said as he swaggered past. "Your kit can save you out in the desert. You think you got friends out in the desert?" The fifteen of them looked straight ahead, naturally assuming the pose they had seen in movies about the army. This was a normal reaction, they were standing under the blazing sun in a double line, evenly spaced, and the instructor was a large, muscular man clad in fatigues and a weapons belt. He had a perfectly spherical bald head, and was wearing mirror sunglasses and a sneer. They were in a barren stretch of desert, having been deposited there by two 4x4 vehicles which had since disappeared in a cloud of dust. "No! You got jack shit for friends out in the desert, you got jack shit for friends in life - in the end, you got yourself, you hear me? You got yourself and your kit. So don't you forget it!" The instructor pivoted on his heel and walked back up the line. "You hear me?"

"Yes sir!" a few of the participants barked.

"Gooooooood. Now let me tell you what you are going to do...."

They were going to suffer - and through their suffering learn how to fend for themselves, learn how to stand out from the placid herd of mediocre corporate losers around them, learn how to run against the grain.

The instructors were two men who had enjoyed long and prosperous careers as mercenaries. This line of work had allowed them great opportunities for travel and the venting of destructive energy. Mercenaries, it would seem, are well able to focus their energies and fend for themselves and these two men had realized that this kind of goal-oriented self-reliance constituted a teachable skill that would provide considerable benefit to your average executive. What's more, they could continue doing the things they enjoy (except for the regrettable lack of killing) for roughly the same money, without anybody shooting at them. Thus they had hired a marketing consultant to put together a brochure and they had initiated the Run Against the Grain Experience. They were immediately successful.

The idea was to use military training methods, breaking down the resolve and the character of the individual so as to reconstruct him in a format more suitable for corporate warfare. Some of the participants enjoyed this. Those who had already come to terms with the more aggressive side of their nature were pleased to find that when the patina of civilization was stripped away, a primeval violence was revealed that would have done Attila the Hun proud. Adolphe was a different matter, however. The instructors had some difficulties with him.

"Snarl, you bastard!"


"Put some life into it, for Christ's sake! What are you, a fucking pussy? What are you, a fucking wimp? You got balls in those pants of yours?" The instructor kneed Adolphe in the crotch.

"You can't do that," Adolphe gasped, rolling on the desert floor, dust in his eyes and grit in his mouth.

"I can't do that," the instructor yelled to the assembled crowd, all practicing their snarls. They broke out in snarling, manly laughter. "Is that what you say when someone fucks you over on the job? Is that what you say? You can't do that, is that what you say?" Adolphe breathed as deeply as he could, lying on his side. The instructor put his boot on Adolphe's shoulder and spit on the ground near his face. "You make me sick."

The other participants tormented him. He became the goat of the group, the punch line in their jokes. They tripped him and prodded him and asked him how he had fathered a child, being so clearly devoid of balls.

"Fuck off!" he yelled at the campfire one night, in desperation and frustration.

"Gooooood," said the instructor as he ripped off a piece of raw snake flesh with his teeth. "Good, Adolphe, that's what you have to learn to say."

"No, really, fuck off, all of you. You too, you power-hungry asshole. If I could walk out of here without dying of thirst I'd go to a police station - no, to the fucking United Nations and report you on human rights abuses, you stupid, inhuman, vicious, ungodly...."

The instructor's foot shot up with lightening speed and speared Adolphe in the groin. As Adolphe fell, he couldn't help but be impressed by this, since the instructor had been sitting cross-legged on the ground at the time.

"Don't you call me ungodly. I go to church every opportunity I get. Look at this..." he reached inside his open camouflage shirt and pulled out a gold chain. "You see this?" he asked, waving the chain and the various bits of metal on it. "This one here is Saint Christopher, this one is a Celtic cross, and this here's a little silver Virgin Mary. Every single one of these was blessed by a bona fide priest. If I didn't have God on my side, I would never have made it through the shit I've seen. Don't you forget it."

There was a general snarl of assent from the seated, would-be corporate mercenaries.

Adolphe lay clutching his genitals and gasping for air in the dust, as the Virgin Mary and Saint Christopher jangled a metallic jitterbug above him.

He couldn't get away. It was out of the question for him even to try, he knew he wouldn't last in the desert. In the beginning, he had virtually cried into his sleeping bag every night, dreaming of Lydia's now forbidden embrace and Bennie's surprisingly strong grip around his neck, but as the week wore on he couldn't evoke them any more, he just lay fuming about the course and the instructors and the other participants until he fell into a fitful and agitated sleep.

He stomped through the exercises because there was nothing else to do and because it lowered the general level of derision that he had to endure from the others. The instructors did all they could to stoke his pressure and he could feel it building up inside himself like he was a poorly regulated boiler ready to explode.

And he did. It happened just after the mid point of the course. He had managed to hold it in until then, but the youngish man who was so enamored of his name (whose own name was Robert) hit the wrong button at the wrong time.

Adolphe had gone off on the periphery to relieve himself. It had taken him a while to get used to shitting in front of the others, but the desert suffers from a notorious lack of trees behind which one can exercise discretion. The camp routine was to dig a hole outside the periphery and use it as a toilet. So Adolphe had taken one of the coveted roles of toilet paper and was squatting over the hole, when Robert walked up.

He approached slowly, holding a tin cup of steaming coffee. He was wearing camouflage fatigues and on his hip was a complicated leather holster containing a kriegsmarine survival knife. Adolphe knew that it was a kriegsmarine survival knife because Robert had told everyone about it. He was very proud of his knife and practiced drawing it quickly, as if he were some cross between Wild Bill Hickock and Karl Doenitz.

Robert remained about twenty feet distant, then he bent over as far as he could go. He began circling Adolphe in this strange posture, apparently trying to peer under Adolphe's overhanging butt. This made Adolphe extremely uncomfortable, but discomfort had become such a habitual emotion for him these past days that he was able to pretend at least to ignore it.

Robert continued circling and peering, occasionally sipping from his tin cup.

"Look!" he finally shouted, pointing to Adolphe, "he does have balls after all, they're just atrophied."

The others, who were about a hundred feet away, broke out in tittering laughter, and Robert stood up and guffawed. He then strode nonchalantly up to Adolphe and pushed him over with his foot, leaving him lying on his side in a semi fetal position, his pants around his ankles, next to the hole they called 'toilet'.

Adolphe snapped. He reached down into the hole and scooped up a handful of shit, which he flung at Robert, hitting him on the back of the head.

Robert spun around and reached back to the warm gunk in his hair. As he brought his hand forward he immediately recognized what it was that covered his scalp and his eyes widened as though he were a wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon. Adolphe stood and hastily pulled up his pants during this interlude.

"I have had enough," he said. "You all have treated me like shit this last week and I have had enough. You have berated and insulted me, kicked me and tormented me, and it will finish!"

Robert came to himself and charged at Adolphe, screaming "fucker!" but Adolphe stepped aside, booting him with his foot as he did so. He then started wiping his hand with the toilet paper.

Robert picked himself up and glared at Adolphe, his eyes mad and shining. He whipped down his hand and quick-drew his kriegsmarine survival knife (thus ruining forever the leather holster). He faced Adolphe, crouching slightly, snarling and spitting like a cornered weasel, thrusting the knife forward into the air. The others stopped what they were doing and began to approach.

"What, you plan on killing me, you stupid little prick?" Robert just snarled and hopped from foot to foot. "Have you gone completely mad? You want to fucking kill me? This is the real world, asshole, this is the real fucking world and you can go prance around with your super duper commando knife but it doesn't change the fact that you're just some half-assed team section leader accountant thing pretending you're tough. You couldn't kill me any more than you could suck your own dick. You kill me, jack off, and this becomes real and you go to jail for the rest of your pitiful little life."

Robert stopped prancing and he straightened up. He raised his hand to his head, but the sun had already hardened the shit into a dull brown helmet. He picked at it weakly and began to cry.

"That's right," Adolphe said, "now we see who you are, now we see how fucking tough you are. You spend an entire week poking at me and then you cry because there's shit on your head and because when the chips are down you can't do a fucking thing about it." He walked over to the hole and scooped up another handful of shit, then he turned around and faced the others, who stood in a silent group. "In fact, you're all a bunch of woossies, you all talk up a fucking storm but you can't really take it, now can you? Anybody want to fuck with me now? Huh? Anybody want to try and take it?"

The crowd took a concerted step back, but the instructor walked up to Adolphe.

"You're a man now," he said. Adolphe flung his load at him, hitting him in the chest. The instructor didn't even break stride, he wiped the feces off with his left hand and flicked it into the dust, his mouth broke into a grim, crooked smile, and when he got close enough to Adolphe he whipped out his foot and kicked him in the groin, saying, "Congratulations."

Adolphe lay in the dust, gasping, and said, "I'll get you for that, you bastard."

He came back a new man. He had listened during the last few days, when they told him how to build himself up, and he had done exactly what they said - he had determined his own 'defining future' - he was going to replace Phil and then treat him like shit. He would show them all. And every moment that he started to feel his determination flag he would just remember the 'Ditch Digger', or the sickening thwack of the instructor's toe smashing into his balls.

He fired Phyllis Fisher and he whipped his team into shape. They were shocked, but they were getting results - the results that would bring him closer to his goal. Lydia felt the drive in him and it thrilled her, it was like a turgid penis in his brain, pushing and thrusting. She was drawn to him like she had never been before. She asked him to tell her how focussed he was while they were making love.

"Ooooh, Adolphe, tell me what you're thinking of," she would gasp.


"What about me, love?"

"No, I'm thinking about making it," he would say, as he thrust into her, implacable in his determination. This drove her wild and she would scratch and bite like an angry kitten. She had never dreamed that he could actually come close to being obsessive about anything.

The Therapist was ecstatic - not that Adolphe went to see him, but Lydia told him all about it. He told her that he was going to write a case study about it.

Adolphe didn't have as much time as he used to have to spend with Bennie. Most evenings he would come home later than he used to come home, and now he was often in the office during the weekend. When he wasn't in the office he was learning to play golf, which got him outdoors as much as his previous hobby, but had the added inducement of actually being a useful tool for reaching his 'defining future'. So much networking went on a golf course. When he did see Bennie he was always ready with a smile or a ruffle of the hair or a passing tickle. Bennie lived for those moments.

Lydia had assured him that his transformation had led to an amelioration in Bennie's bowel movements, but it wasn't true. Bennie was as plugged as ever, but Lydia didn't want to discourage Adolphe. Adolphe was therefore shocked when he stumbled upon Lydia in the bathroom with Bennie, ready to administer a suppository.

"What are you doing?" He asked.

"Well, darling, you see he's not quite gotten entirely over his little problem and it's been some time since he last went, so I'm just helping him a little."

Adolphe was suddenly furious.

"Helping him? You shouldn't help him, he's got to learn to help himself if he's ever going to get anywhere!"

Bennie, who was leaning against the side of the bathtub with his jammies at his ankles, started to tremble. Adolphe stepped up to him and furrowed his brow.

"You're going to make caca now, Bennie."

"No, daddy, no caca there," Bennie replied, his eyes raised.

"I know there's caca there, Bennie. There's caca inside of you and it's going to come out. Now!"

Bennie started to cry and shake his head. Adolphe picked him up by the shoulders and slammed him down on the little blue plastic potty.

"Now, Bennie!"

Bennie sat on the potty and cried, tears streaming down his face. "No, Daddy, I can't."

Adolphe towered over him, shouting. "What are you, some kind of baby? You're not a baby any more, and it's time you learned how to do this for yourself! For that matter," he continued, raising his open hand in threat, "if you don't want to shit yourself, then I'll SCARE the shit out of you!"

Bennie screamed. His small body trembled on the potty and he hid his eyes from the red-faced man that stood over him. And then, through the halting sound of his sobs, Lydia and Adolphe heard a tiny plop.

Adolphe pressed his lips together. "Now you're a man," he said, crossing his arms. Lydia came over and picked up the trembling, crying boy and put him in the bathtub to begin the involved process of cleaning him after his miraculous production of a turd.

When Adolphe went up later to say good night to Bennie he was almost bursting with pride. He was a man to be reckoned with for the first time in his life. Everyone - his wife, his employees, his boss, his son, everyone was taking him seriously. He passed the mirror in the hall and stopped to look at it. He raised one side of his upper lip and lowered his eyebrows, uttering a soft 'rrr' sound. It was a scary sight. Then he smiled and went into Bennie's room. Lydia slipped out behind him.

Adolphe walked into the middle of the room and stood staring down at his son.

"I didn't like doing what I had to do before, Bennie."

Bennie sat on the edge of his bed, his head hanging down and his feet firmly implanted in his bunny slippers. He clutched Mr. Tubbybear like a life preserver.

"But I had to do that. It was for your own good Bennie. Now, I don't want you to make me do that again. Do you understand?"

Bennie nodded his assent to Mr. Tubbybear. Adolphe smiled a crooked smile. All it had taken was a little bit of authority. He approached Bennie, who looked up at him, and he held his hand out toward his son.

Bennie cringed and held the stuffed bear up to protect himself, unabated terror shining in his round eyes. Adolphe stopped. He took another step forward and Bennie edged back on the bed, tears running down his face.

Adolphe was frozen in place. "Bennie?" he asked, but the boy sat in a tiny shivering bundle pressed up against the wall.

As Adolphe stood in the pale glow of the Piglet nightlight, he heard part of his psyche fall off of him with a hollow 'thunk'. He felt naked, and lighter, and exposed to a kind of nameless horror. It was as if he suddenly saw himself through his child's eyes - a giant raging monster that was spouting off about being a man, of all things, to a little boy. Why he only saw this now is a mystery - perhaps some things are just easier to see by the light of a Piglet lamp.

"Oh God, Bennie," Adolphe said, as he fell to his knees at the bedside, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry son." He stretched his arms across the bed toward Bennie.

Bennie didn't hesitate. He crawled across the bed to his father and threw his arms around Adolphe's neck, hugging him as hard as he could. They stayed there like that, crying together, until Bennie had held him hard enough and long enough that he squeezed the rage right out of him again.

© crossconnect 1995-1999 |
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania kelly writers house |