Adjustment day, p.17
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       Adjustment Day, p.17

           Chuck Palahniuk

  Walter could recall that much from the film.

  Shaking his head dismissively, Talbott muttered, “Palahniuk. All of his work is about castration. Castration or abortion.”

  Adjustment Day, Talbott had explained, was to be a model for how men could form an army in order to attain permanent high status. It would draft them to take action before society drafted them. These men would kill on their own behalf, for their own benefit, rather than for the benefit of those who already held power and assets.

  “What men want,” he’d said, “is a structure for communion.”

  As Talbott had seen it, a demographic explosion of young men were becoming men, men with good educations, healthy and well fed, who’d been raised to expect a glorious future for themselves. No such future awaited them. The democracy of capitalism guaranteed that only the most banal men, the men with the most moderate intellect and most readily appealing looks and talents, would rise to notoriety. And these would only be a handful from among the millions.

  Walter had waited, uncertain if this merited writing down. “What happens to the rest of us?”

  Talbott had smiled and sighed. His eyes blink-blinked and drifted to consider the blood-flecked cement floor. “What happens is what always happens.”

  Going on, he’d claimed that the government had always known Pearl Harbor would be attacked by the Japanese. He’d insisted the government had known all along about the impending destruction of the World Trade Center. The battleships sunk had been practically obsolete. The Twin Towers were a necessary expenditure. In both cases, what the nation had really needed was a war to cull the impending generation of young men reaching adulthood. Such a war would cut down the labor pool and ensure a sizable wage to the survivors. It would throw the surplus men of many countries into combat and stimulate economies the world over.

  “Most importantly,” Talbott had said, “the conflict would create a shortage of men and preserve the patriarchy.”

  Walter hadn’t wanted to buy that theory. He’d hesitated to contradict his mentor, but the police and the military would stomp out the sort of grassroots insurrection Talbott had described.

  “Once the police had been sufficiently humiliated and blamed for crime . . . ,” Talbott had replied. “Once the military realizes it’s being led to slaughter . . .” Both would look the other way when Adjustment Day came to pass. Members of both might even join the attack, especially if it guaranteed that their descendants would hold power for generations to come.

  A man might hesitate to kill if it meant only his own benefit, but if his action would crown his sons and, in turn, their sons and their sons as royalty in a new society, that man who had no option but to commit murder in someone else’s war, that man would gladly create a meritocracy based on murder.

  At this Talbott had fallen silent. His gaze had come to rest on the computer in Walter’s lap. It was clear the discussion had been over for the time being when he’d pronounced:

  With the exception of members of the police and military, all retirement from public service is suspended until further notice.

  And in full faith, still not comprehending where any of this was headed, Walter had dutifully typed out the words. As Talbott saw the situation the clerks and bureaucrats of the world had traded their unstable youth for security and routine, and now that would be all they’d ever have. It was too late for them to kite off to Tuscany and dabble at beings painters. It was too late for them to be anyone but themselves.

  Mid-lecture, Talbott asked, “Have you read Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet?” In the novel two clerks inherit a fortune and leave their jobs to dabble in art and literature, eventually realizing that they have no talent for leisure. In the end they return to their boring, steady, structured lives as clerks. The Baby Boomers would have to accept a similar fate. Under a new regime they’d be required to work and support the Millennial generation until a wholly new system was put in place.

  Jamal wandered, awestruck, through the rooms of his new home. His pit bull, Bouncer, loped a few steps ahead, sniffing behind a chair, pawing at a cabinet door, as if to flush out whatever animals might be hiding there. Each room opened into a larger room, the walls lined with pictures of white people, lined with fireplaces and shelves packed tight with books. Bright sunlight lit up big, clean windows and white paint. He’d requisitioned the house from a long list of surrendered properties. Photographs posted on the Internet. Today marked the first time in his life he wasn’t living under his mama’s roof.

  The paintings looking down, they’d been a lineage of the old world. The stuck-up faces of high and mighty dead folks. The paintings could go. The books he’d keep. With Adjustment Day past, what Jamal truly wanted to do was write, to be an author who put a world of symbols and images into people’s minds with his careful, steady stream of words. The way Talbott had done. As Talbott had phrased it:

  No man is an adult while his parents are alive. Until they die he is merely a performance to either please or punish them.

  For too long the whites have acted as the finger-wagging parents of blacks.

  For even longer heterosexuals have acted as the shaming parents of homosexuals.

  To Jamal it seemed he’d always been expected to back down, to forever defer, step aside. He’d always played the submissive good guy because the only other role was to be a thug. Everything he’d done was meant to keep people happy. Killing people wasn’t ideal but it was the first time he wasn’t trying to make them all love him. It mostly felt strange—strange not bad—because he wasn’t trying to please these people. It felt nice to just shoot them and not worry about whether or not it made them happy. That relief made Jamal happy.

  Opposition seemed unlikely. The downtrodden had always turned to church, and their numbers had swelled until a leader appeared to organize their power. This time, history’s displaced, the disenfranchised had long ago laughed off the idea of God. Their churches had been colleges and government offices, and these days their preachers were buried in mass graves. The new peasantry might have advanced degrees and awards galore, but they had no churches to harbor and comfort them.

  Smarter men might exist. Stronger men. But Jamal was the one who pulled the trigger so they would work for him.

  Whoever the owners of this house had been, they’d long since relocated to the appropriate homeland. Traveled light, from the look of it. They’d left behind their furniture, even the clothes and shoes in the closets. Not that it mattered. From today on this would be his house, his land, his farm. Jamal’s mother was installed in a house in town, nicer than anywhere she’d ever lived but not near as nice as his place. Three floors, from the look of it, with Greek temple columns out front, the only word that seemed fitting was grand. Just as he’d always imagined it would be. He opened doors to find only more rooms, more doors and staircases. Behind one door he found the kitchen. A woman his mama’s age stood at the stove. She wore an old-time uniform, just a gray dress with a white apron tied over it. Her hair was netted tight to her head.

  “Pardon me,” he said. This could be a mix-up. She was black, too. Could be the website had allocated the property to two parties by mistake. His status in a lineage gave him higher rank, of course, but he didn’t relish the idea of putting somebody out of a house she’d come to think of as home.

  “I live on the place,” she offered. The sound of boiling. “Me and my family look after things.”

  Bouncer nosed his way past Jamal and moseyed over to press his muzzle alongside the woman’s thick legs.

  When he didn’t speak, she asked, “You the new owner?” She looked into the pan as she spoke, like whatever she was cooking, she hated it to the point of sadness.

  He let out the breath he wasn’t aware he’d been holding. Even the kitchen around her was a marvel, all knobs and drawers, hanging pots and copper sinks and machines and all of it his. It would take him months, might be years, to grow into such a place. It relieved him, the thought he wouldn’t be living h
ere alone. Bouncer left the woman and went to sniff and paw at a door, a narrow door with a brass knob. The dog whined. He sniffed at the keyhole.

  The woman followed Jamal’s eyes to the door. “It’s locked,” she said. “Been locked since we misplaced the key.”

  The dog continued to sniff along the crack running beneath it. One paw scratched at the wooden floor.

  “Must be he smells mice,” the woman said. She turned back to the pan she was minding on the stovetop. “Nothing up those stairs but the attic.” Her voice was sing-song, featherweight, saying, “Nope, just one empty old attic.”

  Jamal went and collared the dog, dragging Bouncer away from the locked door. “Where are my manners,” he said, and he offered her his free hand. “My name is Jamal Spicer.”

  She did a double-take, one eyebrow arched, looking him up and down, slow, as if for the first time. Her shoulders sagged and she shook her head as if to clear her vision. “You the one from the TV?”

  From the first lineage is what she meant. The state media had been running little biographies to introduce people to the system of men who’d be running the new nation of Blacktopia. Each man in his tribe had read aloud from the Talbott book, and these readings rotated night and day. Seeing himself on television had made Jamal feel sick with the limited reality of himself, his crooked teeth and big ears, but getting recognized had begun to make him proud to be the man he turned out.

  The woman wiped her hands in her apron and accepted his handshake. “Pleased to make your acquaintance,” she said, her voice breathless with amazement. A smile relaxed her face. A glad smile, not like part of the uniform she was forced to wear. “My name’s Arabella.”

  Folks here to cook and clean for him, it would seem he’d walked into a ready-made family. “Here’s Bouncer,” he said, shaking the dog by its collar. And Jamal returned her smile.

  The wait stood as his only option. Gavyn had registered as a resident alien, gone to the post office and filled out the forms, declared his homosexuality and taken an oath to the same. The clerk who’d administered the oath fixed him with a stern look.

  “You know you can’t work,” she’d warned, “not legally.”

  Gavyn had read as much in the Talbott book.

  “You can’t vote or operate a motor vehicle, either,” the clerk had said.

  Gavyn said, “I understand.”

  The clerk slipped a pamphlet from a packet of papers. She read, “Until relocation can be approved, resident aliens must report their current place of residence and any changes in said place to the appropriate authorities.”

  That meant his parents’ house. Fat chance he could move out, not without a job or a driver’s license. The Declaration of Interdependence guaranteed mutual respect between all races and sexualities, but respect was easier when each was isolated, snug in his own homeland. Gavyn was an outsider, stuck among heterosexuals. For how long, nobody could say.

  To make matters worse, the clock was ticking. To be queer, at least until Adjustment Day, meant almost two decades of torture. Being called “Gay-vin” and getting pounded into lockers on a weekly basis, with parents who hadn’t a clue about what a queer kid needed to know. But the payoff was turning eighteen. That birthday vaulted a person from being the weakest, most victimized member of society to the heights of becoming one of the most powerful.

  Women knew this transformation. One day they’re off-limits, horsey, coltish jail bait. Ignored. Dismissed. And the next day they’re leading men around by the nose. Rich men. Powerful men. The most attractive men in the world are vying for a young woman’s attention. It was a form of power that didn’t last forever, but it was power. And it could be leveraged for money and education and access to people, eventually to a more-lasting form of power. Sure, someday he’d be a lawyer or an engineer, but for now Gavyn merely wanted to be beautiful and pull the focus every time he entered a room. After so long getting ridiculed and slammed into walls, he deserved his moment in the spotlight.

  The window of youth opened at eighteen, and it had a shelf life. Gavyn loved his parents, but he couldn’t wait to emigrate to a world where he’d be normal.

  Until then he was more or less a hostage.

  The holdup came in the form of the Compensation Clause. The Talbot book held that homosexuals accrue wealth and skills faster because they’re not burdened with bearing and raising their young. Like the egg of a cuckoo, the homosexual child was born into a heterosexual home and fledged to join his homosexual family. Thus the heterosexual exhausted time and resources that ultimately benefited the homosexual world. A constant export of new adults from the white and black homelands to the homosexual represented a trade imbalance of the cruelest kind. Young, vital, fully schooled offspring were siphoned away to their appropriate homeland while their parents were left without compensation or support in their waning years.

  It wasn’t ideal, Gavyn understood that.

  The Compensation Clause had been enacted to balance the situation. It stated that a homosexual adult raised by heterosexuals could emigrate only when a heterosexual raised by homosexuals was ready to emigrate. Somewhere, Gavyn prayed a kid was coming out as straight to his lesbian parents. That kid would, like Gavyn, get sent to the post office where a clerk would give him the forms Gavyn had just now filled out. That disapproving, cluck-clucking clerk would warn the straight kid not to seek employment or operate a vehicle or attempt to vote in any election. And that kid, the anti-Gavyn, would go back to his two mommies or two daddies or whatever the case might be, to pray for a phone call.

  Senior year, they’d done a unit on Adjustment Day and the new nation states. The teachers who were left, the ones who weren’t buried in the end zone of Franklin High School’s football field, those teachers were giddy with praise for the lineages. To listen to them, the lineage guys were heroes. If it wasn’t for the heroes, Gavyn’s generation would’ve been marched off to die in the false flag war. Gavyn included, thanks to stupid equal civil stupid rights.

  When his teachers hadn’t been reading aloud from the Talbott book, they’d been lecturing that the men had been justified. Students held up camera phones and tried to catch anyone not carrying the blue-black book or not expressing love for the new order. The lineages were justified, as per the teachers, due to the fact that male babies used to have their genitals routinely mutilated and the courts of law were biased against men in child custody and no-fault divorce cases, and because the prisons were so filled with men that the male suicide rate was more than four times the female suicide rate.

  Between lectures they’d watched an educational film: Bulldozers pushing great moldering heaps of something. This mess wasn’t the usual slaughter of tiny baby roosters. Screaming flocks of seagulls wheeled in the air, circling the bulldozers and the garbage being buried. A gull dove to grab something, then flew past the camera. Pinched in one of the bird’s talons was an ear. The mounds of gray, squashed stuff being ground beneath the bulldozer treads and bladed into the dirt, they were untold numbers of human ears.

  When called upon, students were expected to know each article of the Talbott book by heart. For example:

  Bounty will be paid for information leading to the arrest of any person using any unit of currency other than the Talbott.

  As an alien resident Gavyn wasn’t eligible to earn bounty money.

  In theory Gavyn should’ve been happy. Only nobody mentioned all the blood and how people could find bullet holes in the cafeteria wall behind where the targets were lined up. No duh, a homosexual homeland sounded great to Gavyn, but he felt conflicted. As if he’d met a young priest wearing a short-sleeved shirt, only the guy has sexy tattoos, only he’s a priest, only his arms are astonishingly muscular, only the tattoos are full of swastikas. That kind of a mixed blessing.

  Gavyn hadn’t been asked to wear a pink triangle, but that didn’t seem very far down the road. Only there wasn’t much choice. This was the new real world so he was going home to sit and wait by the phone.
br />   Back in the Before Times, Walter’s fingers had slowed as if walking behind Talbott’s voice. Walter’s writing, the shadow of the old man’s talk. He’d expounded on the idea of perishable money and how it would create a ferocious climate of earning and spending. Such money would be a medium instead of an asset, it would no longer keep human time and energy suspended in locked vaults.

  It had been slow going. Whether from blood loss or age, the old man had rambled:

  The Principle of Fatal Contrarians holds that society has worked against the benefit of certain individuals for so long that those persons will never trust it. They will continue to position themselves against society regardless of its aims, even if those goals ultimately work in the contrarian’s best interests.

  Talbott had gasped awake. His head had lolled on his stringy neck, and the dried blood had crusted in his wrinkles, those furrows across his forehead, and the crow’s-feet radiating from the corners of each eye. Flakes of red littered his shoulders as he dictated:

  People will celebrate beauty or genius but not when they occur in the same person. To find both qualities in one individual occurs as an injustice no one will tolerate. When it happens either one or both gifts must be destroyed.

  Walter had checked on the list every hour. Names had appeared and vanished, and those that remained were collecting impressive votes. The politicians, especially. Talbott would nod off, his head flopped to one side, and Walter would toggle to The List website. With a snort, his new old man would jerk awake and announce:

  Drugs are popular because they give the user a window of madness or illness that can be scheduled. Unlike sickness, drugs can synchronize the infection, derangement, and recuperation of a group of people.

  Pronouncement made, the old man had collapsed into another drooling stupor.

  As for the list’s purpose, Walter had no idea. It consisted of only names and numbers, names and numbers. As per Talbott’s instructions, if someone posted a name and it didn’t attract at least three thousand votes within a week Walter was to delete it. To guess by the pattern, the way the numbers seemed to double every day, then double the next, knowledge of the website was spreading by word of mouth.

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