Choke, p.20
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       Choke, p.20

           Chuck Palahniuk
 
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  You begin to wonder, just what do they mean by vacant.

  Even in an empty bathroom, you find the smell of spermicidal foam. The paper towels are always used up. You’ll see the print of a bare foot on the bathroom mirror, six feet up, near the top of the mirror, the little arched print of a woman’s foot, the five round spots left by her toes, and you’d wonder, what happened here?

  Like with coded public announcements, “The Blue Danube Waltz” or Nurse Flamingo, you wonder, what’s going on?

  You wonder, what aren’t they telling us?

  You’ll see a smear of lipstick on the wall, down almost to the floor, and you can only imagine what was going on. There’s the dried white stripes from the last pull-out moment when somebody’s dog tossed his white soldiers against the plastic wall.

  Some flights the walls will still be wet to the touch, the mirror fogged. The carpet sticky. The sink drain is sucked full, choked with every color of little curled hair. On the bathroom counter, next to the sink, is the perfect round outline in jelly, contraceptive jelly and mucus, of where somebody set her diaphragm. Some flights, there’s two or three different sizes of perfect round outlines.

  These are the domestic leg of longer flights, transpacific or flights over the pole. Ten-to-sixteen-hour flights. Direct flights, Los Angeles to Paris. Or from anywhere to Sydney.

  My Los Angeles trip number seven, the yoga redhead whips her skirt off the floor and hurries out after me. Still zipping herself up in the back, she trails me all the way to my seat and sits next to me, saying, “If your goal is to hurt my feelings, you could give lessons.”

  She’s got this shining soap opera kind of hairdo, only now her blouse is buttoned with a big floppy bow in the front and everything, pinned down with a big jewelry brooch.

  You say it again, “Sorry.”

  This is westbound, somewhere north-northwest above Atlanta.

  “Listen,” she says, “I work just too hard to take this kind of shit. You hear me?”

  You say, “I’m sorry.”

  “I’m on the road three weeks out of every month,” she says. “I’m paying for a house I never see … soccer camp for my kids … just the cost of my dad’s nursing home is incredible. Don’t I deserve something? I’m not bad-looking. The least you can do is not shut the door in my face.”

  This is really what she says.

  She ducks down to put her face between me and the magazine I’m pretending to read. “Don’t make like you don’t know,” she says. “It’s not like sex is anything secret.”

  And I say, “Sex?”

  And she puts a hand over her mouth and sits back.

  She says, “Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry. I just thought … ” and reaches up to push the little red stewardess button.

  A flight attendant comes past, and the redhead orders two double bourbons.

  I say, “I hope you’re planning to drink them both.”

  And she says, “Actually, they’re both for you.”

  This would be my first time. That first time that no subsequent time is ever as good as.

  “Don’t let’s fight,” she says and gives me her cool white hand. “I’m Tracy.”

  A better place this could’ve happened is a Lockheed TriStar 500 with its strip mall of five large bathrooms isolated in the rear of the tourist-class cabin. Spacious. Soundproof. Behind everybody’s back where they can’t see who comes and goes.

  Compared to that, you have to wonder what kind of animal designed the Boeing 747–400, where it seems every bathroom opens onto a seat. For any real discretion, you have to trek back to the toilets in the back of the rear tourist cabin. Forget the single lower-level sidewall bathroom in business class unless you want everybody to know what you’ve got going.

  It’s simple.

  If you’re a guy, how it works is you sit in the bathroom with your Uncle Charlie whipped out, you know, the big red panda, and you work him up to parade attention, you know, the full upright position, and then you just wait in your little plastic room and hope for the best.

  Think of it as fishing.

  If you’re Catholic, it’s the same feeling as sitting in a confessional. The waiting, the release, the redemption.

  Think of it as catch-and-release fishing. What people call “sport fishing.”

  The other way how it works is you just open doors until you find something you like. It’s the same as the old game show where whatever door you choose, that’s the prize you take home. It’s the same as the lady and the tiger.

  Behind some doors, it’s somebody expensive back from first class for some slumming, a little cabin-class rough trade. Less chance she’ll meet anybody she knows. Behind other doors, you’ll get some aged beef with his brown tie thrown back over one shoulder, his hairy knees spread against the wall on each side, petting his leathery dead snake and then he says, “Sorry bud, nothing personal.”

  Those times, you’ll be too grossed even to say, “As if.”

  Or, “In your dreams, buddy.”

  Still, the reward rate is just great enough to keep you pushing your luck.

  The tiny space, the toilet, two hundred strangers just a few inches away, it’s so exciting. The lack of room to maneuver, it helps if you’re double-jointed. Use your imagination. Some creativity and a few simple stretching exercises and you can be knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door. You’ll be amazed how fast the time flies.

  Half the thrill is the challenge. The danger and risk.

  So, it’s not the Great American West or the race to the South Pole or being the first man to walk on the moon.

  It’s a different kind of space exploration.

  You’re mapping a different kind of wilderness. Your own vast interior landscape.

  It’s the last frontier to conquer, other people, strangers, the jungle of their arms and legs, hair and skin, the smells and moans that is everybody you haven’t done. The great unknowns. The last forest to devastate. Here’s everything you’ve only imagined.

  You’re Chris Columbus sailing over the horizon.

  You’re the first caveman to risk eating an oyster. Maybe this particular oyster isn’t new, but it’s new to you.

  Suspended in the nowhere, in the halfway fourteen hours between Heathrow and Jo-burg, you can have ten true-life adventures. Twelve if the movie’s bad. More if the flight’s full, less if there’s turbulence. More if you don’t mind a guy’s mouth doing the job, less if you return to your seat during meal service.

  What’s not so great about that first time is, when I’m drunk and first getting bounced on by the redhead, by Tracy, what happens is we hit an air pocket. Me gripping the toilet seat, I drop with the plane, but Tracy’s blasted off, champagne popping off me with the rubber still inside, hitting the plastic ceiling with her hair. My trigger goes the same instant, and my gob’s suspended in the air, weightless hanging white soldiers in the midway between her still against the ceiling and me still on the can. Then slam, we come back together, her and the rubber, me and my gob, planted back down on me, reassembled pop-beads-style, all one-hundred-plus pounds of her.

  After those kind of good times, it’s a wonder I’m not wearing a truss.

  And Tracy laughs and says, “I love it when that happens!”

  After that, just normal turbulence bounces her hair in my face, her nipples against my mouth. Bounces the pearls around her neck. The gold chain around my neck. Juggles my dice in their sack, pulled up tight over the empty bowl.

  Here and there, you pick up little tips to improve your performance. Those old French Super Caravelles for example, with their triangular windows and real curtains, they have no first-class toilet, only two in the back of tourist, so you’d best not try anything fancy. Your basic Indian tantric position works okay. Both of you standing face to face, the woman lifts one leg along the side of your thigh. You go at it the same as in “splitting the reed” or the classic flanquette. Write your own Kama Sutra. Make stuff up.

  Go ahead. You know
you want to.

  This is assuming the two of you are anywhere close to the same height. Otherwise, I can’t be blamed for what happens.

  And don’t expect to get spoon-fed here. I’m assuming some basic knowledge on your part.

  Even if you’re stuck on a Boeing 757–200, even in the tiny forward toilet, you can still manage a modified Chinese position where you’re sitting on the toilet and the woman settles onto you facing away.

  Somewhere north-northeast above Little Rock, Tracy tells me, “Pompoir would make this a snap. It’s when Albanian women just milk you with their constrictor vaginae muscles.”

  They jerk you off with just their insides?

  Tracy says, “Yeah.”

  Albanian women?

  “Yeah.”

  I say, “Do they have an airline?”

  Something else you learn is when a flight attendant comes knocking, you can wrap things up fast with the Florentine Method, where the woman grips the man around the base and pulls his skin back, tight, to make it more sensitive. This speeds up the process considerably.

  To slow things down, press hard on the underside at the base of the man. Even if this doesn’t stop the event, the whole mess will back up into his bladder and save you both a lot of cleanup. Experts call this “Saxonus.”

  The redhead and me, in the big rear bathroom of a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Series 30CF, she shows me the negresse position, where she gets her knees up on either side of the sink and I press my open hands on the back of her pale shoulders.

  Her breath fogging the mirror, her face red from being crouched down, Tracy says, “It’s in the Kama Sutra that if a man massages himself with juice from pomegranate, pumpkin, and cucumber seeds, he’ll swell up and stay huge for six months.”

  This advice has a kind of Cinderella deadline to it.

  She sees the look on my face in the mirror and says, “Cripes, don’t take everything so personally.”

  Somewhere due north above Dallas, I’m trying to work up more spit while she tells me the way to make a woman never leave you is to cover her head with nettle thorns and monkey dung.

  And I’m, like, no kidding?

  And if you bathe your wife in buffalo milk and cow bile, any man who uses her will become impotent.

  I say, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  If a woman soaks a camel bone in marigold juice and puts the liquid on her eyelashes, any man she looks at will become bewitched. In a pinch, you can use peacock, falcon, or vulture bones.

  “Look it up,” she says. “It’s all in the big book.”

  Somewhere south-southeast above Albuquerque, my face coated thick as egg white from licking her, my cheeks rug-burned from her hair, Tracy says how ram’s testicles boiled in sugared milk will restore your virility.

  Then she says, “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

  And I thought I was doing pretty good. Considering two double bourbons, and I’ve been on my feet for three hours at this point.

  Somewhere south-southwest above Las Vegas, both of us our tired legs flu-shaky, she shows me what the Kama Sutra calls “browsing.” Then “sucking the mango.” Then “devouring.”

  Struggling together in our tight little wipe-clean plastic room, suspended in a time and place where anything goes, this isn’t bondage, but it’s close.

  Gone are the golden old Lockheed Super Constellations where each port and starboard bathroom was a two-room suite: a dressing room with a separate toilet room behind a door.

  The sweat running down the smooth muscles of her. The two of us bucking together, two perfect machines doing a job we’re designed for. Some minutes we’re touching with just the sliding part of me and the little edges of her getting raw and pulled out, my shoulders leaning back squared against the plastic wall, the rest of me bucking forward from the waist down. From standing on the floor, Tracy gets one foot up on the edge of the sink and leans on her raised knee.

  It’s easier to see ourselves in the mirror, flat and behind glass, a movie, a download, a magazine picture, somebody else, not us, somebody beautiful without a life or a future outside this moment.

  Your best bet on a Boeing 767 is the large center toilet in the rear of the tourist-class cabin. You’re just plum out of luck on the Concorde, where the toilet compartments are minuscule, but that’s just my opinion. If all you’re doing is peeing or doing your contact lenses or tooth brushing, I’m sure they’re roomy enough.

  But if you have any ambition to manage what the Kama Sutra calls “the crow” or “cuissade” or anything where you’ll need more than two inches of back-and-forth motion, you’d better hope you get a European Airbus 300/310 with its party-sized rear tourist-class toilets. For the same kind of countertop space and legroom, you can’t do better than the two rear toilets in a British Aerospace One-Eleven for plush.

  Somewhere north-northeast above Los Angeles, I’m getting sore, so I ask Tracy to let up.

  And I say, “Why do you do this?”

  And she says, “What?”

  This.

  And Tracy smiles.

  The people you meet behind unlocked doors are tired of talking about the weather. These are people tired of safety. These people have remodeled too many houses. These are tanned people who’ve given up smoking and white sugar and salt, fat, and beef. They’re people who’ve watched their parents and grandparents study and work for a lifetime only to end up losing it all. Spending everything just to stay alive on a feeding tube. Forgetting even how to chew and swallow.

  “My father was a doctor,” Tracy says. “The place where he’s at now, he can’t even remember his own name.”

  These men and women sitting behind unlocked doors know a bigger house is not the answer. Neither is a better spouse, more money, tighter skin.

  “Anything you can acquire,” she says, “is only another thing you’ll lose.”

  The answer is there is no answer.

  For real, this is a way heavy moment.

  “No,” I say and run a finger between her thighs. “I meant this. Why do you shave your bush?”

  “Oh, that,” she says and rolls her eyes, smiling. “It’s so I can wear g-string panties.”

  While I settle on the toilet, Tracy’s examining the mirror, not seeing herself as much as checking what’s left of her makeup, and with one wet finger she wipes away the smudged edge of her lipstick. With her fingers, she rubs away the little bite marks around her nipples. What the Kama Sutra would call Scattered Clouds.

  Talking to the mirror, she says, “The reason I do the circuit is because, when you think about it, there’s no good reason to do anything,”

  There is no point.

  These are people who don’t want an orgasm as much as they just want to forget. Everything. For just two minutes, ten minutes, twenty, a half hour.

  Or maybe when people are treated like cattle, that’s how they act. Or maybe that’s just an excuse. Maybe they’re just bored. It could be that nobody’s made to sit all day in a cramped packing crate full of other people without moving a muscle.

  “We’re healthy, young, awake and alive people,” Tracy says. “When you look at it, which act is more unnatural?”

  She’s putting back on her blouse, rolling her pantyhose back up.

  “Why do I do anything?” she says. “I’m educated enough to talk myself out of any plan. To deconstruct any fantasy. Explain away any goal. I’m so smart I can negate any dream.”

  Me still sitting here naked and tired, the flight crew announces our descent, our approach into the greater Los Angeles area, then the current time and temperature, then information about connecting flights.

  And for a moment, this woman and I just stand and listen, looking up at nothing.

  “I do this, this, because it feels good,” she says and buttons her blouse. “Maybe I don’t really know why I do it. In a way, this is why they execute killers. Because once you’ve crossed some lines, you just keep crossing them.”

  Both hands behind he
r back, zipping up her skirt, she says, “The truth is I don’t really want to know why I do casual sex. I just keep doing,” she says, “because the minute you give yourself a good reason, you’ll start chipping away at it.”

  She steps back into her shoes and pats her hair on the sides and says, “Please don’t think this was anything special.”

  Unlocking the door, she says, “Relax.” She says, “Someday, everything we just did will look like small potatoes to you.”

  Edging out into the passenger cabin, she says, “Today is just the first time you’ve crossed this particular line.” Leaving me naked and alone, she says, “Don’t forget to lock the door behind me.” Then she laughs and says, “That’s if you want it locked anymore.”

  Chapter 41

  The front desk girl doesn’t want any coffee.

  She doesn’t want to go check on her car in the parking lot.

  She says, “If anything happens to my car, I’ll know who to blame.”

  And I tell her, shhhhhhhhh.

  I tell her I hear something important, a gas leak or a baby crying somewhere.

  It’s my mom’s voice, muffled and tired, coming over the intercom speaker from some unknown room.

  Standing at the desk in the lobby of St. Anthony’s, we listen, and my mom says, “The slogan for America is ‘Not Good Enough.’ Nothing’s ever fast enough. Nothing’s big enough. We’re never satisfied. We’re always improving … ”

  The front desk girl says, “I don’t hear any gas leak.”

  The faint, tired voice says, “I spent my life attacking everything because I was too afraid to risk creating anything … ”

  And the front desk girl cuts it off. She presses the microphone and says, “Nurse Remington to the front desk. Nurse Remington to the front desk, immediately.”

  The fat security guard with his chest pocket full of pens.

  But when she lets go of the microphone, the intercom voice comes on again, faint and whispery.

  “Nothing was ever good enough,” my mom says, “so here at the end of my life, I’m left with nothing … ”

  And her voice fades away.

 
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CHUCK PALAHNIUK SERIES:

Damned

 

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