The Proper Tools
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Slavery"
Originally featured on 06-19-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

If you boil an earlobe in broth, baste it with melted butter and then bake it at low heat, it takes on a consistency not unlike sticky rice. Except not as sweet. Which brings me to the point; a fork and knife is insufficient to separate ligaments from bones. I apologize if my thoughts appear scattered; read this not as the frantic words of a misunderstood martyr in captivity, and certainly do not expect me to put forth a cookbook (I would, had I more time). I’ll be apprehended at any moment, and in the process of being brought to justice, I aim to stash these pages under a mattress for posterity, but for now, let me start with a story. I was ten, I think.

I was changing in the bathroom. I was already late for choir practice, but still expended the energy to press my back against the door while I changed, because the door had no lock. I could not risk someone walking in. And it had nothing to do with my body; I’d go streaking through a city park on a dare any day. I wasn’t one of those inhibited kids who went swimming with a shirt on or anything like that. I don’t care if you see me naked or if you see me clothed, as long as you see me one way or the other. Being seen in the act of getting dressed or undressed is a whole different kind of naked, more naked than nudity itself. I have a similar thing with food; I love to eat, and I love to walk around in supermarkets, but I don’t like to see my food being prepared before I eat it. So I’m in the bathroom and the knob turns, grinds against my back. Keeps on turning. I squeeze the knob and wrestle with it.

I turn my body sideways. I’ve got one pant leg on and one off. I’m yelling, but yelling takes energy away from the struggle, so I fight that door in silence. I realize what I will have to do; I cannot wait for the asshole outside the door to lose interest in this game. I have to multitask. I can change my clothes and fend off the door at the same time. I’ll have to do it slowly and carefully. I look at my watch.

Muffled giggles are heard. I peel my shirt onto my body one bit of fabric at a time.

Normally when those boys (there’s a group of them who do this sort of thing; Johnny, Chuck, Nate, Emmit, Derek, sometimes Aaron if he’s had a bad day) pull shit like this, I protest and yell at them to quit it, knock it off, what the H, E, double chopsticks?

Maybe they know it’s me because they saw me go in and deliberately planned this ordeal, or maybe they don’t know who’s in here and that’s the fun of it for them. Or maybe it’s not even about fun for them; maybe they have to go the bathroom really bad and all they can see is a door in their way.

It doesn’t matter who’s out there. I realize this as truth. That knowledge is both my surrender and my victory. I don’t have the energy to yell at them to quit it, knock it off, what the H, E, double chopsticks. That would be as useless as yelling at the sky when I’m bicycling home in the pouring rain.

There is no prankster behind that door. There is no cantankerous kid with a bladder that requires immediate relief. What’s behind that door is not human. There is no behind the door; there is only the door, a door which will not fulfill the function of a door.

It seems to buckle against my back. My feet scuttle and slip, allowing the enemy to birth an opening in the doorframe almost big enough for a fist, but I catch my footing and push hard. My back is sweating. My shirt is bunched up and crooked. I can put on my belt in the hall. All that’s left is my shoes. But I realize then and there that this battle is none other than an existential battle, and my first. And that many more will follow.

I was eighteen minutes late to choir, but when I got there, I did not hide my chin between hunched shoulders as I slinked across the stage to my spot. I walked with a feeling of relief that spun from so deep in my stomach I swore I was floating on air.

From that day on I regarded people as inanimate objects. Since they were inconsequential, it was imperative to discover if and to what extent I could be nourished by the nutrition found in the fatty tissue beneath the skin.

Then there was high school, the drinking parties, the athlete worship, the smooching in the hallways, the secret transactions involving narcotics in the bathroom, the occasional brawl—I let it all pound its fury against the door and went quietly along my way. Then there was history class; dictatorships, conquests, dogmas, wars, labor unions, civil rights—some of it made sense. The rest I accepted.

People in cars honked at other cars and then stopped at traffic lights, got out of their cars and started fistfights with the drivers of other cars. This I found incomprehensible.

People in front of me in the grocery store line bought lottery tickets. I saw them do it week after week, and I knew they were smart enough not to expect to win. But they seemed to derive enjoyment from the act of making the purchase.

People at bars knocked drinks off tables and threw badly aimed punches at each other and crowds secreted out the door to follow those badly aimed punches to the sidewalk.

People lost and gained life-changing amounts of money in never-ending lawsuits.

People were always wasting things.

People everywhere need to quit it, knock it off, what the H, E, double chopsticks?

When I turned nineteen I decided that there was nothing to be gained from trying to understand people. So I started eating them.

I never found occasion or need to devise a criterion for choosing from whom to derive my morsels. I have no manifesto. If I appear to discriminate on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, social class, political leanings, career choice, criminal record or any category of lifestyle choices, my prejudice is surely accidental. Trial and error has demonstrated to me who tastes good and who does not. I know now by certain nuances in a person’s scent. Incidentally, my own flesh would taste like shit. For this fact I am grateful.

Every small town has a person everybody knows but nobody talks to, somebody who’s nickname includes their first name and the word crazy before it. This is generally somebody in their forties or fifties who is functional enough to speak complete sentences of English and walk the streets without stepping into oncoming traffic, but does not seem to possess any reasoning skills or social delicacies. In most cases, nobody in town knows the origin of this person or where this person resides, but speculations are fertile.

My town—which will remain anonymous—had Crazy Eddie. Crazy Eddie was most commonly spotted on the benches in front of the laundry mat or circling the outhouse at the community baseball field. Crazy Eddie was almost always looking down, and almost always engaged in a dialog with his shadow. On some occasions Crazy Eddie would look at you, and at times a spark of recognition would ignite his eye. When Crazy Eddie spoke to other people, he only said one thing.

What Crazy Eddie said to everybody he spoke to was, “You got eyes in your kneecaps? Ayup.” It was a Tuesday when Crazy Eddie gave me the look of recognition in front of the arcades on Swinn Street. Before he could say what Crazy Eddie says, I said to him, “Looks like you have eyes in your kneecaps” and patted him on the back.

Crazy Eddie looked at his legs, but couldn’t get a good enough look, so he took his pants off. I stabbed Crazy Eddie five times in the heart and twice in the throat and ate his kidneys for lunch. First time I’d ever seen a man change clothes. First time, first time.

There was music playing when I killed him. From inside the furniture store, I think. They were closed, but the radio was still playing. It was that Eighties song “Midnite Flapjack,” the one with the saxophone solo and those wailing vocals on which the levels kept changing (that was back when experimentation with synthesizers and voice manipulation was still a relatively new frontier in pop music). I never knew what the lyrics were actually saying. I hated that song. I hated it even more once it was stuck in my head. After decapitating Crazy Eddie in the bushes behind the arcade, that is.

Crazy Eddie’s kneecaps were hard to cook, but once I thawed out all the pieces of him from the freezer, the cooking became the easy part. My concern was that I’d never get the smell of Crazy Eddie out of my fingernails after all that effort to pry his meat from his bones. And then people might suspect.

I needed a tool for consuming kneecaps. That night I designed what I like to refer to as the Eddie Scoop Saw. The earliest prototype for the Eddie Scoop Saw consisted of the tips of four steak knives welded to the business end of a truncated soup ladle. It worked.

After that, I started hearing the song everywhere. I didn’t just start hearing it everywhere (which would imply that it had always been playing everywhere and I only now began to notice it everywhere). It started playing everywhere. At the grocery store. At the gym. On the car radio. But other places, too. More private places. Lying in bed, not awake and not asleep, I heard it, but when you’re not awake or asleep, sound isn’t born yet in your head, so it’s as much a sight or a feeling as it is a sound. It was a flailing, tickling thing between my eyelids, in my fingertips, in the back of my tongue. That stupid song. It kind of makes sense, I guess.

Nobody suspected. It didn’t matter who I ate. What mattered was that I devised an efficient means of doing so. What I’ve come to understand is that everybody has at least one bit of meat in their body that tastes good. It’s a matter of digging and finding their humanity. Eddie’s was obvious enough. His kneecaps were, quite frankly, the only part of the man I found palatable. For this I credit Crazy Eddie with intuitive faculties far exceeding his lot in life.

This one hotel clerk I ate a few years ago, he had this one tendon in his neck that was delicious—it was like sucking on a Pixie Stick. That inspired the advent of the Duane Needle Tweezers, which was, essentially, a sharpened pair of pliers. After desert, I recalled that Duane, the hotel clerk, had had a habit of twitching that very part of his neck every time he smiled. It makes me wonder.

I could tell you so much more.

I stopped hearing the song. A few years later, I figured out what the lyrics were saying. I don’t know why I thought of it, but I woke up one day and I knew; “Don’t take your love to the storefront video daddy, put it in the oven for me.”

As I write this, the cops are banging the door down. There’s lots more I want to tell you. In any case, whether or not this text survives, my collection of dining utensils I designed myself will be found, and will hopefully change the way Americans eat their meals. Its purpose

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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