Self Test For Reading Addicts
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Ego"
Originally featured on 02-19-2009
As part of our series "Bursting Into '09"

You should already stop reading this. But you’ll keep on going. Let’s try it again: Stop Reading. No, it looks like caps didn’t deter you. Maybe full caps will do the trick. STOP READING. Yes, you! And…you continue.


Ah alas, poor addict I know you well. You’ll keep going. You’ll read until the letters run out. You poor sad sucker. You slimy, dirty, fingerlickin’ unmistakable…goofy bastard. You even probably paused before calling yourself a ‘goofy bastard’ just to give it the appropriate dramatic effect you feel I might be going for. Here, we’ll try it a couple of other ways. See if you can guess the appropriate and intended intonations of my narrative voice.




my…sympathy…you…goofy…bastard. Tada!


You sit there, your brain just thirsting, feeding on these words like a dieting zombie. The last thing you can bring yourself to do is stop. Stop! You have my permission. Stop.


Oh!!! But you can’t stop, can you? You might even be reading to spite me now. You might tell yourself that, but we both know that actually you’re still reading because you’re fucked up. You’re a goddamn reading addict, and here’s a little secret: I dig that about you.


Sure, you might be a middle-aged woman whose kids are somewhere around the ages of eight and fourteen with a husband that works in an office and goes out for martinis with his ‘boys’ who all are between the ages of forty and sixty. He might get suspicious massages or maybe he’s faithful. But either way, he’s not around, is he? He’s too busy ‘providing.’ Well, I still think you’re a goddess, middle aged woman. And even if I thought you a…medusa, it wouldn’t really matter would it? You’ll just keep plugging along.


Or maybe you’re a different type altogether. Maybe you’re the son of a middle-aged woman. Maybe you’re fourteen and you just found out about having wet dreams and shaving and girl parts. Maybe you’ve got zits having a convention on your pasty white cheeks. You’re gawky, too tall for your weight because you just had that growth spurt, right? The older kids, the football players, they see you reading out on the bleachers one day and decide to…peg you, right in the head with their football. They all laugh at you and why not, they’ve probably been laid. But I don’t care if you’re a virgin for the rest of your life, you geeky little dork. I’m still gonna be here for you. Hell someday, maybe something you pick up from me might get you laid. Just remember to pause…for the right…dramatic effect when you say it. You might be in a coffee shop, you might be about thirty three, still sportin’ that damn cherry, when you see a foxy little nerd sitting by herself. You’ll remember this moment, and then you’ll muster all your strength and courage and you’ll walk over there and you’ll say with just the right dramatic effect: You…might be my last chance. And seriously, give it at least a second on the pause. Remember, I may insult you, you little douchebag, but I also look out for you when the chips are down.


You can still stop. I’m not forcing you. You may not be one of those whitebread milquetoasts I described above. You might even be doubting that I know you at all. You’re more of a dangerous type. You’re like that diamond in the rough and the rough is bad-fuckin’-ass, am I right? You grew up with nothing. Your mother worked graveyard and you had to take care of your little siblings, so you started doing little jobs for extra money when all the sudden, Bam! You got caught. A little stint in juvie is where we became acquainted. You ran out of weights to lift and fish to haze and you found one of my colleagues just sitting there on a shelf. Now you’re back out, you’re big time now. You run a suspicious ‘massage’ parlor that caters to the upscale ‘martini and tie’ set. You don’t read around the girls because you don’t want to look soft, so you head up to your office and sit quietly on your leather couch. If one of the girls gets out of line, you have to get her back in line and sometimes things get crazy, but those are the nights you want to escape most: a little prose mixed into your midnight coffee. Hell, you’re reader I want. You’re not a conformist douche like those others, you’ve got moxie and panache. A gloc under one leather cushion and Tolstoy under the other. And hell yeah, I’ll visit you on the inside when that one-time heroin deal you get involved in goes bad and you take the rap. I’ll be in there with you day after day.


Okay, last chance. You can stop reading now. Prove you’re not addicted. You can walk away now. Or maybe you can’t. Maybe you’ve been stuck in a chair all your life. You’re prematurely bald at sixteen and you’ve got some strange teeth so your parents dumped you off to the circus so they could earn some residuals in Cancun while you traveled around getting hit with peanuts in some side show booth. People screaming and yelling and worst of all, laughing. The worst part is, Mr. Hanson the owner, he’s a bad drunk and when he gets lit he wheels you out to the car and takes jumper cables and wires your nipples to the car battery. This is how the sick Mr. Hanson gets over the fact that when he was a kid, his dad was a traveling salesman and spent more time with his boys drinking martinis and getting massages then he ever did with his wife and child. The only repose you have is found between capital letters and periods between the hours of three and five in the morning when the mean bastard gets his fill of sparks burnt human hair smell and passes out on the gravel. You’re getting your fix now, huh?


Or maybe you’re an immigrant and five years ago, the only American words you knew were Hollywood and McDonalds. But you were prepared to work hard, so washed dishes by day and studied English at night. You got so damn good at English that you started reading all the master works of literature and they got you so fired up you started performing them in the street for the passing businessmen on their way to martinis or massages or meetings. But they didn’t like your immigrant ass, so they called in the police. They found a way to get you deported and now you’re looking there in your native country for more books, more English words. Well look no further my non-American friend. Look no further.


Yeah, you’re an addict. You’re stuck. A lifer. And as long as you stay away from martinis, massage parlors and businessmen, then I got no quarrel with you.

Oh, and if you’ve made it this far, then congratulations—you’re a reading addict.

Read More By Doug Dean

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

Archives Archives