Once I put a dollar bill in my mouth for a minute because my hands were full, and someone said to me, “Did you know that dollar bills are the most germy things on the entire planet?”
I dropped my bags and removed the dollar bill from my mouth. But really, I didn’t care about the germs.
Once I heard about a medical study that would pay you a lot of money to stay in the hospital for thirty-two days straight. I had heard that this medical study was looking for, in particular, people who exercised a lot, so I told them on my screening forms that I exercised every day. “What kind of exercise?”, they asked. “Oh,” I said, “yoga, Pilates, I run, I’m an avid swimmer, I lift weights, I’m really into Crossfit right now, and oh, totally Zumba on the weekends, I mean it’s just so fun!”
Poor thing, I could hear them thinking, that metabolism must just be really slow. No muscle tone at all!
“Just one more thing,” they said. I had to pass a drug test on the first day of the study. But they’re just so fun! I said, this time to myself.
You have to wait thirty days between the last time you smoke weed and when you take your drug test. What I did not know was that if you smoke a lot of weed — hypothetically, let’s just say one eighth a week, every day and every night for five years — and then you stop smoking weed entirely, your mouth is so used to being dry, so used to having cotton-mouth, that when you stop smoking, you’ll drool. A lot. Spontaneously. So, I would be reading a book and all of a sudden a puddle of drool would slide out of my mouth and splash onto the page in front of me, viscous as an egg white. Or I’d be talking to the guy at the cornerstore, and all of a sudden my words would start to slur. My mouth would fill up with water and trickle down my chin along with my words. I couldn’t keep my spit in my mouth. I was leaking all over the place.
“Did I pass my drug test?” I asked the nurse, swiping at my mouth with the back of my hand. He looked at me oddly. “If you have to ask...” then he smiled and said “You are good to go, my friend.”
I got into the study. Thirty-two days in the research hospital, and a check on my way out
Here’s what I’m gonna spend the money on:
a plane ticket
a bunch of books from my “books I want to own” list
nice underwear/new underwear
sweet consumer electronics
a new computer
a small donation to planned parenthood
paying my brother back
getting the crown on my tooth fixed
teeth cleaned? maybe
eye exam for glasses
ticket to see Maria Bamford at Flappers in Burbank
It turned out to be a study about sleep. On my first day there, they told me I would only be allowed to sleep five hours a night. I would have a set bedtime, they said, and would be woken up precisely five hours after that. Napping was strictly prohibited. This was why there was a surveillance camera in the room, they explained, feeding video to the nurse’s station on the other side of the wall twenty-four hours a day, to prevent napping. “No naps!” they said, sternly but gently. “No problem!” I said, matching their tone.
I was given my own room, with a window that didn’t open. There was a double bed with sheets the texture of fine-grade sandpaper and one of those industrially fuzzy blankets with a texture somewhere between packing foam and teddy-bear fur. Next to the bed was a nightstand on the left side, and an EKG machine on the right side, easily accessible so that they could attach electrodes to my scalp as I slept each night.
“Wanna see what your brain waves look like?” my assigned nurse said, after the first night. It turns out that my brain looks like a sweater.
By day three, I was already exhausted and panicked. I just knew I would never feel rested again. By day four, my eyeballs had gone dry, my pelvis felt like a cracked egg, and my brain drooped from its stem and was withering fast. There was nothing to distract me from my tiredness. By day seven, I had escape on the brain and by day fourteen — murder.
This was very strange to me. I never picture other people’s deaths, but there is a constant movie playing in my brain showing me my own death that I’m helplessly compelled to watch. Even when I’m not watching it, it’s still playing.
Falling off the lip of a stage so that my nose splinters and the bone pierces my brain deep. Getting a motorcycle and then getting into a motorcycle accident where the road-rash shears off my nipples and in the emergency room the doctors are so focused on re-attaching my nipples that they do not realize that I am hemorrhaging internally. Falling off my bike onto some dead branches in the road, which impale me from my asshole up and through my liver, beginning the slow poisoning of my system but what actually kills me is the stick’s jab to my lung, filleting it like a gill, more and more oxygen leaking out until I die. Trying to open a jammed door with a rope and a screwdriver which suddenly flies open, causing me to stab myself in the heart. Tripping on a roof and skidding all the way to the edge of the building where my own momentum flips me over to smash on the concrete sidewalk below. Being the passenger in a car changing lanes while another car is simultaneously moving into that same lane the cars crushing against each other until I am pulverized like meat. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
The person I was most interested in murdering was an extremely smiley nurse named Kevin, who was given the task of waking me up every morning after my five hours. He was so nice. I grew to hate him intensely. His interests, he told me, were hiking, hanging out with his nieces and nephews, and gaming. My interests were killing, killing, and sleeping.
Every morning, even from the depths of my deep sleep, I could feel him extruding his kindness into the room like a neon sun. “Good morning!” he would sing out, “I know you must be so tired,” and his sincere sympathy grated the very surface of my skin, bloodied me up like knuckles. “But let’s have you sitting up before I get out of your way!” he said cheerily. Through a series of internal yanks, I pulled myself upright, my head lolling on my neck like a drunk newborn. It was the lightest part of my heavy body, but I could not level my gaze. I could not look him in the eye.
I was so angry with him. Look, I wanted to say, I lied to get in here! I don’t exercise every day! I don’t exercise at all, ever! So please, just shut the fuck up and let me sleep!
But I wanted the money. Money in a fan, money in a crumple, money in a wad, money stashed in books, money folded into a ring, money left on a table, money gone through the washing machine, money torn in half and taped back together. I was so close to having the money.
So instead I imagined myself as a ghost in a horror movie. I let my hair fall over my face, my eyes roll back in my head, and I spoke in a scratchy whisper that did not bare my clenched teeth. “Thank you so much, Kevin! You’re always such a ray of sunshine in my day!”
I often say the exact opposite of what I am thinking. Even when I have the choice of saying nothing at all, I do not take that choice. Instead, I say the exact opposite of what I’m thinking. From what I can tell, people consistently believe me. I even have a reputation for sincerity.
I do not know why I do this, say the exact opposite of what I am thinking. I often feel like I should not do this. And yet I have done this so consistently over the course of my life that I figure there must be a very important reason for doing this.
Here’s what I spent the money on:
sweet consumer electronics
a plane ticket
clothes from the thrift store
chewy vitamins for adults
a fancy bottle of gin
egg and cheese sandwiches
I LOVE EGG AND CHEESE SANDWICHES.
I got four thousand dollars for doing that study. I got four thousand dollars for doing that study. I got four thousand dollars for doing that study. I got four thousand dollars for doing that study. I got four thousand dollars for doing that. I got four thousand dollars for doing. I got four thousand dollars for. I got four thousand dollars. I got four thousand. I got four. I got —
The bag always drains so fast, like there’s holes ripped into it. The plastic becomes dusty and smeared and oily. It begins to stink of char, resin, half-smoked joints slowly unrolling, unravelling their burnt smell into the air. And then, all of a sudden, in the contracted core of that expanding smell, all that’s left is this tiny shriveled pit. No one would see it as anything but trash, something that you’d sweep up off the floor without looking at it too closely, like a crushed insect or a picked-off label, sticky with grit. God, what a disgusting thing. I need to go get this other thing, this shining soft bundle, this entirely different thing. How did this get here?
You might think you know what it’s like to have no money, but you don’t. I might think I know what it’s like to have no money but I don’t. In fact, I can’t get around it. I can’t get away from it. I’m repelling it just by speaking its name. I don’t know what it’s like to have no money, but I do know what it feels like. It suffocates. It distracts. It makes monosyllabic.
And it makes blooms. This petal says Fuck You! This petal says Fuck This! This petal says Fuck Me! Fuck You! Fuck This! Fuck Me! Fuck You! Fuck This! Fuck Me! And you go around and around and around again until there are no petals left.
I heard about some fashion designer who got his servants to iron his money for him every day.
I heard about some woman who would dig up her relative’s bones every year and then boil them clean.
I heard that a penny will disintegrate in a bottle of coke if you leave it there long enough.
I heard that you’re never supposed to put tomatoes in the ‘frigerator.
I heard that they don’t make lipstick in that shade of red anymore because they found out it was poisonous.
I heard that money isn’t even paper any more, it’s plastic fibers and electronic chips.
I heard that your debts disappear after 20 years.
I heard that a body will decompose to bone after 12 years.
I heard that you’ve been looking for me.
I heard that you’ve been asking about me.
I heard that you’ve been waiting for me.
Can I hold your money for a minute?
Illustration by Carolyn Tripp