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The Accidental Oracle

Dear Oracle:

My dear young wife Fatima and I had our hearts broken when our little dog Fester (like Lester, but with an F) died. We break down crying every time we see his hairs stuck to the sofa or look in his bedroom, where he “lies in state” in a beer cooler full of ice with his stumpy little legs shot up in the air.

I was a sportswriter for a local paper until my legs went stiff (from inhaling all the steroids steaming off athletes in locker rooms?) and forced me to retire. Fester and his shenanigans were a constant comfort to me, and Fatima takes his death even harder, what with him the only soul in the trailer park who could make out her native tongue.

(That tongue is why Lester is Fester—poor Fatima couldn’t pronounce an L to save her life. It makes you wonder: what kind of culture produces a language so cold its speakers can’t even pronounce the word love? I drilled her for days before giving up, worried she might choke trying to pronounce “Leave me alone, Floyd!”)

Some days Fatima and I just lay in our adjustable beds and listen to the farm report on the radio, the wind banging the screen door, and gravel trucks rumbling down the highway. The sink is full of dirty dishes, dust bunnies drift like clouds across the floor, and I nearly got stuck in a giant spider web on the way to the bathroom.

Oracle, I’m worried that if we don’t get going soon we may come to a ghastly end. Can you suggest a way for us to pick ourselves up and get back on track?

—Floyd & Fatima Fatback, Lost World Trailer Park Oroville, California

Dear Floyd & Fatima:

Floyd, it sounds like your life has lost its purpose since Fester died.

You could buy one of those “purpose driven life” bestsellers and adopt its strategies, but why bother when necessity is the most powerful purpose on earth, and you need to do a few things right away, like: dispose of Fester’s remains and clean your trailer before it’s condemned and towed to the dump.

Like most people, I used to see cleaning as a dull and thankless task—until I began to see it as physical exercise, another boring activity. Strangely enough, combining two unpleasant tasks makes it half as hard to get started.

But sometimes a clean home and healthy body are not purpose enough, and it helps to add a spiritual element to the process. My own sort-of wood floors force you to get on your hands and knees and wipe them spot by spot with a damp cloth, then buff the spots dry. Though it takes a few minutes to get past the discomfort of being on all fours (something that God and the mop industry went out of their way to help us escape), you are soon rewarded with the pure physical elation of rhythmic movement, the same as that experienced by a pilgrim crawling to a remote shrine, or a cleaning woman scrubbing the floors of a beautiful mansion.

In fact I just found a note in a drawer (the handwriting is mine but, oddly, leans back left-handed):

I have finally “come down” from an intense cleaning experience. I was a single bristle in a glorious cleaning machine, a joyous army of jumpsuited janitors mopping and buffing in unison like gymnasts at a fascist pageant, polishing every surface of the massive stadium to a shine so bright we had to rest our eyes high in the sky… where a formation of five cruise missiles, the chrome fingernails of a robotic hand reached over the horizon, raked the sky wheeling to approach from the blinding glare of our own industry, so we stood prone in our colorful outfits until the cold nails found the base of our spine and climbed in the timeless choreography of siege, until a voice older than light itself hissed at the nape of our neck “Do you understand why we’ve come? Why the antelope’s last look at the lion is full of love? No matter, you will know soon enough…”

I’m still not sure if it was the cleaning or the cleaning fluid that brought this on. Either way: always read the warning label before using solvents in a closed room!

Note that cleaning shiny surfaces like floors and tile makes a spiritual tripling of purpose easy: just as tree sap has produced more convincing images of the Virgin Mary than the whole history of art, rubbing a shiny surface—like wiping a foggy window—can open a portal onto the spirit world. And since Fester has not been gone long, it should be easy to call his wet nosed spirit to the window.

I realize, Floyd, that your stiff legs might make cleaning floors difficult, but perhaps you could lay facedown on a towel and have Fatima push you across the floor like a mop?

—A. O.

Dear Oracle:

My next door neighbors are jerks—they let their little psycho dog bark all the time, and it’s about to drive me “batty.”

And they’re suspicious, too: the guy must be 90, and the woman—dressed in one of those big foreign tent things, so nothing but her eyes and sneakers show—must be young, and quite a specimen, because she runs to and from the supermarket every day, a good three miles down the road.

Her smoldering eyes remind me of my ex-girlfriend Carla—and that’s a good memory, even if she did leave me when her pastor called our love “an abomination”—but I’m worried she’s got a fertilizer bomb strapped on under that thing! I work security at the Cinema 6, so thinking about these things is not just a hobby for me.

Anyway, I heard there’s a place in Iran, or one of those countries, where you can order a “religious edict” that makes it legal to exterminate an infidel.

If ever there was an infidel, this dog is it!

I have mail ordered pepper spray, nunchuks and sports bras before, but nothing like this. Can you help me find one of these places?

(A.O.: I received an update from Pat a week later:)

Thanks, but you can forget my question. The dog was on the loose a few days ago, and I guess it got in my garbage, because I found chicken bones and KFC bags scattered all over the driveway—and I haven’t heard a peep out of the little monster since then!

Hopefully, as what’s-his-name used to say: “Problem solved.”

—Pat Alvarez Oroville, California

Dear Pat:

(You don’t happen to live in Lost World Trailer Park, do you? Since I had my answer ready before your update, here it is.)

I’m sure you can buy a religious edict for just about anything. I’m an ordained minister myself, of a New York State-certified lottery cult, and as far as I know nothing prevents me from issuing edicts, performing weddings, and entertaining at bar and bat mitzvahs. But I’m not sure the edicts, especially ones obtained overseas, are recognized by U.S. courts yet.

And though I suppose I should scold you for your casual attitude toward accidental chicken bone choking, I have lived near jerks with obnoxious dogs, and I am overjoyed for you! In fact I’m going to issue a retroactive religious edict right now:

By the authority vested in me by the State of New York, I do hereby declare that it is clearly God’s will that thou—Pat Alvarez of Oroville, California—shalt leave the lid off your garbage can, such that any and all infidel canines might choke on their vile appetites and be dispatched to hell!

Now that we’ve taken care of the moral niceties, Pat, we can look forward to the future: I’ve read that all domestic dogs are descended from a single Siberian wolf pack, so it should be a simple matter to start over and breed dogs without vocal cords.

If that works out, some day we can take the same approach with their owners and, God willing, prune jerks from the genome!

—A. O.


Kurt Strahm


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2007

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