DAVE EGGERS arrives to consult the ORACLE
But back to the Vehicle: it is 10am; she has just shaved, rubbed an Age Defying Renewal Cream on her face in a graceless but efficacious manner and is now up to the deodorant application stage of her post-shower regimen. The deodorant the Vehicle applies is Secret™, the deodorant of choice for the transgendered, being strong enough for one sex but pH-balanced for the other. As she applies the deodorant, some mnemonic is triggered and the Vehicle recalls one time when a terrible smell was coming from the garbage can in her (his at the time) kitchen and she (he) said aloud to her (his) girlfriend Jessica, “We need some sort of de-odor-izer,” thinking as she (he) was saying this that she (he) was coining a clever new word, and only realizing, after the erstwhile neologism was out of her (his) mouth, that it was already a word, probably made up by some jargon-happy Madison Avenue ad exec in the 50s [N.B. the OED says usage of the word actually dates back to at least 1849 –S.M.], and feeling stupid as a result, although Jessica either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
Perhaps this is why she (she) is now so reluctant to speak. Regardless, the Vehicle does indeed have a Secret. It is not the secret that she is sexually aroused by the turtle from LogoWriter, although that’s a good one. The secret is: she knows what her new name will be. And she is about to trace this very name in the fogged glass of the mirror (writing on a mirror is like high-fiving Leonardo DaVinci and who wouldn’t want to do that?), and her hand is reaching up to touch the glass, the message traveling from her brain to her finger not unlike the messages (e.g., fd 50 rt 45) required to move the LogoWriter turtle around, so you see that reference was not totally out of the blue, but as she touches the mirror to make her first downward stroke, the doorbell rings. It is DAVE EGGERS, publicly reluctant wunderkind, whom she buzzes in.
DAVE: Hi. Um.
ORACLE: Hello, Dave Eggers. You are shorter than I imagined. And slightly more gnomish. Not gnomish in and of yourself, just more gnomish than I had pictured you to be. And yet you shine! In Dungeons and Dragons terms, you are a gnome with 18 Charisma.
DAVE: My Dexterity is also 18. I did not re-roll.
ORACLE: And I pictured you with a dog. Have you bought a dog yet? Why am I thinking you were talking about buying a dog? Maybe you have one and just didn’t bring it?
DAVE: No. No dog yet. I keep meaning to buy a dog, but the time never presents itself as ripe for trafficking in dogs. Although, some might say I do have a dog and it is the dog that goes with “-and-pony show”. Or maybe “shaggy hmmph plot”, where “hmmph” is “dog”. But since I don’t read the reviews, or “snarks” as one might term them, I wouldn’t really know much about that. I am very serious about this.
ORACLE: So what’s up?
DAVE: Hi. Um. Are you familiar with the magazine The Believer? Swanky West-Coast kind of thing? Well, not all that swanky. I just said that because Dave Wallace said “swanky” when he visited you, and people like to point out similarities in our writing. That was just a bone I threw them, not that I care, or read reviews from the people who say that (I have not to my knowledge ever used footnotes, ever). Well, so, the deal is that they assigned me to interview you, in much the same manner that Dave did before, only maybe without the intellectual rigor. I’m thinking we could do something where I email you questions and then you answer them, and then I send follow-up questions, and then I reorder the whole thing, and put in a bunch of asides explaining how I didn’t have enough time to finish the interview and it was all very rushed and, being reassembled as it is, it’s nothing like the original conversation, plus, you’re constantly moving around, and even when I stand still I sort of vibrate, so it’s hard to get in touch with either of us, and then I could also paraphrase whole sections, and in the header for the interview in tiny, tiny capital letters, it could say, “O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L.”. And then once the whole thing’s published maybe we could both act all offended at being misquoted and post conflicting accounts on our respective websites.
ORACLE: “O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L.” is what? “Oracular Vagina That Has Perfected the Art of Witty Lies”?
DAVE: “Oracular Vagina Takes Her Place Among World Leaders”.
DAVE: Well, that’s what Edmund calls the website, right?
VEHICLE: (looks up for a second on hearing her former name, and then looks back at the frosted mirror)
DAVE: Or, the Vehicle, rather. My apologies. But it’s interesting you said that about witty lies. That was one of my questions, actually. We have this McSweeney’s Brain Exploder where there are two Oracular Vaginas, one that always tells the truth and one that always lies. And weary travelers on their way to the McSweeney’s Store come to a fork in the road, the road goes left and right, and one way goes to the store, and the other one goes to a stalled F train with no air conditioning, and there is an Oracle and they can only ask the Oracle one question, and what should the question be? Since you don’t know if this is the Fibbing Oracle or the Oracle of Veracity. And the answer is...
ORACLE: The answer is: the traveler should ask, “If I were to ask the Other Oracle if the left road leads to the McSweeney’s Store, what would the Oracle say?” and if the answer is yes, they go right, and if it’s no, they go left.
DAVE: Well, actually, it’s a trick question; we closed the McSweeney’s Store about a year ago.
ORACLE: That’s right, you did. I knew that one. What does your shirt say? I have trouble reading the Garamond font when it’s tracked out like that.
DAVE: Hm? Oh, “Free Zadie Smith.” Free her from my own gravitational pull, I meant.
ORACLE: It is a pull, isn’t it? You are like one of those stars that explode outward until their hydrogen is exhausted and then they collapse into weird, ironic literary renaissances of infinite density, and whole solar systems of MFA candidates float around you, until they are sucked into your writing style.
DAVE: I don’t know. I kind of meant it but I didn’t mean it but I meant it. But not. My soul is pure! It is made of ice!
ORACLE: But you have to be aware of this. Between the store, the website and all the books, you created an incestuous black hole of self-congratulatory... What would you call it? The aesthetic?
DAVE: Maybe “Donald Barthelme Goes Over to Saul Bellow’s House and Feigns Narcissism while Breathlessly Describing his Nostalgia for Being the Target Demographic For Cereal Commercials, while the Two of Them Race Around The Pull Out Couch Breathing Through Coffee Filters on Which They’ve Written Their Most Secret Hopes in a Font Similar to the One Used on the Altoids Tin, All the While Winking so Nothing is Actually Risked”?
ORACLE: Yes. And once you got an entire city doing this—and I literally cannot think of any young writer in New York who wasn’t infected in some way by it—you jumped ship for San Francisco to make an altruistic writing lab for underprivileged kids, and left everyone in New York, and Brooklyn specifically, holding their cocks in their hands. Even the ladies, who had grown ironic cocks. It is probably good that you changed the McSweeney’s Books colophon from Uroboros to a Chippendale chair to avoid having it look like you were gloating smugly.
DAVE: What is safer than a chair? Chairs should be free! We are like chairs in that we are friends with the animals.
ORACLE: Unless the Uroborous was not meant as a metaphor for self-devouring onanism and instead as one for recycling and self-reference.
DAVE: What do you mean by recycling?
ORACLE: I mean, I can’t think of anything you’ve published that hasn’t later been revised in some seemingly significant but ultimately shallow way. “Heartbreaking Work” contained an offer in the forward for the reader to request a diskette containing a revised version of the book with all the real names replaced by fake names, and when the paperback came out it was revised with a new addendum called “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making”. “You Shall Know Our Velocity” was republished in hardback as “Sacrament” and that and the paperback version (which had the old name) both had a new section, told from another character’s point of view. The device you used in that book of a narrator who is already dead when he tells the story (and you really are only allowed one of these) was also used in those “Dog Named Carl” pieces in “Speaking with the Angel”, and first appeared in the quarterly as letters to CEOs of corporations and appeared later in a different format in that “Burned Children” anthology. “Something Might Plummet, Something Might Soar” reappeared as an introduction to “Best American Non-Required Reading 2003” with the ending cut out because Zadie Smith didn’t like it. All those other really short things in the Guardian, I just know are going to reappear later. And I don’t mean they’ll appear collected in “How We Are Hungry,” I mean they’ll be reshaped in a superficial way, like they’ll be told from the point of view of a carnivorous plant with Multiple Personality Disorder, but will be otherwise unchanged. I’m not sure what it is you’ve wrought, and I don’t think you know either, but maybe your art, ultimately, is the art of revision.
DAVE: Up above, where you said, “Queen Anne Chair”? It’s actually a Chippendale.
ORACLE: Thanks, I’ll make that change before we post this. [fixed it! –S.] That’s the way you should be doing it, you know. Most other people just have their stuff edited like this, you know, before it’s released in hardcover. That saves them some time and heartache. Not everything can be a palimpsest.
DAVE: It’s hard not to recycle when you’re in the middle of writing 37 different books. I wrote a fake children’s book about giraffes while I was walking around Sudan with Dominic Arou while I was writing a novel about politics while I was brokering a deal with the London Observer to publish my next 15 stories. I keep thinking of more things to say! My brain is filled with fireflies playing handball, and the handballs are singing. Polyphony is the only thing that makes me cry.
DAVE: Anyway, I appreciate your telling me this. Understand, of course, that by offering me even the vaguest and ambivalent of criticisms, you’ve been put on a blacklist and will never be able to publish. Not because of any edict or something that I’ll have ordered, or anything like that; it just happens somehow. One negative word and foosh! Sarah Vowell won’t talk to you. Not even if you give her a “Lincoln-Kennedy penny”. The actual penny, not the sexual act. Nor will Zadie Smith smile at you, and oh man oh man oh my God, her smile, her smile, it is something to see.
ORACLE: Do not punish all vaginas just because I’ve offended you. Maybe I’m the vagina that always lies. I say this next thing not in hope of being removed from the List, but just to say it. You and your antics (and I can think of no one for whom the word “antics” is more apt) frustrate me because you’re capable of K2 caliber heights of greatness, maybe even Everest. Maybe the Moon! And yet you slum, every time I look at you, you are slumming in Mariana Trench caliber slums. Especially in that serialized novel about politics on Salon. Blechh. And yet, I can’t stop reading you. I can’t stop googling you to see if you’re married yet. I feel myself drawn toward you, both maternally and sexually. Like, physically drawn, although it may just be a Braxton-Hicks contraction. I get those sometimes. When I see you mumbling behind a lectern, asking to be taken seriously even as you’re talking earnestly about saving the painting elephants or whatever, I know that spending time with you one on one on a Sunday reading the paper after eating some new kind of Eggos that we’ve both been dying to try would be good, good, good, good, good.
DAVE: That’s a lot of goods.
ORACLE: You should see my services.
DAVE: Did you say..? Oh, you said “services,” right? At first, I thought you said, “cervixes” but that doesn’t make any sense. Here is a drawing of a cochlear implant. On the way over, I saw a tree that was rotting from the inside and someone had stuffed blue towels inside it. Why would someone do that? I run so fucking fast.
ORACLE: I envy you in so many ways, perverse as it sounds with all the sad, sad things that have happened to you. I wish I knew how to make my ADD work for me. I would certainly be further along in the Story of My Own Brief Life, rather than kind of treading water, waiting for world leaders to lifeguard me up; I would accomplish great things! I would be the Chair rather than the Snake Eating Its Tail. Do you see how talking to you makes me talk like you, Dave Eggers, exhausted star!
DAVE: I am true of purpose!
ORACLE: I am noble of heart!
DAVE: We jump together, you and I, and land hard on the earth and everyone is catapulted into space by the centripetal force. We are the only ones shimmering like foil. Cartoon hearts are exploding out of our throats and soaring upwards like crazed robins. I put my arm around you as we walk to the car, and by the time we get to the car I have a fantastic idea. My idea is this: You and I should have sex. In the car. My fingers ache as if time was stopped, and the fingers were removed from my hands and left out in the cold and then gummed by ghostly ferrets with no teeth, and then reattached, during all of which everyone and everything else was still being frozen in time, so that when time starts again, I feel all of the things that happened to my fingers compressed into a half second!
ORACLE: I make a pact with you, Dave Eggers—I have manifested you long enough. I come to you as a drone beguiled who has had the big dread besmothered; I am old enough now to make trends. It was you that spoke of new food, now is the time for starving. We have one gap and one route—let there be Converse between us (for this to work, please pretend you wear Converse all the time. I know you do not).
DAVE: I wore Converse once in Illinois.
ORACLE: I appreciate your saying so. Are you still going to interview me?
DAVE: I think I’ll just turn in this conversation as the interview.
ORACLE: But this conversation never actually happened this way.
DAVE: What do you mean?
ORACLE: I mean, we actually had this conversation over email over a period of weeks, and it happened in a different order. And we’ve compressed a lot of half-baked ideas to give it a slightly greater sense of urgency.
DAVE: We can just explain that in the introduction, just kind of bury it in there. Do you see the possibilities here? Do you see where we can go together? I’m not asking you to follow me, but there are worse things than following me, you have to see that. I am so in love with all this that I really am thinking the best thing to do right now is we need to be with each other and sweating and flying; we have a manifest destiny for the stratosphere and even if we wear the chain mail of charismatic gnomes it will not stop us from flying! The weary traveler asks the Truthful Oracular Vagina Taking Her Place Among World Leaders if the left road leads to the new McSweeney’s Store, which we’re calling 826NYC even though it’s on 5th ave., and it can in fact be found that way, but the T.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. knows the Lying O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. will say the left road does not go to the Store, so it answers no, and my heart is feathered like a mallard, and is more or less the same color scheme, and if you look fast and blink at the right rate, you can see it beating through my chest, and if the question is asked of the T.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. and the right road leads to the Store, where we’ll get rid of all these extra copies of Neal Pollack’s thing, since the T.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. knows the L.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. will say the left road leads to the Store, it will say yes, and if you want to know what it boils down to, when you keep boiling, boiling, I believe the children are our future; I am very serious about this, so here are the rules and regulations for a safe exit in the event of a fire, and if it’s the L.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L., and the Store/writing center is to the left, the L.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. knows the T.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. will tell the traveler left equates store, but lies and says no. Right down the middle of the road is where we’re running, and the cars swerve to miss us, but they do not even know, they can’t know, how fast we are, they can’t know, the cars or the people in the cars either, we are fast enough and vibrating so hard that we can pass RIGHT THROUGH THE CARS, right through them, but we don’t even stop to think about that, we are running so fast, or finally, down the right path is the Store, and the L.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. knows the T.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. would say that the left road does not lead to the store if asked, and so it lies and is all, Yes, and rejoice, O Brooklyn, for I am returning, flying in the sky that looks like orange juice smeared on felt, and we can make a difference, I will burn brighter than you saw me burn before, and I am a supernova, a galactic cataclysm, and I cannot be stopped by nay-sayers, you just try to stop me, because you can’t, I am doing good, and you cannot punish me for my ambivalence or hostility or defensiveness or creativity or ability to reinvent, the only way to stop me is to come up here, motherfuckers, come up here if you think you have the guts, and you there, I sanction you, and you there, I anoint, and you, you displease me and the wagons have been circled, just try to break through these wagons, because I have built these wagons from the bones of entire family, I am one thousand feet tall, and just come on up here and try it, you motherfuckers, do it, finally finally finally.
(As DAVE has been talking, he begins to rise slowly upward. The wires hoisting him up are visible and noticeable, but then he pulls out a gigantic pair of scissors and cuts the wires, and then soars out over the audience and out the back door of the theater. The VEHICLE has been observing all of this dispassionately. She turns back to the mirror, but the condensation has evaporated and she only sees herself.)
(witnessed by Samantha Moss)
(Story continues at ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER RETURNS.)