by Chuck Palahniuk
Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die. For a long time though, Tyler and I were best friends. People are always asking, did I know about Tyler Durden.
The barrel of the gun pressed against the back of my throat, Tyler says “We really won’t die.”
With my tongue I can feel the silencer holes we drilled into the barrel of the gun. Most of the noise a gunshot makes is expanding gases, and there’s the tiny sonic boom a bullet makes because it travels so fast. To make a silencer, you just drill holes in the barrel of the gun, a lot of holes. This lets the gas escape and slows the bullet to below the speed of sound.
You drill the holes wrong and the gun will blow off your hand.
“This isn’t really death,” Tyler says. “We’ll be legend. We won’t grow old.”
I tongue the barrel into my cheek and say, Tyler, you’re thinking of vampires.
The building we’re standing on won’t be here in ten minutes. You take a 98 percent concentration of fuming nitric acid and add the acid to three times that amount of sulfuric acid. Do this in an ice bath. Then add glycerin drop-by-drop with an eye dropper. You have nitroglycerin.
I know this because Tyler knows this.
Mix the nitro with sawdust, and you have a nice plastic explosive. A lot of folks mix their nitro with cotton and add Epsom salts as a sulfate. This works too. Some folks, they use paraffin mixed with nitro. Paraffin has never, ever worked for me.
So Tyler and I are on top of the Parker-Morris Building with the gun stuck in my mouth, and we hear glass breaking. Look over the edge. It’s a cloudy day, even this high up. This is the world’s tallest building, and this high up the wind is always cold. It’s so quiet this high up, the feeling you get is that you’re one of those space monkeys. You do the little job you’re trained to do.
Pull a lever.
Push a button.
You don’t understand any of it, and then you just die.
One hundred and ninety-one floors up, you look over the edge of the roof and the street below is mottled with a shag carpet of people, standing, looking up. The breaking glass is a window right below us. A window blows out the side of the building, and then comes a file cabinet big as a black refrigerator, right below us a six-drawer filing cabinet drops right out of the cliff face of the building, and drops turning slowly, and drops getting smaller, and drops disappearing into the packed crowd.
Somewhere in the one hundred and ninety-one floors under us, the space monkeys in the Mischief Committee of Project Mayhem are running wild, destroying every scrap of history.
That old saying, how you always kill the one you love, well, look, it works both ways.
With a gun stuck in your mouth and the barrel of the gun between your teeth, you can only talk in vowels.
We’re down to our last ten minutes.
Another window blows out of the building, and glass sprays out, sparkling flock-of-pigeons style, and then a dark wooden desk pushed by the Mischief Committee emerges inch by inch from the side of the building until the desk tilts and slides and turns end-over-end into a magic flying thing lost in the crowd.
The Parker-Morris Building won’t be here in nine minutes. You take enough blasting gelatin and wrap the foundation columns of anything, you can topple any building in the world. You have to tamp it good and tight with sandbags so the blast goes against the column and not out into the parking garage around the column.
This how-to stuff isn’t in any history book.
The three ways to make napalm: One, you can mix equal parts of gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate. Two, you can mix equal parts of gasoline and diet cola. Three, you can dissolve crumbled cat litter in gasoline until the mixture is thick.
Ask me how to make nerve gas. Oh, all those crazy car bombs.
The Parker-Morris Building will go over, all one hundred and ninety-one floors, slow as a tree falling in the forest. Timber. You can topple anything. It’s weird to think the place where we’re standing will only be a point in the sky.
Tyler and me at the edge of the roof, the gun in my mouth, I’m wondering how clean this gun is.
We just totally forget about Tyler’s whole murder-suicide thing while we watch another file cabinet slip out the side of the building and the drawers roll open midair, reams of white paper caught in the updraft and carried off on the wind.
Then the smoke, smoke starts out of the broken windows. The demolition team will hit the primary charge in maybe eight minutes. The primary charge will blow the base charge, the foundation columns will crumble, and the photo series of the Parker-Morris Building will go into all the history books.
The five-picture time-lapse series. Here, the building’s standing. Second picture, the building will be at an eighty-degree angle. Then a seventy-degree angle. The building’s at a forty-five-degree angle in the fourth picture when the skeleton starts to give and the tower gets a slight arch to it. The last shot, the tower, all one hundred and ninety-one floors, will slam down on the national museum which is Tyler’s real target.
“This is our world, now, our world,” Tyler says, “and those ancient people are dead.”
If I knew how this would all turn out, I’d be more than happy to be dead and in Heaven right now.
Up on top of the Parker-Morris Building with Tyler’s gun in my mouth. While desks and filing cabinets and computers meteor down on the crowd around the building and smoke funnels up from the broken windows and three blocks down the street the demolition team watches the clock, I know all of this: the gun, the anarchy, the explosion is really about Marla Singer.
We have sort of a triangle thing going here. I want Tyler. Tyler wants Marla. Marla wants me.
I don’t want Marla, and Tyler doesn’t want me around, not anymore. This isn’t about love as in caring. This is about property as in ownership.
Without Marla, Tyler would have nothing.
Maybe we would become a legend, maybe not. No, I say, but wait.
Where would Jesus be if no one had written the gospels?
I tongue the gun barrel into my cheek and say, you want to be a legend, Tyler, man, I’ll make you a legend. I’ve been here from the beginning.
I remember everything.
Bob’s big arms were closed around to hold me inside, and I was squeezed in the dark between Bob’s new sweating tits that hang enormous, the way we think of God’s as big. Going around the church basement full of men, each night we met: this is Art, this is Paul, this is Bob; Bob’s big shoulders made me think of the horizon. Bob’s thick blond hair was what you get when hair cream calls itself sculpting mousse, so thick and blond and the part is so straight.
His arms wrapped around me, Bob’s hand palms my head against the new tits sprouted on his barrel chest.
“It will be alright,” Bob says. “You cry now.”
From my knees to my forehead, I feel chemical reactions within Bob burning food and oxygen.
“Maybe they got it all early enough,” Bob says. “Maybe it’s just seminoma. With seminoma, you have almost a hundred percent survival rate.”
Bob’s shoulders inhale themselves up in a long draw, then drop, drop, drop in jerking sobs. Draw themselves up. Drop, drop, drop.
I’ve been coming here every week for two years, and every week Bob wraps his arms around me, and I cry.
“You cry,” Bob says and inhales and sob, sob, sobs. “Go on now and cry.”
The big wet face settles down on top of my head, and I am lost inside. This is when I’d cry. Crying is right at hand in the smothering dark, closed inside someone else, when you see how everything you can ever accomplish will end up as trash.
Anything you’re ever proud of will be thrown away.
And I’m lost inside.
This is as close as I’ve been to sleeping in almost a week.
This is how I met Marla Singer.
Bob cries because six months ago, his testicles were removed. Then hormone support therapy. Bob has tits because his testosterone ration is too high. Raise the testosterone level too much, your body ups the estrogen to seek a balance.
This is when I’d cry because right now, your life comes down to nothing, and not even nothing, oblivion.
Too much estrogen, and you get bitch tits.
It’s easy to cry when you realize that everyone you love will reject you or die. On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.
Bob loves me because he thinks my testicles were removed, too.
Around us in the Trinity Episcopal basement with the thrift store plaid sofas are maybe twenty men and only one woman, all of them clung together in pairs, most of them crying. Some pairs lean forward, heads pressed ear-to-ear, the way wrestlers stand, locked. The man with the only woman plants his elbows on her shoulders; one elbow on either side of her head, her head between his hands, and his face crying against her neck. The woman’s face twists off to one side and her hand brings up a cigarette.I peek out from under the armpit of Big Bob.
“All my life,” Bob cries. “Why I do anything, I don’t know.”
The only woman here at Remaining Men Together, the testicular cancer support group, this woman smokes her cigarette under the burden of a stranger, and her eyes come together with mine.
Short matte black hair, big eyes the way they are in Japanese animation, skim milk thin, buttermilk sallow in her dress with a wallpaper pattern of dark roses, this woman was also in my tuberculosis support group Friday night. She was in my melanoma round table Wednesday night. Monday night she was in my Firm Believers leukemia rap group. The part down the center of her hair is a crooked lightning bolt of white scalp.
When you look for these support groups, they all have vague upbeat names. My Thursday evening group for blood parasites, it’s called Free and Clear.
The group I go to for brain parasites is called Above and Beyond.
And Sunday afternoon at Remaining Men Together in the basement of Trinity Episcopal, this woman is here, again.
Worse than that, I can’t cry with her watching.
This should be my favorite part, being held and crying with Big Bob without hope. We all work so hard all the time. This is the only place I ever really relax and give up.
This is my vacation.
I went to my first support group two years ago, after I’d gone to my doctor about my insomnia, again.
Three weeks and I hadn’t slept. Three weeks without sleep, and everything becomes an out-of-body experience. My doctor said, “Insomnia is just the symptom of something larger. Find out what’s actually wrong. Listen to your body.”
I just wanted to sleep. I wanted little blue Amytal Sodium capsules, 200 milligram-sized. I wanted red-and-blue Tuinal bullet capsules, lipstick-red Seconals.
My doctor told me to chew valerian root and get more exercise. Eventually I’d fall asleep.
The bruised, old fruit way my face had collapsed, you would’ve thought I was dead.
My doctor said, if I wanted to see real pain, I should swing by First Eucharist on a Tuesday night. See the brain parasites. See the degenerative bone diseases. The organic brain dysfunctions. See the cancer patients getting by.
So I went.
The first group I went to, there were introductions: this is Alice, this is Brenda, this is Dover. Everyone smiles with that invisible gun to their head.
I never give my real name at support groups.
The little skeleton of a woman named Chloe with the seat of her pants hanging down sad and empty, Chloe tells me the worst thing about her brain parasites was no one would have sex with her. Here she was, so close to death that her life insurance policy had paid off with seventy-five thousand bucks, and all Chloe wanted was to get laid for the last time. Not intimacy, sex.
What does a guy say? What can you say, I mean.
All this dying had started with Chloe being a little tired, and now Chloe was too bored to go in for treatment. Pornographic movies, she had pornographic movies at home in her apartment.
During the French Revolution, Chloe told me, the women in prison, the duchesses, baronesses, marquises, whatever, they would screw any man who’d climb on top. Chloe breathed against my neck. Climb on top. Pony up, did I know. Screwing passed the time.
La petite mort, the French called it.
Chloe had pornographic movies, if I was interested. Amyl nitrate. Lubricants.
Normal times, I’d be sporting an erection. Our Chloe, however, is a skeleton dipped in yellow wax.
Chloe looking the way she is, I am nothing. Not even nothing. Still, Chloe’s shoulder pokes mine when we sit around a circle on the shag carpet. We close our eyes. This was Chloe’s turn to lead us in guided meditation, and she talked us into the garden of serenity. Chloe talked us up the hill to the palace of seven doors. Inside the palace were the seven doors, the green door, the yellow door, the orange door, and Chloe talked us through opening each door, the blue door, the red door, the white door, and finding what was there.
Eyes closed, we imagined our pain as a ball of white healing light floating around our feet and rising to our knees, our waist, our chest. Our chakras opening. The heart chakra. The head chakra. Chloe talked us into caves where we met our power animal. Mine was a penguin.
Ice covered the floor of the cave, and the penguin said, slide. Without any effort, we slid through tunnels and galleries.
Then it was time to hug.
Open your eyes.
This was therapeutic physical contact, Chloe said. We should all choose a partner. Chloe threw herself around my head and cried. She had strapless underwear at home, and cried. Chloe had oils and handcuffs, and cried as I watched the second hand on my watch go around eleven times.
So I didn’t cry at my first support group, two years ago. I didn’t cry at my second or my third support group, either. I didn’t cry at blood parasites or bowel cancers or organic brain dementia.
This is how it is with insomnia. Everything is so far away, a copy of a copy of a copy. The insomnia distance of everything, you can’t touch anything and nothing can touch you.
Then there was Bob. The first time I went to testicular cancer, Bob the big moosie, the big cheesebread moved in on top of me in Remaining Men Together and started crying. The big moosie treed right across the room when it was hug time, his arms at his sides, his shoulders rounded. His big moosie chin on his chest, his eyes already shrink-wrapped in tears. Shuffling his feet, knees together invisible steps, Bob slid across the basement floor to heave himself on me.
Bob pancaked down on me.
Bob’s big arms wrapped around me.
Big Bob was a juicer, he said. All those salad days on Dianabol and then the racehorse steroid, Wistrol. His own gym, Big Bob owned a gym. He’d been married three times. He’d done product endorsements, and had I seen him on television, ever? The whole how-to program about expanding your chest was practically his invention.
Strangers with this kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one, if you know what I mean.
Bob didn’t know. Maybe only one of his huevos had ever descended, and he knew this was a risk factor. Bob told me about postoperative hormone therapy.
A lot of bodybuilders shooting too much testosterone would get what they called bitch tits.
I had to ask what Bob meant by huevos.
Huevos, Bob said. Gonads. Nuts. Jewels. Testes. Balls. In Mexico, where you buy your steroids, they call them “eggs.”
Divorce, divorce, divorce, Bob said and showed me a wallet photo of himself huge and naked at first glance, in a posing strap at some contest. It’s a stupid way to live, Bob said, but when you’re pumped and shaved on stage, totally shredded with body fat down to around two percent and the diuretics leave you cold and hard as concrete to touch, You’re blind from the lights, and deaf from the feedback rush of the sound system until the judge orders: “Extend your right quad, flex and hold.”
“Extend your left arm, flex the bicep and hold.”
This is better than real life.
Fast-forward, Bob said, to the cancer. Then he was bankrupt. He had two grown kids who wouldn’t return his calls.
The cure for bitch tits was for the doctor to cut up under the pectorals and drain any fluid.
This was all I remember because then Bob was closing in around me with his arms, and his head was folding down to cover me. Then I was lost inside oblivion, dark and silent and complete, and when I finally stepped away from his soft chest, the front of Bob’s shirt was a wet mask of how I looked crying.
* * *
That was two years ago, at my first night with Remaining Men Together.
At almost every meeting since then, Big Bob has made me cry.
I never went back to the doctor. I never chewed the valerian root.
This was freedom. Losing all hope was freedom. If I didn’t say anything, people in a group assumed the worst. They cried harder. I cried harder. Look up into the stars and you’re gone.
Walking home after a support group, I felt more alive than I’d ever felt. I wasn’t host to cancer or blood parasites; I was the little warm center that the life of the world crowded around.
And I slept. Babies don’t sleep this well.
Every evening, I died, and every evening, I was born.
Until tonight, two years of success until tonight, because I can’t cry with this woman watching me. Because I can’t hit bottom, I can’t be saved. My tongue thinks it has flocked wallpaper, I’m biting the inside of my mouth so much. I haven’t slept in four days.
With her watching, I’m a liar. She’s a fake. She’s the liar. At the introductions tonight, we introduced ourselves: I’m Bob, I’m Paul, I’m Terry, I’m David.
I never give my real name.
“This is cancer, right?” she said.
Then she said, “Well, hi, I’m Marla Singer.”
Nobody ever told Marla what kind of cancer. Then we were all busy cradling our inner child.
The man still crying against her neck, Marla takes another drag on her cigarette.
I watch her from between Bob’s shuddering tits.
To Marla I’m a fake. Since the second night I saw her, I can’t sleep. Still, I was the first fake, unless, maybe all these people are faking with their lesions and their coughs and tumors, even Big Bob, the big moosie. The big cheesebread.
Would you just look at his sculpted hair.
Marla smokes and rolls her eyes now.
In this one moment, Marla’s lie reflects my lie, and all I can see are lies.
In the middle of all their truth. Everyone clinging and risking to share their worst fear, that their death is coming head-on and the barrel of a gun is pressed against the back of their throats. Well, Marla is smoking and rolling her eyes, and me, I’m buried under a sobbing carpet, and all of a sudden even death and dying rank right down there with plastic flowers on video as a non-event.
“Bob,” I say, “you’re crushing me.” I try to whisper, then I don’t. “Bob.” I try to keep my voice down, then I’m yelling. “Bob, I have to go to the can.”
* * *
A mirror hangs over the sink in the bathroom.
If the pattern holds, I’ll see Marla Singer at Above and Beyond, the parasitic brain dysfunction group. Marla will be there. Of course, Marla will be there, and what I’ll do is sit next to her. And after the introductions and the guided meditation, the seven doors of the palace, the white healing ball of light, after we open our chakras, when it comes time to hug, I’ll grab the little bitch.
Her arms squeezed tight against her sides, and my lips pressed against her ear,
I’ll say, Marla, you big fake, you get out.
This is the one real thing in my life, and you’re wrecking it.You big tourist.
The next time we meet, I’ll say, Marla, I can’t sleep with you here. I need this. Get out.