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Every good city has its superheros. Metropolis has Superman. Gotham has Batman. New York City has Spiderman, Daredevil. Atlantis has Aquaman. Hong Kong has Inframan...
Pseudofolliculitis City has Bourgeois Man.
Disgustingly handsome, ridiculously well-groomed, atrociously quick-witted, draped from head to toe in state-of-the-art Bling-Bling, able to amass commodities and fill out W-2 forms at lightning speed--Bourgeois Man is all this and more.
In this episode, we are introduced to our superhero as we are in every episode ... Half-awake, he is hunched over a console, face-to-face with a computer screen, and dressed in his usual best: a striped clip-on tie and a white short-sleeved button-down. Surrounding him is the vastness of padded cells that constitutes Untitled Incorporated's cube farm ... His name: Ulrich Underby. As always, he is viciously bored.
The computer screen contains an image.
It is his responsibility to stare at the image for no less than thirty minutes, then contact his superior, answer questions, and report his findings. Was the image offensive? Alluring? Blasé? How did it make him feel? Embarrassed? Afraid? Irate? Full of glee? Does the image remind him of anything or anybody? What? A rubber tree? Grover Cleveland? How does he think other PCP might feel about the image? What kind of other PCP? PCP like him? What exactly is he like? ... Following the Q&A, his superior will no doubt swear at him, even if he answers the questions to his liking, and then a new image will present itself on his screen to be interpreted.
Right now he is staring at a close-up picture of a plum. It is a good-lookingplum; there doesn't seem to be an excess of discolorations or lesions on it. In spite of his boredom, he wonders if it is pink on the inside. And if so, how deep into the flesh of the fruit does the pink go?...
It hasn't always been this way. Once Ulrich had a real job. A job that not only allowed him to stare at and interpret things, but to actually make things. He was in the numbers business. An accountant, they called him. All day long he got to add and subtract and multiply and divide numbers and make them into new numbers. It was fulfilling work, and his paycheck, while nothing to smile at, was nothing to scoff at either. He had a wife, too. Betty Lomax-Underby. She loved him almost as much as she loved his paycheck.
The good life came to an abrupt halt one night when Ulrich was working late.
His employer at the time, Boondoggler Industries, specialized in the development of corporate logos. It had offended a certain bioterrorist group with a certain piece of anti-bioterrorist advertising, prompting them to nuke their corporate headquarters. Ulrich luckily finished his work long before the building went up in flames, but he unluckily slipped and fell into a NWP (Nuclear Waste Puddle) on his way home. NWPs are randomly positioned by The Law on the streets, sidewalks, alleyways, and rooftops of Pseudofolliculitis City, a technique The Founder of the city has been quoted as somewhat facetiously saying "is meant to keep follicles on their toes." This particular NWP balanced out a chemical unbalance that had already existed in his system and permitted him to excel in certain contexts as a functional capitalist. It produced a metabolic change in his body, a change that occurred whenever anti-capitalist villainy reared its ugly head. Curiously, it also furnished him with superhuman social skills and an adept knowledge of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee style. Not a bad turnout for a slip and a fall. But shortly after the bioterrorist attack on Boondoggler Industries headquarters, the company was forced to make a few cutbacks here and there, and Ulrich's position was one of them. Betty was less than pleased. She left him that night, became a stripper, befriended a homely and elderly but wealthy entrepreneur whose job was in no danger of being yanked out from beneath his feet, remarried, and lived indifferently ever after.
That had been over five years ago. Ulrich still thinks about Betty on occasion. The monotony of his job provides him with plenty of time to daydream and rue the past. At first, it was difficult to focus on his work; his superior threatened to fire him routinely. Then he started getting drunk every night and hung over the next day ... The headaches and nausea inhibited the process of daydreaming, and his superior resigned to mere name-calling and making cracks about his lack of masculinity. It was for the best. Bourgeois Man, after all, has enemies. Regardless of how much he resents Betty for being a superficial bitch, he does not want to be responsible for any injury, mortal or otherwise, that might befall her.
Back to our current episode. The final image Ulrich must interpret for the day is a head shot of talk show host Rackman Hackman. The man is smiling like a horse, and his leaning-tower-of-Pisa pompadour hairdo is threatening to tip over onto his face. Like the plum, he wonders if the hairdo is pink on the inside...
He phones his superior, Benjamin Hooha, and they run through their routine.
"I think this and I feel that," says Ulrich.
"I see," replies his superior. "But what do you feel about this and what do you think about that?"
"Blah blah blah."
"Right. Well then. That'll be all, Mr. Underby. Piss off for the day."
"Thank you, sir."
"I said piss off, shithead! I didn't ask for a thank you and I don't want one!"
"My apologies, sir."
"Shove your apologies up your ass, loser!"
"Right away, Mr. Hooha."
His superior screams indistinctly before hanging up. Ulrich calmly follows his lead.
He shuts down his workstation and begins the long process of finding his way out of the maze of Untitled Inc.'s cube farm, the structure of which is mechanically altered day by day in an effort to disallow employees from growing acclimatized to their environment. As the billboard that hangs over the front door of the company says: ACCLIMATIZATION IS THE SPINE OF SLOTH.
It takes him thirty minutes to get to the exit portal. He waits in line as his coworkers rummage through their lockers, screw in earplugs, strap on jetpacks ... When he finally gets to his locker, it won't open. He tells it to scan his retina again. It still won't open. "You are not Ulrich Underby," the locker says to him. "You are an imposter."
Ulrich flexes his jaw. "Open up."
"And you are ugly."
His expression sours. "That's the best you can do? Call me ugly?"
A series of motorized spitting sounds as the locker ruminates. Finally it says: "Fucker."
Ulrich pounds on it. "Open up!"
"Ouch. That hurts me, my friend."
Ulrich glances over his shoulder and smiles uncomfortably at the line of employees that is waiting to get by him. Each of his co-workers is staring him down with their own uniquely annoyed and disgusted face. "Sorry," he squeaks.
He turns back to the locker and commands its obedience. It continues to dillydally with him for a bit longer before complying. Ulrich removes his jetpack and a box of Third World Hellfires from it. He tries to slam the door, but the locker tenses up its joints and won't let him. "Ah ah ah," it says.
"Smartass AIs," he grumbles.
He hammers the BRB (Big Red Button) with his palm and the exit door irises open. He slips on his jetpack, yanks its ignition cord. He opens the box of Hellfires, taps out a cigarette, lights it.
He takes a deep drag and leaps into the city...
Untitled Inc. is located on the 601st floor of the Van Locken Building between 16,244th and Rumplestiltskin Streets on the east side of Ladeeda Way. Ulrich lives in a 1/-bedroom apartment on the 601st floor of the Gaston del Merde Building, coincidentally, which is only about 1,000 or so blocks down Rumplestiltskin. The coffee shop he likes to drop by on his way home, Brown Town, a new chain featuring discounted MaHuang espressos, can be found 422 blocks down Rumplestiltskin and three blocks up Ricky Ticky Tavy Avey on the 553rd floor of Ivory Tower #6. Traffic permitting (including the lines at the coffee shop), it usually takes him about an hour and fifty-five minutes to get to his front door.
Hovering in Untitled airspace, Ulrich slips on a pair of small, circular mirrorshades as he smokes his Hellfire and gauges which thoroughfare will be the most accessible. The apocalyptic roar of engines is everywhere and seems to resonate in his body from the inside-out rather than the other way around. His earplugs don't do much to ward it off. They're outmoded Clamorhammers, model Z341.56. He's owned them for over six months now. The Z341.56s only last for two, three months at most before going bad, not to mention that Pseudofolliculitis City's noise level increases daily as more traffic continues to flood the skyways, rendering even the best models inadequate after just a short while. He's been saving up for state-of-the-art Clamorhammers, Hammertime Edition. Upgrades aren't cheap, but he needs to get on the ball: right now he'd probably do just as well to stick a couple of spitballs in his ears. As he dangles there in the veins of the windy cityscape, a headache overcomes him almost immediately.
Beneath and above him the city is an interminable labyrinth of glinting catwalks, slidewalks and airways buzzing with jetpackers, taxis, gondolas, airbuses, airboats, speedracers, fangliders, hot air balloons, zeppelins, antique fighter planes, turbogoblins, cloud cars, punk rockets, willowinds, hang tanks, gigantic mechanical pterodactyls (the attack vehicles of The Law), SUVs (Skydiving Ultralight Velocipedes) ... Interzone 2,609 is a jungle. But then again so are most of Pseudofolliculitis City's Interzones, except for a select few that are preserved as national parks and dinosaur clone sanctuaries, and others that are quarantined because black holes have grown there. A recent poll says that approximately 6,054.2 jetpackers per day are killed during rush hour in public Interzones. No big loss--more than twice that number are cloned every day, and as The Law sees it, it's simply one means of population control (another includes executing follicles who forget to put their makeup on in the morning). It's a risky business, going to and from work. But vehicles are expensive, the lowliest junkers costing as much as a year's rent in a modest 1/-bedroom apartment, and jetpacks are cheap, a standard model costing as little as ninety-nine and a half doll hairs.
On his way to Brown Town Ulrich is nearly killed on three occasions, two below his average. On the first, a taxi collides head-on with a turbogoblin not ten feet in front of him, and he is just able to dodge the resulting implosion (at high enough speeds, turbogoblins assimilate objects on impact). On the second, a jetpacking grandmother with a blue beehive hairdo flying at a snail's pace refuses to let him pass her. When he finally does pass her, she gets mad and chases him for over twenty blocks, hurling a seemingly endless supply of butcher's knives at his back. On the third, a policeman decides to terminate him for no apparent reason. Sitting behind the neon red eyes of a pterodactyl with a demonic yellow grin on his Churchillian face, the cop swoops down on him, snatches him up with a rusty metal claw, squeezes and shakes him, shouts obscenities at him out of a loudspeaker, tells him he is guilty of existing, and lifts him to the gallows that is the pterodactyl's great metallic beak. Luckily, just before his head is bitten off, a fanglider accidentally crashes into the pterodactyl's head. Ulrich scurries out of the machine's claw like a minnow in water as its head explodes and its body falls into the deep, electric strata of traffic below...
By the time he reaches the coffee shop, he's altogether pooped. He touches down on Brown Town's landing circle like a maladroit, uncoordinated teenager, clumsily bumping into a group of zoots and tripping over his own feet. He topples onto his face. The zoots swear at him in their native language, dust off and rearrange their colorful garments, swear at him in pseudospeak, secure their jetpacks, guzzle what remains of the coffee they had been drinking, swear at him in Thoidy-Thoid-n-Thoid (a language that only exists at the crossroads of 33rd and 3rd), and leap into traffic. Ulrich swears at himself as he gets to his feet and shakes the stars out of his eyes. Once he can see straight again, he combs his hair into place with his fingers, weaves through a crowd of dandies and flâneurs with their eyelids and lips nailed into their faces, and disappears into a revolving mirrordoor...
Inside of Brown Town is a large, triangular cafeteria strewn with futique, pencil-thin furniture. The walls are decorated in state-of-theart PPCOG (Psychedelic Pornographic Clockwork Orange Graffiti), and each wall has its own purpose. One of them is a pissoir and contains a long line of ornate troughs. Another contains outlets and cranial shunts for customers to jack into the Schizoverse. Embedded in the third wall is a kitchen where an orderly queue of barristabots are ringing up orders and serving customers beverages. The barristabots are shiny, metallic stick figures with wiry appendages constructed out of the same materials as the furniture. Screwed onto their shoulders, however, are clones of extinct bird heads including the passenger pigeon, the kago, the dodo, the kakapo, the monkey-eating eagle, the peregrine falcon, the takahé, the piping plover, and the vegan buzzard. The proprietors of Brown Town employ the heads for what they perceive to be a shrewd marketing tool: not only do they present their customers with the opportunity to enjoy stimulating refreshments at unreasonable prices, they also present them with pieces of the past.
The moment he enters the coffee shop, Ulrich senses a disturbance. It isn't because he is particularly shrewd. Any idiot can tell that something is awry. Usually the place is a madhouse, full of customers gibbering, shouting, laughing, slurping, belching, slapping their knees, slapping each other on the backs, clearing their throats, and holding conversations at the top of their lungs. This is the antithesis of that scene. Some customers are sitting down drinking their coffee, others are standing up. Others are urinating in the pissoir. But very few of them are speaking to one another. And if they are speaking, it is in a quiet, controlled, yet somehow terrorized whisper; and the composite tenor of everybody's whisperings is barely making a dent in the sound of the low-level sensurround Muzak that saturates the place. Everybody is particularly stiff-looking, too, exhibiting wide eyes and pricked up ears, as if they have been poked in the back by a sharp stick.
Frowning, Ulrich ambles toward the barristabots, fighting off vertigo. It seems the floor might give way beneath him at any moment. He has a bad feeling in his gut--the kind of feeling he gets when something anti-capitalist is looming in the air.
His feeling is soon confirmed, and he stops in his tracks. Out of the corners of his eyes he sees him. On the other side of the room, in front of a tall stained glass window, underneath a powerful blacklight ... it is his arch-nemesis. It is every PCP's arch-nemesis.
The Tax Collector.
His nose is hooked like a beak, his back is as crooked as The Law, his eyes are yellower than Hellfire executive Horace P. Rottenbum's nicotine-stained smile, his corroded-looking skin is an amphibious green color ... If the creature were naked and you sized him up with a glance, you would no doubt mistake him for a giant, demonic bullfrog standing on its hind legs. But he isn't naked. He's wearing a dark broad-shouldered suit, thick black spectacles, and a fedora slightly tilted to one side. He's also wearing a low-grade cologne that, coupled with his special brand of BO, produces a scent reminiscent of rotten sausage. He looks like a cross between the Wicked Witch of the West and Clark Kent, and anybody he speaks to, despite their fear of upsetting him, can't stop themselves from reacting to his stench by making sour faces, pinching their noses, twitching their brows and lips...
He is speaking to a man now. The man is sitting at a table by himself, and The Tax Collector is leaning over him, whispering something in his ear. Whispering something foul, of course, something related to a debt he very likely doesn't owe but will be required to pay at risk of the penalty of public humiliation and subsequent defragmentation ... Ulrich has seen it happen many times before, and while he has fought valiantly against The Tax Collector, he has never been able to rid the city of his socioeconomic curse. He is a primordial minion of The Law, after all, not to mention that he is, like many of The Law's minions, an undead zombie, genetically created by the government's army of mad scientists to antagonize the general public and disturb the waters of Pseudofolliculitis City's commoditocracy. Still, whenever their paths cross, Ulrich is helpless to the doppelgänger that falling into the NWP has awakened in him. Whenever he crosses paths with any form of anti-capitalism, he can't stop his mind and body from changing ... changing from the meek, soft-spoken, listless husk of an everyman into a dynamic presence capable of reestablishing the capitalist flow of desire, if only momentarily.
Watching The Tax Collector, he can feel himself changing now. It always happens very quickly. He can feel his banal outfit convulsing, stiffening up, evolving from a cheap dimestore garment into an extravagant three-piece Frickleminn business suit. Likewise does his bargain-priced, short-sleeved shirt evolve into a dapper, long-sleeved Speildenrogue oxford, and his clip-on tie loses its corny stripes, becomes a solid blood-colored streak that nestles into his vest as its fabric wraps itself around the inner collar of his shirt like a pet snake. His worn out mocksiders are overtaken by spit-shined wingtips. The gold chain of a pocketwatch, elegant cuff links, and modish rings sprout into existence. Then, his body ... His hairy, white potbelly tightens up into a smooth, tan sixpack. With a crack his spine straightens into a strong two-by-four. Sound of a cool breeze as his tousled mop of a hairdo slicks back against his scalp, and then a bowler crawls out of his suit collar like an inch-worm and positions itself atop the new locks. His pale, flaking skin turns bronze and silky smooth, as if he has been applying top notch anti-aging skin products to it every day since his mother let him loose ... Finally a thick, handsomely groomed handlebar mustache pops onto his overlip, and he grins the bright white grin of a movie star. Not a bird, not a plane.
When the transformation is over, a young boy immediately recognizes him. He pokes his father in the ribs, points at the superhero, and shouts, "Hey! It's Bourgeois Man!"
The Muzak abruptly squeaks off as the occupants of Brown Town, human and robot alike, freeze and fix their gazes on him. Even the man The Tax Collector is beleaguering glances in his direction, although guardedly.
The Tax Collector snarls, dropping the cup of MaHuang espresso with poi sprinkles he has been holding. The cup falls to the floor and explodes in slow motion...
"You," he growls.
A path clears like the parting of the Red Sea in fasttime between the two rivals. The Tax Collector grimaces, bears his skanky teeth, shakes his ham-fists, stomps his black shoes in a fit of childish rage. Bourgeois Man continues to beam with confidence. Arching his back, folding his arms across his chest, tilting back his head, broadening his brilliant smile, emitting an overpowering and unmitigated aura of Bling-Bling, he says, "Let that man drink his coffee, fiend."
The Tax Collector screams. The scream is a raging earthquake. Customers cover their ears and accidentally bite off their tongues as glassware shatters, windows crack, the room shakes ... The scream abruptly ends. Severed tongues flip-flop on the floor like goldfish out of water. The Tax Collector clears his throat. Grins like a skull.
"That's no way to greet an old friend," he seethes.
Bourgeois Man ignores him. "I said leave that man alone."
"You know I can't do that," retorts The Tax Collector. "This man has obligations. This man must pay the piper, hee hee. All men must pay the piper, hee hee."
In an immaculate, flawlessly articulated tone of voice decorated in a mildly discernable (but by no means egregious) Old English accent, Bourgeois Man replies, "Hee hee yourself."
The Tax Collector smirks.
Bourgeois Man nods.
The Tax Collector grabs the man by the back of the head and smashes his face into the table in front of him. Like the cup of coffee, the face explodes in slow motion...
Whereas he maintains his powerful stance, Bourgeois Man's smile disappears. "That wasn't a very polite thing to do."
"Up yours, Bee Man," snorts The Tax Collector, shaking the gore off of his hand.
Bourgeois Man slowly begins walking forward. Everybody watches him expectantly. A few customers slip out the front door. Others cram jacks into their heads and retreat into the Schizoverse. Some dive into the kitchen and the pissoir, quivering in fear.
Bourgeois Man says, "Listen to me. I don't want any trouble. Nobody wants any trouble. Let's simply talk this matter out, shall we? Let's talk it out like gentlemen. Underneath your brazenly unctuous, fetid and altogether nauseating exterior, I know there is a gentleman waiting to be unleashed. Stout fellow! I know you want to do the right thing. I'll even treat you to a coffee, if you please. I might even be persuaded to purchase you a sandwich. If I'm not mistaken, dog salad croissants are on special today. Nothing like the taste of man's best friend to brighten your mood, eh? How does that sound then?"
He knows what the answer is, of course. Everybody knows. And The Tax Collector knows that Bourgeois Man and everybody knows. He knows that they know he knows, too. But as a matter of course, it is incumbent upon Bourgeois Man, as both a superhero and a gentleman himself, to attempt to neutralize all criminal activity first by means of the Word, then by the Fist. There is absolutely no question that the power of language will not lead to a resolution of the conflict. In Pseudofolliculitis City, conflicts are almost always resolved by acts of physical violence. To not resolve a conflict in such a way is illegal. If a PCP is suspected by The Law of not resolving more than five conflicts in a row by acts of physical violence, the punishment is a partial lobotomy that erases most of the lexicon and produces a powerful stutter, ensuring that the PCP will never be able to sweet talk its way out of anything again...
In response to Bourgeois Man's offer, The Tax Collector belches. The stench of the belch strikes a customer in the face, instantly suffocating him. The Tax Collector takes a garish bow ... and then nimbly leaps at another customer, tears off his nose, throws it on the floor, and stomps on it with his heel. The customer's nose is torn off so swiftly he doesn't realize it at first, and he wonders why there are filaments of blood squirting out of his face. Then it hits him. Before he can react, The Tax Collector deals him a fasttime roundhouse kick that takes his head off. His body stands there for a second, confused, and then collapses. His head rolls across the floor and strikes Bourgeois Man on the toe of one of his wingtips, marking it with blood and a piece of flesh.
Bourgeois Man stops walking forward as if freeze-framed. He glances back and forth between The Tax Collector and his defamed shoe with round, bemused eyes. Enjoying his distress, The Tax Collector claps his hands together, bleating, "Hee hee! Hee hee! Hee hee!"
"How dare you, sir," says Bourgeois Man calmly, without emotion, as if he doesn't really care. But he does care. Attacking his fashion statement is not a wise thing for any man, dead or alive, to do. Attack his family, attack his bank account, attack his ideology. But do not attack his finery. Excusing himself, he removes a Bladderfield handkerchief from his pocket, lifts up his foot, grips it by the heel, and wipes the gore from his toe, looking like a well-dressed flamingo. Unlike the cumbersome Ulrich, Bourgeois Man is very flexible. During the cleaning process, a few more customers sneak out the door, jack into the Schizoverse, crawl into the pissoir ... When he's finished, Bourgeois Man breathes on and buffs the shoe until its sheen returns. He releases his foot, tosses aside the handkerchief, pushes back his shoulders, cracks his neck, and grins. "Not very polite, no, not very polite," he intones, and arranges himself into a formless Jeet Kune Do stance, his dancing feet flowing in slow motion as his fists of fury ready themselves, slicing through the air like long, angry insects.
The Tax Collector points at him dramatically. He throws back his head, flashes his eyes. Slowly he turns his finger over and uses it to beckon his enemy...
The fight lasts 105 minutes in slow motion, thirty minutes in real-time, and forty-four seconds in fasttime. A customer listening to it from outside is later quoted by People!!! magazine as saying it was mainly characterized by the sound of "crashing furniture," "exploding heads," "Bruce Lee noises," and "Hee hees!" Customers who actually witness and survive the fight confirm the characterization, although one of them adds: "There were also short pauses when Bee Man and Taxy would get tired, take coffee breaks, and discuss the weather..."
In the end, Bourgeois Man ends up wounding The Tax Collector. A blow to his neck shatters his Adam's apple, and the creature slumps into a pile of bones, gagging and spitting and vomiting up pieces of cartilage ... Bourgeois Man grabs him by the scruff and picks him up. Smiling in triumph, he says, "Why do you do what you do, Taxy?"
The Tax Collector shrugs his shoulders. "It's my job," he breathes ... and kicks Bourgeois Man in the balls.
Bourgeois Man doubles-over. "Unsportsmanlike!" he squeals.
The Tax Collector's neck cracks and squeaks as his head spins around his shoulders like a rotisserie. "That's the name of my game.
We'll meet again, Bee Man. I promise you!" Confiscating Bourgeois Man's numerous articles of Bling-Bling in the name of The Law, The Tax Collector tears off his suit coat, exposing a small single-engine jetpack, and leaps through a stained glass window. His giggles doppler away for a moment before disappearing into the caterwaul of traffic...
Bourgeois Man passes out. By the time he regains consciousness, he has metamorphosed back into Ulrich. No more gentlemanly accouterments, no more athletic physique. No more handlebar mustache.
His vision is white. A sheet is laying on his face. He blows it off ... Human and robot janitors are scurrying all over Brown Town, sweeping and squeegeeing up its carnage. Barristabots are self-cleaning their joints with long, synthetic tongues that skillfully dart out of their bird-heads. Policemen are idly drinking coffee, talking to witnesses, and goosing one another. Nobody has recognized Ulrich--not as Bourgeois Man, not as a living human being ... He quickly but unassumingly gets up, locates his jetpack, and slips out the jagged hole in the window that The Tax Collector left behind.
As he hovers in the air and surveys the vast infrastructure of the city, his theme song begins to play. He puts on his mirrorshades. He lights a Hellfire, takes a deep drag. The song drowns out the sound of traffic, and he waits for it to finish before flicking away his cigarette, inserting his Clamorhammers, swandiving into a flyway, and allowing the credits, advertisements, deleted scenes, alternate endings, and language selections to roll...
Posted February 9, 2012
No text was provided for this review.