you've heard of all the slow torture techniques. The bamboo under the fingernails. The drips of water. The vaginal pear. The iron maiden. Years ago, one kid whispered it to another kid who whispered it to you. You remember, don't you? You were nibbling on a graham cracker, drinking pre-Alar apple juice from a Dixie cup.
Forgive me. There I go again. It's my job that makes me do this. It's in my blood now. Addressing a far-flung imaginary audience as if I knew how many skid marks lined their underwear. I don't know you. I really don't. And the slow torture is my problem.
I can explain. I work as a copy editor for a family-oriented Web site. We were once an education Web site, but then we got desperate. We even changed our advertising. Now, most of the people who come to our site think they're going to get laid.
For the last year I've been writing blurbs. Twenty to 30 a day. I'm paid fairly well for a job I'm not particularly good at. Maybe that's why I have trouble picturing "you" these days. Early in the morning, you're a chunky, pissed-off hausfrau. Late in the afternoon, you're that jaundiced psychopath who keeps posting to our spanking and discipline discussion.
I've been told that the "you" thing works. That you fall for it every time. When I write some copy for a poll asking whether a 13-year-old girl should be forced to wear a jockstrap, 98 percent of you say "yes." This scares me in a vague, thrice-removed sort of way.
But I need this job. I'm writing this period piece screenplay about a little fop who can see the future and ... I won't bore you.
I eat blurbs. I dream of blurbs. I have blurb envy. All that rushed teasing, like getting felt up in an elevator.
Is Your Child Retarded?
Our Expert is Hot for You
What Good People Are Saying Behind Your Back
Sex Sores You Don't Know You Have
These are the blurbs I want to write. The ones that'd kick you in the colon. Our miserable click-depth would hit 3.1 and then 4.3. The investors would stay and talk to us a little longer, even after they've finished the pizza and cookies. But that's a perfect blurb world. I calm myself and slowly begin to type.
How to Safely Transport Your Child with Special Needs
At 6 o'clock, our discussions moderator looms over me and hands me a new poll. He wants to know how good your spouse is in bed.
"It's not appropriate," I say. "I don't want to censor you. But, you know, our audience is like, families."
"Milquetoast," he says and storms away to huff down a cigarette in the plumbing closet.
It's true. I feel like a prude. He says I don't have a clue what parents think about. My boss says I don't have a clue what parents think about.
Homemade Beanie Babies that Will Drive Your Kids Crazy
Well, it's not like I didn't have clues. You wrote our experts. You said your daughter had a yellow discharge. You said your son was going to the bathroom behind the living room couch. You said your ex was plotting with the kids to overthrow you.
I had you figured for health and safety. Window Cords Kill, I wrote. Watch Out For Ticks. Rules for the Pool.
And then I wasn't sure. Maybe your kid wasn't the one with the water wings.
This is what happens when the "you" recedes. When each blurb you write is wiped away like grease paint the next day.
Learn More About That Chocolate-Themed Amusement Park in Hershey, Pa.
I'm typing again. Trying to picture this chocolate-themed amusement park. Picturing I'm there. I'm a little tired and my wife and kids are on the verge of tears, but the lines are moving and the rides are a bargain. And you're there too, nearly yanking your kid's arm out of its socket, telling him that if he asks for candy one more time it's going to end his life because you're in the land of fucking candy and you're going crazy and you just want to strap him in his car seat and roll the windows up because he's just a little Hitler anyway.
Now I'm just staring. Our window looks out on an airshaft and that air shaft leads down to a dumpster and in that dumpster a restaurant piles its rotting, exotic, leftover fish. The fan that hums behind me puffs it toward my nostrils. It's a stale, pungent mash of lobster and trout and salmon and crab and all the other creatures you pushed aside, surprisingly satiated after that appetizer and that Harvey Wallbanger you ordered on a whim.
I hold my breath. For a moment, I'm utterly, absolutely, irresponsibly, alone.