For two years I worked in the office of a famous Christian singer as he approached the end of his life. He’s approaching it still, he lives as I write this. Any day now, though. I can sense it.
Sometimes in his long life he’d sing country music, too, but he was shit at it. Everyone hated it. Nashville, his hometown, didn’t know what to do with him after a while. Branson was a bit kinder.
He turned 88 while I worked for him. I’ll just say that that age suited him. (Because he’s basically a Nazi, is what I’m saying.)
At that age, my former boss was shit at singing in any genre. His voice was shot. He couldn’t write, either—he was never much of a songwriter. He was looking forward to the end, if anything, ready to reconvene with his beloved dead wife up in Heaven. He’d judge any re-married widower he knew. Gonna be real awkward up in Heaven, he’d say.
I can’t say his name here. I signed an NDA. DM me later—after you read this and send it to ten people and make them read it and make them send it to ten more people who they’ll make read it—and I’ll tell you his name if you still want to know. You probably haven’t heard of him. Maybe you have.
[If the details here keep shifting a little, bobbing back and forth like a mechanical bull—well, that’s by design. After all, I’m not trying to get sued over here.]
LIST: THE VULTURES ENCIRCLING MY BOSS
[Wrote this during lunch one day.]
Given the advanced age of my boss—the famed, octogenarian Jesus Music singer—along with his immense wealth and crackpot instincts, he’s surrounded by vultures. These notably include:
That Germano-Belgian camera crew, Seb, Fritz, and Hilda, who set about producing his first foray into the podcasting world—and managed to gull him into seeding their pitiful attempt at a video hosting platform, a real D-list Vimeo, it seems to me;
The Bossman’s neighbor (two doors down), Clu Bozsoki, who abetted the Germano-Belgians—introduced them to my boss, in fact—and co-hosts his podcast; who wrote and produced a dozen Beach Boys songs in the Love/Jardine epoch, ones I’d never heard of before I looked into him, with titles like “Jet Ski Jungle” and “Mississippi River,” songs which aren’t available on any streaming service other than the low-quality rips uploaded to YouTube (often taken down, only occasionally restored) and which still didn’t seem real to me even after listening to them numerous times, the soundtrack to my then-latest delirium—and surely I’ll never hear them again after leaving this place, will never once hear another non-co-worker even suggest their existences, I haven’t so far;
Let’s not forget Barrel Levy, of course, my boss’s clever, conspiratorial business manager, who has, for instance, moved between three different accounting firms in a half-year span so he could soak in three separate signing bonuses;
There’s Rudy Ketthill, a man so devious that he barely survived his two strokes, can hardly speak now, and still managed to pull one over on my boss, typing out—perhaps dictating—all these lengthy email missives on the ludicrous machines he designed and still fiddled with in his “workshop,” pleading for introductions to all of my boss’s “billionaire buddies,” even securing a few;
There’s Shauna, my boss’s wicked daughter, and her glassy husband Larry, her middle school sweetheart, who together have managed to squeeze out plenty already over the years and will continue to do so past my boss’s final day as executor and executrix of his considerable estate;
And there’s Dr. Billy Joe Pienciak, Nueces County Commissioner, who somehow has convinced my boss that he’s one of the “best-selling tenor sax players in American history,” is what he’d said, but who’s really best known for having miraculously dodged any jail time after two DUI’s and a count of leaving the scene;
There’s Azmi Suparman, the Indonesian national, fashion designer, and self-professed “Christian brother,” still on the hook for a long-delinquent $1.5 million loan from my boss, granted despite his having never actually met the man (Larry—Shauna’s Larry—had arranged it, pocketing a hefty finder’s fee, I must imagine);
And Lucas Obst, my boss’s golf friend, who works in private equity in Central Florida, or so he says, and often stops by the office—the Fun Labs, the Bossman calls it—on the way down to Torrey Pines or up to Pebble Beach, always pitching to my boss Fun Labs-coups during these little visits, insurrections which would see Obst install his own people, his own lawyer and accountant, everyone new—except for me, of course, because I’ve kissed Obst’s ass enough that I’ll maybe get to keep my job, should he ever actually succeed, which seems unlikely, though he still orbits around the Bossman like a luckless satellite (not that my angle in these plots is any less risible);
I cannot forget Louis Garber, a film producer with a particularly rib-tickling IMDB page (“Associate Producer: Crime of Fashion,” the TV movie with Dominic Chianese, Kaley Kuoco, and Megan Fox?) who sought from my boss a multi-million-dollar investment in a new, vaguely delineated “faith-based sword and sandal picture”—none of us ever saw a script, Barrel soon indicated it was really a sort of Ponzi scheme;
Also, Frank Pruitt, Fun Labs COO, ostensibly my immediate superior, one of my all-time least favorite people—see, I’ve put off mentioning him—the man who spends 90% of his time shouting at me over the cellular networks from the horse ranch he owns with his brother in Corsicana, TX—and though he’d told me he’d be in the office for at least five days each month, he’s been present for merely three weeks altogether throughout my entire professional tenure in the Labs—that’s how busy he’s been, performing anilingus on every horse that enters his eyesight, a near-constant effort, so vast is his horse ranch and engrossing his compulsion;
And Dr. Henderson in Mexico (I could never determine his first name, couldn’t find any evidence of his existence at all beyond the schizoid phone calls I received from him at least twice a week for nearly six months, until they ceased suddenly a month ago), he who pledged to sic the LA County Sheriffs upon us all at CAP [that is—Christian Art & Pop Records, the true, trademarked name for the Fun Labs, I shit you not] HQ unless he saw the return of his “healing manual,” the only copy of which he’d sent to my boss’s house, who’d hastily forgotten all about it, if he’d ever even seen it;
That should be all the most notable leeches.
Although I shouldn’t discount myself in this—I steal as much as I can from the Fun Labs; I started out by charging a book or three on Amazon to the company card every so often, no one was ever the wiser; I moved onto more direct larceny, CDs, DVDs, office supplies, all dumped slyly, unceremoniously, into my black Adidas duffel; I’ve graduated now to the electronics, which I sneak down into my car early in the day—a solid state drive, a laser printer, a flatbed scanner, a 4K Apple TV box, even a small-ish OLED television I double-ordered intentionally, so negligent are my overlords. And I rob them of time, too, as much as I can reasonably take back for myself without sparking any suspicion from my superiors, nothing beyond their typical disgust. I spend at least an hour in the morning sucking at my vaporizer on the balcony (I have my own office with one, for the first time in my life—and last, I suspect—which from the Sunset Strip overlooks the rest of West Hollywood below, Beverly Hills and Century City painted smoggy in the middle-distance).
AN IMAGINED LETTER FROM MY FORMER BOSS
It was Monday. I unlocked the office like I always did—I was always the first one in, my employers required this of me.
I craved sweet saccharine death as I stumbled inside and soon discovered a thick envelope with my first name written upon it in the Bossman’s standard squiggle taped to my iMac’s turned-off screen. I tore it open and read the lengthy handwritten letter within:
By now you’ve probably figured something is up with me. Me seeing all those docs and whatnot. [But I hadn’t realized—he was nearly 90, he was extremely wealthy, I figured everyone in that demographic saw doctors, specialists, at such a pace.] Don’t worry, son. I’m not dying. Not yet anyway! [That’s what he often called me: son.] I ever tell you the story about me and Charley Pride and the bomb scare down in Lubbock? [He had. At least three times. But I read on.] Charley was a close friend for a time. We fell out like people do, I can hardly recall why anymore. [Certainly a lie.] But we played a lot of shows together. Some of the best shows either of us ever played, I’d reckon, and I’m sure he would, too, were he among us the living. Usually it wasn’t anything scary, these shows. I’d heard lots of mean things about Charley, always on account of his skin color, obviously. But most people, wherever we were, wanted to see him play. They knew what he could sing like. Sometimes it was tense, but that’s how it was back then. One day was worse than all the others. We were going to play a show at Texas Tech, down in Lubbock. You know I never like playing universities, even then I didn’t, but the head of my fan club there wrote such an impassioned note to my manager, I decided to make a little exception. We were touring together. I didn’t think it would matter much, the Red Raiders integrated in the early 60s and this was maybe 1971, 1972. But it mattered, at least to one malcontented, maladroit bigot bastard. [Rich stuff, coming from him.] This scumbag sent a letter to the Avalanche-Journal about how he’d placed a pipe bomb in the auditorium we were set to play. Problem was, the mail clerk at the Avalanche-Journal didn’t see it until minutes before my set, for whatever reason. So, they came rushing in with a cadre of Lubbock police, even a Ranger or two. The men told everyone to stay in their seats. It was a full auditorium. They said sudden vibrations might set the darn thing off. So, there they all were in their seats, teenagers, young adults, lots of families. They didn’t have bomb-sniffing dogs then, no robots. The policemen, those fine police, they searched every cranny in the place before anyone could leave. And search they did. Charley and I came out and tried to keep everyone calm. I led everyone in a prayer. Charley put his head down and prayed silently and I led the whole crowd in a prayer. Never saw Charley so scared before or after. But the cops found nothing. It was an empty threat, just something to rile everyone up, me included. People like that want everyone to live in fear, just like we do now. It was a beautiful moment. The crowd begged us to perform, and perform we did, the show must go on. The crowd ate it up. They loved us. We did things a little differently that night, neither of us wanted to leave the stage, we switched off between songs like the Austin longhairs did sometimes. Never did it quite like that again. When Charley got to “Kiss an Angel” the crowd was dead silent. Never seen anything like it. Everyone together, the whites and the blacks. To be honest, I can’t remember why I’m recounting this in this letter. I guess I just want to remind myself I can be brave. Because I’m scared, Z.H. Tomorrow morning I’ll be whisked off to the desert. They’re sending me to Mars. Elon Musk. I’ll be part of his Propriety crew and colony. CEO, they’re calling me: Chief Entertainment Officer. I’ll be among the first civilians up there. I’ll be the oldest one by far, of course. Elon mentioned this to me in the past, I never thought he was really serious. But with all the Buzz Aldrin sex stuff that’s come to light lately, he’s out and I’m in. That’s who it was supposed to be. They needed another geezer, I guess! An improvement, too, as he’s somehow a few years older than me and apparently a lot less mobile. The idea was to show how the young could care for the old up there, show how anyone could do it. I assured Elon they will have a lot less caring to do with me and he said that was fine with him, better even. These past weeks they’ve been checking me out, the due diligence. I just got the final okay. I don’t know if ___ would want this for me. But it’s not her call. [That was his dead wife, they’d married at seventeen; a few years ago, he’d told the Hollywood Reporter they were “on separate vacations” until he could reunite with her in Heaven.] Elon said, in the future, we could even have her sent up. They’ll have to build a cemetery up there soon enough. I’m sure I’ll be its first resident. (Maybe not, though, everything up there tries to kill you. But soon enough, in just a few years, after we’re settled in, they’ll send her casket along after I’ve hallowed the red ground up there and we’ll be sorta reunited before we’re truly reunited once again in eternity. I always told you how I never thought the music stuff was going to stick for me. I really thought I’d become a teacher-preacher, that’s what I always told everyone. [He really did, I’d heard him say so 30 or 40 times.] I will be preaching up there. Elon said I could. I’ll be the first Martian preacher, a true pioneer like my great great granddad. I will open a parish. Propriety Parish. Do you like that? Might come up with a better name. Of course, I realize now that I cannot expect an answer from you anytime soon. I realize, too, by now you must be terrified regarding your future at Christian Art & Pop. We’re keeping you on, of course. Frank will be in soon, he assured me. [Fat chance—there’s no way he’d run out of horses’ asses to eat yet.] He and Barrel are the only two outside the Propriety team that have any inkling about this. That makes you the third now. You’ll hear from them both soon. We won’t see each other again, unless you accept Christ into your heart. I know you haven’t, son*. Think on it. Regardless, I’ve enjoyed immensely this year and some change that we’ve spent together. I’ll be passing the next month or so on the Moon preparing for the trip and will likely be able to speak to you directly sometime before it. So, expect to hear from me sooner or later.
And have a good life down there,
I wrote dozens more like this.
*He referred here to my Semitic heritage, not to my dick-taking abilities, which he didn’t know about, and would have fired me if he did, sparking what would have been the greatest civil trial in California history. Some angrier friends of mine floated the idea of my instigating this sort of thing, provoking a discrimination suit. Would have been a great bit. But I couldn’t be bothered—I had to save my brainpower for writing my fucking stories.
LIST: MORE STUFF I STOLE FROM THE FUN LABS
In my kitchen here in East Hollywood, CA, I keep the glass trophy celebrating my former boss’s anointment into the Christian Music Hall of Fame.
In my bedroom I use a brick as a bookend. The bronze plaque affixed to it reads: A MEMENTO FROM FAIRMOUNT HIGH SCHOOL / FAIRMOUNT, INDIANA / HIGH SCHOOL ATTENDED BY JAMES DEAN.
A VERY BRIEF, TOTALLY REAL LETTER TO MY BOSS FROM BIBI NETANYAHU (THIS IS A REAL LETTER)
We’re expecting you back in Tel Aviv next year (and every year after). You better play two sets this time.
FROM THE DESK OF PRIME MINISTER OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL
[AND THEN THE DIRECTLY-ABOVE REPEATED IN HEBREW, PRESUMABLY]
[As I’m sure you can see, the Bossman is a friend to Israel. He thinks the Jews will burn in Hell but embraces their holding the Holy Land for apocalyptic reasons.]
[In light of especially recent events, my writing any further on these matters will be what really gets me blackballed in this town. (All I’m saying is, we kill kids here and abroad all the time. What’s so bad about killing kids, anyway? said every politician in this country up until now. All I’m saying is, if you kept me in a cage for decades, I’d be killing kids left and right.)]
LIST: THREE ENCOUNTERS I HAD IN THE FUN LABS
I had five fucks in the Fun Labs. And made love in there only twice.
The first four fucks I don’t want to get into. They were all while I was on some snorted heroin. (I was often the only one in the Fun Labs for days on end, what else was I supposed to do?)
FUCK FIVE: Fuck five, though, I was on meth. Maybe not during the actual act, but it was the meth period of my life. The meth was a downgrade from the heroin I’d been taking for months, for sure, but it was an upgrade, too. For one thing, it made me much better at my job. (I’d smoke it in the elevator on the way up sometime, after I learned the camera in there was fake. The Bossman told me so. I kept a clean set of clothes in the file cabinet beside my iMac in case I smelled too much like a smoldering plastic-junkyard.)
My friend Rory from college, in town for whatever reason. The first person to ever fuck my ass, and the third ass I ever fucked. It was a Monday, a National Holiday—Memorial Day maybe? Anyway, the Fun Labs were empty. (I had 24/7 access to the building.) We’d been partying down the street. We were so drunk and so wrecked on K and E for the prior three days of sweat and seed that I never managed to clean myself up down there. I warned Rory, but he didn’t care. I didn’t either.
He pulled out my cock in the conference room, it was already hard enough. “Let’s go to yours,” he half-whispered. With one hand he played with me while his other dragged me back to my office.
Inside there he let my cock stiffen further in his mouth before pulling me up toward him. Then he tried shoving his fist up me. I pushed him off. Too much, I said.
I pulled out his cock—he was still dressed—it was bigger than mine. By a lot. How’s this? he asked. I blinked. Our clothes were gone.
Let’s try, I said. It didn’t always work. I kissed his prick and then I dunked it in Crisco, which was all we had for some reason. Probably because Rory so badly wanted to stick his fist in me, to be the first to do so. We never got to that before. Stay away from my chair, I said. It’s real leather.
I don’t care. He pushed me onto it. He started fucking me. What is this? he wondered as he pulled out his shit-covered prick.
I told you, I said. He slapped me. I told you, I said again. I rolled off the chair, falling flat on my back onto hard carpet. I was already worn out from the miles of West Hollywood flesh we’d waded through all weekend.
Whatever, Rory said. He guided me to my knees and shoved himself into my mouth. I choked on my own shit. It dripped down from my nose and back into my mouth. He laughed.
I looked into his eyes, he wouldn’t hold them to mine for more than half a second. Put it back in, I pleaded. Again, he looked away. I couldn’t quit now—I was, for once, fully aware of myself and the ground beneath me, the gravity holding me there.
You want it that bad? He said, and he picked me up and slapped me, pushing me back into the chair; he was scaring me a little. I was more attracted to him now than I’d ever been. We were covered in grease now, there was no chance the chair could be saved. (I’d blame it on the cleaners—there were no cameras in here.)
He loomed above me, pulling my legs abruptly onto his shoulders. You want it? He asked.
I nodded and grabbed his ring finger, drew it to my shit-stained teeth, bit down on it, sucked on it.
He pressed himself into me. I groaned. You’re a filthy faggot, he said. I could feel more of my shit start to line his cock, it was posing metaphysical problems: was my shit now his? He started speeding up. I felt like I would piss everywhere. I only did a little, though.
Rory finished in my ass after who knows how long. He collapsed on top of me. We barely fit together in my desecrated chair. Shit and grease splattered across the floor, I now saw, it lined the wall behind us even. I had a day to clean what I could. No one would notice, anyway—and they didn’t, other than the chair, but they bought my lie about it.
MAKING LOVE, TIMES ONE AND TWO: Both times I made love in there were with the love of my life. (She knows who she is, she’s reading this right now.)
Both times I pressed her up against Frank Pruitt’s out-of-tune piano; both times we together made a funny music.
The Labs were empty, but I’d like to think they heard us at the start-up over in the next suite. They did something with sports betting in there.
LIST: OTHER STUFF I’D LIKE TO SHARE
There’s a lot I’ve left out of this. Questions raised!
—As you might have gathered, the Fun Labs are located in sunny West Hollywood, CA, America’s Boystown. Why the most backward man in the continental US, Alaska, and Hawaii opened shop there, I’ll never know. He had to have some idea of what went on in that jurisdiction. He had to have, at some point, walked past two frenzied men fornicating in the street.
—The Bossman has another daughter who loves him in his totality. Life is impossible if you don’t have at least one tenderhearted person in your orbit, someone who loves you despite yourself and your unbelievable foolishness. (I’d dictate lengthy email diatribes to her often. The Bossman couldn’t take her “wokeness,” her climate denial-denial, or her gay lady-pastor. I kept these emails, plus thousands more I downloaded onto an external) (For weeks or even months the Bossman and his daughter cease speaking. Once she called me asking why she couldn’t reach her father. He’d neglected to tell her he was unreachable on a millenarian tour of Biblical sites in Turkey, leaving me entirely alone for two weeks to mind the Fun Labs and the Fun Labs phones. [You can probably guess what I did in those two weeks.]) No one, no one, deserves to be alone before they head to Hell for good.
—You can smoke meth pretty much anywhere in West Hollywood, because pretty much all of West Hollywood smells of meth. Tina. This is in no way a paradox.
—In his late years, Gore Vidal frequented Book Soup, the lionized store just two Gomorrann blocks from the Fun Labs. I cannot fathom how Southern California kept itself from skipping into the Pacific with Vidal and the Bossman in such constant physical proximity for about a decade. Did they ever meet? (They both did Cavett multiple times. but never the same episode.)
—You might be wondering, just what exactly were my duties in the Fun Labs? I was hired to run the Bossman’s socials, maybe even make him a TikTok. This, apparently, required me to attend the Fun Labs for 40 hours each week. I’d sit down with the Bossman every other day to generate content for his accounts; he soon began to ramble and repeat himself and lash out at me, so I decided I’d just make shit up. No one ever noticed, except when I’d post pictures of the Bossman with, say, Ike Eisenhower, but call him Truman on accident in the caption. My duties quickly expanded. Soon my title was altered to “General Assistant” because they made me do everything: I paid the Bossman’s utilities, set up mesh Wi-Fi in his house, took notes in every meeting, rolled calls, read letters, summarized letters picked up the Bossman’s groceries, dropped off the Bossman’s dog at the dog salon, kept the leeches away as much as I could (I’m not God!), dived into the CAP archives to pull disappeared mechanical licenses, scanned about 15,000 photos, elucidated culture war issues, tended to the other pitiful CAP signees (Jimmy Christman, Joe Christian, James Christmas, et al), kept the Bossman’s desk drawer rich in pipe tobacco, fixed the broken ceiling panels, fixed the broken modem, fixed the broken printer, fixed the broken scanner. You get it.
—My days of cruising backstreets for degrading sex are done, but if you’re jonesing, check out Vaseline Alley off La Jolla Ave. any time after like literally 4PM.
—Life is boring these days. My current gig is soul-crushing but in a far less boisterous (and, therefore, less interesting) way. I’m California sober. My girlfriend hopes I’ll cut out red meat. My driving a car is no longer nearly as frightening as it was even only one year ago.
BEHEAD ME TWICE
And that’s it. I suppose these weren’t exactly lessons. I have no lessons to impart. If I start imparting lessons, fucking behead me.
All right, just one lesson. Everyone’s more broken than you. Trust me. You’re not cracked at all, actually. They want you to think you’re broken so they can control you. (If, for instance, you must pretend you cannot take a dick in order to make your rent, it’s not necessarily the end of the world.) And no prison of your own making can ever really contain you—unless you’re dead, of course.
Is that two lessons? Behead me twice, then.