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Bottle Cap Theory

by: Steven T. Bramble

Then the hydrogen bomb exploded! And I don’t have to tell you that the capitalist bastards were caught with their pants quite down around their pale little ankles, having not really come to terms with their souls and shit like that on account of all their monies. And plus there was Irene H. Ronstadt, who was getting fed nearly science-fiction-like commercial messages about vehicular homicide and Jolly Khadafy Goat Samwiches while sitting in a well-earned blue nylon recliner, and she didn’t have a clue what the TV was blathering about because she was two days away from turning a hundred years old when fusion occurred and the thermonuclear sprinklerheads went shik-shik-shik-shik-shik-shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiik! Oh God—the 1940s horror—and it was always a mystery of the universe why Colonel O’Mannon found it necessary to bend over to look for the bottle cap he’d just dislodged from the top of his beer bottle, the same bottle cap from a Coke that was recycled from seventy-seven years ago which caused a horrible smoke to belch from Anne de Witt’s Electrolux Model 30 vacuum cleaner in 1952 when it got jammed in the drive train. The colonel’s large trapezoidal posterior made accidental contact with the arcane lever which sent the electron current to the mechanism that lit up and shrieked, “Launch, launch, launch!” and subsequently sent him through fifteen years of psychological therapy just to come to terms with it. Oh yeah, great stuff. You can actually see the mushroom cloud from two states over because most of the land in Middle America got shaved flat for the Go-Kart track. I can see it through the glass-walled breakfast diner while I munch on the best sausage money can buy—the finest cuts of pork that aren’t eight different animals stuck together in one link, but just pure fuckin browned hog with marbled fat and maple inserted into the middles via maple injection machines. Tonya looks up from her waitress pad at the rising smoke in the distance and says, “Shit, that’s ridiculous. Me and Brady had a vacation planned. The newsfeed yesterday had a whole article about how sex gets better when you’re miles away from it all.” I take out my cell phone and pretend like I’m talking to someone on the other end—“Travis, cancel Ms. Sedbrook’s travel appointments. The fucking country’s in disarray.” The worst of the whole situation was when the entire Time Life library of 1980s cartoons got soldered into one large block of smoking black VHS joke vomit. All the Generation Yers read the newsfeeds and sighed their fist sighs of old age disillusionment. Fifty years later, marketing students would learn that the single-stroked loss of Ninja Turtles through Eureka’s Castle marked the end of the new generation fitting into what people in the trade call “Idealist Targets.” Black nail polish stock leaned Wall Street over a table and sodomized it until even the president himself couldn’t help from getting a hard-on, and it was right around that time when the U.S. government drafted every currently working journalist, novelist, essayist, blogger, poet, and copywriter, and sequestered us all into one large movie theater while Colonel O’Mannon’s successor stood in front of the gaping blank screen saying, “The American people need to make sense of this craziness! It’s pure chaos out there—people jumping out of windows and shirking census forms! I don’t think I need to tell you all how dangerous these times are. So we’re taking the only reasonable course of action: we want you wordheads to interpret this milestone event for us. Sure, paintings are visually
stunning, but overall they’re too subjective and difficult to analyze. And music is too abstract. We need concrete language here, goddammit! We need the best and the brightest to insert meanings, wave away the hanging fog, give people a reason to go on. It’s up to you, soldiers!” And then they start showing the aerial footage of the blast that decimated Missouri and parts of Illinois and Iowa in a single moment of bottle cap-retrieval-gone-awry, and they screen it for us repeatedly, approximately three hundred times, so eventually I know every bubbling scream and every plume of sulfur as readily as I know my own email password, and besides the white noise of constant rippling explosions and the muted whups of helicopter blades, all I can hear throughout the whole theater is the whispering of mechanical pencil lead against paper, everyone taking detailed notes and some even beginning to compose their masterpieces directly on the spot. My own notes read: “focus in on exact moment of explosion, freeze frame the unsuspecting town so the reader can wander leisurely through the paused moment just before total annihilation, let them observe the fragility of life or some such crap, remember to send flirtatious text message to Tonya, look up meaning of the word admonish—to scold?” Then, while they were at it, they screened the old footage of the WTC attacks and told us to work on that as well. The guy next to me is fascinated the way some people are fascinated by streaming porn, and he squeals, “This is our big chance to produce era-specific literature!” And I can’t help understanding what he’s talking about, but nonetheless I’m like, “But why are we regressing back to postmodernism when we could’ve been furthering objectism?” He’s not hip with my terms, so I explain, “You know, the new critical philosophy of literature that’s a brutal rendering of characters from the perspectives of inanimate objects with subjective personalities, typically culminating in the inevitable dissolution of all interpersonal human relationships in favor of a closeness with things. It comments on post-industrialized nations’ preoccupation with consumer products and the way they’ve shaped, changed, and inundated the experience of humans.” He belches in response, and it smells like Skittles. Fourteen months later was when I first started noticing that our literature was devouring the free time of the general populace. I was in the lower downtown portion of Kansas City and saw everyone sitting at an outdoor café reading huge gleaming copies of a novel called Groaning Towards July, which was stupid because the bomb exploded in November. I figured, Sure, I give you an objectist novel from the point of view of the bomb itself and this guy, H.Z. Arnitz, impresses
you with a traditional linear narrative that anybody could’ve fuckin pulled off. What a stupid world. And what seemed to be exacerbating the problem were the frequent calls I was getting in the middle of the night from the small percentage of readers who’d purchased my book, saying things like, “This storyline is didactic, contrived and nearly unreadable. Don’t you believe in Oedipal trajectory?” I’d say, “It was an art story! I knew everyone was gonna eat up all that Oprah’s Book Club garbage about the bomb-as-a-window-into-spirituality, and all-causality-has-a-purpose! You fuckin seething mainstreamer!” And they’d say, “Hey, man, two million readers worldwide can’t be wrong—Arnitz is king. My wife wants to have his baby. Who the hell are you? Enjoy the black depths of obscurity.” So the only thing left to do was send a cry-for-help text to Tonya, who’d been diligently ignoring my advances for over a year now on account of her boyfriend was still treating her right. I’d tell her that I was finally gonna blow my upper palate against the shower tile. She got the text, but she was watching forensic dramas on digital cable with Brady, so she didn’t bother replying. Though it didn’t matter because just as I flipped my phone closed I became frozen in time, and I could see droplets of water that had been in the process of falling from my kitchen faucet suspended in the air, and all the looping flies in my kitchen froze mid-loop. And then I saw this guy who I didn’t have the faintest clue about leisurely strolling through my own house, a big plastic tag draped around his neck that had the word VISITOR laserprinted on it in Times New Roman. He got up close to me, peering at my motionless figure, exclaiming, “Fascinating—it’s the moment right before total annihilation and he has no idea.”