You Will Find That Heart/Smiley-Thing Deep in Here, XOXO JB
by Christopher Fletcher
Woven into the texts of Nemesis—where the unknown author famously makes an extraordinary observation about a universe where “dark planets rolls without aim, where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or luster or name”—is a concept with which I utterly disagree. I can say now, as the world unwinds around us, that there really is an aim after all. It’s just one with which humans will have nothing to do.
—Justin Bieber, PhD, from The Diary of Fthaggua
When he presented you, at the Xmas Eve party a couple years ago, with the next year’s Justin Bieber calendar, you were both amused and acutely embarrassed. Because it was a light-hearted gesture, honoring with well-intended humor the fact that you had unabashedly declared yourself a JB fan some time ago and were willing to admit it to anyone and stand up for its legitimacy against any opponent. And because you know that it’s likely an ongoing source of derision that you are too old, too serious, too old, too smart, too old, too professionally accomplished, too old, too cerebral and brainy, and mostly just plain too goddamned fucking old to be a belieber. It was like being handed a piece of pornography, by someone who knows exactly what kind of porn you’re into, in front of a whole bunch of other people who don’t now and won’t ever get your weird kink.
Your favorite months are June and September, especially September where he wears Wayfarer sunglasses like yours.
Because you are very busy with work and life—and because you are not a consumer of the kind of media where the foibles and failures of celebs are celebrated—you miss for a few days the news of JB’s arrest in Florida for drunken driving and resisting arrest. People close to you are amused that it falls to them to fill you, of all people, in on the latest of a series of ridiculous calamities surrounding this young man. You have to tell them that despite what they’d assumed was a deep and abiding fandom on your part, you just plain hadn’t heard about it yet. But when you get a few free moments away from anyone else’s gaze, you google the fuck out of the situation and find his mugshots. Though you’d not admit it to anyone else, you are relieved and delighted that he looks—even under the duress of drunken incarceration—not like a bleary-eyed loser like most people do under those conditions, but kind of pretty and sweet and crowned with mostly intact hair. He smiled for the cop cam.
This was about the last you’d hear of JB for a while. The incident supposedly motivated him to change his life, and part of that change was receding from pop celebrity. He cancelled his remaining performing and recording schedule. He declined media appearances and interviews. You remember hearing that he had decided to devote himself to matters of “faith and philosophy,” which you’d naturally assumed was some kind of meaningless fake-ass nonsense well in line with his previous professions of a sort of cheesy pop star Christianity.
You remember liking a lot that full-page pic of him in his book Just Getting Started where he is on stage and he looks wet, sweat-slicked, very earnest, and yet behind him is a big lit-up sign that says PRAY. In its caption, he tells you that he is living proof that dreams come true. You cringe at this naïve cliché and you are embarrassed both for him (for saying it) and for yourself (for reading it and owning a copy of the book). He tells you to believe and to pray, and you cringe, believe and pray and pray and all your childish dreams will come true, but he’s so fucking beautiful anyway, so you ignore this patent moronic nonsense and you decide, once again, once again, one more time, one final time, to like him anyway because he has, at least, a gorgeous voice even if he’s dumb as a bag of hammers. You occasionally still enjoy “As Long as You Love Me” and “Boyfriend” when they recur on your playlist, but you assume that the next time you’ll see any sight of JB is when he is eventually dredged up as an F-list celeb alongside a hundred-year-old Joan Collins, a cyborg Kirstie Alley, a fat and drunk Marilyn Manson and one or another stupid Kardashian for a season of Celebrity Cook-Off hosted by an ever-more-raspy Guy Fieri.
And of course some hot new kid quickly emerges to fill the Bieber niche, that pop-cultural hole that must always have a lithe young male occupant, and after a year or so of no new news of him at all, everyone quits caring about or even looking for the whereabouts of Justin Bieber, former pop star.
You come home from work late on Friday night—after cooking an Ancient Roman wine dinner or some such pretentious nonsense—and J says: “Can’t wait to tell you this shit: Your Boy has moved in behind us, in the house across the alley!” You honestly don’t know to which one of “Your” “Boys” he may be referring since that is the language he uses for any dude that he thinks that you might possibly think is cute. It could mean any of several thousands of dudes. It could be anyone. But seeing your exhausted confusion, he clarifies: “The Biebs. Fuckin’ JB. Here in Argos-Bellona, here in our back yard! Just moved in today.” And you again feel way behind on current events because this was supposedly widely reported on Channel 5. Stunned, you look out the back door, across the alley. Through a window in the house across the way you see a silhouette in motion that you can imagine matches JB’s.
You locate online and start reading daily the copious blog posts of the new Justin Bieber, the former pop celeb who now lives across the alley from you, whose backyard is in full view of your second-floor balcony. One day he writes,
“The Outer God Nokkthathuas, typically represented as a blood-tinged cyclone or a shroud of blowing red dust possibly concealing some sort of unseen, unconscious creature, is perhaps a more appropriate entity for consideration nowadays—as the Dust once again threatens to enshroud the planet—than great Cthulhu itself, but the fanatics of the Cult Cthulhu will not give up their adolescent fantasy that they are finally getting noticed by the gods. They bear a mutant baby and they think it means love from the Void.”
And, yeah, nearly all of it is just as impenetrable as that passage.
One afternoon you sit on your balcony and gaze across the way. Behind his own house, JB sits at a table in his backyard. He wears nothing but board shorts and sunglasses, as if he might be ready for a swim, but you suspect (to your despair) that he is never going to get wet in that in-ground swimming next to his table. Because when he sits at that table he does nothing but type and click on a laptop computer. Sometimes he does this long into the evening. Sometimes, after he has stopped for the day, you check his blog and see that he has just added another long and abstruse post about Cthulhist theology. On Twitter he might say something like, “Some people still want some kind of heart or smile from me. It’s fuckin’ comin’.”
You go to a local bookshop where you have an appointment to read aloud passages from your novel The Days of the Dust and the Diane Rehm Show and hopefully sign copies of the book, purchased by readers from the merchant who invited you there. Hardly anyone to date has bought it yet so you hope for a small breakthrough here.
The bookstore manager has arranged several rows of chairs in front of a table that you sit upon cross-legged and read to the guests. The passage you choose involves a dangerous, revelatory encounter between two young men aboard an airship cast in the form of a dream about alternate-history ancient Greeks who are uncovering an ancient horror on an asteroid that rolls in the dark between the Earth and the Moon.
In the front row sits JB. He is somewhat disguised, a Cardinals baseball cap pulled low on his forehead, Wayfarer sunglasses, but it’s plainly him. You attempt to avoid glancing at him too many times, deciding to observe his obvious desire for anonymity since no one else seems to have realized who he is. He listens to you read, occasionally taps on an iPad resting on his lap. During the question/answer period, he doesn’t ask any questions. Afterward, he buys a copy of the book but he does not get in line to have you sign it.
After he leaves, the bookstore manager says, “That dude who was sitting in the front, the one with the Cards cap, looked exactly like Justin Bieber.”
“I guess it could have been him,” you say, and the guy just laughs. Maybe he doesn't know that JB actually lives in the city now. Or maybe he just can’t picture JB coming into his store for any reason.
Later that night, you take a look at the blog and read this headline:
“Nokkthathuas and the Zeppelin: A-R Kanayda Shrouds a Deep Truth Inside a Family Drama.”
His first paragraph: “This evening I listened to the author read from the book at a local bookstore. Even though I’d already read it, I kind of wanted to see the person who wrote it in person, speaking aloud some of its weird words, hearing his actual human voice saying these things.”
Below this paragraph, inset within the post, is a picture of you from that night’s reading copied from a fresh post on your own website. You feel, for just a moment, quite nearly almost as embarrassed as you felt about the calendar because you understand that you are actually thrilled and flattered to appear on JB’s blog. On the new JB’s fuckin’ blog, which makes not a lick of sense. You’re a fucking fanboy so you do not care that what follows—his nine thousand word review/analysis of just one short segment of your novel—is nearly incomprehensible. And you love the fuck out of it when he cross-posts his new entry—about your story—to Twitter with the comment: “There’s a weird smiley/heart thing deep in here.” You could just die. Die.
One night you have a lengthy dream in which JB intermittently appears in various roles and guises: college friend, co-worker, boss, lover, brother, son. At one point, shortly before you awaken, he is leaning into you as if to hug you, and you permit this hug and you also permit him to kiss you in an awkward hesitant manner until you both eventually agree to this intimacy fully and kiss wetly with fully open mouths. The streaming spit between you becomes somehow thick and sticky and stringy like strands of rubber cement or semen. It thickens until your faces are bound together in a gluey mass from which you try half-heartedly to escape.
About a week later, you daydream that maybe you could really someday quit your day-job and take up the novelist life because JB’s endorsement has somehow caused Days of the Dust to rise into Amazon’s Top 100 in both Literature and Science Fiction and it looks like you might actually get a decent royalty payment for the first time ever in your life. But then a week or so later, it falls down into the top 30,000 and then down into the top 100,000 and then continues to plummet from there into the millions. But you have another one ready to publish and you can just go ahead and use JB’s endorsement of the first one as a cover blurb on the second one, and so it goes.
You go to the grocery store after work, very late and in a hurry for a shortcut for the pasta dish that H wants tonight. You peer at jars of various pestos and pickles and olives and other cured and marinated things at the Italian kiosk where a store chef has prepared samples of porcini mushroom/chicken risotto for the customers. You wonder if there is a container of something flavorful and piquant and oily that you can just dump into a pan with whole-wheat rotini and parm and be done with it.
JB says, “This looks really good, but I have no idea how to make it.”
You look up, turn around, and see him. He looks exactly like he did at the bookstore reading, sunglasses, Cards cap, t-shirt, board shorts. And he is looking at you. And his comment about not knowing how to make something was, in fact, actually spoken to you. Then you realize that you did not change clothes before you left work and that you are wearing a dirty green chef coat and black pants with pictures of fish printed on them. Of course, upon interacting with JB in person for the first time, Fucking Of Course! you’d look like this. And, Of course: he certainly thinks that you are the store chef who is handing out the risotto samples because that dude is not at his station at that moment.
“It’s not that hard,” you say, checking quickly to make sure that you even know for sure what “it” is. The display surrounding the risotto samples has all the stuff that the store wants you to buy to make porcini/chicken risotto. But you disapprove of how it’s really just a bag of some kind of fake-ass risotto product to which you add chicken and the store-brand cheese. You disapprove of the lack of fresh mushrooms, white wine, freshly grated cheese, fresh parsley. “It’s not that hard,” you say again. “But this isn't the way to do it.”
Though you resist the act of literally taking his hand in yours, the effect is similar as you lead him around the store and drop items into his hand basket: Arborio rice, shallots, garlic, assorted earthy shrooms, flat-leaf parsley, a box of chicken stock, a bottle of pinot grigio, a tub of grated parmesan. “It’s easy,” you adhere, “as long as you remember that you need about three times as much stock or other liquid as rice. What kind of kitchen equipment do you have?”
“I have everything,” he says. “I’m just not good at using it.”
“Just remember,” you say, “to not skimp on the heat when you start the initial sauté. Heat is your friend. And don’t lose patience with the rice. It will be correct at about twenty-two minutes. Google some directions or a YouTube vid if you don't remember exactly what I have told you.”
Fuck no, he says, you need to come to my place and show me.
Stopped, as they say, “dead in your tracks,” you say this next thing, feeling like a totally stupid tool: “Um. I don’t know about that. But maybe. Do you live in the neighborhood?”
You, he says, know goddamned well where I live.
When you finally return home that evening, H has already eaten dinner. You are amazed that his mood is good and that not a word is spoken about how late you are. He does not ask what kept you, does not disparage the fact that the groceries that you brought home are too late for tonight’s obsolete plan. He does not inquire as to where you were, and so you do not have to tell him right now the truth that you followed JB to his home behind yours and that you were at once excited and creeped out when JB changed clothes in front of you (which consisted only of removing his shirt and swapping one pair of shorts for another) and that you were delighted to guide his hands, your long monkey arms wrapped around him from behind, as you taught him how to properly chop an onion and smash a garlic head, and how proud you were that you actually did not get a hard-on and knock it against the small of his back while you were doing this. Because no one would have believed you about that.
And how, when you said goodnight just before you drove your car around the corner to your own house, you did not, emphatically not, accept his offer of a kiss goodnight, your kiss-spit remaining just a gluey rubber cement dream.