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American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
01-01-2015
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
01-11-2014
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
01-04-2014
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2014
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
10-01-2013
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
07-01-2013
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
04-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
10-01-2012
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-07-2012
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-04-2012
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
01-01-2012
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
01-10-2011
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
01-07-2011
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
01-04-2011
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
01-01-2011
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
10-01-2010
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
07-01-2010
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
04-01-2010
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
01-01-2010
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
Side Photo for The Big Stupid Review

Maybe I'm Stupid

By Steven Schutzman

— 1 —

Waking up at ten in the morning in a clean, sunny attic should've told me I wasn't in jail anymore. The quiet and the warm sun and the fresh sheets and the flowers and M&M's on the table and wine bottles and ribbons on the floor…

But that first morning out, I felt just as awful, maybe worse, because I still couldn't see my daughter. You don't need guards or bars or guys crying or yelling in their sleep or the stink of pine sol and night-sweaty bodies to feel like a prisoner. As sunlight streamed in, my heart was breaking because Karen was so close now but still out of reach because of the restraining order.

I couldn't stop my thoughts. Bad thoughts every one about the things done to me and the stupid ones I did back. And my sweet baby girl, my arms ached for her, and my lips. Somewhere on the floor a little battery clock was ticking. I could've listened to it all day.

The house below was quiet. My brother Stanley was down there, I thought, "taking steps", as he called them, to becoming a farmer because the world was going to hell and he couldn't stand anybody. He was a clothing store owner who couldn't stand his customers, a Jew who couldn't stand other Jews and a married man who couldn't stand his wife. Stanley's dislikes were telling him how to live, like a set of instructions.

One big step Stanley was taking was to get out of the stores while the getting was good. Last night, he even asked me if I wanted one but what would I do with a store?

Another step was to sell this house he spent years fixing up. Now that the work on the house was done, he disliked it and decided to buy, "dirt cheap" he said, some land upstate where big business was destroying family farms. Stanley didn't care that he was taking advantage of a real farm family's troubles. He didn't care if the farm house needed fixing or not. He didn't care what he grew or if he grew anything at all. Grapes or apples or corn or sorghum (whatever that is) were all fine with him.

My brother never said anything yet but I thought my stay at his house might be cut short when he started showing the place to prospective buyers. The For-Sale-By-Owner sign was near the front door ready to be pounded into the lawn. The house was so clean "a person could eat off the sump pump." It might give buyers the creeps to have in the attic a guy who tried to run over his wife and her lover by driving his car through a wall of the lover's house and ended up killing the guy's poor dog. It was all over the newspapers and TV. I wouldn't blame Stanley. It was definitely not a selling point to show me.

The truth about the farm was that Stanley was buying it so Deborah, his wife, could be nearer her Temple upstate and practice her Buddhism on a more regular basis.

My brother said that the secret to a good marriage was for a husband and wife not to have anything in common or to spend any time together.

The way he talked about her made me sorry for Deborah who put out the flowers and M&Ms she knew I liked, and ribbons on the wine bottles. I wanted to tell Stanley he was lucky to have someone to put up with him but ever since he hooked up with Rabbi Tannenbaum and got so interested in being interesting and starting arguments, it drained me of energy and made me lose interest in being interesting back.

Tannenbaum and Stanley had a weird religion together, a two person Judaism where every possible path led to God, especially the bad ones. According to Tannenbaum, you could believe in God, doubt God or curse God if you wanted. You could make God into an idol, dress it like Madonna and give her a whip. Basically you could do whatever because everything you did had to do with your relationship with God. "How could it not?" Tannenbaum asked. So anything could bring you closer to God, especially sinning which "helped speed things up like love at first sight". That's what he said.

When I reminded Stanley that he never believed in God in his life, he said, "Not believing is believing for me."

"What the heck does that mean, Stan?"

"My arguments against God prove God."

I gave up.

Since being dragged kicking and screaming through my Bar Mitzvah portion, with the help of three paid tutors who declared me hopeless, I wanted nothing to do with religion. I was no good at memorizing and it was pure torture trying to do it in a foreign language.

Stanley was never like this before he met Tannenbaum. The older brother I knew, the favorite of both our parents, was as straight an arrow as they come, the good son who returned home after graduating Brown and rescued our Dad's businesses while I was busy doing drugs. Living with a crazy woman like my mother, you needed chemicals to get you through. Both our sisters switched coasts and married dentists. I did a good job frying my brain and dropped out of Westchester Community College before getting my head straight again. Probably with our parents in Florida now and him turning forty with no kids, I thought, Stanley had gotten tired of being the good son.

"Buddhism's been perfect for keeping Deborah out of my hair," he told me the night before.

"What hair's that Stan?"

My bald brother frowned at me. This wasn't interesting or funny.

"Anyway, when Deborah and I fuck now, if we ever do, it's like we're strangers. Not bad."

"I wouldn't take her for granted. She's a great lady."

"I know. You want more Zinfandel? This bottle cost me more than one of the cheap suits in the store."

"Sure."

"We're at a better stage now, believe me, than when we were trying to love each other," he went on about his marriage. You couldn't stop him. "Strangeness is the only turn-on we have left. Just like you with that cock sucking bitch you married."

"I don't want to talk about her."

"Not talk about her? Not talk about her? Come on. Come on. Vent. Vent. Use me. Use me. I want to hear every juicy detail of how she humiliated you."

"Stop it, Stan."

"I want to feel sexual humiliation without being sexually humiliated."

"She won't let me see Karen. That's all that matters now."

"I guess you took a crash course in getting over her."

"That's not funny."

"Oh it'll all come out in the wash. They can't deny parental rights even for a homicidal maniac like you. You'll get to see Karen, sooner or later, supervised sure but what the hell."

"She's ten going on being a teenager, if you know what I mean. I want to be with her now."

"Don't worry. Tannenbaum has a plan."

"Oh boy, Stan. Oh boy. I don't know."

"If it wasn't for his detective work the adultery would still be going on behind your back. And he's even a better attorney than he is a detective. He'll be over tomorrow night to discuss things with you. He'd be here now but it's Shabbat. Starting twelve noon on Friday, he exits a door out of this life into the next one."

"So why don't you exit with him?"

"And lose the business? Shabbat, in any case, is a state of mind. I think he sleeps all day. But he told me that bitch is really trying to screw you over."

"I'm not going to talk about her I told you."

Stanley went wild.

"No way. No way. You think you get to stay here and not talk about her? No, no way. Now come on. Talk trash about her. Out with it."

"Why, when it'll get me upset again right after I just got out of jail?"

"I'm your brother."

"You don't tell me everything."

"Yes, I do."

"That's right you do and I wish you'd stop it."

"All right. All right. Sorry. Sorry. You want a good reason? I'm rich. I have no passion in my life, no struggle, so I have to import it."

"Import it?"

"Like cheap shirts from Singapore."

"I don't get you anymore."

"I'm too chicken to go to jail."

"So?"

"So here you are, not only my little brother but a rare Jewish jailbird who has committed a wonderful crime of passion and now I want to live through you passionately. Vicariously. You know what vicariously means don't you?"

"Don't insult me, Stan."

"The clock is ticking, buddy."

"I hear it."

"Not the one on the floor, stupid."

"I knew that."

— 2 —

Maybe I'm stupid. To hear Stanley say I was didn't mean much to me because it was always like a thing between us. But nobody likes to think that about himself. A person likes to think the things he thinks have some intelligence because, wrack your brains as you might, they are your thoughts, the same as your face is your face. But if it's true I'm stupid, it also makes sense I'd be the last to know.

Before disaster struck my marriage, I used to think of myself as a pretty average guy, a good father and pretty good sign painter willing to work at heights who after some mixed-up years built a good life.

But the last two years made me unsure of everything and I hardly knew what to think of myself anymore. The word loser came to mind first. But then 'loser' didn't seem right. I lost, sure, like a lot people lose, but at least I had gained something valuable to lose so I couldn't be a total loser, could I?

But then I asked myself, why did I lose? Because I couldn't figure the simplest things out. Because my wife's behavior made me go slowly blind in my mind. I swear, it felt like the thoughts were up there but I couldn't see them.

It started with her being so cold to me. All at once, everything I did began to annoy her. She froze when I touched her, stopped wanting to make love ever and would always be up late acting with her theatre troupe or dancing to rock and roll in the living room. Little did I know as she twirled with her eyes closed there was an imaginary partner who wasn't me in her arms. All I knew was she wouldn't come to bed and if I asked her to she'd throw a fit. I had to get up early and started needing pills to sleep. And the pills made sign-painting at heights a lot more dangerous especially in the morning. I started letting my partner drive my car to the job sites and tried to sleep on the way.

Of course I wanted to know why she was acting this way. My wife explained herself with the words she was "going through something deeply personal" which meant to me that whatever it was would come to an end, a thought backed up by the fact that she began seeing a psychotherapist to work it out. She even let on it had something horrible to do with her father. Now that stopped me in my tracks. Her father was a great guy, a bit of a nut but still. For someone in love though any lie is okay, she'd say anything about anybody, and like an actress, she was very good at lying. And I was a great one to lie to. Adultery never entered my mind.

What she was going through was deeply personal, all right. You can't get more personal than screwing and falling in love with an actor in your theatre troupe. And working it out with the psychotherapist really meant getting the therapist's approval for what she was doing. The therapist told my wife that, because committing adultery bothered her, she had morals. My wife told me this later with tears in her eyes. Because it bothered her, her wonderful therapist said, she was a moral person. I guess that's because a lot of people just do it without feeling bothered at all and she was better than they were. Me, like a good little husband, I gave her "space' to work it out. Soon I was banished to the guest room at night but something else started to happen. As part of her plan to keep me in the dark about her deception, my wife would often come in at night like a silent ghost to give me a blow job. It was the strangest thing: Now that I wasn't in our bed, she decided to make these nighttime visits. It reminded me of those girls in high school who'd drag guys on the basketball team into the bathroom at a party without much more than a hello.

The world of ghost sex is full of rules. It must be nighttime. The ghost must follow the exact same track, haunt the same place, visit the same people and do the same thing. My ghost wife had rules too. She wanted it to be like I was asleep and she was a sleepwalker. No talking was one rule. No touching by me was another. Not one kiss was exchanged between us. We even had a signal system to keep me from waiting up for her and maybe breaking my neck from a scaffold the next day. If she was going to visit me that night, she'd put a "v" in the corner of the blackboard we used for messages.

I did not turn her away. Even later, after I found out about the new guy, I let the ghost wife of my ghost marriage visit me. I craved it. I couldn't wait, after reading to Karen, to go down and check the blackboard. Then I would lay there like a scared child waiting for his mother to make him feel better in the night. To think about it now makes me sick.

One night, before I found out about the new guy, I told Stanley what was going on, minus the oral sex.

"I'm at the end of my rope. What should I do?" I asked him.

Stanley then said the three words that shocked me, "Hire a detective."

"A detective? Why?"

"Tannenbaum's your man."

"Tannenbaum's a detective? I thought he was a Rabbi."

"He is but he has no congregation except me. He's also an attorney. Plus I need to figure out new ways to give him money. He won't take charity." Stanley called up Tannenbaum who rushed right over.

"I'm sorry to have to say this, Bro, but it's obvious she hiding something from you and it's even more obvious that you're hiding something from me," Tannenbaum said when I finished my story.

He looked at me intensely from under the clip-on sunglasses he'd just snapped into their up position like an awning over his eyes. Down was for listening, up for talking. Still the sunglasses made no sense. Like I said, it was nighttime. This Rabbi maybe did things to mess with your mind. Or maybe he wore them lowered so he could raise them at the right moment. In any case it made him look like a can of tuna that had just been opened.

Tannenbaum was a wheezing, pudgy, disheveled guy soft in the middle with a pale complexion and hands that moved very precisely when he talked. I once worked with a sign painter like that, Bennie, who had an insulin fit on a catwalk and never moved his hands the same later.

Remember Jerry Garcia? Tannenbaum sort of looked like him without the beard. He had dark circles under his eyes, a toothpick holding one arm to his glasses and a Yankee cap, maybe for a Yomulkah. Plus he gave off a smell, something fleshy, something bready, like a corned beef sandwich.

"I told you everything," I said. "I can't think of anything else."

"Then it makes no sense that a man would let this go on and on."

"There is one other thing but it's a little embarrassing."

Hearing that, the two of them pushed and pushed and eventually I told them about my wife's ghost visits to the guest room.

Tannenbaum, rocking back and forth, stayed quiet. Not Stanley.

"Blow jobs?" he said. "Wow. Really?"

I ignored him.

"How many times a week?"

I kept ignoring him.

"I'd kill for a blow job."

"I think you're missing the point, Stanley," Tannenbaum said. "But it's all very strange."

"If they're good blow jobs, I strongly recommend not doing anything," said my brother. "Because not only is she out of his hair but he gets to put his penis in her mouth, which I'm told is a very wonderful thing."

"Your brother is suffering."

"Stanley has big problems with women, Rabbi," I said.

"You got that right," my brother said. "Who doesn't?"

"Our mother was a head case," I said. "And he was her favorite."

"Women were put on this Earth to torture us," said Stanley. "They drive you out of your mind like his is doing to him. They're unreasonable creatures who go crazy when they don't get what they want. So a man is constantly living under the threat of violence, insanity, badgering, browbeating and sexual deprivation. His wife has got him making all the money, taking care of the kid and sleeping in the guest room while she runs around acting in amateur plays and who knows what else?"

"In a marriage, you take turns giving and receiving," I said.

"Oh claptrap. Feminist claptrap to help her get over on you. When's your turn to receive, Bub? Before, women got to run the house, okay, because they did all the housework but now they get you to do the housework and still want to run the house, you and everything else. And tell me who has the better car?"

"I want her safe and I'd ruin the other car in a month going to work with all my painting gear in it."

"Louis, you're being taking for a sap."

The Rabbi snapped his sunglasses down.

"So," he said. "Your wife's a good fellator?"

"Fellator?"

"Oral sex, she's good at it?"

"How is that important?"

"Please, Bro, let me decide what's important."

"Okay. Yeah. She's good at it."

"And you found this out when?"

"What when?"

"That your wife was good at oral sex?"

"Look, we're a married couple. What kind of detective is this guy?" I asked my brother.

"A horny one, but still the best."

"How can I help you if you won't answer my questions, Bro."

"On our second date."

Stanley went wild.

"Your second date. She blew you on your second date. It's not fair. Totally not fair. Somehow, the kid gets in on the oral sex revolution and I don't just because he's five years younger. Five stinking years. What do I see when I come home from college? My little brother being passed around like a Ken doll."

"I was on the basketball team," I said.

"Stanley, please," Tannenbaum said. "Let me do my job."

"No, it's not fair. See, what good are brains? What good are brains? I'd trade all my brains in for his tomorrow, believe me, if I could have his looks. I get the brains and he gets the looks. I go to Brown and wind up selling clothes to Africans. He fries his brain with drugs and gets blow jobs all over the place. It's not fair."

"I just want my marriage back."

But there's no stopping my brother when he gets going.

"So what if his wife treats him like a slave? So what if he can be tricked by seven year olds out of his money? So what if he has the IQ of a bagel? The only important thing is he's tall and good looking and getting blow jobs while I'm short and dumpy and bald and going to prostitutes. That's right: Prostitutes. And you think you have problems, Louis?"

"Jesus, Stan. Prostitutes. Why?"

"Why, why? Because I like to be whipped. Here look at my back."

Stanley stood, turned around and raised his shirt. His back was criss-crossed by thin red welts.

"It's a sad state of affairs, no? A guy like me having to find his pleasure in pain. Women have done this to me. Jewish women. It's what you get from having a mother you can't please and a wife who won't please you."

"Remember pain is a path to God, Stanley," Tannenbaum said.

"So is sinning. I'd rather be sinning."

"Me too," the Rabbi admitted. "But I'm a shlump."

"Stanley, why don't you just do it with the prostitutes, instead of the whipping thing?"

"Yuck," he said. "Who knows what diseases I might catch?"

It seemed Stanley could figure out the trap in any situation and then land himself right in it.

"So your wife is a prostitute?" Tannenbaum asked me. The sunglasses were still down.

"No, she's an actress I said."

"Porno?"

"No, a stage actress."

"She likes it?"

"Acting's her art form."

"No. Fellatio. Oral sex."

"Yeah, I suppose."

"Let me suggest, Bro, that at a certain point every prostitute becomes an actress and every actress becomes a prostitute."

"So?"

"So you're probably not the only one she's servicing."

"Oh."

"My job will be to get you the pictures, names and addresses. I promise I won't let her do me."

"I wouldn't hire you if you were the last detective on Earth."

"I am the last real detective on Earth."

"Plus I'll be taking care of his bill," my brother put in.