The Flow of Life


My name is Mike. All my friends call me Mike. My passport says Mike. My secretary calls me Mike. My grandmother calls me Mike. I’m not an exotic type of guy. And that’s the way I like it. No bullshit. Besides, exotic here is normal over there. There is no exotic. Everybody is Mike.

I don’t like my job. It’s important but it’s boring. Very routine, very redundant. I’m an inspector for the municipal sewer system. I make sure all the shit flows smooth. Not very glamourous. But somebody’s got to do it. Most people never even think about it. They just flush. Then they go out and buy more gourmet food.

I wear a suit to my job. I have to. Regulations. You have to look dignified to conduct business. Every time I tell people what I do for a living they think I’m an asshole. An asshole with a suit on. A lot of assholes are more comfortable than I am. Wearing a suit makes me sweat and feel stiff. I don’t need that shit.

Women aren’t too impressed with my profession. I am concerned because I am single. Women shit almost as much as men do. About 85%, if you check the statistics. They all want beautiful houses. Their beautiful houses would be washed away with shit if it wasn’t for me. I provide a beautiful and safe environment. I’m not a big hit at parties.

I have a friend named Hans. Hans is full of shit. He talks about art with a lot of passion. Hans doesn’t know shit about art. He has an accent. The women eat it up. Hans is a big hit at parties.

There was one girl I really liked. She really liked Hans because she said he was really dedicated to what he believed in. She didn’t realize that Hans was full of shit. She was fooled by his haircut and his sincerity. He has an artist’s haircut. He has a pigeon’s brain. He really is sincere. He is fooled by his own haircut.

Her name is Helen. Naturally, she is beautiful. I don’t fuck around. Hans did. Repeatedly. I am gracious in defeat. I hate Hans’ guts. He is my friend.

Helen laughs at my jokes. I have a wry sense of humour. Hans says I talk a load of rubbish. I make fun of Hans all the time. He thinks he’s superior to me because he’s an artist and I’m a person of limited creative genius. His bowel movements are rarely solid. He complains about this to me. He also tells me about his affairs with women. I’ve heard a lot of juicy details about Helen. I would have preferred first hand experience.

I met Helen first. It was a really uptight party. Everyone was hiding behind a rock. Helen was laughing. Her eyes were sparkling. I looked at her. She looked at me. I looked at her again. She was looking at something else. I was not deterred. I approached. She turned and looked at me right in the eye. “Hi.” I said. I was winging it. “Your eyes, your lips, etc.” I said. Her upper lip curled into a cunning smile. Beautiful teeth. “Are you complimenting me?” “I’m worshipping you.” “That’s going a bit too far.” Sparring. Testing the defenses. Just light jabs.  “Show me one girl here that’s half as attractive as you are.” I waved hand at cannon fodder occupying space. “What about blonde in red dress?” “You’re right she’s incredible.” She laughed. Surprised. “You’re supposed to say she’s not half as pretty as me.” “I’m an honest man.” “I see. What about the one in black?” I focussed orbs on stunning temptress in doorway. “My god! I didn’t see her before.” Repetition of laughter by goddess. Approach parasitic weasel. “Helen meet Hans.” “Hello, etc.” “Etc.” “I am art.” “Oh I adore art.” More or less. No more humour. Just serious frowns and sincere declarations. Hans used a plunger to ravish the depths of the human soul. And so forth.

Thirty five second conversation with blonde in red dress. The penis stood fast while the cerebellum fled. I solicited the joys of alcoholic coma in the kitchen. Extraction of ice from ice tray produced following conversation. “Have you got a blow torch in your pocket?” “No. But we could turn on the stove.” “Yes. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes.” “Oh there it goes. By the way, my name is Jennifer.” “My name is Mike. Just one syllable. At your service. One cube or two?” “Two please. So what do you do Mike?” “I’m a typical yuppie. I process excrement.” “What type of law do you practice?” “Good riposte. Actually I manage the sewers.” “Oh how wonderful!”

The unusual response merited dinner for two the following evening. Typical 1980’s chic restaurant. More atmosphere, less filling. Calligraphy on the menu. Shit on the plate. Enough to feed a small dog. At Akita prices. We presented our documents at the door. The stiff collared gatekeeper acknowledged our acceptability in his fine establishment. I personally am always flattered to be recognized as a human being. No blue jeans. No bare feet. No dogs. The gnashing teeth around us belonged to ex-hippies who had traded in denim for pin-stripe. Or kids who went straight prep school-Ivy League-Wall Street and think hippies were just stupid freaks.

Jennifer is the greatest. Even though her name has three syllables. She is my pal. There is no obligation to sleep with everybody. Even most Baptists will agree with that. If she was beautiful I’d probably be in love with her. Too bad. I’m in love with Helen. I told Jennifer this. She might be a little jealous but she doesn’t show it.

Jennifer practices consumer interest law. She phoned me at my office one day. The sun was flooding in through the window curtains and glaring at me as it reflected off the face of the clock. This description is irrelevant. I am exercising artistic license. Jennifer had a tip for me. Thump Realtors was pulling a fast one. Two thousand units of new high income housing. Thirty five hundred yuppies on new land fill. Yuppies produce a daily average of 20 ounces wet weight of excrement per capita. That’s a total of 4,375 pounds per day. Almost 800 tons per year. Thump was not providing adequate treatment for the 800 tons per annum.

Thump had all the proper forms. All the proper forms had signatures. One proper signature tied my stomach up in knots. I nervously reached for a cigarette. I remembered I didn’t smoke. I sat down. All that was pure was now soiled. Helen’s signature guaranteed Thump’s deference to city, state and federal regulations.

I dialed Thump and asked for Helen. She answered her phone laughing. I heard Hans’ stupid foreign accent in the background. “Do you know what 800 tons of shit smell like?” “Oh Mike is that you? How are you? Hans is here. We’re going to Ramon’s Cafe for lunch. Can you join us?” “I dispose of shit, not eat it!” “Oh come on. They say it’s a fine restaurant.” “Does 800 tons of fecal matter per year mean anything to you?” “Yes, it means you’re disgusting.” “Very disgusting, but at least I deal with the issue.” “What issue?” “The issue from the 3500 yuppie rectums at Thump Towers.” “Mike, what the hell are you talking about?” “I didn’t know you worked for Thump.” “Well now you know. Now what’s all this nonsense about? I’m starting to become annoyed.” “Your signature is on a form at my office. Form B19801.”

Heavy pause. The knot in my stomach grew tighter. I was being cruel to the one I loved. I had no choice. Life is a closed system. The system must be managed. The disposal of fecal matter is an integral part of any socio-economic system and it is my sacred trust to see that it is carried out properly. While innocent men, women and children are sleeping peacefully in their beds at night, Mike is standing guard, watching over their sewers.

“So, what is this form B whatever?” Slight twinge of apprehension in her musical voice. “Certification of proper sewage disposal.” My tone was even, flat, emotionless. My heart was bouncing off my diaphragm into my esophagus. Serious infraction. Stiff fines. Possible jail sentences. “So? What about it?” “We at the Ministry of Pungent Aromas have reason to believe that this form is not in order.” “Mike you’ve got to be joking!” “This is no joke.” “Well I’m sure everything is all right. It’s just a form that everybody has to sign. A few more housing units won’t make any difference.” “The municipal sewer system is already operating at overload capacity. The rat population is on the rise. Do you want to see Black Death raise the housing vacancy rate above 2%? Think what that would do to Thump’s profits.” “Oh Mike, for Christ’s sake. What Hans? Mike is accusing me of causing bubonic plague.” Slight pause as Helen wastes time listening to drivel from Hans. “Hans says you should relax and stroll over to the museum and look at the Monet exhibit.” “Hans lives in a Monet exhibit! Besides, there was probably sewage underneath the lily pads.” “Mike, don’t you think you’re taking yourself a little too seriously?” “That’s the kind of responsible, community minded answer I was hoping for. I don’t think you appreciate the seriousness of the offense or the penalties. Anyway I called as a friend to give you a warning that one of our inspectors will be investigating this case. You have two or three weeks to straighten things out.” “Thanks for the warning.” She hissed petulantly through what were probably clenched teeth.

I hung up the phone. Helen went off to disembowel herself with Herr Artiste. They probably deserve each other. Eating mediocre food at a pretentious restaurant, talking about art and not giving a damn about what happens to their bowel movements. Helen’s playful smile tormented me still. I examined my brown bag lunch. My stomach twitched. My mouth was dry as ashes. I opened a file. I stared out the window. The sewers were on their own that afternoon.

Hans came by that night. Why was I persecuting poor Helen, etc.? Just a form. Meaningless red tape. Glorious individual versus paper shuffling, useless bureaucrat. Incidentally could I lend him $50. A few drinks with Helen and typing paper.

Hans is writing his thesis. Art history. Reputable weed league university. A thesis topic must be original to be of academic value. After generations of Ph.D. candidates, the juicy topics are long gone. Thus begins the examination of the obscure. Standards of academic quality must be satisfied. Hans has written 130 pages about the composition of a solid, sky-blue oil painting.

Hans’ advisor is very enthusiastic. His advisor is very prolific. His own thesis is now required reading for any young artiste. Five times a year he changes a comma and republishes. Maybe one day he’ll receive tenure and he won’t have to be prolific any more.

He is Italian. Hans loves Italy. He says it has more soul and more culture. Germany is clean as a whistle. Germans are uptight frustratti. Italy has more garbage on the streets. It’s more soulful to throw garbage on the street than to dispose of it properly.

Hans extracted the fifty dollars and offered to buy me a drink. He was meeting Helen in 15 minutes. We walked to Leahy’s Tavern. A nice place. We ordered two brown ales. Brewed by the owner himself across the street. We stood by the fire and sipped our beers.

The door opened behind us. The cold, damp wind blew on the back of my neck. The man next to us looked up and stared. I knew Helen had entered. Then her perfume stung my nostrils. My heart hammered on my ribs. I turned and shielded my eyes from her radiance. “Well if it isn’t the public servant.” “At your service Madame.” Half bow. Mock gallantry. A sneer graced her lovely face. As if I was one of those objects she flushed away so remorselessly. Not exactly a joyous reunion of old friends. I felt like a jackass for having come. I should have resisted the temptation to see her again. I finished my beer and left.

To make a short story shorter, I’ll just end it here. I never saw Helen again. Only in a dream. Hans did. For two more weeks. I’m in a lousy mood. I don’t feel like writing any more. I’m sure you understand. The hell with you if you don’t. Incidentally, Thump complied with federal, state and city regulations. You have to keep an eye on businessmen. Everyone wants to make money. Nobody wants to take responsibility. My name is Mike.

My name is Mike.