Derrick stepped on the foot pedal, the silver lid lifted, and he dropped the frozen pouch into the trash can. Almost immediately he reached in and retrieved it and gently placed it back in the freezer. Why throw away perfectly good meatballs? For Derrick suspected he, like many others, secretly enjoyed horse meat. After all, hadn’t horse meat been served to him in countless hamburgers, meatballs, hot dogs, ground “beef” casseroles, ground “beef” anything really, for years and years and years? Had he ever once complained? Maybe only that one time after eating those tacos out at the fair. But that could have been the pig ears. If indeed they really had been pig ears. He realized he didn’t even like pig ears; deep fried, gelatinous vehicles for salt and seasonings, nothing but poorly cooked pork without the bite, a bacon tease. He wondered what a deep fried horse ear might taste like. What kind of seasoning would the horse’s ear demand? Red pepper? Cumin? Ancho chile? Hell, he thought, a man could eat anything if it was seasoned right. And just like that, an idea began to form. A strange idea, an idea so strange, in fact, he almost dismissed it out of hand. But it was true. A man could eat goddamn near anything in this world if it was seasoned right. No, not just goddamn near anything. Why, goddamnit, he thought, if it had the right seasoning, a man could eat it all. Derrick reached into the fridge and pulled out a can of beer that was neither hot nor cold. He opened it and surveyed the contents of his small apartment, a peach-colored futon on the floor, a stereo receiver and two speakers that didn’t work, a small black nightstand Jenny hadn’t bothered to take when she’d left, some clothes in a pile in the corner, some of which might even be his, and books, mostly books. Books and books and books. Books ran up the wall, shelved on two-by-fours that were perched on cinder blocks. The books that weren’t shelved were stacked into precarious towers or functioned as furniture. Books made chairs, a table. He ate dinner every night on a dictionary. The kitchen, too, was full of books. Maybe that’s why the idea first formed there. They were stacked in the cabinets, stacked on the small counter space. Books were even stacked in the oven. He was goddamn near drowning in books. Yessir, he thought, if it’s seasoned right, a man could eat it all. His decision made, Derrick affirmed it aloud, a spoken warning to all his possessions: I’m going to eat every goddamn thing in this apartment.
The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace
I really liked this book but didn’t finish it because I checked it out of the library and there were a bunch of holds on it, which means I wasn’t able to renew it, and since I got a late start reading it, not even picking it up until at least two weeks after bringing it home, I kinda panicked and had to cram read it over a couple of days up to the point where, standing in line to hand it to the librarian just before closing time, I actually went so far as to pretend I had just then finished the book by casually flipping to the very last page and making a big show of mouthing the final sentence and saying in an overly loud voice, “Aaaand finished!,” before thumping it shut and handing it to her with a triumphant smile that she didn’t acknowledge and I’m fairly certain didn’t even notice. For a long time after returning The Pale King I constantly used one of the narrator’s favorite phrases, “squeezing your shoes,” in conversations with basically everyone I know. “I’m just squeezing your shoes,” I’d say jokingly to a friend who, no matter who it was or how obvious the context, would inevitably look at me blankly and respond with, “What in the hell are you talking about?” It got so bad that Marty took me aside one afternoon at the bar and said, “Look, everybody thinks you should stop with the squeezing your shoes thing. It’s not catching on.” In hindsight, it occurs to me that by planting the “squeezing your shoes” thing in my head the author was probably just squeezing my shoes. In fact, toward the end of the book, in one of the last chapters that I didn’t read, I wonder if the author confessed that the “squeezing your shoes” thing was just an inside joke between two fictional characters instead of a commonly used phrase indigenous to the northwest circa 1982 and akin to “just messing with you,” which would make it pretty hilarious if someone like me read the book but didn’t finish it and therefore didn’t understand that it’s supposed to be a playful jab at the whole idea of youthful jocularity and male ribbing, circa 1982, and that this person would be so impressionable and naive that he would actually walk around saying “squeezing your shoes” all the time to friends who would be so utterly mystified by it and ultimately get so annoyed by it that they would hold an intervention of sorts to make the behavior stop, which you have to admit would be, and in fact was, pretty embarrassing. But other than that, I really liked the book. It’s not every day you get your shoes squeezed by a famous author.