Humiliation Ritual – Garth Miró
November 1, 2022
I was doing really good, I thought, for a man up against both love and lust. So what if I needed a little help? I’d tried everything else: I’d jacked myself raw. A writer cannot allow himself to be overtaken by his muse.
It was mid-afternoon, when the laundromat was usually empty. People with normal jobs had work, I knew that, and had come just so I could sit unbothered.
I tapped out a letter on my phone to you:
To be expected, dust motes were falling through shafts of light, and there was the murmur of dryers, and an old fat woman of vague Eastern European descent was aggressively folding someone else’s laundry, perplexed as to why in America such a job existed. She was not smiling, for in her sensible prehistoric motherland smiling about such things to make others feel comfortable would be considered superficial, obscene. I liked her. I welcomed the honesty. It was degrading, this asinine stage built for us lower classes to perform that we knew how to keep clean, as proof. But what did annoy me to the point I had to stop working on the letter, was this art student pretending to perform doing her laundry.
Clearly she was slumming it; she secreted that certain satisfied glee only the upper-middle class secrete when nobly lending themselves to a righteous cause, finally getting to use their (usually new) privilege on lowly urchins. Pungent. I couldn’t concentrate. I knew it had to be research for a likely far-too-long short film, likely a documentary, or chapbook, and that one day I’d have to read praise for this chapbook or film in some self-important magazine, describing how brave she’d been to come down here and risk it all for “art.”
I started imagining, against my will, an excerpt from said magazine, page 41: In this scene, the director wants us to contemplate the juxtaposition between her subject’s permanent misery, and their moronic pride over rags. See? How Herr Directoress decontextualizes her subjects through the use of Dutch angles, shooting the laundromat dregs on a lens traditionally reserved for nature documentaries?
I was relieved, to say the least, when the skinny black man came stumbling in carrying a large green duffle, scaring away this art student.
“Tasers!” he called out, reaching into the bag and producing what looked like a small pink ciabatta. “Tasers: thirty, fifty dollars!”
I wondered why he was screaming so loudly, since again, it was only me and the Eastern European woman, but then thought it was probably just residual amplification from having to compete with the outside street, and that he wasn’t insane, and that it would be fine, yes, to wave him over, to buy a bootleg taser in a coin laundromat, even if the tattoo on his neck kind of looked like it said “cracker rape.”
“Can I see one?” I asked.
He stomped straight at me, hacking strangely, and I’d said something wrong and he was furious. “This one’s for girls,” he said, swallowing some phlegm and smiling and handing me the pink one. “But I got black and shit, if you need something, man.” I saw the tattoo actually said “Queens Vape”—maybe more disconcerting, both for the reason my mind was clearly a sniveling, self-preserving projector, mapping outlandish yet stereotypical middlebrow phobias onto minorities, and because people were seemingly so hard-up they were selling their bodies to advertise such ephemeral businesses—places that would only ever be considered businesses in Queens.
“No, this one’s good,” I said, giving him a nod; a silent nod that simultaneously conveyed I was shameless, shameful, and obliged he was here, for this was not for me, but my female girlfriend. An impossible nod in other words.
I was only planning on sending it over as a little joke gift anyway, to accompany the love email—although there was no way it could arrive at the same time; thank God not everything in this world is instant yet—, signing at the bottom that if you rejected me, or thought I was crazy, or too forward, you’d at least have the proper protection.
Because while I was forward, I wasn’t mad. I knew only complete psychos handed over love letters without a present. To a woman, words are nothing; women own the empire of words already, they need proof, or more accurately, something to show off to their friends.
The letter? In so many words I was telling you off.
I had my taser and again, I started:
Dear (I deleted “Dear,” too formal) Celine,
I am still in disbelief you slapped me. I guess you don’t understand the great courage it takes for a man to confront his muse, and therefore himself, rising to the occasion when presented. I mean, walking up to a woman in a crowded restaurant alone should earn some sort of sympathy, but we are clearly far beyond those civil times.
You must not abandon me, now that I’ve seen you. That would be a crime worse than any, and, now that I think about it, if it’s your prerogative to leave, you must, if you have any morals at all, do so permanently. Yes, I’m talking about suicide. It’s the only considerate option.
(I’d already gone way off. I deleted the whole section and started again.)
Celine, if the reactive impulse comes to you now, as you open this love email: do not ask me to look for another. The curse is done, it’s permanent. I’m fucked. You irrevocably changed me that day and I must have you.
Who am I? Yes, I guess I should tell you something if we’re to spend a life together. Right now, I am nothing. I was born lower-middle class, nothing too horrible, except for the fact we lived in the way of the middle-middle class, and therefore suffered daily. It put a matted beast of shame in me. Our extra rooms were always empty, or worse, a single chair or potted plant sat in the middle of the carpet like an idiot. Laughing. I could never invite over friends. I felt too ridiculous, and knew I needed to climb from that.
(I’d done it again. Had no idea where this was going. I started over.)
When I saw you it all changed.
Usually, I’d have some big epiphany. But when I saw you in the restaurant it was clear and simple, no big thinking involved. Insane genius starts small. I believe now that insanity is the quickest way to immortality. I have it in me, if you will just help spur it on. I will write us into Forever.
Well, I’m usually hyperfocused, even selfish. (Though not the type of selfish that will be a problem in our relationship.) I’ve never thought it good to devote your life to doing good—it must be a sin to enjoy yourself that much. I know, as a true writer, you must first help yourself. Someone has to see what’s down in the mucky bottom. You can help me dig further, your presence, your money, your faith in me. The dig will be the thing that immortalizes. I’ve already done extensive exploring. I feel bad all the time. And from my feeble understanding of the bible and God, the psychological and philosophical perspectives, that’s a good sign.
I can take us places none have gone. I believe in my selfishness that much.
When I was a kid, I went up to my window and jacked off staring at the blank black apartment windows facing me, the world. See? This is proof I’m high-minded.
Why am I telling you this? Because if I were to suspect, I would say you came from a rich family, much like a girl I saw this morning. I know the waitressing gig is just you trying to prove you can make it on your own, you certainly go to NYU, are studying to become an actress, or a designer. I’m telling you all this to prove that attaching yourself to me will give you that street legitimacy your kind so desires, and that you can still be certain your rich parents will be proud. This is going to be BIG; I am big; we will enter the art world gloriously. You the muse, possibly the wife, of a real street-writer hero.
A pretty great offer, right? It must be good of me, to offer you this…
(I hesitated a moment, but ultimately decided the following was important, had to go in.)
So. It’s here, assuming you decide to come with me, that we should talk about sex.
I’m not a sex freak or anything, but it’s an important aspect for living together. I’m not saying I want to lock you down. I understand a woman’s need for a range of partners. I’ve had, and would not be against having in the future, threesomes. I think being open to this scenario would help ease us both.
But I would like to lay some ground rules.
I will agree to please you in whatever manner pleases you most, if you only allow me to have my way once, preferably twice, a month. I guess I’m taking a long time to just come out and say the fact is I’m a foot man. I’ve been told I have a quite-skilled tongue, and have no childlike aversion to the anus or really anything down there, hair, labia, both minora and majora, but I prefer the feet. The dirtier the better. My second rule would be that you not wash those feet.
Trust me, I’ve thought about it from all angles. I wish I could kill you. For what you’ve done to me, igniting this inextinguishable fire, it should certainly be allowed: this sort of retaliative murder, under a wise and civilized law system. But America’s been overrun by moralists. I’m sure I would go to jail. Again, I’m not a murderer. I’ve merely had flashes. Even if you say you never want to see me again, I will not kill you. I promise. I feel I have said I will not kill you an alarming amount of times now, almost like I’m trying not only to convince you, but myself. I simply need to, must, no matter what, go to dinner with you. Preferably not where you work. The food last time was not so good, and I’m pretty sure the chef has a problem with coke, and does not wash his hands thoroughly during the frequent bathroom breaks such a problem requires. Check on him the next time you can. Let me know when you decide my fate, about all this, and I will do the honor of choosing the place we dine. We shall dine! You, my muse!
Love (I crossed out “Love” and wrote “Pain”),
After that, I went back into the draft and wrote “PS,” filled another page, and then seventeen more reaffirming this was not desperate insanity, but true discerning romance. She would have to fall in love with me, if not for the impressive quantity alone.
I hit send and felt very good, like I’d done a good and perfect thing. Baring one’s truth is important. I’d bared a lot. That was good, right? To bare such truths? It had to be the most important letter I’d ever written. Maybe I’d said too much? I went into my phone and looked at the outbox. I looked up ways of retrieving things from the outbox. Impossible. Maybe it was fine. She was surely a sensitive and caring person, would understand. I looked up ways to access other people’s inboxes. No go. Hackers were basically fiction. The email had been sent. OK, fine. Great! I felt great about what I’d written. I read it through again. This was bad. I thought about moving to another country. Looked up plane tickets. Expensive. No. I was, as they say, fucked.
Just then the buzzer beeped, reality was back in all its beautiful horrible rawness. I took my laundry out, felt a twinge of something supremely wrong, the tracks of Fate clicking, and shoved it all in the bag and hurried to leave.
I had to go! I had to take the train all the way Uptown to the restaurant and somehow intercept.
In a panic, as I flew out the door, turning left down the street, my laundry bag in front of me so high I couldn’t really see, I bumped into a group of teenagers.
And they were quite large, for teenagers.
“What the fuck!” one of them said. I’d made him spill a red-colored drink down the front of his white shirt. “Watch where you going, you fucking pussy!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, backing away.
“You gonna let him get off easy? Ruined your new shirt?” his friend inquired.
The others started chuckling, and the one who had almost decided to let me off started to reconsider his original conclusion.
“Yea, you know what?” he asked, lumbering forth. “You owe me. Looks like you got a lot of nice clothes. Maybe I can look through.”
“Please,” I said.
“Please what, pussy? Maybe I’ll just take the whole fucking thing!”
“Please,” I said again, like my mind had frozen. I’d become an idiot.
“Shut the fuck up—please, please, please! Suck my fucking dick!”
And then my hand—maybe it’d been triggered by the word, remembering past incidents with said member—was moving independently from the rest of my body. It went into my jacket pocket and gripped the taser. I had no time to argue, the action was automatic, I stuck the thing in his chest as he marched up to me.
I clicked the button.
He looked down at the tiny pink ciabatta, then at me. It hadn’t come with batteries, or maybe was just defective, and I promised myself in the future to never buy such important items from a screaming man with a duffle. We stood staring at each other. It was silent, and then all the friends burst into laughing and punching, hanging on each other’s shoulders for support.
“Look at that thing!” one of them said.
“It’s fucking pink!” said another.
The fist came screaming into my face from the side. I didn’t really feel it, but all sound left me. Then I was falling. I wanted to retaliate, or at least tell the kids to go on ahead and please tell you that the email I’d sent was a joke, but they were leaving, too far away, and I was falling, and finally it was black.
In the black, I thought about how you would look when you read my letter. I saw your face, and it was laughing. You took your phone and called over everyone in the restaurant, to show them, and this crowd, they all laughed together as one. Uproarious! There was so much joy. Faces lit up. Pure jubilee. I’d created it, all with my writing. I smiled. Felt waves of humiliation roll over my body, shimmering tropical waves.