Where to Get the Sugar – Forrest Muelrath
May 2, 2023
The way most of us read is about to change in fundamental and irreversible ways. If I began enumerating some of the programs presently entering the market that will be fundamentally changing the way we read, I would soon be lost in a cloud of technical writing, and then the ways that I am both reading and writing, as I am writing now, would quickly start to change. If I started enumerating the programs that are changing the ways we read, soon I would no longer be writing fictive prose. Instead, my writing would become technical, on the topic of computer programs – programs that are ceaselessly advancing at exponentially greater, and greater speeds. Ultimately, what would likely happen if I were to start enumerating these programs and the ways they might possibly change reading in fundamental and irreversible ways, is that I would begin programming computers myself, instead of trying to tell you a story. But I am not trying to program – for sure, this is not what I am doing. I do not want to program computers – I have programmed computers before, and in many cases, especially the present one, programming computers is not an effective way for me to tell a story. So, to be clear, I am avoiding programming, because I am trying to tell a story — a story about something that I feel is of extraordinary importance.
This process of telling a story in writing is not easy. I think it may have been easier one hundred years ago, when the typewriter was, by most accounts, the most practical piece of technology used to communicate a story to the most amount of people, at the greatest possible speed. Being that I am writing from this unique historical position when we are collectively standing at a threshold from where we can look back upon what we once knew as reading and writing – many of us likely with feelings of nostalgia and a desire to cling to the past – and then look the other direction and see a sketchy landscape, with an ever-increasing amount of debilitating obstacles that will likely obstruct, or even obliterate, reading in the future, the process of writing this story — a story which I feel is enormously important to communicate — is burdened by the uncertainty of what will become of storytelling in the near future.
Of course, you must understand that I may very well be lying to you. This story which I am claiming is so very important, may in fact be entirely trivial, not at all true, and offer only the thinnest sliver of insight into a way-of-being in the world — a sliver of light that is only exposed by an obnoxious persona I’ve propped atop on unwieldy ego – my own ego. So, an inauthentic way of being in the world, if you are stupid enough to believe such a thing could exist. Furthermore, the emphasis I am putting on the importance of a specifically verbal telling of this story, in writing instead of say, an audio recording that gets posted to the internet, may simply be an illusion I have conjured up especially for readers. I could, for instance, have merely created a portrait of a man — a man narrating a story — a man narrating a story who is, perhaps, erotically attached to the clacking sounds of his mechanical keyboard — a fictitious character, invented by me who becomes sexually excited when he hears his fat fingers slabbing on his big ugly gaming keyboard — a piece of computer hardware he bought instead of paying the gas bill one month — a man sexually excited by keyboard clacking made at the pace one clacks when writing a story, but not the pace one clacks at while programming a computer. Because much like the reading, writing, and studying of programming languages versus verbal languages, the sound made upon a keyboard while working with either, is distinctly different from the other, and it is the verbal type of clacking that sends the tingling sensation through this narrator’s ding-a-ling. In the end, after all, this is, in fact, fiction, and so you and I have already made an agreement that any or all elements of what I may be communicating in this writing, may in fact be bullshit. The earth is actually flat, an atom bomb just leveled New York City, and you don’t know shit in the world I made up unless I tell it to you. As if this project of writing and reading needed to appear any more absurd than it already is, you, the reader, should be furthermore reminded that your narrator is a big fat liar.
Perhaps of even greater concern about the ways reading is about to change, is the way that storytelling will change as a result of the ways reading will change. This thought causes me great feelings of unwellness — unrelenting anxiety, and many other terrible sensations for which we perhaps do not yet have words. Nor will words ever be coined for these sensations, if things continue on in the most apocalyptic trajectory I am imagining that they may continue. What if, in the near future, instead of storytelling taking on some new form— like it did when comic theater became the great 19th-century art form of opera, or when opera gave way to cinema in the 20th century— what if storytelling simply vanished? What if we all began relying on computer programs to tell our stories — computer programs so complex that no single human could possibly have a complete, and holistic understanding — from hardware to graphic user interface — of the way these computer programs work. We are not able to predict what will become of these computer programs in 50 years. Some of these computer programs were invented just today, and some of the computer programs invented just today will become obsolete tomorrow when someone else invents a program that supersedes the program invented the day before. What if people stop telling stories because they believe the computer programs are capable of recalling stories for us when we want them? And so all day we sit in ergonomically designed furniture, writing computer programs that will supposedly help improve our quality of life and our health, while listening to the ambient sounds of data processing, or perhaps even listening to music — music that we are sure was written to tell a story, but a story told by and about people we have never met before — people who are no more real than I, your mechanical keyboard eroticizing narrator, am to you.
What would happen then, is that time would become flat. All of our thoughts would be going into the narratives told in computer programming languages — narratives that have no beginning, middle, nor end. And it’s not just the forgetting of monumental historical events — historical events which a seemingly expendable social studies teacher tried to warn us about in a history class — the rise and fall of empires, the warming of the planet, slavery, the Shoah, the atom bomb, and so on, until eventually the sun explodes. Rather than these monumental historical events which some social studies history begged us to remember as if all of human existence relied on our ability to keep the greatest atrocities of human history at the front of our minds at all times, it is perhaps the narration of our day to day life which will have the deepest impact on our sense of being alive, no matter how banal or even repulsive these the little stories may be.
For instance, before he died, my grandfather would frequently tell me a story that went something like this. Hey Woody, I got to tell you about something, my grandfather would say to me, pulling me in close as if to share some great secret. I know a good place to get some sugar. It’s down at the White Castle on Elmora Avenue. I go there three, or four times a week, and I get all my sugar there. This is what yous do. You go in there around eleven in the morning, and you order a cup of coffee, which only costs fifty cents, by the way. Not bad coffee, either. After you got your joe, yous sit at the table, and they got these dispensers that are just full of sugar, and sweet and low, as well — I like the sweet and low because the doctor tells me it’s better for blood pressure. Anyhoot, I guess nobody goes into that White Castle no more because they all are going through the, you know, drive-through now, so the sugar dispensers are always full, and nobody cares if you take the sugar from them. Those people working in there anyway, my grandfather would shake his head and roll his big brown eyes, and go, pffft, forget about it. Those people. So you get your coffee and stuff your pockets full of sweet and low. And they give you a refill on the coffee, too. So around eleven thirty or so you get your refill and you walk down to the park, a block and a half down the way, and sit on the bench and drink your coffee. That’s when the girls from the bank come out on their lunch break — and there are some nice girls who work in that bank, let me tell you — so yous sit and watch the girls and drink your coffee, and that’s how yous get your sugar. I bring the sugar back to your grammy’s, my Grandfather would say, and she makes me another cup of coffee, see? And my grandfather would pull his stash of sweetener packets out of his pockets to show me how real he’s being as if his story would be irrelevant otherwise.
Unfortunately, for those advocating for illiteracy via programming languages, it seems that human happiness does somewhat depend on sharing these types of narratives about getting sugar, as frivolous, debased, or inconsequential as they may seem in the larger scheme of worldly events, and writing remains the best way to record these stories, so they are not lost in some multicultural game of telephone, and that we can recall their motifs and reinvent their plots for future generations, as I am about to do now.
The story is about a prince, of sorts. An American prince, if there ever could be such a thing. An American prince struck with a self-inflicted madness, who is struggling with maintaining the image of his father. I guess the story is sort of like Hamlet, and then many stories before Hamlet, all the way back to the Greek tragedians, and the Bible, and in many disparate oral traditions before writing even existed. I guess you’d say the story is a bit of a trope. In my version, there are only two main characters — a prince and his mistress — but there is a cast of characters around these two who could, in short order, affect billions of lives around the planet.
To make this prince seem more relatable, I’m going give him the name Boris Scumbath. a name that is clearly derived from my own — the real-life name of your narrator — your real-life narrator who becomes sexually excited by the clacking sounds made when typing out stories on his mechanical keyboards. In fact, in many ways, Prince Boris Scumbath is a lot like me. We were both baptized Catholic for instance, and I see in him weaknesses that I have — weaknesses, like guilt, self-loathing, and masochism, coupled with the desire to escape it all by detaching oneself from any sense of the body, perhaps in some attempt at spiritual atonement, to be one with god, by inundating the senses with an ungodly amount of drugs and alcohol, so as to become completely senseless. Weaknesses of our faith, some might say. The prince and I also have a weakness for Jewish American Princesses (colloquially known at one time, in a cutesy yet perhaps disparaging fashion, as JAPs) — which I personally feel no guilt about — in fact, I feel elated by it, perhaps saved in a way that Jesus could only aspire to save me. This is where the second character comes in, whom I will call Lilly because this is what Boris mistakenly calls her in his severely brain-damaged, mid-binge, crack prattle, even though her actual name sounds nothing like Lilly.
Boris is in many ways like me, but there is one key difference. He is a prince and I am not. My grandfather stole sugar from White Castle and then catcalled the girls who worked at the bank. Boris’s Grandfather saved 10,000 men in World War Two, established himself as a Great American Hero, and left in his wake a surname that would carry one of his sons all the way to the highest office in the land. So, when we get down to brass tacks, the most significant difference between Boris and your mechanical keyboard-loving narrator is several extra zeros in the bank account. Twice as many zeros in fact — whereas I have, in the best of times, had four zeros, Prince Boris, even in the worst of times, has eight zeros. This is why this story begins in a villa at the Chateau Marmont in LA, rather than in my roach-infested kitchen in Crown Heights. Or more specifically, this story begins with Prince Boris Scumbath getting kicked out of the Chateau Marmont because he had become so brain-damaged from smoking crack ceaselessly for many days on end, that he blew up his spot and the hotel staff kicked him out.
This is where the real part of the story begins — with Lilly offering to help Prince Boris with a new hotel room in LA, so that he can continue his crack binge. I say real part because there is allegedly an audio recording, made with audio image capturing computer programs, which captured an auditory portrait of prince Boris mid-crack binge.
The audio starts in Lilly’s hotel room with the 1992 country-rock hit Harvest Moon by Neil Young playing clearly in the background. (Come a little bit close / hear what I have to say… ) Lilly says near the beginning of the audio recording, So, I want you to know, I’m recording you. Before promising Boris that she will never show the audio to anyone, ever.
(Sounds of scraping on a plate, likely having something to do with using cocaine. Uninterrupted music, beginning with Neil Young. Boris and Lilly’s voices are clear enough so you can hear their breathing and sighs. Boris lights lighters and hits a pipe frequently. His speech is fast. His demeanor waffles between extreme irritability, and lust-filled attempts at appearing nurturing or remorseful. Lilly’s voice is sultry, soothing, and earnestly nurturing. She speaks slowly, with a lot of breathiness. Despite the fact that there are many disingenuous elements of this romantic coupling that may lead one to believe the two are simply using one another, there does seem to me, through their hazy drug-fueled night, an earnest caring for one another. An earnest care for one another, which I, with each clack of the keyboard, find increasingly endearing.
Other than the sounds of Lilly, Prince Boris, and their music blaster, there are just typical ambient sounds of an air-conditioned hotel room, during an LA summer night.)
Boris I don’t know what Daniella all of a sudden wants. I swear to God …. I know what she wants. (Boris sounds angered, amped up. Scattered, but decisive.)
Lilly What does she want?
She wants money! (Prince Boris did, in fact, transfer upwards of 15K to Daniella, in ten Zelle transactions between 2017 and 2019.)
Yeah… Why did it get … Why did you guys have, like, a falling out?
I don’t know. She became friends with, like, Ally, and then she ended up, like, literally, literally? I have no idea. I have done more forgive-me-nots than…
Then anyone could ever have done for her.
But it doesn’t matter… I don’t care.
Lilly Of course you care.
Lilly, I don’t even give a shit about that.
But mostly you give a shit about what she perceives of it… And it’s hurtful.
(Plucked dreadnought acoustic guitar harmonics, and Neil’s signature male tenor vocal harmonies in the refrain, On this harvest moon. Boris sighs as if he is about to jump out of an airplane with an untested parachute.)
Lilly, I don’t know…
Lilly Ok, so, like I said before, I’m recording you.
I don’t know if I can do this. (Sighing, mumbling cuss words, exhausted)
No, no, no — It’s fine, it’s fine.
I want to see that detail.
It’s okay, I’ll be the only one who has it… If you could say… if you could say something to everyone, what would you say?
(Inaudible grumbling, as Boris appears conflicted about sharing personal details, but also is tempted by an ear allowing him to air some grievances, before hitting a pipe.) I mean, I simply would appreciate that people not dismiss the magnitude of, when I say, I need some space. Because it is very rare that I ask for any fucking space or anything. (He begins speaking in a fast, staccato tempo, angered.) I mean, it’s unbelievable. I mean, unbelievable. People getting mad at me for not returning their calls or texts. I have, Robyn, a homeless person who calls me three times a day with a life-threatening situation because she’s not receiving money. I have Daniella, who, when she calls, it’s always for something, but in a very roundabout way that includes many things like, Please, I need a place to stay, and a job and an apartment, and a plane ticket, and, and rent and travel money for my boyfriend, who’s a felon who needs to get into rehab, and an abortion.
And I mean, it’s always life-threatening shit. I get a call from Liz who literally won’t return my calls unless she needs something, and she’s the only person that I get to talk to. The only connection to the rest of my world. I get calls from Natalie, who wants me to buy her mother a $7500 Mother’s Day gift.
(Lilly’s stifled giggles)
And how do I say no? And Hallie is the one who told Natalie that that’s what she wants for Mother’s Day. I get calls from my father telling me that the New York Times is calling. But my old partner, Eric, who literally has done me harm for I don’t know how long, is the one taking the calls because my father will not stop sending the calls to Eric. I have another New York Times reporter calling about my representation of the, literally, doctor Patrick Ho, literally, the fucking spy chief of China, who started the company that my partner started, who is worth $323 billion, and is now missing! The richest man in the world is missing! Who was my partner! (Fists slamming on the table, rattling the cocaine plate and booze bottles.) He was missing since I last saw him it was in a $58 million apartment and he had just signed a $4 billion deal to build the fucking largest fucking LNG port in the world. And I received calls from the Southern District of New York, from the U.S. Attorney himself, my best friend in business has named me as a witness without telling me, in a criminal case, and my father, without telling me… (Pauses to hit a pipe.) And on top of that, I am here and I’ve picked up really nice friends, really wonderful people. Shauna, who literally will not leave here and who is trying to give me a dog, whether you believe it or not. I love her. But you know what? Shauna really? Is that me? And I’m so upset I’m giving her $500-$800 because her house was robbed. I’ve known her for two days, she is a 56-year-old woman, who is old enough to be, be my mother. And I don’t know what to do, but say yes… After we repair our relationship, my wife has fucking stage four cancer and she’s the only one that was nice to me today, but I ignored her phone call and she says, Please answer my phone calls, you just have to get phone calls. Well, how does it feel to answer a phone call when every single phone call I have, not one phone call today that said, Hey, what can I do for you? Except for my Uncle Jimmy… You’re not going to part with this fucking tape recording because it could kill you, and I don’t want anyone to know that I killed you.
(Boris hits a pipe again.)
Lilly, this is everything in your fucking purse? And … by the way … I’m not talking about that …
(The song has changed now, dub reggae.)
And in the midst of this I am talking about a fucking criminal case in which Devin has named me as a witness, without telling me. While he’s working for and getting money from Jeff Cooper for an idea that was mine… and all the connections in which they’re doing for my dad…
And I’m paying $250,000, half my fucking Salary.
What happens if you just take that money away? Can you?
Yeah, I could.
So what happens if you do that?
I don’t fucking know. What happens is, you know, I don’t know. I just don’t make promises that I that I….
That you don’t keep… except to yourself. (With a knowing, I told you so, kind of tone.)
And I mean, I, I mean, the fact that I’m telling the truth is this is… just the thing is, that just, the thing is, that… because of all this was just today!
Yeah. Today. And people wonder why I’m fucking a little bit fucking jacked up.
And avoiding their phone calls… Duh.
And on top of that, Hallie is really — is literally running a campaign against me.
And the thing that sucks about that is that you two had a time when you loved her so much and you thought she was….
But I, I, I don’t understand it. I don’t. Why do I find it, you know, by the way… what does it mean?
What does it mean? It means that people will…
I let you down.
Yeah, but I’m, like, smart enough to know, like, you know, you know.
I know, but still.
You let me down and I was going to hold you accountable for letting me down.
But like I told you, you kind of let me down. I don’t know what you can do.
You know, you should hold me accountable. I’m never going to text about you ever again. And I shouldn’t. And I know that one of my flaws — one of my devilish sides — is that I like to talk about things like you, because I like to show off! You think that the night we had sex, I wasn’t texting like three people being like, I’m lying in bed with this incredible man… Like, I know this word sounds really silly to you, because Anna used it, but you are iconic. (Staccato, emphatic: You. Are. Iconic!) And so am I. Okay, remember that.
Okay. I don’t know what that means…. I mean, I’m being serious, I don’t know what that word means when you say it.
Okay, so you have to think who is an iconic person to you.
(exhalling smoke) David Bowie
Okay, who else. Your dad? Your dad is an iconic person.
Your brother is an iconic person. Who else? Someone from a different field. Let’s think.
I don’t think those categories are just for iconic people.
What’s the category.
That’s what I’m asking. I don’t know what the category is.
Category of what? The category isn’t anything but being iconic. Duh?
I don’t know if you’re being ironic?
I’m not being ironic. I think I’m the most iconic person I know. Except for you…. And now we’re iconic together.
(Boris’ stifled giggles)
Do you have ice… (Noise of shuffling around kitchen appliances… aside from cocktails, ice is often used while cooking freebase or crack.)
Can I tell you a fantasy of mine?
I want to go to the Met Gala with you?
What was that? They just had Met Gala? (still noise of ice search)
I’ll get… I’ll show you, the Met Gala was on Monday.
But what was it?
The Met Gala has been around forever, basically in the museum, in the Met there is the Costume Institute, which is the mini museum of fashion. And every summer they have a show, um, my grandma used to take me every year. The first one she took me was Poiret, which is a French designer, then they had the Alexander McQueen retrospective. They had one that was on. It was so cool. It was the Prada…
What was the last one tho?
The most recent one was on Monday. The one on Monday. So. But the show, it basically is a gala where the tickets are like crazy expensive and it raises money.
Can you give me the, the ice… is there ice in there?
No, I can call for some.
It’s okay, I’ll go get some.
The two trays are empty.
It’s okay I’ll go get some at the pool.
Can I come with?
Yeah, of course
K. So basically the gala started with…
What did they get for this gala?
For this one, it was, it’s the same thing. It’s like a mix between, like traditional religious clothing.
Like what? Like the pope’s, like, like group, like papal stuff.
Yeah, like papal stuff. And then something like a marital art that was inspired by it.
You know who designed the, the, clothing of the pope’s guard, you know who this was?
The kind of people that guard the Vatican?
Yeah, yeah. They guard the pope.
(they are looking at the Wikipedia entry on the Papal Swiss Guard)
Yeah. That’s crazy. That’s so cool. That’s iconic.
That’s what I would call iconic. Yeah, I haven’t reached the level of being a super human being.
I am going to pause the transcription here as I clean and lubricate my mechanical keyboard. The clacking sounds grow out-of-tune and become increasingly less pleasurable if the keys are not properly lubricated every 30,000 charterers or so. Anyway, Lilly and Boris are beginning to drift apart. Lilly wants to indulge her fantasy about attending the Met Gala, while Prince Boris is clearly growing more desperate for ice, which he needs either for his cocktails or for making crack — probably both. They’ve also run out of cocaine, which as many will tell you, can be quite distracting midway through a night of partying.
The audio continues on for another 20 minutes or so, the two of them chattering ceaselessly, but I think we should skip ahead to the end. If one should wish to make an epic tale of this event, involving the global characters that are connected to Boris – characters that have played some part in a disastrous war, and ongoing confusion about changes in the global economy, as well as individual struggles for power – enough information is already present in the preceding dialogue for one to set out researching their own great modern tragedy.
As for me, I feel quite satisfied by what I have thus far typed. I feel quite satisfied that my keyboard clacking was able to set in text some very life-like dialogue of an American prince and his mistress mid-crack binge. So I will bring you to the end, and let you know that you can listen to the tape yourself, and make up your own modern version of Hamlet, or political thriller, or Right Wing propaganda melodrama — whatever. The audio, at the time of this writing can be found at the URL https://makesomething.online. And please don’t link to or copy and paste this URL. It brings me great pleasure thinking of you typing out each character on your own keyboard. I will try to keep the URL active for as long as possible, but I can’t guarantee anything. As I said before, I prefer to tell stories rather than program computers, and it seems likely this particular URL may be attacked or blocked by people who do not want the audio image out there in the world, and I don’t have much desire to prevent anyone from attacking the URL.
After Boris gets in contact with his dealer, the couple moves outside, into the LA night air. They both begin to sound more cheerful. Perhaps satisfied by the amount of drugs they’ve consumed, or enamored by the thoughts of the sex they could be having, their speech grows increasingly drowsy. Boris tells a heroic and likely hyperbolic war story about his grandfather saving 10,000 men on a beach during World War 2, and then goes on a tangent about Teddy Roosevelt. Lilly and Boris also discuss Kanye at length, of whom Boris has many disparaging opinions, as he repeatedly mispronounces the pop star’s name. There’s more, and even if I am satisfied with the amount of keyboard clacking I have done today, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to the audio. I have, many times, because, to me, it satisfies a hunger for reality in ways which most attempts at gritty depictions of reality today — especially in mediums that are not writing — simply fail.
Boris I called him you know.
Lilly Is he there?
Yes, he is. But he’s not supposed to be free for a long time, you know, it’s 140 but we, we…
Gotta run to the bar.
K. Let’s go. I feel like hopping. Molly makes me feel like hopping up and down like a bunny! Squeaky, squeaky, squeak!