DeLillo In the Outback.
BY Neal Pollack
You sit in the airplane preparing for the adventure of your life. Only you don’t know it is your life, and as the plane descends you hear a sound, a piercing of the air, and it is someone barfing. You are among strangers, sixteen in number, yet they are, also, familiar, a mote of memory in a schism of time. They have auditioned to come here, and you have auditioned to come here to be with them. They are here. You are here. Yours and theirs, they are and you are. Whatever you are doing, they are doing, and their yellow wrap-around headbands are yours, and vice-versa. Then you are on the ground and you are running. Toward a box, which contains items, including water and knives. The box is full of details that are more than details, half-true legends that are not your own. You will carry the rice. The rice you will carry, until the hike is through. And then you will take a swim.
There are seven others in your camp, and you did not choose to be with them. They have jobs that are not jobs, lives that are not lives. They do not like to wear much clothing. You hate them and want to kill them, but know you must stick together in order to survive. You ask one:
“Who are you?”
“I am she who is not she. I am the he in your she.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Here? What is here? What is there about here?”
You look for wood to build a fire. It is cold, and you are hungry, and you need heat, and food. Alone, you hear whispers on the wind. You search for context, but find none, with people who are not people, in a place that is not a place. When you return, they are reclined and smug.
“It is not fair how you are treating me,” you say.
“Do the thing,” they say. “Do the thing with the sticks.”
You rub the wood and it feels warm. Eight souls in search of smoke, but you sense the snickering behind. Feel it in your bones, and pray for night.
You, the collective, are eating bugs. It does not feel good, but it is necessary for survival. It is a bug-eating contest. Jeff is with you, and he is wearing khaki.
“They ate bugs before civilization,” he says, “and they will eat them after the nuclear winter has come and gone.”
You say, “What?”
“It is a steady diet. Some are dead and some are larvae.”
You see the midday sun and think what you have never thought about the sun at noon before, about the interplay on the plants, the dust and air, and you wish you were another man, in another time.
The bug is placed between your thumb and index finger, and you study it in mock detail, a concave mess of wriggling ooze. You are a true artist confronted with authentic subject; your rictus twists into a studied grimace. “This will be difficult,” you say. “A thing that is not a thing.”
The slime is on your lips and in your throat. You chew and chew and think of childhood, and soon the bug is down. But then your teammate vomits, a miasma of gore half-remembered, and immunity is denied.
“Leaving,” says another to you.
“What is leaving?” you say. “Who?”
It is night, and Jeff is there again, atop a cliff and a waterfall lit by the beacon light of hope and dreams. It is brought to you by Dr. Scholl’s. You sit in a circle and your face is smeared with paint, in the colors of nature. A wild look with bulging breasts and blistering pecs.
The torch represents your life, a place you will never go to which you have never been.
“Do you feel?” Jeff asks.
“I know what I know,” you say. “And I say what I say. I am what I am and that’s all that I am.”
“Then it is time to vote,” he says.
You walk to the podium and write a name that is not your name.
“I am sorry to do this,” you say to a camera that represents the man behind you. “I love you like a brother.”
The others make the same walk, a walk that they all make, and write because they must. Jeff retrieves the shell-thing. It is a tension, half-believed, that you cannot imagine. In the air.
You are mentioned, and then another mention of you. Even if the names are spelled differently, they are still yours. Then someone else’s name, and another, but your name again, spelled oddly. The names are mostly yours.
“Can no one spell my name?” you say.
“The names are the same,” says Jeff. “The game is the same. You must go at once.”
Feel the opportunity and take a secret breath from whoever is around you. Be glad that you do not have to endure these awful people anymore. Know who you are and know your petty sadness. Your fire is extinguished and you are not alive anymore until tomorrow morning, when you will meet Bryant Gumbel.
The tribe has spoken.
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