Authors: James Palumbo
Reader, beware this book. It's short and small. It fits into your pocket and you can read it at leisure in any public place or alone at night. It looks like so many other books. You may think that, if the author's any good, the story will help you escape the world around you; you can drift into another place, better or worse, according to your mood. This is precisely the danger. Do not trust appearances: below these black printed words, spread page over page, lies a vision of the world that will alarm the majority, revolt the sensitive and obliterate the prudish.
This book will work on your brain like a vaccine: you'll read a few lines and, I suspect, rebel instantly against its contents. You'll be shocked, disgusted, horrified that such ideas are allowed in print. I can already hear many detractors referring to bad taste or sheer madness: for me these are compliments. I trust, however, that I'll have the last word. Some among you will survive its reading and, as a result, may acquire a new perspective on our world. For excess of imagination, passion, outrage, death, love, greed and vice often provides a clearer view of life.
You have been warned. This isn't a light-hearted romance, nor a work of science fiction. It's simply a tale that shouldn't be read too seriously. It makes fun of our society in a way that will delight teenagers while disturbing everyone else. But I'm confident that my message, protected by the crudity of its tone, remains unimpaired: it recounts without pity the bonfire of vanities that has become our daily grind.
You'll meet Tomas. As you will see, he starts life rather poorly; a bit of a violent man, who wishes to eradicate all that he disapproves of. He goes on to battle many of the issues so troubling to our modern world â sex, love, money, success, failure. Ultimately he confronts life's greatest enigma; how to be more than a great nothing?
So â who knows? â should you traverse the murky waters of shock, horror and disgust, you might get to like Tomas. Stranger still, he may even help you.
A champagne-fuelled jungle is in for a surprise
Tomas walks into a club in an exclusive resort at the height of the season. All the boys are wearing white shirts, the uniform of party boys, with oversized collars. These are so big they flop down to their waists like some sea creature's fleshy protrusion. They also sport gigantic watches, weighing down their wrists like anchors. All of them wear sunglasses even though they're indoors and it's night.
The girls hobble on skyscraper stilettos like newborn giraffes unsure of their footing. All have breasts so enormous that they have to be supported on mobile trolleys on which they push their appendages about in front of them. Every few minutes, the girls throw back their heads and laugh in unison. They're alive with pleasure.
The air is thick with smoke and vibrates to the tinny noise of the club sound system. At half-hour intervals the music stops and an uplifting theme from a science-fiction film fills the room. The crowd roars as a giant champagne bottle, a sparkler fizzing from its decapitated neck, is carried through the club. The baying delight at this spectacle belies a reverential awe; who could be so magnificent as to order this â¬20,000 leviathan? That's it, follow the bottle: let's see which table it's destined for.
The champagne reaches journey's end. A pack of hyenas in the uniform of white shirts with oversized collars laugh and shout as if to say, âLook at us! Look at us!' or, more particularly, âLook at me! Look at me!' They, too, are alive with pleasure.
Everything now seems in slow motion to Tomas: the music is stifled, like a disc slowing down on a gramophone; the hyenas bay but you can only hear them at half speed; the breast trolleys manoeuvre slowly: blink and they've moved â or maybe they haven't?
Tomas steps into the slow-motion scene, ties his hair into a knot and pulls two guns from under his jacket. One is a crude Chicago-in-the-gangster-days tommy gun making a rat-a-tat-tat noise. The other is a slick modern weapon with a silencer, so all you can hear is the thud of bullets. Moving from left to right, Tomas sprays the room with a look of calm concentration, like a child taking an exam. Everything's still at half speed, except now the music has stopped altogether and the only sounds are thuds, glass breaking, people falling.
The scene returns to normal, the slow-motion button turned off. The guns have done their work. There's a curious haze in the room. Glass splinters as survivors try to move, there are moans and sudden bangs as people and objects fall over.
Although the police and medics arrive fast, the resort isn't set up to deal with an apocalypse and Tomas slips away in no particular hurry.
How to seek approval
The next day, Tomas takes himself to an expensive beach club, where he looks out of place in his ragged T-shirt and shorts and Bible-prophet sandals. The manager arches a disapproving eyebrow as he pays the â¬100 entry fee and goes to find a white sun lounger.
âCan I have one that's more pretentious?' Tomas asks an attendant.
âOf course, Sir, but only on condition that you make yourself ridiculous.'
âThat's no problem,' replies Tomas.
Tomas is conducted to a sunbed ten times the size of the rest. There's no point to this colossus, which is far less comfortable than a normal lounger on to which you can fit snugly. Tomas slides to the middle, unsheltered from the sun by the umbrella. He strips off his clothes and wraps his lower body in a large white towel. He is already brown from spending so much time outdoors but soon his sinewy chest begins to sizzle in the heat.
âCan I have a giant umbrella?' asks Tomas.
âNo,' the attendant replies, âthat would put things into proportion and make you look normal.'
Tomas decides to perch on the side. âIs this good enough?' he asks.
âI'm sorry, Sir,' the attendant says. âYou look pathetic and the deal was ridiculous.'
âOK,' says Tomas. âBring me an oversized champagne bottle but make sure I can carry it.'
âImmediately, Sir,' says the attendant.
Minutes later he returns, carrying a monster bottle. A second attendant brings a glass. âI don't need that,' says Tomas and waves the glass away.
The bottle is uncorked with a pop and handed to Tomas. The attendants stand to one side as Tomas takes it in his arms.
He ambles over to the pool, watched by the inhabitants of the sun loungers, and kicks off his sandals. âGo on,' shouts Tomas to the attendants. âTurn up the music. Turn it up real good.'
The attendants comply: the background Balearic beats rise to a deafening roar. The music also increases in tempo. Tomas didn't ask for this but now a wave of ridiculousness is gathering its own momentum. Everyone props themselves up to watch.
Because of the speed of the music Tomas can't segue into the rhythm. He has to jump in and start dancing like a maniacal fool. He shakes the champagne bottle and sprays his audience with a plume of sticky froth. âHa! Ha! Ha!' he squeals. âHa! Ha! Ha!' they reply.
âHow'm I doing?' Tomas asks the attendants.
âOh, very well, Sir, you look ridiculous.'
Through all the noise and excitement, Tomas hears an invisible voice in his head. âIf you're to experience the full horror of the situation, Tomas,' it says, âyou must sacrifice yourself to it Messiah-like.'
The next step up from ridiculous is ludicrous.
Tomas begins a barnyard dance, like an Iowa farmer at the harvest-day ball. This should be performed to music at half the speed of the balearic beats, so his efforts appear all
the more absurd. The dance consists of stomping one leg up at a right angle while moving both arms up and down in parallel, with elbows pointing out. The weight is then transferred to the other foot and the process repeated. This is accompanied by a synchronised bobbing of the head in and out, up and down, like a rooster calling the dawn chorus. These jerky movements loosen Tomas's towel, which falls to the ground, so he carries on his performance naked, his penis flailing. Because the dance is impossible to perform holding an overweight champagne bottle, Tomas drops it; but the bottle is animated by the situation, refuses to smash and floats in the air, a silent spectator of events.
âLook at me,' whoops Tomas, âI'm having such fun. I'm spraying champagne. I'm dancing. I'm cool, swaying my hips and exposing myself. I'm alive with pleasure.'
âHa! Ha! Ha!' roar the crowd approvingly. They, too, are alive with pleasure.
After his performance, Tomas rests on his tennis-court-sized sun lounger. For some reason it's grown during his performance. He suspects it has something to do with his rooster imitation. He has pushed ridiculous to the territorial hinterland of ludicrous and the lounger rewards him by swelling to a still more incredible size.
The dangers of melting butter â¦
The beach-club restaurant is an extravagant array of polished wood tables under white parasols, adorned by the deep purples and subtle pinks of Mediterranean summer flowers. The menu offers grilled fish, huge baskets of cruditÃ©s, fruits, pasta and wines of every sort.
Because it's hot, the boys aren't wearing their full white-shirt uniform; only the collar attached to the neck, which flops down to form two futile wings. You've heard of shirts with no collars. Well, these are collars with no shirts. While there's no sartorial point to them, they define the central characteristic of their owners â uselessness.
The girls are busy trolleying their fake breasts as they move between the tables; trolleys and breasts are accentuated in the daylight. The nightclub trolleys were black, in a way discreet despite their size and function. The beach trolleys are more conspicuous, adorned by large white towels on which morning-tanned breasts flop in gentle repose.
Tomas finds a table and asks for a menu. He's now re-clothed in his shorts and a fifty-euro souvenir T-shirt featuring the club's logo, a bucket of sick, which was given to him as a reward for his poolside dance. A trolley-pushing blonde parks at the table beside him to await her collar-wearing beau.
Tomas is about to summon the waiter when the blonde interposes: âWaiter! Waiter!'
One immediately appears. âMadame?' he says.
âMy butter's melting. I insist you do something about it.'
Tomas thinks carefully about this exchange. His brow creases in concentration and he ties his hair back with a band to think. Before even giving her command the blonde has appropriated the butter. The butter is not described with an impersonal âthe' but a possessive âmy'. By virtue of parking her breasts at the table, the butter has become âhers'. It may also be that in her language â a special variant of English â every sentence begins with the words âI', âme' or âmy'.