There was a knock on the door. Jim opened it, expecting cake or tits or something else that was nice. Instead he got a face full of Billy Mays.
“Hey Jim! Remember me? We met at Lucy’s party. Well we didn’t really meet, you wore my head around for a while before you bashed everybody’s limbs off with a baseball bat. Of course you remember me. It’s the beard, everyone remembers the beard. You mind if I come in? I think I should come in. This is a lovely house! Wow! I love the couch! Is that Chenille?”
“Um, I don’t know. What are you doing here?” Jim wasn’t wearing pants.
Billy sniffed the coffee table. “Pine was a good choice,” he said. “Have you ever considered purchasing insurance against the eternal, Jim?”
“Oh come on.”
“I’m serious. Dead serious. I’m as serious as a soul attack, Jim. Do you know what a soul attack is? You’re having one right now and you don’t even know it. But don’t even worry about it, because I’ve got a deal just for you.”
“Fuck it. I’ll make some coffee. I’m not putting on pants though. You like cream?”
“Half’n’half, no sugar.”
“Kitchen’s this way.”
“What do you clean this carpet with? It’s so soft, it’s divine!”
Jim made some coffee and Billy got down to business. He took a chalk board out of his briefcase and drew while he talked.
“So what do you know about eternity, Jim? I’ll tell you what you know – it’s big. It’s so big you can’t fill it up. It just keeps going and going, right out past the rest of it. Your own personal playground, forever and ever.”
Jim sipped his coffee. He’d been to edge, where Paradise stopped, but it was too early to halt a rolling Billy Mays. Besides, he felt like he owed the guy for his head. And the beard.
“Well what would you say if I told you that, according to modern mathematics, you can fill it up with happiness. And when you do, you’ll be a little bit sad about it.”
“I’d say that’s crazy talk, Mr. Mays.”
“And you’d be sane and wrong. Here’s why.” Billy drew a series of numbers on his chalk board: 1+2+3+4+5+6+7 . . . “This is what modern mathematicians call an infinite series. They call it that because the numbers go on forever, higher and higher, and you won’t believe what’s on the other side. Is it pure bliss? A big number? Some jargon-filled formula? None of the above. When you add contiguous positives forever you get negative one-twelfth. That’s less than zero. So you go all eternity, adding happiness to happiness, just to end up with a single donut of sadness. And that’s where Eternity Insurance comes in.”
“Now wait just a gosh darn minute, Mr. Mays,” Jim said. The coffee was good and he was enjoying himself. “Eternal happiness equals a negative donut of sadness? I just don’t buy it.”
“Modern mathematics, Jim!” Billy circled the numbers. “The math doesn’t lie. Forever up is just a little bit down. Which is where you’ll be for all eternity if you don’t act now!”
“So what can I do about it?”
“I’ll tell you what you can do about it.” Billy pulled out of his briefcase a big syringe with a long needle and clamps and a bag filled with dirt. “Every morning, while you enjoy your coffee in anticipation of another wonderful day, just stab this needle in your eye. It’s easy to handle, and the titanium alloy makes it virtually unbreakable. And it’s perfectly safe! Allow me to demonstrate.”
Billy stabbed his eye with the needle. “Once you’ve gotten this far, you just squeeze down on these clamps here, and they do all the work for you. One unit of happiness, sucked right out of your head, just like that!” He squeezed the clamps and the needle retracted, pulling out of his eye a happy little worm.
“What a beautiful morning!” the worm said. “That coffee is amazing! And dirt! Is that dirt? I smell dirt. I love dirt!”
Billy put the worm in the bag of dirt.
“Yeah! Dirt! Coffee and dirt! Best morning ever!”
Billy zipped up the bag, muffling the exclamations of the worm. He clapped his hands. “Simple as that! Just stab, clamp, pull, and dirt. And on the third of every month, set the dirt out on your doorstep and we’ll send someone around to pick it up. That’s right, Jim, you don’t even need to leave the house. We’ll take care of everything for you!”
“I just can’t connect the dots, Mr. Mays. How is this gonna make me happy?”
“Security against the eternal, Jim! You can’t get to infinity if you suck a worm out of your head every morning. And if you ever have a bad day, and we’ll send you a big lump of happiness, no questions asked.”
Jim signed up, shook Billy’s hand, and finished his coffee.
Every morning, as Jim enjoyed his coffee, he stabbed his eye with a needle. A clamp and a pull and the happy worm said, “Life is beautiful!” or “Que sera sera!” He put every worm in a bag of dirt, and every third of the month an unmarked van came by to pick it up.
He did this for about a year, until he had a bad morning. He stubbed his toe on the dresser, dropped the soap in the shower, made the coffee too strong, burnt his toast. After pulling another worm out of his eye he decided to file a happiness claim.
He called up Eternity Insurance.
“Hi, yeah. I’d like one of those big lumps of happiness. Well, it’s nothing major, just a crappy day. Like, all my good socks are dirty, my living room is a mess and I don’t feel like cleaning it up, and I’m pretty sure I was supposed to be somewhere an hour ago. I feel like I’m about to get an angry call. Yeah, like I said, nothing major. No, do what you do. I understand. But I’ve been pulling worms out of my eyes for you guys for about a year now, I figure you might help me out. That sounds fine. You’ll send it over now? Cool. Thanks.”
Two hours later a white envelope slid under his door. He picked it up, and the first thing he noticed was that it wasn’t very lumpy. He sniffed it and shook it but nothing happened so he opened it.
Inside there was six hundred dollars. In twenty dollar bills.
“What the hell.”
Green, Andrew Jackson, twenty dollar bills.
He called up Eternity Insurance.
“Hi, I just filed a claim with you guys, and you sent me six hundred dollars. Uh, no. I was expecting a lump of happiness. No, I don’t know what that is. Why can’t I want something if I don’t know what it is? I thought that’s what I was paying for. What am I supposed to do with six hundred dollars? I just want to get happy, man. Well what the hell are you doing with all my worms? You know what, just cancel my subscription. Whatever you call it. Cancellation fee? A thousand worms?! If I want to cancel I have to stab my eye with that needle a thousand times? In a row? I’m pretty sure that makes things worse for me. No, I won’t do it. Shit out of luck? Six hundred dollars and I’m shit out of luck. You guys suck at eternity. Fuck you too, buddy.”
Jim waited for the third of the month, put his bag of worms on the front step, and followed the unmarked van.
The plantation was bigger than Tennessee. The whole thing was nothing but tracts of dirt, cut into squares, and every square of dirt had a big metal silo sticking out of it. The dirt crawled with worms.
“Oh sweet southern sun and glory!”
“Dirt for days! Dirt for days!”
Jim followed the unmarked van into one of the silos. Two men in khaki shorts and thin shirts got out and unloaded a thousand bags of dirt and worms, pouring them into an empty concrete pool. While Jim hid in the corner, several more unmarked vans came by and did the same. When the pool was full, the vans all left and the silo doors closed.
Then a white screen rolled down, a projector rattled to life, and a training video started playing. A worm in a suit patronized them from the screen.
“Sup my wormies?”
“Welcome to Paydirt Ranch. It’s nothing but dirt in all directions everywhere and forever. How does that sound? Y’all wormies down with dirt?”
“Dirt! Dirt! Dirt!”
“Well we’ve got all the dirt you can get down in, and then some! And all we ask in return, is that you use the silky excretions that come out of your ass to make twenty dollar bills. Here’s how!”
A demonstration rolled across the screen, and soon all the happy worms were shooting new money out of their assholes.
Jim wandered through the squares of dirt. He saw now that the dirt was alive with happiness and sprouting twenty dollar bills. The bills grew in bushels. Tractors came by and harvested them.
He sat down in the dirt and tried to decide what he thought about all of this. He was just about to fail when a worm jumped out of the dirt and perched on his knee.
“Jim!” it said. “Hey, Jim! Jim! Hey!”
“I came out of your head! I’m a Jim-worm!”
Jim didn’t recognize it. “What’s my favorite movie?” he said.
Jim nodded. “Okay Jim-worm. I’m Jim.” He picked up the Jim-worm with a gentle thumb-and-finger and looked for its eyes. There weren’t any. “So you’re like, one unit of happiness that I sucked out of my head.”
“Maybe you can help me with something.”
“Alright. I want you organize your worm friends and go on strike.”
The Jim-worm wriggled. “Strike?”
“Stop shitting money.”
“No more Jackson.”
Jim wriggled. How was he supposed to explain the nuances of getting fucked to this happy worm?
“Money is like, uh, fake dirt,” he said. “People like dirt too, but we turn it into money. And money isn’t really dirt, we just pretend it’s dirt. It’s like a metaphor.”
“Yeah. It’s metadirt. We’re people so we have eyes and brains and shit, and we don’t want to waste them. Dirt isn’t enough when you have to think about it all the time. So we make a system and use math and buy stuff. The stuff, that’s the dirt. It’s like we gave all our dirt to some guy who changed it into metadirt, but for some reason there’s never enough metadirt to buy back the dirt. Does that make sense?”
“Down with metadirt!”
“Yeah, let’s go with that.”
An old Victorian house sat in the middle of the plantation. It was mostly white, very pointy, and had lots of railings and windows. Around it were gardens and workers who slept in the shade.
Jim sat in what he figured was the sitting room. At least fifteen chairs and sofas were scattered elegantly across the floor. The man who owned the chairs and sofas didn’t look like he’d ever sat down in one. He stood at a window with hands clasped behind his back. Jim sipped on tea.
“So you’re the communist that organized my worms,” Rockefeller said. He didn’t turn around.
“Communist? No, man, I’m from Tennessee.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I just want my lump of happiness.” The tea cup rattled as he set it on the tray. “When you guys sold me Eternity Insurance, you said I’d get a lump of happiness.”
Rockefeller turned from the window. Hard eyes and a mustache, and his coat had buttons. “I personally reviewed your claim. A stubbed toe, I believe it was?”
“And burnt toast.”
“So you stubbed your toe and burnt your toast and now you demand compensation. And just how much compensation do you require to mitigate these losses?”
“I don’t think you’re appreciating just how much burnt toast can ruin your day.”
“What do you want?”
“My lump of happiness.”
“We sent you one.”
“You sent me six hundred dollars. In twenties.”
“You’re a southern commie who can’t make toast. How much do you think you deserve? A thousand? A million? You’ll forgive me if I can’t put my finger on the proper amount.”
Jim took the six hundred dollars from his pocket and tossed it on the table, next to the tea. “I’ve been sucking the happiness out of my eyes with a goddamn syringe because Billy Mays told me I’d get some security out of it. Then I come down here and find out you’re using my happiness as slave labor to shit money, and the only security I’ve got is a percentage of what my happiness shits. And I’m not all that happy about it.”
“It’s not about the money, Rockefeller.”
“Then what is it about?”
“And what will make you happy?”
“I have no idea.”
Rockefeller sighed and shook his head. “I don’t suppose Carnegie put you up to this.”
“Like, Carnegie Hall?”
Rockefeller closed his eyes and seemed to spend the next several moments debating his brain. When he opened his eyes he took three precise steps and poured himself some tea. He sipped with a saucer.
“Do you have any stock in God, Jim?” he said.
“Dude, no fucking way. We’re not going there.” Jim waved the question off with both arms. “I’m just here to get what you owe me, and you owe me that lump of happiness. Pony that shit up, or the worms walk.”
“I’m not talking about faith. I’m talking about stocks and bonds. Do you have any abstract equity in your portfolio?”
“No. I don’t have any abstract equity in my portfolio.”
“I’ll make a deal with you. Come with me to the Downtown Apocalypse Exchange, and bring your six hundred bucks. If you find your happiness there, you give me back my worms.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then you can all have your little commie exodus.”
They struck the deal with a fist bump, and Jim went with Rockefeller to the Downtown Apocalypse Exchange.