She asked me to pretend to be Joe Biden. A few months ago it was Bernie, but today is Inauguration Day. It was basically the same old man shtick, with a few more references to “malarkey.” I’m not a creative guy and I can’t do accents. I told her I’d fuck so hard I’d forget my own name, but she just looked at me quizzically and removed her bra. I don’t think we read the same news sources.

My cunnilingus was lacklustre, her blow job technique toothy. We fucked, but she wasn’t as wet as she could have been, and I wasn’t as hard, but I made that work for me mentally by appreciating that it was all probably all the more in character that way.

It was better than the time we wore masks and I almost passed out (never again). A low bar, perhaps, but it’s not like there is much else to do. Afterwards, we both turned to our phones instead of cigarettes (she doesn’t smoke), and chased a dopamine hit that didn’t come.

Later, I walk home past boarded-up shops that will probably never reopen smoking the cigarette I’d wanted earlier, but didn’t really now. I pass homeless people who had been chatty a few months ago and hand out some loose change as I notice fewer people are using the street now. A woman sidesteps me, almost getting herself run over.

I open my laptop as soon as I’m indoors. Immediately, the sound of moans and an awkward angle of carnal thrusting greets me, and I pause, trying to figure out which body parts I am looking at before I close the tab.

My fingers stroke the keys as I stare at the search bar. My mind moves like treacle, thoughts sludging themselves together until I can’t tell one from the other. I can’t, with the world at my fingertips, think of a single thing I want to read, watch, play, or listen to. I look up, and the room’s austerity masking itself as minimalism becomes more apparent by the moment.

I flick through Twitter, then Instagram, the scrolling offering up substitutes for my own absent thoughts. After a while of doing this, you barely notice that you’re not even thinking. Which is part of the appeal, really.

Before bed, I get a message telling me the condom broke.


My parents had five kids (the first two died). They worked lower middle class jobs their whole days to provide for me and my brothers. They owned a home and had a car each, and my Dad even had a degree that had actually led to a job with a good pension. I have worked at the same coffee shop for three and a half years. I hate both coffee and most people, so it’s not a good fit.

My parents are disappointed for me, of course, but also with me. No amount of graphs showing the decoupling of wages from productivity, or conversations about elite overproduction, are going to distract them from the fact that my brothers are doing just fine (a coke addict lawyer and coke addict location scout). But neither of them had given my parents a grandchild. Given the circumstances, this didn’t feel like catching up.


“Catholic? What does that even mean?”

“It means ‘universal.’”

I nodded as if this were important information.

“So, you’re keeping it?”

“Have you even been listening?”

I nodded again.

“Are you going to say something?”

I nodded again.


I watch a few hours of TV designed, I imagine, to appeal to emasculated men; shows about building log cabins, extreme fishing, and looking for gold. The narrator lets me know how hard all of this is, and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be envious of these men or glad that I’m sitting on my ass watching them. I don’t feel envy. I feel an emptiness that neither TV nor Cheetos will fill. A yawning maw of meh at the heart of my soul. I struggle to imagine how anyone could care enough for any of this.

On one of the fishing shows, the captain has his son on board. The guy obviously adores his dad. He challenges him to some sort of rope coiling contest and gets his ass handed to him by his old man, and he’s just grinning from ear to ear. Pretty sure a guy I know said people die on these shows.

My parents had always wanted girls. My elder sisters were young when they died, years before I was around. Me and my brothers were little shits. But they did all right by us. I sometimes wonder, if life hadn’t changed so much since their time, whether we wouldn’t have been closer.

I light another cigarette, better than the last for not being on the move. I couldn’t be doing this if I had kids. I smirk, but even with no one around, I feel like it’s an empty gesture.

I don’t even know this girl. Sure, we get along well enough to fuck, but it’s not even like either of us would be doing that if there were anything (or anyone) else to do. But did my parents really have wider options? Did they love each other when they had kids? I’d always assumed, but never asked. Maybe once you got knocked up back then you just leant in. “Oh, you’re preggers?! Gee, I guess we should get married and buy a large cheap house with the money I make from my unionised job.” I can almost hear my Dad being not quite concerned enough to put down his newspaper.

What do I know about her? She’s one of those perfectly nice young women who don’t read. She likes politics. Who the fuck likes politics? Interest, sure. Morbid fascination, most definitely. But like? Jeez. But she thinks it’s on the up and up, right side of history: progress shit. She doesn’t get freaked out by graphs. I don’t know what her job is, but her place is nicer than mine. She’s perkier (both psychologically and physically) than I am, but then, it’s amazing how much the presence of damp and the absence of light influences your thinking and energy.

Would she be a good mother? Why haven’t I ever thought to ask this question about anyone before? How the fuck are you meant to work shit like that out?

And what’s for the kid once she’s squeezed it out? There’s no future to plan for that couldn’t be ripped out from under foot, locked down, or otherwise financially decimated. What would be the point in even trying to do anything with a life like that?

You know how long an empire usually lasts? 250 years. America’s less than a decade away from that. What a shitshow to raise a kid through.

And what if the kid’s born retarded and can’t learn Mandarin? I imagine that’d hold it back.




“Did you want to have me. Like, was I planned?”

“Yeah, we wanted you as soon as we knew about you.”

“But I was…”

“A surprise, yeah.”

“Were you glad you had kids, honestly?”

“Steve, what’s this about?”

“But were you?”

“Yeah, sure. It’s hard to imagine it being otherwise. I always thought of it like peanut butter; you could have a life that was smooth and easy or you could have a life with crunch and variety.”

“You’re so stupid, Dad.”

“Yeah, well, intelligence is partially heritable, so you’d better be making up for my crappy genes elsewhere.”


There’s inauguration stuff in the news. Flags, poetry, 20,000 troops on the ground. Twice the number than that of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Normal shit. Saying “return to normalcy” while buying shares in whoever makes the body bags or whatever. It’s a new day in the USA. Angel’s wings and arms of light emanating out of Ronald Reagan back for his tenth term.

The jobs aren’t coming back. The institutions aren’t coming back. And—listen, Jack! The attitudes ain’t coming back either! They’ve got the Hollywood set guys putting up the facades required to mask the rot, but the rot is there, and it’s deep and dank and there’s shit breeding in there, taking form.


I’m on a Zoom call with my niece. Well, my cousin Kate’s kid, but whatever. She’s showing me drawings she did with Kate for homeschooling. One of them is a picture of me. I’m fat, and I’m pretty sure one of my hands has six fingers, but I’m smiling. The buildings she’s drawn beside me are on fire, but I politely don’t bring it up. I haven’t seen this kid in months, and I’m touched that she’s thought of me. She asks me if I’ll draw one of her, and I tell her I will.


She wants to talk. Why wouldn’t she? A quick search online looks innocuous enough, no mood change. To be honest, she seems hopeful as fuck. Nothing related, but hopeful about stuff in general. Deluded, but it’s sweet.


Would I have to become a Catholic? That’s not how it works, right? It’s not like Jews. Do Jews even do that? Fuck.


I have a scar on my chin from where my brother Dave smacked me with nunchucks as a kid. They were plastic. Turtles merch, if I remember correctly. Still obviously hurt like fuck. We used to fight all the time, Roy too, but I think that was the only time anyone ever came away with a scar. I hated looking in the mirror and seeing the sudden change to a face I was so familiar with (I loved mirrors). To make me feel better, Dave told me it made me look like Indiana Jones or Han Solo. It did make me feel better, almost immediately. Framing is everything.


I could force myself to do something valuable with my life, or I could have a kid, almost by accident, and have already done so. If the kid does something valuable, shit, that’s a twofer. And the thing I could force myself to do, it has to compete with apathy, and Netflix, porn, and the fact that having a nap is frequently better and more fulfilling than doing literally anything else. The kid comes with the kind of pressure that would ensure I stuck at it. Maybe I need that.


I’m all in on the fantasy now. I’m driving the kid to school (I’ll learn to drive, dammit), I’m playing ball and ruffling his hair (I’m calling him “sport”), I’m lifting her over my shoulder so she can see a politically radicalised Godzilla crush Washington, D.C. (why dream small?), and I’m even planning threats for the first boyfriend. And the one after him. And the one after him. It might be the longest fantasy I’ve ever had where everyone kept their clothes on.


I’m too deep. She’s eight and I’m bitch-slapping her teacher for suggesting she’s slow. He’s 19 and I’m teaching him how to grow weed because he’s gonna do it anyway and he’s doing it wrong. They’re both in their thirties (have I just committed to two kids?), and she’s just killed someone, but it’s okay, because we’re going to get through this together, as a family.


I’m gonna call the kid Joe. Or Josephine. No, wait, that’s utterly shit.


China will overtake the U.S. in the thirties. A while later, we’ll have to eat our own Suez shit sandwich. Life expectancy has been on the decline since 2014, and there is no real move to do anything about that. Our schools are crumbling, our bridges on the brink of collapse, and people are more concerned with how they’re being talked about once they leave the room. There’s a whole world beyond here, but how would the kids get there? And would it be worth their effort once they had?

Little Joe tugs at the sleeve off my imaginary jacket.

“What’s a Suez shit sandwich, Papa?”

“Quiet, little imaginary Joe! I’m trying to think if it will be worthwhile bringing you into the world.”

“I didn’t think that was really up to you at this stage.”

“Silence! Daddy needs to think.”


They say that you have kids so you can have grandkids. They say that laughter is hereditary, that you get it from you kids. Ha ha. They say you’ll treat your first child like glass, and the last like a bouncy ball. Do they say that? Who the Hell is they? The child provides the power but the parents provide the steering. That’s a thing, right?


Joe and Josephine are running around the bridge of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) making pew pew noises. Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock is the only member of the bridge crew present.

“The child provides the power, but the parents provide the steering,” he says before picking Joe up as he tries to run past, plopping him down on the captain’s chair.

“Did Mr. Spock say that?”



“I’m a doctor, not a Vulcan,” he says in a forced DeForest Kelly impression.

“So why do you look like Leonard Nimoy? Wait, it’s because I have no idea what Dr. Spock looks right, huh? This is a dream.”

“That would be…logical. In critical moments, men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see.”

“So I should read him, the Dr. Spock guy? When I wake up?”

“I have no idea. I am essentially just a manifestation of the flotsam and jetsam of mass culture playing upon your subconscious. You are half asleep. There is no way of me knowing if Dr. Spock is to be trusted with the intricacies of childrearing.”

I nod.

“I will say this: after a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but is often true.”


I wake to the Alexander Courage theme, a fine dusting of orange corn powder over my body. The kids aren’t here, and it takes a moment to adjust to the fact they never were.

“Fuck Spock,” I say, jumping to my feet, tripping over myself on the way to the shower.

The shower was meant to clean and calm, but shower thoughts are a rain of free association, and I stressed myself out and repeated the middle of my routine thinking about school districts, my worst teachers, and homeschooling.


“I didn’t expect you until later.”

She looks amazing. My eyes dart around her place. I’m scanning for clues, I’m looking for warmth, I’m mentally childproofing, hazards everywhere.

“Yeah,” I nod, out of breath.

“Listen, I wanted to talk—”

“Me too.”

“I guess the other day you were a bit surprised, and I—”

“That doesn’t matter. I’ve been thinking, loads, I called my Dad…had a dream where I talked to Leonard Nimoy…I’ll be Catholic!”

“That’s not—”

I smush my forefinger onto her lips, like they do in the old movies. Her expression reminds me why you shouldn’t take your behavioural cues from movies, old or new.

“I’m scared,” I say, pulling my hand back awkwardly. “I’m scared I don’t have the sort of stuff in me you’re supposed to pass on, I’m scared this entire country is gonna collapse with us in it, I’m scared we don’t really know each other well enough, but I think we can, and I think it might be worth it.”

She looks, blankly.

“I took the morning after pill.”


“I’m not Catholic, you dolt. I was winding you up. Dude, we’ve fucked, like, six, seven times. We’re not even exclusive. Were you even paying attention when we talked?”

I nodded. This was news.

“Did you honestly just spend the last few days gearing yourself up for daddydom?”

My mouth takes a while to cooperate, and so instead, I nod. She’s still talking, but my mind is only half there. Part of me is wiping fresh grave dirt from Josephine’s face. Joe’s in the car, a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, engine running. “It’s gonna be okay; go on without me,” I tell Josephine. “I’ve got stuff to take care of here.”

She kisses me on the cheek and tells me she loves me, then she runs to the car. They’re driving off into the distance together in no time, and I’m left standing there, nodding, trying to tune back in to my actual life and get a handle on what’s being said.

She’s holding out a rubber mask. I take it from her hand and turn it over, stretch it out.

It’s an eyeless Joseph R. Biden, Jr., 46th President of the United States of America.

“Fuck me like you’re Joe Biden.”

I nod and put on the mask.