Before reading this sequel, it is highly recommended that you confer with the first installment of David Leo Rice’s all too prescient work, PornMe. The below work also appears in the print version of The Opiate, specifically Vol. 14.
Poor Gribby’s on his last legs, so to speak, dying in the bathtub with the other Gribby standing over him, filming it all on his phone, uploading the shower scene to the central PornMe server, so that Gribbys the world over can get a sweet, sweet taste of what they’re missing.
Now Gribby’s huddled, fetal, stinking the ol’ drain up with his dumpling-salty blood and gamey panic sweat, color leaving his skin like a lychee that’s been soaked too long in ice. He’s looking up at the other Gribby, the one he glommed onto in all that porn he watched of himself getting busy with everyone who will now outlive him, when what does that Gribby say but, “Look, chubchub, you wanna die here like a little hog-boy, or you wanna live a little longer and see what happens next? Cuz, what with the state you let yourself fall into in this here dank tub of yours, only PornMe2 can save you now.”
Gribby looks up at him, eyes all swimmy and pupil-less, unsure of what to focus on, and tries to nod. Do I wanna die? He asks himself. No, I don’t suppose I do, comes the answer. No, I’m pretty sure I do not. Not if you’re asking, no, I’d definitely prefer not to, thanks.
“Well then hoo-ha-Sally,” says the Gribby-in-his-prime, as he reaches down to insert something under the dying Gribby’s left ear. To be totally honest, the dying Gribby thinks, that big fat needle thingy hurts—I’m still a flesh-hunk, not a hard drive, aren’t I?—but given that I’ve just been stabbed to death in a vicious shower scene (though already the memory of this feels more pornographic than biological, if it’s still possible to separate one from the other), it doesn’t hurt all that much in the larger scheme of things. In any case, the needle pain becomes a moot point as soon as the non-dying Gribby launches into his spiel, which goes a little something like this:
“Okay, so how this works is that we keep debiting from the same account we’ve been debiting from all along—don’t worry, it doesn’t get shut off after you die as long as there’s anything left in it, which, judging from your most recent statement, if I’m not confusing you with another client, ought to buy you a good while yet, and we float you through space, the great open void bubba, the big highway in the sky, the celestial realms of the seven spheres of the Big Guy’s splooge-o-rama, hubby-bear, if you see where I’m off to with all this, so you can, like, check out all you missed by waiting around on Earth for something to happen.”
If my throat weren’t slit, the dying Gribby thinks, I’d nod, even though he isn’t sure he understands what his better half’s trying to communicate. These things make more sense once they start happening, don’t they?, he thinks, sensing that his body’s already beginning to drift out of the bathtub, through the ceiling, through the apartments above, through the roof, through the smog blanketing the megacity, through the clouds heavy with acid rain, past a Virgin America flight to Vancouver, through a hole in the atmosphere, and into a blackness so absolute that at first he can’t tell if he’s still conscious.
He comes to in full-drift, neither hot nor cold, neither heavy nor light, caked in blood but no longer bleeding, red and dry as a chili peanut. He feels like a newborn but without the dread of having to live a life. All I have to do is drift, ogling one planet at a time, checking out their smooth curves, their moist, velveteen topographies, until I finally…
He’s forced to abandon this line of thinking when the vastness of the moon fills his field of vision and he finds himself tumescent with the realization that he’s a drifting sperm and the moon’s a waiting egg. No other thought intrudes until he happens to notice himself blowing out a cloud of hovering jism, which fertilizes the moon, causing it to thicken and sprout with water, greenery and a race of moonlings that proceeds to enslave and exterminate itself until Gribby feels the need to fertilize the now-barren satellite all over again.
Porn-hound that he is, he does this again and again, unfathomably often, until he gets bored. Then he drifts deeper into space and does it again elsewhere, and again after that, planet after planet, nebula after nebula, each time titillating himself with the unique rush of becoming the demiurge, the benevolent godhead that breathes life into the coldest crevasses of the universe where, a moment before, there had been absolute nothingness. Soon, the process is so erotic that Gribby finds it impossible to imagine how he ever got it up for less. Compared with this, he thinks, the naked guys and gals of PornMe1 were like millipedes scuttling over sandwiches in a campsite trashcan. Hardly a #Partystarter, if you see where my head’s at, he thinks, but this time the other Gribby doesn’t respond.
Strange eons now begin to pass in the depths of space, so many that Gribby has become the godhead of every galaxy, all of them fertilized through his furious and meticulous masturbation, growing into their own unique worlds as soon as they come into existence, only to collapse and demand resurrection an astral millisecond later. He floats sometimes with an airy feeling and sometimes with a swimmy feeling, moving through thick space and thin space, into gusts of hot air and tunnels of grueling cold that dead end at black holes, which suck him in and spit him out either back where he started or billions of light-years away. It’s fun, he finds, to guess which it’ll be, and to invariably end up wrong, as if the black holes were reading his mind, which, come to think of it, he thinks, perhaps they are.
In the millennia during which this thought is slowly dawning on him, Gribby—though he now feels too multifarious to dwell within that name, his essence unfurled from the sausage-casing of its earthly selfhood —begins to perceive some unifying presence firming up around him. Out of the shapeless smears of stardust and the purple-blue trails of comets, something invisible yet sentient is beginning to make itself known inside Gribby’s head; some somber, brooding, inscrutable entity is emitting waves of thought that Gribby can’t help but internalize. Soon, they’ve penetrated so deep into the vaginal folds of his brain that he has the feeling they’re coming from him, that they’re his thoughts, even though, at the same time, the sense that this entity is vegetating at the heart of space and sucking him into its maw, like, well, whatever’s at the very heart of space, is only growing stronger. Perhaps, he notices himself thinking, I am beginning the process of being unborn, only to be born again as something colossally greater than anything I could ever have dreamed of being before.
The notion of being sucked in by the universe and spit back out the other side turns him on like nothing else ever has. More eons pass and more planets are born from this autoerotic feedback loop, though Gribby’s masturbation seems to be segueing out of the realm of the psychosexual and into the realm of the purely biological, the process now as dumbly self-perpetuating as evolution itself. It just keeps happening, he thinks, or notices space thinking, as he drifts past clusters of planets, whole civilizations roiling upon them, some thick with trees, some drenched in green water or clotted in ice that reflects the light of distant stars, some nothing but jagged piles of rock or shifting densities of vapor. As he passes, he thinks their thoughts, and they think his. These thought patterns are sometimes wise and laconic, and other times vicious, even sadistic, but the line between them and me is softening to the point where, soon, he thinks, it’ll be nothing but a distant memory. It’s like that feeling near sleep, he goes on thinking, where one thought leads to the next while eclipsing whatever came before it, so that, from any one thought, it’s impossible to remember any other, the effect being that every thought, no matter how banal, takes on the immense power of The Only Thought Ever.
Soon, he thinks, having already forgotten his previous thought, I’ll be just one entity drifting through the mind of another and, somehow, vice versa as well, each of us containing the other so that any boundary between us will be moot, and I will dissolve fully, and permanently, into the mind of God, which will itself no longer go by that name, or any other, because there will be nothing left to name it, nor to require that it be named, as it goes about its habitual masturbation in peace, creating planets as a sort of by-product of the only process that ever really salved the loneliness of being the all-one, and thereby passed the time, even at the outermost extremities of time, so far out here that the concept has no real meaning, at least not when you’re no longer an embodied individual, moving in a straight temporal line from Point A to Point …um…
Here, on the threshold of the self’s irrevocable dissolution and the severing of the last link to any form of existence outside of total oneness with the entity formerly known as God, something deep inside of him rears its head. Some scared baby homunculus version of himself that’s desperate to maintain its separation from the unmapped nothingness of the infinite cries out and, like a moan from a porn vid you thought was on mute, a strain of unbearably mournful blues punctures the otherwise deathly silence of PornMe2. As soon as he registers the sound, he begins falling out of orbit, flailing, a strain of terror infecting the music, as he plummets toward the surface of whatever distant planet it’s coming from. One of my babies, he thinks, one of the infinite sub-Gribbys (he remembers his name now, too) lost in the enormity of the real—free, free-falling, until…
Phew, for a moment there, I lost myself, he thinks, coughing in a cloud of lunar dust and itching the implant behind his ear. Back in his body, re-surrounded by the familiar dead tissue, the old bum knee and slit throat and dumpling-grease love handles, a briny combination of remorse and relief begins to marinate his soul like a cocktail olive.
“Way to kill the mood, dude,” whispers the Gribby in his earpiece, who has also, it would seem, come back online, eager to resume jabbering like the imbecile he’s always been. “Way to harsh the whole mellow midnight vibe we so graciously laid out for you up there, Care Bear. Way to chicken out with your dick out like a scared little bitch!”
Gribby’s still working on his comeback when the dust clears and he can see, about fifty feet away, the blues duo whose tune summoned him out of orbit in the first place. The first human forms he’s seen in what feels like, and may well be, millions of years. He gets to his feet and stumbles toward them, transfixed by the beauty of their jam, one of them on guitar, the other on upright bass, singing in perfect harmony, until he gets close enough to recognize them as Sun Ra and Hitler.
He stands as close as he dares and sways to the tune, unable to think because the music is simply too beautiful. Hitler presses his mustache up to a 50s-style radio mic and wails in German, while Sun Ra lays down a truly celestial bassline, his fingers covering whole octaves with no visible strain. Then he leans in to sing the next verse in what sounds like an extraterrestrial patois, while Hitler fingerpicks a heartbreaking series of arpeggios on a vintage acoustic guitar decked out with roses and rhinestone swastikas.
Gribby feels the blues coursing through his newly restored body, which is growing smaller and denser by the moment, returning to its minuscule human proportions. He feels the true immensity of the space he’s traveled through, and for the first time since he signed up for PornMe2 while dying in the shower (and did that really happen, he wonders, perhaps not for the first time, or was that just an ad I watched while the friendly cable guy upgraded my service package?), he admits that he’s lost. He’s so far afield that he can’t tell whether he’s alive or dead, which is not a feeling he’s ever had before, not even in the depths of PornMe1, back when he lived alone in the heart of the megacity, his pajamas always open at the crotch, a bag of delivery dumplings always at the ready by the cordless mouse in his left hand.
Unless, he thinks, that too was a hallucination, one more porn window open among so many millions that, in aggregate, they made up little more than dots in a Chuck Close portrait of my grimacing, spluttering face.
In any event, he thinks, forcing himself to focus for a millisecond, I’m homesick. I almost lost myself completely, and now I’m back, but that means I’m… Before he can complete this thought, Sun Ra and Hitler have moved onto a new number, equally potent but snappier, zippier, and now Gribby’s dancing, trying to suppress his mounting dread at how far he’s drifted, thinking, instead, so I guess all those stories about how Hitler escaped the bunker in Berlin and ended up in space were true. Goddam Hitler in space. At least, he thinks, there’s no mystery as to why Sun Ra’s here.
The next time he looks up, Sun Ra’s blowing into a kazoo, holding it to his lips with one hand and smooshing the mic against it with the other. He winks through the purple darkness, and Gribby feels his chest expand, puffed up and sprouting sensitive hair like a werewolf caught alone on a Yorkshire moor under the full moon. Soon he’s so swollen with music that he breaks into a tarantella. For the first time in his life, he forgets himself to the point where he even forgets that he’s forgetting himself. Many hours pass in this manic fugue, his feet leaving the dusty planet’s surface for whole minutes at a time, as he grows more and more aroused until he can’t contain his enthusiasm (“could you ever, blubba-bub-bub?” the earpiece hisses). Riven with sudden shame, he watches himself ejaculate so forcefully that he’s blown off this planet and back into space, the void of which now feels emptier than ever before, bereft of all landscape save for the grim milky way of his recent expulsion.
For many more eons Gribby drifts, growing lonely, growing old, the spark that sired planets gone from his loins. The divine presence that he felt before remains diffuse now, indifferent to him, perhaps nonexistent. He begins to wonder if it was ever there, or if, all those eons ago, he’d merely succumbed to his own desire to believe.
Not that I quite succumbed, he muses bitterly.
“Bet you wish you did when you had the chance, huh, tubthumper?” The other Gribby cackles in his ear.
Again failing to find a comeback, Gribby can’t help but agree. If the chance came again, he adds, I’d buy-with-one-click and never think twice. But if it never does, then, what’s my, like, reason to persevere at this point?
“You ain’t got none, big pun,” the implant hisses, and, for the first time since PornMe2 began, Gribby’s tempted to reach behind his ear and rip the damn thing out.
Who’s to say I don’t just give you a nice little tug and send you flying all by your lonesome through the squid ink out there, and see how you like it?
“Give it a try. Think PornMe2’s a joke? Go ahead. See how you like the punchline.”
Tempted, Gribby’s fingers cluster around the rubber coating over the metal slug under his ear. And who’s to say I’m not dead already, down in that slimy ol’ bathtub of yours, I mean mine, and then what exactly have I been paying for all these years, letting you debit my account like it’s a take-whatever-you-want-party-bag, if all this is just regular-ol’ being dead and there’s nothing else to it?
“You tell me, little pickle. But what I’ll tell you, since we’ve apparently reached the point in the party where everyone’s just saying the first thing that comes to mind, is that they all say this right about now. All the sneaky little PornMe2 gribbsters like you, they all start thinking about saving a buck by ripping their you-know-what’s out, since they might be, you know, dead already, so what’s the harm, marm, but you know what the harm is? The actual harm, G-man, if I were to like totally level with you? The actual harm is that you can’t be sure. You can never be sure that, without PornMe2, it wouldn’t collapse into total and absolute nothing, the real deal dark baby, Wormtown, USA, which, compared with the cold void of space is even more, um…actually let me check on that one and get back to you.”
Before the implant can warble any more nonsense, Gribby reaches into his spacesuit, which is really just a souped-up version of his old full-body pajamas, and begins to pump his groin, tentatively at first, cooking up the idea in his lower brainstem that he’ll rip out the implant at the last moment as a sort of ultimate orgasm, a reverse Big Bang, and go out in the same way the universe came in. So now he’s got one hand on his penis and one on the implant, yanking on both like it’s his job to squish the God that won’t give him a second chance at love.
He’s just about to finish when what does he hear but those same blues from before, louder than ever. They enter him just as they did when he was young, Sun Ra and Hitler on their lonely orb, plinking away on their banjos and lap steels, soundtracking purgatory with heartbreaking precision. Gribby’s soothed like a fetus in its amniotic slop as the implant whispers, “You touch me again, big spender, and this all turns off, and you wanna know what death’s really like? I checked with Management, and they say it’s exactly like this but silent, totally silent, no blues at all, nor even the memory of any blues, and you wouldn’t want that, now would you, space baby?
Defeated, Gribby’s hands are down by his sides now, his expression sullen as a chastised first grader’s. He drifts through space in search of the music’s source, aware that it may, at this point, be no more than a memory. Still, he thinks, aren’t time and space supposed to be, like, the same thing all the way out here?
Over the years—or miles— the music reverberates, eclipsing all other memories, merging with the last remnants of the godhead fantasy until the two are one and, together, they make up all there is. The memory of that carefree young man dancing the tarantella, leaping through the air like a marionette, is the final legacy of all of existence, the diamond that all the carbon in the universe finally compressed itself into.
He fingers the implant under his ear as proof that he’s not really dead, gone forever from the universe he helped to create. Terrified at how close he came to tearing it out, he fondles it now, scratching it, batting at it, feeling all sensation dry up in his groin and pool under his ear, until one day, perhaps centuries later, long after his lower body has atrophied and his mind has ceased to produce new thoughts, a voice from the deep past, the age of myth and miracle, resurfaces in his ear. “Your account is now empty, the voice gloats, so your implant is set to self-destruct.”
The voice begins to fragment and echo as gluey white foam leaks down Gribby’s neck and he roils in a combination of pleasure and pain. “Time is not space, time is money,” the voice adds, and now both have run out. Your complimentary final scene is loading.
The dead space around him judders and jolts as the light dims and the shapes of walls and a ceiling grow out of nothing, quickly simulating the décor of a smoky, Weimar-era nightclub. Gribby’s the lone occupant, sipping a cocktail, watching Hitler and Sun Ra take their places on the bandstand and begin to play a set just for him, like he’s some big-spending Euro VIP in the late 1920s.
At the end of an enchanting hour, they stop and say, in one voice, “For our final number, are there any requests from the crowd?”
And Gribby, addressing someone other than himself for what feels like the first time in his life, says, “Play ‘The Root of All Pornography’ for me one last time.”
They nod, happy to oblige. After Hitler has tuned up a bass and Sun Ra has taken a seat behind an old cabaret piano, they strike up a rambling two-step rhythm and vamp for a few bars. Then they begin to sing, in unison, “There once was a universe, it was a pretty cozy place/There once were some people/They danced with joy and grace/There once was a blue-green planet Earth/But now, poor Gribby, it’s just you in outer space.”
Gribby finds he’s tapping and singing along as the song reaches the chorus—“the root of all pornography, the root of all pornography, the root of all pornography is this: that anything at all, anywhere, ever used to exist”—and, unable to imagine the song ending, he shouts through his slit throat, “Encore! Encore! Play it again!”
For the moment, Sun Ra and Hitler keep singing, so Gribby springs to his feet, knocking his cocktail over as he reprises the tarantella he danced all those millennia ago. His body’s creakier and slower now, his eyes milky and his hearing shot, but his spirit’s free as he reels around and around the slowly vanishing room. He throws his hands in the air and whips his atrophied legs in frantic circles, his pajamas drenched in sweat and open at the crotch as he jigs like a risen god, determined not to stop until there’s literally nothing left of him.