March 12, 2007

I performed at this Edgar Allen Poe event at NYU this week. HKATZNYU's Matt was putting it together. I just did a reading: I like the feeling of it just being you and a mic and a music stand with your piece on it. I'm also too lazy to memorize. They had me in a spotlight and everything. It was a gas.

Here's the thing I wrote for the event: it's based on the Poe story "The Fall Of The House Of Usher."

My heart was filled with a great melancholy as I gazed upon the house of Usher. When I say the house of Usher, I mean a 50,000 square foot mansion in the suburbs of Atlanta, and when I say “Usher,” I mean the popular R&B singer. I had been invited to Usher’s house after winning a contest I unwittingly entered by adding Usher as my friend on MySpace. I am not a big Usher fan, I just thought it would be funny to have my top 8 friends be made up entirely of male R&B singers. With Chris Brown and Ne-Yo already in place, Usher had seemed like the next logical step. And now, here I was, standing outside of Usher’s house in Atlanta. The irony would have made me laugh, if my heart was not full of such melancholy.

The melancholy came from the fact that Usher’s house seemed to have fallen into disrepair. I wasn’t sure it was in disrepair, because I hadn’t seen the house when it was new. It is totally possible that Usher told the architect to build his house with grime-covered walls, broken windows, and an enormous crack running down the side. But I was pretty sure this was not the case, as I vaguely recalled seeing an episode of MTV’s “Cribs” a few years back where Usher took the MTV cameras on an all-access tour of his house. I didn’t remember any grime-covered walls, broken windows, or enormous cracks. I DID remember Usher being very proud of something he called The Boom Boom Room, a room which featured a rotating cast of strippers with names like Candi and Pernice, a DJ, and a hot-tub full of cognac. Though I wasn’t sure how a hot-tub full of cognac would work, exactly, I was pretty sure a dip in its liquor-y depths, followed by a lapdance from Pernice, would cure the melancholy in my heart. I moved towards the gate emblazoned with a giant letter “U,” and pressed the buzzer, which was emblazoned with a tiny letter “U.”

After entering the house, a manservant brought me in to see Usher. I was shocked at Usher’s appearance: He was bloated, unshaven, and very unsexy, laying on a couch watching a DVD of “The Faculty.” Usher was in the movie “The Faculty.” I knew this because I had bought the DVD for someone one Christmas as a joke.

The manservant dismissed himself, leaving Usher and I alone. Usher didn’t seem to know I was there.

“Hello, Usher,” I said, “I’m—“

“SHHH,” said Usher, “This is my best scene.”

I looked towards the TV. It appeared to be a scene between Josh Harnett and Elijah Wood.

“But Usher,” I said, “You aren’t in this scene.”

“Exactly,” Usher said, and then burst into tears.

I had no idea what to do. “Hush now, Usher,” I said, “It’s going to be okay.” I tried to pat him on the head, but he slapped my hand away.

“I pay someone to do that!” Usher said.

Whoever Usher paid to comfort him, this person did not seem to be doing their job very well. I had an idea. I said: “I know what will cheer you up! Let’s go up to the Boom Boom Room!”

Usher kept blubbering and did not respond. I then thought that, having been famous for a long time, Usher might have grown accustomed to lackeys telling Usher what is best for him but then turning it around to make it sound like it was Usher’s idea in the first place, so I said, “Great idea, Usher! Let’s go up to the Boom Boom Room!”

“Yea,” said Usher, “best idea I’ve had all day.” He stopped crying, at least momentarily, and led me towards the stairs.

“You aren’t the cheese-steak delivery guy, are you?”

“No,” I said. “I’m not.”

“Ah,” said Usher. “The cheese-steak delivery guy is pretty much the only person who comes around anymore. And that’s only because I call him. You know. To order cheese-steaks.”

“No,” I said, “I won a contest. I won a tour of your house.”

“That’s too bad,” said Usher, “I could really go for a cheesesteak right now.” Then he continued up the stairs.

The Boom Boom Room, like the rest of the house, was a very depressing place. I didn’t so much mind, because most places that have strippers are very depressing places. But it didn’t really look like there were any strippers.

I asked Usher what had happened to them. He told me that all of the strippers, including Candi and Pernice, had been offered more money to dance in Diddy’s Boom Boom Room. Diddy’s Boom Boom Room was not actually a room, it was a plane. The memory of his lost dancing girls only seemed to depress him more, so I said, “Well, at least you’ve still got that cognac hot-tub, right?” He gestured listlessly to the corner of the room, where there was a hot-tub-like depression in the floor, but no bubbling cognac.

“We had to empty it out,” Usher said. “Turns out when you heat Hennessy to a certain temperature, it gives off these fumes. The strippers kept passing out.”

I noted that there were no longer any strippers.

“You’re right!” Usher said. “I don’t have to worry about anyone passing out anymore! Let’s party!”

He grabbed a dusty bottle of Hennessy from a side cabinet, opened it, and started pouring it into the hot-tub. The “splash” of the cognac hitting the tub’s bottom echoed off the empty walls of the cavernous Boom Boom Room, highlighting the fact that it was just me and Usher in here, watching Usher pour a bottle of booze into an empty marble pool. But Usher didn’t seem to care and I was glad he seemed cheered up.

When the bottle was empty, there was just a thin brown film of the stuff at the bottom of the tub, not enough to submerge a toe, much less enough an fully grown R&B star and a confused contest winner, but Usher started stripping down anyway. “Party time!” Usher said. “WOOOO!” I said, playing along. But when Usher took off his shirt, I couldn’t help but gasp.

“What?” said Usher.

“Usher,” I said. “Your abs.”

Everyone knows Usher’s abs. Usher’s abs are more famous than Usher. Usher’s abs are more recognizable to the world’s children than Mickey Mouse. Alcoholic beverage companies design their cocktails so they will taste their best while being licked off Usher’s abs. The Platonic ideal of abs that exists in the ether, of which all other abs are merely a shadow, are Usher’s abs.

And Usher’s abs were gone. His stomach now as round and as undefined as the average dude’s.

“I know,” said Usher, “I know what you’re thinking. But I hated those abs. Every picture I took, I had to lift up my shirt and show those abs. Is that a natural position? How many times a day do you lift up your shirt to show your abs?”

“None,” I said, but what I didn’t say that is if I had abs like Usher’s I would never stop lifting up my shirt.

“Exactly!” Usher said. “Those abs were a symbol for everything that was wrong in my life: the shallowness! The vanity! It was all a trick!” The tears were returning to his eyes. “Do you know how much money the record company made on the ring-tones from ‘Yeah?’”

I did not know for sure, but I imagined it was a lot. I myself had purchased a “Yeah” ringtone back in 2004, more as a joke than anything. Now that I thought about it, I had spent a lot of time and energy on Usher-related jokes. Now that I thought about it, perhaps fate had brought me here.

“A lot of money?” I said.

“120 MILLION dollars!” yelled Usher. “A HUNDRED AND TWENTY MILLION! And do you know how much of that money I saw?”

“None of it?” I guessed.

“No, a lot of it!” said Usher, “I got a whole lot of that money, but that’s not the point, because money can’t buy happiness!” Usher was full-on crying again. “Now are we going to party or are we going to party?”

“Let’s party,” I somberly agreed, took off my pants and shirt, and followed Usher into the almost completely empty hot-tub. We sat there with a millimeter-deep puddle of cognac drying on the bottoms of our feet as Usher sobbed softly and I tried to tell him how much I liked the video for “U Remind Me,” which I barely remembered, but I think there was something about an escalator.

Then there was a loud screech from somewhere in the house. Usher and I both looked up.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“No,” said Usher.

There was another SCREECH, and a clank.

“No, it can’t be!” said Usher.

“What can’t be, Usher?”

Another screech, another clank.

“It’s coming from the workout room!” Usher said.

I thought maybe one of Usher’s servants was working out in the workout room without Usher’s permission, or something equally innocuous. But if that was true, why did Usher seem so terrified?

“The abs,” Usher said, “THEY’RE WORKING OUT BY THEMSELVES!!!”

“Okay, look, Usher,” I said, “I don’t know you, and to be honest, I’m not even really a huge fan, so I don’t wanna presume to know all about you, but it seems like fame can be really hard on people, and very mentally straining, so maybe you should talk to somebody, y’know, like a psychiatrist—“

“Shhhhhhh.” Usher put his finger to his lips.

In the silence that followed, there were seven more screeches, and seven more clanks.

“Ten reps,” said Usher in a whisper. “THEY’VE FINISHED THE SET.”

“Alright, I gotta go,” I said, and got out of the hot-tub. I found a towel embroidered with the name
“Pernice,” and assuming she wouldn’t be back for it, dried the cognac off my feet and put my pants and shirt back on. I waved weakly at Usher, who was still pasted in fear to the side of the marble tub. I turned, opened the door, and what was on the other side tore a scream from my lungs.

There, sitting at my feet, were Usher’s abs, looking even more perfect than when they were on Usher’s stomach. They glistened with sweat even in the half-light of the corridor. And then, I swear to you but I understand if you don’t believe it…Usher’s abs winked at me.

“No!” said Usher. Now he was on his feet. He interceded between myself and his abs. “You stay away from him! You STAY AWAY! He’s a fan!” Usher had apparently not been listening when I said I wasn’t a fan, but I didn’t protest. I was glad Usher was protecting me. These abs could kill.

The abs began to shake with fury, and as they did, so did the walls of Usher’s house.

“Go now!” said Usher, but there was nowhere to go, the abs were blocking the way.

“Go where?” I said.

“Behind the DJ booth,” Usher said, “there’s an escape hatch. It’ll take you through the menagerie and the trophy room, keep going and you’ll be home free.”

“What about you, Usher?” I said.

Usher looked at me with absolute conviction. “It’s me or the abs,” said Usher, “and only one of us can sing.”

The house was now tearing itself to pieces. I turned away from Usher and never looked back. Behind the DJ booth, I noticed that all the records were Usher albums. They were tearing themselves from their sleeves and flying in every direction. Just as Usher had promised, the escape hatch took me through the menagerie, where more animals than I had ever seen in any zoo were going feral, driven mad by the ab-force that was destroying the house, and the trophy room was a whirling Satanic vortex of Source Awards, American Music Awards, and other accolades which had now become deadly flying projectiles. I narrowly avoided being decapitated by a Grammy for “Best R&B Vocal Performance” and burst through a vent into the fresh night air.

There was an ungodly roar, and I turned back to see Usher’s house lift from its foundations and draw up into an imploding ball of brick, glass, and masonry that grew smaller by the second. Before it winked out existence completely, I heard what could have been either a desperate scream of unimaginable pain or one final, triumphant high note.

On the edge of Usher’s property was a man on a bicycle, looking on in wonder, holding a bag and a receipt. His hat read “Cheesesteaks To Go.” I shook my head at him. He seemed to understand.

I returned home as quickly as I could, and ignored the following weeks’ MTV News eulogies and Usher-Lives conspiracy theories as much as possible. I had too much respect for a man who died fighting the demon that had lived happily for so many years around his belly button, his greatest attribute that had ultimately been his downfall. For the most part, my life returned to normal, until a few weeks later, when I received a MySpace message. It read as follows:

"Take that, rewind it back, Ursher got the beat to make your booty go (clap)."

I responded with a single word:


Posted by DC at March 12, 2007 02:26 AM

This is the best short story I've read.

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