This is a piece from our online issue, FALL OF MEN, inspired by the New York Review of Books.
CONTENT WARNING FOR FALL OF MEN : Despite the conclusions of the bad men falling in the end, some of these pieces may have sensitive or explicit content. (That said, it might be real cathartic to read a thing where the bad men get thrown into volcanoes or eaten by alligators. Either way, your mental health is really important to us. Take care of yourself!)
BY MICHAEL TAGER
We all know the age-old story. Boy meets girl, boy is diagnosed with “brain cloud,” boy gets girl, girl is freaked out by boy’s impending doom and nihilistic voyage to jump into a volcano, boy loses girl, boy meets identical woman with issues, boy loses that girl, boy meets her sister, then shipwrecks, then they both jump into the volcano but the volcano spits them out and destroys an indigenous race while boy and girl float off into the sunset on luggage. It’s a classic.
But it’s a lie. A story of colonialism, capitalism and the fulfillment of shitty men’s dreams. In every other timeline, it ends as expected.
1) Joe is diagnosed with a brain cloud. He imagines a swirling vortex of dust and pain and memories of when his dog, Arsenic, died in his arms, filthy with mange. He accepts the offer of his boss’s boss’s boss to throw himself into an active volcano as a sacrifice to capitalism. He takes a charter jet to the south pacific, shakes the chieftain’s on the island’s hand, strolls up to the volcano’s lip and hurls himself in.
2) Instead of taking a charter jet, Joe takes a commercial flight, since his boss’s boss’s boss didn’t give him an expense account worth jack-all. The stewardess asks him, “Can I get you anything, hon?” and in a fit of black despair, Joe requests vodka after vodka. After he’s puked all over himself in the front bathroom, he gets confused, stumbles into the cockpit and falls on the pilot, knocking him out and sending the plane into a nose dive, straight into the volcano.
3) Joe takes a languid trip with Patricia, the boss’s boss’s boss’s daughter. He senses an attraction forming between them and after they skirt a maelstrom, he makes a move in the moonlight. She laughs and says, “Really?” and goes below decks. Joe sees nothing but rage and envisions it as a purple power chord leading him to a lockbox. Inside the lockbox is a handgun, which he uses to shoot Patricia and the crew two times each in the back of the skull. When he gets to the volcano, he treks to the top and shoots himself in the temple, pitching forward into hot molten magma.
4) This time, Joe and Patricia are swept oversea when they don’t skirt the storm. They float on luggage for a time, Patricia in a coma. There isn’t enough water to go around, so after two or three days, Joe looks over both shoulders. There’s no one in any direction besides an albatross and some dolphins, so he pushes her into the water where she sinks to the bottom, her blond hair straining for the sky. Joe lives with his guilt until he reaches the island and then he jumps feet first into the volcano.
5) While Patricia is in a coma, Joe thinks about assaulting her. He doesn’t, but he considers it long enough that when he looks over the volcano’s edge, he doesn’t hesitate.
6) Joe does assault Patricia and when they reach the volcano, Patricia shoves him in. “BYE JOE,” she yells to his tumbling form. The islanders cheer and cook her a suckling pig.
7) There’s no assault in any other timeline, but in one they stand at the volcano’s edge. Patricia says, “You know I’m very fond of you, but um, you’re on your own.” And he says, “What?” and she says, “We’ve known each other for two weeks, Joe” and he says, “Ok, that’s fair,” and then he jumps off.
8) In this one he actually doesn’t tell the first girl he has the brain cloud and they date real seriously and get married and have 3 children: Joe Jr., Josephine and Joanna. Joe gets promoted a couple times but stalls out at middle management. He steadily gets more disappointed in his life—despite not dying of his brain cloud—turns to drinking and gambling. One night he hits Josephine in the face and breaks her nose. His family leaves him and he thinks about ending it all. Instead he goes for a mid-life crisis tour and when visiting Hawaii, hiking up Diamondhead, he brings along a liter (!) of vodka and gets real, real drunk. At the top of Diamondhead, he tells the tour guide (a beautifully built, tattooed man named Horatio, for what it’s worth), that “You ain’t better’n me” and charges at him like a bull. Horatio steps aside and tries to subdue Joe, but Joe falls and tumbles and whoops, that’s him falling alllll the way down the slope of Diamondhead.
9) Joe resists jumping into the volcano and the natives hogtie him, all whilst drinking Orange Fanta and carry him to the top. Then they say, “Like all white men, you’re a liar” and toss him in.
10) Joe trips on a rock, hits his head and cracks his skull. The natives shrug and toss him over.
11) Joe is actually an apprentice sorcerer and Patricia is a warrior princess and the volcano is the mouth to hell. But yeah, he still falls into it and is consumed by fire.
12) Oh who cares? Joe is a fucking asshole and he is BURNED ALIVE.
13) Joe has a brain cloud. Joe is offered millions of dollars and luxury for a few days by his boss’s boss’s boss so he’ll jump into a volcano. He accepts. He goes on a date with a girl he likes but it doesn’t work out. He buys himself a new wardrobe. He goes to LA and goes on another date with the boss’s boss’s boss’s daughter but it doesn’t work out. He then hitches a ride on a boat with the other daughter and they bond over a week or so. During a storm, they’re swept overboard and Joe rescues her, keeps her alive for a week or so while she’s in a coma. They make it to the island and the natives celebrate them with a pig roast and a lot of Orange Fanta. They escort him to the top of the volcano and at the edge, Joe has some second thoughts but Patricia tells him she loves him and he says, “Well, I kind of suck, but you don’t so maybe don’t jump in with me.” Patricia, who was swept up in the moment thinks about it and says, “Maybe you’re right.” And then Joe says, “Well maybe this is a bad idea” and he turns around but the ground crumbles away and Joe falls into the volcano and is one with the earth.
Joe doesn’t beat the volcano. Joe can’t beat the volcano. Joe is not worthy of beating the volcano. The volcano is a source of life and power and Joe is a deeply unexceptional man. He is an entitled man, a self-pitying man. He isn’t good enough to beat the volcano. He isn’t good enough for Patricia’s love. He isn’t good enough for the luggage that saves his life. But mostly, he isn’t good enough to beat the volcano.
Joe: 0, Volcano: ∞
Michael B. Tager is a writer and editor from Baltimore. He writes the Barrelhouse Blog series: Spec Script. He is not into the Oxford Comma. Read more of his work at Michaelbtager.com.