Chapter 9

MY BOSS STANDS too close to my desk with his little smile, his lips together and stretched thin, his crotch at my elbow. I look up from writing the cover letter for a recall campaign. These letters always begin the same way:
"This notice is sent to you in accordance with the requirements of the National Motor Vehicle Safety Act. We have determined that a defect exists . . ."
This week I ran the liability formula, and for once A times B times C equaled more than the cost of a recall.
This week, it's the little plastic clip that holds the rubber blade on your windshield wipers. A throwaway item. Only two hundred vehicles affected. Next to nothing for the labor cost.
Last week was more typical. Last week the issue was some leather cured with a known teratogenic substance, synthetic Nirret or something just as illegal that's still used in third world tanning. Something so strong that it could cause birth defects in the fetus of any pregnant woman who comes across it. Last week, nobody called the Department of Transportation. Nobody initiated a recall.
New leather multiplied by labor cost multiplied by administration cost would equal more than our first-quarter profits. If anyone ever discovers our mistake, we can still pay off a lot of grieving families before we come close to the cost of retrofitting sixty-five hundred leather interiors.
But this week, we're doing a recall campaign. And this week the insomnia is back. Insomnia, and now the whole world figures to stop by and take a dump on my grave.
My boss is wearing his gray tie so today must be a Tuesday.
My boss brings a sheet of paper to my desk and asks if I'm looking for something. This paper was left in the copy machine, he says, and begins to read:
"The first rule of fight club is you don't talk about fight club."
His eyes go side to side across the paper, and he giggles.
"The second rule of fight club is you don't talk about fight club."
I hear Tyler's words come out of my boss, Mister Boss with his midlife spread and family photo on his desk and his dreams about early retirement and winters spent at a trailer-park hookup in some Arizona desert. My boss, with his extra-starched shirts and standing appointment for a haircut every Tuesday after lunch, he looks at me, and he says:
"I hope this isn't yours."
I am Joe's Blood-Boiling Rage.
Tyler asked me to type up the fight club rules and make him ten copies. Not nine, not eleven. Tyler says, ten. Still, I have the insomnia, and can't remember sleeping since three nights ago. This must be the original I typed. I made ten copies, and forgot the original. The paparazzi flash of the copy machine in my face. The insomnia distance
of everything, a copy of a copy of a copy. You can't touch anything, and nothing can touch you.
My boss reads:
"The third rule of fight club is two men per fight."
Neither of us blinks.
My boss reads:
"One fight at a time."
I haven't slept in three days unless I'm sleeping now. My boss shakes the paper under my nose. What about it, he says. Is this some little game I'm playing on company time? I'm paid for my full attention, not to waste time with little war games. And I'm not paid to abuse the copy machines.
What about it? He shakes the paper under my nose. What do I think, he asks, what should he do with an employee who spends company time in some little fantasy world. If I was in his shoes, what would I do?
What would I do?
The hole in my cheek, the blue-black swelling around my eyes, and the swollen red scar of Tyler's kiss on the back of my hand, a copy of a copy of a copy.
Why does Tyler want ten copies of the fight club rules?
Hindu cow.
What I would do, I say, is I'd be very careful who I talked to about this paper.
I say, it sounds like some dangerous psychotic killer wrote this, and this buttoned-down schizophrenic could probably go over the edge at any moment in the working day and stalk from office to office with an Armalite AR-180 carbine gas-operated semiautomatic.
My boss just looks at me.
The guy, I say, is probably at home every night with a little rattail file, filing a cross into the tip of every one of his rounds. This way, when he shows up to work one morning and pumps a round into his nagging, ineffectual, petty, whining, butt-sucking, candy-ass boss, that one round will split along the filed grooves and spread open the way a dumdum bullet flowers inside you to blow a bushel load of your stinking guts out through your spine. Picture your gut chakra opening in a slow-motion explosion of sausage-casing small intestine.
My boss takes the paper out from under my nose.
Go ahead, I say, read some more.
No really, I say, it sounds fascinating. The work of a totally diseased mind.
And I smile. The little butthole-looking edges of the hole in my cheek are the same blue-black as .a dog's gums. The skin stretched tight across the swelling around my eyes feels varnished.
My boss just looks at me.
Let me help you, I say.
I say, the fourth rule of fight club is one fight at a time.
My boss looks at the rules and then looks at me.
I say, the fifth rule is no shoes, no shirts in the fight.
My boss looks at the rules and looks at me.
Maybe, I say, this totally diseased fuck would use an Eagle Apache carbine because an Apache takes a thirty-shot mag and only weighs nine pounds. The Armalite only takes a five-round magazine. With thirty shots, our totally fucked hero could go the length of mahogany row and take out every vice president with a cartridge left over for each director.
Tyler's words coming out of my mouth. I used to be such a nice person.
I just look at my boss. My boss has blue; blue, pale cornflower blue eyes.
The J and R 68 semiautomatic carbine also takes a thirty-shot mag, and it only weighs seven pounds.
My boss just looks at me.
It's scary, I say. This is probably somebody he's known for years. Probably this guy knows all about him, where he lives, and where his wife works and his kids go to school.
This is exhausting, and all of a sudden very, very boring.
And why does Tyler need ten copies of the fight club rules?
What I don't have to say is I know about the leather interiors that cause birth defects. I know about the counterfeit brake linings that looked good enough to pass the purchasing agent, but fail after two thousand miles.
I know about the air-conditioning rheostat that gets so hot it sets fire to the maps in your glove compartment. I know how many people burn alive because of fuel-injector flashback. I've seen people's legs cut off at the knee when turbochargers start exploding and send their vanes through the firewall and into the passenger compartment. I've been out in the field and seen the burned-up cars and seen the reports where CAUSE OF FAILURE is recorded as "unknown."
No, I say, the paper's not mine. I take the paper between two fingers and jerk it out of his hand. The edge must slice his thumb because his hand flies to his mouth, and he's sucking hard, eyes wide open. I crumble the paper into a ball and toss it into the trash can next to my desk.
Maybe, I say, you shouldn't be bringing me every little piece of trash you pick up.
Sunday night, I go to Remaining Men Together and the basement of Trinity Episcopal is almost empty. Just Big Bob, and I come dragging in with every muscle bruised inside and out, but my heart's still racing and my thoughts are a tornado in my head. This is insomnia. All night, your thoughts are on the air.
All night long, you're thinking: Am I asleep? Have I slept?
Insult to injury, Big Bob's arms come out of his T-shirt sleeves quilted with muscle and so hard they shine. Big Bob smiles, he's so happy to see me.
He thought I was dead.
Yeah, I say, me too.
"Well," Big Bob says, "I've got good news."
Where is everybody?
"That's the good news," Big Bob says. "The group's disbanded. I only come down here to tell any guys who might show up."
I collapse with my eyes closed on one of the plaid thrift store couches.
"The good news," Big Bob says, "is there's a new group, but the first rule about this new group is you aren't supposed to talk about it.
Big Bob says, "And the second rule is you're not supposed to talk about it."
Oh, shit. I open my eyes.
"The group's called fight club," Big Bob says, "and it meets every Friday night in a closed garage across town. On Thursday nights, there's another fight club that meets at a garage closer by."
I don't know either of these places.
"The first rule about fight club," Big Bob says, "is you don't talk about fight club."
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday night, Tyler is a movie projectionist. I saw his pay stub last week.
"The second rule about fight club," Big Bob says, "is you don't talk about fight club."
Saturday night, Tyler goes to fight club with me.
"Only two men per fight."

Sunday morning, we come home beat up and sleep all afternoon. "Only one fight at a time," Big Bob says. Sunday and Monday night, Tyler's waiting tables. "You fight without shirts or shoes." Tuesday night, Tyler's at home making soap, wrapping it in tissue paper, shipping it out. The Paper Street Soap Company. "The fights," Big Bob says, "go on as long as they have to. Those are the rules invented by the guy who invented fight club." Big Bob asks, "Do you know him? "I've never seen him, myself," Big Bob says, "but the guy's name is Tyler Durden." The Paper Street Soap Company. Do I know him. I dunno, I say. Maybe.

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