***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by Douglas Coupland
Dear Reader . . .
Like you, I consider myself a reasonable enough citizen. You know: live life in moderation, enjoy the occasional YouTube clip of frolicking otters and kittens, perhaps overtip a waitress who goes to the trouble of tarting herself up a bit or maybe just make the effort to try to be nice to the poor—yay, poor people!
I suppose, in general, I enjoy traveling through life with a certain Jason Bourne–like dashingness. Oh, no! An assassin is rappelling down the side of the building, armed with a dozen box cutters! What are we going to do? It’s Raymond Gunt! We’re saved!
That’s my name, Raymond Gunt, and welcome to my world. I don’t know about you, but I believe that helping others is a way of helping yourself; what goes around comes around—karma and that sort of guff. So, seeing that I’m such a good soul and all, I really don’t know how to explain the most recent month of my life. There I was, at home in West London, just trying to live as best I could—karma, karma, karma, sunshine and lightness!— when, out of nowhere, the universe delivered unto me a searing-hot kebab of vasectomy leftovers drizzled in donkey jizz.
Whuzzat?! Hello, universe? It’s me, Raymond! What the fuck!
I am left, dear reader, with no other option than to believe that when my world turned to shit last month, it was not in fact me who had done anything wrong. Rather it was the universe, for I, Raymond Gunt, am a decent chap who always does the right thing.
And as I look back to try to figure out when the universe and I veered away from each other, I think it definitely had to be that ill-starred morning when I made the mistake of visiting my leathery cumdump of an ex-wife, Fiona.
It was a blighted Wednesday off Charing Cross Road. After about fifty ignored e-mails, Fi deigned to allow me to come to her office, in a gleaming steel-and-limestone executive tombstone that straddles one of those tiny streets near Covent Garden. The building’s lobby was redeemed by being filled with heaps of that 1990s art about death and fucking—pickled goats, fried eggs and tampons—and there was a faint hissing sound as I passed through it and into the elevator, the sound of my soul being sucked out of me, ever so nicely, thank you.
Behind her desk sat Fiona, elfin, her pixie hair dyed a cruel black. She cocked an eyebrow at me. “Jesus, Raymond, I’ve seen rhesus monkeys that look hotter than you.” She was busy piling caviar atop a Ritz cracker.
“Lovely to see you, too, dear.”
Her office was well-oiled leather and chiseled steel, a fine enough reflection of her method of handling daily life. What was painfully evident was that Fi was minting money with her casting agency. The joke was on me for having suggested that she give the casting gig a try. She’s an expert at meeting people and figuring out instantly what their personal style of lying is and how to make it work for them. What else is acting, if not that?
But you do need to know that Fi is a dreadful, dreadful, dreadful person. She is monstrous. She is the Anti-Shag. She is an atomic bomb of pain. If you puncture her skin, a million baby spiders will explode from her body and devour you alive, pupaing your remains, all the while making little squeaking noises that will taunt you while you die in excruciating agony.
And yet . . .
. . . And yet there is something about Fi’s . . . um, musk. I can loathe her at a distance, but up close that scent overrides every other emotion I harbor for the woman: murderous rage, bilious hatred and not a small degree of fear. Fi is the only woman who’s ever had this effect on me. All the crap I’ve put up with just for a whiff of her: all the times she’s fucked me over, looted my bank account, stolen my pills and trash-talked me all the way from Heathrow to Stansted. My inability to overcome this most primal of attractions has been the downfall of my life. There is no other way to explain one of nature’s most catastrophic and implausible pairings, but I guess that’s what any chap says about his wife.
As I entered her office, Proustian recollections of our time together swam in my head. I felt poetic and wistful.
“One moment, Raymond.” Fi removed a black onyx stash box of coke from a desk drawer, sprinkled some of it on top of the caviar, and began to demolish her snack, conveniently forgetting to invite me to join in. The noises from her mouth were like randomly typed keys: “Vbv bdlkfnsld jz slvbds lbfbakl.”
“Looks delicious, dear.”
Suddenly she leaned back in her chair and began coughing out mouthloads of crackers and caviar. “Vbn. Sfhejwbe cfbiqq fflekh!!!”
Heimlich: yes or no? “Dear?”
She waved me away and finally shot a cluster of sturgeon eggs out her nostril. “Fucking hell.” She used a nearby letter to fan her face. The crisis seemed to have passed. “Ooh. There. Finally it’s gone,” she said.
“The food trapped in my esophagus. It’s in my stomach now.”
“Fucking hell, that’s disgusting, Fi.”
“How is that disgusting, Ray?”
“It’s like you’ve just taken a massive shit inside yourself.”
Fi burst into a cackle. “Sometimes I miss your childlike take on the world, Raymond.” She smiled at me.
“Fi, look, just give me a fucking shooting assignment. I’m three months behind on my rent.”
“Stop throwing your money away on dildos and Asian preteen porn, darling. Then you won’t always be broke.”
“I don’t go to Thailand, dear. Nor am I into goats and gerbils.”
“So what did you really spend all your money on?”
“Fi, need you be such a raging twat?”
“Coke bill overdue?”
“Coke’s a bit out of my league these days.” I glanced over at her door to see a pink silk ascot tied around the knob. “Hmmm. What about you—into autoerotic asphyxiation these days?”
“Oh, don’t mention autoerotic asphyxiation to me! Fucking entertainers! All these actors and musicians ever want to do is strangle themselves while they’re getting off. I can’t believe more of them haven’t died.”
“How does that whole strangling thing work, anyway? I mean, do actors recite a bit of Hamlet, sing a song or two and then suddenly, ‘Oi! I’m famous, and I think I’d better go strangle myself while I come!’?”
“Pretty much. And you’d think they’d hire someone to babysit them while they do it.”
“Yes, but that would wreck the fun, wouldn’t it? ‘Ooh! I can’t breathe! Help me! Help me!’ Not very sexy at all. Chances are your babysitter would be so repulsed by your lack of commitment she’d let you hang anyway.”
“I keep the ascot there to give my clients proper hanging lessons. The DIY sites on the Internet are hopeless, and a dead client is a client who’s no longer making me money.”
I looked at Fiona’s beloved onyx coke box with sad beagle eyes.
“Blow!” said Fi. “Excellent idea.” She dove in.
God only knows how badly I was salivating at this impudent display of purchasing clout. She vacuumed two rails, wiped her nostrils and said, “I like to see you grovel and be deprived of drugs. Life is good.”
“You ball-curdling witch. What is your problem?”
“My problem is you, Raymond darling. I don’t like having you in the same city as me.”
“Can’t say I like it much, either.”
“Yes, but the thing is that you, darling, are a failure. When people bump into you, they justifiably equate me with you, and you have to imagine how that makes me feel.” She put the coke box back into her drawer. “I really can’t have that, at least not until a few more years have gone by and all memory of you and your rapidly accelerating downward failure spiral has faded away like a pensioner’s capacity for long division.”
“I see.” I leaned back in my chair. “I seem to remember a much younger version of you making bedroom eyes at me from the floor of the 1992 Daytime BAFTA Awards when (if I may pat myself on the back here) I accepted my trophy for Best Handheld-Camera Work in a Cooking or DIY Home-Improvement Show.”
“You have to stop living in the past, Raymond.” She made her oh-why-not face. “How would you like a camera gig in the sun-kissed Pacific, ogling young beauties all day, just you and your shoulder cam?”
I kept silent, awaiting the catch.
“There’s no catch, darling.”
“What’s the catch?”
Fiona sighed. “Paranoia has never looked good on you, Raymond. Here I am offering to rescue you from your prison cell of a life, and you make me sound cruel and vindictive.”
“What’s the catch?”
“I don’t know if I’d call it a catch, per se. . . .”
“What’s the catch?”
“Darling, you would have to work for Americans.”
“Jesus fucking Christ.”
“Sorry, darling, but take it or leave it. A friend, Sarah, handles the people for a U.S. network, and she owes me a favor.”
“Who’s this Sarah, then?”
“She’s—well, I’m hoping one day she’ll become my . . . special friend.”
Doubtless some filthy labia-chewing swamp raccoon. “For God’s sake, you’re not still tinkering with lesbianism, are you?”
“If striving to grow as a person is a crime, I stand accused.” Fi clasped her hands together on her desk like a schoolgirl. “Sarah, like me, is only trying to expand her world, and I like to think of myself as a nurturing, mentoring woman.”
“Take it or leave it, Raymond. At the count of three, I rescind the offer. One, two—”
“I’ll take it.”
“Go talk to Billy.”
Her face became all business. It was as if I were no longer in the room as she stared down at her iPad and began browsing through toddlersroastingonaspit.com. She said, “Go on. Billy will arrange your flights and your visa for Kiribati. Lovely place. Whores growing on trees, from what I hear. Coke bushes around every corner.”
After a moment she looked up me. “Really, Ray—be a love and fuck off. And as you leave, Billy will offer you a complimentary bottle of water and some sanitizing hand wipes. Cold and flu season.”
“It’s a wonder Billy hasn’t been strangled with a shoelace by one of those man sluts he arse-rapes nightly out on Hampstead Heath.”
From behind me I heard, “Those days are over, Raymond. I have found love and am a reformed man.” Billy appeared, as polished and moisturized as a daffodil salesman at Harrods but incongruously dressed like a Canadian lumberjack out for a day of chopping down a forest of larches.
“Oh. Hello, Billy.”
I had no mirth in my heart for Billy, and I remain convinced that Billy was part of the chorus saying “Dump the bastard” back during the divorce.
“Going to Kiribati, I hear. Lovely place.”
“Let’s just do the paperwork.”
“Or else what?”
“Be rude to me one more time and I’ll go online and start a wicked, wicked rumor about you.”
“Like . . .” Billy paused a second. “I know: I’ll go into an online chat room posing as you.”
My interest was piqued. “What kind of chat room?”
“A shit-eating chat room. I’m sure there must be hundreds of them. And once there, I start the rumor that you, Raymond Gunt, are a . . . a log hog.”
“Wouldn’t I? Or maybe I’d invent some other scarier category. . . . I know: You’re into funnel cakes.”
Fi cackled with glee, and then her phone rang, a zithering that made my spinal hairs rise. “Both of you—out,” she ordered. “That’s my Bollywood line. Without the rise of the Indian middle classes and their zest for quality English-language entertainment, I’d still be rolling in the muck like you. Now, fuck off, Ray. Really. And enjoy the South Pacific or wherever this Kiribati shithole is.”
Not putting a trapdoor opening into a cobra pit past her, I fucked off. Billy followed me into the hall. He said, “FYI, you get to have an assistant with you on this gig.”
“Yes. All they need is a valid passport and the ability to tolerate you day and night.”
I didn’t absorb what Billy said next. My brain stopped at the word “assistant”—the joy! On a flyspeck of coral dust in the middle of the ocean with no labor laws, no police and most likely no witnesses to whatever punishments I might dole out to my assistant—or rather, my slave. A lifelong dream of human ownership was coming true.
“. . . and so I’ll e-mail you shortly. Good-bye, Raymond.”
“Right. Yes. Good-bye, Billy.”
Down on the street, I looked at my BlackBerry: It was a Wednesday, fuck it, always my bad-luck day. I then sort of spaced out looking at the phone’s screen. Wednesday . . . Wednesday . . . Wednesday . . . what the fuck is a “Wednes”? I mean, for Christ’s sake, think about it.
Wednesday comes from the Middle English Wednes dei, which is from Old English Wodnes dæg, meaning “the day of the English Woden” (Wodan), a god revered in Anglo-Saxon England until about the eighth century. Woden, or Woden in Modern English, is the head god in English heathenism.
So wait a second . . . this guy, Woden, gets a whole fucking day named after him? Do we have no say in this matter? Let’s rename Wednesday something better, like, say, James Bond. And we can call Thursday Hitler and Saturday Tits and . . . You get the idea.
I looked up and saw that I was once again inside that wretched, unwieldy dump people call the real world. I rode home on a series of buses, and what is a bus but failure crystallized into the form of two stories of metal, painted red, hurled out into the world to hoover up losers from the streets of London?
Could be kind of nice. Pretty, even. Who knew . . . maybe my luck had turned.
Republic of Kiribati
The Republic of Kiribati is an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean. It comprises thirty-two atolls and one raised coral island, and is spread over 1,351,000 square miles. It straddles the equator and borders the International Date Line on the east. Its former colonial name was the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. The capital and largest city is South Tarawa.
GDP (PPP, total): $599 million
GDP (nominal, total): $167 million
Internet top-level domain (TLD): .ki
International calling code: +686Quatrième de couverture :
Coupland's eye for the strange, mesmerising wonder of modernity is being put, more than ever, to extremely dark use here. (The fact that it is all so demented - and so ) . . . frequently, belly-achingly hilarious (- only makes that darkness all the more impressive).' Sunday Times
Meet Raymond Gunt. A decent chap who tries to do the right thing. Or, to put it another way, the worst person ever: a foul-mouthed, misanthropic cameraman, trailing creditors, ex-wives and unhappy homeless people in his wake. Men dislike him, women flee from him.
Worst. Person. Ever. is a deeply unworthy book about a dreadful human being with absolutely no redeeming social value. Gunt is a B-unit cameraman whose downward failure spiral takes him from London to Los Angeles and then on to an obscure island in the Pacific where a major American TV network is shooting a Survivor-style reality show. Along the way, we meet Raymond's upwardly failing sidekick, Neal, as well as Raymond's ex-wife, Fiona, herself 'an atomic bomb of pain'.
'Gunt . is sympathetic - in spite of everything - because he says and does the things that ordinary, self-censoring folk would, deep down, like to say and do . . . Gunt's mind is a super-sewer in which it is a pleasure to swim. You can't help giggling, constantly. . contains some of Coupland's finest writing since Shampoo Planet.' Evening Standard
'An often hilarious ride, with several laugh-out-load moments mostly springing from Coupland's inspired observation of our multi-media, techno-driven zeitgeist. Provocative and entertaining.' Daily Mail
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