I’ve always been interested in the concept of popularity.
It started when I visited a friend’s house and saw Nickelodeon on his TV—I’d only ever watched Cartoon Network, so I asked if he watched that as well. To my exaggerated shock, he didn’t. At school the next day, I ran around asking everyone in my class what channel they watched, and overwhelmingly met with the answer “Nickelodeon.” Fascinated, I tried watching Nickelodeon to see what the fuss was about and discovered that it was a huge sack of shit. Right then, I knew it was my fate to have obscure tastes for the rest of my life.
Nevertheless, I started reading magazines that ran popularity polls on topics ranging from movies to foods. One such poll determined that Cheerios were the most popular breakfast cereal in America, and my friends confirmed that they, too, ate Cheerios every morning. And here I’d thought my Frosted Flakes were “GR-R-R-REAT!” but in reality, most moms wouldn’t let their kids near the sugary corn. Therefore, not having learned my lesson before, I decided to try Cheerios—and to my surprise, I’ve eaten them every day since.
I was pouring a bowl of the delicious o’s, enjoying the cacophony of waterfalls crashing on my roof, while Purple Steve lay upon my kitchen table. You can’t possibly understand the surreality of pouring a bowl of Cheerios right in front of someone and not being able to say, “you want a bowl?” because you’re pretty sure they can’t eat. I convinced myself that I wasn’t being a dick and filled the bowl with milk.
“So,” I began, while pulling a spoon from a nearby drawer, “Steve—mind if I call you Steve?”
“Okay then—Steve. Are you the kind of guy who hates it when people ask too many questions?” I shoveled the succulent golden greatness into my mouth.
“I’m used to it.”
“Mm,” I swallowed. “Good, ’cause I’ve got about three and a half metric shit-tons of questions for you. You want me to wait, or I can start now?”
“Go ahead. I’m not going anywhere. Rather, I can’t.”
I made a sour face, “oh man, don’t say that. If you put it like that, it means you’d leave if you could.”
“Alright then, allow me to rephrase. I am a magical entity beyond description, sent to this dimension seven-thousand years ago to travel the universe in search of space-time abnormalities. I am only capable of communicating with non-transient life forms by way of electrical frequencies, hence my current state as a beam of purple lightning encircling a pole. I’ve been asked at least nine-hundred metric shit-tons of questions.”
I chewed down another spoonful. “That’s pretty boss.”
Steve didn’t reply, so I started contemplating my first question.
“Okay, so if you communicate through electrical frequencies, how come you don’t possess something like a TV—or a beeper if you want to be portable?”
Steve let out a long, heavy sigh that I hoped had nothing to do with my question. “Because of my nature as what is essentially a sentient energy cloud, I lack any control over my physical self. I follow the flow of the universe wherever it carries me.”
“So the flow of the universe took you to earth, and you became a lightning bolt, destined to strike this very pole?”
“In essence, yes. Technically, my physical self exists in every place it’s ever been at the same time, and I can choose to experience any part of it. Thus, I exist in many places, but currently, I am experiencing myself as an electric current running through… whatever this is exactly.”
“Some kind of garden-hose attachment.”
“Why were you holding a garden-hose attachment that wasn’t connected to a hose?”
“It’s a long story, with roots in childhood trauma. I don’t feel like telling it again, so I suggest you refer to Chapter One.”
“That’s fine, I’m not honestly that curious.”
“It’s a good story.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
I shrugged, “suit yourself.”
There was a bit of awkward silence as I turned my attention to finishing the Cheerios and placing the bowl in the sink. As I returned to the table, I found myself deep in contemplation.
“Okay, let me summarize a bit. You’re Steve, an incomprehensible enigma of sentient energy existing in many places, but currently experiencing yourself as a purple lightning bolt circling a pole. Correct?”
“So far, basically, yes.”
“Question one: Why are you choosing to experience yourself here right now instead of elsewhere?”
“This is the only place I currently exist that I can communicate with a sentient life form, i.e. you. Frankly, being a cloud or floating space energy is completely fucking boring.”
“Okay, that makes sense. Makes me feel kinda special. Now, question two: as a lightning bolt attached to a pole, what can you do?”
Steve was silent for a moment. “In terms of…?”
“Like, do you make the pole super-strong, like a lightsaber or something?”
“I can’t say for sure, except that I’d probably have melted through your table if that were the case.”
“If I touch you, will I get electrocuted?”
“That I can say will definitely happen.”
“So, okay, you’re still a powerful electrical current. Is it possible for you to intensify yourself? Like, speed up your molecules and get super-hot?”
“Pshhh, I dunno, I hadn’t thought about it. I can try, but you might want to get me off the table first.”
“Right.” I gripped Purple Steve by the handle and stood up, exhaling heavily and taking a pose like I fully intended to fence someone in three seconds.
“Okay, here I go.”
Disappointingly, there was no sound of electrical popping or ringing to signify what Steve was doing, but the lightning around the pole seemed to shine brighter and jump around more.
“Alright, I am now as intense as I can be without melting the pole.”
“Nice! Do you mind if I test you on something?”
“No; really, you don’t have to ask about stuff like this, I am way beyond being upset over little things.”
“What are you going to test me on?”
“I’ve got just the thing, hold on.” After saying that, I realized how completely pointless it was telling him to “hold on.” We proceeded down the hall and into my bedroom.
Four years ago, my older brother (twenty-three at the time) got together with a bunch of friends to film a “b-horror indie movie.” It was an extremely violent affair about a samurai fighting hordes of zombies. Literal tanks of fake blood were taken to the shoots, and my brother was a master at home-brewing slightly convincing body parts and cast molds that could be turned into dead zombies.
I played one of the nameless stock zombies, and, with probably a bit of sadistic intent, my brother decided to cut my character in half vertically. To accomplish that, he created a cast mold of my body by wrapping me from neck to toe in tape. The sticky shell was then dressed in the clothes I’d been wearing during my performance, so that with the camera positioned behind it, viewers wouldn’t be able to tell that it wasn’t me. We completely filled the tape body with fake blood and foodstuffs that looked like organs, and then capped it with a hollowed-out foam mannequin head with a lump of uncooked ground beef inside of it.
For reasons that had nothing to do with my brother’s intent, the shot was amazing.
After filming was complete, I taped the shell’s parts back together, restoring it to a very deformed version of myself, and held onto it. I named it “Tape Man.”
For the first time in at least two years, Tape Man emerged from my closet and posed in the middle of the living room. Then, in a surreal reprisal of its role from Samurai Bill vs. The Zombies, it was cut in half—Purple Steve having melted through its body as if it were made of ice.
For a moment, I stood, silent, over the former Tape Man’s corpse, letting the phantasmagoric situation wash over me.
“…I just killed myself.”
Purple Steve let out another heavy sigh.