New Essays and Art from Ben & Nikita

Nikita and I have both been working hard since Flash-365 ended. In recent months I’ve written some humorous personal essays about my health with art by Nikita. Check them out:

It took until my late twenties for all of my excessive bad habits to catch up to me. And, it was two years after that before I started (trying) to improve my health in different ways; LASIK, Yoga, trying (and failing) to quit smoking.

 

These four essays reflect milestones in this process and they were published over the past six months in Human Parts. I hope you enjoy them.

 

That Time I got Illegal Butt Surgery in Russia

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I was working as a journalist in Saint Petersburg when the butt pain started. The doctor’s heavy Russian accent made me believe I had “gemroids,” which sounded like asteroids made of gemstones, which seemed a lot better than what I actually had: hemorrhoids. More than a month later, it had all gotten much, much worse.

 

Read the full essay for free here.

 


 

The Art of Staying Sober

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A D.A.R.E. officer visited my high school and told us, “Young people think they’re invincible. This isn’t true!” I sat in the back of the room with my hands under my bum. A voice in the back of my head said, “But I am, though.”

 

After graduating high school, I spent the next 10 years unable to sleep, socialize, or exist past 5 p.m. without excessive amounts of alcohol or drugs. We called the drugs “cheat codes.” Want to sleep? Drink this or take that. Want to have fun? Drink that or take this. Want to socialize? Want to not be bored?

 

All of this drinking resulted in three years of on-and-off debilitating digestive issues, the pain of which I masked with (you guessed it) alcohol. It took months of blood and pain, ending in emergency surgery, before I finally thought, “Okay, maybe that D.A.R.E. guy was on to something.”

 

Read the full essay for free here.

 


 

That Time I got LASIK in South Korea

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A typhoon tore through the city that weekend. In Seoul, South Korea, that means dark clouds, 30-plus mph winds, sideways rain, and falling skies. Survival involves dodging branches, skirting garbage, bracing for hail, and a whole lot of running. A typhoon is like pulling a fire alarm in the great outdoors. Think: friendly fire from God, a biochemical attack, and a weapon that targets a population’s umbrella supply.

 

You can imagine the locals’ surprise at seeing me strolling through this mess in drenched clothes and sunglasses with a world-class, dumb-fuck smile tucked under my nose. Why? Simple: A handful of Korean doctors had just shot laser beams into my eyes.

 

My watch alarm buzzed. I dodged a falling branch, skirted a flurry of garbage, braced myself against the hail, and ran into a semi-covered alley between two buildings. I lifted my sunglasses and squirted a generous stream of fake tears into my still-healing eyes. I blinked, looked ahead, and saw an old lady, stopped dead, staring at me. As my brand-spanking-new perfect vision cleared, I smiled. For the first time in my life, without contact lenses, without glasses, without squinting, I could clearly see the look on her face.

 

It said: “You are a fucking idiot.”

 

Read the full essay for free here.

 


 

The Art of Failing to Quit Smoking

 

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Dr. Lee is a startling woman. If I stood in the middle of a field with my mother on one end (a smile and open arms) and Dr. Lee on the other (rolled-up newspapers in each hand), and they both said, “Come here, boy,” without a second’s delay I’d bound my way over to Dr. Lee. Not for safety, not for comfort or health, and certainly not for a good ear-scratching. I’d do it out of pure, primal fucking fear. So when she told me it was time for me to quit smoking, I had a horrible realization: I was going to have to ghost my doctor.

 

Read the full essay for free here.

Moving Day

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I moved into my own body at around twenty-three, only to find myself embarrassed and horrified at the nonsense it had been getting up to.

Especially my mouth.

I was in a club. It was dark. It was late. The Irish man I was talking to looked deep into my eyes.

“You know, I thought you were a decent guy. But you’re kind of a piece of shit,” he repeated. My mouth had just said “what?” even though my ears had been working perfectly fine.

I looked down at my hands. If my mouth has been pulling this shit, what have you bastards been up to, I thought. I used my hands to feel my ears, my nose, my hair.

When was the last time I got a haircut?

I looked back at the Irishman.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, “I had a rough childhood.”

What the hell are you talking about? I thought at my mouth.

“Stop it!” I cried.

The Irishman frowned at me.

“What?”

“Not you! Myself. I’m just really–ah!”

I cut myself off before lying again. I tested my feet, they worked as I expected. I turned around and ran to the bathroom.

I looked in the mirror. My eyes, pupils dilated, my shirt open way too far. I buttoned it. I splashed water on my face.

Not enough.

I walked to the stalls. The big one, even though I wasn’t handicapped. I tore off all of my clothes. I looked down at myself; covered in hair, full of drugs and beer.

“What the hell have you been getting up to?” I asked my nipples. They ignored me. My penis cowered between my legs.

“You’re certainly not innocent!” I remonstrated.

I looked at my toes, unclipped, dirty. I wanted to punish my own body, but I was trapped in it, now.

“I’m ashamed at you!” I told my body as I examined twenty-three years of memories; twenty-three years of no one behind the wheel of this suicidal sack of meat. I put my pants back on. My shirt, too.

“Things are about to change around here!” I proclaimed.

I meant it.

I forget what happened next.

 

What Jerry Had to Say About the Meaning of Life

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My boss walks into the teacher’s room.

“Essay day!” she calls. All the teachers, myself included, groan. She puts a fat stack of hot paper on the communal desk. My first class is a pile of pimples, pit-hair and angst.

Middle school is the worst, I think, taking a mirror from the girl in the front row as I walk in. I pull out the attendance sheet, I look up. The same girl has a new mirror out, bigger, white. I stare at her, mouth open. She rolls her eyes and stuffs it in her bag.

I look around at the sleepy mess of stressed out, pale teenagers. There are no windows.

“Essay day!” I cry, holding up a stack of papers. All the students groan. I look down at the header of the essay. I sigh.

“What gives your life meaning?” I whisper it to myself, groan, and repeat it to the class. They don’t respond, so, I hand the stack to a boy in the front row. He hands them out.

For the next ten minutes I stand at the front of the class, watching, sweating, occasionally itching. Finally, I can’t take it, I walk around.

Each paper I pass I see the same things:

Family, friends, my phone, family, friends, my phone…

One of the students actually managed to misspell phone. I stop and point at it. He looks up at me.

“Ph-oh-ne,” I mouth. He frowns. I shake my head and move on. In the back, I see Jerry. He is smaller than the rest. No hair above his lip, no pimples. He has big old glasses and a blank stare. His pencil is down. I cross my arms.

“Finished, Jerry?”

I can feel the other students turn, eager to watch me reprimand Jerry. Jerry just nods. He turns the paper. I pick it up. There is one sentence written. His handwriting is awful. I look closer.

“Life is meaningless because you can’t fold a piece of paper more than eighth times.”

I read it again. I look back at the class. They quickly turn back to their work. I place Jerry’s essay back on his desk. I take out my pen. He watches me, emotionless. At the top of the page I write–big and red.

A-

He frowns at it. He looks up at me. I shrug.

“Eight, not eighth,” I remind him.

A Giant Floating Ball of Dicks

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It’s late. I watch my friends argue. It is a cool night, a bit wet; windows wide. I consider killing myself in the morning.

“He’s a Dick,” L insists, lighting a joint.

B shrugs, “Everyone is a dick in one way or another”

L nods taking a long hit. He looks up at the ceiling, blows. The smoke pools, listens a moment, rolls it’s eyes and leaves.

L watches it go. He frowns. “Do you think that means if Buddhism is right and we are all god that god is just a giant floating ball of dicks?” He passes me the joint, aggressively.

B is glaring at L. “Where the hell did you learn about Buddhism?” he cries.

“In philosophy class,” L shrugs.

I take a hit of the joint. I cough and gag.

“Oh! philosophy is bullshit,” B snaps.

L hits his hand on the table. “Philosophy is the study of life!” he proclaims.

“That’s damn absurd, absurd, absurd,” B insists.

I watch L settle his hand on the table. He taps with two fingers, calming himself. “Life is absurd,” he decides, looking a bit sad.

“No, life has meaning,” B points out, finding his way back to the joint.

L frowns, “being absurd doesn’t mean something is meaningless, just silly.”

“Right,” B nods, “philosophy is silly, life is silly, it’s all silly. A giant floating ball of dicks.”

That settles it; they are silent. B closes his eyes, bobbing his head to the smell of tires tearing through wet asphalt outside.

L is nodding, “a giant floating ball of dicks,” he whispers, then smiles, knowingly.

I look from B, to L. They are perfectly at peace. I look to the joint burning a hole in the placemat. I pick it up, take a hit.

I cough and gag.

“I’m going to bed.”