A Personal History of Face/Off
I know what you’re thinking. Am I going to murder you. Well look I wish I could tell you that in order to qualify as my victim one must meet certain conditions, and that you absolutely do not meet these conditions so you’re off the hook, but that would be dishonest and as a murderer I am beholden first and foremost to truth. Now you may have heard philosophers question the existence of ultimate truth but any murderer even your basic purse-snatching gunsel knows that truth is real. The act of murder is incontrovertible. Murderers are the last honest citizens left. But OK you don’t want to pursue this line of inquiry you just want to know whether or not I’m going to murder you. Look man a word of advice. Try not to worry so much. Whatever happens happens and you most likely can’t do anything about it so just let things come at you. And they will come.
The murderer brandishes a knife.
Now you’ll notice that I’ve brandished a knife. At this point your fear ceases to be theoretical. Earlier your fear was like a germ—you knew it was there but it wasn’t a big deal and you could wash your hands of it later. But now your fear is like winter breath. When you exhale it’s visible. Brr! It’s cold buddy. Yep yep this knife and I have seen each other through some serious times. Like a cowboy and his horse. Or a cowboy and his gun I guess. Or well ok a cowboy and his knife. I’m sure cowboys carried knives, some of them did I’m sure. Can you see the bloodstains? Ha ha kidding. I’m not sloppy about this. I got this knife earlier today, I lied about that cowboy stuff. No spoilers but if this thing goes in the direction of me murdering you then I can pretty much guarantee I won’t be caught. My record is unblemished.
With a sudden movement, the murderer uses his knife to slash the mark’s coat, causing the fluffy feathers of the coat’s down lining to burst into the air like a reverse snowfall.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, ha ha! I really am, though. Last night I dreamt I was atop this big vertigo-inducing hill trying to go sledding but there was no snow, all was springtime green of the most verdant variety, and then I was in this barn and the door was padlocked and when I eventually busted the door open a mountain of snow came rushing in and I was stuck again. Heh you know what? I didn’t dream that, I just made that up. Just now. You can make up any half-cocked story and tell someone you dreamed it! One of life’s secret pleasures. Much like murder. Well I guess the secret’s out on murder at this point. Yes I suppose murder is no secret at all.
The murderer places the knife between the mark’s teeth and begins to dance a tango with him.
I’m very well-traveled you know. In Argentina I was renowned for my skills. Not my tango skills or my murdering skills, I wasn’t a murderer yet. I was a bus driver and I was renowned for my bus driving skills. I was a mail carrier in Korea and a garbageman in Ghana. I hail from parts unknown. I popped my first mark in a leafy suburb of Cleveland. I was working in the mayor’s office at the time. Gorge on experience that’s what I like to say. Devour experience like it was a sandwich. Everyone likes a delicious sandwich right? You wouldn’t deny a man a sandwich experience so why deny me my favorite experience which is murder. How about that. Really makes you think.
The murderer removes the knife from the mark’s teeth and, without warning, plunges it into the mark’s leg.
I’m not normally a knife man. I mean yes I’ve used knives, I’ve used most every affordable killing tool out there except the mythically perfect icicle. Perfect because it melts etc. Icicle murder is sort of my white whale except I’m not actively pursuing it. If it happens it happens that’s how I feel, you know that. Anyway how are you holding up with this knife in your leg. This is a nonfatal wound obviously I’m just having fun here. When’s the last time you leaked a substantial portion of blood? It’s important to remember what that stuff looks like buddy. Blood is literally our lifeblood. If you lose touch with blood, with the sight and the feel and the other three senses of it, yes even the sound of it, you’re in danger of losing touch with reality, with your own precious selfhood. Listen to the bloodsounds. If you take away nothing else from our meeting let yourself remember that.
The murderer places his ear to the part of the mark’s leg from which the knife protrudes.
Oh yeah. Yep. This is my seashell on the beach, man. These are the bloodsounds. Tremendous. You need to hear this. Hang on you’re going to feel some badness for a sec.
The murderer yanks the knife out of the leg and places it to the mark’s ear.
Listen. Listen intently. This is the substance that was inside your body moments ago and now it’s free and it’s talking to you. Don’t try to extract meaning from the bloodsounds or impose language on them. Blood exists far beyond the reach of human communication or understanding. Quit crying man. If you don’t stop your sobbing I may go ahead and cut your fucking ear off here. Your despair is shortsighted. We still don’t know if you’ll be murdered. Relax. I’m trying to share an experience with you. Let’s listen together. Shh.
We had got accustomed to the idea that Aunt Lily had formed the vulgarest image of herself as having a heart of gold, and often wrote herself atrocious lines to be said in that character, and delivered them like the worst of actresses, yet had in fact a heart of gold.Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows
It was the idiot child himself first dubbed me Moleman. I’d been hurled to the shores of Lake Springfield, hideous in my shriveled nudity, mind an amnesiac muddle from the dual journeys of space and time. For some reason fascinated by a red ant struggling through the sand, I followed its perilous progress inland, toward a spot where the boy performed his own useless observation of life—in this case a worm’s, the child cooing and giggling at the novelty of its limbless gait. When the idiot grew weary of his own incomprehension he looked up and there I was. The two of us united in confusion and stature, roughly the same height despite chasmic decades of age difference.
At first he backed away, ready to flee, stranger-danger training courtesy of his father the police chief. But the longer he fixed his gaze on my compact form, the more harmless I must have seemed. I have been informed many times, when the people of this town deign to spare an utterance or two in my direction, that I am cute. Never mind that I was sent here on a mission likely to incur casualties. Never mind that, where I came from, I earned more military decorations than any so-called hero from the era of battlefield and sea wars. Never mind that I was solely responsible for protecting Springfield—that benighted burg whose very name, in its hopeless averageness, signified the town’s expendability—from certain catastrophe.
They never listened. They just smirked and clicked their tongues at the tiny old man with the streak of poor luck. Later, they openly laughed at me. It was sport. Look what deadly misfortune befalls Moleman this week. Laugh as my truck bursts into flames. Laugh as a flock of gulls target my cataracted eyes for their awful pecking. Laugh—oh, listen to that unspeakable boor of Evergreen Terrace laugh and laugh—as I am hit in the groin by a football.
It was enough to make me wonder if this town deserved to be saved.
But it was here on the beach that the idiot boy stuck me with the degrading appellation from which I’ll never be free. Lord knows what cartoon or picture book planted the notion of subterranean creatures in his head, or why that Scandinavian syllable was his first choice of Christian name. But after he’d ascertained that I was more curious discovery than fearsome threat, as he gracelessly hopped toward Clancy Wiggum’s unconditional embrace, the words he barked in prepubescent pitch echoed ominously in every corner of sadistic Springfield: Look what I found! A Moleman! Hans Moleman! Hans Moleman!
They clothed me in idiot rags, those fat Wiggums, Sarah fretting over Clancy’s lapses in hospitality, the Chief not caring to change his usual pantsless state for my sake. I was still befogged, uncertain as to how I’d arrived here and what needed to be done before I could leave. When the chief wobbled out to the station and the child bounced to school, a pair of bowling balls whose roundness spared no pin, I wandered the house in Ralph’s soiled shirts, accepting fruit and hot oatmeal from Sarah when I tired of pacing.
I’d sit on their porch, gazing at the nuclear smokestacks in the distance. Springfield. I figured out soon enough that it was a homecoming. I was not a stranger here myself. I was a soldier, a leader of men, entrusted by my government to execute a mission here in the land of my birth and time of my youth. Identity and purpose crystallized in my mind like Tetris pieces, a chunk of self-knowledge landing to make room for a falling block of duty. It all came together one sunny Sunday when from the porch I observed Ralph at play in the yard’s inflatable pool with a pair of space alien toys.
“We come from the planet Hugzankisses!” The boy waved one alien in front of the other to indicate dialogue attribution and then, following some obscure impulse of physical curiosity or nascent self-destructiveness, shoved the other alien up his right nostril. As the only adult in scolding distance, I hobbled my way to the pool to make sure no plastic was permanently snorted, but my tired knees weren’t up to it and I tumbled face-first into the water.
Earlier I’d been too distracted to sense the familiarity of the boy’s chiming innocence, his gilded stupidity. Now the recognition ignited my memory like the car that would later catch fire when Springfield’s stoned school bus driver ran me off the road. Ralph’s voice rang in my ears like the uncanny echo of a long-forgotten dream. A dream that in fact had never ended. I, Hans Moleman, was none other than this idiot child’s superannuated self. Sent back in time, back home, now baptised by my cherubic double.
Emerging from the water, one look at the toy aliens knocked loose my remaining memory block. Galactic pirates Kang and Kodos, in their next failed attempt to usurp Earth, would wipe out Springfield entire. I was here for damage control. To save as many lives as possible. The life you save may be your own, they say. For Ralph Wiggum and me, this was true twice over.
Time is not precisely at a standstill, in Springfield, but its pace cannot be designated as a crawl. Crawling implies steady, consistent progress. Time in Springfield—in whatever unmapped iteration of Springfield I found myself exploring as a time traveler—moves like a hitman: Measured steps or quick flurries depending on the situation, and imperceptible stealth in either case. The town keeps up with shifts in culture and technology, but not in traditional increments; one day we didn’t have Twilight or iPads, the next we could read K-Stew gossip on the newest devices. No one ages here, not so you’d notice. Seasons change, but not according to any known calendar. Even death seems indefinitely forestalled for most of us, not least of all me—I who have lived through countless disasters that would have proven fatal in both my non-Springfield future-past and my Springfield past-past. When Monty Burns drills a hole in your brain and the next thing you remember is waking up to the sound of Lake Springfield’s crashing waves, you know that whatever celestial authority or hiccup of space-time governs your affairs is inclined to hit the reset button.
Given this loose temporal framework, not to mention my own dissociations with time as a visitor from the goddamn future, how was I to perform my duty as hometown hero?
Some years after my baptismal revelation (hard to keep track), having discovered a vocal transponder hidden inside my walking cane, I was able to make contact with my commanding officer in the future. He had little explanation for the local peculiarities.
“Is it possible something went wrong with the trip back? That I branched into some alternate reality?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Commander Rod Flanders. “Your time coordinates are precisely when they should be.”
I considered telling the Commander about his boyhood self, bereft of mother but blissful anyway or trying damn hard to be. Similarly I felt tempted to play fortuneteller to the young Rod, let him know that something down the line would shake his faith and free him from his father’s proselytistic grip. But no one in Springfield would credit the prognostications of withered old Moleman. A thousand ruinous curses on my comical frailty! I unloaded my woes on Commander Flanders.
“Sir, even if I had some reliable way of knowing when Kang and Kodos were going to make their move, which, given the odd passage of time here, seems impossible—”
Flanders interrupted. “We know the invasion takes place on April Fool’s Day of the year to which we sent you back, Lieutenant Wiggum.”
“There’s been no April Fool’s Day in the years I’ve spent here, sir. And even if one were to present itself, I seriously doubt my ability to persuade the people of Springfield of a credible threat.” Here I paused, preparing for a soldier’s grave humiliation. “I am not respected by the locals, sir.”
“Not respected? In good old Springfield?”
“I am seen as a… as a joke. Sir.” Restraining my seethe, I recounted to the Commander how I’d been left for dead, buried alive, prodded and probed at will, ignored in times of need and crowded with mocking attention when I wanted solitude. I didn’t tell him that not a single employee at Springfield’s secret Sex Cauldron would even look at me. I withheld intel on psychotic Bob Terwilliger, with whom I’d attempted to form an alliance of outcasts, who embroiled me in a kidnapping scheme that resulted in an array of stab wounds decorating my desiccated body like unvisited landmarks on a long-outdated map. I didn’t tell him about my younger self’s depressing distinction—eight years old and already the village idiot.
Commander Flanders murmured gruffly, an overcompensation for the boyish falsetto that never completely descended. “Just be ready, Wiggum. When those slobbering sacks of alien goo pay our home a visit, you’re all that stands between thousands of innocent folks and tragic destruction.”
Innocent. The word made me laugh aloud, a sensation that caused my deflated lungs to riot inside my sunken chest. As I hacked myself into a reverie of bygone future thrills at the helm of an Army robot console, I heard a harsh click on the transponder, and Commander Flanders became the latest Springfieldian to turn away from me in what I knew deep down to be entirely warranted disgust.
I was living these days in the Springfield Retirement Castle, a dreadful crèche of feeble seniors suspended in near-death dementia, where Clancy Wiggum dumped me to relieve his family of its unsung scion. Oafs like Abe Simpson and Jasper Beardly vied for my attention with dull pastimes such as bingo and nostalgia. The staff was constantly finding new ways to neglect my medical needs, and one day in the dining hall nobody helped me when I fell in the garbage disposal.
The Wiggums made occasional visits to this funhouse, my old “host family” as they saw it, some frayed strands of guilty obligation tethering us still. Clancy never said as much, maybe his imagination was too limited even to form the conscious thought, but I always felt he sensed on some level the mysteriously potent connection that arises when a son is his father’s helpless elder. Not that you’d know it from our conversations.
“Caught a perp in this place once,” the Chief reverting to the same anecdote he always told on our pause-laden visits. “Chased him into the game room, knocked over some Parcheesi pieces. He tried to escape through the window, I yelled ‘Freeze!’ and wouldn’t you know the old fella’s hip gave out right there. Cuffed him on this very floor, oldest scumbag ever to rob the Kwik-E-Mart.”
At this point Ralph began a violent campaign for attention from everyone in sprinting distance, tugging on Jasper’s beard, pouring a pitcher of water on Abe’s head, offering his gnomic nuggets of anti-wisdom to nurses and other familial visitors. “My underpants feel slimy!” He declaimed to no one in particular. I adjusted my own foul undercarriage. Ah, Ralph—we’re not so different, you and I.
The child spotted Abe’s spiky-haired granddaughter reading quietly in a corner, bounced in her direction to discharge more unwitting harassment. Were such observations to be my permanent fate, awaiting some dark April Fool’s Day of the soul, never to arrive? Was it possible for such an unteachable puddle of chub to grow into the man who valiantly piloted combat robots in the first planetary revolution—the hero I can almost remember being? These thoughts were interrupted when a foot, belonging as it turned out to Abe’s rascal grandson, made unmerciful contact with my luckless groin. As I keeled over, to the inattention and/or schadenfreude of everyone in the facility, Clancy and Sarah having already whisked Ralph away to a world of domestic forgiveness, I prayed to Kang and Kodos or the force that controls them to liberate me, deliver me a sign, grant me safe passage from the place I could no longer bear never not to call home.
Whatever answered my prayers was in no hurry. Life went on with no sign of prank holidays or space warfare. My humiliations and calamities amassed. Liquored up one night I became convinced that I was an ornately plumed bird, and attempted to launch myself in flight from atop Moe’s Tavern; stumbling outside after last call, the lush Barney Gumble mistook my flattened post-impact body for a bench, and I spent the night crushed under his snoring bulk. Have I mentioned the trend of spontaneous combustion? And let’s not even discuss the various incidents involving zoo animals. If time in Springfield moves like a hitman, as I posited earlier, the hitman’s target must be none other than my own dignity.
And then one day, who can say how many weeks or decades after my rebirth as Hans Moleman, adults and children alike whispered the words April Fools—almost tenderly, as if they knew this could be their last act—and I craned my Frankenstein neck to the skies, checking for signs of alien menace.
The spaceships arrived at noon.
Before they appeared, I was already energized. An urgent visit to chez Wiggum. I nearly crashed into a fully nude Ralph, arms outstretched, propelling himself through hallways with spitty airplane mouth sounds.
“Mommy says I can fly for real if I put pants on!” The idiot looking around, then leaning in confidentially, “but I never saw a airplane wear pants. Have you, Mr. Moleman?”
“Why yes, Ralph. All airplanes wear pants.”
“April Fool’s, Ralph. Where are your parents? It’s very important I speak to them right now.”
Soon I’d advised Clancy and Sarah, in the most convincing terms I could summon without actually saying “time travel,” that they absolutely must leave Springfield at once. Did I have another family, somewhere in the future? I couldn’t remember, and whatever happened today, I probably wouldn’t see them again even if they happened to exist.
While Sarah marshaled the family’s belongings and packed up the car, I asked Clancy for a word, filling him in on my dilemma: Attempt some sort of evacuation on behalf of people who’d both ignored and contributed to my misery, or let our new insect overlords reduce all of Springfield to rubble?
“Hans, I’ve been the chief of police here for—nuts, I dunno, as long as I can remember. I’ve seen these people at their worst and their best. And you know what? Their best just isn’t very good.”
“But is that their fault, Clancy? Perhaps they only obey their nature.”
“Yeah, maybe, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned here, you can’t let a perp go free. They’ll always be back to shoot at you, make you chase ‘em all over town when all you want to do is have a long, relaxing sit. Look, son, it’s like we tell Ralphie, just follow your heart. Well, except when he tries to clean the oven with his tongue. Anyway, we’d better be going, right? Good luck, Hans.”
The jolly trio sped off toward Shelbyville and whatever lay beyond.
Already exhausted from the morning’s moral reflection, I returned to the Castle to rest up before the final reckoning. Jasper was splayed on the napping couch, his beard a palimpsest of crumbs, so I tickle-tortured him until he fell down. Cruelty, that ultimate two-way street, has never been out of the question for me when opportunities arise.
When I woke up all was chaos and panic. The sky above Springfield was the color of crocodiles.
No one was in charge. Chief Wiggum, of course, was gone. Rumors swirled that Mayor Quimby, having been tipped off by the network of secret knowledge to which even the minor ranks of America’s power elite have access, had been spirited away the night before. A raving, grief-stricken Waylon Smithers spread the news that Monty Burns was dead, something about sonic vibrations from the spacecraft, his last words a declaration of love for some other century. In the unofficial Springfield chain of command, that left Seymour Skinner, who hanged himself in the principal’s office; Ned Flanders, reduced to manic street preaching; and top medical man Julius Hibbert, who could be found wandering side-by-side with Nelson Muntz, both of them helplessly laughing at the carnage in the streets.
Kang and Kodos led a fleet of warships, bombing the town’s landmarks with the architectural sadism of Hollywood spectacle: Power Plant a puddle of ooze, Krusty Burger a swamp of grease, Escalator to Nowhere forever merged with its destination.
I had napped away my chance to save Springfield, if such a chance ever existed. I’d like to report feelings of guilt or sorrow, or at least a conflicted inner turmoil. But the truth is I felt wonderful. Relief and satisfaction filled me like water in a drowning man’s lungs. My life was in grave danger, but for the first time since locking eyes with myself at the lake, I felt something close to serenity.
Beams of green light began streaming down from the ships, sucking up unsheltered Springfieldians. Whatever the aliens’ rationale for annihilation, they probably figured a few old-fashioned abductions couldn’t hurt. Up went Lenny and Carl, facing the unknown in tandem.
I stripped naked and planted my feet firmly on a patch of pavement unoccupied by human shrapnel. As the beam elevated my useless body, I was treated to a memory of a champagne-soaked victory celebration at the Army cybernetics compound, and I even had time to wonder, as I beheld the bird’s-eye vista of my birthplace losing its battle with time, would the inside of the spaceship be upholstered with velvet of impossible softness or painted in colors no human eye had ever seen?
Once I dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but they told me I needed some “training.” Oh, well, let’s all go get some “training.” What a perfect world that would be.Jack Handey, The Stench of Honolulu
Daisys are white and violets are blue. Roses are red and buttercups are purple. Even though they smell pretty it doesn’t mean that they look prettyer than you.2nd grade poem at my workplace