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MY BOSS BRINGS another sheet of paper to my desk and sets it at my elbow. I don't even wear a tie anymore. My boss is wearing his blue tie, so it must be a Thursday. The door to my boss's office is always closed now, and we haven't traded more than two words any day since he found the fight club rules in the copy machine and I maybe implied I might gut him with a shotgun blast. Just me clowning around, again.
Or, I might call the Compliance people at the Department of Transportation. There's a front seat mounting bracket that never passed collision testing before it went into production.
If you know where to look, there are bodies buried everywhere.
Morning, I say.
He says, "Morning."
Set at my elbow is another for-my-eyes-only important secret document
One pair of heavy black shoes.
Two pair of black socks and two pair of plain underwear.
One heavy black coat.
This includes the clothes the applicant has on his back.
One white towel.
One army surplus cot mattress.
One white plastic mixing bowl.
At my desk, with my boss still standing there, I pick up the original list and tell him, thanks. My boss goes into his office, and I set to work playing solitaire on my computer.
After work, I give Tyler the copies, and days go by. I go to work.
I come home.
I go to work.
I come home, and there's a guy standing on our front porch. The guy's at the front door with his second black shirt and pants in a brown paper sack and he's got the last three items, a white towel, an army surplus mattress, and a plastic bowl, set on the porch railing. From an upstairs window, Tyler and I peek out at the guy, and Tyler tells me to send the guy away.
"He's too young," Tyler says.
The guy on the porch is mister angel face whom I tried to destroy the night Tyler invented Project Mayhem. Even with his two black eyes and blond crew cut, you see his tough pretty scowl without wrinkles or scars. Put him in a dress and make him smile, and he'd be a woman. Mister angel just stands his toes against the front door, just looks straight ahead into the splintering wood with his hands at his sides, wearing black shoes, black shirt, black pair of trousers.
"Get rid of him," Tyler tells me. "He's too young."
I ask how young is too young?
"It doesn't matter," Tyler says. "If the applicant is young, we tell him he's too young. If he's fat, he's too fat. If he's old, he's too old.
Thin, he's too thin. White, he's too white. Black, he's too black."
This is how Buddhist temples have tested applicants going back for bahzillion years, Tyler says. You tell the applicant to go away, and if his resolve is so strong that he waits at the entrance without food or shelter or encouragement for three days, then and only then can he enter and begin the training.
So I tell mister angel he's too young, but at lunchtime he's still there. After lunch, I go out and beat mister angel with a broom and kick the guy's sack out into the street. From upstairs, Tyler watches me stickball the broom upside the kid's ear, the kid just standing there, then I kick his stuff into the gutter and scream.
Go away, I'm screaming. Haven't you heard? You're too young. You'll never make it, I scream. Come back in a couple years and apply again. Just go. Just get off my porch.
The next day, the guy is still there, and Tyler goes out to go, "I'm sorry." Tyler says he's sorry he told the guy about training, but the guy is really too young, and would he please just go.
Good cop. Bad cop.
I scream at the poor guy, again. Then, six hours later, Tyler goes out and says he's sorry, but no. The guy has to leave. Tyler says he's going to call the police if the guy won't leave.
And the guy stays.
And his clothes are still in the gutter. The wind takes the torn paper sack away.
And the guy stays.
On the third day, another applicant is at the front door. Mister angel is still there, and Tyler goes down and just tells mister angel, "Come in. Get your stuff out of the street and come in."
To the new guy, Tyler says, he's sorry but there's been a mistake. The new guy is too old to train here, and would he please leave.
I go to work every day. I come home, and every day there's one or two guys waiting on the front porch. These new guys don't make eye contact. I shut the door and leave them on the porch. This happens every day for a while, and sometimes the applicants will leave, but most times, the applicants stick it out until the third day, until most of the seventy-two bunk beds Tyler and I bought and set up in the basement are full.
One day, Tyler gives me five hundred dollars in cash and tells me to keep it in my shoe all the time. My personal burial money. This is another old Buddhist monastery thing.
I come home from work now, and the house is filled with strangers that Tyler has accepted. All of them working. The whole first floor turns into a kitchen and a soap factory. The bathroom is never empty. Teams of men disappear for a few days and come home with red rubber bags of thin, watery fat.
One night, Tyler comes upstairs to find me hiding in my room and says, "Don't bother them. They all know what to do. It's part of Project Mayhem. No one guy understands the whole plan, but each guy is trained to do one simple task perfectly."
The rule in Project Mayhem is you have to trust Tyler.
Then Tyler's gone.
Teams of Project Mayhem guys render fat all day. I'm not sleeping. All night I hear other teams mix the lye and cut the bars and bake the bars of soap on cookie sheets, then wrap each bar in tissue and seal it with the Paper Street Soap Company label. Everyone except me seems to know what to do, and Tyler is never home.
I hug the walls, being a mouse trapped in this clockwork of silent men with the energy of trained monkeys, cooking and working and sleeping in teams. Pull a lever. Push a button. A team of space monkeys cooks meals all day, and all day, teams of space monkeys are eating out of the plastic bowls they brought with them.
One morning I'm leaving for work and Big Bob's on the front porch wearing black shoes and a black shirt and pants. I ask, has he seen Tyler lately? Did Tyler send him here?
"The first rule about Project Mayhem," Big Bob says with his heels together and his back ramrod straight, "is you don't ask questions about Project Mayhem."
So what brainless little honor has Tyler assigned him, I ask. There are guys whose job is to just boil rice all day or washout eating bowls or clean the crapper. All day. Has Tyler promised Big Bob enlightenment if he spends sixteen hours a day wrapping bars of soap?
Big Bob doesn't say anything.
I go to work. I come home, and Big Bob's still on the porch. I don't sleep all night, and the next morning, Big Bob's out tending the garden.
Before I leave for work, I ask Big Bob, who let him in? Who assigned him this task? Did he see Tyler? Was Tyler here last night?
Big Bob says, "The first rule in Project Mayhem is you don't talk-"
I cut him off. I say, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
And while I'm at work, teams of space monkeys dig up the muddy lawn around the house and cut the dirt with Epsom salts to lower the acidity, and spade in loads of free steer manure from the stockyards and bags of hair clippings from barber shops to ward off moles and mice and boost the protein in the soil.
At any time of the night, space monkeys from some slaughterhouse come home with bags of blood meal to boost the iron in the soil and bone meal to boost the phosphorus.
Teams of space monkeys plant basil and thyme and lettuce and starts of witch hazel and eucalyptus and mock orange and mint in a kaleidoscope knot pattern. A rose window in every shade of green. And other teams go out at night and kill the slugs and snails by candlelight. Another team of space monkeys picks only the most perfect leaves and juniper berries to boil for a natural dye. Comfrey because it's a natural disinfectant. Violet leaves because they cure headaches and sweet woodruff because it gives soap a cut-grass smell.
In the kitchen are bottles of 80-proof vodka to make the translucent rose geranium and brown sugar soap and the patchouli soap, and I steal a bottle of vodka and spend my personal burial money on cigarettes. Marla shows up. We talk about the plants. Marla and I walk on raked gravel paths through the kaleidoscope green patterns of the garden, drinking and smoking. We talk about her breasts. We talk about everything except Tyler Durden.
And one day it's in the newspaper how a team of men wearing black had stormed through a better neighborhood and a luxury car dealership slamming baseball bats against the front bumpers of cars so the air bags inside would explode in a powdery mess with their car alarms screaming.
At the Paper Street Soap Company, other teams pick the petals from roses or anemones and lavender and pack the flowers into boxes with a cake of pure tallow that will absorb their scent for making soap with a flower smell.
Marla tells me about the plants.
The rose, Marla tells me, is a natural astringent.
Some of the plants have obituary names: Iris, Basil, Rue, Rosemary, and Verbena. Some, like meadowsweet and cowslips, sweet flag and spikenard, are like the names of Shakespeare fairies. Deer tongue with its sweet vanilla smell. Witch hazel, another natural astringent. Orrisroot, the wild Spanish iris.
Every night, Marla and I walk in the garden until I'm sure that Tyler's not coming home that night. Right behind us is always a space monkey trailing us to pick up the twist of balm or rue or mint Marla crushes under my nose. A dropped cigarette butt. The space monkey rakes the path behind him to erase our ever being there.
And one night in an uptown square park, another group of men floured gasoline around every tree and from tree to tree and set a perfect little forest fire. It was in the newspaper, how townhouse windows across the street from the fire melted, and parked cars farted and settled on melted flat tires.
Tyler's rented house on Paper Street is a living thing wet on the inside from so many people sweating and breathing. So many people are moving inside, the house moves.
Another night that Tyler didn't come home, someone was drilling bank machines and pay telephones and then screwing lube fittings into the drilled holes and using a grease gun to pump the bank machines and pay telephones full of axle grease or vanilla pudding.
And Tyler was never at home, but after a month a few of the space monkeys had Tyler's kiss burned into the back of their hand. Then those space monkeys were gone, too, and new ones were on the front porch to replace them.
And every day, the teams of men came and went in different cars. You never saw the same car twice. One evening, I hear Marla on the front porch, telling a space monkey, "I'm here to see Tyler. Tyler Durden He lives here. I'm his friend."
The space monkey says, "I'm sorry, but you're too...," and he pauses, "you're too young to train here."
Marla says, "Get screwed."
"Besides," the space monkey says, "you haven't brought the required items: two black shirts, two pair of black pants-"
Marla screams, "Tyler!"
"One pair of heavy black shoes."
"Two pair of black socks and two pair of plain underwear."
And I hear the front door slam shut. Marla doesn't wait the three days.
Most days, after work, I come home and make a peanut butter sandwich.
When I come home, one space monkey is reading to the assembled space monkeys who sit covering the whole first floor. "You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile."
The space monkey continues, "Our culture has made us all the same. No one is truly white or black or rich, anymore. We all want the same. Individually, we are nothing."
The reader stops when I walk in to make my sandwich, and all the space monkeys sit silent as if I were alone. I say, don't bother. I've already read it. I typed it.
Even my boss has probably read it.
We're all just a big bunch of crap, I say. Go ahead. Play your little game. Don't mind me.
The space monkeys wait in quiet while I make my sandwich and take another bottle of vodka and go up the stairs. Behind me I hear, "You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake."
I am Joe's Broken Heart because Tyler's dumped me. Because my father dumped me. Oh, I could go on and on.
Some nights, after work, I go to a different fight club in the basement of a bar or garage, and I ask if anybody's seen Tyler Durden.
In every new fight club, someone I've never met is standing under the one light in the center of the darkness, surrounded by men, and reading Tyler's words.
The first rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club.
When the fights get started, I take the club leader aside and ask if he's seen Tyler. I live with Tyler, I say, and he hasn't been home for a while.
The guy's eyes get big and he asks, do I really know Tyler Durden?
This happens in most of the new fight clubs. Yes, I say, I'm best buddies with Tyler. Then, everybody all of a sudden wants to shake my hand.
These new guys stare at the butthole in my cheek and the black skin on my face, yellow and green around the edges, and they call me sir. No, sir. Not hardly, sir. Nobody they know's ever met Tyler Durden. Friends of friends met Tyler Durden, and they founded this chapter of fight club, sir.
Then they wink at me.
Nobody they know has ever seen Tyler Durden.
Is it true, everybody asks. Is Tyler Durden building an army? That's the word. Does Tyler Durden only sleep one hour a night? Rumor has it that Tyler's on the road starting fight clubs all over the country. What's next, everybody wants to know.
The meetings for Project Mayhem have moved to bigger basements because each committee-Arson, Assault, Mischief, and Misinformation-gets bigger as more guys graduate out of fight club. Each committee has a leader, and even the leaders don't know where Tyler's at. Tyler calls them every week on the phone.
Everybody on Project Mayhem wants to know what's next.
Where are we going?
What is there to look forward to?
On Paper Street, Marla and I walk through the garden at night with our bare feet, every step brushing up the smell of sage and lemon verbena and rose geranium. Black shirts and black pants hunch around us with candles, lifting plant leaves to kill a snail or slug. Marla asks, what's going on here?
Tufts of hair surface beside the dirt clods. Hair and shit. Bone meal and blood meal. The plants are growing faster than the space monkeys can cut them back.
Marla asks, "What are you going to do?"
What's the word?
In the dirt is a shining spot of gold, and I kneel down to see. What's going to happen next, I don't know, I tell Marla.
It looks like we've both been dumped.
In the corner of my eye, the space monkeys pace around in black, each one hunched over his candle. The little spot of gold in the dirt is a molar with a gold filling. Next to it surface two more molars with silver amalgam fillings. It's a jawbone.
I say, no, I can't say what's going to happen. And I push the one, two, three molars into the dirt and hair and shit and bone and blood where Marla won't see.
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