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Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax
{squashing johnny tomato}
  sara gerou


The point here is not that I think Iím smarter than your average civilian; itís that I am smarter. Iím probably smarter than you. In fact, if I took a few minutes to really mull it over, Iíll bet Iíd be able to count on one hand the number of people Iíve known as smart as me. Lots of people think Iím cocky when I get to talking about my intelligence, but fuck Ďem, because if youíre right about something, youíre right about something.

True story.

My mother, God rest her soul, must have told me this one about a hundred times, but Iíd remember it clear as day to the day I die even if she hadnít. This was the day that I realized I was wise beyond my years. Thatís how she put it, wise beyond my years. It was my first day of elementary school. You know when you just know something? Even if youíre only just a kid when you realize it? Some things you just know to be the truth. Take Santa Claus for example. Hell, it only took me until I was four to put that puzzle together. Come on, flying reindeer? A fat man around the entire world in one night? Do you realize how much coal that man would have to lug around? You need a flying moose for heavy lifting like that. Give me a break. Challenge me. Iíve been waiting my whole goddamn life to be challenged, really challenged.

So there I was, first day of elementary school. Most kids are scared shitless that day. You know hardly anyone; most of the other kids are older than you and the chances are not in your favor that youíre going to get through the day without pissing your pants. I was in Mrs. Moodyís class. Iíve never met a group of people (other than grade school teachers) who had names that suited them so perfectly: Mrs. Moody, Mrs. Mudd, Mrs. Watowich. You get the picture. I wish Iíd had a teacher, just once, named Mrs. Sunshine.

So there I am, my first day of grade school. The building smelled like garbage, dirty dish water and old peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I found my home room, no problem. Mrs. Moody introduced herself and said weíd be working with counting, weíd be learning about ďcurrency.Ē Of course, I was probably the only kid in there that knew what ďcurrencyĒ was. I canít stress enough how advanced I really was.

ďMs. Moody,Ē I said. Mind you, I call every woman I encounter Ms., no matter their marital status. I hate to think of any woman as off the market completely. ďMs. Moody, Iíve already learned this.Ē

ďHave you?Ē she asked. Her glasses were thick and her prematurely gray hair was tied back tight against her head.

ďYes, as a matter of fact my mother has already tutored me on the subject.Ē That was the truth. My mother never saw the point of treating me like I wasnít a grown up. She never talked down to me and if there was something I didnít know, well she made sure I learned it right there on the spot. Counting change by that point was old news.

ďWell then, youíll make a fine little helper, wonít you?Ē she said. And she didnít say it in the high pitched sound of optimism. She said it in doubt. The last time any bitch in her right mind would ever doubt me.

ďYes,Ē I told her. ďYes, I would make a fine little helper.Ē Because I would make a fantastic helper.

ďWhatís your name, son?Ē she asked. Iíve always despised it when people call me names that donít apply to me. I would have taken the time to explain this to Mrs. Moody at this point had she not been asking me what my name was.

ďJohnny,Ē I told her.

ďWell, Johnny, let me ask you,Ē she said, pulling out giant cardboard replicas of coins. ďCan you tell me how much money Iím holding right now?Ē A pop quiz, you say? Well, I accept.

ďTwenty-eight cents, Ms. Moody,Ē I said, unflinching.

And that was that. She split the class up into two groups. She was in charge of one and me in charge of the other. Yep, thatís right. I practically taught those kids to read. In fact, I should have been on a teacherís salary at the age of six.

Wise beyond my years. True story. I know itís hard for you to believe, but I swear on my sweet motherís grave, thatís how it happened.

So you see, I donít see how anyone could ever question my intelligence. A child genius grows into an adult genius.

Iím probably getting ahead of myself here. Thatís just how my mind works. Iím already way beyond where regular folk are. Hell, I used to fail math class growing up because all Iíd ever write down were the answers. I wouldnít need to write down any of the work it took to get from the beginning to the end. Teachers thought I was cheating, so they failed me. So, you see, my mind is just so fantastical and people just donít understand what itís like to be plagued with such intelligence. Itís almost a handicap.

But people didnít used to talk about intelligence, not like they do today. It wasnít always a life or death matter. Back before Darwin Law was passed, people could just go about their lives with not a care in the world. Life was life and death would eventually be death. Now, life is precious and death could come tomorrow. I guess the government finally found a way to make people thankful for their lives. You truly do have to live each day as if it were your last.

Iíve taken advantage of the fact that I donít know when the end is coming. I see it as more of an opportunity than anything. Iím more honest with people because of it. If some jerk from work wants to have lunch with me (and believe me, most of them do, most of the time), I just tell them that my life is too short to waste my time sharing small talk and a sandwich with their sorry asses. Of course I sugar coat it, but the meaning holds true.

Because really, who has time to waste with people that donít matter? I sure donít. Darwin Law has freed me in a way. Most people donít understand that about the law. Let me explain it to you the way I see it.

Before Darwin Law, idiots were fucking left and right. Left and right, I tell you. And what was happening as a result? The birth of more idiots. To be raised by idiots. And taught that itís okay to fuck another idiot and produce a litter of idiots. With the permission from the government to have a child based on a standardized test, the only idiots having babies now are the fruit cakes who guessed their way through the test. And who knows, if you can fake your way through a standardized test, maybe youíre a genius anyway.

Iíve never taken the Offspring Test because I never wanted kids anyway. I could have though. I could impregnate a woman many times over if I wanted to. Sheíd have to be a smart bitch though. And I mean smart. I see no reason in going through all that trouble just to give birth to an ordinary kid. Ordinary wonít cut it in this world anymore.

The second part to Darwin Law (and this is the part that has truly shaped me into the man Iíve become) addresses the existing humanís right to live. If youíre an idiot, the government has decided (and Iíve never been happier to be a citizen) that you just donít deserve to be alive. Youíre a waste of space. With resources becoming so limited these days and overpopulation literally a growing problem, it only makes sense.

Iím still getting ahead of myself. Next time I do that, just snap at me, let me know. I canít help it really.

I havenít even taken the time to let you know where I am. Iím at the fucking Tomato Inn, just outside of town. Everything is red. Carpet, walls, sheets, shower curtain, the handle on the toilet.

Everything.

All red.

And it makes me want to change my last name to Tomato. Johnny Tomato. Has a nice ring to it. Thatís it, this point forward; Iím introducing myself as Johnny Tomato. Who would fuck with a guy with a name like that?

My nameís Johnny, Johnny Tomato. Itís nice to make your acquaintance.

The red television is on.

Three contestants appear on a stage. Theyíre ordinary people. Itís an ordinary game show stage. The host stands out in front of three podiums with an oversized microphone thatís probably not even connected to anything. Thatís what you would call a prop.

ďWelcome to Selection where real people, just like you out there, compete. Itís not a competition against each other. Itís you in a competition against yourself. And everyone has a chance to win! So what do you say, ladies and gentlemen, letís get this game started!Ē

The sound of a crowd cheering fills my red room, but I doubt they film this in front of a live audience.

What the host isnít telling you during this introduction is that besides the fact that each contestant has a chance to win, they all have a chance to lose. Thatís the way itís been going lately. There hasnít been one winner in about a week solid. And thatís fine by me. You can tell these people are idiots.

ďThis is Doreen. Doreen comes to us today from Tulsa, Oklahoma! How are you feeling today, Doreen?Ē The host is in a tuxedo with a ruffled shirt.

ďIímÖ IímÖĒ Doreenís response is typical.

The other thing the host leaves out is the grand prize. Supposedly they do this because children often watch the show and donít understand whatís going on.

First prize is you get to go home.

There is no second prize.

ďSo what do you say, folks, should we spin the bottle to see who gets to go first?Ē At this point, they literally get out a bottle and spin it on a table to see who gets to go first. Iím not sure if the general public would want to go first, but I know I would. Why delay the variability the rest of my life? But most people faint when the bottle is pointing towards them.

The show has four parts. General knowledge trivia is up first. If you pass that, you go on to problem solving. Itís not necessarily math. Itís more of a test of your common sense. After that, thereís a physical obstacle course that youíre timed on. They make that one easier than they should. Have I mentioned that Iím also an accomplished athlete? When and if you make it through that, they ask you one question.

Why do you deserve to live?

Iíve seen people choke up and start crying at this point. And they donít go home. Selection isnít a joke. They donít fuck about. Youíre there competing for your life. Everyone can be a winner.

ďDoreen, this question is for you.Ē The hostís voice is jazzy. Iím sure thatís a requirement. ďAre you ready Doreen?Ē

ďIÖ IÖĒ If Doreen doesnít pull her shit together, sheís going to be out of this game before it even begins. Iíve heard that they make every contestant wear diapers on stage.

ďDoreen, in degrees Fahrenheit, what number represents freezing?Ē

If Doreen misses this one, Iím going to fucking explode.

Itís a funny thing to think about. Trying to get out alive. Eventually in life, nobody gets out alive, but for 30 minutes, minus the time for commercials, your life is put on the line and itís up to you. Youíre the only one to blame if you canít pull through for yourself. And thatís the way it should be. Thatís the way the earth has naturally existed for billions of years. Humans have simply gotten lazy about it. For a while there, we left no man behind. Everyone was given more than a fair chance. Everyone was given the opportunity to live a lazy life.

And that disgusts me.

Honestly, thereís nothing more genius than Selection. Itís my favorite show. Thereís no reason to keep an overstock of ordinary people.

ďDoreen, you have twenty seconds remaining. I will repeat the question for you, for first prize. In degrees Fahrenheit, what number represents freezing?Ē

Doreen is frozen, which is too fucking ironic.

ďDoreen, for first prize,Ē the host repeats. A loud clapping comes from somewhere off stage and Doreen is jolted awake.

ďThirty-two, thirty-two degrees F-F-Fahrenheit.Ē

Crowd cheers. I wonder if they hear the crowd cheering too. Probably not. Itís probably quiet as a church and security guards surround.

ďThatís correct, Doreen! Congratulations!Ē

In grade school they tell you that story about the psychology test where they trick people into thinking theyíre an executioner. They show a person an electric chair (or whatever) and then take them to a completely separate room with one switch. That switch controls the electric chair. The person is told that they have to throw that switch with someone in that chair. You never have to see that person or smell the burning flesh, but you have to live the rest of your life knowing that you are the reason that person is dead. What would you do?

I wonder if the host ever feels regret. Because when you see three people a day, 365 days a year, and most of them die, that should affect a person. Itís not a job for an ordinary person.

I would be the fucking perfect candidate for that job. That host and I would probably be best friends. But if heís anything like me, heíd understand that having a best friend is a waste of life. So weíd exist symmetrically, side by side.

I brush my teeth with a red toothbrush with red bristles. The toothpaste is cinnamon. When I return to the television, Doreen is on a roll. Sheís answered all of her trivia questions correctly. Iím starting to like this Doreen. If she makes it through, Iíd consider looking her up to see if sheís interested in procreation. But sheíd have to leave Tulsa. Thatís no place to raise children.

ďCongratulations, Doreen, youíve made it to the second round! Youíre one step closer to first prize!Ē

ďTh-thank you,Ē is all Doreen can muster.

ďDoreen!Ē the host says all too loudly with dramatic laser noises in the background. Maybe we wouldnít be that great of friends anyway, the host and me. Heís a little tacky in his presentation. ďYouíre sitting at your computer and the program youíre working in suddenly crashes. As a first course of action, do you a) call customer service, b) reboot, or c) throw the computer against the wall?Ē

Pathetic.

ďWell, this happened to me just the other day,Ē Doreen says. They probably know that. Theyíve probably been watching her.

Just like Iím sure theyíve been watching me.

What happens is you receive a letter in the mail, like jury duty. You are ďsummonedĒ to attend. You are not cordially invited. Itís fantastic.

Iíve been jumping ahead again. Or maybe Iíve fallen behind.

I received my letter to attend Selection exactly six weeks ago. Thatís how long they give you. They figure six weeks is long enough to get your assets in order if and when you donít go home again. And during those six weeks, Iím almost certain you are under constant surveillance. If for no other reason than they want to make sure you donít skip town.

Iíd never do such a thing as that. No, sir. Johnny Tomato isnít afraid to look death in the eye and laugh.

At the beginning of week five, you receive another envelope with a plane ticket. And youíd better be on that plane. Failure to show up for Selection results in an immediate disqualification. In other words, you are awarded second prize without having to show up. A lot of people probably count their losses and choose this option.

But not me.

ďWell, th-throwing the computer against the wall is obviously not the right answer, though I know thatís what I want to do m-most of the time,Ē said Doreen. On game shows they tell the contestants to think through their logic out loud. While theyíre wearing diapers.

ďDoreen, what is your answer?Ē said the host. He has a no-fuck-about attitude and I like it.

ďMy answer is a) call customer service,Ē said Doreen, more confidently than sheíd say anything in 6 minutes.

ďOh, Iím sorry, DoreenĒ

Oh noises in the audience. A sad whistle noise sounds.

Doreen has lost.

Her life.

Game over.

Apparently she was a dumb bitch after all.

ďDoreen, remember, never assume that not rebooting your computer will solve your problem,Ē said the host. Iím feeling inexplicably aroused.

ďButÖ butÖĒ

It almost seems unfair. It almost seems like it was a trick questions because they knew Doreen had recently been through this experience. But it was fair. Iím sure what happened is she called customer service, was put on hold for forty-two minutes, only to be told that she should reboot. Think, Doreen, think.

And thatís why I feel confident that Iím going to get through this one. Iím trivia savvy, I have all the common sense in the world and Iím an exceptional athlete. Did I mention that I played football in college? I never dressed for a game, but just to be on the team means that youíre in the top, Iíd say the top two percent of the country, physically.

This is the best part of the show. A man dressed up in a yellowy feathery bird costume comes out on stage and places a Dunce cap on the loserís head and escorts them offstage, flapping his wings all the while. I donít know why, but itís brilliant.

Good bye, Doreen.

Selection airs one day after they film it. Doreen died yesterday.

The studio is off somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Nobody knows where it is until theyíre there. And even then, nobody really knows where there is.

Iím there now. And even I donít know exactly where I am.

Well, Iím not there. Iím in a shitty hotel next door to there. They brought me in last night and I will appear on Selection today. Maybe before the show starts Iíll get a minute or two to talk to the host. See if itís a gig he can line me up for next. Iíll bet itís going to be hard for them to find a replacement. And Iíd be a perfect candidate.

Letís skip to the end.

The only part of the show Iím a little nervous about is the last questions. Iím not scared, donít get me wrong. Iím totally going to dominate this show. But maybe I could run by you first what it is I plan to say when they ask me that last question. Maybe you could let me know if you think itís stupid. Let me know if you think youíd let me live.

Okay, here goes.

Why do I deserve to live? Well, thatís a tough question, but I knew it was coming. There are so many reasons that I deserve to live, but I know youíre looking for me to be concise. I know weíre on the air and time is money, right? I think Iíve shown here in the past 9 minutes that Iím here for a reason and that I deserve to continue my life on this planet. Iím smarter than any other contestant here today, hands down. Iím smarter than most everyone I know. You know, I could count on one hand the number of people Iíve ever met who I think to be as smart as me. My mother knew I was smart. Wise beyond my year, she used to say. But thatís all beside the point, though you may want to take it into consideration. Intelligence deserves to live on. The world is better place because Iím in it. Thatís my answer.

Thatís my answer.

Thereís a red knock at my red door.

ďYou ready to go, sir?Ē a man in a red suit asks me.

ďMy nameís Johnny, Johnny Tomato. Letís do this.Ē