Zeke & His Toxic Pocket Monster

January 10, 2017: Matriculating at a university near you. Keep it in your safe space! 

freshman

Ezekiel was a mild – mannered teenager by every account. Well, he was technically and very much legally a man at 18, and thus now fully responsible and accountable for every act committed by any and every member of his sex. He was only a few weeks removed from his high school graduation, and a few weeks into his freshman year at the University. This was his first excursion out of his little town, and now he found himself thrown into this thriving and diverse metropolis. There were white people of every kind here! Some had brown hair, some black, red, blonde, and all the shades in between. They came from places as far away as Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, and some from right outside of Chicago – like within 100 miles! He on the other hand, came from a long line of cheese farmers going back to his great, great granddaddy – the head cheese.

Ezekiel’s pop, Abraham, woke up every morning to water the sproutin’ cheddars while the boys, a half-dozen of them, the five Jebediahs and Pedro, collected the cheese wheels that the cows had laid overnight in the pasture. Ezekiel didn’t tend to the cheese wheels. He simply wasn’t man enough. Nope, Ezekiel stayed indoors and churned butter with his loving mother who spun him tales of intrigue and juicy gossip that the church ladies spread after Sunday services. But it was okay everyone assured him, especially his pop who had toiled his entire life tending to the cheese farm. Abraham reminded Ezekiel daily that he’d been blessed with fairer talents. The outdoor world wasn’t meant for a boy like him. Besides he’d also been blessed with six boys, yes even Pedro, who could be counted on to corral the often stampeding mozzarella. No, Abraham had high hopes for his little Camembert. He was headed to bigger and better things at the University.

And so it was that Ezekiel became a man and matriculated at the University, where he was promptly nicknamed Zeke by his roommate, introduced to tokin’ the Devil’s cabbage, snortin’ Satan’s Sweet’N Low, and drinkin’ skinny vanilla soy lattes. Milk is a crime don’t you know. Within days, Zeke had gotten rid of any trace of dairy. The vegans could smell it on his clothes. He rid himself of anything that stunk of the farm, trading his raw milk for pasteurized; that to skim; skim to soy; soy to almond two days after that; almond to rice within a couple of hours, and then nervously awaited the next edict on what would be a less evil alternative. The waiting was made all the more nerve-racking in the skinny jeans that bunched his mini Babybel, and threatened to cut all circulation below his waist. Is this how you became trans? Did it just stop working after a while and then have to be lopped off?

Zeke was so confused. Nothing was quite as simple as the dairy farm where the cows lay cheese and formed handmade burgers from their own patties. On campus he always had to be on the lookout for the patriarchy that was out to get him, though he didn’t know who they were and why they wanted him. That made it worse because that was probably what they wanted! There was also that 1% that stole everything from everyone so he always made sure to carry everything in his backpack. That got heavy! There was also the thing about every guy on campus not being normal. They all suffered from a condition called the predatory male gaze. That one was the worst. “Think lion on the serengeti,” he’d been told. It did something to their eyes he guessed, but he never saw anything other than angry looks when he stared at the guys for too long. He was pretty sure that whatever it was must’ve been spreading through the bottled water that everyone drank so he only drank tap. That’s how he’d survived so far. Staying one step ahead, always.

Zeke walked into the campus cafe one morning disheveled, unshaven, unbrushed, and toting his backpack and a satchel. Two backpacks would’ve given him away as a rube. Everyone on campus hated rubes. He scurried in more harried than usual avoiding all eye contact. He drank a bottled water the night before because the tap had been turned off campus wide in solidarity with Flint, and he was too afraid to look in the mirror to see if he’d caught the predatory gaze. He stepped up to the counter to order his usual now rice milk latte from ethically sourced organic free range beans whose farmers were also vegan, questioning-Xes?

The usual barista had been replaced by a girl named Kelly. She smiled and asked him what he wanted. Was it okay to call her bubbly or was that the patriarchy talking? He stared at the floor avoiding eye contact lest he prey upon her. Kelly fixed his drink and chatted away at him. She also came from a farm out by his neck of the woods. Great they’d hang out later! Her idea! Swear! She smiled and handed him his coffee. “Wouldn’t figure you for a rice latte guy,” she smiled again. He started smiling then stopped himself managing a paralytic stroke kind of smirk. He couldn’t remember if showing teeth was menacing. No just gums. He was pretty sure only the top gum. Whew!

Zeke wandered campus on tingly legs; the skinny jeans tourniquets on his ever wasting legs. He was searching for answers to all of his newfound problems. Lectures were useless. He couldn’t sit in the jeans long enough to get past the ever lengthy recitation of the trigger warnings. His legs finally gave out on the quad in front of the student union. He asked for help, but several students congratulated him on his emotive performance art piece. He looked up in his despair and gazed upon a host of tables and cardboard signs. The one directly in front of him displayed a large, pink banner that read, “Men’s Program: How to make sense of all your confusion.” Alas there was hope! He picked himself up to raucous applause and approached the table. He asked for the sign up sheet for the Men’s Program from two angry looking people and a guy wearing skinnier jeans than his. Zeke snuck a quick look. The poor guy was post-op.

A couple of months later, Zeke was a new person. He no longer worried about his problems because he understood that he was the problem. Well, him and his little toxic pocket monster anyway, but he’d learned to stymie its cries in progressively skinnier jeans.

© J. Manuel

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