The guiding principle of Six Ridiculous Questions is that life is filled with ridiculousness. And questions. That only by giving in to these truths may we hope to slip the surly bonds of reality and attain the higher consciousness we all crave. (Eh, not really, but it sounded good there for a minute.) It’s just. Who knows? The ridiculousness and question bits, I guess. Why six? Assonance, baby, assonance.
1. You just died and your adoring public is so distraught they’ve decided to create a religion with you (not your corpse, but the you you used to be before you died) as its focal point. What should the new religion be called? What would its primary tenets be? Would it ultimately prove beneficial to humanity?
The religion would be called Paul: The Religion. Its primary tenet would be What Would Paul Do (WWPD). Anyone who fails to do exactly As Paul Would Do (APWD) will be excommunicated. Those who have to ask What Paul Would Do (WPWD) will be excommunicated. And given that Paul: The Guy rarely had a clue as to What I Would Do (WIWD) from one minute to the next, all my adherents would ultimately be excommunicated and Paul: The Religion would fade from the earth and that, definitely, would prove beneficial to humanity.
2. Unbeknownst to the public, you are actually a superhero. What’s your origin story? Please be as detailed as possible, bearing in mind your everyday identity is the same. It’s the superhero part no one knows about. Yet.
If you’re a man and you go to the gym even once in a while you know what I’m talking about—when two men who don’t know each other end up at adjoining lockers at the same time after having showered, one of them will invariably say, “Never fails” and the other will respond, “Like a rule” and they will both laugh uncomfortably and then one will say, “Outta here in one sec” and the other will respond, “No worries, take your time” and lift a bored yet tolerant gaze to a House Flippers rerun while outta-here dresses swiftly yet with precision. For years I’ve waited for just one man who finds himself in this position to say something a little different and for years that did not happen and then one day I heard a guy say, “How about you move your stuff down one locker?” and the other responded, “Excellent idea” and moved his stuff. The next day this happened again, only this guy said, “Whoa didn’t see this coming” and the other said, “Unbelievable!” These sorts of scenarios kept happening until I realized the common denominator was me—my annoyance with the script was rewriting the script. I tried applying this power in other areas—overdrawn at the bank was one—but found it only worked with adjoining lockers.
3. There’s an old adage, maybe a Bible verse, I’m not sure, stating that, “Money is the root of all evil.” Is this true? Would the world be better off without money? Why or why not?
Yes and yes—unless. If everyone on earth were to send a cashier’s check for $229 to Paul: The Religion to finance a new shag-carpeted, leather-upholstered, gin-soaked 747 for me to fly around in telling people what I would do, then once I’m dead and the religion is established its adherents would have a fighting chance of not getting excommunicated and the religion might last for a thousand years, which . . . would . . . not be good.
4. In a thousand years, what will historians see as the three most significant events of the 20th century? What about in a hundred years? Ten years? Next year? Also, let’s assume historians (and humans) will still be around at all those points in time.
In a thousand years historians will see the birth of the namesake of Paul: The Religion as the most significant event of the 20th century. Same for a hundred and ten years. As for second most significant, that would be my first word, which was ball, and wasn’t uttered until I was three years old. Ditto for a hundred and ten years. Third most significant: my calm realization that the world revolves around me.
5. Say you’re a poltergeist and your latest posting (poltsting?) has just come down from the home office in…wherever the poltergeist home office is. They’re giving you a choice actually, since you’re done such a great job tormenting people previously. You can take over: A. a deserted gold mine; B. an active (as in, live humans come to use it) graveyard; C. a crowded shopping mall; or D. a little-used dumbwaiter in the US House of Representatives.
Before I read this question, I had every intention of answering it without referring to Paul: The Religion—only so many yuks you can pluck from narcissism before you start sounding, well, serious—but the fact that I’m a poltergeist once again places my demise, and therefore my religion, center stage. So: a crowded shopping mall. Where I could mess with the minds of a lot of people in a short period of time without having to float very far or go outside. I’d implant in every mall-goer an inexplicable yet irresistible desire to buy a self-help book on how to become “truly happy”, a thing I would never do in a million years, thus accelerating the end of Paul: The Religion, which, as I said in question 1, would definitely benefit the world.
6. You’re hanging out in a bar for cartoon tigers. The bar is not cartoon. It’s real, and it’s called You’re a Tiger, the World’s Going to Shit, and You Probably Could Use a Drink. But the tigers are all definitely cartoons. What drink would you order to try to fit in? Say Tony the Tiger and Tigger got in a knockdown-dragout over something or other: Would you: A. leave; B. call the cartoon tiger cops; C. attempt to break it up; or D. establish odds and start taking bets on the outcome?
Haunting a mall with self-help books on happiness would drive me to drink, so I would most likely be a hungover polterlush when I walked into the tiger bar and therefore I would order a Hair of the Tiger, which Saveur Magazine describes as a “zesty, umami-packed take on a classic Bloody Mary.” As for the fight between Tony and Tigger, I would be so umami-packed that I’d foolishly try to break it up, which, given that they’re tigers and I’m not, would result in my bloody death, which would, as you are well aware by now, kick off all sorts of ridiculousness.
Paul Cohen’s novel, The Glamshack, was named one of ten must-read debuts for fall 2017 by Barnes and Noble Reads, nominated for a Pushcart Press Editor’s Book Award and called an “impressive feat” by Kirkus Reviews. His new novel, The Hard Side of the Mountain, was named a finalist for the Big Moose Novel Prize and is represented by Erica Silverman of Trident Media Group, and his short fiction won the Prairie Lights Fiction Prize. His fiction has appeared in Tin House, Five Chapters and others and his non-fiction in The Millions, The New York Times Magazine, The Village Voice and others. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he won a teaching scholarship, and has taught creative writing at U.C. Berkeley, University of San Francisco and the University of Iowa. For more info visit paulcohenfiction.com.
Kurt Baumeister has written for Salon, Electric Literature, Guernica, The Weeklings, Entropy, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, and others. Now a Contributing Editor with The Weeklings, Baumeister’s Review Microbrew column is published by The Nervous Breakdown. He edits the Under the Influence feature for Entropy. His debut novel, a satirical thriller entitled Pax Americana, was published by Stalking Horse Press in 2017. He is currently at work on a novel, The Book of Loki, and a hybrid collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry entitled Superman, the Seven Gods of Death, and the Need for Clean, Romantic Poetry. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.kurtbaumeister.com.