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. Gradations of Brutality: Would you rather spend an hour as a guillotine cleaner in 18th century France or a year working in the Trump White House?
I had to sleep on this one considering the role and realities of an Asian American writer in 18th century France and in the Trump White House. In both environments, I’d stick out like a sore thumb. Whispers among the crowd in France: Who is this Asian guy? What silks does he bring from the East? Oh la la! Whispers in the White House: Who is this Asian guy? What silks does he bring from the East? I also had to consider the fact that I’m fairly flighty, which might not be the greatest trait when cleaning guillotines, although my residual goth tendencies are drawn to the blood, the scent of it, the chaos of the crowd. I wonder though what I’d be wearing. Would I be in generic peasant garb? Would I be in some kind of uniform? If I had to choose, I’d go for an all black pirate style shirt (think Seinfeld’s Puffy shirt), a leather jacket, and maybe some loose in the crotch trousers (since I imagine I’d be bending and crouching a lot, getting that blade to a nice shine).
Ultimately though, I think I’d be liable to cut my own head off because as writer who is always imagining various scenarios, I feel like I’d be saying things like: Gee, I wonder what it looks like from THIS angle or I wonder how long I’d be conscious after my head falls into the basket. This is a big fear I have actually—not with guillotines but with my imagination body slamming my sense of self-preservation. This is why I try to avoid hotel rooms with balconies. Anyway, so that’s a no for guillotines. By default, I guess I’m working at the White House. I’ll be leaving that off my C.V.
At the White House, I’d like to not have any particular role assigned to me. I’d like to put my undergrad anthropology degree to use and do some observation of the culture, maybe make a nice list for BuzzFeed or something: 101 Crazy Things I Saw in the White House. When I’m not following people around with a notepad, I’d be hanging out in the Lincoln bedroom with a Ouija board, chatting up dead presidents and also probably working on my novel. My beta readers? Maybe Jefferson and Grant. Still looking for sensitivity readers because those guys . . .
2. Say your mind was swapped with your pet’s, who would be more successful: You as your pet or your pet as you?
Currently my wife and I have a cat (a tortoise shell “tortie” short hair) named Kalahira (bonus points for you Mass Effect fans who know who this is). Before that I had a group of ten guinea pigs in a tiny Japanese apartment (Wicket and Kafka slept with me). In scenario 1 (my cat), I’d say that my cat and I probably would be pretty equal from afar during the summer months when I don’t have to teach. We’re both aloof, like to sleep a lot, get really nervous outside, and have a thing for lamb. If I’m honest, my cat probably bathes a bit more than I do. When I’m working on a writing project, I tend to sit in my own filth while eating goldfish crackers. But if I really had to choose I’d say I’d be more successful as my cat. I’d take advantage of what I know of my cat’s life but would bring my human swagger to the mix. I could actually play fetch and get extra pets. I could sleep all day curled up next to my wife and watch TV. Not having fingers and not being able to write would be a major bummer, but I’m sure I’d find new talents that my human masters could exploit.
In scenario 2 (guinea pigs): Again, I’d rock as ten guinea pigs. I’m assuming here that my mind would be replicated ten times but that the guinea pigs would be part of some kind of Borg-like collective hive mind. We are Sequoia. We demand timothy hay. We demand world domination. Trick here is getting out of our cages and into the world without perishing. Guinea pigs aren’t exactly known for their street skills.
3. Do scorpions have rich inner lives? Why or why not?
SN: I wish I had come across this question in a fortune cookie. I feel like this sounds like a ridiculous question but there’s a very Buddhist quality to it that makes me want to climb a mountain (or go to Chipotle) and think real long and hard about what a scorpion really is. Has my image of scoprions been a lie? All I know about scorpions having not really lived in places where they hang out in the wild comes from the zoo, Animal Planet, and I guess maybe The Scorpion King starring Dwayne Johnson. If I’m honest, I generally zip by the insect house at the zoo and change the channel on Animal Planet when the kittens and puppies go away. But when I think about a scorpion, these things come to mind—solitude and the ability to protect that solitude. To me, that sounds pretty damn terrific.
4. If you were hanging out in from of a 7-11 and an evil wizard pulled up in his Dodge Charger, got out, and said he was going to turn you into a cartoon character, but was willing to allow you to lobby for your desired result—OK, I guess he’s not the epitome of evil, but he’s still really bad (permanently arched eye brows, a truly disconcerting beard, perhaps a demonic familiar or an ill-tempered cat, and the Charger, obviously)—which character would you choose?
I’m going to take some liberties here and make this a Circle K and a Chevy Malibu. Do I go with an iconic character like Donald Duck? A character with awesome powers like He-Man or the fire ring kid from Captain Planet? Does this character live in our world or a facsimile of our world? Or are we in space or some underwater kingdom like the Snorks or Sponge Bob? I could spend some time making lists and diagrams, but I’m just going to go with my gut on this one—Goliath from Gargoyles. I mean the whole loin cloth thing would take some getting used to, but I think the transition would be pretty easy considering I’d have a rockin’ gargoyle body. And obviously, I’d be able to fly.
5. If you were staffing a cartoon accounting firm made up of anthropomorphized animals, which species would you select to populate said firm (other than humans)? How about a teaching hospital? The public defender’s office? A university English department?
Accounting Firm: Naked Mole Rats
Teaching Hospital: Pandas for adults and Red Pandas for the pediatric ward.
Public Defenders: Meerkats or Koalas
English Department: Hermit Crabs
6. Do you think you got the job?
SN: Which one? I applied for everything in the company. But I’m hoping this was for the taxidermist position. I’m a sucker for tiny furniture and have big plans for displaying the departed pets of the staff. Or was this for the roller coaster operator for the euthanasia roller coaster out back?
Sequoia Nagamatsu is the author of the story collection, Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone (Black Lawrence Press), silver medal winner of the 2016 Foreword Reviews’ Indies Book of the Year Award and an Entropy Magazine Best Book of 2016. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Conjunctions, ZYZZYVA, The Fairy Tale Review, Tin House online, Black Warrior Review, Willow Springs, The Bellevue Literary Review, Lightspeed Magazine, and One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories, among others. Originally from Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area, he was educated at Grinnell College and Southern Illinois University. He co-edits Psychopomp Magazine, an online quarterly dedicated to innovative prose, and teaches at St. Olaf College. He lives in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota with his wife, the writer Cole Nagamatsu, and their cat Kalahira. He is currently working on a second story collection and a novel.
Kurt Baumeister’s 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