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. 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.
As you probably know, all the good superpowers are taken. I’ll leave it to the scholars to determine when exactly the tipping point was, but let’s say we got into some serious third-tier powers around the time Hawkeye earned his entree into The Avengers. Anymore, it’s either some “extraordinary” but otherwise quite human skill like Hawkeye’s but even lamer, or else a completely niche superhuman ability you need training to even recognize, so that what passes for battles between neo-superheroes resembles nothing so much as a Fluxus happening: the moves are indiscernible, the stakes impenetrable, and anyway, fuck your etiolated bourgeois binaries: we’re all good AND evil. Let’s make art.
2. 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?
Last night I attended the Communications Infrastructure Committee for the town of Woodstock, NY. The committee had been organized by the town board to research the pros and cons of 5G technology and to make a recommendation to the board. After a half hour spent listening to an argument between the committee chair and a fellow guest about the bylaws of committee membership, I learned that 5G will eat through our skin, control our brains, and just “hurt” us generally. I learned that the town of Woodstock treats people not as human men and women, but as corporate entities. I learned that there has been a 30-year study done on 5G by the United States Government, and that the science is irrefutable: we will have inside-out microwaves on every telephone pole, cooking our faces. I learned that, “Please ma’am, turn off the camera,” and I learned, “I hear your request and respectfully decline; this camera is here for our protection.” I learned that Wi-Fi turns your words into letters that fall out of your mouth, that one member of the Committee chose his house in order to avoid cell reception, and that another, the chair, put tin foil around his electric meter to get rid of his headaches. I’m not sure what the primary tenants of my postmortem religion would be, but if it has anything to do with the Internet of Things, the Woodstock Communications Infrastructure Committee would certainly have serious doubts regarding its beneficence.
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?
I suggest we apply some scientific scrutiny to this adage. We will need two persons: Person A and Person B. Person A will be someone with no or very little money. Person B will be someone with a lot or all the money. The experiment will involve taking the money from the Person B and giving it to Person A, then measuring their relative evilness at regular intervals until Person A is in possession of 100% of the money formerly known as Person B’s. The ultimate test will of course be whether or not Person A willingly returns all the money after the experiment is concluded, or constructs a vast architecture of post-facto ideological claims on said money, including an argument rooted in genetics and manifest destiny explaining how the scientific experiment was simply a ruse, had always been a ruse, and that Person B, in letting him or herself be taken advantage of, exhibited none of the crucial hallmarks of perspicacity that must describe any person of enormous wealth and power. Which is of course why Person A will require the protection of a police-state, a legislative body sworn to defend Person A’s property against unlawful search and seizure, and probably a judicial branch to keep Person B in line. Oh, we’ll also need a Control. Tell you what, Kurt. If you volunteer to the be the Control, I’ll volunteer as Person A. Do you know anyone who’s super rich? We’ll get your question answered by hook or by crook.
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.
This is a trick question, because of course historians will still be around. But having lost all records of the past, the role of historian will be slightly different. In the future, “historians” will be those people exclusively permitted to use the past tense. Most people will only be able to speak in the present tense, and historians will be dispatched to solve interpersonal and social disagreements about “what is” by playing a highly intricate game of dice the interpretation of which is offered as “what was.” Next year, people will of course still remember the past tense, despite not being able to use it publicly, and so they will be able to understand the historian’s games. In ten years, the game will still make sense, if only vaguely. In a hundred years the game will have lost all meaning, and historians will simply be believed on faith. In a thousand years, the past tense will have become so entirely lost that people will not even understand why they call on historians to solve their disputes at all, only that they must do so. When the historians appear to play their games, people will simply look on with awe and terror at the sorcery whose outcome will predict their fate.
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.
As of this minute, let the term “ghosting” not describe someone who abruptly leaves without saying anything. Let it be used for people who hang around long after they should be gone.
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?
Reader, you may have noticed that my responses to the questions above have been elliptical at best, thematically glancing off Mr. Baumeister’s questions enough to suggest I’d been paying attention, but leaving anyone sincerely interested in direct answers disappointed. This is by design, and so while I apologize to that errant though diligent follower of this interview series, my hope is that I’ve been able to sustain your attention only secondarily – my primary goal has been to lose the attention of Mr. Baumeister himself. Though presented as “ridiculous,” Mr. Baumeister’s questions describe a pernicious pattern of megalomania. You can see this right away in the superhero origin stories of the first question, and see it evolve via posthumous adoration, wealth, and a future estimation of significant events. All this is clearly an effort to trick me into admitting that Kurt Baumeister is my personal savior. Reader, I will no sooner admit that than admit to the fact that I’ve been planning this little scheme with the other people down here. “Down here” where, you ask? In Baumeister’s basement. Together, all the interviewees who happily agreed to the interview, who graciously went out of our way to meet him at a cafe on the outskirts of Newark, from there agreeing to stop by his place for a quick look at something “special” he wanted to show us. From his front door down the stairs of his split level home, past the half bath and rec room to a secret door, through that door into a vast network of caverns and, finally, to a large chamber dripping with stalagmites, where, blinking and pale, the writers previously featured greet each newcomer, asking for news of the outside world. Whose new book is out? Who won the Booker? What did Zadie Smith wear to the Paris Review Spring Revel? But here Baumeister cuts them off: you’d never ask, he’ll shout, that about a male writer! But so we’re down here. Trapped. My only remaining hope is that Kurt Baumeister, his ego slighted by my failure to acknowledge his supremacy, takes his leave of these answers and seeks me out among the gaunt and grimacing cave-bound men and women below his home, and teaches me a thing or two about second person singular. For otherwise, the punishment is even worse: Baumeister will force the entire group to read and recite the 400-page exegesis on Hitler from Book Six of Knausgaard’s My Struggle. Last time, one poor poet lost his mind. Now his verse is literally blank. So please, dear Reader, please save yourself. Don’t answer ridiculous questions. Only question ridiculous answers. Amen.
Shya Scanlon is the author of In This Alone Impulse, Forecast, and The Guild of Saint Cooper. He is currently working on a nonfiction book about race and racism, an excerpt of which can be read here.
Kurt Baumeister has written for Salon, Electric Literature, Guernica, Entropy, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, and others. 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.