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Feature Story May 6, 2005
The Meta-Metamorphosis

Translated by Dr. Myron Schlifkin

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a Eurofag. He was lying on his bony, as it were effeminate, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see that he was wearing designer silk Prada G-string underwear which was slippery due to the fact that he was covered in K-Y jelly and Baby Oil, and was so uncomfortable that he was about to slide off the bed completely.

What has happened to me? he thought. It was no dream. His early-20th-century Central European bedroom was authentically minimalist, perhaps too much so. Above the simple minimalist table on which a collection of cloth samples was unpacked and spread out -- Samsa was a commercial traveler -- hung the picture of a lady with a fur cap on.

"Fur is murder!" Gregor heard himself blurt out, but he did not even understand its meaning. And again: "Fur is beautiful on animals but ugly on humans!" and "Would you wear your dog?" and "Give fur the cold shoulder!" The voice was his, as were the thoughts -- only the meaning escaped him.

Gregor's eyes turned next to the window, and the overcast sky -- one could hear rain drops beating on the window gutter -- made him think only of getting back to southern Portugal, or to Greece, or to Majorca, all beach vacation destinations which Gregor had no immediate recollection of ever visiting, precisely because he had never been to any of them. And yet the urge to "return" to the beach, and to "catch up on his tan" so that his body would attain the color of burnt pork knuckle, was overpowering, and this cast him into a gloom. "I'm so pale," he heard himself moan.

What about sleeping a little longer and forgetting all this nonsense, he thought, but it could not be done, for he was accustomed to sleeping in his nightgown and in his present costume, wearing only a tight silk Prada G-string, sexually aroused and imagining, to his own horror, what a joy it would be if a gypsy man were to urinate into his mouth, Gregor simply could not relax. However violently he forced himself towards his right side he always felt the pinch of his G-string and the slipperiness from the lubricants, and he rolled onto his back again. He tried it at least a dozen times, shutting his eyes to keep from seeing his shaven white legs, and only desisted when he began to feel a faint sense of irritation and depression which he had never experienced before, along with twitching in his spine, and a sore sinus and a sore nose with dried blood. He was terribly thirsty, and at the same time he felt fatigue and a profound sense of angst.

Oh God, he thought, what an exhausting job I've picked! Traveling about day in, day out. Although it's better than being stuck in an office, which is so alienating and oppressive, with its bourgeois dictatorial rules and spatial techno-totalitarianism. At least as a traveling salesman he was able to constantly move, take the train, see the beautiful countryside, meet so many interesting people, including students, activists, artists, and minorities.

He felt a slight itching on his pubic area; slowly lifted his head so that he could see more easily; identified the itching place, which came as a result of shaving all of his pubic hair, including his scrotum and the tuft which usually lined his anus, and he made to touch it with a hand, but he drew the hand back immediately, for the contact made him want to visit Thailand, where there are many friendly young boys.

He slid down again into his former position. This getting up early, he thought, makes one quite queer. A man needs his sleep. Otherwise I will look awful when I meet my clients, and who knows what interesting, unique Europeans I will meet along the way. Besides, the union I belong to has won concessions reducing the workweek to only 35 hours, while our pay was increased, so what's the point of waking up early? In fact, I am tired of working. It's only because of my overbearing parents that I continue this job. If it wasn't for my respect for their authority and my inner need to follow orders, I would have told off my boss some time ago. Well, once I've earned enough money to pay for a Swatch car and a 6-week trekking tour of Southeast Asia -- that should take another year, given my union wages and the strength of the Euro -- I'll quit for sure. Besides, I'll just collect unemployment, which is more lucrative. And in doing so, I'll cut myself completely loose from my parents. But for now I better get up to catch my train.

He dismissed these increasingly strange lines of reasoning and looked at the alarm clock ticking on the insufficiently-postmodern chest. It was already half past eight. Had not the alarm gone off? He had set it for seven-thirty, yet he could not wake up to anything except for the pulsing sounds of DJ Sven Vath. But what was he to do now? He was late for work, and although he could not legally get into any trouble, he felt that somehow he was not behaving like a proper German. Besides, did his parents not teach him, "Gregor, the thing in life is that you should be an anarchist and fight the totalitarian state until your hairline starts to recede, and then you must work and earn money and wear nice clothes and become obsessed with buying a new car every two years." Did Gregor's parents say this to him, or did someone else's parents say this to someone else?

Maybe he should say he was sick. But that would look suspicious, since Gregor's real desire right now was to pay a "doctor" to visit him in his bedroom and administer an enema, which he would then feed to this "doctor." His parents would not disapprove of this, even though they made him watch their own amateur Scheisse video which they posted on the Internet. What is the Internet? Gregor felt really quite exhausted and depressed, but this was utterly superfluous after such a long sleep, especially considering that the coke he bought was not very clean.

All this was running through his mind at top speed when there came a cautious tap at the door behind the head of his bed. "Gregor," said a voice -- it was his mother's -- "it's a quarter to nine. Are you okay? Should we make preparations with your chief clerk to explain why you will be late?" Gregor had a shock as he heard his own voice answering hers, unmistakably his own voice, it was true, but with a sardonic, effeminate lisp which effused his every word with powerful irony, so that one could not be sure if one was being mocked, or if the speaker really meant what he was saying. Gregor did not want to have this ironic, mocking tone to his voice. He wanted to answer his mother at length and explain everything, but in the circumstances he confined himself to saying, "Whatever, man. It's all meaningless anyway. Oo, that was so profound of me, wasn't it mother?"

The simple minimalist wooden door between them must have kept the change in his voice from being noticeable outside, for his mother shuffled away. Yet the other members of the family were aware that Gregor was still at home, as they had not expected, and his father started knocking, gently at first. "Gregor, Gregor," he called, "what's the matter with you?" And then, in a low, plaintive tone: "Gregor? Aren't you well? Are you needing anything?"

Gregor mumbled, "Yes, some serotonin would be nice," but to his relief his father did not hear him, and he returned to eating his breakfast. But then his sister whispered: "Gregor, open the door." However, he did not consider opening the door, and felt thankful for the habit of locking it to secure his stash, as well as his expensive collection of rare 12-inch dance mix singles.

His immediate intention was to get up quietly without bothering his parents. He threw the quilt off of the bed, although since he was so thin it took a few flings. But the next move was difficult, especially since he was so uncommonly thin, and the G-string pinched him so painfully when he bent. He would have liked to have taken the G-string off, but he looked too sexy in it, and it made him feel good about himself. In fact, it was the only thing that made him feel good about himself. So how would he get up while wearing the silk Prada G-string? He tried to slide to the edge of the bed, but the G-string only pressed uncomfortably against his genitalia. He tried to push himself head-first then back and over, but then he realized that his spiky hairdo, which was so delicate, might flatten out and look too common and bourgeois.

Two strong people -- he thought of his father and the servant girl -- would be amply sufficient to get him out of bed. But then the thought of them excited him, and he wondered to himself, "How I would like to be the servant and to take orders!" Just then the front door bell rang. "That must be a state social worker who is checking to see that my rights are not being trampled upon," Gregor said. But in fact it was the chief clerk himself. What a fate! Wouldn't it have been better to send a social worker, and a civil servant to check the social worker, and a union official, as well as several union activists to check his fate, rather than the chief clerk! Gregor was about to complain himself when he fell onto the floor -- and made a very light thud, like a paper clip falling on carpet.

His sister was whispering to inform him of the situation: "Gregor, the chief clerk's here." "I know," muttered Gregor to himself; but he didn't dare to make his voice loud enough for his sister to hear it, or else she would think he was being ironic and mocking.

"Gregor," said his father now from the left-hand room, "the chief clerk has come and wants to know why you didn't catch the early train. He wants to talk to you in person. So open the door, please. He will be good enough to excuse the untidiness of your room." "Good morning, Mr. Samsa," the chief clerk was calling amiably meanwhile. "He's not well," said his mother to the visitor, while his father was still speaking through the door, "he's not well, sir, believe me. The boy thinks about nothing but his work."

"I'm just coming," said Gregor slowly and carefully. "I can't think of any other explanation, madam," said the chief clerk, "I hope it's nothing serious."

His sister now was crying because he wouldn't let the chief clerk into his bedroom, because he was in danger of losing his job, and because it seemed that Gregor might not be able to buy his clean-fuel-burning Swatch car and trek throughout Southeast Asia.

He meant actually to open the door, actually to show himself and speak to the chief clerk; he was eager to find out what the others, after all their insistence, would say at the sight of him. If they were horrified then the responsibility was no longer his and he could stay quiet. But if they took it calmly, then he had no reason either to be upset. But still he was so slippery from the lubricants which covered him, that he could barely manage to turn the door knob. There was only one way to turn it -- with his ass. Gregor got on all fours, faced the opposite direction from the door, backed his rectum into the door knob, which slid in with ease, and, turning his entire body, managed to affix the door. They should have given him encouragement. They should have said, "Go on, Gregor, keep going, open it with your ass!" He heard the lock click, leapt like a zebra with the doorknob still in his ass, and opened the door as he sprang to the side. When he fell down, a loud popping sound reverberated, and Gregor quickly spun back to the doorway, as if he was ready to dance, when he heard the chief clerk utter a loud "Oh!" His mother collapsed on the floor, while his father knotted his fist with a fierce expression on his face as if he meant to strike Gregor, then backed away, covered his eyes with his hands and cried.

Gregor leaned against the door ironically. The breakfast dishes were out, but he was concerned that some of the food might be genetically engineered. Besides, he wanted to make sure that he could fit into the new Mark Jacobs outfit which he planned to buy on a shopping spree today. His father, without saying a word, pulled down several photographs from the wall of Gregor's father, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather when they served in the military. Gregor too served as a lieutenant. But now, all he wanted to do was dance at nightclubs and mock how absurd it is that men still kill each other.

"Well," said Gregor, with a heavy irony that he could not mask. "Isn't this just so absurd. Isn't it, ah, so straaaange," and the last word he pronounced with such a large degree of sarcasm and irony that he surprised himself, unaware that he could be this ironic. The irony frightened his chief clerk, who made to leave in haste. "Wait, sir, don't leave yet," he said to his chief clerk. "Certainly one could just be temporarily incapacitated with dance fever. I cannot lose my job. Why give me a week, two at most, and I will return to normal. I am sure that the lubricants on my body are a passing phase, as is my desire to felch you."

The chief clerk's eyes bugged open. Gregor wanted to apologize, but instead, he drawled an ironic, "What is the problem, you are frightened that a man wants to felch you? Gee, let's all just pretend that men really don't want to felch their bosses everywhere. Let's all live a lie, why don't we!"

Gregor was appalled at the words coming out of his mouth. He tried to stop the chief clerk from leaving, but he was so wispy that the clerk, with the slightest push, sent Gregor crashing against a lamp. The chief clerk must be detained, soothed, persuaded and finally won over; the whole future of Gregor and his family depended on it! Gregor did not know how else to stop him -- so he started to dance. He stood in front of the chief clerk, made a rhythmic machine-like sound including "blip" and "bleep," and called on the clerk, "Hey, join my Love Parade, sir! Bip-beep-beep-bip. It's cool, man. Bah-bip-bip-beep-bip. We don't care if you're old, young, whatever. Boo-wa-wa, boo-wa-wa. We're not radical like the 60s generation, we just want to love everyone and to have a good feeling all the time! Bip-beep-beep-bip!"

Just then Gregor slipped and fell on his own lubricating fluid. "Mother! Someone, please help me get up!" He tried to roll onto one side and the other, but was unsuccessful. His mother stood over him, crying. His father fell into a chair crying too. And his sister cried. Gregor was only sad that he could not dance with the chief clerk, who had taken flight. At that moment, he decided that the problem was he was only wearing his Prada G-string. If only I was wearing my Von Dutch truck driver hat, everything would have been fine, he thought.

His father only had one desire. To push Gregor back into his room.

"But father, I just want to dance. It's all about love, father." His father slipped and fell, and he flailed around, now covered in Baby Oil. "Damn it to hell!" yelled his father. "It's the Slavs who did this to you! It's the damn Czechs, the Moravian filth! The Ruthenians, they drink my blood! They feed off our Germany like bacteria! God, give me one artillery shell!" "But no father, all of these ethnic groups bring so much multicultural diversity to our region," Gregor heard himself say. He wanted to agree with his father, but he was incapable of forming the right words. When he tried to say that they should burn down the house where the Jewish family lived down the street, instead he said, "We must never let what happened happen again, father." When he wanted to say that all Slavs were cattle, he said instead, "The price of beer is so much cheaper here than in Berlin." His father could not take it. He swung hard at his son with his fist, but the thick lubricant coating protected Gregor. His father's inability to hurt him only made Gregor feel more guilty. "Father, I will find a part on my body which is not lubricated, and you can strike me there," he said. But his father only became depressed, and sat on the floor with a sullen expression. "We are cursed," he said to his wife. "The nation has been sold to the Jews, the Rhineland is lost, and my son only wants to dance." "Yes father! And with glo-sticks!" His father beamed: "A glo-stick? Is this something that the Fatherland could use to destroy the enemy behind her lines so that we can retake the Alsace and Lorraine?" he asked hopefully. "Father, there is no Alsace and Lorraine. There is only one Europe, and one world. Come on, get into the good feeling, father." But as Gregor said this, he felt increasingly guilty. His father looked at his mother, and they cried. All cried, wondering why they had been so cursed. Gregor wanted to apologize, but he knew that if he tried, it would sound too ironic, so he simply kept his mouth shut. He wanted to feel hatred towards the ethnic groups located closest to his country, but instead he felt mere ironic contempt, mixed with the desire to exchange artworks and music with these neighboring ethnic groups.

Over the next several days, the family learned that Gregor, in his illness, had only one burning desire: to dance at discos and to feel good. Every night he left the house, wearing his Von Dutch truck driver hat, his tight Versace sleeveless shirt and Ferrari Formula One leather jacket, his washed-out jeans with holes in them and his leather Gucci sneakers. But there were no discos. So Gregor wandered the lonely, dark streets, dancing to his own "blip-beep-beep!" sounds, and without remembering how, he returned home every morning slathered in lubricants and oils, feeling very sore.

One night, when Gregor was out, his family was eating dinner. "We must cure Gregor," one of them said. And the next one said, "Yes, we must." "We cannot go on like this." "We will be ruined." "But he is our son." "Yes, he is our son." They devised a plan to cure their son, and to cure their house. The plan was to steal his Ferrari Formula One leather jacket, which would deprive him of the ability to go out and to feel beautiful. But on the night that they were to hatch their plot, Gregor, dressed up and excited, danced around the house, blowing a military whistle. His father tried to ignore it, and his mother cried. Gregor felt guilty, but could not stop himself. Finally, his father asked him, "Why? Why are you doing this to us? Why are you doing this to Germany? What are you, Gregor?" And Gregor answered, "I am Germany of the future, father. You, mother, sister, grandfather, everyone were mistakes. We Germans failed and failed and failed, until I was born, at the end of this century. Now look at me, father. I am harmless. I feel nothing but love and the desire to work. I am ironic, I threaten no one. Everyone laughs at us, but we can dismiss this with a witty and ironic response which has two meanings, one underneath the other. I am Germany, father. So please, come join me."

Gregor then went to bed, and slept wonderfully all night. But in the morning, he woke up and found that he had been transformed into an insect. In fact, he was an insect all along. This strange dream about lubricants and discos and glo-sticks was merely an insect nightmare. And Gregor thought, "Now I have a reason to be grateful. For I am a cockroach, and I will soon die, but at least I'm not an early-21st Century German." And with this he felt his old sense of guilt, pain and despair return, feelings which were so comforting and familiar that he was, at last, able to fall back asleep.

The End

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