The house was held together by bad ideas, and supported by pride. There was a living space, and three bedrooms. The occupants spent time together on the weekends, and argued during the evenings. Each member had a different reason for being there. Shawn was a retired soccer player and teaching English as a second language. When he argued, it was to get what he wanted. He could hardly be called an intellectual, but he felt right at home with the other two. Chris was a mathematician, and despite his continuous research and publication, it bothered him that only 17 people understood what he wrote, and even less read it. That was the price of being smart. Zen was from China. Being with the other two Americans was helping him to become more American, and less Chinese. Not that there is anything wrong with being Chinese, just that the Americans said what they felt, and never backed down from a fight. Chris loved to fight. He was more American than John Wayne, and Zen felt that he was strong around them, even though he felt weak inside.

They all paid rent. Each one of them was single, and perpetually so; not that they couldn’t get a girlfriend, but they were holding out for different reasons. Shawn was waiting for God to tell him who to marry. Yesterday, he met a girl, and heard the audible voice of God, or so he claimed. He proposed, and she said “yes.” Chris was waiting for a woman who was good enough for him. He had matured slowly, which made him undesirable in college, but now that he was a Doctor, he looked 21, and he could date women even younger. Two fathers were after him, and an older brother who wanted his blood. He had five women chasing him, and even though they were 10 out of 10, Chris wondered why they were so interested. There had to be somebody better. Zen was insecure, but since he had been hanging around the alpha Americans, he started to listen to self-help books written by Asian men who had overcome the trauma of being overlooked. Now, he was contemplating a family and future, despite being socially awkward. In time, anything was possible with the right theory. He too, was a mathematician, more gifted than Chris, but depressed, because being smart hadn’t worked for him, and Chris had developed a formula to make his dreams come true.

Our story begins by a singular event that altered the dynamic. Shawn got married. And like an explosion in a print shop, Zen and Chris were covered in ink, and unsure how to write the next chapter of their lives. They had more rent to cover, and an empty room to fill. It soon became apparent, that Shawn was the glue that had held them together.

“Zen, you’ve got to push yourself,” Chris said. “We’re soldiers and we have to develop bodies that girls want.”

“But I’m tired Chris, and I gave up overeating; what more can you want? My body hurts every day.”

“That’s because you don’t have any muscle. Look at these guns.” Chris flexed, and Zen admired his muscles. The pandemic had forced these two to live in close proximity for 8 days. The apartment was making it difficult to breath. Chris’s ego needed to make other egos as big as itself. He needed other people to take-on his likeness, and then he would change. He was always three steps ahead of everybody, and he couldn’t help but turn around and laugh.

Chris’s best friend was moving to Israel to live with them, to take the place of Shawn. Zen had heard many things about Alex, each one more impressive than the next, but Chris still looked behind him when he talked about Alex, which caused Zen to think… some men need God—an ever-watchful eye to make sure they don’t do wrong. Shawn had always kept Chris in check, but now Chris was God, and he was going to devour the whole world, so that it would be like him.

“That’s the doorbell,” Chris said. “Alex, how was your flight?”

“I made it from one country to the next and avoided getting lost. I found you, and that’s what counts. Good to see you, man.”

“I love you man, and no gay.”

“Sure, whatever.” Alex wiped his tired eyes. “Is this Zen?”

Zen offered his clammy hand, and even after six months, he hadn’t learned how to shake the American way.

“You probably want to unpack and get some sleep,” Chris said.


“Zen, why don’t you move into Shawn’s room? Give Alex the larger room,” Chris said.

“But he’s not paying rent.”

“Don’t argue with me. He’s our guest.”

Zen tucked his head between his shoulder-blades and slunk into the smaller room. He started journaling hateful thoughts, so he could understand his frame of mind. It wasn’t his idea; it was the self-help book. And when Zen went to sleep that night, he dreamed violent dreams—dreams of murder and getting rid of bodies.

To be continued…

3 thoughts on “The Intellectuals and the Absence of the Superman

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