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Caveat: This story contains references to a variety of intimate human rituals. 

Where People Hide Their Food

by Paul Bacon

I stumbled upon this question at my home computer while attempting to re-save a presentation chart titled ‘America’:

“Do you want to replace the existing America?” my computer asked.

You mean literally? I wondered out loud, then told myself I was reading too much into the question. But it made me think: Could I alter the course of our nation with a simple keystroke? Why not? I remembered a commercial for my new modem promising me even greater powers. The question really was: *Should* I change America? We do have a lot of unnecessary moralistic hang-ups, I thought, but the country is so big and complicated. What if I made things worse? Could I be sued? Ah, what the hell. I clicked “Yes.”

“How would you like the new America?” it asked, my listing my options as:

-- A Little Different
-- Way Different
-- Ass-backwards 

I instinctively chose “Ass-backwards,” but before I made the fateful switch, I looked around my home office, wondering if I would ever see it again. Who knows where--or what--I might be after the radical transformation? I said good-bye to my plants and, remembering I had just put on a pot of water for my daily spaghetti, I walked into the kitchen and turned off the stove just to be safe. Returning to my chair, I firmly gripped the armrests in case I were to suddenly find myself hanging from the ceiling or flying through space. Then, barely reaching the mouse button with an outstretched finger, I set the process in motion.

Expecting appreciable changes--if not a bit of congratulatory fanfare--I was deflated to see that nothing seemed any different. I shrugged it off, putting aside my foolish dreams of omnipotence, and resumed working on the chart.

My stomach began to rumble after a while, and I cursed myself for having delayed my ritualistic shoveling of cheap pasta and store-bought sauce. It would take minutes to get that water boiling again, and I was worthless when I was hungry. Walking zombie-like back to the kitchen, I was surprised to see that things there had actually changed quite a bit. Gone were the oven, refrigerator and sink -- replaced by two toilets sitting face-to-face. And they were no ordinary toilets, either. Contoured arm rests and reclining back supports were among the thrones’ many exotic features, some of which appeared practical in very unsettling ways. Toilets this nice might not even be available at The Sharper Image, I thought, noticing their generously padded leather seats were warm to the touch.

Completely confused and increasingly hungry, I ambled around my home in search of food, finding sustenance in the last place I would have expected it: the bathroom. I scratched my head for a moment. Not only had the kitchen been changed into a public commode, but now the bathroom now was some sort of eat-in closet. Almost as inexplicable was the secretive way the food was packaged. The labels were decorated with fluffy clouds and fuzzy kittens, and were written in painfully euphemistic language--like someone had been embarrassed to sell this stuff. 

One product called “Deli-cuts” was touted as a “gracefully soluble” and turned out to be a tub of multiply processed meat paste that looked almost pre-digested. Another item, “Leavenlerne,” a bag of semi-rigid dough that could be molded by hand into various delivery vehicles for said meat paste, enticed with the slogan: “To be personal is to be private.” Other than a tall plastic bottle of “Wetness” (water), that was it. No fruit, no vegetables, nothing solid served in its natural state--just two boxes of calorific goo that quite possibly never touched human hands on its way from its source to my new eating facilities under the stairs. 

I drank some Wetness but left the foody things untouched; I would rather go hungry than vomit and go hungry. I stepped outside to find that my neighborhood, once a pocket of cozy restaurants and fast-food stands, had become a walk-through museum of the nether regions. The local diner was now a five-story “Sexual Gratification Center,” and next to it was the trendy “Craphaus,” where smirky people were chatting in groups and on cell phones while sitting nude on toilets that looked like the ones in my new kitchen.

Public excretion was obviously a popular pastime because the only thing people wore on their bodies was shoes. Puddles lined the sidewalk, and the busy naked people marched right through them, only stopping to engage a passer-by in sexual intercourse or momentarily gawk at the fully clothed spectacle that was me. 

I was gawking at one of them when I felt a warm trickle through my pant leg. I turned to see my roommate Jeff, who was usually so uptight, now smiling happily as he peed me hello. “What’s with the clothes?” he said. “You cold or something?” 

Dumbstruck, I only managed to say, “I’m hungry.” 

Jeff’s face went blank for a second then twisted into an horrific sneer. He clucked his tongue and swung his butt in my face, storming off.

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