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STOP ME IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE

A man goes to an executioner and asks, "How much do these things cost?"

"Well," says the executioner, "depends on what we do for you. A hanging? That involves building a scaffold, renting the town square and so forth. Run you upwards to $1,000. A firing squad? Depends. How many shooters — three? twelve? You want uniforms? What quality of marksmanship are you looking for? Those details can really add up. A simple beheading can be done cheaply and with taste, but let’s face it, they can be messy. If you’re strapped for cash, one of our technicians can choke you with his bare hands, but that lacks dignity. There’s always a struggle towards the end."

Do you have a brochure or something?" the man asks.

"No," says the executioner, "but we do offer sub-lethal demonstrations for a fee. A fee which we will apply in full toward your final selection".

"I don’t know," the man says, "your prices seem a little high."


II

A man goes to a fancy restaurant and orders a meal. He looks across the table at his companion and says, "I’ve been taking post-graduate courses in Analysis at a school of Business. I’m becoming an expert on ‘peeling back’ layers of obfuscation to get to the elemental truth of a matter. I find it a useful talent to cultivate. For instance, consider this lovely meal: underneath this sauce there is a glaze, and underneath the sweet, crackling glaze there is the steaming, succulent meat of the fowl, and underneath that, the hard purity of the fine white china, then the linen, next the finish on the oak table, the woven intricacies of the rug, the floor beneath, the cellar below with its rank air, the damp cement slab foundation, the clammy clay of the earth: and far below that the hard wood of the top of the caskets in the forgotten cemetery buried beneath our city. Under the casket lids, the sad, decaying remains of the long-forgotten, and beneath that, the stained satin linings of the coffins with their mildewed, horse-hair tufting and — well. . .You see what I mean. I am much harder to fool now than I once was. About anything."

III

A man goes to a hospital. He makes his way carefully to the Labor and Delivery floor where he sneaks into the locker room and puts on a pair of scrubs. He walks into a crowded, noisy delivery suite filled with sweat, joy, and a newborn. He casually picks up the big stainless steel basin containing a warm, luxuriant placenta, floating in a deep pool of blood, attached to its long white umbilical cord. He says confidently, to no one in particular, "I’m here from the lab for Dr. Isahara’s study." Nobody notices. He whisks away the basin and strides purposefully down the hall. Ducking back into the locker room, he strips and hurries with his prize into a lavatory stall. He takes a surgical needle and a length of nylon suture and carefully sews the end of the umbilical cord to his belly button. The procedure is exquisitely painful. He had not thought it would hurt so much. Head swimming, shivering with cold, he quickly walks back into the delivery room. He peers around the corner. There lies the new mother exhausted, feet in stirrups, legs spread wide. A nurses’ aide tenderly wipes the blood and amniotic fluid from the woman’s inner thighs and dense thatch of pubic hair. The man’s field of vision narrows to the dark shadow between the woman’s legs. He clutches the placenta and cord to his chest and gathers himself for the final push, praying that this part of his plan will cause little, if any, pain.

      — Denver Perkins