“He was taken from the coffin and again placed in the electric chair.”
—Arkansas newspaper on botched execution – 1923
“He decided to build a company that would solve death.”
—The New Yorker on Bill Marris, CEO of Google Ventures – 2017
Ever since Bill Marris and Google solved death, the weekly rhythm of Donald Mayo’s, and all of America’s life centers on the story of the everyday-Jane or Joe mainstreet-type winner, from a place like Wilmington Vermont, and how he or she is granted life-eternal.
Donald Mayo, for his part, is a goner, and knows it, too. Two weeks. The day is May 18th, 2025 and he is to die on June 1st, when the elephant cloud passes over the waning crescent moon.
Donald, when he learns this, does not think to himself, “shoot.” He also does not consider his sister, who will be obliged to spend time with their mother consoling her and arranging the relatives. He does not consider the overburdened public servant for the deceased, who will have to add Donald’s profile to his ever-growing checklist of former citizens to erase from the registry. He does not foresee the sexless nights the corpse-retrievers will have to spend away from their lovers, nor the boredom of the mortuary artist who will widen and moisten cadaver-Donald’s dead eyeballs for display to uncle Jordan, and cousin Sue, and friend Laura at the funeral.
Donald Mayo is selfish that way.
Donald is sitting on the chair in his kitchen, and listening to Iggy Pop, whose work he admires, and he is deciding what to do in the time before his death when he notices that he has to urinate. On his toilet, he has one of those fun fact calendars that you’re supposed to tear out every day. His is trivia themed. On February 7th, it asks you what Otto Titzling was famous for, and then if you look on the back it tells you that it was for inventing the bra. Donald gets a kick out of this and he is excited to tell Laura. He rips the paper off to reveal the next one. February 8th. Kangaroos have three vaginas. February 9th. Cats don’t meow to communicate with other cats. February 10th: The 46th president of the United States raised a colony of lizards and he ate one every morning for strength. Then he washes his hands and calls his friend Laura and they play some chess online and he messages her about his facts and they amuse her.
“Haha,” she writes.
Then Donald makes himself a quesadilla with shredded mozzarella cheese with refried beans from an aluminum can.
The newest lottery winner pops up on Donald Mayo’s telephone. Her name is Roslyn Kane, and she is a ballet dancer from Wilmington, Vermont. “Now she’ll be da-da-da dancing into the next millennium!” yells the announcer.
Donald knows his death is true because the fortune teller that confirmed it had corroborating evidence. You know how when someone, like a public figure, is accused of rape or sexual deviance, the allegations include a description of the declination of the accused’s penis, or of the dark mole on the underside of his scrotum? It is kind of like that. There is no denying the veracity of the fate.
It would be inaccurate to say that the foreknowledge of his fast-approaching death does not alter Donald Mayo’s approach.
For example, Donald, when he is tired and inclined to go to bed early, he reminds himself “you can sleep when you’re dead.”
Donald also decides to take one of his vacation weeks. His employer is irked at the short notice, but Donald gives his assurance that he will work twice as hard when he returns.
Donald flies to Cuba, where he takes a two-hour salsa lesson, and drinks three Daiquiri’s at La Floridita, just like Hemingway used to.
While there, he prepares his will, which stipulates that his body should go to the Biology Lab at Kalamazoo, his alma matter, to which he still maintains a tepid allegiance. He’d studied Anthropology there, and he once tried the drug LSD with his friend Ramiro. He’d written a note to himself: “ride the wave.” Ramiro thought that was pretty good.
Donald returns from Cuba with an beach-bod–bronze, and a half gallon of 7-year Havana Club Rum. He knows he will never personally drink it, but he thinks it will make a fine gift for the executor of his will. The new tan makes sense considering what the fortune teller told him about his approaching death.
Donald had ingested “the pill” on an easy Spring Sunday, the night after a moderately-successful date with Lauren at the concert of the indie-punk band “See-Saw.”
He’d bought the pill weeks before from 7/11, on a whim. It sat on his bedside table, and sometimes he looked at it as he fell asleep at night.
The morning he took it, the morning after his successful date, he was feeling lucky. The government lottery’s flip side, of course, was no secret. Eternal life ~ 1:1000. Instant death ~ 1:1000. Unaffected death ~ 100:1000. All other probabilities put you somewhere in the middle. But it told you when. 100 years. 100 days. 100 hours. That was the appeal. Citizens want to know. And so they memorized the code on their pill, tattooed it on their belly, chanted it in their dreams, taught it to their babies and pet parrots and then, when the time was ripe, they swallowed the pill and then the expectant wait to Sunday: half time baby.
A grand winner from drawings past called the numbers. One week. Two weeks. Three years. Immortal. Jackpot, baby. Donald took the pill the night before the drawing.
It wasn’t so strange that, when Donald learned that the pill would painlessly dissolve the lining of his stomach in two weeks, he felt not sadness but curiosity, naturally, as to the context. He consulted the fortune teller to fill in the details. Booze and hammers, sidewalk slammers, the woman said. His death, he deduced, would involve such things, or maybe, rather, such things would involve his death. Donald wasn’t quite sure yet where he fit into those sorts of equations.
About one week before his death, Donald begins to panic. He wakes up and sprints around his city block again and again with heaving and wailing sobs. When he tires, he returns home and sits in his comfy blue chair. He has a pennant on his wall for the Kalamazoo football team. It says “Go Hornets” and it has a drawing of a bee on it. The mug on his coffee table says “Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.” His mother sent it to him on his 42nd birthday and sometimes he likes to put coffee or hot cocoa in it.
He is now 44.
Donald’s doorbell rings. Ding-dong. He expects that it is his next-door neighbor Joey, who often wishes to borrow Donald’s guitar. It is not Joey, but a short Asian man who Donald has never seen before. The man does not appear to desire to sell Donald subscriptions to lifestyle magazines, nor canvas him to donate for the local Boys and Girls club.
Donald says, “hello.”
The man says “Hi, my name is Sam and I’m just trying to make a few honest bucks. I noticed you have some weeds in your garden, and I thought I might take them out for you, for a modest fee. I’m just trying to make a few honest bucks.”
Donald has not noticed that his small garden has weeds, but he looks, and finds that Sam’s observations are astute. He tells Sam sure and thanks and closes the door and then his phone rings.
Donald picks it up and says, “hello.”
“Donald,” says his mother. “It’s been so long.”
Donald Mayo wades through heavy car traffic to see his mother Mary-Sue, who lives in the Woodinger Retirement Home. She has a new lover she wants him to meet. Name is Charlie Jackson, and Donald is going to join them for crackers and honey.
Donald’s mother warned him: Charlie has edge. Might not be exactly what he expects. She said it on the phone. Seemed a little nervous, was light on the details.
He did a regional scan for Charlie Jackson, and it returned two options. One was a retired geriatric urologist. The other Charlie Jackson was a registered youth baseball coach. His team, the “Mariners,” won the regional championship two years straight.
Donald Mayo of course, has no time to waste. He twiddles his fingers on the dashboard.
Trucker’s balls hang from Donald’s truck. If you don’t know what trucker’s balls are, they are hanging metal balls that truckers hang from their rear-bumpers that are meant to resemble the scrotum and testicles of a human male. They dangle and quake with the bumps in the road. They entered the cultural lexicon in 2016, but in the intervening years between then and 2025, they took America by storm. According to the 2020 census, 72% of American car owners hung trucker’s balls from their car. Donald wishes that he were not partaking in this particular cultural fever, but alas, the truck’s previous owner rigged the balls with a strange one-way bolting apparatus that makes removal of the trucker’s balls unusually difficult.
“I got em on sale,” said Ronny, the young man who sold Donald the truck, in regards to the trucker’s balls.
One of these days, Donald intends to retire the balls, but he has been a busy man, especially since he learned more about his death.
Charlie, Donald learns, is the baseball coach. Donald also learns that Charlie is a black man, and Mary-Sue claims that he is a poet as well. He is passionate, he says, about the dialectical as a means of achieving philosophical grace. Charlie and Mary-Sue and Donald enjoy their crackers and honey on Mary-Sue’s porch. At some point, when dialectical grows sterile, Mary-Sue tells Donald that he ought to check out Charlie’s new story. Charlie looks at his toes and Donald says yes he would love to and Charlie pulls up the story on his phone and hands the phone to Donald. The story, which is called “The Southerner,” begins with this epigraph:
Cleanthes of Assos, son of Phanias. He was a boxer at first, according to Antisthenes in his Successions. He arrived in Athens with four drachmas, as some say, and meeting Zeno he began to philosophize most nobly and stayed with the same doctrines. He was famous for his love of hard work; since he was a poor man he undertook to work for wages. And by night he laboured at watering gardens, while be day he exercised himself in arguments…
-From the Letters of Cicero
And then it begins like this:
“Ah, Cleanthes of Assos, son of Phanias, if we do meet again,” said Pardolthome the Strange, son of Daripinix, upon seeing Cleanthes in the street on the way to the market.
Cleanthes paid Pardolthome little mind, for he was off to a dialectical with Drolter. They were to debate whether indeed the atom fell through void, and if it was by intelligent design or by mindless chance. Cleanthes posited that it fell by chance, and his argument was handsome indeed.
But Pardolthome was not to be shaken off. “Have you seen the new zoo in town?” he called out, quite loudly.
Cleanthes, amidst the hustle of the Athenian noon, pretended to hear naught a thing. He twirled his head right, and then left and right again, so as to appear above it all, as he walked along.
Pardolthome called again:” The zoo! It’s in town, just down the way if you will join me.
Cleanthes did join Pardolthome to the zoo. He had indeed heard that it was in town, and his interest was piqued, despite the pretense of indifference he made for Pardolthome the Strange. His boy had actually told him that the men were Egyptian, and the women from southerner yet, and their skin was dark as ash. The zoo, his boy had told him, was not to be missed. “A spectacle by Zeus himself, the boy said. Indeed, thought Cleanthes of Assos, I must not miss it…
Entry was three drachmas per person. One extra for the beautiful boy. The zoo teemed with Athenians, men and their beautiful boys. The cage was in the center and the keeper described the properties of the Egyptians inside. He did not mention the Southerner seated alone on the floor of the far side of the cage.
Cleanthes of Assos yawned. The spectacle bored him. He had his dialectical to prepare for…
Cleanthes of Assos did not fancy Pardolthome the Strange and he accompanied him to engagements such as that of the visiting-zoo only when no one was available for dialectical. Pardolthome the Strange did not engage in dialectical. He said there was “no such thing as a dialectical.” Hearing this frequently, Cleanthes of Assos attempted numerous dialecticals to persuade Pardolthome the Strange to his side in regards to the dialectical.
The cage, in the center of a gravelly arena, contained three Egyptians, and then The Southerner, who sat across the stage from the Egyptians. The Egyptians were popular because they interacted with onlookers. They responded to stimuli, even appeared to murmur between one another. The Athenians discussed excitedly how the Egyptians reminded them of themselves, and wondered what was wrong with The Southerner.
Cleanthes of Assos stood among them, and he was telling his boy how it is silly to think that atoms fall through void because there is no such thing as void. He scoffed at the Epicureans. He said that even when he was a travelling boxer, fighting hard for one or two measly drachmas per fight, he could have concocted a more harmonious theory of the Universe than those imaginative fools.
A fight broke out between The Egyptians in the cage, and the Athenians and their beautiful boys were all startled. The shouting was unintelligible, but one could detect a latent frustration surfaced. It seemed as though the shorter Egyptian had said something passive-aggressive like, “the wash bucket is over by the Southerner, and look, the water is still warm,” and one of the dirtier Egyptians snapped. The zoo keeper had to enter the cage to intervene. He offered the starving Egyptians bread when they calmed down. The zoo keeper was red with embarrassment. Usually his exhibitions were better behaved then this. He offered a refund to dissatisfied patrons.
Cleanthes of Assos, son of Phanias commented to his beautiful boy that the Egyptians should have engaged in a dialectical. He also told this to the zoo keeper when he went to retrieve his drachmas. He suggested the zoo keeper let him attempt to instruct his Egyptians in the art of the dialectical, such that this sort of incident would never again repeat itself…”
Donald reads Charlie’s short story up to this point, and then he gets bored and stops. He tells Charlie he thinks it is pretty good. Charlie grunts thanks. Donald says goodbye to his mother for the last time and drives home.
Donald’s mood in the car is a low and even flame, a sort of flat encompassing boredom, as though he has spent the day in a classical art museum. It is not pressure exactly that he feels. The inevitability of his fate has preemptively deflated any notion of real stakes. But he is tired. That’s it. There was a line in Steinbeck’s East of Eden that Donald once loved. Something about the drama and tragedy and ecstasy of the original life, how time takes dimension from these momentary stake-posts on which it is draped, or something to that effect. Feels hollow now, to Donald Mayo. Dimension of that sort has been illusory, he supposes.
He drives by a casino, and then five minutes later a billboard with a suicide hotline. He turns around back to the casino. It is called “Crazy-Bull Resort.” Donald Mayo has $12,358 in his savings account, and he puts it all on chips. Goes up in $5 blackjack, Goes down on a $1,200 roulette roll. Loses the whole lot on a daring gamble on the Kalamazoo basketball game. He watches it in the bar. Has a Jack and Coke and then another. Can’t walk straight. Wanders about and the people are ugly and unnaturally large. Some people look like lizards. One of them, whose hat is sideways, seated behind a slot, says to Donald, “cool it, bro.” Donald tells the man to “stand his bitch-ass up.” The man turns his hat 180 degrees so that it is sideways the other way, and then he obliges, stands ready to rumble. Donald kicks him in the nuts and turns and runs through the colors and the sonic web of clangs and booms and clicks and dongs and they are after him, and his chips are all gone and he darts left and the wounded man trails mere feet behind him and the young and green security guard in his fancy uniform catches sight of the action and the taser is out and Donald blasts through the glass doors and the atmosphere clears and the moon is high and the clouds are distant, far downwind to the East. A clearing to the West and even a star. A cool wind through the dimly-lit parking lot. Chills Donald at the cheeks. Turns them pink and red. A rumble and sharp voices swell at his back. No individual voice stands out. He does not turn to face his adversaries. Donald Mayo prefers to to see the sky, the plane at cruising altitude overhead, the glow of the distant prison, the red lights on the highway, and he grasps with trembling hands at these distant things.