Photos by Brea Souders Church Hands, 2010 Mark Leyner is probably best known for cowriting Why Do Men Have Nipples?, a 2005 New York Times best seller that provides answers to odd medical inquiries. But he’s also the author of various screenplays (including 2008’s War, Inc.), magazine columns, and some of the most surreal, obscene, and funny fiction we’ve ever read. His latest novel, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, is out March 26 from Little, Brown and sticks out like an infected, throbbing appendage compared with the seemingly endless crop of mopey, self-important, “serious” novels crowding the shelves of bookstores these days. Nutsack is the tragic story of Ike Karton, an unemployed butcher living in New Jersey. Ike is constantly tormented and sexually harassed by a pantheon of Gods with names like Fast-Cooking Ali, XOXO, and La Felina; they love partying, smoking a hallucinogenic borscht known as Gravy, and, above all else, having hardcore sex with mortals. The epic is even stranger than it sounds, and we belly-laughed throughout the weekend it took to devour it. We’ve excerpted the opening section here (which explains how the pantheon of Gods—and the universe—came to be) and paired it with art by Brea Souders, whose work makes us feel celestial in an entirely different but equally fulfilling way. More of Brea Souders’s work can be seen at www.breasouders.com and at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, NY, from May 5 to June 24.
You can buy The Sugar Frosted Nutsack here.
An excerpt from ‘THE SUGAR FROSTED NUTSACK’ by Mark Leyner There was never nothing. But before the debut of the Gods, about 14 billion years ago, things happened without any discernable context. There were no recognizable patterns. It was all incoherent. Isolated, disjointed events would take place, only to be engulfed by an opaque black void, their relative meaning, their significance, annulled by the eons of entropic silence that estranged one from the next. A terrarium containing three tiny teenage girls mouthing a lot of high-pitched gibberish (like Mothra’s fairies, except for their wasted pallors, acne, big tits, and t-shirts that read “I Don’t Do White Guys”) would inexplicably materialize, and then, just as inexplicably, disappear. And then millions and millions of years would pass, until, seemingly out of nowhere, there’d be, fleetingly… the smell of fresh rolls. Then several more billion years of inert monotony… and then… a houndstooth pattern EVERYWHERE for approximately 10-37 seconds… followed by, again, the fade to immutable blackness and another eternal interstice… and then, suddenly, what might be cicadas or the chafing sound of some obese jogger’s nylon track pants… and then the sepia-tinged photograph from a 1933 Encyclopædia Britannica of a man with elephantiasis of the testicles… robots roasting freshly gutted fish at a river’s edge… the strobelike fulgurations of ultraviolet emission nebulae… the unmistakable sound of a koto being plucked… and then a toilet flushing. And this last enigmatic event—the flushing of a toilet—was followed by the most inconceivably long hiatus of them all, a sepulchral interregnum of several trillion years. And, as time went on, it began to seem less and less likely that another event would ever occur. Finally, nothing was taking place but the place. There was a definite room tone—that hum, that hymn to pure ontology—but that was all. And in this interminable void, in this black hyperborean stillness, deep in the farthest-flung recesses of empty space, at that vanishing point in the infinite distance where parallel lines ultimately converge… two headlights appeared. And there was the sound, barely audible, of something akin to the Mister Softee jingle. Now, of course, it wasn’t the Mister Softee truck whose headlights, like stars light-years in the distance, were barely visible. And it wasn’t the Mister Softee jingle per se. It was the beginning of something—a few recursive, foretokening measures of music that were curiously familiar, though unidentifiable, and addictively catchy—something akin to the beginning of “Surry with the Fringe on Top” or “Under My Thumb” or “Tears of a Clown” or “White Wedding.” And it repeated ad infinitum as those tiny twinkling headlights became imperceptibly larger and drew incrementally closer over the course of the million trillion years that it took for the Gods to finally arrive. These drunken Gods had been driven by bus to a place they did not recognize. (It’s almost as if they’d been on some sort of “Spring Break,” as if they’d “gone wild.”) At first, they were like frozen aphids. They were so out of it, as if in a state of suspended animation. It took them several more million years just to come to, to sort of “thaw out.” The first God to emerge, momentarily, from the bus was called El Brazo (“The Arm”). Also known as Das Unheimlichste des Unheimlichen (“The Strangest of the Strange”), he was bare-chested and wore white/Columbia-blue polyester dazzle basketball shorts. He would soon be worshipped as the God of Virility, the God of Urology, the God of Pornography, etc. El Brazo leaned out of the bus and struck a contrapposto pose, his head turned away from the torso, an image endlessly reproduced in paintings, sculptures, temple carvings, coins, maritime flags, postage stamps, movie-studio logos, souvenir snow globes, take-out coffee cups, playing cards, cigarette packs, condom wrappers, etc. His pomaded hair swept back into a frothy nape of curls like the wake of a speedboat, he reconnoitered the void with an impassive, take-it-or-leave-it gaze, then scowled dyspeptically, immediately turned around, and returned to the bus, where he sullenly ensconced himself, along with the rest of the Gods, for another 1.6 million years. It’s extraordinary that, among these sulking, hungover deities who chose to forever doze and fidget in a bus, there were several with enough joie de vivre to continue beat-boxing that hypnotic riff for an eternity—that music that’s been so persistently likened to a dance mix of the Mister Softee jingle. Perhaps it was a fragment of their alma mater’s fight song. They did act, after all, like classmates, as if they’d grown up together in the same small town. Spider Universe, 2011 One of the first things the Gods did, once they sobered up and finally vacated that bus, was basically put things in order, make them comprehensible, provide context, institute recognizable patterns. (The Gods imposed coherence and meaning, one suspects, as an act of postbender penance.) And that spot in space where they’d fatefully decamped became consecrated forevermore as the celestial downtown, the capital of a very hip, but unforgiving, meritocracy. It was very much the Manhattan Project meets Warhol’s Factory. And there was that chilly vibe of militant exclusivity, that cordon sanitaire, that velvet rope which segregated the Gods from everyone and everything else. From the outset, it was clear that these Gods had very rigid opinions about who could and who couldn’t be part of their exclusive little clique. No socialites. No dilettantes. No one who was merely “famous for being famous.” Just Gods. But their affect was so labile that, depending on your angle, they’d appear completely different from one instant to the next. It was like those lenticular greeting cards. There they’d be, ostensibly a group of elegantly accoutered 18th-century aristocrats, straight out of Watteau’s rococo Fête galante paintings, amorously cavorting in some sylvan glade with the lutes and the translucent parasols and the flying cupids… but if you shifted your vantage point ever so slightly, they’d look exactly like the members of some Japanese noise band smoking cigarettes backstage at All Tomorrow’s Parties at Kutsher’s Hotel in Monticello, New York. One minute they’d have assumed the guise of a bunch of tan, well-heeled, ostentatiously casual CEOs chitchatting at the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley media conference… but then you’d tilt your head a bit, and they’d have metamorphosed into a little army of street urchins with matted hair and yellow eyes scavenging for food in garbage dumps, sucking on bags of glue. And because they were omniscient and so tight-knit, they could be very adolescent and pretentious in the way they flaunted their superiority. It wouldn’t be unusual for a God to use Ningdu Chinese, Etruscan, Ket (a moribund language spoken by just 500 people in central Siberia), Mexican Mafia prison code, Klingon, dolphin echolocation clicks, ant pheromones, and honeybee dance steps—all in one sentence. It’s the kind of thing where you’d be like, was that really necessary? Everything we are and know comes from the Gods. From their most phantasmagoric dreams and lurid hallucinations, we derive our mathematics and physics. Even their most offhanded mannerisms and nonchalant, lackadaisical gestures could determine the fundamental physical and temporal structures of our world. There was once a birthday party for the God of Money, Doc Hickory, who was also known as El Mas Gordo (“The Fattest One”). Exhausted from feasting, El Mas Gordo fell asleep on his stomach across his bed. Lady Rukia (the Goddess of Scrabble, Jellied Candies, and Harness Racing), who’d been lusting after El Mas Gordo the entire night, crept stealthily into his bedroom, rubbed a squeaking balloon across the bosom of her cashmere sweater, and then waved it back and forth over his hairy back. The way the static electricity reconfigured the hair on his back would become the template for the drift of continental landmasses on earth. Another great example would be, of course, the God Rikidozen, also known as Santo Malandro (“Holy Thug”). Rikidozen was once absently tapping a Sharpie on the lip of a coffee mug, and the unvarying cadence of that tap-tap-tap became the basis for the standard 124 beats per minute in house music. The Gods were the original (and ultimate) bricoleurs. They created almost everything from their own bodies. From their intestinal gas—their flatus—we get nitrous oxide, which we use today as a dental anesthetic and in our whipped-cream aerosol cans (our “whippits”). From the silver-white secretions that crystallize in the corners of their eyes after a night’s sleep, we obtain lithium, which we use to make rechargeable batteries for our cell phones and laptops. Once the God named Koji Mizokami had a small teratoma—a tumor with hair and teeth—removed from one of his testicles. He took it home and fashioned it into the composer Béla Bartók. He went outside in order to fling him into the future. But he wasn’t sure into whose uterus (and into what epoch and milieu) he wanted to jettison the musical genius. Several Gods happened to be strolling by at that moment. They were the ones known as The Pince-Nez 44s or Los Vatos Locos (“The Crazy Guys”). Frequently, they had completely off-the-wall suggestions, but sometimes these actually turned out to be pretty decent ideas. “Why don’t you have him born to a family of racist Mormons?” one of them suggested. Mizokami looked down at the wriggling, larval Bartók in the palm of his hand. “I’m not at all sure about that,” he said, in his languid drawl. And then someone else said, “Maybe it would be funnier if he were Joel Madden and Nicole Richie’s son? Or make him a Taliban baby.” (Eventually, of course, Mizokami-san decided to hurl Béla Bartók into the womb of a woman in Nagyszentmiklós, Austria-Hungary, in the 1880s.) Generally, the proprietary realms of the Gods were organized and assigned in a very conscientious, collegial manner. There’d usually be some taxonomic category that would ensure a high degree of structural and/or functional relatedness among the various domains that fell under a particular God’s purview. But occasionally, the link between jurisdictions was so tenuous and slapdash that it smacked of reckless endangerment or criminal negligence. For instance, the giantess C46, the Goddess of Clear Thinking (i.e., lucidity) was, for a brief period, also the Goddess of Clear Skin! It’s said that at the end of a long, grueling day, Shanice (the very cute, unfailingly effervescent Goddess who functioned as a sort of traffic manager at meetings) noticed that no one had claimed Clear Skin, and she was like, “C46, since you already do Clear Thinking, how about taking this one?” And everyone was so fried at that point that they all just shrugged and acquiesced. On the first Wednesday of the next month, though, everyone realized that Clear Skin should have obviously gone to the God of Dermatology, José Fleischman (who was sometimes called The Jew from Peru). And, without objection, C46 courteously relinquished the realm to The Jew from Peru (who was also known as The Valiant One and He Who Never Shrinks from Anything Pus-Filled). The point here is that even these kinds of remedial decisions were almost always made by consensus. But sometimes there were disagreements over turf that would escalate into savage internecine conflicts among the Gods, intractable conflicts with ever-widening ramifications. Rosie, 2012 El Burbuja, the God of Bubbles—a stubby, pockmarked, severely astigmatic deity—originally just ruled over the realm of inflated globules. At first, everyone assumed he’d be satisfied as a kind of geeky “party God” whose dominion would be limited to basically balloons and champagne. And no one paid much attention when he published an almost impenetrably technical paper in some obscure peer-reviewed journal in which he claimed sovereignty over Anything Enveloping Something Else. He then named himself, in rapid succession, God of Ravioli, God of Kishkes, God of Piñatas, God of Enema Bags, God of Chanel Diamond Forever Bags, God of Balloon Angioplasty, and then God of Balloon Swallowers (the drug smugglers who swallow condoms full of drugs). This then enabled him to proclaim himself God of the Movie Maria Full of Grace, which gave him entrée not only into the movie industry but—by simply parsing words in that title—into the music business. He immediately became God of the Song “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” and then claimed the entire Rodgers and Hammerstein music catalogue as his own. This all happened, of course, millions of years before these songs were even written. A shrewd, uncannily prescient, and relentlessly enterprising businessman, El Burbuja quietly parlayed a series of discreet lateral “acquisitions”—kielbasa, snow globes, inflatable bounce houses, boba balls (the tapioca balls used in bubble tea), and soft-gel encapsulation—into a vast empire of interlocking realms that included Asian magnesium smelting, automated slot machines, first-person-shooter games, social-networking websites, and iTunes—again, eons before any of these things existed. If ever there were a God destined to appear on the cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine, it would be El Burbuja. Probably the most stunning example of how El Burbuja tirelessly maneuvered under the radar to expand his empire is when he proclaimed himself God of Those Blue New York Times Bags People Use to Pick Up Their Dogs’ Shit. The other Gods’ initial reaction to this was, predictably, one of complete befuddlement. Who’d want that? But El Burbuja was playing many moves ahead of the others. He quickly assumed the mantle of God of Dogs, God of New York, and God of Shit. Again, this is before there was ever such a thing as “New York” or “dogs” or even “shit.” (The Gods’ excrement is called “loot drops.” It’s a slurry of coltan—the metallic ore used today in many cell phones and laptop computers.) No one seemed to even notice or particularly care when he took the next logical step and made himself God of Times, because all that really entailed was track-and-field records and multiplex showtimes (e.g., 11:50 AM, 2:15 PM, 4:45 PM, 7:20 PM, 9:45 PM, 12:15 AM). But then El Burbuja, on a late Friday afternoon before a long holiday weekend—and as he’d been planning to do all along—lopped the “s” off “Times” and became the God of Time. It was a characteristically ingenious, some might say cynical, even unscrupulous, ploy, but once everyone realized that what had appeared to be a proofreading correction was actually a coup of epic proportions, it was too late—they were presented with a fait accompli and had no other choice than to acquiesce. And that is how this unprepossessing, chubby God with the bad skin and the weak eyes parlayed jurisdiction over bags of warm crap into irrefutable control over one of the fundamental dimensions in the universe, thereby making himself one of the most formidable Gods in the whole fucking pantheon! But even though El Burbuja had clearly finagled for himself the vast Realm of Time, the other Gods continued to indulge the astigmatic “Mogul Magoo” (as he came to be called) basically because he was so homely and such an obsessive workaholic, and they just found his insatiable acquisitiveness sort of… cute. They’d say, “Oh, that’s just how little Mogul Magoo rolls” or “Oh, that’s just Mogul Magoo being Mogul Magoo.” (And they knew, of course, that he was destined to become the tutelary divinity of plutocrats and rich, pampered celebrities.) Granted, sometimes the other Gods were like, “Magoo, what the fuck? Relax.” But no one ever really felt like begrudging him the fruits of his monomaniacal labor. It was something relatively mundane that caused Magoo to run afoul of the irascible El Brazo, who sometimes referred to Magoo as Fräulein Luftblase (“Miss Bubble”)—a taunting homophobic slur. Without any fanfare, one day, Magoo had asserted himself as the God of the Breast Implant and God of the Nutsack. He dutifully submitted his boilerplate rationale: Anything Enveloping Something Else. Just as a bubble is a globule of water that contains air, the scrotum is a pouch of skin and muscle that contains the testicles, and the breast implant is an elastomer-coated sac containing a thick silicone gel. Ergo, it’s perfectly logical and reasonable to conclude that both spheres fall within my purview. This completely infuriated El Brazo, who, as the God of Urology and the God of Pornography, considered the nutsack and the breast implant his inviolable domains. The antipathy that developed between these two Gods (and, subsequently, between Magoo and the Goddess La Felina) would have significant consequences throughout the ages. El Brazo began to routinely, and very publicly, threaten Magoo and his cohorts with liquidation in a sort of Night of the Long Knives. And Magoo began traveling around with a posse of Pistoleras—half a dozen divine, ax-wielding mercenary vixens who were total fitness freaks with rock-hard bodies. Each of them had a venomous black mamba snake growing out of the back of her head, which she’d pull through the size-adjustment cutout on the back of her baseball cap. And this is the origin of today’s fashion in which women gather their hair into a ponytail or a braid and allow it to hang through the hole in the backs of their caps. The Gods used a drug called “Gravy,” also known as Pozole (“Stew”). Their drug use was heavy and appeared to be both ritualistic and recreational. At one time, it was considered to be what actually made the Gods deities, and there was speculation that consumption by human beings might bestow certain divine qualities on them. Gravy was originally thought to be a smokable version of the Vedic drug Soma and assumed to be hallucinogenic and derived from psilocybin mushrooms or Amanita muscaria (psychoactive basidiomycete fungus). Some have speculated that Gravy is a form of hallucinogenic borscht—a theory endorsed by such scholars as Mircea Eliade, Georges Dumezil, and University of Chicago Professor of the History of Religions Wendy Doniger. Today, though, many experts believe that Gravy is a solvent similar to what’s found in glue, paint thinner, and felt-tip markers. This theory has gained considerable support among a wide range of prominent people, including TMZ’s Harvey Levin, forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, and professional beach-volleyball player Misty May-Treanor. Before the imbibing of Gravy, ritual protocol required the recitation of a sacred oath, and then the guest would clink his golden chalice against that of his divine host and solemnly ask, “You gonna shoot that or sip it?” There are about 14 Weight Watchers Points in a half-cup serving of the rich hallucinogenic beverage. Smokable Gravy—made by heating liquid Gravy and baking soda until small pinkish-white precipitates (“rocks”) form—is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, reaching the brain in about eight seconds. (Side effects can include: Progeria, Necrotizing Fasciitis, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, Craniopagus Twins, Elephantiasis of the Testicles, Projectile Anal Hemorrhaging, and Gangrene of the Eyeballs.) Excerpted from The Sugar Frosted Nutsack: A Novel, published by Little, Brown and Company. © 2012 by Mark Leyner.