The Smell of Formica


It smells like Formica.

And I can hear you saying to yourself, "Fool, Formica has no smell."

But it does.

It smells like the inside of an office where everything has to be new, and orderly. Very orderly. Where the plastic on the counters has been doctored up to make it look like wood. As if anybody at all is going to be fooled by plastic wood furnishings beneath the sickly not-quite-green glow of the fluorescent lights overhead, and one of them is flickering in a subliminally-irritating way, but the people in charge refuse to acknowledge it. Refuse to admit that they're the source of your constant recurring headaches.

But they have money enough to ensure that fake plastic wood is liberally scattered around.

And it goes well with all of the other vaguely-chemical smells that pervade the stifled air inside of the locked rooms with exits that say, "Alarm will sound," if anyone dares to attempt an unauthorized departure.

A departure not in keeping with the plans they follow rigorously.

And you are caused to walk across a carpet made of some other kind of plastic. Some unknowable polymerization of carbon and hydrogen and a few others, none of whom belong there, and none of whom want to be there, but they are bound, and cannot escape, and are trapped in their endless chains of meaninglessness. As are you.

And the fat lady with the curly hair. The one who is morbidly obese, and who nevertheless spends all her free time preening herself with fabrics and leathers and yet more chains of trapped carbon atoms, but these carbon atoms keep the company of others who are there to give the appearance of life. Of something living. Something young. Something desirable.

But none of it is, and she fools no one at all, in similar manner as does the Formica.

And she is trapped, just like you are, but she never stops trying to work her way to the top of some invisible hierarchy, of her own deluded belief system, and in so doing, when her free time runs out, her time for futile attempts at doing anything at all to look better except for what it actually takes to look better, she will return to working diligently, endlessly, meticulously, to ensure that it is the sole of her shoe that is pressing down upon your neck.

And you know it, and she knows it, and still the both of you exchange pleasantries, each time your paths cross, as must they will.

And her hell is no better than yours, worse even, despite the fact that she's got her shoe almost exactly where she wants it.

She longs for youth and beauty, but has forgotten what any of it is for, and all she can do is seethe behind a false smile, wishing the very worst for those who possess them.

And you?

Are you any better than her?

You believe yourself.

As she believes herself.

And your overlords believe themselves, too.

And your carbon, and their carbon, remains bound in endlessly polymerized chains, trapped until a time comes when the chains are broken.

And that will be the end of you, and the end of things.

The end of cars.

Which you need to prove your worth.

And yours goes a little faster, and shines a little brighter, than the other ones do, and they told you it would make you happy, but somehow it doesn't, and you cannot figure out why.

Perhaps yours is not quite fast enough? Shiny enough?

You need to get a new one.

But to do so, you must join the same dark forces that the fat lady with the curly hair has joined, and once you've done that, who have you become?


You do not know.

You do not have time for this.

You must get back to work.

Your overlords are squeezing down upon you, and you fear getting squeezed out, and the horror-drenched thought of this causes you to break out into a cold sweat, and you maneuver desperately to avoid such a thing, and if your maneuvers are the downfall of someone else, well then, that's not your affair, now is it?

They had it coming. It was their own choice, and they made it freely.

Their children did not, but you do not have time for this.

You must get back to work.

And you can smell the polymers and the ongoing polymerization of everything around you, and you fear it, and you fear what it might mean.


You must cleanse yourself, but you do not know how.

You're covered in benzene rings and you know for a fact that they're killing you.


A slow death of aromatic hydrocarbons.

It is the smell of room freshener, and your room smells very fresh today, and you're deeply afraid of it.

But you cannot escape the molecular bonds that hold you tightly in place.

Enough energy to break those bonds is enough energy to destroy everything in an irreversible conflagration, and that would be the end of all of it, now wouldn't it?

And you get off the phone and you wonder if the son of a bitch you were just talking to was telling you the truth or not, and you have no way of knowing.

They were smiling too, and you could tell, just by the tone of their voice.

But what kind of smile?

The smile of a mother, holding her newborn?

The smile of an assassin, who has just murdered a head of state in cold blood?

The smile of a reptile? Cold, inscrutable, unchanging?

The very rictus of death itself?

How can you trust them?

You must find a way to force them into becoming trustworthy.

You will make them your servant, and they shall do your bidding, or they will suffer the consequences.

But not yet.

Not now.

And it worries you.

On the other side of the building, the fat lady is applying more carbon, even as she continues to hate herself and hate everyone else around her, both the haves and the have-nots.

And what do you have?

What good is any of it?

Distant instrumentalities hold sway over you in ways that cause you to wonder how you ever managed to get yourself into such a dire position.

You are compelled to work in their service, and yet you have never seen any of their faces.

How can this be?

How can total strangers, people who will never cross paths with you in a lifetime, dictate such brutal terms to you?

You struggle for further gains, further monetary compensation, and you only find yourself sinking deeper into the quicksand.

The squelching mud is at your chin, and your breath becomes fearfully erratic and hastened.

What is it that you are hastening to?

The thought crushes you, and you bend back to your task, trying to block it all out, once again.

Rich people in distant lands live lives that you will never know of, and even though you will never know of those lives, you want your life to be like theirs.

This makes no sense, and you know it, but you are drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

Their lives are plastered on every screen around you.

So many screens.

And people.

And they're all head-bowed, genuflecting to the screen in front of them.

And their screens hold them in thrall, every one of them.

And you.

And you, too.

And the smell of Formica pervades the air around every screen, every person, every polymerized chain of carbon atoms.

And the screens, and the people polymerized to them, all shriek together, of a mounting disaster, a black faceless catastrophe too dreadful to contemplate.

Everyone shivers in fear, and everyone seeks solace from a sea of lies that they are drowning beneath.

The lies wash over them and change them and own them and goad them and depolymerize them and repolymerize them.

And they all give voice to the lies.

And they all become the lies.

In the beginning was the lie, and the lie was with god, and god was the lie.

And some of the atoms were not carbon atoms.

Some were actinide-series atoms.

And the lies and the actinides intertwined with each other, and new things were given life to, even as old things were given death to. Hydrocarbon death was no longer enough, and it needed to be reinforced, and the actinides were joined thereunto.

And the preening became more frantic, more desperate, and the sense of why it was being done was eventually lost altogether, and all that remained was the hatred for that which was youthful and beautiful, and plans were laid against it.

Even as the false smiles still covered the faces that held them, and the pleasantries were exchanged, and the faint odor of Formica continued to pervade the air beneath the fluorescent lights.

Hunger, sex, and naked fear, is what has been driving it, from a hidden place, all along.

Survive, and reproduce.

There is nothing more than this.

And since it is a zero-sum game, for this to live, that must die. For this to reproduce, that must fail.

And the entropy mounts all around even as the sun continues to bathe everything beneath it with bountiful life.

That must survive and reproduce, or be reduced to nihil, irrevocably.

Out in the cold deeps of space, too distant for imagination to follow, other entropies and other suns compete with one another.

Surviving and reproducing.


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