Monday, September 21, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: “Over the competition I am Tao Ren” –Mishearing L.L. Cool J.’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”

A wayfarer walked across the checkerboard floor to the security table. He tapped a knuckle on the oak desk and nodded to the on-duty guard.

“I’m here to see Tao Ren.”

The guard scoffed, continuing to watch talk shows on his portable TV.

“A lot of people come to see Tao Ren. Doesn’t mean they’re getting in.”

“I’ve got Tao Ren’s thing.”

“Tao Ren’s thing?”

The wayfarer pulled something from his pocketed. It glittered in the dark.

“Tao Ren’s thing.”

The guard’s eyes went to the wayfarer. They went wide, then narrow. Then his hand went for his radio.

“Sammy, there’s a guy here.”

“That’s nice,” the radio crackled back.

“He’s got Tao Ren’s thing.”

“Tao Ren’s thing?”

The guard grabbed the wayfarer by the wrist (the one not holding the thing) and dragged him into the stairwell. He only let go when they reached Tao Ren’s floor, and only then when he’d dragged him to this floor’s guard, so that the thing could dangle in his face. Sammy was taller, with a bad part in his thinning hair.

Up here the floor was white marble.

“Tao Ren’s thing,” repeated the guard from the first floor.

“Tao Ren’s thing,” repeated Sammy. He licked his lips. “How’d he get Tao Ren’s thing?”

“From Tao Ren,” said the wayfarer.

“You didn’t get it from Tao Ren.”

“Tao Ren doesn’t give many presents, and certainly not his things.”

“You robbed Tao Ren, punk?”

“Nobody robs Tao Ren,” corrected Sammy.

“I did not rob Tao Ren,” corrected the wayfarer.

“Then that means Tao Ren gave it to you, except Tao Ren does not give many gifts.”

“And never gives his things.”

“This is Tao Ren’s thing,” said the wayfarer, letting it jingle at the end of the chain. It did not glitter as this floor was well lit. “And Tao Ren cannot be robbed. Therefore, he must have given it to me.”

“That strains believability,” said the guard from the first floor.

“Then you can take it and figure it out yourself,” said the wayfarer, extending the thing to the guards. Both shrank from it.


“Nobody touches it but Tao Ren,” said Sammy.

“And me. I’m touching it and I’m not Tao Ren.”

“You’re not Tao Ren.”

“But he is touching it,” said the nameless guard. “Does that make him Tao Ren?”

“There can’t be a new Tao Ren. He towers over the competition.”

“Tao Ren is not a mere title,” agreed the wayfarer.

“You’re no Tao Ren,” said Sammy, eyebrows knitting.

“But I have his thing,” said the wayfarer, extending it to the guards again. They shrank again. “I’d like to give it back to him.”

“You do not just walk in on Tao Ren.”

“Audiences with Tao Ren are rare and special.”

“You need appointments.”

“You need appointments to make requests for audiences.”

“Audiences with Tao Ren?”

“Indeed.” Sammy nodded gravely.

“But I have Tao Ren’s thing and it ought to be returned.”

“Tao Ren should possess all of Tao Ren’s things,” agreed the guard.

“But you will not touch it, and I cannot meet him to return it.”

“Not yet,” Sammy clarified.

“So how do we rectify the situation? I assume Tao Ren is missing a thing and would like it back.”

“Tao Ren wants it back.”

“Tao Ren never loses anything. All things that are his never leave him.”

Sammy and the other guard paused and eyed each other. When unified again, they turned on the wayfarer.

“You cannot go into Tao Ren’s office.”

“Appointments are necessary.”

“Appointments are necessary just to make requests.”

“But you could throw it in.”

“Throw it to Tao Ren.”

The wayfarer tilted his head. The thing glittered a little.

“You want me to throw it to Tao Ren?”

“Into Tao Ren’s quarters.”

“You yourself may not enter Tao Ren’s quarters.”

“No one may enter Tao Ren’s quarters without appointments.”

“But anyone can touch his door.”

“Tao Ren’s door.”

“Tao Ren’s secretary often opens it up to yell requests at him and take dictation. She lacks the foresight to schedule appointments.”

“Appointments for requests to get audiences.”

“Anyone can open Tao Ren’s door.”

“I can,” said the guard.

“And then you can throw it in,” said Sammy.

“And I can shut the door behind it,” said the guard, straightening up and rolling his shoulders with pride.

The wayfarer paused a moment. He looked at Sammy’s desk. The nameplate read “Clarice Orange.” Beside the typewriter sat several photos of a family of a different skin color from Sammy’s.

“Where is Tao Ren’s secretary today?”

“Out today,” said Sammy.

“Sickness. Maybe a death in the family.”

“Mislaid something of Tao Ren’s.”

“And then got very sick.”

“A tragedy.”

“My condolences,” said the wayfarer.

“She’s not dead.”

“She called in sick this morning.”

“Mislaying Tao Ren’s things can do that.”

“Psychosomatic disorders,” said the first-floor guard. Sammy looked at him admiringly.

The wayfarer walked over to Tao Ren’s door. It had to be Tao Ren’s door, as it was unusually large, ebony, and had the characters for “Tao” and “Ren” on either panel.

“Well then, could you get the door for me?” requested the wayfarer. The first-floor guard hustled over, elbowing Sammy out of the way. He paused a moment, took a breath, closed his eyes, turned the knob, and pushed open the door.

A little grey mist wafted out from the bottom.

“Go,” said the guard, not opening his eyes.

“Who disturbs Tao Ren?” came an immense voice from behind the door. “He has no appointments this afternoon.”

The wayfarer tossed the thing inside the room. As soon as it met the misty floor it shone bright orange.

“My thing!” called the voice, and the guard shut the door.

Then the wayfarer and the guard walked back to the desk.

“I meant to inquire before,” inquired the wayfarer, “but will there be any compensation?”


The wayfarer scratched one of his temples. “For returning Tao Ren’s thing.”

“Tao Ren does not lose things.”

“He cannot be robbed, therefore you did not steal the thing.”

“And if you stole it, you would have to call in sick to work tomorrow.”

Sammy and the other guard stared at the wayfarer until he turned around. As soon as he made it to the stairs, his face cracked into a grin. It lasted until he was half a mile from the apartment. He couldn’t wait to tell Clarice how right she was about her co-workers.


  1. I really enjoyed this. What more can I say? :) The dialog was really fun, and you kept me hanging, wanting to know what Tao Ren's thing was, but by the end I didn't mind not knowing, because that wasn't the point of the story. It's funny how funny workplaces can get.


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