Friday, December 11, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Soda Castle

Listen to the audio edition or download the MP3 of John Wiswell's Soda Castle here.

It began as two cans. Well, it had to begin with one, but who remembers when they put down that first soda can? Derek reached over after finishing his third Green Tea Ginger Ale that week, intending to put it down next to the keyboard. There were already two there, side by side. So you see? He didn’t, and wanting to get back to his term paper, he put it on top of the left can.

That’s how it began.

He was out of bags, and so didn’t bother collecting for recycling that week. He was on a deadline and had never written a twenty-page paper before, and so paid attention to little else. The uncaffeinated soda was a comfort as he plowed through Kant and Hegel. Plus it was on sale. So there was a fourth can Tuesday afternoon.

A fifth followed him home from lunch the next day.

A sixth and seventh as he worked after evening classes, tooling the bibliography. God, did he hate MLA format.

All these cans wound up on his desk, like his unconscious was hiding them just left of his keyboard, just out of sight. He didn’t even check how many there were until there were clearly too many. Hadn’t there only been two when he’d looked over there a few days ago? Now there was a castle of soda cans. They ran the length of his computer tower, blocking out the left speaker. One can, then two stacked up, then one, then two, like battlements. They were nice cans, too, brass-colored tops with light green sides, giving the battlements the color of a fantasy palace. The wall of cans grew taller near the front of the computer, reaching to four cans in height, blocking out the power button. He hadn’t had any cause to turn it off lately, what with the paper. It was still weird that he'd unconsciously built up the wall that way.

Derek examined his castle for far too long. His alarm clock went off eventually, letting him know it had been another all-nighter. Mostly work, with a diversion for soda castles.

Shortly after sitting back down the sun rose through his window, right behind the monitor. Behind the wall of cans. The glare hurt his eyes, so he finished the next soda and placed it atop a battlement. It was just the right height to block out the sun. It was his very own recyclable tower of Babel.

“In your face, day star,” he muttered. Then he returned to Hume’s theories on causation, written thickly enough that Derek didn’t quite get it, yet he felt it strongly disapproved of the sort of man who would insult the sun from behind soda cans.

He showered. He did laundry. He went to class. He researched the stupid final paper. He did everything a good student should, except tear that wall down. Soda residue left sticky circles on his desk, cementing the bottom cans in place. Higher cans also adhered to each other, such that when somebody slammed a door in the hall, they lurched but did not topple.

The castle kept growing, making a one-can-tall row underneath his monitor before expanding to the virgin territory of the right side of his desk. Aluminum civilization exploded to three-can heights in this region within days of the settlers' arrival. Soon there was no room and he had to keep his library books on the floor. A little unnecessarily rational voice in his head thanked God his girlfriend was a Social Psychology major and was too busy with off-campus research to stop by and see this.

On date night he took her out for Chinese. He had green tea with his low mein. It was not the same, and he wound up drinking water instead.

When he reached a difficult part in the paper, he chewed the bumps under his lower lip and looked at the cans. He didn’t even read them, and would be surprised if someone pointed out how many fonts were used between the back and front labels. They’d ceased to be cans a long time ago.

He got silly with them. When Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason became completely impenetrable to him, he tried resting his new spare cans at angles. The towers were so tall that he could begin to build an arch over the top of his flatscreen monitor. He rested the first two at slight slants, one on the right tower, one on the left. It took a minute to balance them, but they stayed in place.

That success tempted him too much. He drank four more cans in that sitting, even though he wasn’t thirsty and was getting a little sick of the sweet stuff. He'd drink some water before sun-up, he promised.

Derek pushed the four new cans into an arch shape that would fill the gap and form a bridge over the monitor. He couldn’t just lay one at a time, but if the gap was filled all at once, architecture and physics should have allowed the whole thing to support itself. The medieval people did this all the time.

Perhaps they did, but not with soda cans, and not at 1:00 AM. His arch of cans collapsed, taking with them two dozen of their intricately placed brethren. One not entirely empty can sloshed over his keyboard and splashed the monitor. Stale, sticky soda trickled down a screen he could not afford to replace, dripping onto old assigned reading packets that had until now been hidden under his great wall.

Derek couldn’t reach out to stop it, nor sit down and gawk. He could only stand and witness it, for a minute.

He looked out the window, half-expecting the sun to rise and taunt him. It had been a couple of weeks since he'd really seen the sun.

A minute later he went to the bathroom for paper towels. He turned his keyboard upside down to dry out while he mopped up the desk and wiped the monitor. He stacked the cans on the floor, but paid no attention to the order they were stacked in.

Then he drank some water and tried to tie up his paper as quickly as possible.

He turned it in the next day. It was bad, but it was done, and he cited a lot, which would ensure a passing grade. After dropping off the paper, he took four bags full of cans to the local grocery store. He recycled all of them, pocketing the state deposit. It was almost ten dollars. Ten dollars he would not spend until he was home on Christmas break, when he would begin building anew.


  1. This sounds great, John! I love the tower of babel metaphor you used, and the irony of his girlfriend being a Social Psychology major. What's up with guys and stacking cans? Thoroughly entertaining. Thanks for the read.

  2. Brilliant.

    You held me in tension throughout, over a tower of cans.

    I enjoyed how you unpicked the myth that philosophy papers are written rationally; the ironic contrast between him writing a 'rational' psychology paper, and the irrationality of his writing/procrastination process.

  3. The whole "in your face, day star" paragraph was brilliant.

  4. Methinks that liquid is taking him over. Like Laurita, I enjoyed the "in your face, day star" line.

  5. If I am not mistaken this is exactly how the East Germans got started - TEAR DOWN THIS WALL, mr. gorbachov! Kant couldn't btw. Hume? not so sure.

  6. This almost makes me want to go back to reading a little Hume and Kant (although I can't quite remember if I ever read much of them to start out with!) I like David's analysis of the story, rationality versus irrationality. That's great.

  7. I once watched a video of domino beer cans two guys had spent weeks building - it was a three minute video of cans toppling in a snake around their basement - three whole minutes!

    It still remains the coolest, idiotic thing I've ever seen. I imagine that soda can castle would be right up there.

  8. This was different and entertaining, as I stayed with it just to see what would happen. You described the cans and their gradual take-over of his desk quite well. Great read. Thank you!

  9. Thanks for all the comments! I'm relieved people stuck with it and enjoyed the story. I was nervous for my return to recording, and it is kind of a different story.

  10. I was waiting for the cans to come alive and take over! Great piece filled with tension. :)

  11. A lot of great stuff in here. An entertaining read. Wonder if he'll actually be interested in building another when he gets home since the term paper was the muse for building. Excellent read!


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