by Arnold Snyder
I was a normal guy. Working stiff. Postal carrier. Quiet neighbor. Normal height. Normal weight. Normal health. Normal intelligence. Normal education. I cultivated normal. In my high school yearbook, I was voted the kid most likely to turn out normal.
The only clothes I wore were clothes that looked like what everyone else was wearing. The only music I listened to was the most popular music. For a while I read the best sellers. When I realized how abnormal that was, I quit reading. Reading’s just not normal. I got online. I maintained normalcy.
I had a zero-tolerance policy for abnormal. Or, near-zero. I still had certain sexual proclivities, not that they were anyone’s business.
What terrified me was the thought that I would fall into abnormality and be unable to escape. I remember the horror of being informed at the age of seven I needed to wear corrective lenses—not unheard of by any means but still not a requirement for most seven-year-olds. Most unsettling was the realization that abnormality could just happen to me at any time. It was little comfort to me that wearing glasses was only slightly abnormal, though I was greatly relieved at the age of sixteen when I got my first pair of contact lenses.
I use a mathematical formula of my own device for assessing normalcy. I can rate any person, place or situation on a scale of 0 to 10, with ten being perfectly normal and zero being intolerably and inexcusably abnormal.
Initially, I called it the Morgan Scale. That’s my name. Morgan Smith. At some point I became aware of how abnormal my given name, Morgan, was, so I went with my surname instead, and rated everything according to the Smith Scale. I’ve used this scale with various improvements and modifications for more than forty years. And I’ve always adhered religiously to maintaining a high normal Smith metric. I generally fall between 9.1 and 9.3, and only because of my aforementioned sexual proclivities am I below 9.8.
Then I met Megan.
I knew from the start that Megan was abnormal. Not just a little. Everything about her. She lived in a world of abnormal people and I didn’t belong anywhere near her world. Off the top, I gave her a 3.45 on the Smith Scale. Any rating below five generally causes me to run the other way.
This is Las Vegas. Many abnormal people live here. I avoid a lot of people in this town. Normals must be wary at all times of descending into abnormality.
The day I met Megan was like any other day. I was out on my route, delivering the same mail I’d deliver to the same people day after normal day, year after normal year.
Megan Kohler invited me in for coffee.
I said no automatically. No hesitation. This situation was so abnormal I was way out of my comfort zone talking to her at all. It didn’t make sense that she would be interested in a guy like me. I was her mailman, for chrissake. She could’ve had any guy in town. And the only reason she got a Smith Scale rating of 3.45 was due to the few normal things about her. Her name, Megan, was common. She was approximately 5ʹ4ʺ tall—pretty damn normal for a human female. And she had brown hair and brown eyes. But everything else about her—off the scale.
Megan was famous in Vegas. I don’t know how to say this delicately … She had these incredible fake tits—round as beach balls. I wasn’t even a tit man but I knew I could get lost in those things for a few hours. So I said no thanks and she said please like she really meant it and I relented and took her up on the offer for coffee. I’ll be candid. Call me sexist. Call me an unevolved Neanderthal. I did it so I could be in the same room with her tits for ten minutes. That struck me as something any normal guy would do. Maybe it wasn’t 10.0 on the Smith Scale, but it wouldn’t knock my overall rating down that much.
Besides. I’d get a story out of it I could tell my buddy, Pete. I was already wording it in my head: I had coffee this morning with Megan Kohler—just the four of us—me, Megan, and her tits.
Megan was into plants. Lots of plants. They had names, and to her, personalities. I took her for looney the moment I met her. Such a bangin’ bod, but realistically—I kept reminding myself—out of my league, and too far down on the Smith Scale to spend any serious time with at all.
Money talks in Vegas. Fame talks in Vegas. Power talks in Vegas. The fastest way to kill your chances of dating a woman like Megan Kohler is to say, “I’m a mailman.” So, I assumed Megan must have just been trying to be friendly. Girls do that sometimes.
Since Megan knew I was her mailman, I had no intention of flirting with her. And I didn’t flirt with her. I maintained my cool and avoided eye contact. Little did I know, she likes guys who play hard to get.
And I wasn’t prepared for Dusty. And Dusty started flirting with me.
Dusty was one of Megan’s houseplants. Don’t tell me a houseplant can’t flirt. I would have said the same thing myself before I met her.
Dusty flirted. And I know normal people don’t get crushes on houseplants. But I had a brief lapse in judgment. That’s all it was. A crush. She started flirting and I smiled back at her. Don’t try to make it into something bigger. She was adorable. If you saw her you’d understand. It was the first time I’d ever had a crush on a plant. I can tell you it’s not that different from a crush on a person. My intimate relationship landscape had been pretty bleak for a few years, so, why not a plant? It had gotten to the point where I was open to it. That’s my only explanation.
It was highly abnormal. I rated my crush on Dusty as below 2.5 on the Smith Scale, very dangerous. I also knew that, like all my flirtations with abnormal behavior, the ultimate culprit was this abnormal town I lived in. If I’d never come to Las Vegas, if I’d have stayed put in Strait City where I was born and raised, I never would have met Megan. I never would have met Dusty.
What drew me to Vegas?
My buddy Pete. He lost his low-level management job in a Strait City tech firm to some Indian kid in Delhi, went to Vegas for a five-day vacation, and only came home long enough to pack his shit. He’d found a low-level management job at the Peppermint Hippo in Vegas.
Leaving my home town was a difficult decision for me. Normal people don’t leave home. Normal people don’t move to Vegas. I was working as a postal clerk and nobody ever quits the post office.
But I went to Vegas for a week to visit Pete and he convinced me to check out the job opportunities at the Vegas post office. As it turned out, there was an opportunity. I had to give up my seniority and seniority means a lot in the post office. Normal postal employees would never give up their seniority. But I hated the Strait City winters. I missed drinking with Pete on the weekends. So I went for it. My work record was good, and the Vegas P.O. took me right in.
Most of the women I’ve dated in Vegas worked at the Post Office. Five out of six took antidepressants. I almost got a prescription for Zoloft myself when it hit me how normal it was to take them. But Pete convinced me that pills were for pussies. Men drink booze. Normal men that is.
I was here ten years and never had a serious romantic relationship, and by that, I mean a relationship with any passion to it. Abnormal people attract passion. Normals don’t. Passion was never something I looked for in a relationship. Never wanted it. Never thought about it.
Enter stage right, Megan Kohler.
When she told me her name—which she needn’t have done because I already knew who she was—I said, “You’re my third Megan.”
She looked at me curiously, and I decided it was unnecessary to explain that two of the postal clerks I’d dated were named Megan. Before it got uncomfortable, she said, “Call me Babs.”
I knew that she was Babsarella, the ex-significant other and former magician’s assistant to the Amazing Fred. Everyone in Vegas knew who Babsarella was. And that name was so abnormal I should have said two words to her right then: Bye, Babs. But I didn’t.
As for what attracted her to me … I can only guess. Perhaps it was the fact that I was, in every way, the exact opposite of her recently-ex-partner-and-paramour, the Amazing Fred. Fred had everything that was anything in Vegas. Money. Fame. Power.
My affair with Megan was a result of luck, pure and simple. I was the right mailman loafing on the right route at the right time. Girls on the rebound inexplicably ignore their normal dating standards. And I had a chance to be a knight in shining armor.
I met her the day she was moving into the dumpy Vista Del Mar apartment complex on my route, some months after the newspaper reports of her breakup with Fred. It was a messy breakup. Guns and drugs were allegedly involved. They shot the tires out on each other’s cars.
I was sitting in my postal vehicle reading an article on black holes in the new issue of Science when I saw Megan struggling to maneuver an exercise bicycle down the ramp of a double-parked U-Haul. Mailmen tend to be very well-read on a slew of offbeat topics. But at that moment, it was my chivalrous duty to offer Megan my assistance. For the next thirty minutes, I helped her carry boxes from her rental van up a flight of stairs into her humble new digs.
Unpacked boxes were strewn all over the floor of her front room, and a jungle of dense living foliage was spewing from planters hanging from the walls and dangling from the ceiling. Potted plants and vases with flowers were all over everything.
As we were dropping boxes on the floor she would talk to her plants, caress them, treat them like friends, or even family.
“You’re really gonna like it here,” she said to one hanging vine as she lightly stroked its leaves. “I’ll get you into a better position for the sun after I’m unpacked.”
“Don’t start complaining yet,” she scolded a small dark fern in a ceramic flower pot on top of a box. “You’ll be on the mantle, just like before. I have to clear it off first. That’s what happens when you move.” The mantle she was referring to was on a fake electric fireplace.
“Plants have intelligence,” she told me, turning to face me as we went into her kitchen. “They have emotions too. Feelings. Likes and dislikes. They’re not so different from people. They experience the whole range of human emotions and probably some emotions that we don’t even know about.”
She was wearing tight jeans, a too-tight white t-shirt, and high-heeled sandals that made her almost eye-to-eye with me when we were standing face-to-face. She had a bra on beneath her t-shirt, but you could see the lines of the cups where her tits were spilling over beneath her shirt.
I felt humbled in my uniform. I hated that uniform.
“Have a seat,” she said, nodding toward the table. “The coffee’s ready.”
I sat down as she got the glass pot from the coffee maker and brought it to the table with a couple mugs.
A large potted plant dominated the kitchen table. It had dangerous-looking thorns that looked like shark’s teeth along the edges of its thick leaves. At the tip of each leaf—and these leaves were two feet long and thick—was a much larger thorn that could do serious damage. It was a big plant, probably weighed sixty pounds. Maybe more.
“What’s this thing?” I asked her.
“That’s a cow horn agave,” she said, sitting down and pouring the coffee. “It’s a desert plant, a type of cactus. You want cream?”
There were thick leather belts tightened around the girth of the plant, as if confining it from attacking. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
“Black’s fine,” I said. “Why is it strapped up like that?”
“She looks healthy, doesn’t she?”
“She looks dangerously healthy,” I said. “I’d hate to meet her in a dark alley. Are you sure she’s a she?”
“Her name is Dusty. She was covered in dust when I found her. She looks mean, but she’s harmless. She’s very submissive actually. Here, eat some of these.” She pushed a tray with some kind of glazed pastry toward me.
I took one. “So why is she belted like that?” I said.
“She wasn’t healthy when I found her. She was very depressed, almost dead. She was growing at the side of the highway in Arizona. Agaves are native to Arizona, and that environment should have been conducive to her happiness. But her mother was dead. She was right there beside her so I knew she’d watched her die. She had witnessed her suffering. She was a victim of the snout weevils.”
“The punk rock band?” I said.
“They lay their eggs in agaves,” she said, ignoring my question, “and the larvae use the plant as their nursery, feeding on the leaves, ultimately killing the plant.”
I noticed other straps, like raw leather shoelaces, cutting into the dark green flesh of some of Dusty’s smaller leaves. It didn’t look pleasant for her.
“So what’s with the leather straps?” I said. I had the distinct feeling that this plant, Dusty, was aware that I was asking about her. The sheer abnormality of that feeling made me think I should say goodbye to Megan now and get back to work.
“Dusty suffered a great deal of trauma at a young age,” Megan said.
“So, she’s not like normal agave plants. She has emotional needs in addition to her physical needs. She needs water and fertilizer and nutrients and proper sunlight, like all plants do, but she also requires special types of attention.”
“And all those leather straps make her happy?”
“To put it bluntly, Morgan, Dusty is into bondage.”
“Extreme bondage. And discipline.”
“I’m absolutely serious.”
“You’re telling me this plant is perverted?”
“Plants are every bit as emotionally complex as people. When we say a person is perverted, we’re really just saying they stray from the norm. But everyone’s idea of normal is different. It doesn’t matter if you’re a person or a plant; childhood trauma is childhood trauma. The emotional scars will leave you with needs unlike those whose childhoods were nurturing.”
“So, what would Dusty do in nature?” I said. “Say you never came along. How would she find another plant to tie her up?”
“She wouldn’t. She would die. When I found her she was dying. The moment I saw her, I knew she needed attention, love, someone who cared. It took some time, but she let me know what she wanted in her own way, and I feel honored that she let me into her life. My plants are my family. We all nurture each other.”
“Now, Megan, don’t take offense, okay? But I think you’re nuts.”
She smiled. “You’re so conventional, Morgan. You have to open your mind. The possibilities in this universe are greater than you think. For example, look at my winter heliotrope.” She gestured with her hand toward the opposite end of the room where at least a dozen plants of different types were located.
“Which one is it?” I said.
“The one by the sculpture with the scruffy-looking pink flowers.”
“What about it?” I said.
“The winter heliotrope is dioecious. That means there are male plants and female plants.”
“Like pot,” I said.
“Exactly. And that heliotrope is a male plant, but it feels like it’s a female plant trapped in a male plant’s body.”
“It totally identifies as a female. In order to make it happy, I have to regularly snip back some of the florets because the female has shorter petals than the male and it’s happier when it feels like it looks like a female. She’s pretty, don’t you think?”
“You did a sex change operation on a plant?” I said.
“Yes, but very gently. I just keep some of her petals trimmed. She wants me to do it, you understand. I would never do it to please my own body modification desires. She asks me to do it. Her name is Gypsy, by the way. She likes to be addressed by name.”
“Hey, Gypsy, how you doing, girl?”
“Don’t be rude to her,” Megan said.
“I wasn’t being rude.”
“I’m just saying. Gypsy’s very important to me.”
My eyes were continually drawn to the belts and straps that were restraining Dusty, that beautifully dangerous looking cow horn agave. The restraints were too tight. They were causing damage. They were cutting too deeply. More than anything I wanted to loosen them. I’d never felt this way toward a plant before, this concern for her comfort.
I reached my hand out and touched one of Dusty’s leaves, carefully avoiding the thorns. Her skin was smooth and I could feel the life inside her.
“She’s easy to talk to,” Megan said.
“I’m sure she is,” I said, taking my hand off the plant. “But the question is can she talk back?”
“Of course she can.”
“Don’t be so dismissive, Morgan. You can talk to plants, and if you take your time and pay attention to them, they respond. Let me show you …” She took one of my hands and placed it on one of Dusty’s thickest leaves. Then she took my other hand and placed it on another one of the largest leaves. “Now, don’t touch her so hard. Just let your fingertips rest lightly on her, like you’re barely tickling her. Do you feel her energy?”
“Yes,” I said. I did.
“Now to communicate with her, you have to stare at her until your eyes go out of focus, so you’re not staring at any specific spot on her, but you’re just taking her all in.”
I lifted my eyeglasses onto my forehead. Now everything was blurry. I’m nearsighted. My focal range is about three inches. My fingertips started tingling where they were touching her. I wondered if there was some kind of oil in her leaves that was an irritant.
“Now,” Megan said, “let your eyes fall closed with that blurry image of her in your mind and concentrate on the tingling in your fingers.”
So, Megan knew my fingertips were tingling. There must have been some kind of caustic chemical in the leaves. I closed my eyes. A couple of my fingers were starting to feel numb.
“She’s going to talk to you through your fingers,” Megan said. “Just let it happen.”
That numbing sensation was now traveling up both of my forearms. I suspected the instructions to gardeners for this plant said do not touch leaves, wear gloves when handling. But I couldn’t imagine Megan would actually allow me to be seriously damaged. This was some kind of trick she was doing. I could feel the numbness going into my shoulders. Should I start to worry?
“Now, press your fingers a little harder onto her,” Megan said. “Make a real connection.”
I did as told, imagining I’d come away with my upper body paralyzed for life. But instead, the numbness melted away and I felt an energy coursing through my forearms, flowing like a liquid from Dusty into my biceps, my shoulders, up the back of my neck and into my head. It was pleasurable.
The needle on the Smith Scale gauge in my head was banging into the zero. I’ve got to get out of here.
“Ask her a question,” Megan said. “Not out loud, just mentally ask Dusty a question.”
Ask her a question? What kind of question? Tell me about those belts and straps, Dusty. Do you like them?
Her response was immediate, like a voice inside my head, not just a thought or a feeling, but a voice: No! No! Please take them off! Please!
I opened my eyes quickly and pulled my hands away from the leaves. The voice had been decidedly female. I felt scared. What the fuck was that?
“It doesn’t always work the first time,” Megan said. “But if you keep trying, eventually you’ll hear her voice.”
“Oh,” I said, electing not to disclose the cry for help I’d just heard.
I looked at Dusty, bound so tightly the flesh of her leaves was bulging around the belts and straps that tied her up. But now when I looked at her I saw her as female. I tried to convey to her by caressing her lightly that I knew she was in pain and that I would get her out of her bondage.
“Can you feel this moment?” Megan said.
“This moment. Right here. Right now. This moment.”
I stopped stroking Dusty and turned to face Megan. “What about it?” I said.
“This moment, this is the very moment that all the great mystics knew when they realized the essence of existence. This is Satori. This moment, right here, right now.”
Jesus Christ. Another Vegas crazy. Here I am talking to her plant, and she’s having some kind of hallucination about being in heaven.
“Megan, I’m sitting here at your kitchen table, in my dopey letter carrier’s uniform, drinking a cup of coffee, eating… What is this thing? Is this a Pop Tart?”
“No, it’s not a Pop Tart. That’s 100% natural. It’s a Soy Tart.”
Great. Even her snacks are abnormal. “You’re kidding?” I said. “It’s so sweet.”
“That’s honey. And it’s organic.”
“Whatever… I’m eating a Soy Tart, looking at some kind of a weird strapped up cactus that you’re telling me is in reality a leather bondage freak, and I’m supposed to realize that this moment, right here, right now, is the essence of existence?”
“According to all the great mystics.”
“What if all the great mystics are wrong?”
She shrugged. “I don’t think your uniform is dopey, Morgan. I think you look really cute in it.”
“Megan, I like you, but you’re deranged.”
“Are you coming on to me?”
I just sat there staring at her. Where did that question come from?
“Because I really do think you’re cute, Morgan. I think you’re my type.”
“I’m your type? I’m a mailman, Megan. I’m nobody’s type. You’re a knockout. You could have any guy in this town.”
“You’re the first guy I’ve talked to in years who hasn’t just stared at my tits the whole time.”
“Well… surveys show that most men are tit men. I’m not. I’m into… other parts. Not that I dislike your breasts. I admit I enjoy being in the same room with them. But most of the guys I know, they would worship you. They’d be down on their knees begging you for just a little peek. With those tits you could rule the world, but they would be wasted on a guy like me.”
“That is so refreshing, Morgan. You know they’re really just about the money. I have a master’s degree in psychology, but these tits are worth more on the job market than six years of higher education. Don’t think I don’t know they got me the job with Fred. These tits open doors. We should fuck.”
Again, I just sat there staring at her.
“I don’t mean right now,” she said. “I know you have work to do, and I don’t want to rush it, not the first time. When can you come over?”
I remained dumbfounded. No woman had ever come on to me this quickly, this bluntly. Not in real life. I tried to stop looking at her tits, but I couldn’t. My eyes just kept going down there. She’d just told me how much she liked me not staring at her tits, so now I couldn’t stop staring at them.
“When’s your day off?” she asked, leaning forward with her arms on the table in a way that gave her a pronounced cleavage even though she was wearing a t-shirt and bra.
I looked up at her face. She was so pretty. Was this really happening? “Why wait?” I said softly. I wanted to take her up on whatever she was offering before she had second thoughts. “I get off today at three o’clock.” Strike while the iron is hot!
“How about coming here right after work?” she said. “I’ll make some bouillabaisse. I’m a really good cook. You pick up a bottle of wine. Whatever you want.”
I stood up. “I have to get back to my route. Are you serious about this?”
She looked at me as if to say, of course!
We were arranging a sexual relationship, and we’d never even kissed. Way, way down on the Smith Scale.
“I’ll have to go home first and get out of my uniform. Take a shower,” I said as I walked backward toward her front door.
“No, I want you in your uniform. And you can use my shower. Just pick up some cheap white wine and come over. I have a big robe you can wear after your shower.”
She’s already moving me in! “I’m there,” I said. “Give me your phone number, okay? I’ll call when I get off to make sure you haven’t changed your mind.” I got out my phone.
“I’ll give you my number,” she said, taking it from me. “But you don’t have to call. Just come. I’ll be here.” She punched in her digits and handed the phone back to me.
I put my hand on the door handle and tugged the door open a crack. “Can I ask you what you meant when you said I was your type?” I said.
“You know how to take charge,” she said.
While trying to interpret exactly what she meant by that, I looked at her kitchen table plant, Dusty, one last time, all strapped up and belted. I wanted to free her. I was not going to leave that plant in that condition. I would come back after work if for no other reason than to take those straps off of Dusty. And I didn’t care if it was abnormal to care about Dusty. I liked Dusty and she’d asked me for my help. Normalcy be damned.
Go to Chapter Two