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Camp Gesticuslapper
Coworkers drop me off at a cutting-edge camp for the talkative so I have people other than them to bore for two weeks such as the doorman with the bad left knee who I tell about my bad right knee as we are exiting applauding vehicles under upstate trees that have ears to listen to us like picnic tables have ears to talk into, the pine limbs of ears kissed by cool clean air, a hovering matrix casting spiky lobe shadows on the grass of ears and my topiary haircut and rude figures of other arrivals such as the one I interrupt myself interrupting so well no content does a dialogue possess but her smiles my smiles over a sudden personal development opportunity our respective companies are funding (mine of skyscraper employees that turn green when the hallways of the holidays are upon us) she and bad left knee and I laugh about that after I mention it because the funniest things are the things both true and not true and who is this approaching, it is the Topic Master with the job of improving the quality of the discourse of campers with an Olympic ability at the water cooler to milk paragraphs from one drop of rotten weather and tons of angst from a minor complaint re the break room fridge cleaning schedule and medieval chapters from a sniffle when not spinning a maze of enthusiasm from one nibble of a bare rhubarb bar connecting its tartness to savory if quite random specifics of what was ordered at the last three local restaurants visited and gardening tips (stomp dirt around the window box rhubarb to make it grow a story taller) and traffic, traffic on the way to work, traffic the most inexhaustible of exhausted topics, commute length to rhubarb bar pan noted, construction delays noted, fatal and non-fatal accidents passed and the meadows of fake news, stray animals, asteroid impact points, Lotto dreams, cupcakes of signage, chlorine pool system options, wedding parties posing, hitchhiking crickets in orange prison uniforms so instead of going that route the Topic Master in his hat and suede hunting vest suggests through the impressive curl of a speaking horn that we consider as fit for discussion the one thing nobody yet knows about your grown son or daughter, the one thing nobody yet knows about our most recent divorce, the one thing about our lawns nobody yet knows or broaching no topic at all just uttering one sentence of such mystery it can be ruminated for the entire twenty-hour work day, for instance, “Sinking hearts meet in the deep …” some campers laugh at the Topic Master (as if there could be even a quarter of one thing not yet spilled about our personal lives) and some campers run from the Topic Master’s apparatus, but I, I thank him for his obvious commitment to the cause of making us better bletherers and then explore, find the dining hall is an echo chamber of logs, find the bunkhouse to be an echo chamber of bedding, gaze upon dry Lake Pediment the brown bowl for croquet, parched throats of canoes, cemetery stones of those who drowned I suppose before the lake was drained for camper safety reasons and the scratching talons of crows down there and archery with the innocuous arrows that could not pierce a pimple and hardly burnt bonfires blown out by monologues and perched on the shore a metallic tube seven feet tall called the Gesticuslapper, I enter talking in the usual way involving hands when whack! a paddle knocks one hand down then the other whack! out of habit hands rising again whack! whack! after five or fifty minutes of training to be a stiller easier blatherer to bear, I exit skin stinging, without my wings spread and step in a turf ear up to my thighs stuck kickboxing sandy soil for another five minutes until I grab the large handle on the Topic Master’s hat and pull, pull again, up and out but shaken up enough to merit a visit to the echo chamber of a tree house infirmary reached via the burlap hydraulic lift, picture a display of antique tongue depressors and the DISEASES OF THE TONGUE health prevention poster and Dr. Rydell in the green and black flannel smock who suggests precautionary x-rays that happen revealing no torn integral ligaments but spurious adjectives where patellas are supposed to dwell, a defect common to the most accomplished blither-er, “Surgery the mind performs on the body. Now scoot off to your rhyming class,” or a course on the lake bottom designed to make babble melodic and possibly more tolerable, an egress of infinitesimal progress I get to show off when the brass lodge bell bongs and campers line up for the pre-dinner cellphone call to coworkers that has replaced the hard copy letter from camp cramp damp lamp, “We’re so happy for you and your noise,” the head of my department says, then continues, “But I have to admit: we’re lost without you already. How long has it been since we dropped you off? Less than a day? Seems like months. The place is beyond dead. We’re hearing ourselves think.”

Ben Miller is the author of River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa (Lookout Books). His work will be included in Best American Experimental Writing 2020. He is the recipient of creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.