If this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you. Everything else about their checkbook balance and radio songs and messy hair went out the window.
You had their full attention.
People listened instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.
And when they spoke, they weren’t telling you a story. When the two of you talked, you were building something, and afterward you were both different than before.
Marla had started going to the support groups after she found the first lump.
The morning after we found her second lump, Marla hopped into the kitchen with both legs in one leg of her pantyhose and said, “Look, I’m a mermaid.”
Marla said, “This isn’t like when guys sit backward on the toilet and pretend it’s a motorcycle. This is a genuine accident.”
Just before Marla and I met at Remaining Men Together, there was the first lump, and now there was a second lump.
What you have to know is that Marla is still alive. Marla’s philosophy of life, she told me, is that she can die at any moment. The tragedy of her life is that she doesn’t.
When Marla found the first lump, she went to a clinic where slumped scarecrow mothers sat in plastic chairs on three sides of the waiting room with limp doll children balled in their laps or lying at their feet. The children were sunken and dark around their eyes the way oranges or bananas go bad and collapse, and the mothers scratched at mats of dandruff from scalp yeast infections out of control. The way the teeth in the clinic looked huge in everyone’s thin face, you saw how teeth are just shards of bone that come through your skin to grind things up.
This is where you end up if you don’t have health insurance.
Before anyone knew any better, a lot of gay guys had wanted children, and now the children are sick and the mothers are dying and the fathers are dead, and sitting in the hospital vomit smell of piss and vinegar while a nurse asks each mother how long she’s been sick and how much weight she’s lost and if her child has any living parent or guardian, Marla decides, no.
If she was going to die, Marla didn’t want to know about it.
Marla walked around the corner from the clinic to City Laundry and stole all the jeans out of the dryers, then walked to a dealer who gave her fifteen bucks a pair. Then Marla bought herself some really good pantyhose, the kind that don’t run.
“Even the good kind that don’t run,” Marla says, “they snag.”
Nothing is static. Everything is falling apart.
Marla started going to the support groups since it was easier to be around other human butt wipe. Everyone has something wrong. And for a while, her heart just sort of flatlined.
Marla started a job doing prepaid funeral plans for a mortuary where sometimes great fat men, but usually fat women, would come out of the mortuary showroom carrying a crematory urn the size of an egg cup, and Marla would sit there at her desk in the foyer with her dark hair tied down and her snagged pantyhose and breast lump and doom, and say, “Madam, don’t flatter yourself. We couldn’t get even your burned-up head into that tiny thing. Go back and get an urn the size of a bowling ball.”
Marla’s heart looked the way my face was. The crap and the trash of the world. Post-consumer human butt wipe that no one would ever go to the trouble to recycle.
Between the support groups and the clinic, Marla told me, she had met a lot of people who were dead. These people were dead and on the other side, and at night they called on the telephone. Marla would go to bars and hear the bartender calling her name, and when she took the call the line was dead.
At the time, she thought this was hitting bottom.
“When you’re twenty-four,” Marla says, “you have no idea how far you can really fall, but I was a fast learner.”
The first time Marla filled a crematory urn, she didn’t wear a face mask, and later she blew her nose and there in the tissue was a black mess of Mr. Whoever.
In the house on Paper Street, if the phone rang only once and you picked it up and the line was dead, you knew it was someone trying to reach Marla. This happened more than you might think.
In the house on Paper Street, a police detective stated calling about my condominium explosion, and Tyler stood with his chest against my shoulder, whispering into my ear while I held the phone to the other ear, and the detective asked if I knew anyone who could make homemade dynamite.
“Disaster is a natural part of my evolution,” Tyler whispered, “toward tragedy and dissolution.”
I told the detective that it was the refrigerator that blew up my condo.
“I’m breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions,” Tyler whispered, “because only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit.”
The dynamite, the detective said, there were impurities, a residue of ammonium oxalate and potassium perchloride that might mean the bomb was homemade, and the dead bolt on the front door was shattered.
I said I was in Washington, D.C., that night.
The detective on the phone explained how someone had sprayed a canister of Freon into the dead-bolt lock and then tapped the lock with a cold chisel to shatter the cylinder. This is the way criminals are stealing bicycles.
“The liberator who destroys my property,” Tyler said, “is fighting to save my spirit. The teacher who clears all possessions from my path will set me free.”
The detective said whoever set the homemade dynamite could’ve turned on the gas and blown out the pilot lights on the stove days before the explosion took place. The gas was just the trigger. It would take days for the gas to fill the condo before it reached the compressor at the base of the refrigerator and the compressor’s electric motor set off the explosion.
“Tell him,” Tyler whispered. “Yes, you did it. You blew it all up. That’s what he wants to hear.”
I tell the detective, no, I did not leave the gas on and then leave town. I loved my life. I loved that condo. I loved every stick of furniture
That was my whole life. Everything, the lamps, the chairs, the rugs were me. The dishes in the cabinets were me. The plants were me. The television was me. It was me that blew up. Couldn’t he see that?
The detective said not to leave town.
Mister his honor, mister chapter president of the local chapter of the national united projectionist and independent theater operators union just sat.
Under and behind and inside everything the man took for granted, something horrible had been growing.
Nothing is static.
Everything is falling apart.
I know this because Tyler knows this.
For three years Tyler had been doing film buildup and breakdown for a chain of movie houses. A movie travels in six or seven small reels packed in a metal case. Tyler’s job was to splice the small reels together into single fivefoot reels that self-threading and rewinding projectors could handle. After three years, seven theaters, at least three screens per theater, new shows every week, Tyler had handled hundreds of prints.
Too bad, but with more self-threading and rewinding projectors, the union didn’t need Tyler anymore. Mister chapter president had to call Tyler in for a little sit-down.
The work was boring and the pay was crap, so the president of the united union of united projection operators independent and united theaters united said it was doing Tyler Durden a chapter favor by giving Tyler the diplomatic shaft.
Don’t think of this as rejection. Think of it as downsizing.
Right up the butt mister chapter president himself says, “We appreciate your contribution to our success.”
Oh, that wasn’t a problem, Tyler said, and grinned. As long as the union kept sending a paycheck, he’d keep his mouth shut.
Tyler said, “Think of this as early retirement, with pension.”
Tyler had handled hundreds of prints.
Movies had gone back to the distributor. Movies had gone back out in re-release. Comedy. Drama. Musicals. Romance. Action adventure.
Spliced with Tyler’s single-frame flashes of pornography.
Sodomy. Fellatio. Cunnilingus. Bondage.
Tyler had nothing to lose.
Tyler was the pawn of the world, everybody’s trash.
This is what Tyler rehearsed me to tell the manager of the Pressman Hotel, too.
At Tyler’s other job, at the Pressman Hotel, Tyler said he was nobody. Nobody cared if he lived or died, and the feeling was fucking mutual. This is what Tyler told me to say in the hotel manager’s office with security guards sitting outside the door.
Tyler and I stayed up late and traded stories after everything was over.
Right after he’d gone to the projectionist union, Tyler had me go and confront the manager of the Pressman Hotel.
Tyler and I were looking more and more like identical twins. Both of us had punched-out cheekbones, and our skin had lost its memory, and forgot where to slide back to after we were hit.
My bruises were from fight club, and Tyler’s face was punched out of shape by the president of the projectionist union. After Tyler crawled out of the union offices, I went to see the manager of the Pressman Hotel.
I sat there, in the office of the manager of the Pressman Hotel.
I am Joe’s Smirking Revenge.
The first thing the hotel manager said was I had three minutes. In the first thirty seconds, I told how I’d been peeing into soup, farting on creme brulees, sneezing on braised endive, and now I wanted the hotel to send me a check every week equivalent to my average week’s pay plus tips. In return, I wouldn’t come to work anymore, and I wouldn’t go to the newspapers or the public health people with a confused, tearful confession.
Troubled Waiter Admits Tainting Food.
Sure, I said, I might go to prison. They could hang me and yank my nuts off and drag me through the streets and flay my skin and burn me with lye, but the Pressman Hotel would always be known as the hotel where the richest people in the world ate pee.
Tyler’s words coming out of my mouth.
And I used to be such a nice person.
At the projectionist union office, Tyler had laughed after the union president punched him. The one punch knocked Tyler out of his chair, and Tyler sat against the wall, laughing.
“Go ahead, you can’t kill me,” Tyler was laughing. “You stupid fuck. Beat the crap out of me, but you can’t kill me.”
You have too much to lose.
I have nothing.
You have everything.
Go ahead, right in the gut. Take another shot at my face. Cave in my teeth, but keep those paychecks coming. Crack my ribs, but if you miss one week’s pay, I go public, and you and your little union go down under lawsuits from every theater owner and film distributor and mommy whose kid maybe saw a hard-on in Bambi.
“I am trash,” Tyler said. “I am trash and shit and crazy to you and this whole fucking world,” Tyler said to the union president. “You don’t care where I live or how I feel, or what I eat or how I feed my kids or how I pay the doctor if I get sick, and yes I am stupid and bored and weak, but I am still your responsibility.”
Sitting in the office at the Pressman Hotel, my fight club lips were still split into about ten segments. The butthole in my cheek looking at the manager of the Pressman Hotel, it was all pretty convincing.
Basically, I said the same stuff Tyler said.
After the union president had slugged Tyler to the floor, after mister president saw Tyler wasn’t fighting back, his honor with his big Cadillac body bigger and stronger than he would ever really need, his honor hauled his wingtip back and kicked Tyler in the ribs and Tyler laughed. His honor shot the wingtip into Tyler’s kidneys after Tyler curled into a ball, but Tyler was still laughing.
“Get it out,” Tyler said. “Trust me. You’ll feel a lot better. You’ll feel great.”
In the office of the Pressman Hotel, I asked the hotel manager if I could use his phone, and I dialed the number for the city desk at the newspaper. With the hotel manager watching, I said:
Hello, I said, I’ve committed a terrible crime against humanity as part of a political protest. My protest is over the exploitation of workers in the service industry.
If I went to prison, I wouldn’t be just an unbalanced peon diddling in the soup. This would have heroic scale.
Robin Hood Waiter Champions Have-Nots.
This would be about a lot more than one hotel and one waiter.
The manager of the Pressman Hotel very gently took the receiver out of my hand. The manager said he didn’t want me working here anymore, not the way I looked now.
I’m standing at the head of the manager’s desk when I say, what?
You don’t like the idea of third …
And without flinching, still looking at the manager, I roundhouse the fist at the centrifugal force end of my arm and slam fresh blood out of the cracked scabs in my nose.
For no reason at all, I remember the night Tyler and I had our first fight. I want you to hit me as hard as you can.
This isn’t such a hard punch. I punch myself, again. It just looks good, all the blood, but I throw myself back against the wall to make a terrible noise and break the painting that hangs there.
The broken glass and frame and the painting of flowers and blood go to the floor with me clowning around. I’m being such a doofus. Blood gets on the carpet and I reach up and grip monster handprints of blood on the edge of the hotel manager’s desk and say, please, help me, but I start to giggle.
Help me, please.
Please don’t hit me, again.
I slip back to the floor and crawl my blood across the carpet. The first word I’m going to say is please. So I keep my lips shut. The monster drags itself across the lovely bouquets and garlands of the Oriental carpet. The blood falls out of my nose and slides down the back of my throat and into my mouth, hot. The monster crawls across the carpet, hot and picking up the lint and dust sticking to the blood on its claws. And it crawls close enough to grab the manager of the Pressman Hotel around his pinstriped ankle and say it. Money. And I giggle, again.
Please comes out in a bubble of blood.
And the bubble pops blood all over.
And this is how Tyler was free to start a fight club every night of the week. After this there were seven fight clubs, and after that there were fifteen fight clubs, and after that, there were twenty-three fight clubs, and Tyler wanted more. There was always money coming in.
Please, I ask the manager of the Pressman Hotel, give me the …
You have so much, and I have nothing. And I start to climb my blood up the pinstriped legs of the manager of the Pressman Hotel who is leaning back, hard, with his hands on the windowsill behind him and even his thin lips retreating from his teeth.
The monster hooks its bloody claw in the waistband of the manager’s pants, and pulls itself up to clutch the white starched shirt, and l wrap my bloody hands around the manager’s smooth wrists.
Please. I smile big enough to split my lips.
There’s a struggle as the manager screams and tries to get his hands away from me and my blood and my crushed nose, the filth sticking in the blood on both of us, and right then at our most excellent moment, the security guards decide to walk in.
It’s in the newspaper today how somebody broke into offices between the tenth and fifteenth floors of the Hein Tower, and climbed out the office windows, and painted the south side of the building with a grinning five story mask, and set fires so the window at the center of each huge eye blazed huge and alive and inescapable over the city at dawn.
In the picture on the front page of the newspaper, the face is an angry pumpkin, Japanese demon, dragon of avarice hanging in the sky, and the smoke is a witch’s eyebrows or devil’s horns. And people cried with their heads thrown back.
What did it mean?
And who would do this? And even after the fires were out, the face was still there, and it was worse. The empty eyes seemed to watch everyone in the street but at the same time were dead.
This stuff is in the newspaper more and more.
Of course you read this, and you want to know right away if it was part of Project Mayhem.
The newspaper says the police have no real leads. Youth gangs or space aliens, whoever it was could’ve died while crawling down ledges and dangling from windowsills with cans of black spray paint.
Was it the Mischief Committee or the Arson Committee? The giant face was probably their homework assignment from last week.
Tyler would know, but the first rule about Project Mayhem is you don’t ask questions about Project Mayhem.
In the Assault Committee of Project Mayhem, this week Tyler says he ran everyone through what it would take to shoot a gun. All a gun does is focus an explosion in one direction.
At the last meeting of the Assault Committee, Tyler brought a gun and the yellow pages of the phone book. They meet in the basement where fight club meets on Saturday night. Each committee meets on a different night:
Arson meets on Monday.
Assault on Tuesday.
Mischief meets on Wednesday.
And Misinformation meets on Thursday.
Organized Chaos. The Bureaucracy of Anarchy. You figure it out.
Support groups. Sort of.
So Tuesday night, the Assault Committee proposed events for the upcoming week, and Tyler read the proposals and gave the committee its homework.
By this time next week, each guy on the Assault Committee has to pick a fight where he won’t come out a hero. And not in fight club. This is harder than it sounds. A man on the street will do anything not to fight.
The idea is to take some Joe on the street who’s never been in a fight and recruit him. Let him experience winning for the first time in his life. Get him to explode. Give him permission to beat the crap out of you.
You can take it. If you win, you screwed up.
“What we have to do, people,” Tyler told the committee, “is remind these guys what kind of power they still have.”
This is Tyler’s little pep talk. Then he opened each of the folded squares of paper in the cardboard box in front of him. This is how each committee proposes events for the upcoming week. Write the event on the committee tablet. Tear off the sheet, fold it, and put it in the box. Tyler checks out the proposals and throws out any bad ideas.
For each idea he throws out, Tyler puts a folded blank into the box.
Then everyone in the committee takes a paper out of the box. The way Tyler explained the process to me, if somebody draws a blank, he only has his homework to do that week.
If you draw a proposal, then you have to go to the import beer festival this weekend and push over a guy in a chemical toilet. You’ll get extra favor if you get beat up for doing this. Or you have to attend the fashion show at the shopping center atrium and throw strawberry gelatin from the mezzanine.
If you get arrested, you’re off the Assault Committee. If you laugh, you’re off the committee.
Nobody knows who draws a proposal, and nobody except Tyler knows what all the proposals are and which are accepted and which proposals he throws in the trash. Later that week, you might read in the newspaper about an unidentified man, downtown, jumping the driver of a Jaguar convertible and steering the car into a fountain.
You have to wonder. Was this a committee proposal you could’ve drawn?
The next Tuesday night, you’ll be looking around the Assault Committee meeting under the one light in the black fight club basement, and you’re still wondering who forced the jag into the fountain.
Who went to the roof of the art museum and snipered paint balls into the sculpture court reception?
Who painted the blazing demon mask on the Hein Tower?
The night of the Hein Tower assignment, you can picture a team of law clerks and bookkeepers or messengers sneaking into offices where they sat, every day. Maybe they were a little drunk even if it’s against the rules in Project Mayhem, and they used passkeys where they could and used spray canisters of Freon to shatter lock cylinders, they could dangle, rappelling against the tower’s brick facade, dropping, trusting each other to hold ropes, swinging, risking quick death in offices where every day they felt their lives end one hour at a time.
The next morning, these same, clerks and assistant account reps would be in the crowd with their neatly combed heads thrown back, rummy without sleep but sober and wearing ties and listening to the crowd around them wonder, who would do this, and the police shout for everyone to please get back, now, as water ran down from the broken smoky center of each huge eye.
Tyler told me in secret that there’s never more than four good proposals at a meeting so your chances of drawing a real proposal and not just a blank are about four in ten. There are twenty-five guys on the Assault Committee including Tyler. Everybody gets their homework: lose a fight in public; and each member draws for a proposal.
This week, Tyler told them, “Go out and buy a gun.”
Tyler gave one guy the telephone-book yellow pages and told him to tear out an advertisement. Then pass the book to the next guy. No two guys should go to the same place to buy or shoot.
“This,” Tyler said, and he took a gun out of his coat pocket, “this is a gun, and in two weeks, you should each of you have a gun about this size to bring to meeting.
“Better you should pay for it with cash,” Tyler said. “Next meeting, you’ll all trade guns and report the gun you bought as stolen.”
Nobody asked anything. You don’t ask questions is the first rule in Project Mayhem.
Tyler handed the gun around. It was so heavy for something so small, as if a giant thing like a mountain or a sun were collapsed and melted down to make this. The committee guys held it by two fingers. Everyone wanted to ask if it was loaded, but the second rule of Project Mayhem is you don’t ask questions.
Maybe it was loaded, maybe not. Maybe we should always assume the worst.
“A gun,” Tyler said, “is simple and perfect. You just draw the trigger back.”
The third rule in Project Mayhem is no excuses.
“The trigger,” Tyler said, “frees the hammer, and the hammer strikes the powder.”
The fourth rule is no lies.
“The explosion blasts a metal slug off the open end of the shell, and the barrel of the gun focuses the exploding powder and the rocketing slug,” Tyler said, “like a man out of a cannon, like a missile out of a silo, like your jism, in one direction.”
When Tyler invented Project Mayhem, Tyler said the goal of Project Mayhem had nothing to do with other people. Tyler didn’t care if other people got hurt or not. The goal was to teach each man in the project that he had the power to control history. We, each of us, can take control of the world.
It was at fight club that Tyler invented Project Mayhem.
I tagged a first-timer one night at fight club. That Saturday night, a young guy with an angel’s face came to his first fight club, and I tagged him for a fight. That’s the rule. If it’s your first night in fight club, you have to fight. I knew that so I tagged him because the insomnia was on again, and I was in a mood to destroy something beautiful.
Since most of my face never gets a chance to heal, I’ve got nothing to lose in the looks department. My boss, at work, he asked me what I was doing about the hole through my cheek that never heals. When I drink coffee, I told him, I put two fingers over the hole so it won’t leak.
There’s a sleeper hold that gives somebody just enough air to stay awake, and that night at fight club I hit our first-timer and hammered that beautiful mister angel face, first with the bony knuckles of my fist like a pounding molar, and then the knotted tight butt of my fist after my knuckles were raw from his teeth stuck through his lips. Then the kid fell through my arms in a heap.
Tyler told me later that he’d never seen me destroy something so completely. That night, Tyler knew he had to take fight club up a notch or shut it down.
Tyler said, sitting at breakfast the next morning, “You looked like a maniac, Psycho-Boy. Where did you go?”
I said I felt like crap and not relaxed at all. I didn’t get any kind of buzz. Maybe I’d developed a Jones. You can build up a tolerance to fighting, and maybe I needed to move on to something bigger.
It was that morning, Tyler invented Project Mayhem.
Tyler asked what I was really fighting.
What Tyler says about being the crap and the slaves of history, that’s how I felt. I wanted to destroy everything beautiful I’d never have. Burn the Amazon rain forests. Pump chlorofluorocarbons straight up to gobble the ozone. Open the dump valves on supertankers and uncap offshore oil wells. I wanted to kill all the fish I couldn’t afford to eat, and smother the French beaches I’d never see.
I wanted the whole world to hit bottom.
Pounding that kid, I really wanted to put a bullet between the eyes every endangered panda that wouldn’t screw to save its species and every whale or dolphin that gave up and ran itself aground.
Don’t think of this as extinction. Think of this as downsizing.
For thousands of years, human beings had screwed up and trashed and crapped on this planet, and now history expected me to clean up after everyone. I have to wash out and flatten my soup cans. And account for every drop of used motor oil.
And I have to foot the bill for nuclear waste and buried gasoline tanks and landfilled toxic sludge dumped a generation before I was born.
I held the face of mister angel like a baby or a football in the crook of my arm and bashed him with my knuckles, bashed him until his teeth broke through his lips. Bashed him with my elbow after that until he fell through my arms into a heap at my feet. Until the skin was pounded thin across his cheekbones and turned black.
I wanted to breathe smoke.
Birds and deer are a silly luxury, and all the fish should be floating.
I wanted to burn the Louvre. I’d do the Elgin Marbles with a sledgehammer and wipe my ass with the Mona Lisa. This is my world, now.
This is my world, my world, and those ancient people are dead.
It was at breakfast that morning that Tyler invented Project Mayhem.
We wanted to blast the world free of history.
We were eating breakfast in the house on Paper Street, and Tyler said, picture yourself planting radishes and seed potatoes on the fifteenth green of a forgotten golf course.
You’ll hunt elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center, and dig clams next to the skeleton of the Space Needle leaning at a forty-five-degree angle. We’ll paint the skyscrapers with huge totem faces and goblin tikis, and every evening what’s left of mankind will retreat to empty zoos and lock itself in cages as protection against bears and big cats and wolves that pace and watch us from outside the cage bars at night.
It’s Project Mayhem that’s going to save the world. A cultural ice age. A prematurely induced dark age. Project Mayhem will force humanity to go dormant or into remission long enough for the Earth to recover.
“You justify anarchy,” Tyler says. “You figure it out.”
Like fight club does with clerks and box boys, Project Mayhem will break up civilization so we can, make something better out of the world.
“Imagine,” Tyler said, “stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos on hangers; you’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life, and you’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. Jack and the beanstalk, you’ll climb up through the dripping forest canopy and the air will be so clean you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles.”
This was the goal of Project Mayhem, Tyler said, the complete and rightaway destruction of civilization.
What comes next in Project Mayhem, nobody except Tyler knows. The second rule is you don’t ask questions.
“Don’t get any bullets,” Tyler told the Assault Committee. “And just so you don’t worry about it, yes, you’re going to have to kill someone.
Arson. Assault. Mischief and Misinformation.
No questions. No questions. No excuses and no lies.
The fifth rule about Project Mayhem is you have to trust Tyler.