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As predicted, yesterday’s runoff election in Zimbabwe was a sham. There, people are still destitute from a hyperinflation. The people are still hungry from a food shortage, doubtless exacerbated by Zanu PF land-seizures, which re-allot the land from experienced farmers to soldiers who have no farming skills.

Yesterday’s polling did provide some humorous responses. One voter put a question mark next to Robert Mugabe’s name. Another simply stayed home, broke open a ballpoint pen, and bled the ink onto his finger, signifying Zimbabwe’s version of our “I Voted” stickers.

Zanu PF militiamen provided voters with pre-marked ballots, which they handed to voters, and instructed them to simply hand the ballots back. Other militiamen required the voter identification number on the back of each ballot. Still other militias compelled voters to sleepover at Zanu PF’s headquarters the night before the vote. They all told the people to go correct their mistakes.

The ruling party chairman, John Nkomo, broadcasted Robert Mugabe’s pitch:

“Our statehood and our nationhood are under severe threat. The question before each and every one of us is whether, advertently or inadvertently, we will go down in the annals of history as defenders of our motherland or as traitors who unabashedly volunteered for servitude.”

This made me think about history, especially the kind of history that comes on paper like ballots. Perhaps some of the votes Mugabe received were sincere support for his election. His legacy, after all, does include his liberation of Zimbabwe from colonial power. However, most cast their vote for him, because they did not feel like letting their head get bashed in.

According to foreign news sources, voter turnout was very low, but according to the state media, it was a massive turnout. The state media does not so much spin the stories as it reverses them 180 degrees. When Zanu PF militiamen stoned and beat farmers and seized their land, the MDC supporters did it. When it became cheaper to wipe your ass with Zimbabwean dollars than to buy toilet paper, the economy was strong. When people are starving, there is a bit of food missing from store shelves.

Despite the violence and coercion, some poll booths turned out some interesting results. One produced 36 votes for Mugabe, 17 for Morgan Tsvangirai (whose name was kept on the ballot), and 31 spoiled ballots, and another returned 107 for Mugabe, 76 for Tsvangirai, and 30 spoiled ballots.

If the numbers can be trusted, the votes cast for Tsvangirai are encouraging. Those voters showed great courage. The spoiled ballots were also heartening and more apropos of the spoiled election in general. A spoiled ballot is a bit of a misnomer, as it is clear that they represent votes cast in the don’t-piss-on-my-head-and-tell-me-it’s-raining column.

I can’t figure it out: In this doddering regime, why should Robert Mugabe bothered with the balloting. Or more specifically, after labeling democratic ideals as Western imperialism, why should he compel the people under him to participate in a democratic process? Why does Robert Mugabe insist—as if it were anything but the machinations of his own dictatorship—on calling what he is doing an Act of the People of Zimbabwe? He’s not fooling anybody, so why doesn’t he declare himself dictator for life?

Well why anything.

Mugabe’s militias keep him where he is based on false promises and borrowed time. But as the country slips further into poverty and disarray, even his soldiers will grow hungry and poor. His militias will tire of propping up the flaccid prick of a deranged man and demand a new order. And Robert Mugabe, if he lasts that long, will be sent to some island in the Caribbean for house arrest complete with a bed to rot in and a mountain of worthless paper with his face on it and a sleek Trinidadian maid to listen to his bullshit.

Come on, Zimbabwe!

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There’s a distinct smell to Taco Bell. It doesn’t come in their supermarket products, and you really can’t smell it when you get home and start ripping into their latest greasy permutation of ground beef, cheese and tortilla. The only place you can really detect it is at the restaurant.

Look. I don’t know what the hell it is. The very fact that I eat at Taco Bell ought to betray my palate as uncouth and perhaps even a bit retarded. So there’s no trusting what I would say when trying to determine what gives a Taco Bell restaurant that smell. I mean, the idea is ludicrous: “There’s just a flutter of tarragon and perhaps a soupcon of horseradish”—please, that’s enough.

It’s a good smell, I think. Something about it compliments that first slug of Mountain Dew you send valving down your throat like water from a hose in July. And that first bite melts buttery in your mouth, and you’ve programmed yourself to ignore the low grade gristle in the beef—if it really is beef and not some mutant soy by-product. No, you just let that soft goodness go down without a hitch. That’s right. It’s T-Bell.

Mmmm…

But I’m starting to worry. What if that smell is some kind of additive that is doing its job a little too well? What if that smell issues from the stuff that makes you fart like a motherfucker all night? What if that smell is—God forbid—not representative of anything good at all?

All I know is I had some last night for the first time in weeks and today I want more. Has Taco Bell stripped me of all agency in choosing what I eat? So it seems…

Philip walked into the supermarket with purpose. The sliding glass door shuffled aside and the AC felt good on his face.

This would have to be a swift operation, he thought.

Out of the corner of his eye, he took note of the self-checkouts. There were four, two respectively book ending the normal, (wo)manned aisles in between. Only one was in use, which was good, because on this trip he’d hoped to avoid any human contact. In an effort to avoid eye contact, he stared at the floor, chasing the white reflections of fluorescent lights that stayed ahead of him despite his quickening of pace.

He arrived at the pharmacy section in the back. He was seeking the contraceptive section and hoping to find it without the usual canvassing required to find stuff in such a big and crowded place. Up and down he went, but found no condoms. It hadn’t occurred to Philip that perhaps normal people maybe sometimes bought condoms, and that a pharmacist was potentially adequately equipped to deal with a question as strange and morally dubious as the one Philip now had in his mind. 

Where are the fucking condoms?

His palms began to sweat. He rubbed them on his jeans and kept looking. After three passes down each aisle that might have condoms, he finally spotted them. 

The condom section was stationed just below the glass windows of the pharmacy room, the foundations of which, for some ungodly reason, stood two feet taller than the supermarket floor. This gave the pharmacist a superior footing, and it would be difficult to avoid his notice. He suspected the pharmacist was back there, somewhere, lurking. But for now he couldn’t see him.

The difficulties were manifold. Aside from overcoming his own Evangelical hang ups, he had to buy more than one kind. He was supposed to be sampling a variety for his business venture that he and his partner, Charles Andouille, had wrought the previous month. That venture was a condom company. At the moment, the company was more of an idea than a company. They were calling it Custom Condoms, which was a working title, but a good working title, and likely the name they would settle on.

The genesis for the product came from Charles, who was a tattoo enthusiast. What would set these condoms apart, Charles asserted, would be the pictures inked into them. After all, he had said, every man wants a tattoo on his cock, but is too afraid—and for good reason—to get one there. 

The two of them had brainstormed a number of picture ideas for the tattoos. Naturally, phallic symbols came to mind first: Missiles, guns, lightning, snakes, etc. As their thinking loosened, they began to envision officially licensed products from the NFL, NBA, MLB, Nascar, as well as the Army, Navy, Marines, etc. 

At this point, Philip was mainly concerned with the functionality of the condoms. Hence, the trip to the supermarket. He needed an accurate sampling of what was out there, so they could avoid the pitfalls and reproduce the advantages, which other condoms presented. Consequently, he needed to get as many different kinds as possible. And then try them out.

Philip looked warily at the contraceptive section. Trojan, Durex, Lifestyles—those would all be sweet Scrabble scores, he thought. The pharmacist appeared in the window shortly, then disappeared again. With that, Philip dove onto his belly and began to pull himself along the cold smooth floor with his elbows. He ratcheted forward until he reached the bottom of the rack, then he pulled himself up and sat on his haunches, examining the boxes. 

There were ultra sensitive, ultra thin, ultra extended pleasure, ultra for her, ultra for him, but ultra too vague for him to know what was truly inside. Some boxes had the shape of the condom on the back, which was helpful. Some were simply straight and cylindrical. Others were more torpedo-ish. And still another ballooned at the head like a microphone. He found one box that looked good and pretty much what he was after. It was a multi-pleasure pak, which contained six different kinds of condoms. He looked forward to trying them out. 

He winced at one of included varieties. It was studded all around and this worried him. It worried him because he didn’t like his chances of putting it on wrong like maybe inside out, thus encasing his cock in a sort of latex iron maiden. He’d just have to give these to Charles, then. Or maybe suck it up and throw them out outright.

While Charles mainly focused on the art, Philip tried to find ways to improve the whole condom experience, which at best had a tenuously acceptable relationship with his life. In the works was the 

RIPCORD TECHNOLOGY

which issued from his concern concerning the tearing of the condoms in the eager paroxysms of pre-coital arousal. In the seconds between the end of foreplay and the beginning of penetration, he often worried that, in the time it took him to break open the wrapper and to roll the thing onto his cock, he would have foregone much of her arousal and interest and would have to work all the harder to regain their sexual momentum. Needless to say, speed was at a premium. The ripcord was supposed to solve this crisis. It would be attached to the top of the wrapper such as on a pack of gum, and with a quick swipe, the entire top would be ripped off leaving the exposed condom unscathed. 

Additionally, the two were coming up with pick up lines in droves to put on the back of each wrapper. (i.e. If I were Peter Pan, you’d be my happy thought, etc.) The typical and lawful warning that condoms do not adequately protect you from STDs would appear on the margins around the pick up lines. Though neither had sold the idea to themselves, they had also thought of including a wet nap of sorts with each condom to make clean up a little easier, but they couldn’t think of a chemical mild enough to sufficiently clean their junk. So, so much for complimentary wet naps. 

Philip had his condoms picked out. There were three boxes in total. He flopped back onto his belly and started to slither away. When he was safely far away from the pharmacy window, he popped up. A woman from the next aisle over had a coronary. 

Where did you come from, she asked. 

Oh I was just… ah… Wait, he thought. Why am I justifying myself to this woman? So he just kept moving.

At the check out, all the self-serve check out aisles were taken at the nearest end. He was loath to get behind anyone there, since his ludicrous load of condoms would be quite visible to any and all judging eyes that should fall on him. He walked slowly down the checkout lanes. He had to hold the boxes just so, so they wouldn’t drop, because he’d arranged them in such a way that it didn’t look like he was trying to shoplift something, but so that the items he was purchasing were obscured. With great difficulty, he made it to the other side. There was one station left. Thank Christ, he said.

He waved the first box in front of the infrared reader. It didn’t do anything. He waved again. No dice. He twisted it, turned it, inspected it for a bar code, found it, scanned it—and still nothing. He dragged it closer. Still nothing. He slammed the box onto the Plexiglas guard, and the machine squawked at him.

At length, an attendant noticed his trials and approached him. 

This thing won’t work, Philip announced before the assistant could reach him. 

Just a sec, said the assistant, who turned and walked away, presumably to contact a manager.

I can help you over here, came a voice from another aisle.

Fuck, he thought. Okay.

The girl at the register started swiping the boxes. A bit ambitious, aren’t we, she said.

Uh…

She smiled a little. $18.06.

Philip fished his wallet from his back pocket and scanned his credit card. 

You’re quite the ladies’ man, huh?

Oh… no, not really. That is, I don’t sleep around.

Well you’re having sex, I mean, ob-vi.

Ob-vi? I have a girlfriend, and we do it, if that’s what you’re driving at. Philip didn’t want to rehash the Custom Condom business plan at the moment. 

You know, she should really be on birth control if y’all need this many condoms

I uh… I know, but… she can’t uh…she doesn’t…her body doesn’t… birth control doesn’t sit right with her, okay

Okay, she snapped. 

He tore the receipt from her hand, ripcord style, and walked away with less purpose than when he’d arrived. 

At Charles and Philip’s house, or, West Olson Booty Control, as they liked to call it, Charles had drawn up forty or so tattoos to put on condoms. Charles had also talked to a representative of a local chemical company, called Dao Chemical. (That was Zen and this is Dao, hoho.) The amount of funding estimated to kick off the project was astronomical. They had had no idea how much it would cost, but the estimate was well into six figures. 

Well too bad Eugene, Philip said. He slumped into his worn recliner. Any news about how feasible the latex color fusion would work?

There’s good news on that front, Charles replied. 

Yeah?

Yeah, I talked to a chemical engineer over there, and, apparently, they have just the process for it. This guy said it should work, though he didn’t know for sure, because he mainly deals with sarans and plastic and not latex. But he said the principal would be the same. Basically.

Cool. 

Anyway, I’ll have to talk to some potential donors, get a more detailed business plan drawn up, set up a new bank account. 

Charles stared at Philip.

What.

I can’t believe I let you set up that account is all. 

Why?

Hugh G. Rection? Was that the best name you could come up with?

You said give out a pseudonym.

I said give out a pseudonym, so it wouldn’t attract attention to us. Do you really think no one will notice Hugh G. Rection on all the checks we write? 

Well, we are a condom company. I thought making people think of dicks was a good thing, like, a fucking business venture or something. 

Nobody will take us seriously.

Oh come on!

Nope, we’re changing it. It’s going to be hard enough getting this thing up and…

That’s what she said.