The Stories
Perfect Teeth

Dieter and Gunther

Dieter was wearing the lederhosen because he'd lost a bet with Gunther.

As the winner of the wager Gunther could have chosen anything for Dieter to wear for the day. He was feeling mean and petty so, even though it was going to be a very hot day, he'd picked the lederhosen.

Dieter considered retaliation. He knew that someone wearing the lederhosen was entitled to yodel to their heart's content, as loud and as long as they like. And he knew from experience that yodeling attracted sea gulls. And he knew that Gunther was ludicrously afraid of sea gulls. But Dieter didn't play the yodel card. It was a small, one-bed boat, best not to escalate the situation. Sea gulls were the nuclear option.

The deal had been that he had to wear the leather Alpine humiliation suit all day. The minute the sun dipped behind the hill, Dieter stripped off the lederhosen and made a vow to never wear them again. Even if it meant mariticide.

Gunther gestured to his nude husband to join him on the deck. “Have a cocktail and a snack sweetheart. You have earned it.”

“What kind of snack?”

Gunther frowned at the soft mound of yellow in the middle of the table. “The can didn't have a label. Well, I suppose it used to have a label at some point in history, but it was long gone by the time I opened it. Smells a bit like cheese, but it's not cheese.”

“Sorry, no dice,” muttered Dieter. “I have always held the strong belief that if something smells like cheese, but isn't cheese, you should leave that shit alone.”

Gunther took a finger full of the ersatz cheese and put it bravely in his mouth. He seems to give it much thought then spat it out into the lake. “I should really listen to you. At least about food.”

They watched as a shimmering film of oil spread out around the jaundiced blob bobbing in the water.

Gunther took a sip of turnip vodka to wash away the taste, and texture. “I want to ask you a question.”

Dieter, still naked, cringed inside. Questions often lead to discussions which lead to disagreements which lead to civil unrest. They'd once argued for three days about whether as a couple they were more Brecht or Beckett. “What question is that, dear?”

Gunther stood and looked off over the lake in the direction of what Dieter imagined was an imaginary movie camera. “Dieter, my love, what do you miss most about the old world?”

The honest answer that made it way half way to the tip of his tongue before retreating to hide behind the uvula was, “Easy Divorce.” But these days honesty is like a signed catchers mitt in the land without baseball.

“Oh, Gunther baby...such a thorny one, this question.” Dieter mulled it over in his brain (which had never been the same since he'd eaten those lead tainted madeleines). Was there ever really a world with such hilarious abundance? Where everything grew on trees and fell from the sky at your feet. Luxury never rested, indulgence pursued you and foisted itself upon you. Everyday you'd shake your head and say, well now I've seen everything. “I think, Gunther, today I'm going to say, I miss those things that glowed in the dark. Super balls and press-on nails. Watch dials. Oh! And those glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth at Halloween! I know, a frivolous thing to pine for. And you? What do you wake up reaching for in the middle of the night?”

Gunter smiled with lips that had seen better days. “Do you remember how cluttered our apartment used to be? Art on every square inch of the walls. Knick-knacks and bric-a-brac fighting for space on window sills? Rare collectibles and frightful kitsch side-by-side on the piano? So full and yet every Sunday in the summer we'd hit the flea markets and garage sales bringing back arm loads of treasures. And when my mother from Minnisconsin visited. Do you remember what she said?”

It was Dieter's turn to offer a rictus grin. “She said, 'Oh, my. Well, your décor is certainly...busy. Isn't it? Yes. 'Busy' is the word.'”

Gunter sighed. “I miss the busy. It's so Spartan on this boat. Barren.”

That night, in the narrow bed, beside his partner of what sometimes felt like ten-thousand long years, Dieter lay awake turning the word “intolerable” over in his mind. In the old days he would have investigated the history of the word. (Apropos of nothing: Dieter loved that etymology and entomology were practically siblings, well, step-siblings. It made him think of words as insects crawling through time.)

But now, on this warm and sticky night, Dieter had no reference books, no googly action, no professor to call. Hmm. Was the “tol” like “toll”? Something to be paid? “Intolerable” being that which is just not worth the price? Which brought, unbidden, Toll House cookies to mind.
Intolerable, adjective, living in a world without cookies.

When a task is too big to wrap your arms around, break it into smaller jobs.

Dieter decided on a pair of small goals of amelioration: one, make it so he could never wear the lederhosen ever again; and two,  do something kind for Gunther.



Gunther transitioned uneasily from sleep to wake. He'd been dreaming of Susan Sontag, or, perhaps he had been dreaming of a movie about Susan Sontag staring Susan Dey. The tighter he tried to hold the dream's plot, the quicker it slipped through his fingers.

He blinked away the crust from around his eyes and saw he was alone. He glanced out the porthole to his right (starboard for you nautical types.) The sun was just rising, its light poured unnervingly thick over the lake like syrup. Everyone agreed that the quality of sunlight was different now, but no one could put a finger on exactly what it was that had changed. Some said that shadows weren't so crisp. Others used words like “liquid burlap” or “the smell of hot cast iron” or “squeaky.”

Gunther heard a strange noise from the deck above, a tearing/cutting/chopping noise. As a nod to modesty, he wrapped the flannel bed spread around his waist and went to investigate. (But a quick note about the bedspread because we will never mention it again, and it is of note: it featured bears and elks and duck. Dieter had found it charming and naive until Gunther had pointed out that the bedspread was an ode to hunting.)

Up top Gunther saw Dieter hunched over what appeared to be a small animal. He held the wee beast down with one hand, the other held the pruning shears. Dieter brought down the tool of destruction again and again. He took pleasure in the task.

Gunther shrank back in alarm. Was it a dog from one of the neighboring boats? That would be bad. Very bad. This fragile community of reluctant sailors was itchy and ill-fitting. But they needed each other for survival. A little bartering. A little common defense. A little social contact.

A canine murder would surely result in expulsion, at the very least.

If need be they could move their boat closer to the locks. But word on the waves was that it was a decidedly rougher crowd. They were a little old for rough.

Dieter turned away from the carnage toward Gunther and nodded.

Sweet relief filled Gunther's bosom, it was not a dog.

“Dieter, why are you destroying the lederhosen?”

Dieter put down the pruning shears (which were used mostly in the kitchen these days). “You are not witnessing an act of destruction, but a metamorphosis. And like any proper metamorphosis, the object or individual in question is, yes, broken down and rendered unrecognizable. Seemingly gone forever. But in truth, the essence of what it was, the grace and spirit of the original shines through with a shimmering familiar brilliance. In time, it dawns on you: nothing is ever truly lost. Leave a chair at your table for the reunion.”

The air was clear, but Gunther could smell the marijuana in Dieter's words.

Dieter stood and held high the scarps of leather. “Ecco! Voila! Behold!”

Gunther leaned in, “What am I looking at?”

Dieter gazed lovingly at his creation. “A fish trap.”

“Dieter, we have been over this. Anything that swims in that lake might not be safe to eat. Seafood is off the menu, lover.”

“Shh. Relax mon amore. It is not a botulism bouillabaiss I am planning. Now run along while I see to some final details for what is sure to be a delightful surprise.”

Run along? How exactly does one “run along” on such a small craft? Well, one doesn't. So one takes the dinghy to the end of its tether and back.

Gunther eased himself into the glorified rowboat. Its name was the One Ringy Dingy. Gunther and Dieter had not named it thusly. The previous owner had done so. He told them this was a Carol Burnett joke. Gunther had held his tongue and not corrected the man. Not said that it was Ernestine the telephone operator played by Lily Tomlin on Laugh In.

Gunther had not wanted to spoil the deal, which was the boat in exchange for a bag of magic beans. Seriously. They had convinced the old guy that what they had was a fifty pound bag of THC/CBD pinto beans. And that he could plant them and grow more. He'd be rich.

Later, the first night on the boat, Gunther and Dieter had had a terrible fight about whether or not The Carol Burnett Show stood the test of time.

Gunther paddled about thirty feet out. He waved at the nudist couple from Brussels and the twins, Flitzy 'n' Nitzy.

He gave a wide berth to the barge. He never knew quite what to say to the socialist llamas and their walrus proteges. Gunther liked it better when animals didn't talk politics.

Gunther did his foot yoga and kept a watchful eye for seagulls, then decided he'd been away long enough and rowed back the thirty feet to the main vessel.

He granted himself permission to board and was surprised to find that he was suddenly, sincerely very curious about what Dieter had been up to in his absence.

Dieter held a sort of leather sling in both hands. (And by the edelweiss embroidered on the seam, it was clearly the new incarnation of the lederhosen.) The sling cradled a large opalescent ovoid face. Gunther noticed that the face had a shape. Ah! It was a fish!

“Oh good! You've returned at just the right time!” Dieter's voice was full of an enthusiasm that Gunther had not heard in a long time. “Look!” Dieter held the fish up by its....waist? No. That's not the right word for a fish. Let's go with mid-section.

The fish had unmistakable fingers.

“Look at it!! It's front fins are prehensile! It can grab things!”

“Well. Yes.” Gunther thought this was actually more cause for alarm than celebration.

“It's a new species I've discovered! We'll probably call it a Hand Carp. But it's going to need a full scientific name with some Latin thrown in. Oh! Gunther! Shall I name it after you?”

“Oh. Please don't.”

“Well, this is not some one-off freak of nature.”

“Aren't we all freaks of nature?”

“Oh Gunther, mein liebschen, this lake is full of these mother fuckers!”

Hmm. Gunther thought of all the water beneath his feet and all the schools of hand carp swimming down there. What was he going to do with that information?

“So,” Gunther could not take his eyes off off the fish firmly gripped by the man he loved. ('Love' has so many meanings, don't you find?) “Are you going to study them?”

“Oh, please baby. I am no ichthyologist. My motives are selfish. Actually, not selfish at all. It's present for you! Ah! I can tell by the befuddled look on your face that you'd like me to get right to the point!”

“Oh. There's a point?” Gunther silently mourned the lost art of sarcasm.

“Last night you were bemoaning --”

“Bemoaning?” Gunther's hand went to his hip rendering him the epitome of someone who would bemoan. “I never bemoan! Bemoaning is beneath me.”

“Well. Ok. You were not bemoaning so much as desticulating.” Dieter knew Gunther could not object to this as he had made the word up on the spot. “About the lack of adornment on the boat we call home.”

“We're going to gussy up the joint with a fish?”

Dieter shifted the fish to one hand and raised an index finger. “Not at all!” He jauntily toss the dextrous fish into the lake. “I realized that where we now float was once our city. A city very much of the late industrial times. Decadent and bloated with with objects. Our problem now is not a lack of things. But of reach. How will we retrieve all the fancies that lie beneath us?”

“Um. The fish?” Gunther offered timidly.

“Yes!! I've caught them, dozens of them. Told them I would release them on the condition that they retrieve pretty things and bring them to me!”

“Um.” It was Gunther's turn to hold one finger up. “Why wouldn't they just swim off and never come back?”

“Because,” Dieter declared, “I made them sign a contract.”


Let's swing back to the seagulls and Gunther's fear of them.

To be clear, this was not an irrational fear.

Gunther had good reason. Seagull did in fact target him. Swarm him. Rush at him in a whirl of wings and beaks and silly flat feet.

What Gunther couldn't know was that the seagulls bore him no malice. They were trying to deliver a friendly warning.

The seagull knows the future.

They could see what was about to unfold. Dieter's grand plan, was not a whimsical aquatic shopping spree. The lake was a metaphor for the souls, this bringing to the surface of the remnants of a fallen world was a deeply Jungian undertaking.

Twenty minutes later a fish brought the first gift. The boys hauled it up on deck.

It was hard to tell what it was all covered with mud and lake weed. A quick rinse revealed a quite lovely giraffe figurine about twenty inches high, its skin a shimmering mosaic of enamel chips.

Dieter glanced over at Gunther expecting to bask in the glow of approval. Instead, Gunther's face was ashen. Like unto ashes it was.

Gunther didn't take his eyes off the long-necked thing. “Giraffes are a symbol of death for me.”

Dieter could not find an appropriate, or for that matter inappropriate, response for that sentence. So, he tilted his head to one side.

“My lover, Etienne--” Dieter had heard stories about Gunther's lover, Etienne, for years. Sometimes Dieter imagined that Etienne had died as a way to get away from Gunther. “Etienne had a tattoo of a giraffe on his shoulder. He was buried in the nude, as is custom in that part of France, and I was in a state of shock and denial. So, I just fixed my eyes on the tattoo. But it makes sense, doesn't it? Giraffes being the animal of death. They have all the same parts as a horse or a dog, and yet such alien proportions. Like we see them through some peculiar prism. There is nothing quite like them on this earth. And the way they tower over everything. But above all, the silence of a giraffe. They know something, but won't tell you what it is. Giraffe's keep you guessing.”

Dieter wished with all his heart that he could scoff. But a memory of his own floated by like a dandelion seed on a summer's breeze. Dieter was four, maybe five, when he went to his first funeral, his cousin, Jerome. Dieter remembered being carried in his father's arms this memory, Dieter is wearing his giraffe pajamas. But why? Funerals aren't usually at night and he had some regular church clothes (complete with a clip-on tie). Had he begged for the comfort of the giraffes?

Wordlessly, Dieter and Gunther decided that this statue should go in the nook by the bathroom.

Hardly an hour past before the next item was heaved up onto the boat.

It was another little statue, a bust really. The head and shoulders (and wings and halo) of a little angel, head bent in prayer. All the paint had long since gone leaving bare porcelain. The effect was bleached bone in the desert sun. There were little raised letters on the book the angel clutched in supplication.

Dieter and Gunther were just able to make out the words “Ik Zal Je in de gaten houden terwijl je slaapt.”

“What does it mean?” Gunther asked, thinking it was a rhetorical question, destined to go unanswered.

“It's Dutch.” Dieter said. “It means, 'I'll watch you while you sleep.'”

“I don't find that the least bit comforting.”

Dieter nodded, “It feels more like a threat.”

“Oh!” Gunther exclaimed in surprise. “It's musical!” He pointed to the windy-uppy-thingy on the bottom. He gave it a good crank.

It had been in the water for gosh-golly knows how long. It was a miracle it worked at all. But it did work, just, not that well. The notes warble and strained to carry themselves out of the angel into the air.

“Is that a hymn?” Gunther asked. “I wasn't raised with any supernatural beliefs or practices.”

Dieter listened intently. He thought for a fleeting moment that it was “Nearer my god to thee.” But it wasn't. “No. I think it's Lionel Ritchie's 'Hello'.”

They put the angel in the engine access hatch. It was the furthest point on the boat from where they slept.

No sooner had they returned to the deck when the next bit of bounty emerged.

It looked a little like a cake, except it had metal sides and a padded top.

“Oh!” Gunther said, his voice modulating like a drunken slide whistle. “It's the top part of a bar stool! Or, a soda fountain in a 1930s drug store!”

Dieter moved closer and ran his hand over the vinyl upholstery. It was cherry red. Little flecks of embedded glitter gave it the illusion of three dimensions, like the impossibly beautiful night sky on a distant planet. “It can't be,” Dieter whispered. “When I was nineteen and had a job at Minnie & Max's diner, this was the same stuff that covered the seats of the booths. I used to love to wipe the crumbs and mustard stains off it. Imagined wearing a jacket, maybe a whole suit of this. One night I was closing and one of the bus boys, a little older than me...Lionel? No. Brian. He gave me my first blow job while I was sitting on vinyl a fabric?”

“Linen is a fabric. Vinyl is a covering.”


As the sun scraped across the sky these peculiar physical manifestations of our two friends' psyches showed no sign of slowing, this merry and disturbing parade of resonant flotsam and evocative jetsam.

The mermaid clock whose hands swept backwards.

The Burgess Meredith bobble-head.

The Pushmi-Pullyu refrigerator magnet.

The glow in the dark vampire teeth.

The single blue marble.

The plastic banana with the seven googly eyes glued on.

The schnauzer shaped bottle of Avon cologne. (One whiff of which caused Gunther to spit out the phrase, “You died before I could exact my revenge, you hateful old woman.”)

On and on.

At this rate they'd run out of space (and tears, there were plenty of tears that day.)

It wasn't a fish that brought the last of the haunting, taunting baubles. It was a seagull who unceremoniously dropped a weathered old leather bag at their feet.

The bag was embroidered with the image of a seahorse. When folks speak of seahorses, it's often the pregnant males they ramble on about. But, did you know the part of the brain called the Hippocampus is named after the seahorse because of it's shape? (Those of you who know Greek and cranial anatomy are nodding your heads right now) The Hippocampus is where memories are stored up for a rainy day.

Dieter opened the bag. “Hmm.”

Gunther was beginning to get cross (they hadn't eaten anything in hours) “Well, Monty Hall, what's behind door number two?”

“A very old bottle of ink and a strikingly beautiful pin with a diamond for a head.” There was a bit of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Dieter gave it a good shake to mix it all together.

“Oh.” Gunther was suddenly a little less cross. “You know what we have here, Kitten? It's an antique tattoo kit!”

Gunther and Dieter skipped right over the “should we get tattoos” straight to the “where should we get tattoos.”

Dieter, more than thought, he pondered. He knew that if he'd been young he would have said to himself, “Well, I'll have this the rest of my life.” But now, with eyes that had seen too much and face like a cliff on the verge of avalanche, it was, “This is the mark I'll be buried with.”

“I think,” Dieter said aloud, “I want today's date. So that we'll always remember today.”

Gunther raised his eyebrows with mild apprehension. “D, I haven't been keeping track of the days. Not even the season if the truth be told. In the absence of a calendar....”

Dieter's eyes were on fire. “Oh! I know exactly what day it is! It's the first day of the first month of the year zero! The past is gone! History starts now! I want 1/1/00 inked on my back!”

“That is an interesting coincidence!” Gunther's face softened. He had an air of kindness, almost as if he were capable of compassion. This was a sight unseen on this particular lake. “I want mine over my heart. I want it in gothic script to read: 'Forget Everything. Forgive Nothing.'”

And you know what? Those two fools didn't even bother to sterilize the pin with a candle flame.


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