Aggregate of Qualities

by Travis Oltmann

There was a gang of cockroaches in my apartment. I put on thick soled boots and stomped on them. I didn’t like how they threw a party without asking me first.

They made these mini circles of bug juice on the carpet.

I sat on the couch and thought about licking them. Cutting around them with a razor and bringing them to work and sitting in a lunch room, licking them, and not saying anything about it – like it was just another minute of the day.

Most people wouldn’t know it was bug juice. I wanted them to know but I wouldn’t tell them because it would ruin the tone of what I was trying to do. Comedy was situational.

I didn’t work in a place that had a lunch room. I was an apprentice for a drywaller, which, according to my daily tasks, meant I was apprenticing to become someone that picked up heavy objects and got dust in their eyes. Most of my fellow employees didn’t last very long because they huffed things that could set them on fire and hated white people. At jobsites I blended in with the background. Like those painted movie sets. Sometimes I struck a pose and didn’t move for a long time and waited until someone noticed. It was rare if they did. I kind of hoped I was part of a movie background so when the tradesmen came over to give me something to do, they would walk straight into the painted plywood and grab their bloody noses and I wouldn’t react on the outside because I was made of plywood and paint but inside I would be laughing and laughing.

My boss was this thick haired Italian that ate sliced meat like potato chips. His nose didn’t look like it wanted to be a nose. It had different aspirations. It wanted to be a growth that doctors had to google.

One time I watched him as he cut holes in a big piece of drywall with a rotary tool.

“You could make a human with that,” I said.

“What?” He asked, stopping.

“You could make a human with that.”

If he had a six foot piece of square human material he could’ve cut arms and legs and whatever genitals he preferred.

“Are you high?”

I wanted to tell him about the genitals. “You could give it a vagina and marry it,” I said.

By then I was imagining the human cut from a rotary tool having an alright life and searching for its birth parents but never finding them. No one deserved to figure out they were made with power tools.

“Get the fuck away from me,” he said.

I heard him tell another worker about our conversation later and then he said: “I would fire him but he comes to work every day.”

It paid to be dependable.

I got up from the couch and looked through the curtains, hoping to see someone commit a crime. Nothing moved except the cockroaches in my apartment. I stomped on them.

I heated a burrito in the microwave and played ‘Wish You Were Here’ by Pink Floyd on my stereo and pretended the song meant something to me. My phone rang. I turned the volume down.

“Hello sir, how are you tonight?” The voice on the other end asked.

“I wished songs made me sad or happy,” I said.


“They don’t make me feel anything. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a robot and everyone else is human or everyone else is a robot and I’m human. You ever feel like that?”


“How could you not? You’re a telemarketer, right?”


“You’re getting replaced by robots. You should worry about robots.”

“Sir, would you be interested in learning about our travel rewards card?”

“Not unless you say you’re worried about robots.”

He hung up. I went to the kitchen for my burrito and the tortilla had unfurled during the cooking process. The reason I liked frozen burritos was the cover they provided for their insides, they had a level of separation from their ingredients, which other ninety nine cent foods didn’t have. Because of the faulty wrap job, I was face to face with the brown log of beans and beef and possibly excrement the food company could afford and still be within their profit margins. The horror. There were shipping, wage, tax, marketing and packaging costs. Anything left went to the food. On a ninety nine cent product, I couldn’t imagine it was more than a couple cents. For beans and beef. And if I was working in the plant, making whatever cents an hour to roll however many burritos a day, I certainly wouldn’t be adverse to putting Rodrigo’s lunch from the day before in a tortilla and seeing where it ended up.

I posted my thoughts on facebook. Neither the model with one picture in her timeline or the overweight woman I worked with three years ago liked it.

I put my jacket on and hit the worn spot in my wall just right so the light turned off. My lock didn’t lock but I locked it anyway.

Out on the street a rat scurried into a drain. The night smelled like gravel and steam. I went to a local Mexican place and ordered a combo platter and watched the girl behind the glass dig into the ingredients with her gloved fingers.

“You ever eat ninety nine cent burritos?” I asked her.

“Huh? What?” She said, scratching her nose with the back of her hand.

I dropped it. She resumed making the platter and took my money and threw her gloves in the garbage. She dialed someone on her phone.

“You still coming to get me?” She said.

It was late and there was no one around. Besides her voice the only thing I heard was one of the refrigerators with a loose kick plate.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said in her phone. “Yeah, we’ll do that, and you’re staying over too, right?”

She pulled the phone from her face and looked at the display and then put it back to her ear. “Hold up, hold up.”

She pressed a button on her phone. “Mom, I’m on the other line, I’ll call you back.”

I felt like she should’ve told her mother she loved her but I wasn’t sure people did that anymore.

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