People with unusual or uncommon compulsions by JL Bogenschneider

#17: Shouting At The Mouths Of Strangers

: Not all the time, no. Most times. But not all.

: I don’t know. But sometimes the urge simply doesn’t — strike me? Point of fact: it didn’t this morning, for the first fifteen minutes of my journey, but after which it did.

: Rarely. Sometimes it physically hurts not to do it.

: It’s sort of like — Do you remember something called Ready Brek? It was an oat-based cereal. You mixed it with milk and warmed it up over the hob. Do they still make that stuff?

: But they always promoted it by showing a boy or a girl, post-consumption, surrounded by a supposedly healthy, but actually quite unnatural looking glow. Radioactive, almost.

: Well there was a poster. A promotion for the product – I forget if it came with the box or if you had to collect tokens and send away for it.

: But I had this poster. And there were pictures of all these things, A-Z, that glowed, and the glowing part of them was made up of a tactile neon finish. So, for example, A was an illustration of the aurora borealis, which was where I first came across those words, and the lights of the aurora were treated with neon. V was for volcano and the lava glowed. I forget most of the others, except that there was a large spider – a tarantula, I think – which also glowed, for reasons I wasn’t certain of. And then R was for Ready Brek and it was a picture of two schoolchildren in uniform who were, as I say, surrounded and almost protected by this luminous red light.

: Well that glow, that light, that — aura. That’s where it hurts when I don’t do it. All over.

: I cried once.

: No, I can’t avoid it and still be okay. Physically not being able to do it is worse than suppression. It burns. As if I’ve eaten the entire box of hot oats and I’m burning like the glow in the dark volcano on the poster. Is how much it hurts.

: The most – sorry, the least – I’ve ever done it and still been alright is maybe three or four times. But they were good ones, you know?

: Oh yes, quality is definitely involved. This morning, for example, was a doozy. I was on the bus, sitting up front and top, and I could see that we had a clean run: empty road, no lights or crossings; it was perfect. There was this other bus heading towards us and there were two people in the other bus’s front and top seat too, and as we moved towards and then ultimately away from each other, I began to do it.

: Well I started off with a wide-eyed look, like this — moving into a grimace like so — which became a look of intense hatred, as though they – both of them; I was directing it at both of them – had committed the most heinous atrocity against my person.

: I don’t know. As if they’d — use your imagination, I suppose.

: But then, I’m not even finished. By this point we’re drawing level and I’m still gurning away, I can’t stop. Then I start giving them the finger and jerking my fist at them like this — and then this other motion — which I sort of made up so it doesn’t mean anything, except that it does to me; it’s the visual or gesticulative equivalent of the C-word. And I guess it looks like I’m in spasm from one point of view, but maybe not from theirs directly.

: You’d have to ask them. Crazy, I suppose. What do you think?

: I feel bad, certainly. But not in the moment. The remorse comes after. And if I could stop, I really would. But the feeling, the rush. I feel so alive!

#23: The Untold Delights Of Duluth

: It doesn’t have any significance. To me.

: A travel brochure maybe, or a website. It’s a slogan, I think. Designed to attract tourists.

: Is that relevant?

: Well then, I don’t know. You’d have to analyse it I guess.

: Ask some questions, look at some numbers. Before and after sort of thing.

: Like, you would need to know – for example, you understand – how many people visited before you started using the slogan, and how many people came after. And compare the two.

: I don’t know. That’s what I’d like to find out.

: Who knows? Maybe it’s just something that’s gotten stuck in my head.

: A few years now. I actually don’t mind it, it’s an — an idiosyncrasy. It’s my ‘thing.’

: Maybe. But I might like to know why, first.

: Well I’ve tried not saying it, for one. But it’s a compulsion, obviously.

: I suppose, a little. But I’ve spoken to people in the know and they say that if you have Tourette’s you’re pretty much compelled, all the time, to say your thing. Whereas with me, it’s not so frequent. But when it does come up, when I do need to say it, it’s not that I just need to shout out – and I don’t always shout it out; that’s another thing, but I’ll get to that shortly – Go And See The Untold Delights Of Duluth; and actually, the phrase in the brochure, or wherever, is: Come And See The Untold Delights Of Duluth, so part of the compulsion is to be grammatically – and geographically, seeing as I’m not, nor have I ever been, there – correct. But as I say, it’s not enough that I simply say Go And See The Untold Delights Of Duluth, but also that I really mean it. I’m not shouting it out, I’m saying it to someone – and that’s another point, part of the compulsion is that it only arises when there is someone to say it to – and I’m telling them, the person, whoever, with every fibre of meaning I can muster: you must, you really actually must, I absolutely exhort you to, as soon as you can possibly do it, to drop whatever it is that you are doing, go home, pack a bag, book a flight and Go!

: No, I mean it. You absolutely should! It’s beautiful! I mean, forget all this. Forget me, forget the interviews. What you need to do is: Go. To. Duluth. Right now. You won’t regret it. In fact, you’ll thank me! I swear, it will be — Well, you just need to go.

: And I did it just then, didn’t I? That wasn’t an example: that was me; that was the compulsion. It wasn’t a put on – I really wanted you to go to Duluth.

: That would have been fine. Most people do, in fact, when they know. And even if I can tell they’re not serious, it’s still okay. But I need to know, however superficially, that they will go, on my recommendation.

: Never. Nor do I want to. It’s not that I want to go there, it’s that I want you to go there.

: I actually have a friend in Minnesota, but not in Duluth. If I were to go there at all, it would be to where she is, Minneapolis or St. Paul, or someplace. But not there.

: It was odd. That’s as simple a way as I can express it. It was odd.

: My sister. We were over at her place, just chatting. But I could feel it, bubbling up.

: Well as I say, I could feel it coming. And I knew, but also didn’t know, what it was. Like I knew, and also didn’t know, what I was going to say. I’m sorry, I’ve never been able to describe it properly to anyone, not even to myself. All I can say is that I know what I mean when I say that. I just can’t —

: Articulate it properly, yes.

: She was — bemused? Imagine, being in an everyday sort of situation with someone you know, and they say something that’s out of context: something of a non sequitur, but not too weird and not wildly offensive or out of character either. It’s just —

: Well exactly. Exactly.

#29: Wrapped In Elastic

: Countless times every day. You know the way you move around and do stuff no matter where you are, or what you’re doing. It’s unavoidable.

: No, not really. Say, do you ask everyone the same questions? Like that one – ‘Why’?

: And do many people know?

: Huh.

: It’s just a part of my life, now. I don’t think I’m alone. I imagine lots of people have something or other they can’t stop doing. Chewing their fingernails, stuff like that.

: True, but maybe the more uncommon the obsession or compulsion, the less likely they might be to talk about it. I mean, maybe I’m not the only one with my particular habit, but I might be one of the few willing to go on record about it.

: Since I was very young. I have this memory, which may or may not be accurate, of being in the schoolyard and playing tag with the other kids on the tarmac – it might not have been tarmac – in lieu of actual playing fields. And I was one of the ones being chased. And I stood still for a few moments, I’d sort of zoned out. And someone shouted my name, because the kid who doing the tagging was running towards me, and I turned around, a quarter turn – I remember that very well – to see who it was that was shouting, but they weren’t where I thought they were so I turned again, a half-turn this time, and in all I turned an almost — what – two-hundred and seventy degrees? And all the time, this kid is running towards me and I should run, I should run, but I don’t: actually, I can’t. Because before I can do anything I have to turn a reverse two-hundred and seventy degrees. And I’m aware that this kid is coming at me, know that I need to get away, but I can’t do anything until I’ve turned. And in the panic – and I am panicking – I turn a quarter-turn too far, and I realise this and so turn back, but again, a little too much, and so I correct myself by turning back the right way. Are you following this?

: Now, to me it makes absolute sense, even during this first, unanalysed moment – which I have analysed, obsessively, many times since – that I should do this. But to the other kids – and I know because one of them said as much, later – it looked as though I was turning on the spot for no reason at all, and it was just good fortune I suppose, that I managed to right myself – that’s how I describe it, as ‘righting’ myself – in time to recover and escape.

: The analogy I like to use is – here, I can show you. See, my headphones for my Walkman – I still call it that; nostalgia reflex – get all twisted up when I tuck them into my pocket. So I need to untwist them, and I do that by holding the earphone parts and dangling the unit on the wires and letting them hang there, kind of like a pendulum, until they unwind themselves and – yes – right themselves. Which is a perfect illustration, but if I were to describe it in words I’d say it’s like being wrapped in elastic.

#40: Crushed By Plastic Lego Men

: Well I can’t go into toy shops any more, that’s for certain.

: I had a nightmare about them once. I don’t want to go into it.

: I mean I can control it, obviously. Otherwise how ludicrous would that be?

: Well no, it’s not a compulsion as such.

: Alright then: at all.

: I realise that, but actually, I wanted to ask you something. Or rather, be given an answer. To be told what everyone wants to be told.

: That everything’s going to be okay.

: I know, but I don’t know where else to go.

: I’ve tried all that. Therapists, priests. Prostitutes.

: But still. I’d like to hear it. I’d like for you to tell me.

: Because nobody else will. The therapists said it wasn’t for them to say, the priests told me to have faith and the prostitutes didn’t want to do anything weird. And my friends will only offer qualified platitudes. So I just want someone – anyone – to tell me, regardless of the truth, regardless of the whole, the one thing that I need to hear.

: It really is all I want.

: Thank you. Thank you. Thanks.

#52: In Which It Is Almost Revealed

kju: Does it bother you at all? It’s just that I’ve found that they don’t bother everyone.

kju: Of course. But do you find it difficult, living with it?

kju: And how does it usually — manifest itself?

kju: Right. And does it hurt, or is it just uncomfortable?

kju: How has it affected your relations with others?

kju: In any way. Socially. Platonically. Romantically.

kju: Meaning that some don’t?

kju: Right, right.

kju: Sure. Well actually, I know what you mean–what people mean when they say that. But no. It doesn’t bother me personally.

kju: Because I understand the – sorry it’s an awkward phrase, but I think it applies – ‘societal paradigm’ that people operate in. For example, it doesn’t bother you at all.

kju: But you understand the reason why others might react in that way, even if you don’t like it?

kju: Well I feel the same. As you.

kju: You’re the first today. But I’ll be seeing more later on. Overall, over a hundred.

kju: It’s a hobby. More of an interest, really.

kju: No, not a compulsion.

kju: Because I can control it.

kju: Well, yes – I am submitting to a desire, but the point of a compulsion is that it is irresistible.

kju: Now that’s not strictly true. I have – in one sense, I suppose, ‘succumbed’ – if you want to use that word – to the desire. But if you’re going to look at things that way, then everything anyone ever does could be seen as a compulsion. The point is, with most things, people can be selective about when or where they indulge themselves. Whereas if the thing, whatever it may be, is an obsession or a compulsion, that selectivity becomes sort of an unaffordable luxury. For example, with yourself —

kju: Yes, but never documented in this way. In this format.

kju: Oh, anecdotal. I would ask friends, and then friends of friends once I knew them a little better. But more often than not, nobody would have any. Or perhaps didn’t want to talk about them. It occurred to me that maybe a more formal, confidential approach might generate more responses, more openness. So I placed the ad.

kju: I don’t know. I just want to — Look, to be honest, I’m not sure that I’m comfortable even talking about it.

kju: I know, but that’s the way it is. Anyway, I’ve never quite been able to articulate it.

kju: If I had to, I would describe it as ‘a need to know the complexities.’

kju: That’s it. Although something someone – another respondent – said in relation to their own compulsion applies: “I know what I mean when I say that.”

kju: That’s the only way I can explain it. And I know what it means to me, but it’s hard to translate it for others.

kju: Look, could we stop there?

JL Bogenschneider is a writer of short fiction, with work featured in a number of print and online journals, including 404 Ink, minor literature[s], Rabble Lit., Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Necessary Fiction, PANK and Ambit. Follow him on Twitter here.


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