Sir Isaac Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion memorialized the truth that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And as in the scientific world, so too in the literary world. This law was never more operable than it was in reference to Franz Kafka’s novella Metamorphosis in which an ordinary man awakens one morning to find himself in the body of an insect. Its authorship by the tortured Mr. Kafka spontaneously generated an equal and opposite novella in a parallel literary universe titled Morphometasis in which an ordinary insect awakens one morning in the body of a man. And having recently discovered this heretofore unknown novella while NyQuil-binging at a book fair in Rutland, VT, I thought it only fitting that I introduce it to a gullible society and contrast the novella’s salient plot points with those of the more well-known Metamorphosis.
Similarly, but completely different from Metamorphosis, the main character in Morphometasis is little Squiggy; a headstrong 3 month old cockroach (that’s about 22 in human years) who, while not being a complete loser, is certainly no alpha-roach. When most of his siblings had worked their way up to the 5th floor, he still lived in his mother’s baseboard. The year is 1903 so this story (just like the print it is told in) is all in black and white. I think everything was in B&W back then. If history has taught us anything it’s that we didn’t get color until about the time of The Wizard of Oz.
Squiggy is fully invested in his structured life deep within the catacumbal walls of a seemingly ordinary 6-story tenement in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But it’s not ordinary for within these walls also happens to be the boyhood home of the Marx Brothers who are not famous yet, but are already developing their trademark antic humor to the begrudging delight of their doting stage mother Minnie. While still in cockroach form, Squiggy performs his genetically hardwired tasks with robotic efficiency: scaring old lady Marx, securing vital pumpernickel breadcrumbs from the pantry and generally scuttling along the baseboards in that creepy motion adults find so repugnant and children find so cool. Being the middle cockroach of her brood of 303 cockroaches, Squiggy’s mother Lenore admitted, “Squiggy was liked, but not well liked.”
Some found him less roach and more cock. “We all brought crumbs of tribute to old Grammy Simpkin. She was almost 11 months old (about 80) and ready to molt for the last time. But Squiggy never lifted so much as an antenna for her. He hoarded all his crumbs for himself,” said Chloe, one of his 160 sisters. “Oh, he’ll get his someday.”
The stage was set that fateful day in October of 1903 – a full 5 years before the Cubs would win their last World Series and at least 9 years before star-crossed lovers Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet would board the Titanic for a fateful voyage. Meanwhile, back in the metropolis of Manhattan, Squiggy was facing his own fateful day. With the 5 Marx Brothers out skipping school and Minnie at home in the hapless tenement preparing that evening’s dinner for her brood (a nice Brisket of Guilt) Squiggy’s retribution was at hand. While wiggling his way towards a delicious trove of unguarded matzo ball mix in the Marx’s pantry/bathroom, Squiggy was spotted by Minnie who chased him down and showered him with a ladle of borscht she’d been preparing. Mortified by the cloud of toxic beet soup surrounding him, Squiggy frantically tried to scuttle away from the enveloping Hebraic staple. He struggled to out scuttle the noxious liquid, but couldn’t avoid getting skunked by the cascading purplish waves and inhaled a significant portion of it as he dashed back to the safety of his little lathe and plaster village tucked cozily between the walls of this Marxist dwelling. As the foul borscht circulated through his system it began to affect him. He felt funny, but not in a Jim Gaffigan way – more in a Strontium-90 way.
By the next morning he wasn’t looking so good. He was kind of bug-eyed, which was usually a good thing, but not in this case. No something altogether unaccountable had happened to him. For Newtonian reasons related to an equal and opposite reaction to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Squiggy had morphometasized and awakened fully formed in the sturdy and unremarkable body of an Eastern European – a mesomorphic Slav without a belly button. As he emerged naked from a hall closet the Marx family wasn’t too alarmed as they’d often seen Harpo emerge unclothed from that same closet blowing a horn or running with scissors. When Minnie finally realized this bonus baby wasn’t one of her antic sons she gave him some clothes and in no time they all warmed to his presence. It was Groucho (then known simply as Julius) who demonstrated his prescient wit by informing the upstart human, “Listen you. We’re all Marxists here by birth, but you’re one by association now. Henceforth you’ll be known as Pinko.”
By early 1904 Pinko realized he needed to pull his weight around the household. It didn’t help that his weight was now 900 times what it used to be. To make matters worse the transformation wasn’t seamless. He still molted – about once every 2 weeks – and left shells of his former body everywhere. Recognizing that man does not live by bread alone (especially if they’re just pumpernickel crumbs) he struck out and found a job at a Satis Factory where he made satis for retail sale. He was ill-suited to such work and soon Pinko was given his pinko slip when his Satis Factory evaluations were not satisfactory. He left the factory in a huff complaining, “Two months ago I’m living in a lathe and plaster wall with 1600 relatives and now I’m an unemployed shell of my former self,” he said as he stepped out of his newly molted skin.
It was then Pinko found his calling as a salesman at a Heebie-Jeebies factory where he had no trouble putting the “ick” in Halloween shtick. He was popular with his bosses as they could see the enthusiasm he brought to the job. Management said Pinko could sell rubbery severed hands to lepers in Maui. In any other job this remark would be an indictment, but it was a compliment to a salesman at the Heebie-Jeebies factory. His co-workers felt otherwise about their peer adding without any sense of irony, “The guy bugs me. He bugs everybody. Like it’s in his DNA or something.” Overall he was liked, but not well liked. Ultimately these peer-review criticisms were the death of a salesman.
Generally trans-species genetic mutations end badly. This one didn’t. Squiggy insinuated himself into the Marx family unit and eventually learned a trade thereby contributing to the financial well-being of his benefactors. He became quite a skilled mason. In fact he became so adept at employing the trowel at construction sites and plastering walls with artisanal skill that Groucho renamed him Stucco.
Stucco settled into a routine and helped the family in all matters except for exterminating cockroaches. In fact he would toss little morsels in between the walls as penance for his earlier unvirtuous behavior with Grammy Simpkins. He had taken a great journey. One only a caterpillar might understand. And by the end of the book he dies peaceably after accidentally eating some borscht.
Newton was right about the observable universe: that for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is especially true for such things as literary mirroring. And thus was produced Morphometasis. Of course there’s always more to it than that. We no longer live in a B&W world thanks to that Wizard of Oz, Albert Einstein who dimensionalized it and offered proof positive of the malleability of space and time. He went beyond Newton and enshrined the equivalency of matter and energy (E=mc2). It’s all about equivalent phenomena. For example, for every prolonged stare you experience there is always an equal and opposite abbreviated sneeze. For every Idi Amin there is a Mother Theresa. For every George Bush there seems to be another George Bush (my theory starts to break down here). The point is, it’s a reactive universe and that without the abundant use of leaf blowers things would be a lot less tidy. I said that without the use of leaf blowers things would be a lot less tidy.
A rare literary vortex existed at Rutland VT’s book fair allowing for a temporary wormhole of mirrored titles to manifest themselves. Whether it was this literary vortex or the NyQuil responsible for the spontaneous appearance of these unique volumes, which seem to be created only in diametric opposition to their more famous originating book, I’m not sure. I combed the lot of them and purchased all I could find. I intend to review them in the future. These mirrored titles include:
- Moby Twat
- To Spawn a Praisingbird
- Peace and War
- The Underwhelming Gatsby
- The Clothed and the Living
- 50 Streaks of Pink
I thank you for your time. I’ve always appreciated your interest. But mostly I thank you for understanding. For really I’m just like you except instead of waking up in your body, I woke up in mine. No worries though. As we’ve seen, our stories practically write themselves – and in two different ways to boot.