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The Gum Thief, Douglas Coupland

Bloomsbury Publishing, September 25, 2007

If you are reading this, stop now. Show some respect, asshole. Journals are private. Go read someone else’s diary.

A few years ago it dawned on me that everybody past a certain age—regardless of how they look on the outside—pretty much constantly dreams of being able to escape from their lives.

Nice. An opening that doesn’t mince words. Not that I can relate. (I look over my shoulder.) Everything in my life is as good as it gets. By the way, I’m not sure why you are still here. What are you, a Peeping Tom?

It’s amazing how you can be a total shithead, and yet your soul still wants to hang out with you.

Ever get the feeling that you are being watched?

My question of the day is, “What if my shadow became unattached from my body? What if one day I went one way and it went the other?”

Okay, so maybe I’m just paranoid. You’re not here, reading my secret thoughts. It’s just me, a word processor, and Douglas Coupland’s novel The Gum Thief, which I am fairly certain could not have been written about me no matter how much it nails my life and so many of the crazy thoughts swirling around my demented head. Besides, Douglas Coupland doesn’t even know me. I look over my shoulder one last time and it is the same result, just me and my thoughts. I am wondering how he did it. How does a writer who doesn’t know the first thing about me manage to rip out so many pages from my own existence, down to my damn spleen being sore? What the hell is that all about? Reading Coupland’s novel reminds me of what it’s like to go to the Web to try and self-diagnose. Before long, you have every symptom of every disease known to man. Perhaps I should have put down the novel by the midway point, after it was clear that I had the cancer.

The thing about dreaming about dead people is that you don’t know they’re dead—your brain makes you forget that one key fact. And then you wake up and remember they’re dead, and you feel the loss all over again, every single time. You feel scooped out and hollow. I do.

Brian, that one’s for you. Again, not sure how he knew. But it’s true. I wake up and the room closes.

Who am I fooling? I merely did whatever everyone else seemed to be doing. It’s be nice if we had a course in school called Real Life. Forget don’t-drink-and-drive videos and plastic models of the uterus. Imagine a class where they sit you down and spell everything out, deploying all of that information delivered to us by our ever-growing army of wise, surviving ninetysomethings. . . .

… Falling out of love happens as quickly as falling in.

Random thought that has nothing to do with the number of times I have fallen in and out of love. If Andy Warhol is the King of Pop Art, then what does that make Douglas Coupland? The Duke of Dot Com?

Although it was brightly lit and sterile, he couldn’t help but look at the endless truckloads of toner cartridges and flash cards and protractors and laser printers and imagine how they would all end up either mummified inside a regional landfill, or incinerated, the ashes floating about the Van Allen radiation belt, soaking up extra heat from the sun and hastening the total meltdown of the polar ice caps. To Kyle, the office superstore was a slow-motion end of the world in progress.

This Coupland novel essay is dragging me away from my New Year’s resolutions.

1. Ride exercise bike for 20 minutes, 4 days a week
2. Pushups
3. Write for 1 hour per day, minimum 10 hours per week
4. Read more
5. No more Less pizza

The doorbell rings. A large thin crust arrives.

There’s such a difference between the world I grew up expecting and the one I got, but everyone my age has probably felt the same since the dawn of man. I didn’t expect a world full of jetliners impregnating office towers, or viruses jumping species or, shit, according to Yahoo!, pigs that glow in the dark.

I am full now. Completed stuffed on cheese and sausage and Coupland wisdom. Talk about overload.

I find it hard to believe that human beings are the crowning achievement of life on earth. Something better than us has to come along. Maybe someday there’ll be a flower the size of Colorado—or a marine organism that occupies the entire Indian Ocean—massive supercreatures that use telepathy to speak with other creatures in other galaxies!

I turn the pages faster. I even see my name in lights. Of course Greg turns out to be the ultimate Debbie Downer.

It’s strange how things leave you one by one, isn’t it? Old friends. Enthusiasms. Energy.

The pages run out. I can put the book down at last. Even slip it on the shelf or, better yet, donate it. Not that it will matter. No matter where it goes (library, used book store, or some other unsuspecting victim), I am forever trapped, literally trapped inside it.

Thanks a lot, Douglas.


PS: If you are still reading that which I am compelled to reiterate does not belong to you, then how about stealing a little bit of advice to tuck away with the spoils of your voyeurism? That is, no matter where you are in your pathetic little life (and God knows things can get pretty damn ugly), you gotta know that it can always change. And maybe, just maybe, it might even change for the better. Imagine that. Probably best that you wait and see, don’t you think?

PPS: Take that, Debbie.