Arthur Plotnik

"Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil ...”
—George W. Bush

“I wanted to use my experiences to tell my story about addiction ....”
—James Frey, "A Note to the Reader," A Million Little Pieces

I awake when a flight attendant trips on the oil slick that has oozed from my pores into the aisle.

Where are we?

Newark, she says from the floor, and you are far too lubricated to continue on to Lagos.

I feel my face. I don’t know what happened last night, but on my forehead there’s a million little beads of petroleum wanting to go somewhere to die, somewhere deep in the earth, somewhere away from their unhappy passage through an oil junkie on a fuel-sucking aircraft in a country so addicted to the black gold that its leader took the pledge before his congress and half the world.

Look at you, says the attendant.

I look at me. My hands are cut, probably from when I ripped open a can of 50W-20 engine oil or jammed a spout into the thing while crouching in the lav as I’ve been doing since I left L.A. on an insane quest to score a couple of barrels in Nigeria. The necktie my mother gave me stinks of gasoline and I fuzzily recall dipping it into the tank of an airport limo when no one was looking. On my shoes are clots of the petroleum jelly I spread there to feed my craving when nothing or no one else is left to exploit and abuse for one last hit of lubricious oblivion.

Oil. I love it. I need it. When I can get it I want the good stuff, the foreign oil, the eighty-bucks-a-barrel crude and I don’t care who it hurts or whose national deficits explode all I know is I want it—the stuff aged under the seas, torn from the deserts, sweetened in the holds of supertankers. And when I can’t get primo, I’ll take the Gulf, the Texan, the Alaskan juice—tear up the wilderness I don’t care just give it to me and if I can’t get Prudhoe Bay give me the Siberian, the Mex, the Hugo Chavez giveaways, the spills from cracked Nigerian pipes I don’t care give me refined, give me heavy, give me lubricating, give me shale, give me sludge, give me jelly, give me tar, give me plastic, give me crankcase drippings, house paint, polyester, anything, anything, just give me OIL!

I am five years old at the movies. The Tin Man is getting his joints oiled and it feels so, I don’t know.

I’m seven, playing in the garage. My dad has a can of extra gasoline for his lawnmower or motorcycle or pickup or camper and I pour a gallon into my pedal car and it gets all over me and everyone pays attention and it’s a beautiful sensation and I don’t ever want it to stop.

I’m twelve and I’m working Speedee baseball-mitt oil into my fielder’s glove and a big kid grabs the can to use on his catcher’s mitt and I find a bat and crack him across the knees or let’s say I do and he goes down and I keep going at him until they pull me off because nobody touches or takes my oil nobody ever.

I’m nineteen and I’ve got two cars and three girlfriends or three cars and two girlfriends but gas and oil are cheap and one of the girls understands and doesn’t mind the fumes and I think I love her.

I’m twenty-one and on the New Jersey Turnpike hitching to Manhattan from Fort Dix in my Army uniform and I’m gazing at the white storage tanks at the Shell refinery in Sewaren and I’m thinking how I’d just like to dive into all that petroleum and be one with the hydrocarbons and sink to the bottom like the tiny sea creatures that became the oil in the first place because I’m so alone out here...

I’m twenty-six when my parents find me in an alley outside an oil den in Kazakhstan and I’m chewing on a piece of broken asphalt with my four remaining teeth or let’s say I am and they take my hand but it slips away at first because it’s still slathered in the buttery crude I must have come here to savor.

Your parents are waiting for you, says the flight attendant in Newark.

I’m thirty-seven. And this time I won’t slip away. Because oil is bad and God would not allow it to rule us and to addict us if God existed and so it’s up to me to see it for the evil manipulative thing that it is and I’m going to get help and I’m going to start by cutting back twenty percent on foreign oil which is only seventeen percent of what I use anyway but it’s a start or let’s say it is.


Arthur Plotnik won a case of Shell Soap Box Derby Lubricant and a visit to the refinery at Sewaren, N.J., when he was twelve. His latest of seven books is Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style (Random House Reference, May 2007).


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