We Had a Problem - Michael Zunenshine

We Had a Problem - Michael Zunenshine

We had a problem. It was an ant problem. Normally considered a common problem. They’d get in through a crack in the window or a hole in the wall or through the plumbing or escape from our most banal dreams. Still, there they were, and they were a problem.

There are some who suggest various solutions for an ant problem. Chemicals. Close the window. Move to a new apartment, new city, new society. But they are all wrong. Why? Because they see this problem as something to be solved and then to move on from.

You cannot solve such problems.

So we learned to live with the ants. We set up a family committee to manage the “ant situation” (calling it a problem was no longer allowed). Every day the committee would discuss the various ways to keep the ant situation well managed within certain parameters and in certain sectors of the apartment where it was deemed acceptable to have ants.

The ant committee also went on to suggest other ways we could arrange the ways we live in this apartment. Cut out refined sugars. Clean more regularly. Refrain from vulgar language. Weep once in a while for the children in starving countries who would otherwise have benefited from the excess protein contained in ants which we would waste in a sea of chemicals.

Things worked out. We managed the ant situation.

Then we developed a snake problem.

At first it was just one baby snake which appeared one morning in the toilet. Some suggested that maybe this was a result of a poorly managed ant problem. 

A small team was established to make sure nobody used the toilet ever again. Me and my family would take turns standing guard. When we had to go, there was always the kitchen sink, or the dumpster behind the building, or a neighbor’s house (if they weren’t home).

But the baby snake matured and grew legs and crawled out of the bowl. By the time we agreed to its requests to be let out of the bathroom, it had evolved into a reptilian humanoid and demanded everyone in the household learn its rudimentary language of hisses, brow furrows and eye rolls. 

The small bathroom team had, since then, also grew into a managerial department of intergalactic-species relations.

Then we had a documentarian problem.

Our son decided he wanted to become a documentarian. His subject was to be his life, here, in our house, though we were to avoid any mention of the ant or reptilian-humanoid problem when the cameras were rolling.

One of his fellow documentarian colleagues decided to do a documentary on our son’s documentary process. Then another began documenting our son’s friend’s process. 

The problem really got worse when three or four dozen documentarians were living among us, directing and demanding us to act more like realistic families who fought and lied and cried for the cameras and spent hours in forgotten libraries studying poisons and alchemy and harmful spells against loved ones.

The reptilian humanoid found our documentarian problem hilarious and made us feel shame every day. Therapists were brought in to manage our telegenic emotions.

Then we had a new problem. Our heating was cut off. 

The same private equity firm which owned our housing complex also owned the electricity grid and for some unexplained reason, decided to freeze us out. They’d sent us letters inviting us to come to their head offices in New York City to plead our case. But a referendum was held and it was determined that the best plan moving ahead was to set up a series of coping social policy institutes.

One of our first directives was to establish the ongoing nude huddle that we’d all stay in all day, to stay warm, rotating our bodies outside to inside. An independent advisory committee emerged to deal with any complaints of abuse.

The next problem we had was one of nervous, low-level cold war soldiers who’d been ordered to keep their fingers poised over the nuclear bomb launch buttons. 

They were simply everywhere. Sweating, shaking, grinding their teeth. In the kitchen. In between the walls. You couldn’t talk loudly or quickly anywhere in the house for fear of startling them.

We had to wait for further instructions from the newly founded organization for cold war domicile etiquette. Nobody was excited for what those instructions would bring.

Then our food problem was, for a time, big enough to eclipse all other problems. How it happened we still don’t know (a research firm is expected to deliver a report shortly). One day food was attainable and then it wasn’t. 

Luck would have it that a certain think tank, launched in secret during the documentarian debacle, was dedicated to proposing problem consolidation methods. 

The think tank proposed we merge the management of our ant problem with our food problem. The ants, by now, had grown to be the size of pugs. 

The think tank was in clandestine talks with a certain class of the ant population and had cut a deal with them. This small class of ants would gain complete sovereignty of our living room in exchange for us getting to eat the rest of the giant ants. 

This deal was signed and put into effect without consolidating me or my family. The think tank assured us of everyone of their staff’s impeccable reputation for expertise.

By this time some of the low-level cold war soldiers with their fingers posied over the nuclear bomb launch buttons were beginning to take on certain physical characteristics of the reptilian humanoids. Or it was the other way around. 

Fans of the live-steamed documentary were displeased at this development, having preferred stark distinctions between the household groups. One thing was certain, however, as seen in the vote-by-text message polls (at $99 a vote, no limits to how many times you can vote), was that me and my family would probably be the first to get voted off.

Then there was a new problem. We had an infestation of voids. 

I first noticed one next to me in bed where my wife usually slept. Then when I looked at my phone, there was another void. It crept up the walls, making byzantine shapes that would be interpreted by comment and analysis YouTube channels. It spread through the pipes, learning all of our secrets, and excreting them to the world.

The Institute of Voids and Inertia put their headquarters in my bedroom. 

One morning I asked one of its low-level lackeys, a young girl with a forced pleasant face, did the experts have a solution? 

To which problem?


That’s a good question, she said. I’ll have to put you in touch with one of my managers. There are over four hundred of them in this branch alone. Have a nice day.

Written by Michael Zunenshine
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