By David Kaplan
Two paramecium walk into a bar. Well, they were actually near a bar. Amid the phosphoresce swirling in a puddle outside The Shifty Politico Public House on 12th Street NW in Washington DC, they could sense that there was a change in the air. The usual DC miasma hung heavier.
The dust mites and detritus associated with the inconsistent thrum of the district, as its populace ebbs and flows with the coming and going of representatives, was at a height the paramecium had seldom experienced.
They sensed opportunity.
The noises of the upper world were ceaselessly thunderous for hours. The repeated splashes in their puddle brought and removed countless sense data that sent their cilia tingling. This would be no relaxing swim. This was a moment of electric, heated activity.
New organisms split. Old organisms conjugated and within moments too small for a human to calculate, new gametes emerged, conjugated on their own, and expired. The two paramecium viewed the pinball birthing, living, mating, and dying with the avidity of a pair of moviegoers absently and fitfully stuffing popcorn in their mouths as their widening eyes reflected the brightness of a cinema screen.
The paramecium didn’t know of movies and popcorn. But the analogy stands. They were as riveted as they could be.
Another splash. To the paramecium, it appeared as another major tsunami. But they were well-positioned in their pool when a choice yeast cell emerged. They craved yeast even more than humans. In all the excitement, they forgot to feed. Their respective oral grooves and food vacuoles vibrated with what could be considered a molecular form of delight.
They each swam to conquer the yeast cell. But in their rush, their cilia became tangled. A rival paramecium quickly swept in and swiped their morsel.
Perhaps it was the intensity of the wider world’s moment. Perhaps it was the asexual tension that had always been there between them, building and growing within. But the two paramecium fought. They divided into two armies of thousands and fought. The small puddle became a murky battle site. The popping of paramecium was everywhere. The conflagration was exhilarating as it was ultimately destructive.
The fighting continued for what in the life of a paramecium felt like centuries. There seemed to be no end.
It was 4:30am on January 7. Albert Grossfield showed up to open his bar, which had closed the night before at 6pm, when the district curfew was imposed in the face of an insurrection on Capitol Hill.
Grossfield hauled himself on a stool at his dark tavern. He took a breath and stared at his reflection in the faded, scratched mirror behind the bar. The to-go paper coffee cup was empty as he tried to take a last sip. Maybe he’d make a fresh batch himself. Maybe there was some leftover from yesterday afternoon. No, better to just get started on the cleanup outside.
He slid off the stool and grabbed the old garage broom from the storeroom and walked outside. There was so much trash strewn around. As the sunrise approached, he looked down at the dull, oily rainbow in the small puddle in front. With one shove of the broom, he sent the milky, black pool into the curb, where it ran down into the sewage drain on the corner.
In the cascading slurry, the two paramecium were once again cell mouth to cell mouth. Their armies dispersed in the sudden upheaval. For now, the rage was over as they moved on to new sensations.