Lieutenant Literal saw things in black and white, and x and y, and one plus two: if it could be measured or counted, then he knew that it was real. This was how he kept a handle on things. Driving down the street in a Lincoln Continental–and it could be 1953 or 2009, no matter, for the car would always be a Lincoln Continental–Lieutenant Literal would count the houses before the highway. There would always be 8 houses, with 6 garages, 3 trees, and 1 fire hydrant. And Lieutenant Literal would not let you forget this, he would spell it out for you, as you floated on the mysterious suspension of the Lincoln, the confines of the space/time continuum to which everyone, outside of the Lincoln, was subject, mysteriously suspended. Lieutenant Literal would say, “Before the highway, there are 8 houses, with 6 garages, 3 trees, and 1 fire hydrant.” And you would think, “I guess I should remember that. Maybe it will come up later.”
And it would come up later. But never how you expected it. It would come up in exactly the same form, over and over, “Before the highway, there are 8 houses, with 6 garages, 3 trees, and 1 fire hydrant,” and sure enough, there they were. What there was not was nuance, or layers, or hidden meaning. Your mistake had been to assume it was a story, and as such the numbers must have some kind of narrative purpose. You were digging for some other symbolic goal, and the repetition confused you. You assumed that it would be revealed later, that it would tie things together some day. And years went by that way, with Lieutenant Literal enumerating and you deconstructing, confusing and annoying each other, until a lifetime existed between the two of you and you began to not give a shit anymore. Because really, who the fuck cares how many houses are between here and the highway?
Lieutenant Literal cared. Oh he did not ever care about the rest of it, but he would always care about the numbers of houses. And if you told him something, if somebody, your mother, said, “Actually, Lieutenant Literal, the gender of babies is determined by the father’s genetic material,” then he would say, “I’ve never heard that.” Or “Not as far as I know.” Which was to say, “You are wrong.” And it was decided. She was wrong, because as far as he knew, she was. And still, there were 8 houses, 6 garages, 3 trees, and 1 fire hydrant between here and the highway. Bill Clinton is a liar and all lawyers are thieves.
It was hard to like Lieutenant Literal. Few people did. But you were stuck with him. In your darkest moments he emerged in you, his influence always present and never welcome. You felt bad about it at first. Because in theory it was not his fault. But then he would do something typical, and that would make you feel less bad about despising him. He would tell everyone on his mailing list that somebody had flunked out of law school, or that someone had fumbled a football, and everyone would say, “Well, that’s Lieutenant Literal for you.” Because they were stuck with him, too. And because you all wanted to operate on a higher plane of morality, you expected yourselves to rise above petty jokes, to cut Lieutenant Literal more slack than he had cut you, because you were better than he. It was the sort of thing you needed to be big enough to do. To show yourselves you could do.
But there would be a day when everyone hit their breaking point. For one it was two weeks of unadulterated Lieutenant Literal crap, both literal and figurative, on an isolated ocean cruiser. For another it was one too many accusations of lying and cheating, and stealing and faking. For you, too much had happened years ago, with the damn 8 houses, 6 garages, 3 trees and 1 fire hydrant. And even still, Lieutenant Literal was always there, rearing his ugly head of influence when noise got too loud, lights got too bright. When you would be forced to think of him and the genetic connection he had to you, like it or not. But you were done. You had been done 8 houses, 6 garages, 3 trees, 1 fire hydrant, and six or seven Lincolns ago, when you were just a small blonde head buried in the backseat, fumbling with power windows and juvenile musings on the order of things. And if turned out that you were the assburger, well then at least there was a fundamental irony to it, after all.