issue 26: September - October 2001 

 spanish translation | author bio

Kessler has no lucky pantsKessler Has No Lucky Pants
Jim Ruland


How many pairs of lucky pants does Kessler own?

How many pairs of unlucky pants does Kessler own?

Is this bad?
Most definitely. There are days when a certain something extra is required of us and on those certain something extra days we are accustomed to reaching into the closet and finding (on an extra-special hanger perhaps?) a pair of lucky pants. But not Kessler. Kessler has no lucky pants. I repeat: Kessler has no lucky pants.

How unlucky are these pants?
1 pair of khaki slacks: Very unlucky.
1 pair of navy blue trousers: Very unlucky.
3 pairs of blue denim jeans (baggy, loose, and boot cut, respectively): Moderate to seriously unlucky.
1 pair of black mesh sweatpants: Way unlucky.
1 pair of green corduroys: Mildly unlucky.
1 pair of camouflage pants: Vaguely unlucky.
1 pair of U.S. Navy dress white bell-bottoms: Mondo, off-the-charts unlucky.

Are the khaki slacks and blue trousers equally unlucky?
More or less.

Why is that?
They are his office pants and Kessler alternates them in the following manner: Monday khaki, Tuesday blue, Wednesday khaki, Thursday blue. Then, the following week: Monday blue, Tuesday khaki, Wednesday blue, Thursday khaki. Fridays, of course, are occasions for casual dress and Kessler wears the same pair of office jeans (boot cut) every Friday. These are the rules. Of the two, the blue pants should be considered more unlucky than the khaki pants because several months ago Kessler spilled toner on the blue pants and continues to fool himself into thinking that his co-workers don't notice the stain, which is simply not the case as the stain is as plain as a stain can be. Its proximity to the crotch area is doubly unfortunate.

Just how unlucky are these unlucky office pants?
Very unlucky. Consider the evidence:
Kessler was repeatedly passed over for promotion in these pants.
Kessler's frequent requests for an office were denied in these pants.
Kessler has been turned down by an absurd number of office temps in these pants.
Kessler was "interrupted" in the bathroom in these pants.
Kessler was reprimanded for stealing office supplies in these pants.
Kessler has received numerous traffic citations in these pants.
Kessler's computer has crashed, frozen, jammed or behaved in an inexplicable manner while Kessler was wearing these pants. And so on.

How many times have these unlucky events taken place?
6, 4, 11, 2, 2, 3 and 676 times, respectively.

Who is this Kessler?
Kessler is the owner of nine pairs of unlucky pants. He works in an office. His job can be characterized as either "going nowhere" or "dead-end" depending on his mood. He is excitable, yet largely unsuccessful with women. This is a shame, though certainly not the tragedy he thinks it is. He overestimates his abilities and underestimates those of others. The ensuing discrepancy is often unmanageable.

Is Kessler in the Navy?

Is Kessler a veteran of the Navy?
No. In fact, Kessler experiences a curious mixture of claustrophobia and homophobia on those occasions when he considers what life must be like on board those enormous ships.

Why would someone who is neither a member of the Navy, nor a veteran of the Navy, own a pair of perfectly good white U.S. Navy-issue bell-bottoms?
That is a very good question.

Kessler is very sensitive about his sailor pants. He probably wouldn't like us talking about them. In fact, he's been meaning to get rid of them, but he can't bring himself to throw them away for reasons that are troubling to him, so they remain in his closet, exuding an unlucky aura.

What makes these sailor pants so off-the-charts unlucky?
In 1999 Kessler attended a Halloween costume party. The party was hosted by an office temp with whom Kessler was friendly but had not yet mustered the courage to ask out, which is a very good thing because she probably would have said no. He attended the party costumed as a sailor, a rare stroke of seemingly good luck as this particular temp, in spite of having had her heart broken by a young seaman named Jim she met during spring break down in Rosarita, Mexico, many years before, had a thing for sailors.

What do you mean "thing"?
Irrational attraction.

Does this temp possess any remarkable characteristics?
She does. The temp, whose name is Diane, has a small Christian cross tattooed on the fleshy part of her hand between the thumb and forefinger. She has an irrational attraction to sailors. She falls in love very quickly. She is not unattractive. Not in the least.

Was the party a success?
It was. As the hours became small and the guests trickled out the door Diane asked Kessler to stay a while. Soon they were kissing, pawing at each other, rutting on the floor.

Was this situation agreeable to both parties?
Very much so.

Why were Kessler and Diane making love on the floor?
Because the bedroom was occupied by Diane's husband, Jared, who had gotten riotously drunk and had passed out cold.

Then what happened?
Kessler's condom broke and a baby was conceived. Of course, Kessler and Diane did not realize this had happened. They were too busy getting drunk (Kessler) and falling in love (Diane).

It just gets worse and worse, doesn't it?
I'm afraid so.

Where did Kessler get the sailor pants?
From a thrift store. It should be noted that it is almost impossible to acquire lucky pants at a thrift store. In fact, the sailor pants in question were already terrifically unlucky when Kessler bought them. In this instance, they were downright dangerous.

Who did they belong to before Kessler bought them?
They didn't belong to anyone. They belonged to the thrift store.

Who did they belong to before they belonged to the thrift store?
They belonged to a bandy-legged sailor named Jim.

Was this sailor in the habit of breaking young office temps' hearts in Mexico?
As luck would have it, he was.

What are the odds of Jim's sailor pants making it from his seabag in San Diego to Kessler's closet in Los Angeles?
All that matters is that it happened. Looking back, it seems as if there could have been no other outcome. Jim's pants were always already around Kessler's ankles at the moment Kessler's sperm was striving to fertilize Diane's egg.

What happened to Jim?
That depends on whether you are referring to little Jimmy, Kessler's toddler son, or Jim the sailor, little Jimmy's psychic progenitor. Little Jimmy lives with his mother, Diane, and his stepfather, Jared, Diane's cuckolded husband.

What happened to Jim the sailor?
It's too terrible to talk about.

What happened to little Jimmy?
Nothing, yet. He's just a toddler.

Did things work out between Kessler and Diane?
They did not. Even though their highly efficient work stations were only a few feet apart, they seldom saw one another. Meeting after work was equally impossible on account of Jared, who despite being lazy, loutish and prone to fits of drunkenness was a secretive, suspicious person. They traded e-mail messages and soon Diane's love morphed into something strange, the Internet being a cold, sterile place to cultivate a relationship. Each time she saw his name glowing in her mailbox, she thought the walls of her chest might collapse. Kessler, however, was having difficulty hurdling the not insignificant obstacle of Diane's marriage to Jared. He was either unwilling or unable to give himself to a woman whose heart was contracted to another.

Is that a cop-out?
It certainly sounds like one.

Was Diane aware of this?
Yes. She wrote a lot of e-mails trying to convince him of her emotional availability, but these efforts were largely unsuccessful.

Did Kessler's bad luck rub off on Diane?
We all have our own parcels of luck, good and bad, dispensed in quantifiable units. If you choose to participate in the bad luck of another, that is your own choice, your own doing.

Why pants?
Pants are a convenient metaphor. The luck, however, is real and should not be discounted.

Did Kessler know Diane was pregnant?
He did after she told him.

Where did this happen?
By the sea. Diane convinced Kessler to take a sick day. They went to the beach together. Even though it was June, the skies were balmy and clogged with clouds. They walked up and down the Santa Monica Pier, holding hands. A pair of artists scribbled their sketches as they passed. They had never seen such expressions before. They pressed their sketches into their hands. He was a dead president in a silk top hat with mad pinwheels for eyes; she was an elfin princess with wings too small to bear her. Then she told him.

How did he take it?
Not well. He asked her if this was good news or bad news. She said she didn't know.

Did he ask her if the baby was his?
To his credit, he did not.

What did he say?
He told her he needed some time, which was a lie. Then Kessler did a terrible thing.

What did he do?
On his way home he called his company's Human Resources Manager and told her Diane was stalking him. He told her about the e-mails. He gave her the password to his computer. She said she would look into it.

And did she?
You better believe she did.

How many e-mail messages did they exchange?
Inside of three weeks Diane composed 398 messages to Kessler's 142. To the cold eye of the Human Resources Manager, the messages revealed a needy, obsessive woman on the verge of hysteria or worse. Kessler came across as nice and polite, neither encouraging nor discouraging.

Would a more perceptive Human Resources Manager have reached the conclusion that Kessler was leading Diane along?
Yes, but Diane was only a temp and Kessler was a full-time employee. A bad employee, true, but a full-time employee none the less. The next day the Human Resources Manager stopped Diane at the front desk and sent her home. The locks had already been changed.

How could Kessler do such a thing?
Because his conscience was like a ship: if the hull was holed the compartment could be sealed off and the ship would remain afloat. Because he was very good at lying to himself. Because he was a coward. Because he’d been running from responsibility all his life and he wasn’t about to stop now.

Did he suspect the child was Jared's?
No. After meeting Diane on the Santa Monica Pier he came home and cleaned his apartment. Standing over the trash can in the kitchen, picking cobwebs from a broom, he saw himself standing over Diane's toilet with a broken condom in his hand.

Are you making excuses for Kessler?
I am making excuses for everyone.

Did Diane tell Jared the baby was his?
She did.

And he believed her?
He had no reason to suspect otherwise. Little Jimmy took after his mother.

Was Diane heartbroken?
She was. After Diane was let go, she went back to the Santa Monica Pier and considered her options. She could try another tactic, try to make Kessler love her. She could move out, live on her own with her new baby. She could pitch herself off the edge of the pier and drown. It didn't occur to her that she could simply go home, tell Jared she'd been fired and make him take her out to dinner. She thought of all the reasons why she loved Kessler and quickly reached the conclusion they were dumb, foolish reasons to fall in love with someone. It all came back to how good he looked in the sailor suit, how much he reminded her of her first sweetheart, Jim, who had been murdered by dope fiends in an alley behind a Tijuana brothel. She gathered all the artists. A Chinese acrobat performed feats of strength and balance while she waited. Sea breezes tousled her hair. The artists presented their sketches. This time her wings were big and strong, lifting her high in the sky, and her smile outshone the sun.

Is that how the story ends?
No. There is no end. Only more questions, many of which can never be answered. You'd think this would create anxiety, but it doesn't. Few seek the kind of closure in life that we demand of stories. We prefer that things be left open-ended by virtue of our children and grandchildren. Most of us are quite comfortable with this arrangement.

Did Kessler ever see his child?

He saw a photograph, once, but that is not the same thing.

Where did he see the photograph?
Under the Santa Monica Pier.

What was Kessler doing under the Santa Monica Pier?
Fearing for his life.

Can you elaborate?
Certainly. While searching for a stack of pornographic magazines Jared had secreted in the back of the guest bedroom closet, he came across a thick manila folder secured with rubber bands. His suspicious nature got the best of him and soon he was sitting on the edge of the bed reading a spirited e-mail exchange between his wife and a co-worker. He did not read much. He did not have to. Jared experienced a series of epiphanies in which he quickly deduced that Kessler had fucked his wife, knocked her up and dumped her. All of which pointed to a single conclusion: Kessler must die. Jared loaded the Springfield and put it behind the seat in his truck. The Russian nine millimeter semi was already loaded and hibernating in the glove compartment. He drove to the office and waited in the parking lot. When Kessler came out he rolled up and told him to get in. Kessler did as he was told. Jared drove to the beach.

Which pair of pants was Kessler wearing?
The blue pants.

Did Jared know the significance of the Santa Monica Pier?
He did not. Kessler, of course, thought that he did and it gave him a bad feeling, which worsened after Jared stopped, parked, opened the glove compartment he hadn't bothered to lock and withdrew the Russian semiautomatic.

Was Kessler frightened?

Was Jared?
Perhaps even more so.

Why is that?
Because Jared adored his wife. Because Jimmy was a terrific kid. Because the responsibilities of fatherhood had made Jared less lazy, less loutish, less prone to fits of drunken dereliction. Because he thought he finally understood why his father had abandoned him and hated him less. Because he was sure one of those fucking sketch artists on the pier would notice two men going down, one coming up.

What did he do?
He told Kessler to get on his knees, reached into his jacket pocket and produced a photograph of his son, which he handed to Kessler.

Did Kessler take it?
He did.

What did Jared do?
He went home.

What did Kessler do?
He wept.

What did Kessler learn from this?
Absolutely nothing.

What lessons might Kessler have learned?
That nothing is trivial. Appearances matter. The Internet is a poor place for love, corporate cubicles poorer still. A lover's luck, good or bad, is indistinguishable from one's own. A bad decision repeated is not the same bad decision, but another thing altogether, leading to new possibilities for despair. Under no circumstances is it permissible to purchase pants at a thrift store.

What mistaken impressions did Kessler take away from this encounter?
That Jared lacked nerve. That maybe his luck had changed.

Has it?
That remains to be seen.

What can Kessler do to change his luck?
Get some new pants, for starters.

And then?

© 2001 Jim Ruland
spanish translation

This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

author bio

Jim RulandJim Ruland's work has appeared in elimae, Exquisite Corpse, 5_trope, Pindeldyboz, Sweet Fancy Moses and others, and he is a frequent contributor to McSweeney's. He is presently at work on a novel about a survivor at sea, excerpts of which can be found at Linnaean Street. He lives in Los Angeles and is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He can be reached at jruland@brierley.com



tbr 26               September - October  2001


Des Dillon - The Blue Hen
John Aber - City of Sperm
Jim Ruland - Kessler Has No Lucky Pants
Daniel Gascón - The Conference
picks from back issues:
Steve Lattimore - Seperate States
Alden Jones - Shelter


Virginia Woolf Quiz
Answers to last issue's James Baldwin Quiz

-Book Reviews Joyce Carol Oates, Yann Martel, Mark Winegardner, etc
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