Nicholson Baker's 'House of Holes': Mini-Excerpt #2

Rhumpa was her name, and, yes, she paid a visit to the House of Holes. The people she was staying with in New Haven were wealthy and under-read. Although they were middle-aged, their minds were very young and she couldn’t take them seriously. She saw a pepper grinder in the middle of the table, and while they talked about the price of tires she unscrewed the little knob on the top, and when it came off she lifted the wooden part off the central spindly thing and looked inside, where she could see in the shadows of peppercorns. She thought, The peppercorns are waiting to be ground up. They’re still round, like little dry planets, but not for long.

Rhumpa held the machine to her nose and smelled the distant sharpness of the pepper, which made her smile. And then the pepper grinder got bigger and she jumped down into it and fell through tumbling peppercorns, and she smelled a hundred dinner parties of the past.

Then she was herself again, but standing on the porch outside the House of Holes. She rang the buzzer. A man with a bag on his back answered. He introduced himself; his name was Daggett. He took her into a small room with a round wooden table and, referring to a clipboard, began asking her questions. He asked her to describe her ideal man.

“I like men who are intelligent and witty,” Rhumpa said. “Also kind to animals and interested in other people and able to hold a conversation of reasonable length.”

Daggett frowned and looked at his clipboard. “It says here that you favor a man with a heavy, dark dick. It quotes you as saying, ‘Some nice things are just not possible with a small, pale dick.’”

“Where did you get that piece of information?” Rhumpa asked, outraged.

“During reassembly they do a spectrum analysis,” Daggett said. “They screen for diseases, of course, and comb through for lurid thoughts. What’s your ideal sexual encounter?”

“Oh, touching, kissing, caressing,” Rhumpa said, at a loss.

“It says here that you would favor having three Italian airplane pilots in uniform shoot their comeloads onto your belly while you cup your clitoris with a wooden spoon.”

“They don’t necessarily have to be Italian,” Rhumpa said. “And they can be race-car drivers if that’s easier.”

Nicholson Baker’s House of Holes will be released on August 9th.

And: Previously.