The other day, I invented the worst game ever. It all started in the supermarket when I passed the processed cheeses. Velveeta, I read. Then, somehow, I found myself thinking, Velveeta, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Vel-vee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Vel. Vee. Ta.
This was quite bad enough, but understandable. I tried it with Chiquita, and Ryvita, and then I forgot about it, because, well, it’s asinine. Then, later in the day, I realized I was muttering, “Flour. Light of my life, fire of my loins.” And later, the same thing, but with asphalt subbed in.
And so I realized I had hit on a “game”: put the name of any household object in front of the first lines of Lolita, and it’s disturbing in a totally different way even than what Nabokov intended. Try it.
Paper towel. Bread crumb. Old sponge. Bookmark. It’s never appropriate. It’s neither fun nor exciting.
I’ve been trying to think of a name for it—some play on “Confession of a White Widowed Male,” ideally, but it’s not really gelling. Velveeta Haze? For the moment, the working title is Humversion. It’s terrible, disgraceful, but then so is the “game” itself (if it can be so dignified): a product of the dullest, silliest, most banal and corrupted part of the human brain. It’s the same part of us that carries I LIKE BIG BOOKS AND I CANNOT LIE totes and Instagrams pages of Didion embellished by imaginative manicures, and admires pictures of nineteenth-century authors shirtless. It’s the part of us that loves “books” but doesn’t care much about reading. It’s the bit that’s so scared of the raw power of words that we reduce them, degrade them, make them part of a world that’s as silly and unthreatening as an Anne Taintor refrigerator magnet. You may play it if you like—I don’t have a patent.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.