The Greatest Failure of All Time
“Success Story,” a short story by Christopher Boucher
The Greatest Failure of All Time
We were driving through Turners Falls when I saw the flash of success on the side of the road and I told my wife to stop the car. “Why?” she said. “I just saw some success on the side of the road!” I hollered. My wife made a face. “Pull over!” I shouted.
She stopped the car and I got out and ran — limped — as fast as I could back to the spot where I’d seen the success. Sure enough, there it was: a shiny success half-buried in the leaves. I picked it up and brushed it off. I’ll admit that it was a bit outdated — made mostly of earning a lot of money, buying a big gaudy house, that sort of thing — but still, I thought it might be worth something.
“Oh Kevin,” my wife said, stepping up behind me. “It’s ancient!”
“Even so,” I said.
“Look,” she said, “it’s covered with bugs.” And just as she said that, I noticed the tiny somethings crawling out from a hole in the wet successful wood. “Ack,” I said, and flung the thing to the ground. Then I limped back to the car and we drove away. I never saw that success again — or any success for that matter. I continued to fail — to fail better, and better still. Soon I was one of the best failers in western Massachusetts. Then I began failing strongly at the state level, and eventually in national competitions. By the fall of 2013 I was ranked number one. I even appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show! “Let me give you a test,” said Kimmel. “OK,” I said. “What is the capital of California?” I peed myself. “Wow,” said Kimmel, and he stood up and clapped.
The following spring, though, I started hearing rumors about a woman in Vancouver named Laura DeNox who was failing in new ways that no one had ever seen before. I saw videos of her on YouTube — one of her failing to eat, another of her not even able to get up in the morning — and her name was all over Twitter: “She might seriously be the best failure in the history of trying,” tweeted @socoool. Someone named @buley responded “No way! Kevin Nace is the best failure since Rhonda O’Dial.” “Nace’s a has-been,” @socoool responded.
I’ll be honest — I was scared of DeNox. Try as I might to avoid a fail-off with her, though, I could not. I trained with world-renowned failer Corduroy Oll for six months before the event. Corduroy had me failing around the clock: failing to tie my shoes, even, and to brush my teeth. Maybe you tuned into ESPN for the competition and saw how I looked when I arrived in Houston: fat, unshaven, wearing two different shoes. That was all Corduroy’s influence.
Like all fail-offs, the challenges were broken down into categories. For the Workplace challenge, they drove us to an office building filled with cameras and broadcast the results live. DeNox found a faux supply closet on set and managed to mistakenly lock herself inside it: a pretty good fuckup, all told. I countered, though, by sending an incredibly personal and embarrassing email to the whole office instead of to the one person I’d written it for, which resulted in immediate termination and the loss of a good friend.
Then we had to fail at Street Smarts. They drove us out to a dangerous street and a man approached me and asked me for money. I didn’t have any, so I offered him my wedding ring.
“All I need is a dollar, hombre,” he said.
“Take it, take it,” I said, dropping the ring into his open palm. “It belonged to my father.”
The crowd, assembled behind a railing across the street, oohed and clapped.
But DeNox one-upped me. When the same actor asked her for money, she kissed him on the mouth and gave him her social security card, which he immediately sold to some hackers who stole her identity. The crowd went wild.
The third and final leg of the fail-off was Marital. Our spouses took the stage in front of an audience and we stood opposite them. DeNox squared her shoulders towards her husband, shrugged, and said, “I’m sorry honey. But I just don’t find you very interesting anymore.”
In retrospect, this was DeNox’s critical error. See, you can’t just not try — that’s not a fail. The secret to failing is trying your ass off. I’d been trying and failing to tell my wife how I felt for years — I could do it again no problem. I walked up to her where she stood and said, “Honey? I am the spoon and you are the fork.”
My wife’s face contorted. “What does that even mean?”
The crowd began to chant: “Fail! Fail!”
“I,” I said. “I am a tree and you are a cloud.”
“What are you saying?” said my wife. “That I’m fat?”
“Fail! Fail! Fail!”
“You are a virus and I am the same virus!” I shouted.
“Gross, Kevin!” my wife said. “What is the matter with you?” Then she stormed off the stage; that was the last time I saw her. The crowd cheered for me and the host ushered DeNox into the wings. Then he placed a glass trophy in my hands and I tried to lift it over my head. It was too heavy, though; I fumbled it and it fell to the floor and shattered. When I bent down to gather the shards, I sliced my finger on a piece of glass. I held up my bloody hand, and the crowd erupted and sprang to their feet.
About the Author
Christopher Boucher is the author of the novels How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (2011) and Golden Delicious (2016), both out from Melville House. “Success Story” appears in Big Giant Floating Head, a collection forthcoming from Melville House. Christopher teaches writing and literature at Boston College.
“Success Story” is published here by permission of the author, Christopher Boucher. Copyright © Christopher Boucher 2018. All rights reserved.