Unreliable narrative by Leo Daedalus
Illustration by Allison Bruns
Ah, the new year! ‘Tis the season for self-improvement, when the days grow brighter and the humiliations of the past year sink into the sweet mire of remorse. In these heady weeks of burgeoning hope, impossible is for losers and realists.
In burgeoning spirit, I recently picked up a copy of Skip Serkiss’s runaway bestseller, The Four-Hour Megalomaniac. Actually, I didn’t so much pick it up as find myself regaining consciousness in an ice-filled bathtub in a seedy hotel in Guadalajara with a scar on my abdomen and a copy of the book perched on a nearby wastebasket. With nothing else on my agenda (I’d already run through the alphabet twice in an unsuccessful effort to remember my own name) I picked up the book and flipped nonchalantly until I found a pen-and-ink drawing of a man in an ice-filled bathtub in what the caption confirmed was a seedy hotel in Guadalajara. This was promising.
I should mention that the book weighs 9.6 kilograms and is bound in cast iron. So it does present a physical challenge to folks just recuperating from back-room surgery in an ice bath. This is a serious oversight given the apparent target demographic. Personally, I was a bit irritated. Would leaving me with the e-book have been too much trouble? But then: electronics and bathwater, I understand. Safety first.
The chapter I opened to (chapter LXVII or CMXIII or something) promises a stunning personal transformation (I forget which). Then there are a whole bunch of words, really quite a lot of them. But I made short work of them using the techniques I had picked up in Serkiss’s earlier book, The Four-Hour Attention Deficit. The gist is that in just four hours (I forget which) you can completely revolutionize your person by performing one incredibly simple action explained in astoundingly concrete terms, with illustrations. As you can well imagine, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand right up! This being a symptom of third-stage hypothermia, I hoisted the book off my body, crawled out of the tub, and curled up in a bath mat for approximately 72 hours (according to the consulate). What happened next would change my life forever.
Serkiss is famous for his prolific Four-Hour series, which ditches self-improvement for outright self-perfection, all without straining your schedule. Serkiss made his first splash with The Four-Hour Above-Average Guy which offered an eclectic catalogue of odd exercises, best practices, sex tips, life hacks, recipes, sex tips, sartorial advice, and sex tips designed to transform even the most average man into a stunning paragon of raging mid-upper-middle-caliber adequacy. A few months later The Four-Hour Above-Average Lady would offer the same benefits to women. Much of the books’ appeal came from their accessible and all but impossible instructions for eccentric activities promising striking, counterintuitive personal improvements. Sleeping in a serotonin-infused blancmange, for example, figured in both the Recipes and Sex Tips chapters, as well as the Abs Addendum, part 3. Plainly, Serkiss had hit on an irresistible formula.
He followed his success with a relentless spray of popular titles that explored and expanded the full range of self-betterment topics from fitness to sex to cooking, global politics, and sex in books such as The Four-Hour Pedicure, The Four-Hour Brickmason, The Four-Hour Cheese Plate, The Four-Hour Philanderer, The Four-Hour Pope, The Four-Hour Salad Spinner, and The Four-Hour Prime Minister of Montenegro. The list goes on. Just to name them all would take, oh, I don’t know how long.
Mr. Serkiss’s success seemed to know no bounds, but he suffered a setback with the flop of a few later titles such as The Four-Hour Commute, The Four-Hour Blind Date, and The Four-Hour Heimlich Maneuver, the last of which resulted in Serkiss’s sole autobiographical offering, The Four-Hour Witness Stand. But he broke the losing streak with his wildly popular The Four-Hour Norwegian. Endorsed by both Oprah and the King Harald V Book Club, the book singlehandedly ignited the serotonin-infused lutefisk sleepwear explosion. Mr. Serkiss was back on top.
What is it about the Four-Hour formula that strikes such a chord among its readership? In a rare 480-minute interview on Norsk rikskringkasting, Serkiss explained that he is driven by one essential question: “Why isn’t everybody the greatest human being ever?” His answer? “You’re doing it wrong.”
“The quest for perfection is meaningless unless you get there,” he insists, “and trust me, you’ll never get there sleeping on regular lutefisk. I use the time-honored Process of Elimination to try out all kinds of stuff and see what leads to perfection and what leads to rashes, impotence, and litigation, so that you don’t have to.” The promise of perfection by bullet point has proven irresistible to millions of Americans, Norwegians, and other book buyers worldwide.
But the Four-Hour formula is not without its critics. Four-time Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Đukanović is an impassioned advocate for what he calls “fifth-hour truth and reconciliation.” He volunteers 3–5 hours per week at a national clinic he set up for an epidemic of camel-related injuries that followed the Serbo-Croation translation of The Four-Hour Bedouin. Đukanović argues that the Serkiss regimen is “impossible for normal people with normal lives to follow. How many of us can really shampoo every morning with ostrich yolk in a walk-in centrifuge?” Those who try, he says, set themselves up for failure, and many find themselves worse off than before, beset by rashes, impotence, and litigation.
Serkiss counters, “You’re doing it wrong. Look, failure is nature’s way of saying you’re not succeeding. Quitting is for failers. Succeeders never lose. Those rashes, that impotence and litigation, that’s the bitter taste of success succeeding until the winning is over. To make room for perfection in your life, you have to destroy everything else.” I can’t give away too many secrets from my advance copy of The Four-Hour Pyrrhic Victory (hitting shelves next year at $29.95 for a cool 12 kg) but it does begin with the wise observation that it is impossible to make an omelet without breaking eggs, and that “most people live lives of quiet continental breakfast.” And he’s right.
I myself was a dreary continental-breakfaster until one fateful week in a seedy Guadalajara bathtub. To be honest, after my first dip into The Four-Hour Megalomaniac I didn’t look at the book again for several weeks. But when I did emerge from the coma I decided to give it another go, from the beginning this time. I did skip “The Four-Hour Safety & Social Standing Disclaimer” because what — who has time? I cut straight to Chapter II, “The Four-Hour Who This Book Is For,” where I learned it’s specifically for everybody ever. Almost. There is a dude in Calgary who owes the author money. You can read about him in The Four-Hour Assbastard.
The excitement really begins with Chapter III, “The Four-Hour Misanthrope,” which lays the groundwork for a truly self-elevating worldview. Chapter IV, “The Four-Hour Narcissist,” teaches you how to profitably rearrange your interpersonal priorities while Chapter V, “The Four-Hour Solipsist,” shows you how to do away with them entirely. “The Four-Hour Sociopath” follows with a wealth of practical tips and exercises for shielding yourself from the corrosive influence of empathy. Section 1 concludes with a set of exciting interactive activities in “The Four-Hour Psychopath.”
Section 2 focuses on gathering and breaking down your followers. The chapter on tonsorial dehumanization is a notable highlight. A splash of ostrich oil on the scalp will alleviate that unsightly clipper rash. Who knew? It’s also good for impotence. Section 3 takes you into the finer points of cult administration and tax law. Granted, not every megalomaniac wants to run a cult as such, but the advice is useful for a wide range of applications, and the sidebar charts and graphs in this section are savagely informative. Sections 4 and 5 discuss megalomania in the workplace and in the home. Section 6 covers love and sex, while Section 7 covers marriage and onanism. In Section 6 see especially “The Four-Hour Safe Word” which draws heavily on The Four-Hour Finnegans Wake, now out of print.
Sections 8–12 tell you everything you need to know about assembling a militia, building a compound, and proper composting. The chapter on gun-running is a giggle. Section 13 gives you interior decorating tips, Section 14 explains extortion in clear, step-by-step fashion, and Section 15 guides you to that paranoia sweet spot. Section 16 finishes off the body of the book with an abundance of sage grooming advice and accessorizing tips. (Don’t wear wool; it makes you look considerate. Do double up on your underwear.)
The last three kilograms of the book are devoted to a profusion of appendices that explain everything from how to become an urban legend (Appendix XIX) to what wine to serve at a banquet where everyone else is afraid to speak (some great Meritage selections that won’t drain the coffers in Appendix LXVI), and even when to use passive aggression instead of the regular kind (e.g. after a long day; see Appendix MCMLXI). The book ends with a place to glue your picture next to Serkiss’s and write in your own self-aggrandizing blurb. This is the kind of nice touch that shows just how much Serkiss and his publisher care about their product.
All told, The Four-Hour Megalomaniac is a tour de force of words, pages, chapters, margins, punctuation marks, and other book things. It will stop a small sedan with its heft. Its cover distorts magnetic fields and blocks neutrinos. While it won’t fit in an overhead compartment (except on certain Air Montenegro flights; consult your travel agent) it more than makes up for that with its abundance of delightful pen-and-ink illustrations. But while all this is well worth the price, the real question is, Does it work?
As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the sensations you’re experiencing when you are actually eating it, and I’m here to tell you that the pudding is like a tasty blancmange dream. The Four-Hour Megalomaniac has worked wonders for me. And no, you won’t catch me taking a bribe from Serkiss’s publisher! (See The Four-Hour Plausible Denier, Chapter 6.) Yes, it cost me a vital organ (I forget which). Yes, I had to have my left elbow surgically replaced during Chapter LXXIII. Yes, it left most of my family injured or institutionalized. And yes, I’ve seen my share of rashes, impotence, and litigation along the way. But in the exciting 19 months since I first picked up the book in that Mexican bathtub, I have been transformed from a squarely mid-upper-middle-caliber continental-breakfast guy to a swaggering, self-possessed, acetylene-gazed, serotonin-engorged Four-Hour Megalomaniac with a private bunker and custom van. This is what success tastes like.
Now, I know what you’re thinking (see The Minus-Four-Hour Clairvoyant, pp. 168–71). You’re wondering what the titular four hours mean, when it has taken me 19 months to complete my transformation. Excellent wondering, and the answer is a key concept in the whole Serkiss program. As explained in The Four-Hour Four-Hour Person, there is a crucial tipping point in every life-changing transformation. It is a point of almost no return, when you are nearly there, about to cross the finish line of your dreams. Serkiss calls it the Four-Hour Point because it occurs exactly four hours before your transformation is complete. The Four-Hour books are baedekers from your pitiful starting point right up to the magical Four-Hour Point, when you are a mere four hours away from total personal transformation. Only four hours! I don’t care how busy you are, you can set aside four hours to attain perfection.
I know, because I did. But I didn’t stop there. The very last item in The Four-Hour Megalomaniac is a list of Twitter accounts that post short links to aggregators with interactive ads that offer tips on how to acquire Serkiss’s latest, top-secret book, The Four-Hour World Dominator. I’ve spent the last several months holed up with the book in my private bunker (and listening to the audiobook in my custom van) and I am excessively proud to announce that I am nearly there, about to cross the finish line of my dreams.
People of Earth, prepare to bow to your new absolute ruler, which is I. Or me. (I never did read The Four-Hour Grammarian.) Do not run. Do not hide. Do not resist. You will only court rashes, impotence, and irritating litigation. I tell you now: lay down your weapons and come out with your hands on your head.
You have four hours.
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