LETTERS FROM BUMMER CAMP VOL. 2
A note from the editor The theme of "STORYTELLING" had been assigned to this issue in the submission phase of its conception. Up until then, when people would ask about themes to work around I would respond with "well, whaddya got?" LFBCv1 was an eclectic mix of creative writing, as intended, but in round 2 I wanted to gear things into some kind of direction. Storytelling, of course, was always a loose theme. Most of my own creative inspiration comes from the concept of storytelling, and I realized that most crafted things can be considered a "story" if you look closely enough. With this issue, I wanted to explore that a bit deeper and invite others to do so too. As the submissions rolled in, one by one the strangers in my inbox left me in awe of their stories, but even more so with their interpretation of the story form. In some corners there was triumph and melancholy, and in others, regret and sadness. What I didn't expect was the amount of ANGER that raked in. In my own conceptualizing of storytelling, and looking back, and re-telling stories, I have also found these seeds of latent rage, and their potential to blossom into gardens of catharsis. But a significant thing I've learned from curating LFBCv2 was that these personal catharsis gardens should be watered and nurtured, lest they grow too tall prematurely and shrivel up in the sun. Spring is finally here. Let's get angry. -A New Brunswick, NJ March 2015
dedicated to our Haters
WOKE UP EARLY and stayed in bed and read an article about prison guards killing people in Florida from my phone and then masturbated to thoughts unrelated to prison guards. Unrelated to boiling skin off in the shower. Specifically masturbated to the thought of Mackenzie, his upper lip stiffening then loose. A band of blue above the mountains. My father calls to say the man on the radio took a pretty picture of the sunrise. My mother searches but finds nothing. Somewhere there is a picture. Brittany left but forgot her sweet tea. Sweet tea brewed in Louisiana supposed to be taken to California but forgotten in Colorado. In the story I’m translating bad things are coming. A birthday and a trip by sea. A woman collects bones and cleans them and keeps them. She says, “The death is what lasts.” My bones: a love or two, a dark blanket. What else should be left to die? The woman at the end of the world tells me my bones are meaty. I need a knife. Or a key.
HOME ALONE 1 Last night Hannah said, “You get here and you’re back in it.” She kept saying “You’re back in it.” I’m back in it. An hour and ten minutes ago I made plans with Jenna to go to a party in Boulder. Ten minutes ago I cancelled the plans. In St. Louis all the houses were pretty. This I felt was highly suspect. Mackenzie’s dark hairs are on my pillow. My less dark hairs are on my pillow. He left this morning to go to Las Vegas. My parents left this morning to go to Albuquerque. Different deserts. I went to Whole Foods and saw many attractive young people. I thought, “Where are you – ” but did not finish the thought (“all coming from”). I meant to buy tempeh, mushrooms, rice. Instead I bought a pre-made put-it-inthe-oven vegetable pot pie. Right now it is in the oven. Mistletoe and holly tablecloth. The dog in his cage. A timer running back in it.
My hobbies include saving payphone numbers and calling them randomly to see if a bystander or a person walking by answers the call. I started doing this when I was still in high school. My recent favorite payphone to do this from is located on the Douglass Campus at Rutgers, my university, because I frequently study at the campus library. When I’m there, I’m able to watch the payphone from afar when making the calls and watch people’s reactions. Most people just stare at the payphone while looking very confused but once in a while someone answers. Two days ago I did it again to 2 students but this time I walked right behind them until they got close to the phone. They both immediately jumped from hearing the phone ring and after confusingly looking at each other, one of them picked it up. While they were wondering what to do, I had crossed the street, sat on a bench in front of a building and kept watching them. Once he answered, I told him to look straight ahead and tell me if he sees a girl with curly brown hair in a red jacket with glasses on waiting at the bus stop. He paused for a bit, told his friend and his friend laughed then he said he did. He asked who I was, but I quickly asked him if he’d ever used a payphone before and he answered no, then I said this phone was placed here for a reason and it’s very important he follows what I’m about to tell him. I then asked him to look up to his right at the street, there will be a Rutgers bus coming in 10 minutes with the letters EE, he and his friend should both get on it immediately and get off at the second stop. I’ll then call them at the payphone there with more information. Also if he still doesn’t believe me when they’re on the bus they should search for a guy wearing a brown jacket with a blue hat with the words “Heatwell Oil” written on it in red, and they should not make any contact with him, it’s very important that they don’t say a word to him or stare at him too much or look suspicious (this guy on the bus will be me). Then I hang up, and wait for the bus.
SASHA FIERCE AND I ENTER A PARTY and her white Christian Louboutin boots are making everyone’s eyes flash like Christmas lights. Who am I kidding, it’s not just the boots – it’s how she’s managed to pull off both red lips and gold eye shadow, it’s her black hair tied up slick, it’s the cutting contour of her cheek bones. She grabs my wrist hard and leads me into the kitchen, fumbles in the marble drawer for a bottle opener. There’s a pop and excess champagne explodes down her wrists, her nail polish sparkling red. My skin buzzes. Our glasses clink. It’s down to what Sasha calls business. “Do you have a note?” she winks. “What for?” I ask visibly confused, and she nudges toward the lines of white powder on the table top. She giggles, pinching my blushing cheek like I am something innocent and small. I look away as she leans down and snorts sharply. Wipes the cocaine from under her nose. “Is it okay if we go outside?” It comes out as more of a command than a question, like she already knows I’ll say yes. We enter the crowded backyard and pupils dilate, as if each pair of eyes has to expand to take her in. “Hey Sasha!” She leaves red imprints as she kisses everyone’s cheeks. No one minds they use the opportunity to lean in closer, lightly touch her shoulder, her elbow. “What’s new?” they ask her, the curiosity ringing clear in their voice. She has all the right answers. “I’ve been offered an advice column in the New Yorker.” “This time last week I flashed Robbie William’s in the mosh pit of his concert.” Jaws drop. “I’m moving to Paris. No, this time I’ll do it. I’ll really do it.” Her white teeth glint like diamonds. Sasha is the bullet in a pistol held by a women walking home alone, her finger poised on the trigger. She is every tight black dress I’ve tried to pull off. I ask her if she’s ever been in love. “Well, there was someone. For a moment I swear we were in the only two people in the world,” she says, her face softening for a second. She takes a long drag from a menthol cigarette dangling between her fingers. “But he fucked with me and when you fuck with me, I fuck with you right back.” She wraps a finger around a lock of my hair. “You should colour your hair firecracker red. It’d make your eyes pop.” The next day I buy a cheap packet of red dye from the drug store, watch it drop like blood into the bathtub. All I can think is that she is summertime. All I can think is that she’s lethal.
HIGHWAY MUSIC There’s this one highway that makes me think of you each time I drive across it. To be clear, most highways make me think of you, but not as much as this one does. It’s very flat and often very empty, especially when the sun rises and the sky is hushed and the world is bloody and melting. I rarely get to see it, because it is so far away from where I live, but still it exists and it stretches for miles, as most highways do: stretches next to expanses of fields and deep forests. last time I was there I had to pull over and cry for an hour and a policeman pulled up next to me, asked me if I was okay (“state procedure,” he told me). The highway is so much better and so much worse than other highways. You are so much better and so much worse than other boys, than our fathers. There are days when you make me wish that I knew how to pray properly. Sometimes I stick my head out of windows (car windows & bedroom windows, it doesn’t matter, even though they are not all the same) and pray to the first sun I see. I suppose the types of windows I use have an impact on my praying, but still, it’s praying all the same. I don’t know if I’m praying correctly. I’ve never learned how to pray, never been to church, rarely been to synagogue, but I’ve listened to music and I’ve been on this highway and in the end I’m pretty sure it’s all the same. The first time you wrote on my skin you used a felt tip marker. You drew a face that at the time I didn’t recognize. Later I realized that it was the face of one of your old lovers, and I was jealous, but pretended not to be. For a long time I thought of you as something like an aquarium. It’s not that I wanted to swim inside of you, really. Just maybe visit you at some point, or walk alongside of you. The first time I read the article was online. Even now I wish I’d read it in a proper newspaper, on a proper front page, but there’s no point in thinking about it all now. It was a different highway that you died on, or next to, or whatever. They say you died at 6:23 am, with a body a lot less bloody than they would have expected it to be. You were driving north of where your home is. I live west of where your home is, in a small beige house. I am still inside that house, but also I am not at all inside that house. One day I will drive again along that highway that makes me think of you. After that I will be on the highway that you died on, and I will think of the last time I saw your body, sitting next to me in my car, on my bed, underneath my blanket.
JEALOUSY 1. I am very aware of skin & I am very aware of a penis in my mouth. It feels like the basement light ought to be turned off, but instead the room is very bright, like the insides of your mouth. Quick, open up your hands & we’ll see what’s inside of them. You taste like lipstick. I laugh. Your dick tastes like light red lipstick – like, you know that one traffic light by that one intersection in town by the yellow house? Yeah, your dick tastes like lipstick & the lipstick is the same shade of red as that light. I laugh again. She belongs to the yellow house. The yellow house belongs to her, like a mutt. No other dog could ever belong to her the way that yellow house can. (You: when you were gone I got mad at you because you accused me of something I didn’t do.) Before you left we stood on graveled driveway & I should have told you that you smelled like new paint.
2. Help we’re in these woods & help I’m vomiting again & help this time it’s your hair that’s piling out of my teeth. Help my teeth are still vicious around your waist & help yours are still wrapped around hers. (Please help please I’m vomiting again) We’re stumbling over roots & rocks as though there isn’t a sky perched above us, high & deep like your throat against my shoulder: that’s going to leave a mark. I mostly leave marks in bathrooms & you mostly leave marks on me: I think I’m a road, I tell you & you laugh & so does she & I ask her why she’s here & her eyes go dark like a children’s bedroom & your eyes narrow & I clamp my mouth shut. The sky is still very large, very wide, less like a throat now, more like a tongue.
WHEN I WAS YOUNG I fell in love when I was young and made the mistake of admitting it. Now, I’m older and crawling into old habits, but this one in particular I make sure to keep boarded up. I find myself on buses, sidewalks, bookstores, and other places people pass through making awkward eye contact and feeling funny. I used to think of myself as social, but these days I bury my head in my notebooks and write endlessly about the people around me. There was this girl with blonde hair with a streak of green lining the side of her face on the bus the other day. Maybe this was her way of rebelling against her parents for making her go to university or maybe she just thought it looked cool. She was chipping away at her nail polish and focusing so hard you could tell she was trying to push away some bad thoughts. I tried to imagine the curve of her smile and wondered how I could pull this thought into reality. Then my stomach turned over and for a moment I felt the pit of her stomach in mine. What could possibly make someone feel this badly? I didn’t understand and I’m assuming that’s the point if you decide to keep to yourself. Then again, you can’t go investigating other people’s lives under the pretense of “curiosity.” And yet, I was consumed by what I didn’t know. Mysteries do that to you and I’m assuming that’s why love transfixes most of us. Because we never know exactly who that love will be for, how that love will start, and where that love will go or become. You see, you find yourself faith’s territory and there’s a helplessness that comes with that. I’m older now and fell in love with the small details of a girl I’ll never talk to and possibly never see again and maybe I just need to deal with admitting it. Because at the very least, I felt a new idea grow inside of me, a suspension of my current belief system, and I think that’s kind of the point.
RED FLAGS When her best friend is having a crisis, and she comes to you, do not feel flattered. Do not shyly smile when she launches herself on you while you still have your seatbelt on. When she tells you she wants to be a vet, do not think that alone makes her a good person. Jeffrey dimmer had a cat. When she refuses to meet your friends, and tells you she doesn’t like “mixing us with them”, tell her to get her hand off your breast, take yours off her stomach, and push her out of the door. Do not shyly smile and kiss her. Do not make nice. When she makes you drink wine with her because she doesn’t want to drink alone, get your car keys and go home. Do not laugh when she has to pay for wine and cigarettes the next night with change. Do not laugh when she calls you a pussy for not wanting to drink again. When she is on top of you and criticizes you for being too still, push her onto the floor, kick her in the ribs, spit in her face, tell her to finish fucking herself, and leave. Do not let it get too far. Do not let her get that far. When she offers you her old camera lenses, take them. When she offers you old paints, take them. When she offers you old clothes, take them. When she offers you an out, take it. When she teases you about the seatbelt belt your best friend gave you, start wearing it every time you see her, but do not let her make it an inside joke with you two. She does not deserve an inside joke with you. She does not deserve anything with you. When she asks if you’ve ever had an orgasm, tell her that you have. Say it like it should be obvious. Then, when she asks if you finished, tell her no, maybe next time. Do this every time you sleep with her. When she asks you to wear a dress for her, do not put on your favorite dress, your best tights, and combat boots. Do not spin when she commands you to. Undress yourself; do not let her hands touch your favorite things. When she locks her keys in the car, tell her there’s nothing you can do. Do not call someone for her. Do not stay with her; do not kiss her in the parking garage. Go to work. When she offers to pay for things, let her.
When she tells you your astrological sign is not compatible with hers, accept that she isnâ€™t worthy of your time. Do not waste time convincing her you are lovable. You do not need her to love you to make that true. You do not need her. You do not need her.
AT THE MULTIPLEX The popcorn is stale and the butter has long since soaked through. Drowning it. She is getting tired of finding excuses to graze his fingers with her own. Stifling quiet. Then- silence broken by the unison of fifty-seven people gasping. An isolated scream escapes the screen. Eschewing formalities she grips his hand tight. He turns to face her, amused. Engulfs her. Her brows furrow. This closeness she had been craving suddenly seems tainted. Had this been the plan all along? Force her into vulnerability through fear? She closes her eyes and thinks back to his invitation three days prior, “It’s a Nightmare on Elm Street retrospective”. She had said then that she hated horror films. He wasn’t listening. In the darkened theater his mouth suppressed hers while a woman burned alive in the background.
I lost my virginity when I was fourteen. I have no idea if this is a common age for that sort of thing, or if it's kind of on the young side, or if it actually really matters at all. Typing that first sentence I actually thought, "oh my god who cares," because even I am bored by the topic. But I have always been incredibly uncomfortable around the circumstances in which I had sex for the first time, and the few times I had sex beyond that, and instead of ever exploring it I have always dealt with it by pushing it out of my mind and never talking about it with anyone out of disgust for myself and the world and men and stuff. It is definitely one of the original sources of self-hatred, or hatred in general. It is dumb and it shouldn't matter and I hate that it does matter in some weird, deeply embedded way. I was fourteen and he was fifteen I think, but we were both in the same grade because he was dumb as fuck and had been held back at least once before, and was still failing all his classes. He was dating one of my close friends. I knew him better than she did though, because when I was in the sixth grade my dad and his mom started dating and a few months later decided to move in together because she was going to get evicted from her tiny one-bedroom apartment that she lived in with her two sons. Me and my sister and my dad moved into a house with her and her two sons and the deal was that my dad would pay all the bills and she just had to clean the house and make dinner and stuff. She was really bad at doing all that stuff though; instead she would talk on the phone late into the night outside of my bedroom door so I couldn't fall asleep while painting her nails this really awful pink. I can't remember when they moved out, maybe a year or two later, once my dad couldn't really take it anymore. She didn't like him anyways. My dad still lives in that house, with his new wife. Me and her two sons were never really step-siblings but I guess we kind of were, so it was weird when I ended up having sex with one of them on a family trip. After my dad broke up with his mom, one of them would still hang around a lot because my dad felt bad that he had such a shitty mom and stuff, so when me and my dad were going to Massachusetts for my sister's cheerleading competition my dad was cool with him tagging along. Whatever, it's a boring story. Sex is gross and thankfully as a fifteen year old boy he wasn't able to last longer than thirty seconds. It felt bad after, not because I did the thing that young girls aren't supposed to do, but because I knew that I only did it because he wanted me to. That was my way of impressing boys from that point on for a little while and it felt really bad each time, not only because these dumb teen boys don't know what the fuck they're doing but because I wasn't in control and I was living for other people. That's a pretty common thing in a lot of realms of life, but doing it with sex probably feels the worst.
The next time I had sex the guy was maybe three years older than me and it was during the period where I was so stoned all the time that I couldn't ever respond to people in complete sentences (still fourteen, a couple months later). I remember him whispering into my ear shortly after we made out for the first or second time something very cheesy and graphic and only hinting at the idea of sex, maybe something like "I wanna get inside of you" (I'm not kidding, something along these lines) and not only was I too nervous to ask him what that specifically entailed but I was terrified of ever saying no to someone who wanted something from me, especially something that I could get away with performing passively in. He was never able to get it up anyways because he was always on Robitussin or Xanax or something, so it was just two awful bodies lying on top of one another. It was disgusting and it was never fun, and a couple days later he asked me if I was a virgin and I said yes because that's what guys want to hear. Why would he ask that if it wasn't true? Why would he care? He found out like, the next day that it wasn't true because he told someone that he took my virginity and that person was like "nah, she fucked that other dude" so he stopped talking to me. I cried in the cafeteria when I found out that he knew and then I don't remember ever seeing or thinking of him ever again. The next person I had sex with was this disgusting twenty-year-old when I was fifteen. I thought he was really ugly but he said "I bet you wouldn't sleep with me" so I did. He tried to videotape me and not wear a condom, both of which I declined to. He lived in Okeechobee, Florida and would hog hunt in his spare time, both of which are things that are probably still true. I know that this all stems from somewhere but I hate the idea of sitting around and listing all of the reasons why I may have turned into a shitty person, or prescribing myself some far-fetched diagnosis for why my brain doesn't work right. It's always "unhappy childhood" / "daddy problems" / "not enough attention" and all of those make me want to hurl, as true as they may or may not be. I'd rather believe that these things don't matter because you as a person shed your skin and change and can be a completely new human than the one you were in the past. All of these things feel completely outside of me. They're not me and they don't need to be.
I kissed a human boy with obligations to another. I asked him how he was feeling and he responded "I want to go to bed." I remember thinking about how I have never kissed someone with a beard before, it was a big beard that encircled my whole mouth and his mustache would touch my lips when we would kiss. It felt as if there were no lips, just a beard with a hole in the middle that his mouth existed inside of. It felt funny and good and warm. There was a sleeping body nearby so our movements were hushed and slow, he put his hand on the skin of my back and I think I fell in love. It was almost seven in the morning by the time he got up and he gave me the saddest look Iâ€™ve ever seen on a face before and I knew that love felt like dying and I didn't want to feel it. I wanted to give it back.
THANK YOU FOR LOVING ME (HOW AM I DOING?) My dad used to tell me to get thicker skin whenever the people I loved hurt me in ways that couldn’t be explained. So that’s what I did. Eating oranges is an old trick I picked up when I stopped smoking cigarettes. It keeps the hands busy and leaves a better smell on my fingers. I started doing other things too- productive things like writing, doing crafts, even picking up a couple of musical instruments. But sometimes when I’m too tired or weak for these activities, I pick up an orange. That’s what I did tonight. Have you ever noticed how thick the peel of an orange can be? Do you notice how small an orange really is when it’s ready to be eaten? Does anyone realize how small I am before they try to devour me? I think sometimes when we feel lost or weak; we try to become things that aren’t human. Because maybe then we’ll be less vulnerable, without breakable skin. We try to leave earth without dying first. I learned that if you fuck enough stars you can become the sun. But it’s always safer to be human. Sure, my skin turns on me. I itch. My teeth grind. Blood appears where it shouldn’t. My skin breaks every day. So what’s everyone so afraid of? Peeling back deep enough until you’re small enough to be eaten? Or getting lost in space? I keep old wine bottles that I’ve shared with people who, at some point, made me cry when I didn’t think I had any tears left. I may surround myself with empty vessels but I refuse to become one.
Iâ€™M NOT AT ALL
The force in my hands, my dry hands, malnourished with experience, hands that have given money to grandchildren and knifed a man in the back, how do they still gleam in the rainforest Sun? Where does this life I see travel from? The dirt, I bent down, took a handful and now it’s in my hands, Rolled up like an armadillo; of course, I made it roll, but that dirt has a right to be scared a’ me. I killed a lot of it With fire, unfeeling, wrathful fire which ravaged forest floors to plains. I’ve dropped bombs onto the soil before and I remember how it blew away every living thing in the area like orange peel being torn from the fruit. How did the ants feel? Or the dirt? Or the trees that gave them both some awesome cooling shade? I didn’t even care. The dirt in my hands added up, adds up to produce sound, a handful of sounds, and I guess it describes to me another part o You in a non-vague way. I know You have dirt the ability to make sound; and You knew, one day, I’d figure this (and a part of You) our but still, if it weren’t for You, there’d be nothing to explore, nothing to keep an ear out for. It’s soft, dirt, like it’s fresh out of the oven. With the first greeting I just wanted to roll in it like elephants bathe in mud for shade, immerse in the dirt, put it in my nose, around my mouth, in between my experienced toes and lounge, use dirt as a writer’s-block-couch, get it everywhere and then do it all over again, gettin’ all dirty, earthy but… I filtered it down in my hands until dirt gave to dust; I spit into a mound and felt I must have contaminated such beautiful, marvelous things. I picked up my homemade dough and threw it to concrete. I just wanted to roll, swim, glow within my chocolate peanut butter amoretto of a gift all night, from blue sky up to dark blue down.
CRAIGSLIST MIRRORS I want to be so pure and delicate that everyone in the world has no choice but to love me I want to be a catalogue of the tender things Iâ€™ve observed a couple holding hands while fish swim and a pink glove deserted on the sidewalk there is a soft creature that lives inside my stomach telling me how easy it is to see the beauty in the world but never reciprocate it I try to listen to it I try to keep a camera with me at all times and speak in a smooth voice I suppose I should buy a notebook and write down every nice thing I have ever done for the world and give it to the creature for its birthday which is also my birthday it is so hard to refer to myself as a definitive person someone who speaks and sleeps and washes their hair I quiver when I hear my name I want to reduce myself to an entity so that all people can see is the soft creature I want to donate my eyeballs to all my friends so they can see everything the way I do so they can feel the tears my body has produced running down their faces and maybe when my eyeballs are returned to me they will have picked up all the secrets of the world and teach me how to be so pure and delicate that everyone in the world has no choice but to love me
I WILL NOT RETREAT A SINGLE INCH AND I WILL BE HEARD I was seventeen the first time I liberated my scream from my body. You see, the rage was always there when I was too quiet to go to kindergarten when I was too quiet to be heard during roll call when I was too quiet to protest the dress ode I found oppressive and stifling when I was too quiet to stand up for the poor girl that my socalled "friends" relentlessly bullied when I was too quiet to stand up for myself against my so-called "friends" who abused my social ineptitude and fear of abandonment when I was too quiet to call that man out when I was sexually harassed on the subway when I was too quiet to confront the shitheads in my English class who made rape jokes and judged women's bodies when I was too quiet to confront oppressive actions and thus became complicit in my silence the rage was always there but I was too afraid to let it escape. It took seventeen years to liberate my scream from my body when I had to do it out of necessity for a performance in an "avant-garde music ensemble" when the director told me, "Juliet, we're going for a no wave-meets-Fugazi kind of vibe here–think Lydia Lunch–so you have to scream the chorus." This. Can’t. Be. True, it went. I tried but nothing came out beyond a slightly loud whimper, and I knew I wasn't doing anything or anyone justice until brick by brick, rehearsal after rehearsal I built up the courage to push my vocal chords to the edge of the cliff and jump off. when the noise violently escaping my mouth was no longer stifled by the fear of the POWER I always knew that my body possessed as it cracked and strained and morphed into something distorted and amorphous, yet intrinsically as "me" as my fingerprints standing on stage, playing through the riffs, doc martens planted solidly on the floor while my legs quaked in fear as I filled my lungs and braced myself for the chorus
feeling the scream pass from my throat through my jaw into the microphone out of the speakers piercing through the audience reverberating off the back wall of this theatre and hitting me square in the face is CATHARSIS is LIBERATION is POWER and it is why the female scream is so shrill, so upsetting, so bloodcurdling, so universally reviled, and repressed. think Salem witch trials, think hysteria. fast-forward two years later my docs are once again planted solidly on the floor, legs shaking in apprehension as I breathe deeply and prepare to play a little ditty I wrote called "Fuck yr macho white boy entitlement" in front of a crowd for the very first time. to have the NERVE to enter a space that is founded on the very privilege and entitlement and misogyny and violence that I am trying to decry and let. everybody. know. it. but this time these words are my own. backed by my bandmates and friends and feedback and the pure unabashed power of rock and roll each repetition of the title refrain becomes louder and angrier and Iâ€™m screaming and jumping and sweating and ALIVE in the purest form the microphone resting an inch before my mouth is my torch and I will light this whole fucking room on fire with the energy I force through it. my frame may be small but my words are BIG and even if I need some electricity to amplify them I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard.
GLOOM WEEK 1. The day I found out Alex died, I stuck tiny dried flowers to my nails with clear polish. An hour later, the polish dried and the flowers peeled off in sheets. I made myself run a million small errands. The first was to buy Diet Coke. I can’t remember the rest. At Target, the Halloween section was just starting to go up. Two full aisles were scattered with glitter-covered skulls, motion-activated singing ghosts, and giant cardboard spiders. Alex loved Halloween kitsch fiercely and without apologies. I imagined us discovering the incipient Halloweentown together: “Oh my gosh, Maddy. It’s officially Halloween,” they’d say, “let’s throw a party.”
2. One week later, I’m on my friend Kersti’s birthday roadtrip from Philadelphia to New Orleans. The theme of the week is SOUTHERN GOTHIC (all caps) and the itinerary draws inspiration from the first two seasons of True Blood, Stevie Nick’s guest-appearance in American Horror Story: Coven, and the waterlogged Anne Rice novels of our youths. Kersti is turning 23, the same age as Alex. I will turn 23 that November, just days before Alex was slated to turn 24 (when we started hanging out after work, we bonded over our shared identities as Scorpio-Sagittarius cusps). At the Mississsippi-Louisiana border, we stop for photos below the Welcome to Lousiana/Bienvenue en Louisianne sign. Some boys in a truck speed past and yell “Yah DIRRRRRTY SOUTH!” at us.
3. Our hotel is just off Bourbon Street. Built on the site of a Catholic boy’s school where all the students burned alive in an 18th-century fire, we chose it after Googling “Most Haunted New Orleans Hotels.” Also, there was a Groupon
After our first night, sleeping in a haunted hotel starts to feels like overkill. There’s not exactly a run on morbid shit in the French Quarter — apartments are advertised as “Not Haunted,” voodoo shops welcome walk-in séances and hoards of men stand at corners passing out REPENT OR GO TO HELL brochures. Death comes up from the cobblestones like moss. Like the Louisiana heat, you either learn to embrace it or stay uncomfortable
4. Our ghost tour of the French Quarter meets outside a bar running a 2-for-1 deal on Hurricanes. Our guide, Denise, is a descendant of free slaves and has been seeing ghosts since infancy. She tells our tour group, mostly old white people in khaki shorts and blindingly white Sketchers, that a ghost is the energy of a dead person lingering on earth. “Ghosts stay on earth to solve their own murders or care for loved ones,” says Denise, “Other times the spirit doesn’t realize their body has expired. This is common when people slip on into death by overdosing on narcotics or painkillers. Their spirits wander around confused until someone tells them they’re dead. They seriously need Google Maps for the afterlife.” Denise is speaking to the group, but she stares straight at me when she says “slip on into death.” I imagine Alex’s ghost hanging around and watching my drunken week. I think about how suicide survivors use words like “haunted” to describe the lack of closure for their experiences. This is amplified by the stigma that still surrounds suicide—even in this century, it’s not uncommon for families to forego obituaries, funerals, and memorials in favor of silence. Luckily there were two memorial services held for Alex: one by their family in the Midwest and the other by friends in Portland. In Portland, people wrote messages and memories on the walls of Alex’s room. If Alex’s ghost was confused about being dead, it had a lot of chances to get clued in. Our ghost tour leaves us on the banks of the Mississippi. We grab donuts and walk back to our haunted hotel. Outside St. Louis Cathedral, we stop and watch two fortune tellers fight over their territory. One of the women screams “I’ve sat here every day for 15 years, longer than you’ve been alive BITCH.” “Did I tell you that my best friend from when I lived in Portland died last week?” I say to my friends, finally.
PUDDLES Like always, I called up the stairs and down flew Maddy. She was huffing and puffing by the time she reached the bottom step. Then she caught her breath and asked: “What now?” “What now is we need food,” I said. “For dinner.” With a nod, she—my niece—dashed out the door: arms flailing, making firetruck noises. This was typical Maddy. If she wasn’t loud with her voice, she was loud with her body: all limbs in full wave, a whirlwind of motion; then, like a bullet, she would cut through space until her little lungs wheezed their wordless plea for medicine. Which Maddy called her “puffer.” As in: “I need a puff.” But then we were off. My dog Max tried to dash out with us but Maddy slammed the door right before his face. He whimpered. Maddy looked up to me with glossy eyes, as if to say, Pweeeease? I just shook my head like: No, no, no. “Ok, fine,” Maddy said, stomping off. The market was right down the street. I watched Maddy as she skipped next to me. She was an entertaining sight: the meds had since worn off, along with her filter, which allowed some crazy shit being said. That day, it was quite philosophical. “Life is just one big puddle,” she said. “How so?” I asked. “Never jump too high or—” But she left me in suspense. I wondered: Or what? But Maddy didn’t care to finish. She, like her father, wasn’t good at endings. __ Inside the market, Maddy darted to the far wall, to the coolers in the back. She gazed at all of the flavors of ice tea and energy drinks, oooing and their colorful cans. She pointed at all her favorite ones. Red ones, blue ones. She named them all too, based on their color, as in “Greeny” and “Pinky.” I bought her Pinky, but she said, “Pink lemonade is icky,” which reminded me of her father. The kid couldn’t spell anything. He once passed me a note on the bus about another boy that said, “Ricky is icy.” I laughed. He thought I was laughing at Ricky, but I wasn’t exactly. I laughed imagining the kid as an ice scupture for me and my brother to melt with our piss. “Just like your father,” I said, but Maddy didn’t hear me, or pretended she didn’t. __
But at the house I drank whiskey and began to feel ok. I made dinner. Maddy sat with Max in the livingroom, watching cartoons and making pop sounds with her bottle cap. After I finished cooking (mac and cheese from a blue box) and set the table, I called Maddy to come and eat. But she didn’t answer. She was in the livingroom with Max, zoned out. I could hear her talking to no one. I could her popping her cap. I tried again. “Maddy,” I said. “Dinner. Now.” Nothing. I shuffled into the livingroom. She was glued to that TV. It was such a thing to see. It was refreshing to be around someone who could become so lost. Becoming lost could be a virtue, in this way. I wondered: will she lose it? Will she lose this thing that makes her a miracle to me? For a moment, I thought of this and nothing else, and I wanted to tell her I love her, that I’m here for her, but that’s just too cheesy for me. “Maddy,” I said. She stopped popping. “What?” “Finish what you were saying about puddles,” I said. She looked up at me. On the TV, a ninja threw a bear off a cliff. She pulled her puffer out of her backpack: inhaled, exhaled. “Dude, get over it,” she said. “That was like forever ago.”
ONE THOUSAND DREAMS 1. A boy sits down to write one thousand books. He prepares himself well and he prepares himself right, settling in at his desk with a candle and a cup of coffee. This boy is full of ideas, and holds his pen trembling above a blank sheet of paper. This boy is full of ideas but he cannot seem to bring his pen down to the blank sheet of paper. Indeed, he finds that he canâ€™t move at all. Our dear boy, so bright and so promising, has become paralyzed by the sheer quantity of his ideas. Our boy stays still like this for the rest of his life, which in any case does not last very long on account of he is unable to move to consume any food or drink. Such is the fate of our poor boy, failed and wasted away into a skeleton like so many countless others. 2. This warehouse is populated with one thousand skeletons who each tried (and failed) to write one thousand books. It wasnâ€™t always this way. One thousand days ago, each of these skeletons was housed in living human flesh, trembling with youth and possibility. But a sickness had come upon them, paralyzing them completely, and trapped as they were in this warehouse they quickly died of starvation and thirst. One thousand bodies each attempting one thousand books. That means one thousand thousands, or one million books that never got written. What do we make of this mass death? Was it tragedy, or tragedy averted? Maybe every one of those one million books would have been garbage; in this scenario, the sickness had heroically spared us from waste. Maybe, however, each of these books would have been a masterpiece. Given this scenario, we may first imagine that the deaths at the warehouse were a horror akin to the burning of the Library of Alexandria, leaving our culture impoverished beyond repair. But given further thought, we may also realize that our world is already overflowing with masterpieces as it is. Even now, without these one million lost masterpieces, our world contains more excellence than anyone could ever hope to apprehend. No matter the quality of these books, we may again come to believe that what happened at the warehouse was nothing less than a triumph for the sanctity of our overstocked bookshelves. This may very well be so, but if we consider it a triumph then it is a mournful one, for we must not forget that what died at the warehouse were not just one million imaginary books, but also one thousand living, breathing human beings.
3. There is a town somewhere in America populated entirely with Emily Dickinsons. An Emily Dickinson runs the courthouse. Emily Dickinsons work at the fire station. An Emily Dickinson owns the corner store. No Emily Dickinsons populate the post office, however, because there is no post office to populate. The reason this town of Emily Dickinsons needs no post office is that it maintains no contact with the outside world. Aside from a few strange Emilies who decided to travel—and these were very strange because almost every citizen of this town feels wholly content at home and utterly disinterested in anything beyond it—aside from these strange few, nobody in the world has ever encountered anybody from the town. Certainly nobody in the world is even aware that the town exists (for even these strange travelers could introduce themselves to people as “Emily” without arousing any suspicion). The library of this town is stocked exclusively with poetry written by the citizens of the town, poetry which no one in the world has read, and which would dazzle any out-of-towner with its sheer magnitude and beauty. Imagine: a little over one thousand Emily Dickinsons, all mutually influenced by one another, and each writing new works every single day. A richness too sweet for our world, certainly.
CONTRIBUTORS In order of appearance Katie Foster Bennington, VT/Denver, CO 00000katiefoster.tumblr.com Vinny Maglori New Brunswick, NJ anewtypeofbomb.tumblr.com Derrick Kpeli New Brunswick, NJ barbed-wire-kisses.tumblr.com Hana Mokonuma Geneseo, NY firstname.lastname@example.org cargocollective.com/HanaM hanabutt.tumblr.com Jessica Therese Sydney, Australia contramonte.tumblr.com Noam Flam New Brunswick, NJ email@example.com Loisa Fenichell really wishing to be in Maine/mountains somewhere/trees/on a lake polyphemuse.tumblr.com Hernan Guarderas New Brunswick, NJ theoccupationalhazardsofbeingawriter.wordpress.com MK Rix New Brunswick, NJ mkrix.biz king-grandma.tumblr.com Mia Castiglione Mia.firstname.lastname@example.org embesea.tumblr.com Munirah Bishop New Jersey email@example.com
Megan Manowitz Brooklyn/Purchase, NY firstname.lastname@example.org Alyssa Rorke New Brunswick, NJ email@example.com bunkmatepoetry.tumblr.com Shannon Keelan Boston, MA firstname.lastname@example.org Diamond Simone New Brunswick, NJ email@example.com Eva Silverman Washington DC geometrysuicide.tumblr.com Raine Frederickson hugebigthankyou.tumblr.com Juliet Eldred Chicago, IL julieteldred.com Maddy Court Philadelphia, PA firstname.lastname@example.org madeliecortman.tumblr.com Greg Letellier Biddeford, ME gregwritesstuff.tumblr.com Alyssa Giannini Olympia, WA craftordiy.webs.com James Curry-Castillo Portland/San Diego/Tijuana jamescurryiv.com Rachel Ang drawbyfour.com insta: @rtwa
thank you to mk, ben, laura, troy for the printing help and all the good peeps for the support always.
letters from bummer camp press & distro est. 2014
Published on Mar 26, 2015
Published on Mar 26, 2015
The second installment of the compilation zine/lit mag published by the Letters from Bummer Camp Press & Distro. This issue features 23 cont...