Barrelhouse issue one nine dollars
new ďŹ ction by stacey richter essay by steve almond interview with emmylou harris â€Śand more
Barrelhouse ﬁction. poetry. pop ﬂotsam. cultural jetsam.
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ by Muddy Waters
Well, I rolled and I tumbled, cried the whole night long, Well, I rolled and I tumbled, cried the whole night long, Well, I woke up this mornin’, didn’t know right from wrong. Well, I told my baby, before I left that town, Well, I told my baby, before I left that town, Well, don’t you let nobody, tear my barrelhouse down.
issue one winter 2005
copyright © 2005 barrelhouse. No portion of this journal may be reprinted in any form, printed or electronic, without written permission from the authors. All rights to the works printed herein remain with the author. All photographs © Jason Katz Photography.
editorial founding editors, ﬁction editors Dave Housley Mike Ingram Joe Killiany Aaron Pease poetry editor Gwydion Suilebhan
design and production art director, book design Anastasia Miller graphic designer Krishna Brown photography Jason Katz publisher lightningpress.com
table of contents ďŹ ction metal church
by Matthew Kirkpatrick
manure by Stephan Clark
cool by David Barringer
reality x reality by Stacy Richter
partners by Paul Graham
a slight hesitation
by Faruk Ulay
essays hope i die by David Starkey
burn hollywood by Steve Almond
home from the war: an appreciation of magnum p.i. by Steve Kistulentz
the interview barrelhousing with Emmylou Harris
poetry brad tice: featured poet
kate delaney: featured poet
bonanza by Rich Murphy
agoraphobia (why iâ€™ll never play the cello) by Brandi Homan
the illustrated story oxen cry by Darby Larson adapted and illustrated by Sarah Becan
DEAR READER, You’re probably wondering where this journal came from. It’s a le-
gitimate question – journals don’t grow on trees or magically fall from the sky, at least not in our experience. So, let us explain. Sometimes, you see, when people love good writing as much as we do, these people get together and all that love, all that passion, crackles in the room like lightning, and it sparks a new life. That’s what this thing is, this Barrelhouse, it’s a magical baby of love. What, you’re not buying that? Really? Hmmm. Would you believe a stork? Immaculate conception? Fine, we’ll admit it, we were drunk. Are you happy now? Some people drink too much and wake up in ditches, or in bed with people they don’t recognize, or in their underwear in the cosmetics aisle of their local Wal Mart. Well, we woke up and picked ourselves up off the ﬂoor, wiped the sleep from our eyes and got our bearings, and then we tried to piece together what had happened the night before. We remembered chicken wings, and Brooklyn Browns – way too many Brooklyn Browns, it appeared – and not much else. But then we saw them, littered around on the ﬂoor, little cocktail napkins with barely legible notes scribbled all over them. There were lists of authors we loved, and crude sketches of what looked like a web site, and phrases like “fun with literature” and “reality TV” and “Celine Dion: Antichrist?” It also appeared we’d had a spirited debate about which season of The Real World was the worst, with both Miami and Boston receiving an equal share of the votes. What did all these notes mean? What had we been thinking? Then Aaron said, “Hey guys, look at this one.” And so we gathered around and peered over his shoulder, and that’s when we saw what he saw: “Barrelhouse: Fiction. Poetry. Pop Flotsam. Cultural Jetsam.” And underneath, in all caps, certainly fueled by equal parts beer and hubris:
“BUILD IT, AND THEY WILL COME.” Of course, at that point, the four of us had no inkling of how many would come, of how blessed and lucky we’d be at every step of the way. First was Gwydion Suilebhan, who was just as passionate about poetry as we were about prose, and who was willing to sit through lengthy debates about the relative merits of David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar. Then Anastasia Miller, designer extraordinaire, who talked about distressed fonts and kerning and white space as if she were giving voice to the language of her dreams. Jason Katz took his camera and artist’s eye out into the streets of DC to take the photos that capture the spirit of Barrelhouse and the unique voice of each of our contributors. Perhaps most importantly, we found top-notch writers who were willing to take a chance on us. The submissions poured in, in numbers we never could have imagined. What you’ll ﬁnd in these pages is truly the pick of the litter. Many thanks are due to all these people, and to Emmylou Harris, who gave us an interview we hope will be just as much fun to read as it was to produce. Although we’re still awaiting your answer to our proposal, Emmylou. If you’re having trouble picking just one of us, there’s always Utah. And, of course, we owe our thanks to you, the reader, without whom this whole thing would just be a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear. We hope you like what you ﬁnd in these pages as much as we do. If you do, tell a friend. Check out the web site. Sign up for our monthly email newsletter. And, most importantly, keep on Barrelhousing, all night long. All the best,
Aaron, Dave, Joe and Mike The Barrelhouse Editors
We worship power chords. On Sunday morning we ﬁll the pews of Metal Church, sing hymns to the Metal gods, throw our goats in the air and shake them, as if to say that we no longer care, and listen to the Hessians in the guitar choir with their axes tuned to drop-D thrashing in their ragged leather robes until way past brunch. And, if we don’t have to be home with our wives or have gotten all of our chores done on Saturday, we will stay and listen well into the afternoon. Those of us who still have long hair throw it around as we used to; some of us (myself included, I would like you to note) cut our hair to hide among the non-Metallic as if to say that we have forgotten our roots, forsaken our black Metal god; that we now cringe at the sound of a distorted barre E on the twelfth fret, when in fact the sound makes us shiver as the chord rings out and breaks up into a long feedback whine. We pretend and deny that tweaked out Locrian scales ﬁll our heads during the workday when we should be reading e-mails or paying attention to conference calls. They believe that our black clothes are merely a fashion statement and that we have packed up or sold our black B.C. Rich “Bitch” electric guitars. I will tell you this—we still have them, and they are tuned. You thought it was something nice in my headphones at work, didn’t you? A little R.E.M., perhaps, or maybe some Phish? We hate that shit. Each Friday as I scrambled to bullshit my way through another timesheet, you leaned against the fabric wall of my cube and smiled. I eyed you suspiciously at ﬁrst, thinking that you pretty much had me ﬁgured out—that you knew I sat in my cube and did a total of
thirty minutes of actual work most days and spent the rest surﬁng the net for free pornography or MP3s by bands like Iron Maiden or Confessor. Man, I love Confessor. Anyway, you stood there and waited patiently for me to ﬁll out my form and e-mail it off to you each week an hour or two late, and you smiled and thanked me. Even though I ﬁgured you would have me ﬁred for being such a waste of company money, you were hot so I didn’t mind; I knew that the longer it took to make up things I did that week, the longer you would stand there. Did you notice how I mimicked heavy, double drumming with my typing? You wouldn’t. Once, you asked me what I did in a way that sounded like you might be suggesting I didn’t do anything at all. I told you I programmed things. This and that. You know, “Special Projects.” 10
You nodded and asked me if I wanted to go get coffee. Now? During work? Yes, during work. Come on, we’ll be ﬁne. Don’t be such a pussy. I almost invited you to Metal Church right then. I’m no pussy, I said. Have you seen my guitar? I wanted to ask. If you had seen it, you would know; I am no pussy. It’s shaped like lightning. Then come on, let’s go, you said. Outside on a workday, the sunlight seemed brighter and the air had a strange heat to it as people bustled about on the street. During the weekends, when I roamed around these deserted neighborhoods, I tried to imagine what it was like on the ‘outside’ during the week because it was my own strict policy not to leave the ofﬁce during work for fear that it would needlessly draw attention to my lack of productivity. With you, the outside seemed like a new, beautiful and urgent world and I could not imagine having to ever go back inside, away from all of it. Things were happening out here, and I was missing it.
We made it a ritual, you and me. You’d show up and playfully scold me for bullshitting on my timesheets, and then we’d go get coffee. Once, we didn’t make it back to the ofﬁce and went back to your place and screwed on the ﬂoor. Okay, you are right. I am making that up. It was after work, not during (we were afraid we would get caught) and we didn’t screw the ﬁrst time, only kissed and pet each other in a heavy way. Again, I considered asking you to Metal Church, but didn’t. Even though I am no pussy, I did not want to ruin a good thing by telling you about Metal Church. At work, you wrote a computer program that took all of my accumulated bullshit and gener-
If we don’t have to be home with our wives or have gotten all of our chores done on Saturday, we will stay and listen well into the afternoon.
ated new, random bullshit and put it on timesheets, so instead of you standing there over me while I tried to recycle my own new bullshit, it was taken care of by the computer. I had no idea that you even knew how to do that. I don’t even think I knew how to do it, and programming was supposed to be my job. Now that we had more time to get coffee, we tried doing it in the supply closet, to which you had a key, but the shelves of paper got in the way and we ended up frustrated and just went for coffee like we had planned in the ﬁrst place. Soon, you ﬁgured out a way to submit our timesheets automatically using a feature of the system that had always been there, but that nobody seemed to know about. It was no longer necessary for you to come by my cube anymore, or for me to e-mail you anything, which at ﬁrst made me sad, but you told me we could just meet at one of our apartments and go in late instead of going for coffee. That’s when we started to screw in earnest, on the ﬂoor. Okay, you are right, it was in bed. The ﬂoor would be uncomfortable, you said.
These things were merely relics, not my Metal identity, not my Metal future, only symbols of my glorious Metal youth. But we most certainly did it, and when we did, I heard Bon Scott singing down from Metal Heaven. We were that good. Before you came to my apartment, I hid my Metal, which was easy, because it was all on cassette tapes in milk crates. I put them down in the basement in the storage unit and all you saw were ﬁfteen compact discs that had been given to me as gifts. They were not cool, that is for sure, but they were normal stuff that people thought I would like. Jazz, for example—there was some of that, and if I had to, I would put it on. In preparation, I took these discs out of their wrappers and arranged them alphabetically. My Metal clothes were not so easy. My concert t-shirts I could tell you were some sort of ironic joke on the 80s, but there were so many of them that you would probably not believe it. You were 12
pretty sharp. So, I put them in trash bags and hung them in the back of my closet behind my Eddie Bauer khakis and polo shirts that I wore to work. And the framed Eddie poster from Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son tour—a prized possession—I donated to the Metal Church for the rummage sale. The black candles, leather jackets, incense holders, bongs, black lights, and high tops went, too. These things were merely relics, not my Metal identity, not my Metal future, only symbols of my glorious Metal youth. I told myself that you were worth it, and that these things could be thrown away because I loved you and it was the right thing to do. I told myself that these actions did not forsake the Metal church. But they did. Soon, you ﬁgured out that since everybody’s timesheets were being collected automatically now, and that since your job was to collect timesheets, and my “Special Projects” existed only in the timesheet system, which seemed good enough for management, we
no longer needed to show up for work at all. You circulated a memo that said we had been sent on Special Assignment at our company’s ofﬁce in North Carolina, so even if somebody noticed that we were gone and bothered to look into things, our asses would be covered. Again, I thought of telling you about Metal Church, but I waited. Now, without jobs, at least in the sense that we no longer had to go to a place and appear to be working to collect a paycheck, we were 24-7. I had missed a lot of Metal Church and knew that they would wonder where I’d been, so I snuck out and visited the Metal Priest late on Sunday afternoon while you slept. After services had ended, in the Metal Church ofﬁce among Metal relics like a set of mint-in-the-box K.I.S.S. dolls and a framed Sabbath set-list from ’75, I explained the situation to the Priest and promised that I would tell you soon, and that we’d have a new convert. He warned me not to be so sure, that new converts were rare these days and even then they were rarely pure. If you didn’t know of my Metal worship already, once informed, you might form a different opinion of me, one that I would not like. Why not court one of our Metal women? From Church? One of the Metalheads from church? Yes, some are very beautiful, and they all love Heavy Metal. They do not forsake it. They would not shun a Hessian, no matter how long his hair or dirty his high tops. You are wise, Father, and while I agree that they are beautiful, their hair is very large. Wouldn’t a large-haired Metal girl complement the long hair and chain wallet that you wish you could have? Instead, you let the desire for these things fester inside you like some Metal disease. It’s unhealthy. You have a point, father, but I feel that I must pursue my current woman. It will be your undoing.
While she may not love Metal, she’s rigged the work computers so we don’t have to go in anymore. While that is indeed sweet, remember your roots, and remember who loves you. He formed his ﬁngers into a goat and touched my head with his index ﬁnger and pinky. I heard the choir practicing in the background and understood the Heaviness of the situation and thanked the Priest for his guidance. So, while standing in the middle of the Banana Republic looking at pants, I told you that I was a Metalhead. At ﬁrst you didn’t believe me and continued to look, but I unbuttoned my shirt and revealed my Megadeth shirt. Megadeth, you said. Yes, I said. That’s serious, you said. 14
Very. You cried into the cardigan you were about to buy. I probably should have waited. From my head, where long golden locks once did ﬂow, to the tip of my feet, once protected by steel-toed work boots in the pit, or white high top sneakers for more formal occasions, I am a Metalhead. Where now are Dockers, once were torn, acid-washed jeans adorned with bandanas, and where now I wear a ﬁtted baseball cap when out on the golf course to protect my bald spot from sunburn, once was a terry cloth sweatband. I am a Metalhead. I have a selection of guitar picks in my pocket. After I told you these things, you said you were confused. The Banana Republic shoppers looked confused too, but I felt that I had made my position clear. You did not understand Metal, or the Church that I attended every Sunday. Couldn’t I just listen to the music once in a while? Couldn’t I wear the sweatband when exercising? Couldn’t a bandana be replaced with a stylish handkerchief?
It would not be the same. Back at my apartment, I showed you the shirts, my Bitch, my high top Ponies. Down in the storage unit, I showed you the crates of cassettes and my bong. I told you about the Maiden poster. You told me that you could not deal. When my timesheets stopped appearing in the system, my boss must have gone over to my cube and when nobody in North Carolina knew who I was, he told his boss, the head of our department, and he had no idea what I had been working on, either. He must have asked my supervisor exactly what “Special Projects” meant, and when he didn’t know, I was ﬁred. They made you a manager. **** Things have been heating up at Metal Church. The solos on Sunday have smoked and attendance has been huge. People can’t sit down while the Metal Priest wails the Metal Sermon, so we mosh while Metal Gods possess us. You could have been there.
So, while standing in the middle of the Banana Republic looking at pants, I told you that I was a Metalhead. At ﬁrst you didn’t believe me and continued to look, 15 but I unbuttoned my shirt and revealed my Megadeth shirt.
I’m a Metal Deacon at Church now, and counsel young Metal couples about to be married in the Metal Church. Even though it hurts, I tell them our story and warn them never to hide their Heavy Metal worship. I give them mix tapes of the classics so these young Metalheads understand their roots. I believe that with my help, these couples have stronger marriages. I took the Priest’s advice and started to date a pretty girl from Metal Church. We’re not as passionate, and her hair is much larger than yours, but I can be myself around her. She likes headbands and bandanas, and we trade cassettes. I got a new job too, and have
grown my hair out around my bald spot and no longer care about wearing torn jeans to the ofﬁce. One thing I can’t stand, though—at this job, my supervisor reads the timesheets and yells at me when its pretty obvious I’ve only been working a half hour a day, so I’ve been picking it up a bit. As long as they don’t make me put my hair in a ponytail or tell me to turn my music down, things will be okay.
bar路rel路house 1. A disreputable old-time saloon or bawdyhouse. 2. An early style of jazz characterized by boisterous piano playing, free group improvisation, and an accented two-beat rhythm.
Manure Stephan Clark
I’m supposed to ﬂy to Sour Lake tomorrow, Birthplace of Texaco, Home of the Hawks. On the one hand I have to. I am broke, after all. But on the other hand I don’t want to. I just want to know how I can possibly deal. I guess it all started because I went to this private university where they handed out pre-approved credit cards in front of the student union. I swear, they were way too easy to get, especially if you like magazines. Me, I just graduated with a creative writing degree, so I’ve thought about writing the people that’ll soon be after me. I’ve thought about telling them, creatively of course, that I don’t have their money and if they’ll just be nice about the whole thing I’ll promise to never do it again. But from what I understand Corporate America doesn’t work that way. Shit. I can tell you how World War One started in excruciating detail, but not what I did with seventeen thousand dollars, plus or minus some ﬁnancing. And so now I have to go back to Sour Lake and work register at my uncle’s ag-supply store. Manure. Manure. I have no idea how you can be happy when you’re calling for a price check on manure. I feel a presence beside me so I pull my eyes away from the thing of ramen in my hand and turn to look. I don’t know how long she’s been there looking at me. The buzzing of the ﬂuorescent lights has kind of made me disoriented; same with the sound of the Slurpee machine. “I’d go for the black bean soup thing,” she says. I look down at her Kangaroo tennis shoes and her pink socks and her too-short black jeans. Together with a green zip-up sweatshirt, she looks like a young me: the shoes the same as those I kept
my house key in, ﬂoods like my brother’s hand-me-downs, and a generic sweatshirt like the one I used to wear while speed-skating around on the kitchen’s tile ﬂoor. “No MSG,” she explains, stepping closer and handing me her preferred alternative. “Add a little parmesan,” she says. “It’s good.” I nod because I haven’t really been into talking lately. Mostly I’ve just been talking to myself, the same thoughts coming again and again and piling up like garbage in a landﬁll, all of it man-made and uncontrollable. I can’t remember a time without it. The garbage goes all the way back to my ﬁrst memories, when I’d be in the kitchen eavesdropping on one of my parents’ boozy get-togethers. The conversations I overheard always revolved around television or the Cowboys or what you-know-who did last Friday night and what so-and-so just bought. I liked to think this was the stuff of happi20
ness, that this was the world of adult happiness, but the next morning I’d only want to run. I’d walk through the kitchen and living room, seeing glasses and bottles, cigarette butts and dirty dishes—it was overwhelming. This one time I found a round loaf of bread, the kind with a lid of crust carved out. I stuck my ﬁnger inside and felt the hardened spinach dip give like a bed of still-moist clay. It’s a feeling that’s never entirely gone away. “Is there something wrong?” the girl says. “You look like you’ve been shot. You haven’t been shot, have you? I know CPR, but I don’t know what to do if you’ve been shot.” “Direct pressure,” I say. “Direct pressure?” “But you should wear gloves. You never know today.” She smirks at me and I smirk at her and I’m glad for the chance to look at her head-on. I think I see my face hidden in hers. It’s a photograph that comes to mind, a photograph my father took in a pizza parlor on the day I turned ﬁve. I’m wearing boots and a cowboy hat
and there’s a silver gun hanging low on my hip in a holster I got for my birthday. Behind me is a brick wall; to my side, the dime-a-ride pony. I don’t look happy. I look like a kid who’s been sent before the ﬁring squad. I stand thirteen bricks tall. “Well.” “Yeah.” “Hmmph.” Then without even saying anything more I follow the girl to the back of the store, where we ﬁll up on water (hot for me, cold for her) before taking our things to the guy at the front counter: the black bean soup, mine, a thing of Tang, hers, a red ﬂavored Slurpee, mine, two liquor-ﬁlled chocolates, hers, an issue of People en Espanol, mine, and two packs of cigarettes, ours. The checker rings her up and then me. I’m over a dollar short, 21
even after the girl gives me all her change. “You need the People?” she asks. “Es muy importante que aprendemos un otra lengua.” “What about your smokes? You can share mine.” “But at some point you won’t be around and my addiction will be.” “Your Slurpee?” “Can’t exactly put it back in the machine.” “And you need the soup.” I nod. “Protein.” “Pretty ﬂexible guy,” she says. “If I ﬂex I might snap.” “Here.” A guy leans between us and slaps a ﬁve on the counter. “Can we hurry this up?” He checks his watch, moving some ﬂowers wrapped in plastic from one hand to the other.
I liked to think this was the stuff of happiness, that this was the world of adult happiness, but the next morning I’d only want to run.
“Mmm,” the girl says, leaning in to them. “What kind?” “The 7-Eleven kind,” he says. “The I-didn’t-think-I’d-need-toapologize-tonight kind.” The Indian guy says $3.32 in his sing-song way and holds out the change. I gather our things and we go. **** We eat on the tailgate of my roommate’s truck, and then she says we should go for a walk. “This is LA,” I remind her. But she just shrugs and starts off across the parking lot, saying she’s invisible as she throws out her arms and spins in circles. I stand, telling her we can drive. But she ignores me and continues spinning toward the sidewalk. 22
“What the fuck,” I say. **** On this street in Venice we sit on the curb to rest. Four lanes across from us is this bar where I used to drink without cash. “What’re we doing?” I say. She looks across her shoulder at me, and without even looking I can tell her face is all scrunched up. We’ve been doing what we’ve been doing for more than an hour. Maybe she ﬁnds my timing strange. “I can’t remember,” she says. “You can’t remember or you don’t know?” “If I don’t know, I can’t remember. If I can’t remember, I might know.” “You some kind of New Age chick?” I say. “I am timeless.” “Sounds like you’ve done too much acid.” “I’m a vegetarian.”
I look at her, and now it’s my turn to do what she did with her face. “Here.” She hands me her Thermos. “Drink.” It’s the Tang. I drink it while looking at the bar across the street. The place attracts two kinds: bums and scholars. As I pull away from the Thermos, two of the latter group emerge locked at the lips. The guy wears elbow patches and blue jeans, the girl’s in a short tartan skirt and horn rims. “Slut,” I say.
“She screams out passages of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. Her next door neighbor thinks she’s Polish.”
The girl looks at me. I shrug. The couple pull away from each other and walk handin-hand for their car. “She talks dirty in bed,” I say. “She screams out passages of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. Her next door neighbor thinks she’s Polish.” Maybe she decides we’re playing a game. “He wants a threesome, but he’s afraid to tell her it’s with a second guy.” I pass the Tang back, deciding to play along. “She’s had anal sex once. With a Republican.” “He saw a rhinoceros at the zoo when he was a boy and he’s never fully recovered.” “She’d like to do it in public, at the mall, in the food court, right in front of the Hot Dog on a Stick.” “He gets hard thinking about those uniforms, the tall girls dipping the wieners into the thick batter.” “Up and down.” “In and out.” “Sticky.” “Wet.” I turn smiling to the bar across the street and ﬁnd the couple and their car gone. I sit for a while because I don’t want to stand.
**** At the beach we build a sand castle. Or rather, I dig a moat for one with my hands while she runs around bringing back all sorts of trash people left behind. “Soda cans for the castle walls,” she says, setting them down, “two-liter bottles for the corner turrets, and a handful of half-melted green soldiers to stand around and look interesting inside.” I stop digging. A second ago it was the best idea in the world, now it’s the worst. I watch her build a castle wall, but then she realizes I’m not helping. I lie down in the sand and look up at what passes for the stars. Pretty soon she leaves the thing half-built and lies down at my side. “Are you happy?” I ask. “Aren’t you?” 24
“No.” “Not right now?” “Well, yeah. But not before and not after.” “We’re not at after.” “Technically, I just got there.” “And?” “Don’t ask.” A minute passes. Maybe more. I sit up on my elbows. “You think dead people are happy?” She won’t look me in the eyes. I drop back to the cool of the sand. “It would suck if you had feelings when you die. Whatever you feel right before you die is what you should feel for eternity.” “If it was like that, people would kill themselves at the end of a great day.” “Exactly. You’d just need one great day and then you’d be all right.” She doesn’t say anything. I shake my head. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m crazy. Sometimes I think of some crazy shit.” “Manure,” she says.
I keep my eyes on the stars, suddenly feeling very warm. Maybe it’s because we’ve been lying shoulder-to-shoulder for so long, but I feel like we’re one single Twinkie, just one single yellow crust ﬁlled by one single creamy ﬁlling. The lines have blurred. “What’d you say?” “Manure. Try it. Manure.” My body tingles. “Manure.” “Easy, isn’t it?” I sit up. I look at her. But then I look out at the ocean and listen to the ocean sounds. I can’t stand it. Nothing’s where it should be. My credit card past was a way to live the future I’d always seen on TV. My present is mulling over the past and dreading the future. And the future’s ﬁlled with manure so I can deal with the past. Maybe in three years I’ll have everything paid off. But when I come back it’ll all be the same. I’ll be upwardly mobile. I’ll want a fuller bar, a bigger TV, a girlfriend with blonder hair, maybe fucking highlights. I’ll be pursuing happiness, never getting it. I think about those countries where it’s too hot or impractical to have a good economy. Bhutan. Afghanistan. The Sudan. Places with deserts and high mountain passes and gunﬁre in the night. There seems to be a connection: they all end in ‘a-n.’ I try to come up with a state that ends in the same thing, thinking I’ll move there. But I can’t come up with any. Not one fucking one. “What do I have to do?” I say. “You tell me.” “I have to sell manure,” I say. “I have to return to Sour Lake, Texas, home of the Hawks, and sell manure at Sour Lake Farm and Ag.” “So sell me on it,” she says. “Practice. You are a hawk and I am your prey.” I look at her funny. “Pretend,” she says. “Okay? Pretend I want to buy some manure, but I’m not sure if I want to buy it from you or this other guy I know. What would you tell me?”
“You should start hanging out with a different crowd.” She doesn’t answer me, and somehow her silence is louder this time. I slump back down into the sand and push around in the hollow shell my body left behind. “Manure is crap,” I say. “It’s natural, a byproduct of what a cow eats. It’s what we do. You need it. It is the essence of our cowness. It makes things grow. Manure.” Still the girl doesn’t say anything. I’m a failure. Then she says, “It on sale?” I try not to grin but I do. My chest jumps as I inhale. I point with my right hand. “I guess I just wish I could be on that star.” She points with her left. “That one?” I touch her hand, moving it. “Not that one; that one.” She drops her hand to look at me. “Hate to break it to you,” she says, “but there’s a kid on that star wishing he could be on this 26
one.” “Technically,” I say, sitting up on my elbows, “this is a planet.” “You know what I mean.” “Do I?” She nods, then rolls over and crawls to the other side of the castle and assembles all the garbage she left behind. To ﬁnish, she places a naked two-liter bottle on a mound of sand inside the castle walls and sticks a stalk of sea-weed in its spout like a ﬂag. She sees me crouched low to the sand, looking at her through the plastic bottle. She widens her eyes and looks back. And that’s when I think it. I’ve got her bottled, I think. I’ve got her bottled.
Mr. T Gold Chain Bubble Gum, c. 1985 Courtesy of the Candy Wrapper Museum www.candywrappermuseum.com
By David Barringer
I’m worried about my son. I think he’s the cool kid. The girls all say, “Hi, Lance!” And they don’t just say it. They sing it. “Hi, Laaaaance!” The ﬁrst syllable dips low—“hiiiii”—in order to leap to the high held note of “Laaaaaance.” Low, HIIIIIGH. Low, HIIIIIGH. Get it? “Hi, Laaaaance!” Does Lance acknowledge them? Sort of, sort of not. He ﬂips up his hand like he’s catching a baseball someone tossed to him. This is his wave. It’s subtle but sufﬁcient. He’s shy but composed. He’s not going to be the boy who calls back, “Hi, Suzeeee!” This kind of boy is doomed to be a friend. All the girls will claim him as such and only as such. But girls do not sing the names of friends. They sing the names of boys. But do they want these boys, or do they just want to sing? After we pass by the girls or they pass by us, I’ll say, “Who’s that? Is she in your class?” And he’ll keep looking at the sidewalk or kicking a rock and say, “That’s Claire. That’s Aubrey. That’s Crystal. She’s in my class. She’s on my soccer team. She’s Owen’s sister.” I’ll catch him talking to them later. Usually they talk, and he listens. But he talks, too. He stands there with his baseball hat on skewed, never all the way to the front or all the way to the back. If I imagine the brim is a hand on the clock of his head, then it’s always either exactly ten after or twenty to. I was a kid once. Why didn’t I think to wear my cap so distinctively? Because I was too self-conscious, that’s why. And, once I decided to override my inhibitions, I expressed myself without control, recklessly. I just wasn’t used to it. Being cool was like playing the blues. If I had to ask, I was a dork. With little Lance, his cap ﬁnds its natural home. Like an animal, it seeks equilibrium
But girls do not sing the names of friends. They sing the names of boys. with its environment. Like an electron, it hunts for a unique stability. Lance ﬁxes his cap one-handed, a small touch and it’s perfectly off-center. My wife’ll adjust his hat. On impulse, I’ll adjust his hat. But coolness is a matter of ﬁne subtleties, and my wife and I have been privy to neither its grace nor its expression. One touch, one ﬁnger, and the cap’s back where Lance wants it, back where it belongs. And he doesn’t appear self-conscious about it. He just quietly asserts himself with small gestures, small glosses on the pose. But it’s not, to be fair, a pose with him. No one else wears his hat this way, not his classmates and not his friends. I drive them to school, I go to school parties, I go to the ﬁeld trips to zoos and nature centers. So I would’ve noticed. I’ve seen which kids mimic each other’s clothes and slang. I’ve seen which kids are helpless. And I’ve seen which 30
kids chart their own paths without fuss or self-doubt. They just do it. Naturally. Like my son. Who is seven, by the way. Christ, I’m worried about him. I pick him up from school, and a girl says, “Hi, Laaaaance!” I don’t recognize her. Or maybe I do. It’s hard to tell kids apart at this age. Their features slide around every day. The cheeks puff and stretch, the nose swings left to right, the eyes ﬂoat to the sides of their heads. They morph and twitch and sag. They’re like characters the animator is still messing around with because this ﬁlm will be a lifetime in the making. This girl’s loose blonde hair lifts in spikes and dances, probably due to the static charge of her shiny pink backpack, over which her hair ﬂows down like lightning against the clouds. She’s waiting for her mom, whom I hope arrives quickly with a tissue. “Who was that?” I ask Lance. “Dad, I told you,” he scolds me. “That’s Crystal. She’s in Mr. Geiger’s class.”
“Oh. So how do you know her?” “She talks to me at recess.” “Ah.” I’ve noticed that some girls chase boys at recess. The girls who chase are not—one can tell at this stage—the girls you want to get involved with. They’re the fast girls. Or they will be the fast girls. Nabokov knew. Even before bovine growth hormone in the milk started giving girls early periods, he knew: with some girls, you can tell by the time they’re seven and eight. And as a parent, I think, “Yikes.” Luckily, Lance is not the kind of boy the girls chase. The chased boys—not to be confused with “chaste” boys—are not the boys any girls should be chasing. They’re often the cool boys, but they’re just as often bad news. They are the boys who, like sharks of the playground, smell the blood of peer pressure miles away. These future quarterbacks and fraternity sergeants-at-arms will be ﬁrst to kick the nerd and ﬁrst to kiss the girl. Competition, not compassion, is their gig, and, here in the lower, heavier atmosphere of second grade where thoughts hang suspended in the humidity of developing minds, the fast girls can’t tell the difference between cruelty and kindness or don’t know there is any. Lance, thankfully, is a compassionate kid, and the girls who gravitate toward him respond to the warmth of this quality. But there is more to it than this. Girls, after all, do not sing the names of sensitive boys. Lance is conﬁdent and smart, and although he is quiet, he knows how to talk to girls and does talk to girls. Let me emphasize: he can TALK to GIRLS. The chased boys and the sensitive boys cannot. The chased boys have neither vocabulary nor respect. The sensitive boys have neither familiarity nor conﬁdence. Most chased boys are crude egotists. They are not afraid, but they are ignorant. They make up for their ignorance with arrogance. Most sensitive boys are paralyzed. A female creature looms so large in their imaginations that she casts a shadow over his very soul. Before her presence in the classroom, on the play-
ground, or at a birthday party, he shrinks in size. He cannot speak because he does not believe she will ever hear him. He often forgets he still possesses a mouth. Lance, to his beneﬁt, has grown up under the wing of an older sister. He talks to his sister and her friends every day. He is accustomed to the attentions of girls, to their ways, to their speech patterns and the pitches of their voices. He hears them talk. He plays with them. He wrestles with them. He reads books with them. He sees the insides of their bedrooms, their closets. He knows what goes on in the bathrooms. This is knowledge inaccessible to many boys, and the experience is unappreciated by most boys who do have access. For Lance, the girl world is familiar. He is still shy in many ways, but he is not afraid. He can TALK to GIRLS. This, for young boys, is real power. The power of speech. Girls want to sing the names of powerful boys, especially when the source of their power remains a mystery. 32
I’m standing in line for ice cream, and a girl calls, “Hi, Laaaance!” Lance catches an imaginary ball, and the girl waves back. I ask, “Is that Crystal?” Lance socks me in the thigh. Ah, yes. Crystal is blonde. This is Aubrey. No, wait. Aubrey’s mom has red hair, and the mom by this girl has long black hair. Not Aubrey. Oh, yeah. Of course. This is Dahlia. Dahlia from Lance’s ﬁrst-grade class last year. She must be in a different class this year. Dahlia has an Indian father and a Caucasian mother, although Dahlia’s inherited traits are concealed by her smooth wide face, light brown hair cut short, and skin the color of tea with plenty of sugar and milk in it. She’s also dressed in white tennis shoes, a pair of Old Navy capri pants, and a pink Tshirt with sequins spelling out “Princess.” She’s a cute spunky little kid and, if I remember correctly, kind of a tomboy. Pretty tough. At least she was last year. She’s gone girly-girl this year. But she proves she hasn’t lost all of her boldness because she steps over to Lance and shows him the charm bracelet she got over winter vacation. “We went to Disney World,” she says, and it is the ﬁrst thing she says, after, of course, “Hi, Laaaaance!”
At ﬁrst, Lance looks around, conﬁrms his place in the ice-cream line, checks for other kids he might know. His surveillance happens very fast, but a look of concern sweeps over Dahlia’s face. She’s worried. A great many things and people compete for the attentions of a cool kid. When Lance seems comfortable with his place in the world, he grabs Dahlia’s forearm and leans in close to inspect the bracelet on her wrist. Dahlia is beaming. She feels the victory like a bright sun in her chest. She stamps the sidewalk because she doesn’t know what else to do with the extra energy. Last year, she would have punched Lance or run away. I’m standing on one side of a sidewalk canyon, and they are on the other side. The sidewalk concrete has been broken in half, cleaved by the root of a long-gone tree. It’s like a miniature San Andreas fault line or a science-fair model of how the Rocky Mountains were formed. I leave the kids alone to talk and mumble to each other, and Dahlia shrieks now and then, and I examine the tops of their heads, the lines of hairs across the whites of their scalps. I want to think about melting snow running down mountains, but instead, I just think about primates picking nits from each other’s fur. Even cool kids remind one of chimpanzees. It’s over when our turn is
I wonder if, pretty soon, I will no longer be able to reveal to Lance anything about the world he 33 doesn’t already intuit or hasn’t already tracked down.
up for vanilla cones. We squirm at one of the plastic outdoor tables, under an umbrella squeaking as it rotates in the wind, and Lance, without turning around, knows that Dahlia is leaving with her mother. Neither kid says anything to the other. “There goes Dahlia,” I say. “I thought maybe she’d come sit with us.” “She’s got piano lessons, and her grandma’s coming to make chicken tikka,” Lance explains. “I thought she said, ‘chicken tickle,’ but it’s chicken tikka. It has spices or something.”
“Ah,” I say. And I am impressed enough to ask no more. So this is little Lance. I wonder if, pretty soon, I will no longer be able to reveal to Lance anything about the world he doesn’t already intuit or hasn’t already tracked down. Any minute Lance will sit me at the kitchen table and ask me what “fuck” means. He won’t be asking because he doesn’t know. He’ll be asking because he wants me to know he knows, and he doesn’t want me to sweat bringing up the subject with him. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I had some small part in making Lance this way. I did, didn’t I? I established and guarded the circumstances in which he could trust his thoughts and express his feelings, cultivate a sober sense of himself, a self of many expressions, and bloom with the conﬁdence of a critical mind. You may think it’s too early to talk like this about second-graders, but believe me: these kids are like little adults. They don’t know everything, but what they do know they don’t forget. 34
Their minds have lots of empty space, and information rises up like skyscrapers. The cities of their brains have not been compressed to accommodate ever larger populations of rules and customs. Not yet anyway. There is still blue sky everywhere. Possibility soars. The world as you and I know it is, for them, outer space. It has allure and mystery and wonder. And they are eager to explore it, absorb it, and spit it back at you. Lance will do this over and over and over again, until I will have nothing left to say to him. He’ll reassure me that this isn’t true. “Oh, come on, Dad,” he’ll say someday. “You taught me everything I know.” And while you and I laugh as we choke on the sentimentality of that clichéd exchange, let me point out that that is the kind of cool kid Lance is and will be: the kind who both knows he’s cool and dismisses the signiﬁcance of it. His coolness doesn’t lose its temperature when he gives generously to others. It can afford the exertion and avoid the descent into the cold.
So, as Lance, the cool kid, grows up, will I never have to worry about him? There is all the usual stuff still in play. Natural disaster. Unforeseen consequence. Inexplicable suffering. Professional disappointment. Sudden disease. I haven’t lost everything. I’ve still got Broken Heart. Cool versus Broken Heart? Come on. The rest of us at least expect that one. The cool never see it coming. They never expect the girls to sing someone else’s name. So when Dahlia, the Homecoming Queen, with twinkles in her eyes and sparkles in her crown, presides from the convertible Cadillac, waves a lazy wave, and calls out, “Hi, Peteeer. Hi, Donaaaald. Hi, Aleeeex,” then . . . the sky drops. Fire consumes the land. The heart erupts like a canyon of rock. And I will be there, palms open, ready to catch the fallen, ready to lift him up, and ready to let him go, again.
Hope I die before I get old. – Pete Townshend, “My Generation”
Hope I Die by David Starkey The last time I ever saw Salvador Valenzuela perform in a rockand-roll band was in the mid-’80s in our hometown of Sacramento, California. It was in a nightclub on Broadway frequented by fraternity drinkers from Sac State and their bleached blonde dates. The drummer was some long-haired guy I didn’t know, but the other band members were familiar: lanky John Estridge on bass and the pint-sized and pugnacious Pat Imel on guitar. I don’t recall the name of that incarnation of their band, but I do remember their version of “Hound Dog.” It was swaggering yet tight all the way to the third verse, when they slowed down to an insinuating burlesque that exploded into the ﬁnal chorus. A smattering of applause rewarded their efforts, but Sal barely paused before sneering, “This song’s by someone you may know: Johnny Thunders. One, two, three, four,” he shouted, then the band kicked into The New York Dolls’ “Chatterbox.” It was clear, however, that no one knew who Johnny Thunders was and about half the sparse crowd moved off towards the pool room. I stuck around until the break, then wandered over to Sal. “Great job,” I told him. “College kids suck,” he said. I grunted my agreement. “They just want to hear the Top 40,” he sighed. “They don’t like anything cool.” “It’s sad,” I agreed, though I wondered why he seemed so surprised: we’d long ago decided that the good stuff always went unappreciated. Sal and I chatted a few minutes, but I had to be somewhere
early the next morning and I left before they began playing again. That was well over ﬁfteen years ago, but the night stands out, as do many others I spent with Sal, because for me he embodies most everything, good and bad, that I feel about leaving home. **** I went to school with Salvador Valenzuela in ﬁrst and second grade, then I moved and we weren’t reacquainted until towards the end of our junior year in high school. This was the spring of 1979, two years after the release of The Clash and The Ramones and the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, but in the Great Central Valley punk was still on the edge of our awareness. The ﬁrst time we ever talked about rock and roll was when Sal asked me if I’d heard Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” “Sure,” I said. 38
“What do you think?” “I like it.” “Man,” Sal said, “It’s bad. Fucking bad.” Other than rock and roll, we didn’t have a lot in common. My parents were transplanted white Southerners who taught in the public schools, while Sal was just two generations removed from a family farm in Michoacan. His mom was a quiet woman who worked as a nurse’s assistant at a rest home. She cooked and cleaned, gave birth to six children, and generally kept things together. Sal’s father worked in a menial capacity in the hangars at McClellan Air Force Base. Ben Valenzuela had been an amateur boxer as a youth—probably no more than a few bouts—but the way he told it, he could have been a contender if he’d wanted it badly enough. Instead, he got married and settled down. Almost all my memories of Mr. Valenzuela involve him lying on the living room couch watching TV, a Budweiser at his side. He was a slight man with greased-back hair and a carefully trimmed mus-
tache, and he wore tank top T-shirts, which emphasized his skinniness. Sal’s father was a braggart—he always claimed to know which sports teams would win, which cars were the best values, which politicians were the most full of shit—and Sal inherited a substantial helping of that braggadocio. Though our backgrounds were different, Sal and I shared a thorough knowledge of rock and roll. Like budding scholars, we were always digging deeper into
We believed that while rock and roll was fun—the most fun you could have—it was also something very serious.
the history: we bought scratchy old copies of albums by the Five Satins, the Contours, the Dell-Vikings and Huey “Piano” Smith. We discussed who had ripped off Chuck Berry and to what extent. Yet we also loved the latest jargon; we religiously read the record reviews in Rolling Stone and Creem, borrowing the vocabulary and exaggerated locutions of record reviewers for daily speech. We believed that while rock and roll was fun—the most fun you could have—it was also something very serious. This attitude separated us from most of our classmates, and the gulf widened as we embraced punk rock in the summer and fall of `79. While other Foothill Mustangs were bent on getting laid and getting into a good college—making the most of the “Me Generation”—our energy was consumed arguing over whether or not the Stranglers were a legitimate punk band or if the Boomtown Rats were too “pop.” At ﬁrst, Sal and I spent a lot of time in record stores or sitting in one another’s rooms listening to records. Later, some of our friends started working at a convenience store, and we bought beer there until the place was raided by the ATF in the summer of our senior year. Neither of us really enjoyed smoking, but it was hard to ﬁnd a rock star who didn’t light up, so we cultivated the habit whenever we had the chance—at parties, in the park, standing outside nightclubs that wouldn’t let us in. Once we smoked four packs of Win-
stons in two hours, lighting new cigarettes off the ones still burning as we sat in my Datsun pick-up truck watching Quadrophenia at a local drive-in. Afterwards, I thought I was going to die. My chest felt as though it had been clawed open by a werewolf. But in smoking, as in most things, I followed Sal’s lead. While I usually had more pocket money, and therefore more records, Sal’s aesthetics were dominant. There were certain bands he truly loved, the ones he would play on his cheap Montgomery Ward stereo over and over until his dad screamed at him to turn it off: the Stones, the Dolls, The Who, Iggy and the Stooges, Roxy Music, the Velvet Underground, Mott the Hoople, the Pistols, and the Clash. I loved those bands, too. And I joined Sal in excoriating the purveyors of the light fare that was popular during the late ’70s: the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, the Police. By senior year, I felt I could predict whether Sal would like a band, though that wasn’t always 40
the case. He despised groups with harder edges like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Bad Company, and Lynyrd Skynyrd because they were so popular with our herd-like fellow students. On the other hand, he admired the lyrical inventiveness of relatively mellow singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan. Sal and I differed on the Beatles. I thought they were terriﬁc to the end; he liked the energy of their early records, but John was the only member he could stomach post-Rubber Soul. The Rolling Stones were Sal’s favorite band, and Keith Richards, whose every move Sal tried to emulate, was his favorite rock star. It’s more than two decades since Sal and I spent day after day together, but I’m still affected by his taste in rock and roll. I like my guitars distorted, my chord changes simple, my singing angry and sardonic. And it’s not just when I listen to music that I hear Sal as a kind of hip ghost pedagogue scofﬁng over my shoulder. He’s the Bullshit Detector who crosses out lines of my poetry when they get too high-ﬂown. He reminds me of my own inchoate strivings for
self-expression when I come down too hard on some fuck-up kid in one of my creative writing classes. A grad school classmate of mine who’s now an English professor at Yale tells people that I invented grunge. It’s not exactly true, of course, but I take it as a compliment. What I think he means is that when we knew each other well, about the time I last saw Sal perform, I still understood what rock and roll and my hometown were all about. **** Sal’s working-class credentials gave him an authority I couldn’t claim. He wore clothes—tight, torn jeans and biker books—that I would have looked foolish in. His long, loosely permed black hair tumbled down his back; mine reached a certain
It’s more than two decades since Sal and I spent day after day together, but I’m still affected by his taste in rock and roll. I like my guitars distorted, my chord changes simple, my singing angry and sardonic.
length then curled under in a goofy pageboy. When Sal played air guitar, you could believe he was on stage. I looked like a seventeen-year-old kid playing air guitar. Neither of us could really play an instrument, however—though we wanted desperately to become rock and roll stars. Instead, we hung out at machine shops and storage warehouses watching our friends with guitars massacre “Louie Louie” and “All Day and All of the Night.” Alone in our rooms, we practiced strutting with our hands on our hips: “Jumping Jack Flash it’s a gas-gas-gas....” Through luck, mostly—Scott Swenson was in my English class— I joined a band before Sal did. I had jotted down some lyrics about a “mass murderer incognito” which I showed to Scott, and he thought they were cool. His parents had just bought him a new Peavey guitar and amp, and he wanted to jam. Our ﬁrst song was “Lookin’ for You.” Our name was FCY. We told our parents it meant First Class, Yeah, but really it stood for
Fuckin’ Cunts, Yeah. It was a name meant to evoke immediate outrage in the hearts of our listeners, though the eight or ten people who heard us stumble through our six song set in the one garage gig we played were probably more amused than offended. FCY was a classic garage band. John Estridge, son of a Japanese war bride and an Alabama foot soldier, played bass. The drummer was a kid named Shawn (I forget his last name) who had an imperfect sense of rhythm and a sleazy younger sister. Scott, a huge Kiss fan we tolerated only because of his expensive equipment and the fact that he let us practice in his garage, played rhythm guitar. I was the singer, though all I did was mumble and snarl. The star was fast-ﬁngered, golden-eared Pat Imel. A little over ﬁve feet tall, Pat nonetheless radiated attitude from a hundred paces. He had absorbed the spirit of rock and roll the way one’s clothing soaks up cigarette smoke in a car with all the windows shut tight. His 42
father had deserted the family when Pat was an infant. His brother was in jail. His mother was an alcoholic. She and Pat lived in a tworoom converted garage in North Highlands. Pat slept on the living room couch and seemed to subsist chieﬂy on a diet of mayonnaise sandwiches and water. While none of us were rich, Pat was unquestionably poor. (I never learned how he acquired his black Fender Mustang guitar, but I suspect it involved either drug dealing or theft.) He couldn’t afford to chip in for hamburgers or the occasional sixpack of beer, but the other members of FCY understood that Pat’s mere presence was recompense for whatever we spent on him. We played together off and on through the winter of 1980. I loved every second of it, but it was clear that Pat was dissatisﬁed. He, Sal, Estridge, and a kid named Louie — who had recently been kicked out of the high school marching band for smoking pot at a rehearsal — began hanging out after school. One night in early spring I drove over to Estridge’s house. Loud music came from the garage. I rang the bell and Mrs. Estridge let me
in. I eased open the garage door. The four of them were covering AC/DC’s “She’s Got Balls.” I stood around as they ﬁnished the song, unsure of what to say, knowing only that Sal had stolen my band. Estridge barely looked at me. Louie adjusted his cymbals. Imel ﬁddled with an unlit cigarette. Sal, friendly, said, “Hey, man. Stick around. We’ve got to do this one song ﬁrst.” Then they launched into Zeppelin’s “The Rover” and when Sal’s back was turned, I slipped into Estridge’s house and out to my car, sad and shocked. I sat fuming behind the wheel, too overwhelmed to turn the key. What a betrayal! I felt cut off, homeless. My only consolation was the fact that Sal was being forced to cover such ridiculous songs, songs I knew he hated. As I write this essay, a few weeks short of my fortieth birthday, my life experience tells me that I am capable of holding a grudge for a long time, years and years. But I soon forgave Sal. In part, I recognized the ephemeral nature of bands. More importantly, it had become obvious to me by then that rock and roll was Sal’s vocation, while it was merely a passionate hobby for me. In any case, a few months later I was off to college at UC-Davis, a forty-ﬁve minute drive from my home, and by late autumn I had formed another band, The Assholes, with the guy in the room next to mine. Art Culhane was a surfer from San Diego who later joined a frat and went on to get a law degree from Notre Dame. But his ﬁrst two quarters at UCD he spent a good deal of his free time putting music to my lyrics, songs like “Eat Me” and “Shit on You.” The Assholes played only one gig, at a punk party in Sacramento where we were pelted by beer bottles and spit. Sal was in the audience, pelting and spitting, too. I emptied a mouthful of Lowenbrau in his face and we both laughed. It was a rock and roll rapprochement. I still saw Sal every couple of weeks of my freshman year, but I was also listening to the music the people in my dorm liked. Skip
and Brad lifted weights in their room to Rush’s Moving Pictures. Ted Calvin spent winter quarter painting a Yes mural on one wall of the second-ﬂoor hall as Rick Wakeman’s interminable Yessongs organ solos blared from his boom box. Mack Padgett, the Neil Young devotee, was the only person I knew who would happily sit, stoned or sober, through the nine-minute, mind-bludgeoning “T Bone.” And a Chinese-American son of a physiology professor— sensitive Galen Tong, my best friend, who eventually abandoned his career track in ophthalmology for a philosophy major—loved anything introspective and melancholy, from Dire Straits to Dylan to Buffalo Springﬁeld to the Moody Blues. Often I found my dormmates’ taste in music effete or just downright lame, but, inevitably, I began drifting away from Sal’s narrow ideas of rock and roll purity. **** 44
Over the next two years Sal and I were in and out of a variety of rock bands. Neither of us had much success. Probably the height of our combined fortunes came when my band, The Locals, opened for his band, Nasty, at a huge dance party sponsored by a group of guys in the Coast Guard. It was held in a warehouse in West Sac, and hundreds of people showed up. The Locals’ version of “Sweet Jane” blew Nasty’s off the stage, and I counted the evening a triumph
…and when I was furious at a girl for dumping me, I could turn to any number of songs, but especially Gang of Four’s “Anthrax.”
despite the fact that Nasty’s rhythm guitar player, a three-hundred pound biker freaked out on speed, tried to strangle me when I told him I didn’t have his capo. Sal and I began to lose touch the longer I stayed in college, but rock and roll was always a comfort to me. I was a gloomy youth with no emotional defense mechanisms, and I fell hard for a series of girls who didn’t stick around long. It’s probably melodramatic to say that rock and roll saved my life, but when I was
deeply depressed, the Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain” or Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” consoled me, and when I was furious at a girl for dumping me, I could turn to any number of songs, but especially Gang of Four’s “Anthrax”: “Love will get you like a case of anthrax / And that is one thing that I don’t want to catch.” If rock and roll was a savior for someone like me, a college kid who didn’t work, it was all the more essential for someone like Sal. Unable to afford a place of his own, he lived at home until he was twenty-one. Sal toiled as a bus boy, ﬁrst at Happy Steak, then the Golden Pheasant; then he got a job in the laundry room of the Red Lion Inn, where he worked until his accident. His real world consisted of back-breaking labor for minimum wage, no respect, and no prospects for anything much better. But when he entered the fantasy world of rock and roll, Sal was a compatriot of Keith Richards, smoking backstage before the gig, making witty remarks about groupies, preparing to please his fans. Eventually, Sal moved in with a coworker, a Korean girl named Julie who had lived in Pusan until she was eighteen. They were an ill-matched pair—she preferred dance music and thought the Stones were “stupid”—but it was nice to see Sal fairly content. At the time, I was back in Sacramento waiting to go to grad school at UCLA after a year in Britain. I’d taken a job delivering The Wall Street Journal from 2 to 6 a.m. in my Datsun pick-up, so I slept late and prowled around until I had to work. Sal’s place was nearby, and I stopped there often. Despite the persistence of his elaborate rock and roll dreams, Sal seemed to be going into hibernation. Rather than go out to bars, he usually wanted to sit around and listen to records in his nearly empty apartment. One night, driving back with a six-pack from a convenience store, I got tired of listening to him ramble on about what his band would be like when he moved to New York. I took my MasterCard from my wallet and waved it in his face. “I’ll buy you a bus ticket,” I
said. “Right now. Come on, man. You’ve just got to get there. You’ll hook up with a band soon. Leave Sacramento. It’s no place for rock and roll.” “You serious?” “Yeah.” I’d seen an ad in the paper: one-way tickets were a hundred bucks. I could afford it. “All right then.” “Yes!” I whooped, and headed downtown for the bus station. By the time we pulled off the freeway, however, Sal was having second thoughts. “I don’t know,” he muttered. “Maybe next week. I really need to get my shit together ﬁrst.” I nodded. It was a big step, and at heart Sal was a conservative. He didn’t like change. He liked knowing where he was going to sleep at night and what he was going to wear in the morning. He liked new bands that sounded like his favorite old bands. In short, 46
he was afraid. This is not surprising, of course, since rock and roll is essentially conservative. A handful of chord progressions and guitar licks are handed down from one generation to the next, slightly altered, and passed on. If a great new rock song is somehow different from those that have preceded it, its variations are always overshadowed by family similarities. The very thing that looks “pretty young,” as Pete Townshend observed, is really just “backdated.” **** When Sal had his accident, I was working for an insurance company in Los Angeles. His oldest sister, Librada, called me, crying. Sal was in critical condition in the hospital. He and Pat Imel had been passengers in a car driven by a guy named Ray. They’d been returning from a long day and part of a night drinking at Folsom Lake. Speeding as he exited the freeway, Ray pulled onto the shoulder to pass the motor home in front of him, but a lumber truck,
with its lights off, was parked on the shoulder. When Ray’s car, moving at nearly ﬁfty miles per hour, collided with the stationary vehicle, Sal’s head slammed into the windshield, which shattered on impact. This had happened the night before, and doctors were now trying to stabilize Sal’s vital signs before they operated on his brain. Although I had only been at my job for
Sal’s accident occurred in 1987, around the time the vinyl album was in its death throes, and the former event might well have been the cause of the latter as far as I was concerned.
three months, I told my boss I’d have to miss the next couple of days, and I bought a ticket for the next ﬂight north. I went straight from the airport to the hospital. It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, the ﬁrst time someone I knew well had been close to death. Even now, so many years later, chills run along my skin as I remember standing in the waiting room with the Valenzuela family, all of them exhausted from lack of sleep. We spoke in quiet, funereal voices, prepared for the worse. Mrs. Valenzuela, pale and trembling, stopped everyone who came through the swinging doors of the Critical Care unit, begging for news. Late that afternoon, a sympathetic nurse let me go into the unit with Librada. Sal was naked except for a sheet covering his midsection. Tubes and wires sprouted from his arms and temples. A vaseline-like substance was smeared over parts of his face, and white bandages swaddled the top of his head, which had been shaved. He lay there with his eyes closed, deep in a coma. The family insisted music energized Sal, so a pair of Walkman headphones had been placed gently against his ears. “Here you go, man,” I whispered, as Librada slipped in the tape I had brought as my offering, Like a Motherfucker, by Johnny Thunders’ new band, The Heartbreakers.
The next couple of days drained most of what I had. Lack of sleep made my eyes feel grainy, my mouth dry; I was light-headed and edgy. Whenever I wasn’t in the waiting room, I was outside chain-smoking; what the hell, I reasoned, at least I wasn’t almost dead. Sal’s other friends dropped by and left and dropped by again, but I spent the nights on the waiting room couch. It seemed ridiculous to be anywhere else. I had begun to write poetry about six months earlier, and Sal’s accident seemed like the big event I’d been waiting for. Yet I promised God that if He would let Sal live, I would not write the masterpiece that was taking shape in my frenzied brain, “A Complete History of Rock and Roll, with Concordance.” Finally, the doctors decided they could no longer postpone the operation. They warned Sal’s parents that he might not survive. We all gathered together in the third-ﬂoor lounge, drinking bad coffee 48
and trying to watching TV. The operation lasted ﬁve hours. When it was over, the surgeon came out and said that Sal would live. **** Sal’s accident occurred in 1987, around the time the vinyl album was in its death throes, and the former event might well have been the cause of the latter as far as I was concerned. The conceit may seem trivial, but I had collected hundreds of albums and when people saw them their disparaging comments made me feel like a complete anachronism. All the certainties of the world were vanishing. In 1988 I abandoned my bright future as a claims adjuster and moved to Louisiana to get an M.F.A. I had also become a family man, and my poverty, combined with my struggles to write and be a good parent, sapped any extra emotion I might have had to spend on Sal’s fate. I’d seen him once after he left the hospital. His sixty-year old mother was working two jobs to pay for the hospital bills and rehabilitation. Weak and dazed, Sal could barely lift his hand to wave
hello or good-bye. Librada took me aside and told me the doctors had said Sal’s “mental level” would never be higher than that of a twelve-year old. He was condemned, in other words, to spend the rest of his life as an adolescent, forever on the verge of rock and roll rebellion. A decade after the accident, few people visit Sal anymore. Estridge became a ﬁreﬁghter and moved to Oregon. Pat Imel is a dishwasher somewhere in the Bay Area. Ray, the guy who drove the car, got six months probation then disappeared. Mike, a friend I talk to three or four times a year, always says, “I really ought to go and see Sal.” But we both know he won’t, and though I used to try guilting him into stopping by, I’ve given up. When I return to California every couple of years, I stop in for a half-hour, and I can’t honestly say I blame Mike. The visits are uncomfortable. The last time I was there, several years ago, Sal and I listened to a side-and-a-half of Exile on Main Street. He had to use his walker to cross the few steps to his old record player (there was no sign of any CDs). Sal ate two huge bowls of vanilla ice cream as we chatted. “Mike Tyson’s gonna kick some ass when he gets out of prison.” “Yeah.” “He’s fucking bad.” Sal spent the rest of the time raving about a gangster movie his parents had taken him to see recently, making “bang-bang” sounds as he shot at me with his two cocked hands. His cheeks were bloated, and he wore a gray sweatsuit to cover his fat. I had nothing to say to him. It was depressing as hell, and I realized that in rock and roll, you’d damned well better die before you get old. These days, when I see teenagers with their hair cut in the latest alternative fashions, cigarettes dangling from their lips, loud music pounding from their radios, I can’t help but think of them as late
twentieth-century Dorian Grays. And Sal is their portrait, hidden away, decaying, living on the charity of his aging parents and his struggling siblings in a ten-by-ten room in the suburbs of Sacramento, California, while rock and roll remains eternally young. Bob Seger once wrote a sentimental song called “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” but “Never Forgives” would be much truer. Try as I may to remember that Sal is a living, breathing — if disabled — human being, I can’t help but think of him as a ghost. And though I listen to the alternative radio station as I grade papers, type at the computer, or drive down the wide suburban boulevards to pick up my third child from daycare, I no longer believe what I hear. Like a church-goer who’s lost his faith, I keep attending out of habit, comforted by the familiar. But I know the promises are empty. And I know what waits for me when I get home. 50
Canada Geese on the Lawn of Frasier Meadows Retirement Community First snow of the season, they’re out in the cold. Aged ladies in shawls wrapped tight against the chill, heads tucked against their breasts. Slowing the car, ﬂurries are driven in tangos across blacktop as I watch them congregate about the rose beds, a social of women gathered for gardening. Can they not feel weather in their bones prickle like a hard frost? They pilfer the undersides of ornamental kale for corms, crocuses, the bright memory 52
of a season past. Late roses on their toothy stems are gripped in ﬁsts of ice. Dimes of locust leaves drop with the weight of winter at their backs. Has no one come for these women, gathered at their task, pulling at grasses as if fortunes could be told by the fall of blades on a cold plate? Auguries drift from sky in a tattered letter from the gods, and rough time lies slipped about the roots of bare cottonwoods beside the pond—its skin of duckweed going brittle from the outside in. Their gossip rises from their throats with life of its own—a hiss of spittle on an iron. One look and it’s obvious, they’re sounder than we’d care to think. Slowly the quilts stack about them, stitches tight, the remembered patterns--
Ruins of Jericho, World Without End.
Bees There were bees behind the walls of my grandmother’s home, and they lived there more comfortably than she ever did. After her husband died, she fell lax in the housework. Wouldn’t scrub ﬂoors or dust the mantle— only took up a hoe if there were snakes in the begonias. She traveled to yard sales every Sunday, pilfering the rubbish of other people’s lives. She carried it home in carloads, slowly ﬁlling the empty rooms with wax and hardened honey.
The ﬁrst space to go was the bedroom. Memories were crowded out by a host of tiny porcelain dogs, polyester blouses, wickerwork. With the gaps ﬁlled in, the house became livable once more. Spiders ﬁlled the bathtub, mice took up the ﬂoors, the bees tangoed in the walls. When we lured my grandmother away, she left with a pittance of unremarkable things. The house was condemned and my father deemed it best to let it burn. Aﬂame, it sizzled for hours. The bees, disturbed in their dances, ﬂew out of the walls on ﬁre—blazing for an instant and lessening to cinder. bradford tice
Reality x Reality
“Can I explain Reality x Reality? Wait, let me ﬁx the microphone clip. It keeps falling off my bikini top. Okay. Well, I think it’s really cool. A lot of my friends say Reality x Reality is a stupid idea, but they’re just jealous because they aren’t on it. Not everyone can get picked, obviously. You have to be really good-looking and you have to be tan, and of course sexy, but not a skanky stripper-type. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. That is not everyone. In a way it’s hardly anyone, you know? You have to not have any claustro-
phobia or any phobia, period. You can’t be pee shy (laughs). You have to be willing to sign a shitload of releases. That part was weird. My father’s a lawyer. He read the documents and said: ‘Shanti, no way! You are not going on this show! They will take your ﬁrst born. They will literally take your ﬁrst born!’ Then he showed me the part of the contract that said Avidco Inc. had a right to any offspring conceived during the show, blah dee blah; anyway, I signed it, obviously I trust Avidco Inc. They’ve been really nice to me. They paid to have my hair highlighted. “What? I’m not explaining it well enough (laughs)? So? Everybody knows what Reality x Reality is. I don’t want to explain (laughs). Woo, I’m the rebel. What’s that? Oh, okay. For you at home, I’m being shown the clause in the contract that says that I have to do as I am told in a timely manner. I’m a slave! Tie me up! Also for you at home, I’m really enjoying this Diet Coke. Mmmm. 56
Okay, so Reality x Reality is a reality TV show, but it’s also real because it has a real audience, like a play, but the audience is also a part of the show—at least, that’s my impression. It’s, you know, unclear. Someone said that the audience is “higher up,” which means, I don’t know, they’re on a platform? So, we do things and they watch us and then they clap and it’s all edited into one hour-long segment a week.
Anyway, that’s me with my hair up, looking cute. Yes, I can say that, because I have great self-esteem.
We can’t leave. It’s like the Hotel California. Do you like classic rock? I do. Oh, and I get to do something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. I get to be a narrator! This is my narration. Some of it gets edited in, right? God, I’m freezing. Can I put my sweatshirt on over my bikini? Great. For those of you at home, the answer from the TV Man is NO. Okay. You will hear more from me as the show progresses.” ****
“All right, this is a bubble room. It’s one of a series of glasswalled rooms connected by clear plastic tubes like they have in hamster cages. It gets foggy in there and the techs have to come in and wipe off the Plexiglas. What? Oh, okay, I’m not supposed to talk about the techs, ever. My lips are zipped. Anyway, that’s me with my hair up, looking cute. Yes, I can say that, because I have great self-esteem. Oh, and also Roberto. We’re getting in the hot tub. So, I guess people are outside watching us? We can’t tell from inside. So—we just had to go into the room and get into the hot tub. Those were our instructions. I’m not sure what else to say. Yeah, Roberto is a good-looking guy. I don’t know how he gets all the hair off his chest. (laughs) I guess body waxing. Before this, he kept stealing my dessert at dinner and calling me ‘fat ass,’ so I put him on my jerk list. Duh, we all know they wouldn’t pick a girl with a fat ass. Okay, here he’s pulling off my top. I’m putting it back on. I’m sure you can all hear Roberto calling me a bitch. Very nice. Now he’s getting out of the hot tub and lying on the deck, saying ‘check out my pecs.’ That guy’s a total exhibitionist. We all are? No way! I’m open to experiences! Life is an adventure! I see I’m drinking another Diet Coke. Mmmm. Ignoring Roberto. “Okay, wait. I’m not in this scene. This is still the hot tub room. That’s Eastman, he’s actually a really nice guy. He’s the only blond guy in the whole show and I love blond guys because I’m from California. We had a long conversation about our plans and goals for the future. He said he thought I had awesome values. Is that part going to be in? I thought it was really interesting. It shows we aren’t just bimbos and manbos. Wait. Now Olivia is getting in the hot tub. Do I like Olivia? I don’t want to say anything bad, you know, I just thought there weren’t going to be any strippers in the cast. I’m just saying. Oh great, now she’s taking off her top and giving him a lap dance. An aquatic lapdance. Don’t you have to pixilate her boobs? Okay, I’m not getting any answers here. That’s great.
Eastman looks really happy. Fuck you, Eastman. He has hopes and dreams of getting married and having a big family with a nice girl like me. No, I don’t have a boyfriend, TV Man. I have to pee. Hey, no cameras in the bathroom, folks, just microphones. So you’ll know when I’m done.” **** “That’s Charlie, standing in the kitchen area. We all call him Charlie Manson behind his back. Why? Because he’s odd. His hair is messy. He’s, you know, a freak. A loner. He doesn’t like to hang. He reads things. Like what? Literature. Manuals. I don’t know, for the microwave. Okey doke. Zooming in. He seems to be tearing the legs off a large grasshopper. It could be a locust. He’s putting the legs in a sandwich. Great. There’s some really nice close-up camera work here. I’m really happy to be sleeping a few doors down from this 58
sicko. While we were having wine and cheese he sat in the corner and broke all the toothpicks from the cheese cubes in half and made a nice, big pile. Now he’s decapitating the grasshopper. Zoom in—it’s twitching! Wow, those things live a long time without their heads. Is this even necessary? I’m sure people are getting the lay of the land. Roberto’s the stud, Eastman is the earnest hunk, Olivia’s the stripper, I’m the rebel, Kiki’s the insecure lesbian, David is the party jock, Eliza’s the sassy inner city girl, Charlie’s the psychopath, etc. etc. I just hope they keep him away from the knife drawer.” **** “Wait, alright, this is totally new. I’m looking at a room I’ve never seen before. Kiki is sitting in a chair with electrodes strapped to her head and torso. She’s wearing a tube top and microshorts. The room is split down the middle with a divider. She has a box of Whitty mints beside her, and her tube top says “Unbelievably powerful.” Okay, now David is coming into the room. Explain David?
He’s like the party guy. He was dancing around with Eliza’s underwear on his head the other day while we were having our margarita party and everyone was laughing because we thought it was hysterical. Roberto keeps making fun of David’s big nose, which I also think is hysterical. Kiki? She’s just sort of an outcast. I don’t mean to be bitchy, but no one really likes her. I hate cliques, but Kiki’s just such a whiner, it’s like no
I’m being shown the contract, folks at home. Apparently, I’ve signed on for the duration. No leaving early.
one wants her around. No. It’s not just because she’s a lesbian. I am not ‘easily threatened.’ Okay, now David is sitting at a table with dials on it. Just a sec. “Okay, David is turning the dials. When David turns the dials, Kiki starts to scream. It’s as though he’s electrocuting her. That is unpleasant. I hope they’re faking it. For those of you at home, I think it’s totally possible that they’re faking it. Now that I think about it, Avidco wouldn’t electrocute us. Duh. Yeah, Kiki’s still screaming. This is like some experiment, isn’t it? Even if it’s faked, I still think it’s totally gross. The camera is getting close to David, and he’s explaining that this is Kiki’s punishment for using Eliza’s toothpaste and calling her the token black person. He’s giggling—snickering? Okay, David is leaving the room, and Kiki’s crying. Lovely.” **** “This is the audience, right? I thought we weren’t ever supposed to see the audience. They seem to be holding musical instruments— harps? Lyres? They’re dressed in period costume. I don’t know what period—the laurel crown and toga period. This is weird. It gives me the creeps. I don’t like it. You know, now that we’re on the subject, I’m not really liking any of this. You know what I want? I want to go home. Yeah, I’m totally serious. You try sleeping with a psychopath down the hall. Uh huh. Yes, yes, I can see it. I’m being shown the
contract, folks at home. Apparently, I’ve signed on for the duration. No leaving early. That’s fantastic. I feel great. I just want to say, this Diet Coke tastes like liquid shit. Mmmm.” **** “No. That’s the night we had the party with that special brand of vodka. Everyone was having vodka martinis with spicy olives. What kind of vodka? I can’t remember. What? I thought liquor ads were prohibited. Ow! Cut it out! I really can’t remember. Ow! Fuck, all right, Ivory vodka, everyone was drinking it. It was delicious, yes. It was so cold, so fresh. That’s me, sitting in the chair. I wasn’t partying because I had a headache. That’s the housecat, Snowpuff, as you can see I’m petting her. Whatever. Everyone is getting down. Can I be more speciﬁc? Yeah. The gang is doing a limbo. Eliza is being our disc jockey. Roberto and David are holding the stick. Okay, 60
there goes Olivia, you can totally see up her skirt from this angle. Nice thong, Olivia. There goes Kiki, doing the lesbian limbo. Now they’re taking it lower. Under she goes. She’s pretty ﬂexible. What? Yeah, I guess Kiki is not so much an outcast anymore. What do you mean, ‘Is Kiki in and I’m out’? I’m not out. I have a headache. Give me that Diet Coke. “Okay, now we’ve cut to Charlie. He seems to have slunk away from the party, and he’s going through the drawers in the kitchen. Do I still think he’s psycho? No, I think he’s emotionally stable. Am I being sarcastic? You ﬁgure it out, I’m busy narrating, okay? Charlie is removing items from a drawer, as though he’s looking for something. Ah, he’s found it. Excellent. Good news. An ice pick. He’s putting it down his pants. That’s a good one. I wasn’t expecting that. Why aren’t I getting any more Diet Cokes?” ****
“Um, yeah, okay. Here we go. Charlie the psycho on one side of the screen, Kiki strapped into the chair on the other. Did you show the scene yet where Kiki makes out with Roberto? Renouncing her lesbianism and embracing his smooth, hairless chest? Okay, um, now Charlie is turning the dial up, and Kiki is screaming. She’s screaming. Okay—still screaming. Her face contorted horribly. A break. Yet more screaming. A scream. Do I still think Kiki’s faking? No. None of your damn business how I know. She screams. “Ah, yes, I thought so. Here’s me, Shanti, strapped into the chair. Electrodes attached to my head, chest, thighs. What am I doing? Screaming. Yelping. Oh. That’s interesting. I thought it was Charlie turning the dial on the other side of the screen, but it looks like it was Kiki. Does she look
This is like the Lord of the Flies part, where we’ve run out of food and are forced to drink from the Jacuzzi, and everyone turns on the 61 weakest…
happy? No. Well, I don’t think she looks happy. She looks fat. Or maybe pregnant.” **** “Can I please have a Diet Coke? Fucker. Okay, I have to narrate without the beneﬁt of Diet Coke, folks at home. If there even are folks at home. I’m beginning to wonder. What do I mean? I mean maybe this isn’t Reality x Reality. Maybe this is Reality x Reality x Reality. Meaning what? Meaning maybe this is real and no one is watching us on TV and you’re a sadistic fucker, Mr. TV man. I said ‘sadistic fucker.’ Ow. What is that, a cattle prod? Can I see? No. No. Of course I’m not going to steal it. I’ve just never seen one. “Okay, well, everyone’s swimsuit is really dirty in this scene. This is like the Lord of the Flies part, where we’ve run out of food and are forced to drink from the Jacuzzi, and everyone turns on the
weakest, which happens to be Charlie. There are no more margarita parties. In fact, we are totally out of liquor. I want to cry. Why Charlie? He’s an outcast, he has no friends, he’s weird, his teeth are yellow, he isn’t tan, and he’s psychotic. Is that enough for you? I think he put bug legs in my sandwich, okay? Anyway, it’s me or Charlie, because when I leave the hive to do narration, everyone thinks I get food and that I get to make phone calls or that I get supplemental Diet Cokes. No. What? I don’t know. We’ve called it the hive for a while. Nothing much is happening in this shot. “Okay, here comes the part where we all chase Charlie. I guess we’d all just reached a breaking point or something. Olivia grabs him by the hair and pulls him down. Okay, the guys are sitting on his thrashing legs, and Eliza starts winding his ankles together with duct tape. I was absolutely not going to stab him with that knife! The knife is solely for self-protection! Yes, okay, I am using the knife for 62
one second to cut off his shirt, because I needed to search for weapons. That cut on his neck was completely, 100 percent accidental. I can’t help that I nicked an artery. I didn’t mean to. Blood, bleeding. Charlie turning pale. I crawl into the corner. Wiping the blood off my hands. Still wiping. Obsessively wiping. Nice close-up. Thanks for that. “Okay, this is after Charlie wriggled away. He has locked himself in the Pillow Room; there he is on the Pillow Cam, holding his ice pick, trembling. Poor guy. I think he lost a lot of blood. Too bad he’s such a creep.” **** “Um, okay wait. I don’t know what this is. This is like the audience we saw before. Figures wearing drapery for clothes, standing on something ﬂuffy. They’re eating grapes and drinking Ivory vodka, so cold, so fresh. One is holding a bow and arrow. An old guy is
walking around without his shirt on, and his chest is very hairy. No waxing for him! He looks like an old beach bum. Nice sandals, dude. Um, I guess he’s throwing something, I think they’re thunderbolts. So, this is like the god Zeus? Am I correct? Okay folks, no answer. I am assuming this is the god Zeus and he is fucking with us mortals via some kind of thunderbolt throwing. Something Greek, Grecian Formula? A feta cheese ad? That was a very loud thunderclap. The screen just went blank.” **** “I think it’s pretty obvious what’s going on in this scene. I don’t know why I have to keep narrating. Ow. Stop. Ow. Get that thing away from me. Ow. Fine, Kiki is lying on the ﬂoor, in labor. Roberto is at her side, holding her hand and stroking her brow. The baby’s head is just starting to crown. Pushing; more pushing. How did you get that angle? Hello? Okay, somehow, via some weird birth canal cam, this is a shot of the baby’s head coming out of Kiki’s body. Now me and Olivia are catching the baby. Very cute little guy, once we cleaned him up. She named him Elvis. Right, but not yet. Charlie is in a chair. He’s reading to us. Yes, he found some kind of book on childbirth and he’s telling me and Olivia what to do. I don’t know where his ice pick is, do you? Okay, no questions ever get answered around here. Anyway, there’s little Elvis, lying on Kiki’s stomach. We’re all really smitten with him.” “Here’s the whole gang again, huddled around. I don’t know what we’re doing. Everyone’s clothing is in tatters. We had to make diapers for Elvis. I guess he’s owned by Avidco, but for now he’s our responsibility. Look, there he is, crawling across the rug! I said I don’t know what we’re doing. Ow! I hate that cattle prod. Ow. Okay, obviously, we are digging. We’re digging through the ﬂoor with spoons. We need to get more dirt so we can grow more food. You can see the water pipe that we tapped up above in the wall—
I know we’re not on t.v. anymore, if we ever were. How do I know? I know. t.v. wouldn’t do this to us. t.v. may be cruel and sadistic, but it isn’t this cruel and sadistic. 64
Charlie did that. He also turned the bubble rooms into greenhouses. We’re eating a lot of corn now. I don’t see why I have to keep narrating—I know we’re not on TV anymore, if we ever were. How do I know? I know. TV wouldn’t do this to us. TV may be cruel and sadistic, but it isn’t this cruel and sadistic. Besides, we don’t have any products anymore, so how could it really be TV? Yeah, okay, that’s true. Public television doesn’t have products. This would make for a really cheery pledge drive, the dirty baby crawling around and us half-starving and eating Snowpuff the cat for protein, did you show that? Did you show that part where we all had to electrocute each other? We didn’t have to? Oh. Thanks for telling me now. “Everyone else did it.” ****
“When is this? Is this now? Okay, everyone’s gathered around the spot where we’re digging up dirt so that we can grow more food. I’m not present. Yes, it’s true that we keep taking bags of dirt into the bubble room. That’s where our farm is. A tunnel? What makes you think it’s a tunnel? Ha ha ha, what a ridiculous notion. We would never try to escape; duh, we trust Avidco. “Oh my God, oh my God, something’s happening now! They’re through! They’ve broken through! Olivia is holding the shovel above her head in triumph! Kiki is going down into the hole that is not a tunnel, that is so deﬁnitely not a tunnel. Now Eastman is handing her Elvis. There goes Eliza and Roberto and Charlie and David. There they go—naked and dirty, down the hatch, into the world. Man, they are out! Woo! Okay, it is a tunnel. I lied. My bad.
“Uh, now there are big ﬂashes of light and booming above. The sky is being shaken by thunderbolts. I guess Zeus is pissed? I didn’t really pay attention when we did Greek mythology. Maybe he isn’t pissed. Maybe he’s happy! Yeah, I think he throws thunderbolts when he’s happy! I know I would! The pile of dirt is being illuminated by lightning, but no one is left in the hive. An empty room on the bubble cam. Man Reality x Reality x Reality? Also know as: Reality. God, I love this show. I don’t have to go back in there, do I? Okay, I’m going to take that as a no. Thanks. After all that hardship, I can really appreciate this Diet Coke.”
Each of the four editors of Barrelhouse Journal maintains an intense interest in all forms and facets of popular culture, and each of us believes that it is not easy—and not helpful, mostly—to reduce the elements of popular culture to their lowest common denominator,
the Barrelhouse interview 66 then denigrate the whole. and
For even when there was such a thing as “high” and “low” culture, geniuses and hacks resided in both. Today, it is not so easy to say which is which, and for some people, like us, that is ﬁne. It is our mission, then, to give popular culture its due: to learn from it, laugh at it, scorn it, throw things at it, but, above all, enjoy it. We hope that this journal presents opportunities for all of these reactions.
Without doubt, artists (and even most hacks) always set out to produce something lasting—it is a test of the maker’s integrity whether he or she succeeds. It is our goal for the interview section of Barrelhouse (realized, we believe, in this issue) that we give our readers the opportunity to ﬁnd out more about a successful artist who has produced something lasting, regardless of the art form. Discover what makes him/her tick, how their career got off the ground, and how they continue to feed the inspiration that motivates their art. With that in mind, we are proud to announce that the inaugural Barrelhouse Interview guest is:
Emmylou Harris There are so many things that have been said about the voice, beauty, and artistic integrity of the country/folk goddess Emmylou Harris, and they are all true in the superlative. However, what is most striking about Ms. Harris is that she has never stood pat. For artists of any genre, the creative choices Ms. Harris has made, and the results that have sprung from them, are inspiring. As is her life story, pivoting around her “conversion” to country music through Gram Parsons, which seems like the modern American answer to Dante’s
relationship with Beatrice in La Vita Nuova and The Divine Comedy. Inverted, of course. Twenty years into her career she discovered a new sound that took her voice and artistry to another level, a risk that lost her some fans but won over many more and garnered her another Grammy Award. Even further into her 30+ year career, she has become an excellent songwriter, a “new” turning point in her career that was presaged by her forgotten mid-80s album The Ballad of Sally Rose, a concept album she wrote to dramatize her unique relationship with Gram Parsons. We cannot think of a better example of popular music that should stand the test of time—through its fusing and transcendence of genres, its beauty and complexity, and its willingness to ask and confront the difﬁcult questions—than the works of Emmylou Harris. We are honored to have the opportunity to sit down with her and discuss her career, her perspectives on art, and more. 68
Barrelhouse: Could you describe what ﬁrst inspired you to become a singer?
Emmylou Harris: I ﬁrst got really turned on to folk music when I was young. I don’t know what it was about the sound of folk music that got to me, but I remember that it was also the stories—child ballads and other tales about the tragedy of life-that appealed to the fairly sheltered white Anglo-Saxon Protestant girl I was. Because you never know what’s really going to grab you. There’s deﬁnitely something there that made me want to pick up a guitar and learn every Joan Baez song. When I was ﬁrst doing gigs, I was doing what most singers do, which is, I think you have to copy to start. And I was fortunate, because I was allowed to develop my repertoire, I could sing the songs basically that I wanted to sing. So I was copying Joan Baez; I was copying Judy Collins. I was imitating them, but I was still losing myself in the music. And I found that I could put things in
my own key, because before I learned to sing—to really sing—I was singing hymns in church, and most of the keys were too high for me. So for a while I didn’t think that I could sing. But when I was performing, losing myself in the song, not having to follow anybody else, I learned what my limitations were, musically, and as someone said, I can’t remember who, your limitations are what deﬁne your style—they are your style. You have to confront your limitations and learn how to use them to make your voice unique.
BH: What was the role that country music played in your development as a singer?
ELH: It was in country music where I found my true voice, which is ironic, because, growing up, my brother owned the record player, and he loved country music at a time when I didn’t want anything to do with it. But I became such a convert. And country music helped me tremendously in developing my voice in two ways, because when I started with Gram, I was singing harmonies, and with harmony you don’t have any room to maneuver, you can’t do your own thing, you have to follow close to the lead, and it really helped me to discipline my voice. Another key thing that I learned from country music is that “restraint intensiﬁes emotion.” And it’s so true. You listen to someone like George Jones, and you think to yourself at ﬁrst, he’s not really doing anything. But then when you pay real close attention to the sounds of the words themselves, you realize that there is so much emotion he is putting into the song, without even appearing to try. It’s really subtle, but once you are attuned to it you realize how full of soul it is. You can hear it also in the great country songs of Ray Charles, who did a country album in the 60s. And I learned so much from Gram, but I was still learning from him when he died. I wanted to make my own country music at some point, but Gram was the person I was going to sing with and continue to learn from, and eventually I thought I would go on my own, but I was in no hurry. So when he died, a lot of things had to happen for me so that I could continue my career, and amazingly, they did. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with musicians who
had recorded with Gram, along with guys who had played with Elvis Presley. And I put trust in my producer, and he went out and found Rodney Crowell and signed him as a writer. I mean, the serendipity and synchronicity of what went on in those early days, there was no way you couldn’t believe that there was something else going on up there. So here I was among these professional musicians, and I was still so new to country music, the new kid on the block, but in a way so was Rodney, and he was great company for me. Rodney was kind of like me, although his claim to country was a little more authentic—his dad played drums in a country band. He had grown up with more of country music than I, but we were the same era, the same peer group, we listened to rock n’ roll and folk music together, but we just loved country music. And we worked so well together.
BH: For much of your career you have interpreted songs. Would you 70
say that how you go about interpreting a song is similar to how an actor prepares for a role?
ELH: That’s interesting, because I actually wanted to be an actress. It probably is an analogy—if you’re a good actor. For me, I found that with acting, I was always really working at it in a way that I never was able to transcend myself, or lose myself, or ﬁnd myself, if that makes sense. In singing, I found it a completely unselfconscious process, whereas in acting I never lost my self-consciousness. Now, I think someone that’s really good at acting probably has the same experience acting that I do singing. I’m not one of those people that can do both.
BH: What inspires you, both as singer and a songwriter? ELH: Well, I had the one huge sort of big bang with Gram that spurred me on for all those years, and then I had a second one with Daniel Lanois, and the whole sound he brought—the Daniel Lanois sound—Canadian, Irish, I don’t know what you’d call it. But it’s such an amazing synthesis of sounds, it’s incredibly powerful, and I think an example of something that becomes authentic from drawing on all these different musical genres or forms.
But the muse is something that you hope you never lose. I can’t say why I’ve seemed to have it for so long, but I think my case is that I keep running into great people that I want to collaborate with. I’m a pretty avid reader, I love Annie Dillard and Jane Austen, but right now I’m reading a lot of nonﬁction, which is also inspiring, or sobering, because you learn about the state of the world and all the injustices that are just calling out to be redressed. I also think you’re constantly inspired by everything you see—there’s a wonderful analogy in cartoons, when the little light bulb goes off above your head. I’ll just write something down, just a line—I’ll kind of know what it’s about, but not really, it’s like a treasure hunt with a map, and you have to go ﬁnd it...then again, how does anything ever happen? I don’t know, it’s a mystery. I may never write another song, because I don’t think you can assume that. It’s such a mystery to me—they don’t just fall out of the sky, I mean, they do, sometimes, but only after you’ve bled for years.
BH: When you come up with a song, do you start with lyrics or a melody?
ELH: I would say that I’m pretty much lyric-driven, I’m always selfconscious that my melodies are good, I - IV - V, very simple, perhaps too simple-but I’ve gotten over that. There are people, I know Buddy Miller has written the melodies to his songs, and actually cuts the tracks, before coming up with lyrics. It’s just a matter of writing something down, and maybe returning to it later. I ﬁnd that I usually have to lock myself away, just kind of smash away on the guitar. I try to focus on the sound of the words, and the rhythm of the words. They are married together, and that’s the beauty of song, and that’s where you get those great words and phrases that evoke so much powerful emotion. But I even love it when you force words into a melody, I mean the way Springsteen does, and he can jam so many words in, and he can make it work. But I’m not sure I can do that. [Laughs] BH: Could you talk about your relationship with country music and the country music industry? Clearly, with the new direction your
music has taken, you can’t really call it country, but are you still accepted by the industry?
ELH: It’s interesting because when I ﬁrst became enamored of coun-
try music, I announced myself as a “country singer” and I was on a mission to bring the genre of country music into the fold. I wanted to make people realize they were throwing out this treasure of music because it was from the “South,” and the South was full of all the bad people, and it had segregation. But I just wanted to tell people to drop everything they “think” they knew about the South, and just listen to someone like George Jones, just listen to this man sing! So early in my career, I was fearless about calling myself a country singer, almost shoving it down people’s throats, because I wanted them to hear the music for themselves, without stigma. I had that ﬁrst hit record with the Louvin Brothers’ If I Could Only Win Your Love. So I was accepted by the industry, even though back then, we were out in Hollywood making records, when the only place you were supposed to make country records was Nashville, and maybe Bakersﬁeld, but that was just “Nashville West.” But it was ironic, because when Wrecking Ball came out, I never thought country would end up where it was then. It had melted into such a sea of mediocrity. On my ﬁrst album, there were some real straight country songs. And on one of the songs, we had a mandolin. At the time, mainstream country radio just did not have songs using mandolins or any other traditional instruments. So in that sense we were trying to redeﬁne country, but by bringing it back to its roots. And today, thank God, they do permit traditional instruments on country radio, but can you believe it? They’ve still managed to drain all the soul out of the music! I’d like to know how they’ve pulled that off. But soulful country music is out there. It is. There is great stuff being made that is re-inventing country music, but it’s being done by artists like Gillian Welch, for example. But it’s not what is played on country radio. So therefore, once Wrecking Ball came out, and people started paying attention to me, I was in a bind, because I was considered a country singer but Wrecking Ball didn’t sound country. So I ended up in a Bill Clinton type position—Yes, I played country music, but I didn’t inhale. But I did inhale...deeply!
I think deﬁnitely that everything was leading up to this tension, but at the time I couldn’t see it. Because it wasn’t like the songs that we chose to sing were even out of place on any other record; I didn’t think it was so far of a leap, but a lot of people did. And I lost some of them, some of them that were more into the traditional country stuff. But my core audience, who was with me from the beginning, they were right there. And it also brought some new fans. So I’m thankful. I’ve had just enough commercial success and an audience base to give me respectability. I’ve had a few hit records, and I’ve never had to worry about being pressured, because most of my albums in terms of sales were always in the ballpark. The one time when I was in kind of a free fall, along came the Trio record [with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton], and I was saved. I’ve just been extraordinarily blessed with wonderful opportunities for collaboration.
BH: Are there any musicians that you want to collaborate with, that you haven’t yet?
ELH: Oh, there’s so many, but then again I’ve collaborated with just about everybody else, when I think about it. [Laughs] That’s a very good question, I wish I had a better answer.
BH: One indulgent question: We are huge fans of the Townes Van Zandt song Pancho and Lefty, which we believe is not just a great song, but a great short story—there is such an economy of words and they deliver such a punch. You recorded Pancho and Lefty, and it is a staple of your live show. Why is the song so important to you?
ELH: You know that there’s friendship there, and betrayal, and the ultimate tragedy of the one who dies young. There are certain songs that are extremely visual, and I just go off into a whole other place when I sing them, or even hear them—they transport me. And whenever I sing that song, I have my own video in my mind, it’s like an old Wallace Beery movie, it’s in sepia. Wallace Beery was even before my time, but he played Pancho Villa once. BH: To tell the truth, we prefer the Willie/Merle version, which seems to give the story an epic quality, while Townes’ version is much more cynical.
ELH: The thing about Townes Van Zandt, it’s kind of strange, but the way he sings, sometimes you think he’s throwing it away, because he’s already been through the writing process, the creative process, and there’s this certain sense of just telling the story, to get on to the next one. But for me, it doesn’t diminish the performance.
BH: Who’s your favorite rock n’ roll band? ELH: Oh God...you know, it’s hard to top Bruce Springsteen. It’s hard
to even classify him as rock n’ roll, but I think I’ve seen him more than anyone else. I don’t know if I’ve even seen any new rock n’ roll bands, and I have to say that you get to a certain age where rock n’ roll has nothing to say to you, and that doesn’t mean that I dismiss the genre, and of course I think that every generation needs to learn vital lessons in how to both “rock” and “roll”, but I think the reason that Springsteen, Neil Young, and U2 still affect me, is because of where they are coming from. I have to say about Springsteen, he’s such an amazing performer. Just when you think...okay, it just can’t get any better, he’s hit the 10, he’s pinging at 10, and he can’t get any higher or any stronger-but then he goes on for another 45 minutes. I don’t know how the guy does it. He must have vocal chords made of titanium. It’s unbelievable how he does it. And then he can sing his ballads. So I’m not giving you a cool, hip answer, but I’ve always been a fan of Neil Young from his very ﬁrst record—and there are the White Stripes, who I admire because I just can’t believe their energy. I saw them at the Grammy’s and they were pretty amazing.
BH: In conclusion, we ask all of our wonderful interviewees a very important question. And that question is: What is your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?
ELH: I guess I would have to say “Ghost” because I think that’s the only one I’ve seen all the way through. Plus, it’s on TV a lot. BH: Thank you, Emmylou Harris, for sitting down with us. ELH: Thank you.
Reading Darwin You see your sister, every night propped up on a tenuous support of slippery pillows, pouring over Origins, some Letters, annotating margins by the inferior light of some dull bedside lamp, pausing only when her body eclipses her brain, to cough up wet blood clots into tissue, blood leaking from bursting veins burst by faulty genes.
She reads. She underlines natural selection. She cross references terms with other texts strewn across the bed sheets. She considers the aberrations of the Falklands. When she closes her eyes, she’ll be dreaming of their penguins, strange birds built with wings, that never ﬁnd the air.
Summer Drought leave it to loss to explain to us what we had and what we want
as the summer drought drags on gnaws on the last fat of the landscape’s bones the city streets begin to curl from thirst everything from here to the horizon is bleached brown and bare the body of the earth hasn’t a vein to render no secret arteries the reality’s apparent: clear skies and nature’s sudden repeal of kindness strands of burnt grass quiver under the sun’s cruel expanse ready to catch ﬂame belting out calamity conjuring up memories of our not so distant past recalling commonplace miracles-the unparalleled joy of long green ﬁelds the ecstatic release of sudden hard rain
Turning the leaves didn’t turn in time in that long ago fall of her wedding but stayed stubborn green in the background of the photographs’ staged bucolic setting. we are outdoors writing letters when she, newly old, remembers this, stops narrating, sighs, gives a small snort as laughter— the leaves are early turning, this year. and the letters are slow coming—her tragedy, my script. she dictates half a sentence, then turns her head from me, ﬁngers a branch of browning foliage at level with her chair.
When I look up from the terrible ﬁnality of the stationary, I spot one, a small maple, slightly bent under her chair’s wheel but still a vital emerald and at the sight of it she is alight like young ﬂame for a moment, but only a moment, for even as she instructs me to lay the leaf inside the letter, she realizes it soon will be dust.
A brief treatise on the new spiritual killing ﬁeld ****
As of today, June 9, 2003, 2 Fast 2 Furious is the number one movie in the country. I know this because USA Today helpfully printed a graphic telling me so on the front page of their Life section, which I stole from the guy next to me on the plane. The time for decorum is probably over. This is where we’re at, America. Look at it. Does it stink? It stinks like crap. Hollywood has always been a great refuge for crap of course, a marvelous septic pipeline in which the rage and vanity of the American spirit is transmuted into fame. There’s nothing new in this. What amazes (almost impresses) me is the shameless self-regard of today’s ﬁlmmakers. Years ago, you had this cabal of clever Jewish immigrants, your Warners and Goldwyns, who peddled entertainments to the masses. They knew what they were up to, the gaudy ﬂimﬂammery of it all. There was no pretense. But to hear today’s movie stars and auteurs hold forth about their work is to encounter the eerie doublespeak of unchecked narcissism. They talk about their projects, their devotion to craft, the integrity of their artistic vision. Most galling, they rail against the dumb man-
Art must leave aside all that is false and inessential, which is to say, nearly everything Hollywood produces these days. dates of Hollywood, as if they were victims of the system that has, in fact, plucked them from obscurity and lent their self-important blather the gloss of celebrity wisdom. Just once, I’d like to hear one of these well-dressed chiselers—in response to the various softballs lobbed at them by the various slick magazine sycophants—tell the truth: “We could have developed real, meaningful characters in the ﬁlm. But we weren’t sure that would sell, so we decided to pour a hundred mil into special effects and marketing. Our aim was to exploit the loneliness and boredom of the public using escapist fantasy.” There are plenty of people out there—ma ny of them working in the ﬁlm industry—who will tell you there is nothing wrong with escapist fantasy. I don’t happen to agree with this. I happen to think 80
there’s plenty wrong with escapist fantasy, chieﬂy that it allows people to retreat from the emotional duties of real life. It is, in short, a waste of consciousness. Today’s blockbuster should be considered the ﬁlmic equivalent of junk food—empty calories guaranteed to deliver a quick jolt to the system even as they clog the arteries. But, you see, it is the mission of art to keep the pathways to the heart open, to reveal the painful and absurd truth of our lives in a manner that makes us feel more, not less, alive. Art must leave aside all that is false and inessential, which is to say, nearly everything Hollywood produces these days. **** There are exceptions, obviously: those small, schlock-free ﬁlms that are carted out, again and again, as evidence of Hollywood’s integrity. You Can Count on Me. Rushmore. In the Bedroom. There aren’t more than two a year. A few years ago, all the world was agog over American Beauty. Time and again, I was assured the ﬁlm was a modern masterpiece. I
always hate going to this kind of ﬁlm, because it almost never lives up the hype and then I have to spend the next month sounding like a snot because I didn’t fall hook, line, and sinker for the assorted plot manipulations. In the case of American Beauty, these included the pseudo-Buddhist voiceover, the gratuitous violence, and stock characters devoid of nuance (the closeted-gay-sadist Marine leaps to mind). I’m not a snot. I’m just tired of suffering through scripts so riddled with clichés they’d get laughed out of my undergraduate ﬁction workshop. And I’m saddened, enraged, exhausted by the knowledge that my friends— otherwise thoughtful people—continue to lower their standards when it comes to Hollywood. Nor am I some literary grump who is inherently suspicious of ﬁlm. Just the opposite. As a writer, someone stuck with a medium that consists of black and white specks on paper, I’m acutely aware of the resources ﬁlmmakers have at their disposal: the lighting and composition of a shot, the editing, the dialogue, the soundtrack, and the capacity to use all these in concert. Every time I sit down in a darkened theater I get the same delicious buzz of expectation you do. I’m ready to be transported. It is precisely this tremendous potential that so indicts the current state of ﬁlmmaking. Never in the history of humankind have so many riches gone to so little artistic effect. And by riches, I’m not just talking about the dough. I’m talking, primarily, about the capacities of imagination that reside within the heads of those who make ﬁlms. I know some of these people. I went to school with them. (For whatever reason, my alma mater produces an inordinate number of ﬁlm hotshots.) One of my classmates has become a powerful producer in Hollywood. Her big break was producing a movie based on a 70’s sitcom—a ﬁlm I did not see, though I am told it was signiﬁcantly more clever than one might expect. Imagine my relief. I knew this woman a little. I can remember having earnest discussions with her about the power of ﬁlm and literature, about the
subtle infrastructure of the modern patriarchy. She was no idiot then and, I assume, she is no idiot today. Indeed, the precise tragedy of Hollywood is not that the people out there are a bunch of stupid hucksters, but, on the contrary, that they’re often intelligent people who have chosen to squander their abundant talents producing campy remakes of 70’s TV shows. On certain evenings, when my own work is ﬂoundering and I’m in a mood of bitter solitude endemic to my particular species, I am tempted to dial this woman up and yell into the phone: What happened to you? What happened to your ideas, your hopes to change the world for the better? Your soul? On the other hand, there are some people who head out to Hollywood because they want power and fame. I remember hearing a story (probably exaggerated) about a couple of guys who graduated the year after me. They headed out to Los Angeles, rented the ten 82
highest-grossing ﬁlms ever, sat down and watched them one after another, and took notes. Then they cranked out a script which sold for a million dollars and eventually became the Arnold Schwarznegger turkey Last Action Hero. Inspiring. **** In the past couple of years, I’ve had my own brushes with Hollywood. A few months before my book of stories came out, a ﬁlm agent got in touch with me. She loved the book and wanted to try to get it optioned. I was immediately dazzled at this prospect. For a writer, having your book optioned is like hitting the Lotto. Not only do you get an instant payday—one, in my case, that probably would have dwarfed my advance—but there is a slim chance your book will become a movie, in which case you can expect to vault, post-haste, from the extreme margins of the culture into the glitzy maw of fame. (Bling!)
Most writers—at least those determined to make art—are more or less habituated to disregard, rejection, and ﬁnancial struggle. So when some enthusiastic pimp starts talking about how much they love the book, and what a great ﬁlm it would make, we are uniquely unqualiﬁed to resist. I listened to this woman’s sales pitch for several months. I even agreed to allow her agency to write up a treatment, and sent along my own suggestions. It was an embarrassing situation. My book is full of self-hating men and women zooming toward heartbreak. The treatment was an insipid tale of a confused guy who screws up but—lo and behold—snags the girl of his dreams in time for the credits. (My own working title was: When Harry Did Sally From Behind.) I should have laughed this nonsense right out of my life. But I didn’t. Instead, I allowed the agent to pitch this treatment all over town. I kept telling myself that if they sold the rights, the book would get more attention; I wasn’t selling out. In other words, I was
making a prudent, if cynical, decision on behalf of my art. Eventually, my uncle (a ﬁlm producer) read the treatment. He pointed out to me, as gently as he could, that my book had been reduced to clichés, and that it was not in my best interests to have my name attached to such gunk. Several months later, I found myself in LA on a reading tour. This meant I was treated to a series of meetings with producers who were “interested in discussing” my work. The quotation marks are important in this case, as the concept of “discussing work” in LA is really quite different than in most other cities. There was no actual discussion of the work. There was an initial statement of enthusiasm, followed by a somewhat pointless low-cal meal.
He pointed out to me, as gently as he could, that my book had been reduced to clichés, and that it was not in my best interests to have my name attached to such gunk.
I also talked with one of my former classmates, now the head of development for a major studio. It was one of those awkward phone discussions full of goodwill and deceit. She was so excited about my book, really, just terribly excited. It was sitting right on her desk. I didn’t ask her what she’d thought of the book, because this seemed too forward and because, as I gradually discerned, she hadn’t actually read any of it. Almost no one I talked to in LA had actually read the book. Thus, conversations were conducted by means of an elaborate hyperbolic code: I love your book meant The cover looks great! It’s right on my bedside table meant I’ve been meaning to get to it! You’ve got the freshest voice I’ve read in years meant I enjoyed the ﬁrst paragraph very much! 84
And so on. I also talked with an ICM agent out there, a pretty young blond who struck me as the sort who might, if it seemed in the interests of her career, murder her grandmother. She wanted to know if I might be willing to write some television scripts. Her basic pitch ran like so: if you wouldn’t mind pandering a bit, I can make you loads of money. None of these people was stupid or evil. They were just sad and lost. Emotional depth was a delicious heresy to them, one they could enjoy by proxy over lunch with an author. They liked the idea of literature. They just didn’t really like literature itself. **** Having watched my uncle produce a couple of movies, my attitude toward those who work on ﬁlms tends to waver between abject pity and contempt. The whole process has become curdled by ﬁnancial concerns and personal vanities. Your average director must contend with a dozen simultaneous voices. From below comes the constant cooing adulation of his un-
derlings (which feeds his ego). From above comes the polite paranoia of the studio execs, who would like a “product” that appeals to the broadest audience. Money makes everyone risk-averse, so they insist on test marketing the ﬁlm before a live audience. Then there are the stars, represented by their agents and attorneys. They would like better lighting, more close-ups, and so on. But this is not how art is made. Art consists of a set of deeply personal decisions, often arrived at by instinct, in the service of emotional and aesthetic resonance. It is not made by committee, or at the behest of the intended audience. It would be more accurate to think of Hollywood as specializing in commercial transactions. The result is sequel after sequel. Movies based on old TV shows or comic books. Movies based on toy products or amusement park rides. Because their “product” is mostly empty clattering, the studios have created massive marketing campaigns designed to turn movies into events. The idea is to jam as many people as possible into the theater the ﬁrst weekend, because this will then be reported by the media, and the movie will suddenly become a hit, which will draw in even more people. The mentality is roughly akin to the junior high school popularity contest—except that millions and millions of dollars are being allocated based on the results. Proﬁt is seen as the ultimate measure of a ﬁlm’s value. The critics may be panning 2 Fast 2 Furious, but within the Hollywood ecosystem it has already become a hot property, a moneymaker, and everyone associated with the ﬁlm proﬁts thereby. Can there be any doubt that the overlords who run Hollywood will deliver us another installment of this automotive dreck in time for Easter? **** The people who might make a difference in all this, who truly deserve our disgust, are all those powerful movie stars we spend so much time worshipping. Let’s include the big-name directors in this
as well: the Spielbergs and Scorceses. These folks, practically brands unto themselves, are the only ones in Hollywood with the power to act autonomously. The bottom line is that they can make whatever kind of ﬁlm they want. I mean, Robert DeNiro. Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull. You’re telling me DeNiro couldn’t get the green light for any project he wanted? This guy should be ashamed of himself, cashing in his talent for fat paychecks. What a punk. But mediocrity loves company, because you can say the same thing of Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson. It’s actually embarrassing to line up their ﬁnest ﬁlms against the pablum they’re churning out today. Midnight Cowboy versus Outbreak? Oy vey. And Woody Allen. Good lord. What’s happened to you? Try to remember: you’re the guy who made Sleepers, Annie Hall, Manhattan. How is it that you’ve reduced yourself to the humiliations of Curse of the Jade Scorpion? 86
Why are you still kissing women a third your age on the mouth? The young guys are even worse. I don’t expect whores like Russell Crowe or Jim Carrey to care about the artistry of ﬁlm. But guys like Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise—guys who ostensibly care— need to represent. This is to say nothing of the women: Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Halle Berry. They need to stop acting like dolled up mannequins. They need to stop keeping score with money. But all of these people exist in the hothouse of Hollywood. They seem unable to take creative risks. Something has happened to them. They’ve spent too much time reading the trades and listening to the honeyed voices that sing them to sleep. Ironically, the best ﬁlms being produced in America today are, almost invariably, documentaries. Why? Because these ﬁlms are made by individuals, not corporations. The driving force behind them is usually some poor schmuck with a maxed-out credit card. Their ﬁlms are so low budget they never become subject to the vulgar whims of the studio creeps.
A brief list: Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, The Farm, Lost in La Mancha, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Dark Days, Crumb, American Movie, Capturing the Friedmans. I left every single one of these ﬁlms with a feeling of profound respect. They all made me think and feel. I grew attached to the people in the ﬁlms. I cared about them. I should cite a few foreign documentaries, too. The Color of Paradise is an Iranian ﬁlm about a young blind boy and his family. I saw it at a second-run movie house. At several points in the ﬁlm, the shots were so astonishing that we (an audience of six) literally gasped. When the ﬁlm ended, none of us moved. We sat there in silence for ﬁve minutes, either crying or on the verge of doing so. And these were not the bullied tears of your standard Hollywood weepy. They were tears of sorrow and joy. We were grateful to be so moved by a piece of art. The Kurdish ﬁlm A Time for Drunken Horses is about a family
of orphans living in utter squalor. They are not romanticized. They are portrayed truthfully, with a surpassing dignity, one that makes us feel the anguish of their hardship and the miracle of their perseverance. Both these ﬁlms were made for less money than your average studio would spend outﬁtting a movie star’s trailer. Seeing them, I was ﬁlled with a reverence for the majesty of ﬁlm—the sheer, humanizing power of the medium. I felt, also, a burning rage at the spoiled brats who populate Hollywood. Don’t you get tired of feeling so empty, Hollywood? ****
Emotional depth was a delicious heresy to them, one they could enjoy by proxy over lunch with an author.
In the end, Hollywood is a service industry. It sells what we buy. But, of course, this is the wrong question. In the end, Hollywood is a service industry. It sells what we buy. The real problem resides with us, the viewing public. What the hell is wrong with us? How come we keep shelling out ten bucks a ticket for this half-witted crap? Are we really so bored? So desperate? So frightened by the shadow of our own souls? I’ll give a pass to the young mall zombies out there. I don’t expect them to give a damn about their internal lives yet. But I’m sick and tired of hearing friends of mine—smart people with a genuine concern for the fate of humankind—defend Hollywood. They go to see all these crappy movies and when I ask them why, they laugh and say, “Well, you know, it’s just a movie.” What a load of crap. The ﬁlm industry is our most popular cultural medium. Most 88
people see at least one movie per week, if not more. So if you’re wondering why the moral discourse of this country is so impoverished, check your goddamn ticket stubs. We are paying to see our world rendered as a series of explosions and shiny tits, men ﬁring giant guns, fart jokes, and ethnic sidekicks. And our world is becoming as violent, contrived, and emotionally pale as those images portend. A quick reminder: this is capitalism. We vote with our dollars. If we continue to subsidize an industry that is creatively and spiritually bankrupt, it will continue to feed us empty calories. What I’m lamenting here is the squandering of a tremendous opportunity. Along with literature and music and visual art, ﬁlm might still play a vital role in rescuing our species from self-destruction. Hollywood’s highest calling is not simply to provide a respite from the chaos of our lives. That’s a wimp out. Filmmakers are capable of awakening our capacities for mercy. They are capable of
making us feel alive to the deepest parts of ourselves. They might even help us make sense of our lives. For this to happen, they have to stop whoring themselves out. And if they wonâ€™t do so, we have to force them.
partners Paul Graham
a They are, he thinks, an otherwise healthy, functional couple if you ignore the fact that in the last two months—since Christmas—they have made love once. Jason is twenty-seven, Katharyn twenty-six. She is one of the most beautiful women he has ever known, which only makes things worse—makes it easy to run numbers, play the part of the clerk, the scorekeeper. He tries not to, but some part of him, which he believes is base and pathetic, insists on keeping track anyway. It seems as if another man lives inside him. Sometimes when they are in bed, going to sleep, he will hear the other man’s voice more clearly than the one he usually recognizes as his own: I am only a man, it says, or, You are only a man, and Jason feels as if he is caught in a powerful magnetic ﬁeld, hovering somewhere between truth and disgust. He thinks of David Jackman, thinks that only the thinnest membrane separates them. David Jackman had been Katharyn’s boyfriend, and he had raped her. This was before they knew each other, before they were married, when they were in separate colleges at separate ends of Michigan. She was twenty years old. There had been signs, of course, which she
simply had not read. Katharyn told Jason this story to illustrate the type of person David Jackman was: Once, when they were hiking, he snatched a drowsy copperhead off a rock. He grabbed it behind its spade-shaped head as if he handled snakes every day and shook it at her, laughing and making hissing noises. Then he hurled the copperhead into the bushes. Katharyn watched the snake glide through the air like a piece of severed rope, heard it swish into the leafy underbrush. She had been dating David Jackman for nearly a year. After the incident with the snake, she had not talked to him for a week. At his urging, she forgave him; there was talk of marriage after all, talk that would continue until he raped her six months later and she left him. “How did I fail to understand?” Katharyn asked Jason the night she told him, after he had calmed her down with a glass of vodka. They were married two months at the time. She had told him because she had to, because they had made love only three times, be92
cause she hated it. She had wanted to wait until they were married to have sex, explaining that she was a Catholic, and he had agreed. He was not as devout, but he did believe in God. And, perhaps more importantly, he had learned from previous women the trouble that sex could bring. He found he could endure the abstinence, because she was worth waiting for. “Where was the early-warning system?” she continued. “A copperhead—a poisonous fucking snake.” Jason could think of absolutely nothing to say. He had held his wife as if she were made of crystal when she told him, trying to touch her and not touch her at the same time. He wished her sister lived nearby: he had never been so painfully aware of himself as a man, and had the sense, even then, that the pain was only beginning. They have been married two years and three months now, and since that night, they have not talked much about David Jackman. Katharyn has to be careful not to remember too much or she will see the both of them, David and the snake, in her dreams.
In his dream, which he still has periodically, Jason sees David Jackman as well, even though he doesn’t know him, has never even seen a picture of him. In the dream he sits on the chest of someone he knows to be David Jackman, pushing his back into a concrete ﬂoor by exerting all of his two hundred and ten pounds downward on the man’s sternum. He drives punches into David Jackman’s face rhythmically, methodically, his right arm working from the shoulder, moving as smoothly as a piston in an oiled housing. At some point David Jackman stops moving, stops breathing, but in the dream Jason’s ﬁsts land again and again and again and blood splatters the walls of an unfamiliar room. Then something inexplicable happens: David Jackman vanishes from beneath Jason’s legs like a wraith. In the dream, Jason always realizes that he was never there to begin with. The blood is not Jackman’s; it from Jason’s own hands, smashed to pulps against the concrete ﬂoor.
**** They have made their attempt at a normal married sex life, and have failed. They make love beneath the weight of her guilt, when she suddenly realizes how long it’s been, or he has tired enough to let himself start making hints. Every time, she cries. When it is over, if they make it that far, he feels not as if he has been given a gift, but that he has stolen something. In the ﬁrst week of March, Jason feels the effects: he is starved for attention. He is afraid of what he might do. Not that he has any speciﬁc plans, is contemplating any ﬂings. He does not have his eye on anyone. Katharyn is the one he wants, has always wanted. But he worries about being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and not having the strength to hold back.
At night, in bed, visited by fear, he waits for sleep. Sometimes the curtain of it descends with a merciful smoothness, but more often he ﬁnds himself awake. He watches the sinewy silhouettes of the trees and the distant lights of the gas station, trying to will her hand onto his shoulder, his back. He feels as if he glows with desire, feels a throb clear to his ﬁngertips, his scalp. An engineer, he has come to think of his body as a huge transmitter that sends signals into the air. He thinks about the radio telescopes in New Mexico, the ones that beam radiation into deep space, messages for anyone or anything that might be listening. He thinks about the people whose job it is to listen for returns, the way they patiently wait, sifting through tons of data for signs. A ludicrous project, and yet inspiring: a perpetual triumph of hope over truth. In the daytimes he does not think of sex as much, does not think of their marriage in terms of sadness and failure. He loves morn94
ings, the arrival of daylight. They negotiate the small bathroom as they dress for work and then he goes downstairs to make the coffee while Katharyn runs the radio and her hair dryer. Their routine, the arrangement of their possessions downstairs—magazines, books, potted plants, the mantle clock, the very walls and windows of the house and the sunlight that seems to buttress them—remind Jason of the life they are building together. They discuss their schedules over cereal and toast: sometimes Katharyn comes home late because of yoga, and twice a week he plays indoor soccer with some men from work. They share cooking duties, and afterward often go into town to get coffee and to browse the bookstores and antique shops. On the street they easily ﬁnd each other’s hands and lock their ﬁngers, and a jolt passes through him: his body, like a tuning fork, vibrates at the smallest intimacy. Weekends, they have the house to think about: they were able to afford their three-bedroom home because it is a ﬁxer-up, and they have spent the last several months painting, repairing walls, replacing
ﬁxtures, and when the weather was warmer, landscaping. They have a running joke that they are partners on a home-improvement show for the Home and Garden Network, which they hate. They have aliases: he is Jay Housemartin, and Katharyn is Toolbelt Mama. It is a good joke, and the roles are easier to ﬁll than the role of the lover. On Saturday of the week when Jason has begun to feel the glowing, electric feeling that begins in his groin, as if loneliness has been accumulating there, they split up: he works on putting new ﬁxtures in the bathroom while she prepares to paint the spare bedroom, where they keep a computer and a card table piled high with important papers. Around lunchtime he walks into the room where she has been cutting molding with a sabre-saw. In his best host’s voice, he says, “So, what are we doing in here, Toolbelt Mama? Can you tell us what you’re up to?” Katharyn looks up from the sawdust-dappled ﬂoor where she has been measuring and marking long strips of pine molding. Her voice is plastic-pleasant. “Well, Jay, as any idiot can see, I’ve been using this very dangerous electrical cutting device to make straight cuts in a piece of wood. Then I’m going to afﬁx the pieces of wood to the wall here to make the room prettier, because right now, well, it’s kind a dump. I’ll use the analog method—a claw hammer and nails— instead of the more alluring pneumatic hammer because we’re too poor to afford one.” He stares at her, mouth open, until she tells him he’s dropped his character. “I don’t have a character,” he says. “I just ask dumb questions and let everyone else do the work.” “Do you want to switch next time? I could play Lazy Dumb Questions Guy.” “I don’t have the wit. I can’t compete.” “Sure you can,” Katharyn says, her voice as smooth as varnish. “I learned it from you.”
It is easy, in moments like these, to feel fully the reasons he married her: her quick mind, her pleasant mixture of sarcasm and kindheartedness, her multiple talents. She teaches fourth grade. She looks good in anything. Today it’s tight jeans and an old ﬂannel. She has her blond hair pulled through the back of a Tigers cap. It kills him. She is all his, and yet not his at all. He has learned by now to approach her guardedly, but he still feels the desire plow into him from behind—the raging arrival of that other man. “You’re staring at me,” she says. She could be saying, It’s snowing, or, The soup’s ready. “I like staring at you.” He smiles at her. “Problem with that?” “Of course not.” She quickly reaches for the saw, lines it up, and pulls the trigger, ﬁlling the room with the sound of chewing wood. **** 96
If she could tell Jason anything, Katharyn would say: It’s not for not wanting to. It’s not that I don’t ﬁnd you attractive. Understand: I don’t ﬁnd any man attractive. How to explain the desire for desire? Who desires simply to want? It seems to Katharyn that this is an exclusively female problem, perhaps exclusively hers. How then to put her husband in the place she ﬁnds herself the moment they climb into bed, or when he looks at her with that man’s hunger: a dark and unfamiliar room, tingling with voices telling her that she should, that she has to, that she somehow must, or lose him? Picture it this way, she has rehearsed telling him: You’re on a road. That road is well-marked. It’s a path everyone takes every day. At least this is the way it seems. (The sex! It’s everywhere. Television shows, magazines, the radio. Perhaps she could do it if she wasn’t constantly being reminded that they weren’t. She wonders
if convents are the only safe havens. If Jason asks for divorce, as she sometimes fears he will, she will go to the School Sisters of Notre Dame.) It’s like this: You know the path, can see the path, sometimes even think you want to go down the path, but every time, something blocks your way. First, the Rock of Gibraltar. Then the Colorado River. It’s always something, and it’s always impassable. If you think I don’t think about it, she would say, you’re wrong. She thinks about it all the time. She wonders what will become of them if they can’t iron this out. If she can’t. Divorce, affairs? A concubine? A part of her could hardly blame him. How was he to know? She told him it was the religion she’d grown up with that made her want—need—to wait until they made love, and this was partially true, although when she met Jason she wasn’t as devout as she used to be when she was a teenager and went to Mass every week. A Catholic in mind, then, if not in habits. She would not have had sex with David Jackman voluntarily, either, which was why he had held her down on the pool table in his parents’ ﬁnished basement… She knew it was not for not wanting to, because with Jason, there had been moments when she could see how she might have given in to a temptation to make love with him, if not for David Jackman. When they were engaged, sometimes they would drink too much wine, then move to the ﬂoor, the couch, or a bed. They took off clothing. Their skin effervesced. During these interludes, in addition to feeling a quiet awe for Jason’s restraint, she had listened attentively for David Jackman’s voice in her ear, his breath on her neck. At ﬁrst
You know the path, can see the path, sometimes even think you want to go down the path, but every time, something blocks your way. First, the Rock of Gibraltar. Then the Colorado River. It’s always something, and it’s always impassable.
she almost felt as if he were in the room with them. But gradually he faded, and she felt relief that he was gone, that it had happened so easily, by itself—which was why she did not tell Jason. She did not think she needed to. The revulsion that struck at her on their wedding night had been hiding camouﬂaged somewhere, hoping to be left alone. She wanted to tell Jason she was sorry, she had thought it was okay. David Jackman was still there, inside her. It took the burning between her legs to blast a hole in the wall she’d built between herself and that night in his parents’ house, for the grief to come rushing through like so much water, carrying them both away. Instead of consummating the marriage that night, she cried and he held her and they listened to the planes roaring out of Detroit Metro until the sun rose, and then they took their own plane to Bermuda. All week long, she read his thoughts: What the hell is going on? 98
**** They can only do so much with the house. It is the depths of winter in Michigan: the snow glows beneath the moonlight like blue dunes and the Public Works trucks clatter and hiss along the half-frozen roads as they push slush and spread salt. In the fall, they planted trees and worked outside, but they will have to wait until the spring before they can replace windows, paint the exterior spruceblue, reﬁnish the hardwood ﬂoors. The next weekend they busy themselves with hanging new doors, then put Spanish tiles behind the counter in the kitchen. Jason rips the old ﬁnishing off, exposing the drywall, and Katharyn handles the more meticulous task of hanging the tiles, most of which are plain, and then carefully chooses where to place the more expensive, decorative tiles, which feature hummingbirds drinking from nicotina. He watches her work, turning the screwdriver over in his hand, feeling desire ﬂare up inside him.
“We’re a good team,” he says. “Maybe we should write HGTV a letter.” “Only because you like to do the dirty work.” She is a petite woman with thin wrists and delicate forearms; the TV producers would snap her up in a second. He wonders if part of what bothers her is his size, the way he must loom over her. “For instance, you don’t care where these tiles go, do you?” “I trust your judgment.” “That’s what I mean. If you did care, and you had something different in mind—” “Trouble?” She turns to him with a grin. “Home and Garden wouldn’t be able to air that show.” What would she do if he walked up behind her, put his arms around her waist, gently slid his hands up under her shirt? When was the last time he kissed the back of her neck? He feels predatory just thinking about her. It isn’t supposed to be this way, a crime to lust after one’s wife, but here he is. Weekends and evenings are killers. The afternoons stretch out like a white sheet, cold and quiet and celibate. Was this what Jackman felt before he snapped? Hollow, tired of jerking off, owed? There is so much he doesn’t know about the man, and will never ask. He wants—needs—to be out of the house, so he suggests they go out when the tiles are ﬁnished. They can get some lunch, catch up on the grocery shopping, browse through the Home Depot to determine what they’ll do next. This kills the majority of the afternoon, but on the way home, perhaps because of fatigue, perhaps because the half of him that tries to be good can no longer control the half that feels like being an asshole, Jason gives in: “It’s been a while since we’ve had some fun.” “It has,” Katharyn agrees, her voice perfectly level, her eyes on the road. “I’ve been thinking that myself.”
“You have?” She nods. “Seriously?” She looks at him so long he fears they’ll crash. “This morning. I was thinking—I was thinking about—Can we not talk about it? I don’t like to talk about it.” His stomach and groin think the car’s a plane and they’ve just done a loop, but he tries not to get his hopes up. They have failed to convert words into action before. All talk, no do. Sometimes he wishes he had the courage to call it as he sees it, as it is. They have never fought about sex before, probably never will. He doesn’t seem to have it in him. Is this good, or bad? He wonders if it’s possible to have communication skills that are too ﬁnely tuned, if it’s possible to be too sensitive. He wonders where it all goes, especially since he knows it doesn’t go away. 100
Later, in the phosphorescent light of the bedroom, he lays beside Katharyn. They have said nothing about making love since the car ride, but the idea presses against them, as heavy as the snow on the roof. It’s the reason she closed her book and turned off the radio half an hour earlier than usual. He knows she is trying. He will have to make the ﬁrst move—he always does—and he dreads that burden. What action between a husband and a wife could be more basic, more essential? Yet he always feels pathetic, cloying, somehow crude. It doesn’t matter how he proceeds; when the moment comes, he always feels like someone else. He leans toward Katharyn and places his hand over her stomach, on top of the blankets. “Hi there,” he says. Her voice is a pinch, a squeak. “Hi.” “Fancy meeting you here.” It’s a tired, familiar line. He sees her looking toward the stairway as if wishing she could go back to her books, the radio. He nearly leans back onto his side of the bed.
“Are you okay?” “I’m ﬁne.” When he kisses her, it is like when he was young, kissing the back of his hand, trying to determine whether he was good at it. Her lips are boney and he sees that right away that it will not work. The moment has been arranged, staged—almost pornographic—and he feels it caving beneath the weight of the expectations. He is angry, but not at her. What he wants is to drive to David Jackman’s house, ring the bell, and shoot the man through his balls. “This isn’t good,” he says, speaking unintentionally. “You think I don’t know that?” Katharyn’s voice springs back at him, seems to glint in the dark. His body heats up, and his back begins to sweat. “I know that you know.” “Then why did you say it?” “What am I supposed to do?” He takes his hand off the blankets. “Does never thinking about it make it better?” Ten minutes later, he breaks a long, breathless silence. “I’m sorry,” he says. “There’s nothing to be sorry about.” He knows that she is right. But what do they have in the emotions department, besides longing, contrition? It’s a question he knows better than to ask. Nothing and everything, she thinks to herself in the dark. Jason fell asleep a long time ago, after shufﬂing off to the bathroom, running the fan for several minutes, and returning without ﬂushing the toilet. She knows, she listened. She feels buried alive in guilt. She would like to waken him to some small intimacy: a kiss on the ear, the neck. She imagines his eyes snapping open. She would like to see the joy on his face in that moment, give it to him, give it to herself. But she cannot move her body; it seems severed from her mind, her will. Like raising the dead.
She wanted him then, but knew, as she pulled out of the driveway to beat him home, that simple desire was not enough.
She has noticed lately how her anger for David Jackman seems to be boring a hole through her center. She does not want to harbor suspicions about her husband, but she wonders. It would be so easy: leave for soccer and drive to someone else’s house or apartment, and come home sweaty just the same. While doing Internet research the other night, she was misdirected to a web site devoted entirely to people looking for “discrete relationships.” The air vibrates
with loneliness, with people’s intentions to quench it. The fear struck her so deeply that the next day, she actually followed him. Early in the evening he announced that he wanted to buy a small lamp for his ofﬁce, and the idea struck her as so odd—he has never decorated his ofﬁce or any space he inhabits—that she was almost sure. She 102
waited until he had pulled out of the driveway and then rushed after him, trailing him by ﬁve or six car lengths to the Target parking lot. There, one hundred feet away, she watched him, a tall, solid man, his hair beginning to thin at the top of his head, but still very attractive, taking big strides, his face focused only on what he had come to buy. She felt a misery like none she had ever known. She pictured him in the store, reaching his meaty hands for the plainest lamp, the cheapest. Suddenly she was scared at her own mind, that she was able to think such things about Jason, about them, that more and more, while she is making lesson plans or correcting papers, frightening words distract her: divorce, separation, ﬂight. She waited until he exited the store and watched him again, walking with the white bag tucked under his arm. A lovely man, she thought. And patient, gentle, kind. She wanted him then, but knew, as she pulled out of the driveway to beat him home, that simple desire was not enough. ****
Jason needs a haircut: his hair seems to be piling on the top of his head, behind the front of his receding hairline, making him look, in his opinion, top-heavy and unbalanced. The following Saturday, in the afternoon, he checks with Katharyn to make sure she doesn’t need his help with anything or doesn’t want to come with him. She is steaming the hideous rose-printed wallpaper that covers the dining room walls below the chair-rail and peeling it back. An idea comes to him, and he clears his throat and holds his hands aloft as if he is a cameraman. “That’s some decorating job, Toolbelt Mama. Who the hell used to live here?” He has caught her by surprise; she leans forward and covers her mouth with her hand, stiﬂing a laugh. “Old people.” “How old would you say this wallpaper is?” Katharyn gestures dramatically to the wall as she falls into character. “Well, we all know the old stuff is the best, Jay, which can mean, in cases like this, that it’s damn near impossible to get rid of. The previous owners really caked on the glue, and the paper itself seems to predate the more lightweight, ﬂexible wallpapers you see now. So I’d say late 1960s. This nifty steaming gadget will make the removal easier. It puts out enough steam to power a Starbucks espresso machine, and will soften the glue, preventing my removing half the house along with it.” “You want my help?” Jason asks, shifting gears. “I don’t think so. You don’t have patience for this kind of work, hon.” He knows that she’s not insulting him, just revealing what two years of marriage has taught her. He crosses the ﬂoor, gives her a quick, chaste peck on the cheek, and takes off. Against his will, Jason ﬁnds himself staring furtively at the women he passes and trails behind on his way through the mall to the salon. He wonders what they might be like in bed until one turns her head sharply in his direction and he looks down, ashamed. He
passes Victoria’s Secret, the haze of pastel-colored silk and satin nearly spilling out the doors, and feels his stomach sour. He bought Katharyn a piece of lingerie once, in the ﬁrst weeks of their marriage, before he knew. She hasn’t worn it once; she keeps it on a nail in the closet, where it droops like a white ﬂag. He is not particular about who cuts his hair, although he will request a certain Korean woman if he comes when she is working. This morning she is not, so he allows a woman about his age with short spiky hair dyed platinum in the front to direct him to her station. She wears a short silky skirt with gray tights and a low-cut black top that exposes two tattoos, one on each pectoral: a tiny ornamental goldﬁsh over her left breast, and a hibiscus ﬂower over her right. He thinks her intention is for the ﬁsh to be swimming toward the ﬂower, but in the mirror, it holds its caudal ﬁn in mid-ﬂip, gliding in the opposite direction.
He bought Katharyn a piece of lingerie once, in the ﬁrst weeks of their marriage, before he knew. She hasn’t worn it once; she keeps it on a nail in the closet, where it droops like a white ﬂag. 104
“I did a mohawk this morning,” the stylist says, covering him with the cape. He fears, suddenly, that she might make a mess out of his head. Katharyn says you can estimate a stylist’s ability by looking at her own hair. That rule may or may not apply in this case, Jason thinks; he knows some engineers who would probably bust a nut over this girl, who has a hoop through the left corner of her lower lip and lines of mascara continuing past the corners of her eyes. For him, the effect is frightening. He has always been partial to plain, Midwestern girls, and this one looks like a University of Michigan student who came from New York City, dropped out, and found herself marooned on an island of Lutherans. “No mohawks,” Jason says, and then he describes how he likes his hair cut. “I knew that,” she says, smiling. “I knew you weren’t the aggressive type.”
Jason frowns at the mirror. He wants to ask her what aggressiveness has to do with anything, but fears her ridicule. He can see this girl—Stephanie, her framed cosmetology license says—dropping ecstasy and twirling with her hands up in the air to trance music in some throbbing, strobe-lit warehouse outside Detroit. He thinks now that she’s younger than he ﬁrst guessed, twenty-three or so. The other stylists have pictures of families or signiﬁcant others on the edges of their mirrors. She has a picture of a yellow Lab with a stuffed duck in its mouth. “What do you do?” she asks him, guiding the clippers around the back of his head. One of the reasons he likes Minwon, the Korean woman, is because she doesn’t talk much. She speaks English poorly, and many of her clients are Koreans. Stephanie, apparently, is a talker. He tells her he’s an engineer for the Ford Motor Company and watches as she smiles a second time. It’s not the mocking smile he expected. It’s slightly downcast, ﬂirtatious—as if he’s just passed some sort of test. She ﬁnishes with the clippers and says, “The guy I gave a mohawk to, he was nuts. He had his hair cut because he’s going to ﬁght in the Tough Man Competition tonight. You know the amateur ﬁghting on TV? For some reason they like to come to Detroit. He’s friends with my brother. I went last time and watched him get whooped. He wants me to go again tonight, because he’s been lifting and thinks he might win, but I don’t want to go alone again.” It’s been about four years since Jason has played the ﬁeld, but he knows what has just happened. His body knows—something whooshes from his balls to his head. He begins to sweat beneath the vinyl cape, which hides his sudden erection. His face heats up. Stephanie drops some talcum powder so she can cut the stray hairs at the base of his neck. “Sweaty bugger,” she says softly, working the clippers around his ear, and now he’s sure.
He has to say something, so he says that the Tough Man producers probably come to Detroit because they know people are out of work and are willing to go for a chance at a few thousand bucks. Stephanie nods as she blends the hair on the left side of his head. “Exactly. Shane—Mohawk Guy—had a job at Chrysler, and we know how that story goes, unless you speak German. Must feel pretty good, being an engineer and all.” “I’m as dispensable as the next guy,” Jason says defensively. “I’m lucky to have my job.” She stares at him in the mirror, holding the scissors aloft. “You have a partner?” “Partner?” He thinks for a moment that she means business. “You know”—she’s smiling into his ear—“an S.O. Main squeeze. A girl. Or a guy. Or— hey!—both.” “I’ve been married for two years.” He watches her, contemplat106
ing for the ﬁrst time which way her wind blows. He thought she was straight, but looking at her piercings and scary hair, it’s suddenly hard to tell. Stephanie smiles, the hoop jerking in the corner of her lip. “Points for honesty. I saw the ring. Happily?” “That’s a personal question, don’t you think?” For a moment Stephanie turns toward the back of the salon. Hiphop music thumps from the speakers in the ceiling, lurid, suggestive. “It’s not a personal question if you are. Not really.” It strikes Jason that she’s absolutely right and he revises her age again: perhaps she’s even older than he is. There is a lot of makeup. Or, he thinks, she’s cut the hair of hundreds of people who are married, or someplace between married and not married, and now she can look and tell, the same way he can look at a design’s CAD drawings and know whether or not it will work. Or maybe he has been just broadcasting his longing without realizing it. “You knew,” he says, suddenly angry, “and you still ﬂirted with me?”
“You’re right. That wasn’t very nice of me.” Stephanie gently brushes the hair from his face with a towel, then blasts his neck with the hair dryer. “You looked sad.” “Sad?” “Yes, sad. Up we go.” Jason surveys his head in the mirror. “You’re done?” “Shampoo, silly.” “Minwon doesn’t do that.” “Minwon’s in too much of a hurry sometimes.” Stephanie points to the back of the salon. “Second sink. I need to get more towels from the dryer.” He has never had a woman wash his hair. For eighteen years he went to Joe Palumbo, the Italian barber who had given him his ﬁrst haircut and had no use for conditioner or hair-washing: he touched up the back of Jason’s neck and sideburns with a straight-razor while he talked boxing and deer hunting with the men in line. In college he sought barbers as well, until he recently found Minwon, who had never offered. He is frightened waiting for Stephanie to return; he feels like he’s on the brink of something irredeemable. The sensation vanishes the moment Stephanie returns and the hot water hits his head. He reclines, eyes closed, while she thoroughly wets his hair, running her ﬁngers through it. Her nails are long and lightly scratch his scalp, making his erection return. The water stops and she lathers him up; the smell of tea tree oil is nearly too much, blooming in his chest. He breathes deeply while Stephanie massages his scalp, starting at his temples and working her way to the crown of his head, and then down the back to the nape of his neck. The massage lasts three or four minutes, way more, he is sure, than the average customer gets. He doesn’t want it to end, and for a few more moments, it doesn’t: she rinses and moves onto conditioner, clean and fresh-smelling. He opens his eyes and ﬁnds himself looking right at the tattoo of the hibiscus ﬂower. He can see down her shirt to her small breasts, and
through a lacy black bra, her nipples, hard as he is himself. Her scent, warm and light and sweet, rises toward his face, mingling with the smells of shampoo and conditioner. She leans closer as she rubs the back of his neck, the side of her breast brushing his cheek. It occurs to him that she was waiting for him to open his eyes when she rinses his hair a moment later. He feels split-open, like a tree in their backyard that had been cloven by lightning that fall. It is a sensation he has never felt, not even before he and Katharyn were married and they lay half-dressed with the shades drawn in her apartment, the day burning outside. She wraps his head in a towel and leads him back to the chair, where she rubs his hair dry and then asks him if he wants gel. “I’ll go with you,” he says quietly. “Tonight. To the Tough Man.” She smiles as she rubs the gel over her hands. “You want to go? With me?” 108
He stares at his reﬂection in the mirror, then at her, standing over his right shoulder, rubbing gel into his hair, brushing the clumped pieces straight. He sees two people making love in a darkened room ﬁlled with soft shadows: not the two them exactly, but people who could, through the veil of obscurity, be them. He feels groundless, suspended, as if the barber’s chair is one of those marvels the astronauts sit in as they maneuver around space. “You want to go with me?” she asks again, dropping the scissors into a blue jar of Barbasol. She removes the cape and Jason quickly leans forward, covering his groin with his stomach. He sits there, as if paralyzed, and she waits. Finally she grunts conclusively. “Whatever trouble you’re having, it’s clear you love her. The answer is no.” At the register, Jason gives Stephanie a big tip and asks for an appointment in a month. “I’m being transferred,” she says. He stares at her until he feels a smile break across his face. “Sure.”
“No shit. To Saginaw. I’m going to be an assistant manager. I’m thirty-one, it’s about time. And don’t even think about driving three hours for a haircut. I’ll get Shane to break you over his knee.” **** In the afternoon sunlight, Katharyn steams and peels the wallpaper and thinks about restoration, which makes her think about therapy. Coltrane has played to the end, and instead of putting in more distraction she is forcing herself to do the hard work of thinking seriously. Therapy: she hates the word and all it connotes. Weakness, for one thing, and shamelessness. There’s bravery, too, but it seems to her that therapy is often not an act of bravery but one of self-pity. A fad. She thinks of a teacher-friend at the school who invited them over for dinner one night, and what his wife had said: “I’m so glad that Tom got this job and the beneﬁts. Now I can go to therapy.” Who talks like that? Nobody with real problems they drag behind
them like a rock-ﬁlled sled. She would not go to therapy, would not spill the detritus of her life into a complete stranger’s lap, for herself. But she would do it for them. This is what she has decided since following Jason to the store. She will go to an ofﬁce with too many plants and old magazines and talk about David Jackman and the way he fucked things up, if that is what it will take. She is tired, tired of failure and anger. She will go if Jason would go with her, and she knows he will. The idea of ﬁnding a therapist ﬁlls her with a wide, gaping dread—as with building contractors, there are a lot of people out there who have no idea what the hell they’re doing. The timing, she thinks, might be right. There have been one or two other moments since she sat
Who talks like that? Nobody with real problems they drag behind them like a rock-ﬁlled sled.
in her car watching Jason, and she thought she could feel something warming slightly within her, like the March sun striking the frozen earth. Last night she knew he was awake; she could feel his body, tense on the other hemisphere of the bed. She lay staring at the wall, thinking about the rooms they have completed restoring, and when the snow will thaw and they will tear up the awful linoleum in the kitchen and put down tile, and learn, together, how to install new hardwood ﬂoors in the living room. She was thinking about progress, the house taking shape around them, and about work and the kids in her classroom, and then, abruptly—children. She was thinking about their children, and somehow the act of sex was jarred from its singularity. In terms of pregnancy, making love, she could almost, though not completely, picture sex without having the image split by fear. They are not ready for children, she knows, but she sees no reason 110
why they cannot begin talking about it. She wanted to kiss Jason then, but she had already fallen too far into the soft net of sleep. After dinner they sand the dried glue off the dining room wall, gather the stripped wallpaper and take it to the trash, and clean up the room. At nine o’clock, Katharyn tells him that she is going up to take a bath. Her eyes ﬂirt with him. He wants to read something into it; but that voice, familiar and yet not his own, tells him, You know better. He turns on the television, hoping to ﬁnd a hockey game, and his back stiffens when he comes to the Tough Man competition. The two men going at it are bruisers, but neither has a mohawk. They stand toe to toe and smash each other in the face; it is the most naked display of brutality Jason has ever seen. And then he is wondering: how close did he come? Could he really have been standing in this bloodthirsty crowd, his body throttling up to fuck a hair stylist he had known for only twenty minutes, instead of sitting in his own
house, aching for his wife in the bath? He knows that he could have, that he really would have: he has been brought within inches of their life. One of the ďŹ ghters throws a fearful punch, exploding his opponentâ€™s nose, and Jason feels the shock, the tremor of fear, deep within his own body. He reels. He chokes back dinner. He counts lights. Then he sits, feeling stunned, until his wife comes for him.
a slight hesitation
I didnâ€™t think to catch the license plate number of the car that hit my uncle, so the driver remains unidentiďŹ ed. Realizing that we know neither the make nor color of the car, we try to assess who the responsibility for this hit-and-run will fall to. Everyone chooses a guilty party based on their brain power, the dimensions of their anger, the limits to their cruelty, the abundance of their imagination and the size of their heart.
I wait for my befuddlement to pass. But I prefer that it remains. Simultaneously, I hope that my failure to catch the license plate number will not cause the ďŹ nger of blame to point in my direction. The befuddlement evaporates quickly when I regain my capacity for thought. The fact that I am standing at the accident site, feeling like a whole day has passed. The fact that I stood half-dazed, watching how long it took us to gather around the victim. Do these distance me from my uncle?
Translated from Turkish by Meryem D. Grant and Nat Gertler
For his dead or living body? Which side of life is my uncle on? I don’t yet know. Nor does anyone else. Not yet. They don’t have time to ﬁnd out, being too busy assigning blame. The only blame to assign belongs to my uncle. The man who tried to cross the street without waiting for us. “He should have been more patient.” “He never waits. Never has. And again, he didn’t.” “We rushed in vain. We couldn’t have made it on time anyway.” 114
“Look where his cane landed.” “What happens now?”
Now I blame the driver. I can’t afford the patience to ﬁgure out what happens next. I describe the fault of the driver using every four-letter word I can think of. The ﬁrst person to gather around my uncle says that it’s impolite to talk behind other people’s backs. Others? People other than us? Other drivers? Who are these others? “Other people we don’t know,” says the one by my uncle. “We’ll know who the driver was soon,” I say.
“But how?” he asks. “We know nothing about him or the car. How will we identify him?” “Nada plus nada equals a big fat zip,” says one of us who prefers to stay on the sidewalk. He adds, “he wasn’t going that fast, either.” I try explaining to my friends how slow the uncle they have gathered around is and how he knew that we’d catch up with him eventually, and if he tried to slow down for us, we’d end up late getting to where he was taking us, and that’s why he wasn’t waiting up for us. Nobody pays any heed to my babbling.
One person does. The one grasping my uncle’s wrist to check his pulse. He looks away from his stopwatch and stares at me. “So we’re responsible for your uncle getting run over?” “All this because, once in a blue moon, we walked slower than your uncle?” All what? All this accusation? I’m being accused. For now, nobody thinks of accusing me of having a part in my uncle’s accident. It seems that I’m the only one who sees this possibility. I can consider all the possibilities and permutations because my shock has faded before everyone else’s. Actually, I can think of no other possibility. Am I quick to assume the blame because I was the one most closely following my uncle? Or is it because I was too dumbstruck to notice any evidence that could help identify the driver?
My belief that I am the ﬁrst one to snap out of my shock is another indication that I am ready to take responsibility for this. I look ahead, feeling guilty. Although I want to look at my uncle, it’s too painful to see him like this. I try to think of other things.
An old melody. A jazz standard. I can’t exactly remember the melody. It’s name runs through my head. Bodyandsoul, bodyandsoul, bodyandsoul.
Then the nicknames and last names of already-dead jazz singers. The name of the trumpet player who plays the open notes; the make of his trumpet; its color, brand, date and country of manufacture. Could this trumpet player, who plays the beautiful melodies just as they are intended, be so immoral as to hit my uncle and run? Does he have something to do with this hit-and-run. The identities are clearly known. If only I could be sure that they knew how to drive; then I’d bring this to an end right here. The blaming.
Now I think about the real driver. The one who hit my uncle and ran. I put myself in his shoes.
Before I can slam on the brakes, my uncle strides into my path. He walks down one cross-walk and up the next. Walking casually as if he’s not crossing the street. Managing to outpace us all, taking steps like a prophet walking across the water. When I put myself in the driver’s place, I realize that it isn’t easy to run over my uncle. The fact that he was saved from being hit at the last second doesn’t calm me down; it increases my nervousness. I press the gas pedal down hard and ﬂee the scene with fear that I might have run him over. A good example of how emotion can trump logic when it chooses to. But people can get accustomed to almost anything. Once you learn to acclimate, then it gets easier all the time.
Acclimation is like killing. It must be like that. Even though I’ve yet to kill anyone, I have placed blame whenever possible. Blaming is the ﬁrst step on the road to murder. At least, that’s what I think. It’s a basic method to get someone you can’t kill to think of ways of dying. Blame them once, blame them twice; third time, they die. You hope they do. You feel ashamed for wishing death upon someone. Then you blame yourself. Again and again.
And you, too, cannot meet your maker. But you sense that death nears, and you stop doubting that this process, which you are experiencing ﬁrst-hand, can serve as a metaphysical weapon to drive people toward death. Then you look to other to assume the guilt, then to yourself, then bodyandsoul, bodyandsoul, bodyandsoul.
One of the people surrounding my uncle asks what I’m doing on the sidewalk. I’m looking for my cell phone. While feeling ashamed that none of us has yet thought to call an ambulance. I feel my right hip. I am going to pull the phone out of the leather case hooked to my belt. 118
I can’t ﬁnd the case. I get caught in a second wave of shame. “You forgot to bring it, right?” “Because you wanted to leave before the rest of us.” “Afraid that your uncle would resent it if he had to wait for us.” “Because of your unshakable impatience.” Looking down at the sidewalk, I walk, pretending to ignore their words. I leave behind what is said. The voices all mix together. They calm down as they chat among themselves. They have either gathered around him or are pestering him. Escaping them keeps me from looking at my uncle. I must hurry.
I need to use my unshakable impatience in getting an ambulance. I must force myself to locate this ambulance. Then I can put off looking at my uncle. I know that no matter how much I rush, ambulances are impossible to get in this city. My past experience with unhappy endings to which I have always borne witness informs me of the unavailability of some things in this city. Those around my uncle are aware of my present thoughts. They are feeling the concern of letting an impatient pessimist search for an ambulance. They all agree that I have to ﬁnd the ambulance to make up for forgetting the cell phone. I’m too far away to hear what they say. I have abandoned the world of concrete verbal information with which I could understand what they say about me, and have entered into the realm of assumptions. In this realm, I see the entrance to a hair salon. Standing in front of the door is a woman, about my age. “It was the driver’s fault,” she says. I ask if I can use the phone. “It’s disconnected,” she says. The lines or the phone? “Does it matter?” she says, not looking away from where my uncle lies. “Your uncle was a good man.” I am talking to a woman who knows the man who lies there. I shiver at the truth of the guess of a woman who excels in waiting at the entrance to the world of assumptions.
“He was our only male customer. He’d come in for a cut and a manicure. He made good conversation. What’s more, he’d bring us luck. We never charged him.” It makes me happy to hear that other people liked my uncle. I am anxious to be the hair dresser’s second male customer, but ﬁrst I need to locate an ambulance. At the same time, I’m upset at her. “Don’t worry, he will come again,” I say. “Is he alive?” asks the woman with the attitude of a businesswoman who has seen it all and grown accustomed to everything occurring in front of her shop. “I don’t think he’s dead,” I say. She pulls her body into the store.
I don’t want my uncle to die. 120
He reminds me of beauty that he has already forgotten. He does this without so much as a word. He takes me for long walks. When we return, my head is always too full of memories to recall where we’re returning from. I get so happy that I don’t even notice my parents absence upon my return. Before I can acclimate to this happiness, there’s a knock at the door and my friends crowd the house. They greet my uncle with respect, then tell me where we’re headed tonight. My easy life of subservience and following delays my preparing for a day without my uncle. Sometimes he comes along, sometimes he picks our destination, sometimes he catches up later, and sometimes he sets out before the rest of us. Even if we all leave the house as a single group, only two of us return together.
During and after these returns, my uncle wordlessly speaks to me through quiet moments. He shows me things without having to point them out. Even if I cannot see, I study what he shows me for a long time, and realize that I am looking at something that needs to be looked at. “That’s enough,” says my uncle. “For now just remember where to look. You can always see what’s there later.” Even if I know that it’s not going to be like what he says, I look at what he shows me. The more I try to remember where I look, the more unexpected memories ﬂood back. Those which are not mine and which are recalled later because they are merely imagined. Nice things.
The grocery store owner lets me in and leads me to the phone without needing an explanation, and he passes me the handset after pressing nine-one-one. I feel the weight of having called for an ambulance. I worry about turning a potentially minor accident into a tragedy. I give my location to the person on the other end of the line, then hang up. I leave the store, looking ahead. The owner stays behind the counter.
I am aware that I can’t avoid looking at my uncle much longer. I stroll slowly toward my uncle, who is lying in a place he hasn’t asked me to look at, as if he were just resting. Trying not to see him.
I search the corners of my mind, hoping to recall the license plate of the car. I am hoping that this event will somehow have a happy ending. Even if I am a habitually tardy pessimist, I am looking for the hope that will let me hug him and avoid looking at him.
I stand on the sidewalk away from my uncle. I look towards the place where he fell. My friends are still with him. We are all waiting for the ambulance that cannot arrive. Or at least I think so. Nobody talks any more. When nobody talks, almost everything is left to assumptions. 122
Most things. My uncle remains where he has fallen. His walking stick, somewhere else. Iâ€™m here, on the sidewalk, amidst a realm of assumptions. When I try to recall what I was supposed to look at in the place he showed me, I again delay looking at him. My friends donâ€™t see me standing here. I am not in position to see them. Even if I see them, I cannot comprehend that they are asking me to join them. I want to understand other things. I want to understand where we are going. Why the driver is lost. Where he was coming from and where he was headed. Why I forgot the phone.
If I could be in my uncle’s place, I could understand everything immediately. My uncle, who can tell me everything, does not reveal to me how I could be in his shoes. He abandons me on the sidewalk. He is too far for me to see even if I look straight at him. Although he is this close, he is frighteningly distant. He is near the end of a long trip.
I ﬂee. Just like the driver aware of his guilt. I lift my head to see where I am running. From where my uncle could not get up. Nobody calls out to me. My friends, the hairdresser, the grocer. My hair and nails get longer. An old melody on the tip of my dry tongue. The phone I left at home and the leather case on my waist. I stand too far from the realm of assumptions, where I can’t look at my uncle any more. I ﬁnd the driver, who has given up his escape. The ambulance that never arrived is also there. With its blue and red lights ﬂashing, it is parked beside a dented car that is obviously the one that hit my uncle. I am at a point where it is impossible not to meet. I take the cane from where it is lying and extend it toward the body lying between the two vehicles. My uncle takes the cane, puts it on his side, and instead of getting up, he grabs my hand and pulls me down beside him.
“Do you see me, nephew?” he asks without releasing my hand. First I look for a point to look at. A point which he can show me. A point that can be easily looked at and seen and which can bring me back to my senses. I ﬁnd what I seek among the sidewalks. My uncle, badly wounded. My friends clustered around him. The grocer and the hairdresser among them. I see them wave to me and call me to them. I hear their screams which tell me that everything is all right.
When I go near him, my uncle raises an eyebrow and thanks me. “Why?” I ask. “Why, uncle? Why me?” Because I called the ambulance. Without hesitating, without taking a long time, without thinking of anything else. The hairdresser shoots me a meaningful look. She hides the joy of ﬁnding a second male customer behind a look I cannot decipher. We each have one hand on my uncle. It’s as though there would be a void if we didn’t touch him. If only the driver was with us as well. The street is lit in red and blue. “Look, uncle! Here comes the ambulance I called for,” I say. He raises his head with difﬁculty and looks at where I’m pointing and feels happy as though he saw an ambulance.
I canâ€™t stand seeing him happy like this. This false happiness, this hoax. My uncle, who tries to pass for being alive, is long dead, and it takes me a long time to look at him.
ar: W e h T om r F of e m n o o H i t a i ec r p p A n A PI , m u n g a M Steve Kistulentz
In the midst of an August heat wave, on a Monday where the temperature topped out at 100 degrees, we buried my father in section 36 of the Arlington National Cemetery, just down the hill from President Kennedy’s eternal ﬂame. My clearest memory of those months found me standing over my father’s gravesite as the jets in missing man formation thundered overhead. I wore a gray gabardine suit on its way to being too small in the stomach and shoulders, a white shirt that belonged to my father, and the watch my grandmother had given him as a high school graduation present 48 summers before. As a squad of soldiers ﬁred their riﬂe salute into the humid afternoon, I stiﬂed the urge to raise my hand in salute. I have worn the watch on just a handful of occasions. The funeral. My senior prom. A summer wedding in the Cook County, Illinois courthouse. But the watch, an unremarkable Bulova tank, spends most of its time sequestered in a black leather jewelry box on my dresser, among orphaned cufﬂinks and a pair of tarnished silver collar stays — it’s fragile and unreliable, yet except for his World War II dog tags, it remains one of the few totems of my father that
I have kept, having long since jettisoned his ﬁrst sergeant’s uniform, the brass nameplate from his Pentagon ofﬁce. I have the watch; my sister has in her possession his medals, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, along with the ﬂag that draped his casket, the emblem of thanks from a grateful nation. **** My father died in the late summer of 1988, when Magnum, PI had just ﬁnished sputtering through its ﬁnal season, including an arc of episodes where it was unclear whether or not Magnum was actually alive. I remember the episode where Magnum, having been shot for what seemed like the hundredth time during the show’s run (the actual tally, according to a fan’s web site, is eight) has a neardeath experience; season seven ends with Magnum walking towards the light, to the saccharine sounds of John Denver’s “Looking for 128
Space.” And though I was a passing fan, I did not watch any of the last season; not the episode where Magnum learns that his assailant, a North Vietnamese general with two decades’ worth of grudges, has been set free, nor the two-hour ﬁnale where Magnum is reunited with his young daughter and somehow regains his commission as an ofﬁcer in the Navy. The only thing I remember watching that fall was baseball: one game, the opener of the 1988 World Series. The Dodgers were my father’s team, and rooting for them that year was an improbable dream, an act of faith much like Thomas Magnum’s undying support of the Detroit Tigers. Of course, the Tigers of the Magnum era were a juggernaut, constantly in contention and setting a record by opening their World Series-winning 1984 season with a record of 35-5. The Dodgers, on the other hand, had been out of Brooklyn for 28 years and still played the heartbreaking brand of baseball they had mastered in Flatbush. There were pre-
cious few championships in Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers excelled in one thing; they came close a lot. The 1988 team, built out of role players and castoffs, featured an ace pitcher, Orel Hershiser, who would literally throw his shoulder out at the beginning of the next year, and an offensive leader, outﬁelder Kirk Gibson, whose body seemed to crumble a piece at a time. By the October playoffs, after Hershiser managed to start three games of a classic series victory over the New York Mets, then come out of the bullpen to save a fourth, the Dodgers felt like nothing more than a good story, a team of scrappy underachievers that made it farther than they ever should have. On the night of the ﬁrst game of the World Series, I stumbled to the Green Leafe Café, the only bar in my small Tidewater town that had both a television and a license to sell what the James City County sheriff liked to call beverage alcohol. Watching the game wasn’t on my mind. Baseball was a distraction, a waste of summer Saturday afternoons, watching the NBC Game of the Week with Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek. My father sat in his recliner, eating cheese puffs, washing them down with cans of whatever beer had been on sale that week at the 9th Street branch of Central Liquors. So I wasn’t disappointed to ﬁnd that the television at the Green Leafe did not work. I didn’t think much about baseball, until around 10:30. That’s when I heard my little voice. To quote a phrase used often in the voiceovers that gave each episode of Magnum their dramatic arc, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re probably right. Something told me to go home, take out a beer, turn on the television. Some voice. At home, my television, a serviceable 13-inch model from Sears, had barely ﬁnished warming before I heard the Dodger Stadium crowd greet the gimpy-legged Gibson with a standing ovation as he limped to the plate to pinch hit. Before Gibson’s ﬁrst swing, my little voice told me something else, too. Turn on the radio. And I did, just
in time to tune in the CBS radio network and hear Jack Buck’s call of Gibson’s game-winning home run, I don’t believe what I just saw. A day later, highlights of Gibson’s shot to right ﬁeld, intercut with scenes from Robert Redford’s ﬁlm version of The Natural, would show just what a Hollywood ending baseball and real life could combine to produce. I didn’t much believe it either. But I should have trusted my little voice. Magnum would have been rooting for Gibson, too. After all, he’d started out as a Detroit Tiger. **** It’s difﬁcult to label myself as more than a casual admirer of Magnum. It’s easy to dismiss the series as camp, a paean to the Hawaii of garish shirts and Magnum’s ridiculously short Ocean Paciﬁc shorts; but it is precisely the lack of pretense that makes Tom Selleck’s private investigator a worthy and enduring hero. Yet he lived by a distinct 130
warrior’s code, and like many Vietnam veterans, Magnum sometimes found it difﬁcult to adapt the warrior’s role to that of a peacetime society. My appreciation for the show seems more of a guilty pleasure, something akin to my taste for SweetTarts or Lik’m’Aid Fun Dip. Though the movie studios routinely rob their vaults to rework far less successful television series into major motion pictures, Magnum exists in stasis; a rumored theatrical ﬁlm starring George Clooney turned out to be the wishful thinking of fans, and only this August did Universal Studios ﬁnally manage the DVD release of the show’s ﬁrst season. Perhaps that is because Magnum never inspired fanaticism, at least nothing of the sort that marks a series like the original Star Trek, where hundreds of rabid aﬁcionados can rattle off the name of any episode where Captain Kirk wore his green wraparound shirt. Still Magnum managed six consecutive years in the top 20, despite spending much of its run on CBS scheduled opposite the NBC comedy juggernaut anchored by The Cosby Show.
Magnum debuted in December 1980, with a two-hour pilot that quickly established its ethos; Magnum, a Naval intelligence ofﬁcer, had grown tired of the rigors of military life, and as he told various characters throughout the show’s eight-year run, he was nearing 40 without ever having been 20. So he resigned his commission and ﬁnagled a job as a security expert on the estate of mystery novelist Robin Masters, a jet-setting ﬁgure whose voice, in the show’s ﬁrst four seasons, was provided by Orson Welles. Magnum’s foil, played by John Hillerman, was the hilariously stiff and formal British major domo of Masters’ Oahu estate, a former British army master sergeant and MI6 operative named Jonathan Quayle Higgins. This back story distinguished Magnum from most of the onehour police procedurals of the era. Magnum’s ﬁrst case as a private investigator (he loathed the word detective)—the death of a fellow Naval intelligence ofﬁcer accused of smuggling cocaine—led to the discovery that a French commando (played by a menacing and nearly silent Robert Loggia) once left behind by Magnum’s SEAL team had turned narcotics smuggler. So Thomas Magnum had a past, but it was neither as the disassociated Vietnam veteran of Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July, nor the single-minded jingoist of John Wayne’s The Green Berets. From the ﬁrst episode where he was forced to shoot an old friend in a grimy men’s room at the Honolulu airport, Magnum was an undeniably complex character. Magnum the series built on this past, and Tom Selleck’s Magnum became a World War II-type antihero—self-aware, ﬂawed, somewhat cynical, yet always tremendously loyal—think William Holden in Stalag 17 or Bridge on the River Kwai. He skated by on good looks, charm, and a raised eyebrow or knowing wink; he added beers to an ongoing tab at the King Kamehameha Club (run by Orville Wright, the gunner on Magnum’s SEAL team) and was ferried around the islands by Theodore (T.C.) Calvin, the team’s chopper pilot.
In Magnum’s fourth season opener, an episode titled “Home From the Sea, we learned the origin of Magnum’s tradition of spending the Fourth of July alone; he spends the day in silent recollection of his father, killed in action during the Korean War. Magnum plans a long workout, paddling back to the estate after T.C.’s helicopter drops him miles out, but his surf ski is capsized by a passing pleasure cruiser, and Magnum struggles to stay aﬂoat, treading water for nearly 24 hours, in danger of being carried out to sea by the currents of the Molokai Express. While he’s adrift, Magnum recalls the day his father taught him to tread water, timing him on the very watch that Magnum would inherit upon his father’s death. One of the episode’s last scenes is of a young Magnum at his father’s grave, saluting in a John-John Kennedy manner, the bulky Rolex dangling from his wrist. It’s the same watch, of course, that the older Magnum uses to time his ordeal 132
in the water, the watch Magnum wears through most of the show’s eight seasons. Only when Magnum’s three sidekicks each sense that something has happened to Thomas do they attempt a rescue, with Higgins eventually jumping into the swells of the Molokai Channel and pulling Magnum to safety. **** A few anecdotes then about my father, the soldier. He played the trumpet, was a founding member of the Washington Redskins marching band. Magnum played the saxophone. Magnum came from a line of Navy men, his father and his grandfather before that. My father and all his brothers served in the Army, three in Europe, two in the South Paciﬁc. A bit of his back story as well. An infantryman in World War II, a draftee, ferried to England as a passenger on a troop transport, the U.S.S. West Point; under its previous name, the America, the same
ship had delivered my grandparents, émigrés from a forgotten village in the Carpathian mountains, to Ellis Island in 1914. The nickname of my father’s division, the 95th Infantry, came from their German opponents, who called the advancing Americans the Iron Men of Metz. Metz, a fortiﬁed city annexed by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War, had withstood the attacks of countless armies since the ﬁfth century. A head-on assault would have been fruitless. During the battle for Metz, most of the division snuck through the woods at night, bootlegging their way around the city, while a small task force remained behind to convince the Germans of an upcoming frontal attack. The regimental commander, a Texan colonel named Samuel Metcalfe, labeled it the hidden ball trick. Metz fell in less than a week, but only after hand-to-hand combat within the fortress walls ousted 300 German holdouts. My father took a few pieces of shrapnel, to the calf, the left knee. And the victory division (named for the roman V in the 95th’s division insignia) began its drive across the Saar River into Germany. During the march east towards Berlin, my father somehow managed to keep, and type, a brief diary of those last few months, a timeline of the division’s travels. A typical entry from November: supplies and mail arrived 11/03. 379th Infantry makes a hundred kilometers in trucks, bivouacked near the banks of the Moselle. I have this diary, about ten pages single-spaced. I have the rosary he carried in the left chest pocket of his M65 ﬁeld coat. His combat infantry badge. The prayer book, in English and old Slavonic, that contained the liturgy of the Byzantine Catholic church. I have these things, but none of the stories. Except in the vaguest references, my father rarely spoke about any of it. Not about the battle for Metz, or the crossing of the Saar River into Germany, and the counteroffensive before the Battle of the Bulge. Not about the Bronze Star and Purple Heart he won that winter, the medals kept in his dresser, still in their presentation cases.
**** Did You See the Sunrise?, the third season’s two-part premiere, is perhaps the show’s best installment. The scene: Magnum drinking a longneck Old Dusseldorf beer, seated at one of the round patio tables of the King Kamehameha Club. He taps his team ring against the glass bottleneck; the ring is a two-bar cross, the cross of Lorraine, a symbol of French resistance in World War II. Magnum waits to hear a story from Nuzo, a former team member, who has arrived in Hawaii with a spectacular claim: Ivan, the KGB colonel who once captured and tortured Magnum and his team at Doc Hue, is out to settle a score; Magnum and his men are the only escapees from Ivan’s custody. Sunrise added more to Magnum’s back story—as part of a Navy SEAL team, Magnum, his pilot T.C., and two cohorts, Nuzo and 134
Cookie, were held captive for three months at a makeshift POW camp—and combined the particulars with the very real struggles of Vietnam-era veterans suffering from delayed stress. In one episode, we learn that Rick, played with unusual understatement by the gregarious Larry Manetti, was not an original member of the team; he replaced Cookie, murdered by Ivan at Doc Hue. We learn that Thomas was a POW. But mostly we learn how little Magnum, TC, Rick and their fellow veterans talk about anything that happened in Southeast Asia. Yet Nuzo has ulterior motives, part of a complex scheme set in motion a dozen years before in the jungles of Vietnam. And Ivan apparently is after Magnum; he assassinates Mac, another of Magnum’s former Naval intelligence colleagues, with a car bomb that destroys the show’s signature red Ferrari. Before Mac turns the ignition key, he raises his head to ask Magnum, “Why don’t we go up to Poli Lookout? The sunrise ought to be amazing.” The plot, an ingenious melding of Stalag 17 and the John Frankenheimer version
of Manchurian Candidate, leaves Magnum to face an unthinkable dilemma. The episode climaxes in a ﬁnal confrontation between Magnum and Ivan, after Ivan’s cover identity as a Bulgarian diplomat has been blown and the Colonel has been declared persona non grata by the State Department, but that isn’t good enough for Magnum. He acts out of loyalty, to the dead Cookie, to his team member T.C. (an unwitting pawn in Ivan’s plot), but mostly out of loyalty to a soldier’s ideal. Magnum pulls a gun, and Ivan gives Magnum his deﬁnition of the soldier’s code. “I know you, Thomas. I know you better than your own mother. I had you for three months at Doc Hue. You could shoot me, if I was armed, and coming after you. But here,” he says, waving his arms at the expanse of jungle, “like this? Never. Das vidanya, Thomas.” Magnum lowers his gun to his hip, and Ivan turns to walk back to his car. Magnum asks, “Did you see the sunrise this morning?” And when Ivan answers yes, Magnum raises his gun and ﬁres once. The episode ends with a muzzle ﬂash. For the remainder of the series, no character mentions the events of Doc Hue, or the name Ivan. **** In the panic of the march on Berlin, a displaced person approached a small refueling convoy being directed by a young sergeant named Kistulentz. He came close enough that my father drew his pistol. The man stopped, raised his hands, asked my father in Slavonic, “Po nasomu?” Meaning, “Are you one of ours? Do you speak my language?” My father nodded. There was never a simple answer to the question of his identity. Po nasomu meant the man was a Ruthenian, from the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. An area conquered at the beginning of both great wars. Ethnic Slavs, once part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. The question meant “Who are you?” By the
end of the war, the Ruthenians had no answer to the question. They were neither Russian nor Slovak. The man threw down his threadbare wool coat, took a pocket knife and cut open the lining of his topcoat, extracting a yellowed envelope. He told my father, in German, “Here are my papers.” A baptismal certiﬁcate from a Russian Orthodox church in northeastern Pennsylvania, 20 miles from my father’s hometown. Later that afternoon, the men of the 379th battalion, 95th Infantry, rounded up the local displaced persons and put them on a truck for repatriation. At gunpoint. As the truck pulled away, headed east to the Russian sector, my father watched as the man made the sign of the cross, in the manner of the Orthodox church, right shoulder before left. I once asked my father if he knew the man’s fate. The answer was yes, but he never offered details. Retelling this story a few months 136
before his death, my father paused and said, “I could have done something. Something more.” And ﬁnally, “He was one of ours.” **** The episodes that truly sparkle, ones where the moral sides are most clearly drawn, all add to the explication of Magnum’s history. A sense of duty permeated most of Magnum’s adventures, but like the William Holden characters Magnum himself admired, his sense of duty was never blind. His loyalties became personal, and that was part of the show’s magic. Magnum’s sense of duty sometimes meant punching a Marine colonel, or breaking his old uniform out of mothballs to impersonate an ofﬁcer, or bribing his pal MacReynolds with a box of jelly doughnuts. The show lasted 162 episodes over eight seasons, but the six two-hour installments, all but one gravitating around the people or places Magnum knew in Southeast Asia, give the most insight into the relationships between Magnum’s loyalties and his complex past.
In the two-part episode All for One, Magnum and his team, joined by Higgins, return to Cambodia in search of a rumored POW based solely on the word of a long-time antagonist. All for One became a good example of the show’s surprising humor; when former Green Beret Tyler McKinney arrives at Robin Masters’ estate, he tells Magnum, T.C. and Rick that he’s just been to an execution. Rick asks, “Whose?” McKinney, played with cynical gusto by Robert Forster, answers, “Mine.” T.C. answers, “Well I guess somebody messed up then.” Magnum’s loyalty, to Rick and T.C., and to all the soldiers he served with in Vietnam, means that he joins McKinney the next morning on a plane to Cambodia. He does all this despite the fact that McKinney once led him into an ambush. A doublecross is almost certainly in the works in Cambodia; Rick takes a bullet and nearly dies; Higgins and Magnum are held prisoner brieﬂy by a sadistic Viet general—laid out in summary, it all sounds maudlin, the trope of a Chuck Norris movie. Yet by the time All for One reached the air, Magnum had been on for almost 100 episodes; we expected Magnum to take the longshot odds, even understood that Higgins, a subject of the Crown, believed that no man should have been left behind. We’d already had years to learn who these characters were, and despite the cantankerous nature of their relationships, we could trust their word as their bond. **** We’re not much of a family now, at least in size, spread out across the Midwest, pulled here and there by the strange conﬂuences of our various careers and loves. And because we come from a family that never talked, we don’t know each other all that well. At the holidays, we make lists of the presents that we want and feign surprise when they arrive. We don’t talk that much about my father, having
either given up or settled our claims against him years ago; there are still questions that I’d like to know the answers to, but I don’t ask. That’s out of respect, too, for the ﬁne Navy man my mother married a couple of years back. But this year, I’ll put the Magnum DVD set on my Christmas list, and when I get it, I’ll set aside a quiet weekend to run through my favorite episodes. And I hope to spend the Fourth of July alone, the way I did this year, the way I have most of the 16 years since my father died. On this most recent Fourth, I thought of my father, some 30 years home from his war, during the Bicentennial summer of 1976. It was the last Fourth of July I could remember spending with him; he stood in front of the barbecue, longneck beer in one hand, tongs in the other, turning over foot-long hunks of kielbasa as he choked from the smoke of the grill and the cigar clenched in his teeth. Later that night, we used his cigar to light bottle rockets and roman candles, 138
sending a fusillade out over our suburban cul de sac. I could have plugged myself into a similar scene this past summer, but instead I stayed behind, watching a handful of expatriated Americans explode their smuggled ﬁreworks over the still-chilled waters of a central Ontario lake. Children ran towards the water, a border collie chased them back from the edge. At the end of the day, the sunset reminded me of the inconsequential praises of a Neil Young song, big birds ﬂying across the sky, and by the light of the children’s sparklers, I sipped a gin and tonic before lowering myself into the lake, crawling yards out beyond the rocky point, wanting to see how long I could stay aﬂoat.
Bonanza Through gold dust, granite, and coal a man and a woman dig for a diamond. Entering another dream world of pickaxes with ﬂashlights strapped to their heads, they shovel bones out of bed. Deposits of limestone and lapis lazuli are piled in the bathroom and kitchen. A Parakeet chirps on the shoulder of a coat rack, and braces creak during the daily commute. The miners’ veins could detonate the earth beneath the feet of sexual selection’s reveler picking up stones. Train loads of lode empty into the mid-life of the mole-eyed couple
scaling shale to exit their oily cave and close their polar eyes. Queer through the engagement rings in the back pockets of men, the chippers of empathy ﬁll their hearts enough to survive the dark and the dark. The dungeon dwellers live quartz the size of the grave they polish and leave behind a fossil that ought to collapse museums of natural history.
Agoraphobia (Why I’ll Never Play the Cello) It’s not because I have small ﬁngers, pointy elbows. Or because I like to let my nails grow long, cacophonous. I’m simply not meant for the litany of your spruce chrysalid. Too vast, you carmine cask, perilous barrel. If skimmed right, I might splinter, ﬁssion into diatonic atoms, loose chords. The circumference of my arms too distant to be halved by the likes of you, a secant slicing my very circle, a knife through the body of a pear. I’ve only played pizzicato, clumsy with tenor in a Winn-Dixie jug band. Some ﬁngers defy pinning monarchs to mounting board. They refuse calluses, split seams, rip triplets open with a hook. Maybe, if you were a seesaw, my hips could bear the bass and treble, the upand-down, the cry and sing that ferment in the bellies of whole notes. Or a motorcycle between my knees, pure glissando, electric meow. Zero to eighty in the breadth of a grace note. Nothing but wind between here and heaven. No, a cello is different. Burlesque. Merlot salted with crosses and cadenza, you’re raw, rubicund. Heady groans extorted from andante for the price of vine. Purﬂing tortured with burgundy, twisted into our own private adagio cut from suede cocoons, the unraveling of silkworms. These ways are easier: motorcycle, seesaw, pizzicato. I’ve no room for you, cello, in this sarabande of bleeding ﬁngers. Feet ﬁrmly on the ground, knees vibrato with prayer, and already, my head somewhere beyond bouquets and butterﬂies alike.
the illustrated story 141
Richie Rich. Archie. Batman and Superman and the X-Men. For most of us, these comic creations were our ﬁrst introduction to character and plot, the rabbit hole that dropped us into the world of ﬁction. At Barrelhouse, we celebrate the comic by adapting one story from our website for inclusion in each print edition. This issue’s Illustrated Story is Oxen Cry, written by Darby Larson, and “comicked” (her word) by the fabulously talented artist, comic creator, and accordionist Sarah Becan. You can read the original version of Oxen Cry at www.barrelhousemag.com/oxen.html. Enjoy!
Steve Almond is the author of the story collection My Life in
Heavy Metal and Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. He spent seven years as a newspaper reporter, mostly in El Paso and Miami. He has been writing ﬁction for the last eight years. His work can be found in a whole bunch of literary magazines, along with the occasional porn outlet. He lives in Somerville, MA, and teaches creative writing at Boston College.
David Barringer is a writer, designer and photographer. His
latest ﬁction will be appearing in Quick Fiction, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Facsimilation, Raised in a Barn, Boom! For Real, Lip Magazine, and Faesthetic. His ﬁction has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. Word Riot Press will publish his ﬁrst novel in spring 2005. He may have something smaller and darker coming out from So New Media. “Cool” is part of a novel-type thing that is currently being agented to publishers or whatever. For his Dead Bug Funeral Kit, Writer’s Specimen, and other projects, visit www. davidbarringer.com.
Sarah Becan lives in Chicago, where she draws comics and plays the accordion, thereby doubly condemning herself to eternal geekdom. Her comics have appeared in such publications as Buzzard Magazine, Futurebomb, Sleepwalk, and, inexplicably, Seoul Classiﬁed Magazine in South Korea. You can see more of her work at www.jakze.com and www.bucketanddog.com.
Stephan Clark is working on a novel about America and the artiﬁcial ﬂavor industry. He lives in northern California without a dog, wife, child, or other object of affection. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kate Delaney is an instructor of English at Rutgers University in Camden, NJ and a doctoral student of Literature in English at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Her previous poetry credits include publications in such literary magazines as Lilith, 13th Moon, Jabberwock Review, Burning Leaf, The Writer’s Exchange, Nomad’s Choir, The Advocate and Along the Path. She is currently seeking publication for a chapbook entitled Girl Interrupted at her Music.
Paul Graham’s short ﬁction has appeared in the Louisville Re-
view, Paper Street, The Bridge, Water~Stone, and Orchid, which nominated his work for a Pushcart Prize. He lives with his wife in Canton, New York, where he teaches creative and developmental writing at St. Lawrence University.
Brandi Homan received her MA in English from the Univer-
sity of Illinois at Chicago and has been published in Fugue, CutBank, Yemassee, and other journals. She can’t catch a frisbee to save her life.
Jason Katz works as a photographer in Washington, D.C. All photographs in this issue were taken by Jason. The majority of his work is socially and politically oriented, so he is very excited to shoot for Barrelhouse as an artistic and lighthearted project. Please visit jasonkatzphotography.com for a complete bio and portfolio. Matthew Kirkpatrick lives in Alexandria, Virginia and edits Potion magazine (www.potionmag.com). His writing has appeared in Bookslut and The White Shoe. Steve Kistulentz was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and his work has appeared in numerous national journals, including New England Review, Mississippi Review, Antioch Review, Crab Orchard Review and elsewhere. He is currently the Joseph and Ursul Callan Scholar at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and lives in Iowa City.
Darby Larson has had literature published online at Mcsweeney’s Internet Tendency, Eclectica, Bullﬁght Review, Opium, Hobart, and Pindeldyboz. Visit his website at darby.tv.
Anastasia Miller lives with her husband and three-year-old daughter in Washington D.C. She works as the creative director for the Peace Corps. She can quote dialogue from The Simpsons appropriate to nearly any situation, which, she ﬁnds, really breaks the ice at parties. Reach her at email@example.com.
Rich Murphy is the director of writing programs at Emmanuel College where he teaches writing and literature. His poems have appeared in numerous national periodicals and recent issues of Memorious, Entelechy: Mind and Culture, Poems Niederngasse (featured poet), Inertia Magazine, and King Log.
Stacey Richter lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her collection of stories, My Date With Satan, was published in 2000. Her stories have appeared in Zoetrope, Tin House, and ﬁner literary magazines everywhere. David Starkey teaches at Santa Barbara City College and in the MFA program at Antioch University–Los Angeles. He has published several collections of poems from small presses, most recently Fear of Everything, winner of Palanquin Press’s Spring 2000 chapbook contest, and David Starkey’s Greatest Hits (Pudding House, 2002). His creative nonﬁction has appeared in American Literary Review, Cimarron Review, Gulf Stream Magazine, Santa Clara Review, and Tampa Review. Bradford Tice recently received his MA in poetry from the
University of Colorado, and is now at work on his Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. His poetry and ﬁction have appeared or are forthcoming in such periodicals as North American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Mississippi Review, Crab Orchard Review, and the anthology Gents, Bad Boys, and Barbarians 2 (Windstorm Creative).
Faruk Ulay was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1957 and now lives in Pasadena, California, where he works as a graphic designer and publishes an online literary magazine Locus Novus (www.locusnovus.com). He is the author of seven collections of stories and a novel. In the United States, his ﬁction has been featured or is forthcoming in numerous journals.
But wait, there’s more!
For more Barrelhousey goodness, visit our website. What’ll you find there? We’re so glad you asked: Original ﬁction, updated all the time
Interviews with people who are way cooler than us
Essays, reviews, and the rantings of people who take pop culture way too seriously
Funny pictures of people drinking
The Literary Dodgeball Challenge (duck!)
The Barrelhouse Buzz, the little e-mail list that could… or can…or just might, someday, if it ever got off its ass and got its shit together
…and more Barrelhousey goodness. Okay, so we just like saying “Barrelhousey goodness.”
ďŹ ction. poetry. pop ďŹ‚otsam. cultural jetsam.
Published on Aug 1, 2008
Features include new fiction from Stacey Richter, an essay by Steve Almond, an interview with Emmylou Harris, and lots of other great stuff....