Stumble fiction & photography
WHAT IS THIS?
about STAFF Editor & Publisher Nancy Smith
Editors Andrew Monko Anthony Russo
Designers Sachiko Kuwabata Nancy Smith
Copy Editors Andrea Gough Katie Kinney
Stumble is an independent art and literary magazine devoted entirely to short fiction and photography. There’s no particular reason, other than we just love good stories and photography. We publish four times a year (quarterly-ish), and accept submissions year-round. Please see our website for complete submission guidelines: www.stumblemag.com. Can’t find Stumble in your favorite bookstore? You can always find us at magcloud.com.
Issue Number 2, Summer 2009. Copyright © - Stumble Magazine
No portion of Stumble may be reprinted or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. Individual copyright of the creative work within belongs to each author/photographer upon publication.
All questions/comments may be directed to email@example.com
Letter from the Editor: Welcome to the issue
Contributors: A little bit about the people who made this
Lex Parsimoniae: By Jeff Harrison
throughout Photography: By Matt Kushan
Welcome to our summer issue. By now, I hope you’re reveling in the midst of lazy, sun-drenched days that summer usually brings. I recently moved to San Francisco, and everyone tells me that we don’t get much of a summer here. I’m having a hard time believing them, because I’ve been wandering the streets and getting to know my new home and I’ve seen nothing but sun.
As you make it through that pile of summer reading, I hope you move this issue up to the top of the stack. We’ve included just one story this time around, and I’m excited at the chance to publish a longer piece of fiction. Stories that are deemed ‘too long’ often have a hard time finding a home in literary magazines. I know there are lots of constraints, like number of pages and the overall size of the magazine, but this story was so captivating, I figured—why not just let the piece span the entire issue? As usual, we’ve paired the writing with some beautiful, intriguing photography. The combination makes for a stellar second issue, and has reminded me why I truly love putting this little pub together.
Nancy Smith Editor & Publisher
WHO ARE WE?
contributors Jeff Harrison is a free-range artist from Seattle who likes to deconstruct conventional thought and rebuild it from common household items. Aside from his curious forays into writing stories of arduouslypublishable lengths, he is also a painter, musician and general enthusiast. His unique blend of surrealistic conceptualism, Gonzo-style storytelling and philosophical ramblings has won him the acclaim of several of his friends and even a few other people. His goal as an artist is to make the audience think, often by leaving the interpretation of the piece open or intentionally ambiguous. Contact him this way firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know what you think...
Matt Kushan was born and raised in Euclid, Ohio a suburb of Cleveland. Currently, Matt lives in New York City and is pursuing a BFA in photography at the School of Visual Arts. Matt is optimistic and passionate for photography. He is working on a series about his girlfriend Meredith that explores the faรงade of people and their possessions. His work presents a certain aesthetic that is driven by intuition and curiosity. While these findings may seem arbitrary they are closely linked to his relationship with Meredith. Matt Kushan loves his cats Margot and Simon.
Lex Parsimoniae The Renewed Relevance of Occamâ€™s Razor By Jeff Harrison
CHAPTER ONE : RUBUS ARMENIACUS
It all started with invasive species. It all started in a narrow gravel alley in the Seattle springtime. It could have just as easily started on a main street,
It started in that quiet suburban springtime alley with those wily little fuckers reaching across the narrow hardpan road and scratching his truck. It happened daily now and he had had enough. He could almost see them grow longer and more menacing by the hour. Something needed to be done. The idea was simple and thus extremely confusing: Do Good Deeds (especially while drunk on whiskey—with all of its unnecessary letters—more on this later). And that was it. Or put even more simply and thus even more confusingly, the concept was to do something that needed to be done, the need being suggested by two main things: the comfortable physical movement of the members of society and the elimination of invasive, non-native plants. A young man named Groves Hugo felt that the satisfaction of any need must be considered “good” by definition—though we as humans must be very careful of what we define as needs, the true scope of needs being meager when compared to all things in life—and Groves took it upon himself to do something about this insidious and often overlooked problem.
like Dexter or Phinney, or on any number of side streets or alleys, but it didn’t.
Although the concept was straightforward and assertive, it had an equally sinuous and passive side to it. Ayn Rand be damned, and Ayn Rand be celebrated. This was no altruistic trick or selfish deed. This action was motivated by pure Nihilistic Productivism, a philosophical niche that sat somewhere between Freud’s nose, Mill’s ears, Rand’s eyes, and Nietzsche’s mustache—some kind of compound syncretism. Those who would call it foolish or contemptible would be making the mistake of judging its purpose; those who would waste time judging its purpose would be making the mistake of assuming intention. To most, the only conclusion that could be drawn was that this idea was crazy, which is quite an incongruous label to attach to such a reasonable concept. It was so ridiculous that it made Groves chortle to himself, reflectively, which is rare for a chortle. He found it funny that for such a simple and golden concept—and a correspondingly simple action—the structure and texture of society
had made it nearly impossible, or at least highly unfavorable (and sometimes even illegal) to execute the concept without bringing upon oneself social stigma, monetary fines, or restraining orders. Had we come to such a point in human history where performing a good deed for others without asking something in return was automatically met with suspicion and contempt; was frowned upon; was returned to the sender by a sterile, latex-gloved hand? Was fear so ingrained in our lives and minds that the Worst Case Scenario was always expected? Groves decided to perform a sort of social experiment to find out. The problem with this concept was that it was not purely conceptual, and the act in which the concept was manifested had physical consequences that could not be avoided, even if the act had been a flawless execution of the concept. Also, there were lots and lots of leaves and branches to deal with.
CHAPTER TWO : GROVES HUGO
Must have slept with the radio on again, words and music infusing the subconscious neural chaos, surreptitiously tying words to dreams like kitetails, sounds bouncing and drowned in darkness but still floating on waves of air—sensory manipulation, subliminal reality. He really didn’t know how old he was anymore, couldn’t have cared less actually. What is age in a dream or life? Dreams are infinite and timeless and maybe life is just sleepwalking. He wanted to go back to sleep and continue his dream, but instead, he decided to get up from the floor, which was his bed these days. Sometimes it is easier to get out of bed when one’s bed is the floor. Groves had no furniture. He wasn’t sure why. Had he ever had furniture? He didn’t remember. He moved around a lot, perhaps he forgot to take it with him. He didn’t recall his parents ever having any furniture either and had no idea where to get any, but did he really need any? “The real purpose of furniture is to move the horizontal plane of daily
“Furniture is simply a way to temporarily postpone the inevitable victory of gravity, and I won’t have any part of it.” Groves picked his fights carefully. Though he had no furniture—or maybe because of it—he still couldn’t see his bedroom floor. Apparently there was carpet on it. He couldn’t have cared less. He had his music and books and clothes, piles of old receipts too and a medium-sized naked troll doll with chronic green hair (Where the hell did that come from? He never found out…), beer cans and some more books—including original printings of Beyond Good And Evil and Les Misérables—all strategically, geometrically placed so that there was no hint of the carpet below. M.C. Escher would have been impressed. Groves thought, “Maybe this is what New York City looked like to King Kong and all he wanted to do was to take a piss.” Or rather, to leave a piss, Groves corrected himself. Nobody—not even King Kong—actually takes a piss, or takes a crap for that matter. By most standards that would be disgusting (And what would you do with it?). But there are always exceptions, such as septic pumpers, but even they eventually leave
activity up from the ground or wherever gravity wants it,” he mused to himself,
the piss and shit that they’ve taken. Life is riddled with exceptions. Life itself may be exceptional by virtue of the possibility that it may be an exception to the universe. Life is math, art, love and timing; health is balance; and the universe is as incomprehensible to us as we are to it.
Groves Hugo sat there lamenting, cementing his mind to the task of producing The List. Actually, it was a list by conventional formality only, sometimes only containing a single item. Lists are said to be important to certain types of people, Karl Marx made lists, Darwin and DaVinci, too. He couldn’t have cared less. The only list that mattered to him was his own, because that “list” contained the reason(s) for getting off the floor each day. Fortunately for the millions of microorganisms that depended on his body for survival,
pissing was almost always at the top of The List.
It happened again last night, or at least, fuzzy intermittent recollections of it. Or did he dream it? Waking up still drunk buzzing and thirsty, Groves started to formulate The List (and dammit if pissing wasn’t right there at the top again). As he achingly pulled himself up from the floor, he saw Them sitting there at the foot of his bed, dirty, and for some reason it looked as if there was blood on them. He examined them closer and concluded that they were simply covered in dirt and sap in such a consistency as to appear bloody. He looked around the room for any evidence that it had been a dream, but saw nothing, no thing to support this possibility. All he knew was that they were there, in his room, at his feet, not moving, not mocking, just lying there smugly, like the languid and lazy Sundaymorning flesh of a desperate and regrettable one-night stand, the kind that one hoped would have been gone before morning. As if they had earned a place there by virtue of sharing something intimate the night before, all too comfortable in overstaying their welcome, and all too comfortable with their knowledge.
He was still wearing the same clothes, shoes and the same heavy sheepskin coat. Then he reached in his pockets; they were full of leaves that had been labeled like a deck of cards with a black Sharpie® marker. The Ace of Diamonds was written on a birch leaf, the five, six, and King of Hearts were there, too, as was a nine of what looked like a Spade, or a Club, or a Spade; and there were others. His head rang and he tossed the leaves on his floor next to a small bronze replica of Rodin’s The Kiss (Where the hell did that come from? He never found out…). He would deal with it later. After Groves left a piss, he wandered, scratching his gut, out his back door and into that austere springtime Seattle alley to scope it out. Wisely, he looked both ways. There were branch clippings everywhere, and piles of leaves. He laughed to himself and thought, “Something is being done.”
25 find beautiful women in peanut-eating bars on Tuesday mornings,” Groves generalized to no one in particular. Now, in terms of probability, one doesn’t really find that many people in bars on weekday mornings, and especially not in peanut-eating bars, which are a rare breed indeed, making this seemingly innocuous and generally brainless-sounding generalization appear carefully calculated. But he wasn’t thinking about probability, he was thinking about tits. Anyway the bar was empty except for Hank Williams (Senior, of course) and a couple shriveled-up cowboys watching zombie talk shows and one old chain-smoking crone playing pull-tabs and the bartender wasn’t even in there except for an occasional sprint behind the bar to check up, because Tuesdays were delivery days and the guy was fucking busy. Groves noticed this and ordered in bulk, a pitcher and four shots—whiskey—told the guy his buddies were coming to meet him. Of course this was complete bullshit, but he was trying to get good and drunk so as to forget about the events of the other night, and he took his tray of drinks and bucket of peanuts back to the darkest
Eating peanuts in a bar, the shelly floor, crunchy and tired. “You don’t
corner of the bar. He couldn’t help but think of the terror of doing jail time, the heterosexual nightmare in which one prayed for celibacy. He feared that he would never be able to talk to a woman again. The thought depressed him. Women always depressed him. Groves then thought that if he did happen to see a beautiful girl in the bar, he would immediately fall in love with her. He would fall in love with her arms first, that’s the way it always happened. This thought depressed him even more. Falling in love with the arms of beautiful women always depressed him even more. Peanut. Beer. Peanut. Whiskey. “But what if…?” Then he thought of her again and knew instantly that it would never have worked because she wasn’t the kind of girl that would hang out in a peanut-eating bar on a Tuesday morning, and she especially wasn’t the kind of girl who would be interested in a guy that was sitting in a peanut-eating bar waiting for a beautiful girl to come into the bar and eat peanuts with him. Just then he picked up a triple peanut,
studied it, stopped thinking about tits for a minute and began thinking about probabilities and felt somewhat better. Just then, a beautiful girl walked in…
CHAPTER THREE : ADALINE CLEVINGER
It wasn’t her idea to go to the goddamn bar in the first place, especially on a Tuesday morning. It wasn’t that she didn’t frequent bars that often or didn’t enjoy them (especially peanut-eating bars with all their quaint allure and crunchy, tired floors), but it was her day off and she didn’t particularly want to spend it in a place very similar to the place where she made a dancing ass out of herself the night before. Her hangover was a tremendous wet belch wrapped in an asbestos blanket. Besides, it was only eleven in the morning and she couldn’t imagine touching liquor yet, although her aggravating situation had made a Bloody Mary sound pretty damn good. The fact that she had to spend her recovery day at a bar made her especially irritable and she was determined to be rude to everyone she met, but her brother had called her, shit-faced drunk, and needed a ride home, or at least somewhere like home. Her brother had not called her for a ride home though (the ride was her idea); he had called because he needed to talk to her “about
when she walked in, and the lack of a bartender further upset her. The few patrons that existed were indifferent to her entrance save one: a young and in fact not wholly unattractive guy, maybe 25 or so with glorious Irish green eyes that she had noticed upon her initial glance around the bar. Upon her second pass, as she was sitting down on a stool and pretending to look for her brother (she suddenly didn’t care where her brother was), she caught those eyes quickly shifting away from her and she took this as a compliment. She had been feeling somewhat unattractive lately, and this small gesture, this rudimentary physical movement, had caused her disposition to change considerably and caused her heart rate to escalate and her face to flush, as it will tend to do when one knows (or assumes) that they have just become the object of another’s desire. She was a career woman—married to her career that is—and what some would call a hopeless romantic (no doubt a result of being raised in captivity),
some major shit” that apparently could not wait. She did not see her brother
although she had not had a serious date in nearly a year, and not had a serious boyfriend in nearly three. It wasn’t that she couldn’t have had plenty, for she was certainly pretty enough and a social girl too, with soft shoulders and a delicate, pillowy figure, and a biting, sarcastic wit that offset her svelte frame. Perhaps her mordant wit was a bit too unrelenting sometimes, or perhaps she was caught in a cycle of working more to compensate for her lack of a love-life, yet unable to pursue a love-life due to her excessive work schedule. Whatever the case, she had been tough on potential suitors lately and in return had not felt the reassuring embrace of a good man in years. She frequently told herself that she didn’t need a good man because she had her work, but just as frequently she told herself that she didn’t want to be alone when she turned 30. Her 29th birthday was less than two weeks away…
Russian was the worst. Adaline hated translating Russian to English, and she hated reading English translations of Russian authors. Nabokov was sometimes an awkward exception because he wrote so well in both languages, but Dostoevsky was horrible to her, nearly unreadable in English. And because she was such a literary fanatic, she often had trouble with her job. Not that she couldn’t do her job well, she just had a difficult time maintaining her integrity while trying to explain the intrinsic linguistic inventiveness and symbolic synesthetic beauty of great Russian writing to a non-Russian, and for the most part, non-interested audience (“Well you try to do any justice to Pushkin with a bunch of half-asleep American tourists!”). Adaline frequently lectured at college campuses in both the U.S. and Russia in addition to her gig as a tour guide at the Museum of 20th Century European Literature. She was fluent in English, Russian, German and could give the common Francophone a run for their money. She knew bits and pieces of a dozen other languages, and had traveled extensively in Europe. She was a student of literature, history and philosophy, and acutely
un-American. Not anti-American—although she didn’t buy into the juvenile rhetoric of nationalism and pseudo-McCarthyism that reigned throughout her homeland at the turn of the century—just un-American. Her mindset, her philosophical outlook on life, her mannerisms and opinions, her politics, all were borne from a more worldly and vaguely Western European society. She considered herself a citizen of the world first and foremost, with a profound respect and understanding of the world’s diverse cultures and creatures. She was liberally liberal, and so deep was her understanding of the world that it became esoteric. So worldly was her outlook that she was practically numb in the practical matters of the world. But this didn’t prevent her from coming off as the only enlightened person in the United States.
“I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t…” “Look my brother’s name is in there and he could be in trouble.”
He had the invisible force-field of bureaucracy protecting him and his zits and his blank expression. It made Adaline even angrier. Her knuckles slammed down on the other side of the desk where the moron sat blankly looking back at her. “Listen you little shit-stain, you better let me look at those files right now!” She scathed, staring at him until he looked meekly away. “Ma’am I’m afraid that is confidential information. Your brother will have to come in and…” “My brother is shit-faced drunk, he couldn’t even tell you his name,” she snapped. “Well I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you. You should stop yelling though…” “I should come over there and rip your balls off,” is what Adaline said in Russian as she stormed out of the police station.
“Sorry, I’m not allowed to disclose that information.”
CHAPTER FOUR : ALVIN CLEVINGER
“Clevinger! You got that article done yet? You know that I need that shit by six a.m. tomorrow, right? This week’s human interest section is fucking anorexic! What have you been doing all week?” My editor, Septimus C. Mooney, was always shouting those kinds of things so that everyone would hear, thinking he was so goddamn clever. He would always say one of three things to me: either “Clevinger! This week’s section is like a black hole! And black holes suck!”; or the stupid anorexic one; or on very rare occasions, “Kid” (he never called you by your name when you did a good job, he would always find a way to squash you) —“Kid” he’d say, “this week’s article was like granite! Granite rocks!” What a moron. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get on it. Almost done with the one about that goddamn hippie living in that tree in Issaquah…needs a title, too. And I got
a good start on the crazy guys that are trying to get that bill into the State Legislature about officially changing the word ‘saxophone’ to ‘sexophone.’ Uh…and then I gotta finish the one on those, uh, police reports about all the bushes being cut in the night…some weird shit, man. Hey, you know that it’s happening right by my house?” But my editor, Septimus C. Mooney, had already stopped listening and was halfway down the hallway yelling at somebody else, that asshole. Bulldog sonuvabitch, always barking at people and swinging his jowls around like they were pouches full of authority or something. Never listens. What kind of a name is Septimus anyway…? I wonder if I should tell him about the police coming to my place the other day. Would he even care? Or would he flip out and fire my ass? Better just keep it to myself. It was nothing anyway, but it has sure got me interested in this case. If you could call it a case. Twelve phone complaints and one semi-related police report, that’s it. Who knows if the police can or will make a case out of it? But maybe I can. Maybe I should get out and do some investigative reporting, make this thing big and juicy. The readers have a right to know…
Or does this guy—or girl, no, probably not a girl, I don’t think a girl would—well does this jerk want to get in the papers? Maybe this is the beginning of something bigger, or some weird fucking cult or something, and they want the exposure and they’re trying to use me, the media, like some pawn. I dunno. Or maybe this is a gang thing, or a frat initiation, or Trekkies. Hell, it could be terrorists for all I know. It could just be some goddamn sparse-toothed crackhead trying to sell old rhododendron branches for a hit. I’ve seen worse. But there was something strange about this goddamn story, some kind of déjà vu or je ne sais quoi or something, something French and mysterious like that obscure alley in the ninth arrondissement of Paris—God what was I doing there? Trying to find café La Nouvelle Athénes? C’mon Alvin, it had been gone for years. Why don’t you ever ask for help? I don’t get it. But I’m gonna find out what the hell is going on. Besides, it beats sitting here waiting for Mooney’s fat ass to yell at me again.
pissed and indifferent, a total tyrant), then found a half-finished bottle of beer on my floor and finished it. “Alvin, this place is a goddamn mess,” I thought as I searched for some aspirin. My head was a mess, too. I chased four aspirin with a healthy chug of whiskey and headed for the shower—sweated through my sheets last night. Been having some crazy dreams lately, insanely vivid dreams that I can’t remember in the morning. Man I hate that. I needed to find out what was going on, needed to find this Midnight Slasher. First thing I did was swing into the local dive, I knew it would be open early because it was the World Cup and Alberto was showing all the games, which were on at like 8 a.m. here in the States. I had the stack of police reports and I needed to read through them. I got too smashed last night. Couple beers would help my head anyway.
That morning after the cops came I called in sick (Mooney was, predictably,
CHAPTER FIVE : EDWARD TEACH
Hero or Villain? The Saga of the Midnight Slasher By Alvin Clevinger
It was a night like any other for the homeless man known around Seattle as Edward Teach. Nobody knows his real name, but he is instantly recognizable. The mangy black beard, the gaunt face, the sunken eyes evoke a sense of terror and long-forgotten treachery. He is a formidable man standing nearly six and a half feet tall, but his bark is much bigger than his bite. Although he calls himself Edward Teach for his likeness to the legendary pirate Blackbeard (who used the moniker “Edward Teach” as one of his aliases), he dislikes any further comparisons to the swashbuckling rogue of the 18th century. “Our similarities are only skin deep, man. I mean, that dude was a killer,
but I mainly [call myself Edward Teach] for protection. The streets are tough, man. I just try to get by out here,” he tells me calmly as we sit beneath the freeway overpass where he often makes his “home.” He is a piece of local lore, like Artis the Spoonman and Edward “Tuba Man” McMichael. And, like these other colorful characters, he is a peaceful man as well as a musician. A flutist since the age of nine, Teach has made his way through this world by piping and pandering to passersby since the 1980’s, oftentimes participating in local parades and lending his musical services at sporting events, concerts, festivals and fundraisers. “I try to make people happy, you know, I dance and play songs and shit, it’s all pretty silly, but I get a kick out of it,” confesses Teach. And he does tend to make people happy, despite his unkempt appearance and lack of a traditional home. But last Sunday morning, Edward Teach was the victim of a most unfortunate and unusual incident. Sometime after 2 a.m., while Teach was peacefully sleeping amongst some rhododendrons, he was mysteriously attacked and suffered the loss of two fingers on his right hand.
“All I remember man, was waking up hearing a slicing sound in the bushes, like someone was using some big scissors to chop all the bushes away to get at me. I thought it was a dream man, it was like swoosh, swoosh, slashing through the bushes towards me, and I was like ‘Hey man, I’m in here, don’t cut me up! I ain’t done nothing!’ But they was still cutting the bushes all around me and then I stuck my hand out at them to try and stop them.” That was the last thing Teach recalled before the attacker chopped his fingers off and he blacked out. Teach later awoke to the concerned shouts of neighbors and the flashing lights of paramedics. The attacker was long gone by then. A most curious crime, there were no witnesses and no hints as to why someone would hurt such a peaceful man. Teach has no record, no rap sheet, and no known enemies. And though Teach was illegally trespassing, it is almost inconceivable that someone would go out of the way to disable another person in this fashion. But given the odd circumstances, it appears just as inconceivable that this crime was premeditated at all. Perhaps the bigger question is: Why would someone be chopping
Over a dozen police reports in the last few months have involved bushes, trees, and/or shrubberies being cut during the night, and piles of leaves and branches littering sidewalks, alleys and driveways in the North Seattle area. So far, nobody has come forward with any information, and the police have (until now) been reluctant to use valuable resources to further investigate these incidents. Police Lieutenant Jim Graber had this statement concerning the police reports: “To tell you the truth, nearly all of the incidents have taken place on City property, such as sidewalks and alleys, which are mandated to be kept clear by the owners of the adjacent property. In fact, the City posts notices telling folks to keep those thoroughfares clear or face a fine. So there hasn’t been much legal repercussion other than maybe a littering fine. And unless we catch them in the act and the perpetrator, assuming that there is a perpetrator, refuses to cooperate, we can’t even fine them for that. It is not illegal to chop bushes at night, although it’s a little unusual.”
rhododendron bushes in the middle of the night?
In actuality, whomever is cutting the bushes may even be helping people out. Several of the people in the affected neighborhoods have confessed that they were appreciative of the deed, although they didn’t always appreciate the piles of excess foliage, and many admit that the thought of someone walking around wielding pruning shears at night could be a bit creepy. “Yeah, tell them that they can come and cut my bushes more often, just as long as they let me know first,” jokes Shelly Neville, a hairstylist and Seattle native. She woke up to a pile of leaves a foot deep on the sidewalk in front of her 56th Street house. “You know I’d been meaning to get around to it, too, because you couldn’t really walk on the sidewalk without kind of ducking and going around in the grass. Just tell them to clean up after themselves next time!” It seems that dozens of people have benefited from the services of this nocturnal landscaper, whether they realize it or not. Not only has this person reclaimed overgrown sidewalks and alleys, but oddly enough they have focused
much of their unique landscaping effort on removing invasive species, especially the prolific and aggressive Himalayan Blackberry. “I couldn’t believe it. I came out back here and saw this whole area cleared out. I thought it was the City who was [cutting the bushes] because they gave us those notices and about a week later the bushes were cut back. I was gonna hire somebody, cause I hate dealing with those thorny bastards,” said Harry Geed, a retired Boeing Engineer who was the recipient of an estimated two hours worth of free blackberry removal in his alley. But the tragedy that has befallen Edward Teach may force local residents to think twice about glorifying the actions of this Midnight Slasher. If one puts blade and blade together, it appears probable that the person who disfigured Teach is the same person who has been cutting bushes at night. It also seems probable that this crime was an accident, although the police have yet to comment. “If you ask me I think he’s crazy, going around slicing shit up in the middle of the night, like he’s some sort of pirate or something,” asserts Teach. “And what am I supposed to do about my hand? I can’t play no flute now.” So the question is put to you Seattle: Midnight Slasher—hero or villain?
CHAPTER SIX : ALVIN CLEVINGER
Septimus C. Mooney snatched the story from my hand before I even knew that he was standing beside me. I looked up, startled and he shot me a pointed look that said, “This better be fucking good.” He was one of the only people I knew that could swear with his eyes. He said nothing as he glanced it over, merely noting its length and trusting that the content would hold up. Besides, there was no time to change it; the story went to press tomorrow morning. I tried to reassure him with an equally pointed look of confidence, but he scurried off without even looking at me again. He didn’t even know what it was about, the poor bastard. “I hope you choke on it,” is what I was thinking as I returned to my desk to grab my jacket. I don’t know why I thought that, maybe I assumed that he was going to try and eat it, that fat ass. I needed to go home and get some sleep. I was tired and hungover. My nerves were shot; my mind was looping and blank. This story had literally consumed me. I left the office without even grabbing the
have done things differently if I had read that last police report. When I got home the cops were there, snooping around my yard with flashlights even though it was still light outside. Morons. All I wanted to do was go to bed. “Can I help you?” I kind of shouted at them. “You live here? 24601?” “24601. Yes sir.” “You Alvin Clevinger?” “Yeah…” “Maybe you want to take a ride down to the station with us.” But it wasn’t advice, it was an order. I hated how cops always did that. I said “sure whatever,” and locked up my car. I couldn’t believe this shit, man I did not feel at all like going to the cop shop with those two morons, but I also wanted to get this over with. “Will you guys leave me alone after this?” is what I
pile of papers that had accumulated on my desk the last two or three days. I might
wanted to yell, but I didn’t say a word the entire ride. All they talked about was racquetball and some guy named Graber who always cheated or something. All I could think about was smoking a cigarette until they got to the station and asked me if I wanted to call my lawyer, but again they were actually telling me. “Maybe you want to call your lawyer first,” was all they said. I felt sick. I didn’t have a fucking lawyer, didn’t want one either. I told them not to worry about the goddamn lawyer and just get it over with. I hadn’t done anything anyway. The two blinking morons just looked at each other, one smirked, one sighed. I could hear the blood rushing past my eardrums.
When I got out of there it was getting dark. I had forgotten about how
assholes,” I growled as I lit a smoke. I couldn’t believe what was happening. The
tired I was and I lit up a smoke and waited for my taxi. “Thanks for the ride you
swing by my office so I could grab the police reports off my desk, then I went to
cops actually thought I was the goddamn Midnight Slasher. I told the taxi to
Alberto’s for some whiskey.
I tried to explain everything to my sister, but it came out all wrong. Or it came out right but when you’re hammered and you try to explain something you just sound like a friggin idiot, plus it was a ridiculous situation to try and explain. Adaline never listened to me anyway. Whatever. I didn’t have anybody else to talk to about it. Thing is, I didn’t really know what was going on either. I didn’t know what to tell her. She just stared at me with that look of irritation and disappointment that all older sisters look at their younger brothers with. I felt like I was in Hell. No, worse, I felt like I was at the Mall. I told her that I was being charged with assault. I was being charged with assaulting a man that I would interview later, a man who was breaking the law. I was facing jail
time. I was facing a fine. I had no alibi. She kept asking me if I did it, why I did it. I kept saying I don’t know, kept drinking whiskey. I told her that I was having weird dreams, insane dreams, an insane loudness in my head. I felt like I was sleepwalking all day, no feelings, no memory, long blacked out passages of time, the image of me fractured in my mind and branching out. I kept rambling on about our childhood, kept asking her if she remembered how weird it was growing up in such a fucked-up situation, with goddamn hippie parents like ours. Adaline kept getting more and more upset. “Why didn’t you call a lawyer?” is all she kept asking. I kept saying I don’t know, kept drinking whiskey. Adaline was crying now. Goddamn it. Why the hell did she care so much anyway? She wasn’t even listening to me, I could have told her anything. “Adie, I...well I don’t know how to tell you this, but I...uh...I killed someone...” is what I wanted to tell her, but I didn’t...couldn’t. Sort of mumbling now, I told her I was starting over, breaking out in a new direction. It was one of those morose drunken confessions that make perfect sense to the drunk and only the
invested in the half-empty glass but sees the straw as a way out. Small Change sentiments of twinkling hope reeled in from the chaos, a train emerging from a dark tunnel, the crumb of truth from the Big Lie.
Mooney hated the article from the start, thought it wasn’t “sexy” enough, like he knows what’s sexy or not. Sexy?!? What the hell did “sexy” have to do with the news? That goddamn moron. Well, when he found out about my “police shenanigans” he hated the story even more. So much that he fired me immediately, citing my lack of journalistic integrity. Said I was making a mockery of the paper and all that crap. I lit a smoke right there in the office while I packed my stuff, Mooney screaming red-face shaking. I didn’t say a word.
drunk who have given up on everything else at that desperate moment, who is
CHAPTER SEVEN : ADALINE CLEVINGER
“Adie!!” her brother, stumbling, barked out. His face held an expression of overwhelming astonishment, as if he was truly surprised to see her and was equally surprised that he did not vomit again when he opened his mouth to say her name. He did not expect to see her, or he had at least forgotten that he expected to see her. He belligerently made his way toward her, strategically using his sense of touch to avoid the lurking dangers that escaped his diminished sense of sight. Adaline experienced that paradoxical sensation of being simultaneously relieved and disappointed that the bartender was not present. Alvin delivered a tremendous huggish thing that resembled the unstable embrace of a worn-out 15th round heavyweight. Adaline gently but forcefully shoved him away and squeezed a scornful “Alvin!” through her clenched teeth. “I’m taking you home right now, you’re a disaster!”
“No, no, I’m fiiine. I really need ta talk to you,” Alvin countered. “Cannt we just get a drink and talk about it? C’mon. Where’s goddamn Alberto? I got this round.” “He’s probably calling the police you asshole”— Alvin’s eyes expanded, glossy— “Do you know what time it is?” Adaline was scolding him. “Yeah, time to gedda drink. Whadya want?” But Alvin was distracted now, speaking slowly, looking around the bar for the police. He had read the latest of the dozen or so police reports, his name was in them and the police considered him the prime suspect in the Edward Teach case. If one could call it a case. “Forget it,” Adaline snapped, “we’re getting out of here right now. We can talk in the car. Can you make it home without puking in my car?” At this last comment, Adaline carefully looked around the bar to see if anyone else was witnessing this scene. “Hmmmm, well lemme check my planner… nope, looks like I gotta puke again in a few minutes. Can you hold… hang on, I’ll be back in a minute.” Alvin staggered off toward the bathroom again, laughing to himself because Adaline, who prided herself on being multilingual, was completely unaware that he was quickly and effortlessly becoming fluent in Porcelainese.
Nobody in the bar seemed to have taken notice of their exchange, and Adaline was quite thankful, though the only person that she really worried about was the young man in the corner. She discreetly peeked over her shoulder in his direction, only to see that he was no longer there. Empty glasses and an igloo-shaped structure made out of peanut shells sat idly. She was suddenly despondent, and not so discreetly she panned around the rest of the bar again. He was nowhere, and although there was no reason for it, her disappointment persisted. The butterflies that were in her stomach earlier had regressed, devolved, turned back to caterpillars and she felt a slow, seeping nausea, like when you fully realize that someday you will die.
(She frequently changed her hairstyle, but so subtly that only a few people ever noticed. The few who noticed were the lucky ones.)
the Midnight Slasher was inherently good. To her, it was not the means that mattered, but rather the end. But there was still something intangible about this story, something that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She felt that actions were usually meaningless without a cause, and often meaningless with a cause, and she even went as far as to propose that meaningless actions could be a cause unto themselves. At this last point, she grabbed the article again and reread it. Three times. She was trying to figure out why? The rest of the W’s were there, even the H, but the last W was eluding her, eluding everyone. She had never thought much of her brother’s work and usually only read enough of his articles to get her through their next conversation. She was too busy being smarter, funnier and better looking than her little brother. But this one stuck, this one was challenging. Most of his stories were about crazy people
Adaline read her brother’s article and had immediately decided that
doing crazy things, meaningless actions with meaningless causes, at least to everyone except the perpetrators. She understood the idea of subjective reality. She understood the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. She understood altruism, objectivism, utilitarianism, anarchism, eco-terrorism. But she couldn’t quite understand this. She knew she was close, so close that she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why would someone be chopping bushes in the middle of the night? She decided that a night of drinking and dancing was in order. She must have done both excessively well, because she didn’t remember making it home that night. She woke up with blue ink on her breasts, the writing on the left mirroring the writing on the right, her shoes on her pillow, and the Dead Sea in her throat. She was getting up to get some water when she saw Alvin’s article lying on the bedside table, torn out of the weekly, scribbled on with frantic sloppy notes like locusts.
Just then the phone rang. It was her brother. He was shit-faced drunk.
“I couldn’t help but overhear some of your conversation. You in trouble?” she heard the voice behind her, spun around on her barstool to see the Young Man sitting next to her, all shifty eyes and whiskey breath. “No, no, um, we are, well, I am fine. My brother is just a little, um, drunk, that’s all,” Adaline was falling backwards now as she tripped over her words. The Young Man got smaller and finally disappeared as Adaline kept free-falling. Blackness, and then came the scream, or at least the attempt to scream and the frustration of nothingness. She was suspended now, trying to speak, still nothing, but she could hear someone talking, and music, growing louder as she crawled out the back of the darkness and into her bed. Must have slept with the radio on again. The DJ’s were sputtering, spewing not-quite-news and laughing about something about somebody who they didn’t know nor would they ever know. Adaline pressed every button on the
radio until it silenced, she lay back down and tried to figure out Why? Why would her brother do this? Do what? What the hell did he do? Did he do it? Why...? But now the Why had changed, now it grew, squared itself and dichotomized, she saw the vicissitudes of the Why as it streaked like windshield cracks. (Ironically) she saw branches, but these were black branches against white winter sky, bare trees of the Midwest. Everything now, black and white and the negative space bled white and the trees glowed black and where was the Why now? It was as if Rorschach had spilled his inkwell on her thoughts. Adaline couldn’t understand it—Why? but worse, she couldn’t even formulate the question. She didn’t even know why to ask why? Unbeknownst to Adaline, she had already answered the question when she decided that the Midnight Slasher was inherently good. After an hour, she gave up. She called her brother, he didn’t answer. She called his work, he wasn’t there. She called her work, she wasn’t there. “Shit,” she thought, “I’m supposed to be at work.” She got up and went to the police station instead.
41 J. HARRISON
CHAPTER EIGHT : GROVES HUGO
Groves’ own yard was as untrimmed as a 1970’s centerfold. But unlike the cunnilingually-uninviting stylistic whim of the 70’s playmate, he had a functional purpose for keeping it that way. Untrimmed bushes aroused less. Less attention, less suspicion. The neighbors wouldn’t even believe that he owned a pair of pruning shears, much less used them. Groves sat on his back steps and smoked and proudly observed his complete lack of yard maintenance. It was dusk now; the sunset was already on its way to Hawaii. The dank sky looked like wolf fur. He pulled a handful of old leaves out of his pocket, was trying to remember where the hell they came from. A tame northern wind crept through his yard and rustled his leaves as the sky soaked up ink. He tossed them aside and went inside to get ready. He had a bad feeling about the night, but he drank his way through
that feeling and into a euphoric buzz; it came with an invincibility clause. He gathered his things: one flask of whiskey, 14 cigarettes, three wristbands, three cans of beer, one beer cozy on a shoestring necklace with a beer in it, one pair of pruning shears, one black Sharpie® marker, a picture of a manatee superimposed over the Hindenburg, a newspaper clipping with the names of the contributing writers, music and headphones and some leather gloves with cashmere lining. He put it all in a heavy sheepskin jacket and left.
Interlude or This is what happens when you are Midnight Slashing
At this point, you are still getting situated: putting your gloves on, finding the right music (the right music is critical), leaving a piss, retying your shoes, changing the music, shit did you leave the stove on? and now you need a drink.
That first drink of whiskey is like doing laundry by hand, unpleasant yet satisfying. But it’s a starting point, which is important. Now you’re ready and you begin walking. Primarily because you are wearing headphones and you are in a quiet residential neighborhood, you hear only the music—there is no other sound—and this feeling of only the music and the whiskey wrapping around you like a blanket; you are warm. There is a serenity and a sense of invulnerability that grow from this warmth and from this music. And then you begin noticing things. The first thing you notice is how absurd life is. This is accomplished by the realization that you don’t notice how absurd life is most of your life. Stimuli, multitudinous and consistent, keep your mind busy processing a million simple bits of information per second that are necessary to function in this absurd notion of civilization and society and obligation which is “life.” When you are outside of it, and looking at it from outside yourself, you begin to see the fallacies, the smoke-screens, the false-alarms, the pretentious conventions. It’s like being backstage on a film set. And it’s a little addicting. And you are part of it. You play the games, too, however poorly or
perpetuate it. You are ignorant and life is absurd. But this is not cynicism; this is awareness, and this is also an important part of life. The second thing you notice is how significant life is. This is accomplished by achieving the first thing and then realizing that you are part of it (and as a logical extension of that realization—that life is more than just you, unless of course you believe that one creates their own reality and “life” is the projection of that reality from one’s own mind… which is possible). The natural consequence of these realizations is an acute appreciation for everything. Good and bad and other such vague categorical judgments are irrelevant, because at this stage there is just the overwhelming satisfaction of knowing that all these things exist and that it is incredible that they exist at all. A spoon and a beehive and a war all have the same level of significance—think of the processes that created them. You begin to have an inexplicable urge to meditate, to really meditate, for
well. You suffer, you celebrate, you give and take, you wear masks and you
probably the first time in your life. You think about how simple life was when you were a kid, and how that idea is inversely proportional to the idea you had as a kid that life was so simple for adults, and you think of how things change while not really changing at all. This all happens in about a minute or so, and you haven’t even started Slashing yet. Slashing is a special thing, like seeing just the bottom of a girl’s breasts beneath her shirt, or finding a healthy dose of belly-button lint (Where the hell did that come from?). But for all of the portentous preparation, there is really no sound method for selecting the area to be slashed. Oh, there are plenty of systems one could use. There are systems of priority and systems of randomness, systems of revenge and systems of helping thy neighbor, systems that are biased against certain species and systems that are indifferent to all—systems that look good drawn on paper or leaves—but the most commonly used is a system based on proximity and least exposure. You are, after all, drunk
and in public and wielding pruning shears in the middle of the night. Which brings us to the whiskey. With all of its unnecessary letters. Or are they unnecessary? Wisky. Whiskey. It doesn’t seem right without all of them. Can something be unnecessary and necessary at the same time? Whiskey can. Religion, philosophy, sex, art, war, coffee, cell phones. In some way, everything can be simultaneously unnecessary and necessary. It would appear to be a contradiction in terms: an unnecessary necessity. It is a negation by definition, but we as humans must be careful what we define as needs, and needs for what? We exist in a contradiction of terms. Absurdity. Reason. Awareness. Reality. We are the blank, confused space of oxymora. Now, all of this realization business will make you thirsty, so out comes the flask. It is important to remember to hydrate when you are drunk. But that has nothing to do with anything right now. Right now, you need a drink. It is important to be drunk right now. This is Nihilistic Productivism. It is not important that you get drunk to cut bushes, but it is important that bushes get cut when you are drunk. Getting drunk should be done for other reasons or no reason at all. Cutting bushes should be done for getting drunk. Good
deeds should be done. Do Good Deeds. Especially while drunk on whiskey. With all of its unnecessary letters. Whiskey viscously burning your throat, your head cleared, now you are ready to decide which bushes to cut. How do you know which bushes to cut? Simple. There is a confusing set of constantly changing criteria. Now you are probably thinking: “Doesn’t that favor favoritism?” The answer is, of course, no. This is Nihilistic Productivism. This is therapy. Slashing fills a void, a void which only you know, but you know that everyone has one. There is no right or wrong way to slash. All that matters is that you are doing a good deed while you are drunk. You could be causing a million kinds of trouble right now. You probably won’t remember what you did anyway. Why not do something helpful? It might get you laid. Or it might subconsciously alter your behavior in the sober world toward a more benevolent default setting. Which might also get you laid. Slashing is a matter of efficiency. It’s about using your otherwise wasted time and energy doing something that needs to be done, and doing it during
sleep. It’s almost like having 27 hours in a day. It’s almost patriotic. And if you want to ascend to the next level of slashing prowess, to maximize that efficiency and that patriotism, you can focus your already salvaged and beneficial energy on eliminating invasive species. It is not even important that you know why you should target invasive species. What is important is that if you do understand why, that you do something about it. Invasive species don’t care why. All they know is that what they do needs to be done, and they do it. Plants understand Nihilistic Productivism in its purist essence, and they don’t even drink whiskey.
End of Interlude
time that you didn’t even realize you had. It’s like being productive while you
He was working his way down a side street when he came to a small parking lot behind a building, some kind of dry cleaners or something. A little foreign car was sitting there minding its own business, molested by the dreaded Rubus Armeniacus. Groves turned his head and spat forcefully, and in his head he heard the obligatory “pa-ting” of overdubbed SpaghettiWestern spittoon-scene fame. Never taking his eyes off the enemy, he slowly, assertively approached the sinewy bastards. Clint Eastwood would have been impressed, or at least amused. He was halfway done when he heard a loud sharp voice behind him. It was not the first time someone had seen him in action. Groves always just acted casually, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and solicited a hearty greeting. “Half of life is acting like you know what you’re doing,” he remembered from the A-Team. Most folks just reciprocated the greeting and moved on, but some of them were equally inebriated, which yielded curious
receptiveness or confused indifference. This guy was different; he was just getting off work and this was his little foreign car. He was not a pushover. Groves tried to calmly explain, but this guy wasn’t buying it. “You no touch my car, I’m carring the poreece,” the guy kept squealing. Groves wanted to slap him, but he kept his cool. He pulled his pack of smokes out and the newspaper clipping. “Here. Look, this is me, Alvin Clevinger. I’m a writer for _____. See? That’s me, here take this,” Groves handed the guy the paper clipping. “‘Car the poreece’ if you want. I’m just trying to help. Honestly, if there’s any scratches on your shitty little car then call this number here.” “I’m carring the poreece, you reave now!” the guy was waving the paper in his face, but Groves couldn’t have cared less, turned, lit a smoke and walked away with his hands in his pockets. “What a moron,” he mumbled, then pulled out, and off of, his flask. As the Good Burn slowly singed his innards, he simultaneously slowly realized that he didn’t know where he was. Wandering the streets in geographical ignorance, no consideration of time, streetlights like a million tiny suns casting 600 nanometers of amber tint on the still life before
him, the street looked like a movie set dipped in urine, no wonder nobody was around. This was isolation, this was the gift that Bukowski talked about, this is where a person could be alone with the Gods, where a person could feel alive and dead at the same time.
But that little guy with the little foreign car did call the police and file a complaint. Trespassing he said. And trying to break into his car. He gave a rough and fairly inaccurate description of the guy to the police, but they wrote it up and filed it in with a few other reports that had to do with bushes being cut in the night. This was their first complaint that included any description of the perpetrator, and also a name: Alvin Clevinger. Lt. Graber told some of his finest morons to check into it, pay a visit to this Mr. Clevinger.
before dawn though and fell asleep in his clothes. He had already forgotten about the incident with the guy and his little foreign car. He was thinking about tits again. Also, he was trying to formulate a new method for keeping track of the places he needed to “work on.” The leaf method was simply no good. Until now Groves had been taking a single leaf from the foliage that he wanted to return to and assigning it importance, which was represented by card values. Aces were the most critical, twos the least. He didn’t really know what the suits were supposed to mean, couldn’t have cared less actually. Problem was, he would wake up with a pocket full of leaves and have no way to remember where they came from. It may have been one of the worst planned systems ever thought of. Ever.
Groves didn’t really remember the end of that night. He made it home
Groves fell asleep without formulating a new plan. He dreamed hard that night, his mind and body still working on the problem, and woke up soaking wet at 4 a.m. He always woke up soaking wet; maybe his sweat glands were drunk, too. He took off the wet clothes and fell asleep naked, returned to his dreams where he again failed to solve his leaf problem. Or his tits problem. He woke up in a cloud, still drunk, must have slept with his contacts in again, couldnâ€™t see, couldnâ€™t remember the night before. The record was still spinning, nothing but a stable skipping hiss could be heard. His saliva was like tar. He found an old bottle of beer and finished it. He set the bottle down on something metal, clinked and fell over. Groves looked over and saw them sitting there, in his room, not moving, not mocking, just laying there smugly like a onenight stand that one hoped would have been gone by the morning. Their metal blades looked bloody, but upon closer investigation Groves concluded that they were simply covered in sap and dirt in such a consistency as to appear bloody,
and he got up, off of the floor, to leave a piss.
CHAPTER NINE : RUBUS ARMENIACUS
The Himalayan Blackberry is one of the most aggressive, narcissistic plants out there. Deceptively attractive and consistently manipulative, it gladly offers its sweet mature ovaries to any who might spread its durable seed, and it does so in exchange for the freedom to kill. Its berries act as a kind of Stateâ€™s Evidence. While a man walks away dumbly satisfied with its tangy juices on his lips, the Himalayan Blackberry plots its next perfidious move. No pain can compare to the pain of a man who falls wholly and helplessly into the thorny throes of the blackberry bush, his indulgent body riddled with the stigmata of tiny sharp scratches and punctures, flesh ripped like fighting a million angry wet housecats. That prick, that sting, that itch, that bane, that ripper of new coat sleeves. The Himalayan Blackberry is a noxious opportunist, the nomadic bastard of the rose family. It is persistent, pernicious, pestilent. It grows nearly everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, from the snowline to the shoreline, in vacant city lots and deep dark forests, through the walls of your house and
costs humans millions of dollars each year to try and stop its incessant genocidal march. It takes no prisoners along the way. It has an adventitious advantage in the game of survival and reproduction. Its cause is the cause of reproduction. To the Himalayan Blackberry bush, it is not the means that matter, but rather it is
over your helpless fences, it grows in sand, silt and clay, soils acidic or alkaline. It