Wednesday, December 30, 2009

doing it





"do it, bill."
"i'm not sure i want to"
""you have to."
"i'm not ready yet."
"just do it, bill. it's required."
"but - "
"you have no choice."
"oh, all right."
"that's better."
bill did it.
"next!"

"what's your name?"
"bob."
"what's your number?"
"1-3373-7637-6598-6881"
"that's a prime number."
"so they tell me"
"you mean you can't tell yourself?"
"not really."
"not very bright, are you?"
"i guess."
"you guess? not really? not much for explicit statements, are you, bob?"
"if you say so."
"you're a pretty poor excuse for an excuse, did anyone ever tell you that?'
"not until you came along. you're a big meanie."



"that's all well and good, bob, but are you ready to do it? are you ready to step up?"
"no."
"no? just no?"
"i was trying to be explicit."
"good one. score one for bob."
"thank you."
"back to square one. seriously, all joking aside, are you ready to do it?"
"not really. i would prefer not to."
"let there be no misunderstanding here. you are going to do it if we have to sit here all month. but if we have to do that, if we have to sit here for a month or a year, there will be some very annoyed people, only beginning with me. do you understand?"
"more or less."
"are you ready to do it?"
"yes."
"good."
bob did it.
"next!"



"what's your name?"
"buck."
"what's your number?"
"2-4595-3941-7845-3674."
"that's a pretty tedious number."
"whatever."
"i like your attitude, buck. are you ready to do it?"
"absolutely. put me in, coach."
"all right. did you hear that, stanley? buck is a hero. congratulations, buck, you're our first hero of the day."
"let's do it."
buck did it.
"next!"

"what's your name?"
"buddy."
"what's your number?"






Monday, December 28, 2009

The Flying Bus




(Click here to read the first episode.)

In San Jose’s airport my friend Pedro is waiting at the gate. When I ask him how he got past security, he winks at me and touches his nose. He takes me and Emma to a courtyard ristorante behind the runway while we wait for the puddle-jumper, which may arrive any time but probably minus a part somebody will have to scrounge before it gets too dark even for these native stunt pilots to try flying to Puerto Jimenez. After we’re seated, Pedro closes the menu and takes first Emma and then me to the restrooms where he ceremoniously treats us to Peruvian flake, which he says comes through Panama.

While we’re drinking cerveza and waiting for huevos rancheros, Emma jumps up and returns three minutes later with a pair of scissors. How she’d do that? She doesn’t even speak Spanish. Excusing herself, Emma glides out of the courtyard and I can’t help noticing how every man in the place stares at her. She soon returns with the frazzled white tips of her hair snipped off—the remnants of a bad hair-salon experience that bleached her hair so it looked like cotton candy.  Now a honey-colored nimbus ripples the air surrounding her head; soft curls fan away from her face.

Her eyes gleam, taking in the sun and road, the palm trees, and pastel-painted cement block shelters. She looks delectable in her little white shift and dirty sandals. I pull out her chair, thinking, good enough to eat—or better yet hold by the wings and keep in a jar. Yeah, I know, evil thought. No keeping Emma in a jar. No keeping her until she’s anxious and stifled and I start to hate her.

A local kid runs in and says the airplane is leaving in ten minutes. Emma must be awfully high because she asks how many people fit in the bus.

“Depends how much you weigh, Emma,” says Pedro. “It holds a maximum of six Americans or eight Costa Ricans. But you and Scott are both skinny. We better run before we miss it. The bus, that is.” He winks at me.

The propellers have started already but I don’t think Emma notices. We enter through the back and she says she’s afraid of getting carsick.

She can’t get her seatbelt fastened and come to think of it, the plane does look like a worn out van: three long seats, a few missing seatbelts. When we pick up speed and the scarred metal crate lifts off the runway, she startles, rising from her seat. “Oh! Wait! What?”

Pedro and I are cracking up. Pedro turns around and asks Emma, “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of death?”

The girl is too cool. Sweet little Emma crosses her perfect young legs, raises her chin, and shakes her head. “Afraid of death? Not unduly.”

(Click here to read the next episode.)

pain, madness and everyday life, section 2

....another day another night. pixie dies again... & again...& again. third time's a charm. Joe can't take this shite. cats make more sense anyway...they're logical more like people. Spike knew what to do with a stupid rat like pixie ... Jane watches for signs of ratgut poisoning no luck so far. no small mercies anywhere. Joe is scrabbling around the house pretending he's not craving, pretending he's not looking for stash. Jesus, four dopeheads flop here why can't I find any f&#@ing stuff!!! he is in Jane's face. He stinks. Jane asks: Where's Jack? Jack is Joe's dealer. I thought he was bringing over your stuff. He's on his way I think...how would anyone know ? the phone's been cut off... all the bill money's gone to Jack. Jane is desperate for cash. Cat shit and dog shit everywhere...pet litter costs money you know... there's a pile of turds on the back step like some animal stuck its arse out the door and just did a dump right there. Gross. It's the only door. Joe is keening.... what's Jack gonna think...WTF!!! what's Jack gonna think?! Jane wanders upstairs and runs the shower. They still have water so at least there's a place to cry in private. For now. Joe is muttering and pacing....Jack should be here.... any minute...

Jane has a love-hate relationship with Joy. This is not a metaphor...or an irony. Here is the message Jane sent Joy the week before:
$ick!! phone i$ off. $orry. i'll w@tch 4 u @nytime pm $@turd@y.
Joy thinks Jane has lost it until she remembers Jane telling her that she can't get the letters 'a' and 's' to work on her computer which is too bad they seem like important letters for lots of words. Whatever. Joy gets it. She parks in the driveway...it feels like it is too late already but there was no way to call just show up & hope for the best. The dogs go freakin' wild as soon as Joy touches the gate. The back steps are flanked by two stone sculptures, a seated hippo on the left and a fat placid buddha on the right ...it's like a shit altar ...there's no way I'm making this up, man... Joe flings open the door...aw, f@#k, man... you're not Jack! Joy stares him down he holds back the dogs on straining tangling leashes but their paws get into the shitpile. Jane pushes past as best she can, giddy with freedom, shoes flopping she slips and steps in the shitty goo that's smeared all over the step but follows Joy like a woman on a mission you can't track that shite into the car, Jane... I'm sorry ....
Jane throws her shoes back over the fence. Just go...she says, dragging herself into the car, I'm good. She struggles to pull socks over her gnarled toes as Joy backs out. She's wearing a man's shirt, green with stripes too big her hair is a mess., skin clammy, breath coming in gasps and pants. OUT...at last. Jane finally crumples, collapsing into the seat. Joy just drives.
How about we go for a coffee she says after a time... I know a place where we can sit in the car and watch the water... maybe listen to the birds ...or nothing, Even better. Joy gets them coffee. They sit and watch grey birds and grey water and grey sky. Jane sobs I'm so f#@&ed, Joy..I mean, I paid the rent but Jack's got all the rest I can't even buy cat litter. I got cash Joy says. I'll give you some. Will; not might. This is an important detail. Everything is quiet except for sips, swallows and gulls. Jane gazes over at Joy. Can we get some tylenol on the way back?

and I can't ever do justice to this unnamable madness of povertybullshiteverydaysorrow....

pain, madness and everyday life, section 1

here is a story of j's.
joe and jane live together below the poverty line in a house that is barely up to code. joe is a female to male schizophrenic transsexual....wait, maybe that should be transsexual schizophrenic ... yes, that one. jane, his lesbian partner has severe rheumatoid arthritis and is the decline stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. jane's son, justin, is 19 and lives with joe and jane. justin's friends john, josh, and jessie flop at the house whenever they need booze, drugs, or shelter... mazlow's basics minus two... justin's former girlfriend, jennifer often brings their infant daughter by for visits ( julia, if you're interested)... two dogs, and six cats share the house. one of the cats is feral, his name is spike, of course. jane used to have a bird, but found it was just too much.
joe drove to the humane society and got a pet rat. he named the rat pixie. pixie is a stupid rat. this is an important detail. joe and jane have conflicting sleep schedules. this is an important detail. jane is exhausted by mid- evening when joe usually smokes a joint and does some E. joe passes out and hours later wakes up screaming for jane to find pixie. jane squeezes her swollen fingers inside a hole in the couch and gets pixie, just like that. she can think like a rat i guess and figures pixie is stupid enough to get trapped inside the couch. pixie races around in the delirious dance of the ex-con. jane does some screaming of her own pixie is your rat what the hell were you thinking.... jane can't be doing this shite. ok, so they understand each other. another day another night, justin, john, josh, jessie and joe smoke some joints and do some E. more hours later josh's stoner moans of horror wrench jane out of sleep and drag her do the bedroom door jane he says spike's caught a really big mouse.... i don't know, man....
jane shovels pixie's guts and carcass into a green garbage bag and sobs herself into some kind of agony induced coma. jane can't be doing this shite. joe ventures out and brings back more essentials you know how it is, man, you run out ya gotta get more.... hey, he says to jane i got us another pixie.
j is just after i and what is between noise and i ... pain and madness ... or everyday life

on like this forever - chapter 2, part 1: kenny

by bofa






when kenny got the news about johnny, he was momentarily taken aback.
he sent nick off to doc gamus with jerry to fix jerry's arm.
every time he tried to figure out what had happened, he drew a blank.
nothing made any sense.

how could a guy like johnny get mixed up in something like this?
explanations were scarce.

when nick got back kenny was looking out the window.
"eddie's the problem." kenny announced.
"no kidding," nick thought.
to kenny he just said.

"that sounds about right."
opening the window, kenny leaned out over the street.

"let's get this thing organized."
"organization is the key," nick agreed.
"out of every ten guys on the payroll. put seven on it."
kenny took his head out of the window.

"of course we'll have to lose a little money for a few days," nick suggested tentatively.
"understood." kenny agreed.
taking his cue, nick turned and left.

talking to himself under his breath, nick went down the stairs.
he wasn' t at all sure kenny knew what he was doing.
eddie could be getting the best of it.

while nick was going down the stairs, kenny picked up the phone.
in a few seconds he was connected to his mouthpiece, sam kennedy.
nothing and everything would be said.
during his rapid rise in the organization, kenny had come to rely on sam to a perhaps dangerous degree.
on balance, things had worked out well.
well enough, anyway,

today would mark a turning point in kenny's fortunes.
he was dimly aware of this.
energy flowed through his brain.

remembering the early days he thought of johnny.
always johnny had been a loser.
i always stood up for him, kenny thought.
now i wonder why.

whenever mickey gave him a job he messed it up.
and mickey usually laughed.
sometimes he didn't though.

sometimes i had to bail him out.
two or three times he almost messed up too bad.
i came close to giving up on him.
lucky for him i didn't.
lucky for me mickey finally told him to get lost.

consolidation was the key.
organization was important too.
mickey had been smart.
i was smart to go along with mickey.
now after all these years someone goes after johnny.
growth might be a factor.

decreased opportunity due to market saturation could also be involved.
obviously.
what did it have to do with johnny?
nothing that he could see.

outside, eddie had slipped down to the street.
under cover of the rain, he slipped into a cab.
tony was driving the cab.
since the shooting started, he had been waiting.
in seconds, the cab pulled out.
despite the urgency, tony kept the speed reasonable.
eddie leaned back.

on the corner a girl was standing.
nothing showed on her face as they passed her.

tony kept driving.
he didn't say anything.
eddie didn't say anything either.



cold rain fell on the windshield.
on eddie's face a narrow smile appeared.
"right here," he said.
nodding, tony pulled to the curb.
eddie got out.
rubbing the back of his neck, he looked around.

"happy new year." a voice behind him said.




next

Saturday, December 26, 2009

the kiss... (III)

.

she was crying as they kissed... he wished he could feel the warmth of those tears on his face... she caressed his left cheek and said something he couldn't hear... he was sure she was complaining about his prickly unshaved beard as usual... he smiled at her and wished he could feel the velvety softness of her fingertips on his face...
when the guards tried to drag him back to his cell, he decided to imprint a vivid image of her on his mind... but her tears on the glass partition blurred her petite demure figure...

.

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Three: the strange tale of Lefty Schiessen

Previously in the “director’s cut” of A Town Called Disdain, famed filmmaker/novelist/bon vivant Larry Winchester’s long-lost epic of the golden West:

September, 1969. The young soldier Harvey has returned to Disdain, NM, and shortly after his arrival shoots the nasty bully Bull Thorndyke in self-defense at Burt’s Hideyway, the roadhouse where Harvey’s mom Doris works. The local rancher Big Jake Johnstone then offers Harvey a job: serving as a sort of guide to the two mysterious and glamorous strangers Dick and Daphne “Smith”.


(Click here for our previous episode, or go here for the first chapter.)


After a while most of the guys from the local minor league team, the Browns, drifted in after their day game. They were a grizzled, sad and lost-looking bunch. The Browns’ ownership had been in complicated litigation since 1963 and in consequence since that time not a single player had either been sent up or sent down or traded or sold or released or in any other way actively removed from the roster. And neither also had anyone been added to the roster. The team had however been winnowed by extra-managerial forces; two men had committed suicide; one had been killed in a barfight involving a local motorcycle gang called the Motorpsychos; one man had died of dysentery after a game down in Agua Negra; one man had gone hopelessly insane and was now in the state mental hospital up at Las Vegas; and one man was in prison after attempting to murder one of the putative owners of the team, Mr. Big Jake Johnstone. Oddly enough in all that time not one man had simply up and quit. Their status in the minors was wispy at best. They were no longer considered part of any actual league, but a scattering of teams across the Southwest and Northern Mexico played them occasionally out of pity or for laughs or for the opportunity to test their mettle against the legendary Lefty Schiessen.

Lefty Schiessen had been a star prospect just coming into his own in his rookie season with Philadelphia when he sprained his ankle sliding into the second base bag on a Texas League double to right. After the sprain had partially healed he had been sent down to Disdain for what was intended to be a short rehabilitation assignment. The first court papers in the team’s litigation were served the next day, and Lefty was trapped. Right now he was twenty-eight years old and in the prime of his powers. Those in the know considered him to be one of the premier lefthanders in the game. Generally speaking the only games the Browns won were the games Lefty pitched. In his nearly six full seasons with the Browns he had won twenty or more games each year. He had thrown eleven no-hitters, and in one game he had struck out twenty-three batters in eleven innings (a game which the Browns lost on a throwing error in the twelfth, 1-0). When he lost it was invariably because his own team had failed miserably both in offense and defense.

Over the past summer Lefty had discovered LSD and it amused him now to trip on his pitching days (and many of his off days as well). He pitched even better on acid, although he did take a lot longer between pitches and often lost track of the count and how many outs there were. But when he was really on he could make that ball do whatever he wanted it to. He’d stand there on the mound rubbing the ball into his glove, feeling his energy flow into the ball, warming the ball, and he’d wind up and let it rip and watch the ball fly, pulling a long white drug-induced comet’s tail behind it, and the batter would swing, his bat fanning out a yellow translucent screen, and thwap the ball sank into the catcher’s glove and the comet trail sucked itself into the ball and the umpire called the strike. Oh yes.

He hit a lot better on acid too, the incoming ball’s flight painting that white opalescent line in the air just to the spot where he would slam the meat of his bat into it and send it flying out there again, although sometimes as he ran down to first after cracking the ball and still feeling the thwack in his hands and wrists it seemed that the base was rushing toward him, and as his foot hit the bag the thud sent a jolt up his leg and into his spine and up into his brain and as he rounded the bag he felt he was taking off, off, out of there, out past the empty grandstands, out of that grubby hot little park and out over the desert and over the mountains beyond and away, away from Disdain forever, but he wasn’t.

(Continued here.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

the kiss... (II)

.

the boy touched the girl's arm lovingly and told her not to leave that safe place behind the parked bus... gun shots were very near... their eyes were tearful and burning from the tear gas... as he ran to join the crowd, he turned back and blew her a kiss...
the air in the coming days and weeks and months was filled with tear gas, gun shots, and a kiss that was never repeated...


.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

the kiss... (I)

.

he stared at her pale and calm face for a short time... then he kissed her long and passionately...
'at last!', he whispered into her ear...
he had a faint smile on his sad face as he pushed the coffin into the sea...

.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Two: in which young Harvey meets Mr. and Mrs. "Smith"


(Click here for our previous thrilling episode.)


“Oh, Lord,” said Doris.

“Sheeit,” said the Sheriff and he wiggled his forefinger in his ear.

Harvey stood there still holding the gun outstretched, as heavy as that fucking thing was he could barely feel it, in fact he could barely feel anything except his own heart pounding, and then he lowered the pistol, tried to twirl it, nearly dropped it, and handed it to the Sheriff butt-first.

“That was damn good shootin’, Harve, right through the ticker, and I ain’t sayin’ he didn’t have it comin’ but I got me a buzzin’ in this ear like a yellajacket stuck in a moonshine tequila jar.”

Harvey was just damn glad he hadn’t actually been aiming for Bull’s heart in which case it’d be him and the Sheriff both dead, but, well, that was karma for you.

The young woman in the doorway pinched out a bit of the fabric of her shirt, which was splattered with Bull’s blood.

“Fabulous,” she said.

The man, who was somewhat less liberally blood-splattered, took a silvery cigarette case out of his shorts pocket, clicked it open and offered it to the woman.

“Thank you, Dick.”

Harvey turned around. Standing in the doorway outside the men’s room was Mr. Big Jake Johnstone the rancher. He had a bottle of Pabst in one hand and his beautiful hand-engraved Colt New Service in the other. He’d been sitting on the toilet for the past half hour or so, having himself a good one and reading the paper when he heard the Sheriff’s first shot, and knowing the way things could go in Burt’s he had prudently taken his time finishing his business and then had gotten up without flushing the toilet. After washing his hands thoroughly and drying them, he cracked open the door and peeked out just in time to see Harvey shoot Bull. Only then had he drawn his gun and come out, trying to look like John Wayne in El Dorado. He never did flush the damn toilet, and now he slid his gun into the shoulder holster under his fancy western jacket and looked at the new couple.

“And y’all must be Daphne and Dick. We spoke on the telephone. I’m Jake Johnstone. Welcome to Disdain.”

****

The back lounge was just a small room with the same brown paneling as the big bar-room, but it had a few Tiffany-style lamps hanging from the ceiling, and the tables had red-and-white checked oilcloths. Burt had moved the dartboard back here for reasons of general safety, and the walls were decorated with a series of steel-framed and glass-covered black-and-white photographs of nuclear explosions.

“A V.O. Manhattan for the lady, Boodles Martini for the gentleman, and a Pabst and a Jack Daniel’s for Mr. Johnstone.”

“Thank you kindly, Doris,” said Mr. Johnstone.

“Oh my just look at your lovely blouse, honey.”

The young woman took off her sunglasses and looked. She was smoking a cigarette in a shiny black holder. She’d taken off her pith helmet and her damp dark hair was cut very short. Her skin was only very lightly tanned and it was perfectly smooth.

“I know, isn’t it terrible? I just bought this shirt too at this marvelous little tailor’s in Saigon. I knew I should’ve simply bought a dozen.”

Her eyes were grey and she was the most beautiful woman Doris had ever seen in person.

“Why don’t you let me wash it out for you sweetheart? I mean if you wanta use the ladies and change into somethin’ else I can just wash it out in the sink and hang it up out in the sun and in this heat it’ll be dry in just no time.”

“Oh don’t bother darling all my clothes get stained sooner or later it seems.”

“Oh but it’s such a nice soft cotton.”

“Doris,” said Mr. Johnstone, “tell young Harvey I’d like to see him in a little while if he’s got nothing better to do.”

“He’s only just back to playin’ that ol’ pinball machine. I’ll make sure he comes back to see ya, Mr. Johnstone.”

“Thanks, honey.”

Doris clutched her tray to her bosom and looked longingly at the newcomers.

“You folks married?”

The young woman said nothing but made a physically indescribable but subtle and amusing face, almost as if it had not quite occurred to her for some time that yes they were in fact married, now that you mention it.

“Yes, we are,” said the man. He’d taken off his sunglasses and his hat and he was as handsome as the woman was beautiful. He was about forty, with an athletic build, wavy dark hair flecked with grey, and clear blue eyes.

“Ahh, ain’t that nice. Y’all here on vacation?”

The man and the woman looked at each other.

“Uh, yeah,” said the man.

****

After waiting long enough just to show he would come in when he was damn good and ready and not a moment sooner Harvey finally sidled back into the lounge.

“Well, Harvey boy I see you finally have decided to deign to grace us with your presence. C’mere, boy.”

Harvey came over. Mr. Johnstone had removed his western jacket and his shoulder holster and gun and draped them over the back of his chair, but he still had his big old Stetson on.

“Siddown, son, siddown.”

Mr. Johnstone grabbed Harvey’s thin arm with his big paw and pulled him down into a chair. A bottle of Dom Perignon stood up out of a bucket of ice on the table.

“Ya want some champagne, son?”

“Got me a cold beer, Mr. Johnstone.”

“How about a shot?”

“I’m doin’ fine, Mr. Johnstone.”

“Lemme order ya another beer.”

“I got me a full beer, thanks anyway.”

“Harvey, like you to meet some friends of mine. They’re gonna be spendin’ a little time with me out on the ranch. Harve, this is -- Mrs. -- uh --”

Mr. Johnstone hesitated a moment, looking questioningly at the woman and then at the man.

“Smith,” said the woman and she put her cigarette holder with the foreign-looking cigarette in it from her right hand to her left hand and she extended her right hand palm-downward across the table to Harvey.

“Pleased to meet you, soldier.”

Harvey had never had a woman’s hand presented to him in this way. Her hand was long with long dark red nails that matched her lipstick and the splotches of Bull’s blood on her shirt. Harvey hesitated a moment and then he put his hand in hers so that his fingertips were touching her palm and his thumb was on the knuckle of her middle finger. Her hand felt moist and still and cool and just as he was about to take his hand away she squeezed it in hers with surprising strength and her nails dug into his fingers and he looked into her deep pale grey eyes and he got a tingle in his penis.

She let go of his hand and smiled, and Harvey drew back his hand and then the man extended his hand.

“Dick, uh -- Smith. Pleased to meet ya, fella.”

His hand was tanned and strong-looking but the handshake was gentle and friendly. Weird thing was though he had this ugly scar tissue all around his fingernails on that hand.

No one said anything for a long moment. Mrs. Smith took a drag of her cigarette and continued to gaze at Harvey. Mr. Smith poured some champagne into his glass and, smiling, raised the glass to Harvey and drank. Mr. Johnstone just sat with his hands on his gut and a cigar in his mouth, beaming at Harvey.

“Why you call me in here, Mr. Johnstone?”

“Well, Harve, I wanta offer you a job.”

“What kinda job.”

“Workin’, out on the ranch.”

“I’m afraid my shit-shovelin’ days are over, sir.”

Harvey had worked a few summers in Big Jake’s stables.

“Got plenty o’ shit-shovelers already, Harve. Ain’t askin’ ya to be a shit-shoveler.”

“Then what you askin’ me?”

Mr. Johnstone took a big drag of his big cigar and then let it out slow.

“I liked the way you handled yourself out there, Harve. You were cool. Very cool. I could use a cool man like you.”

Harvey shook out a Tareyton. Mr. Smith picked up a scuffed silver lighter and as he leaned forward to give Harvey a light his shirttail rose up and Harvey caught a glimpse of what looked like a pistol grip sticking out of his shorts pocket. Harvey thought that Mr. Smith saw that he saw but Mr. Smith’s face remained smoothly affable as he flicked the lighter on. Harvey accepted the light, drew the smoke in and then let it out slowly.

“I ain’t lookin’ to be no hired pistolero, Mr. Johnstone.”

“I’m not askin’ you to be a pistolero, Harve. I’m just askin’ ya to -- uh -- to --”

“To be there,” said Mrs. Smith.

“That’s right, to be there,” said Mr. Johnstone. “Ya see. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are here on uh --”

“Vacation,” said Mr. Smith.

“Vacation,” said Mr. Johnstone. “And I promised to provide them with a good reliable man who knows the area, to -- to --”

“Show us around,” said Mrs. Smith.

“Show them around,” said Mr. Johnstone.

Harvey took a drink of his beer.

“For how long,” said Harvey.

“Well --” said Mr. Johnstone and he looked at Mr. Smith.

“Well, we’re not quite sure how long we’re staying, Harve. I hope I mean I think it wouldn’t be for too long. A week. Or two. You see it’s really by way of being a working vacation for me, I’m doing some, uh, research in the area and so it’s really hard for me to say.”

Harvey looked at each of them in turn, picked up his bottle of Rheingold and stood up.

“Mr. Johnstone, I appreciate the offer, but to tell ya the truth I just ain’t in the market for a job right now.”

“But, Harvey, like Mr. Smith here just said, this’d just be for a week or two.”

Harvey looked at his beer bottle for a moment before replying.

“Sir, right now one or two weeks is one or two weeks I don’t believe I got to spare.”

“Well, hell, just what you got to do that’s so important, boy?”

“Mr. Johnstone, past two years I been U.S. government property. What I got to do that’s so important now is to be my own property. But thanks for the offer. I’ll be seein’ ya all.”

He turned, and Mr. Johnstone said, “Fifty bucks a day, Harve. Under the table, free and clear, seven days a week.”

Harvey stopped but did not turn around.

“Your own private bungalow out on the ranch. All meals provided for.”

Harvey turned his head but kept his back to the table.

“Use of a car and any ridin’ horse in the stable.”

Harvey stood still.

“A free pass at the Photographic Arts Studio, Harve, for the length of your employment. Any girl in the stable, any time, free, gratis, and for nothing.”

Harvey turned around and looked at his beer bottle again.

“I dunno, sir. I just don’t think so.”

“God damn it boy, I like you. Hell, make it seventy-five bucks a day and that’s my final offer. I don’t pay my foreman that much but it’s just because Mr. and Mrs. Smith are such special guests of mine.”

Harvey took a deep breath but said nothing.

“One hundred,” said Mrs. Smith.

“What?” said Mr. Johnstone.

“A hundred a day,” said Mrs. Smith.

Mr. Johnstone looked at her with his mouth agape and she smiled softly at him, with the cigarette holder between her teeth.

“Yeah,” said Mr. Johnstone, somewhat weakly, “A hunnerd.”

Harvey thought it over for a few seconds, then came back over to the table and sat back down.

“When you want me to start, Mr. Johnstone?”

“How about right now,” said Mrs. Smith.

She was smiling at Harvey, still gripping the stem of the holder between her white teeth.

“Mrs., I just finished twenty-four months in the army, eight days in the San Francisco jail and the better part of two days in a damn Greyhound bus. I ain’t doin’ nothin’ tonight except gettin’ hornswoggled tonguewaggin’ sloppyassed drunk.”

“I’ll drink to that,” said Mrs. Smith.


(Continued here, and until every last cow comes home.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Homecoming


At each stop the carriage doors clattered in their metal sheathes; hydraulic hiss shuffling myopic morning commuters, jacks; queens and aces high. Rolling dice with Ozone and sweat; the blast of heat and fetid junk from the gap between platform and carriage edge; conspired with memories lost in olfactory vaults to bring water to the corner of his eye.
The woman across from him crossed her legs in short skirt hiking and he averted his eyes; not wanting to play that particular game.
He fought the panic that fluttered in his chest, letting out a long held breath in slow deliberation.
He held the fear of losing it in public (a guaranteed spike on electronic monitoring file somewhere within Reason) close to his chest to stop his mind from wandering into tank traps and tripwires set by childhood fears and parental neuroses – the enemy within.
The fear of exposure lurked in every averted eye; every melancholy gaze with briefcase on knees to shield; every glimpse of unprotected thigh; every fearful glance at the passing parade of humanity.
The Igneous was wearing off for sure now and the faces around him began to return to form; melting like wax to reveal.
If they sensed his fear they’d be on him to feed for sure. He locked his eyes on the passing countryside as the stops grew less frequent and the passengers fewer; green hills in the twilit morning; uncaring beauty; ominous implications.
Razor-wire fences; hedgerows and stone walls; divisions; partitions; bloodlines feuds and landowners’ dynasties; The rise and fall of empire etched on landscapes of green reclamation; flashed past in cold disregard for the Mag-lev’s arcing hum.
As they approached the coast the smell from the plankton farms entered through the ventilation and he held his breath once more, afraid of the memories’ menacing nausea.
He left the train at Utopia Sestri, feeling the cold through the soles of his boots, hoping that the greatcoat would cover his deformity.
The Sniffers at the turnstile eyed him coldly, he felt their scrutiny pass across his mind briefly – a worm in an apple – as they checked his butchered chip. He hoisted his bag feeling the hard angle of content against his shoulder.
The road between Utopia and Golgotha was deserted and he was going to have to walk it since nobody dared venture out during Reason for fear of being branded unpatriotic. In times like these the last thing you wanted to be was unpatriotic.
He hitched the bag once more, nothing in there but 3 sets of standard issue desert camo, boots and body armour he wasn’t going to need anymore; a carton of cigarettes wrapped in plasti-lead to shield them from view and a holo of Cynth taken three years previous on the day he’d shipped out. If it hadn’t been for the cigarettes he’d have ditched the lot into the sea when he’d disembarked from the Leviptron at Point Vega

The Voice of Reason spoke quietly from the plasmembra; blue light flashing through from the living room as she dried the dish she’d used to feed. She dared not turn the volume completely down. She chewed at the inside of her cheek unconsciously trying to picture his face. Three years and everything was different; nothing had changed. She wished she had a cigarette; it had been three days and she couldn’t find place for her hands.
She walked through to the living area, Reason’s eyes seemed to follow her as she crossed the room to stand at the window. The blackout curtains blocked her view but she stood nonetheless, imagining herself gazing out at a country road that led up to a cottage where a waiting war wife tucked children up in bed in anticipation of her returning husband. Imagining a world where children played in the field.
Fantasy lives in the head while reality bites in the gut; she felt the tears start, as they had done more often than normal these last few days.
She wished she had a cigarette.

The road was smooth and dark; the light from the moon cast everything monochrome. He could see the town’s silhouette on the horizon – he’d dreamed of this moment in colour. Dreamt as the night sky had lit up green in his visor; as the ground had crumped beneath his vehicle; dreamt as his dreams had been invaded and violated by the reality of Reason’s Defence Campaign; dreamt while trying not to see the bodies that littered his waking life with blood and bone.
The road was smooth and dark between the deserted fields of potato and cabbage where the women toiled to feed the nation.
He tried to picture her face in his mind; he wondered if she’d changed in the time he’d been gone. His heart raced once more; too fast for comfort and he dropped the bag at the side of the road and leant over, hands on knees as the dizziness…
Something had got into his head; into his body – it sat at his centre - a dead weight, even though he’d not eaten for days.
He retched on the side of the road; mucal fluid hung a teardrop in the moonlight.

Golgotha’s Neighbourhood Watch flagged his chip as he crossed the bridge at the edge of town. They sent out a Friendly.

Her reverie was cut short by the door buzzer and she rushed across the room to meet him, her heart fluttering in uncharacteristic girlish expectation.
The eye emblem on his cap identified him as Neighbourhood Watch. She recognised his face from the obligatory town-hall meetings where resolutions were made for the security of the town and its industry.
“Cynthia 7533291?” his tone hid a time bomb, she held her thoughts cold. He flashed a holo at her, “Do you know this man?”
Her legs lost all strength and she braced herself against the darkened doorway.
“His chip was damaged; we failed to get a positive on him… I’m sorry”

excitement

words by genghis

pictures by rhoda






"there you go, boys, i don't want to see you again until monday morning."
boss barlow had already changed out of his straw boss clothes and into a suit and tie. as he handed andy and conrad their pay packets he exhibited a smiling and friendly demeanor nowhere in evidence during the week. andy thought of asking him where he was headed in his finery, but decided not to.



the pay packets were heavy. conrad almost dropped his. he looked inside it and it contained only real money as promised, solid gold coins.
andy pocketed his without looking inside it.



"do we have to come back here tonight?" he asked boss barlow.
"your time is your own until monday morning. go or do anything you like, just be here at 5 am on monday." with a smile, boss barlow closed the pay window in their faces.
"guess we were the last ones to get paid," said conrad.
"some if the fellows don't get paid. they are in arrears."
"that's a big word," said conrad. "do you know what it means?"



"not too exactly."
they went outside and down the road a ways to wait for the bus.



andy and conrad had arrived at the camp by different routes.
andy was coming he knew not whence, going he knew not whither. conrad had had, until that week, a clearer path. he was scheduled to enter stanford in the fall, where he would study architecture and medicine, and compete on the cross country and baseball teams.



but just that week his grandfather and father had been exposed as intercontinental swindlers, involved in a scheme to build a nonexistent coast to coast highway with the savings of spanish-american and russo-japanese war widows.



as a result , the father, grandfather, an aunt and uncle and conrad's older brother and his wife had all fled to mongolia and taken refuge with the bolsheviks - the largest group from america on record to do so.



the story had made the san francisco chronicle and conrad had bought twenty-five copies and passed them out to all the fellows in the gang.



"when does this bus come?" conrad asked andy.
"when it comes, i guess." andy leaned back on the bench. andy was a little older than conrad, and had seen and done things too terrible to contemplate.
"what do you want to do when we get there?"
"i don't know, what do you want to do?"



conrad lowered his voice. "you know, boss barlow said we could do anything we liked. do you think he meant robbing banks and raising cain and stuff?"
"i don't know, i think sheriff john brown might have a few things to say about that."
"yeah."
"and mr j edgar hoover and the fbi too."
"so what do you want to do?"
andy looked down at his shoes. "you know what i like?"
"no, what ?"
"i like excitement."
"hey, that's what i like, too."
"well then it's settled. when we get to town ,we'll look for some excitement."



a gentleman in a flat straw hat spotted them when they got off the bus.
"evening, boys. in from the camp?"
andy looked him over. "are you the mayor?"
"not officially."



"but some folks call you the mayor."
"some might. some night not. anything i can help you with? this is friendly town, boys, with liberty hall on every corner."
"we're looking for - " conrad started but andy held up his hand to stop him.
"we'll just look around ourselves," andy told the man. "but you'll be here if we change our minds?"
"i surely will."

i didn't like his looks," andy said as they moved off.
"no?"



"i didn't like that hat. it looked like he bought it in costa rica. or even belize."



an unlit sign above some stairs said "dance". they went up the stairs,
a man with a handlebar mustache sat behind a desk like a hotel clerk.



there was a large door behind him but no sign of a dance floor. some men were seated on a bench along a wall facing the desk. andy and conrad recognized some from the camp and nodded at them.
"having a dance tonight?" andy asked.
"we're trying. for the special introductory price of nine cents you can take a seat."
"expecting any women?" conrad asked the man.
"hard to say. this town's not as lively as it used to be." he shook his head. "can't make any promises."



"that's a good way to do business," andy told him.
"one of the recurring problems in this world, young man, is people making promises they can't keep."
"well if we was to leave and come back, chances are you'd still be here."
"the chances are very good indeed."

a faded sign in front of what looked like a rooming house said "show."



a man in a gray suit stood outside it. it was a good suit but he wasn't wearing a hat!
"we got a good show tonight boys. looking for some excitement?"
"that we were,"said andy. " i guess you are some kind of mindreading mastermind." " can i ask you a question?" conrad asked the man.
"go right ahead."
"how come you're not wearing a hat?"



"my head gets a little warm sometimes."
"so what's the show?" andy asked.



"the show - the show - is - a vampire sinking his teeth into a woman's neck. what do you think of that?"
"wow, that does sound exciting," andy agreed.
"a real live woman?," conrad asked.
"as alive as you or me."
"how much."
"one thin dime."
"we don't have any thin dimes," conrad said. "all we have is gold coins."



"i can make change."

the show took place in the front parlor of the rooming house. the parlor was unlit.



there were three other spectators but their faces could not be made out in the darkness.
"i like these seats," conrad told the man as they sank into them.
"we have seances here sometimes. you have to have comfortable seats."
"oh."
"people who go to seances insist on a nice comfortably upholstered seat."



suddenly a single lamp went on and the vampire and the woman appeared.



he sank his teeth into her neck. the lamp went out. it was over in thirty seconds.



"did you see that suit the vampire was wearing?" andy asked conrad. "you could feed a family of sixteen for three years for what that suit must have cost."
"were those pearls real?" conrad asked the man. "that the woman was wearing?"



the man turned on another, larger light, illuminating the room. the vampire and the woman and the other spectators were gone.
"i don't know," the man answered conrad. "pearls are not my road game. and it would be rude to ask."
"of course."
"well boys, if you liked that show, i've got an even better one next week, same time, same place."



"and same price?" andy asked.
"the same reasonable price."
"and what might the show be?"
"st peter chasing judas across the desert."


"that sounds seriously exciting," andy agreed. "what kind of horse will he be chasing him on?"
"actually they will both be riding camels. i hope that's all right."
"i guess so. horses would be more exciting, but camels are ok."



"and then the week after that i've got the best show of all. the best show of all, for the same low price."
"don't keep us in suspense." conrad said. "what is it?"



"two weeks from today, right here in this parlor, you can see that dirty little coward bob ford shoot poor jesse james in the back. yes, sir."
"wow! " andy and conrad exclaimed together. "we'll be here!"

"wish that bus would get here," conrad said. "it's getting cold." they were the only ones waiting for the bus.
"it will be here."



conrad got up and started stamping his feet. he looked out at the deserted street. "i'd like to get out of here. see the world. go places, do things."
"i've gone places and done things," said andy. 'it ain't so much.'




Friday, December 18, 2009

everything happens

by fan taser







cynthia was all packed and ready to go when it was still dark. she had hoped to get everything into one medium suitcase but ended with one large and one small one.

everything happens, she thought. you think something is so far off it will never arrive, but it always does.

like the year 2000. how impossibly far off it had seemed - a joke, now it was way past.

she remembered thinking,as a child , i'm just a little person, someday i'll be a big person - in a million years.

and then in school, in the first grade and later, the endless endless days, watching the clock, could each day ever end, let alone the school year? but somehow they ended, and the fifth grade gave way to the sixth grade, each eternal year following the other until she graduated.

and even worse than school, even though it was only once a week - church on sunday. the preacher's sermons setting a whole new standard of will-this-ever-end? and the hymns at the end of each service - how many? fifteen, sixteen? they would never end, but they did.

she had liked work at first, after finally finishing with school. she had actually felt a sense of freedom working as a file clerk and typist at mister johnson's little factory - and chatting with the other girls at coffee break. one thing about mister johnson - he never gave anybpdy a hard time about taking breaks. but these good times went when mister johnson went under, like the boring times in school and church.

and then the job - the jobs - at intercontinental finance. the endless training, the boring but complicated jobs you could never describe to anybody who wasn't doing them themselves. you'd try to explain them and people would say. "oh you're a typist." and you'd explain some more and they'd say "you're a typist"

but that wasn't so bad really and if she had stayed on she night have been eligible for a pension.

instead she had married tony. he had some indescribable job too, at another big company. she met him after work at a thank god it's friday's. she had won a gift certificate to go there in a raffle at work. and they had three kids. she only worked part time then, until the kids almost finished school.

some things were better left unthought about. they happened too, and then they were gone. she remembered thinking sometimes, at least i'm not one of those women who could never get a husband. what an idiot she'd been!

cynthia got up from the little bed and looked out the window. it was just starting to get light. mrs delrosa wouldn't be around looking for her rent for at least three hours, maybe four. she wouldn't make a fuss - she'd never been one to make a fuss. she'd be long gone.

she'd be a homeless person. the two and a half hours would go by and it would happen.

what would it be like?

she'd find out.




.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Foot in the door 2

This continues a plot line from a previous post...

======================================

It was packed. He'd never seen anything like it. It was amazing to think that this was just one pub among thousands on the North side of the city, and that in every one there were hundreds of shit-faced Dubliners doing the same thing.
Nate tried to make his way to the far side of the room where it looked to be less crowded. On the way he knock his luggage into every second person in his path.
--Watch where you're goin' yeh fuckin' eedjit!
--Sorry, said Nate. -- Excuse me. Sorry.
--Jaysis, why don't yeh just knock me teeth out!
--Sorry. My fault.
When he got to the other side of the lounge it was still jammers. He pushed his way up to the bar and slid his suitcase into a space along the wall. He noticed that Terry was behind the bar waving at him. Nate elbowed his way past a few more people.
--This here is Niall, said Terry, pulling one of the bartenders with him. --He'll fix yeh up with a pint if yeh wants one. I gotta go back an' mind the door. Good luck -- eh -- wha' was your name again'?
--Nate.
--Yeah. Nate. I'll catch up wit' yeh later.
--Howeyeh, said Niall. --Wha's the story?
--Well, I just got off the plane an hour ago and got a taxi out here. I was recruited by an employment agency to come over here, but it seems like the owner didn't know that I was coming. I'm from Newfoundland. It's a little place on the east coast of the country.
--Ah, yeah, said Niall. --So do yeh want a pint or wha'?
--I'd love a pint of Guinness. I hear that's the best reason to come to Ireland.
--Comin' righ' up.
He grabbed a pint that was settling on the pass and topped it up, then stretched across the bar to pass it to Nate. Niall was no more than 5'2. He looked shrunked, as though he had descended from a family of Guatemalan shrunken heads.
-- So yis are gonna be one of the lounge boys, are yeh? said Niall.
--I was told I would be bartending.
--There's lots of fellas tha' would like to get a job workin' the bar here, said Niall. --An' not sayin' nothin', but they're never so young as you.
--Give us a pint an' a vodka an' coke, said one of the customers from behind.
--Eh Paddy. This here is Nate. He's just in off the boat from Canada. Show him about, would yeh?
--Howeyeh Nate, said Paddy. --Wha's the story?
--I'm from Canada. I just decided to take some time off from university to do some traveling and see some of the world. There were these recruiters in my hometown getting people to sign up to work over here, on account of the Celtic Tiger and all...
Nate kept talking and telling his story. Paddy wondered to himself what exactly he'd done wrong and who he'd be able to offload this muppet on.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Escape Artist


by Kathleen Maher

The moment Emma and I buckle our seat belts for the flight to San Jose, it cuts me like a jigsaw: Am I up to my same old thing here?

I can’t be. The old pattern spiraled around falling in love with a woman who already had a boyfriend—or during these last years a husband. And Emma has neither, at least to my mind.

The guys in our band will claim I stole Emma from them, because she was the band’s only woman. They talk about “Scott’s method,” like I follow an outline; like I carry around a play book with a set of complicated maneuvers.

But people don’t steal each other; they steal stuff. And if I have a method it’s this: if the attraction is powerful and thrilling and risky enough, I don’t deny it. 

Flowers, notes, and all-out begging may be standard expressions but they’re not lies. It’s not as if I don’t mean every gesture, every word, every, “Please, baby, please.”

Then, after acting like a romantic fool, I apologize. Especially if she’s married, you know? I am genuinely sorry to cause such disruption. But, honest to God, she needs to flat-out send me away if she doesn’t want me around, because I am too far gone to figure it out for myself.

I always promise to back off the second she says so, but it has to be what she wants, because I don’t give a damn about her boyfriend or husband. Who—she gets this part, right?—absolutely doesn’t deserve her.  He doesn’t even know who she is; not the way I do even if I had only met her a few weeks ago.

So I always say, “Consider the difference and decide:  Which one of us loves you more here and now? Not last year, not on your honeymoon before you and I ever laid eyes on each other.”

Guess who wins? No, don’t; I’m not one to brag. Or I wish I wasn’t. But Emma, who isn’t married and didn’t even have a boyfriend until we got together, will vouch for my overall skill.

She knows I’m taking her to my house in Costa Rica, and, unlike almost all the others, she doesn’t know about my inheritance. My mother left me a trust fund that even now makes logistics and transitions maybe a little too easy.

Used to be, no matter how compelling the escapade started out, a disastrous fall-out hit before long. So if you look at my track-record going back to high school, I seem like a really mean guy.

But mean or not, now that Emma and I are out of anyone’s reach, I’m all introspection. Because for once, I’m not breaking up some cozy couple. If anything, Emma, who graduated from college last year, has the advantage.

I’m an old man of thirty-four, nearly half-way to seventy. Emma’s just started her adult life and still has that lit-from-within beauty. She’s funny and pixie-faced…talk about wide-eyed, talk about words from the mouth of a babe!

Trouble is I’m in no shape for the inevitable let-down. If after a few months secluded on the Osa Peninsula, the sound of her chewing irritates the fuck out of me, I’ll drown myself.

The thing with Emma is that minus any competition, I don’t really know who she is. Of course, ten to one, she doesn’t know who she is, either. Not yet. She likes my face and body and how I treat her in bed. And she’s absolutely gonna love Costa Rica.

I love the way she sings and dances. I love her pouting and how she mixes her whining with a peevish silence. I love her personal, daily routine. Always before it was that stuff, the quirky shitty little things that chipped the days away and finally shattered my mad fixations. 

So with Emma there’s a difference. Every other guy in the band wanted her, but big deal. I’m in love with her.


(Click here to read the next episode.)

on like this forever - chapter 1: johnny





johnny woke up.
outside it was raining.
how it rained!
never had he heard such rain.
now he had to get up.
yet he did not want to get up.

when he went to look out the window, the rain was still coming down.
outside on the corner he saw kenny waiting.
kenny had been his best friend at camp.
eventually they had drifted apart.

unlike kenny, who had risen in the organization, johnny had fallen to the lowest levels of society.
perhaps kenny cared.

on the other hand, maybe he didn't.
up in the sky, birds and planes were flying.
taking a pair of pants off the chair beside his bed, johnny put them on.
since he had realized kenny was following him, johnny had been perplexed.
in his mind he was confused.
despite his confusion, he felt strangely calm.
everything was going to be all right.

"i can handle this". he said to himself.
talking to himself was something he rarely did.

when he went back to the window after putting his pants on, kenny was still there.
and there was someone else with him.
someone johnny didn't recognize.

right at that moment a car pulled up beside kenny and his new friend.
another person got out.
it was starting to look serious.
not one to waste time, johnny quickly finished getting dressed.
in a few minutes he was ready.
next he put his hat on.
going to the door, he checked his pockets.

he was halfway down the stairs when he heard someone coming up.
on impulse, he reached for the handle of the door beside him and turned it.
when he closed the door softly behind him, he heard voices on the stairwell.

"i know he is up here", he heard someone say.
to his surprise, it was not kenny.

"relax,"another voice said.
another voice that was not kenny.
in the room behind johnny something stirred.
next thing he knew something was stuck in his back.
"eddie," said a voice behind him, "i always knew you'd come back."
despite his situation, johnny almost laughed.

"not eddie," he said.
evidently the person behind him was not amused because he stuck the object harder into johnny's back.
"verify that you are not eddie." the voice behind him said.
"eddie's i.d. isn't in my pocket."
"right - like that proves something."

"have it your way."
"all right."
despite his bravado, johnny was terrified.

he didn't know what to do.
evidently this was the end.

how he wished he could go on living.
eddie - who was eddie?
and what had johnny ever done to him?
rage erupted in his brain.
desperation mingled with the rage.

so this was the end.
until this moment he had never realized how much he wanted to live.
considering he had never gotten a break in his life, this was somewhat surprising.
how could things have gone so wrong?

retreating into his brain, he tried to remember the good times.
anything at all would seem good under the cirumstances.
"i'm not eddie," he repeated in surprisingly calm voice.
"no kidding," the voice behind him replied.

new hope flooded into him.
oscillating with a new despair.
what was going on?

he had hardly begun to hope when he heard a shot and a hot slug ripped through his kidneys and guts.
energy and life flowed out of him.

he was dead.
all he had ever done was meaningless.
dead - totally.

tucking the pistol into his belt after blowing the smoke off it, zeke johnson grimaced disgustedly.
"of all the rotten luck.'

gus hansen nodded disconsonately.
"eddie's still out there."
"tell me about it," zeke replied.

"unless we find eddie, pete's going to be very unhappy."
"pete don't have to know about this guy."

"you might be right"
"except that i might be wrong."
"time will tell."

"help me drag this guy down the stairs."
"excuse me, but shouldn't we put him back in his room?

"dang it, you might have something there."
"i guess."
"didn't i hear someone outside on the stairs?"

"now that you mention it. yeah. i did."
"open the door just a little, see if anyone is out there."
turning the handle, gus peeked out on to the staircase.

when he didn't see anything, he gave zeke the high sign.
at that moment, they heard steps coming down the stairs,
nick and jerry appeared.
too late, gus tried to close the door.

taking a .357 out of his belt, nick approached.
on the other side of the door, zeke pulled his heater out.




gunfire blazed.
everybody in the building and the block heard it.
two or three of them called the law.

up on the roof, eddie lit a cigarette.
puffing away, he smiled faintly.




next

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"A Town Called Disdain", Episode One: in which Harvey comes back home from the army


It is with great pleasure that I present this first installment of the uncut complete version of Larry Winchester’s classic novel A Town Called Disdain, written in 1988 while the legendary film maker was recovering from two broken legs following a skiing accident near the town of Schping-Päden in the Swiss Alps. Originally published as a paperback original in 1989 by the Trolley Barn Press (Milwaukee), the book received scathing reviews where it was reviewed at all, but it has since attained a fervent and cult-like army of devotés (Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace, David Byrne, David Lynch, David Bowie, Ray Davies, Larry David, David Lee Roth) who have compared it to classics such as The Sorrows of Young Werther, Moby-Dick, Slaughterhouse-Five, Blood Meridian, and (and perhaps most à propos) Harold Robbins's post-post modern classic, The Carpetbaggers. Mind-bogglingly, A Town Called Disdain has never been reprinted (although even slightly-foxed copies of that first-and-only run of 2,000 have sold on eBay for up to $150). This 1989 edition of Larry’s mammoth epic was cut by about 75,000 words -- as Larry says of those cuts: “Okay, the book ran a little long, and I needed the dough -- I had had a bad run at the faro tables in Vegas, plus I had tax problems -- so I let the editor cut it by about half.” Larry has very kindly given me permission to broadcast, in installments, his own “director’s cut” of A Town Called Disdain. Larry again: “This is the real version of A Town Called Disdain. This is the version that pulls no punches. You pays your money and you takes your ride. Don’t yell at me if you fall off the goddamn horse.” Here is our first episode. (I hope to post up new installments once or twice a week or so as I struggle to decipher and transcribe Larry's much-scribbled-over original typescript.)

Enjoy!

-- Dan Leo, Professor of Classics and Phys. Ed., Franco Nero Community College, Philadelphia, PA.


The driver pulled the lever and it was like he’d opened the door to a furnace, hot and bright as all hell, and the thin young soldier in the rumpled dress uniform hefted his duffel bag over his shoulder and stepped down into it. Harvey was back home now, and there was the Welcome to Disdain New Mexico sign lying on its back in the weeds.

The bus took off down the highway and Harvey stood there squinting in a cloud of exhaust and dust and took it all in for a minute, the town and the scraggly hills and the sun burning down on it all.

And a funny smell, he’d never noticed it before because he’d never been away before, a mixture of hot dirt and baking rubber, of gasoline and dried garbage, and a sharp high tingle in the back of his nose with something like squashed lightning bugs and old bones in it.

There was Burt’s Hideyway right in front of him, it hadn’t changed, no, it had, the local kids had discovered spray paint, and there was graffiti all over it, in English and Spanish. The usual collection of heaps was parked in front, along with one shiny new red ‘69 Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible with a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview, and that was probably Big Jake’s.

To the right of Burt’s was the dirt lot with some gutted and wheelless cars and trucks in it, and on the other side of that was the hill of automobile tires, all heat hazy in the sunlight, and over there on the far side of Tuk’s Service was the little clapboard bungalow Harvey had grown up in. The first house you passed coming into town and the last one you passed leaving.

Nobody was out in the afternoon heat, not even a dog, and the only thing moving was a tumbleweed rolling in fits and starts down Main Street.

Well, fuck this shit, he was still wearing his dress uniform because all his civvies had got ripped off in San Francisco, and he was breaking out all over in sweat.

He headed on into Burt’s.

*****

On the eve of his eighteenth birthday Harvey had shot his mother’s boyfriend in the thigh and also shot and killed the boyfriend’s dog. Old Judge Moseby had tried to be fair. On the one hand this was the fourth or fifth time the Harvey had been brought up before him, but on the other hand the boyfriend, Bennie Driscoll, had been known to beat Harvey’s mother and had in fact given her a black eye on the night in question. So the judge decided to give the boy a choice between military service or the Youth Detention Center until he reached the age of twenty-one. Harvey had “volunteered” to be drafted, and now he was back after a two-year hitch.

He’d gotten drunk for two weeks in Oakland and San Francisco while awaiting his discharge papers which had somehow gotten replaced, and he wound up breaking the jawbone of a marine lifer gunnery sergeant who’d called him a little army faggot. He sweated out eight days in the San Francisco jail, and then the charges were dropped on the provision that he immediately get on the bus and never set foot in San Francisco again.

****

Inside the door he stood with his bag still on his shoulder as his eyes adjusted to the dimness. He could barely see the people in the bar at first, but he could tell that everybody had turned and was staring at him. And then they all took shape, all the usual crowd who weren’t dead yet. Keely and Mo and Quint were over there at the bar in their usual seats, maybe a little more greenish than he remembered them being but still alive technically, and there was old Burt behind the bar.

An Ipana commercial was on the black-and-white TV and nobody was playing the jukebox.

And he got that smell thing again, this time it was the Burt’s smell of stale beer and stale cigarette and cigar smoke and stale piss and spat-out tobacco juice ground into old linoleum with cow-shitty bootsoles. But at least the joint was air-conditioned.

He headed on over to the bar, put his bag down and took out his Tareytons.

“Well, look who the cat drug in,” said Burt.

“Hey, Burt,” said Harvey. Burt pulled out his lighter and Harvey leaned forward and took the light.

“Fuckin’ Harvey,” said Keely.

“Fuckin’ A,” said Mo.

“Fuckin’ right,” said Quint.

You get the idea. This was not the fucking Algonquin Round Table.

“Lemme buy Harvey a fuckin’ beer.” said Mo.

“Fuck you, I’m buyin’, said Keely.

“Fuck ya both --” started Quint and then Burt said, “Fuck all y’all, I’m gettin’ this one. Whatcha drinkin’ Harve?”

Harvey asked for a Rheingold and Burt pulled one out. Harvey said thanks and took a good long pull. Everyone was still staring at him. Norman Mailer was on the TV now, talking to Mike Douglas about the existential meaning of the moon landing, as if anybody gave a shit.

“Hey, Harve, you kill anybody?” asked Keely.

“Fuck no,’ said Harvey. “I was too busy tryin’ to keep my own ass alive and shittin’.”

Well, this passed for a real howler in this joint, and Mo and Quint and Keely and a few other motherfuckers who didn’t have sense enough to fall over when they were dead all started pounding the bar and guffawing.

Harvey finished his beer in about two more gulps, and one of the Three Stooges bought him another one. He got some change off of Burt, stubbed out his smoke, and took his beer over to the pinball machine. It was new, The Flash. He pulled a chair over to near the machine and put his bottle down on it. He unbuttoned his dress tunic and laid it over the chair back. He got into position in front of the machine and tried to stick a nickel in, and then he realized the fucker had gone up to a dime.

“Well, what the fuck!” she yelled. “Why didn’t someone call me?”

This was Harvey’s mother, Doris, and all the losers started roaring and thumping again. Harvey didn’t turn around. He dropped a dime in, he pressed the button, the machine clunked, and a ball popped up. He pulled the handle back and knocked the ball up the chute, but he could hear her running up behind him, and he braced himself and then she was hugging him from the back and kissing his neck.

“Harvey, why didn’t you write?” Etc., etc., crying and sniffling. Harvey tried to keep his eye on the ball with her hanging all over him. He was still a little pissed off at her. Since he wouldn’t turn around, she slid over to his side so she could look at him. She was wearing that same old polyester cowgirl waitress uniform she had on the last time he saw her. Or else one a whole lot like it.

“You outa the army now?”

“Yep.”

Trying to do that Steve McQueen thing, feeling more like Brandon de Wilde.

“You coulda wrote.”

In fact he had written a few letters, although it had been about six months since his last one, and in fact she’d only written about three or four of her own semi-literate missives, but Harvey let it pass.

“You gonna move back in with me, Harvey? Bennie’s gone now.”

Harvey loosened up a lot when he heard that. He just never could stand that motherfucker, and except for the fact that it had got him two years in the army he had never regretted shooting him. Or his dog.

“You threw him out?”

“Naw, he passed away, unfortunately. Got drunk and fell asleep on the side of the road and got runned over by Big Jake’s compost spreader.”

“Tough.”

His ball went down the hole. He took out his pack of smokes and shook one out.

A tiny hand held up a lit Zippo.

It was Cleb, the Parsons boy. He must have been about fourteen, but he was a skinny little runt. His family’s place had been just a little too close and downwind to the bomb test sites, and they all had radiation sickness. At least a few of them, including his mother, had already died from it. His skin had that same slightly greenish quality to it as Mo and Quint and Keely’s.

Harvey drew in the smoke and let it out as Cleb and his mom looked at him.

“How old you now, Harvey?” asked Cleb.

“Old enough.” Whatever the fuck that meant.

His mother got closer and ran her orange-nailed fingers along his cheek, and Harvey could feel her breasts. She smelled like Jean Naté Cactus Flower and Juicy Froot and Aquanet. She was only thirty-five years old and she had some body. Harvey felt himself getting the stirrings of an erection, so he nudged her away with his elbow and got set to play the machine again.

“Harvey, I got to work tonight, but tomorrow I’ll get off and I’ll make you all your favorite food.”

Harvey popped another ball into play.

“Don’t put yourself out on my account.”

“You kill anybody, Harve?” said Cleb.

“It ain’t puttin’ out. You’re my son.”

“I’ll see. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.”

“I’ll make chicken pot pie with peas, and chocolate mash potatoes, and Jello cake too. I’ll make Kool-Aid.”

“Who you got livin’ with you now?”

She paused.

“Luke Asquith.”

The ball shot right down into that fucking hole.

“How many guys you kill, Harve?” Cleb tugged at Harvey’s sleeve.

“Luke Asquith?”

Harvey turned and looked at her.

“He’s a good man, Harvey.”

“He’s a fuckin’ spaz is what he is.”

“He’s got a nervous disorder ‘cause of the malaria he caught in World War II. He is not a spaz.”

Harvey reached down for his beer, tilted it up and took a long pull. One thing about his mother, she wasn’t ever going to change. Some women went for handsome men, some went for men with money, Doris went for damaged men.

“Say you’ll come to dinner, honey.”

“Hell, I’ll come. Just don’t ask me to look at old Luke while he’s eatin’.”

“You won’t have to eat with Luke, honey. He always likes to eat in front of the TV anyways, and besides all he eats is Spaghetti-O’s or Rice-a-Roni or hot dogs. And, honey?”

“Yep?”

“I’m glad you come back.”

He set down his bottle and turned back to the machine.

“Well I’m glad somebody’s glad,” he said, and sent another ball out.

“I’m glad too, Harve,” said Cleb.

The door slammed open.

“Godamighty I’m thirsty! Doris you bring me three cold cans o’ Piels and three warm shots o’ Heaven Hill! I’ll be settin’ right chyere watchin’ Mike Douglas.”

“The word please wouldn’t kill you, Bull Thorndyke.”

“Why you makin’ time with that soldier boy well wait a minute. Do my eyes deceive me.”

“You just leave him alone. He just got back from the service.”

Harvey didn’t turn but he heard Bull Thorndyke’s heavy boots clodhopping toward him.

“Wayull skinny little Harvey -- so the judge let ya off easy, huh? Shot a man and his dog and all ya get is a hitch in the army probly doin’ nothin’ but cleanin’ out latrines for two years and me whut got five years in the joint just for accidentally killin’ a blind Injun. Hey, boy, turn around an’ let me look atcha.”

The ball dropped down toward the main flippers, he tried to time it, he pressed the right flipper button, he missed, the ball went down the hole.

“I said turn around ya little faggot. Lookin’ at your narra ass is gettin’ me all excited.”

Harvey turned around with the Tareyton hanging from the side of his mouth.

Bull was even uglier than before. He had thrown his filthy cowboy hat onto a table and he appeared to have been scalped since Harvey had gone away: there was a big jagged patch of roiled, red and moist scar tissue all over the top of his skull. Also it looked like his nose had been ripped or cut off, and he’d gained about twenty pounds of fat, too. Most of the set of false teeth he’d gotten up at the state pen seemed to be gone now and the ones that remained were as brown as the pug of pigtail tobacco they were chewing. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-eight or so but he looked about fifty-five.

“Hi, Bull.”

“Hi, soldier boy.”

He stood a few inches away from Harvey, his big old gut almost touching Harvey’s shirt and his shitty-smelling hot breath billowing down into Harvey’s face. “Hey, how you like that barracks life, Harvey? Men sleepin’ with men. No women. No smelly women with they stinkin’ diseased conts. How you like that, boy? That sweet sensation of some big ol’ nigger’s pecker rammin’ up yer narrow butt-hole like a Roto-Rooter? Good huh? Just like takin’ a good long beershit in reverse. I gotta say I developed me a little taste fer that brown eye when I was upstate, so what say you ‘n’ me just retire to the men’s room fer a quick one? I promise I’ll be gentle-like. Less’n of course you don’t like it gentle-like.”

Doris took a step toward Bull and he put his enormous left hand on her chest and pushed her back as if she wasn’t even there. Everybody in the bar was quiet and still and watching.

“Bull,” said Harvey, “there’s one thing I hate that’s to see a good cold beer get warm. ‘Scuse me just a second.”

Harvey took the cigarette out of his mouth, took up the Rheingold, tilted it up, drank deep, and emptied it. He looked at the bottle and then at Bull and then he belched.

“Damn that was good. Whoah, look who’s on Mike Douglas. Fuckin’ Charo.”

Bull turned to look at the TV and Harvey whipped the bottle hard across Bull’s open mouth, the bottle shattered and Bull staggered back then down to his knees and onto his side and a great strangled deep roar came out from between his hands over his mouth as tobacco-stained blood streamed through his fingers and over his shirt and onto the floor.

“Cool,” said Cleb.

“Hey Bull,” said Quint, I think you gonna need a brand new set o’ them fake choppers.”

“Gonna haveta go in the joint again he wants a new set,” said Keely.

“Just spit ‘em all out,” said Mo. “you don’t wanta be sawllowin’ them thangs.”

Bull got up on his hands and knees and spat out the blood-gobbety mess of what was left of his dentures and then he tried to say something.

“What he say,” said Keely.

“Speak up, Bull,” said Quint.

Bull shook his head, just like a bull, and blood-sputtered something else.

“What he say,” said Mo.

“Said he gonna kill Harvey,” said Keely.

Bull heaved himself up, weaving just a little, then pulled a switchblade out of his back pocket and clicked it open.

He said something again, more blood blurting out.

“Speak up, Bull,” said Harvey. “Can’t understand a jackshit word you say.”

Harvey was leaning back against the pinball machine, he held the broken neck of the beer bottle behind his back. He could smell Bull’s fresh pouring blood and he was ready as he was ever going to be; Bull came forward and then an incredibly loud shot rang out, Bull stopped, and there was a big skidded bullet hole in the grey linoleum a few inches from Bull’s left foot.

Sheriff Dooley stood in the doorway holding his long-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 629 at arm’s length and now that familiar cordite smell mixed in with all those other smells.

“One more step and that’s your kneecap blown out, Bull,” said the Sheriff.

Bull turned around and said something.

“Bull, I don’t know what the hell you’re sayin’ an’ I ain’t so all-fired sure I wanta hear it. Now drop that pig-sticker right now.”

Bull held still, a big blood bubble forming in his open mouth, and the Sheriff turned so his big gut was in profile against the doorway; he straightened out his gun arm, thumbed back the hammer on the pistol and looked down the sight.

Bull sucked in the blood bubble and dropped the knife.

Harvey discreetly laid the broken bottleneck on the pinball machine.

The Sheriff uncocked the hammer on his pistol.

“Burt, now who started this ruckus?”

“Well, Sheriff, I wasn’t really payin’ no nevermind. Y’see, they had that there Charo up on Mike Douglas there, an’ --”

“How about you boys holdin’ up the bar there.”

“We was watchin’ Charo too, Sheriff.”

“Pair o’ bazoomers on that gal.”

“She can use my face for a bar seat anytime.”

“Sheriff,” said Cleb. “Sheriff, Sheriff -- I seen it all --”

“You hush up now, sonny. Doris, what happened?”

“Bull started it, Sheriff. He -- he was raggin’ my boy.”

“That right?”

“That’s right, Sheriff,” said Cleb. “He was raggin’ on Harvey.”

Bull made a movement toward Cleb and the boy ducked behind Doris’s hips.

The Sheriff twirled that enormous fucking pistol and slipped it smoothly into his worn black holster.

“Harvey I’d a thought two years in the service woulda taught you not to get so damn excited what some two-bit redneck peckerwood said.”

“I wasn’t excited, Sheriff. I just didn’t wanna hear it.”

The Sheriff ran a finger across his nostrils to hide his grin.

“Well, Bull, I think you better get on over to Doc Goldwasser’s now.”

Bull said something; the blood trickled down his chin. He put his hand over his mouth. The whole front of his filthy old overalls was covered with blood.

“Bull, ain’t nobody can understand a damn fool word you’re sayin’ so get on outa here, and I see you two fellers tusslin’ again I’m throwin’ ya both in the hoosegow with nothin’ to eat but piss-on-a-biscuit for a month. Now git.”

Bull took his hand away from his face and more blood came out; he looked at Harvey, then turned and headed for the open door. He went out without closing the door, a trail of blood spots marked his path. His raggedy old hat still sat on the table right where he’d left it.

You could smell the air getting cleaner already.

“Burt,” said the Sheriff, “long as I’m here you’d better open me up a nice cold can o’ Schaefer’s for me.”

“Sure thang, Sheriff.”

The Sheriff rubbed his great belly with his great big sunblotched hand.

“And whatever Harvey here’s drinkin’.”

“You betcha.”

Harvey saw that little rat boy Cleb pick up Bull’s switchblade and stick it in his back pocket.

“Harvey Harvey Harvey,” said the Sheriff. He took a pouch of Bull Durham out of his shirt pocket and some papers and started fixing a smoke. “Same ol’ Harvey. How old you now, boy?”

“Old enough,” piped in little Cleb.

“I guess he is, Cleb. I reckon he is.”

The Sheriff put his tongue to the paper.

“You kill you any Commies, boy?”

“Ah’m go-na keel he-um.”

It was Bull again.

Looking over the Sheriff’s shoulder Harvey saw Bull in the doorway with a shotgun and it was aimed at the Sheriff’s back.

“Ah got me a 12-gauge Remington pump-action loaded up with double-ought buck aimed right atcha, Sheriff, so you best just turn around real slow.”

His voice still sounded awful mushy but you could hear what he was saying all right.

The Sheriff turned around real slow, all the while smoothing out his cigarette.

“Now you raise up yo’ hands now Sheriff and step out away from that deadmeat motherfucker.”

The Sheriff put the cigarette all the way into his mouth and gently licked it one more time.

“Now you know I cain’t do that, Bull. If I move you just liable to shoot young Harvey, and then where we gonna be?”

“If’n you don’t move I’m gonna keel you too.”

A tall young woman came into the doorway behind Bull. She carried a large canvas shoulder bag and wore a tan pith helmet, sunglasses, a white shirt and khaki shorts. She tapped Bull on the shoulder. She looked like a movie star.

“Excuse me,” said the woman. I’d like to come in?”

Bull turned his head and the Sheriff dropped his cigarette and his pistol was halfway out of the holster before the cigarette even hit the floor when Bull turned back again and said, “Don’t do it, Sheriff.”

The Sheriff let the pistol slip back into the holster.

“Excuse me?” said the woman.

“Raise yer hands, Sheriff.”

The Sheriff slowly raised his hands chest-high.

“Now step aside.”

“Excuse me,” said the woman. “What is going on?”

“What’s the hold-up, sweety?”

And in came a tall handsome man in sunglasses, an Australian bush hat, and a bright white shirt worn with the tails out over paisley bermuda shorts; Bull turned his head for just a fraction of a second, Harvey pulled the Sheriff’s pistol out of its holster, raised it with both hands over the Sheriff’s shoulder, aimed at Bull’s gut and squeezed the trigger just as Bull turned back to see him do it, the pistol bucked up and roared and Bull caught the slug square in the heart, he staggered back in between the man and the woman with blood pumping out of his chest and fell down backwards into the sunlight as his shotgun blasted a load straight up into the sky, and the last things he saw were the unlit neon sign saying BURT’S HIDEYWAY and the young woman looking out at him with cool beauty better than anything he had ever seen, and he regretted his life, his whole miserable life, he wanted to live, and as the buckshot rained back down on him like black hail out of that bright blue sky he died.

****

(Go here for our next blood-spattered episode.)