New Short Shorts
I have three short shorts online in the new issue of The Atlas Review which is up right here. They are mostly notable for, in order:
“Romance, with Still Life”: Having what I recall being dinosaurs in it, but I can’t actually confirm that so don’t take this as some kind of explicit dino promise.
“The First Ghost”: Having no dinosaurs but one ghost who–[SPOILER ALERT]–is kind of an asshole.
“Diagnosis Stabbing”: Having no dinosaurs, no ghosts, but one character named Doctor Murder who leads a gang named after the “gang” from my hometown North “Platte”, Nebraska.
81. Betwixt the first and second innings there shall be the third inning also known commonly as the half-florin though a Brixton man, gin having made him cleverer than God thought proper, might say ‘ay, two bob a bit’ for which he shall be most severely caned. After the caning, play shall, naturally, resume in the 8th inning.
82. Let us consider for a moment the plight of the Fool set upon by the wooligogs of his own madness.
83. The glove flirtations of the ladies in attendance shall be subject to the authority of the Earl of groundsmen assisted in his dominion by the viscount of same. Meanings shall follow strictly the Marquess of Ailesbury Protocols with a dropped glove meaning ‘To the Garden’; an exposed thumb meaning ‘No tis the First Declension’; a slapped palm meaning ‘Does your lady mother disapprove of my gown and what pray does this mean for tonight’s masque.’ and so on and so on till the gloves fall out of fashion and a new lexicon might be inaugurated.
84. A devil’s century it shall be called when a batsman outlives his hated bowler and no matter how many fortyears hence the notice must be posted in a public square that, in the end, death won all but some more than most.
85. Should the wooligogs prove contagious through phlegm, bile, or unknown humour, play shall be suspended as we all join the army of the fool’s mind, our ultimate fate at the whimsy of his melancholic imagination. God help us. God help us all.
86. A device for succession must be drafted before play can proceed and before that a census of faith taken by cincture. Should an unparallel number of Papists and Protestants appear, the side of superior numbers shall by rights declare it a WAR! and water the pitch with whichever blood is determined by the victors to be pagan. Should equal weight be found, the looks passed between players shall be of dubious character.
87. My dearest Martha, it grows dire here in the dark alleyways of the Fool’s mind and should you find me eternally lost think only of the time we spent after you dropped your glove in that garden abutting the abbey. The wooligogs scream their silent scream.
88. Mayhaps instead of tea we might try the tonics the men remember so fondly from their time in Rhodesia and how it provided the vigor needed to defeat both the Roman Fever and the trouble.
89.The southron practice of conscripting Scots femurs for the wicket is henceforth condemned as somatically unsound lest they come from the same Scotsman and are found by a chemist to be free of rheumatism.
90. At the last minute of light the battle shall commence and be lost within a robin’s wink. The Fool, does he dance or cry?
An imagined conversation between Tommy James and Hubert H. Humphrey leading to the phrase “you cooperated enthusiastically” appearing in quotation marks in Humphrey’s letter on the back of this album.
Hubert H. Humphrey: Hello, I’m Hubert H. Humphrey, Vice President and football stadium.
Tommy James: I’m Tommy James. I wrote Billy Idol’s “Mony, Mony” twenty years from now.
The Shondells: [not allowed to speak]
HHH: I’d like you to work on my presidential campaign. 1968 is going to be a phenomenal year to be involved in establishment party politics.
TJ: Your campaign’s not going to begin in a brutal crackdown of protestors that will be used as the primary example of the thoroughness of the era’s civil unrest, right?
TJ: Because we’re definitely going to put any correspondence from you on the back of our album in a radical misreading of the time’s social and musical direction.
HHH: That’s the kind of zest my campaign needs to not feel like an accident born out of resignation and bullets.
TJ: Then we will cooperate enthusiastically.
The Shondells: [eye the medallion around Tommy James’s neck they long ago surrendered their will to]
TJ: [slips the medallion back inside his paisley blouse] Come, slaves.
New Riders of the Purple Sage – The Adventures of Panama Red (1973)
I first heard this record in the apartment of my friend Dennis K. in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the autumn of 2003, a vague date I vaguely know because Dennis and I met our first semester in graduate school and I’m fairly certain this was the first time he and some other friends of ours met outside of the university.
His apartment barely furnished by either furniture or light, he opened a new bottle of Maker’s Mark and poured it into a coffee mug. I was underage, young enough I thought with a great deal of awe and pride: This is graduate school. This feeling, man.
I think that feeling was the relief of discovering a new anxiety.
I think I’m very glad I never wrote a short story about it though I very well could have. I think about nights like this now like I probably thought about driving home drunk then. You could have ruined your life. You could have ruined many lives.
We were drinking the bourbon and listening to records, something no one except my parents and all my friends’ parents had, which is to say no one had records yet everyone had Rumours. This was two years before I bought my first iPod. I still had hundreds of CDs in black nylon binders in the backseat of my car, and I never would have believed that within five years I would bring those CDs into my office and give them away to older, incredulous co-workers–Are you sure? Really, I can just have them?–because those CDs had been carefully and not so carefully selected by joining and rejoining BMG and Columbia House with my brother. I bought records from older girls I thought were cute at the mall (thanks, Katie Nelson, for Wilco’s Being There). I had things that for a long time I thought no one else had heard (like Wilco’s A.M. which I pretended not to have because Katie Nelson) that I used to find the people I would be friends with after moving for high school then college then graduate school.
Like Dennis who had an alt-country love that far eclipsed my now, and even now, though we’re only in touch online–he appears to have a baby whose name I’d guess is, O, I don’t know, Merle–still unknowingly points me to new music through his Facebook page. We had the bourbon. We had country music. We had this conversation.
Dennis: What’s your favorite Neil Young song?
Me (having been in graduate school for a week or two so knowing not to answer “Cinnamon Girl”): “A Man Needs a Maid.”
Dennis (clearly upset I said that): Yeah, mine too.
And it only took the song “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy” to make me a fan of the New Riders though I’d be lying if I said I’ve heard even one other album of theirs. I was also until just this moment when I went to look up the date positive that Jerry Garcia was playing on this track but it turns out that was wrong (whether Dennis told me that or I just picked it up somehow is unclear though he and a few other members were in early versions of the band). I honestly don’t even love this album, but that’s only because I so love that one song, right down to its Martin Mull reference. The rest of the album is good. That song–and hearing it for the first time with what was my first mug of bourbon neat in graduate school–is great.
Which is why when I saw it in a $2 bin at a record store, I thought I might write about it and then–fuck it–a whole year’s worth of records on this otherwise defunct blog. One a week. Some good. Some meaningful. Some just because. I certainly won’t always have stories like this one nor will I always have the time to write something this long, but I’ll try to keep up with an essay, a story, a sentence, whatever. O, and if I do have time, I’ll also stop myself when the album is over. Which this one isn’t yet so I’ll add what I imagine would have been the opening to that story I never wrote.
The needle came down just as I noticed the red remnants of the bottle’s wax afloat in my bourbon. As the song scratched to life I found myself curious then enraptured then unwilling to pinch them out or even risk a sip so unbearable would it be to lose them now that I had them. Except I needed a drink. I was bracing myself for another loss in a life that had already had too many when the question came: “What’s your favorite Neil Young song?” the beautiful girl asked…
We got lucky, English speakers and pedestrians.
I’ve got a story in the summer issue of The Kenyon Review, and you can read the opening here. It’s mostly notable for being about a comedian (which I’m not). But the rest of the issue is great. Including a short credo by the great George Saunders. Pick up a copy maybe.
O, and I answered some questions about it (and other things) here.