A couple days or weeks or less later, Susannah and I got stranded at the Hollywood Grill at Ashland and North Ave. early early early one morning on the way home from a bachelorette party night for her former sister-in-law for which I was to have served as the ride-home chauffeur. Over 3 a.m. plates of whatever beautifully greasy slop was served up that night, our waitress happened to ask if we’d parked in their then-brand-new mini-parking garage along Ashland.
Bad news: “You won’t be able to get your car for a while,” she said. “It’s a crime scene.”
Someone had been shot.
Then, well, the return round 9 a.m. to pick up the car, ensuing paranoid anticipation of strike three, a drunk psycho who lived across the alley behind our apartment, angry heads backlit in windows across Walton St. in front of it, release through writing, as it were. You can read it in Cabildo online or download the issue pdf here. Or: Write me and I’ll send you a copy: todd [at] the2ndhand.com.
Likewise goes for new Triumph postcards I cooked up recently, compliant with postal regulations (yes, you can mail them) and wonderfully printed via Modern Postcard. As Jerome Ludwig said recently of postcards, surely not the first such person: “the original text message.” If you’re up for handing around small stacks in your town, let me know and I’ll mail you a cache. There’s a brief excerpt from “The Stupidist Manifesto” on the the front side, more or less blank on the back. Looking pretty good, eh?:
Another story from my short-story collection is on the web, this one at the Vol. 1 Brooklyn online venue. It’s “Death in Hammond,” from the latter part of the collection — the night on which the piece is set is loosely based on an old friend’s bachelor party, which did in fact involve a sighting of Keanu Reeves at a Chicago steakhouse, where none were too attentive, in fact, and courses were set for only marginally floating casinos, where momentous things would happen, no doubt. I hope you enjoy.
Brunetti commands a special section in our 10th-anniversary anthology, released in 2011, All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10.
“There is something that I must say. That I want to do this to you, the clown lips. That’s my only goal now — is that you let me paint the clown lips. You will always be sad. You will always feel broken without me. But please, let me paint the clown lips.”
She said nothing. What could she say? She backed off a little bit. We were in my dressing room. I was a nobody but I had a dressing room. I can’t even say how I ended up there, in the dressing room. It had a broken wooden chair, a slipshod greasy mirror and blown-out track lights. A single sad bulb dangled from a wire, 40 watts. There was also a desk, a coat rack, and Marla. That was her name.
“Marla I’m a depraved man,” I went on. “I have no idea why you ended up with me or what you see in me. But this is the last tango, the last dress rehearsal for us. After this, I’ll leave forever and you’ll stay with the upturned clown lips. Do you understand that that’s what I want? That I just want you to have those upturned clown’s lips and I’ll be satisfied for eternity.”
Marla said nothing.
Forty-five minutes later we were in the tattoo parlor down the block. A poorly lit street corner was outside the plate-glass window. We sat in ink-stained, strawberry-red seats with metal armrests. The armrests felt cold. There was a man there with a tattoo needle. He was dabbing on a piece of paper — testing it out. The ink dripped. He ignored us for a while. Then he turned to us and said, ‘Next.’
‘Marla,’ I said. I told the man that Marla was a clown. That she and I were in showbiz. That we were the greatest partnership since—Brangelina. The man waited for me to shut up. Then I said, ‘Listen, it’s over. Marla will be suicidal from here on out. I want you to tat some clown lips on her. I want you to red-band her lips but put the upturned corners at each end. That’s most important: the upturned corners. If you don’t tat the upturned corners on her lips, Marla may die.”
“That what you want?” he said, turning to Marla, who said nothing. She stayed sitting in her seat. She looked like a girl who’d had a grapefruit mashed into her face, sour and damp.
“Get up,” I said. Marla got up.
“Listen, man,” the tattoo guy said. “This doesn’t seem consensual. I mean, it doesn’t seem like her idea. Anyway, she’s got to sign a waiver.”
“She’ll sign it,” I said.
“I’ll sign it,” Marla said. “I like clown lips.”
He did the tattoo. Halfway through I went across the street and drank a beer. When I came back, Marla had the clown lips but they weren’t ruby red — they were baboon’s-ass blue. It was magnificent.
“That’s better,” I said. “That’s better than I could ever have asked for.”
“I’m a genius,” the tattoo man said.
“So you are,” I said. “And so is Marla.”
We were all looking in the mirror. Then Marla took a needle from the counter and jabbed me in the eye. It plunged in straightaway like a bee stinger into a bare butt. I screamed a little and dripped some blood around. “Motherfucker,” I said. I dropped into one of the red chairs. The tattoo guy stood there looking at me. Marla stood beside him and put the needle back on the counter. There was some blood on it. “Motherfucker,” I said again.
Marla picked up the needle again. I looked her in the eye — with my good eye. Then the tattoo guy came over with some balled-up paper towel. I took the ball from him and pressed it into my eye socket.
“I’ll call 911,” he said.
“No,” I said.
“No,” Marla said.
She came over and sat in the opposite red chair. She reached out and took the paper ball from my hand and pushed the ball into the socket lightly. Then with a little more force. I grunted. The tattoo man sat down on a high stool behind the counter and lit a cigarette. I looked at Marla’s bright blue lips, the upturned corners of her mouth. She was smiling.
Now he tended to cry. He did not cry much as a child. From an early age, he was taught to suck it up. Boys don’t do that, his grandmother told him. So he swallowed the hot knots of emotion when he skinned his knee, when both index fingers were cut by the metal spool of streamers whilst decorating for the anniversary party, when his grade school crush did not give him a creased cardstock valentine.
He cried in his late twenties, but not in his tweens or teens. In his tweens or teens he felt the emotion, a fracas of rage and despair, eat away at his throat. He laid in bed for hours in the dark. He asked for death.
He cried he cried he cried. In adulthood, or at least when he felt that he had reached adulthood, when his responsible decisions outnumbered the irresponsible, he began to cry. He cried when he received the new wallet, he cried when he did not get accepted into the grad school of his choice, he cried when he thought of his wife.
He cried when he thought of his childhood, his grandmother, his father; he cried when he couldn’t explain why he resented his mother, teachers, friends; he cried when he felt alone, miserable, empty; he cried.
It’s so beautiful, he said one afternoon, watching a groundhog run its awkward back-heavy run through the empty lot across the street from the porch, tear tracks across his high cheeks.