THE2NDHAND’s next Nerves of Steel event will be in April, folks — taking March off to regroup, not to diminish the hell-raising and heaven-opening achievements thus far of the Chicago crew. From all reports, things are brimming with action in that arena, which you can likely surmise from my last post, quite some time ago though it was, with host Harold Ray’s message for the world. More on all that later (and for those in the need to know, this increasingly southern boy may well be making a brief midwest sojourn in the near future).
March will be the month of Nashville. The Brick series, which I posted about in brief more than a month ago here, quickly approacheth. If you happen to be in Nashville or know a fair amount of country musicians who read and/or write prose, heh, spread the word. It’s THE2NDHAND’s first public appearance here since I made the city my home back last summer, and at least I’ve got high expectations. We’ve partnered with the ever-astute Peter Cole, editor and publisher behind Keyhole Press, and Cole tells me that if all goes well the event will not only bring the high-toned dynamism of the best of THE2NDHAND’s readings to the Portland Brew coffeehouse in East Nashville, but Cole will be webcasting it live at once, so you adrift 2HANDers and Keyhole folks can get at least an a/v taste of what I’m talking about.
The reading will feature two out-of-towners and a homeboy. The latter, Eric Durcholz, published an excerpt from his literary “bromance” horror novel Heartless in THE2NDHAND’s halls back late last year, and it’s set in and around the bars and shuffling masses at East Nashville’s Five Points at Woodland and 10th and… that other street. A veteran of the nascent performance scene here, Durchholz is also the author of the novels iNVERSION and The Promise Of Eden, and works as a graphic artist in multimedia.
Jason Jordan, meanwhile, a Louisville-based writer and editor, is an old hand and editor of the long-running decomP magazine – plus he was the man I was talking to when I lost consciousness abruptly one fatefully starved evening in, say, 2003 at the Beachwood in Chicago. He’s been around the block, and is an excellent reader, besides. He’s got a couple books out from avant-garde Six Gallery Press, one of which was released prior in a small run, Powering the Devil’s Circus.
Lydia Ship’s making her way up from Atlanta. If you missed her “Robobrother” story at THE2NDHAND.com, check it out. Much feeling, much oddity and intensity to glean from the short work. She’s a contributing editor with the Chattahoochee Review, and teaches in ATL, too.
We’ll all join hands as the hydra-headed and invincible Pitchfork Battalion to round things out on the subject of “building with brick.” I can promise literary interpretations of fatherly jokes on that score, and much more. . .
Mum, otherwise. . . Nashville, come out. The rest of you, stay tuned for details on that webcast.
And if you haven’t been following it already, Chicago writer Heather Palmer’s “Charlie’s Train” novella is currently being serialized at the site. Two installments so far, and the next should be up within the week. Follow this link for the beginning. Palmer’s “I Sing for Sonny’s Fish” I nominated with stories by Jill Summers (the hilariously heartwrenching “Diagnosis of Sadness”) and Gretchen A. Van Lente (the wonderfully foreboding “Mr. CIA”), respectively, in storySouth’s Million Writers Award contest for best pieces of online-published fiction. Readers can nominate, too, if you’ve got some faves from THE2NDHAND or elsewhere. Deadline’s Feb. 28, though, so hurry up. More on that here.
And, finally, a little work in progress, Shining Man as day laborer, noise showgoer, comments appreciated…
The walk was long and mostly uneventful, with the exception of a catcall of some sort from an Oldsmobile whose long denouement I didn’t hear, just the first birth of “Mother…” with the T – H – E – R sounding more like three, maybe, pitch warped with the speed of the passing car. I got a little jolt from it, though, and I got the idea, the notion, the little prod of movement there on 6th Avenue South that would lead me to new heights of awareness — one didn’t need a shiny suit down south or particularly in Birmingham for people to stand up and take notice. They’re going to yell at you, be up in your business, anyway, whether you give them reason or not. XoXoZ told me more that day of his childhood, in particular the elementary school where he was mostly left alone, the West Side high school where no matter what he did to keep on top of it all there was always a new boor laying on him, essentially, yelling all sorts of motherfuckers as he strolled by.
Next day, Friday, we’d talk about it over beers in neutral territory, as he called it, of downtown and Five Points – a pre-show beer at Ada’s Lounge. “Get there, get in early enough,” he said, “we won’t pay the cover.”
“They’ll get us before the bands start, right?”
“Bands don’t start till 10, 10:30.”
The boy was right.
We walked there all the way from Ensley for the better part of two hours, arriving in time for the place to open its doors at 7.
“You might be the only white guy in here at first,” he said.
“I’ve gotten used to it,” I said, not that it’d ever been too much uncommon outside of Chicago, in any case.
And indeed I was, thought the graffiti artist seemed to know the dolled-up middle-age women manning the bar this evening. They treated him like a friend, with a tinge of condescension to his youth: when he ordered a rum and Coke, one remarked that that was a good ladies’ drink. But he held a rapport with them that might have been expected of a much older man, much less a temporary laborer. And when an old black man Albert eventually identified as the owner of the joint sauntered in and welcomed “Little Albee” back, Albert nodded cool and calm as if he’d been coming there all his life.
And a life it was, marked by all the successive successes and failures any guy in his 20s could half-expect. Albert should have been the Shining Man himself, had he ever been prodded enough to leave the post-industrial wasteland that was the town of his rearing. The accents of speech in Birmingham were woefully familiar to my brain, after all, but the place had been walloped by the collapse of its industrial base of employment from the late 1970s onward. The evidence was everywhere, from my abandoned home at Ingalls to the myriad of closed-up mechanics’ and small manufacturers’ shops that were the scenery of the walk downtown from Ensley.
After high school Albert was the beneficiary of a scholarship to the state university in Birmingham to study art — painting concentration. He finished with flying colors, building his alternate ID on the plethora of left-behind and otherwise exposed concrete and brick walls the city offered as canvas all along. He then long made the plug for gainful employment in town, but found all the city’s universities’ departments stuffed full of people just like him. He worked in restaurants — smoking ribs, tending flat-top cookers, prepping coleslaw and potato salad — before he found something he could well feel beyond the occasionally errant knife-slice of his fingertip in whatever kitchen.
“I got an itch, man,” he told me there, a couple moderately priced drinks in.
“I know it,” me, nodding vigorously.
“I got it and went with it out to 14th and the tracks there and, the first day some asshole redneck white man picked me up, loaded big trucks with old furniture all damn day long. Did a few of the new downtown apartments after that, moving people in from up north who God knows why they came to Birmingham, but they did. The papers say they’re coming in droves here taking banking jobs and such but it’s a bunch of bullshit. This city and those people are living on the backs of all the motherfuckers you see out there every morning. And the Mexicans I was telling you about. That’s about it for honest work, I guess, unless you want to serve the people in the restaurants, the bars, such as their presence is, I guess, and the honest work don’t pay worth much of a shit…” He drifted off, took a long gulp to finish off his drink. “Take this place, for instance,” Little Albee/XoXoZ now lowering his voice several decibels. “Later, it’ll be not exactly full of them, but they’ll be here peppered around the crowd of your everyday black Birmingham and thinking they’re getting something creative and authentic and cool from whatever 1980s smooth-jazz knockoff’s playing tonight. Granted, I love this joint, but you get my drift.”
Lessons to be learned one day, I thought. “Around the corner from here,” I said. “You been to the Black Hat bookstore? I think there’s a show there tonight.”
“Pretty white crowd,” I said, “but not exclusively by any stretch. You’ll dig it.” And so on we went, as the band set up to play.* I noted the leader’s metal-mouthpieced tenor and soprano sax resting on chrome stands and thought of John Coltrane, thought further of a group I’d seen at Meadowlark – Nicole Mitchell on flute with David Boykin on Coltrane’s instruments, if Trane could be said to have infected our culture so widely as to have owned the tenor and soprano outright, not to mention the alto. Boykin played alto and soprano, if I remember correctly. They had a bassist who did some indie-rock playing, too, and a drummer who could do funky-beats bombast as well as more typically slippery free-jazz propulsiveness.
Leave it to me to put a semicolon in the title of a blog post — I could immediately tick off the names several people, some of them bosses, some of them wives, who would disapprove, no doubt, but contrarians be damned! The relationship-suggesting stop that is the semicolon is an underutilized piece of punctuation, and its use broadens the meaning-creation tools at our disposal.
New NERVES OF STEEL on Monday, Feb. 8, at Chicago venue Whistler (Logan Square): twill feature two of my favorite writers working in Chicago. Kyle Beachy’s The Slide is quite likely the best bildungsroman of sorts I’ve read from a contemporary writer in years; if you missed my interview with him in these halls, check it out here.
Kate Duva, meanwhile, will also appear.-The author of the last full broadsheet release we put out, Duva’s got more moxie than most in the subjects she tackles. In No. 33, “Life on the Frontier,” she took on the setting of group homes for the aging mentally disabled.
The third writer, Irene Westcott, is a growing fave of mine, too, though I know her work less well. Check out her “Rabbit” at THE2NDHAND.com here.
Almost forgot: Ray. If you missed the first event in the series Jan. 14 at Quimby’s, here’s something of recap, something of a challenge, from our indisputably (maybe) janitorial host Mr. Harold Ray (aka Mr. Knabb of ACM and T2H fame, wink-wink):