Brown works as a librarian at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he lives and writes.
I’ve got Form 4868 (Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Tax Return) here in front of me. The instructions seem straightforward enough: I must record my personal information, including my occupation, and then calculate my estimated total tax liability, the total tax payment I already made, the balance, and the amount of the balance I am sending in along with my extension form. But in the time it takes to do all of these things, I could just about file my taxes. For consolation, I did some quick research and found that I am among an estimated ten million Americans in this pickle.
I woke early yesterday morning, the day before the deadline, with the intention of filing my taxes as soon as I completed my chores: Watering and fertilizing my vegetable garden; staking tomatoes; sewing additional rows of lima beans and sugar snap peas; fitting the stems of crookneck squash with tinfoil collars to protect them against insect borers; planting marigolds to redirect such tourists as the Mexican bean beetle to my neighbors’ yards; snaking my gloved hand through beds of money plant, Queen Anne’s lace, and phlox to extract smartweed, greenbrier, and poison ivy; cleaning my pet chickens’ compact coop; and dusting their fresh bedding straw with diatomaceous earth to ward off mites. As evening approached, I stood outside the coop with an aromatic cigar and a glass of chardonnay, and recited a few poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. His words and “sprung rhythm” quiet the hens, especially at this time of year, the height of their annual egg production, “When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.”
As you see, one chore led to another, until darkness descended and I found myself doing a load of laundry, including the denim bib overalls I had been wearing. After running the load through the dryer, I discovered that I had left my checkbook in my overalls (till then, I had drunk but one glass of wine). With the checkbook in tatters, the dryer looked as if the seed head of a dandelion or a cattail had exploded inside.
Not only did my checkbook contain all of the charitable contributions I made this past year, which I need to itemize to attach to my 1040 (Individual Income Tax) Form, but it also contained all of the cash payments that a local farm-and-garden-supply store gave me for my organic, free-range eggs. My hens produce between one- and two-dozen eggs each week, even during winter, when the heat lamp in the coop supplements the sun.
As a farmer, I operate by the motto “Intensive variety!” My entire yard — front and back — is just shy of one third of an acre. In my backyard I grow a little bit of everything, from asparagus to leaf lettuce to zucchini. Recently, I have branched out into fruits — blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, muscadines, and scuppernongs. Still, my chickens’ eggs are the only produce I claim to make a profit on. This cherished sum grows suspect upon close examination because of my rising production costs — organic feed and herbal wormer treatment as well as cigars and wine.
Once I get my checkbook pieced back together, I shall complete my 1040 Form and then send it in along with my remaining balance and a dozen fresh eggs. I trust that FedEx can deliver them overnight and intact. In addition to your understanding, I ask for a personal favor: Might you consider changing my recorded occupation from “college librarian” to “college librarian and backyard egg farmer?” This nominal change may not qualify me to get a coveted “Farm Truck” license plate from my State’s Department of Motor Vehicles, yet it would give my vanity a shot of 10-10-10. Later this spring I am going to visit my parents, whose neighbor used to be president of my hometown’s 4-H Club. Although retired, he continues to cultivate a crop of future agronomists. It would thrill me to surprise him with my new official title, to give him one more opportunity to “hurrah,” as Hopkins likes to say, “in the harvest.”
1. Imagine a literary/artistic “movement” — an aesthetic school, a militant lit troupe — of sorts called “Stupidism.”
2. Imagine further all appropriate tenets/favored aesthetics/styles/ways of living associated with being a practicing “Stupidist.”
3. Now write a “Stupidist Manifesto” of the group and email results (keep it under a single-spaced page) to me for consideration for THE2NDHAND’s next broadsheet, no. 37, a special issue to accompany the release of All Hands On, our 10th-anniversary anthology. Order the book here.
4. Get all manifestoes in by Aug. 5 for consideration for the broadsheet — I’ll definitely take any and all after the date as well into consideration for a special unit here at txt. For an example of a few myself, Spencer Dew, and Kate Duva crafted in 2007, go here.
Richter’s poetry has been featured in THE2NDHAND, decomP, IndieFeed Performance Poetry and The Ucity Review.
Thomas Friedman was right when he said, “Much of this biodiversity in Indonesia is now under threat.”
It had been this way since gasoline became currency; I remember bartering with The Governance for the newest edition of The Guinness Book of World Records, which featured a scratch-and-sniff page of the world’s worst smelling people. It starred Clint Eastwood. This explained the snarl of his face, as even he agreed at his disagreeable odor.
He is a hard-ass and I respect him for it. Being a hard-ass is what drew me to The Governance. She owns the police, a few million dollars in gasoline, and a jester. She is on her 15th jester.
This is all hearsay, but I believe the death of the first 14 jesters to be related to the illegal logging agreement The Governance made with westerners. I also believe the jesters now live in the most northern region of heaven. Like I said — it’s all hearsay.
Thomas Friedman was right when he said, “Indonesia exports raw labor, not brains.”
The people had bad teeth and brown jeans. Things like lettermen jackets, cosmetics and votives didn’t exist there.
I went to the Governance with luxury items and laid them at her feet. Kneeling, I said, “I made a mental note of how well traveled you could be and filed it away. I realize that the amount of gasoline you process does not weigh on your happiness. But Governance, have you ever smiled?”
She didn’t answer but motioned for me to continue. I adjusted the volume on the iPod and played a clip from ER. I knew George Clooney could sell my argument all salt-and-pepper and glaring into the part of the body that makes women love strangers.
She said, “I must have this.”
“But wait!” I said.
I dimmed the lights, lit the votives and stripped her naked. I walked around her and bound her to a mink coat. She rubbed her cheek against her lush shoulder and purred.
“Governance. Have you ever felt so beautiful?”
Thomas Friedman was right when he said, “Of course, a lot of people offer quick-fix plans for how to stem the tide of material degradation, but in countries like Indonesia, plans are rarely implemented as intended.”
It didn’t take a week for the people of Indonesia to trade in their gasoline for portable DVD players, Lebron James jerseys and subwoofers.
Sitting on the corner of a dirt road was a child, homeless with an iPod. He tried to hunt with it, but he scared away the animals as distorted music played from the dangling earbuds. He tried to keep himself warm with it, but the tiny LCD screen only generated enough heat for one earlobe. Before it died he tried to cover himself from the rain with it. There were millions like him. And as the forests were purged, the true population of the tech-savvy-homeless left the naked woods and took to the streets.
I remember being a runaway in Paterson, New Jersey. I remember my home made of tarps. The floor made of more tarps. In comparison I had it good. I remember smelling like Clint Eastwood. I remember finding a pocketknife and being amazed at its uses.
After a lunch rush, a restaurant dumped a bag full of clams out back. I sat on the pebble and broken road and used the knife to pry open the clams.
That was the best lunch I ever had.
Thomas Friedman once said, “Imagine a world without coral.”
I visited the Governance. Her 15th jester had died from drinking the plasma leaking from the wall of TVs. The Governance was ill with worry and malnourished. She was pink and white. I came to her bedside. “Governance, the comprehensive strategy of technology is not just a one-off plan. We need to help them.”
She replied. “We need a million Noahs and a million arks.”
She passed away at that moment. I thought about how I had been drawn to her. I thought about the living energy inside of us, our unexplained machinery churning all the stuff that has sustained us all.
I looked up to the easternmost region of heaven and asked Thomas Friedman to allow me to redefine my relationship with the natural world.
He said, “Have you read Hot, Flat and Crowded? That is the whole point.”
Maybe the governance had passed away asphyxiated by her obsession with gasoline. Maybe it was the forests and farms being purged by westerners. Maybe it was the pacifying media.
Nevertheless, inside me, it was all of these things swirling that led to my decision to burn her palace down.
As the Governance rose to the most medium region of purgatory, her palace fell. Most of society had ascended to various levels of heaven.
Thirty-four percent remained. I looked down on them and listened to their cheers as ascending melodies. Flat and crowded meet hot and make it hotter, and that was the start of a whole new set of problems.
Nerves is back at the Brain August 2 w/ host Harold Ray and house band Good Evening. And:
Bad Bad Badness by Jesus Angel Garcia, author of the novel badbadbad.
Dr. Huckleberry Persimmon Explains Very Little for You
Dr. Persimmon made a deal with a demon to have brilliant thoughts. Unfortunately, he didn’t specify “significant” or “useful,” and things therefore haven’t really worked out. Now he’s got just 44 thoughts left before it’s time to pay up. By Mark Chrisler
Starring Brian Nemtusak and Kevlyn Hayes
Punk, Suffering (w/ Banjo) by writer Chris Terry
w/ Backup Dancers in Tim Jones Yelvington
& Piano Musics by Azita Youseffi
Brunetti lives and writes in Brooklyn. His work is featured in a special section in All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10, our 10th-anniversary anthology. Preorder your copy (it will be available within the next two weeks) here.
And so I said nothing to the girl in the turquoise coat with fur cuffs and collar because, really, what could I have said? And if she resembled Tuesday Weld it’s because nobody remembered Tuesday Weld. And so I had to start again, at the beginning. I had to put down my coffee cup and loosen my tie. I had to pretend that I was interested in the sports page and all the murders taking place in the city. I had to pretend, like other men, that I was normal. But, that is, if they are pretending.
I looked out the plate-glass window at the front of the café and onto the dreary, rainy street. It was the last day of vacation and this is what God had granted. I didn’t want to complain. I sipped my coffee and spoke into my shirtsleeve. I was in the process of finding out deep truths. Truths that point out people like Tuesday Weld. Hispanic Tuesday Welds even. Lovely as bones.
I would not go to the therapist because I was tired of her orange-striped shoes. But I went to the therapist. I was in pain and had to share it. I wanted to sing my pain out loud like a drunken sailor but felt too repressed. The therapist was also repressed. She kept herself calm and assured all the time. I wanted lightning. A big golden bolt to break through the front window of her Park Slope office. Park Slope, sloping downward into oblivion. Everyone lost in the park. Lost in joy. Active. Seemingly happy. And I was sitting there in the therapist’s office with a thermometer in my mouth. I had a fever for living but couldn’t let myself go. I fell in love with magazine covers and movie trailers. All the unattainable women dressed in black and white with sweet perfumes. My therapist wore perfume. She dabbed it on the tip of her balled-up tissue and brushed her neck. She had a lemony smelling neck. I almost dreamed I kissed it but that would crack the clown’s face. Mine.
“I’m the clown,” I told my therapist.
She asked me for a personal check.
“I’ll get personal,” I said. I delivered the fire, words that stabbed the air like glowing flint sticks.
“Pretty good,” she told me, coolly. “Pretty good. You’re not the first one I’ve had in here today, though. And you won’t be the last.”
I am first because I am last. I am last because…I’m a bible reader. I read the bible all the time, then forget everything I’ve ever read. There’s no sense to it. Isn’t it just the great story of the downfall of the Jews and the uprising of the Christians? But that’s only if you extend into the New Testament. And even then, there’s no such thing as a Christian in any of the Gospels. There’s only Christ walking on water, condemning fig trees, and pleading with God the father. I wonder about his forlorn state. The way he felt forsaken. The human ingenuity in that role. The despair. The beauty. The aloneness.
And here I sit now, eating tuna fish. I don’t have seven loaves or seven fishes. I have a pocketful of lint and loose change. I read George Orwell and think of times gone by. That man was a professional writer. Someone once cracked him in the jaw, though, for overstepping his bounds. He was a little too courageous. I mean the world could really get into trouble with a host of people so courageous, couldn’t it?
I ask this question of Lily. She’ on her knees, cleaning my feet. She’s a bible toter as well. At least for these four days that we stand outside of paradise. They’ve kicked us out of our favorite coffee shop — The Paradise Café — for cleaning feet. Or offering to clean feet. It seems like a nice enough ritual, heavy with religious significance, but the proprietor didn’t see it that way. He kicked us out and treated us worse than a Seinfeld episode.
“I am not him,” I said to Lily. Meaning Jesus. Or Seinfeld.
I will not be a bookworm for the book-fucking public. Everyone is getting fucked with books. It’s my war against your war. It’s my partisan politics against your fat/religious/rightwing/upchuck ass. It’s every man for himself never. And always. Hail to the celebrities. Bestsellers.
So we don’t walk on water. We pay for our places at parking meters. Lily gets a kick out of this.
“Charging for curb space! Charging for air!” Then she’ll go off on one of her diatribes about Chief Seattle and how he understood and how much the white man never understood. How he, Seattle, saw the great flaw of white-bread humanity from top to bottom spreading throughout and devastating this holy, un-ownable land.
“Nobody owns nothing,” Lily says. ‘It’s all free.”
“That’s when the times were a-changin’,” I say. “Now they’re changed back.”
“Hrmph,” she says.
“Waaahhh! Waahhh!” I call out.
Then Lily. Horse neighs. Pig snorts. Something.
The death of a poodle. It makes the front page of the New York Post because someone famous owned it. The poodle is the saddest of civilized dogs. It deserves headline obituaries — but for all the wrong reasons.
“Right reasons,” Lily says. “We need right reasons.”
She’s rotating her shoulders and rubbing her hands together above her bowl of hot soup. Soon, she’ll start slurping and it will be the earthly pleasure of eating. The soup will wash over her tongue and down her esophagus. If she keeps her epiglottis shut, she’ll swallow the soup properly and it’ll end up in her stomach. Non-nutritious portions of it will solidify in her intestines and she’ll shit them out like brown, rocky pebbles. She might even complain about the pain involved, but I’ll turn the other cheek. I won’t want to hear it anymore. I’ll say:
“Just slap my face. It’s a lot easier that way.”
“Well, excuse me for bowel movements.”
“You’re excused.” I say.
“Blah, blah,” she says.
You’d never have thought it, but Lily is rather good-looking.
“Pogo? And Didi? And Estragon?”
“Yeah, those are the characters,” I say. Something about Waiting for Godot. Lily wants a lot more out of this venture of ours than tiresome oblivion. She wants some kind of superficial fame. She wants to be a spin-off of Godot, or something. I’m not really privy to how her mind works.
“Let’s just sit on this park bench and eat our ham sandwiches,” I say. “Let’s be grateful for that.”
Lily resents that I see a therapist. She calls me a poser. I tell her that all my money goes to therapy, and rent, and feeding the two of us.
“That’s not good enough,” she says.
It never is,” I say. “That’s why people like to say Le divorce. That’s French,” I add.
“Hot shit,” says Lily.
She’s cleaning her teeth with a swizzle stick she found in the trash.
“You know,” I say. “Some people have the moon and they don’t want the moon. Other people have nothing — an eggplant or whatever — and they’re just fine.”
“Enough romantic shit,” she says. She spits and tosses the swizzle stick. There’s a sharp screeching of brakes behind us.
“Oh Christ,” I say.
Someone just got hit. There’s blood on the pavement and Lily doesn’t like it. I don’t blame her. The driver gets out of her SUV, tall, tan, talking on her cell-phone. She’s complaining about her quarter panel, blinded vision, etc. The person on the street isn’t really moving. I think I saw all this on the back of a cereal box once. One with panels that tell a story like a comic book. What to do in case of an emergency: Love Lily. Pray to God. Dial 911.
“Turquoise coat? I don’t know anybody in a turquoise coat.”
“What about Tuesday Weld?” Lily says.
“Oh, come on,” I say.
“Tuesday Weld,” she says.
“She ran off to Panama as far as I know. Or the Black Diamond Bay.”
“Just so you know,” Lily says.
“Just so I know what?” I say.
“Just so you know.”
Yes. Let’s keep the faith. We’ve lit candles under the little bridge in the park. We’ve made the cutout beneath the archway our nesting ground for the night. Lily can’t stand my wife, who lies back in my apartment dressed up in a turquoise coat, smoking French cigarettes, reciting the French alphabet, promising me the world. Promising me the apocalypse and the subtle reappearance of the one and only Tuesday Weld.
Past THE2NDHAND contributor Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minn., with at least one accordion. Her poetry has recently appeared in The Oxford American, The Midwest Quarterly, and Coal City Review. She recently co-authored the book Guitar All-in-One for Dummies with guitarist Jim Peterik of the band Survivor.
Kudzu had crept in through the window overnight. Marty opened one bloodshot eye and stared at the thin green tendrils clinging to the wall at the other end of the bedroom. Tiny cracks radiated around the places in the wall where the vine had taken root. “Snake potatoes,” he growled. “Where the hell did you come from?”
He swung his heavy body over the edge of the bed and stood upright, head sluggish in the early morning humidity. His elbows and knees felt swollen, puffy, aching against the promise of more rain. “It’s going to be a big one,” he told his protesting joints as he stumbled to the kitchen. “A real big one,” he warned the house. “It is going to rain for days and days and days.”
Sunlight came in green through the thick curtain of ivy covering the small kitchen window. Marty shook his head in disbelief. “I am moving out of this tropical nightmare,” he swore. “I am moving to a nice, dry desert before this year is up. A nice dry desert with a few wrinkled-up cacti and tiny lizards that stay little and scared of people. No alligators. No snake potato vines. And no summer hurricanes,” he added, glaring at the few dark clouds he could see through the window. A light wind ruffled through the leaves as if in answer.
The morning paper lay in the middle of the rectangular welcome mat outside the front door, wrapped tightly in a clear plastic bag. The newspaper always came wrapped in plastic on days it might rain. Marty bent down and picked up the paper. A thin stream of water ran off the bag and dripped onto his bare feet. He shook the paper out of its bag and spread it out on the kitchen table. A large color photo on the front page detailed a new sinkhole that had appeared about three blocks from Marty’s house. According to the article, the hole had been caused by “tectonic plate activity in the region.” Three houses and a nursing home had been swallowed up by the “tectonic plate activity.” The article had obviously been written by a journalist counting on no one in the area knowing what tectonic plate activity actually was. “Bullshit,” said Marty. “We’re nowhere near a fault line.”
He poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot he’d brewed the night before and put the cup in the microwave. Two large green spots were floating on the oily surface of the coffee. Marty grimaced and clicked the microwave door shut. “This oughta kill ya,” he said to the mold through the glass, setting the microwave timer to five minutes. The spots were still floating in the cup when he pulled it out of the microwave. However, they had faded to a light yellow color and looked more solid than they had before being irradiated. Marty fished the chunks of mold out of the cup with a spoon, dumped some powdered nondairy creamer into the coffee, and took a sip. “Yuck,” he said, setting the cup down on the counter.
It had begun to rain in earnest outside. Marty opened the front door and breathed in deeply, expecting a pleasant rush of cool air, and was greeted instead by the dank, warm breath of a jungle storm. He could hear ducks and anhinga hooting and quacking somewhere nearby, splashing about in the quickly-growing puddles. A frog leaped over the welcome mat and into the house.
“Hey!” Marty shouted. “What the hell are you doing?” The frog had already disappeared into the breakfast mess of the kitchen. Marty closed the front door and stomped back to his coffee, eyes peeled for the frog. “Oh well,” he sighed to himself, not willing to waste his morning digging through the garbage for the frog. “Maybe it’ll take care of the roaches.”
The rain pattered loudly on the tin-shingled roof. He took his coffee cup and headed into the living room. He turned on the television and began an earnest game of channel surfing. Along the bottom of the TV screen scrolled various storm warnings for the area, some of which were accompanied by exclamation points and news-flash beeps. He lay back and stretched out on the couch. The cushions felt uncomfortably damp where his bare skin touched the fabric. He sat back up and ran his palm over the fabric. Sure enough, tiny green circles of mold dotted the furniture like lichen on a boulder. The crushed velvet of the couch felt like toad skin to Marty’s fingers. He withdrew his hand in disgust and jumped off the couch. “Yuck. Yuck, yuck, yuck,” he said. He sat down on the floor, cross-legged, then got back up when his back started cramping.
His eyes fell on a large wadded-up yellow quilt shoved into the space behind the television. He pulled it out, careful not to upset the television set, and held it up to the light, scanning its surface for more mold. It was clean. Relieved, he spread the comforter over the couch and arranged the pillows underneath it to prop his head up. “This’ll do for now,” he said, lying down on the couch once more.
Thin fingers of gray were spreading across the matte white ceiling, starting at a point almost directly over Marty’s head. If he hadn’t been the sole occupant in a one-story house, Marty would have thought the person living in the room above his was having plumbing problems, either a flooded bathtub or toilet. “Guess I should go out and check out the roof when the rain stops,” he muttered.
Out the window, Marty could see the empty space down the street that had been swallowed up by the sinkhole. There was now a small lake where the nursing home had been, another where the apartment complex had been. The television was fading in and out in a regular pulse—static, cartoon, static, cartoon—almost in time with Marty’s own heartbeat. “Augh!” he screamed, throwing a soggy pillow at the television and leaping to his feet. “I can’t take it anymore!” He leaped over to the television and slammed down the power button. The picture flashed and shrank down to a tiny white spot in the center of the screen, quickly flickering out. Marty sat back down on the couch and sighed in relief. “Goddamned thing’s trying to drive me crazy,” he muttered. His headache was fading already. He reached back behind the couch and picked up the book he had been reading the night before. He turned the pages until he found where he had last left off and began reading.
The book type had subtly changed colors overnight. The printed letters had turned from a solid black to a gray-tinged green and blue, with little traces of yellow here and there. Marty stopped reading and squinted at the pages. The paper itself was splotched with tiny green spots and faintly watermarked with large pastel green snowflakes. He sniffed the book experimentally.
“Dammit.” Even the book was molding, molding like the rest of his house, his furniture and his coffee and his ceiling. He put the book down on the floor and stood back up. He could see more of the green snowflakes on the wall next to the couch, some patches so developed that tiny yellow flowers were sprouting out of them. Somewhere in the room, a frog began chirping.
Marty backed slowly out of the room, back into the sanctuary of the kitchen. He found with relief that the sterile environment of the refrigerator had not been breached, that the food in there was still apparently safe to eat. “I’ve just got to start cleaning up more,” he muttered to himself. “I’ve just let things go for too long, and now I’m seeing the consequences.” He drained the cold and murky water out of the sink and blasted the lichen-covered cereal bowls and coffee cups with scalding water and dish soap. He scoured the inside of the moldy coffee pot as well, measuring out fresh coffee and brewing up another pot while he waited for the dishwater to cool to a bearable temperature. He wiped down the countertops and the kitchen table, sloughing off strings of kelp-like ivy and fluorescent kudzu blossoms. He cleaned and scoured and wiped and disinfected until the kitchen looked almost as good as it did when he first moved into the apartment. He even popped open the kitchen window and hacked at the ivy blocking the opening with a steak knife until he could see the sun and into his neighbor’s bathroom window again.
Hours later, he sat down at the kitchen table and surveyed his work. The blue tile on the floor and the wall by the stove were spotless. The black mouth of the stove yawned open, all ash and burnt food scraped clean of its fiberglass surface. Marty had dried everything carefully and completely, making sure there was no single damp spot mold could possibly invade. Anything that was still damp had been lethally bleached. Marty took another sip from his fresh cup of coffee and decided that the trick to making a good cup of coffee must be to brew it just before drinking it, instead of letting it sit out the entire night before.
The rain had not let up. Three cups of coffee later, Marty felt his bladder fill dangerously close to overflowing. He pushed himself away from the spotless kitchen table and made his way to the bathroom. He flicked on the bathroom light and was greeted by a thick mat of green and blooming vines clinging to and completely obscuring the shower curtain. A large lily pad topped by a tightly-closed white bud floated in the toilet. Tiny tendrils of moss filled the sink, spotted with little yellow and purple flowers. The floor was completely carpeted with moist lichen. Marty could feel the tile crumbling and cracking beneath his feet as he walked across the floor, first to the toilet, then back again to the sanctuary of the kitchen. “I can’t clean all that,” he said out loud as he retreated. “How the hell am I supposed to go to the bathroom? There isn’t enough bleach in Florida to take care of this mess!”
The electricity gave out sometime near dusk. Marty watched as it happened, heard the refrigerator purr softly to death and the light of the microwave die out, seconds before he was supposed to rotate his frozen burrito. He held his plastic-wrapped dinner in the palm of his hand and tried to gauge how much of the burrito was frozen and how much was just cold. He could hear the frog in the living room again, could hear that it had somehow been joined by other noisy frogs. He could hear other voices in the apartment as well: something was splashing around in the toilet, while through the closed door leading to his bedroom, he distinctly heard the chittering of bugs or birds fussing with each other. Fingers of mildew appeared at a ridiculous rate and stretched out around the door sills of the kitchen, growing almost as fast as Marty could kill them with his bleach-soaked washcloth. His head was aching from the smell of the chemicals and from the humid, mildew-tinted air; he felt as though he was trapped inside a dirty, empty fishbowl that was contracting at an alarming rate around him.
He lost patience sometime around midnight. It was not getting any cooler in his apartment. There were no soothing night breezes to make his vigilant watch bearable. Flinging his washcloth down on the cracked linoleum, he opened the front door and stepped outside. A tiny breeze blew against him briefly, dying down before the temperature change had a chance to register in his brain.
All around Marty’s house were rolling green hills, vaguely building-shaped. A large, murky-looking lake stretched out from the base of his stairs all the way to where the post office had stood. Something large splashed and disappeared into the lake as Marty descended the staircase, making huge ripples and tiny waves that lapped against his feet when he reached the bottom.
“It’s all gone,” he murmured aloud, squinting incredulously into the darkness, trying to see some glimmer of his old neighborhood, of anything that might classify as civilization at all. For an instant, he thought he saw someone heading toward him, swinging a flashlight about, but another instant revealed the lights to be a swarm of fireflies heading his way. “Hello!” he shouted, hands cupped around his mouth. “Hello! Is anybody there?”
A pair of ibises exploded from the partially-submerged cypress trees off to his left, honking angrily at him as they flew off to a quieter neighborhood. Other things stirred in the dark as well, some not as afraid of him as the birds were.
“Someone’s got to be out there!” Marty tried again. “I can’t be the only human being left here. I just can’t!” He began to back up the stairs, thinking of the sanctuary of his kitchen, when the stairs beneath him gave away. Marty felt himself falling with the stairs, felt his body land in a murky pond that seemed to have no bottom. He struggled for air for a moment before the sinewy bodies that had been waiting so patiently closed in around him, white teeth flashing like lightning against the black leather of their knobby hides.
It’s been 20 broadsheets and six years since Joe Meno, once a regular in THE2NDHAND’s sheets, has appeared therein. No surprise for the hiatus, really, given since then he’s put out two shorts collections and at least as many novels, in addition to becoming a father. But: our latest broadsheet features a new story that’s also part of our 10th-anniversary All Hands On collection, due within a month. Order the book and find more information about it here.
As for the new Meno joint, it’s called “In the Avenues of Airplanes and Paper,” captures the struggles of a young woman attempting to deal with a compulsive habit she has of putting “air quotes” around near everything she says — to the point, for instance, that she wears mittens on a date.
Within the peculiarity of it all Meno finds — and the protagonist locates as well, inside and outside of her self — the very essence of what it is to be human.
Take a look at it on the broadsheet’s main page or click through the front-side image below for a pdf:
Sixteen-year-old Radigan loves swinging on swings, absurdities, and writing obsessively.
I knew you were special the night you showed me the Big Dipper.
“See that one right there?” you pointed straight out. The summer sky expanded around us, swimming with constellations like a bowl of alphabet soup that had been arranged without order or meaning.
“The Big Dipper?” I asked.
“The Big Dick,” you replied confidently. “And that over there is the Little Dick.”
A giggle slipped through my steely-faced glare. “You’re telling me those stars look like a penis? Is this how you woo all your women?”
“Nah,” you said, “just the important ones.”
The grassy ground was beginning to bore into my neck, but I didn’t dare shift positions. I couldn’t look at you either, the shadow outlines of your skinny arms and legs against the blue-gray smokescreen, or the smirk undoubtedly finding its way to your face. Crawling on like a caterpillar. You were repugnant, and also fascinating.
You cleared your throat. “Now that formation over there is called the Scrotum in the Sky. See the resemblance?”
I watched you trace the arrangement of stars with one finger. You alone could detect these unseen orchestrations of the universe, eloquently perverting constellations one by one until it seemed that every one of them had been designed by a cheap adult film producer.
“You are disgusting,” I said, after you pointed to what was hiding beneath Orion’s Belt.
I felt you shrug, shaking the atmosphere. Somewhere far away a new star was born.
“We’re still allowed to be kids. You know that, right? You’ll have like 80 years to be mature. Why start now?”
I kissed you then, under the azure acreage of private parts. We kissed like children kiss, as if nothing bigger exists.
That summer we adopted a Chia Pet son and named him Monty. We nurtured him, letting his hair grow in thick and piercingly green. Monty rested in the brown spots on pool decks where water splashed, as screen doors buzzed open and closed in neighboring houses. He grew as we grew, remaining vital through the burnt orange plane of summer. Moments our knees touched, the sweaty and electrifying energy. Awkward finger-lacings, and the times we watched fireworks go off from our perch in the shoddy old treehouse.
When Monty withered, so did we. It was inevitable, not sad: the playground swings were squeaking quieter, department stores advertised back-to-school sales, and the weeds that poked through the cracks in sidewalks turned brown and weightless.
Years later, in phases of relationships called Sharing A Razor and Communicating The Problem, I’ve thought about you and about our once-beloved Monty. There have been plenty of other lovers, plenty of men with whom I’ve paused to look up at stars, but you were the last one who really saw them.
We looked at the sky like children do, as if nothing bigger exists.
Busy week at THE2NDHAND HQs in Chicago and Nashville this week, on top of festivals of hot chicken and backyard BBQ and fireworks, as well as the more not-so-backyard variety, as shown here. (Gotta love that Nashville blow-stuff-up spirit.) Tuesday night Nerves of Steel is back in Chicago after a brief June West Virginia sojourn. It ought to be a rad showing, with writer Michael Czyzniejewski on the program with the comedic duo of the Puterbaugh Sisters, band the Post-revolutionary Letdowns, and more.
In Nashville, an event I’ll be hosting, writer/comix artist Cassie J. Sneider stops off on a 48-state tour behind her new Fine Fine Music collection. She’s joined by a Nashville writer folks will remember from one of the first couple readings we put on here, in 2010, Katrina Gray. Two Clarksville-based scribes are headed in for the event as well, Amy Wright and Quincy Rhoads, who oddly enough were at one point in the distant past prof and grad student in a class at Austin Peay uni there. They’re all awesome writers, in any case — don’t miss it.
Finally, Cassie herself shared these seven reasons to come to her reading, “even though you don’t know me,” as she puts it:
1. You can tell all of your friends you ‘attended a reading’, which makes you sound really smart and superior and better than them, which you undoubtedly already are.
2. It’s like Hulu-ing Hoarders, but WITH YOUR IMAGINATION.
3. Free comics for everyone!
4. I’ll let you pet my hair and pretend I’m not creeped out by it.
5. I’m, like, a really good reader.
6. Did I mention free comics?
7. I will pet YOUR hair and you can tell your friends you went on a date with me. …