He dips into his assets and makes a determination. The funds are there. Some rates would have to be negotiated, but the numbers make sense. His ability to calculate has become dull. The fresh red pencil fleshes out the skills.
The money would not really be leaving his cold pink hands. His life savings would be cashed in, held briefly in foreign hands, then diverted to his new home; he’d flip assets like Helm and Manuel. He would own the boards beneath his feet for the first time.
The place is large and on the outskirts. The city is a mess that far north—diverse but unnatural. Gunfire. The poor and minority are being kicked out slowly as the city ruptures and bleeds out, and they are pissed off. The majority is up in arms. He has three bedrooms. He is 25.
He banks days and paints nights and weekends. The banking pays the bills. He has a brother who’s a doctor, with no concept of holidays. This is fine with him: holidays are a bonus chunk of time for painting. His brother is all he has left. The rest of his family didn’t survive the last war.
A few years go by and he sells. He wants a place closer to the city, with a little more noise. He needs a bigger edge to paint against. The second place has two bedrooms and the traffic is bad. He gets a cat at age 30. His assets are increasing.
He quits his job at the bank and plays the stock market awhile. The funds are there. He paints more and gets a show at a local cafe. The response is tremendous. He prints a stack of business cards, secretly. They turn out nice. He gets a lot of email. People love his work, but they don’t buy it.
The paintings are mainly of forests. There is usually a central figure, but it is not human. Maybe a large or white or burning tree. The texture is the key. He paints with oils—very little linseed for a thick mix.
His selling price on the second place is twice what he paid. He empties his account on the third place: one bedroom, downtown.
The city is sharp-angled and gray here. He is very aware of his walls. He has room for a basil plant in his one window — he snips the leaves and crushes garlic onto his frozen four-cheese pizza. He can afford frozen food, and doctors it up nice.
He paints a horse and a woman holding a fan.
He stands, frozen, in a tiny square in the city’s dead center.
The September 6 edition of THE2NDHAND’s So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel? variety affair — the first Tuesday of the month at Chicago’s Hungry Brain — is, simply put, “Jokes.” As such, among the requisite litterateurs and musical acts this time around are a coterie of funnymen / -women, among them the great Emerson Dameron (featured in our new book), who delivers the special public service announcement to open the show. Among others:
*Brandon Will and Nick Bitonti deliver Dead Peckers w/ Puppets
*Dirtiest of the Dirties Dave Snyder
*Manic one-liners from Daniel Shapiro
*Sickness Personified in James Tadd Adcox with Andy Farkas
PLUS: A scatological screening of a short film you won’t want to miss, including a talk by Xan Aranda of Chicago Short Film Brigade.
As always, the indigent Harold Ray hosts. Let’s give him something to laugh about. Show up!
September 6, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, Chicago, 8 p.m. See you there….
THE2NDHAND @ BIRMINGHAM ARTWALK Sept. 9-10
We’ll be tabling with the new book, All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10 (click on the cover image to order for $15 here), marking our 10th anniversary with work from scores of our best writers, outside What’s on Second on 2nd Avenue downtown (corner of 23rd). We’ve got a rich history with the Friday evening/Saturday art fest, which opens up spaces in downtown Birmingham businesses to transform them in art galleries; for more of that. If you’re lucky, we might take on our literary busker roles of the days of yore (tip of the hat to you, Jonny Messinger); hope to see you on the street.
Friday, Sept. 9, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 10, noon-6 p.m. For more.
Carrick is a native Chicagoan, and he studied under Bill Knott and John Skoyles during M.A. work at Emerson College in Boston. Currently a senior editor at the University of Chicago Press, artist and new dad, Carrick also digs “trying to cook foods that are delicious,” he says. Check out some of his artwork here.
It was a Mission Hill mid-rise, tired and white, with bad natural light—the artificial light inside was worse. The kitchen was the size of a minute, and cars wheezed down the Riverway all day. Good thing Boston beds down early: There were few night cars, and it is within the deep night when the most important decisions have to be made.
My preliminary sketches were in order. Our apartment building had a wooden roofdeck, and this is where I had spread out graph paper during mid-March afternoons, when the starlings returned, and made the initial calculations. I used blue pencils and black pens, for the sky and for the skeleton. It could be no other way. On a late-April evening I began to build my martyr machine.
I lost a finger during the construction, but it was a very small price to pay for the salvation of your soul. The ropes would be of nylon and arachnid, and woven in the chill just before dawn, when the web slept; they would, of course, be five in number, and each would have to be secured, on one end, to an iron kettle. The space needed for the kettles initially caused me much anguish, because you always need a good and free pendulum, but I made a remarkable discovery on the day that green (spring) was reborn. The starlings had ascended from the arms of the oaks, revealing the gap. I would build upward from the deck into the twittering black that will always, if we wait too long, turn back into blue.
You received a religion from the chocolate racecars, a Valentine’s Day gift from a boyhood boyfriend who died. I thought that was sweet. I also thought you mascara-stamped the epitome of cool on my collar when you cried for the Bactrian camels, who survive on dry grass and salt water. But you were not sincere, as it turns out, and there would of course be consequences.
There was a system of pulleys and a seat cushion that needed to be measured and installed, but I am unable to communicate the explanation without using numbers, so I am going to have to ask you to trust me. You deserve nothing but mathematics, but today is an unusual day — I am in a verbal mood and unable at the moment, in this fury of release, to jeopardize the whole affair by fussing with the numbers. It did not involve a composite number. That is all I can say.
Finally that day came, in late July, when you took me by the hand and led me to the roof, the source of the heat. The sky was the color of liquid silver as you settled into your seat. I began to attach the ropes to your waist and limbs, and a single starling alit on the steel shore of your slander. You reached for the wrong ropes, fed up, and completed the movements that the machine was going to make anyway, despite you. You couldn’t find a word. You may smile, but you are now tied in golden knots behind my back.
THE2NDHAND’s 10th-anniversary collection is out and available — for ordering info, check out the books page.
Hess’ work is featured in a special section in our newly released 10th-anniversary collection All Hands On: A THE2NDHAND Reader. Order it here. For more about Hess, visit his website; he has both a novel and short story collection forthcoming in the next year’s time.
A tug-of-war was on. Once we’d entered the competition, the picnic became a widower’s nightmare. A tow-truck driver outweighed me by more than I see fit to mention here, and no one pulling knew enough to see how that mattered.
I took my place at the front of the line, bowed, and took a good long tug. The rest of the contestants wore fitted gloves but mine were another example of how hand-me-downs should not count as Christmas gifts. Pulling, I felt my shoulders had taken up twitching.
Outsized, we helmeted workers fared worse than children. I noticed how many of them (children) were laughing or pointing at us, gaps in their teeth. They would tug-of-war childishly, grab one end of the rope but let go to run home and touch buttons on the DVD player. Or was it a simulation tug-of-war they anticipated, complete with a Wii controller they’d wield as their parents acted impressed? “You rotten youths!” I said (someone had to say it). I couldn’t make tug-of-war a success but I knew what I was doing. “I hate to say it,” I shouted, tugging, “but you’re going to work selling sports helmets, graduation caps or not.” Foot Locker was hiring. I’d seen a quarter of a dozen signs about it.
That information caused silence. For a minute, I thought some of them were about to weep. “When all my generation’s deceased, when this fat Irish dump truck driver’s dead as free email,” I shouted, sweating, “I swear to God, you resuscitate me for ten seconds and I’ll beat this information into all nine of your preteen peepholes.”
I sounded angry, I know. But my shoulders agonized enough to tell these teens what they were in for. “What kids don’t get about things is how old men want severance checks. We’re dying in front of you,” I said. “You don’t believe me? This tug-of-war is all we have, and we don’t want to lose.”
The youths stripped off their t-shirts and joined the workers’ team, stepping in there and tugging like motherfuckers. Watching, a bunch of people with thin arms and no self-respect looked up to us, their general opinions of tug-of-war warped after a day spent meditating on this one.
Alabama-based writer Van Newell teaches at the University of AL in Tuscaloosa. He did an MFA at Columbia University.
I was twisting my hair, the ends of it, because I couldn’t find my hairband, and even though he’s the assistant manager, Doug called in sick, saying that he would be late getting in, being hung over from dollar margaritas at Sabor Latino. So I was stuck watching the store and with school letting out for the afternoon it was going to be Shoplifters ahoy, come ye who are heavy burdened with being broke come yon unto thy mall and unto Hot Topic. Our key demographic wears trench coats in early June because it’s hot and they want to show how me against the world they are.
Girlfriend comes in, more-goth-than-thou skin, hair cooked black and I thought to myself I bet she has The Craft on blue ray and DVD. But there is no one else in the store, and thusly a totally wrong time to boost anything, so she walks through our 400-square-foot store and no one else comes in the next twenty minutes and I’m almost to the point of telling her to just take something under five bucks because I was tired of scoping her. Then I reached that point. “Just take the bacon flavored mints over in the clearance section and go,” I said.
To further induce the lifting of shop, I bend down on one knee to tie my shoe so she can finagle something and she snaps forward, grabbing a pewter Insane Clown Posse necklace hanging from a stand and for dessert she takes my purse there on the glass counter.
But I’m after her.
Girlfriend hangs a right out of the store towards the food court and she’s quicker than I gave her credit. Rentacop Rob is standing there and I yell at him that my purse has been stolen and he takes flight after her, his poor man’s state trooper hat flying off, and we chase her down to the exit doors and there’s a dented Suzuki with the engine running that she hops into. The riceburner guns it and is gone before I can read the plate. I put my hands on my knees because I’m overweight and I haven’t run that hard since I had to for the Presidential Fitness test in eighth grade. Rob goes around the corner to see if he can somehow get a look at the plates from a distance.
It didn’t hit me until I passed the Sabarro that what really sucks is not that my purse was stolen but that the contents of said purse were gone. Have to call the credit card company and cancel that. Go to the DMV. Go get another social security card. Oi, this was starting to suck and then I come back to the store and I find it in the act of being ransacked. It was a total setup, the girl had been the bait and I had been the mark.
Three metalhead kids are in there and I go after the smallest and push him onto the ground. He wiggles away, but the other two are still there and I reach into my pocket and take my keys and arrange them in between my fingers like the YWCA self-defense class showed me and I start punching away because I know these unwashed losers, vaguely, cause they go to my high school and they’re too cool for school to give me the time of day but apparently they are not above thefting a Slipknot t-shirt.
And I get to draw blood, scratches on their forearms as they try to defend themselves. Rentacop Rob shows back up and tries to stretch his body out like a sumo wrestler to keep the rest of them running and tells me he’s got it under control. Call the cops, he says, as if he was waiting his whole life to say that. And I talk to the 9-1-1 lady who asks if I know her granddaughter because I sound like one of her friends and that’s West Memphis, Arkansas, for you and I tell her I’ve got to go.
Then Girlfriend shows back up and with something that looks like an electric shaver in her hand and she plants it right in Rentacop’s back and I hear a buzz and the poor jerk falls onto his stomach. She tells me to stay back, bitch, and I’m sure corporate’s policy is for bitches to, in fact, stay back, and I don’t own this stuff in the store and I don’t own a share of stock in the company but I want to have some fun and I throw a crystal Super Mario figurine right at her forehead and if it doesn’t get lodged into said forehead. She screams and goes cross-eyed but pulls it out and she starts to cry and charge at me and by now there’s a billion people around and then Doug shows up with a shopping bag from Foot Locker and he pulls her off of me. He barges in with his dick-a-swingin’ to save the day and bends over to tell all three of them there on the floor that they are under arrest.
Girlfriend does the right thing and she tases Doug and I feel my eyes grow large and bark out a laugh and I make a note to myself to write her a thank-you note while she is in juvenile detention. If she can get over the whole bloody figurine in the forehead, I bet we could become fast friends when she gets out.