After a years’ worth of shows at the Hungry Brain, after the old home week blowout with longtime T2Hers Joe Meno, Marc Baez, Fred Sasaki, C.T. Ballentine and our humble editor (oh a-and Harold Ray, but of course, made his indelible mark on the October night, too), we’re back with a fancy program Tuesday, Dec. 6, at Hungry Brain. Following check out the deets. Follow the links for more about/from the performers.
So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel?
8 p.m. Tuesday, December 6, 2011
@Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, Chicago, FREE
Blonde Ambition by Jac Jemc (whose first novel is due next year and who published this story in THE2NDHAND a couple years back)
Stand-up w/ a hand-up (your arse) w/ Natalie Edwards
Advice for the Damned from Irby + Ian
Some Kind of Wonderful: Mason Johnson & Daniel Shapiro
MUSIC BY: Harold Ray & the Post-Revolutionary Letdowns, w/ variations on shooting yerself in the face & how it don’t hurt
& HOUSE BAND Good Evening
Amanda, a Hyde Parker at heart, now lives and writes in THE2NDHAND’s birthplace off the Blue Line in Chicago.
At the marble countertop, she is struggling to find the words.
“Welcome to the Hotel Grand Royale,” announces a well-pressed, well-groomed clerk. She says she’s here to meet her husband and that he’ll be there soon.
She’s not sure why she’s lying.
“Ah yes,” the clerk is saying, and there is a key in her hand, and she is on the elevator, and her finger is pressing 16 till it lights up, and she looks at her watch, again, and there are maybe twenty minutes.
In the room, there is a narrow rectangular window looking down onto the street, to the café below, the newsstand, the subway station, a woman walking her dog, some teenagers on the corner smoking. She could be anywhere, she thinks, but she’s not.
The door key still in her hand.
Slipping off her sandals, her shorts, her sweater, bra, underwear, she jumps into the shower, gasping silently at the shock of cold before the hot.
For a second, she closes her eyes, thinks: this could be my eternity, like Sartre said. But there’s no time for that: eight minutes already gone, and there is so much to do.
Looking out the window, towel wrapped around her, hair beginning to curl in the hot humid air; a man on a bicycle rides by, unsteadily; two girls run on, followed by an old woman (their grandmother?); a boy, alone, sits on the fountain, earphones on — and does she imagine it? — looks up, at the window, sullenly.
Shit, she thinks. No one was supposed to see her.
There is lotion to slather on her newly shaven legs, another for her face, arms (it smells like rosewater), chamomile deodorant, perfume. The room is suddenly filled with flowers. She sings a song to herself, a Gershwin tune.
“There’s a somebody I’m longing to see…”
At the window again, wearing her black lace bra and underwear, the street is as empty as it was full earlier. Except for that forlorn boy, still sitting there, eyes squinting, looking up at something in the sky.
In front of the mirror, she pulls the pencil hard over her eyelids, patting on foundation, brushing blush onto her cheeks, curling eyelashes, threading inky mascara through each one, coloring in her lips a darkish red, wondering if she’s created a believable rendition of her face, if she’s recognizable anymore, the scar still showing — always showing — bifurcating her symmetrical face, disrupting her geography.
Staring at the watch, only a minute or two left, she sinks onto the floor, back pressed against the bed, kisses its face gently, closes her eyes.
“Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed … follow my lead–”
Rifling through her suitcase, which lies prostrate on the ground, she grabs a dress, pulling it over her head as she stands before the window. It’s blue, silky, hanging loose on her small frame.
It takes all of her to stand upright: she holds onto the window ledge, just in case.
She is looking for that head, the one that bobs a little to the left when excited — needing to get to her as fast as possible, because time is running out, there are no minutes left, only seconds, growing fewer all the while — and this is her forever.
Waiting before the window as the sunlight perishes, molecule by molecule, these maybe 20 minutes in room 163B; that boy smiling up at her, reminding her it’s not a dream, that she is here (not somewhere else); and this version of herself (the one so young, hopeful, humming that song) will stay like this, eyes steady, waiting in ghostly anticipation long after all of this is gone — through the death of this love, and others, marriages, children — there will always be a room locked tight inside her with a narrow window, a wristwatch, and a pain that precedes its own articulation.
Kavanagh’s The Killing of a Bank Manager was published by Honest Publishing. Kavanagh lives and writes in Charlotte, N.C.
He asked a number of silly questions. His wife was sure he had found out about her affair. She had been sleeping with John. They met every Wednesday at a cheap motel. They did things that she would never do with her husband. Sometimes she didn’t want to go, but she always did. The questions had nothing to do with the affair; the questions pertained to the streets that made Uptown. Next it is the kids’ turn. Mike wants to go to bed and jerk off. Carol is on the phone talking to her good-for-nothing boyfriend who wears makeup and listens to music that tells him to commit suicide. Peter is tucked up in bed dreaming of tractors, diggers and Superman giving him a helping hand to dig the biggest hole ever.
So you’ve pointed the spotlight, you’ve done the SS routine, twisted arms, pulled ears, played with Betty’s boobs, next it’s off to the shower. You’ve no dignity left so you jerk off. It’s all yes O yes. Betty walks in but you don’t stop. The last time she saw you like this was on your honeymoon. You might not be embarrassed but she is. After you have washed yourself down you stand in front of the mirror and you say things will get better. You rub yourself down and then throw the towel in the basket. You put on your pajamas and say that you will wear the grey suit tomorrow. Betty says something about the time. You tell her it is going to be a busy day. She goes into the bathroom, undresses, brushes her teeth. Before she can say goodnight you are asleep.
Betty looks down at the sleeping man. She thinks about John. She grabs the sheet, wishing it was John’s penis. She wants to put it into her mouth and feel the bulge, she wants to feel the come seep from the aperture. Betty climbs into bed and the heat from her husband touches her. John bent her over and inserted his penis into her anus. It hurt. He whispered something; Betty tries to recall the words as the penis burrowed down into her anus. Betty rolls onto her side and gently caresses herself. John removed his penis from her anus and filled her rictus with his come.
It is a troubled sleep but nobody will know. Betty climbs into the bed, you are unaware. You are standing on Tryon, you are naked. It’s the same dream over and over again. You are always on Tryon and you are always naked, the only difference is that the people that point, mock, laugh always merge and change. You awake around three in the morning in a cold sweat of dread. How is it going to end? you want to know. You think about getting up, but you don’t have the energy. Sleep is welcomed, even though it is a Trojan horse. Even before the first Z you’re right back on Tryon naked as the day you were born.
Betty dreams of John. There are many Johns and they are all naked. They grab her and violently throw her down on the bed. The walls are covered in peacocks. The peacocks had their plumages displayed. The eyes are watching her. The Johns turn Betty over and they all insert their penises into her orifices. The eyes never blink. There is no turning away.
So you wake up in the morning. You’ve already showered, so after brushing your teeth, you put on the suit. Lately you have been eating like a pig. You start even before sitting down. “Here he goes the old human trashcan!” thinks Mike. “It is disgusting; heart attack city here we come!” thinks Carol. “The race is on!” thinks Peter. You’re acting the pig now, but your dignity was stripped away many months ago. You’re oinking all the way to the door. Betty will take the kids to their schools. You once did the drive, but a couple of months ago you told Betty that you wanted to use the bus. You told her that you had joined a group. You called it the bus group. She laughed, but conceded it was a good idea. Now after work you get together before the bus and have a couple of drinks. She’s fine with it. Now when you get home you’re in a better mood.
Off to work. Betty places a kiss upon your forehead. She’s been doing it now for twenty years. Her lips are glowing embers. The pain is too much, but you don’t flinch, you welcome the pain. She will not kiss John with the same lips. “Have a good day at work,” says Betty. You smile and nod your head. On the bus you act important. You act as though you have the world on your shoulders.
It is amazing how quickly you dematerialize. Nobody gives you a second glance. It’s the times. But under the pink fluff, behind the huge belly, behind the snout, behind the huge grin, you know, wallowing in the sweat, you know, the disgust, the shame, shame is a funny thing; to some shame is a perpetual rainfall that drenches, for others shame is an absent friend, shame can be the torturer, shame the nagging wife, shame is that clown the follows you into that interview and pulls down your pants, shame is that star linebacker that pushed your face into the mud, shame is the businessman that huffs at your tie, shame is the prostitute that collapsed into a mess of laughter at your naked frame, shame is that cheap pop song that won’t leave you alone.
Last night I dreamed that I was back in art school.
I was doing these enormous, abstract paintings: They were luminous, expansive, and in brand-new colors, like gold and silver and the ocean combined, contained in tubes of overpriced plastic for consumer enjoyment and/or instant poverty for an artist on the rise.
I was proud of the paintings and thought they were special, but the teacher didn’t see it; she believed them to be especially bad, at best.
“I hear that you’re a writer, is that true?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“That means you don’t devote enough time to your paintings, and we can see the results, can’t we, class?”
The class began to nod in approval of her insults, and the teacher’s face turned cold and mechanical, yet somehow giddy.
I didn’t say a word, to the teacher or the class.
“You’ll be getting an F for this course, rest assured, if you continue with this writing business,” the teacher stated.
I went back to my painting, with more fervor than ever, knowing deep down neither grades nor insults can devalue the worth of what you learn through experience.
When I finished for the day, I’d go home and plan for the next day of painting: The subject would concern what the teacher was about within, and I would paint out the product right there in class in brand-new colors — maybe ultramarine mixed with liquid bronze and evergreen forests — expensively tubed, of course.
Just prior to my trip to Chicago last month (hey folks in NY, MASS, PENN, we’re headed your way Nov. 17-19) I got an email from Mairead Case and Erin Teegarden looking for volunteers for an “oblique strategies” zine project that involved the use of the eponymous deck of cards made by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt that offer randomized techniques toward solving various dilemmas. In the project Case and Teegarden described, writers were asked to pick an original piece to revisit, using the “oblique strategy” on an assigned card toward a redraft / rewrite of the piece.
Case and Teegarden made zines featuring eight pieces written in such a fashion, one of them mine, on the occasion of the Chicago Calling Arts Festival, a multi-arts fest celebrating collaboration and culture. The “oh bleek strategy!” I worked from was “Retrace Your Steps.” Given that I was preparing for the Chicago events at the time, our Stupidist Manifestos were high in my mind. So, here’s the retracing of my manifesto, followed by the original. Enjoy:
STRATEGY: RETRACE YOUR STEPS
Would that it were not a cable news catchphrase: Lean Forward
-17. There is we. It exists.
-16. The little girl and I play for keeps, a movie is broadcast on a pile of woodchips, another girl dares the little girl to do what she herself just did. No, I say, shuddering.
0. I speak much and often in the first-person plural about things that have nothing to do with anyone but myself. Is it about me? It is. More than likely, anyway.
1. Wanting send-off, intertextuality, life to imitate art and vice versa.
15. There was a reading in a cellar for books. I had returned briefly. I had been gone a long time. I was not yet a father, though what would be a daughter was a reality in the womb of the woman accompanying me to the reading, who by this time knew it. I tried to smoke cigarettes as far away from her as I could get. It wasn’t far enough.
19. I read the rest of Shklovsky, including his 1920s Soviet military expansion notes; his biographical sketch of Mayakovsky, that pompous ass, on honeymoon on Greek beaches and cafes; his third factory. I read Bolano and well remembered conceptions of movementeering, of schools of aesthetic thought that above all else held themselves in somewhat satirical regard during moments of high philosophical import. Friends laughed, drunk with it all. I laughed with them.
20. A picture in a box in someone’s closet of three humans, two men and a woman as young and perhaps drunk as they look, one of the men with his mouth wide open as if an ape high as a kite. This picture is the essence. This picture distills the day of its taking – stars in high regard, beer patios, drive-by shootings.
24. Surrounded by dumb, loud music, surrounded by bodies, sweat, someone proffers a name. “Listen: ‘Stupidism.’” “I like it.” “No, listen: ‘Stupidism.’ You don’t get it.” “I like it.”
33. There was another reading. I used the first-person plural to make myself sound as if I had a core of humans at my back who were ready to tear down the walls with me just to get to her. I didn’t think it worked, then, but it did.
38. There is no we.
39. We were not at the airport – or on the avenue in Brooklyn running parallel to the East River, Greenpoint, where I last saw her — when she gave me the book, a full-edition photocopy of the book, rather. It held stupid lessons in stupid art, in stupid love, some of the lessons all the more true for their stupidity. “We are in the business of the creation of new things.” That’s one, if extrapolated. “Routine we transform into anecdotes.” Another. “Insults aimed at us can always be jotted down.” The ultimate.
56. I drank a measly quite hefty pint of whisky at a party. It all ended well, after the brief headache.
THE STUPIDIST MANIFESTO
We are the lesser primates among humanity — we require digital extensions with pens — but we wear the label proudly, hopefully, forcefully. Apes unite!
We live in a time of intelligence. Everything — from bombs and insurance policies to mood medications and the interfaces that guide our communications devices, which is to say nothing of the communications devices themselves, to the multiplicity of the choices available to us (make it the smart choice, goes a commercial local to someplace in the anonymous American wilds, for a particular brand of soap) — yes, everything, is smart. Everything, except for ourselves, and by extension our literature. Where we might achieve success, ever defined by money and happiness, our literature can only be a good read, a page-turner, a titillating memoir of a CEO come from the brink of financial ruin to a truer self-understanding. Malarky, we say, a word with a rich history that we well know. And this: if we are being excluded from the panoply of intelligence amassing in veritable constellations, or massive, very real military ranks, around us, what can we be but stupid?
It sounds like an insult, but let us embrace it. Philosophs and litterateurs the eons over have played games of definition, after all. Let us be stupid like the fox, that trickster of folklore, stupid like the fools of Shakespeare, like the Invisible Man of the modern American canon, he who once warned us to beware of those who talk of the spiral of history, for they are preparing a boomerang. We hold our steel helmets at the ready. The messengers of the new intelligence amass at the gates to the halls of the literature. The Stupidists meet them, remanufactured typewriters and pens stolen from office garbage bins our weaponry, cast-off printouts from PowerPoint presentations our ammunition. We fill the empty backs of the prints with exquisite stupidity. We need not loaves and fishes — we feed the armada with words.
The Stupidist needs not the comfort of home, she draws sustenance from the road, the experience of the new. And when in Rome, when immersed in the culture of the humans, the apes lives on the rooftops, ever roving, well above the umbrella. The Stupidist is a litterateur for the unsuspecting. We are in the business of the creation of new things.
Rowan edits Untoward Magazine and has been published in (or has work forthcoming in Emprise Review, Red Lightbulbs, Everyday Genius, Metazen, and others. You can find him on Facebook if you’re looking for a friend.
“It would be better for him and it would be better for us if he no longer existed.” So had words been written in their implacable red ink, referencing the failure of an esteemed senior party member to smile. Party bylaws dictated that in order even to be considered for party membership one must always smile. One must show one’s bright teeth, which needn’t be white but certainly bright. This was the command of the general secretary, all the way at the very top.
Surgeries were granted to those in the party who worried they might be caught without an acceptable smile.
VERBOTEN! and a picture of, among other expressions, a frown were drawn to posters, which appeared around the capital city. The capital city was the city in which almost all decisions of this nature were decided. Another such decision was that party membership was required.
You were either in the party, smiling, or not and in prison, about to die or dead.
Except for one man, who was still not admitted to the party though he smiled as hard as anyone and damned if he hadn’t attempted every conceivable recourse.
He worked in a mail room at the consulate of an ambassador from a nearby state, where things were handled differently than how the party preferred. He was disturbed by the trend of differences he observed. And he continued to intercept and censor mail that went through his purview, all with hopes of ingratiating himself to the party and, subsequently, gaining entry. Instead, he was fired by the consulate.
Now jobless and penniless (he had spent much of all he had on smile-widening surgeries), he wandered the capital city as a vagabond. He remembered being told by a very old party member, when at age 19 he’d first applied for membership and been denied, “Give it time, my boy, just time. Things like this take time, and not everyone makes it on the first try. Just give it time and patience. Time and time again, that’s what’s needed, only time. Time and patience. Just realize that time is the course, proper and good. And have I yet mentioned patience? Why I remember the time I first joined the party, yes, that took time. So much time, but then it happened, in due time. Now’s time for you and I to go our separate ways, due time. I will no doubt see you tomorrow.” The man never saw the old man again, though not because either had in some way shoved off their mortal coils or become otherwise bedridden and/or detained by scheduling conflicts. They simply were not to cross paths again.
And contrary to what the old man had said, everyone was granted membership after the first attempt, because by law you must be in the party or in prison, and few chose the latter of these options. The man and only the man was left lingering on the outside, like a clerical error smiling brightly and, even, whitely.
But it had been no clerical error. Something that could be described as sinister was in play. The general secretary wrote this of the man who wished to be in the party, repeating a phrase which had now become his usual refrain in such circumstances: “It would be better for him and it would be better for us if he no longer existed.” It was one of the general secretary’s few good lines, and he liked to make use of it whenever he could. It was furthermore all he had written regarding the matter of the man’s party status, which was plenty enough to seal the man’s permanent partylessness. There was little made public in the way of why.
But if one investigated a bit more deeply one could easily determine why the man had been singled out. Despite what the man had thought to be the case, the case was that he — like marginalized groups of previously extant totalitarian regimes, Jews, Bourgeoisie, intellectuals and so forth — was at heart the single cause of the state’s various economic, social, cultural, historical, philosophical and political woes. He was the lone scapegoat to which all problems of every nature were indefatigably yoked. It had been routinely stated that he refused, on principle, to smile — no matter how hard beatings were meted as consequence.
And slowly his rights were removed. Anti-vagabond laws went into effect, and he was thrashed with truncheons as a matter of patriotic duty by those with whom he crossed paths. The saddest of all of these thrashings was one delivered by an old woman who much resembled the man’s grandmother, and against whom he wouldn’t have attempted to defend himself regardless. She thrashed him most spiritedly of all.
The man, whose name was Abe, subsisted on nothing and gradually grew sallow and gaunt. And soon he finally died. He died in a gutter, while someone urinated on him as he clawed listlessly for help. And he was conscious of the warmth of the piss stream, which was the most warmth he’d ever experienced in his short miserable life. But let’s not allow such qualifiers to lessen the fact that he was definitely pissed on whilst he died. He expired in a puddle of urine, at which point, at least, he presumably felt nothing, and hopefully that was an improvement.
Abe wasn’t missed. In fact, some opined that he may well be alive and in need of doing away with yet. They searched for him up high and down low, and in so searching, killed probably more than a few innocent people.
Meanwhile, the secret police continued disappearing people, which included the general secretary, whom no one had seen in a really long time.