The writers debuted this piece at THE2NDHAND’s 11th-anniversary celebration at East Nashville’s Portland Brew Feb. 12, 2011.
The listenership of the Pretzel Eyes show remained small. Pretzel Eyes himself, otherwise known as Martin Tanager, had done his best to create the most avant-garde radio program Cornell University student radio had ever known. It was difficult for him to predict how many more hours of crawlspace field recordings the greater Ithaca area would have to hear before it realized the greatness of his show, but he refused to give up. If he threw in the towel now, all he’d have to do with himself as a biology major would be to study the organ systems of creatures which seemed to have evolved solely to bore and infuriate him.
One man had called in last week, attempting, it seemed, to reach another number, and said he’d just been bitten by a dun-colored scorpion. Martin told him to put some ice on the bite and relax, though he did not really know whether this was wise. He’d not yet studied scorpions. Aside from that, though, the phones had not rung. Perhaps the show was still insufficiently avant-garde, Martin worried. He began to monkey with the tone controls in hopes of finding a combination which would further unsettle the philistines, but eventually he turned them all back to the way they had been in the first place.
Perhaps he needed a partner. He’d seen some potential in the Panamanian with whom he shared a lab table, though he did not approve of that fellow’s haircut nor his familiarity with canals. Access, after all, was not what The Pretzel Eyes Show was all about. No, the Panamanian would only louse things up. Better to fly solo. Just as he reconciled himself to this sad necessity, the light on the telephone flashed. Martin answered it.
“Is this the Pretzel Eyes show?” a voice asked.
“Yes, it is,” Martin said.
“Well, I must say I greatly enjoy your recordings, crawlspace and otherwise,” the voice maintained, “and the satisfaction engendered thereby has ennobled my once haggard spirit. You do Ithaca a service.”
“Thank you so very much,” Martin said, and wiped away a tear. –Ronan-Daniell
Winsome McKenzie brought his own fat ass onto that elevator. There were his many guts and faded tiger tattoos reflected in a cascade hallway of ornate glass. Throwing a towel over his shoulder and (hopefully) his emerging splotch of ringworm, McKenzie rehearsed vague pitches to potential players. He decided “ancillary artifacts” sounded smarter than “ancillary accessories,” more modern and probably less redundant, although really…
The doors opened for a lanky teenager in a hooded sweatshirt. He bobbed his head in cut time, averting his eyes from the awesome power of bare male flesh.
McKenzie’s eyes swam beneath burst capillary waves of nostalgia — his own youth — nights on the mountain with Syl and Simone. Simone, who’d spent the last month studying formalized logic under the auspices of a nervous young man in khaki shorts, was pulling her legs beneath herself — a heel grazing the boundary of buttock — from which position she lectured through a marijuana haze on the meta-mutations of mathematical conception: circles with negative radii, the name of Yahweh perhaps hidden in algebraic permutations of the Latin alphabet, parabolas turned in on themselves until they became like pretzels, the formula for which had some bearing on the particular trio’s camaraderie. Winsome couldn’t recall specifics, being lost, as it were, in the buttery plane of Simone’s exposed thigh.
“May we have pretzel eyes for brains that our hearts might see them coming,” Simone intoned, drunk and silly. They’d felt on the verge of something then, togetherness defined not by physical boundaries but by an allegiance to ideas so patently obvious that they defied definition. Simone was in Berkley now, working on a farm and spending entire months in self-imposed silence. About Syl, Winsome had no idea and here; here was he, old and fat and ready to swim.
McKenzie realized he’d been staring at the teenager, whose face shone from beneath its hood with a mix of disgust and discomfort. Embarrassed, he jerked his head upward, fixing his eyes on the numbers whose steady decline was nearing its end.
CT, don’t lose that number.
I think it might be killing the blackbirds
I knew this hacker in Chicago long time ago was a big steely dan fan, sat around his house singing dumb deacon or whatever. I mean, assuming you mean those kinds of blackbirds…
Never can tell with hackers, as they are always casting one thing into another thing.Hackers can build programs that cast blue jays into blackbirds or can, for that matter, convert into blackbirds: sandwiches, lollipops and vague feelings of encroaching ennui. I’m not interested in where the blackbird’s been only in where it’s going. Did that hacker have a handlebar mustache? I’ll bet.
He did. Above a very large and unruly beard. I think hackers are killing the blackbirds.
He’s hacked into my YouTube, so i can see what you’re saying And why doesn’t this happen every July 5th? It certainly ought to.
But it is not July 5. Oh if it were. Seeing what you’re saying might be less necessary.
You’re right. It’s like one of those dreams where having to pee turns into a storm cloud.
my pretzel has eyes.
I’m tired of hearing about your pretzel. I’m hungry. Can’t you see that I’m hungry? The pretzel sees what you are up to.
I was a hell-raising shit-talking son of a drunk from a very land of such. Course I knew more than one man my near equal in hubris. But it was Harry Wright who made me tempt the river, not that crazy old preacher.
Harry was a veritable manufacturer of useless ornamental padlocks fashioned from pretzels, grouped in threes and hung upside down — he thread string through the eyes to sinch them together. I don’t remember what the fuck the point was, he needed something to do with the cast-offs of the awful pride he held in his ability to beat a spinning master lock, common for him to demonstrate if you hung around the bar long enough into the evening, which I did. His method? Well-placed hammer stroke, brought down hard on the lock’s face. The dial would pop right out, along with the U, making, the dial, quite a nice little focal point sandwiched among the pretzels he used for the ridiculous ornaments. Maybe he figured he could make money punting them off around Christmas to the few redneck housewives down at his place, where I bellied up most days. They weren’t what I was paying him for.
Another weekday, another three hours in front of me with news for Harry Wright nothing outside the ordinary, which was fuck-all boring. I mean without all the mud on the jobsite and a little drama involving dump driver Willy One-Eye’s stuck shoe I guess I didn’t have nothing at all to say to Harry Wright. Which is exactly what the man told me toward the end of the godforsaken night, almost got in a fight with a useless little bulldog of a Memphis boy who brought his girl in there to prove he could get it up, I guess. He caught me staring at her chest. Don’t tempt me you useless little cobblestone, I told him.
“Don’t you ever change anything up, Grantham?” Harry Wright bellowed to break up the impending altercation, I guess you’d say, then pounding his hammer down, popping open another of his locks on the bar and grinning to eat all the adulative shit that now rained down on him. I kept it up, got a fiery drunk on had to be half a fifth of Evan Williams.
“Call a car for you, Grantham?” Harry said near the end of it.
I don’t guess I was planning to go, but to spite the old man I said nah, I was OK, would be OK, and wobbled up off my seat and I could feel the eyes of every Harry Wright idolator in the place on me as I left, chancing just the glance back to the bar, where an old man had now spun on his stool and grabbed me by the forearm, pulling me down onto an empty seat next to him.
Harry’s eyes peered down on me through his bushy eyebrows, daring me to make a move, telephone out of its cradle and in his hand like he was planning on using it to smash my skull. He shook it with each word, then: “Don’t tempt the river, old man.”
But I wasn’t half as old as the guy who’d sucked me down next to him. I would have knocked him out had it not been for his age and Harry’s dexterity with the hammer, and the phone, I guess. I’d seen him use it.
The old man quickly ordered two beers and then slid one over to me after Harry put them both down in front of him. “He’s OK,” the man said, a little nod of the head to Harry Wright. He didn’t waist no time in what he was about. “You got the Lord, son?”
Oh boy. “You ain’t going there, old man,” I said.
“You need him. Like Harry said, Don’t tempt that damn river.”
I turned my beer up at that, banging the empty down hard on the bar, where it clattered and rolled over down into the trough on Harry’s side. I told them all where they could shove their Lord.
“Jesus, Grantham, the man’s a preacher!” Harry roared.
“Is that right?” I said. “Preachers should not partake. Nor curse. It’s in the goddamn book.”
The grizzled old graybeard just shook his head. “You mind what I told you.”
I had to cross the big muddy 10 minutes later back to my Arkansas home, whine of the tires in my Ford rapping in succession across its sections and, man, I don’t know what the hell happened but next thing I was struggling to get my seatbelt off as the water poured in through the open window, in a matter of seconds up to my neck and over my head and, then, silence.
I was back on the Tennessee bank imagining the truckstops way out across the river, muttering thinking laughing clear to the diesel pumps and dog track about just how Harry Wright wasn’t a scoundrel, wasn’t a pure devilish evil thing of a grandstanding impairment engine. I loved the man, I did, more than booze itself. One of them pretzel padlocks half stuck in the mud beside me getting soggy, couldn’t really feel my left arm. I might have better done to consider the kid at home, the wife, but it’s unlikely in a moment so fleeting. None eyes have seen this glory, a shame bigger there hasn’t been. Death comes quick, louder than a bomb. A quake, a stiff breeze, a howling wind and rain so strong it snaps your scalp. And I was gone. –Ballentine and Dills