King lives and writes in Nashville, Tenn.
Last night I dreamed that I was back in Germany, but this time I was stationed near a massive city, instead of in the midst of the charming and quaint town of Landstuhl I loved so much. Landstuhl always was something of a comforting reminder me of home in a strange, unfamiliar universe.
In fact, for this tour of duty, I truly had no conception of where I was stationed, and didn’t really care. I had been stationed on the post for weeks completely indifferent to my surroundings, and one day during work when everything was slow, the entire unit piled into an enormous camouflage van and headed for the mystery metropolis. We were all in uniform, and technically still on duty, so there was to be no drinking, of course. And also of course, I was demoralized.
But the moment we arrived, I felt that total sobriety would be preferable. I mean, who could get a beer down in a place like this, where the noise and the swirl of disorder was so crippling it choked the soul and made the throat close up, purposely denying itself oxygen as to head for the grave, away from the madness? I was seated next to Van Heusen, an actual old roommate of mine, and I had to scream into the side of his face to ascertain where we were.
“Say, what is this hell-hole we’re in?”
“WHAT IS THIS HELL-HOLE WE’RE IN?!”
“Oh, it’s called Bad Hamburg. You didn’t know? What rock have you been stationed under?”
I didn’t offer him any explanation, because frankly I didn’t feel like talking, much less roaring like a grizzly bear to get across a single sentence. I just sat back and watched, weeping internally.
There was the sharp, metallic sheen of modernity everywhere; of glass and steel and diamond-like glinting rushing from everywhere at once, unlike at a lake when the sun is dropping, and the glinting tends to stroll across the surface of the water as to be savored, or at the least pinpointed. In fact, Bad Hamburg, its name’s introduction fitting, hardly resembled Germany at all; it was more like Tokyo had been surgically implanted and, as a kind yet futile gesture, a cathedral or two and a few small buildings of timeless European descent were preserved to cower among the skyscrapers and the rip-off outlets. The entire community (could it be called that?) was comprised of imitation jewelry, ten-dollar Nikes and tax-breaking corporate manufacturing outposts. Christ, there were even neon Coors and Budweiser signs in the windows of the bars, in the middle of Germany!
Finally the van was parked, and I stepped off, disoriented and nauseated and with a splitting headache. We snaked through the narrow corridors off the main strip, dodging thousands of people, as the vendors at the stands shook five-dollar watches and necklaces in our faces while belting their haggles, and I ducked into a bar with a girl from our unit. I’d been dead wrong; complete sobriety could never be endured in a place like this. So I ordered a beer, a fucking Miller Lite; the Army could send me home if they wanted for having a watered-down beer; be my salvation, I beg of you.
Once again I could hardly hear myself fart or think, but at scattered intervals, when the techno stopped, I talked to the girl I once knew from my second duty station, but whose name I couldn’t place. She had short black hair and generous eyes, was kind and outgoing — that’s all I knew. You see, my brain and all its memory had been made molten by Bad New York or Hong Kong Hamburg, whatever the place was called.
But I remembered Landstuhl all too well, and I re-created it for the girl.
“I miss everything about Landstuhl,” I told her.
“We could walk from the barracks and get anywhere we wanted — no voyages needed in green, tank-like vehicles, and the train station was open-air. I mean, you could still see trees and grass and hills in the distance as the trains cruised by; the trains weren’t crammed into crowded, subterranean tunnels.
“Speaking of tunnels, there was one small tunnel leading to the train station in Landstuhl, passing under some streets; it also led to a couple of nightclubs on the outskirts of the town. The stones of the tunnel, like gems in a ring, were set in the perfection of ancient masonry, and weathered to that poetic dark-gray only time can execute. Between each stone was some kind of moss; it was green and bright, like landscapes in Ireland at sunrise.
“Once, my friend Adam and I ran into a couple of skinheads in that tunnel on the way to a disco. They pulled switchblades on us and started shouting in German, an unspeakable act for Landstuhl. But what’s funny is this — they didn’t have the gall to get too close to us. They were actually trying to rob us or tell us to go back to America from 30 yards away, so Adam and I picked up a couple of chunks of rather large rubble, jarred loose from a walkway platform, and assumed NFL quarterback passing positions. The skinheads de-switched their blades, pocketed them, turned and moved along at a deliberate pace, and shut their mouths, too, before letting loose one or two cursory final outbursts as if to appease their pride. That was the only incident remotely even close to a crime we ever encountered and/or heard of in the town of Landstuhl.
“The bar Adam and I usually went to was called the Kasade, and the owner was Rhiner. He had a couple of rotting front teeth, but it didn’t detract from his friendly nature. He used to bring us ‘meters’ of cola-beer; they were long, handmade wooden boxes, with the smaller glasses of beer on the outside, leading up to two large beers in the middle. The idea was to drink the smaller beers first, working your way to the center, where the last two big beers served as the toast, a kind of icing applied to the finished meter. On the meter boxes and the wooden tables were people’s names, carved in countless languages; each patron of The Kasade for the last 300 years, it seemed. I carved my own name into one of the tables after finishing the final meter of my life, possibly, the night before I left Landstuhl for my next duty station.
“By the spiraling stairwell leading down into the perfect half-darkness of The Kasade was a large, petrified tree, rising up through a flawlessly-crafted hole cut into the floor. There was a ring of bright red bricks decorating the circumference of the hole, encircling the roots. The tree was the color of snow or a birch, and names through the ages were carved into the tree, too.”
I finished my beer; that last bitter drop of watered-down dog piss, as the girl and I stepped out into the locust-like bellowing of the big city traffic and I yearned for a cola-weissen from one of Rhiner’s meters or a small-town fest on a Sunday afternoon.
She took one glance at the chaos and her usual jovial smile transformed to instant sadness and that distant sting of alienation, and so did mine.
A new half-issue comes with a new format, with page sizes optimized to easy reading on tablets and the various eReaders that are out there — access the 11-page issue (pdf) by clicking through the image of page 1 or 2 below, or scan the QR on page 2 to pull it up.
In any case, great to have an excerpt from one of the 2011′s best books, hands down. I had the opportunity to read what amounts to an homage to Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions after its author, Mickey Hess, and I toured briefly in November. The Nostalgia Echo is the story of Princeton prof and lesser-known “nostalgia theorist” Everett Barnes’ late-life brush with whatever fleeting version of stardom is possible for his ilk in our time, complete with his image stenciled on freeway overpasses — a History Channel TV show having sparked it all, of course. Perhaps more importantly, the book is also the last, most appropriate chance for its narrator to tell his own story. A brush with Barnes in his youth, documented in an old photograph that is his only personal vestige of his birth mother’s existence, provides the impetus for the working narrator’s growing present-tense obsession with the nostalgia theorist, likewise the graffiti artist who is the origin point for the Barnes stencils.
In short, in classic Hess fashion, it’s a wild, hilarious ride of a book. No. 37.1 consists of Chapter 3, with included shorts by T2H coeditor Jacob Knabb (“Pig Sweatin’”) and a poem by Nashville writer Brad King (“Long Lost Pals,” see how they roll).
King lives and writes in Nashville.
long lost pals:
here’s how they roll.
they will call you up right
out of the blue, on a Tuesday
morning at 5 a.m., and
before you can breathe,
oodles of exciting
developments to report.
all they required was a little
time and distance away
from you, and their lives
transformed from uneventful,
at best, into
underwear parties with
fine young girls and in-ground
pools and 10-lb. bass in
sprawling new reservoirs of
crystalline supremacy on
acres of land.
although you’re terribly skeptical, a
trip will be arranged as to
witness for yourself the
newfound paradise of
long lost pals, these
grandiose lives assembled
like swing sets or timeless
no one is looking, and
here’s the reality:
one overweight girlfriend, one
rug rat from wedlock;
an above-ground pool inflated with
it’s rubber and intriguing since
you never really knew
such pools existed; one
doublewide trailer, and a catfish
mudhole drying in the
yard with frogs and turtles and
billions of neurotic and soon-to-be
homeless water skimmers.
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.
King is an Army veteran, visual artist and creative writer. His poems have appeared in Number One, The Chiron Review, and other publications. He enjoys sports, the outdoors and almost anything associated with the arts in and around Nashville.
The Army is usually a man’s plan B or C or D — that’s the first thing I learned through military service.
I believe Michael Stewart to be a model example of the caliber of person who matriculates there: A habitual liar to a poetic extent, Stewart was supposedly a starting tailback at a Texas college and he also played baseball in the minor leagues. These were a couple of his lesser fibs. He was 5-foot-6, about 125 pounds, and he resembled a leprechaun both in voice and persona — not exactly a vision of athletic domination, needless to say. For any fool who believed a single word he had to say, the Army was definitely Stewart’s plan B, as a blown-out kneecap had ended his journey to NFL stardom and The Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Yet the Army was thrilled by his busted kneecap, and they jumped at the chance to acquire his services: Therein lies the eternal rub, even one the great Stewart could not wholly explain.
I hated his guts when I first met him — mildly insane and completely annoying as he was — but one day I saw him in a different light. He was fairly drunk and in a truth-telling mood and finally confessed that he was merely a loser — 25 in the Army was a “loser” to him, and I was shocked to have witnessed the truth behind his lies: deep-down he possessed the spirit of greatness. He wanted more but did not know exactly where greatness could be found, or the form in which it may reside within himself.
I tried to console him, to assure him that he wasn’t a loser, but he would have none of it: He was certain of his plight. He was also certain he was going to hell for his lies, and I saw a man broken, beaten down by life. I was a dopey nineteen-year-old who harbored his own illusion of greatness, and I felt horrible for Stewart and what he believed.
Yet the very next day he was bouncing from the walls — Stewart had returned from the precipice of hell just as brazen as ever, and I learned to accept him for who he was. We even became half-ass friends or something of the like.
I inherited that same bravado, an alcohol problem, and a tangible madness from Stewart and the U.S. Army. He’s lost somewhere in Texas combing the deserts on LSD or just whacked on Guinness — spinning grandiose tales in suicide taverns to the half-ass cowboys and the haggard drifters. They’ll consume his bait fucking hook-line-and-sinker. Michael Stewart, now 41, could put Twain to shame as far as timeless yarns.