Hildy is holding Nemo under his front legs with one arm, letting his hind legs and tail sway back and forth under his bloated stomach. She is calling him “my baby” and reaching for a popsicle that I am holding just out of her reach, just for the hell of it. Every time she reaches for it, I pull it away and Hildy jerks forward to try and reach it again. In this manner, she has stepped on Nemo’s tail four times, each time sending a low growl up into his throat like a pump organ. I hold the popcicle over my head. Sticky red syrup drips onto Hildy’s mom’s couch, which is new and white leather and wraps around the perimeter of our living room. We have the same dad, but regardless, Hildy is a pretty stupid kid. She’s nowhere near old enough to have a baby and Nemo is a cat. It’s fairly obvious.
“Is that your baby?” I ask her as I bite the top off the popsicle, “Is that your big ugly baby, Hildy?” the remainder of the popsicle between my cheek and bottom teeth.
She erupts in a wail that sends Nemo flying. “Can you say ‘pussy,’ Hlldy?” I say. “Go tell mom your big fat pussy ran away, Hildy,” the popcicle melting down the side of my face.
“Jeremy,” Hildy’s mom says, suddenly in the doorway. “We are using ‘vagina,’ and you know it. Don’t you have homework to do?”
When my mom lived here we had a regular fabric couch but at least she wore normal pants. Hildy’s mom wears loungewear and even when she was pregnant her velour track pants were tight enough to make out every curve of each cheek. She caught me looking at them once and told me I should have seen them ten years ago — “They were Gods,” she told me, “Gods.” –Summers
“Oh no oh no!” she said, crouched, top of the slide. “You’re falling, you’re falling!” She let go of the boy’s hands and he slid down on his stomach, feet first, laughing. “Aw,” she lamented when he reached the bottom. “You don’t have any hands, little doggy. Your paws can’t hold on. Try it again, c’mon c’mon.”
And the boy rattled over gravel on hands and knees, barking, around the bottom of the slide to the ladder, still barking, up in quick steps and pulls with newfound climbing joy and, laughing now, back to the platform where she chastised him for climbing – “Doggies can’t go up ladders,” then: “I am God,” she said, “I’m killing you.” She quickly extended her right arm, finger pointed in his direction, striking him down.
He barked, falling onto his stomach, barking again, laughing. She was “my favorite,” he’d told his mother. Her father could at least see that he was her’s too, unlike most of the other three-year-olds willfully, easily dominated in celestial gaming. He wondered, watching from outside the fence, across the playground, what God meant to her other than the ability to kill, where exactly she’d first heard the word.
“Oh no oh no oh no!” she shouted this time, letting go of the boy’s hands. But he did not slide. He held on, laughing as she waved her paws in his face, then relented – “OK OK OK” — and laid belly-down next to him, her hands like his gripping the edge of the platform.
They were gods, one and all. “Ready, set,” she said, and they both let go. –Dills
Shortly after I first moved to Chicago, I was riding the Red Line at a time when no one wants to ride the Red Line. Around 2:45 in the morning, at the Granville stop, a couple boarded. I’d guess they were in their 50s, the man dressed in a large suit the color of the deepest red sunset, when the light in the sky is humming at its lowest frequency. It had shoulder pads somewhere between Brian Urlacher and Murphy Brown, and sequins squinted out in well-worn patches. I can’t describe the dress the woman wore, except to ask if you remember how at one time women’s dresses were made out of an almost dangerous gold-metal fabric that looked like foil. It was arranged in impossible shapes. It didn’t even appear sewn together, just bunches of dress-like substance orbiting her body.
They were tired, these two. We shared the car with a few somnolent drunks. I wasn’t drunk, but I was stupid at the sight of this couple. I stared at them with no shame. Just laser focus through the murky CTA dust-light. They smiled and talked to no one. I couldn’t imagine what world they’d just emerged from, certainly one long closed off to me. They were used to being stared at, or once were. Once, they were gods, probably.
When I was a bored kid, I would crack the spines of my brother’s D&D reference volumes, the ones that detailed the miscellany of creatures of various dead mythologies. What always fascinated me were the horrifyingly inconsequential divinities, the ones that, right beneath their names, were labeled “Lesser God,” like Tyr, the god of combat who only had one hand. It seemed like such an unnecessary downgrade. I understood it in some cases, I guess, like with the God of Apples. That’s a pretty lesser god.
Later, I realized that Chicago is a city of lesser gods. So many fiefdoms and cults and walled communities full of their own mythologies. That couple on the Red Line, royalty in some netherworld. A one-legged vendor on Maxwell Street once tried to sell me a stolen bicycle by demonstrating how he could ride it one-legged. It didn’t work but I could tell it had in the past and would again. He’s a lesser god. Sharkula, the rapper, his whole existence screams chaotic neutral, and someone out there worships him as a lesser god. Cynthia Plaster Caster, Rich Koz, Jojo Baby, Miguel del Valle and the puppet bike. Lesser gods, minor Midwestern divinities, all of them. –Messinger
We’ve got work to do, with a daylong festival in Nashville on Saturday, a drive to Chicago on Sunday for readings Monday and Tuesday evening at Quimby’s and Hungry Brain, respectively, then back Wednesday. It’s all in the name of celebration of 10 and more years of writing published in these halls, which makes it sweet indeed. Below is a listing of the events upcoming, with links to
more information for those interested. Hope to see you out at one.
And here’s a picture from All Hands On‘s first Chicago date this past Monday — with featured writers Lauren Pretnar, Heather Palmer and Mike Zapata at Katerina’s on Irving Park Road. Jacob Knabb snapped it, of Zapata wearing a most apropos t-shirt for a T2H event, I’d say. Apes unite!
NASHVILLE: Saturday, Oct. 1, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.: Handmade and Bound Zine Festival, Watkins College of Art & Design, 2298 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN. THE2NDHAND will be tabling with the new book and a new broadsheet and editor Todd Dills will be giving a workshop tour through THE2NDHAND’s history in a practical, conception-to-nuts-and-bolts-type program titled “Toward a self-sufficient, long-lived zine”, 12:30 in room 503: http://handmadeboundnashville.com
CHICAGO: Monday, Oct. 3, 7 p.m.: All Hands On released at Quimby’s Books, 1854 W. North Ave., Chicago, featuring AHO contributors Jonathan Messinger (Time Out books editor, Featherproof publisher, Hiding Out author), Jill Summers and Kate Duva, as well as THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills: http://the2ndhand.com/THE2NDHANDTXT/all-hands-on-launched-at-quimbys-oct-3/
CHICAGO: Tuesday, Oct. 4, 8:30 p.m.: All Hands On @ So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel?, THE2NDHAND’s monthly variety show at Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, Chicago. This month’s installment brings together longtime THE2NDHANDers with new faces, featuring AHO contributors Joe Meno (The Great Perhaps, Hairstyles of the Damned), Rob Funderburk (visual artist/designer, formerly THE2NDHAND’s design man), THE2NDHAND coeditor C.T. Ballentine, editor Todd Dills, Fred Sasaki and Marc Baez. Also featuring Chicago writer Matt Pine, music by Young Coconut, and Nerves host Harold Ray: http://the2ndhand.com/THE2NDHANDTXT/nerves-of-steels-special-all-hands-on-edition-tuesday-oct-4/
THE2NDHAND began its life in the year 2000 as an 11-by-17-inch block of black text on white paper peppered variously with photo-illustrations, comics, line drawings and distributed in storefronts first in Chicago, then in an ever-growing list of cities around the U.S. New writing, simply, has been its focus since editor and publisher Todd Dills (author of the novel Sons of the Rapture) founded it—a small format its physicality, but a loud mouth and a big heart its most important parts. And without Quimby’s bookstore in Chicago (1854 W. North Ave.), where we began hosting readings shortly after we launched, we would never have built the community of writers and readers we now enjoy.
We return to Quimby’s with our new 10th-anniversary collection, All Hands On: THE2NDHAND after 10, on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. with an all-star cast (all contributors with special sections in the collection) joining Todd Dills, up from Nashville, for the program. Details follow (all illustrations here by Martin Cadieux):
All Hands On @ Quimby’s Book, 1854 W. North Ave., Chicago, 7 p.m. Oct. 3.
Jill Summers‘ work has been featured on National Public Radio and in Stop Smiling, Ninth Letter, Make and others, including THE2NDHAND. Find more in her special section in All Hands On.
Jonathan Messinger is one of the driving forces behind Chicago-based Featherproof Books. A prolific short-story writer in his own right, his first collection, Hiding Out, was released in 2007. Messinger you’ll also know as Time Out Chicago‘s books editor.
Kate Duva grew up in Chicago in a bar; she still lives in the city. Outside the pages of All Hands On, her work can be found at, among other spots, her blog.
Todd Dills plays host for the night, joining the others in a collaborative effort at its nadir, part of THE2NDHAND’s ongoing Pitchfork Battalion series of collabos, also featured in All Hands On. Today, Dills lives in Nashville, Tenn., with his wife and daughter. He is the author of a novel, Sons of the Rapture, and edited All Hands On‘s predecessor collection in 2004.
Dare to join the T2H crew at Quimby’s Thursday for the relaunch of the newest bit player on the crowded Chicago reading series scene, our own “So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel?” which I blogged about when expecting it to launch back last November. Delays, delays, I know. This time round, rumor and innuendo have been less at the front of plans and in their place, well, think monstrous love and well-being and fortitude and general comeuppance, perhaps, all qualities I might well like to better associate with the alloy that gave the city of the series’ birth the fair (or fairly grim) architectural bombast that it holds today.
Couldn’t have picked a better bookstore for it, that’s for sure. THE2NDHAND’s first-ever bookstore-sited reading took place encased in those walls April Fool’s Day, 2001. I can guarantee your memory, such as it may be, of that Sunday will be blown well out of your pants by Thursday’s event, if that makes sense.
Come out, ye readers. Details here:
SO YOU THINK YOU HAVE NERVES OF STEEL?
WHERE: QUIMBY’S BOOKS, 1854 W.North Ave., Wicker Park, Chicago
WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 14, 7 PM,
*Host Harold Ray (aka ACM fiction editor and THE2NDHAND coeditor Jacob Knabb)
*Chicago playwright and past THE2NDHAND contributor Chris Bower
*THE2NDHAND repeat performer and writer Jill Summers
*& Literary stalker extraordinaire Amanda Marbais
There’s more at THE2NDHAND site: www.the2ndhand.com/events/events.html; the Facebook page for the event via THE2NDHAND’s group there is here. You can grab a copy of the new broadsheet, featuring Kate Duva, there too. Speaking of Duva, she’s on the program for the next series event at Whistler on Feb. 8.
And now for a new addition to this blog, a fragment of some work in progress, for kicks. Thoughts appreciated. Here goes. . .
Food enough to last several days, in the end, I thought, cigarettes too. Tobacco was but of course miraculously cheap in Alabama, after Chicago’s $6-$8 a pack, and the canned vegetables and meats were dirt cheap themselves; For his absence, the Suited Man couldn’t have led me a more well economically suited place.
I made my way back to Ingalls through the Five Points central business district – with the exception of Charlotte, every Southern city looking to be considered someplace important has to have a Five Points central business district, modeled on the example perhaps of Atlanta, granddaddy of them all. It’s where the urban freaks and weirdos meet with the town’s shuffling, decaying old guard, a clash made manifest for me today as I descended the large hill into the district from the grocery in the presence of both Iraq War-protesting peaceniks (from middle-age-looking soccer mom types to your more typical punks and anarchists) on one side of the circle where met 20th Street, Magnolia and 11th Avenue, and directly across from them a slightly larger coterie of anti-abortion activists. Among them was a decidedly demonic-looking cross between Abraham Lincoln and Ghandi (with the latter’s trademark spectacles) preaching from atop a milk crate clad in what I could only assume was Amish garb, tophat a’flourish. He was flanked mostly by women bearing signs that read gorily and variously, some including pictures of the bloody mess of aborted fetuses and such.
I watched them warily, grimly the latter crew as I strode by on the other side of the street.
WHAT DO WE WANT? /
WHEN DO WE WANT IT? /
“Peace my brother!” Lincoln/Ghandi, of the anti-abortion party, attempted to boom, though the peaceniks were surely louder. I was close enough to make out his message. “Peace indeed for the unborn souls of the world’s wicked, who blaspheme the teaching and the omnipotence of God; only God gives life, and only he taketh away, in the name of the Lord!” There was a guy in a Harley-Davidson shirt next to the street preacher holding a piece of poster board printed with a variously red, black and brown-colored blob of an image of what would have been indeterminate content if it weren’t for the “GOT A SMOKE?” tag at it’s top, “Tobacco is a the devil’s killer of choice” in smaller lettering below the picture. I pulled hard on my cigarette. The guy holding the sign then did the same, incongruously, with his own, looked me square in the eye, then to his poster, his cigarette and back to me again. He shrugged, puffed, and smiled.
I felt my head expand. I conspicuous, after all, one of the single bystanders not rolling through in a car. The man in his Harley shirt then shrugged, extinguishing his cigarette in the gutter, breaking away in short order from the preacher to confide to me that he got paid for what he was doing. “If you’re out of work,” said the man, “there’s money in this poster.” The anti-arbotion types tended to limit their appearances here, thus every time they showed up the television newscasters followed, ever to make references to the 1990s Eric Rudolph clinic bombing of a still-extant just a couple blocks from Five Points, I learned.
Who exactly paid him? I asked.
“It’s cash, man, how do I know?” he said. “Does it matter? They want us to help swell the ranks, make a good show.”
I pointed to the peaceniks across the square. “They do the same?” I said.
“No way,” he said. “They’ve got real balls and blood behind them. They’re out here every freaking day – new crew every time. No money in it, as you could say about most so-called liberal endeavors. Got a cigarette?”
Lincoln/Ghandi took final notice of us talking and turned his bile in our direction. “…and we were talking about sin, yes, and even among our own here today are vile prognosticators, fornicators and partakers of the vile weed that is the tobacco plant and worse, most surely,” he said. “Take the example here, of Winston Grubbs, 50-year-old homeless black cancer victim who continues spreading the message of the destructiveness of his habit while continue to engage it, proselytize it to the youth community as only a Promissory member can.” I took it he made reference to me as a member of the “youth community.”
“I’m nearly 30,” I said, loud enough that he could hear, and lit another smoke for myself, passing a fresh one to my companion, whose eyes lit up as if prepared to offer a profuse Southern message of thanks and, perhaps, an apology. “Don’t sweat it,” I cut him off, and schlepped my groceries on down the street. Lincoln/Gandhi never skipped a beat.
Back in the Suited Man’s lair I combed the environs for clues, messages from Rinckoff or signs of my father. I came up empty. Whomever it was I was chasing was long gone, though clearly the bed had been laid for my existence here. I took it as a matter of course for a Shining Man, I guess, and laid the groundwork for some time in Birmingham, enjoying the beers and a hot meal of sliced bread, one can spinach warmed on the, thankfully, fully functional hotplate. A background of smooth jazz served musings on a Southern networked cabal of radical-right mercenaries known as the Promissory well before it took me off to dreams upright at the computer.
Then I woke, having slept sitting for several hours, and the radio was off. . .
Given the rumor, innuendo and subsequent confusion that have all accompanied the run-up to the very real reading series from THE2NDHAND that launches next week, Monday, Nov. 9, at Whistler in Chicago’s Logan Square, it’s hard to pin down exactly when and where the question in its title — “So you think you have nerves of steel?” — was first uttered in conversation between myself and the Chicago-based coeditor C.T. Ballentine, but he locates it in a supposed text message I sent him early this summer. I must surely have deleted it from my sent box, though I do vaguely recall a night out back of my apartment in Birmingham engaged in cooking over smoldering charcoal and not-smoldering beer when the subject of steel nerves came up in a texting back-and-forth having to do with an object of Ballentine’s affections, but little else. By the time I left Birmingham, on July 30 this year, there’s evidence that the title was at least close to being fully formed in Ballentine’s mind, as the 10:29 a.m. entry here makes clear.
Suffice it to say that, finally, the reading series So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel? has arrived, and will feature monthly a writer riffing on the question in the story’s title in a sort of extended collaboration toward, perhaps, a greater whole or sense of completeness. This month’s writer so featured is Chicago playwright and prose scribe Chris Bower, one of the best working in the city today, and joining him with new work will be THE2NDHAND contributors Jill Summers, notable for her shorts (stories, for certain) and audio fiction, among other things, and Amanda Marbais.
Backing and interluding all where appropriate are the trio of Nora Barton on cello, Eliza Bangert on clarinet and Allie Deaver on flute. Billie Howard of Paver assists. There may or may not be an arm-wrestling match pitting one lucky volunteer against a venerable Chicago litmag editor, the press material runs, but I know a smidge more — as it was relayed to me, there will be some Over the Top-style antics toward the end, if the mood is right (you know, lots of smoke coming from random places, folks circled around dramatic lighting over a nice old wooden table just the right size for two full-size adult arms). I believe poet/writer/editor Fred Sasaki may be involved.
It stands to be a good night, and to my mind what makes the series at least conceptually beautiful is the collaborative spirit of the monthly endeavor; of the Chicago series currently in action, I don’t think any attempts to involve writers with each other collaboratively in quite the same way — not over time, in any case. What could Nerves of Steel mean six months from now? A year? It’s attempting to build a story all its own; hope you’ll play a part.
And, of course, it’s free. Details here: www.the2ndhand.com/events/events.html.
Or via our Facebook group.
PS: The next broadsheet, our 33rd, was delayed a bit care of some transcontinental apartment hunting woes (not my own) and other circumstances. We regret to report that it will not feature Al Burian, but we’re excited that Al’s not given up on us entirely and should have something with us next year. Also: we’ve got somebody just as good in mind, of course: Kate Duva. Yeah. Stay tuned.