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.
Amelia Garretson-Persans lives and writes in Nashville, Tenn. This short is selected from her original text-and-image collection House Stories. Find more from her via her website: http://www.ameliagarretsonpersans.com.
Down by the bay,
Where the watermelon grow,
Back to my home,
I dare not go.
Long, spindly, dancing legs, jumping and shaking, carrying them forth, but this time it isn’t out of fear for the Walrus — it’s a celebration! The oysters are delicious and they’re the first to know it. My uncle Steve compiles sheet music from the ’20s, the ’30s – even the ’40s — all in the service of proving that oysters have always been and always will be delicious. The faceless animals, they put spats on over their boots, they balance top hats on their craggy foreheads, and oh, the pearls! Their fingerless hands are adorned to bursting. Shimmering, iridescent pearls blast forth from red, sagging gloves with visible stitching. Now they are doing the conga! They bump into one another heedlessly and laugh and scream when one of their number falls. The irregularities created in the path by fallen dancers create a kind of stage where others thrive. There is jumping and twirling and a kind of guttural, wordless — not unmusical — din. Anticipation pushes the march forward — they have been waiting for this day for as long as they could dream and praying for their legs – praying that they wouldn’t get two left feet! Oh they have waited for the eyeless, uncomprehending gaze of their shallow water neighbors, neither surprised nor jealous, only feeling the automatic twitch of phantom limbs, as they — the blessed oysters! — surged out of the water. Into the pot, into the stew, into the cauldron! They are part of a madwoman’s spell — they will live forever! My grandmother is arranging the recipe in a book of lined paper. It is the 1940s and people don’t have time for much, but they still have time for — ragtime! She is in Manhattan in the already declining Tin Pan Alley district, and she is being paid by the hour to realize someone else’s crazy fever dream. This dream is like a phoenix, jittering and lilting up out of the ashes with a clownish, fooling smile. It spreads itself thin and then tightens itself back up like an accordion, floating above and mocking without language — without reason — the winter smog below.
Oyster Bay! Oyster Bay! If only it were that simple! But they were always watching, peering up out of the murky bay water providing a constant, silent commentary. They thought they were so smart! The idea is a house — so simple! — a house where my mother will someday buy all of my grandfather’s pipes, unused since the ’70s, since people had the first inkling that their pleasures might be killing them, where an unlucky frog finds himself encased eternally in unforgiving, yet empathetic cement and the topic of much heated debate, where a rebellious teenage daughter begins a life of crime snipping squares out of department store dresses and ironically ends up scrawling lurid details into a small, black notebook, donning only a minimally altered pillowcase. But the idea is not only a house! It is also a labyrinth! Un labyrinto! A house within a house within a house. A sister within a sister within a sister, like a Russian doll. There is only one brother and he is the prize. There are parts of the house that no one even knows about: an art deco and bejeweled bathroom tucked away behind a set of stairs that could completely resolve all of the family’s financial troubles, an upstairs bedroom triple the size of anyone else’s room with two small children’s cots for ghosts, and a billiard room where the pool balls play themselves, and quite well at that. The idea is generally a house set apart from the woods, guarded by bewitched, tame animals, but sometimes it is just easier that the house is actually a part of the woods, that its swimming pool be fed by underground, naturally occurring iron pipes, that unfinished steps or lampposts rise up out of the earth like weeds, or that the floorboards never creak, their cracks filled with damp, springy moss. When mostly everyone leaves – except of course the oysters and Uncle Steve – the houses continue to run themselves. In some ways they are tidier than they ever were filled with people and aspirations.
Sheet music is no longer hand-typeset, though it is still winter. My father plays children’s songs on the trumpet from a book perched on the same music stand he used in high school, and I wonder at the words I cannot read spoken by the trumpet. I like to eat eat eat eeples and baneenees. These are fruits I cannot imagine but would not eat anyway. The music staff in its unerring regularity and its careful, tacit watch of notes that soar or dive above and below its confines reiterates a promise of protection with each turn of the page. I like to oot oot oot ooples and banoonoos. I imagine a whale with a polka-dotted tail. Rhymes form the basis of a more realistic, more ordered and understandable reality. They have more weight, more plausibility than facts. The house is riddled with rhymes and the rhymes are its history and its future. I stack them on the shelves and save them for later:
“Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more –
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.”
Michael Fournier we met on tour last fall with our All Hands On anthology, at the Amherst event. You may remember him for his contribution to the 33 1/3 series of books about records — he authored the tome for Double Nickels on the Dime, by the Minutemen, and for 1980s/early 1990s punk culture and history and its place in the American arts pantheon, you’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who gets it more. He’s touring with a new novel, Hidden Wheel (click through the cover image to order at Three Rooms Press’ site, or better yet, pick up a copy at the show!), after the classic Rites of Spring song of the same name, and will be joined in Nashville by local T2H editor Todd Dills and Clarksville, Tenn.-based master-in-waiting Quincy Rhoads and Nashville-based art-book maker and writer Amelia Garretson-Persans (check out the stop-motion animation she completed recently for Nashville’s “By Lightnin” band in the vid below), among others TBA:
@Portland Brew, 1921 Eastland, Nashville
June 6, 6 p.m.
Here’s a great description of the new novel from the 33 1/3 series blog:
The novel focuses on the art and punk scenes of the Midwestern city Freedom Springs, where an opportunistic trustfunder named Ben Wilfork starts an all-ages art/show space names Hidden Wheel. Max Caughin, who tags under the name Faze, gets famous quick with a series of paintings on CD covers. His buddy Bernie Reese donates sperm to raise money for a new drum kit so his two-piece noiserock band Stonecipher can record. Bernie’s romantic interest (and former chess prodigy) Rhonda Barrett does dominatrix work by day and paints her life, sixty words at a time, on giant canvases by night. Their fates intertwine in a story reconstructed by William Molyneux, a 24th Century scholar reconstructing the Hidden Wheel scene after a solar flare erases all digital data in his era.
Dead Trend started as a fictional band in Hidden Wheel, Freedom Springs’ biggest musical export. As I wrote the book, I also wrote Dead Trend songs — short blasts of punk focusing on 1986 topics like Reagan, the Berlin Wall and Chernobyl. Some friends and I put the band together this summer, with me playing drums and doing backing vocals. We have a 7″ coming out soon on Baltimore’s Save vs. Poison Records. In the meantime, our music is available via cassette tape — demo versions of our songs recorded this summer, as well as a live set recorded in Orono, Maine.
Matt Bell (Michigan), Brian Oliu (Tuscaloosa), Tyler Gobble and Christopher Newgent (Indianapolis) are striking out together into the Deep South to get their new books — The Fullness of Everything (Oliu, Gobble, Newgent) and Cataclysm Baby (Bell) — into your hands, or at least to armwrestle you. Get ‘Over the Top’ and diesel-soaked with the lot and THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills at Portland Brew East on Eastland in Nashville (not the Deep South, as it were) Sat., April 7, early style. Plenty of time to get a workout, then hit the neighborhood establishments for food and refreshment after.
Over the Top
Order THE2NDHAND’s 10th-anniversary collection, All Hands On, featuring the work of more than 40 contributors.
Join me at the smallest, oldest, dirtiest and yet definitely most kick-ass bar in East Nashville this Thursday for the 3rd edition of the Poetry Sucks reading series. Organized by fellow East Nashvillian Chet Weise, this edition of the series will feature a host of characters from the neighborhood. I’ll be reading some new stuff (if only I can get through that sermon in the finale) and, more importantly, also featured will be all the fine folks noted on the flyer pictured here. Click through it for more from the artist, Rachel Briggs. Of particular note for connections to T2H is past Pitchfork Battalion teamer John Minichillo, whose novel The Snow Whale from Atticus we saw on some of those indies’ best-of lists for the year just past.
I just finished a novel by a more longtime and frequent T2Her, Floridian (former Flint, Michigander) Paul A. Toth, that I’ve been just floored by, given by the general lack of ink it’s gotten, far as I can tell (though I do see where USA Today of all places named it one of the best indies of 2011). The book, Airplane Novel, is a joyous read, the best of the 9/11 books — experimental in all the good ways (metafictional w/o being goofy, polyphonic via a quixotic omniscience to the narration but with a strong singular narrative consciousness in the end). And, ultimately, its humanity is its most important part.
It’s not an exactly simple task Toth has pulled off, given that the book is told from the point of view of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, a building — and one that, it is acknowledged quite early on by the narrator itself (or “himself,” given that the South Tower prefers to call itself “Cary Grant,” and the North Tower “Gary Cooper”), no longer exists in any physical sense, but of course. But even in death, the tower filters the consciousnesses that made its history, those of the humans — “spider monkeys,” from its perspective — having populated its floors, having operated the Radio Row shops uprooted by the its construction, having created the information that soars through its fiberoptics and still flits in jagged form through its own post-mortem version of consciousness (which Toth expertly re-creates in the end of the book, after the “big event,” the “you know what”…).
I won’t go farther into specifics here, but I’ll say that I think I can definitely recommend it as one of the three or four best books of 2011 (with particular segments of DFW’s The Pale King as well as Mickey Hess’ great Nostalgia Echo — more about that one later, as we’re publishing an excerpt in the next minisheet). In any case, I can’t recommend a book any more highly. Go pick up a copy — available in print and as an eBook (the Kindle edition is available for just $2.99).
Toth also had a fair amount of work in a special section of All Hands On, our 10th anniversary book out in the fall. You can order it here.
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.
Sneider’s on tour with her new Fine, Fine Music collection of stories, of which “Mole,” first published in 2008 at our old site. is part. Sneider will appear at an event hosted by THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills Wed., July 6, at Portland Brew East in Nashville. She’s joined by Nashville’s own Katrina Gray and Clarksville writers Quincy Rhoads and Amy Wright. Find full event information here.
The headlights of the cars drove on an invisible track across the ceiling and I was lying in my mother’s bed. A t-shirt that didn’t smell like my dad anymore slept peacefully between us, not knowing it was only enjoying the comfort of a bed because it was being used for its smell. The t-shirt didn’t know he was gone yet, and I wondered if the half-smoked cigarette in the ashtray next to my side of the bed knew its last drag would never be tasted. I was five years old and wide awake, wondering if the cars were projecting themselves onto the ceiling so I could think about them, instead of how I was laying in the empty space of someone I knew was never coming back.
My uncle had died before I was born, overdosing on heroin, and leaving his twin and my father to sort through everything he’d left behind, which included a pregnant girlfriend, a wreck of an apartment, and a closet full of personal effects. My father sorted through papers and overdue bills while my other uncle sat on the bed trying on a pair of boots.
“What the hell are you doing?” my father asked.
“These are perfectly good boots,” he said, knotting the laces.
“They’re a dead man’s boots!” my father said.
“They’re perfectly good boots,” my uncle corrected, and he took them home.
I was with my dad when they broke the news. We drove from doctor to doctor that day, white knuckles on the steering wheel of the pickup truck. When we got home he told my mother, and everything after that was a blur, mental pictures ripped up and thrown out; faces scratched and negatives burnt. The day he left for the hospital, we sat on the bed and he pulled up his socks over gray feet, the feet of someone with a heart older than his 32 years.
“Buddy, I want you to tell Uncle Jeff to stay the hell away from my shoes.”
“That’s a curse.” I was well-trained.
“You can say it just this once.”
“OK.” I don’t remember seeing my dad in the hospital. I don’t remember seeing him on morphine, or my mother walking in on him sitting up in the crisp, white bed, pretending to sew.
“Keith, what are you doing?”
“I’m sewing wings,” he said with his eyes closed, thumb and forefinger making sweeping circles in the air.
I do remember wondering what intensive care was. I remember wishing my dad had a dictionary in his dresser instead of a 1978 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records so I could learn what the words meant. I remember spending a lot of time at my aunt’s house, in the sprinkler, in the sun. I remember listening to my dad.
“Uncle Jeff,” I said, nervous about using the H word. “Daddy said to stay the hell away from his shoes.” My mother and uncle went pale. Exeunt. Fin. Fade to black.
I hated the dark, but the bedrooms of our house were permanently bathed in streetlight. A fuzzy dark orange fell on my mother’s face. She hadn’t been sleeping and I had a sore throat again. I had climbed into my dad’s spot next to the shirt to count the cars. With the looming prospect of having my tonsils taken out and no one to tell me what they were, I needed something more real than sheep.
“Do you know how to pray?” my mother asked after she’d turned off the lights.
The only thing I knew about God was the tattoo of Jesus on my dad’s arm, and that he said he was an atheist. It was not until many years later that I would learn atheist was a synonym for “man contradicting himself.” My reply came in the form of a vigorous headshake.
“You put your hands together like this. Then you say ourfatherwhoartin heavenhallowedbethyname… Then you could talk to Daddy if you want.” She turned over and I was left to try to remember all those words, empty and hollowed in thy name. They didn’t mean anything to me, but did they open a porthole, a skipped stitch in the space-time continuum, that allowed the living to speak to the dead and the dead to hear them in their graves with voiceless ears?
Was that what it was?
“Um, today in school Miss Welch yelled at me because I went to the school store to get a pencil and when I got back she was already teaching.”
From within the pine of his coffin, my father makes a fist. If radiation should leak into the ground and all the dead fathers of five-year-olds rise as a collective body, the first thing they will do is shuffle to the local elementary school and eat the brains of every Kindergarten teacher. Then they will go to the Home Depot and look at tools. My father will test-drive a riding lawn mower. Then they will look at their watches and return to their graves in a punctual and orderly fashion.
When I was six, I was forced into the World of Girl Scouting, which in hindsight is as corrupt as the World of Mail-Order Brides or the World of Swallowing Balloons of Cocaine and Smuggling Them Across the Border. Girl Scouting is a form of trickle-down capitalism, the troop leaders shrewd and cunning businesswomen, and the Scouts proletarian worker bees, our tiny hands being frostbitten in subzero weather to push our product. For every box of Tagalongs, three Girl Scouts are sold on the black market. For each package of Samoas, one Girl Scout is put to death. The statistics are as chilling as a bite of a Thin Mint.
The lessons we learned as Scouts were nothing short of useless.
“Today we’re going to learn about nutrition!” said Miss Leeann, our troop leader. Everyone cheered, and I silently picked a scab.
Miss Leeann produced a piece of loose-leaf paper, a carrot, and a jar of mayonnaise. “When something has fat in it, and you rub it on paper, the paper will magically turn clear.” She spooned a glob of mayonnaise onto the paper. The troop watched with bated breath. Miss Leeann wiped the mayonnaise off of the loose-leaf and held it up for all to see. “The mayonnaise left a clear spot. That means it’s bad for you.”
The troop booed the mayonnaise. I, on the other hand, was mayonnaise’s biggest proponent. Everyday for lunch, I asked for mayonnaise on white bread, and everyday I was told by my mother that everyone would think I was on welfare. The way she pronounced “welfare” made me think that being on it was like accidentally stepping in dog shit. I imagined myself eating a mayonnaise sandwich and scraping the dog shit onto the third-rate playground equipment relegated to the Kindergarteners. Welfare was nothing that couldn’t be scraped off onto a lawn or doormat, and I proudly ate my mayonnaise.
Miss Leeann brandished the carrot and crumbled the loose-leaf tainted by the fatty mayonnaise. She rubbed the carrot and held up the paper. “Carrots are good for you, because they don’t leave a mark.”
The troop cheered the carrot.
The last I checked, there hadn’t been any developments in the way carrots tasted in at least 500 years. Also, I had never been to a restaurant where fat people and diabetics brought loose-leaf to test their food on. This meant two things: A) Miss Leeann was a fucking moron and B) the merit badge for nutrition was bullshit. I went to work on my scab, and left the oohing-aahing sheep to their loose-leaf paper.
The only thing I looked forward to in Girl Scouts was the Wish Circle. At the end of the meeting, I stood in a circle with my comrades, holding their hands while I thought of who I had seen with their fingers buried deep within their noses. Miss Leeann started us off by making a wish and squeezing the hand next to her, and we all did the same until our wishes came full circle.
I took the business of wishing very seriously. While everyone else in my troop was probably wishing for a new Popple, I was carefully considering if my wish would be twisted into a horrible monkey’s paw situation that I would have to spend the rest of my life trying to rectify. The only thing I wanted was to have my father back. If I wished for him to be alive again, would I come home to him sitting in a lawn chair, partially decomposed, trying to light a cigarette? What if he needed to feast on the flesh of the living to stay alive? There were only so many scouts I could lure home without someone noticing.
For this reason I made sure to word my wish with the utmost caution: “I wish for everything to be exactly the way it used to be.”
One day, this wish would make my life play like a country song on rewind. I would emerge from the fluorescent basement meeting place into the warm sun and return home and me and my dad would sit on the couch watching a nature special and eating all the mayonnaise in the world.
This wish was foolproof. Even if it set time itself back to zero, I could still do it all over again. My first words would be “Watch your cholesterol!” and “Chest x-ray!”
“Did she just say chest x-ray?” my dad would say.
“I think so,” my mother would say, “and she’s pointing at you.”
Every week, I would leave the fluorescent basement meeting place, and every week my unsinkable faith in wishes would tell me maybe next week. My mother picked me up from Girl Scouts one of those weeks. “When you do the wish circle at the end, what do you wish for?” she asked, fumbling for a cigarette with her keys in her hand.
“Popples!” said the part of my brain that was deeply embarrassed by wishing for the impossible. “Say Popples!”
I stuttered and tried to form the word Popple.
She stopped and looked through me. I watched the unlit cigarette moving up and down with her words: “If you’re wishing for your father to come back, you can stop wishing because it’s never going to happen.”
The t-shirts were starting to smell more like an empty bed than my dad. My mother fell into a restless sleep each night with a prayer taking the place of a cigarette on her lips. I slept in my own bed, the soft orange glow falling onto my toys. God sat outside atop a wishless star, shining headlights onto my ceiling.
THE2NDHAND hosts a past contributor in New York-based Cassie J. Sneider in Nashville on a stop on her tour supporting her “Fine, Fine Music” book, just released by Raw Art Press, a collection of shorts in part about coming of age in Ronkonkoma on Long Island. Sneider joined us in Birmingham for a reading or two a couple years back — she’s absolutely great live. Don’t miss it.
Check out the New York Press interview with Sneider.
Joining her will be two Clarksville-based writers in:
Poet and fiction writer Amy Wright, author of two chapbooks in “There Are No New Ways to Kill a Man” (Apostrophe) and “Farm.” Other work has appeared in, among others, American Letters & Commentary and Quarterly West. She teaches at Austin Peay State.
Quincy Rhoads, whose work has been feature in the Red Mud Review and Unicorn Knife Fight, among others. His most recent contribution to THE2NDHAND you can find here in our online mag.
& Nashville’s own Katrina Gray. Her work has appeared in Women Writers: A Zine, JMWW, fourpaperletters and the Belmont Literary Journal, among others, including THE2NDHAND.
THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills hosts.