Longtime THE2NDHAND contributor Patrick Somerville (author of Trouble, The Cradle, The Universe in Miniature in Miniature, a couple of T2H broadsheets — 24 and 32 – and, most recently, This Bright River) was on NPR’s Talk of the Nation today telling the story (and more) of the bizarre and hilarious and sad and terrifying consequences of his latest book’s panning in the New York Times. If you’ve missed his “Thank You for Killing My Novel” essay, published on July 5 at Salon, go read it.
Then tune in to his segment on Talk of the Nation that aired this afternoon. It’s well worth it.
After reading the thrashing the Times gave River, Somerville couldn’t help but notice that the critic had misread a character’s identity in the first few pages of the book, and which in some senses colored her entire reading of it. At once, after the book review had been out for a couple days, Somerville logged into an email address he’d created for the character she’d misidentified (and which he’d been encouraging readers to email questions to, etc., having gotten just one) to find an email from a Times editor seeking to clarify the mistake, which a Times reader had pointed out to him. (How’s that for after-the-fact fact-checking, eh?) In any case, definitely check out the Salon piece, which details some of the email conversation that ensued, with Somerville writing in the voice of his character with the Times editor to the point that the two developed a “ghost friendship,” the subject of the NPR segment.
And hey, I don’t believe the Times. Pick up Somerville’s new one — though I haven’t read it myself yet, I’m certain, from everything I know about him and his past work, that you won’t regret it.
You can find three rather long-ish shorts of Somerville’s (some of my faves among work we’ve published) — among them the exclusive-to-the-book “The Tale of the Time I Accidentally Fell in Love With a Girl Across the Bay” — in our 2011 All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10 10th anniversary collection.
It’s been a mad week in Nashville. On top of epic flooding and the attendant worry, work and more work, I got a likewise epic headache Wednesday night that turned into a fever of 101.5 F (had forgotten how bad indeed that felt) by Thursday that has for the most part subsided — I can still, however, feel it lingering in the back of my skull. Drink Guinness, my friend Matt Cahan says. Maybe.
I helped a local trucking company begin the process of gutting their terminal building this morning, after it sat in up to about 12 feet of the Cumberland River’s water for several days earlier this week (for more on the flood and trucking, particularly, I’ve been covering various stories therein for the better part of a week at the “Channel 19″ blog I keep as an editor with Overdrive and Truckers News magazines: pics, vids, reporting, etc.), the post-flood mud of the parking lot of which you see in this picture, and Susannah is off with Hands-On Nashville relief project this afternoon, Thalia’s here asleep, gutters are clean, porch is not finished being stained, but that will have to wait… Maybe I can write a little.
I’ll be in Chicago next weekend, coming into town Friday, May 14, leaving Monday, and will be participating in the Nerves of Steel reading Sunday — please come out! Can’t promise much more than mere references to floods, but I can promise what are sure to be great excellent performances by Patrick Somerville (The Cradle, THE2NDHAND broadsheets No. 32 and No. 24) and Heather Palmer (who wrote our recently serialized novella, Charlie’s Train), and jokes. For that, I need your help: please text your favorite, obviously short, joke, to me at 205-907-2481. I may use it. For more on the show (Somerville and a fiddle player!), visit www.the2ndhand.com/events/events.html.
I’m hoping I’ll roll into my former home city with copies in hand of the new issue of THE2NDHAND’s broadsheet series, No. 34, already available in pdf at the site and for order, featuring a great story by Scott Stealey, provided it makes it back in time from the printer. Stay tuned.
And, finally, if you can afford it, give money to relief organizations like Hands-On Nashville and others based locally. They need it. Really bad down here, folks. . .
Work in progress:
I knew nothing of Tuscaloosa but for its college and football team, and told Bascombe as much. “You’ll see it tonight,” he said, and the plane dropped in an air pocket and my stomach lodged in my throat and, once recovered, I told of Trey Olden and his flying machine. “I’ve heard of the Flying Day!” Bascombe said. “Did he win?”
Not exactly, I told him, and made to elaborate, but Turner Bascombe suddenly let fly another banshee scream, hit the throttle then let the engine calm slightly before turning in a wide arc to our right, easing then back left to correct the course. I felt as if led by Trey or maybe rambunctious Billy, had no idea how he was navigating the course here it was so dark on the ground over which we passed like death in the night. Small display screens in the cabin suggested good altitude monitors, but in my slightly worried excitement I failed to find any kind of radar-map or GPS pinpointing our location.
But then the suburban neighborhoods giving way to the college and miniature high-rise dormitories and the stumbling scant few blocks of downtown Tuscaloosa all made themselves visible by stages, and I realized just how low we were when we flew past a crowd of people standing outside a bar who actually looked up and waved at us. “Jeez. You do this sort of thing every day?” I said.
Turner laughed. “Not hardly,” then exaggeratedly leaned hard right with a turn now that went near a complete 180 degrees.
“Are we landing?”
“Where’s the runway?”
Turner turned to me and gestured off port. I stood up and looked and could see the river that cuts through downtown. We were coming up on a couple of large bridges over it, the bridges brightly lit but the river under it a positively black snake extending into the distance. Bascombe was taking her down fast; we were no more than 50 feet above an old train trestle whose functionality looked like it might be a toss-up. I strapped myself in and we took her down quite smoothly, really, as a crowd of well-dressed white people watched and clapped and waved from a pier that looked to be connected to a restaurant or bar built on stilts on the shore across from downtown.
This was our destination. “Need a drink?” Bascombe said when the Cessna was parked.
When we finally made our ways through the small throng of people on-hand to greet him, Bascombe introducing me as “a friend from Birmingham,” and found the bar, I was about to order when he appeared at my left shoulder. “It’s on me,” he told the bartender before I could order. “He’s one of the team.”
I ordered a whisky, rocks, and a glass of water that was served in a nicely hefty pint glass with lemon. When I turned around a man about six inches shorter than me with a bent rod maybe an inch in length stuck through his nose like a bullhorn was offering his hand. He was pretty obviously drunk. Bascombe had disappeared.
The noseman introduced himself loudly as Tacklebox, part of the crew of the Bascombe Lumber Ford, pinching his nose in what I would come to know as his signature gesture. He was a tire carrier, sometime mechanic, but the crew chief had lately talked about making him the anchor of the team as the jackman, but wouldn’t he like doing the tire carrying more, wouldn’t he prefer stability to the stress of leadership? It’s a fucking jackman, he said, not president of the United States, answering his own afore-seeming rhetorical question, which he would continue to do as I gulped and was otherwise silent. His extended monologue ended with us on the pier, yards off from the amphibious aircraft.
“How’s it on fuel?” Tacklebox said, a drunken blank stare leveled into but at once beyond the plane into the black nothing below the surface of the water.
“20 miles a gallon,” I said, grinning.
Tacklebox’s stare didn’t change. “Not bad.”
“I’m thinking we’ll put that hybrid in it next time.”
“I like diesel fuel for it, too, man.”
He snapped out of whatever reverie he’d entered, finally. He squeezed his nose with thumb and forefinger of his right hand, again, flipping up the half-bullhorn with his thumb just slightly at the end with a smile and then a laugh and “Were you just saying something about a hybrid fucking plane engine? What on earth” – his fist rapped me on the back and his arm stayed on my shoulders as we walked through the crew of well-dressed folks young and old on the pier back inside. “So what is this, anyway?” I asked.
“This place is called the Cypress, but all this”–he stepped back threw his hands out from his sides–“all this is us. We do it every year down here–Turner got so damn happy a few years ago when he was able to do the water landing that he’s made it a tradition.” Plenty of locals involved now, too, he said, both Talladega races each year.
“Does he usually fly solo?” I asked.
“He does,” said Tacklebox. Which reminded him: “Where the hell did you come from, anyway.”
I figured I might for once leave my story to someone else. I told him as little as possible–Birmingham boy, but not originally, met Bascombe by chance out on the street and he offered me a ride down here. What I still didn’t know but would soon find out was that Tacklebox’s likewise drunken teammate, a fellow tire carrier, was much more drunk than even he, and “word had it, don’t you know, that Turner wanted something new, that the crew chief, Eddy Huggins–we just call him Ed–wasn’t about to give, see as the tire carrier in question was his son, and did I mention one hell of a layabout drunk, but look who’s talking, but he’s volatile as all hell and Turner he has a way with his team, a way of taking shit into his own hands.”
I couldn’t exactly see it with the clarity that might have been provided by a spotlight on a man clad in reflective material repurposed from reflective roadworker vests, but the vision was at the least somewhat clear. My traffic stands had prepared me for the high-balling brushes with metal at extreme speed to come. I told Tacklebox there and then how I met Turner Bascombe on 20/59, of the noise show and the anticipation it breathed into my very limbs, into my being.
Tacklebox was as a ghost confirming something of a congruity–suited man I would be.