Now he tended to cry. He did not cry much as a child. From an early age, he was taught to suck it up. Boys don’t do that, his grandmother told him. So he swallowed the hot knots of emotion when he skinned his knee, when both index fingers were cut by the metal spool of streamers whilst decorating for the anniversary party, when his grade school crush did not give him a creased cardstock valentine.
He cried in his late twenties, but not in his tweens or teens. In his tweens or teens he felt the emotion, a fracas of rage and despair, eat away at his throat. He laid in bed for hours in the dark. He asked for death.
He cried he cried he cried. In adulthood, or at least when he felt that he had reached adulthood, when his responsible decisions outnumbered the irresponsible, he began to cry. He cried when he received the new wallet, he cried when he did not get accepted into the grad school of his choice, he cried when he thought of his wife.
He cried when he thought of his childhood, his grandmother, his father; he cried when he couldn’t explain why he resented his mother, teachers, friends; he cried when he felt alone, miserable, empty; he cried.
It’s so beautiful, he said one afternoon, watching a groundhog run its awkward back-heavy run through the empty lot across the street from the porch, tear tracks across his high cheeks.
You sit on a concrete slab awaiting your mother and the drive home following a day of middle school — broken reeds, mathematics, nameless anguish. A truck that is not your mom’s pulls up along the edge of deadened grass. Do You:
A. Keep sitting against the fire door?
B. Go see who it is?
|A. You sit. The August sun beats hard upon your saxophone case. A bead of sweat rols down your brow and you wait for fall.||B. You stand. The truck seems to stretch toward you to come closer. A woman, haggard, leans her head out the window and gazes off. Your mother pulls up behind the rusted-out pickup. Do you:
C. Press on?
D. Get into your mom’s car?
|C. You continue toward the truck, its red-rust dust flaking off in the light August breeze — more like asthmatic breathing than wind. The truck stinks like stale oil and your grandfather’s tool shed; in the bed lies what could be a pickaxe. You smell old cigarette smoke, like the home your Great Aunt lives in — stagnant. The woman spits brown. Do you:
D. Turn around?
|D. You walk towards your mom’s van. “How was your day?” she asks, but you don’t hear her; you’re too distracted by the woman with the crushed-hay hair, waiting — perhaps for you. In some ways she’s the most striking woman you have ever seen. You won’t forget her leather-brown skin even after 12 long years. On the ride home you will ask yourself what draws us to these grostesqueries? Why the fascination with the hideous? You shall do this for the rest of your adult years. You will yearn for the wild and far-fetched. All the while wondering: did you make the right choices today?|
|E. As you approach the driver’s side window, the lady looks up at you and smiles a smile lack 12 of 32 teeth. Right where her eyebrows knit together is a hole. It could be a deep pore. Perhaps. But “hole” seems a more apt way of describing it. You cannot help but stare into this concrete example of infinity. Like sand on a beach, this is the closest you will come to witnessing perpetuity. She says, “I’m waiting for Ryan.”And:
F. You tell her you are Ryan.
G. You tell her you know him.
|F. “I’m right here,” you say to her. You climb into the bucket on the passenger side, all the while transfixed by the hole in your new mother’s eyebrows. Did a needle pierce her face as a child or is her skin swelling to burst with dimness? It does not matter for you as long as you may revel within her misshapenness — enthralled by true loveliness.|
|G. “I know him,” you say. “He sits behind me in band. He plays trombone,” all while transfixed by the hole. You turn away as envy burns within. Ryan know true beauty for it is entangled in his double helix, inherited brilliance.|
Quincy Rhoads lives and writes in Clarksville, Tenn. Find more from him here.
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.
He could not remember if he already took his pills. So, for fear of overdosing, he abstained. This process repeated itself until he never took a pill because he was afraid that he had already taken it and this is how his life ended, confused and fearful of both over- and under-indulging.
Busy week at THE2NDHAND HQs in Chicago and Nashville this week, on top of festivals of hot chicken and backyard BBQ and fireworks, as well as the more not-so-backyard variety, as shown here. (Gotta love that Nashville blow-stuff-up spirit.) Tuesday night Nerves of Steel is back in Chicago after a brief June West Virginia sojourn. It ought to be a rad showing, with writer Michael Czyzniejewski on the program with the comedic duo of the Puterbaugh Sisters, band the Post-revolutionary Letdowns, and more.
In Nashville, an event I’ll be hosting, writer/comix artist Cassie J. Sneider stops off on a 48-state tour behind her new Fine Fine Music collection. She’s joined by a Nashville writer folks will remember from one of the first couple readings we put on here, in 2010, Katrina Gray. Two Clarksville-based scribes are headed in for the event as well, Amy Wright and Quincy Rhoads, who oddly enough were at one point in the distant past prof and grad student in a class at Austin Peay uni there. They’re all awesome writers, in any case — don’t miss it.
Finally, Cassie herself shared these seven reasons to come to her reading, “even though you don’t know me,” as she puts it:
1. You can tell all of your friends you ‘attended a reading’, which makes you sound really smart and superior and better than them, which you undoubtedly already are.
2. It’s like Hulu-ing Hoarders, but WITH YOUR IMAGINATION.
3. Free comics for everyone!
4. I’ll let you pet my hair and pretend I’m not creeped out by it.
5. I’m, like, a really good reader.
6. Did I mention free comics?
7. I will pet YOUR hair and you can tell your friends you went on a date with me. …
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.
Rhoads lives in Tennessee with his wife, Emily. His work has appeared previously in THE2NDHAND as well as Unicorn Knife Fight and the Red Mud Review.
The splatterpunks caught us completely off-guard. First, they cut off Emily’s legs with a chainsaw. The walls of the apartment were crimson within the hour. After the punks got Emily, they went for the building manager. She was easy to dispatch. Her frailties were even more emphasized without her eyeballs.
I played in the back of theatres throughout my childhood. When I was a boy, my mother took me to see a play. I don’t remember the title. I just remember a monologue where this man stood on a black stage. He told a story of flying razor beach balls that chased him and cut his limbs one by one.
Upstairs, the kids cornered me; the sword made a satisfying chok as it met with my neck.