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THE2NDHAND's best-of anthology ALL HANDS ON: A THE2NDHAND Reader (Elephant Rock Books), $12, is out. To order, follow the link below.

I just wanted to say the number '7' to you.

Like placing your ear beside some kind of magical, future radio and listening to the shocking world of the strange and new.... ALL HANDS ON, an anthology of new work and old, features the best of the magazine and a look at what may stand as the underground lit world's most interesting contemporary writing. --Punk Planet

THE2NDHAND has been the most exciting literary vessel in Chicago, opening a comfortably padded room for the anecdotal fiction writers and the experimental tale-spinners to play together where no one will get hurt. Read through this collection of four years worth of stories, and you'll see the line between the two isn't as clear as all that. And in the way the strongest species survive, it would seem the cross-pollination that happened over the years has strengthened both sides. --PopMatters.com

THE2NDHAND is really about writing.... This is in many ways better than McSweeney's, and in many more ways better than McDonalds. --Roctober

250 pages wide and perfect-bound for you, ALL HANDS ON features the best of four years of published work from over 30 contributors (from such THE2NDHAND stalwarts as Cain, Costello, Solórzano, Dills, Kennedy, Graf and...) plus a number of new features. Below are excerpts from two such new works from Mickey Hess and Joe Meno, respectively.

edited by Todd Dills
w/ an Introduction by Jim Munroe


Or mail a check for $12, made out to Elephant Rock Books, to:

c/o Todd Dills
4038 Clairmont Ave.
Birmingham, AL 35222

Read Frontlist Review, Rockpile Review, or see below for two selected features.

Joe Meno

The Astronaut of the Year is unhappy. We do not know why. He has just received a national award, and still he wears the foggy space helmet and is all knotted-white eyebrows and gritted teeth, and for some reason he is shouting. In the back of the complimentary shuttle car, he demands that we immediately take him to a bar where there will be many young women. These are his words exactly. Many. Young. Women. We do not expect him to say words like that because he is wearing a space helmet and has wrinkly hands and a big gold medal pinned to his chest. To us, he looks precisely like a grandfather who has come back from the dead. He looks proud and taciturn and sad, and like an angel in his silver Mylar military uniform, out of place in our world entirely. Above the pressed collar, and beneath the glass helmet, he is all chin. His skin has bright liver spots and acres of wrinkles. He is in the backseat of the Celebration Corporation's biggest and best shuttle car, a mondo-sized silver Cadillac Deville, also available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and corporate events, and his arms are bitterly folded over the aforementioned big gold medal. He announces he will jump out of the car if we do not obey his wishes this very instant. We speak up and say we know a few places. We say we can try to help him meet a few ladies.

The Astronaut of the Year does have a first name and a last name. Together, they are Mr. Chet Aston. They are on the yellow paperwork of the shuttle car order, Celebration Corporation Celebrity Escort #212, sitting silently beside us on the front passenger seat. We do not dare speak to the Astronaut using either name. It is because we recognize his face from history books, newspapers, films, posters, placemats, coffee cups, T-shirts, buttons, baseball hats, ceramic garlic holders, welcome mats, and the man's features tell us all about humanity's conquest of the vast expanse of outer space, our need to explore and accept the dark, un-shiny, and very lonely voids within ourselves. We remember wondering what he must have felt like up there, alone, quiet, floating. We remember wondering what he could have been thinking. We realize he has been to a place we will never, could never even begin to understand. In this, he is almost like a victim, but turned celebrity. We decide to simply refer to him as "sir" when we ask him if he is sure he does not want to go on to the reception as planned. "People are expecting you there, probably, sir," we say.

The Astronaut of the Year says, "I've been into space thirteen times." Then he adds, very angrily, "You. You are all like very little ants to me."

The Astronaut of the Year does not seem to notice we do not usually do well with angry people. We are slightly self-medicated and trying not to enter a reactionary shame spiral of violence. God knows, we are trying. We are really only me, just me, the driver, up front, alone. My name? Brian, but we have been trained to always refer to ourselves as we, in deference to the "we" collective of the Celebration Corporation, as a sign of our sense of corporate oneness and cohesion, and also as a psychological device to keep ourselves as drivers from feeling isolated and lonely, as best judged in the following important, customer-based interactions: "We at Celebration Corporation want to thank you for riding with us today, sir," or "We at Celebration Corporation had a lovely time serving you today, sir," or "We at Celebration Corporation would appreciate it if you waited until your next stop to partake of illegal substances, sir."

We are also me, Brian, and the photograph of my ex-girlfriend, Jean, which I have been carrying everywhere recently. It is the only photo I have of a girl who was a catalog model for petite and height-challenged women's clothing, and it is not even actually a photo but a picture torn from one of her ads, in which Jean is modeling a lovely miniature wedding dress, standing beside a miniature brown pony. In the ad, there are tiny stars in her eyes and her brown hair is threaded with small white flowers and she is feeding the little pony a sugar cube with the palm of her hand and laughing the way I had imagined her laughing when we actually got married. But like the miniature pony, she has moved on to greener pastures now, getting the role of a lifetime on a syndicated television series, playing the title character in, World's Tallest Man Marries World's Shortest Woman, which critics and audiences alike have been thoroughly enjoying. In the end, the "we," the torn catalog picture of Jean and me, have still been getting along OK, and enjoying each other's company; working together, driving the shuttle car, which the real Jean was never interested in doing, and also going to the park, restaurants, and movies, which Jean was always loathe to do because of her very obvious and diminutive size. We miss the real Jean but not her constant complaining about "heightists" and a culture obsessed with celebrity perfection, which strangely enough, she is now somehow part of, we guess. We miss the real Jean, but not the way she could make us feel worse than when we were lonely. We remember today is our eleven-month anniversary, but forget if it is the anniversary of the paper Jean or the real Jean. We do not really care. To us, eleven months either way is still an accomplishment. It is still something.

The Astronaut of the Year spits at us suddenly as we are considering the real Jean. We decide maybe it is best if the Astronaut does not go on to the reception at all. We cruise around for a while, hoping again that maybe he will change his mind. But he does not. He curses the people who are smiling at him as we drive past. He calls us a ninny. He threatens us with bodily harm. We take deep breaths and try to forget how easy it would be to smash an old man's windpipe. We remember, after all, who the old man is. We stare at the clipping of Jean sitting in our lap and try to be happy, peaceful, calm, understanding. We circle through the city slowly, slowly, creating great, invisible figure eights until the Astronaut of the Year is asleep in the backseat. We turn on the radio and sing a love song to the photo of Jean, remembering kissing on the beach at dawn, though we had never ever been to the beach. We check the paperwork and see what time the Astronaut is to be dropped off at his hotel. We calculate how many more figure eights we will need to do and the number is alarming. We stare at the clipping of Jean once more. We wonder where she is right now. We wonder if there are new ways of kissing that, without us, she is now learning.

The Astronaut of the Year wakes up violently, shouting random, crazy things. He then yawns and rubs his eyes like a baby and says, "If I am not sitting beside a young woman in ten seconds, I am going to murder you, you coward!" We have had enough. We pull over as quickly as we can in front of a bar with a picture of two big peaches side by side, lit up on a white sign. On the sign, the peaches are dripping wet with cartoon water. The bar is called Hotsies. It is a bar we know well. Inside, lovely waitresses serve fried chicken wings in hot orange shorts and white T-shirts that are constantly being soaked with water. They are in a perpetual wet-T-shirt contest and the customers pick the winners by giving lavish tips, which are counted at the end of their shifts. The winner is given all of the other girls' tips, which is unfair, but works in the customers' favor, because the waitresses have to be very, very friendly. We park and go around to help the Astronaut out of the car but he pushes our hands away. He tells us we are the most useless human he has ever met. Because we are as pitiful as we are, we are happy to have made some kind, any kind of impression on him. At a table, inside the fake cigarette-and-sawdust-aroma bar, the Astronaut announces he wants a drink. He pounds the table. He whistles at the girls, girls who are not even as old as his dentures. We feel embarrassed for him. He notices. He digs into the pocket of his silver military space outfit. He takes out a shiny silver quarter and holds it up. "This has been to space," the Astronaut says, holding the quarter under our nose. "This is the only thing at the table beside me that even counts." At that moment, we decide there is a reason the Astronaut of the Year is so lonely maybe. We do our best to ignore him. We secretly unfold the clipping of Jean and place it in our lap to help maintain our nonphysical, nonviolent, self-affirming composure. We watch in horror as the Astronaut of the Year grabs the clipping of Jean, stares at it, regards our face, and asks, "Did she leave you?"

We say Yes, very recently.

The Astronaut says, "In the vast configuration of things, one man's heartbreak doesn't amount to a hill of beans. I know. I've been up there. I've seen what's important and what isn't. One man and one woman don't count for much." We ask for the clipping back and he obliges, mocking and sneering. We fold it back up and apologize to ourselves, to the paper Jean, for being so spineless, so small, so weak.

The Astronaut of the Year has to always have a countdown before he does anything, or so we discover, ungratefully. Before he takes a sip of his lime gimlet he has ordered, he shouts, "10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1," and takes a gulp that drains the green glass in an instant. He spots a tall, lovely waitress in a see-through white top, slick and playful as a cartoon seal, and he waves her over. As she struts, pouting her lips, he counts down her approach. "10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1." At the end of an hour in the bar, when the Astronaut of the Year is very drunk, befuddled, sad as a painting of an old, silver clown, he lowers his head and counts, "10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1," before he begins crying. We decide the hotel is the best place for him now and try to lead him to the car. He is stiff in our arms. He is like a statue of himself, but mysteriously weeping. We walk him outside, and he begins humming the National Anthem. He salutes a torn red, white, and blue awning, which he confuses for a flag, before blacking out in the backseat.

The countdown proceeds to liftoff, of course. To order ALL HANDS ON follow the link below:

Joe Meno's latest novel, Hairstyles of the Damned, is out now via Punk Planet/Akashic.

Mickey Hess

Knut Hamsun and Ol' Dirty Bastard live with a teenage girl. Their house smells like sandalwood incense. They walk on new carpet (rose) except for the tiled kitchen and bathroom and the thin strips of laminated wood that connect tile to carpet. 4.6 billion pounds of carpet are sent to U.S. landfills each year. This is unknown to Hamsun, reacted to with brief indignation by the teenage girl, and means nothing to Ol' Dirty Bastard.

Knut Hamsun writes novels and wins Nobel prizes. ODB jumps onstage at the Grammy Awards, expresses his disappointment in not winning. They are lovers. The girl's friends make fun of her two dads - Hamsun's waxy moustache, Ol' Dirty's gold teeth. They ask if he takes them out when they kiss. They ask which one she calls mom.

The Toothache
Ol' Dirty Bastard has a toothache. It throbs at the growing tension between the teenage girl and Knut Hamsun, who are arguing far too politely. The girl, who does not like to be asked about her activities outside the house, is trying to provoke Hamsun, who asked. The topic is last night's slumber party, a game of truth or dare. Hamsun has read parenting books that teach him to ask questions not in an attempt to police his teen's social existence, but out of his own sincere interest and concern. The teenage girl doubts his sincerity, and tries to sabotage his new interest in her life by telling him the absolute truth.

"A lot of the dares were kissing girls or bumping breasts together. We would be having some kissing event, and someone would always have to say, 'Imagine how much better it would feel if this was a boy doing it!' Cause then you weren't, like, lezzies."

"In the days of my blessed youth there were such occasions. In what young person's life do they not occur?"

"A lot of our friends had older sisters -- they were sixteen. And they'd tell us detailed stuff, like what it tastes like to go down on a guy."

"The only young people to whom this feeling is strange are those young conservatives who were born old, who do not know the meaning of being carried away."

"Then they showed us how with a Coke bottle."

"No worse fate can befall a young man or woman than becoming prematurely entrenched in prudence and negation."

"You're not my real dad!" the girl reminds Hamsun. She slams a door after this, opens and slams it again for effect. The words hurt Hamsun, but the noise is what's killing Ol' Dirty, who is real dad to several kids, and has learned to disregard much of what the girl has to say to him. He holds a small bag of ice to the side of his face, considers if this new rose carpet is indeed any more attractive than last year's chestnut taupe. The pile is already wearing down, and he questions what color could best replace this one. Even beige is not necessarily safe.

He and Hamsun, together, have chosen an approach to parenting that values honesty and does not like to impose boundaries. In one month, the girl will leave for a high school summer service campaign suggested by Ol' Dirty as a way to enhance her college application, and touted by Hamsun as a way to turn an experience helping others into a stronger understanding of herself. On the side of a highway, she will find a dead bald eagle decaying in a garbage bag.... (continued in 'The Tryouts' section of ALL HANDS ON).

Mickey Hess is author of Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory, among other books. He likes to think about hip-hop. This story samples Naomi Wolf's Promiscuities, Knut Hamsun's 1920 Nobel Acceptance speech, and Ol' Dirty Bastard's impromptu address after jumping onstage at the 1998 Grammy Awards. See ALL HANDS ON more. To order, follow the link below: