‘Surfin’ Indiana’ by Rick Joy

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“Yeeehaaa,” I screamed, feigning exuberance, trying hard not to vomit as we slammed down onto the much-abused roof of the five-year-old station wagon, holding on to the luggage rack with the grips of supermen. We acted like we thought supermen should, but inside I was freaking out, able to do little but hold on to the cross bar of the luggage rack and hope the ride ended sooner than our lives.

My buddy Mike and I were surfing, Indiana style. It was 1968 and we had just graduated from high school. We were convinced we were indestructible and willing to tempt fate to prove it.

It began one early summer Saturday afternoon when five of us were riding around the farm-strewn countryside looking for something to do. There didn’t seem to be much on a Saturday afternoon in east central Indiana in those days. Actually, there was plenty to do – just nothing we wanted to do. The local movie theater was playing Prudence and the Pill, which none of us would admit to wanting to see. Now, if it had been The Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen, well, we all would have been up for that. Steve McQueen was the coolest of the cool after all. So no movie that afternoon. There wasn’t much left to choose from for entertainment, so we opted for the old standby. We would ride around the Indiana countryside, exploring the flat cropland of Jay County, listening to music, sometimes shooting rifles while riding on the front fenders, sometimes drinking beer. No guns or beer that day, though, just driving around shooting the bull and listening to our favorite radio station. Eventually we came to a remote bridge where we often stopped, while Summertime Blues, by Blue Cheer was playing on the radio. This bridge was over a small creek with barely any running water, but it was on a little-used road so we could park right on it and throw stuff, rocks mostly, into the creek while we expounded on how we were going to change the world…or land a date with that former cheerleader we just couldn’t forget.

“I’m gonna git a date with Renéee,” I declared, fast-balling a rock into the creek. Renée was our age and had been a cheerleader for three years. She was smart and gorgeous and didn’t have a boyfriend at the time.

“Oh bullshit, Rick, you’ll never git a date with Renée,” said Mike. “And you know why? You don’t have the balls to ask her!”

That hurt. Mostly because it was true. Mike was kinda wild, yeah, but he was also smart and insightful.  I couldn’t let it go, though, so I responded over the music blasting out of tinny-sounding speakers.

“I have a plan and when I’m done she’ll go out with me. I know she will.”

“Oh yeah, so what’s this plan of yours?”

“It’s a secret.”

“A secret plan,” said Mike, skepticism thick and obvious.

“Yep, and I’m not tellin’ you guys what it is because you’ll either use it yourselves, or figure out how to blow it up for me.”

“Back to my original statement: bullshit.”

“Hey, you guys,” yelled Alan, who was driving his father’s station wagon that day, “there’s a muskrat swimmin’ down there! See it by that log? Bet I can hit it with a rock.”

The first and only rock throw landed pretty close to the muskrat. Predictably it dove under water, never to be seen again. We were all pretty bored by then, ready to find something exciting to do. After all, we were seventeen- and eighteen- year-old boys, full of energy and brimming with unjustified self-confidence.

“I have a great idea,” said Steve, struck with inspiration. “How about a couple of us git on top of the car and ride around for a while? It’ll be fun. We kin take turns. It beats the hell outta standin’ around here doing nothin’.” Steve had a knack for getting people to do that which they would normally avoid.

“Whatcha mean?” asked Alan, protective of his dad’s car.

“I mean a couple of us’ll get on the roof of the car while you drive around the countryside. We kin hold on to the luggage rack. It’s perfectly safe.”

Oddly enough, that made sense to us all, which is proof that critical thinking skills are not well-developed by age eighteen.

Continue reading “‘Surfin’ Indiana’ by Rick Joy”

‘Class Fuckup’ by Alan Good

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I tell people I deleted my Facebook account because of privacy concerns, because I wanted control of my data, but really I got a message from a friend asking if I wanted to help organize our high school class’s twentieth reunion. She even added me to a group. I didn’t want to go to Arkadelphia, certainly not as the biggest fuckup of the class of ’99, a thirty-eight-year-old obscure writer with two self-published books that no one read, a frazzled stay-at-home father (of two amazing, intelligent, beautiful, kind-hearted, perceptive, funny children) and impecunious professional coffee-slinger/ass-wiper. I was in a mood already when I got the message because Mrs. Ortiz had died. “The first rule of senior care is don’t get attached,” my manager, Stu, said on my first day. “And the second rule,” I said, “is there is no senior care.” “What? No. Look, let me show you in the handbook . . .” I imbibed the rules, but every death devastated me, even when I didn’t really like the person. I liked Mrs. Ortiz. Fuck a class reunion. How was I supposed to see Nuts, whose real name was Jason Fender, whom I had given rides to all through high school because he didn’t want to get a driver’s license, that is, repeatedly failed the driving test, who had grown up, if that is the phrase, to be a hardcore Trump fanboy whose profile photo on Facebook was a picture of Trump, who signed off all of his posts with hashtag MAGA, without punching him in the larynx?

I was as self-conscious about my social status as an over-educated peon as I was about my body. I was an athlete in high school. My body had betrayed me; I had betrayed my body, morphing from point guard to out-of-shape running back.

My old friend Chris, who was not involved in the planning but who still lived in Arkadelphia and was irrationally excited to be reunited with the other members of the last group of humans to graduate from Our Lady of the Loophole Catholic High School in the twentieth century, called a couple weeks later to try to sway me. I told him the reason I didn’t want to go, which was only half the reason; I also just didn’t care about seeing the people he was dying to see. “Trust me,” he said, “you’re not the biggest fuckup.” And he told me the story of Felicity, whose name I’ve changed so as not to seem like I’m exploiting her or something, who had grown up to be a dog-fucker. She had been dating a guy named Rob, whose name I’m not changing because he’s evil, for about twelve years. Four years ago, she found out he liked to fuck dogs, and she broke up with him—or tried to. He converted her to bestiality with the old don’t-knock-it-till-you-try-it rhetorical technique. You’re being narrow-minded, he told her, wittle Jack here wuvs it, it’s something special. He showed her magazines. He showed her videos. He showed her websites. You need to open your mind, he told her, you need to open yourself up to new experiences. He enlisted her help converting the shed to a bestiality parlor. Because Rob’s knees were bad and it hurt him to bend over or kneel, he and Felicity built a custom bench. For Jack the Dog’s comfort they lined it with red velvet.

The story didn’t persuade me; I would still be the third-biggest fuckup, behind only MAGA Nuts and Felicity the Dog-fucker. “You’re not a fuckup, A.G.,” Chris tried to tell me, but I wasn’t listening any longer. I told him to come see me in New York.

When I was a drifter, a temporary college dropout roaming the country with no purpose, I met a woman in Lafayette, Colorado, who jerked off her dog. I didn’t see her do it. I was staying with some friends of acquaintances and had gone to take out the trash, an excuse to get away from them, if only for a few minutes, and some dudes hollered at me, asking if I wanted a beer. I was only twenty. I said sure, and they said come on inside. They were drinking Two Dogs. I forget this woman’s name. I had been sitting there for a while, next to this woman but not saying much, listening to these strangers’ boring stories, when the dog came over. It jumped up in my lap. Dogs and children like me, no one else. “When I get bored,” the woman said, “sometimes I just jerk him off.” “The dog?” I said. “Uh-huh.” How have I never met a woman who wanted to be in a threesome, but I have met two women who do bestiality? I said that to my wife, about threesomes, and she punched me. “Men are trash,” she said. She was joking but also not. I am not the guy who’s always pestering his wife about a threesome. It sounds fun, but also stressful. I have never had a threesome, but I have had nachos a bunch of times, which is close enough.

Oliver asked me one morning, “Dad, how old will you be when I’m ten?” I wanted to go back to bed. “I’ll be forty-one,” I said. “Don’t ask me that again.” I was joking but also not. My beard had gone gray and patchy because of my children. We had given up drinking because we didn’t want to die of cancer. I am almost forty, but I still feel like I’m in high school, still walk around in a hoodie, still hide underneath headphones. My wife said, “What is your thing with getting older?” “Uh, I don’t want to die.” My wife grew up Catholic, too, but somehow she’s not obsessed with death.

I was changing Francis’s diaper one morning, Francis who was close to being done with diapers and couldn’t wait to take the potty train to school, and he sang a song that’s stuck in my head right now. “I got my penis, I got my—penis!” I wanted to tell him that it’s fun to have a dick but you have to be responsible with it, but I just sang harmony instead: “Yeah yeah yeah.”

Chris was wrong. I am, perhaps because I’m the only one who admits to being a fuckup, still the biggest fuckup. Nuts, under-employed and under-educated, thinks he’s a genius, and no amount of reality could convince him that he’s invested his sense of self and well-being into a personality cult revolving around the worship of an obvious grifter. And Felicity, who turned state’s evidence on her dog-jiggering boyfriend, is writing a book, Dog Person, about her experience, and her book is set to be published by Simon & Schuster just in time for our reunion.

Alan Good is the author of two books. His writing has been published in Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Atticus Review, The East Bay Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and a few other places. He is on the internet at malarkeyweb.com and on Twitter at @TheAlanGood.

‘The Perfect Utopia — For How Long’ by John Tuttle

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art by John Tuttle

Many of the organisms on the planet coexist in a vast harmonious ecosystem, a natural utopia, the most perfect earthling utopia. Symbiosis is a part of citizenship. It’s not kindness. Simply, symbiosis is the right thing to do. The mutual goodwill and aid ensure the survival of all. The spider hangs her webbed hammock betwixt the trees. Wind shapes the faces of stone. Algae and moss reduce the condemned structures to heaps of rubble. The ants, the construction workers, build up and dig beneath. The bees produce golden honey for their children, the generation of the future.

And likewise, songbirds nestle their eggs warmly aloft in the arbor. Leaves fall softly and silently in the autumn. Flower and leaf fade and pass; they move on. Spores move into the unoccupied neighborhood, and fungus takes the place of flower. The foot of the tree feels for soil. Roots cling to present life. Leaves of scarlet cover grass so green. And a snow comes in its due time.

Snow: blanket so white, blanket so light. Snow protects the underworld from frost and chilling bite. Spring dawns upon the world. The white blanket disappears effortlessly and with ease. Hibernation’s sweet call lessens, retreating for the year. A new sort of age begins, starts afresh, repeats itself. The calendar is not a block of time but rather a belt annually renewed. Like the food chain, seasons seem to be a perpetual cycle, linked one to another. Yet in none of these does oil hunter or forester rest. Humanity does not only inhibit a utopia for its own kind, but it invades and drains the safe haven of nature itself.

‘A Quarter of a Tank’ by John Dolan

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A man with a good car don’t need salvation.
Flannery O’Connor

There are 38 million people in California, but none of them live on the long, mountainous stretch of I-5 between Weed and Redding. Which is why I was zooming through there in the dark, alone in the brave little Kia while the fuel gauge dipped below a quarter-tank.

I was hoping to get south out of the mountains before the rain could turn to snow. So I zoomed along without stopping at the gas stations in Yreka or Weed. It was like Casey at the bat, letting those first two pitches go by: You get cocky, you think there’ll be more stations every few miles—and besides, you’re too terrified to stop. Or at least I was.

Stopping meant that the car might not start again. There was no money to fix a flat. Or any other repairs. There was no money, period, and I was alone with my thoughts, because the stereo hadn’t worked since we got the Kia out of storage. And if you stop and turn off the engine, what if it doesn’t start again? I mean, why should it, just because you want it to? I don’t know how cars work. A shrink once told me I used a lot of magical thinking, and I thought, “There are other kinds?”

There are good and bad aspects to being an animist, or “magical thinker,” as shrinks call us. The good parts—well, there’s actually only one good thing, and it’s that animists don’t get bored. A haunted world is not boring. The bad part is that a haunted world is a nonstop nightmare, so we live in terror. In other words, the bad part is absolutely everything else in the world, once you’ve put “Never bored” on the positive side of the chart. Other than that, nightmare, at least for me. I’m not one of those cheery animists, the ones who think Nature loves them. Those tend to be hippies from the first wave who did well in California real estate. Property values; that’s the real basis of their sunny theology. I once heard one of these old smug hippies say at a party, “I know Nature loves me.” There was this young woman with multiple sclerosis there, trying to have a baby while stiff-arming death with one hand, and she said, “Nature sure doesn’t love ME!” To which ye olde hippie had no answer. She didn’t need smart answers; she had a pension and a house that was worth about 20 times what she paid for it.

Me—no house, no pension, so Nature doesn’t love me either. Nature thinks I’m an idiot. Only the crepuscular deities have any use for me, though they too have an ill-concealed contempt for me, and for all their adherents. As for the the bigger, more scenic, Nietzschean landscape features, they don’t even bother to hide their disdain. Mountains sneer at me, hills are disappointed in me. My own shipmates, my shoes, wish they had a better captain. For the Manichean animist, the world is haunted in a very un-cute, un-Casper way.

We develop a sense for landscapes that want no part of us, and try to avoid them. That was why I didn’t stop at Weed, the last town before the mountains; I didn’t like the look of the place, its whole feng-shui shrug away from me, from the freeway, like it was too good for us. I am, perhaps, too sensitive, but it seemed to me that Weed’s warm yellow gas-station lights were sneering at me. So I pushed south with the fuel tank steady at about one-third of a tank left.

Continue reading “‘A Quarter of a Tank’ by John Dolan”

‘Her Name Wasn’t L-O-L-A’ by Terry Barr

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It’s hard to tell a college-aged guy what to do and not to do, whom to date and not to date. I know I wouldn’t listen to anyone, especially not to my friends. No, I had to learn the hard way, and drive the long way, too.

I lived in the college town of Montevallo, Alabama, twenty-five miles from my home in Bessemer, and fifty miles from Clanton. Clanton isn’t an important town to me, never was. Like Bessemer, it’s just one of those places that you wouldn’t pull off an interstate for, except to wonder how and why its citizens kept themselves going, and there. I never noticed it, at least, until I had to.

Until, that is, I decided I had to date a girl who lived there.

I met her in the lounge of the SUB where she hung out with the commuters on the second floor, drinking soda, just down the hall from the SGA offices where I often had college business.

The canteen was downstairs, and so many times as I was walking up and down those marble-tiled stairs, I’d see her. Reddish hair cut in a shag, wide blue eyes that, indeed, stared my way.

Now I’m not the world’s most masculine man, not the boldest, either, but in those days I was on a streak of getting “Yes’s” to my queries,

“Do you wanna go out one night?”

I had been a high school reject, not the most physical guy dating-wise, and so college for me, like for many, was a chance to start over. So after seeing her seeing me a few times, I walked up to her, asked her her name, and in a soft-spoken voice she said “Kay.”

And when I asked her out for that coming Friday night, she said, simply,

“Yes.”

And then, “But I live in Clanton.”

I didn’t know then how far Clanton was from the college (again, fifty miles), nor did I know that to call her, I had to dial long distance. All of this should have discouraged men, and a less passionate guy might have thought better about his next move. I, however, had a date, and no force on earth would stop mixed-up, muddled-up me.

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‘Funeral for Fat Louie’ by David Perez

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I got off the No. 6 train at Brook Avenue, and began the three-block walk to the Ortiz Funeral Home. Again. Another one of my South Bronx buddies from back in the day was dead. Suicide.

The year was 1995, the August day hot and muggy in the distinct New York City way, dirt and grit and glazed heat seeping its way into your pores. Walking west on 138th Street, new housing developments rose among the still plentiful empty lots and boarded up storefronts. Sounds of salsa, rap, and reggae music blared from hand-held boom boxes and open tenement windows, the smell of fried everything in the air.

I had come of age here in the 60s and 70s, when the South Bronx ignited into infamy as the arson capital of the United States, transforming my neighborhood into an epicenter of daily muggings and rising poverty, where new street gangs formed by the week and heroin flowed like an oil spill. Yet, we had survived, launching, among other victories, the hip-hop revolution.

But many did not survive, and that’s why I was back in my old Mott Haven stomping grounds, a section of the South Bronx that’s about as far south as you could get before ending up in the Harlem River.

I entered the Ortiz Funeral Home on 141st Street and Willis Avenue and found the parlor where Louie Santos was laid out; only a few people milled in the dimly lit room. I walked to where Big Danny stood, near the open coffin. A wreath of crème roses, lilies, and purple carnations was placed at the head of the coffin. To my left was a glass candle with the image of the Virgin Mary. Big Danny and I hugged. I looked at Louie.

“Man, look at his face. So thin,” I said, stroking the mahogany coffin’s polished edge. “Remember when we used to call him Fat Louie?”

Big Danny stared at the corpse. “Not anymore,” he said.

Louie Santos was only 43 years old, dead from a self-inflicted 38-caliber bullet to the skull. The superintendent of the Bronx tenement Louie lived in found the body after neighbors complained of a foul stench coming from the fifth-floor apartment. Predictably, no one admitted to hearing a gun shot.

“Been to too many of these funerals,” Big Danny sighed as we walked to the back of the room to join the handful of fellow mourners. “So many of the old fellas from the block are gone: Little Stevie, Hippie Ray, and now Louie. And most of the funerals have been held right here! I’m telling you, the Ortiz family is making sick money off us.”

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‘All My Halloweens: a Trick, a Treat, or Just Plain Crap?’ by Nick Sweeney

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When I was a kid we didn’t do Halloween in England. It was an American thing, something I read about in American comic books, or saw on the odd TV programme, and that was all, or so I thought till I went to live with my aunt in Dublin. They had Halloween there, for sure: it was Guy Fawkes Night, basically, but with Guy Fawkes luckily absent from the pyrotechnic proceedings, such as they were – few bonfires, and with fireworks rare. I didn’t realise it till years later, but of course it’s because Guy Fawkes was a Catholic, and not just any old Catholic, but one who’d tried to blow up the Protestant king and government of England. They were hardly going to celebrate barbecuing him in Catholic Ireland.

Fireworks were also rather hard to get in the Republic. Southerners, it was said, went on mysterious missions ‘up north’, enacting their own Gunpowder Plot. Those who refused, in those days, to contribute to the British economy, might well have regarded it as treason.

I date Halloween in Britain to sometime in the 1990s. I was living abroad by 1990, and we didn’t have it in Britain then. When I got back in the late 90s, we did, for some reason – pure commercialism, I guess; it was imported and forced on a mostly willing public, unlike, say, income tax or the death penalty. I think it had something to do with the growth of festivals, and how lots of people got the taste for dressing up funny and partying and getting out of it, with any excuse. And why not? I mean, one thing London really needs is yet more pissed people wandering around looking wacky. So now we have the virulent anti-Catholic cat-scaring whiz-bang of Guy Fawkes and the crazy dressing up of Halloween all together in the space of five days. Perfect. If you like that kind of thing.

My wife is from Northern Ireland. She tells me that when she was young, kids there did a thing they called Halloween Dunders; it involved knocking on people’s doors and legging it. I mean, we used to do that all the time in London, or, at least, anytime we were bored. We called it Knock Down Ginger, for some reason; poor old Ginger, whoever he ever was. I can’t see the point of Halloween Dunders – it’s all trick and no treat. They’re pretty hardcore in Ulster.

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