I'm not viewing this as a good thing right now, but I am getting to the point where I am going to have a really strong story collection made up of stories possessed of real heft in terms of word count and plot; novelistic stories, if you will, which is what I call some of my stories. Why do I not view this as a good thing? I haven't yet moved the story collection I already have like that called Cheer Pack: Stories, which has things like "First Responder" from the VQR in it, "Find the Edges" from Harper's, "Last Light Out" from Glimmer Train, "Pikes and Pickerels" from Commentary, and "The Last Field," which had been accepted by both Harper's and The Atlantic which neither is now running and presently has no home.
So now a new book is developing that is somewhat like that one. Simultaneously, a volume of weirder fiction, I suppose one could call it, of shorter pieces, is also coming together. But as for the new book with the novelistic stories and plot-heft, there are all of these new works going back to the summer, keen to be collated into a whole; I feel their collective nudges of "come on, man, group us, you know we ride together." "Funny Lines TK," "Nacho Cheese," "Floor It A.C.," "Pillow Drift," are among them, and the one I am doing as we speak, called "Dunedin." Meanwhile, it would be a good idea to pair Cheer Pack: Stories, with Meatheads Say the Realest Things: Satire from the End of Civilization and do the two at once at a single venue, as in, "here is the funniest book going, and here is a great story collection with a Harper's story in it."
I don't like saying that last part. Believe me, none of that means anything. That particular story isn't better than anything else in the book. There is not one single story in that book that it is a scintilla better than. Having something run somewhere means nothing. It doesn't mean the work is good, it doesn't mean it's not the worst fiction in the world. It's about other things, in almost every instance. I'm just trying to get to where I am going. When I get there, all that is going to matter, and that which is going to carry every day, is the quality of my work. I was going to say something glib there, like "but before that time I'll jerk God off in an alley if I have to," but that's not true. I find that I have a very hard time of violating my morals. In a way, that worries me. I can't be a toady, I can't be a shill, I can't be a ring kisser, a ball licker, a sinecure citizen. Besides, these people always recognize someone who is not like them, and then it's a no-go.
But even if I could, what I do and what I am and what I write gives off too much legitimacy. The light always comes through. If you bought my book, The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, you'll see that it's dedicated to a number of people. One of them was a woman named Laura. She had remarked, "You're going to beat these people, and you are going to do it the right way, with integrity, and without any help if need be, and no one is going to be able to take a single thing away from you ever after that is done." I don't know how right she was. I hope she was right. I'll tell you something. People like to say now that the most valuable commodity is time. I think people are less busy than they have ever been, lest we count how ceaselessly they work at creating excuses and building partitions to keep them from reality, with life being one extended shortcut, but they like to say that time is precious. Nothing is more so, they will remark in what has now become a buzz word bromide.
This is not true. I will tell you what matters more to a human than anything. It's not time. It's not love. It's not health. It's not friendship. It's not what Marmeladov in Crime and Punishment called a bit of belonging. It's hope. Without hope there is no life. Which is ironic, because what nearly every writer does right now is they write--not well--and they hope that it's good, despite their work being entirely lifeless. This is the Literary Citizen thing, which is tantamount to "You lie to me about my shit work being good, and I will lie to you about your shit work being good, and I'll publish you, and you publish me, and this can be our system, cool?"
I hope Laura was correct, but with something like this here, I don't have to hope anything to be aware of its nature and identity, because I know exactly what it is. Anyway, this is the second section I just wrote of "Dunedin."
That was the stroke. But we were talking about spring 1987. Max’s health dictated what our family would do, where it could be going.
“Aid,” he would say, “it’s my turn to be the shortstop, Aid.”
Before his stroke he always called me Aidan, but it was the truncation every time after, as though my name were commensurate with assistance, not that my brother doled out directives at any age, and he began and ended each sentence with the same word, a busted up, blank verse version of a not-quite-there palindrome.
We were only fifteen months apart, with me at fifteen and him at thirteen, but he was the prodigy, a quality I’m not sure he was ever aware of—humble kid—but which he retained, as his eyes would tell you. My brother had lucent and loquacious eyes, like a dog has a knowing bark. They told me what his voice didn’t quite manage on its own, that he was still all in there—they had depth of field, to be cinematic about it—and perhaps smarter than he was before, only he needed some time. Which is what the doctors had said. But with no guarantees. Something they had also said.
I didn’t tell our parents about the dumpster. It was always the same one. There was what had been a gas station at the end of our street in what was now a blighted copse of strangely sallow cedars, like they all needed a good drink from a good underground stream. The patch around the dumpster was overgrown, though even in spring it wouldn’t be verdant, but covered with leaves akin to autumnal scofflaws refusing to obey the laws of the seasons, never rotting away completely, and gathering a layer of dust, which I didn’t think was possible. Nature was supposed to be self-cleansing.
“Can’t find me, no you can’t,” Maxwell had said as I hit him some fly balls at the ballpark near our house where the escarpment that was left field broke beckoningly towards an adjacent train track, a curious entry in the annals of landscape architecture.
Usually that meant he wanted to go. I said that that I’d be sticking around for a bit, working on my swing. I stepped into the bucket a lot, leaving myself vulnerable to breaking pitches. I was probably in a slump. I couldn’t hit for shit.
Max wasn’t home when I got there a couple hours later. Our mother always expected him to be with me. That’s how it was, post-stroke. I lied and said that he was waiting at the field and I had just come to pick up snacks.
“You are getting in with me are you,” he said as I popped open the top of the dumpster. Max was in the back corner, his hands over his eyes like the light would kill him if it hit his pupils, light hazel orbs like hanging curveballs, about to be swatted by golden beams over left field hillocks whose gradations curved towards railway tracks.
I lofted him out. He was a lot smaller than I was. He hadn’t grown since the stroke. I was his protector. That didn’t mean we couldn’t go to Florida, but I knew telling our parents that Max was making like an animal who crawled into a metal box not to come out again meant we weren’t going anywhere. So I didn’t lie, because nobody asked, and I wanted to go.
Now to walk three miles and climb the Bunker Hill Monument five times. Later I collect my tax forms from my uncle who is kind enough to help me out, and then I will begin an essay on Howard Hawks's 1951 film The Thing from Another World and its relevance, along with 1950s sci-fi in general, on our present world. As one might imagine, I have already done a lot of this in my head. Could do a book on my film essay. My jazz essays. My art essays. Literature essays. I think next time on Downtown I'll discuss some art topic or topics. The last few segments have been on these kind of "big, philosophical" ideas--you know what I mean--or my own work (this journal, Meatheads). I find longer segments more efficacious with what I do, so I'm more apt to bundle to a few artistic topics at once. I can talk about whatever for however long, and I'm not going to run out of new things to add and ideas to develop, but there can be a kind of natural progression period with a given something on the radio. There is a get-in-and-get-out element. This is a great poster, by the way. I hope to have it hanging on a wall of a house someday.