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"Thunder and Lightning Go Grocery Shopping," fiction excerpt

Thursday 1/13/22

I will be doing a book of fiction called Thunder and Lightning. It's about thunder and lightning, who live together. They've been housemates going back to the dawn of time, or I should say, the dawn of the world, and they are like chalk and cheese, as the saying goes, or oil and vinegar, but they also belong together, though they're not always together, which is what many people think. They usually are, though.


In this particular story, "Thunder and Lightning Go Grocery Shopping," the two are at the supermarket, at night, which is they're preferred time to go, because, after all, they're thunder and lightning. Night is just a better time for them. They get to the liquor aisle, and lightning goes to select a bottle, pulling out his phone app and pretending to read the latest spirt reviews, but really he is going to just pick the biggest bottle of vodka.


Thunder decides this is an opportune time to have that prickly conversation he's been putting off about lightning's drinking. So, they're getting into it, when this woman, who may or may not be a neighbor--though she is--who has three healthy little girls, comes stumbling down the liquor aisle, drunk. Lightning puts the big bottle of vodka in her hands, thinking he's helping. Or making a positive choice in his own life. And all of that is going to play out, which one does not see here, and one does not see anywhere right now, because the person who does all of this, of course, is hated, envied, feared, and blackballed by an industry.


I was talking to someone the other day, about recent stories I've written, and people who are being revealed for what they are on here like Deborah Treisman at The New Yorker and Emily Stokes at The Paris Review. And when I was being lied to by David Wallace at The New Yorker this summer--about sending them five stories, which was a deflection ruse, and which I know he never read, because David Remnick simply told him, and everyone there, to "handle" me, but to never, ever let me in. I'll get in on someone else's watch.


Anyway, I was telling this person I would never have sent something like this to those people, even if they were not discriminating against me and I was one of them--a horrid thought, because that would mean I have no soul, values, ability, integrity, and that I make decisions based upon people's skin color and gender, and was both racist and sexist, a lover of cronyism and nepotism, simple, stunted, entitled, broken, visionless, in addition to being a total fraud. It's so overtly new. They could never understand it. Never. They are so vanilla in their mindlessness. You have to do the social realism thing. And you have to be one of them.


I have 500 available stories right now. Obviously it's unheard of to have that many to pick from. If it has ever happened in history, it would be with a very old writer who had published very little. Not someone in the prime of life with 2500 pieces published to date in their career. Anyone want to compete? Anyone want to pretend, say, if you're at a music magazine, banning me, that I'm not good enough? Don't have the track record? What earthly reason do you want to give as you slop out generic slop like this by Kevin Lozano of The Nation--someone who, of course, will ban me at their own venue, because how do you think you're going to feel about me, if that's all you can do as a writer, and even that you owe to your connections and people hooking you up--writing for Pitchfork. You think I don't know how every Brooklyn hipster who can't write at all got their Sunday Album review assignment at Pitchfork? As I tried to earn my way in over years and was shunned and locked out because of what I can do, and do do, and have done for years, and do every damn day? You think I don't know who their buddy was who hooked them up? Of course I do. But a valid, work-based reason not to include me? You don't have one. You don't have the ghost of one. You don't have a desperate prayer of one. Not a fair one. Not a sane one. Not one that makes you look good. I never did anything to you. Save, what? Offer you too many masterpieces? Too many great ideas? Should I apologize for that? My bad? Everyone who reads these pages knows exactly who I am, the kind of person I am. It's all out there. It's not conjecture. This is a good person, a professional person, with the patience greater than any of any saint, who has taken endless abuse and discrimination, and eventually had to do something about it. Go listen to the radio sound. Does that sound like a terrible guy? Really doesn't, does it? Sounds like the opposite, right? But it didn't matter with all of those stories I have and had, because nothing was being considered, as we saw with Chris Beha at Harper's. After Beha sent me his pathetic, scheming, whining note, I learned that he went through emails with stories I had sent him years ago. He never read them until he sent me that note. He never even opened them. They were all lying to me. I knew it, because these people couldn't trick a drunken monkey, let alone me. They're not smart enough.


It was when I knew I was being lied to and said something about it--on here, without naming names, but they were trying to entrap me, and were monitoring these pages; sad and pathetic, no?; it's like high school for diletanntes--that Beha acted like a spoiled, seven-year-old who had been caught red-handed (which is essentially what he is--emotionally, intellectually, morally) and that I was banned, as if that matters, because I was already banned because of my ability and the contrast between that ability and what a Beha is. Or anyone at Harper's. To give one example. (Since that day, when I stood up for myself, against the abuse and discrimination, thousands of people have been laughing at Chris Beha and I am just getting started and many send me letters on here asking how the hell this industry of publishing is real, or that any of this could be allowed to happen.)


You get in trouble for the ability, then you get in trouble for knowing how you're being lied to, abused, discriminated against. And then that other person gets exposed on here. That's pretty much the flow chart right now. And eventually, those people will lose their place in their vile system. And eventually, too, the system will come down. But that's not what I'm here to discuss right now.


I was always meticulous in what I'd send, though I also knew what was happening and why. But I still tried so hard for so many years, just in case. Thousands of work hours. Stories like "Coffee Streaks," "Fitty," "Dead Thomas," "Dot," "Girls of the Nimbus." I put great thought into what to send. I have an endless amount of styles, voices, kinds of stories, from which to select. Most writers do one thing, a simple thing. They do it poorly, and they repeat it. And that is all they can do, and all they will ever do. (And given what we also know about these people, of course that kind of writer would absolutely loathe me.) So, your kind of story might not work at a certain place, and that would mean none of your stories do, if that place does a kind of thing. Contrasting kinds. You can't play that game with me. You can't use it as your excuse, and I know it, and they know it. Because I have every kind, and the kinds I invent as well, that no one has had.


To show them something like this could never work. Unless you were in a position to dictate terms, and they were fawning over you, like they do the work by awful writers, as we've seen from the examples lately with, say, Lydia Davis. So it'd be like the someone dictating terms on a bigger level, and having...what's that thing...oh yeah: actual ability.


They'd think it was zany, childish, cartoonish. They can't think "new." Everything has to suck, bore, and match other works that suck, bore, and match. Suck, bore, match. Suck, bore, match. And it's also far better to be a person of color and/or a woman.


A revolutionary work--or even just a new kind of work--by John Smith? No way, buddy. No bloody way would they allow that in.


They have to be removed. Truth is a great remover, in these kinds of wars.


***


Thunder and lightning went to the supermarket and thunder wanted to push the cart but it was lightning's turn, so lightning zapped it along in these sort of spurt-y movements whereas thunder would nudge it with the shoulder of a cloud.


Lightning had a mind to buy this new kind of cereal that came with bits of Kit Kats but thunder was on a health kick.


"I know you," thunder said, "and you'll try it once and then it will sit in the cabinet forever."


"You know me?" lightning sniffed.


"Yeah, I do. How long have we been living together?"


"Not this again."


"That's right, since time immemorial," thunder rumbled, tossing a bag of Smartfood into the cart because a health kick isn't a true health kick if you don't cheat a little bit, or give yourself a reward.


They liked to do their grocery shopping later at night because the store wasn't as crowded and night just felt more apt for them both. Sometimes lightning flirted with the lights. They thought he was the shit because he didn't have a switch and just went on and could burn things, which they couldn't.


In the liquor aisle lightning really liked to take his time. Truth be told, he could have stayed there indefinitely, so long as the shelves got restocked.


"Give me a sec," he'd say to thunder, inspecting the vodka bottles, but he was always going to select the same one, that being the biggest. He'd pretend it was for parties but they didn't have many of those, or even for cleaning the tub, but thunder usually ended up doing that, whereas lightning pruned the trees in the yard.


"I've been meaning to talk to you," thunder said, as lightning pretended to read the labels on various bottles of vodka and consult the app on his phone for which were the "hot" new buys and the best-rated spirits.


Lightning sighed. "We're doing this here? We're really doing this here?"


"Seems as good a place as any. I care about you. Don't mistake concern for animus. Or affection for judgment. I don't want to fight."


That last line pissed lightning off, because he was pretty logical. Thunder is more capricious, but lightning likes to be precise. Hence the appeal of metal rods, and not striking in the same place twice. Once lightning was on a date with a beam of sunlight and things had turned really amorous. "Do that to me again, baby, just like that," she purred and lightning had to say, "I can't," which was embarrassing for both of them. But he did the bulk-vodka buying before that, so he couldn't really cite that moment as what led him down the path of drink.


"Who do you think ever wants to fight?"


"What are you talking about?"


"It's just an annoying fucking thing to say. It's like the people who say, 'I prefer quality over over quantity.' Like no shit, dumbass. If you can't say the opposite and not be laughed at as a moron, don't say the thing you're saying. ‘I’m against racism.’ And then you have the people who say that life is 'to' short but apparently not short enough that you think it worthwhile to master basic fucking English."


"I think we're off point."