I was up very late and awoke with a blinding migraine. I have swallowed four Advil but I cannot chase it or get the pain out of my eyeballs. I did manage to write the first section of a new story. A friend read "Dunedin" yesterday. I had asked them to go over it hard. To put it through its paces in terms of was it fully integrated, did everything in it manifest organically, were the characters who are not central characters sufficiently drawn because one cannot use characters as pawns to advance a plot. And so forth. The story is about two brothers. One is fifteen, the other thirteen. They live in Connecticut. We find this out later. It's not very important to the story. The younger brother has had a stroke. This limits what the family can do and where it can go. Normally on spring break they go to Dunedin, Florida, where their parents best friends live. The boys names are Maxwell--Max--and Aidan--Aid. Aid is the older brother. He wants to reconnect with the daughter of his parents' friend in Dunedin. Her name is Share. Her older brother is Darren. It is 1987. Maxwell, after his stroke, begins and ends each sentence he says with the same word. It's a tic. The boy is profoundly changed, and yet there is reasonable medical expectation that this will eventually pass. In the meanwhile, he has a tendency to hide and try to lose himself in a dumpster near the family's home. Aidan finds him there, but does not tell their parents, because he wishes to go to Florida. Which they do. The boys are big baseball fans. They collect cards, and Darren, who comes home from college, buys and sells. A small business while he's in school. Share has had all kinds of problems. Both of her arms are in casts. She is building a maze in the family's basement, as she retreats from the world. Her focus on this trip is on Max, not Aid, though Aid sits up late with her on the couch--as she does not sleep until dawn--watching Rhoda reruns on Nick at Nite. Something is going to happen between Maxwell and Share, after Share has told Aidan--though we don't quite get all of the details--that Greg Peca, Darren's best friend, has done something very bad to her, which her brother allowed to happen. Aidan thinks he is going to be her avenger. But what happens between Share and Maxwell changes this and Aidan does something to betray his brother, the person he is supposed to be protecting. The name Dunedin is a play on being done with Eden--that is, mankind's fall from the Garden of Eden. This betrayal is Aidan's fall. And he recognizes that even though he might go on to be a better brother, he will never quite be the same person again.
My friend phoned me and talked to me about it until 1 in the morning, because they were so excited about it. They could not stop thinking about it, and they said that they were so excited for people to read and love the story like they just had, and then they remembered--"Oh yeah. But publishing." Yes. Oh yeah. But publishing. Publishing is not going to want the world to see this story from this writer. We talked about how I am sitting there, about to write something--a phrase, a sentence, a line of dialogue--that I know is great. I know people would love it. I know that it is perfect for the world right now. I know that it will live forever. And I know that that phrase, that sentence, that bit of dialogue, is going to what puts off someone in publishing. So I have to make a choice. Do I keep going and write the great thing that people would love? Or do you try to write something that sucks? I always make the choice to do right by the work. But I know what that means, for its prospects when it goes out into the world after. Right now, I mean. Hopefully not always, hopefully not for much longer.
I sent two ideas to the Times Literary Supplement this morning. Also pitched The Barnes and Noble Review on an early graphic novel from the 1920s. And my friend Aaron Cohen--he lives in Chicago, he has a book on Chicago soul coming out soon--and trust me, Aaron is the leading authority on that subject, and a sweet and wonderful man--posted on Facebook about how he always wondered what went through Larry Williams' mind when he was in jail and he saw that these white English kids were covering his material. Aaron made that remark to me once, too. He indirectly gave me a short story idea. One of the books I plan to do is Beatles-related fiction. Not fan fiction. Obviously. But short stories around the Beatles, if you will. One of them could be about school kids who tape their BBC sessions off of the radio and you go into their lives. Another could be about a rival band in Hamburg. Another could be about a Teddy Boy on his way to a Beatles gig where there will a big punch-up outside. I have a list. Doing one with the likes of Williams in jail--you tell a story with him as the protagonist--could also be very good.
I have just described "Dunedin" above. A second story, "Done Eden," will find these people later in life, and that will also be the name of a novel concerning them, in which Aidan and Share are together, and there comes a time when he must believe her--or she asks him to--about something quite important. In the story completed yesterday, we find out that she was, let us say, not truthful. But she is fundamentally good. That was one of the keys of the story. I even had it in my notes: She must be fundamentally good.
You can understand if you read these pages how this must feel for me, creating at this level and rate and being in this situation. And if you saw my life and what it actually looks like to the eyeball, it is far worse, the situation. The living situation, for instance. I'm pretty open on here about what I do and the level I do it at, and how that stands apart in history, but I am not really bothered by that nor do I think twice about it--well, I think twice about everything, and more; my point is I don't have reason to in this case--because I think all of that is pretty plain. I don't see how you could argue otherwise, even if you hate me and want me dead. That some people can't argue otherwise makes some people hate me more. I get it. I'm going to lay this on you now. It's the first section of the new story. Not "Dunedin." Not the others I've been discussing here in this entry. This one I already know is going to be one of my all-time favorites. What are some of my personal favorites? "Cheer Pack." "Pillow Drift." "Jacks." "Terry from the Cape." "Dunes Under Sand." "chickchick." "Dark March." "Chix and Quarters." "Hold Until Relieved." "Nacho Cheese." This one is called, "A man sitting outside of a school playground." I will conclude this entry with this excerpt.
A man sitting outside of a school playground, hoping not to be seen, is not a man who should be thinking about his father’s dick, Cale Nasker thought to himself as he cinched up his jacket collar, a gesture which in this moment struck him as having a condom-like aspect.
That was the late November pensée purling along the edges of his mind, a bit of cheap stitching for a brain that felt like a sundered rag.
Normally breezes were freshening to him, but today he felt like a member, and a lowly member at that—perhaps a low-level employee who cleans up other people’s barf—of the Kingdom of the Frowsy. It was as if the wind only had to decide, “You know what, I’m going to give this guy an extra puff of my breath, and send him sprawling to the ground.”
Cale wished to be a father himself. He thought he probably was a father, but with an asterisk. He was more certain that fathership—that wasn’t the right term; fatherhood—was something that could recede. One could be grandfathered out of being a father, ironically enough. But it was not the wind that had knocked down Cale’s father.
He loved that his own father traded in kindness. The fathers of his friends tended to barter against perceived softness with that old school scrip of at-a-distance stoicism, all rah-rah manliness, “rub some dirt into it,” that for a long time was prevailing wisdom for how fathers ought to conduct themselves. There were mothers to countervail that, after all.
This kindness halted no jokes, though. Do something dumb, and then get dumber and not try to fix it in the right way, and you were apt to be called double-loaded stupid—“So dumb you don’t even know how dumb you’re being.”
Cale ran the words in his head, as if they were on strips of celluloid. He watched them like jackrabbits playing at a game of leapfrog as he looked at the eleven-year-old girl on a school playground who was insisting it was her “ups,” in a game of kickball otherwise being dominated by boys.
Natasha—Nat—would not stand for that, as Cale knew.
He had turned to see his father standing, and then watched as God had frozen his heart. His father’s member, foreshortened—“objects appear closer than they are,” after all—flashed in the side mirror of the car. Cale expected he’d be down the gully in the woods, not taking a weak-streamed piss on the side of the road. There was no bend or buckle to his body when he fell, like the Mortis Monster had already gotten to him in that cold February air, upon which he perhaps traveled faster, without humidity to impede progress.
The head-cracking was like a PS, an after-the-fact incidental, ex post facto declamation, a sales tax on life’s last transaction. Sometimes even nature wants to say, “See? I can do this. I just did that.” The bubbles did not splatter—they remained committed to the ground, as the body now was—dispersing in shock-wave ripples when they met with his father’s shoulder and then the side of his face. That ended the trip back from college. That ended fatherhood. It could take a second.
“There are all kinds of ways to peel a thumb,” Cale’s father would sometimes perversely say. “It’s a joke,” he’d add, for the benefit of the confused or incredulous. But there were all kinds of ways.
Cale took a final look for the day at the girl who had had her “ups” and rocketed a double—good girl—off of the fence at the back of the asphalt outfield. He coughed some blood up into the Dunkin’ Donuts cup he kept between his legs in case he needed something to raise and obscure his face. He had been drinking from it anyway. “Blood just recirculates,” his own fifth grade teacher had once told him when she got sick of watching him stick a paper towel into his mouth after he had cut the inside of his cheek.
Nat was not his blood. She was not his adopted daughter. But she had been his daughter, and that was over now, which he could understand. As he understood how he hated that he had pick up his brother-in-law at the airport.
“There are all kinds of ways to peel a thumb,” Cale’s father had said. He also said, “Nerves get cold—doesn’t stop them from being nerves.”
Cale put the car into drive.