That title. What were you thinking?

Yeah, the subtitle is really long. I wrote it early one morning after a seasickening deadline bender. I’d just finished the last chapter and was supposed to deliver the manuscript by the time Viking’s offices opened for business. It was already around 8 and I’d been up since 4. The working subtitle was “An Accidental Odyssey,” and I still kind of like that one, but I knew it was too coy, insufficiently expository. No way was I going to get to keep it. So I started playing. And I had in mind these 18th and 19th century shipwreck narratives. They were so popular they constituted a literary genre, Naufragia, from the French for shipwreck. They had subtitles the lengths of paragraphs. You can see for yourself. I quote one in full on page 251. I still wasn’t sure whether Viking would let me keep my own long subtitle, but god bless ‘em, they did.


No. Not the subtitle. The title. What were you thinking? I mean, Moby-Dick is this epic masterpiece, and you, my friend, whatever you are, are no Herman Melville.

It started as a kind of joke. I chose the title before I wrote a single word, which is unusual. Once I committed to it, I had to take the joke seriously. I knew that my voyage had to be a grand one. I often wished that for my first book I’d chosen a smaller project, a nice little monograph of an essay on oh, I don’t know, the pleasures and perils of bicycling in New York. But I love Moby-Dick, love the so-called informational chapters as well as the action sequences. I think most of all I love the dynamics in Melville’s prose, the swells and troughs, the storms and calms, how it mixes the high and the low, the philosophical and the naughty. I used to tell my students to look out for the fart joke in chapter 1, “Loomings,” (hint, it has to do with the pythagorean maxim). Then, too, Ishmael is an insular Manhatto, like I was, a former schoolteacher as I was. I couldn’t resist. I carried a tattered, annotated copy around with me during my travels and kept it on my desk and sought inspiration in its pages. It sustained as well as daunted me. Frankly, I’d almost to prefer to talk about Melville’s book than mine.


Sorry. That’s not what The Nervous Breakdown asked for. I will let you quote a favorite passage, so long as it’s not one of the many that appear in the pages of your book.

So hard to choose! But when my hypos get the better of me, I find particular solace in these two. First a long, gorgeous, voyage of a passage:

“Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary?”

The “pondering repose of If”! Then, secondly, an aphoristic one:

“There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.”


I said “one.” No more Melville for you. Back to the ducks. Do you collect them?

No. But people have started giving them to me. For well-intentioned reasons. And I feel kind of obliged to keep them, but I really would  rather not acquire any more. I would say, however, that duckie collecting is, like most things, more interesting than you might think. On a trip that didn’t make it into the book, I visited the woman who owns the Guinness record-setting duckie collection, Charlotte Lee. She turned out to be this smart, interesting sociologist who’d written a sociological study of duck collectors.


Quick. One image that you remember from your travels that you didn’t manage to find a place for in the book. First thing that pops into your head.

The old part of Guangzhou. Back streets like corridors in a maze. On a window grating someone had hung out heads of lettuce, presumably to dry.


Are you working on something new?

The dread question. The answer is yes, but I’m going to be evasive by being facetious. One review called my book “the Moby-Dick of drifting ducks,” which is a nice way to describe it, but which if you pause over it makes “drifting ducks” sound like a literary subgenre. My wife said, “Next you can write The Lady Chatterly’s Lover of drifting ducks.” We made a kind of parlor game of it, coming up with the other books in my burgeoning franchise: The Duckameron. Duck Quixote. My personal favorite: Duckleberry Finn.


There’s much about fatherhood and childhood in the book. One of your two sons even turns up as a kind of recurring character. What does he want to be when he grows up?

His plans keep changing, of course. Recently, he’s decided to be the host of a televised cooking show. But once he told me that he was going to be a scientist so that he can go to Antarctica and bring things back for me and his mother. Another time, god help him, he said he wanted to be “a papa and a writer.” He even had a great book title picked out.


What was it?

The Frogs of Australia.



So who are you, and where do you get off thinking you’re a poet?

I’m a regular guy in a lot of ways, and a writer friend’s then-wife once called me “pretty normal for a writer.” I’m a first-generation college student who grew up in Aurora, Illinois and went to public schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

I am willing to go public on calling myself a poet because I’ve put a lot of time into reading and writing and rewriting. Some of that was in a creative writing program, but a lot of it has been outside of any academic framework. It’s not for me to say how good I am or will ever be, but at this point I’ve probably put in the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell mentions in Outliers as being essential for success.  Practice for a poet, though, isn’t like a pianist’s work on scales or a basketball player’s work on free throws. It involves a lot of letting the mind wander much of the time, even when far from a desk or a piece of paper.


What are you doing when you’re not a poet?

To paraphrase the biographical notes of wealthier people, I divide my time between work and home, and sometimes I’m trying to write in other genres. Then there are the separate jobs of submitting work and promoting the work that I do publish.  In the middle of that awkward phase between birth and death, I’m in the midst of a particularly awkward phase of needing to engage in marketing and scheduling but not having a publicist or agent to do these things for me. This could go on for quite a while. Say, would you like to be my publicist?


Um. Um. Hell no! I’m far too much of an introvert for that.

You can have a big cut of my writerly earnings.


Nice try, pal. So what do you do when you’re not writing at all?

I take my dog on long walks, which overlaps with letting my mind wander.  I read a lot, which sometimes leads to acquiring lots of geeky knowledge about topics like deep sea life or cheese. I share much of this with my wife.


Undoubtedly a good and patient woman.  This may be a good time to more questions about your writing. What are you working on now?

There are always individual poems at various stages of completion, and a couple of loosely organized sequences of poems. I am also chipping away at the first draft of a crime novel and starting to put together an e-book of crime stories for purchase at a low, low price from at least one online vendor later in the year.


And what would you like to work on in the future?

Interviewing people might be a good time. How’s it working out for you?

My firmer plans include revising about 80,000 words of essays and trying to write another play. And there are always more poems to write. I want to be an industry or, failing that, the Swiss Army knife of American letters.



Please explain what just happened.

I just read a bunch of these other interviews and realized I wasn’t going to be half as funny as Anthony Camera. So instead I have to try the honesty route and hope it works out.

What is your earliest memory?

I have this memory of a room where every wall is a different pastel color. Outside a window there is a pigeon cooing. I recently asked my mom what house this was and she kind of freaked out because we moved out of that house when I was only 6 months old.

TNB TV
The true sequel to the New York Times bestselling memoir, Blackbird, Jennifer Lauck’s Found is the long awaited and satisfying sequel to her tragic childhood story — she lost both her adoptive parents as a young child and her adoptive brother to suicide. Lauck’s previous books all explore facets of her childhood. Found is written by a woman who has finally found her way out of her past and into a hopeful present and a promising future.

So tell me a little bit about your new novel, The Lover’s Dictionary?

It’s the story of a relationship, told entirely through dictionary entries.  For example:

aberrant, adj.

“I don’t normally do this kind of thing,” you said.
“Neither do I,” I assured you.
Later it turned out we had both met people online before, and we had both slept with people on first dates before, and we had both found ourselves falling too fast before.  But we comforted ourselves with what we really meant to say, which was: “I don’t normally feel this good about what I’m doing.”
Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling.
Everything else will be measured against it.

Jackpot

It’s a workday, Monday, and Catherine is dressed up for being in the office. She wears a silk blouse and slim-fitting pants in a pretty color of green. When she sees me in the lobby, she rushes over.

“There you are,” she says, taking hold of my arm in a strong mother’s grip. Her hand is soft but strong. Purposeful. “I was worried. What took you so long? Are you okay?”

She can already tell what’s going on inside of me—like a mother—and it’s unnerving. “I’m just nervous,” I say. “Is he here?”

“Yes, he’s already sitting down. I’m sorry,” Catherine says, “I know I sprung this on you at the last minute but I just want to get this over with. Just meet him and then that will be done.”

She leads the way through the packed restaurant, a place called Chili’s, which is a favorite of Daniel’s.

She holds my hand and walks with great, long, confident strides. I shake so hard, I feel like I will throw up.

She turns a corner and leads us down a long row of tables. Pretty soon, we are in front of a huge, red, plastic booth and there he is, the man I’ve seen in all the photos. Daniel.

When he looks up from his menu, his expression is not that of a stranger. He is so familiar—his face is my own. Daniel has gray white hair and one of those rough whiskered faces, as if he forgot to shave only it’s fashion. His jaw is chiseled like a Marboro man, he has a wide generous mouth and bright, alive eyes—blue with glints of white light. The man is electric.

“You’re Jennifer?” he asks.

I nod like yes, since words are lost. This man is my brother. My brother!

He takes me in from head to toe and back up again and laughs like I am the best joke in the world. A punchline. He sounds so happy and surprised and even delighted. In the sound of his laugher, so much like my own, I’d swear I’ve known him my entire life even though we look at each other for the first time.

Catherine stands back and laughs too, hand over her mouth. “I told you,” she says, tears in her eyes. “I told you.”

Daniel tries to stand up but his thighs hit the table and it’s a little awkward to reach each other. After a scoot and push, finally he comes around the edge and we hug. Daniel feels just great and what a skyscraper of a man.

It hits me again, like a wave from sea. A brother! I’ve had a brother all this time.

Just what is the mystery contained in DNA? What is the energetic wavelength that moves within family units? What don’t we know, despite all our scientific strides and advances? As I hug my brother and see my own mysterious knowing fall into place, I can only say that I knew of his existence—I did.

Daniel ushers his wife out of the booth and says she is Rona. I offer my hand but then that seems weird and instead we hug too.

Why not? We’re one big happy family now, right?

Rona is a small woman with deep-set eyes and a pretty face. She says, “You sweet thing, you’re shaking like a leaf.” She holds my hands and seems very sincere.

We all settle into the booth again, the three of them on one side with Daniel in the middle and me on the other side. Water arrives in giant, red, plastic tumblers as if they are standard issue here in the Biggest Little City in the World.

I stare over my mega-sized cup and study this brother.

Daniel, doing the same, puts his elbows on the table and holds his hands together, just like Jessie did yesterday at breakfast. I sit back and hold my own hands in my lap.

Somehow, like a miracle, food gets ordered and Catherine claps her hands like calling this meeting to order.

“Well, here we are,” Catherine says and she laughs as if she has told a joke.

Daniel laughs with her but then rolls his eyes like he she’s on his last nerve. Rona laughs in the same way and coughs into her fist.

“When Catherine said we were all meeting for lunch . . . ” Rona begins, from the far side of Daniel.

“ . . . Well, I told her forget it. No way. I have a million things to do today,” Daniel says. He makes big gestures, like I do, like Catherine does, using his hands while he talks.

“Which isn’t to say he didn’t want to meet you . . . ” Rona explains.

“ . . . No,” Daniel says, “of course not.”

“Daniel just has so much going on and Catherine caught us by surprise . . . ” Rona says.

The two women smile at each other and Catherine does a quick shrug like everyone just needs to get over it. “ . . . I just wanted you to meet my daughter. After all, she’s here,” Catherine says, finishing the sentence.

“She has a way of catching us all by surprise,” Daniel says, with another eye roll.

More laughter all around.

I nod like I understand and it all makes sense but really, I don’t know what to say. I think Daniel says, without words, that he’s pissed that his mother never told him about me. Like everyone in this family, I’ve been my mother’s secret for all of my life and most of hers. I guess he’s pissed about it as if he has right to his mother’s whole story just by the fact of being her son, the one she kept and raised and loved.

I bite my lip and keep how I feel about things inside. This is not the time to set Daniel straight.

When the laughter dies down, Daniel becomes serious. “Mom says you’re a Buddhist, is that right?”

“Well, um,” I begin. I glance at Catherine and she grins and nods like I should go ahead and confess. “Something like that.”

Daniel is like a laser beam of focus, all-business now, and I’d hate to negotiate with him. I bet he’s tough!

“So what’s the bottom line here? Do Buddhists believe in God?”

I steal a quick look at Rona, who seems equally interested and then I can only look at my own hands. I shift my fingers around as if they can tell me what to say but there are no words there.

“Well, um,” I hear myself say again. “I suppose.”

“Oh, Daniel,” Catherine says, slapping at his arm, “leave her alone.”

After that, we downshift to politics and since it happens to be an election year (McCain versus Obama), they collectively talk about the possibility of “that man” making it into office. “That man” being Obama. Catherine talks about her admiration of Sarah Palin and how she hopes this country has the good sense to put such a bright lady in office.

I can only shrug and say I’m not really political.

Finally, we make an even deeper downshift and find the mutual ground of children. Daniel and Rona tell me about their daughter. I talk about Spencer and Josephine.

“I’m just dying to meet them,” Daniel says.

“Daniel just loves kids,” Rona adds.

“He’s wonderful with them too,” Catherine adds.


Pretty soon, salads are eaten and the water is gone and Daniel, Rona, and Catherine are like a team of stockbrokers before the exchange opens. They check their watches, read their text messages and tap at their phones. Time to get back to work.

As we leave the restaurant, Rona and Catherine pull together a loose plan for all of us to meet for pizza tonight. Rona wants me to meet her daughter, Brittney, and Catherine wants Jessie to bring her kids over too.

I sway a little, imagining another layer of family and my stomach rolls with nausea. All I want to do is sleep again but I nod like yes, pizza would great.

Daniel is quiet and when he hugs me, emotion rises in him—some old sadness that I don’t know but that I certainly recognize. I want to ask what’s going on but he lifts a hand between us like I need to give him room. Tears spark in the edges of his bright blue eyes.

Later, Rona will tell me that this was happiness. Daniel was just so happy to meet me.


After they leave, it’s just Catherine and me again. We stand close to each other, in the parking lot, next to her car. Our bodies—so much the same—do not touch.

“That went great, didn’t it?” she says. “I think that went really great.” Her blue-gray eyes look tired, as if this meeting took a huge effort.

“It did,” I say. “You did a good job.”

“Me?” she says. “You did a great job. I’m so glad you’re here. I’m so glad you’re my daughter.” She touches my cheek, the lightest glance of a touch and in that moment, I am so thankful I had the guts to come to Reno and to endure meeting all these people.

In a Reno parking lot, I am someone’s daughter and I get to feel how it is to have my mother be happy to have me around. It’s the best gift. Better than gold, and no, I have not made a bad gamble with my heart.

The skeleton of an avocet erupts
in a cigar box. A fire

like cognac. Like the avocet.
I have trouble choosing: worm

or sleep. Luckily,
I am not long-legged.

This morning, I told my wife
my belt was an eel, coming to surface

for the sheen of the snaps, for what might
be hidden in the shores

of the back pocket. She told me
a joke in Portuguese, about the avocet

who ate the eel and turned into
a flying fish. It’s funnier

in Portuguese. In this language,
we build our coffins like homes—

the purple drapes here, the dinette set…
The avocet is a female apricot,

she says, the burial is a long
slow look at a solemn channel—

before the shovels, streaked with the leavings
of omuboro cherry, allow

for rain. I told my wife,
if I worked at the graveyard,

I would also try to knock the fruit
from the tree. She tells me

the joke about yellow feet
and other signs. How,

to bury the bird
is to choose between two unknowables.

Flight, death. We only think
that she’s the one we’ve been spooning with.

In the creased lid
of the cigar box is only

the aching of paper, and a punchline:
How the armless man

lives with itch. This
is who we have to live with.


RONLYN DOMINGUE is the author of the acclaimed novel The Mercy of Thin Air and the owner of one of the most mispronounced surnames in TNB Nation (we’re pretty sure it sounds like meringue).


Said novel, a Borders Original Voices Award Finalist that was acquired by eleven — count ’em, eleven — countries, is held in high esteem by pretty much everyone…except the geniuses at the New York Times.


Her writing has appeared in New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, The Independent (UK), and, most recently, Shambhala Sun.  This last publication seems an ideal fit for her, given her love of the beauty of nature and her hatred of war.


She loves insects and leaves…and also football and Rush (we imagine “The Trees” must be a favorite of their songs).


She learned a lot from being a writing coach to a man on death row…so much that she wrote a four-part series on the exchange.


Her artistic skill goes beyond pen and paper…check out her blue doll, What Promise Was Broken.


She was also a reluctant beauty pageant contestant.


And did we mention Rush?




If Kate Jacobs has learned one thing, it’s patience. Her latest release, Home Game (Small Pond Records), is her fifth full-length and comes seven years after her previous effort, 2004’s You Call That Dark. In that span she’s taken time off from recording and touring to raise a family while continuing to write the same vividly drawn narratives within perfect pop melodies that she’s been writing for years. On Home Game Jacobs reflects on “life among backpacks and lunches (who ever thought about LUNCH so much),” marriage, divorce, children, Ireland, the internet and the park. I spoke with the singer-songwriter from her home in Hoboken, NJ.

 

Becca, my girlfriend’s roommate, sprung it on me the day before I was going to drive back home to Texas.

I’ll pay your gas if you drive me to Alabama, she blurted out while me and her roommate got in some last minute canoodling.

My girlfriend knew what Becca was up to and she promptly filled in the blanks. Going to Alabama meant going to the state prison, to death row. How could I say no? When I asked her if she drove stick shift, Becca offered me the straightest face I’d ever see her make. Yes, she said emphatically, I can. Her bags were already packed. I knew a little about her Alabama death row pen pal, but the knowledge was stowed behind too many bottles of the Shiner Bock I’d been living off of back in Austin.

Becca found him in the back of some liberal-minded magazine, the part where they used to feature personal ads. A sense of commitment to the downtrodden and abused made her answer. But something else had sprouted. Bryan, the inmate, wrote wildly entertaining stories, then backed them up with wildly passionate odes, and so, his letters zoomed into Becca’s heart. It began to thump the familiar cadence of love whenever a letter from her prison baby arrived.

Austin was a different kind of Texas than I had previously gotten to know. It had a metropolitan sway, a verifiable scene to get caught up in. At night I parked the truck off of Sixth Street, mapped out my location so when I drunkenly readied for home, I’d be able to drive myself there. Ridiculously dangerous, and immature, but true.

Even still, loneliness, an increased alcohol intake and a new to me pickup collaborated, and like that, my first cross country road trip came to life. I needed the experience. So I drove the twenty-three hours to see the girl, through a snowstorm mostly, amped up on road coffee and white crosses. Before leaving, I’d even secured a few days off from the busboy job a friend of the family gave me.

Real experience had eluded me since I’d finished a get-your-shit-together summer working on my godfather’s ranch five years before. Now, Becca, offered it up in spades.

We split the next morning, after hugging my girlfriend goodbye, and chugging the home made fresh ground coffee, we tucked our bags behind the bench seat of the blue pickup, and hopped in. I’d stacked a bunch of wooden packaging pallets in the back, to keep the rear end heavy enough to travel through the storm. They banged around until we got to the highway.

Becca and I were pals before I ever met my girlfriend. Some days we’d sit on the bench outside of the gourmet goods store, and talk in strange accents. She was fun in ways I never dreamed of, completely unselfconscious in a sea of awkward puerility. And yet she also retained a total awareness of self. She studied dance. She listened to advanced classical music and silly Midwestern punk bands with the same concentration. Naturally I was drawn to her. Those very qualities were what made me say yes to the proposition in the first place. That, and her offer to pay for gas.

Once we hit the highway, the two of us kept talking, and the tapes I’d set aside for our trip never did make it to the deck.

We flicked our cigarettes out of the windows. We spilled Mountain Dew on each other, and laughed out loud until we couldn’t laugh anymore. Suddenly, we had driven eight hours. She said she’d take over once it got dark. In retrospect, neither of us had really clocked the trip, and I suspect she said that hoping I’d just keep going until we got to Alabama, because it turns out, Becca couldn’t drive stick shift at all. After gassing up I switched to the passenger seat. Becca grabbed the stick shift like she’d probably seen her Dad do. She never let on that she didn’t know how. But when she completely ignored the clutch, and the truck popped forward, and stalled out immediately, like a teenage boy in the hold of his first bedroom visitor, it was pretty obvious.

My Dad had refused to teach us to drive, correctly predicting my brother and I would make the bizarre requirement to learn on stick. Dad had long since given up on stick shift vehicles preferring the blissful ease of automatic transmission. An old classmate of his, down on his luck after years of boozing, turned out to be my driving teacher, and Dad would laugh at the prospect him teaching me. The blind leading the blind, he said. Becca exacted that driving instructor’s revenge upon me.

We were somewhere in Tennessee. Night was approaching. The gas station doubled as a truck stop, with the trucks parking at the north end and a long parking lot that angled downward, to the south.After about an hour of facing the truck downward, getting Becca back behind the wheel,delivering a rudimentary course in the five gear locations of the shift box, we were on our way. My stubbornness was showing. I wanted to watch the country go by. I’d never been to Alabama. And soon we would move deep into repressed poverty of the state. Thankfully, the State Prison of Alabama in Atmore wasn’t our first stop.

Becca arranged for accommodations, and gave me directions. I pictured a Motel 6, a Travelodge, a Best Western in the near future. Becca arranged something else.

I took over driving, knowing Becca’s concept of the gear ratios would splinter soon as we entered stop and go traffic. We were on the other side of the tracks, literally, having crossed an unmarked trestle as the neighborhood became a shambled mess of shanties and too small plots of grass.

I don’t think that Atmore had any neighborhoods that looked and felt and breathed with the warmth of a different, economically more structured South, but if it did, we did not see them. Beccabooked us a room through the inmate network. Here it is, she said, looking out the window at what looked to me like a shack to store old lawnmowers, a little bigger, but by not much.

Our host was named Amanda, or Brenda, or Linda. She was as big around as she was tall, freckled, strangely delicate, and kind. Her house was two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room. And everything on that street seemed like it had lived there since long before I’d been born. Paint chipped off of each house. Rusted cars sat on wood and cinder blocks in each yard, and the grass grew weedy and high.

Our host showed us to our room, and having been through the ritual enough times already, let us be.

I have never slept in a bed that drooped on springs as creaky as that before or since. Each time one of us squirmed the other let out a quick laugh, but we clung to our sides of the mattresses like our lives depended on it. Before we finally fell to sleep Becca whispered the particulars of Bryan’s case. They each were on the last of their appeals, she said quietly. Then she announced that Bryan was innocent. As she said it her head came up so she could see into my eyes, the springs barking like over active hound dogs underneath of us. Her eyes burned fiercely, having told too many other over privileged snot noses the story of her death row inmate. I read the fury of her eyes, and quickly stifled that same reaction. Yeah, right he’s innocent, I thought to myself. But I also noticed she did not mention Ed’s innocence, immediately understanding her stance on that situation. Ed and Bryan had befriended a white girl, who may or not have been a prostitute. They got loaded, hung out for a little bit, but when the girl got mouthy, Ed took her for a walk, and when he came back alone, Bryan let it go.

A week later, the two transient men were picked up for the woman’s murder. Neither had money for an attorney. At the end of the trial, both received guilty verdicts. Bryan was unwilling to rat out his best friend. Ed was unwilling to cop to a crime where there was no material evidence. The lack of material evidence, however, made much less difference than the color of their skin, versus that of the dead woman’s.

Good night, Becca said, exhausted from the drive, from the information she just outlined.

The Atmore prison had towers. The towers had gunmen. When I parked the truck in the lot, the gunmen watched us, their weapons ready. I kissed Becca goodbye and started to make my escape. She tugged my wrist. You can’t go, she said, you have to come in and visit with Ed so he can get out of his cell.

It was an irritating favor to ask at the last minute, but I couldn’t deny the urgency splashed across her face. I looked back at the closest tower guard, sunglasses hiding sharpshooter eyes. Do it for the experience, I told myself.

Death row inmates don’t get to have regular visitor hours with the rest of the crew. They spend most of their time in their cells. Their prison community consists solely of other death row inmates.

In Alabama, the inmates wore white. As we made our way to the visitor’s area- a large glass wall encased room that resembled a public school cafeteria – the inmates appeared from behind a sliding steel door. Under the harsh purple neon light, their uniform lack of pallor from having little to do with sunlight was grotesque. Bryan and Ed were black. The vampiric lighting didn’t give them that ghoulish glow.

Becca grabbed a corner table, and we crowded around it. When you meet killers it’s unnerving how natural they are. How regular. How absolutely normal and likable they seem. A few years later a drinking pal of mine, a man I sometimes turned to for advice, revealed he was, for all intents and purposes, a murderer on the lam. We were sitting at the bar when he became a little wistful and announced he hadn’t been back to Florida to see his family for many years. Why, I kept asking- two drinks, three drinks later. By the fourth round, he could contain himself no more, and shrugged. I killed a guy, he said. He looked at me the same way Becca had the night before. I knew it was true.

Bryan was affable, and I quickly found the same charm Becca swooned over. He regaled us with tales of what each inmate was in for. See that one, he said pointing to a guy who looked like a car salesman, or a chaplain. He killed his wife for the insurance money. That kid, he said pointing to a stringy teenager pockmarked by acne with a black shock of hair, he killed his ex girlfriend, strangled her in her sleep.

Ed was opposite of Bryan. Reserved, quiet. A do-er not a thinker. Lost in naivete ( or the knowledge that I could get out of there) I asked Ed was what he did for fun. He played along, and talked about basketball. He could shoot hoops an hour a day, followed the NBA religiously.

I hated basketball. But I didn’t tell that to Ed. Instead, I asked him about his teams, mentioned I came from Maryland, and we talked about Len Bias, the Celtics and Michael Jordan. I’d gone to a sports camp as a teenager at UNC, and I told Ed about Michael Jordan visiting his alma mater after being drafted by the Bulls. He didn’t exactly light up the way Bryan and Becca did at sight of each other, but the story made him easier to be around. He told me what his day to day life was like, and I, in turn, told him about bussing tables for assholes, and spending afternoons in bookstores dreaming of something better.

Yeah, he said, I know what you mean, man. I dream of something better every night.

Becca and Bryan’s ministrations could have disgusted me. And after a few hours, I’d run out of things to talk with Ed about, and I knew I was going to leave. They knew it, too. But they still went through a few more hand jives underneath the table.

Becca got up and hugged me. Have a safe trip, she said. I was stunned. I assumed she would leave with me. No, she was staying to the end of visitation, and was going to spend the night, and come back the next day, too.

Ed shook my hand. A guard led him away. Bryan spoke up then.

Ed can only hang out when he gets a visitor. No visitor- it’s back to his cell.

He was trying to guilt me into staying, but it didn’t work. I wanted out of there. Another guard escorted me to the gate, and then I was walking on the pavement of the lot staring at the armed tower guard staring back at me. In the truck I grabbed a warm beer and guzzled it.

Then I was out driving down highway 65, past Negro Lake, past Satsuma, Saraland, and Mobile, where I picked up the I-10 and headed west to Texas, where I still felt I belonged, where dining tables waited for me to bus them.

Eventually, I found out the truth. There’s no escape from death row. I was subject to my own demonic possession, in regards to drugs and crime and jail stays. Summer of 2000, I cleaned up. A year or so later, as the chemical fog lifted, I remembered that drive to Alabama, to death row. After a couple of months learning how to explore the internet, I discovered what happened to the two men who shared their lives with me for four hours one lonesome spring day in 1992.

After that last appeal was exhausted, Ed was executed in 1996. Bryan three years later. Every time I think about them, now, I realize, had they been white, they’d likely both still be alive. In prison probably, but alive.

I saw Becca again right after moving out to Los Angeles about seven years ago. We watched a movie projected on the side of a cemetery mausoleum, oddly enough. When I asked her about that trip she brushed it off, immediately changing the subject. I had only brought it up in order to thank her for giving me an indelible experience. Maybe a cemetery doubling as a movie theater was the wrong spot.

 

From galencurry.com:

Galen Curry honed his skills as a musician in the most intuitive way: by playing music whenever and wherever possible. He [has] played in jazz combs, chamber singing groups, wedding bands, and wind ensembles. He has toured the Eastern Seaboard with a rock [outfit] and Eastern Europe with a concert choir. For years, Galen front Upstate New York alt-rock band The Beds and Virginia funk-rock ensemble Ultraviolet Ballet, and it was with these bands that he began to find his voice as a songwriter.

Galen’s musical talents are now focused on a burgeoning solo career. Based out of a vibrant Charlottesville, Virginia, music scene, Galen honors his southern heritage with unmistakably American tunes that supplement his singular tenor with clever lyricism and upbeat rootsy instrumentation, but it is his penchant for heartfelt and rollicking live performances that definitely set him apart from the crowd.

Some years ago, I returned to Miami, where I spent the early Nineties eating Cuban and sexually humiliating myself. I was there to teach a seminar, the subject of which was –- if I’m remembering this correctly -– How to Never Sell More Than 1000 Copies of Any Book You Ever Write.

Morrissey++Siouxsie

The 1994 collaboration between Morrissey and Siouxsie—a cover of the love song “Interlude” by Timi Yoru—did not lead to a second Big Bang the way it should have. The universe didn’t turn inside out and collapse in on itself in a chugging and churning seizure of morbid irony. This should have happened but it didn’t. Do you even remember that the two singers ever recorded together? Nope, you don’t.