Grasshopper

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Twelve

 

[What follows is a transcript of a talk by Bud Smith given at McNally Jackson Books in NYC on Saturday, January 19th, 2019]

 

I didn’t know what I was going to say here tonight. I thought maybe I would read something, a story. I don’t know. I usually have my shit together.

For a while there, I was a wild goose about it, got nervous, couldn’t sleep. So I got out of bed and walked into the living room, asked for advice.

Someone on Reddit suggested I read y’all “The Swimmer by John Cheever. A famous short story. I didn’t know it, and it wasn’t available online. So I killed time, looked outside, where the night slipped into morning, blackness shifting into shades of rose and tangerine. That old familiar blue of morning, blooming.

Rae got up, asked if I was all right. Her purple pajamas became a black dress. She went to work. I walked over to the public library. They had John Cheever’s Collected Stories. That big red book. So I sat down by the Pepsi machine and read “The Swimmer.” A sad story about a man who drinks his life away, develops psychosis in the suburbs. I figured nobody at this city folk reading would even know what the suburbs were. So nevermind, “The Swimmer.”

Racquet

By Jackson Frons

Short Story

Tonight I will see Bonnie for the last time, but I don’t know it yet. We get together roughly once a month. We get drunk. We get high. We don’t have a ton to talk about, but she’s cool. We’re both downers, but she makes a lot of money. And I’m happy about seeing her. I’m happy that the early afternoon sun is out and that it finally feels like fall—cool crisp breeze, sky a vacant shade of blue like animated swimming pools.

I’m walking down Willoughby Avenue to work. I coach tennis in the park. I’m wearing a furry black sweater I stole from my dad. He stole it from a Norwegian television station. My beard is long. My hips hurt from running on cement 28 hours a week. My head buzzes from smoking too much pot last night. Most nights. I’m happy in a sad way. Like I know this is pretty great, the way I’m living, and I wish I could enjoy it more.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Ingrid Rojas Contreras. Her debut novel, Fruit of the Drunken Tree (Doubleday), is a national bestseller, an Indie Next selection, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and a New York Times editor’s choice.

Born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, Contreras’ essays and short stories have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Buzzfeed, Nylon, and Guernica, among others. She is the book columnist for KQED, the Bay Area’s NPR affiliate, teaches writing at the University of San Francisco, and works with immigrant high school students as part of a San Francisco Arts Commission initiative bringing writers into public schools. She is working on a family memoir about her grandfather, a curandero from Colombia who it was said had the power to move clouds.

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Last August a photo of Brad Phillips’ book Essays and Fictions was posted on Instagram.  The picture was a close up of Anthony Bourdain’s blurb—he’d only died a couple months earlier—that read “searingly honest, brilliant, and disturbing…” I guess I’m a sucker for excellent marketing, because I wanted to read the book immediately.  I wasn’t patient enough to wait for the novel’s release, and since the Instagram caption said advanced readers copies were available, I emailed Tyrant Books and requested one.

Essays and Fictions is a perfect example of why I love to read. Reading a book for the first time, a book I’ll grow to love, is an intimate process. The words on the page somehow seep into me, and the story stays inside long after the book is finished. The eleven stories in Essays and Fictions painstakingly focus on overlapping subject matter like drug addiction, sex, pain, loss, suicide and love—topics considered ‘disturbing,’ but the writing in this book about these topics is not only beautiful, but deeply sincere.

When I really love a book, I become obsessed and I do this thing: underlining various sentences, posting the underlined sentences on Instagram stories, tweeting sentences I connect with. I google the author, what else have they written that I can read right now? During one of my Brad Phillips k-holes online I found another blurb, The Paris Review said of Brad’s work, “He doesn’t ask to be liked, even by his groupies, but he does want to communicate: ‘I’m not interested in the ones who are drawn to the creator of the work, I’m interested in the ones who are drawn to the content.’”

In Essays and Fictions, I’m drawn to both.

Brad and I corresponded in December 2018, after I finished the book, via a Google doc. The following is what we talked about.

After my hometown high school burned to the ground, my parents sent me off to boarding school in the Blue Ridge mountains. It was kind of like that movie Dead Poets Society except instead of reading poems the students traded amphetamines for painkillers and dug underground tunnels into downtown Asheville to smuggle strippers onto campus. Once a kid stole a pony from a nearby farm as a prank and tied it to the goalpost on the football field. It wrapped the rope around its neck and almost choked itself to death. It was that kind of place.

I Have a Terrible Feeling is a series of weekly drawings, cartoons, and sketches by poet Adam Soldofsky.

we promised to come back for it

everyone had been to prison except me

my skull was a heartache

lightning was burning down the dance floor

my mouth was a copper runoff

i received a text saying the weather had gout

we built a box drain in the new cul-de-sac

with our nerve endings and bone concrete

T said don’t fear the machine

i was promoted to motherfucker

he got 900 gallons on pump 4

with an unleaded gas station croissant

someone said where the hell is 12 o’clock

T told the story of his divorce and we all cooed

he picked lunch from his teeth with a box cutter

a lifeline danced across my throat

we contemplated a tide of quicksand

becoming one with the f450

i saw a frog trying to find a stream

behind the big city houses

i tore the river down with a garden rake

and made eye contact with the crisis wolf

everyday i die and it gets so boring

 

Bullfrog

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Eleven

 

Our cacti can’t stand on their own anymore. We’ve braced them with toothpicks. I was gifted a ceramic lemon and a resin flamingo leaning left. They’re here on my bamboo desk in the pink room. I live here. She lives here. Friends sometimes live here. Come live here.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Thomas Kohnstamm. His debut novel, Lake City, is available from Counterpoint Press. It is the official January pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

Kohnstamm is also the author of Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? (Crown). He was born in Seattle and lives there with his wife and two children.

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Support the show at Patreon or via PayPal.

I Have a Terrible Feeling is a series of weekly drawings, cartoons, and sketches by poet Adam Soldofsky.

Melissa

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Ten

Driving through the night. A dark road. Melissa was in the backseat, holding my friend’s hand. I was up in the passenger seat, newly low. She’d stopped fucking me, now they were fucking. I mean it was more than that. They were in love. Me and her were out of love. A song came on the radio. “My Best Friend’s Girl” by the Cars. The driver turned it up. I can’t quite remember who was driving. I just know it wasn’t me. Those two lovebirds in the back started laughing. The driver laughed. I laughed too. I’m still laughing.

You’re born absolutely helpless. And then you’re alive awhile and you don’t think about how helpless you are. Then you get old and you turn back into a baby.

Public Defender

By Corey Burns

Essay

Law school doesn’t prepare you for the day-to-day practice of law, especially if you’re a public defender. Realizing this was actually kind of a relief for me because I spent all of law school on academic probation and graduated last in my class.  I mean, all you read in criminal procedure classes are these cases where the cops forgot to read someone their rights or did an illegal search, so a lawyer got his client off. You develop an expectation that cops screw shit up a lot. The reality is, those cases are pretty rare, which is what makes them famous cases. The cops don’t make the same mistake twice. So, all the stuff I was supposed to have learned turned out to be kind of useless.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Her new novel Sketchtasy is available from Arsenal Pulp Press.

 

This is Mattilda’s second time on the podcast. She first appeared in Episode 237 on December 25, 2013.

Described as “startlingly bold and provocative” by Howard Zinn, “a cross between Tinkerbell and a honky Malcolm X with a queer agenda” by the Austin Chronicle, and “a gender-fucking tower of pure pulsing purple fabulous” by The Stranger, Sycamore is the author of a memoir and three novels, and the editor of five nonfiction anthologies.

I Have a Terrible Feeling is a series of weekly drawings, cartoons, and sketches by poet Adam Soldofsky.

There are scant few bits of non-musical media that fans of shoegaze music would consider essential canon. There’s the 33⅓ book about My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. There’s a 2014 documentary no one really watched called Beautiful Noise. I think The Perks of Being a Wallflower references a song by Ride maybe. And most famously, there’s Lost in Translation, the 2003 film featuring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray looking sad to a hazy soundtrack of My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and the Mary Chain, and Kevin Shields solo tracks.

But that was about it, right up until this March, when Wichita’s Troy James Weaver put out the delightfully bleak and brutal Temporal (Disorder Press, 2018). “Set to a shoegaze soundtrack,” goes the synopsis, “Temporal is the story of one tumultuous summer in the lives of three teenagers in Wichita, KS.” As a lover of both shoegaze and indie lit, this seemed like an obvious new favorite. And you know what? It was. I loved this book.

I spoke with Weaver a little bit about the writing of Temporal and the role that the different kinds of music referenced therein play in the larger narrative.