Trying

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Four

 

Yesterday, at work, my bald coworker told me about the worst haircut of his life. How he had known it was going to get fucked it up before it happened. As he walked towards the barbershop, he saw through the plate glass window. A lone blue-dressed woman, slumped over asleep. The barber. He opened the door and jangled the bell real loud, still she slept. So he went back outside, came back in, and really jangled the bell aggressively, shook the door. That didn’t work either. He stood in the center of the shop, between piles of other people’s hair. A yellow pile. A red pile. Two black piles. Where was the broom? He tried to will her awake. She began to snore. He thought to leave but had to get the haircut and there was no other place to go. He was in a wedding party that evening. He reached out and gently touched her blue shoulder. She gasped. “Oh my God. How did that happen?” She wiped drool from her mouth. She stood up, pointed to the chair. He sat down. She asked what kind of haircut he wanted. He told her number twos on the side, fade the top. She stood over him with the buzzer. “Honey, you need Rogaine.” He realized she was drunk. He said, “It’s not bad.” She said, “If you start now maybe you can save a little.” Then she put the buzzer into his head, cut a crooked ditch all the way to the scalp. There was nothing he could do but sit there through the worst haircut of his life. And he’d known it was coming. He’d known to turn back. He even tipped her. When his wife came home, she said, “What the hell happened to you?” She sat him down on the toilet lid, shaved his head clean.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Fiona Alison Duncan. Her debut novel, Exquisite Mariposa, is available from Soft Skull Press.

Duncan is a Canadian-American artist, writer and organizer. She is the founding host of Hard to Read, a lit series, and Pillow Talk, community organizing on sex, love and communication. She lives in New York City and Los Angeles.

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

Quiz

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Three

 

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Leland Cheuk. His new novel, No Good Very Bad Asian, is available from C&R Press.

 

A MacDowell Colony and Hawthornden Castle Fellow, Cheuk is also the author of the story collection Letters from Dinosaurs (2016) and the novel The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong (2015), which was also published in translation in China (2018). His work has been covered in BuzzfeedThe Paris Review, VICESan Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere, and has appeared in publications such as SalonCatapultJoyland MagazineLiterary Hub, among other outlets. He is the founder of the indie press 7.13 Books.

Cheuk lives in Brooklyn and teaches at the Sarah Lawrence College Writing Institute.

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What was the genesis of this book?

Save Our Ship was inspired by “The Diverse Vices of Women, Alphabetized,” a renaissance alphabet intended to instruct women to avoid sensual pleasure, particularly that of speech. I overheard my art history colleague, Theresa Flanigan, mention her work on it, and my poet-spidey-sense tingled: I knew I could use it. I began by writing against it, but the result was too one-note. Meanwhile, I had become increasingly obsessed by the climate crisis and sixth extinction. So feminist rants were joined by environmental freakout poems, with some more quotidian poems mixed in, I hope leavening the whole with some humor. My elevator pitch is: “#MeToo meets Global Weirding, in abecedarian form. But in a good way.”

Your clamshell rings and rings
                                                         wrapped in seagreen plastic

         Mer-crone calling Fisher King

The number you are calling has a voice mail box that has been deluged

          a drowned sailor picks up

… crusts of dried salt in the streets …
                                                                      you’re breaking up …

          the tide of pink jellyfish
                                                      big as washing machines
                                                                                                     rises

When did you first think about talking to the dead?

As a child first without thinking, it seemed normal to have a cast of characters always in my head separate from the voices we all carry. They have their own languages. But with intention, not until my brother suicided; then I thought there must be a way to tune in and reach specifically, blood of my blood and coded the same as we are. I spent two years meditating while writing BASIC PROGRAMMING creating a visual narrative that involved walking 108 steps, one for each isolated inhale or exhale down a spiral staircase to the underworld where I could shed this coil and find him. If I lost count going down or my focus wavered, I would get up from the mat. And when I finally reached the bottom, I realized I didn’t know what to do at that point. You have to know how to get back up safely.

110 < >

By Megan Burns

Poem

what I do/ bemoan loss/ my betrayal/ what’s good/ never
traveled a land of dead to get me/ would you/ never waded my city
to pull photos from floodwater stained walls/ would you/ never tried
to pull my spine, notch vertebrae notch through back where I’m split/ spit on me/ would you/ never lowered yourself into mud spewing vomit, your lies that bile thick hanging from your chin/ or clawed your eyes out to not see pain you cause me/would you/ never put muzzle back of my head/ but you did/ never pulled trigger sending metal biting through wishes, dreams, nightmares / never put your mouth on mine & sucked out my breath or put it back in/
wouldyou/wouldyou/wouldyou/

 

So I’m sitting here. Doing nothing. Waiting for the worst to happen. Actually, I’m lying on my back on my bed. Most comfortable position for me when I’m lying down. Though it’s not easy getting up from the bed when I’m on my back. Sitting up from that position, I mean, and then standing up beside the bed. Anyway, I don’t want to read anything. I don’t want to listen to anything. I just want to continue lying on my back and think about what happened to me today. About a half hour ago. What could have been the worst thing that ever happened to me. I surely thought I was lost. That’s why I went to my bed so soon after I got home and cleaned myself and changed my undershorts and sweatpants. To think about what happened to me before. And also, no doubt, to calm myself down after the experience. I had just mailed a couple of packages at the post office near my house. I’ve been giving away a lot of things lately and these were two of them: an ice bucket that was given to my wife and me for our wedding thirty-three years ago. To my niece in Connecticut, who entertains a lot and I thought would like having a silver ice bucket from Tiffany’s. It’s badly tarnished–hasn’t been cleaned for years–but that would be easy to remedy with silver polish. I even thought of buying some silver polish and putting it in the package with the bucket. But then I thought she might take some sort of offense at that–I don’t know what. And she also might think when she opens the package: Doesn’t he think I have an ice bucket, though I doubt she has one as good as this one and from Tiffany’s, and that she probably has silver polish at home? The other package was to my sister in California: a set of six VCR tapes of Sid Caesar television shows of the Fifties. My wife had ordered them online about ten years ago. Or maybe she got the phone number of the company that sold them and ordered them that way. She would, about once a month, when she felt she needed a good laugh, as she said, watch one or two of the tapes, and usually I’d join her, mostly to keep her company. When I told my sister I had these tapes and was going to give them to Purple Heart or MS Society or some organization like that when they called to say their truck was going to be in my neighborhood and did I have anything for them to pick up?–somehow this came up in our phone conversation–she said she was a big Sid Caesar fan and she also still had a working VCR player and would love to have the tapes. But about what happened to me less than an hour ago. I was in my car.

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

Rewilding

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Two



The man didn’t know. He didn’t know who he was. He didn’t know where he was. Or when it was. The room was dark. Someone was snoring on the other side of it. He lay there. Blankets covered him, but he had no words for what the blankets were, or the feelings they gave him, warmth, comfort. He couldn’t count that there were two blankets, or know they were made of a synthetic material. His mind was blank, his pillow thin.

 

The sun began to light the earth and the dark room took shape. He heard the click of footsteps outside the door, passing voices. A white curtain appeared around him. On the bedside table was a telephone with a blinking amber light. He had a message but he didn’t know what a telephone was or what a message was. He couldn’t receive the message.

 

A cloud passed in front of the low hanging sun and the room was momentarily shaded. He closed his eyes. He had already learned two things, darkness and light. He choose darkness. In darkness he wouldn’t have to try to name things.

 

The curtain moved. The nurse had come with an IV. She touched his arm, he jumped. She yipped in surprise, fell backwards. The IV tipped over. She hurried out of the room, came back with two more nurses. “Do you know who you are?” “Do you know who the president is?” “How many fingers am I holding up?” It didn’t matter what they asked, he didn’t know how to speak. He was like a baby. Drooling. They wiped his chin. The doctor ran in, bewildered and panting. The doctor told him the bad news, he had awoken in the worst hospital in America.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Adrienne Brodeur. Her memoir, Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me, is available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It was the official October pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Brodeur has spent the past two decades of her professional life in the literary world, discovering voices, cultivating talent, and working to amplify underrepresented writers. Her publishing career began with founding the fiction magazine, Zoetrope: All-Storywith filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, where she served as editor in chief from 1996-2002. The magazine has won the prestigious National Magazine Award for best fiction four times. In 2005, she became an editor at Harcourt (later, HMH Books), where she acquired and edited literary fiction and memoir. Adrienne left publishing in 2013 to become Creative Director — and later Executive Director — of Aspen Words, a literary arts nonprofit and program of the Aspen Institute. In 2017, she launched the Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 annual award for an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.

She splits her time between Cambridge and Cape Cod, where she lives with her husband and children.

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photograph by Emily Raw

Here’s a way to start a self-interview. How are you not yourself?

How am I not myself? I’ve had to cut out dairy, I moved twice in a year, I’m trying to leave academia. I hardly recognize myself.

liver licked out of shape,
moldova moya, liquor
loves your shakes

louder the laughing,
lucky the fool, moldova
moya, playing pool

laid out, olives
like eyes, moldova moya,
milk and lies