Tie a Tie

 

Russell cannot tie his tie and cannot accept that he cannot learn it, that this part of his brain is just gone. In the bathroom mirror, I watch his fingers fumble with the tie as the upturned scar on his forehead purples with tamped down rage. 

“Drape, wrap, repeat, push, pull through the loop,” he says. 

I respect Russell’s perseverance, that despite his traumatic brain injury Russell does not acquiesce into helplessness and rely on the assistance available to him, like some other residents tend to. 

But after so many Sundays, I must admit, I am not optimistic. After so many Sundays, I know that this episode only ends one way: with him asking for my help. 

“Russell,” I say, hoping to move things along. His half-sister hates when we’re late. “There’s plenty of stuff I can’t do, either. I can’t do calculus or knit sweaters. I can’t eat dairy products or peanuts or watch Christmas movies without crying. I can’t roller skate.” 

Russell ignores me. “Drape, wrap, repeat, push, pull through the loop.” 

 “I can’t think about the deep ocean without existential dread,” I say. “Or sleep without draping a heating pad over a pillow and pretending it is another human body. I can’t volunteer at the humane society.” 

 “Drape, wrap, repeat, push, pull through the loop.” 

And as Russell’s fingers fumble, I continue listing my shortcomings. I list them and the list grows long and painful. But I do not stop. I keep listing because I want Russell to understand that we are all deficient in some fashion.

Below are links to all sixty episodes of Bud Smith’s Good Luck serial.

Good Luck: Episode Sixty

 

So we set off to demolish my house of memory. I drove the bulldozer. Rae squeezed in beside me. Jackson rode in the bucket of the machine, laid sideways, head on a pillow. 

Joey followed, at the wheel of a four door dually pickup. Everybody else in the hit squad was loaded tight in the cab. An air compressor on a hitch was towed behind. And in the bed of their truck, our tools of destruction were piled high. 

As we drove through Jersey City, I got a panicked phone call from my brother William, who rode shotgun in the pickup. “Don’t worry,” I said. He said, “But we are headed towards the Holland Tunnel with a bunch of explosives. I’m going to worry.” 

I heard the chatter of the other five voices in that truck. There must have been three other conversations going on all at once. “Chill out,” I told William, and hung up.

Soon I began the big detour away from New York City and its police and pestering hammering of reality. 

The traffic petered out and then vanished. Sprawling country soon opened up. Marshland and then farmland. We drove past rolling green hills. Crashed across a silver river. Crushed our way through a dark maze of Hansel and Gretel forest. I stopped the bulldozer at the edge of the trees. Across the field I saw no movement except the grass and endless colorful wildflowers moving on a gentle breeze. 

In the distance, the house of memory looked crooked, odd, distorted in some way, as if it were wearing armor.

 

In front of me, stands a man that looks exactly like I do. Behind me, is another man who looks exactly like myself. In fact, stretching before and behind me, as far as the eye can see, are men who bear the same identical features. The line moves slowly, excruciatingly so. Since we’ve been here we have inched forward only three times. Occasionally, other men who look like us pass by to ensure we remain as we are, in the line. They are armed and wear different clothing. We can hardly remember a day that has passed where we weren’t standing in this line, wondering what’s up ahead. It’s been so long that we’ve forgotten, likely all of us, what lies behind us, passing it so long ago. We must have passed something at one point, but all we can remember is the line. There must have been movement–a history–for we are where we are. All of us, I mean. But for the very life of me–of us–we can’t remember. But surely men are not born in a line. Are men born in a line? I shout. The me behind myself elbows me in the ribs, urging silence so as not to attract the guards. The me in front of myself glares at me, as if he’s somehow better than me. I open my mouth to respond but feel a firm hand on my shoulder. I turn around to see myself, dressed in olive fatigues and a face like ice. Ah I say, I could just–before I can finish, he raises the butt of the gun and drives it into our shoulder, bringing us to our knees. Shut up, I say to myself, then continue on down the line. I look up to my comrades in protest, but I–they–remain silent. I wonder if we were trained–I mean the guards. Probably not, I think. Probably just slapped a uniform on us. I’m fed up with standing in this bloody line. It is said that the lines in which we wait are vast and imperceptible at times. Excuse me, I ask myself (the one in front) but am elbowed in the ribs. Undeterred, I continue. Do you have any idea why we’re–I’m cut off by a more jarring blow now from the butt of my very own (man in uniform) rifle. The sky is so grey it’s hardly worth mentioning. 

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Nine



My good memories and I were still in that house, hiding out behind the velvet curtains of the theatre where I’d gotten married. Any minute the doors would burst open and the last of my pleasant, fine, joyous memories would be slaughtered. 

I was trying to be quiet. We all were. Except four memories of my brother William kept forgetting, and were soon arguing too loudly about what was the best Final Fantasy video game. And my fathers were annoyed they were missing some important detective show on TV. And the many memories of my mother were taking turns holding a memory of an infant William, which wouldn’t stop fussing, crying out. My aunt Elaine had found some weapons to use in our defense, but they were just props. Foam swords for productions of Hamlet. I started to think I should walk out and abandon all my memories, good or bad, head back to the hospital. Check myself in. Start over. 

But then I heard engines. A great clamor. Machines rammed through doors and walls. Guns going off. Through the wall I heard a great stampede of bodies running and falling. And I looked at my few remaining good memories and told them to come out from behind the curtains, onstage, and out of the theatre. We better go, whatever was making their enemies run was good news for us.

We crept into the memory house proper. I saw the front door of the house had been ripped off its hinges. A great mass of bodies was seen running across the field. Four men on ATVs chased them down. Jean bib overalls, hunting caps, shotguns at their sides. The sun was just coming up. Everything was purple and gold.

I knew of these shotgun men. They’d come from Woodland, North Carolina. A town with a population of 800 people. The town’s lone police officer had quit, and then criminals had begun to rob gas stations and pharmacies and Sunday buffets. A vigilante squad formed. This vigilante squad. However it was they’d arrived here, I was thankful for them.

“I’m taking you all back with me,” I said. I led the survivors into the tunnel the grandmothers and invalids and children had used to escape. We walked through that narrow tunnel (lit up by the many memories of my father who each carried a pen light flashlight at all times). One of the memories of my brother, thirteen years old, made the comment that the men on ATVs–who’d come in at the last second and saved us all–reminded him of the giant eagles at the end of The Hobbit. “Okay, yeah sure,” I said. My brother William said, “You know, the ones who valiantly ended The Battle of the Five Armies, eradicated the army of goblins.” “Sure.” My other memory of my brother said, “Actually they were more like the Riders of Rohan at the end of The Two Towers.” And then they began to argue over the names of Tolkien’s eagles. “The mighty winged messengers of Manwë.” “Sure, messengers at first, but they became the guardians of all animal life, much as the Ents were the guardians of plant life.” “Great, eagles, that’s all that matters.” “They’re actually Buteoninae, not eagles. Closer to relatives of red-tailed hawks in species, just ginormous. Stupid big. Whoa.” “Gwaihir and Landroval, lords of the birds that saved Gandalf’s ass, how’s that?” I turned around and shouted at them to please be quiet. Thirty other memories clapped.

 

 

Pop-Tart Guy

 

 

Look I get Giving people their space.

Being respectful of communities you entering.

Not imposing.

But that don’t mean don’t engage.

Or it could mean: Not engaging, out of fear of committing the above, can be worse. More dehumanizing.

Like say you kicking it out back and homie pulls up, crouches, and hits the rocks feet from you. Other side of the fence but flagrantly visible. Adjacent to where kids be hooping. 

Is the move really Do nothing?  

To flat-out ignore him? 

Deny he exists?

Like Oh. That’s that dude. That’s what he do.

 

 

So call me crazy but when this happened one morning, what I did was, I went up to the back gate homie was crouched behind. Crouched. Went Bro, you good?

And when he ignored me: You got a spot to crash out?

And when he still ignored me: You need food or anything? A pop tart? I got pop tarts.

He lowered the pipe he was about to torch. Stood. Went Sure, I’d hit a pop tart. 

Yeah? I said. Sit tight!

When I came back with my last Brown Cinnamon Sugar, unopened in case he wanted to stash it, he looked at it. At me. Went It’s not toasted. You can’t toast it?

I started laughing. Bro you serious?

He shrugged.

Bro take your fucking pop tart.

Still feel bad about not toasting it.

 

I’d been watching prices on Car Guru for a few weeks. Waiting for used Fords to come down, waiting for dealers to put some up. Waiting and just looking at pictures of trucks while sitting on the toilet. That sort of thing. This was around when Linda called me and said her irrigation system wasn’t working. 

“All the plants are dying,” she told me over the phone. “The arbor vitae is crispy.”

Couple summers ago I rigged her this simple sprinkler setup that runs off her garden spigot. It snakes all around her yard with these tiny sprayers every five or so feet. Even hooked a battery timer to it so it’d run on its own. I told her she wouldn’t have to touch it. Ever. It’d just do its thing. Easy peasy.

Over the phone I asked her, “Is the system on?”

“Think so.” 

“Is the faucet handle turned all the way to the right or to the left?” 

“Oh I don’t know, let me go look.” She put the phone down and I heard her screen door slam. 

She was gone awhile. I got bored and started munching on some potato chips I didn’t know I had. Finally she came back and said “Left.” Some potato chips shards went down the wrong pipe and I started choking and coughing a bunch. I ran my mouth under the sink and took a big gulp of tap water.

“Are you dying?” Linda said. 

“Not yet.”

“Well, then get over here and fix my sprinklers.”

Budwulf

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Eight

translated from Old English by Frances B. Grummere & Bud Smith



LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings

of spear-armed New Jersey, in days long sped,

we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!

Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,

from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,

awing the earls. Since erst he lay

friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:

for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,

till before him the folk, both far and near,

who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,

gave him gifts: a good king he!

To him an heir was afterward born,

a son in his halls, whom heaven sent

to favor the folk, feeling their woe

that erst they had lacked an earl for leader

so long a while; the Lord endowed him,

the Wielder of Wonder, with world’s renown.

Famed was this Bud Smith: far flew the boast of him,

son of Scyld, in the Scandian lands.

So becomes it a youth to quit him well

with his father’s friends, by fee and gift,

that to aid him, aged, in after days,

come warriors willing, should war draw nigh,

liegemen loyal: by lauded deeds

shall an earl have honor in every clan.

Arrows

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Seven

 

Now I will get to the battle part. I hope I tell it all right. I am not very good at writing action scenes. How are you at reading them?

Earlier this year, I was thinking about how I needed to try and write down this event in my life, and I was absolutely dreading it. I thought to read and study War and Peace to see how Tolstoy handled Napoleon and all his friends at Austerlitz, and the horses and the sabres and the cannon fire and all that, but I never got around to it. It’s probably fine. 

This battle had no horses, or sabres, or cannon fire. There was only one gun.

We had it. 

But we were outnumbered, ten to one. 

 

Will never forget the day dad talked over mom at a dinner party. That night she drugged him and split his tongue with a straight razor while my sister and I watched. “You see that, kids? Your father is a lizard now! You live in a terrarium!” 

 

When you give your mom a card and you watch her read it and well up and then the mist turns melancholic and severe as she looks through the table and into the past and assesses the present and you have to make a joke to break the spell. 

 

Hope Philip Roth’s mom is waiting for him, legs spread, in Heaven. 

 

I suggested to my mom that we do a family ayahuasca session for Christmas to which she replied, “My shit is together, isn’t it?” I said, “You are the master of your own shit. You tell me?” And she said, “Yeah, well it moves forward.”

 

When you die you go back into your mother and she goes back into her mother and so on until the nesting doll of existence repacks itself through primates and primordial goo all the way back up to the Big Bang.

 

Version 1 

 

This version of my husband moved out of his house and into me in the early 1990s. It was love at last sight. He was not the man I wanted but he was the man I got. 

 

My name in this version of events is Geraldine. My husband’s name at this point was Rex. I have never forgiven my parents for this name and if names were objects, then this one was a punchbag which all my bullies and not-well-wishers hammered with their bony knuckles. 

 

I was working in a bar. It was a small town with small people, and everyone’s faces looked like raked mashed potato. The men in the bar all had violently large bellies and sometimes I wondered if they were going to give birth to something, jettison some still-born clod of flesh and blood and oily hair onto the beer-sticky floor. 

 

And then there was my husband to be, Rex. He was stick thin and dressed in rags. 

 

“Hey,” he said. “I haven’t eaten in a year. Do you have any food?”

 

“We’ve run out,” I said. 

 

“Too bad, too bad. I can do without for a little longer, I guess.” 

 

Things moved quickly. Every man in this town was a piece of shit and a failure. I had been on several dates and the men would always dissect me like a frog. I remember being in that restaurant, Giovanni’s, and over a plate of mussels and spaghetti, my date, a piece of lard shaped like a man called Roger, cut my torso open and played my ribs like a xylophone. He also sawed the top of my skull off and wore it like a cap and poked the parts of my brain that would give him the secrets of my mind.  He asked me what I liked to do in my spare time and I said masturbate and chase rats. It was true. I liked to follow rats in the streets and count them. One, two, three, four and that’d be a good day for me, counting rats. But Roger, like many men, could look past my idiosyncrasies. I could’ve been a racist or a paedophile and he still would have swallowed his pride and fucked me. He took me back to his house, then, and he swallowed me whole and spat me back out. I was covered in his goo.

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Six

 

The sun slipped down over the treetops, I misjudged my step, fell into the river, was washed away. 

The trick was to cross farther up where the water was shallower, but I’d forgotten that. 

I crashed into a boulder in the center of the river, my wind knocked out. For a while I just hung onto that boulder for dear life. The white water thundered past, surged around me.

The way I got free was I let go again, pulled a hundred yards farther down the rapids, stopped by a fallen tree bridging both banks. I was able to climb up and scramble across, bleeding and laughing.

Up on the other bank, I thought I should turn back. I’d messed around enough with my memories. Electric shock therapy might be a better option. A partial lobotomy. No, it wasn’t right. I’d woken up that morning, not able to recall my mother’s name, again. I had to go solve the trouble at my house of memory. 

I took off my clothes, carried them forward, heavy and soaked. The forest was a maze I couldn’t navigate. I used to know the way. Thorns and bogs dead ends, and all the time the light getting worse.

Katherine

By Sam Fishman

Short Story

 

Katherine has these two glorious biceps—huge biceps—big biceps like two best friends who would tell you what she was really thinking when she wouldn’t. 

One time I drove to Katherine’s house and saw a ton of broken wine glasses in the middle of the street and a big cardboard box. I parked my car and Katherine pulled up and said “Hop in bucko,” and then:

“I just dropped a whole box of glasses in the street by accident.”

I wanted to ask her why she didn’t wait a minute and just ask me carry them, because that’s something I could have really kicked-ass at and that doesn’t happen all the time. 

Most of the time it’s more like “I could never kick ass at that,” or “I don’t know how to do that.”

So I looked at her face to see if she could see that I wanted to ask her, and I didn’t see anything about it there. So I looked at her biceps, and they told me this:

“That’s boyfriend stuff, and you are not my boyfriend. So don’t do boyfriend stuff and then say you don’t want to be my boyfriend.”

I said, “How about we just pretend you’re my girlfriend when I’m feeling lonely,” and the biceps flexed like “don’t even go there” and I said, “Yes, sirs,” and Katherine said, “What?”

And I said, “Sorry, yes ma’am,” and we went to have a coffee.

Directions

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Five

 

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.