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Walter Kirn’s newest book, Blood Will Out: The True Story of Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, is a riveting, chilling, and sometimes funny real-life psychological thriller about Kirn’s fifteen-year friendship with a man whose life story eerily parallels Tom Ripley’s in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Kirn is a witty, sharp observer who will flay himself with the same X-Acto knife precision that he uses to flay his characters. I couldn’t stop reading Blood Will Out—it made me want to dig through my bookshelves, pluck out and reread everything Kirn has ever written.

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The girl with pink hair is in the opening band. Later, she will sing and writhe on the stage. Her red microphone cord will be wrapped around her head and neck so tight that it will leave marks. But right now the couple working the door don’t know who she is. The are taking tickets and checking identification. They either don’t recognize her or don’t believe her when she tells them she’s performing. “I can show you my ID,” she says, “If I have to.” They tell her that, yes, that would be good. The girl with pink hair opens her pocket book and the couple at the door check a sheet of paper and wave her through. The couple at the door are with the company that is promoting the show.

What I imagine you’re thinking right now is, “Sure. This kind of thing happens to all of us. We’ve all made a porno, we’ve all watched it with our mothers, and we’ve all practically forgotten about it, because of how completely common and universal an experience it is.”

Right? That’s what you’re thinking? You guys?

Well, if that is not what you’re thinking, then I guess this one is for you–the minuscule fraction of the population that has yet to experience the joy of watching (on a giant screen, with your mom) your peers get naked and pretend to make sex.

It was OK, I guess.

On June 23, near the end of TPAC 2010, Simon Smithson and Zara Potts made their way to Dallas to meet fellow TNBers Slade Ham and Richard Cox.  Like most of their other visits, the friends from Down Under had never met their hosts in person before, and they were eager to see how reality matched up with the online presence of their two friends. What follows are selected excerpts from a transcript each of the four wrote about their experience.

And there might just be a bit of a surprise when you get to the end.  We’ll get to that in a bit though.

For now, enjoy.


* * *

 

Slade Ham: I have four rules for kids. Don’t get them wet, keep them out of sunlight, never feed them after midnight, and keep them out of planes. So when I got on the plane to Dallas and I saw a two-year-old sitting and staring at me, I knew, man. I knew there was a chance for trouble.

And this kid knew it, too. He had that look that kids get when they can see through your eyes and right into the back of your skull. He was like, “If my apple juice doesn’t get here right on time…”

So I telepathically sent this kid a message and made him a deal. I focused my thoughts and beamed a transmission across the plane cabin to him. “If you’re good,” I said, “I’m going to get my friends the Wiggles to play a concert at your house.” The kid’s mouth, which had been so ready to fall open, locked shut, and stayed that way for the rest of the flight. And when we got off the plane, I sent him another message.

“Lesson One, kid. Don’t trust adults who send you telepathic messages on plane flights. I’m not friends with the Wiggles.”  I walked out of the plane, and behind me, I heard the crying start.

That’s what you get for bringing a baby on a plane.


Richard Cox: It was already past noon when I finally left Tulsa for Dallas.

Still, I figured I’d be there in plenty of time to meet ZaraPotts and Simon Smithson, who were coming from Baton Rouge and probably dead tired and running late. Even the road construction and traffic didn’t concern me, at least not until Zara called and told me, in her impenetrable accent, they were already entering Dallas.

“What a load of horseshit,” I thought, since I was till two hours away.

“Where are you, Richrob?” ZaraPotts asked. She’s been calling me “Richrob” ever since she mistakenly addressed me as ‘Rob’ in a comment on The Nervous Breakdown. Apparently she had been thinking about Rob Lowe at the time, but I’m not sure I believe that. I mean, has Rob Lowe been relevant since 1989?


Simon Smithson: I found his work in Thank You For Smoking to be excellent, thank you, Richard.


Richard:  Put a sock in it, Simon.


Zara Rose Potts:  Shut up both of you! It’s my turn.


Simon and Richard: Fine.


Zara:  Dallas appears suddenly on the horizon, like a shimmering mirage. It is a gleaming skyline of sunlight on glass buildings but I do not care.

I am tired and the traveling has almost defeated me.  Not just me. Us. Simon and I both are exhausted from the miles of concrete road we have traversed.

Fortunately for him, he is only required to lie comfortably in the passenger seat and ponder why the rear-vision mirrors don’t work the same way here that they do at home.

Our hotel is blue and yellow. There is only one bed in our room, but we are not concerned. We are just happy to be at rest.

It is only five in the afternoon, but already I want to fall asleep in that single, simple bed. Simon receives a text. Richrob and Slade are just now leaving the airport.



Simon: As this was our first foray into the Lone Star State, Zara and I expected to share the highway with cowboys on horseback. Or at the very least oil barons driving vintage convertible Cadillacs with the tops down. Instead we found more of the same-semi trucks, pickup trucks, and SUVs. Finally we made it to Dallas, and after a few phone conversations with Mr. Cox, who arranged the accommodations, we reached our downtown hotel. Slade’s flight from Houston was scheduled to coincide with our own arrival, but as luck would have it, the plane was running late. As was Richard, who was driving in from Tulsa.  We had time to kill, it seemed.


Slade: Richard was waiting by the flight desk, hitting on one of the stewardesses. I heard him as I was walking up.

”And the sexy thing about particles,” he was saying, ‘is that it doesn’t take much for them to bond. Just a little flicker of… electricity.”


Richard: I didn’t try to pick up a girl talking about physics.


Slade: Well, that’s the show going on in MY head.  You write your own version.


Zara: Was it Amy, Richrob?


Slade: Why didn’t you dance for her?


Richard: We haven’t gotten to that part of the story yet and you guys are already embellishing it.


Slade: Because it’s hilarious!  Anyway, as I was saying, this girl was levitating out of her chair. There was a clear two inches of space between her feet and the floor. Her eyes were locked onto his lips like there was a secret tractor beam in his mouth. That’s when I slapped my boy on the shoulder.

“Yo, Richard Cox!” I said. “Slade Ham!”

Cox? Blocked.


Simon: Hahahahahaha.


Richard: Enough.


Simon: Hahahahahaha.


Slade: Richard is like the male equivalent of the chick from Weird Science, if she were a dude. He’s tall, and tanned, and good-looking and one charming motherfucker. And he’s so pleasant he’d make Mr. Rogers look like Freddy Krueger.

“Hey, Slade!” he said. “Nice to meet you, man. Simon and Zara are already at the hotel; they must have driven three hundred miles an hour to get here so fast.”

“Screw those bitches,” I said. “Let’s go get drunk. Nah, I’m kidding. Let’s go meet them. I hope they don’t suck.”


Richard: You didn’t actually say that.


Slade: Still my version, Rich.  Plus, I was thinking it.


Richard:  Eventually, I made it to Dallas and called ahead to let Slade know I was close by. He’d flown in from Houston and was at the airport waiting for me, but as soon as I got off the phone, traffic came to a complete stop and it took me forty minutes to travel five miles.

There wasn’t time for introductions or pleasantries because we were already running late. But it didn’t seem to matter, because for some reason I already felt like Slade and I were best buds. Finally we reached the hotel. I figured Slade and I would have time to put our luggage away and change clothes before we met our overseas friends, but as soon as we entered the lobby, we were spotted by Simon and ZaraPotts, who were already enjoying many glasses of champagne.


Zara:  Shit. Maybe I did drink more than I thought I did.


Richard: You did.


Slade: Total lush, actually.


Zara:  But not as much as you did Slade. Or you Richrob. Want me to tell them about Peaches?


Richard: You’re going to, anyway. I’ve already read this post.


Simon: Let’s get on with this, shall we?

You never know what to expect when you meet online friends. When our Texas visitors finally arrived, they strode into the hotel lobby talking like old friends. I honestly thought they were, and then we learned they had only met twenty minutes before at Love Field (which, before you get any strange ideas, is a nearby airport.) Slade and Richard were both taller than I had imagined, but more than that they carried a certain presence that made them seem even larger.

Zara and I walked over to greet them, and it was if we all had known each other for years, like we were old friends seeing each other after a long time apart. It’s difficult to explain, really, why we would feel that way. Of course many of us have conversed on TNB, or exchanged emails…but still, when you’ve never met someone in person you expect a certain awkward moment of moving a relationship from the online world to the real one. But with Slade and Richard it wasn’t like that at all.


Zara:  I decide on a glass of champagne. It bubbles and pops golden in the glass as I upload pictures from the last leg of our trip.

An hour passes, then two. I am certain that I will never like them enough to make up for having to wait this long.

The doors to the hotel slide open and they walk in. Simon notices them first. They are giants. In a Texas way. A good way.

It’s strange how quickly they run over to us, and we to them.  We hug in the lobby, happy to see each other again, or for the first time.  Already the line is blurry.


Slade: OK, so Simon and Zara. I like these guys.

Because as soon as we met, it was like we’d all known each other for twenty years. Simon said the same thing about me and Richard – he figured me and Rich were old pals, because we already had that easy kind of rapport. Same thing with Simon and Zara, except they talk weird.

So we went over to the counter to check in, and the desk clerk looked at us, looked at the ledger, looked back at us, and said “Sure. Sixth floor.  The room with just one bed.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Just one bed?”

Richard just glared at me. “I swear I didn’t know,” he said.


Richard: I didn’t.


Slade: Now, I don’t know if Rich knew or not…


Richard: Really, I didn’t.


Slade: …but Zara didn’t understand what the problem was.  “Why can’t you just share a bed?” she asked.

Simon got it.  “Two guys,” he said, and he exhaled, real slow. “Two guys can’t share a bed. What if, in the middle of the night, one of them… slips?”

Exactly.


Richard: Have you ever had that feeling when you meet someone, that you feel like you’ve known them forever? That’s how it felt meeting Simon and Zara. It felt like we were greeting old friends who we hadn’t seen for years. I noticed details about everyone, matching them with the images I already had of them in my mind.

Slade was funny and generous with both his laughter and conversation.


Slade: And really good looking.


Richard: Simon was as tall as I thought he would be, though he seemed to have more physical presence than I had imagined.


Simon: It’s probably because I’m so handsome.


Slade: Thief.  I just said that about myself.


Zara: He did say it first.  Both you are being insufferable.


Richard: Zara was beautiful the way I knew she would be. And she smiled and smiled.

We sat down to talk, and as the conversation progressed I noticed the ease Simon and Zara felt with each other. They seemed like sister and brother in the way they interacted with both themselves and us.


Simon: Once the two of them had put away their luggage and changed clothes, we sat for a time in the lobby talking. About our trip, about theirs, about TNB and Dallas and how goddamn hot it was. We kept pointing out that we should go find something to eat, since we were all hungry, but no one seemed ready to make a move. Finally we left on foot and went to find a restaurant, no particular destination in mind, and finally Richard suggested Mexican food.

We ended up on the roof of the Iron Cactus. The restaurant commanded a spectacular view, and the live music was a solo guitarist who played everything from 60s rock to Radiohead. Richard wouldn’t stop raving about him. I don’t know if it was the music or the margaritas that put the smile on his face. Either way, the setting for our TNB dinner would have been perfect if not for the oppressive heat.

We ordered our various dishes and immediately Slade began to hit on the waitress.


Slade: Just because I have flirty eyes doesn’t mean I was hitting on her…


Simon: You were totally hitting on her. I don’t remember her name, but Slade certainly did…


Zara:  Are you sure about that?


Slade: Yeah.  It was Jillian.


Simon: …and he used it liberally as he queried her about possible local bars to visit after dinner. She suggested both the City Tavern and the One-Eyed Penguin, and when Slade asked her to join us, she told him she might just do that.

“I get off at eleven,” said the waitress, and Slade just smiled. I imagined him thinking, “We’ll see about that.”


Zara:  Upstairs on the rooftop, I order a mojito and dip crispy chips into a bowl of fresh red salsa.  The mingling tastes of cilantro and mint and salt make me smile.


Slade: That would be you drinking again, Z.



Zara: An acoustic guitar strums a few tables away from us and Richrob recognizes every song played.  Our conversation dances effortlessly from writing to food and back to the music.

The heat and humidity would be unbearable were it not for the drinks. Perspiration builds on the sides of our glasses and leaks onto the table, the trickling rivulets running suicidal towards the edge.

Slade finally takes off his sunglasses as the sun dips below the skyline.

He’s also managed to catch the attention of our waitress. Her name is Erin, or something else young and waitress-y…


Slade: Jillian, goddammit.


Zara:  …and their eyes flirt as she returns with another tray full of drinks. I slip downstairs for a quick cigarette, and when I return Slade has already talked Erin…


Slade: Fucking Jillian!


Zara: …out of the names of a few of her favorite bars.


Slade: I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun just with dinner and hanging out. We ate Texas Mexican at a rooftop restaurant and the waitress, JILLIAN, came over and started talking to us about sleep cycles and The Nervous Breakdown. She recommended a bar called The One-Eyed Penguin for us to go to afterwards.

“They got this one-eyed penguin suit,” she said. “Sometimes people wear it.”

We all turned and looked at Zara.


Zara:  I have no idea what you are talking about.


Slade: Lucky for you.  You were two mojitos away from looking like an extra in Happy Feet.


Simon: When dinner was over we headed downstairs and into the street. By then we were all a bit drunk and no longer concerned with the heavy heat. Zara convinced Richard and Slade to swear into the camera as she shot video of us. “Motherfucker” seemed to be the American word of choice. I took random pictures of the nearby buildings and smiled. Slade and I fell into an easy conversation, like brothers, and Richard escorted Zara, gentlemanly positioning himself between her and the street.



Zara:  The night air is no cooler than the day here. It is as thick as seawater, but our laughter cuts through it like a ringing bell.

Simon and Slade share a story behind us while Richrob moves to my other side – the Southern gentleman thing to do – so that I do not have to walk closest to the street.

I am impressed. How could I not be?

Slade and Simon could be brothers. We all could be for that matter.

This is how things are supposed to be.


Slade: We’re really sucking up to each other in this post.


Zara: It’s because we’re all amazing.


Richard:  It was now time to unleash the Kraken, a black spiced rum that I had discovered quite by chance a few weeks earlier. I was determined that our visitors would taste the awesome power of this terrible drink, but the bar we went to didn’t know what I was talking about. Absurd.


Slade: I agreed to a shot of this rum begrudgingly.  I had done a wonderful job of keeping to my strictly whiskey diet.


Simon:  Hey, has anyone else noticed our interjections sound like director’s commentary on a DVD?


Zara:  Has anyone else noticed Richrob’s absurd use of the word absurd?


Slade: Has anyone else noticed that we’re about to get totally hammered?


Simon:  So we stopped first at the City Tavern, which was a tavern in every sense of the word…lots of dark wood and comfortable booths and a long bar populated by regulars. By now Zara was only sipping on her drinks, but Slade and Richard and I were kicking into another gear. We began to imitate each other’s accents. Richard picked up the Australian lilt fairly well, but Slade struggled to divest himself of the English accent he spoke so well. We took some great photos there, including this one in which a stray bartender decided to liven things a bit with his outstretched arms.




Richard:  And there was the hot, young blonde talking to some old fat dude that we thought must have been a blind date or something even worse. Instead he turned out to be her husband.


Zara: God. What is it with men and their constant checking out of women?


Slade: I know. What a mismatch, right? Anyway, we left the City Tavern in search of the Kraken. If you’ve never had it, you’ve never had a spiced rum named after a sea monster, and you’re probably better off for it. It turns out you can get it at the One-Eyed Penguin. Be careful though, because it also turns out the One-Eyed Penguin is a karaoke bar, which Jillian the waitress had neglected to mention. Here are my rules for karaoke:

1. If you’re going to sing anything by Peaches, you had better not look like Peaches.

2. If you’re going to sing Bohemian Rhapsody, you had better know the words. Seriously, how does anyone in the world not know the words to Bohemian fucking Rhapsody? Kim Jong-Il knows the words to that fucking song.

3. If you’re going to sing anything by Peaches, you can’t sing Vanilla Ice later. You just can’t. We’ve suffered enough.

And the One-Eyed Penguin broke all of my rules. But at least we got whisky.


Richard:  We walked up the wooden stairs and then we saw it: At the entrance to the One-Eyed Penguin was a poster advertising the Kraken.

I asked a girl to take our picture up against the metallic Kraken poster. I thought she was cute, blonde hair and blue eyes, or maybe that was just the alcohol talking. Her name was Amy.

Even though this was supposed to be a night for the four of us, I decided to ask Amy to come sit with us. As long as my new friends didn’t care.

“Amy? That took our picture?” Slade asked. “She should definitely come and sit with us. I’m sleeping on the floor anyway, right?”

As Slade, Zara, and Simon sang Bohemian Rhapsody,off-key even, I went and found Amy and brought her back to sit with us. She was a hairstylist, she said. She seemed interested in science, so I explained a particular theory to her.

After a while, Amy went back to the bar. For some reason I followed her, Finally, I realized I was being selfish, standing…


Zara:  STANDING?? I don’t think so, Richrob…


Richard:  …STANDING at the bar  while my friends waited for me in the back by the pool table. I traded phone numbers with Amy and rejoined Slade at the pool table.

Slade is seriously good at pool. He wiped the floor with us.



Slade: I did.  But enough about me.  Back to your “standing”, or whatever lie you’re telling…


Simon: At the One-Eyed Penguin there was a human-sized penguin suit that bar patrons could climb into for photo ops, but despite our best efforts, Zara wasn’t willing to humour us.


Zara:  I still have no idea what you are talking about.


Slade: Stop changing the subject!  I want to talk about Richard dancing!


Simon: The rest of the evening was a blur of billiards (Slade as a team of one defeated Richard and me), terrible karaoke, and Richard approaching a cute blonde girl at the bar named Amy. He even brought the fair maiden to meet us, which must have been strange for her, meeting a couple of people from down under and a comedian from Houston…all of whom had met each other for the first time this same evening. To her credit, Amy was a good sport, and after Richard exchanged phone numbers with her, we drifted into the street again.


Slade: Look, I’m thrilled to talk about my pool skills, but RICHARD WAS DANCING!


Zara:  Ok, I’ll get to it.

The thing I remember best about the One-Eyed Penguin is the karaoke.

Someone butchers Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and Freddy Mercury resurrects himself from the dead just so he can kill himself.

And there is Richrob, at the bar, moving to the music.  Simon, Slade and I sit and watch.

Dance, Richrob, dance.


Slade: Finally!


Richard:  I have no idea what you are talking about.


Zara:  Richrob started dancing.

“If I can just dance enough…” Simon says, and Slade falls out of his chair.

A large woman waddles rhinoceros-like to the stage. Her skin tries to hold all of her inside, a task that seems impossible.

She gyrates and slobbers into the microphone.

“Suckin’ on my titties like you wanted me, callin’ me.”

Her friends clap as we watch Richard from across the room. Never stop dancing, Richrob. Ever.

“Suckin’ on my titties.” She flicks her tongue like a fat frog as she repeats the words.

I will never scrub this image from the surface of my mind.


Richard: The bar was closing and while we were all fairly drunk by now, we were also aware that Simon and Zara were leaving the next morning. We walked back to the hotel. On the way there, Zara pulled out her camera and requested that we curse for her.

She tried to tell us that she hasn’t been drinking but this was bullshit. She’d had four mojitos in an hour but had conveniently forgotten that part of the evening. I started to curse and somehow ended up showing the camera lens my teeth.

“Focus on my teeth, motherfucker,” I said.

“That was amazingly aggressive,” said Slade.


Slade: I did say that.  It was quite aggressive.  He really wanted us to look at his teeth.


Zara:  We enter the hotel loud and happy.  We will meet for breakfast in the morning. We all embrace. It takes months to get to know people this well.

Dallas must be made of magic.



Simon: I felt like I had just spent the night with three of my best friends, and I didn’t want it to end. But, alas, the hour was late. Zara and I had a long day of driving ahead of us, so we all retired to bed. I imagined Richard and Slade sharing a bed together and laughed myself to sleep.


Zara:  It is coffee instead of champagne that sits in front of me this morning, though the table is the same. The elevator doors chime and open, and the two of them come out to meet Simon and me.

“So who ended up on the floor?” I ask.

“We were too tired to care,” Richrob says. “We shared the bed.”

“But neither one of us slipped,” Slade says quickly.

His admission is shocking to me. “Neither one of you slept?”

“Slipped,” he says. “Neither one of us SLIPPED. You need to learn to pronounce your vowels, Zara. It changes the conversation dramatically.”


Richard:  I think she was doing it on purpose.


Slade:  I’m pleased to be able to report that the next morning, Simon had his first ever breakfast burrito, even if we did spend twenty minutes walking around Dallas in the morning sun to find a place that could serve him one. And no one was hungover, which meant that no one got to experience the magic powers of a good breakfast burrito, but that’s okay.

Next time.


Simon:  The next morning we all met downstairs for coffee. Everyone looked fresher than I imagined they might. Once again we ventured into the streets on foot, and eventually located a breakfast restaurant that served wraps filled with eggs and sausage and bacon (Richard insisted upon calling them breakfast burritos). We watched a bit of the World Cup, cheering for the Kiwis, and reminisced about our perfect night.

Finally, Zara and I bid our Texas hosts goodbye, hopped into the car, and headed west. But we didn’t even make it out of the city before we were on the phone, texting them, already reliving the amazing hours we had spent together, wishing we could go back and do it all over again.

I have never wanted so badly to live in America as I did on that morning.


Slade: How did I spend a full day with you guys and I still don’t know what “Brew” means?


Richard:  We decided to go for breakfast before we all hit the road again. We walked for blocks, and eventually found a café that served breakfast burritos. Simon and Zara had never seen these and took their time ordering.

When we said goodbye, it felt entirely too soon. One night in Dallas was not enough. Simon and ZaraPotts bid us farewell and started their long drive back to L.A and Slade and I began the drive to Oklahoma City.

We spent the drive practicing our Australian/New Zealand accents. We had them down perfectly by the time we hit Oklahoma.


Zara:  Ha Ha Ha. Sure, you did. Almost as perfect as your dancing.

We eat breakfast and watch the World Cup in a little café down the street. Slade and Richard are leaving for Oklahoma in the morning so Slade can perform, and Simon and I are continuing our journey West.

We linger in the restaurant and then again at the hotel.  We should already be gone, but I do not want to go.

We make plans.

Plans to return to America and plans for them to visit us at home.

We exchange phone numbers and decide that one day we will build a compound and hire a bartender and take over the world.

But not today.

Today we must leave.

“We miss you guys,” the text message says, and I show Simon.

We haven’t even reached the Dallas city limits yet.


* * *


Now, if you’ve read this far, it’s only fair that we make it worth your while.  I mentioned a bit of a surprise earlier.  The truth is that we didn’t write what it looks like we wrote.  Each one of us chose another member of the group and wrote as them.  Your job now is to determine who is responsible for who (Or whom. I always screw that up.)

So yes.  A bit of a game.  We hope we did as well as we think we did at writing as one another.

To make it worthwhile, the four of us have agreed to throw in a bit of prize: a foldable “Fuck You” t-shirt from Slade, one of Richard’s books, a bit of Australiana from Simon, and something inherently Kiwi courtesy of Zara.

Certainly there are, buried within our attempts at impersonating each other, errors that will tip you off as to who is responsible for what.  Best of luck with your guesses.  It was a fun adventure.

We wish more of you had been there.


**UPDATE**

Drum roll please…  Starring, in order of appearance:

Simon Smithson as the Comedian, Slade Ham

Zara Rose Potts as the Dancer, Richard Cox

Richard Cox as the Australian, Simon Smithson

and

Slade Ham as the Kiwi, Zara Potts

Winners will be posted in the comments below.



The title is the beginning of “Heavensgate”, by Christopher Okigbo, the greatest modern Nigerian poem, and I think the greatest modern African poem.  Okigbo is my patron saint, and my personal Janus (he died in the war that gave life to me), so it’s appropriate to pour out for him before I take a draught.  The second proper and good thing for me to do is to introduce myself.  I’m Uche Ogbuji, computer engineer and aspiring poet (I think I have a fair bit of skill with verse, but I set pretty daunting standards for myself).  I recently started reading TNB, following my dear friend Erika.  I’ve enjoyed my time here, so I was thrilled when she recommended me to Brad as a contributor, and twice thrilled when Brad welcomed me.