While I’d taken it upon myself to pick some horrific non-horror films a few Halloweens ago (Guillermo del Toro’s eyes-in-the-hands guy, you’re always on my mind), this year I was interested to know what my fellow TNB contributors might say were the most terrifying movie scenes they’ve endured to date. Below, if you dare to read on, you’ll find those iconic dead-eyed twins, bad hell-spawn hair, an unfathomable choice, and more, but first I’ll get this party started with Willy Wonka’s boat ride from the 1971 Mel Stuart film.  Most of my phobias can be traced back to these two manic minutes in the tunnel:

For many years, I went out of my way to feel embittered and surly at Christmas, refusing to live in the moment, opting instead to wallow in memories of lonely Christmases past. Looking back, though, I’ve never actually been alone. The memories I wallow in are false.  They’re little stories, truncated and manipulated versions of reality, created by me.  They make it easier to share my past experiences with others and to convey a version of myself that best fits into—maybe not how I saw myself at the time, but how I want people to understand my past.

For a long time, I held tightly to the memory of the Christmas sixteen years ago when I was nineteen, pregnant with a baby I was going to put up for adoption, and homeless. Truth be told, I’ve never spent a night outdoors except when camping. I’ve never spent a night starving. I’ve never really been homeless. This fact, however, doesn’t fit into the story I’ve told about me.  It serves to make my bitterness justified—yet it no longer feels authentic or serves the new narrative I’d rather tell.  I realized recently that I’ve built an identity around myself that no longer fits into my current understanding of who I am.  It’s not who I want to be anymore.

The gravel pit was fifty feet from the front door of my trailer house on the outskirts of a small town in rural southern New Mexico – a nowhere town with an oil refinery in the city center, making the whole place smell like methane and brimstone. I don’t know why it was a gravel pit or what it was meant for. Measuring at least ten square acres, empty and flat, it was bordered on three sides by trailer homes. The main road ran along the fourth side.

The gravel pit was my sanctuary. My friend. My wonderland. It was my holodeck – the place I went to escape into a safe world where my imagination was free.  Dead pets were buried there. Dead washers and ranges, too. I would squat in the middle, digging up pillowcases full of bones on windy days and swear I was surrounded by the lost souls of animals, all of them trying to communicate with me. I could envision anything in the gravel pit – ghosts, monsters, the old west. A life outside of that suffocating town.

My wedding date was set for June 16, 2001. My ex-husband, Jim, and I spent every spare minute over six months planning the day down to the last detail. We reserved a large, beautiful cabin with the sleeping capacity for 75 people at Silver Falls State Park. We ordered wine and beer and worked with a caterer to feed the 50 guests we’d invited to our wedding, and we bought enough extra food for the 20 people who would be staying in the cabin with us for the three-day wedding festival. We found the perfect minister in the classified section of The Willamette Week and hired a local Celtic band. We had our simple, country-peasant wedding clothes custom tailored. We invited friends and family from every corner of the country. We were ready to get married.

Guests started showing up four days before the wedding. Many of Jim’s friends from his youth in Chicago came into town. His mother and her husband, his father and his girlfriend, and all three of his sisters also came.

Unfortunately, and much to my unhappiness, nearly nobody from my pre-Portland past was able to make it due to time and money constraints. Unlike Jim, who came from an affluent, middle-class childhood where almost everybody he knew had grown up to be successful, most of my kin were destitute outlaws skulking in the margins of society. Despite the fact that my mother was severely depressed and making every effort to kill herself with alcohol, Jim and I agreed to include flying her to Portland in our budget. We also paid for my sister, Kim, and her two children to come for our party. It was a time for family and loved ones, so we consciously ignored the fact that having my mom out would potentially be disastrous.

TNB Contributor Art Edwards is best known around these parts for his top-notch interviews with some of writing’s most noted voices, as well as with people who aren’t associated with music at all. He, too, contributes interesting and thoughtful original essays to TNB, many of which focus on (and reveal his love for) music, though others reveal his love for more pedestrian interests. In any case, until recently, Art was known to the TNB community as a writer – and most assuredly one with a particular aptitude for music. Art’s three novels – Ghost Notes, Stuck Outside of Phoenix, and Badge, his newest (and as of yet unpublished) – each integrate music in its own way.

 

However, it wasn’t until recently that Art revealed to our community that he was co-founder, co-songwriter, and bass player with The Refreshments. Best known for the song “Banditos” from their 1996 album Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, and for “Yahoos and Triangles,” the theme music to the animated series King of the Hill, The Refreshments, as Art puts it, “were kind of a big deal.”

 

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Art in person on several occasions and once even read out loud to a room full of people with him. The Art I met is a shy, affable, even-keeled man – one who doesn’t present at all as a Rock Star. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Art and once and for all clearing up the question, “Who is Art Edwards really?”

“Come over here, you sexy bitch.”

The bartender’s voice seeped slowly into my awareness as I stood staring hang-jawed at my surroundings: the dark wood sheathing the club from floor to ceiling, the fish tanks embedded into the face of the long bar, and, especially the person sitting on the barstool. Was that the same person featured in the drag show I’d been at a few weeks earlier? Finally, I heard the words.

I turned my head toward the bartender and the space between me and the bar, which had only seconds ago been filled by other customers but was now empty, and realized he was talking to me.

“Oh! I’m the sexy bitch,” I said. “Thanks for that. I was worried that I looked like Xena: Warrior Princess.”

In 2006, the year I turned 30, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with my BA in English, my fourteen year old daughter was repeatedly attempting suicide and failing in school, and my four-and-a-half year old ADHD twin boys were rapidly being kicked out of every daycare center in the city – all of which was the death knell for my failing marriage. Around this time, I created a MySpace account to stalk my daughter, who, I discovered, had a clandestine account herself. On my profile I listed writing and reading as two of my hobbies and one day I got an invitation to read a blog written by some “author” named Brad Listi. Everyone was an author on MySpace, it seemed. Most of them were trying to sell me something and the ones who weren’t tended to write boring blogs about finance or essential oils or some other subject I had no interest in.

I was, as a matter of course, rejecting nearly every “author” who invited me to read his or her writing – but for some reason, I went ahead and accepted this Brad Listi fella’s invitation.

 

Look at this earnest face.

Look at this earnest face.

 

In October 2009, TNB contributor Matt Baldwin emailed me to say that a good friend of his from college, another writer, was moving to Portland and she and I may hit it off. Thus was my first introduction to Jen Violi, who not only became my fast friend, but also became a great source of inspiration for my own writing.  Jen is one of the most hilarious and loving people I’ve ever met in my life, and she approaches writing from this angle as well, which I discovered when I had the pleasure of attending one of her workshops. (Jen also offers writing coaching and sundry other services related to writing. She’s one of those mythical beasts who actually butters her bread through writing.)

On May 24 of this year, Jen’s first novel, Putting Makeup on Dead People, was released. Putting Makeup on Dead People follows Donna Parisi, a young woman on the brink of her high school graduation.  Donna is a girl many young woman can relate to, even those who haven’t lost a parent or who haven’t decided to rebel by attending mortuary college. She struggles with questions many of us faced or will face about the future – especially about what kind of person we ultimately want to become while trying to balance what our loved ones hope for us. Written with heart and great humor (there are many riotous moments in this book), Putting Makeup on Dead People takes the reader on a slow walk through the twilight days of high school, and into the dawn of adulthood.

For most of the last year, I’ve concentrated on writing my memoir, the working title for which has long been Excerpts From Ally Sheedy’s Purse.

The title is a nod to the scene in The Breakfast Club where Ally Sheedy’s character Allison Reynolds dumps her purse onto the couch in front of Andrew, played by Emilio Estevez, and Brian, played by Anthony Michael Hall. This title calls out the anxiety and insecurity I feel about writing and, presumably, one day publishing my memoir. It reflects a hesitation to air my dirty laundry – and the responsibility I feel about sharing these stories in a way that retains my self-respect and doesn’t insult yours.

Brad Listi (BL): Three minutes, ladies and gentlemen.

Stewart O’Nan (SO): Gotta warm up my Magic 8-ball.

BL: (He’s not referring to cocaine, ladies and gentlemen.)

SO: I was gonna say — not a Belushi reference.

One night, after my toddler twins went to sleep, I wandered aimlessly around my dining room. I looked at the dishes in the sink, the pile of unpaid bills and stacks of papers that needed my response, the unread book with testimonials of changed lives, which I’d been reading three pages at a time for a month. I surveyed my options for a moment and decided on the book – in theory, I wanted to change my life.

I went to say goodnight to my teenage daughter, who was watching The Truman Show. I stood by the couch, book in hand, and watched the movie. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the couch, book on my lap. An hour and a half later I got off the couch, picked up the book, and said goodnight. I placed the book back in its spot and stood staring at it for a long time while I considered whether I really wanted my life to change.

Due to computer poltergeists, a portion of the conversation was lost.  You’re coming in mid-chat here after Brad has admitted that he’s from Indiana.

 

Jessica Anya Blau (JB): I don’t even know what Indiana is. I can’t imagine it.

 

Brad Listi (BL): It was bleak. A cultural void. Terrible weather. Bad sports teams. (Which have since improved.)

So here’s a question from Art . . . .


GLORIA HARRISON is the facilitator for the TNB Book Club, the lead editor for The Portland Red Guide: Sites & Stories of Our Radical Past by Michael Munk, a contributing editor to Pete Anthony’s book, Immaculate, and the mother of awesomely-named twin boys.


She went through a phase where she cut off her hair, stopped looking at mirrors, and abstained from both sex and Facebook.  (She still abstains from Facebook, although she occasionally hooks up with Twitter.)  We think this was brought on by her mourning the death of Gary Coleman.


She once bought a car while she was in labor, giving new meaning to the term hysterical pregnancy.


As Eliot measured life in coffee spoons, she uses Harry Potter book and movie releases.


By sheer force of will, she escaped the ravages of meth (and also, the ravages of New Mexico).


She’s interviewed some cool people: Storm LargeDennis McCartyScott Mosier…and Storm Large again.


And yes, those are real.

Scott Mosier is a film producer, editor, and actor best known for his work with director Kevin Smith. Alongside Smith, Mosier produced eight View Askew films, including Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma. Mosier’s other credits include co-executive producer of Good Will Hunting and producer of Salim Baba, a short documentary that was nominated for an Oscar in 2007.

The way I came to know Scott Mosier, though, is through his weekly SModcast that he does with Kevin Smith. (Which, for a limited time, you can see recorded live in a town near you!) Because I’m a huge fan of the View Askew movies, I started listing to SModcast about a year ago and have tuned in every week since. This podcast, in addition to two of the other podcasts on the SModcast Network (Jay and Silent Bob Get Old and Plus One), feels to me like I’m sitting around with all of my friends from my youth. There’s the regular expletive-filled mix of graphic sex talk and bodily function jokes, but also thoughtful commentary on everything from life, movies, and music to politics, culture, science, and more sex. And if the SModcast Universe is populated by old high school friends, then Scott Mosier is like the guy in the group that you’d most want to walk you home when you’re drunk – though he’d probably make fun of you later.

On the evening of Tuesday, March 8, I had the extreme pleasure of chatting online with Scott Mosier to discuss social networking, politics, music, llamas, and who he’d like to see as our next president.

Rock of Ages

By Gloria Harrison

Notes

I’m three years old. My parents call me outside one day and point at the sky, from which water is falling onto the hard, dirt-packed floor of the Mojave. I can’t imagine where this water is coming from, but it’s everywhere, making the air smell like wet earth. I’m amazed. Later, I’m playing outside, digging earthworms out of the dirt with a spoon, when I spot the biggest earthworm I’ve ever seen. I’m thunderstruck with joy, but as I try to approach, my dog and my best friend, a cockapoo named Gnome, jumps in front of the worm, barking like he’s crazy. I keep approaching when, suddenly, the giant worm lashes out and bites Gnome, who yelps and falls to the ground. The worm rattles off. I run inside to get my mom, to tell her that a worm just bit the dog. She gets to him just in time to take him to the vet and save his life, as he has just done mine. My mom holds me on her lap and we sing my favorite song. “Say, say little playmate – come out and play with me. We’ll climb up my apple tree.” I think about how I wish I had an apple tree with rainbow slides and branches brimming with playmates.