By the end of the first month, Wayne was smoking dope bought by his friends’ yobosayos from the Korean pharmacy, which the GIs weren’t allowed to enter. The stuff was weak, low grade compared to what people grew back home, but it was all there was. He’d roll and smoke joints at night in one of his buddies’ hooches while they were out in the Ville. Back in his bunk he’d listen to the Armed Forces radio play all the good music he grew up with, fixing his eyes on the Bible, trying to get past Genesis. That lasted a few more weeks until his buddies got tired of his using their hooches and yobosayos to get his stuff. “Get your own shit, you cheap lazy motherfucker,” one of them said. And so one Friday he went out with them to Duffy’s, intent on doing just that.

Why the hostility?

I’m sick of you.

 

Do you want to leave the coffeeshop?

No.

The funny thing about Kelly’s body was the way it appeared to weirdly bulge above the puss area whenever she wore clothes, but then was fine (flat, smooth) once she got naked. (This might more accurately be described as the funny thing about Kelly’s pants, seeing as it had to be the pants that caused the bulge. And yet the pants were normal, Levi’s five-oh-whatevers, so it wouldn’t be the way the pants were made that was funny, but the way the pants fit her body. Unless it was a funny way she wore the pants, i.e., maybe they would have fit just fine if she didn’t pull the waist so high or low, or—it didn’t matter. What mattered was that the way her overpuss area bulged or seemed to bulge when she was clothed, but then didn’t bulge or seem to when she was naked, was… funny.)

I lie under a stack of blankets. Day-old briefs hug my thighs. My fist makes a miniature vibrating tent of the knobby wool. I should get a life!

I’m due at the New York Hospital Fertility Clinic in half an hour. My Raleigh three-speed stands ready to hustle me to Sixty-Eighth Street and York Avenue, about as far across town as you can get from this one-room walkup at the corner of Fifty-Seventh and Tenth. Yes, I donate my semen. Though it isn’t exactly a donation. I get paid thirty bucks a shot, so to speak. I need the money and childless couples need…well, me. A pretty straight-forward transaction, you might say, with the added satisfaction of helping somebody out in a cosmic sort of way. Though I have a bad feeling about it sometimes, like this morning, the vague sense that I’m doing something wrong, and one day it’ll all catch up with me.

The Night Before

1.

My brother Henry gets out of prison tomorrow. He called to say that he’s supposed to be released somewhere around nine in the morning, but he couldn’t know the time for sure. Sometimes they let you out an hour or two early, sometimes an hour or two late. That’s what he said, at least. He got angry toward the end of the call, ranting about how they had no respect for anyone’s time, and he said he expected them to treat the cons that way, but what about the people picking them up? As if just knowing a con meant you didn’t deserve respect either?

I told him I didn’t know.

Book Tour Week Two: Stacy Bierlein Faces Her Snippy Self-Interviewer

 

The interviewer walks slowly through the garden gate, looking around, inspecting.  I notice now that the Italian cypress needs to be trimmed; the Boston ivy has survived the Santa Ana winds but is wild and everywhere.

We were bound but not gagged; the wife wanted us to talk.  Her assistant had done the dirty work—jumped us in the street, knocked us out, transported us to wherever the hell we were, tied us tight to wooden chairs.  It was my day off.  I had been walking the Highline.  I heard footsteps behind me, turned, and everything went black.

I’ve heard you say (because of course, I am you) that poets have influenced your work.  Can you tell us how they influenced Contents May Have Shifted in particular?

I went to graduate school in a creative writing program that housed both Mark Strand and Larry Levis, unquestionably two of the greatest poets of their time.  I almost couldn’t help but to have learned to revere poetry–Strand’s compression of big ideas and Larry’s gut wrenching associative leaps.

132. Davis, California

Back on the greenbelt, this time with Fenton the dog and Liam, big brother showing little brother the ropes. If you have spent every day of your life, as Liam has, on a ranch in Colorado, the tiniest things can impress you. Streetlights, water sprinklers, fire trucks, bicycles, roller blades. Everywhere he looks, so many people, each one of them the keeper of a potential pet.

Renee felt the coming rush of customers like Harley motors thrumming down the highway. It was 4:30 when she and Rick took over from the early shift at Titty’s Bar and Grille and got ready for the long night ahead. They were partners in everything, she and Rick, and had been for going on two years, which is why Jimmy Titty wanted the two of them behind the bar of his establishment. “Y’all’ve got my back,” he said on more than one occasion. “I know y’all do.” And sure they did, but that didn’t mean that every once in a while some cash didn’t get slipped into a pocket instead of a register or that a bottle of beer didn’t get opened and drunk and never paid for.

1.

What is it like to lose everything? Younis was first asked this question by a well-meaning development worker, a friendly young man whose specialty was working in war zones. They sat across from each other in cheap plastic chairs beside a bomb-scarred house that served temporarily as a hospital. Just for a chat, he had been told. Just to see if he needed help, to see if he could be helped.

“It must be so difficult,” said the man, whose face was serene, “to wake up one morning and see that life as you knew it has ended, that so much has been destroyed.”

Despite his youth, Younis sensed immediately that the man was trying to get him to do something dangerous. His first instinct was to play it off, to make a grim joke of it—the house was getting old anyway; destruction as a form of camouflage; at least now we don’t have to maintain the roof—anything to deflect the course of the inquiry.

30 Days

I threw the tea pot out the window.

It plummeted three floors and shattered into a hundred white porcelain pieces right behind Mrs. Epstein, whom I had never much liked anyway.

“Hey!” she yelled up at me.

“Sorry,” I said, hanging half my upper body over the sill. Then I turned back inside, grabbed half a dozen tea cups and dumped those out, too.

I wasn’t that sorry.

You have gone on record saying you’re a big fan of television. That’s odd for a writer, no? Shouldn’t you be reading?

My childhood was not idyllic and while I very much found solace and escape in books, I also found it in television.  I try to read before bed every night. But television, yes, I do watch it.

 

So, let’s get this straight: your book gets a couple decent reviews and all of a sudden you think you’re hot shit, right?

Um, well, I don’t…

 

Sure you do. I can see it right there.

See what? Right where?

 

I saw a huge sort of aura around you when you walked in, but then I realized it was actually just your ego.

I don’t really know what you’re talking about.

You wrote a novel about a suicidal artist, Clementine Pritchard, who has 30 days left to live. Are you on meds?

I did take a little something for sinus drainage this morning.

 

No, seriously.

In all seriousness, mental illness of one stripe or another runs in my family. Having experienced close relationships with people who are struggling, I was interested in writing about the effect of the illness not only on the patient but on those who surround her. The domino effect is what was really fascinating.