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:

We’re proud to announce the publication of The Beautiful Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Collins, now available in trade paperback from TNB Books, the official imprint of The Nervous Breakdown.

The Beautiful Anthology can be purchased at Amazon.  To order your copy, please click right here.  (Note:  in the coming days, TBA will be available via other retailers like Powell’s and BN.com.  Ebook editions are also forthcoming.)

It’s spring, and all of you sexy people out there know just what I mean when I say, mmm-mm. It’s time for the return of the sexy.

The sun is bouncing brightly off that freshly waxed chest in front of you where its owner is parked enjoying a delicious shot of wheatgrass. He’s working on his computer like he’s got a novel brewing. Or maybe he’s a writer for GQ. He’s just made eye contact with you as if to say candidly, “I see you watching me being sexy over here. I, too, acknowledge your sexy.”

Oh, yeah.

That’s right. It’s been a long, cold run up here in the mountains, and I am happy to report that spring is finally in the air. The birds are birding, the chipmunks are chipmunking; and the bees…are beeing sexy. Yesterday, I was at a giant garage sale for my kid’s school. Helping out because volunteering is sexy. I didn’t end up doing much, but I did walk away with a great deal on a purple and black corset, which just goes to show, economy is sexy, too.

A lot has happened this last year. Grandpa got married. He’s 90 and she’s 96, but neither of them are a day over sexy. Together they witnessed the rise and fall of the USSR, the coming of age of Barbie, and the invention of the chocolate chip cookie. Had a preacher man say some words over them without actually signing a marriage license so they could be sexy together without getting their families all riled up over mingling their bank accounts. Last I heard, they had moved back to their single rooms over at the independent living center. A little space is sexy, too—oh yeah.

It’s spring and it’s time to be sexy. Two weeks ago, Slade Ham, Megan DiLullo, Uche Ogbuji, Richard Cox and Sam Demaris came up to our house. It had snowed 8 inches of fresh powder, so it wasn’t very sexy. Even so, we laughed, told stories, ate donuts and drank a lot of very sexy whiskey. At one in the morning, we broke out the kickboxing gear and sparred in the living room. I got the wind just about knocked out of me by a well-placed punch to the side by Slade. Brought me to my knees it was so sexy. Even Scott just shook his head from behind the video camera and didn’t rush to my defense. Megan put on some headgear like she was going to jump in but was eventually pulled back to the sofa by a 90 proof magnet. Uche broke out into some def poetry while Sam called us a bunch of high schoolers. Richard played Tiffany. There is nothing sexy about Tiffany. Donuts are sexy, though. Especially if you’re a dude made out of fried bread. Oh, yeah.

But Spring is in the air now, and all of those kinks have been smoothed over. No excuse to not be sexy. Even Simon Smithson and Zara Potts and the rest of you living down under don’t have to stop being sexy even though it’s well into autumn now for you. Autumn is a sexy word for fall. You’re down there and we’re up here and we’re passing like two sexy ships in the night. Passing the baton of sexy.

Don’t worry, though. We’ll have enough sexy in the northern hemisphere to carry you over. Nathaniel Missildine in France. David S. Wills in China. Steve Sparshott and James Irwin in England. Irene Zion over in Belgium(?) and Judy Prince somewhere in between. We’re creating a mesh network of sexy and beaming it south. Down below the earth’s belt. Now that’s sexy.

That’s right, Spring is in the air and it’s time to be sexy so slip out of those shoes and curl your toes deep into some warm sand somewhere. Wear something that ends in an ‘ini’. Order something cold that comes in a pineapple or coconut shell because drinks that come in their own skin are sexy. You know it. But it’s spring, so don’t worry too much about having to try. In spring, just about everything is sexy. In spring, even Tiffany is sexy.

So, keep on keepin’ on, wheatgrass boy. You’ve got a spot of green in the corner of your mouth there.

There you go.

Oh, yeah.

I wasn’t sure how to categorise this little number – memoir or fiction? The people, places and background are all real enough, but I can state with certainty that the scene recounted here never happened and is therefore, technically, fiction.

Author’s note: A year ago, up at my parents’ house for Christmas, I wrote a piece for a quarterly magazine called Nude. Shortly afterwards the couple who ran the magazine found that they were to be parents, so — no more Nude. The piece was a joy to write, because the loose brief — “magnificent obsessions” — allowed me to choose a subject that would be, well, fun to write about.

There are many examples of enterprises which have involved mind-boggling levels of dedication to a goal which was abstract, pointless, stupid or even unachievable — the Watts Towers, the first ascent of Everest, crossing America on a pogo stick — but I decided to go large and write about  the moon landings. This was just before the 40th anniversary.  There wasn’t much information readily available at my parents’ place, which remains stuck somewhere in the 1970s, a long way from the Internet. No problem, though.  I wasn’t particularly interested in facts and figures.  I wanted to address the spirit of the thing, its monumental scale and relatively modest aim. So I got to typing, drawing a few bits of physics, economics, and history from Andrew Chaikin’s comprehensive and engaging book A Man on the Moon.  Mainly I was looking at the sheer demented splendour of the thing.

But Nude, of course, was defunct, so the article languished in the depths of my hard drive for a year, with no place to go — until now! In a few days I’ll be boarding a train back to the past, to spend a couple of weeks in the real world, so…here’s a present for all Nervous Breakdown crew.  Have a good [insert holiday] and a [insert adjective] new year (if you’re on the Gregorian calendar).

-S.S.

 

“Of course it was all fake.”

Shut up.

Snap

By Steve Sparshott

Memoir

“Let’s climb that hill” isn’t something that anyone ever really says – unless it’s some kind of figurative hill – but I’m pretty sure Tom said those exact words. It was that sort of day. Any sophistication we possessed had dissolved into last night’s booze and evaporated in the day’s heat. I didn’t think of it that way, because back then I was living a life, I didn’t have the time or inclination to test the safe working loads of creaking metaphors, I just, like, did stuff. We all did. It was cool.

Being disabled and not being a billionaire evil genius is a shite state of affairs.

After a six year trial period, I’ve decided it’s not for me. The problem is context – context being, supposedly, everything. You see, I didn’t spec my environment; I don’t have a hollowed-out island full of boiler-suited minions, with smooth floors and rapid, spacious lifts. I have London, and it’s a fucking disgrace.

Enid was my local crush, as opposed to, say, a music crush, like Laura Veirs, or a back-in-the-day crush, like Janeane Garofalo. I miss Enid. Not terribly, not like a limb, more like a bus – there’ll be another one along in a while. Crush might be too strong a word.

Last Train

By Steve Sparshott

Memoir

There was a figure on the wrong side of the railing. Hunched, legs dangling over the water, left hand on the edge of the brickwork clutching a smoking cigarette. I kept an eye on him as I passed; he raised the fag to his mouth with a sudden movement, inhaled and put it back down just as abruptly.

These days, Hungerford Bridge is a riot of shiny white suspension poles and pretty blue lights; back then it was a wide railway crossing with a poorly lit walkway stuck on the east side which shook with the passage of trains. The tubes stopped running at midnight so I was on foot, heading down to Waterloo to catch the last train out of London, the 1:05 AM to Surbiton, where I shared a three-storey semi with five friends. I was crossing the last of the bridge’s huge cylindrical brick pilings when I saw the guy sitting there, out on the edge. I walked on a little way, then turned back and watched him swig from a half bottle of vodka. There was nobody else on the bridge. “Alright?” I called. He looked over his shoulder to see an ageing indie kid in a seventies ski jacket.

“Alright, mate,” he replied.

“Admiring the view?” I asked brilliantly, a Friday night’s worth of beer swilling around inside me.

“Something like that,” he said, any implication that I might have asked a really stupid question going right over my head.

“Let’s have a look then,” I said, climbing over the railing and crossing over to sit down next to him, both of us dangling our legs over the Thames. Actually the view wasn’t bad at all, Waterloo Bridge and the buildings on the north and south banks artfully lit and reflected in the water.

Clark (“Like Superman, yeah?”) was a good-looking black bloke in, I guessed, his early twenties, whose girlfriend had just committed suicide. They met at a drop-in centre where they went for methadone and counselling; they hadn’t been together long but he said the relationship had given both of them a lot of much-needed support.

Uh huh.

“So…what happened?” I asked, aware despite the beers that I was in at the deep end of a situation far, far outside my experience.

They had a fight. “But we were always fighting, y’know?” he said.  “Every day.  But this was a big one, and then she killed herself the next day.”

Oh.

Shit.

Even sober I’d have been in no position to offer any expert counsel. What I wheeled out, I realise now, were platitudes; like how she was still living in his memory and if he jumped he wouldn’t just be killing himself and so on. I thought I was being highly original. We shared the vodka and, because I didn’t think it would be clever to say Actually I don’t smoke, a packet of Benson and Hedges.

He stated plainly, early on, that if anyone was around he wasn’t going to jump, so I zipped up my jacket and settled in. The conversation went round several times, returning to different what ifs as he berated himself for inattentiveness, inaction, indecision and so on; always things, I insisted, for which he couldn’t take the blame. Eventually we managed to get onto lighter subject matter; he was surprised that I knew the spike below his lip was called a labret piercing. Common knowledge now, perhaps, but arcane enough back in 1998. One of the few times my trivia reserve proved genuinely useful.

Three hours on, the effects of the beer were compounded by vodka and half a pack of Bensons and, while I could keep talking crap, I couldn’t work out how to get Clark back over to the right side of the railing. I was freezing, and becoming unnerved by the long drop and my increasingly unstable perch.

The few people who came along weren’t much use; the occasional pissed-up group invariably shouting Don’t jump, mate! and a homeless couple who knew Clark from when he lived rough and who confused me by calling him John and saying they’d been in Jerusalem taking pills. Jerusalem’s a big noisy bar in Rathbone Place; I didn’t know that at the time.

About half past four no-one had come by for a while. A couple of girls came stumbling along, arm in arm, singing. They saw us and stopped. “Hello,” said one.

“Morning,” we both replied. One of the girls squinted at us in an exaggerated fashion. “Clark!” she exclaimed.

“It’s Clark, look,” she said, drawing the other’s attention, and they both climbed over the railing. “Come on. Gimme a hug,” she demanded, and Clark stood up and obliged. I’d been trying to work out how to get him away from the edge for three hours; she did it in two seconds.

Who would be the ideal people to turn up just as I was despairing of ever getting Clark to stop contemplating a cold, wet death? (Actually, by this time, a cold, sticky, muddy one). How about a couple of psychiatric nurses (albeit spectacularly drunk ones)? How about a couple of psychiatric nurses who worked at Clark’s drop-in centre? Yes, they’d be just about perfect, and here they were, heading over to the all-night burger van by the station for a cup of tea.

So we joined them, all sitting in a row on a bench, safely inland, drinking impossibly hot tea from polystyrene cups. I can’t remember their names, or what they looked like, or where the drop-in place (open all hours) was, but I remember the four of us piling into a minicab to get there, and I remember watching Clark walk up the brightly lit tree-lined path into the building.

I think that went pretty well.

A few months later I was looking at a copy of The Face; a new 24 hour supermarket had opened near the Complex in Islington and they’d gone in to interview shoppers at about 4 AM. I recognised one of the faces looking out of the page, not smiling but certainly not dead either, labret spike shining.

Who are you?

Clark, 24, unemployed.

What are you buying? (“What was he buying?” people ask.  “Razor blades?”)

Apples.

Apples. So fuck off.

I’m not under the illusion that I saved his life; when I arrived he’d already been sitting looking at the water for a long time. To be honest I’m not really sure what I did, except that it was, in a stumbling, roundabout way, the right thing. The best thing I ever did, in fact. People use that phrase to mean the most personally advantageous thing; buying a villa in Spain, that sort of thing. By best I mean most good; the most…honourable, most decent thing I ever did.

Another time I found a fifty pound note in the gutter as I was heading down towards the river. And I caught the train. Not a villa in Spain, but not bad.