Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Tod Goldberg. His new novel, Gangster Nation, is available now from Counterpoint Press. 

This is Tod’s second appearance on the program. He was the guest in Episode 320, which aired on October 12, 2014.

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What’s one memory that came into your mind recently that you haven’t thought about for ages?

Weird memories come to me all the time – it helps to have siblings who like to remind you of the various horrors of your life – but the one that came to me today was from when I worked at an infomercial company in the 1990s. I think about that time fairly frequently, actually, because every time I see someone who looks like Ed McMahon – which, living in Palm Springs, is pretty frequently; he has a lot of doppelgängers among the retired golfing set – I remember how I worked on his ill-fated Miracle Fryer (the miracle of which was that there was no frying involved – it was a pan that you baked chicken on). But I suddenly remembered the day I realized that the company I was working for might be involved in something nefarious – there was a cult involved, and a defective exercise device, which I recognize doesn’t sound like two things that go together, and it turns out, well, they don’t – and so I emailed the one person I’m still in contact with from that job to confirm that a strange meeting happened where it was announced we would no longer be getting free bagels and snacks…which everyone then intuited was some very bad, bad news for our jobs. (Well, that and because there was talk the government was coming to seize our computers and that we should all delete our Napster accounts.) (It was the 90s.)

PROLOGUE

NOVEMBER 2000

Peaches Pocotillo never got to kill anyone anymore. All those years he’d spent perfecting his craft had led to bigger and better things, which in this case meant a mid-level leadership position in the Native Mob, overseeing tribal gang consolidation and farming operations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, even into Nebraska. He had Native Gangster Disciples reporting to him, Native Vice Lords, Native Crips, Native Bloods, Peaches the one guy everyone listened to, the one guy who could get everyone to the table, the one guy who you didn’t want to cross, because, man, he used to kill people for nothing, son.

todgoldbergheadcolorYour last book came out in 2011. It’s 2014. What have you been doing all this time?

Honestly? Writing. And writing and writing and writing. But sometimes, that just means I’m not writing at all, I’m just thinking about writing, thinking about what I haven’t written, thinking about what I’d like to write, thinking about maybe never writing again because, these days, there’s just an awful lot of good stuff on TV and if my choice is to sit quietly in my office writing murder stories or watching an infinite number of episodes of Chopped, well, Chopped wins. It’s a sickness, it really is. I find it profoundly, psychically comforting to watch other people cook food I’ll never eat while I – with absolutely no acuity in the field whatsoever – make snap judgments on the quality, taste, and general success or failure of the meal.

Gangsterland_FINALPrologue

April 1998

When Sal Cupertine was going to kill a guy, he’d walk right up and shoot him in the back of the head. Shoot someone in the face, there’s a good chance they’ll survive. Sal never messed around with a gut shot or trying to get someone in the heart. It was stupid and made a mess. You get told to kill a guy, you killed a guy. You didn’t leave it up to variations in the wind and barometric pressure and all that Green Beret shit he saw on TV. No, Sal knew, you just went up and did it. Be professional about it and no one suffers.

I first met Ross Angelella (I just can’t call him by his official author name – J.R. Angelella – because, well, I’ve never called him J.R. and I don’t know anyone else who has, either, but he has good reasons to be called J.R. on his books, reasons which are not revealed in the interview below, but which exist somewhere on the internet and I trust that if you search long enough, you’ll find the story and you will be justifiably moved) in 2007. I’d made the fateful decision to attend Bennington for graduate school and Ross was assigned to be my student mentor. That he was ten years younger than me and was just starting out and I was heading towards the middle of my career and was already running an MFA program seemed a little weird to me (I’d Googled the hell out him, too, so I’d read his LiveJournal and was, well, somewhat concerned that he was a serial killer, but that’s another issue all together). His job was simple: to prepare me for the harsh world of low residency graduate education…which, in this case, consisted of him calling me one evening and telling me to buy one of those foam mattress tops if I wanted to be able to sleep on the prison beds Bennington uses in their dorm rooms. That seemed like an extremely solid and learned piece of advice, so from there we went on to talk about a series of mundane things for about an hour. There were lots of giggles. I think I may have rolled out the word “fucktard” early on, just to make sure he wasn’t one of those people easily offended by my common vernacular. He showed no ill effects, so we pressed on. And we’ve kept pressing on for five years.

Kimberly and I had for a few months exchanged idle suggestions that I come to New York to read at one of the Literary Experiences.  Then United had a special.  Buy a ticket with the moon and Pleiades in Acme special configuration, and get another ticket free.  I happened to be traveling for business under that auspicious astronomical prodigy, so I thought to myself, still with an idle inflection, “hey, what better use for that free ticket I have coming?”

I asked Kimberly what she thought, and after a while she responded, “Well, you know, late March is about right for the next TNBLE.  I’ve got you down.”  Oh shit.  So much for idleness.  As I firmed up travel plans I increasingly looked forward to meeting Kimberly and others with whom I was familiar from TNB, including Kristen Elde and Tod Goldberg.  Kimberly set the theme “Growing Pains”, which gave me plenty of space for creation (which is to be expected, since this is the most prominent theme of TNB pieces).

I wrote and re-wrote my piece, a poem called “Growing up Misfit” which I’ll post in a day or two. [Done].  I picked out an appropriate Senegalese kaftan with Djellaba stylings (minus the hood, of course,) made by the excellent tailor Dantata near the Muslim Quarter, Bogobiri Corner, of Calabar.  I was ready.  After an uneventful trip Friday morning I arrived at LaGuardia and took the shuttle to the hotel, taking a moment to puzzle at the groups of soldiers with prominent sidearms hanging out ostentatiously with police at the Queens–Midtown Tunnel.  “What, do they think they’re the Comitatus Posse?” I wondered.

 

A friendly reminder:

The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience, NYC will soon be bloomin’!

Mark your calendars now for Friday, March 26th for readings from your favorite TNB writers, centered around the theme: GROWING PAINS!!

The details:

The Salt

By Tod Goldberg

Short Story

Beneath the water, beneath time, beneath yesterday, is the salt.

The paper says that another body has washed up on the north shore of the Salton Sea, its age the provenance of anthropologists. “Washed up” is a misnomer, of course, because nothing is flowing out of the Salton Sea, this winter of interminable heat: it’s January 10th and the temperature hovers near one hundred degrees. The Salton Sea is receding back into memory, revealing with each inch another year, another foundation, another hand that pulls from the sand and grasps at the dead air. Maybe the bodies are from the old Indian cemetery first swallowed by the sea in 1971, or perhaps they are from Tom Sanderson’s family plot, or maybe it is my sweet Katherine, delivered back to me in rusted bone.

So, truthfully, how did you come up with the questions you’re about to answer?

Well, here’s the thing. Every time I attempted to actually compose a self-interview, I ended up answering every question like a professional athlete—you know: It is what it is. Just trying to take it one game at a time. My understanding was that I was shooting B-12 into my ass. I play the percentages. So I did the one thing I know how to do in the face of sounding like a cheese dick: I asked people to give me questions to answer so that I wouldn’t sound like a cheese dick. And then, if I didn’t like their questions, I altered them to what I’d like them to be, essentially rewriting my own self interview. Kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but slightly less awesome. I also took some questions from transcripts I found online of Michael Silverblatt interviewing David Foster Wallace and Vikram Chandra. These questions are denoted with a handy asterisk.