- Rozalia Jovanovic
- Carl Annarummo
- Mathias Svalina
- Ken Baumann
- Reynard Seifert
- Phil Doran
- Ben Mirov
- Louise Krug
- Mike Young
- Kathryn Regina
- Jac Jemc
- Prathna Lor
- J.A. Tyler
- Joseph Murphy
- Alina Gregorian
- Ryan Call
- Drew Kalbach
Happy Christmas, friends.
Happy Christmas, friends.
My story, Ash Mounds, just came out on the You Must Be This Tall to Ride website, edited by BJ Hollars, alongside new stories by Roxane Gay, who co-runs the journal PANK, and John Dermot Woods, who co-runs the excellent podcast series, Apostrophe Cast. Good company.
It’s a Hadley, MA story, set in a real parking lot with real dirty snow mounds and a real Barnes and Nobles. It’s also, I think, my longest piece of fiction to appear online. I just re-read my story and then read Gay’s story, and thought, Wow, poor moms.
It was about the election. Then I forgot about it for awhile. Then I remembered. Then I considered adding some stuff about Palin and pitbulls and all that Rich Comedic Material. Then I didn’t. Here it is!
Grandad Remembers the 2008 Presidential Election
Now Adam, you’re going to want to start your history report with some context to give your reader a sense of the political climate back then.
The election was a big one, since this was going to be the president that followed Bush II. Now if you recall, he’s the one that got himself elected because the Florida governor, Chad Bush, allowed the use of Opposite Day Ballots. But after folks cast their votes for the opposite of the one they wanted, Chad Bush told them he was just kidding about it being Opposite Day. Everybody agreed it was a funny joke, including the Supreme Court, who thought it was so funny that they said, “Oh tell you what, we’ll just make it easier on everyone and decide who is president.”
The day after inauguration was 9/11, which was an event in which terrorists mailed an American flag to each citizen and told us they’d bomb us if we didn’t wave them from our cars. And then the next day we went to war with Smoking Crater IV, then known as Iraq.
And then in 2004, Bush II stayed president. I forget what he was running against, an inanimate object of some kind. Pretty sure it was a loaf—yes—a loaf of bread. And one thing that happened during that time: a young senator, Tupac Obama, got up at the convention and gave a speech about the loaf that made us Democrats go, “Whoa baby now, maybe we should’ve nominated a person after all.”
The Iraq war was still going on in 2008 in which millions of US troops died and I think a couple dozen Iraqis died too. And at home Bush II was flying around the country, personally bombing abortion clinics and building megachurches in their places, and then, in the summertime, drilling endangered animals for oil.
Now I seem to recall that the 2008 primary began around November of 2004. All of America watched, discussed, analyzed political strategies like they were plays in a football game. It was fun for us. It felt like it mattered. There were all kinds of crazy characters—a famous actor, a porn star, Gary Coleman, even a minister! Billy Graham was the minister’s name and he had the funniest commercial with him and Burt Reynolds trading lines where Billy Graham would say, “Burt Reynolds’ tears cure AIDS” and then Burt Reynolds would say, “Billy Graham is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.” But this guy John McBain won the Republican nomination because he’d spent a couple weeks in an ACLU camp.
And then on the Democrat side, there was Hillary Clinton who ran a campaign platform of, “I should be president because I already was president, sort of.” And then there was Obama who nobody thought would win, but his superpower was hypnosis, and every time he asked a rich person for a campaign donation, they shelled out. And his campaign slogan was, “Remember when I gave that great speech?” and then he switched it to “Hoping for Change in a Hopefully Changing World,” and people liked those words.
That primary lasted over three years and Clinton and Obama got as mean as they could be without hitting each other. Clinton would say, “Mr. Obama is a worthless prick who would make a fine Vice President,” and Obama would counter, “Mrs. Clinton is bitch whom I greatly admire. She’s running a great race.” And then Obama’s minister, Jesse James, said some things about how it was cool to be racist, in a way, and Obama gave a speech about how it’s actually not cool but racism is complicated, and it was such a good speech that he started running with the slogan, “That’s two amazing speeches now.” And then Clinton had her own scandal when her husband got drunk and made a YouTube video challenging Obama to a fistfight. And, uh, she lost in a really slow and anticlimactic way, and she kept saying that she was still running when she wasn’t, exactly. I don’t know. Look it up if you can. Has wikipedia been blocked?
Here’s the part I remember clearly, though. A little while after the primaries, some time around late September of 2008, all of Americas simultaneously stopped caring. Myself included. When election coverage came on the TV, people changed the channel. Many cancelled their newspaper subscriptions. Internet news outlets had to post election coverage next photos of naked people to get any hits at all. So they adapted, gave up covering the campaigns altogether. Obama and McBain continued to give speeches, but the rallies were sparsely attended and only covered on CSPAN.
It was burnout, Adam. The kind of political engagement that Americans showed throughout the years of primary was just not sustainable through the general election. We thought we’d rally come November, but just—I don’t know—didn’t. The number of votes was, I believe, in the hundreds. The Supreme Court said that wasn’t enough to elect either candidate, called off the election, and told Bush II to keep his job another four years or so. He accepted. And I guess he figured he could do what he wanted and declared war on Iran, Syria, North Korea… uh, some others. Nine in total.
You’ll want to conclude this report the usual way, Adam, which is to quickly muse that it’s good that history played itself out the way it did so that the American Empire could be taken under the mighty nurturing wing of Mother China. That way our family won’t disappear in the night. But I don’t need to tell you to do that, do I?
Everybody I know is getting pretty sick of all these Palin “scandals.” I say we just list them all, acknowledge that she’s a human being like everyone else, then move on to actually getting to know McCain’s hastily-picked VP nominee.
Here are the facts, as best as I can remember them from skimming headlines, dreaming dreams and talking with angry New Englanders:
– When Sarah Palin ran for President of her 5th grade class, she quickly turned the issue away from her opponent’s popular “No Homework Day” campaign and towards hot-button issues like gun control and abortion.
– Sarah Palin fired the Alaska Public Safety Commissioner after he refused to TP her ex-brother-in-law’s house.
– When Sarah Palin ran for Miss Alaska, she quickly turned the issue away from beauty and towards hot-button issues like gun control and abortion.
– Sarah Palin’s new baby is having a baby and is planning to marry the father.
– Sarah Palin calls drilling for oil “ice fishing.”
– Sarah Palin’s baby’s fetus is having a baby and is planning to marry the father.
– Sarah Palin ran a polar bear deathmatch ring in her backyard from 2001-2003 until it was shut down by the local neighborhood watch. She was not convicted on account of being too gosh darn pretty.
– When Sarah Palin sighted Mark Twain and the guy who wrote the Golden Compass on an Alaskan hunting expedition, she fell them both in a single shot and thus committed the ultimate censorship. There is a picture of her and her daughter smiling by their husks.
– Sarah Palin accepted funds for an escalator to nowhere, pocketed the fund, bragged about it when introduced as McCain’s runningmate, and didn’t even credit The Simpsons for the idea.
As if any of that matters. Show some respect, naysayers. Sarah Palin is a war hero by association.
Excepted, with permission, from Stumpers: When Your Kids Ask the Tough Questions
Gotham’s a tough place to raise a family. You bust your ass all day trying to take down a killer with a haunting inner madness who licks his lips in this wonderfully creepy way and then, at the end of the day, your kid yammers on about some manner of stilted crap like, “Dad, why are the police chasing after Batman? He didn’t do anything!”
So you could give the boy a long answer about the complexities of good and evil, how difficult it can be to parse out anyone’s motives and how common it is for “good guys” to oppose each other. Or, if you just want the kid to shut his blond, precocious trap, you could say something like this:
“Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now… and so we’ll hunt him because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector… a dark knight.”
This response is called a shut him up speech. Take a look at how the shut him up speech can be adapted to all sorts of stumpers:
“Dad, why do you drink so much Guinness?”
Because coffee is the beverage I deserve but not the one I need right now… and so beer hurts my liver because it can take it. Because Guinness takes the edge off. It’s a silent relaxer, a watchful enabler… a dark brew.
“Dad, I’ve been having these… feelings?”
Son, that’s not a question but I see where you’re going with this. Sex is a pleasure you deserve but not the one you need right now because you’re only 12… and so one day you will stick it to a girl because she wants to take it. Because you turn her on. After all, the men in this family are silent lovers, watchful of a woman’s needs… in the dark of the night.
Starting to pick up on a formula? That means you’re on your way!
Now if you haven’t guessed it already, the delivery is everything. When giving a shut him up speech, it’s crucial that you speak in a dramatic, scenery-chewing tone of voice in which no man would ever naturally talk to his son. This is technique, called the epic voice, is a great way to speak with authority on a subject, yet discourage follow-up questions.
On the next couple of examples, read the text out loud in your own best epic voice (and remember to treat each ellipsis like a dramatic pause):
“Dad, why’d you and mom split up?”
Because I’m the husband your mother deserves but not the one she needs right now… and so she hurts me because I can take it. Because she’s a bad person. She’s a silent judge, a watchful sulk… a dark bitch. Also because I faked my death and didn’t tell her about it.
“Dad, is there a form of matter that doesn’t interact with electromagnetic force?”
Yes. Visible matter is the form the universe deserves but not the one it needs right now… and so we’ll believe in this other substance because its presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter. Because it accounts for 22% of universal substance. It’s a silent force, a watchful rotator of galaxies… a dark matter.
The most important thing is that after you deliver a shut him up speech in your epic voice, give the kid a quick but meaningful hug and then leave the room. If you let enough time pass between speech and exit, your kid is going to realize how confused he still is, what a bad parent you are, etc. Then he’ll ask another question and all your work will have been for nothing.
If you like Stumpers: When Your Kids Ask the Tough Questions, order Commissioner Gordon’s new manual, Gray Area: The Pros and Cons of Informing Your Wife About Plans to Fake Your Death While in Pursuit of Chilling, Oscar-Worthy Criminals.
Matt at Thieves Jargon accepted my story, Eight Times in the Everywhere, hours after I submitted it. And now it’s online. You can’t beat that with a billy club.
Update: I just re-read the story and feel the urge to issue a disclaimer, but I’m not sure what it should say. “Not for kids.” That’s a possibility. But I’m leaning towards, “The narrator in this story is a terrible, terrible person.” Or how about replacing one of those terribles with “cartoonishly”? But then people who think all stories should end with the terrible people getting what’s coming to them (objectivists) won’t want to read it. So maybe the disclaimer should read, “The narrator in this story is a cartoonishly terrible person who dies and goes to Hell at the end.” But objectivists won’t like that I put Hell/Devil into the story and now my disclaimer is getting dangerously close to summary. So I’ll cut “goes to Hell at the end.” Or maybe I should just go back to, “Not for kids.” Or maybe my disclaimer should be, “You should listen to Donald Antrim reading ‘I Bought a Little City.’” But that takes the focus off of me.
Update: Tim made me remember that disclaimers are for dummies. Here’s the new one, nice and short.
Disclaimer: F it.
The the online version of the new, new NOÖ Journal just came out. Print version coming soon. Both are free.
I wrote a story that’s in it. You can read the story here: The Canadians
Other people in the issue: Daniel J. Bailey Benjamin Buchholz Alex Burford Mattia Cerato Noah Cicero Stephan Clark Patrick Duggan Bobby Farouk Elisa Gabbert Daniel Anthony St. George J.P. Gritton Fitz W. Guerin Ofelia Hunt Sean Kilpatrick Tim Laing Justin Lovato Chelsea Martin K. Silem Mohammad J.M. Patrick Andrew Michael Roberts Kathleen Rooney Peter Schwartz Claudia Smith Carrie Spell Leigh Stein Petteri Sulonen Deenah Vollmer Jasmine Dreame Wagner Sam Wharton
I read Stephan Clark’s story already. It’s good.
Thomas Boulan, Mary Bowers, Jean-Gérald Charbonneau, Jon Chopan, Brian Foley, James Francis, Jack Harris, Melissa Ruby, James Terry, R. A. Allen, Joe Balaz, Jak Cardini, Richard Donnelly, Scott Drinkall, Kenneth Gurney, Lara Konesky, Janice Krasselt Tatter, Chris Major and Kirk Pinho
with Gabe Durham
Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter – The sexy young inventor of the microscope receives a letter written entirely in human blood, asking her to burn down the Mark Twain house with a WWI Zippo lighter.
McSweeney’s #24 – Jonathan Ames borrows from Paul Astor in a story about a writer who wants to be a detective so he learns the language of bees so they will tell him who killed his dear auntie. The bees sting him and he turns to stone.
The stories of my fellow workshoppers – 20 variations on the same story: a man is about about to jump to his death until all of his friends and family members show up and tell him warm anecdotes about his own generosity and convince him that life is worth living. Just as he is about to come down, a flood sweeps through the city, sparing only the jumper. Chaos ensnares.
Brock Clark, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England – One middle-aged man, three busty young bachelorettes, and a post-apocalyptic wasteland: you do the math!
Joanna Scott, Various Antidotes – A maniac gives three scientists a slow-acting poison and sets them loose in a hedge maze. They have to use their brains if they hope to get to the various antidotes on time.
George Saunders, The Braindead Megaphone – Post-apocalyptic Huck Finn border patrol wasteland. That’s just one of many essays.
Cormac McCarthy, The Road – An architect and his writer son take a drive up the coast. Chaos enjoins.
Donald Barthelme, Paradise – A dog tells his owner to stop having sex in front of him… in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. There are interviews on the page and there is the expectation of blood on the floor.
Our protagonist, whose name escapes me, notices a liberal bumper sticker on the car in front of her. It’s cleverer than most. It criticizes the president’s lack of environmental action through pun. She smiles and wonders if she should go online and order this bumper sticker or one like it. After all, she is dissatisfied with the federal government’s cowardice, the way they cater to auto and oil companies. She remembers, though, that bumper sticker jokes wear out fast. And she has close friends who are conservative. She doesn’t hide her politics from these friends but the bumper sticker, she decides, would come off as pretty smug. Then she thinks, Plus, the trouble with putting a political position on a car is that I’m not always the best driver. What if I cut someone off and then fuel their hatred towards liberals? Then she wonders, Has a bumper sticker ever changed my mind? About anything? It is nighttime and lights are flashing at her, encouraging her to spend money. The world is sending clever sound byte-size messages to her. Too many messages. What this comes down to, what this really comes down to, she decides, is this: Am I a bumper sticker kind of woman? She is not.