Friday, January 6, 2017

JØnathan Lyons, The White Noise Album (Pages 99-134)

Book cover image for The White Noise Album
Heroinum/Dirt Heart Pharmacy Press (2016)
by JØnathan Lyons 



The White Noise Album (Pages 99-134)


Signal to Noise

Excerpted from the novel of the same title.

Disk 1, Side A — Promo Track:

Transmission | Reception



 SPK : "Desolation"
 • Zeitgeist:

Fall, just past the mid-80s — the heart of the Reagan-Bush reign and the peak of the alt/indie/punk scene in Iowa City.

         Every chord, every note, every single guitar strike detonated like the idle-chug of an 18-wheeler. Connor Hegarty never figured out how they made that sound: Exactly like an engine.
Meat Grinder was playing Gabe's Oasis. Connor was coming off a shift DJing at KRUI, his psyche a conflicted mess of high from being on the air and pained by the call from home. He heard their distortion-heavy aural assault building long before he could see the stage, a sonic meltdown the likes of which he had never experienced; mechanical demolition fused with radio noise and a clanging junkyard chorus of found metallic objects repurposed for percussion; a tricked-out bass that showed the scars of by-hand modification, all steel cables and mysterious knobs, glinting additions and switches; two drum kits; and a 55-gallon steel barrel, "MEAT GRINDER," and the band's logo — a pair of meat cleavers crossed in an X — spray-stenciled on. The twin drum kits were a haphazard jumble of shining steel and stands resembling a pair of oil refineries under assault by kong-sized monsters wielding a tree in each hand.
Connor, a sophomore at Iowa, made his way cautiously forward. He'd spent the past few months getting to know the alternative-music scene from the power-pop/indie rock end of things, but had no idea anything like this was going on. He'd never stumbled across such anti-music before.
         Once he cleared the curving stairwell's first landing, once he'd worked his way past the doorman at the second landing, once he'd made the entrance to the upper bar, which housed the stage and the stacks, the band came into view.
Towering over six feet tall, her hair a halogen explosion, skin an alabaster tint that rendered her features in high contrast, glow and shadow and little else, the grrl savaged a towering bank of home-fabricated noise boxes. Somehow the most magnetic presence in a stage littered with effects pedals, miked sawhorses, hazardous-looking creations of steel, the other musicians. A severe, dangerous beauty about her, broad cheekbones and a high forehead swept with that hair.
Connor watched, trying to make sense of her.
Meat Grinder had hung jagged sheets of plexiglass on hooks and chains from the aging iron girders that ran across the ceiling of the club, each around five by five feet, each bearing some spattered and slashed image done up in red and black. In the reflective surface of a panel bearing the image of a sinewy forearm and hand clutching a hunting knife, he caught just a hint of metal cabling flexing among the muscles, under the skin covering her arm, the tattooed barbed-wire ringing her biceps stabbing outward, made real, somehow. Audio and electrical wiring and cabling emerged from the flesh of her hands and forearms, snaking into the rear of her noise-making set-up.
She turned, casting a look over her shoulder, out over the seething mass before the stage. Brilliant twin spotlights slashed forth from her eyes like a set of high-beams, carving twin swaths through the club's thick, smoggy atmosphere — coming to rest on him.
And in the wash of that sonic tide, bathed in the penetrating light of her high-beam gaze, Connor's moment crystallized, time flowing only between the two of them, all else grinding to a halt.
Connor felt altered, transmogrified. He raised his own arm before him, arching his wrist and splaying the fingers wide. He saw a seething hybrid of cable and muscle, metal and meat flexing just beneath a translucent latex-like skin, its surface covered in some sort of clotted, ruddy-brown gore.  What was she? What was she doing to him?
Her caustic, high-beam gaze soaked him, boiling away the external and revealing a vision of things lurking within. 
The brilliance of her stare pounding down on him —
Held. Connor. Hegarty. Mesmerized.
Connor could only gape at the magnificent chrome-like grille of teeth glimpsed through lips parted by her snarl.
His novice sense of alt-rock cool still had its training wheels, and she scared the affectation cool straight the hell out of him. Like a cobra holding a sparrow paralyzed in its gaze. How had she even spotted him through all that?
The vision faded, spectral. She returned her gaze to the task at hand, cables no longer seeming to erupt straight from her own flesh.
He ran his hands back through his newly blue alt-music hair experiment. That menacing punk-rock bad girl's leather and dramatic make-up look was like a dare, bondage and badass — it said: Fuck me at your peril. He'd never laid eyes on anything like the hardcore Amazon on stage before him. She wore gleaming pants of some synthetic black material, a heavy-link chain looped twice around her waist, and a smeared white t-shirt emblazoned with a skull-and-test-pattern logo and the words "Psychic TV," the sleeves cut roughly away. Connor glimpsed the pocked, tarnished surface of a silvery pendant — a slash-script A bursting the bounds of a circle, the symbol for anarchy — swinging, pendulous, from a leather cord strung around her neck.
Connor had spotted some Psychic TV LPs as he flipped through the bins at the Record Collector earlier, trying to judge an album by its cover. But the name didn't communicate anything to him, so he'd put the records back. What the hell was a Psychic TV?
His black t-shirt said "Sonic Youth" in hand-spattered bleach text that had yielded a corroded white to orange effect. He wore torn army-surplus pants, and black Converse high tops.
The doorman sat at a card table, his stringy off-brown hair held in place by a Peterbilt cap and falling just below his shoulders. He shook faintly, happily.
         "Who's that?" Connor yelled at the doorman, pointing toward the stage. His voice strained to cut through the din.
         "Meat Grinder!"
         "No, man — her!"
         "That's The Siren, dude!" he said, his face all nodding, tweaking, sweating grin and saucer-sized pupils. "Watch out!"
Connor thought the tweaker meant that The Siren was dangerous in her own punk-rock right. Then the doorman added: "She's totally married to that big guitar guy! Real-life husband-wife hardcore team!"
Connor stared at the two. The guitarist was shorter than The Siren, and heavy-set, around 250, a hunched white guy with shoulder-length dirty-blonde dreads swinging, obscuring his face and head. Faded sweatshirt torn down to a T, faded tattoos coiling down tensed arms. The dreadlocked man looked to be around 30, though it was difficult to tell through the dreads and facial hair. The Siren looked closer to Connor's age than the guitarist's. The union did not seem feasible to him: A noise-sculpting goddess wed to a guitar-wielding troll?
         The Siren stood onstage, middle-left, at a bank of orphic, unidentified equipment, a rack of electronics and machinery towering over her, metallic synths spliced and soldered together from kits and bolted into metal boxes, wires trailing from behind, coaxial tentacles entwining them. With a confident, bowlike arch to her back, The Siren faced rear-right, mostly away from the audience.
Connor carved out a spot in a crowd of dark, otherworldly anthropoid forms at the edge of the pit to take in the scene. He'd been to indie shows before and was passingly familiar with the crowd that turned up for those, but he didn't know these people. The air was a hazy cocktail of cigarette smoke, engine exhaust, spilled beer, and human sweat. The guitarist, anchored on the left, his strumming hand armored in a chainmail-and-leather glove, some kind of steel picks spot-welded to the fingers. Connor caught the flat-wet white of eyes rolled back into the guitarist's skull momentarily before the orbs submerged beneath the dreadlock current.
At the stage's fore-right, a spindly male with dark hair short on the sides, a bobbing, sweaty clump of curls spilling down over his eyes. With both hands, he swung a jagged seven-foot mutilation of steel with what looked to Connor like the handle from a saw bolted onto one end; he hauled the strip into position behind him, braced himself, and heaved it in an arc over his head, bringing the far side crashing down onto one of the sawhorses. Faint scars and scrapes punctuated the undersides of his forearms, shirt missing its sleeves and any remnant of a collar, all spraypaint and stains. Connor stopped breathing when he got it: The guy was keeping rhythm with that tear of metal.
Two drummers were obscured from view by the scrapyard on stage and the oily smog in the air, left to right, in the rear. The bass player's features struck a hybrid chord, Far East Asian and African; his hair, a tangle of sculpted, seemingly independent influences, sprayed out in a dozen directions; all-American. Rear-right. They actually had a motor on-stage to rev up, its accelerator pedal alongside the litter of effects pedals and banks.
And the striking, postmod, post-Amazon performing in a cabal of damaged freaks, savagely graceful, consummate in her element.
The sound was utterly, utterly unique. Connor didn't even have a name for what he was hearing. It involved more metal than he'd ever seen any band use, but the music was not metal; metal as a rubric for a type of music was already taken by the bad-home-perm high-school dropouts who drank quarts of cheap all-American macrobrew in plain brown bags in city parks after hours (to show everyone they were breakin' the law, breakin' the law!). The guys whose favorite songs always seem to find their way back to partying, or finding some way to escape from the streets of this blue-collar/one-horse/workin' class town where the only thing to do is cruise the strip and pick fights with other people couldn't get away.
Meat Grinder were not just making noise; Connor had an unhampered understanding of that much. They were clearly performing specific pieces — specific songs — riffing off each other, bobbing and weaving, driving through the noise, carving movement from dissonance.
The songs never actually stopped: The coherence of one movement would begin to break down, melt slowly into chaos, its solidity flowing into cacophony; Meat Grinder would wallow in the din, harvesting audio from bad-reception AM and feedback, creating, blazing, collapsing pathways through the noise; then, in time, a new piece would begin to organize, begin to build itself into coherence. Into order. The music these lunatics were making was, he began to realize, four-dimensional; parts arose from the tumult on the left and dove to the middle, dancing right, and back, or bursting suddenly in the middle, somehow shifting from rear to front, the volume of individual pieces of sound fading in, rising, falling, all churning forward through time: a slithering, sinewy juggernaut.
The band didn't even look at the audience.
A swell in the human tide dragged Connor into the current of the pit, an arena of organized riot: Punk kids and braless, tough-ass grrls threw themselves into bruising collisions, stopping immediately to pull any fallen comrade from the floor, then back to the punishment of the slam. In the pit, all were in it together, every mosher for and against every other. A release of stress and violence, a collectively controlled form of anarchy — a way to get it all the fuck out of your system.
The pit, throbbing with blood-red light from the stage, became a hot, drifting bank of greasy steam, individual spotlights cleaving through the smog.
Connor rode the violence for a minute, then edged his way out.
A sweat-covered hardcore fan, fingers of hair taped in the way that precedes dreadlocks, fought his way out of the pit, a scrunch of disembodied anger for a face, his Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet t-shirt and army-surplus pants splotched with sweat and scuff from the floor. Caught by the human tide, he washed up next to Connor.
Ever hear Meat Grinder up close before, man?! he demanded. Meat Grinder was blasting so hard the guy needed subtitles.
Connor shook his head no; this was a new experience. But he'd heard some noise he could compare it to.
Earlier, sitting in the production studio at KRUI with goth-show host Ashe, Connor had tried to listen to tracks from Skinny Puppy's "Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse" and an LP by SPK called "Leichenshrei." He hadn't been prepared for that level of intensity. He'd had to get away. But now, listening to Meat Grinder, he was beginning to get it.
Meat Grinder's set wound down and band members began to leave the stage, digital delays and reverb rioting across the club, the pounding tides of sound crashing along. It began with The Siren, who disappeared completely when the red spotlight on her was extinguished. The guitarist hanging his guitar, strings facing inward, on the custom grating of his amp; the bass player following suit; the others stepping back, disengaging from their gear, and departing, the waves continuing the show on auto-pilot. The vision of her had swept aside the lingering anger he'd felt from the phone call, her tides of audio sculpture washing it away.
Connor checked his watch; he worked his way through the crowd, back to the doorman, and asked him when the next group was coming on — some local freakshow called Stickdog; he'd only read the name on concert fliers.
"'Bout 20 minutes," he said. "They're somethin', huh? Meat Grinder?"
Connor nodded, distantly. He couldn't get The Siren's paralyzing high-beam gaze out of his mind, the waves of the noise in which she swam crashing over him — feedback — reverb — distortion — he'd found something completely, intoxicatingly unique.
"What — " Connor said, stammering a little, "What the fuck kind of music is that, my man?"
The doorman grinned ear-to-ear in his giddy reply with the term Connor was missing: "Industrial!"

Writing the Review
"Writing the Review" first appeared in the journal Pank, Issue 4, January 2010. 

5.1       What do I write, for fuck's sake? What do I write? And who do I write it to?
0.1       Skyler. Fans of underground hardcore know him as a genius. The police know him as a repeat offender of certain minor laws, never a felony, always misdemeanor offences — public intox, disturbing the peace, third-party suspicion of domestic violence in their home, possession of small amounts of marijuana …
I know him as a friend.
The first time I saw him was at a concert by a groundbreaking, fuck-off attitude hardcore band called Meat Grinder. He seemed possessed — a towering figure wracked in the thralls of some sort of creation fervor, eyes rolled back in his head as he worked over his guitar, facing his amp, feeding back, reworking the feedback into the main arc of the music, his stringy hair waving before his face, stuck with sweat to his forehead. His instrument was screaming out first a melody then, with a digital delay repeating the part, he was adding layers to the song, becoming its lead and second guitarists, its architect, its creator.
I write about music for a magazine that covers all of the underground stuff — live music, hardcore, punk, industrial — you name it. Well, almost; we steer clear of any form of country, even alt-country or that y'all-ternative stuff that's been coming out of Austin. Hearing Skyler play for the first time could change your religion.
0.x       Skyler. Kyrinne. Fans of underground hardcore know him her as a genius's babe. The police know him as a repeat offender of certain minor laws, never a felony, always misdemeanor offences — public intox, disturbing the peace, third-party suspicion of domestic violence in their home, possession of small amounts of marijuana … There's no secret that she and Skyler are together; but with her high-arching halogen blond hair, buzzed down on the left side, grown long everywhere else, with her stunning, rock-star stature and beauty, the fans also know that she is verboten. At what penalty, they don't ask — they simply don't even try to go there. They admire Skyler's work with sound, and they envy him for having Kyrinne. She plays a smaller role in the band. She plays the steady bassline that anchors Skyler. He tells me, sometimes, how bad he needs that. He quotes Charlie Parker, the jazz musician, to me. "He was playing in Dan Wall’s Chili House, a Harlem jazz club back in 1939, when he had this moment, right? Once Parker figured out that he could do anything — fucking anything, man — as long as he could resolve it back to the main theme of the song in time, his head broke open. Talking about it, Parker said, 'I came alive. I could fly.' When I have the guitar in my hands, I know how he felt when he said it."

0.4       Skyler. Fans of underground hardcore know him as a genius. The police know him as a repeat offender of certain minor laws, never a felony, always misdemeanor offences — public intox, disturbing the peace, third-party suspicion of domestic violence in their home, possession of small amounts of marijuana … But I know the real Skyler, the real deal.
Skyler's first love was heroin. A close second was his guitar. Kyrinne came in a distant third. On the outside, in public she didn't seem to mind. But I started coming to all their shows, I started hanging with them after hours, and I started to see through the public veneer; I got to know Skyler; I got to know the real deal.
2.1       Kyrinne is glowing, a savage beauty, as Skyler sits soundlessy in their living room, guitar in hands. He is lost in the song, his eyes rheumy, unfocussed. The drummer and vocalist are transient characters who won't last six months with these two, but for now, they're part of the most innovative hardcore act in town. The opening band, Deaf Lepers, have come along; a solution of coke cleverly packaged in a sinus-spray bottle is making the rounds, as is a pot pipe.
7.1       I want to take her for a night out. I want to walk with her —
"Read your write-up," he says. It is past 3 am, the band are beat from playing, but way too pumped up to call it a night.
"My write-up?"
"Pigface, man." He lowers his voice to sound like a TV news anchor. "'Every madman industrialist's twisted nightmare dream just came true, and it calls itself Pigface,'" he says. Your word carries weight. Street weight, anyway — not major-label weight. When you gonna write us up?"
"How about now? That was a hell of a show, Skyler," I say. I decline the pipe — the stuff only makes me sleep, and fast. I'm waiting for the nasal-spray bottle.
"Right now?" he says. "Here?"
I stretch. "No. In the morning. I need to get some rest and get the ringing out of my head before I can write."
He sighs, bored but impatient at this loss of immediate gratification.
"First thing, Skyler," I say, "relax."
5.2       What do I write, for fuck's sake? What do I write? And who do I write it to?

2.2       "Kyrinne," he says, but he can't be bothered to finish the sentence. He tosses her the keys; I need a lift home.

0.5       Skyler. Fans of underground hardcore know him as a genius. The police know him as a repeat offender of certain minor laws, never a felony, always misdemeanor offences — public intox, disturbing the peace, third-party suspicion of domestic violence in their home, possession of small amounts of marijuana … But I know the real Skyler, the real deal. idiot savant.
It didn't take me long to figure out, once I was tight with the band. When the guitar is in his grip, he explodes with genius, an artist in his own element. Other times, though, he can't be bothered with the rest of the world. I asked him once why he didn't spread his wings a little, try writing some with one of those programs or some electronic equipment. He huffed a laugh, dismissive, turned his head, and waved a lazy wave. When my review of their album hits the streets, I find him at a booth in the Deadwood, a refugee seeking asylum from the daylight.
"I read your write-up, man," he says. He picks up the magazine and intones with just enough of a mockering edge to shit me, "'Meat Grinder are one way-the-fuck-out-there recording project. Who knows what makes them tick? The single, Father, is nothing more, nothing less than five minutes of Skyler's industrial-grade guitar feedback sculpting, am radio noise, and the metronome-steady beat of Kyrinne's bass keeping — and barely keeping — this track in touch with Terra Firma. All throughout, though, the guitarist is airborne." He slaps the magazine down on the table. "Shit, man," he says, then dismisses the review with a lazy, backhanded wave.
Uh-huh, I think, You can't hold down a job, your kinda-wife works a day job to keep you in guitar strings and smack, and you think you get to critique my writing. This is what I think, but it is not what I say. If I say this, things might get chilly between us, and I don't want to lose access to him, 'cause if I lose access to him, I lose access to her.

0.6       Skyler. Fans of underground hardcore know him as a genius. The police know him as a repeat offender of certain minor laws, never a felony, always misdemeanor offences — public intox, disturbing the peace, third-party suspicion of domestic violence in their home, possession of small amounts of marijuana … But I know the real Skyler, the real deal. idiot savant. him as a cuckold.
2.3       "Kyrinne," he says, but he can't be bothered to finish the sentence. He tosses her the keys; I need a lift home.
In the van, she says, "So. What are you gonna say about the show?"
"My first impressions of Skyler's genius with that guitar," I say. "But he seems distracted, y'know? When he's not playing, it's like he's checked out or something — like he leaves his body behind and ventures off somewhere else."
Kyrinne nods to this, twice.
"What do you think?" I say. "I mean, you anchor him to the song."
"To more than just that," she says. I wait for more, but the moments pass without words. She pulls into a parking spot in front of my building. I'm intrigued about that comment she floated, though. Does she have more insight to share, something that might let me shed some insight on the band's inner workings, Skyler's psychology, anything?
"Come in for a drink?" I say.
She nods — again, two quick, staccato nods.
I've barely got the locks unlatched when I feel her arms enclose me; she's broiling like a star with sudden passion, and we wind up on the floor, fucking, clothes jettisoned in a furious rush.

3.1       As we lie, panting, I feel the rugburn already on my knees, and I say, "More than I'd expected out of a ride home."
"He can't know," she says. "Skyler. If he understood how alone I am, it'd hurt him; if he knew we did this without knowing that, he probably wouldn't even care."
I sit up on an elbow. "It's that bad?" I ask. "You guys are young — too young to have drifted apart."
"We were never all that together, except when we play. Sometimes I'm afraid that if I'm not there to anchor him, he'd never make it back."
"But what do you mean about how alone you are? You're beautiful. He can't be tired of you."
"We've never been like that very much," she says. "It's complicated. He'd never get by without me. I'm his rock, the one thing that keeps him functioning in the real world."

0.4       Skyler. Fans of underground hardcore know him as a genius. The police know him as a repeat offender of certain minor laws, never a felony, always misdemeanor offences — public intox, disturbing the peace, third-party suspicion of domestic violence in their home, possession of small amounts of marijuana … But I know the real Skyler, the real deal. idiot savant. him as a cuckold friend.
Kyrinne and I have been seeing a lot of each other. I don't know how long they've been sexless, but she burns like phosphorous every single time. I wonder how he ever managed to become indifferent to that.
0.41     Skyler. Fans of underground hardcore know him as a genius. The police know him as a repeat offender of certain minor laws, never a felony, always misdemeanor offences — public intox, disturbing the peace, third-party suspicion of domestic violence in their home, possession of small amounts of marijuana … But I know the real Skyler, the real deal.
Skyler's real name is Wilberfarce, Kyrinne tells me. "Do not ever, ever let him know that you know," she says. I can see why he upgraded his handle's hip-factor, I think, but I don't say it. I don't want her to think I'm petty.
Skyler's first love was heroin. A close second was his guitar. Kyrinne came in a distant third. On the outside, in public, she didn't seem to mind. But I started coming to all their shows, I started hanging with them after hours, and I started to see through the public veneer; I got to know Skyler; I got to know the real deal. Skyler needed smack. He'd let himself get addicted — which, with heroin, really isn't difficult. So he needs the stuff. And, being his friend, I sometimes buy a dime and bring it by for him.
1.1       Cuckold. If I say this, things will get chilly between us fast, and I don't want to lose access to him, 'cause if I lose access to him, I lose access to her. I come by about 7:00 with a gift for my friend Skyler. When I knock, I hear someone come to the door, see the peephole go dark for a second, then light again. Kyrinne opens the door. She holds an ice pack to her right eye. Skyler is left-handed.
"Kyr, what — ?" I start, but she cuts me off, points a finger at me.
"You can't judge him," she says, her voice harsh and quiet. "He's hardly ever like this."
I feel a swell of bravado, though. "Where is he?"
She shrugs. "I was talking with him about maybe getting part-time work. He was playing his guitar, his eyes all fogged over, y'know, and he wasn't paying any attention to me, so I asked, "Hey, are you even in there?'"
I nod. "So suddenly his eyes focus, it's like he's back, he's out of the music, and outta left field, he realizes he's not in the zone anymore, and he's pissed off."
She stops. I wait, but that's all the words she has on the story, so I reach out to hold her. But she pulls back and looks around, wide-eyed. "Not out where everyone can see," she says. At first I think she's afraid someone will see us in an intimate moment and tell him, but that's not it; she doesn't want to hurt him.
"Doesn't he deserve a little pain?" I say, but she wanders away through their livingroom and into the kitchen, returning with two cold cans of beer, never answering. "Look, is he gonna be gone for a long time?" I ask. "Long enough for us to be alone together?"
She shrugs. "He's unpredictable when he's like this. He could come through the door right now, he might not for a couple of days."
"What about my place?"
She shakes her head. "I'm not going out with a black eye. Someone might see."
Why would that be bad? I think, and I think the expression on my face gives away my exasperation. But I know the answer: She's protecting him, watching over this pseudo-genius so the whole world won't see the broken, barely functional truth. Skyler suddenly seems childlike to me, and I feel like I'm in a competition with him he doesn't even know about — the battle for Kyrinne. Only how can I be in battle if my opponent doesn't know it.
7.2       I want to take her for a night out. I want to walk with her, kiss her, hold her hand
0.8       I think about telling him, but if I do, do I lose her in the process? Does he shrug it off, but outlaw the two of us ever being alone together anyway? I despise and pity him at the same time.
I hear the keys fumbling at the door. But the unlocking takes longer than it should, the air between us and the door filled with clattering, metal clinking against metal; Skyler can't get the key in the hole.
Kyrinne stands, gives me a sad smile, and goes to open the door. Again, my expression must betray my exasperation, but what else can I do? I'm stuck.
She opens the door, and there he is, the guitar genius, his face red and wet; she embraces him and I keep hearing her tell him, "It's okay, baby, it's okay …"
3.1       When he looks up and sees me, the confusion shows on his face, and I feel like a deer trapped in headlights. Then I remember the heroin in my pocket.
I stand, produce the little baggie, and present it to him. And his tears stop, his face brightens, and he walks to my side to take it, leaving Kyrinne behind at the door.
"A good friend," he says. "I was running low. You're just in time."
I shake his hand, then hers, and make my way out. I can't even say it. I can't even acknowledge that I was there after her, not to give him, my friend, the heroin — that was just a prop, and excuse.

0.5       Skyler. Fans of underground hardcore know him as a genius. The police know him as a repeat offender of certain minor laws, never a felony, always misdemeanor offences — public intox, disturbing the peace, third-party suspicion of domestic violence in their home, possession of small amounts of marijuana … But I know the real Skyler, the real deal. idiot savant. him as a cuckold friend. child, barely functional.
Another Saturday night, another Gabe's gig for The Grinder, and I notice something I've never noticed before. The band has a song called "TotalCore," but on the setlists it's spelled "ToatlaCroe." Another, "Piledriver," is jumbled, as well.
After the set, Kyrinne is radiant, positively thermonuclear. I ask Kyrinne about it.
"Oh," she says, shrugging. Then she lowers her voice to a whisper. "Don't tell anyone — Skyler's dyslexic."
"He's that bad?"
She nods. She has no more words for the subject. She has just glossed over the fact that her partner can barely read. I'm shaking my head in wonder, wondering how much else she shields him from. I reach out and grab her arm, startling her. "Listen," I say. "I think I'm in love with you."
0.x Three. Two. One.
7.3       I want to take her for a night out. I want to walk with her, kiss her, hold her hand
0.x Three. Two. One.
7.3       I want to take her for a night out. I want to walk with her, kiss her, hold her hand —
in public.
0.x Three. Two. One.
5.3       What do I write, for fuck's sake? What do I write? And who do I write it to?

0.0       … idiot savant.
It didn't take me long to figure out, once I was tight with the band. When the guitar is in his grip, he explodes with genius, an artist in his own element. Other times, though, he can't be bothered with the rest of the world. I asked him once why he didn't spread his wings a little, try writing some with one of those programs or some electronic equipment. He huffed a dismissive laugh, turned his head, and waved a lazy wave. Now I knew: He communed with the world through his guitar, and with great expertise and intuition. But only through the guitar. How could he ever work with a song-writing app when he could barely read?
5.4       What do I write, for fuck's sake? What do I write?

3.3       Now she's the one who looks caught in the headlights. She gives me that sad smile and shakes her head, twice, slowly.
1.2       Later, Skyler tosses her the keys to take me home from their place, lost in a delirium of strumming, unplugged. When we get to the van, I feel a dangerous urge flood over me; before we pull out, I pull her to me and kiss her full-on. She pushes against me, shoving me away. "What the fuck are you doing?" she asks. "Are you trying to get caught?"
I consider the question. Maybe I am. Maybe I want this out in the open. "I told you," I said, "I think I'm in love with you."
Shaking her head twice, in sharp, decisive arcs, she says, "Oh hell."
This is not what she'd counted on. She takes me to my building and gives me a perfunctory kiss as I climb out. She stares straight ahead as I go. "No more," she says. "I can't handle this. You're getting reckless."
"No more?" I ask, stunned. I feel like a Clydesdale has just kicked an iron-shoed foot into my sternum. My chest burns like the heart of Chernobyl, all radiation and heat and Eastern-Bloc steel.
"None. You can come to our shows, we all like the press you give us, but no more coming back with us. Okay?" She's radiant, the light and heat coming off her like Hiroshima's second sunrise that fateful day.
"But he smacks you around," I say.
"Not much, and not often," she says. "Look, it's complicated. You'll never understand it, and I have no words to explain it, okay?"
And just like that, it's over, and she's driving away. And my chest is exploding, a mushroom cloud broiling away the damp late-night air …
6.1       I can't sleep, so I start typing in a review of the show. Kyrinne's hair was like a neon-cabernet explosion tonight. I was hoping to talk her into my apartment, but I think I finally pushed her too far. She'd never consider leaving him, I can see that now. Their orbit is entirely too unique, entirely too tight, entirely too dysfunctional for that to happen. I light a smoke and start searching for new metaphors for the noise sculpture Skyler creates when they play live.
The Grinder aren't much as a studio band, I write. But catch them live. Seriously, it's like the studios confine their sound too much, remove some vital inertia from their live performances. The album track for a song like "Breaker" sounds confined, even claustrophobic on the album. On stage, it's an act of sonic terrorism, an all-out assault on the audience.
I pen a line or two about Skyler's genius with his chosen instrument — as though he had a choice in the choosing — but they ring hollow, now; the truth is, he seems pathetic, and he has the woman I want to have. The truth is, that façade of musical genius is starting to grate on me. I write a few lines about Kyrinne's rock-steady performance, but quickly realize that I need to delete references to her beauty and the sexy way she bobs her head to the beat, the way her hair sways with it as she holds the songs together. No point being obviously in love with a taken woman. Certainly no point publishing it for the world to diagnose. I feel more disappointed than wounded; Kyrinne is too beautiful, too unique a creation to waste on a smack-addicted, barely literate child-man. Wilburfarce, I think, for god's sake. But it's her decision. I find myself hating her for it, but I get, now, that my part in their bizarre relationship was just that: a part in their bizarre relationship. And that part has just been written out.
5.4       What do I write, for fuck's sake? What do I write? And who do I write it to?



the gravity of the moment
"the gravity of the moment" first appeared in Rampike, November 2008.

2.1       and i get too close to that moment, i can feel it closing in. so i run from it — run for all
i'm worth.
this thing — my savior. i've been skipping for months. it's been since —
well. don't want to go then, do we? why else would i be trying this hard to stay away
from it?
and it all starts sk/sk-k/ng/pin/s/iiip/skipping, and
i
am
outta there.
3.1       i'm knockin back drinks with my best bud krystoff, sneaking huffs of what he calls
hardware, which i know is really some kind of souped-up model glue, and we're laughing our
asses off at how many brain cells we torch with every whiff, and krystoff says, like, hey,
y'wanna go and hit my smack supply? and i'm like, no, man, no, that stuff's addictive. cuz
seriously, anything you gotta inject to get off on just seems like goin too far for a high, dig? i
mean, let’s be reasonable here.
but we're in charlie's pull'r'in, and krystoff's suggesting is turning into badgering, and i
know he'll get sick if he doesn't spike in and download some, so i give, and we head out to his
place. their place. his and paxton's. it used to be a warehouse. or, it is a warehouse that used to
be a working lumber place, and now it's still a warehouse, but the only work it sees is when the
band practices. krystoff's band. his and paxton's. everything's so complicated.
4.1       and krystoff's slappin out a rhythm on his thighs, cigarette smoke pluming from his
head, doesn't even know, right now, while i'm walking with him, doesn't know what i'll do to
him, my buddy. to her. this is no time to be here, no time to be thinking these thoughts. no time
at all, no sir, no how. i hate it when i realize that, cuz it's a buzzkill.

5.1       and i am hiding in a one-room walk-up with a shitty shared bathroom and cockroach-infested communal kitchen. ministry named an album "dark side of the spoon" and thought it
was funny — it was, kind of a fuck-you-we're-shooting-heroin-and-you-can't-stop-us, in-yourfaceness about it. but i remember krystoff and the smack, the payload of powder and water
cooking in the tablespoon, the syringe, the spoon's underside a darkening butane smudge. the
belt round his biceps, him spiking in, the droplet of blood in the syringe telling that he'd hit a
vein, the download, and then that look, the transformation from pain-filled desperate to relief,
then a genuine, real-life, swear-to-god sexual euphoria. never asked him if he actually came, but
i could see his orientation changing from wife to needle before my eyes. heard it could do that.
6.1       tear garden said, the needle is a lady, and a lady needs respect. and paxton was not the
kind of woman you neglected.
7.1       crazy bastard. shooting smack.

8.1       i'm shaking. my hands are shaking. i don't remember my last meal, so it's been a while.
listen: i'm skipping like a record, a cd, a corrupted mp3.
listen: i'm skipping along in my own timeline. part of it, anyway.
i live forever, free, living through my own lifeline, dropped wherever the skipping stops
and drops me, waiting for the next trip.

1.1       this is the earliest of my moments i can reach. i knew the second i saw her that i wanted
her. but, yeah, hell, well, you already know she's — she is, she was (tense loses meaning) —
married. they're married. paxton and my best buddy krystoff. paxton with that weird jet-black
hair, struck through with a single white stripe on each side, hair falling a few inches south of her
shoulders, that severe makeup, her tearing at her bass while krystoff, transfixed, in his own
world, plays till he's smearing blood all over his stratocaster. they'd finish a set and seem so
separate, man, him panting, head down and hands bloody, a hardcore christ, nailed up with the
needles, hands stigmatic, bleeding for the music, her beauty twisted in a scrunch of concentrated
rage. god damn that was hot.
9.1       and krystoff screaming at her to go out and find him some fucking smack, he didn't care
how, and her showing up at my place, that thick, proto-egyptian thing she did with her eyeliner
a waxy ruin, and krystoff's looks going soft and fleshy. and me lining up shows for the band to
play, just like always, and the drummers and the vocalists rotating out every few years, and new
ones from the local high-school hardcore kids' bands rotating in, the show must go on, and those
nights, them under the hot lights, putting it out there, and me at the bar —
5.2       and me hiding in the one-room walk-up —
2.2       and me running somewhen else in my life — cuz i’ve tried to go around that moment,
and bam!, i hit a wall, somehow —
7.2       and krystoff's a fucking fool for spiking up with smack —

6.3       and a needle is a lady 
and lady paxton gets neglect —
and paxton's a beauty —
and i'm just doing everyone a favor, right? yeah, man —
yeah —
13.1     and the the whole world around me is falling down, falling down, falling down,
all those moments, falling down —
4.2       this is no time to be here, no time to be thinking these thoughts. i hate it when i realize
that, cuz like i said, it's a buzzkill.
5.3       and i'm in my one-room fleabag walk-up and i'm hiding from him, hiding from krystoff,
hiding from my best bud, cuz he never saw it coming. and i'm shaking, my hands are shaking,
and i feel like shit, and i don't know when my last meal was.
and i look in the cupboards, but no one leaves anything in there anymore, but i need food so bad i had to play the game i play sometimes with myself, a game where i might have
missed something the last time i checked, who knows?, there might even be a beer or some
thunderbird, so i check, and as i check every nook and every cranny in the fucking place, i get
angrier and angrier, cuz i can't figure out where dumb-fuck me would've left all his food and
hooch, and i'm cursing myself, and i'm cursing the neighbors, bunch of fucking thieves, who i
avoid, cuz who knows who they might tell i'm here? and i'm cursing me and i'm cursing them
and i'm cursing the cockroaches, fat bastards, and i'm smacking myself, just once at first, palm
to the forehead, almost slapstick, but then again, and again, cuz i really am angry, and my eyes
tear up and i know that the truth is that i did this to myself, and i know that i don't have food
and i don't have hooch, i know i ate and drank it all long enough ago i don't remember when,
and a set of frightened little-old-lady eyes peering at me between her door and the chain and the
doorway makes me stop.
's ok, i say, just trying to find a friend, thought he lived out here. and i hurry best i can
down the hall and grab my coat. and my steel-toeds. and my checkbook.

11.1     winter in iowa and i'm making my way to the osco to pass a bad check for food and
something cheap and strong to drink. and i stomp my eight blocks there, keep my cap pulled
low, hope no one sees me, and when i step into the osco, the clerk at the front register gives me
that look that tells me he's not happy to see me. i don't recognize him, but maybe i don't come
here earlier until later.

12.1 or 9.2?     those nights in the sweltering clubs, those nights skipping along cuz i'd heard all
the band's songs 800 times - is this one of those nights, here in the osco? am i really at the club's
bar, drinking something cheap and strong? or am i really here, where i think i am, in the osco,
looking for shitty, overpriced groceries cuz my checks won't work at eagle?
11.2     i grab spam back in the osco, dinty moore beef stew, cereal, wonder bread, mac-ncheese,
some other stuff, and four bottles of thunderbird, which i know will hurt, and about
which hurt i do not care. and when i get to the counter, the clerk who was unhappy to see me is
still unhappy to see me.
how you paying? he says. and i get that sinking feeling. check, i say. we been through
this before, he says, your checks ain't welcome. and i am so pissed off at this pipsqueak jerk-off
for keeping me from my can of dinty moore and bottles of thunderbird that i pick up a bottle
and hurl it at him. he dodges, ducks, and i guess hits a button somewhere, cuz an alarm starts
ringing, forces me to beat a hasty retreat. i do glance at his register, but of course the damned
thing is locked, and there are cameras. i go. another three blocks and i hit a quickie-mart where i
haven't bounced many checks, i don't think, and get the same stuff, more or less, and pass the
check to a clerk i've never seen before.
13.2     it's hot enough now the methane under the gigantic peat bog in siberia just exploded,
says the newsticker on the tv in the quickie mart. no skin off mine, i guess.
i choose an alternate route back that does not take me past the osco.
2.3       and i get too close to that moment, i can feel it closing in. so i run from it - run for all
i'm worth.
my linearity is destroyed in
this thing — my savior. i've been skipping for months. it's been since -
well. don't want to go then, do we? why else would i be trying this hard to stay away
from it?
and it all starts sk/skk/g/pin/s/iiip/skipping, and
i
am
outta there.
, my moments now walls surrounding me ... scenes orbiting like an asteroid belt around that moment …

x.1       to live with some crimes, to live with yourself, is to live on the edge of a lie —
9.2 or 9.3 + 14.1          and i am eating and drinking like a normal person, and i am back at the
club drinking something cheap and strong, and i've heard this song 800 times now, i swear, and
there she is. and somehow, i know that krystoff's smack habit and new sex pref will eventually
send her to my side. i don't know how i know this. it's like the ghost of a memory,
17.1     something coming down the pike like a locomotive, like something i just can't avoid,
like i just can't stop myself. i’ve tried, but bam!, it knocks me back. i can go a little ways past it,
but the pull of the moment, its gravity, is always too strong — it snaps me back a ways —
18.1     i wonder if i’m still alive on the other side of my last moments ... ?
15.1+7.3          and she is at my door, and that proto-egyptian eye-makeup thing she does is a
smeary mess, and i know that this comes after that last club moment, cuz now i know she's
about to tell me she's here to see me. and i think my best bud krystoff is an idiot and an asshole
for doing a drug you have to inject to get off on, and for doing anything that carries the most
remote possibility of sending her away from himself, and yet clearly he has, cuz clearly, here
she is. and that just ain't right.
come in, say i.
6.4       a lady needs respect —
14.2     and paxton is here, in my apartment from before it all blew/blows up in my face, and i
think my best bud is an asshole, and i can see the anger she wears on stage, only this time it's
not something she's doing for the stage. and she leans against me, and i grab onto her, and that's
how it all gets started. and i almost, almost, think it (don’t even think it). and that's the end of
that scene.
2.4       this is no time to be here, no time to be thinking these thoughts. no time at all, no sir, no
how. i hate it when i realize that, cuz it's a buzzkill. i do everything i can to run from that
moment.
16.1     back to the strangely warm winter and the bag of bad-check groceries from the quickiemart,
and jesus h. christ my stomach's knotted. get back to my shitty one-room walk-up, open
the can of dinty moore and balance it on the burner to cook it — no pots or pans out here.
after a few minutes, i grab a dirty, stinking bathtowel from my one-room, turn off the burner,
and use the towel to keep from burning my hands when i pick up the dinty moore. i find a
spoon someone somewhen left behind in a drawer, run it under the tap, and go back to hide in
my room.
i don't know if it's cuz i waited so long between meals or if it's maybe the stew, but it
doesn't go down easy, it's a fight to eat. but once i'm done, i know what's up: this is no time to
be here. no time at all, no sir, no how.
2.5a     and i get too close to that moment sometimes again, i can feel it closing in. so i run from
it — run for all i'm worth.
x.2       to live with some crimes, to live with yourself, is to live on the edge of a lie — never
admitting what you’ve done because admitting that means admitting —
2.5b     this thing — my savior. i've been skipping for months. it's been since —
well. don't want to go then, do we? why else would i be trying this hard to stay away
from it? i know what happens when i try to get past it: bam!
and it all starts sk/skk/g/pin/s/iiip/skipping, and
i
am
outta there.
5.4+14.3          i am paxton's hero, her savior from her asshole husband, my best bud, krystoff.
he traded his lady for the needle, and i'm showing her respect. we've been meeting for sex for
two months, and my best bud krystoff doesn't seem to have noticed that his wife has given up
trying to have sex with him. and it's nice, y'know, in my apartment from before, having lots of
sex. but it itches at my ego, all this sneaking, everyone in awe of the rock-star married couple
while i line up shows, make it all happen, then sit in the background, at the clubs' bars,
watching the show. i want to have her for real, for myself, want to take her from him and lock
her away where no one can take her away from me. want them all to see she's picked me, i'm
that fucking cool. i want her for myself. sneaking sex isn't enough. and i am thinking this aseverything starts skipping again. it's like i can't stop myself.
and i think, why the fuck did the skipping stop and drop me here? and i answer: because
it'll never let me forget. and i meet krystoff at a show where the band is about to be the opener,
and he takes me backstage with the rest of the band, paxton, and the vocalist- and drummer-dujour, and he pulls out his guitar case. and paxton gives him this look, like what if he's a cop?!,
and he says, don't worry, he's cool, so i know this happens earlier, when i was just getting to
know them, thinking i could work my connections to land them some gigs.
and krystoff cooks down the water and smack, the spoon's underside black from butane,
and he sucks up the water with a syringe, and ties tubing around his biceps, and fattens up a
vein, and plunges in the spike, pulls back a tiny drop of blood into the syringe — a hit, and:
plunge. and paxton rolls her eyes, and krystoff's eyes roll back, and he gets that look, orgasmic,
and i watch them take up their gear and take the stage, rock on.
14.4     and i'm in bed with paxton, and i tell her i want her for real, she looks like she seriously,
seriously does not believe what she's hearing, and then this look like terror hits her face, and she
tells me after a sec that she loves krystoff, he's just fucked up, this was all a mistake, she just
needs to get him clean. no — she says she needs to get her husband clean. And i wince at the
word, husband, and it just keeps banging around in my head, cuz we've never used it together
before, not since we started sleeping together, and i start running my hands over her, saying
come on, baby, and we're great together, and i love you, you know that, right?
and she starts to get up, and i grab her by the waist, it's like i can't stop myself —
and this is no time to be here, no time to be thinking these thoughts. no time at all, no
sir. i'm too close to the moment. i hate it when i realize that. buzzkill. it takes everything i have
to get away, run away from this moment. it's getting harder to avoid.
8.2       i'm shaking. my hands are shaking. i don't remember my last meal, so it's been a while.
listen: i'm skipping like a record, a cd, a corrupted mp3.
listen: i'm skipping along, stuck in my own timeline.
i live forever free trapped, tunneling through my own lifeline, dropped wherever the
skipping stops and drops me and waiting for the next trip. imprisoned. i can't get past that
moment, not far, and i always snap back to the beginning.

13.3     and the methane explosion in siberia looks like a freaking nuke went off on tv, and it's
starting a chain reaction, more explosions heating up more water, more methane exploding, pass
go, collect $200, a chain reaction of methane, nuke-like explosions, and there's some suit on tv
saying we could have stopped this but we didn't, all the exploding methane used to be safe and
cool under the safe, cool water and under the safe, cool siberian peat —
5.5 and even this won't put an end to my sentence, i'll run back, i'll skip, i'll hide out with
the roaches the suit says might be all that survive, i'll spend forever trying not to go back to that
moment with her, the moment my whole miserable life swirls around now, and i just can't seem
to stop it. i can roam the same stretch of time forever, but i can't get far from that moment. the
pull of the event is too strong.

0.2       and krystoff is my best bud, and i want paxton all to myself, want to take her far away,
and lock her up so no one can take her away, all to myself. and i want everyone to see her with
me, see she's chosen me, cuz i'm that cool, and i grab paxton by the waist, and i tell her i love
her, and she looks at me like she really, seriously, does not believe me, then her look changes —
this look like terror hits her face, and she tells me after a sec that she loves krystoff, he's
just fucked up, this was all a mistake, she just needs to get him clean. no — she says she needs
to get her husband clean. and i wince at the word, husband, and it just keeps banging around in
my head, cuz we've never used it together before, not since we started sleeping together, and
suddenly i know i’m losing this game, and i start running my hands over her, saying come on,
baby, and we're great together, and i love you, you know that, right?
and she starts to get up, and i grab her by the waist, it's like i can't stop myself —
and i know i'm way, way too close this time, i want to drag myself back out, but i can't.
and everything starts skipping, cascading out of control. it's like i can't stop myself —
5.6       and my hands are shaking, and i'm not sure when the last time was i ate anything, but i
remember the dinty moore, but then again
i get too close to that moment, sometimes. i can feel it closing in. so i run, run like hell,
wait for the skipping to start and get me the fuck outta there.
2.5       and
i
am
4.2a     knockin back drinks and sneakin huffs of hardware with my best bud krystoff, then
x.3       to live with some crimes, to live with yourself, is to live on the edge of a lie — never
admitting what i you’ve done because admitting that means admitting that you are i am a
monster.
4.2b     i know i have to get around it, get around that moment, it’s like a black hole holding me
in a decaying orbit. i hurl myself at it, and
2.6       bam!i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back.
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throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. It
it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. itthrows me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. It
throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. i hurl myself at it:  bam! it throws me back again. It


*  *  *
bam!
(it knocks me back so hard I relive the whole thing in reverse …)

— there’s no way out
    the cascade won’t let me ignore the moment

x.4       to live with some crimes, to live with yourself, is to live on the edge of a lie — never
admitting what you’ve done because admitting that means admitting that you are a monster.
0.1       everything zeroes here, swirls in some kind of orbit around ground zero —
0.0       clutching paxton by the waist, back in my old apartment from before i made a
trainwreck of my life, our lives, life, screaming at her that i love her, and she's making a loud,
high-pitched sound, that proto-egytian eye-makeup thing and smear, and i am inside of her, my
hold on her hips like a vice, it's like i can't stop myself, and i don't even know until it's over that
she's been fighting me. her hips are bruised. her eyeliner is bruised, and i see blood, her blood,
on her mouth, she's bleeding for me, stigmatic, she runs a hand across her mouth and looks
stunned to find blood, her blood, on her hands, blood on her hands!
i've been trying to outrun that moment for months, years — i don't know — terms like
those are losing meaning — i'm not krystoff's best bud. i'm the guy who attacks a woman i told
i love, attacks my best bud krystoff's wife, rapes her after i tell her i love her after we have a
fling behind his back.
16.1     this is the last of my moments i can reach. it won't be long. i never get further than this.
the cord will go tight, it'll snap me back to some earlier point, and i'll relive it all again.
and again. and again.
and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again.
and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and aaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnddddddddd aaaaaaaaagggggggggaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnn......... aa annaaaaaanddnnnnnnd ddddddaa a ggaaaaaagaaggggggaiiaaaaaainniiiiiin..nnnnnn .aa ......a nnaaaa  aanddnnnnnnd ddddddaa a ggaaa aaagaaggggggaiiaaaaaainniiiiiin..nnnnnnaa ...a nnaaaaaand  dnnnnnnd ddddddaa a ggaaaaaagaaggggggaiiaaaaaainniiiiiin..nnnnnn aa...a nnaaaaaanddnnnnnnd ddddddaa a ggaaaaaagaaggggggaiiaaaaaainniiiiiin..nnnnnn .aa ......a nn aaaaaanddnnnnnnd ddddddaa a ggaaaaa agaagggg ggaiiaaaaaainniiiiiin..nnnnnn .aa ......a nnaaaaaanddnnnnnnd ddddddaa a ggaaaaaa gaaaggggggagii aaaaaainn aiiiiiin..innnnnn .naa ......a .nnaaaaaa naddnnnnnndn ddddddaa da ggaaaaaa gaaaggggggagiiaaaaaainnaiiiiiin..innnnnn n ...



5.7       i'm the guy in the anonymous one-room fleabag walk-up who scares the hell out of one
of his neighbors sometimes, sometime, somewhen.

Dashiell
"Dashiell" first appeared in Gargoyle literary journal, Issue 83, November 2008. 

Here is Dashiell, no longer the "Dash" of his college youth when, concerned about sounding effeminate, possibly even queer, he'd shortened it; older, not too old, not ag-ed, but old enough to have grown and to have learned a few of life's lessons, young enough, say, to be a compelling, believable, even attractive protagonist, and because no story about life's lessons and about the relationships between fathers and sons could be conveyed convincingly if he were too young — young, as in, Yo, Dash, your hit from the beer bong, man! — Dashiell is instead, say, in his mid-thirties. Dashiell wears jeans of a non-trendy brand and cut, demonstrating that passing fads in fashion will not waver his essential core fashion sense, and favors button-up shirts with collars, giving some air of formality, yet calculated, nonetheless, to communicate a certain casualness, a measure of spontaneity, an air of adventure, an anything-is-possible quality: a with-itness. He is tall enough that we will see him as masculine, but not so tall as to tower over others, because Who would want a protagonist who literally looks down on them? — say, six-one.
Dashiell knows a few things about his name. It is French in origin, originally De Chiel, and means, depending upon one's source, memorable, or unknown, or from the village of Chiel, and though when he was a boy he was convinced that his parents had given him a girl's name to make his life that much more difficult, it was, in fact, an act of naming young Dashiell after his father, whose own father had been a fan of the American author of hard-boiled detective fiction, Dashiell Hammett, whose own name was derived from his mother's surname, and whose work included the likes of Sam Spade, "The Maltese Falcon," "The Thin Man," et al. But you know young boys. Dashiell did not want a girl's name, and that was that. At least, that was that back then. And so he had turned his back on that offending, feminizing portion of his name, had amputated the -iell, had cut his name in half. But Dashiell has long outgrown the Dash of old, and now is thankful to his parents for giving him such a literary name, for, irony heaped upon irony, Dashiell now writes fiction.
The senior Dashiell had been proud of his son throughout his life, but found that pride sorely tested when, as they will, the angst-ridden years of young Dash's teens arrived. This is how it is between fathers and sons: Conflict is inevitable. Young Dash tried punk rock, but finding that too harsh a characteristic for a protagonist who we wish to keep sympathetic, decided on a carefully selected catalogue of lesser-known but critically applauded alternative rock bands. It was all part of young Dash's rebellion against the central authority figure in his life: His father. This is how it is between fathers and sons.

Here is Dashiell: In a flashback to the final straw, we see the son railing against an unwanted intrusion into his life by the father, who has informed our protagonist that the father disapproves of young Dash's girlfriend, despite the length of their relationship, despite said length standing in testament to the strength of said relationship, the father tells the son that he does not see in the boy that fire sparked by True Love, and tells the son that he would not want the boy to make the mistakes that he, the father, has made, a revelation that both insults young Dash's sense of his own manhood and adulthood and self-governance, and lets slip that the father has never been truly in love with young Dash's mother.
Unforgiveable.
In a declaration of his own manhood and adulthood and the rest, young Dash accuses his father of having lived a lie for all of young Dash's 25 years, and more. Recall that this is a flashback. Young Dash had become more confident in his masculinity and less wary of challenges to it, and he'd been thinking about reclaiming the -iell half of his name anyway.
Communication between father and son becomes strained. The two are scarcely on speaking terms.

A brief meditation on the intervening years, the time at graduate school, learning that his undergrad degree hadn't taught him much of anything, earning the graduate degree in writing, knowing that that was an insane expenditure of time and money, but that, damn it, he wanted to write. The first gray sneaking into the now-close-shorn sides of his hair. The years spent with Claire, whose real name is Eclair, and who strongly suspected her own parents of naming her after a pastry, and whose slender frame, not too slender, and vibrant and long and red hair, and whose dramatically feminine swoops and curves Dashiell loves to sketch in charcoal on newsprint — their house is littered with said sketches — and who adored Dashiell more than she ever thought she would adore anyone when another man, Dashiell's father, disapproved of her and Dashiell stuck by her, chose her over his own father. And yes, graduate school had been a rougher ride without the fiscal support of his parents, but that fact had been liberating, and they had done it together, had Dashiell and Clair, had worked together to prove to the father and the world that the two of them could do anything together, had blazed their own path, seeing the father, who now broods on the page as a bitter, aging man, back at Dashiell's childhood home in Iowa only on the major holidays, flying back from California, where they had made their way, and through the years, so few words exchanged between the father and the son not only because of the son's anger at the father's revelation that he did not love the mother, but because, knowing that, Dashiell could not even reveal to his own mother why he was so very angry with the father without also causing her grievous emotional injury. And so the father, as one might guess, as, in fact, you might guess, had become more and more withdrawn with each visit, and Dashiell, the son, angry, honestly did not mind much at all.

His decision to be known, now, as Dashiell, rather than Dash, his reclamation of the portion of his name that he had denied, not only doubles the weight of his name from four letters to eight, but also provides us, the readers, with a symbolic transition from boyhood to manhood, though we understand that certain trials, certain tests, must be played out before we agree that he has earned said claim, to wit:
·         The brief break-up that tested Dashiell's relationship with Claire, during which both tested the waters in what were ultimately unsatisfying flings, flings which convinced the two to give their relationship another chance, and which ultimately made their bond stronger; and:
·         The painful decision to maintain contact with Dashiell's parents principally through commercially purchased greeting cards, tersely filled, on birthdays, holidays, and the worst: Father's Day; and:
·         Because no protagonist should be Dudley-Do-Right flawless, the fling, the disastrously stupid and unthinkable fling with the undergrad at his graduate institution, and his guilt and his sorrow, and the love he shares with Claire mending things slowly, painstakingly, with time; and:
·         The financial troubles that arose when both attempted to attend graduate school, and the decision in which, ultimately, they decided to take turns — he would work as a newspaper copy editor while she attended, then she would take a job designing documents for a business printing company through his schooling.
It all required maturity and sacrifice from both.
And the love, the True Love, that Dashiell felt for Claire, but secretly suspected said love to be built at least partly upon the crushing desire to prove his father wrong, a suspicion Dashiell could not even admit to himself, lest the whole thing come down like a house of cards.

And then the phone call, late enough that at first the lateness of it irritates Dashiell and Claire, then, because only drunkenly-dialed wrong numbers or messages of bad news arrive in this manner and at this hour, so around 2:30 am, say, the phone call where Caller ID lets us know in advance that the call is from Iowa, from home, from his parents' telephone, and we hesitate, because bad news from home at this hour is bad news from home at this hour.

We have nearly caught up with the present: Dashiell and Claire are in their mid-thirties, and the father and mother are getting older, not so spry and vital as they had been those nearly 10 years back, when the father made the revelation that sent the son away so full of rage. In the intervening years, two novels, critically well-received, have fired forth from the literary cannon of Dashiell's writing cabin, the tiny cabin in the wooded rear of their home, which he has wall-papered with encouraging rejections from major publishers, alongside two acceptances from a small, respectable literary press, so the prestige arrived without much money to back it up. But the phone call: The mother's voice, on the line from Iowa, tells Dashiell what we all sensed was coming: Dashiell's father has died. And Dashiell realizes that he's barely spoken with the man these past ten, and, to his horror, realizes also that he had unconsciously assumed that he still had time to somehow, however unlikely the situation or the odds, somehow patch things up with the old man, but that now such a resolution could never happen.
And we see through his actions — reassuring the mother, flying home to Iowa to oversee the funereal details, never mentioning the feud with the father once, not once — that Dashiell is indeed no longer the boyish young man who'd shortened his name for flare and to reduce challenges to his masculinity, that he is, indeed, a man now, and seeing to manly affairs, no matter how painful they might be. Indeed, Dashiell now realizes just how puerile and absurd the notion of calling oneself Dash really was, realizes: I was that afraid of the judgment of others.
But the scene that we almost flew past as we approached the end of the tale was this, which took place immediately after Dashiell and Claire arrived at the parents' home:
Dashiell: "Mom, I'll understand if you can't talk about it, but it's important to me to know. How did he die?"
Mother, tears welling: "He'd withdrawn quite a bit over the past few years, quite a bit. He changed his office, you know. Not right after you left — but eventually."
And the mother leads her grown son to the father's office to find dozens of favorable reviews of Dashiell's stories and novels framed and hung — indeed, entire hardcover editions of both of the son's novels have been mounted and framed and encased and hung here, the father's office transformed into a shrine honoring the son.
Mother, voice wavering: "You were an unexpected child, Dashiell, but we made do, maybe even married too soon at the news. He died here, communing with you as best he could."
And we know without them speaking the words that the old man had loved Dashiell, that, despite the fact that the official cause of death was myocardial infarction and despite the risk of it coming off as corny, this story has built up enough currency by this point that it might just get away with communicating to us, in this manner, that the father had, in fact, died of a broken heart. And in light of these new details, we see the father, far from the sort of indifferent, unloving monster his son had thought him to be, revealed instead as the pained and tragic figure the father actually was.
            And that nagging suspicion that our protagonist would not face: That possibility that he loved Claire so fiercely specifically to prove his father wrong, we understand that he must face that, no matter what penalty and danger facing such a thing might bring because, well, the reader needs to know. So Dashiell confronts said suspicion, knowing that if it is true, then his life has run parallel with his father's, and he, Dashiell, has loved falsely, which means that he would take his place transposed with his father in the position of said tragic figure, actually become said tragic figure. But the narrator has mercy: This is not such a story. Dashiell confronts the suspicion, recalls all he and Claire have accomplished through the years, and in a Chekhovian moment, confronts his own reflection in the mirror and gives himself, as we say, a hard look. And he decides that his fear was just that: merely an insecurity, a secret worry to be cast out, purged as one purges demons, now, put behind them, forgotten. He and Claire have a maturity and a commitment and, yes, a True Love, which they will need with the baby boy on the way.
And we understand this because this is how it is between fathers and sons.

—JØnathan Lyons




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