Writing Samples


Contents
Bad Adjunct – excerpt
The Nameless – Chapter 21
The Nameless – Chapter 23
Erik Erikson – Chapters 6-10
Erik Erikson – Chapter 30
Erik Erikson – Chapter 40-41
Erik Erikson – Chapter 72
Dirt Bag City – Chapter 17


from the novel

Bad Adjunct

Ally was looking through the CDs in my glove box, saying no, that won’t do, no that won’t do either and I started to think about the Bush thing Dicky had broken into the night before. Thinking about election day, 2004. That fucking Tuesday. Carol, a colleague of mine from Canada—this was when I still associated with colleagues—and a student of mine named James who walked with a cane, and has since moved on, went to a bar on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside to watch the election results get tallied on a color coated map that included Alaska and Hawaii in little meaningless boxes off to the side (I did not see Palin or Obama coming at this point). (Nor did I see what was coming a few minutes after our first beer.) We were joking and laughing: James had just won a literary prize from the college, and Carol’s recent publication guaranteed her tenure. I was happy to have had James as a student, as he was a great reader and emphasized points he made with his cane as he analyzed passages in class, and I was happy to have Carol as a friend because she was smart, laughed at my jokes, and her own as well, and talked funny like Canadians do. Kerry was going to squeak out a win—a somewhat better result than a Bush reelection—and we’d wait to do shots until after it was official. PJ’s was an Irish Pub, and everyone here would be pulling for Kerry, simply because of his O’Kerry last name. Except the place was empty. There were maybe five people on this sad little Tuesday. The fifth, he was difficult to handle. Every time a state—an obvious state, like, let’s say, New York—would go to Kerry, this guy would moan and groan and bash the bar with both fists and say “fucking faggot, fucking faggot” and then demand another shot from the bartender, who, in a brogue I’m sure he was playing up, would say, “Ah, you can’t win um all, William, you can’t win um all,” like it was halftime of a football match that wasn’t going William’s way. William’s way got more difficult to handle when, after Pennsylvania went Kerry, he looked at James and said, “What is it you think you’re going to do with that stupid fucking stick?”

“We should go?” said Carol. There were a half dozen of these Irish places in a two block radius.

“No,” I whispered, “I want to see this guy go down.”

When Ohio came in, 100,000 or so in Bush’s favor, William the Benevolent bounded through the bar, whooping, and bought everyone shots of Jameson. We left the shots on the bar—I was handling my drinking differently then—and walked out, James leaning heavily on his gnarled oak cane, partly for effect, I think. But Carol was crying, saying, “I’m still a Canadian citizen, I can’t vote—I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” actually insinuating personal responsibility for the result. We hugged, and she called me an asshole, still clinging to me, as I’d voted for Nader the first time around, and would have the second if I’d bothered at all, and she knew this.

A few store fronts down, there was a dime-store amusement ride, chained to the grate of a shut down delicatessen. It cost fifty cents to ride, and was, of course, sized for kids. James got on. Often these things were designed to look like horses, but this one was a seahorse. “Anybody have fifty cents?” I had a quarter. Carol had a quarter, although the first one she dug out of her purse turned out to have a moose on it. She found another, and we put them in, and the day-glow seahorse on the coil spring started to vibrate wildly, with big James on top of it, and Carol and I, now arm in arm, lost our shit—it actually looked like James was going to get thrown by the thing, bucked by the seahorse. He was going down, as were we all! But he managed to hold on with one hand, his cane held high in the air, and after James got off, I got on, but we were out of quarters—American quarters, at least—so instead of going for a real ride, I took my rage out on it and just kind of bashed the thing about from a sitting position. It took the abuse with a stiff upper lip, and we all had a good laugh as I jumped off. As we walked down the street, headed into another four years and more of war, the more we walked, the deeper we walked into the debt of it, James fell behind us, as it turned out he’d hurt his back pretty badly. Still, it was one of the more sensible reactions to the result that I could imagine at the time.

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from the novel

The Nameless

III

Codeine

21

When Paul awoke, he didn’t know—

—But he was about to learn a lot.

Fred was looking at him. Although there was plenty of additional sensory information to behold—honking horns; hazards flashing; the feeling of the brake underfoot, the keen desire that the break line would snap, as his calf muscle fought this…which was also going to snap—Fred’s face was what really engaged Paul here: he had never seen it look quite this way. It was the eyes: in the eyes; what was that in his eyes?; it sure looked like
h—

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“Hey Fred!” said Paul. “What’s happening?”

Fred, with a motion of both arms—first he pointed toward the windshield, arms parallel, like he was ironically giving Paul permission for takeoff, then separating his arms to indicate the entirety of everything—Fred clearly presented to Paul what was happening…

Outside the windshield of the jalopy, the jalopy that Paul and Fred sat in, were thousands upon thousands of other jalopies. None of them were moving. All of them were honking. Many of them were boiling over; their hazards on: on: on: flashing. Some of them—these other jalopies—would never move again under their own power. Those that weren’t jalopies, their day was coming. People were screaming. Down the way, a fistfight in the middle of the street pounded its way deep into the night.

“No,” said Paul. “Really. Where are we, what’s going on—that type of thing.”

Fred frowned deeply: it was so grotesque, the frown, it became truly animated: the caption under Fred’s outstretched cartoon face simply read: fuck you.

Paul—and he smiled for some reason at this—had definitely hit a nerve. “We,” said Fred, “are on,” and he looked outside the windshield again, shook his head in true disbelief, “Queens Boulevard.” He let the reality, the ultimate meaning of it all, sit with Paul a second, let Paul’s addled mind get a grip on it. “You,” and Fred winced here, “you are supposed to be driving. You,” and this, Paul realized, was an important word within what Fred had to say here, that Mr. MaqWeed was going to lean heavily, really put his weight into this u sound often in his little speech, “you fell asleep while driving. More than once. Three times. On the bridge alone, motherfucker.” Paul could imagine it—it sounded possible—but he couldn’t really see it. So he let Fred continue. As if he had a choice. “You,” said Fred, “you only hit the brakes late like,” and Fred shrugged here for effect, but it backfired—Fred grabbed for his lower spine, winced—“a dozen times.” He turned his head severely, got his groove right back: “You almost killed us twice! It was nuts, man. It was nuts! I didn’t know what to do. I almost punched” and Paul could feel it coming “you. I almost punched you in the face, man. It was nuts! It was fucking nuts, man. Asshole. Asshole!

Paul considered this, through the rhythm of the honks. There definitely seemed to be ample time to consider this, as apparently—unless they’d flown off the bridge and landed in Heck—well hell, they’d survived Paul’s navigation, and were apparently stuck among the living. Paul wasn’t necessarily disturbed by what he’d just heard. It wasn’t uninteresting. He absolutely didn’t remember a lick of it. But it was somewhat engaging. He made the decision, without really over thinking it, to speak:

“That’s magic, Fred. That’s magic. That’s a good story, Fred.” He was saying “Fred”—but who he was talking to was anybody’s guess. “That’s a real good story.” Paul shook his head in wonder. “It’s weird, hearing about a story you lived…just lived…and not remembering any of it.” Paul rubbed at the hair on his chinny chin chin, and as he went on chattering, the feeling crept in that somebody was going to blow his house down, but so what? it’s bound to happen sooner or later. “There’s a little bit of magic in that, Fred”—there it was, that somebody Paul’d been looking for a moment ago, Fred!—“Blackmagic, maybe. But magic nonetheless. It’s like Keith Richards getting in his motorboat in France, and waking up in a river in Italy! It’s like we’re rock stars. I’m going to call Jimmy Page. He likes blackmagic—”

“Careful,” said Fred.

Paul snapped out of his musings—and Fred suddenly turned around—as the jalopy behind them idled into the rear bumper of his jalopy.

“Maybe we should have pulled over,” offered Paul.

“Ah,” said Fred, “fuck.”

“What?”

“When I woke up,” informed Fred, “we were already on the bridge.” Fred had additional information: “You fuck.”

“Maybe you should have taken the wheel,” guessed Paul.

Information: Fred had tons of it: “Technically, I did take the wheel. I helped steer. And gave you some pretty good advice on the pedals too. The little back and forth two-step you had going between the gas and the brake was what one would call dangerous and scary as all shit.”

“Anyway,” continued Fred. “I can’t drive.”

At the moment, neither could anybody else on Queens Boulevard, and the continuous honking celebrated this with lean-into-it-hard type enthusiasm. But Paul looked to Fred here, curious as to exactly what he meant. At an intersection ahead, an ambulance managed to creep through the intersection, get off of Queens Boulevard. This feat, this near miracle, was met with much celebratory honking. The guy inside was dead at this point anyway; Paul was blood-sure of this, as his own veins were swimming with an admixture of poisons that were turning his insides into a swamp. Paul would have joined in, honking, but his horn was disconnected a year or so ago, as one day, when he first got the car, the thing just started honking nonstop, even if nobody was in the car.

Paul looked to Fred for more information.

Fred wrestled his sweatshirt off his body.

His backbrace—shiny white plastic, Velcroed and belted, that squeezed Fred tightly and pretty much kept him held together—gleamed in the unnatural lights of Queens Boulevard.

“Doctor’s orders,” said Fred.

“I didn’t know that that kept you from driving—”

“For now,” said Fred. “Doctor’s orders. And besides—”

Then Fred stopped, winced, straightened up. There was something, in his mind, that wouldn’t let him continue. Wouldn’t let him continue with the story.

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The Nameless

23

By the time they made it to Beach Street, it was 2am. The polka had ended, and Paul had stopped at the first 7-11 after the expressway, begged the fellow behind the counter for the bathroom so he could clean himself up, and then it was the coffee that had gotten them home. Fred’s home. Fred had eaten, and really enjoyed, three fat weenie dogs with cheese and relish from the 7-11. Paul’s stomach was still in knots. He turned his head. He could almost see the crest of the cliff, the landing at the end of the cul-de-sac, at the end of Beach Street, that led to the boulders and beach below—but not quite—it was a bit too far. He’d walk there in the morning. Sunrise. He turned his head back, waited for Fred to get out of the car, so he could follow him in, fall asleep on his choice of couch within the fortress-of-couches. Got a couple of couches/Sleep on the loveseat…

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Fred lit a bat hit, in the mannerism of a wise-guy lighting a fat cigar. He turned to Paul, exhaled the smoke into his face: Fred had something to say: and it was best said with weed. MaqWeed. Paul shook his head as he coughed.

“I can’t believe we made it,” said Fred. “I can’t believe you drove home after that nightmare.” Paul was expecting—or hoping for—some sort of Hardee-boys-hug here from Fred. But this was MaqWeed speaking: “Don’t call us,” he said, “we’ll call you.”

“You could have driven some,” said Paul.

“I can’t drive right now, Paul. I really can’t drive. Doctor’s orders.”

“What happened to your back in the first place?”

“I’ve told you the story,” said Fred.

“I don’t,” said Paul, “I can’t,” said Paul. Paul said, “I can’t seem to remember.”

Fred frowned, took another bat hit. It turned out that his back story was his backstory. “I was on tour with Anagwansa,” and he exhaled, “the band I was in before we started jamming together. We’d just finished a show in Plattsburg, and the next show was like sixteen hours away in, like, Toledo or something, I don’t know, I can’t remember exactly where—someplace stupid, someplace far. So whatever, on our way to Nowheresville in Somewherestate, we’re driving, through the middle of the dark night, the van packed with six guys, drums, the Wurlitzer, guitars, guitars, guitars, etc, etc, and when I wake up,” and Paul could really see this next part—before Fred even got to it, a few words before Fred got to the van “careening down this wooded incline off the Teconic, is flipping over and over, my flying-V bass is flying around—it launched out of the case somehow—slamming against the inside of the windshield. There’s blood. We just keep flipping, down the side of the mountain; keep rolling, as the decline is endless.

“When we get to the bottom, the van’s upside down. I don’t even know if anybody’s alive.”

At this, Fred began to exit Paul’s car (which he’d had nightmares of drowning in, after the dream of flipping the car off the Queensborough—he’d been drowning in dreams for a good portion of the day, the day that was thankfully about to pass forever into the past), but it wasn’t easy climbing out for Fred, a big guy with a bad back.

Paul, through the corner of his eye, had had a pretty good look at Fred, who was looking down after telling his story. And Paul realized there was something missing from the confession. The confession.

“You were driving?” asked Paul.

“Everybody survived,” said Fred, standing on the gravel of his driveway, “thanks for asking.” He was holding the car’s door open, speaking into the car, and then he grimaced: “Except my back.” The safety of his cottage loomed behind him.

“You were driving,” said Paul.

“You can come in if you want,” said Fred, as he made his way to the house’s pretty yellow door, “but I’d rather you didn’t.”

“I’m just going to stay out here,” said Paul, “and puke some more.”

Fred turned at the door, before letting himself in without the key—most people didn’t lock their doors this far out east—and found his audience, leaning against the car, looking up into the sky, trying to get some air. “You know,” said Fred. “We finished the tour. We found a place in New Paltz that did some quick repair work to the instruments, the van had rolled from one road to the road below, and they got that running the next day too. We had to cancel the Ohio gig, but went on to Chicago. House party. Sorority girls. We played our asses off, to the thrill of survival. We all got laid. Even big fat Fred MaqWeed, he got laid too.”

“Liar,” puked Paul.

“Maybe so,” said Fred. “But probably not.”

Who Fred was talking to, thought Paul, as he looked up to the sky then down at the gravel, was anybody’s guess. But it was a good story, Paul liked the story of it.

After passing out in the jalopy until sometime after eleven a.m., Paul left his car in Fred’s driveway and took a walk down Beach Street. The houses, on his right and left, were different shapes and sizes. They had their individuality. One thing that most of them displayed was some sort of bright color—either the whole house, or if the house was white or beige, the trim would be yellow or red or baby blue. Paul would have appreciated this more—he’d appreciated it in the past—if his stomach wasn’t in knots and if his head wasn’t soaked with confusion. He was headed to the water, that was the important thing, and when he got to the beach, down the rickety red stairs, he’d sit on a big glacial boulder, smoke a cigarette (he’d let himself into Fred’s before the walk for a glass of water and lifted somebody’s forgotten pack of Parliments off the kitchen table)—if he could actually light it with all the wind he was walking into, and on the rock, looking at the water, which led to bigger waters, and looking at the land, the lands, that surrounded it, he’d smoke stolen cigarettes and sort things out, as the tide of the Sound gently rolled in underneath the boulder of his choosing.

As Paul got closer, he noticed the problem. He kept walking, getting closer to it. When he got to the cul-de-sac, he figured he may as well light up the cigarette now. The matches were stuffed into the pack, and it took five to actually light the cig—two that went out immediately, and then, when he struck three at once, turned away from the wind, cupping his hands, the cigarette barely caught fire, and began to canoe. Paul twisted the long tube 180 degrees, and took another drag. The stairs in front of him were under repair. In front of them was the same type orange mesh temporary fence that he and Fred had escaped the Morphean concert under. They had run away from Mark More’s death together. Paul, alone now, considered doing the same thing here—simply lifting the orange mesh and getting onto his beautiful decaying staircase. But when he got closer, he realized this was not possible. The rungs had all been removed, or had decayed away. There was no longer any staircase, just the rails. This presented, the stairs without the stairs, a path—a steep path in front of him. The beach-heath and Jimson weed here weren’t as thick as in some parts of the cliff. But Paul wasn’t up to this path it in his present state. He imagined, at some point, tumbling down. He imagined, when he hit bottom, not getting up. So he stood, at the edge of the cliff, beyond the cul-de-sac, looking down at the water, where he wanted to be, as the fire of his stolen cigarette—lighted poorly in the first place—went out.

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from the novel

Erik Erikson

6

“Are they all here?” asked Jim Goodman.

“All but one.”

“Well, I’m going anyway.”

Jim Goodman began to pace around the room and size up the Fellows. Twerps, really, is how he owed it to himself to admit he really felt about it. He was glad there was no one in the room bigger than him, physically. He didn’t just mean physically, though. He meant intellectually, having the ability to let the weight of the world fall on one’s shoulders, as, of course, he did—father and family man; not only the head of the department, but its spiritual leader as well; a leading poet, writer, of his generation. But, he remembered a time, long ago, when it would take him all day to write one decent sentence or rhyme of verse and, as an undersized left tackle at Jefferson High, back on the border of Virginia and West Virginia, on a rainy Friday night in a regional championship against Clarke, he was benched for the entirety of the second half, as he’d let the defensive end he was responsible for sling mud in his face before the snap—resulting in a sack, a fumble, a touchdown and then the two-point conversion for the cross-state cross-county rivals.

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A shameful, shameful, shameful defeat.

He wouldn’t let himself forget that.

“At Westminster,” began Goodman, “there are standards. There are standards at any institution. And the standards at Westminster,” and Goodman lifted his open palm, up high above his head, several times, in an attempt to elevate those around him (starting with their eyes), “are higher. Each and every one of you, individually, and as a group, now represents the Seminars. Your conduct your comportment your—” most eyes had followed his hand, and then continued to follow his march in front of the conference table, but one Fellow kept looking out the window, and now, now!, he was slumping; he risked bringing the whole room down with him, “Who,” said Goodman, “are you?”

“Spelkman,” said Tony Spelkman, after some seconds of uncomfortable silence made him realize he was the one being spoken to.

“Your Christian name,” said Goodman.

“T- T- Tony,” said Tony to Goodman.

“Where you from,” said Goodman, “T- Tony?”

“New York.”

“You looking to head back?”

“Uh, like, maybe in a few weekends, you know, unless I can get my friends to come down here.” Tony looked down at the table, seemed upset. “My girlfriend broke up with me, so that’s not—”

Goodman winced. “The correct answer,” said Goodman, “is no, Jim, no—I’m not looking to head back, I like it here in my new home in the South, I’ll pay attention now, Jim. Straighten up, Tony. You’re all rumpled. Eye contact, Tony. Be a man and make eye contact.” Three of the Fellows were female, and they laughed, and Goodman winked at the braided redhead in the corner before he continued the march. “Your appearance, punctuality, demeanor—”

Now what, thought Goodman, as his routine was interrupted once again—this time by the sound of the door below swinging open and then, heavy, labored running up the stairs to the conference room. He realized what it was, then sighed deeply, turned his head toward the coming onslaught.

The slaught he would bring on.

He was ready for the late man. If one could call a late man a man at all! A man established himself in time and place, staked his claim, claimed his territory. Well, this was Goodman’s territory. He was ready for the late man.

Or, as it turned out, maybe…not quite….

“Erikson,” said Goodman, regaining his composure…after remembering to blink…“we have been,” and he both lied and told the truth here, “we have been expecting you.” He could feel the reaction of the already present Fellows, feel—as Erik rushed by him and slithered into (his face loosely reminded Goodman of the markings of a copperhead snake) the previously empty seat—feel that he, Professor Jim Goodman, Chair of the Writing Seminars at Westminster, was no longer the center of attention in the room. That he was no longer in complete control of the room. That he was no longer in complete control of himself. That he was now furious. Furious!

7

Jenny Kim couldn’t believe how pathetically boring the next edition of the Westminster Weakly was going to be. New volleyball coach? She’d gotten to her office in Haley Hall early and ended up staring at a blank screen long enough that she’d have to run—across campus no less, to Greason—in order to make it on time to her first class of the new semester. English major. Writing minor. Junior editor. Blech. Maybe it was time to change her major. Again. She remembered last year, spring semester, when she’d had her first piece published in the Weekly. Seeing it on page two, her name above the article, the words seemed so alive. So important. The article was about something strange that had happened to her while studying at the library, an old love letter she’d found stuffed into a chemistry book she’d taken off the shelves, how she couldn’t stop thinking about that letter when she later took the test. After the issue had been out for a week, and she asked friends and acquaintances what they thought of her story, they’d say, sincerely, “your picture looked great!” or “you should put you hair up like that all the time!”

Her summer had been largely uneventful, except for a fling that had lasted two weeks, with a boy named Munro, who owned his own little sailboat, and, in the middle of the Peconic Sound, confessed that he was gay.

Again!

She shut down the Mac, gathered up her books, the heavy Norton Anthology, and began to jog out of Haley. Whenever she ran this way, slightly anxious, feeling late, her feet felt like a duck’s. She slowed down, decided she would walk, regain her composure, be late, fuck it. She ran a hand through her hair. Look pretty. She’d never even heard of the professor anyway.

*

Spelkman woke up; then he remembered why he felt so terrible: his trip last night to the boozer with the Fellows, and the reason for the trip in the first place: to forget about what most of them, at least those, like Tony, on the M, W, F schedule, had to do today. But, as to be expected, while sitting there yesterday, drinking lousy pitcher of Rolling Rock after lousy pitcher of Rolling Rock, they mostly talked about today.

Tony remembered continually dropping peanuts into his crotch as he tried to shell them, and one particular bit of conversation at Gallagher’s that he may have been responsible for:

“I don’t know about you,” said Tony, as he retrieved a fat shell from his crotch, munched on the peanut that had come out of it, “but I’m real nervous about tomorrow.”

Cackling.

“You’re nervous?” said a Fellow with a British accent. Hanson?

The cackling continued.

“Yeah, I’ve never done this before, I just applied for this position on a whim.” Tony had won a few writing competitions as an undergraduate at Stony Brook, and he’d tried a novel, writing at night while working construction in the day, the first chapter of which helped him get into Westminster. But the teaching? Even now, he tried not to think about the teaching.

“Well, compared to some of us,” drawled a Fellow from Georgia, as the cackling kept sounding and the beer kept spilling, “you’ll be fine.”

“It’s delightful,” said Hansen, “that you think this impending debacle is about you—”

Or was it Hensen?

“You’re right,” said Tony, avoiding the obvious, “three cheers!!! We’re all in this together.”

“I mean, that fucknut with the face!”

“Wanker wanker wanker wanker wanker,” said Hensen. “Wanker wanker wanker.”

Someone threw a peanut at Tony. It landed in his white-fro. He wished Erikson was here. A fellow New Yorker. At least he, to say the least, at least he was interesting.

As Tony vaguely remembered all this on his way to the shower, to get ready for the first day of the rest of his life—he’d get trapped teaching, probably high school, forever, he knew it—he especially thought about what Hunsen had said. Impending debacle. Hungover, and seeming to have developed a severe peanut allergy overnight, he was more than ready for it.

8

Erik breathed in deeply. Two students had already run out, and a third was on his way; a little freckled guy with a big head was now spilling his books all over the floor, halfway to the door, his sprawling Norton Anthology collecting dust and dirt as he kicked, trying to keep his forward momentum going…forward…out…out…out of the classroom.

Erik feared the rest of the class would soon follow.

There seemed to be about fifteen left.

He had to come up with something.

Soon.

“I want you all,” said Erik, closing his eyes, leading by example, revealing the yin-and-the yang on his lids, “to close your eyes.”

A few students, Erik now peeked, had actually done it. “Closed eyes,” he said, keeping one eye opened, “all of you.” A few more did.

“Or,” and Erik spoke from deeper within his chest, stood up straight and used his height here—6’5—“I’ll fail you.” He smiled slightly to let those still looking know he was half-joking. Everyone, but one, now closed their eyes.

Jenny Kim couldn’t believe what she saw in front of her.

“Now listen to my voice. That’s what this class is about. Voice. Listening to the sounds of the words on the page. Both your own and those of others. Taking the best of your written voice and making it part of your speaking voice, making it part of you. I’m Erik Erikson. Lecturer Erikson, but you can call me Erik. I’m a musician, a lyricist, a poet. I’m going to be your Introduction to Poetry and Literature teacher this semester, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m grateful for the opportunity to get to know—”

“What happened to your face?” said a lacrosse player type guy in the corner.

“His face,” said Jenny, “is awesome!”

The class exploded in laughter.

Erik smiled.

Here was his chance.

“Thank you,” said Erik, and he looked at his roster, “Ms. Jenny Kim.”

Jenny blushed. She had her story for the Weekly…

“I’m Larry,” said the lacrosse kid, “and, yeah—that’s like the most awesome tattoo I’ve ever seen. But, like, how—?”

“I’ll tell you all the story,” said Erik, “I promise,” and he smiled here to indicate that maybe he would, or maybe he wouldn’t, “at the right time in the term.” He bounced on his toes here. This put him at 6’6 or 6’7.

He handed out the blue books.

“Diagnostic essay time, my friends. Now I want you to write,” and he winked at Jenny here, “about the strangest thing you’ve seen,” and Erik turned to the whiteboard for the punchline, in effect turning the answer away, “so far today.”

The class guffawed, and Erik, safe enough for the moment, couldn’t quite hold onto the feeling, as he thought about Goodman.

9

Jim put the letter away after reading it aloud to Dean White and the two…these two…Who the fuck were these two fucking Tweedledums anyway?…and, anyway, he now decidedly addressed the Dean only.

He always felt the Dean was enough of a man, and when he occasionally gave Goodman headaches about numbers, enrollments, all Goodman had to do was bark back. Allen always knew when to lay off, and he knew that this, this situation here, was Goodman’s situation to control. Goodman could foresee no reason there would be any disagreement on this issue.

He took an authoritative tone anyway.

“I want him gone,” said Goodman. “This is my department, and I don’t want him here.”

“I don’t know how we go about it,” said Dean White.

“There’s no—” said Dum, looking down into a folder.

“Precedent—” said Dee, looking up from a folder.

“There’s no precedent for—” said Dum.

“For this sort of thing—” said Dee.

“There’s no precedent for this sort of thing,” the two idiots spit out simultaneously. They then exchanged the folders and nodded to each other.

Jim looked at Allen incredulously. “Who are these two fools, Allen?” Dean White shrugged. Jim turned his wrath to the Tweedledees. (What the hell was going on here as of late at this once fine institution?!) “You make a precedent, dipshits. You just get rid of him. You create the reality. You fire him. There’s your precedent.”

“Lawyers, or something,” said Dean White. “Who are you again?”

“We—”

“Are—”

“Anyway,” said White, turning back to Goodman, “I doubt it will turn out to be so simple, Jim. Is this worth the press, the possibility of getting sued? Do you want to see his face”—Goodman cringed here—“on the cover of the paper, the school’s…what’s it called again?”

Weakly Westminster or something?” said Goodman. “I don’t know.”

“Well forget about the Weekly whatever—this is a story that could make the New York Times. ACLU involvement. The man has committed no contractual offence.”

Goodman could feel himself ranting before he even said a w— “Negligence! Lack of propriety! Harassment! Whatever it’s going to take. He’s stealing supplies or fucking a student…”

J. G. It was embroidered into the handkerchief he was now pulling from his corduroy jacket. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, straightened up, as he’d been leaning forward with the power of his words; he now put the rag down on his desk, ran a hand through his hair and pursed his lips: regained his composure:

“A man walks into this institution. He walks into my conference room. He expects the right to walk into my office…with a face like that?! I made it through the sixties. I’ve already been to the circus. So he’s got drawings on his face? So what. That’s supposed to impress me?”

Dean White said nothing.

The Tweedledees exchanged folders again.

Goodman, hands behind his head, leaned back in his desk chair, rolled a little. “I began, gentlemen, by expressing my desire to rid Westminster of this prick. After our discussion here, I’d like to sign off, gentleman, by reiterating my desire to rid Westminster of this prick.”

*

After the trio left, Goodman went to look at the letter again. When Goodman had met with those below him in the hierarchy, the other profs in Westminster’s MFA, they laughed it off—especially Francine McMurray—enjoying the mess he was in. He was the one that had pushed Erik into the program, anyway. He’d liked a couple of pieces, especially one called “Mirror.” Erikson’s letter-of-intent spoke about personal responsibility for one’s work. Now, of course, Goodman read it all differently. Unofficially, Erikson had been waitlisted. But when a prospect in front of him called, said he was going to Iowa, Erikson was in. Now, policy would have to change. Now, they’d have to conduct interviews—like some other programs, Brown, Stanford, had been doing for years. He hated that. More shit to do. Less time for Hunting Men. Maybe the interviews could be done with the machine, through Assbook or something. But Erik, as Goodman had checked after the fact, wasn’t on Facebook, and this surprised Goodman, because a circus freak like Erikson (he must have been some guy hanging bowling balls from his nutsack in a past life) loves the attention of the circus.

That made two of them, at least, when it came to Assbook.

Jim’s daughter had gone to a concert, a festival, and had told Jim about a freak show she saw. The Dan Pan Circus. “It was so cool,” said Kylene, “this one guy rode a unicycle across a tight rope while another guy was hanging from his nipples by a fiery chain!”

What? It didn’t even sound possible. “How about the next time you go to a concert, you watch the musicians?”

“I did!” leaped Kylene! “Cat Power!”

“Cat Power,” said Goodman. “That sounds a little bit better. Why don’t you go play your guitar?”

“Let me show you my song,” said Kylene. Jim followed his daughter into her room. He was always afraid of what he might see in here, and he was relieved to see a copy of Wise Blood splayed on her bed, the poster of Virginia Woolf still on the wall. (Woolf, of course, was verbose as all hell, but Woolf on the wall was better than, let’s say, a Metallica poster on the ceiling.) Kylene played some chords high up on the guitar; it almost sounded like a mandolin. Not typical. It was lovely. His daughter was lovely. His daughter was not a typical issue human being. Jim, in his mind, could hear words, the meter form as she played, and he was tempted to force his verse onto her song. But he resisted. “You should put some words to that,” said Goodman.

“I know, but it’s hard,” whined Kylene, and she kept strumming.

“That’s why you should do it,” and he winked: “I want to see a poem for those chords by the end of the week, young lady.”

She did what her daddy said. By the end of the week, with her Mac, a mic she borrowed from a friend, and a drum beat from Fruity Loops, she recorded something vaguely heavy metal sounding; the words, about the Dan Pan Circus, were entitled “The Nipple Man.”

*

Goodman sighed. He’d been glancing over the letter, from one of Erikson’s students’ father—a student who’d dropped on sight—and now read it again.

and my son, who chose Westminster for its business credentials,

following in his father’s footsteps, my Alma Mater, is deemed, by the

college itself, to take a class in your department, Goofman, and

is then subsequently forced to escape from the pedagogical

clutches of an in-effect GHOUL

Goodman put the letter down. J. G. He picked up the rag again and blew his nose into it. He was burnt out on all this. He’d been burnt out on teaching for several years now—maybe a decade, who knows, one loses track—but he’d hoped for a resurgence this year. Well, something was resurging. He knew where he’d be putting his energy this term.

Later, as he walked past the goldfish pond, in front of the president’s residence, on his way to the Westminster Club for a drink, he began putting his energy toward it.

10

The goldfish pond, on the north side of campus, had some magic to it. A bronze nymph, standing on one leg, balancing with the other three limbs bent, spit water into the pond, and the goldfish swam lazily in figure-eights. It had to have some magic.

The other girls didn’t care about the pond…

…as there were more important things to discuss.

“I think it’s disgusting!” said one.

Cackling ensued.

“They should have, like, sent us a warning, like. Like an official email from the department or, like, something.”

“Or like…something!”

Cackling.

“I don’t know, it’s kind-of cool,” said a wild-child type named Blair.

“Kind-of cool, in a kind-of gross kind-of way.”

“He’s tall!”

“Who cares about that!”

Cackles.

“Well, I bet he was hot before—”

Jenny slid further away from the conversation, closer to the pond. When one of the fish came to the surface, looking for love, or probably food, Jenny was shocked to see: it was the Erik fish! Instead of the orange and gold colors of the others, this fish was blue, red, yellow, and green; instead of blotches and spots, it had definite designs: a yin-yang and tribal lines and peace signs; instead of an empty head, it wore a red flat cap like Erik did; it was the wisdom fish!

She thought of the day last semester when she’d found the letter in the chem book, the feeling of connecting with the unknown, the intimacy of the handwriting alone. It was magic. It was better than magic! It was—

A gleam of sun caught Jenny in the eye, she blinked, and when she opened her eyes again, the fish was a normal fish again, and it was headed back down to the depths of the little pond, leaving concentric circles streaming in its wake. Jenny looked at the early semester sun above, blocking out the din around her with her imaginings, and as she watched a fat cloud drift by, she ruminated on how much she enjoyed letting her imagination run wild.

She was in love!

Not with the Fish!

With her teacher.

Jenny, Jenny realized, was Jenny’s best audience…

Anyway, she got up, headed away from the pack, on the way to the offices of the Weekly. Time, even though she didn’t really feel like it, to get to work. Sure, she had her story now, but what was the story? It was a love story! but for the school newspaper? Blech!

“Hey, wait up,” said Blair.

…but it was nice to have a friend.

Jenny whispered to Blair, as they walked by the Westminster Club, that she thought Erik was sexy. Now. The way he was now. Fucked up face and all. They whispered and laughed as they continued to walk across the lawn—past the offices of the Westminster Weekly….

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Erik Erikson

30

By the time Erik got to the studio for their next weekly rehearsal, the keyboard player that Hugo had brought in already had the chords down. He was playing a lush string part, and it sounded good. But Erik would wait until Hugo was out of the room to complement the new guy.

“Does this song have a name?” asked the new guy.

“I don’t know,” said Hugo, grinning. “What do you think Erik?”

“The song is called The Song,” said Erik, “until further notice.”

“The song is called The Song?” said the new guy. “Is the band called The Band?”

“The Who?” said Lenny. Arthur King did the old comedy roll, and Erik wanted to weep.

Continue

“Is the keyboard player,” sighed Erik, “named Keys?”

“This is Lunchmeat,” said Hugo, pointing to the keyboard player, who bowed. “He used to play with Lunchbox,” continued Hugo, “but I helped break ‘em up, so—”

“I like your playing,” said Erik, breaking his earlier pact with himself, “but I’m not,” and Erik shook his head emphatically and sincerely here, “am not am not am not,” and he hit a note that quickly turned to feedback, “calling you Lunchwhatever.”

“Lunchmeat,” said Lunchmeat.

Erik looked around the rehearsal room, hoping for some air. They’d been coming here for years, Facelift, since they’d formed—as a trio originally, with Hugo on bass—but Erik saw the room anew now: the walls, with a few posters on them, rolling down or up at one or another corner; the ashtrays, overflowing; the beer bin for the empties, overflowing; the floral couch with the plaid pillows, sagging; Melissa’s roaches, between the cushions, waiting to be found, lit, ready to burn finger tips: it was a cage, a trap. What was the way out? The music was the way out. The same thing that brought Erik into the trap was also what released him from it.

“You going to sing something today?” taunted Hugo, as he started the opening progression on his guitar: d d f#f#f#f# d d f#f#f#f# d c d e.

“Yeah,” said Erik, knowing he had to do something affirmative, “but not the words.”

They began to play, coming in loosely, cautiously, one at a time, feeling out the groove of the new member (Erik had secretly decided to call him “NotLunchmeat”), and, once Erik brought in his guitar, his Tele part, he began to feel that release. Could he let himself go completely, start singing words, and have them come out right the first time? Inspired, like Hugo had taunted last rehearsal?

Erik leaned into the mic as Arthur King marked his vocal entry with a splash cymbal.

Then leaned away.

The words, at the moment, were not forthcoming. Erik improvised a countermelody on his Telecaster.

But then Erik leaned back into the mic, started to sing. “Ahheee, ohhoo ahh dow.” Hugo gave Erik a look that Erik caught out of the corner of his eye, but the band kept playing and even, maybe, Erik thought, picked it up a bit, getting down even deeper into the groove as they did. Erik kept singing his vowel sounds, sang them the way he felt them, mostly variations on his original cooing. When they got to the first break, the introduction to the alternate theme, Arthur King got too ambitious with his fill, and rolled right out of the groove; they tried to salvage it as a band, save the thing as the beat got turned around, but it soon fell apart, as Lenny got too silly, and started improvising a reggae-by-numbers bass line.

Lunchwhatever was nodding his head. “That was pretty cool,” he said. “That thing you did with the vocals.”

“Thanks, Lunchmeat,” said Erik. One little complement and he was already calling the guy Lunchmeat. Erik really wondered about himself sometimes.

“I don’t know about that experimental shit,” said Hugo. “We’re supposed to be a rock’n’roll—”

“IT’S SOMETHING THE TALKING HEADS DID,” said Erik, taking advantage of the mic and the public address system it went through to begin his point. Then, he addressed Hugo and the rest of the band like a normal human being, instead of as Acting Dictator of Nation-of-Facelift. “David Byrne did the vowel thing when he was working with Eno on Fear of Music, when they we’re sculpting their funk jams into album track—”

“The Talking Heads are overrated,” said Hugo definitively.

And even though Erik had seen Hugo wink at Arthur King when he’d said it, Erik could not help but take the bait on this one: he loved to argue music: his and Hugo’s friendship, too whatever degree it remained, had been built from an early age on this kind of thing: “Stop Making Sense,” said Erik, “is one of the ten best live albums ever. Why don’t you,” and, as cheap as it was, he used the mic again, “START MAKING SENSE.”

Hugo retorted with a riff from “Found a Job,” the song he knew was Erik’s least favorite song from the album.

As Erik began his retort to Hugo’s retort—the guitar stabs from “Burning Down the House”—Melissa walked into the studio, gave everybody a little wave and mouthed “hi” while she was at it—making sure everyone got a good look at her tanned legs, her tattooed thigh, her cut off shorts that left just a little ass hanging out as she turned around; she turned again as she threw herself down on the couch.

Erik had mixed feeling about Melissa showing up like this, and even though he wasn’t in the mood to do so, he went over to the couch to claim her as his own.

She turned her head as he did so and allowed Erik to kiss her on the cheek.

Erik, embarrassed, said, “This is Lunchmeat,” and he held his hand out toward the new addition on keys.

“Oh, I know,” said Melissa, lighting up a joint. “We met the other day at Bar4, when Hugo convinced him to join the band.”

“I convinced him,” said Hugo grinning deeply, puffing out his chest a bit while he was at it.

Erik looked back at Melissa, ready to frown at her; but then he noticed her shirt.

“What’s that?” he said, pointing at her chest.

Melissa, taking a monster toke of the joint, ready to wise-off Erik could see, then tried to blow the smoke in his face, but he was too tall, and she was sagging down into the couch deeper each rehearsal she showed up, and most of the weed ended up encompassing his Telecaster. “You should have a certain idea,” coughed Melissa.

Lunchmeat played a dinky little melody on his keyboard, and Hugo followed with the same lick a half-step higher.

“The shirt,” said Erik. “Not what’s underneath it.”

Melissa put the joint back in her mouth, puffed at it like a cigar, and pulled and stretched her shirt out, read what it said like she’d never seen it before. “RWAR,” she said. The shirt was old and faded, but one could still make out the graphic on it: the members of RWAR, dressed like a garbage-heap version of KISS—worse really—stood mugging for their audience.

“Why would you wear that to our rehearsal?” asked Erik. “Who’s side are you on?”

“What!?” said Melissa, letting go of the shirt, taking another hit off the joint before passing it to Erik. Erik, without taking a hit, passed it along.

“Tell yo’ bitch,” said Hugo, “to get in line.” Both Hugo and Melissa laughed at this, while the other three started to explore the possibilities of Lunchmeat’s dinky lick. Erik didn’t like the sound of any of it.

He belted out the beginning of The Song, singing his vowels and riffing on his Telecaster, but Hugo gave him a look, like it wasn’t his song to begin.

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Erik Erikson

40

Bobby and Johnny were watching a scene that Johnny and Melissa had improvised weeks before. Bobby had to admit, as a pain in the ass as the two of them could be together, at times, they had great energy—a Freudian thing, Bobby figured, where Melissa had to play the scolding mommy one moment and then quickly pirouette into the role of the juicy lover the next. When it worked, it got Bobby turned on and choked up at the same time. Johnny, sitting two rows ahead and two seats to the left, turned around and nodded at Bobby—like the scene was already some sort of sure winner, like the scene had already made the final cut; the trailer; the late night TV spots. Bobby shrugged, indicated with a frown: let’s see…

Continue

And see he did. It was a juicy take. The idea behind the improv—Melissa’s idea—had been to have some bedroom talk and naughtiness. But instead of her blowing Johnny, Johnny had reversed that, and was licking the insides of Melissa’s thighs between his lines—Melissa, Melissa as Melissa Meteorite, had these tiny dirt-bag cut-off shorts on—and they had filmed this scene on the sagging couch of Facelift’s practice space, from an angle where you couldn’t see Johnny’s face. Just the back of his head, his rock’n’roll haircut, like Bobby could see now in the screening room.

Bobby looked at the back of Johnny’s head a moment longer, and then back at the screen.

“What can I buy you first?” said Johnny-as-Erik, after a lick.

“First?” said Melissa-as-Melissa, as Johnny Erik slurped and sucked from side to side.

“Before the house and the car.”

“Is this after the first album goes gold,” and Johnny unzipped her cut-offs as she paused, “or the second album goes platinum?”

“This is after I dedicate the box set to you.”

Not bad, thought Bobby—a little fantasy of money and power masquerading as love, all amid the sex and squalor of failure. Bobby could swear he recognized the sagging couch on the screen that Melissa now spread her legs on from his first little office on Centinela Avenue in Inglewood, when The Letztalk Agency was first starting out. The couch was plaid, but the pillows were floral—a very funny touch, and touching in its way, thought Bobby. Maybe they’d fuck! joked Bobby to himself as he watched the scene on the screen continue. (He’d been here for this shoot, and the take was playing out very closely to how he remembered it being shot.)

This is where it weakened a little; Melissa stuttered a bit, then laughed—Johnny, punk, must have gotten her in her sweet spot—and then she said: “Nobody sells CDs anymore! MP3s. Uh…downloads….”

“Sounds neat, Sweetmeat!” said Johnny stupidly—there was no Erik in that at all—“So, uh, what can I, uh, buy you first?”

Melissa clamped the top of Johnny’s head tightly with both hands and then pushed away like he was a slobbering dog—pushed away violently—and, in a delivery as vicious as a viper strike, she yelled, “How about a new set of wine goblets, you fucking asshole!”

Johnny turned to Bobby with his brows furrowed and real fear in his eyes; his head was shaking slightly, ever so slightly.

But Bobby would not return his gaze—he didn’t remember this bit at all. They would have had to, even if it was a keeper, retake the last shot after Johnny’s appointment at Gerard’s—as the point of the improv was that after Melissa came, Johnny would lift himself from between her thighs, and turn to the camera—revealing himself as Erik Erikson—the true Erik Erikson with the full face tattoo—for the first time in the film. The promise of success revealed. As catastrophe. Following in Hugo’s footsteps to be bigger than RWAR, the next KISS. (“Knights In Satan’s Service” was the rock’n’roll rumor about the schlocky acronym.) But, of course, they’d been on the other shooting schedule when Melissa had convinced David to let them go at it (David, who hadn’t returned Bobby’s phone calls since their conversation on Wednesday (David, who hadn’t texted the photo of Josephine either)). So the embedded make-up was not in play yet. But Bobby, Bobby was sure, had been there for this little demo scene. And he certainly did not remember this goblet line one bit.

“Bobby,” said Johnny. “How did that get in there? I don’t remember that at all.”

Bobby shook his head. He had been on cursed productions before, haunted and the like—like Tarantula; it was one of those desert pictures: motorcycles; drugs; girls, girls with breasts bigger than their heads and belly buttons you’d swear you could swim in: a real sweat bath, the whole production. One day, during a mid-morning mushroom break, to have a laugh and let things cool down a bit out there in Death Valley, the lead—Gerimia…Someoneorother—just got up and strolled out of the trailer, went for the horizon line—literally reaching for it, his psychedelically elongated monkey arms grasping for the distance—and, totally befuddled that the horizon wasn’t getting any closer, he went further and further into the depths of the desert. This, at least, was the way the story was told. Anyway—whatever had happened while Bobby and the girls were clowning shirtless in the trailer, licking rivers of sweat off humongous nipples as the salty taste was sensational on mushrooms—by the time Bobby and the key grip had gotten it together, jumped into a jeep with a case of beer and an eight-track of Captain Beefheart, the two playing the mythical role of the heroic search party, Gerimia was nowhere to be found. Apparently, it hadn’t been the first production he’d disappeared on; but the satisfied way the coyotes had howled that night, it may have been his last. And of course, nothing compared to the kind of things that had happened to Francis on location in the Philippines: Harvey Keitel axed after three weeks of what turned out to be wasted shooting; Martin Sheen’s heart attack while jogging in the jungle; President Ferdinand Marcos calling Coppola, on behalf of the Filipino Army, saying so sorry, Francis, we simply can not lend you that fleet of Huey’s today, we need those copters for the real war, the real civil war in the same jungles you’re shooting your fake Hollywood movie war in, but let us try to try again tomorrow, Francis, Coppola going into another $20,000 overage, paying cast and crew for the day’s non-shoot; a typhoon knocking down the temple-set which had taken six months to build; a tsunami knocking the Do Lung Bridge-set down, which had taken six-months to build; the set designer, under orders, burying a bunch of Ifugao Indians up to their necks every shooting day during a six week shoot, ten hours a day, 8am to 6pm (they’d put little umbrellas over they’re heads between shots, feed them from a spoon at noon), in order to play the thankless role of various decapitations decorating the entranceway to Kurtz’s compound—the real Kurtz, of course, being Sir Emperor Francis Ford Coppola himself; then there was Marlin Brando and Dennis Hopper, on top of all the other chaos, acting like animals, getting their kicks by absolutely despising each other—enjoying the hatred. Terry’s attempt to make Don Quixote had been, like all the other attempts, rained out, and then Rochefort, the lead, fell off his horse. On the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie, helicopters were chopping heads off left and right. Well, Erik Erikson was shaping up to be a bit of a doozy itself, with Johnny possessed by Erik’s tattoo like it was salvation; and now this specter of Melissa screaming about goblets….

“Bobby,” said Johnny, turning to face him—(maybe Johnny’s head could spin 540, Exorcist style, thought Bobby, and then Bobby could stare at the back of his head again)—“Do you remember that line from Melissa?”

Bobby nodded. He decided to play it cool, to play it as it lay, to try and take advantage of the freakery, to convince Johnny it was, somehow, Johnny’s own God-damn fault.

“Johnny,” said Bobby, lighting a Robusto. “Were you stoned again during that shoot? The two of you, Johnny—behaving badly again?”

“Bobby, you know I’m healthy again,” said Johnny with some amount of confidence. “I’ve only taken a handful of pills—just to get in the spirit of the story, just to, you know, get in the spirit of…of a particular scene—like, twice. Okay. Once,” and Johnny slammed the tips if his index fingers together to indicate once, “was the scene with Owen, you know, in Marz’s office. The other…”

Johnny’s jaw, in mid syllable, got stuck. He looked down at his hand, at his fingers; he began, looking truly lost and confused, counting on his fingers.

“The other scene, Johnny…?” said Bobby, handing a cigar to Johnny.

“I…I don’t know,” said Johnny, putting the cigar behind his ear, “I can’t…I cannot seem to remember for the life of me.”

“Well, maybe Johnny—”

“Maybe it was only that once!” Johnny cut in, jumped up, he stood tall now, really excited, enthused—as if he had just made a major breakthrough! a distinct and delectable discovery! He pulled the cigar from behind his ear, bit and spit the tip onto his shoe, lit the cigar with a Zippo the size of his palm which he’d pulled from his ass pocket without a second thought to what it was doing there in the first place, as to why he’d been sitting on the uncomfortable hunk of metal all this time….

“Maybe, Johnny, you were loaded during the scene we just saw? Melissa, too. You both really slipped up, really struggled, as the take went on.”

“Bobby, come on. We were just fucking around, having some fun. I thought making movies was supposed to be fun, Bobby! Fun in the sun,” said Johnny, but the sing in Johnny’s voice had the wrong song to it….

“Well, you were pretty confident about the scene just a moment before we started watching it, Johnny. But that’s beside the point.” And then Bobby, through a pout, then a puff, said: “I thought you were looking to make a major commitment to this role—”

“You know I am, Bobby,” said Johnny, pointing with the burning end of his cigar. “Gerard—”

“Johnny, you misunderstand me,” said Bobby, relighting his own cigar—it was canoeing—“I’m all for it, Johnny. Getting into the spirit of the role. Getting into the spirit of,” Bobby waved his free hand around like the coming generalization was somehow mystical, “…things. It’s just that—and I’ve told you this before, I’ve been telling you this since I flew you out to India for Kung-Fu Kingfisher—”

“KANGAROO,” screamed Johnny—“TASMANIA!”—pointing with the spittle-riddled butt-end of his cigar—he felt addled, he felt it coming back, flasHBacK, that acidy tinge on the tip of his tongue, he just wasn’t sure about much of anything anymore. He felt the heat near his palm. In his haste to blow smoke into Bobby’s face, he nearly put the burning end of the cigar in his mouth. Flipping it around just in time, he puffed, but—for some reason—inhaled—like it was a blunt…he choked violently through Bobby’s next attack.

“You’re a cartoon character, Johnny. Just taking whatever Bill Flipps hands you on a mirror, right before an important shoot? Did you look at yourself in that little mirror after you had your toot, Johnny? That Marz scene’s vital, Johnny. Vital. We may have to reshoot it before you head off to Gerard’s.”

Johnny was no longer so sure of Gerard LaTouche—if he even existed. Was he too just a character in the script? “It was just pills,” and Johnny coughed out the last of the Double Robusto he’d inhaled. “David didn’t say anything about reshooting the—”

“David is no longer on the picture.”

“David is no longer on the picture?”

“David is no longer on the picture.”

“David is no longer on the picture?”

“You can call him. He won’t pick up.”

“David is no longer on the picture?”

“David is on vacation, Johnny. He swam out too far into the Pacific at La Jolla, and he simply can’t make it back.” Bobby pursed his lips and let his eyes shine, his facial expression inferring David’s…disappearance…had been in his grand plan all along.

Johnny looked at Bobby; Johnny’s wide-eyes teared up. Brian Jones, loaded, being shoved deeper and deeper down under the surface of his pool by Mick Jagger, with a leaf net. Drowning in his own pool. His own drool. Fished out of his own pool with a meat hook. Johnny felt the absurd myth well up in his blood, up from his heart, into his gums. His teeth hurt, for Christ sake. To say nothing of how his mind felt…

*

Bobby had to be careful here. He wanted to scare Johnny—but not scare him off. “I meant it,” said Bobby, “metaphorically.” Bobby let his cigar burn. “David’s fine, Johnny; his balls are roasting and toasting in the San Diego sun. He just can’t,” and Bobby shrugged here, “complete the task.”

“David Joseph,” said Johnny. “You know, Satan Forsaken was a great picture. A great film!”

“David Joseph,” said Bobby. “I am familiar with his work.”

Johnny kept ranting. “Do you remember that part, Bobby? Do you remember that part? When Larry Laughs is trying to reach for the sun and bring it down to Earth to share it with the world? He wants to actually grab the sun like a ball and bounce it around the desert floor like a child in the park with a balloon. I mean sure, the special effects were a little cheesy—”

“That’s part of the charm, Johnny. Something about the psychedelic rendition of the mythical West.”

“That’s part of the charm, Bobby. That’s the film, when I was floundering at MICA, painting paintings of paintings and all that crap, doing some experimental theater shit, that’s the film that spoke to me, that shouted: GO WEST, YOUNG MAN, GIVE UP THY SCRIBLINGS, THY ABSURD THE-ATRE, AND GO INTO FLY FILM! Not just movies, Bobby, but exciting stuff. Dangerous cinema. I don’t know, Bobby. Let’s get David back on board. Let’s make a dangerous movie. Let’s get Davy back on board and finish Erik Erikson in a way that’s

IV

The Mask

41

41 INT. ROCK CLUB – NIGHT

 

An ensemble version of FACELIFT – thirteen members, including a sax quartet – is on stage. They are churning away at an extended introduction to THE SONG.

 

Erik and Hugo turn around simultaneously to face the audience. BOTH SPORT FULL FACE TATTOOS. A large screen behind the band shows Erik and Hugo’s TATTOOED FACES.

 

The crowd: frenzied!

 

The drums kick in, and the ensemble kicks in to the body of THE SONG.

 

This is the best THE SONG has ever sounded, though Erik and Hugo – dueling – play a bit too aggressively, forcing the ensemble to speed up, build too quickly.

 

Erik begins the verse. The ensemble fades, gives Erik space to sing.

 

Then the chorus kicks in – the ensemble blasts back in! – and the club (this is soon to be taken literally) EXPLODES!

 

Erik’s TATTOOED FACE clenches up. His EYES gleam. He’s gone POWER-MAD!

 

HE GRABS THE NECK OF HUGO’S GUITAR, PULLS WITH GREAT WILL AND FORCE, AND HUGO’S GUITAR BREAKS, SPLINTERING INTO MANY PIECES. ERIK THROWS THE PIECE IN HIS HAND AT THE AUDIENCE.

 

ERIK

(into mic)

I’m a golden god!

This is not a lyric in THE SONG.

 

THE SONG begins to crumble.

 

Hugo’s image, projected on the screen behind the band, shows he’s LIVID. Hugo sidearms a piece of his now broken guitar at Erik.

 

HUGO

(inadvertently into mic)

You’re a fucking fuck, you fuck!

This, also, is not a lyric in THE SONG.

 

Erik, HIS FACE TATOO HUGE ON THE 15 X 30 SCREEN BEHIND HIM, has the chunk of Hugo’s guitar in his mouth; he chews it like a dog with a bone.

 

The club dissolves into a melee. The CROWD is rushing the stage.

 

The comedian Gallagher, who was the opening act, smashes the drumset with a LARGE mallet.

 

On the big screen behind the band, the CARNIVAL SCENE, from WESTMINSTER, rages on.

 

CUT TO:

 

INT. BACK STAGE – SOON AFTER

 

Hugo, pummeling Erik in the chest and arms (he can’t reach his face as per Erik’s height) as the rest of the band looks on.

 

Erik pushes him away with a long arm.

 

Hugo comes right back at him. From inside his jacket, Erik pulls out a GUN. Shoots Hugo in the ARM.

 

Hugo, looking shocked:

 

HUGO

You shot me!

 

Erik is wiping the fingerprints off the gun; then he tosses it out an open window.

 

ERIK

I guess that finalizes my resignation.

(beat)

It’s just a .22. You’ll live.

Hugo starts pummeling him again, but only with one arm now. Erik makes a run for it, dives through the open window he’d thrown the gun through.

 

CUT TO:

 

EXT. WESTMINSTER STREETS, CARNIVAL – A YEAR OR SO LATER

 

Erik and Jenny, hand in hand, run through Westminster’s streets: past the school, past Jenny’s dorm, past Gallagher’s. Jenny, in her other hand, hold’s the Erik doll, Erik’s “little likeness.”

 

They round a corner, get to Erik’s room – a single unit in a small four unit brick building. As Erik turns the key, his landlord, a middle-aged Indian woman, peeks out her door, cracked just a bit (the door and the landlord).

LANDLORD

(as if she’s dreaming)

It already has possessed TV.

INT. ERIK’S APARTMENT – MOMENTS LATER

Erik puts his keys on the table, tosses his jacket on the TV. It slips off behind, onto the floor. Jenny puts the Erik doll, his “little likeness” on a chair near the door.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. ROCK CLUB – NIGHT

SHOT: On the screen behind the band, the carnival scene from WESTMINSTER.

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Erik Erikson

72

Over 8000 miles away, on the North Island of New Zealand, a young New Zealander of Maori descent, in an attempt to connect with his ancestry and heritage, as well as marking his passage from childhood to adulthood—a promise of sexual prowess—is receiving ta mako over his entire face. His older brother, Etera, who he looks much like anyway, and will soon look even more alike, is creating the artwork, performing the ritual on his brother Hohepa. Although not a tattoo in the strictest sense, as the markings are chiseled, carved by uhi rather than punctured by needles, leaving grooves instead of holes, the word tattoo comes to mind by most speakers of English that see ta mako.

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*

Nearly 200 years ago, on 16 May 1831, on the same North Island of a different New Zealand, the Englishman Barnet Burns, a sailor and trader from the age of 13, landed on the shores of the Mahia peninsula. Expecting, even early in his New Zealand adventure, to get eaten, he instead married Chief Mokoko’s daughter and joined the local Maori tribe. A year later, his wife pregnant, his position and value as a Pakeha Maori solidified, he was no longer a stranger in a strange land. But then, after an attack by the Ngai Te Rangi tribe, where the expedition party he was with were all captured and eaten, he negotiated for his life by, among other loyalties, having his chest, thighs, and his full face, as one would commonly call the result, “tattooed.” As stated in his own book, A Brief Narrative of the Remarkable History of Barnet Burns an English sailor; who has lately been exhibiting at the Surrey Zoological Gardens and other Places of Amusement. With a faithful account of the way in which he became a chief of one of the tribes of the New Zealanders: together with a few remarks on the manners and customs of the people, and other interesting matter, Burns escaped after only 1/3rd of the tattoo being forced onto his face was done. He rejoined his own tribe and, the following year, was made a chief with 600 Maori under his command. “My happiest year in New Zealand!” exclaims Burns in A Brief Narrative of the Remarkable History of Barnet Burns, an English sailor; who has lately been exhibiting at the Surrey Zoological Gardens and other Places of Amusement. With a faithful account of the way in which he became a chief of one of the tribes of the New Zealanders: together with a few remarks on the manners and customs of the people and other interesting matter. During this year, he had his face tattoo completed by, so to speak, friendlier forces.

After more warfare and cannibalism, Barnet Burns bid ado to his wife, who married another chief as soon as he stepped one foot onto the boat, and he found himself back in England by 1835. No longer a sailor, trader, or tribal warlord, as these occupations had nearly gotten him eaten upwards of seventeen times, Barnet Burns now took the stage for a living. With his full face tattoo, and his bag of “gone native” experiences, he lectured and performed around the stages of London. The highlight of his one man show was his performance of the haka, the Maori dance that includes vigorous stamping, thigh slapping, eye bulging, neck thrusting, tongue lashing, and almost vicious clapping, all with rhythmically shouted accompaniment, much like the moves and sounds of hard rock’n’roll.

*

Haiku as tattoo. Around the world, people have master Japanese calligrapher Eri Takase’s designs of master Japanese poet’s Haikus tattooed onto their bodies. In London, a young woman, a punk rock musician, has Basho tattooed onto her shoulder in Kanji: the translation: How admirable, to see lightning, and not think life is fleeting. Buson is tattooed onto a young bartender’s arm in Amsterdam: In loneliness, there is joy too. An autumn eve. In California, an aging hippie fulfills a dream with Issa, onto his left ass cheek: A world of grief and pain, flowers bloom, even then. Issa, again, now on the East Coast of the United States, is tattooed on a young Korean girls neck, in Hanja, upwards toward her face: the translation: In this world of ours, we walk above hell, gazing at flowers.

*

In a garage in New Jersey, a licensed therapist tattoos his doppelganger on the face: on his nose; his cheeks; his chin; his eyes; his face, his face, his face, his face!

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from the novel

Dirt Bag City

III

101 Cats On the Wall

17

It’d gotten to the point where Sal just fired me altogether—I’d let one of the big mowers drive itself into an in-ground pool while I was pissing behind this customer’s shed—and the house was pretty much empty now that Sandy and Mike were gone, and I was sitting there in Mike’s old room drinking from a huge bottle of Old Crow he’d left behind as a token of former friendship.

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There wasn’t too much else he’d left behind…the small TV was gone, the LaZboy, the phone, most of the paintings, the answering machine…Sandy….

Anyway, there I was with nothing to do but drink and think. Think about that mower sinking into the pool, imagining myself at the bottom, the blades spinning toward me, bubbles forming out of the whirling blades, obscuring the baptism of blood about to come… But I kind’ve liked it—the empty house, the empty rooms. My room wasn’t empty yet, but it would be soon.

Mike’s room wasn’t completely empty either. There was me, I was in there, and I had a candle on a little dish in the middle of the floor. I was playing shadow games—I found something else to do!…shadow games, and I made butterflies and bats and big fuck-you-middle-fingers. It was as close as I would get to painting a picture. I started to get bored. I pretty much figured it would soon be time to start trying to jerk off again…

I’d have to kick the cat out. She was on the windowsill, busy ripping the fuck out of the screen. I didn’t care about that—in fact, I was rooting her on…rip away!

And she’d made a pretty good tear already—she’d been working at it for days, weeks—since Sandy and Mike’d left…how long had it been? Days? Weeks? I took another drink and tried to figure it out, tried to figure out what day it was.

By the time I’d figured out what day it was, it was another day, and I was confused again. The next day? Not necessarily. The bottle was empty. I heard a noise, looked up toward the window…the cat was back…she was on the sill…she was really working.

There was a knock on the door—the front door. “Go away,” I mumbled, and the cat started to really go at it—tearing away at manic speed: scratchscratchratcratch

The front door opened. It’d been locked. Howkey? This “word” how-key popped into my head. I didn’t know what it meant at first, but then I managed to figure it out pretty quickly: Sandy must have let Mike in on little our secret—I’d played with her cunt for a while until she’d gotten up and yawned in my face—and now he’d arrived to get some sort of revenge.

So, here it was, I was in no condition to fight, and there was going to be a fight. I was going to get beaten by a little guy with a big head. I could hear Mike wandering around the house, looking for me. He mumbled something—he sounded pissed, his voice sounded different, much more pissed than I’d ever heard it before, and I’d known Mike forever. He sounded more pissed than the time we got caught sling shotting busses in junior high school. That was Willy McDonald’s fault. Willy. Willy-by-the-Window. Willy McDonald, sitting by the window. He’s the one who told. He’s the one whose window I’d taken out. But who was Willy McDonald anyway? Did he still exist? Did he ever exist? Maybe he did. Maybe he did and it was him here now. I’d heard he’d become a lawyer. Maybe he had the key.

I grabbed the empty bottle by the neck and waited…maybe it was Sal, maybe firing me wasn’t enough…I’d whack whoever the fuck it was in the noggin with the big bottle if they came too close.

By the time he finally opened the door I’d fallen asleep again and the door being thrown open startled me out of a dream about…well, there was this headless horsemen, and he was riding this headless horse, on the beach, and they were being led around by a girl who looked a whole lot like Sandy. Who was not headless. But she may have been topless…in my dream, had she been topless? Naked? Sandy on the beach. There were shadows in the dream. Had I finally gotten to see Sandy completely naked in my dreams? I jumped off the horse and grabbed—

“Who are you?” said…whoever was standing at the door. The light flicked on.

I tried to focus. It wasn’t Sandy, that’s for sure. “This is my house,” I said. “Who the fuck are you?”

“Your house? Your house…” and he laughed and then sighed. “This is my house,” he said. “Which one are you?”

Which one are you?

“Captain Kangaroo,” I said, and then he approached quickly. I raised the bottle up, well over my head, and, rather gently, quite effortlessly, he took it out of my hand.

There was this pause. He stood over me while I had my ass on the floor, my back against the wall.

Then he came with it. “How about I smash this fuckin’ bottle over your fuckin’ head?”

“No.”

For a reply, I, instead, got a steel toe directed into my ribs directly from his big right boot. Then came another. Then another. Another. Then Mike’s voice floated into my head: Bruce, you idiot, Bruce, our idiot landlord Bruce…

“What the fuck,” said Bruce, “did you do to my house?” He was looking at the screen. The cat was no longer there tearing away, but a hole big enough for a cat to leap out gasped into the night. “What the fuck happened to this—”

“The cat,” through a groan—it hurt to talk a little bit—“the cat did it.”

“The cat did it…” and Bruce shook his head. “The cat did it. Maybe I should bury the cat up to its head and run it over with the lawn mower—if I still had a lawn mower. That was a shell of my mower on the corner there, wasn’t it?”

I shrugged, but that hurt too.

“Whose pussy had a jolly good time sharpening its claws on my screen anyway?”

“Mike’s pussy,” I lied. “Trying to escape.”

“Where are those other guys anyway? Are you the only one left squatting here?”

“Mike got married, moved to Tahiti.”

I got a kick for that one.

“And what about the other guy?” said Bruce after he’d let the boot sink in.

“Gerbic? He died,” I lied. Maybe it wasn’t a lie. Maybe it was true. I hoped it was true. At the moment, in my present state, I hoped it was true.

I was expecting another kick, maybe from the other side this time, but Bruce’s expression, through squinted eyes, changed. “What happened?”

I tried to formulate a quick story. I didn’t have the whole thing sorted out, but—

“We had this little house-warming party. Gerbic shows up late—he’s late to a party at his own house, I mean your house, but—but, as it turns out, he’s already loaded on pills.” The idea of Gerbic loaded on pills cracked me up. It was hard to laugh but I pressed on. Bruce was smiling. He was either about to kick me again, or, he liked it so far: “So he goes to the freezer and grabs this tremendous bottle of—I don’t know, it must have been 151,” and Bruce was nodding his head, just kept nodding his head, egging me on, “and, believe it or not, he fills up the bathtub, draws the curtain, and starts chugging the rum…to tell you the truth, we kind’ve forgot about him in there. But anyway, at some point, his girlfriend shows up—this big, tremendous, giant, fat whale-of-a-thing—and she’s screaming for Gerbic, screaming for life, and she barges into the bathroom, and there’s Gerbic, at the bottom of the tub—”

“Bullshit,” said Bruce. “I like it,” he said. “But it’s bullshit.”

I’m not sure if he really liked it, but I sure as hell liked it…Gerbic at the bottom of the tub and all that. Maybe I would write it down and give it to Chizzano. The professor. Maybe it was a poem.

A dirty limerick. Bathtub gin. That kind of thing.

“Anyway, Gerbic’s the one who put that hole in the wall.”

Bruce paused. Then he called me on it again: “Bullshit,” he said. “You did it…”

“I don’t know who did it. It was one of those nights. He may have done it.”

“Listen,” said Bruce, and he sat down across the room where he’d been standing, “I know all about guys like you. You think I don’t know about guys like you? About you and your dirtbag lifestyle? I, for a time, was the king…I’ve sold more weed in one weekend than you’ll smoke in your whole life—I’ve stolen more whiskey than you’ve drank beer you fucking retard.” He was smiling. I had no idea what was happening here. Was he my father? Was he my real father? No, I had—“And I’ll still out-drink, out-smoke, out-snort and out-party you in general…two-to-one.” He looked deep into my eyes. “Make that three-to-one. When I was your age,” and the smile got bigger here, “I had a band that toured up and down the East coast—we had this chick singer, man she was gorgeous—and she fucked everybody in the band, she was fucking everybody in the band, and everybody in the band was fucking everybody else in the band and everybody,” and he wasn’t looking at me anymore, his eyes were kind’ve rolling back into his head, “and now she’s my wife, my goddamn fucking wife…one day, I wake up out of the fog and I’ve got a wife, two kids, a farm in Pennsylvania, two houses,” and then his eyes, neck, head—his whole body snapped back to me: “Two houses that I rent out AND YOU’RE FUCKING ONE OF THEM UP BIG TIME MOTHERFUCKER…” …Oh, shit, I thought, here we go. Here we go again… He got up. I had another kick coming my way. I had another kick coming my way, but I couldn’t afford it. I was maxed out. But the last kick, it never came. And that was really vital to me at that moment—it never came and Bruce, for a small portion of my little life, was the most important person to me in the world.

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