Sometimes I look up from what I doing and realize, my father is dead. He is in the ground. My father is dead.
A black wash of mortality rolls over me and I know, truly, that everyone I love someday will be, too. As will I.
There is no assuaging this moment. It can only pass.
I’m here today because my grandfather was one of the lucky ones, and not one of these guys.
The very first cassette tape I ever bought with my own money was Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms. It was 1984 and I was eight.
I can still remember sticking it in my ghetto blaster (yes, that was what we called them) for the very first time and sitting cross-legged on the grass, as Mark Knopfler demonstrated what it was to stroke a guitar.
29 years later, still listening.
How about you?
Addendum One: Here’s the reason I liked Dire Straits: the record industry told me to. This was 1984. Small-town Nebraska. Before Walmart, even, so I bought the tape in a Kmart. There was an independent record store in town, possibly two, but like my mom was going to let 8 year old me venture in amongst the stoners and metalheads to peruse Motorhead and the Doors outtakes. Also, I think I’d seen the Money For Nothing video – revolutionary at the time – at a friend’s house on MTV. I had certainly heard the song on the radio. I believe the local rock station was live with an actual DJ at the time but they still got their marching orders from corporate, and played what the people wanted to hear. Which was what the home office told them the people wanted to hear.
Talk about successful branding. Here I am, nearly three decades later, pimping the Dire Straits band on my own time, for free.
Addendum Two: I don’t care. Dire Straits are (were) a great fucking band. I prefer to think they used the music industry to get their music out. Rather than the other way round. Exhibit A, as proof:
Addendum Three: In the pre-internet days, the music industry was the method by which great music was efficiently distributed to the hinterlands, i.e., where I lived. Some trucker hauled that tape 3000 miles from the tape factory to the Scottsbluff, Nebraska Kmart. So I could buy it with lawn-mowing money. Everyone wins, no?
*Historical note: Brothers in Arms, which I bought on tape, was the first CD to sell a million copies. Either the record industry is very persuasive, or that was a great record. Both?
She was wearing another dress now, a purple creation that was more than just tight. It looked as if it had grown up with her.
- David Goodis, Black Friday
In 2012, my dad died. I understand what they mean when they say a man is born twice: the first time, and when his father dies.
In 2012 I hit a lifetime goal: got a book deal. Buy MOONDOG OVER THE MEKONG, if you would. I’m going to have a lot more to say about the book next year.
This site will be upgraded shortly, to aid in that.
God, a whole bunch of other stuff happened, especially with my writing. But I’ve pretty much shifted the up-to-date news to Twitter and Facebook. You’re following me, right? (Am I following you?) We’re friends, right? Get in now, before I have to make one of those pages you can only Like.
I may listen to too much country music. Ada, 5, asked me today out of the blue, “Dad, why does that guy only think about her when he’s drunk? Is it because he’s a rambling man?”
(Answers: yes and yes.)
On the other hand, the only meal I can consistently get Waylon, 2, to eat is red meat and potatoes. So I’m doing right somewheres.
See you in 2013.
(Song & video somewhat NSFW.)
The mansion was the way I’d always feared a mansion would be, only more so. In my fear I’d never managed to conjure the spectacular astounding details. A quick inventory of only this one room made me hate myself. Made me hate myself and all my type that came before me. This mansion was sixteen levels higher than any place I’d ever been among.
As I stared about – gawked, probably – I likely blushed pink to go along with those trembles.
I’d say what such things as I saw in that room were, if I knew the proper names of such things, though I’d bet heavy I’ve never heard those names spoken. I’m sure such things have personal names – those moody lampshades made of beadwork, and a chair and a footstool put together with, like, weaved leather hung on frames of curled iron or polished rare bones, maybe, and end tables that had designs stabbed into them and stuffed with gold leaf or something precious, a small and swank desk over by the far wall, and a bookshelf so old our Revolution must’ve happened off to the sides of it, carved up with fine points and nicely shined, with a display of tiny statues and dolls arranged just so all across it.
Pretty soon I crawled away from the light, back to the dark parts of the mansion. That sinking feeling set in. Truly, I felt scared, embarrassed for the poorly decorated life I was born to.
The mansion is not but about a rifle shot distant from the trailer park, but it seemed like I’d undergone interplanetary travel. I’d never collided with this world before.
- Daniel Woodrell, Tomato Red
Before the news:
My short story collection MOONDOG OVER THE MEKONG is out in ebook form and the print version is coming shortly. $2.99! Cheapest (virtual) stocking stuffer in town!
Also, plans are afoot for a total site redesign as well as all kinds of other news. Soonish. Stay tuned.
Including mine. I am shocked, SHOCKED.
Only fitting that the world’s most badass crime mag would get caught engaging in literary crime, too.
I liked hearing my name pronounced in a French accent, even a faux French accent, even by a sock.
Hey – go pick up a copy of THUGLIT Number One, wouldja? $0.99 at a computer screen near you.
My dad has decided to forego all further treatments for his cancer, and return with dignity back to the farm. Dad was nearly a priest, was in fact a soldier, then a farmer, a businessman, a philanthropist and remains a credit to his community. Now he has chosen to follow in the path of the ancients he respected and referenced all his life, walking into the good night a sage and a stoic.
The Nebraska Panhandle, 1988
First water, we called it—the first water of the summer irrigation season—first water was coming. On the Fourth of July, 1988, the summer before I entered seventh grade, my father had my whole family at the end of a field of Great Northerns laying ten-inch irrigation pipe over new corrugations. It was 111 degrees in the shade and all I wanted was to be at the lake with the guys, riding in a motorboat, waterskiing, maybe sneaking a can of beer from a cooler to pass around. But beans don’t irrigate themselves.
My father was talking about Cincinnatus, the hero that saved Rome and then refused to be dictator, returning instead to his fields.
“This country could use a Cincinnatus or two,” he said.
My grandparents, resolute Catholics, had deemed it their duty to apportion a son to the Church. My father had been shipped off to seminary at age thirteen, joining the last wave of men to receive a pre-Vatican II education. Just shy of ordination, he decided celibacy was too heavy a cross to bear. He bolted for co-ed college and Vietnam and this farm, toting along his classical education like sharp jeweled shards. It has always seemed to me that these shards jab his brain even when he is about the grittiest of farm labor. Perhaps more so then.
Cincinnatus was a favorite theme. We heard the story many times. I think about him still in moments of reverie, dreaming of accomplishing heroic deeds myself in the camera’s unblinking eye, refusing all offers of position and prestige, returning to my farm with a final wave to the hushed TV masses.
We had to unload the pipes from a trailer hitched to an old open-cab Oliver tractor, my ten-year-old brother Travis at the wheel. The pipes were hot and I had forgotten my gloves at the house. My father shook his head and gave me his.
“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “Just don’t forget.”
As the trailer jounced over the corrugations, we rolled pipes onto the dirt, my father on one end and my eight-year-old brother Nate and I on the other. Dust whorled around our ankles. My mother dandled my little sister Michaela under the elm trees in the shade. Michaela was just three and, left on her own, might go chasing a moth under the wheels of the tractor.
After the line was deposited, the pipes had to be joined. Everyone had a job. Nate went along slamming shut the four-inch square surge gates that controlled the flow of water down the corrugations. Travis checked the gaskets. I lined up the pipes so the male end would penetrate the female. The old pipes were dented and warped. They didn’t fit together so well. My father butted a slab of creosote-stained railroad tie against the pipe-end to thump with a sledge hammer. He wielded the sledge with the precision some men swing golf clubs. He used to lay these lines of pipe by himself.
If my end didn’t pop in after a couple swings, I’d sit on it to add a little weight. I was very judicious about this. If I sat wrong, my particulars got stung good.
“Move it, boys,” my father roared after popping a joint in, grinning, swinging the sledge up on his shoulder. “You’re slowing me down!”
We raced down the field, whooping in the heat. I grabbed a dirt clod, winged it at Travis. I missed by a mile but my mother saw.
“Quit that,” she called. “You’re going to put an eye out. And fix your bandana.”
“Ah, Mom,” I said.
“Don’t you look at your mother with that tone of voice,” my father said.
My mother made us wear bandanas under our ball caps to shield our neck and ears from the sun. We each had different colors: yellow, purple, red, a little tribe of bedouins on the western Nebraska prairie.
Lunch was in the shade trees by the tumbledown beet labor shack, built during the premechanized days when gangs of migrant workers roamed the country seeking fieldwork. We ate baloney sandwiches soggy from the heat and guzzled fizzy Squirts chased by water out of a frozen milk jug so cold it hurt my teeth. The breeze was hot sandpaper on our faces.
My father talked about how the conquering Mongols lived on meat cured between a saddle and a horse’s back. He admired true grit above all else, and the first book I can remember being proud enough to show him I had read on my own was called Genghis Khan.
“Back to it,” my father said. “Christmas is coming.”
We made good progress. I started to get hopeful about the lake and meeting the guys. I wouldn’t tell them why I was late. Town kids didn’t understand pipes or first water or Cincinnatus.
Storm clouds mounted in the east, giant black thunderboomers that mushroomed a mile into the sky, crackling with sheet lightning. We worked until thunder rolled overhead and cool gusts knifed through our sweaty shirts.
“Jim,” said my mother, coming from the trees, toting Michaela.
“All right, all right,” said my father. “Let’s mount up.”
As we retreated the world went electric with lightning like flashbulbs pressed to my eyeballs. The sky spit hail, and we took cover in the beet labor shack, standing together in the front room watching pea-sized hailstones shimmy like popcorn through the empty window frames. Then the hail stopped, and a last squall pelted the splitting wood shingles with crooked rain. Not a bad storm, though electricity continued to strobe the sky. The beans would make it, but all my friends would have fled the lake.
The shack consisted of three tiny rooms, no indoor plumbing, no electricity. Slats showed through jagged cracks in the walls. Chunks of plaster were scattered pebbly on the warped floorboards. My father picked a chunk up, thumbed powder from the edges.
“Luxury,” he said. “Thomas Aquinas wrote the Summa Theologica in a stone monk’s cell with a quill pen and a candle. Men like that have about gone the way of the gooney bird.”
No way would I have told my friends, but around then I wanted to be a priest, thinking sainted thoughts, clacking beads over penitents. Times had grown permissive, though, and, at a much earlier age than my father, I realized I couldn’t hack celibacy. Nevertheless I have come to mimic St. Thomas, hunched in close rooms alone, writing. The saint would not own me, I wager.
Michaela started crying. “Let’s get them back up to the house,” said my mother. “Who knows how long the lightning will last.”
We loaded up in the back of the pickup and headed home. My father dispatched a couple oatmeal cookies with us then returned to finish out the line. First water was coming.
I’ve taken over as Editor at the Bareknuckles Pulp Department at the newly-revived Out of the Gutter. Got some great stories posted already, and from time to time I’ll post other stuff. Like this review of The Disassembled Man, below, which I’ve reprinted here:
The Disassembled Man
by Nate Flexer
Are bad men born, or are they made? I don’t know. Nate Flexer might, though. The author of The Disassembled Man is at least certain of one thing: a bad man can make things very, very much worse for himself. And the poor bastards around him.
Here’s the kind of ultra-antihero Frankie Avicious is:
I saw an old woman walking with a cane. Her hair was blue and she was wearing Ray Charles sunglasses. She was holding a flower purse. I asked her for the time, then shoved her to the ground. She fractured her hip. I grabbed her purse. As I fled the scene I rifled through the contents. Drivers license, American Express, dirty handkerchief, photo of her dead husband, photo of her ugly grandchildren, pack of gum. Twelve dollars in cash. I did some quick math. At this pace I’d have to mug more than 300 grandmas. That might take me all night.
This ain’t even close to what he’s capable of.
Frankie quits his job at an Arizona slaughterhouse by torturing a steer and setting it loose on the killing floor, determined to change his destiny, to climb out of his shithole on a vapor trail of cheap booze. His fat wife, who he hates, has a rich father, see. Oh, and he’s in love with a stripper named Scarlett Aces. Who just so happens to be under the protection of a local gangster. Meanwhile a mysteriously omniscient salesman keeps paying him visits, selling nothing but smug advice. Oh, and did I mention Frankie’s past is littered with bodies and blood? You might guess that this won’t end well.
I’m here to tell you: it’s worse than you think. Frankie Avicious relentlessly kicks against the pricks, but there’s always more, and they’re always coming for him.
Flexer is unflinching, man; nothing is too low for Avicious to stoop to, or Flexer to document. A gripe you could level is that no one, anywhere, seems able to grasp even the tiniest shaft of hope. Unremitting darkness runs the risk of collapsing into reverse-image sentimentality. It’s a tough line to walk, but Flexer manages it. The ending, true enough, will have you cringing from your Kindle. But it does let a little whiff of justice into the story, which you may or may not find a touch jarring, depending on your theological outlook.
The Disassembled Man is chockablock with moments you’re not sure you should be laughing at, but you do anyway, even as Frankie Avicious spins deeper and deeper into his own muck. Skeletons dancing on a shallow grave way out in the desert, passing a bottle of mescal around: you’re starting to get the idea. Totally contemptible and utterly dispicable, Frankie Avicious will nonetheless insist that you come along for the ride, and Nate Flexer’s got the writing chops to make sure you keep your hands and feet inside the car. You’ll be glad you weren’t made a man like Frankie Avicious. Nor born one, either.
*Note: the title of this post is one of my favorite one-liners lifted straight from the book.
You’re staring at this. Of course you want to pick it up. Me, too. Your chance is coming soon: Noir Nation will hit the ecosystem later this summer:
My story “Slog On,” a bit of World War II noir, is behind those cat-like eyes, along with top-notch noir from Les Edgerton, Thomas Pluck, Ray Banks, Paul D Brazill, Andrew Nette, & others. Edited by Eddie Vega & Cort Mcmeel.
Noir Nation highlights the best of international crime fiction and I’m damn proud to get to rub shoulder with these folks.
Two pieces up in two days at two separate places. So I’m going to break the pattern by not doing double posts.
“Gun In Your Mouth And All” is another excerpt from an unpublished novel manuscript and it’s in Yellow Mama. (Yellow Mama was the nickname for a famous electric chair in Alabama.) It’s a nasty piece, full of venomous vim and vigor. You’ll love it. Cindy Rosmus, the editor, said, “Court Merrigan’s ‘Gun in Your Mouth and All’ tells of a guy who’s fed up with hearing about his dead daddy’s cowardice. That about covers it.
This story includes some original artwork (shown at left) by Steve Cartwright. It’s not every day you get your story illustrated and I think he did a fine job of capturing Rhonda’s particular brand of slatternly slouch.
I’d like to thank Cindy for some very helpful editorial suggestions that really improved the flow and the ending – especially the ending – of this little ditty.
Other excerpts from this novel have appeared in Fried Chicken & Coffee, Midwestern Gothic, and decomP (linkys up in the Writing page). With a bit of luck, this novel may someday see the light of day. It’s good to go now, if, you know, you’re and agent and / or editor and / or publisher reading this.
I’ve long wanted to place a piece in 3:AM. Besides the effortlessly cool moniker, everything they publish gleams with cerebral appeal. I got my chance, finally, when Editor Susan Tomaselli took up my story “The Order of Things.”
This story is a definite departure from my recent blood- and whisky-soaked pulp salvos. A trickster story couched in some musings on the nature of the Hand of God in some nameless American (yep, American) place three generations after the Crisis. The ancient antimonies do not depart regardless of the age or its barbarity.
I wrote this story shortly after reading A Canticle for Leibowitz and I was, at the time, also knee-deep in Nabokov. Both those hifalutin influences left their palm prints all over “The Order of Things.” To its great benefit, no doubt but yeah, no explosions or shootings or anything. Don’t worry, though – plenty more of that coming down the pike.
Thanks for reading! Neither site has a comment form, so if you want to leave some comments here, I’ll be happy to cuss and discuss with you.