Author’s note: Hot damn, a real blast from the past. I found this tattered, old, ink-stained page in the back of my clipboard at work along with a lot of sheets covered in the names of fantasy football prospects. Judging from memory, context, and most of all, the names on the lists of football players (Priest Holmes, Dante Culpepper, Steve McNair, Andre Johnson, Michael Vick), I figure this piece of writing to be from 2004 or 2005. This was to be the start of my first novel. Ultimately I changed course a bit, but I can see that the themes that carried A Fool for Lesser Things are present here, in embryonic form. Take a look.
“Welcome to Cuntfish Bay, suckers,” Harry thought ruefully as he sipped his coffee and watched the thickening throng of tourists crowd the streets at a quarter of nine on a Friday morning. It made him smile. Not the thickening throngs or the coffee - he drank shitty coffee - but his little pet name for the town. Words like ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ were good to say, good hard consonants. You could really spit ‘em out. Even in your mind.
Harry did look ruefully upon the little resort town of Sunfish Bay, but the truth is, on this day, Harry didn’t need to call it a dirty-sounding name to make himself feel better. In fact, he’d been wearing a smile all morning; a real shit-eating deal. He must even have slept with it on, because he woke up with his face hurting. And now he sat on the old, weather-beaten porch of his second floor apartment, drinking his shitty coffee and watching the tourists flood the streets, smiling in spite of himself.
Harry was a devout cynic and bitter. Every day, as sure as he breathed, he catalogued the dumb miracle of middle America. The long march of the affluent shit-eaters. Middle management getting its summer on. The big payoff for having learned to swallow cock and ooze banality; having learned to not only tolerate bullshit, but to revel in it, to immerse one’s self in it and breath it like amniotic fluid. It was a victory parade for dumbness and soullessness, and a sounding board for Harry’s own personal code of failure.
Harry reached into his shirt pocket and produced a joint about the size of his little finger. He lit the end of it and inhaled deeply, smiling in spite of himself. He smiled because for once he had his own dumb miracle. And though it was outside of his nature, Harry gloated for it. Normally, Harry greatly tempered any feeling of hope or joy and guarded it jealously, hid it away somewhere where even he was reluctant to look on it.
As it happened, Harry’s miracle had found him in a rather desperate place. This late desperation was unsettling for the man, for though he was a cynic and bitter, Harry was not without his humanities, not without his pleasures and joys. He was not a misanthrope. It’s just that in regard to feelings such as joy and contentment, as indeed to the whole of his species, Harry’s methods of relation were a bit . . . strangled. The how and why of it would constitute an interesting case study to be sure, but in the end, Harry had always considered himself more or less happy. He’d just assumed the weight of popular contempt and long bouts of isolation to be the wages of acute superiority. His loneliness was a self-righteous one and self imposed, a thing over which he presumed control. But as the long march of days persisted, Harry was left with the creeping feeling that the world meant to call his bluff. The feeling came in the small hours of the night as a pit in his stomach and a hot panic in his head. Harry did his best to douse it with booze and smother it with marijuana, club it with whatever pills he found lying around his place, but the damn thing was building an immunity. And it was driving Harry ever closer to a foreign and terrifying brink. Then, in the space of one evening, the creeping terror vanished like some childish fancy.
Harry put his feet up on the porch railing and leaned back in his chair, puffing mightily on his joint, feeling every bit like the wicked ruler of some star-crossed kingdom. Ha! And to think, he’d almost gone off like some wrist-slashing teenager.
Spoiler Alert!!! Harry’s miracle that is referenced above is a tryst with a young tourist girl. This book was going to be a May-December romance thing, not quite as salacious a situation as Lolita, but unsettling. Like if Hollywood had had the balls to cast Miley Cyrus opposite Toby Keith in 2006’s Broken Bridges. (I watched it on CMT at a bar while eating dinner once.) Anyway . . . I never picked it up again after this first chapter, but I’m starting to think it’s got promise. What do you think? Vote up or down on Twitter: @joylesshouse Send hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Readers’ suggestions will not actually be considered.)