|[Editors Note: You have landed amidst the wreckage of the American Dream. It's a novel called Big American. |
How did this start?The squid is on the road, people. Keep up. Want to catch up with past chapters? Check out the Archive.
Want to know what happens next? Read on!]
I shall hold the knowledge of the "future" suspended. Thomas and Lisa weep now, forever it seems, in a frozen Nebraska. We know where they were on that dreaded day, in the steely shadows of "Carhenge" listening to "All Things Considered", and holding each other. But that is not where our story was. Is. Shall be?
Where was our story?
I feel that I should attempt, now, to more fully meet the requirements of my occupation as narrator. Though these events unfold beyond my control, and perhaps only after all has happened could I really be able to shape the narrative into any sense, I will at this moment pause and try to reorient our story so that it is in some way more comprehensible. In this action, there is a kind of terrible amnesia. We rewind our clock here to those events in New Orleans, in the boundless halcyon summertime, that seem now to be a lifetime ago. And though it has no practical bearing on this tale, I for one am sure that despite my best efforts, the circling shadow of airliners will forever mar the simplicity of what this bit of writing should have been.
So. Yes. We were in New Orleans. We are in New Orleans. It is late August and the air— as it it always within the Great Easy— is heavy and damp as boiled wool.
Thomas had grown sick of the way that his life had shaped itself and, endeavoring to change that life, he convinced the Squid that he was being persecuted by the Federal Government, and that his only recourse was to journey cross-country in a desperate bid for citizenship. Thomas convinced Lisa's employers that they should send Lisa along wandering aimlessly in the beautiful, piercing light of America. Lisa and her employers (possibly) believe the venerable Squid to be Marlon Brando. Thomas convinced me to "hold down the fort," to catalogue and monitor. To record, and to tell. But, already, there are forces operating beyond their limited ken. Shadows follow them, and track them. And Lisa and Thomas even now are facing something larger than they know.
In Georgia we discovered that the trio were being tracked by agents both technologically and, perhaps, spiritually advanced. And we learned that Lisa seems to know things she is not letting on (I do not trust her. Do you?) The Squid has somehow freed himself of the confines of the tank in the back of their Escalade. And this brings them, inexorably, to New Orleans.
In New Orleans, Thomas was attacked, struck deaf, kidnaped and taken to see many wonders. And then he was set free. He is now in a hospital. And the Squid is beneath the city in unnatural caverns.
In New Orleans, in our story, it is a late and muggy August. And in the future, a pair of planes will demolish a pair of skyscrapers in New York City.
What is the story so far? I have forgotten. I must concur with the distinguished Mr. Warren: The world is more full of weeping than we can understand.
Being a well-read cephalopod, I thought you might be able to help me understand something. That is: what is the deal with McSweeney's ? Why does everyone love them so much? I mean, there's some funny stuff there, and everything, but it's just such bargain-basement lit parody, mostly. What's the big deal? Why do so many people seem to want to blow them?
I write to you, Dear Readers, from deep below the superficial filth and degradation of New Orleans. Let it be known, the insouciant wallowing of Fraternites, Sororiites, professional sex-receptacles and the indigent— even the rutt-wallowing of their wildest dreams— it cannot match that which lies below. It is wondrous, wonderful, strange. Imagine a film of the most depraved day at the Danzig Anatomical Institute of Nazi Germany, directed by a pornographic lunatic and set amid the pounding, fetid fervor of a South Chicago house party. Now imagine this film run backwards in slow motion, and cast through putrid green filters of human bile and suffering. Welcome, then, to the Below.
Ah, but these matters over which I compose odes, these are no matters of today. These are not the concerns of Alfred Manahananana.
Al-Man, all things being equal— and trust me, my russet dirtgrunt, they seldom are— I have not the faintest impression why any might admire the trite and arrogant literary works of the Clan McSweeney. As near as I can tell (and, let you know, that is to within 11 millimeters at a distance of up to one mile in clear waters), their literary output is an even split betwixt
#1: The poem composed of sentences and sentence fragments stolen from other, older published materials.
#2: Painfully uninteresting inside jokes.
#3: Painfully uninteresting inside jokes regarding David Gergen (Commentator, editor, teacher, public servant, Presidential advisor, pederast.)
#4: That which simply makes no sense.
But, it is not literary gerrymandering I wish to speak of. Rather, let us reflect upon the grand patriarch of Clan McSweeney: the both late(?) and great Timothy McSweeney, of elevated memory. Why do I doubt the lateness of the all-too-apparently deceased Timothy McSweeney?
Let this be clear: I have never known Timothy McSweeney himself— only through accounts of the second hand and evidence documentary am I familiar with his life and times. What has been relayed to me is as such:
Timothy McSweeney (originally "Timothy McSwyn") was born to Irish itinerant farmers in 1906— the very same year as the great and terrible earth-shaking which leveled Adolph Sutro's glorious glass baths and soothing gardens. Bound to the strict tentacle of logic, my root temptation is to claim this to be but chronological co-incidence. How could a babe in cradle strike a tremble along the broad Western Seaboard, sending Sutro's Crystal Palace sliding into the sea? This, one exclaims, is simply not possible! Believe that I agree heartily, and yet despite its impossibility, it is no less true.This is the tale of Timothy McSweeny (nee McSwyn), as it is told by the sea tortoises to the echinoderms in the high warm shelves of the oceans, deep and broad. And, as far as I have heard, people of America, Timothy did many things we do not know of. And, yes, he has also been a part of the forming and distribution of a modestly successful literary magazine, which probably has nothing to do with anything, but is simply serendipitous.
It is told that the young McSweeney grew to manhood in the hills of Kentucky , his family moving from home to home on more than twenty occasions before he reached the rutting-year of tendermost fifteen. He and his many brothers and sisters struggled with their sharecropper parents to keep food below the table and a roof atop the head. They worked without sabbath, schooling, lubrication or any of the comforts so quickly becoming the norm in the rest of Twentieth Century America.
One of the staples of the Kentucky mountainsides was a man named Buck Carolton, a carpet-bagger of the highest degree, traveling twixt Charleston and New Orleans the year round. He traipsed from town to town, guiding his old nags and cart, or even upon the feet, bent double with the weight of the sack-o-wares on his back. Never without his pipe, the billygoatish old snake-oil purveyor's white beard was yellowed like a fire by the perpetual haze of oily humo tobaccular .
Buck sold every imaginable simple treat of that a démarrent de siecle primate could possibly crave: Horehound candy, Sweet Moon Liver Pills, Root Barrel Candy, Pain King Salve, long ropes of licorice, and knicks of all sorts. For Mother there was always more borax by the box, as well as Snorrington's Patented, keening new knives from Ohio, and fabric from the river boats. He carried pots and pans and tools and steel and treated meats and tins of all sorts. When he was making his way into town he was preceded fully two hours by a long warm breeze and the clanking sounds of his aged and shuffling gate. Or so it is told
In the age of your nation's laughable and poorly named "Reconstruction", the Family McSwyn had fallen on terrible times and lost nigh unto all their dear material possessions. Gone was the silver eating-tools, gone the fine silk bed and table shrouds. Gone, even, the cowflesh bound family Biblos, in which the words of their precious Jesus were rendered in both red and yellow, determined by the mood of the Speaker. They knew no longer of their families in Boston, or in Ireland, and felt as though at any moment the world might grind them all away in corn dust, with nary a shrug.
In 1905, while pregnant with Timothy, her sixth son, Mrs. McSwyn waited all the night for Buck Carolton's portentous arrival. She had felt the hint of a breeze the day before, and by early in the dark of the morning the owl screeched through the air, the tinkling of tin against tin was audible amongst the fox steps in the leaves and the rustling of vines in the heavy limbs of the trees.
When he finally came by the old homeplace Buck Carolton, curled and crippled though he was, rushed to the bedside of Mrs. McSwyn taking the stairs three at a time; he neither knocked nor requested entrance, but entered, like a mouse or spirit or officer of the police.
And (I have heard the little mollusks shutter when this part comes in the tale as it is told around the deep sea vents of the mid-Pacific) she says to dear Buck Carolton, she says:
"Buck, you're older than the mountains, are ye not?"
"Aye," Buck says.
"And. Buck?" she continues. "You've sold everything that has ever been made by man or god or devil in every corner of this earth, have you not?"
"Aye," Buck says. "I have bought the golden eggs of Araby, and sold the breath of chinamen to the whales of the sea. I have had the hair from the Devil's chin in this here pack, so that I might sell it to King Hal for his arrow fletching. And I have purchased moonshine on the open markets of the sky. I'm as good as any salesman might want to be, and all that you say is true."
"Well, Buck, then I have something I need to buy."
"Well, Mary McSwyn, whose name was O'Lauren when she was a girl, and whose mother lived up in the hollar by the creek in Mechanixburg on land that was given her by her grandpappy who had sent his son to America with but a little money, which was lost, and he became but a slave to the rich men of Virginia, you know me well enough to ask a special dispensation and for that I will open up the secret parts of my sack. I only ask one thing."
"What is that?" Mary the very Pregnant McSwyn asked, knowing full well what was to be asked.
"You'll need to agree now to any payment I might ask."
And she sighed a great and matronly sigh, and held upon her Timothy-filled belly, and she prayed to her several gods that her grandmother had taught her to pray to when she knew God— who is in Heaven, who is Jesus of the Biblos cow-clad— was not going to hear a thing, and she closed her eyes, and then she said, finally: "Fine. Good."
"Well," and Buck was very somber then, because he was no devil and he knew what he and Mrs. McSwyn had agreed to there in the dusty air of the early morning on the day of the birth of her last son. "Well. Make your purchase."
"I want unending power for my son." She said.
"That is all that you want?" he looked in the bag as though to say that there were other things there worth examining.
She held upon her belly and struggled to sit up.
"Yes. Unending power for my son, for all time. And some of those liver pills."
Buck reclined heavily upon the chair adexter her bed and extracted the last tin of liver pills from his bag. He handed her the tin and she took out three greedily. He poured her a glass of water from the stoneware pitcher on the nightstand and she drank deeply the draught as she swallowed the liver pills one after the other.
"Liver pills it is." He murmured. And then she gripped at her chest and let out a wail and Miss Kate, the lady from the forest, came rushing to aid in the expulsion of the nascent Timothy from her burdened womb. Buck then slipped away, silently, like a breeze or mouse or officer of the law.
That night, Buck returned in the guise of a sin eater. The family was in a turmoil. John McSwyn held his wife's limp body as Miss Kate cradled the newborn Timothy in her arms. Miss Kate appeared greatly frazzled, nighly feral, and the older girls McSwyn eyed her warily. Finally the Kate fled, downstairs and out, with the boy held in the circle of her angular arms.
Buck, disguised as a sin eater, offered his services to John McSwyn who asked how much the service might total, including all surcharges and fees.
"Your wife and I have arranged the cost. It was earlier today. There will be no cost to the family."
Relieved, John set the girls to work crafting the meal. Buck sat quietly in the bedroom rubbing Mary's limp, white tentacle. The smell of a feast rose up around him, filling the room. He saw the liver pill tin upon the floor, the little brown pills scattered across the wood. Only three missing. Easy to resell. But he could not arise. He simply sat, upon the chair upon the ground, holding Mary's quickcooling hand.
And then they laid out upon Mary that deathmeal. There was a chicken stuffed with apple slices and pears and bread and onions. And there was a huge bowl of potatoes. And there was butter. And a week's worth of fresh cream. And peach pie. And towering sweet cakes from the neighbors. And smooth moonshine that John had made years ago. And trout from the river. And berries as a garnish from up the mountain. And long bows of evergreen.
And all of it was laid out on top of dear, sweet Mary's cooling corpse as was the custom for a sin eater.
And John smiled to Buck, and Buck began a-feasting. And along with his belly of food he took a belly of sins. But secretly, without anyone noticing, along with the belly of sin, Buck took his payment as well.
Along with the drumsticks and the thick butter pats and the peach pie so sweet it summoned tears to the eater's eyes, Buck devoured Mary's first kiss, her first moment of motherhood, her dreams of life in heaven, the sensation of her grandmother's soft fingertips in the cold of winter, and the cool breeze of the summer of 1889 when she fell in love with John.
And Miss Kate raised Timothy for a while. And Buck happened to meet with him, now and again, mostly during the Roaring Thirties, when Buck was busier than ever in Oklahoma and points West. Timothy and Buck talked briefly for a time in a train station in Austin. Buck showed unto Timothy key objects and manipulations, not of relevance, and gave to Timothy a map that was very old, and a box that neither opened nor closed, and some names of people in New Orleans written on slips of vellum that Buck had come upon during his time in Constantinople just before the fall in 1453 (the other fall).
So, Al-Man, in final answer: Why do such throngs wish to suckle upon the man-teat mating-meat of the Grand McSweeney? For the very same reason that such queues formed to feed from the pink font of the late, great, Clin-Ton: All desire, with fervor, to feed upon sweetsalty Power!
I (shutteringly) remain,
(the once and future Squid)
Sang here: Thomas, as the great Lord Architeuthis Dux holds forth, is even now convalescing at an undisclosed hospital on the outskirts of New Orleans Parish.
And he is in Nebraska.
And an airliner is, even now, suspended in the sky.
And the country, every man woman and child, stands at the ready, their cell phone at their ear.
The circuits are locked.
What was the story so far?
Good Night, America.
Love the Giant Squid? Buy his first book.
Share on Facebook
Tweet about this Piece
Poor Mojo's Tip Jar: