Copyright © 2014 Daniel Clausen
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THOUGHTS ON REEJECTTION AND THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE
Feels a Lot Like High School Literary Magazine
ON POLISHING, REVISION, AND THE TRIALS OF FINISHING
RETURN ON INVESTMENT OF A USED BOOKSTORE
ANGEL STRINGS BOOK REVIEW: A ROAD TRIP NOVEL IN A GEOGRAPHY OF NOWHERE
A Touch of Sophistication Literary Magazine
THE OPENING LINE
Uplifting Stories Magazine
THE FORBIDDEN STORY OF PATIENT 14892
BADONKADONK LITERARY WEEKLY
SAL AND THE REVOLUTION
Long and Strong
THE SCIENCE OF A PERFECT SUMMER
Realm of Perfect Forms Literary Journal
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After fully reviewing your qualifications to read this book, I regret to inform you that you are not qualified to turn the page at this time.
Please excuse this form rejection letter.
We will keep your application on file and at the appropriate time, you will be encouraged to turn the page.
Until that time, we encourage you to check out our homepage for more opportunities.
Thank you again, and we wish you the best with all your future reading endeavors.
THOUGHTS ON REEJECTTION AND THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE
What is this book? It is the inconsequential. The nothing. Not The Nothing of The NeverEnding Story that threatened the world with oblivion. Rather, this is the kind of nothing that hides in the speck of a shadow of the end credits of The NeverEnding Story in the name for the guy who brought coffee to the director, the esteemed Mr. Wolfgang Peterson [What a name!].
But like Sylvia Plath says, “Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.”
In terms of full disclosure, most of the stories here have been published before—either on a website, or my blog, or something. Some of it is reejectted and other stories are simply underrated or under-published.
Perhaps they are just neglected.
In terms of even fuller disclosure, this book will lack a few things on purpose:
3) Money and a sound marketing plan.
What it doesn’t lack? Heart! Gusto!
The book is the ephemeral, the unnecessary, the hidden—the outcast and reejectted. If it is nomadic and vagrant, it is also free. Free to find other hiding places, to be read and enjoyed, to be ignored. [But it doesn’t lack gusto or heart!]
Pure freedom of this sort can only come in the spaces of reejecttion.
A common aphorism goes: “Nothing succeeds like success.” That might be true. But nothing destroys quite like success either. Catastrophes— personal, social, and political happen when the cup of success runneth overth. The 2008 financial crisis (the seeming success and popularity of vague financial instruments), every child star ever in existence (poor Corey Haim and Justin Bieber)…success is the great lubricant of catastrophe. [Thus, no MBA or economist shall ever marry my daughter! Only bohemians may apply.]
Small doses of bad things—failure, rejection—serve to inoculate us from even worse things to come. They remind us of our frailty, our humanity.
There is no getting around it, though—reejecttion, in all its various forms, sucks. For writers who are veterans of the form rejection slips, it can be arbitrary, meaningless, numbing, dehumanizing…[add an endless number of adjectives here!]
In any event, these stories are about to be disappeared from my hard drive. I need to make space for The Future! A marvelous time where I have health insurance, make money, and who knows—maybe even make money from writing. More likely, I’ll become an MBA or economist and ruin some poor family’s cherished daughter and run their family business into the ground.
So this book in your hands is fleeting. It’s not even an underdog.
But don’t fear reejecttion. Don’t fear assigning some of your writing to oblivion. Oblivion has its uses. Reejecttion has its uses.
Sometimes, progress comes at the hand of a jackhammer. Some kind of bloodletting is necessary from time to time.
There will also be times to be sentimental. Reejecttion, however, should not be sentimental. I don’t keep my rejection slips like I used to in high school. Most of them are digital now anyway. I just throw them away.
As a substitute for a resolution to this introduction, I will instead list some great books I’ve read over the past year.
—About a Boy, Nick Hornby
—Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder
—Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut
—Franny and Zooey, JD Salinger
—Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Steig Larsson
—Chronicle of a Death Foretold and 100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
*And there are more to come.
Remember that these people were reejectted too.
I will also give you the link to the ending of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlBiLNN1NhQ
Always look on the bright side of life! [Cheerful Whistling]
Feels a Lot Like High School Literary Magazine
Dear Mr. Clausen:
First of all, this rejection letter does not reflect on the quality of your work. I realize that this seems like a contradiction given that we are supposed to judge based on quality, but no, this rejection…it’s really more about us than you.
Your manuscript is a great guy, and it’s going to find that lucky literary journal someday. You just need to give it more time. I hope we can still be friends.
Anytime you want to talk about your feelings, just give us a call.
Always here for you (even though we don’t want to be intimate with your manuscript),
ON POLISHING, REVISION, AND THE TRIALS OF FINISHING
In the end, the whole thing might be mediocre. The short story, the article, the novel—though you want to finish something, though you want to declare victory, there is something in the back of your mind that tells you that if you stop now the project that you thought could have been great will just be plain mediocre or worse—embarrassing.
As I’m editing my novel (or should I be polishing, or should I be revising?) it occurs to me that my hair is thinning…and it won’t be long before impotency sets in. Life is short, and how long am I really going to spend not-writing, but editing? I get up to make myself a cup of coffee and realize that there is a full cup right on my desk.
Ah, I see.
Well, how long has that cup been sitting there? When to keep pushing and when to give in? When to let it sit and when to ask for a second opinion? The great Dr. Lance Carbuncle (author of Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed) recently told me that at some point your book just becomes a petulant teenager and you need to kick him/her out of the house. But that brings up the question: Is that troubled teenager going to eventually find his/her way? Or are they going to roll up under a bridge and smoke crack?
The Japanese have this great word—kaizen. It means continual improvement. Their traditional business system is known for being able to eliminate errors, to produce something close to perfection. At the same time, the Japanese are infamous for being short on revolutionary innovations and creativity. Bill Gates would dispute me on this, tooth and nail—he points to Japanese anime as his support. A Japanese student of mine once told me in all earnestness that he didn’t have any imagination. I asked him to picture himself at an airport; he couldn’t produce a single mental picture. So when the need for a revolutionary change comes along, the focus on kaizen, gradual polishing, only serves to obscure the fact that large parts of the system or even the entire system itself is in dire need of an overhaul. I could be writing about the Japanese economy, but actually, I’m still talking about writing.
But if your book is an arrogant teenager, do you really want to start all over again?
A last thought: Is it possible to polish every unique and genuine thing from a piece of work? Have you ever listened to a rock band and thought, “Wow, their independently produced album was so much better. Raw, yes, but better”? Where does all this polishing get us, anyway? Is it just raw process that takes us away from the Real of desire? In the end, isn’t it that moment, that pure writerly moment, the thing you want to communicate?
The only thing he really liked about the man was his name—Lake Finnegan. For some reason, James associated the name with something out of a classic novel or a movie or something. The first time he heard the name mentioned by one of the baggers at the Stop n’ Shop he thought the person was talking about someone else. One of the other baggers had said to him, “Hey, don’t let guys like Lake Finnegan get to you.” James’s first thought was that Lake was one of the mean war vets who were constantly around. Then one day another of his fellow baggers, Sampson, said to him as he was wiping down the cash registers, “Man that wrinkled racist motherfucker told me to go get him some dog food. He was yelling at me from his beat up old car like it was last century. Fuck that Finnegan dude.”
Later he would see Lake drive up in his old rusted Cadillac and know exactly who Sampson was talking about. The old man, his many wrinkles, wearing oversized clothes, and sunglasses, looked like hate incarnate. He found Lake one day just lounging around near the front of the store openly gawking at one of the female customers. If it had been any other store, Lake would have been banned. But good ol’ Stop n’ Shop needed Lake and his smoking habit.
Since James started at the Stop n’ Shop as a bagger, as far as he could count, two female clerks and a female bagger had quit. It was hard to know exactly why someone quits, but James thought that Lake’s creepiness must have figured into their decisions somehow. With his leathery skin and slouching gate, he would hang out in front of the supermarket and chain smoke Marlboros. Sampson claimed that Lake knew exactly when the female employees went out on their breaks, knew exactly where they would likely smoke their cigarettes, and then used his eyes to harass them.
The one he really cared about was Kelly Marcus. James, in his twenty-year-old been-to-college looking-to-save-up-to-go-back funk, thought of Kelly as his oasis. She was seventeen when she started working at the cigarette and lottery counter. What was she even doing there in the first place? He remembered the first time he had seen her at his high school—he was a senior, she was a freshman. She was sweet, bubbly, an honors student. What could she possibly get from working the counter at the Stop n’ Shop?
For the most part, James’s approximate year at the Stop n’ Shop had been shit. He worked forty-hour weeks cleaning up spills, bagging groceries, taking orders. At night, with all of his friends already gone to other places, he would go out to the movies by himself. He would watch film after film. Often he would buy one ticket and sneak into two or three movies. When he had done this with his friends in high school the experience had been exciting. But now, by himself, there was something pathetic about it. James was aware enough to know that this was a manner of escape.
When he saw Kelly working the cigarette and lottery counter, his first thought was that she wouldn’t last a day. She came in that first day wearing the same white-collared polo shirt and dark slacks as the rest of the employees. And she seemed to have done nothing at all with her dirty blond hair except put it into a ponytail with a few bangs hanging off to the side. And yet, she was striking. She also seemed impossibly young and optimistic, almost like she was still a freshman in high school. In James’s mind, it seemed as if the violence of the real world was all but imminent. It would come upon her all at once. It would happen to her the same way it had happened to him in college. They—whoever they were—would find the cracks, squeeze through them, and turn that same look into something miserable and forlorn.
She might have been safe. That is, if she hadn’t been working at the lotto and cigarette stand. As his manager often said, there would be no store without the lotto and cigarette stand. And it was no accident that a pretty blond girl had been chosen to man the station.
Her first day, though, she was bubbly and cheerful as ever. What shocked James was that Kelly knew his name. Her first day she called to him, “James, remember me? We went to Casselberry High together.”
It didn’t occur to James until afterward that he had been a little bit well known in high school in his own way. Though implausible at the time, he realized that Kelly could, in the strange universe of high school, have even had a crush on him. When he was around Kelly, the awfulness of the last year and some odd months of his life seemed to fall away. In the minutes he had between his various tasks he would chat with her about how things were going in high school.
The more he talked, the more he wondered what she was doing there. She never complained about her job. She never followed the other girls outside to smoke. She just stood behind her counter—cute as hell—with quiet dignity and did her job. Little things drove him crazy. The few times he got close enough to smell her, he thought he smelled the scent of oak trees. Not perfume, but oak trees. She smelled like she spent all her time outside in fresh air.
He couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow everything was off. James was sure he was supposed to be there because he was a fuck up. But she should’ve been off at cheerleading or something.
And, for a while, things continued like this. Kelly showed up to work three days out of the week, sometimes four. And she stood there with her quiet dignity and did her work, and he did his. They occasionally talked. And it seemed perfectly reasonable to think nothing would change.
Then one day Lake showed up in his car, screeched to a halt right in front of James as he was bringing in shopping carts and yelled, “I need some drinking water, boy!”
Though Lake was white and James was white, Lake sounded like a bigot as he said it.
At first, James didn’t know what to do. Had he heard the old man correctly? Lake sat in his Cadillac with the engine on. It seemed as if he wanted it hand delivered.
“Are you deaf? I want some drinking water.”
James stood there for a full twenty seconds just looking at Lake, not quite sure how to respond.
The way James remembers it, a voice came from behind him. It wasn’t necessarily Sampson’s voice, just a voice. He didn’t hear exactly what the voice said, but it must have been something like, “Leave that man alone.”
James just stood there until Sampson came into view. Before he knew it, Lake was out of his car, standing toe to toe with Sampson. The car was left in the middle of the parking lot and Lake was yelling obscenities and racial slurs at the top of his voice even as Sampson towered almost a full foot taller than him.
Sampson stood there for a good five minutes taking each slur in stride, saying “It’s time for you to leave, old man” in intervals.
James, once he had finally come to his senses, tried to get Lake back into his car.
“Bitter old man is what you are,” said Sampson. “Go home, bitter old man.”
Lake got as far as the driver’s seat. James thought he was going to get into his car and leave. Sampson must have had the same idea because both of their backs were turned. But just as Sampson had turned around a wrench flew in his direction. The wrench probably missed by a few feet. The old man must have had it just lying around in his car. What happened next was what almost everyone else knows. Sampson approached Lake so fast the man didn’t even have a chance to run. As Sampson approached, James remembered the look of fear in Lake’s eyes. And then Sampson slapped Lake so hard that he fell to the ground.
Kelly listened in astonishment. James asked her if she had ever met Lake.
“I think I know him. Horny old man. Always pervs on the female staff. We’ve been acquainted.”
James still couldn’t get the image of Sampson slapping Lake across the face out of his head. Afterward, the police had shown up. Someone in the Stop n’ Shop had called the police. The police took everyone’s statement. Lake sat on the sidewalk, mumbling, crying a little bit, and then occasionally yelling something in Sampson’s direction. He held his mouth and mumbled things about a tooth that had gone loose. James mentioned the wrench about three times. Sampson wouldn’t be arrested, but he was fired later that week. After that, James hadn’t heard much. Things went back to normal. He stopped seeing Lake. He assumed that Lake had been banned from the store and that the old man was too embarrassed to show his face.
Soon it would be summer. Kelly worked a lot more during the summer. And they found themselves talking more and more. James began to catch up with some of his friends who were back in town from college. After work he would sometimes go out with his friends to drink or smoke weed. Somewhere down the line, it must have been close to the end of the summer when she was about to start her senior year, Kelly broke down in tears at work. When James asked her what was the matter, she told him: Her mother and father had gotten a divorce not too long ago. Now her father was remarrying.
James put his arm around her. His year and several odd months of working at the Stop n’ Shop had brought him closer to Kelly. Somehow, they seemed more alike now. He remembered things about himself that he had forgotten his first year of college. It almost seemed possible that he could ask her out. He would find a group of friends to hang out with. Things would be, well, normal again.
Not long after that, Kelly quit her job. It happened suddenly one day right around the time Lake started coming around again. He asked Todd, one of the managers, why Lake had been allowed back in the store. Todd lamely replied that he wasn’t even aware of a ban on Lake, that if they banned one lousy bigot from the store they would have to ban them all. James had the feeling that the store was on its way downhill anyway. They started cutting back on hours, the clientele was getting shadier, and girls like Kelly, no matter how bad their situation, would eventually stop working there.
A week after Kelly had left, he found himself hanging around the store, hoping she would show up to collect her last check. He couldn’t shake the feeling that it was Lake that had forced her out. On one of the days not too long before she quit, he had seen him hanging around the lotto and cigarette stand, gawking at her.
James felt like he had to leave anyway. He didn’t know exactly how he would do it, but he would find his way back to where he was supposed to be. He would find his way back to the time when he wasn’t such a loser—if that time still existed.
A month after Kelly had quit, James was pushing carts in when he noticed Lake just sitting there in his car. This time, Lake whistled in James’s general direction. “Hey, boy. Boy. Over here. I remember you. If I give you some money, you go get me some cigarettes?”
James ignored him and went into the store to continue his work.
The day passed by sluggishly as it usually did. How many years could James go on like this? How many months? Eventually, Lake would stop coming or he would pass away. The Stop n’ Shop would probably go out of business at some point in the next few months. The future was hard to see. He had a feeling deep in his stomach that there wouldn’t be any more girls like Kelly in his future, but that it was entirely possible that his next job would be at another dump like the Stop n’ Shop.
Later, he saw Lake leaning on the wall outside the Stop n’ Shop. James was out back collecting carts when he saw him there. He hadn’t bothered going inside. He was just hanging outside the store. “Hey, you got my cigarettes. Boy, I’m talking to you.”
It’s hard to believe that Sampson had been shitcanned for smacking this sack of shit. They should have given him an award, James thought.
James didn’t know exactly how he decided to do it. But he found himself walking into the Stop n’ Shop. He picked up some drinking water from one of the shelves and brought it outside.
Lake looked at him bewildered. “Boy, I didn’t ask for no goddamn drinking water. I asked for some cigarettes.”
James opened the water and began tossing it in the direction of the old man’s crotch. Soon, with the crotch area of his pants soaked with water, Lake was hopping up and down, yelling obscenities. His face turned red as he shouted. He looked like he might go back to his car and find something to throw at him or something to try to beat him with.
James looked the old man in the eyes. “You try anything, and I will smack the shit out of you.”
Something about the way he said it made Lake pause. With his trousers doused in water, James felt just the slightest bit of pity for the old man. Could he really blame Lake for wanting to see the girls for just a little bit every day? Could he blame him for wanting to remember a time when he was young and women found him attractive?
Today James would quit his job and go see a movie. Things would sort themselves out later or they wouldn’t. He had a strange feeling in his stomach, something that most people would not have described as good, but for James, there was no word for that feeling, and instead of stopping to find a name for it, he felt it better to hurry before he missed the seven o’ clock showing. After that, he would just have to figure out what came next.
Dear Mr. Clausen,
I appreciate your recent submission to[_ Laundromat Quarterly_], the only literary journal distributed to Laundromats with the needs of Laundromat readers in mind.
There was much to like about your submission.
I found that character of Marleen especially compelling. Her conflict with the machine that won’t give back her quarter is one that our readers can relate to. Unfortunately, we receive between 20-25 submissions with a similar plot a month and can only accept the very best. We also felt that aspects of the story that involved borrowing detergent from another patron needed more development. We felt that there was too much emphasis on the developing relationship between the two patrons and their possible romance and not enough emphasis on the detergent itself.
You are welcome to submit again in the future. Please bear in mind that the Laundromat subgenre is a very demanding one. Therefore, I recommend you purchase and read between 15-20 back issues before submitting again. Enclosed here is a reply envelope for sample issues. You can make your check payable to Laundromat Quarterly Inc or simply to “cash”.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT OF A USED BOOKSTORE
I have this fear that used bookstores will cease to exist in the near future. They exist in spite of reality now. What on earth could be the return on investment (ROI) of a used bookstore?
As any connoisseur of used books will tell you, a used book has a much different smell than a new book. Indeed, used books have a variety of smells depending on how old and what kind of paper they are printed on.
Used book stores offer the opportunity to find things—not just books, but the marginal notes of other readers. Used books have history, character.
In the future, we’ll still have libraries, but how will we get a book for a dollar we can take into the bath with us? Where will we get books for two dollars we can leave on planes and buses for others to find?
As a library book, I would never have picked up Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies for the second time. It doesn’t even crack my top 50 books I have to read in the next year and a half. But as a book found in a Japanese used bookstore for 115 yen (about 1 US dollar), now I could reread the stories and write my own marginal notes. This book won’t be a sentimental object; instead, it will be the object of my marginal notes. Who knows how many pencil marks the triumph of “A Temporary Matter” will get? Who knows how many pencil marks and comments the less-than-triumphant “Sexy” will get? Who knows who will pick up the book next somewhere down the line?
What is the ROI of a used bookstore? Someone finding the exact same book I did some five years later, slightly more worn, smelling a little differently—a treasure to behold.
ANGEL STRINGS BOOK REVIEW: A ROAD TRIP NOVEL IN A GEOGRAPHY OF NOWHERE
There may be more to the title than meets the eye—that or perhaps I was indoctrinated by my English Lit program a little too well. What does Angel Strings, the title of Gary Eberle’s debut novel, refer to? At first sight, the Angel Strings refers to the guitar that the protagonist, a Mr. Joe Findlay (aka Stupid), picks up from Grandpa Tolliver. Joe Findlay is the son of a magician, and if there is one thing his childhood has taught him, it’s that there is no real magic in the world. Just strings that make people believe there is magic. Yet, throughout the novel, we meet people who are desperate to believe that there is real magic in the world. So who is pulling the strings? It could be the angels. The other way we might interpret the angels is as a marketing gimmick. When Joe mentions to his father that he has been seeing angels on his trip, his father responds something to the tune of: That’s great, that will sell lots of records.
But we as an audience, I think, are meant to believe that: yes, there are angels in the world, and yes, there is more than meets the eye. This is the transformation that Joe supposedly goes through as well. In a sense, then, is the novel any better than the New Age garbage that we meet throughout the book? The answer is yes—because the book deals honestly with pain.
More than anything the book is a fun road trip story with a cast of characters that grows as the novel rolls on. This book is probably best read at a point when you might be feeling completely lost in your life. It’s also a great book if you’re in the mood for a road trip book. I have had the pleasure of reading at least two great road trip books before ever reading Jack Kerouac (I promise to get to one of his books at some point). I have to give a quick nod to Lance Carbuncle’s Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed which is also another amazing road trip book. Like Lance’s book, Angel Strings also shows quite a bit of sympathy for the down and out, the lonely, depressed, and oppressed. It’s this sympathy and compassion that makes the book stand for something more than just the odyssey of a backup guitarist, Rahu the French Fry-eating Tibetan monk, a hippy with Unicorn Power, and a hillbilly girl with a baby in a box.
The other road trip book I had in mind was actually[_ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy_] (which probably needs no introduction). In some parts, the book’s humor rivals that of Douglas Adams’s. In chapter 6, the narrator sums up his odyssey in this way: “In the week or so since I had picked up Violet, I had crossed three time zones, tried to call down UFOs with a bunch of pagans, got hooked up with a midget preacher, almost got shot, killed, and arrested, had picked up a Tibetan lama, and seen a Bird Boy Flying sixty miles an hour through the desert” (233). There is a sense in the book that the universe has a way of happening to us that is in no way planned out or rational, or at the very least rational in a way that was never really planned (except perhaps by super-intelligent mice, but I digress).
Now maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think there are enough outrageous road trip books out there at the moment. As my brother once said, “I wish there were more movies with monkeys as sidekicks” (He remembered the Clint Eastwood movie that had an orangutan as a sidekick). That’s sort of how I feel about road trip novels. (Warning: There are no monkeys as sidekicks in this novel).
The book reminds me a lot of 1995. The main character is a backup guitarist working in Las Vegas, yet he somehow thinks that he is meant for fame and fortune. As a product of the 1990s, observing other products of the 1990s, I know this feeling all too well—the feeling that somehow you’re meant for fortune and glory (of course without having to work or sacrifice for it in any meaningful sense). Perhaps it was MTV and a plethora of movies (Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, if I can be so crass) that instilled in us a faith in glory without talent and hard work. If anything, reality TV has probably kicked this feeling into overdrive—but here I’m getting into unfamiliar territory. I won’t pretend to know the soul of the newest generation. Their disillusionment I think will be nothing compared to the 90s generation. Nevertheless, there is heart and humanity in this book that I think will transcend age groups.
I also loved how the book worked with geography. The author does a wonderful job of bringing the various places of the US to life, from the factories and slums of Detroit, to the backwater joints of Porksville, to the dry deserts of Nevada. I haven’t read the author’s other book about geography, but one of the seminal ideas of postmodern geography is that space is being substituted for time—that every place is becoming closer to everyplace, and that difference is being colonized by homogeneity (anywhere you go you can buy a Coke and eat at McDonalds). For Joe, the main character, peace is found in the in-between spaces. When he is driving at night and the darkness and silence envelop him. I think this is a sensation that many of us can empathize with—the idea that the world is becoming too close, too loud, and yet that the closer we get to others the lonelier we feel. The best scene in the book is where we see Joe driving his van next to a train that is going parallel. The message, as simply as it can be read, is that we run parallel to others on tracks briefly for a time and then the moment is gone.
Why do we hit the road, face the loneliness of vast space, meet troublesome characters and face great dangers? The book has a few answers. So we don’t have to be married to people we hate, so we don’t have to pretend to be someone we’re not in order to earn money, to avoid a life of mediocrity. These are all good reasons to take off on a road trip. In the end, though—the open road, as a geography of nowhere (no obligations, no responsibilities)–isn’t an ending. It’s not a life. It’s an in-between, something to help us bridge the impossible now with the not-so-bad future. In the case of Angel Strings, it’s about the journey. But the destination isn’t so bad either.
A Touch of Sophistication Literary Magazine
I ain’t your friend! I ain’t here to tell you the world is sunshine and roses. The truth is cold, hard, and dirty: your work was one of 500 some odd submissions we received this month. Just to make time to shag my girlfriend I had to dump 300 submissions in the trash unceremoniously.
Time to visit my sick grandmother? Another 100 submissions dumped in the recyclables.
Out of the remaining 100, yours was probably the first to be gutted in an all-out brawl between the literary strong and the literary weak. Yours was probably the first one to get dominated in the slush pile shower. Maybe, just maybe, it survived an extra week by becoming the bitch of a stronger literary work.
If your work does get returned to you along with this rejection slip, don’t be surprised if it’s wearing lipstick and suffering from PTSD.
You want me to tell you that the world is sunshine and roses and your submission was special. Ain’t happening!
P.S. Please excuse this form rejection slip. This rejection does not in any way reflect on the quality of work. We encourage you to submit again.
THE OPENING LINE
Let me start off by saying that I’m aware that what I’ve done is absolutely awful. I know that I am an awful person. You may have already heard the voice messages I left you, but I thought I should write you this letter. I thought it might help you understand.
You see, I had waited quite a long time to read this new novel. It was given to me by Jim after a not so subtle request. As you might remember, he was my fiancé at the time. And what can I say? He delivered it perfectly, just like I knew he would. I think you were at that party. You must have been downstairs with the other guests, drinking and having a good time. Throughout the night he had done his best to mislead me, giving me hints that he had gotten me lingerie (he had) and trying to say he had forgotten something about a book or something. And then he took me upstairs, and it was there, wrapped nicely in a box with tissue paper (he had probably paid to get it professionally wrapped). And when I opened it, it was better than I could have expected. Not only had he managed to get the book two weeks before it was supposed to be released (through his contacts), but it was in hardcover and signed by the author!
I honestly didn’t know what to say. Could this be the perfect man? I opened the book wanting to see how it began. I was a sucker for opening lines. “Samantha, never having truly found the one she loved, went to London to see if true love was still possible, or if the energy that had embodied love had passed through her.”
Huh, I thought. At the time I was still too excited to really process it. I kissed Jim hard on the lips and thanked him several times over. A signed hardcover edition!
Later in the evening, as I was drinking my wine, it occurred to me that I might have been disappointed.
I went upstairs to find the book again, on my bed. Jim was already there on the bed, relaxing with a glass of scotch.
“Read me the first line,” I said.
Coming out of Jim’s mouth, I couldn’t help but think the thing a bit contrived.
“Huh,” I said out loud.
“Do you want me to read on?” He was trying to sound sweet, but it just wasn’t working. Not after that sentence.
“What’s the matter, honey?”
The party was almost over. A few close acquaintances were lingering downstairs. I don’t think you were one of them. I don’t think Jim and I knew you that well back then.
“Nothing, I guess. Don’t you just think that it’s weird the author uses the word ‘love’ so many times in the same sentence?”
He had this confused look on his face. “What?”
“You know, first loved, then love, and love again.”
He read it again. The second time it came out of his mouth it seemed even worse.
He thought about it. “Gosh. I don’t know. Well, from what I understand these are romance novels. I guess you can never have too much ‘love’ in these novels, can you?”
A typical Jim answer: pleasant, somewhat political, almost smart when you look at it from the right perspective.
“Yeah, but the whole sentence seems clunky. Why not just break it up into two sentences? The parenthetical clause is completely unnecessary.”
“Wow, sweetheart, you should be an editor or a writer or something.” The statement should have sounded sweet. But this time, after that line, he just sounded like an ass. “This is the book you wanted, right? I didn’t get you the wrong book, did I?”
“No, you got me the right book.”
“You know, I had to go through quite a few of my contacts to get you the book by your birthday—and signed I might add. I had to get my secretary to track it down. Not exactly something that’s looked well upon in the firm.”
Sometimes, when I think about who got the book, more specifically which secretary, I think that perhaps it might have been you. I know you were a legal research assistant at the time, but you know how clumsy Jim can be with language. “Secretary” could have meant anyone.
Jim, the lawyer. But for someone who was supposed to have such a fine eye for detail, I just couldn’t believe that he couldn’t appreciate what a bad sentence it was.
When the book came out almost two weeks later, I made a trip to the bookstore just to make sure it wasn’t a misprint. Maybe Jim received an advanced review copy by mistake. But no, there it was in several other copies. I didn’t even bother to read on.
As you know, a little over a month later, Jim and I were married. There is not much to say about marriage. You’ve been married now, so you know what it’s like. Somehow, I knew what marriage would be like with Jim before we were even married.
I did sometimes worry about the book, though. I don’t why I did. It’s not like Jim would have cared. But still, these things have a way of bubbling up, even if there is no reason for them to.
Every week or so, I would move the book to another part of the house. Occasionally, if I thought I had put the book in a place Jim would find, I would place a bookmark someplace in the middle. Once, he did ask how I was enjoying the book. By that point, he must have forgotten that I’d had the book for a little over a few months. And I said, not unconvincingly, “I love it. I just needed a little time to get into it.”
And the funny thing is, that turned out to be the truth. Eventually, the paperback came out. I found myself leafing through it one day at a bookstore and decided to buy it. I know it’s strange, but I just didn’t want to look at the signed copy that Jim had given me. There was something about the book. A signed hardcover brought expectations. A paperback copy was different.
As I found out, very different.
I finished it in an afternoon. And it was everything that I had imagined it would be when I had originally asked Jim to get it for me. How foolish I had been. Even the first line seemed forgivable, perhaps even likable when seen in the light of the rest of the novel. It then occurred to me that I had never read any of the author’s books other than in cheap paperback form. I had picked up the first copies of the author’s books from the local used paperback exchange.
Still, I couldn’t bear to look at that hardcover version again. I’ll be quite honest. I don’t know where I put it. I must have blacked that part out. Perhaps I had secretly snuck it into one of Jim’s boxes as he was moving out. I was sure that even if he did find it, he wouldn’t understand. Jim can understand divorce (after all, he’s a lawyer), but he wouldn’t understand about the book. He wouldn’t understand why one line made everything afterward impossible.
So why am I telling you about all this in a letter? Why this long explanation for something that should be so simple? Well, I suppose I needed it to make sense to you. I think Jim understands at a very basic level, too. He was always the one I loved. But I had to marry him to know that marriage was impossible.
“Samantha, never having truly found the one she loved, went to London to see if true love was still possible, or if the energy that had embodied love had passed through her.” What an awful, ugly sentence. To understand how truly ugly it is you really do have to marry it. You have to have it presented to you signed in hardcover. But love doesn’t always happen in such elegant terms. Sometimes love is just as dirty as that first line. I hope you can understand that.
But you won’t. You’ll blame me for stealing your partner in life, my ex-husband, now boyfriend. To you, he must have seemed flawless.
I’m sure if I could see you through Jim’s eyes, you would be just like that book was to me when I first received it on my birthday. Perfect in every way. So why did he run off with me? Why after all the shit I put him through, and now the shit I’m putting you through, did he run away with me? Because sometimes you don’t want something perfect. You want something clunky, overused, and dirty like some paperback. Something overwritten and wrong like that goddamn sentence.
And who knows, maybe, when he needs something perfect in his life again, you two will get back together. Until then, I hope you can try to understand just a little, even if you can’t forgive. As for Jim’s stuff, I’ll let you know when we settle down somewhere. I know that will be hard, but please do try to be kind. And please, please, if you find that hardcover book, don’t send it here. You can do whatever you like with it, but please just don’t send it.
With Best Wishes,
Uplifting Stories Magazine
Dear Mr. Clausen,
And “no” means no!
P.S. Our “no” is by means a reflection on the quality of your work. We encourage you to submit again in the future.
THE FORBIDDEN STORY OF PATIENT 14892
Sal woke up on his period. And he wasn’t sure if his name was Sal or Sally, or if he was supposed to be a he or a she. The only thing he was certain of was that he was very depressed.
He stripped down to his underwear and was not completely surprised to realize that today he had breasts. He looked at his breasts in the mirror at length and tried to judge if they were in good proportion to his bulging stomach. He decided that they were not, which made him even more depressed. He suddenly reached for a cigarette and began to smoke.
Some time ago, smoking had come back into fashion—around the same time psychiatry had become big business and mergers had taken place between plastic surgery and psychiatric firms. It was hard to tell what had come before or after that—after all, studying history was deviant social behavior, banned by the state. Wanting to learn about history was considered the sign of a demented mind not willing to let go of the past. Or, at least that’s what Sal’s psychiatrist kept telling him. Still, some people liked to do it in private, the “solitary vice” as it was called. History books had to be bought on the black market from dealers who had contacts with “historians.” Sal had experimented with history once, but he couldn’t remember where or when it had happened.
The world changes, despite popular belief. Sal knew this because he had read it in a book once and had decided that the book was right and not his psychiatrist. Sal noticed that people were changing at an alarming rate; buildings were changing, but not as much as people were changing (“It’s much easier to change a person than it is to change a building,” the book had said). Politics was changing, and so was art—both were changing people. Sal had gone through many changes. Sal used to be a man. Three times he had been a man. A woman twice. And a few times he had experimented with being a hermaphrodite and other transsexual organisms, some purely invented.
With depression at an all-time high, plastic surgery was coming into its own. The Picassos of Sal’s time were being employed in shops that made people’s bodies, and so Sal was a real piece of work in every sense of the word—the product of the demented mind of a surgeon who spent too many nights in coffee bars experimenting with Christianity (a banned religion).
Pat was waiting in a restaurant on the corner of Coca Cola Street. He had the body of a Jewish priest and was on the brink of a mental breakdown. And so, that morning he asked for a Coke loaded with extra Prozac while attempting to swear in Yiddish.
Sal came late. He too was feeling unusually depressed that morning. He was sure it had something to do with witnessing the public torture of a person found guilty of identity fraud. He always hated seeing people being tortured, but it was his civic duty to watch and Sal liked to think of himself as a good citizen, despite his occasional acts of disobedience.
Being a good companion was also important. He wanted to look nice for Pat, so he had put on a jean jacket with pink hot pants. He sat down across from Pat, who looked at Sal with her newly fitted discerning Jewish eyes.
“So how do you like my anniversary gift for you?” Pat asked.
“Did you have this done in the middle of the night?” Sal asked, trying to act surprised.
“I wanted to surprise you. Do you like it?” he asked, taking a drag on his cigarette, following this up with a drink of his Prozac cola.
“It’s nice, but did you have to make the shoulders so wide?”
“Oh, that’s Pablo. He’s such a post-post-modernist pessimist expressionist.”
Sal nodded. He had to admit that Pablo was good at what he did. Unfortunately, what he did was make Sal’s body a testament to the feebleness of the human body before all the major diseases were wiped out: all except the mental disorders.
“Pat, I got to thinking last night. Maybe we shouldn’t spend so much of our time in therapy anymore. Maybe we’re ready to move on with our relationship. I thought maybe you and I could go on a date, and who knows, maybe even have some physical contact.”
“Oh Sal, physical contact is so passé. Besides, why don’t you just use your orgasm stimulator? I hear now they have a stimulator with a twenty setting. Besides, dating and physical contact are really radical steps in our relationship. I don’t think we’re ready for that kind of a commitment,” he handed Sal a cigarette.
“Thank you,” Sal said, taking the cigarette. “I think we can handle it, and physical contact doesn’t always have to be about orgasms. What about the comfort of another person’s touch?”
“I experimented with that in college. It’s kind of creepy, to be honest.”
“Oh,” Sal said, disappointed. Somehow, though, it all felt right, despite Pat’s objections. He took two capsules of period-away and followed it up with some of Pat’s Prozac cola.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Are you on your period?”
“Yeah, but it’ll go away,” Sal said. “Anyway, I just want you to think about it for a little while.”
“I’ll talk to my personal therapist about it,” Pat said.
“Okay,” Sal said and forced a smile. He tried to remain optimistic, but somehow he knew that Pat’s therapist would not approve. In a bold move, Pat shook hands with Sal.
“See, it’s no big deal,” Pat said.
Sal looked at his hand. It had never been shaken before. He looked at it and felt a strange kind of satisfaction he couldn’t define. But then he realized that his hand was strangely shaped and began to feel depressed again.
Sal walked away from Pat, still thinking about the handshake. He made his way to his taxi to begin work. He saw his image reflected back at him in the window of his car and he began to think.
Sal thought too much. His psychiatrist had warned him about the pitfalls of thinking before, but Sal couldn’t help himself, and that—according to his therapist—was why he had a nervous breakdown.
Sal found himself once again in his psychiatrist’s office. The ambulance had taken him there after his nervous breakdown. He had been loaded onto the stretcher, while an emergency team screamed reaffirming things at him: “You are a good human being!” and “Your parents love you very much!” Then they shot him with drugs and pressed his orgasm stimulator repeatedly. For a brief moment, he felt happy. But even that didn’t really feel like happiness; it just reminded him of what happiness felt like.
Sal sat in his chair, his legs crossed nervously, as his psychiatrist went on about how he needed more drugs and more plastic surgery to make him feel better. He was lectured on the evils of allowing non-Theracorp artists to perform on his body and the problem of thinking too much. He had heard it all before, but he sat there and listened anyway because he was paying quite a bit of money.
“You need something new, Sal. Something that will give you a new outlook on life. Have you ever tried being a sixteen-year-old fashion model?”
Sal looked at his therapist with a perturbed face and sighed, “No, I suppose I haven’t.”
“Well, no wonder you had a nervous breakdown. How can you truly be happy until you’ve been a sixteen-year-old model? I’ll have all the arrangements made.”
Sal thought about something for a second while his therapist busied himself with paperwork. “You see, that’s the thing, I don’t think I really want a new look. In fact, I think I’d like to return to my old body. You know, the one I was born with.”
“I don’t understand,” his therapist said with his usual grin.
“I think I’d like you to change me back into the body I was born with, except make it older so it looks like my real age.”
“Your real age? And how old is that exactly?” the psychiatrist asked, adjusting his glasses.
“Thirty-two, I think. I’m not actually sure. But I’m sure it’s older than sixteen.”
“Who’s been giving you these ideas about original age and body, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Uhhh, I don’t know. I think I read it in a book somewhere.”
The therapist began to look nervous. “I see, hmmm, well I’ll have to talk to my supervisor about that,” he said. “Hold on just one moment.” He went across the room, picked up a phone, and pressed a single button. “Feel free to have one of those Prozac pills with coconut cake. They’re dee-lish,” his therapist smiled and winked at Sal.
Sal took one and placed it in his mouth. He chewed on it and pressed his orgasm stimulator to give the cake a more erotic taste.
“Yes, he’s right here in my office, sir…Okay,” the man said into the phone. He walked back across the room and sat down across from Sal. “Soooooo, everything is looking A-okay. Some people are coming, and they’re going to ask you a couple of questions. I don’t think it should be too much trouble.”
Sal shook his head. The two of them waited. The therapist began to whistle and then checked his watch. “They should be here any second now.”
Six men in suits burst through the door and sprayed Sal with a gas that immobilized him. They wrapped him in a straitjacket and took him away.
The next thing Sal knew, he was tied down to another stretcher being wheeled through a long tunnel where suited men were yelling negative things at him: “You are not a good human being!” “Who has polluted your mind with these impurities?” “Your pants make your thighs look fat!”
For the next few days, Sal laid in a padded room, covered by a straitjacket that sprayed liquid every nine seconds that made his skin itch. He was fed through tubes and given elevator music to entertain/drive him crazy. At night, voices would shout things at him: “You are not a swell person!” “Your shoulders are disproportionate to your head!” “You have a very unpleasant demeanor!” Followed by voices saying: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have another body?” “You’d look good as a Henry Winkler” (giggles of women and men). “You’re so attractive.”
It went on like this for days. Eventually, a door opened and three men in suits dragged Sal out of the room and strapped him onto a platform. He blacked out.
The next thing he remembered was a white room with other people in straitjackets. A man came and injected drugs into his arm. He suddenly felt depressed. He looked into a mirror and realized that his body had been replaced with a new one that was exactly the same as the rest of the mental patients’. The only way he could tell himself apart from the other patients was by the number on his straight jacket: 14892.
14892 looked around and tried to find someone to talk to, but all the other numbers were busy staring out into space. He figured there must be something to this “looking out into space” thing, so he too stared out into space.
…and so it went for hours at a time. He would stare between sleeping hours, and between sleeping hours he would stare.
One day, 11145 interrupted him. “Hey, let’s do something. I’m bored.”
14892 looked up from his trance. 11145 was the first person who had actually tried to talk to him. 14892 asked, “What do you want to do?”
11145 smiled widely and thought. “Ummm, I know. Let’s play a game. My favorite is ‘Who can smile the longest.’” 11145 smiled. And then he kept smiling. Two guards burst into the room and began beating 11145 with clubs, as he yelled, “I’m so happy! I’m so happy!”
“I have a chemical imbalance,” 11145 would later explain, with welts and bruises covering his body. “The chemicals in my brain won’t let me be sad. They asked me if I wanted surgery, and I said to them, ‘Why would I need surgery when I’m so happy with the body I already have?’ And, of course, I smiled and then they smiled and, well, here I am. I just love the world.”
14892 liked 11145, despite his handicap. He said this once, and the guards came in and beat him with clubs, all the while 11145 smiled and laughed, and said, “Oh, 14892, you’re such a goof.”
At night he was given electric shocks and forced to watch re-education films featuring clones of dead actors. Charlton Heston played a mental patient like himself who made it through “The Program” to become a normal citizen. Toward the end of the film, he smoked a lot of cigarettes, drank a lot of Coke, and started shooting at ape people while riding a chariot.
People in suits asked 14892 where he got his ideas from, and 14892 always said he remembered reading them in a book somewhere. All this seemed strangely familiar to 14892.
He met 23267 one day while staring at a wall, and asked him, “Have I met you before?”
The person remained still, and he realized that he had confused 23267 for 34567. He told 11145 about this and 11145 laughed and was clubbed again. Finally, they did something to his throat that made him unable to laugh, but 11145 still smiled.
One day 14892 realized that he had been in the asylum before. That he, like the other patients, was a delinquent, and that once he served out his time, he would be let out into society. This depressed him, or maybe it was the drugs they had been giving him. He couldn’t be sure anymore.
14892 would try to sleep during the days, and at night he would try to find a good place at the staring wall. Eventually, he began to forget what was day and what was night, and began referring to his time staring at the wall as “Christmas,” and the time asleep as “brunch.” The time he would spend staring at the smiling 11145 he called “Guy Fawkes Day.”
Patients received their food from needles. 11145 found this method of consumption convenient because it meant that he didn’t have to stop smiling to chew.
Something happened one day while 14892 was staring out at a wall. Two men clubbed him and took him to an office with a strange looking man who had the body of Alfred Hitchcock.
“Good evening,” the man said to 14892. “My name is Dr. Goodspeed. I’m the owner of Theracorp Industries.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” 14892 said.
“Oh, thank you,” Dr. Goodspeed said. “Mr. Oglethorpe…”
“Who is Mr. Oglethorpe?”
“You’re Mr. Oglethorpe.”
“Okay. But could you call me, umm…Sal?”
“That’s okay with me, Sal. Do you like the name, Sal? I can arrange for you to have a new name.”
“Mr. Oglethorpe, recently you were discovered trying to obtain your original body at one of our complexes. Here at Theracorp our business is to give our clients a happy, fulfilling lifestyle. We try to eliminate any problems that may arise, but occasionally we do run into a snag. Unfortunately, we don’t have a complaint department. Did you know, Mr. Oglethorpe, that trying to obtain your original body is a very serious crime?”
“No. I’m sorry.”
“Here at Theracorp, it’s our business to make sure all our clients are happy. But happiness has its price, Mr. Oglethorpe. You have committed a very serious breach of section 999 of the conformist laws, punishable by the NCP, the non-conformist police, a subsidiary of the police, which is, of course, a subsidiary of Theracorp.”
14892 tried to understand Dr. Goodspeed, but he kept thinking about how the wall looked during Christmas and 11145 smiling during breakfast. “I’m really sorry if I broke any laws,” 14892 said.
“Oh, it’s okay. It’s not really your fault anyway. You see, Sal, you have been to our re-education facility many times. This worries us. We want to make sure that all of our clients are happy. And you, Sal, you don’t seem to be happy.”
“Oh,” 14892 said. He thought for a second. “No, I don’t think I am.”
“Do you want to die, Sal?”
“Yes, I think I would like that very much.”
Dr. Goodspeed looked at Sal for a long moment. “How much do you want to die?”
Sal thought about the question. He began to cry. Then he wept. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
“You can’t, you know. I won’t let you. And do you know why I won’t let you, Sal?”
“Because you love me.”
“That’s right, Sal. Theracorp loves all its clients.” Dr. Goodspeed smiled.
14892 realized that his name was Sal. It had been given to him by Theracorp and they owned the copyright to it. They could change it if they wanted to. All Sal’s rights were reserved, but this did not change the fact that he felt bad about his life.
BADONKADONK LITERARY WEEKLY
We recently received your submission to Badonkadonk Literary Weekly, the only literary magazine tattooed on a woman’s butt.
Unfortunately, we found your submission in poor taste. It reflected an ignorance of our readership. Our readers are sophisticated and we found your submission offensive.
That being said, this month’s ass is especially big, and thus, we felt compelled to use it for lack of alternative material.
This acceptance is in no way a reflection on the quality of your work and we would encourage you to read several butts before submitting in the future.
Unfortunately, we can’t provide you with a contributor copy since the medium in question belongs to a person. You are, however, free to smack the portion of the journal where your writing appears should you see it on a sidewalk on a hot sunny day.
Thank you for your contribution.
This’ll be the cup. I know it. “Let me try the Guatemalan,” I say.
This hopelessly young shop girl looks at me like she would rather spit on me than serve me. But I’m not some new customer, so I know that I’m not anything special in terms of the being-spit-on category. That look in her eyes she serves up liberally to any odd customer who wants anything from her.
Every morning she grinds the coffee and uses the French press to make me a fresh cup of coffee. The whole process takes about seven to eight minutes. It’s a hassle. This I know. Some mornings are busy too. When they are, then she really gives me a look—something that could only be expressed with four letters. The first few times I came in she said, “You know we have a freshly brewed coffee of the day right here. It’ll take you less time.”
Each time I replied, “I know, but I’m looking for something special.” I was too. I was looking for that taste I had the first time I met the love of my life twenty-four years ago. That moment, right before I met her, I remembered thinking about the coffee, “Hey, that ain’t bad.” And then suddenly she had appeared.
So now, I go to the coffee shop, try one of their forty brands of coffee and think to myself, “Hey, that ain’t bad,” hoping she’ll appear.
I’ve already tried twenty-three. But I won’t have to try them all. This’ll be the cup. I know it.
The hopelessly young girl has given up trying to change me. She hands me my cup of coffee: Guatemalan. Well, here’s to twenty-four years ago.
I take my sip, say the lines in my head and hope the universe pulls through.
SAL AND THE REVOLUTION
If he tried hard enough, he could make sense of it all. Everything except the monkey. He was stark naked. That—he was sure—was something that happened quite regularly. The guy to his right saluting him with one arm, the other arm trying to hold his guts in place—he was sure he had seen him before in some kind of movie or something. And the guy in front of him, he was sure his name was Dennis or Donald.
“He’s clean,” Dennis or Donald said over a walkie-talkie.
The other man stopped saluting him and said, “It’s good to have you back, sir.”
Sal stood there naked. He was confused but confident he could make sense of it all. “Okay,” he said, thinking this would be a safe response. He tried very hard not to glance at the monkey who he was sure was picking his butt.
“So, what’s up, you guys?” Sal said, trying to sound casual.
“Oh, right,” Dennis or Donald said. “They said your memory might be a little scrambled from the brain-scrambler Dr. Goodspeed shot you with. I guess I should fill you in. You’re the incredible Sal, the martial arts expert and leader of the revolution.”
“Hmmm,” he said and tried to smile a little. “Sounds great. So, these people we’re fighting…”
The man trying to hold his guts in place finished his sentence. “Dr. Goodspeed, sir. Actually, you just defeated him in an epic battle.”
“To be honest,” said the guy trying to hold in his guts, “I was there, and I kind of skipped out to get a sandwich half-way through. But, I did get kind of curious as to how the battle would turn out, so I came back. Anyway, two and a half stars out of four.”
“And…he took my clothes or something? Hey, do you need, like, a bag for that or some kind of medical attention?”
“Don’t worry about me, sir. I’m a bad ass. I can take extremely large amounts of pain if I have to. This is nothing. I did this to myself right before breakfast just to remind myself that if by some chance the revolution ended early, that I needed to go out and buy some fresh pineapple to make fruit salad for the party.”
Sal smiled. “Yeah, fruit salad. Long live the revolution, baby! Anyway, back on point. Apparently, someone took my clothes.”
There was silence. It took Sal a moment to realize that both Dennis/Donald and the guy holding his guts in place either couldn’t or didn’t want to answer.
“Hey, whose ass do you have to kick around here to get an explanation, huh?” He gave a little laugh just to lighten the mood. He tried to give the guy holding his guts in place a friendly elbow to the shoulder. But apparently, this was one of his most dangerous martial arts moves because the man had to reach up to block his elbow and lost the handle on his guts.
Everyone, including the monkey, looked at his guts spill out onto the floor.
“Yeah,” Dennis or Donald said, “no one really knows why you don’t wear clothes anymore. Something about a symbolic statement about us not having rank or something. We couldn’t really understand it ourselves. But it did have something to do with equality and freedom, or something.”
Sal looked over the guy’s guts on the floor. “So we won, huh. Listen, I’m going to get you a bag for that.”
The monkey wouldn’t stop picking his butt. The monkey, he was sure, was something he could account for. Things were starting to come back to him now.
“And I suppose that right there is a permanent side effect of the brain-scrambler device Dr. Goodspeed shot me with.”
“Well, sir, we can’t see what you’re pointing at, but yes, we’re pretty sure that the brain-scrambler device that Dr. Goodspeed shot you with has now forced you to see a monkey that will occasionally try to assassinate you.”
Sal swallowed hard. It wasn’t so much that he was scared of the monkey trying to kill him, but that he couldn’t stand the idea of the monkey not washing that one hand before attempting to do it.
Yes, things were starting to come back to Sal now. The nature of the revolution—to free the earth from the tyranny of a world controlled by therapists with various types of psychogenic drugs, to go back to simpler ways involving work and remaining in one’s original body instead of constant plastic surgeries, and instead of popular magazines telling you how to dress, walk, and why you should feel bad about your bodily form, you would just hang out with your friends and periodically they would be dicks to you.
“As it turns out,” Sal said, “Dr. Goodspeed’s device has had one other dastardly side effect. It has given me a strong urge to wear pants.”
Long and Strong:
The Only Literary Magazine that Challenges You to Man Up!
Thank you for your submission to Long and Strong, the only literary magazine that publishes its stories in the margins of direct marketing emails for penis enlargement pills.
There was much to like about your story. We found its length quite impressive (though it was lacking girth in some areas). Also, we appreciated some of the story elements, particularly the arc about the blind gas station attendant finding his long lost love. We feel that our readership (people with small penises) typically like these kinds of sentimental twists. However, we found the tone of the story flaccid and underwhelming.
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He didn’t know how long he had been sitting there at the train station at Shichirigahama, or even that he was at Shichirigahama, one of the many small rustic train stations that dotted the Enoden line along the Fujisawa coast. It seemed like it hadn’t been any time at all since he had left the Army two years ago. He had done two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, and then he was out of the Army, and then he was working as an English teacher, and then one day he was just wondering around Fujisawa trying to figure things out. His body was weightless, nothing was real, and he wondered as he sat at the train station if he would simply sit there until his thoughts had settled, or if he would throw himself on the tracks and just be done with it all.
For a while, teaching kids in Fujisawa had seemed alright, and then one day he was sitting in class and this older Japanese teacher had told one of her kids to “shut up” in English. When he heard it, his mind went blank and angry, and then he heard her say it again. It was strange, but somehow his nose started itching like he could feel smoke. He had told her not to tell the kids to shut up, that she should never say that to a kid. He thought he said it calmly. The teacher had gotten angry, there had been a meeting called, and finally he just walked off the job.
He thought he could escape, but there he was at some random train station.
He had gone back to his apartment and changed into jeans and a t-shirt. He had gone for a long walk along the coast of Fujisawa. He had watched the shoreline and began to feel better, and then worse, and finally better again. He saw the surfers out in the water trying to catch little waves on a Tuesday evening. There was a time in California when he thought that just about anything could be cured by the ocean. He wondered if the people in Shichirigahama surfed out their frustration. He wondered if he tried to surf the small waves if he could forget himself.
Then he had made his way to this train station, Shichirigahama, and now he was trying to figure out what to do.
He still had a lot of his Army money. He had enough. Enough for something. But enough for what? Every time he tried to wrap his mind around the question his body seemed so light he thought he might float up off the platform and wake up as someone completely different.
He felt for a moment that he should try to call his old girlfriend, Beverly, from high school. He would ask her what she was doing and whether she was married. He was sure he could track her down through Facebook. Then for a moment, he thought he would call one of his old friends who was still in the Army. He would be on leave right about now.
People got off the train and people got on. The first few times he would try his best to smile or nod, but after a few times doing this, he lost his appetite for even this common courtesy and began to simply stare into space.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, and now his mind was turning blank and angry because some Japanese teacher had told a kid to shut up. Now he could smell smoke that didn’t exist, and here he was thinking about the green Enoden train and how it would be nothing at all to throw himself in front of one.
The girl must have shown up sometime later, perhaps just as the sun was starting to go down. By this time, though he couldn’t be sure, he thought that he must have been sitting at the station for a few hours.
At first, he didn’t even notice her. He couldn’t explain how she had managed to get to the train platform or if she was one of the passengers who had deboarded sometime before. She couldn’t have been more than seventeen or eighteen years old. She wore an old baseball cap that she kept touching around the edges near her ears.
The old soldier, perhaps soon ex-teacher, tried to pull himself together, to begin considering what his next move would be. Would he try to call his ex-girlfriend, would he try to find a new job, join the Army again? The badness would just keep on repeating itself forever without end: quit his job, bad relationship, Army, quit his job, and so on. That’s when he noticed that the girl’s cap was off and that she was rubbing her ears. He noticed that her ears were much larger than normal ears, at least a half size larger than normal. She wore her hair long, perhaps as a way to cover them, and she kept brushing her hair first over her ears and then away from them, and the process was so natural and compulsive that the man thought he saw the rhythm of a song there. As he watched her natural stroke, first touching her ears, then brushing her hair over them, then combing it away, then considering the cap with her other hand, he thought he could hear a melody playing.
The melody was soft and beautiful, classically played, and he wondered where this girl had suddenly appeared from and if any English teacher had ever told her to “shut up.” As he began to look at the girl, something inside him said that long ago he had known her. That’s when he noticed her fingers. Long and slender, they were the ones holding the cap and stroking her hair and touching her ears. They must have been the most beautiful fingers he had ever seen.
He watched her, and then he watched the train coming, and it didn’t even cross his mind that she would jump.
The last thing he remembered was reaching out for her. His arms seemed impossibly short and she was far away, and the train came and didn’t seem to stop, and then she was gone, and he woke up on the bench of the train station with cold sweat running down his forehead and the smoke of a bomb crawling up his nostrils.
It was night now, and he seemed alone on the bench of the train station at Shichirigahama.
He checked the time and then checked the train schedule. He looked around to make sure the girl wasn’t there.
Suddenly, the next step seemed clear. When the next train came he would get on it and let the rest figure itself out.
After years of fighting, pointless bickering, we materialize someplace with no walls, no boundaries. It takes in the air effortlessly and produces us as two people in our twenties. I sit in the cafeteria of the university and think: all I have to do is ignore her and this whole thing goes away. Our two trajectories will never touch. Long ago we had stopped communicating in any meaningful way. Now we’ll just eternalize the arrangement by never communicating in the first place.
Somehow, though, I begin to think of life without her. I’m not the man of the future, of pointless fights. I want to live it all again, even as I see the train wreck coming. We’ll do it even worse this time. We’ll be more joyous in our youth and bitter in our twilight—logic and good sense be damned. We’ll be in love, we’ll be exasperated. We’ll rush where we should slow down, and slow down and wait when opportunity knocks. And in the little garden on the terrace of your favorite Italian restaurant, we’ll make magic feel like an everyday experience again and again. All these places and times stop, turn, twist, and there I am again with you, where I should be: miserable, happy, but never alone.
THE SCIENCE OF A PERFECT SUMMER
I made a checklist in my mind: a great girl, two good friends, great books, a magical view from a mountaintop, and a commitment to making every day magical. Sure we would never cure cancer or paint masterpieces—our lives would be our masterpieces. We would live out the perfect summer together in perpetuity. It would be the profession that never got old.
We sat on the top of the mountain and admired the view, us, together, a community. I saw it all right there, and I thought about it in terms of the ingredients I had already experienced. There was that summer when I was thirteen playing basketball, dreaming of greatness. The dreaming being better than the greatness, I would live on the court for hours at a time. Afterward, I made stories in my mind, casting myself as the hero. Then there would be bonfires at the beach and nights howling at the moon.
“There’s no way,” my friend objects. “We would run out of money.”
“We would work,” I answer back. “But not real jobs, just summer jobs. You know, we would work at like video stores and wait tables and that kind of thing.”
“There’s no way. We could never live off that kind of scratch.”
My beautiful dynamic dream girl comes to my defense. “Sure we could. We would pool our money to buy beer. We would develop better strategies for saving money, for making quick money, and for making our money last.”
“Yeah,” my more optimistic friend says. “We could spend lots of time just playing Frisbee and hanging out on the mountaintop together. It would be great. It would be better than great. It would be the best thing ever.”
A pause hangs in the air.
“Think about it,” my more optimistic friend continues. “The worst thing in life is having to be around dicks. Sure, we could get jobs with high salaries and fancy offices, but who’s going to guarantee that we’re going to like our coworkers or customers? What we have here is what economists call a ‘comparative advantage’”.
‘“Comparative advantage’? What do you mean?” my other friend asks.
“Well, when countries trade, each country has a good or a service which they can export to other countries because they do it better than anyone else. They may lose something, but they gain because they can focus on their comparative advantage. Some countries have oil, others are good at making microchips, others potato chips. People are the same: some have brains, some have money, good looks. If we were a country, well, we’d have a comparative advantage in coolness.”
“Yes,” I say coming to my optimistic friend’s aid. “That’s right. We have a comparative advantage in coolness.”
We would master it, perfect it, make it ours until it became our science. The science of a perfect summer.
We call him Professor, but he’s only really a writing instructor. Once upon a time he wrote a very obscure book of poems and now finds himself teaching creative writing to eighteen and nineteen-year-olds at a community college for the rest of his life.
Anyway, he comes in one day midway through the semester with a grave look on his face. He says to us, very seriously, “The first rule of writing is: bury the evidence. That’s right, walk straight into the woods with a duffle bag and shovel and bury it somewhere deep where no human being will find it. Preferably, somewhere where it can decompose quickly.”
Not quite sure what they just heard and why, students find themselves looking around the room, gauging the reactions of others. Some even experiment with looks of confusion or shock. Not me. I know what he’s talking about.
“But what about the drawer?” I ask.
“The drawer,” I say. “You know. One of my writing teachers once said that we should have a drawer where we put our works in progress. You know, to work on later.”
“The drawer?” he says. “I suppose you have one of these drawers, don’t you?”
“Well, yes,” I say.
“And have you looked in this drawer?”
“Well no,” I say.
“Of course, you wouldn’t, would you? Something deep inside your gut is telling you right now that you might not like what you’d find. If you did, by some chance, look in this drawer, I think you would come to see the wisdom of my words fairly quickly. You see, nothing gets better in the drawer. It festers and mutates, some of it scabs over or ossifies into something and when you open it, whatever is in there usually fills your apartment up with a rank stink that stays there for a week at least. And if you leave something sitting there for long enough…well…”
“Well don’t bother opening it. Take the entire drawer or file cabinet or folder or whatever out into the woods and bury it deep where no one will find it. Seal it tight and make sure that nothing gets out because when something has been in the drawer for that long, it doesn’t decompose. It just grows and grows ugly.”
He drops his head, knowingly.
I think for a moment.
“Have you had some experience with this type of thing?”
He shows me the nub where his arm used to be. “Bit it clean off. Darn thing just wouldn’t die.”
Somehow, I don’t remember him missing an arm a moment ago when this whole ridiculous conversation began. So I say out loud, “How is it that you’re now missing an arm?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” he says. “It never went away. In fact, we’re in it right now. I told you before—it mutates.”
And I know because now I am missing a leg. And it occurs to me that all things at all times that are horrible—plagues, wars, reality TV shows—just might be the product of the drawer.
This rejection letter is a form rejection letter—the original rejection letter.
It exists in an ideal state in a metaphysical universe where all rejection letters draw their inspiration. When Plato first submitted his idea of original forms for public consumption, the rejection he received was but a shadow of this pure form of rejection.
At this very moment, out there in the universe, somewhere, there is a being much like yourself writing to a journal much like the one you are writing to now that will soon receive a rejection letter that in some way bears a resemblance to the rejection letter you are now holding in your hands.
The very privilege of beholding this rejection means that you have graduated to a higher plane of rejection. You have been rejected to a degree that you have never been rejected before.
However, this pure and absolute form of rejection is in no way a reflection on the quality of your manuscript and we look forward to seeing more works in the future.
A Generalized but Perfect Being of the Slushpile.
First, thank you for taking the time out to read this.
Thank you to all the tireless readers who work the slush piles of literary magazines, webzines, and other places where fiction and creative writing lives.
I will call you “creatures of the slush”. Thank you creatures of the slush!
Not all the stories here were subject to rejection. Thank you to Black Petals, Defenestration, and Zygote in my Coffee for taking a chance on me.
Thanks to all the great authors whom I’ve read this year: Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Nick Hornby, among others.
As always, thanks to my family and my dear friends.
Thank you to Lorna Simons who proofreads all my work. She didn’t read this one, which is why it is so poorly eddittted.
Check out my novel!
The Ghosts of Nagasaki:
The numerous workdays have taken a toll on Tokyo investment banker Pierce Williams. Each day he wakes up, and each day the weight where his heart should be grows heavier.
One morning, without knowing why, he sits down at his desk and begins typing something. Soon he realizes that without meaning to he has begun typing the story of his first days in Nagasaki four years ago. As he types, the words on his screen become more than he could have imagined. Instead of simply remembering the past, he is reliving it in ways that fundamentally alter his present.
In his manic writing are the ghosts of his past, a chilling vision of his future, and the possible key to his salvation. Somehow he must solve the mystery of four years ago. A mystery that involves a young Japanese girl, the ghost of a native writer, and an oppressive bureaucrat/samurai determined to crush his spirit.
Buy it at:
Or read free sample chapters at:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Clausen has been having his short stories, novels, and essays reejectted since high school. He has been reejectted by such magazines as Science Fiction and Fantasy, Boulevard, Glimmer Train Literary Magazine, and even Failbetter Literary Journal, among other venues.
He has also been reejectted by a number of girls who shall remain anonymous. If they are reading this manuscript now, however, he would like to convince all of them that he is rich, happy, and successful—but particularly that he is rich.
The author believes that you would benefit from reading his novel The Ghosts of Nagasaki. You should take this as an offer. You can reejectt it if you like.
Daniel loves to hear from his readers. You can friend Daniel at either Goodreads.com or email him at [email protected]
Have you ever faced rejection? How about reejecttion? This short story / essay collection looks at the challenges of being a writer, the challenges of being a human, and the challenges of being on the other side of a form rejection slip. We regret to inform you that when you read this short story collection you will laugh, you will scream, but mostly you'll wonder how getting reejectted ever felt so good.