Wednesday, September 1, 2010

ne'er-do-well working class stories

The #3 issue of the Ne'er-Do-Well Literary Magazine is out. Just. It hasn't quite reached Powell's but is on its way. I'm looking forward to getting my contributor's copy and reading all the "working class stories" in this special edition whose proceeds benefit the strike fund of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union. The magazine is edited by Sheila Ashdown and includes writing by, among others, Willy Vlautin (Motel Life, Lean on Pete) and Kevin Sampsell (A Common Pornography). Check out this cool wrap-around graphic created for the cover by artist Christina Mackin.

Here's a quick excerpt from my story "Sylvester." I cut out a bit of a middle part to keep it short...


I never knew who I’d get from week to week. Town to town. In Wichita, it might be four guys who never said a thing and the only way I knew they were listening was by watching the spotlights sweep, on my cue, from juggler to high wire. In Omaha, it might be four guys who talked nonstop through the performance, their voices loud through the earphones of my headset, making bets on whether the trapezist would make the triple somersault and cracking lewd jokes about the thirteen-year-old girl riding the elephant. Our circus didn’t have a regular team of spotlight operators. We only had a lighting director—me—and we picked up a new crew of spot ops from the stagehand’s union in each city.

There were generally four spotlights in each arena we played, so there were generally four spotlight operators to man them. They were way up there, stationed along the catwalk at just about the ceiling. Meanwhile, I sat at my light board, down on the arena floor, sidled up to center ring where I was in constant danger of being trampled by elephants or peed on by tigers. But to me, it was those guys up there on the catwalk who were brave. I couldn’t even see them. Glance up in the middle of the show, through the arena darkness, and at each corner of the building all I saw were the white glows of their spotlights, like nickels flashing in a glint of moon.

I controlled the spotlights by speaking commands into the headset.

“Stand by to hit Bulgarian acrobats in Ring Three — flood and cover… and… go.”

Even with all the hoopla — jugglers tossing fire torches right in front of me, the ringmaster calling theatrical strings of alliteration into his microphone, the thud of elephant feet resonating through the floor and vibrating up through my shoes — it was easy to detach and feel like nothing but a voice, floating through that wide space, bouncing from one corner of the arena to another.

And spot op voices bouncing back. Telling secrets in our parallel universe...