The Small Press Book Review wrote about F 250 and me as this is what they said:
“Bud Smith reminds me of a young Bret Easton Ellis, if Ellis were slumming it in New Jersey.”
Read the whole review Here
The Small Press Book Review wrote about F 250 and me as this is what they said:
“Bud Smith reminds me of a young Bret Easton Ellis, if Ellis were slumming it in New Jersey.”
Read the whole review Here
King Shit by Brian Alan Ellis
House of Vlad (2014)
paperback, 60 pages
synopsis: A Chihuahua-toting Mexican dressed as Santa Claus. A cross-dressing bartender. A drunk, philosophizing “Classy” Fred Blassie look-alike. Two rockabilly-greaser junkies. A bow-legged burlesque dancer and her angry dwarf lover. A man in a smelly lavender suit who rides a mobile jukebox. A quarreling, beer-spitting couple. No, this isn’t The Breakfast Club. This is a not-so-glorious night in the life of Elvis McAllister: factory worker, storyteller, Graceland enthusiast, and overall hornball. Join him and his knife-wielding sidekick, Ralph, as they bar-crawl the “Sick-Sad” avenues and alleyways of questionable hopes and dashed dreams.
review: I grew up in flea markets. I grew up in a campground in New jersey. I grew up at the Seaside boardwalk, a slimy place, where everything was half tilted and bizarre. King Shit reminds me of where I come from. King Shit reminds me of the kind of art I used to be seek out when I was browsing through Captain Video, looking at VHS in cardboard sleeves. Brian Alan Ellis is writing works that are all these things: funny, doomed, water damaged, drunk, high, unfiltered. I like that. I identify with that. Maybe his characters are saying some things that shouldn’t be said out in public, and hooray for them. This a work of fiction written outside of a writer’s workshop, but instead, maybe written in the basement of a VFW hall, right before the hardcore bands show up. Right before the spiked punks in their leather jackets show up. Right before the night gets weird, violent, skewed. The other good thing about this book, is that it’s illustrated in a way that is reminiscent of one of my favorite books, Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions”. The drawings in both books are perfect and they give absolutely zero fucks whatsoever. King Shit, is a bar crawl adventure, written as novella. Can be read on the toilet, but your ass will be numb by the time you’re finished. Can be read at the DMV waiting to get called, but you’ll probably start flipping chairs and screaming when the book is done and they still haven’t called you. Can be read at a bar. But that’s kind of silly, bars are for other things. I recommend reading this one in jail or at work, can’t go wrong there. When a book takes itself this un-seriously, I can’t stop doing the happy happy dance
Last month, Marginalia released my first full length collection of poetry Everything Neon, which I describe as, “some poems written either at my desk on 173rd street in NYC, or with the street, my neighbors and my wife in mind.”
Some other people said things too, the first of two reviews are floating around now, Olantangy Review said this, summed up, “Bud Smith is a real person. That may sound simple enough to say or to read, but it’s not, not by a long shot, not when you are talking about an authentic writer. It means everything to someone like me who loves to read modern poetry by people who are still living and breathing. Specifically it means that Bud Smith is an original. He doesn’t sound like someone else or someone imitating someone else. He has a voice and that voice is his alone. That should be enough for you to want to pick up his new book of poems, Everything Neon,but there’s lots more going on than that.”
and Len Kuntz, the author of The Dark Sunshine said this, “Finding poetry this honest and vulnerable, while also being entirely accessible, is a rare thing these days where most poets rely on gimmicks or word play strung together without any sense of cohesion, let alone any kind of narrative arc. Smith’s poetry is like an urban take on what Raymond Carver might have written, spare yet lush, brimming with answers about what it means to be clear-eyed and alert while everything around us spins, entangled.”
I’m humbled to read these reviews. When you put together a manuscript, it’s hard to imagine how it will be received when it plops on the desk of a reviewer. I was thinking about that, the end result, the moment when the book is out, and what happens after that. But to a lot of writers I talk to, thinking about “how the hell do I put together a collection of poems/short stories/flash?”
I thought I’d write a summary of how the project, Everything Neon came together. Because maybe it’ll be a help to someone who is trying to do their own project.
The idea of putting together a collection of my poetry wasn’t my own. In all fairness, it was suggested by the publisher of the book, Matt Guerruckey, the publisher of the website Drunk Monkeys and the press Marginalia Publishing. “You ever think about putting together a book of your poems?”
I split my writing time three ways: novel, short story, poetry. When one thing isn’t working, I turn to one of the others. It’s a good way for me to keep myself busy and erring in the direction of staying creative.
In the past, such as with my collection of short stories, Or Something Like That, I knew what I wanted to do, at that time it was “gather some stories together that reads like Seinfeld on acid.”
I had a clear goal, a style I was aiming for, an idea. The same happened with my novel Tollbooth, I knew I wanted to expand on what I thought was ‘the mundane life of a tollbooth operator, being pulled apart by wild cosmic horses.”
Sometimes conception of a project doesn’t need to be clear at all. I recommend everybody to throw far less caution into the wind, and go fucking nuts instead.
For Everything Neon, I had been already writing a lot of poetry about NYC. After the seed to collect the poems into a narrative arc, with characters and setting, was planted, I decided to collect the poems together as organically as I could.
The lynch pins for the collection, if you ask me, are the poem “In My Building” and “You Can Remain Anonymous”
In My Building is a look at the place where I live, a pre-war walk up on 173rd street and the people that share it with me. You Can Remain Anonymous is a look at the street/neighborhood beyond the building.
As I looked at the initial drafts of the poems, put together in a Word file, I tried to pick out the poems that did not completely fit the themes, which were: city living, me and my wife being love birds, domestication, apartment dwelling, finding a way to get away from the steal and glass and into the ocean, etc.
As I cut poems from the draft, it gave me a glimpse of what I wanted to flesh out in further poems. Both creating and cutting, simultaneous.
Before I started working with the publisher of the collection on edits/rewrites, I made a ‘dummy copy’ of the book, and mailed out five paperback copies to writers who I respect that had agreed to give the manuscript an initial read and give me two things.
A: the five poems (out of about 70) that the reader liked least and would potentially cut.
B: the five poems (out of about 70) that the reader thought stood out strongest in the collection.
From their notes, I cut additional poems accordingly. From their notes, I saw a clearer thread of where the poems could go to make a stronger book.
I like to think of this phase as “connecting the dots”
It’s usually my favorite part of a project. Whether I can actively get advice from beta reader peeps, or if I’m going it alone, and acting on my own intuition. I love connecting reoccurring themes, characters, places, events, outcomes.
4. Edits with the Publisher
I took the final draft of this new manuscript “dots connected” in two separate directions. I did some readings to see how audiences reacted to the poems, and I sent the word file to Marginalia. At this point, Robert Vaughan and Heather Dorn both got involved as content and copy editors. They cut apart the poems, offered guidance on syntax, punctuation and general composition. It was like a master course on ‘writing poetry’
I learned a vast amount by working closely with editors to put my collection together. These new discoveries, glimpses into my own work and what it is, will only help in the beginning stages of future work.
I am thankful for good editors. They are invaluable.
5. Layout and Design
The copy edited manuscript now went over to the book designer. Countless emails bounced back and forth between myself and Marginalia’s designer. With each pass through the layout of the interior of the book, the poems tightened up. The writing improved. We took our time. I was able to take the time I needed to add the detail I wanted.
Again, here was an opportunity to learn about book design, layout, presentation, the ins and outs of fine tuning. Wow.
Okay! The book is finalized. The release date is off in the distance. Now it’s time for Advanced Review Copies. Whether or not you are going to seek actual reviews from websites, newspapers, etc. You should definitely send out some advanced review copies in order to get blurbs for the back of the book.
I’m always looking for places to review my work and I always make sure I have books on hand. Do the same. Most importantly, enjoy all of this, the putting a book out stuff, don’t let it make you crazy.
*** continuing the serialization of Tollbooth***
click here to start at the beginning
The one armed kid was at the register, sipping an orange juice in a paper jug. “Is Gena here?” I asked.
He shook his head and then retrieved my order, placed it in a bag. Special Orders are prepaid. “Oh, I thought . . . never mind.” He shrugged.
I hung around in the notebook aisle for a moment, stalling, then disgusted with myself, I left the store.
But, out there, under the shimmering light, there she was, waiting by my car. She watched me as I walked towards my Subaru.
“I was on break,” Gena offered.
“I got my order.” I said, holding up the bag. She was smaller than I remembered; short, but just as hot. The glow of the light made it worse to be there with her. Why would she be out here waiting for me if she didn’t want to get closer to me?
Closer to me?
Was she some sicko?
“This may seem kind of weird,” she said looking away, “me being here waiting for you, but I dunno.”
“I was hoping something like this would happen,” I confided.
“Why?” She looked at me, as only a girl who knows exactly who she is can look at another person. “And what do you think this is?”
“I’m not sure. I was just gonna get in my car and go home.”
“I was getting a slice over there,” she pointed at the pizzeria, “It’s good, real good. You should try it.”
“Yeah, one day.”
For a second, I thought that she wanted nothing more than to be pushed against the car, her skirt hiked, her blouse ripped by my hands, that Gena wanted the impact of another body—badly wanted it. There wasn’t an ounce of innocence in her eyes, but also awkwardness, the kind that someone projects just before suggesting something obscene.
She wanted obscenity. No problem, in my mind we’d fucked in thin air, in the dark recesses of countless dark spaces. I’d imagined her mouth and her neck, every fragrance of her. The way she’d look ass up, head down. Knee high socks. Converse All-Stars, nothing else.
“My break is almost up, Jim,” Gena said, leaning back against my Subaru. “I have five more minutes. Are you busy? Do you want to sit with me. This car have air conditioning? It’s so hot tonight.”
“Yeah, of course,” I said. We got in. I was trying to be smooth. I whacked my head hard ducking in. I played it off like it didn’t happen, starting the engine, flipping on the AC. “It will take a few minutes to kick in, but . . .”
“No, that’s better already, plus I didn’t want anybody to see me out there, might look weird.”
“Fraternizing with the patrons.”
“You got it.” She turned to me, “You’re pretty funny, and not like, immature about it or anything.”
“Uh huh,” then I thought about how old she was, and what the words, not immature meant, it meant that she definitely wanted my not so immature cock in her immature pussy, that was a definite! How could the universe be so in tune?
“You don’t think I’m weird do you?” she asked, “That I’d want to talk to you outside of the store . . .” She was playing with her hair, her lips super moist. A small green stone in her earring caught the light, “I’m not a stalker or anything.”
“Never said you were.”
“I dunno, you just seem so intense. You come into the store and you place this order, and every time I see you, I dunno, all I can do is wonder what makes you tick.”
“Me? Oh nothing.” What makes me tick? Do I tick, oh I guess I am now. Tocking. Momma take my pulse, I am ripping off the cobwebs chomping them in my werewolf fangs in the middle of silver lit field beneath the cursed moon.
The night was a disaster. It couldn’t have worked out any better or any worse than getting her young flesh in the car.
When Gena broke the silence, being brave, I couldn’t believe my luck, “Hey, do you want to come to a party with me later?” she cooed.
“I think that would be cool.”
Cool! Do kids still talk like that? FUCK!! Cool one daddy-o, now she knew I was born before punk rock was invented.
“Cool.” She said. “It’s gonna be a really big party. This girl I know.”
“Yeah, lots of cool people. It would be real great if you came.”
“Well I’m coming.”
“I’ll be off at ten,” she said. “Can you pick me up here?”
She opened the car door, stepped out, then leaned back in, “Oh, and do you mind getting some beer for the party, nobody is old enough yet to get it. I’m nineteen. Beat, huh?”
“Yeah, beat. Nineteen,” I said, “beat.”
“You don’t mind, do you?”
Get the beer, sonofabitch. Figures.
“No, not at all,” I said. She smiled, blew me a small kiss goodbye. She walked away, blushing, shaking that ass. At the doors to Officetown, she looked back again, waved goodbye one last time. What the fuck was going on? Had I slipped into an accidental tear in the fabric of the universe. Was I occupying some alternate dimension where things worked out?
I skipped around Dinosaur Liquor like a genuine lunatic, pushing the cart aggressively, throwing in case after case of beer. I wondered what kind of beer the modern underage drinker preferred. Soon I had so many cases that it seemed like some kind of backwards joke. It’d be smarter to economize, with two kegs.
It was Saturday night, it’d be a huge party. These kids knew how to party, or so I assumed.
“Not sure what I need totally,” I told the guy behind the counter, reading the sci-fi fanzine. “Let’s start with two kegs.”
“Well it’s getting late,” he warned, “after ten I can’t sell any hard alcohol.”
A law of some kind, I had heard it whispered at some earlier point in my existence, but now wanted to scream in his face, “Don’t you know, all of the rules are off. Tonight is the night that all nights have lead up to. Rules used to exist, they don’t matter anymore.”
I knew, the world would not understand the importance.
“No hard alcohol after ten? I better get cracking.” I stuffed bottle after random bottle into my cart. Gin. Whiskey. Vodka. More Gin, because I like Gin. Tonic. Coca-Cola. Rum, Coconut rum for the girls. Wine coolers for the girls and margarita mix for the girls, for the girls, to loosen whatever tightness they had wrapped around the tightness of their young bodies, or old bodies if there happened to be a stray mother present who also wanted to party her old heart out. Tequila. Peppermint Schnapps. Let this be a huge festival of a party, attended by every dripping wet friend of Gena. We’ll all just forget about our baby mama dramas and tollbooth dilemmas.
The geek at the counter did not look impressed with all my purchasing power. He rang it all up, frowning.
We both knew that while I was having the time of my life he would be home, masturbating to a still shot of princess Leia dressed in that golden outfit, while Jabba the Hutt drooled over her.
He looked me in the eye.
“Five hundred and eighteen dollars and seven cents.” he said.
“Peanuts,” I replied.
On that twisted night I was having an out of body experience, thinking that perhaps by the end of it, the whole world would be over and none of this would matter, wouldn’t matter with the bank or my wife, or myself or the police. Ha! The universe was so in tune! How could all of this be something going wrong? And if it was, why was I so happy about it?
Thank God for all of my savings, all of those trunks full of lost commuter coins! All of those salvaged coins were fistfuls of hope.
I slid him my credit card, as would have any true lover.
The parking lot was the loneliest place in the world. I waited there, alone, eating a 99 cent value menu cheeseburger from Burgerland.
I kept gazing into the bright florescent lights of Officetown for some movement in the store. No one came. The clock said 10:27. No one came. She’d said ten.
I put the cheeseburger wrapper in the bag, wiped my face with the napkin. I wanted to look good when she comes to the car. Quickly I checked my face in the mirror, I’d decided not to shave, even though I had purchased a razor and some shaving cream in the drugstore. I’d also purchased some cologne with a cowboy on the bottle.
I was going with stubble, always a good choice, I assumed. Assuming that young girls found stubble attractive, did they? In that bathroom at Burgerland, I had a small panic attack, looking in the mirror, thinking: do I shave or don’t I shave?
Then I had a brainstorm.
I walked back out of the bathroom, to the teenage girl behind the counter. I decided to ask her, as she leaned in a chair against the wall, in her purple and yellow uniform, her straight blonde hair pulled behind in a long ponytail. She was dangerously skinny. She did not eat at her place of employment. She had the same look that I have on my face in the booth: desire for death.
“Excuse me,” I said, startling her.
“Yeah.” She jumped out of her chair, thinking that I had left the place and that she was safe until the front doors opened again. I’d been a while in the bathroom, trying on my new clothes and doing the best I could to wash up with the antibacterial pump soap that they stock. Suddenly here I’d appeared, as would an apparition. It made her heart thump.
“I have a weird question for you,” I said.
“Well, I’m not alone, there are other people here.”
“No, not that kind of weird. I’m not dangerous.”
“Oh, OK.” She fixed her hat, slumped her shoulders, relaxed. As she squinted, it made me realize that she needed glasses and refused to wear them, worrying they would ruin her looks. “You remind me of my track coach,” she said.
“Coach, huh . . .” I smiled, said, “look, I have a date tonight with a much younger girl.”
“How much younger?” she said, intrigued.
“Your age I guess, how old are you?”
“Well she is like nineteen or twenty I think.”
“You think I look nineteen? That is so hot.”
“I can’t be sure under a certain age, kids grow up fast.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty four,” I said.
“Yeah?” she didn’t believe that.
“Anyway, maybe my question is weird, but I’m gonna ask it anyway, because, well because I don’t have anybody else to ask. Uhhhhhhh, do you think a young girl, your age, would think stubble is good, or should I shave. For my date.”
The doors opened and a family stormed in like a herd of hippos.
“You shouldn’t shave,” she said. “You look hot.”
I look hot?
Of course I look hot!
“Thanks,” I said.
“Have fun on your date.”
The hippos smashed past me to devour whatever they could. The girl at the counter braced herself.
The Officetown doors opened, it was that one armed kid again. He was talking on his cell phone as he walked towards route 9. I assumed he was going to catch the bus, which ran irregularly all up and down that strange sweep of highway. But, when he reached the bus stop, he bent, supporting the cellphone with his shoulder, pulled up a yellow bike that I hadn’t seen. He entered a combination, removed the chain, placed the chain back on the bike frame, stood the bike up, hopped on, still on the cellphone, still supporting it with his shoulder. Like some mad daredevil, he jumped the bike over the curb, taking his free hand off the handlebars. He pedaled hands-free across three lanes of highway traffic, cars screeching their brakes, peeling out, almost smashing into each other, while he shot across the opposing lanes of traffic! AMAZING! Then, he was gone, disappearing out of the realm of streetlights, into the last of the undeveloped land on the whole stretch from Philadelphia to the Atlantic Ocean.
My mouth hung open.
There was a knock on the window, it was Gena, she was standing there, smiling and waving.
I opened up.
“Did you see that? It was . . .”
“That’s Tony, he’s out of his mind. All his friends are like that, ‘specially Brian.”
“Yeah, crazy kids for sure,” I said as she climbed in the Subaru. “Hey, I got some beer, and other stuff for the party.” I motioned towards the backseat.
“Oh my God! Look at all of this stuff!”
“Well there’s more, I couldn’t fit it all in here, some of it I had to put in the trunk.”
“WOW!!” She leaned in, kissed my cheek, “this is gonna be the craziest party ever!”
*** continuing the serialization of Tollbooth***
click here to start at the beginning
Ted knew a spot for our hideout, “It’s down towards the river,” he said. “Sometimes I walk Rommel there. It’s down a secluded hidden trail just wide enough to fit your car.”
He seemed totally numb to the whole idea. While, I parked the Subaru in an area of unknown beauty—the dark woods behind the neighborhood. There, I could hear the cars on the highway, and somehow still see the river.
“It’s nice out here,” he said. “Maybe your idea isn’t so bad.”
Slowly, I looked up at the trees and down towards the river. What a place to hide away. I began to rip off the duct tape, pulling the boards down from their resting place. “We’ll get this all hooked up and then you’ll have a place to come and hang out, get away from our wives.”
“We built clubhouses when I was a kid,” Ted said, kicking a pinecone into the woods, “It might be a lot of fun.”
By the time the sun was falling we had what resembled a shack leaning against the space between two trees. We stood back, expecting the whole thing to collapse. We’d set all of the plywood walls, cut an opening for our front door. All it would take was another day or so to hang the door and the window, and then a little time to do the roof, I picked up a large rock and smashed it against the closest wall, a massive echo shot thorough the woods, “I can’t believe it didn’t fall down!”
“I have clubhouse experience! I’ve done this before,” Ted said.
“And I’m totally proud of you!” It was my first clubhouse. My dad hadn’t been the kind of guy that actually did things with his kid. I was more proud of the fort than my own home.
“OK, this whole thing has been tons of fun, but I have to go, Kelly will have dinner ready soon.”
“I’m staying here tonight,” I said.
“Yeah,” I said, “I have a sleeping bag and everything.”
“Because I want to. Plus, I’m fighting with Sarah.”
“ . . . If you need somewhere to crash.”
“No, I don’t need somewhere to crash.”
“Well, that’s fucked up.”
“You’re wife doesn’t want a guest anyway.”
“ . . . You’re probably right,” he admitted. “Go home, it can’t be that bad.”
He began to walk back up the path to where his minivan was parked, “Call me tomorrow, maybe you and Sarah can come over and watch a DVD with me and Kelly.”
All I could think was: is Ted completely out of his mind? Doesn’t he know that no matter what, I’d be there after work, finishing the roof of our fortress?
Again, I didn’t go to work. All day, I labored on the construction of my fortress.
When I was finished, I couldn’t believe my eyes. What a wonderful place. I decided it was a better home than the where my wife and I lived. So, hey why not move out into the woods with the other stupid animals?
I’d live in a shack by the river with the sounds of the dinosaurs on the highway, and only half a mile from the toll plaza, I would be two miles closer to work. That meant four miles a day saved in gas, twenty eight miles a week. Surely that was enough money saved for what I would have to pay my wife in alimony. Because it was obvious to me that first night that I slept there, that I had to make this change. The air of the woods made me feel like I was nine years old again, on a Cub Scout camp out, even though I was never a scout, something else my father forbade.
But the fact remained that I needed my clothes, and oh, oh yeah, my savings account passbook. A million other things too. My international passport just in case.
As much as I wanted to cut all connections off from my wife, I had to go home and I had to see her. I knew that she would be there, just sitting at the kitchen table, waiting.
I opened the door, the telephone was ringing, as if it knew I was coming and it had to react quickly in order to interrupt some murder scene between me and my wife.
For sure Sarah wanted to kill me.
I went into the kitchen. She waited like a lioness, staring at me. Behind her, our phone tolled out its belled doom. “Answer that,” I commanded. She tore it off the hook, “Hello,” she said agitated. Then, cupping the receiver with her hand, she scowled at me. “It’s some girl. Some young girl. Some young girl asking for you.”
I snatched the phone from her, “Hello?”
“Jim? It’s Gena from Officetown.”
“Oh, hey. How are you?”
I cupped the phone, looking at my wife, “It’s nothing, no one.” She looked pissed. She had every right to be.
“Jim, you there?” Gena asked.
“Um, I was just calling to tell you that your order’s in. You can come and pick it up if you want, I mean, of course you want it, I mean, you should, like come now, and like get it.”
“Oh great.” get it? get it? get it?
“Have a nice night.” get it? get it? get it?
“OK, you too.” I hung up the phone. get it? get it?
“Who was that? She sounded nice?” Sarah mocked.
Suddenly all the bravery I had before entering my house had vanished. It was just like old times, the thought of leaving Sarah was like some myth that had been whispered over the years but couldn’t become truth.
“Where were you?” she hissed.
Thinking quick, “At Ted’s. I got drunk.”
“Me too,” she said, “got drunk, anyway.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
“How could you do that, just not come home?”
“I don’t know.”
“And then this call, from this girl?”
“That girl . . .”
“Who is she?”
“She’s just some fat ass who works at the office supply store.”
“I think that’s what that place is called.” She studied me for a moment and I felt like screaming. Where had the certainty gone? Was I leaving my wife and moving into the shack in the middle of the woods? The idea had vanished into the wind. It would be impossible for me to live out there, with no electricity, no running water and no . . . and holy shit, I’m so helpless.
“Ted is having some real big problems with his wife.”
“Not quite, she left home. She’s going to divorce him.”
“Oh I have an idea of why a girl would want to leave her husband . . .”
“You see, their marriage isn’t as strong as ours.”
“Is he alright?” She was turning. Falling.
“No, not at all, I think he might be suicidal.”
“Suicidal?” Sarah looked at the floor. “Oh my god.”
“Yeah, I came home to get some things and to apologize for disappearing on you, but it’s just that my oldest friend in my life is going through hell.”
“Well . . .”
“Well, are you going to be all right here tonight by yourself.”
I sat closer to her, she studied me, studied, and I didn’t know I had it in me to be such an actor. I let her study me.
“You should go to your friend, I’ll be fine,” she said softly.
“You don’t mind?”
“Friends are important.”
“Yes they are, and you are my best friend, you know that right?” Really, she still was.
“Well I have had my doubts lately,” Sarah said.
“Don’t be cold to me, baby.”
We hugged. She started to cry, so emotional these days.
“Teddie needs to get real fucking drunk, talk about old times, the usual, get it all out.”
“I’m gonna get some things together.”
“OK.” I started up the stairs, “Do you want coffee?”
“Yeah, I’ll put it on,” my Sarah said.
I grabbed a few shirts, a few pairs of pants. I freaked out when I couldn’t find my bank book. I realized that I was in the middle of a mental breakdown with nothing to do but run with it. When I came back down the stairs she was putting the coffee grinds into the filter.
“What did you order from that store?”
“You ordered nothing?”
“Larry had me order some supplies for the office and they came in.”
“You do things in the office now?”
“Well I do have a baby on the way. Gotta try to climb the ladder. That booth sucks.”
“That’s great, that you want to better yourself.”
“Us,” I said, “it’s for us.”
“Do you want dinner?” she was almost smiling then.
“Look, I don’t really have time, I’m really worried about Teddie. I should go.”
I went to her, kissed her lips.
“Tell him that if he needs someone else to talk to he can always call here.”
“He knows that.”
Casually I walked to the car, casually placed my clothes inside. Casually started it. Sarah stood on the porch, loving me, waving goodbye while the bugs of the night were singing their song. I casually lowered my window, casually waved to my wife, she blew me a kiss, I caught it, brought it to my chest—a prized possession from a prize of a woman. She practically melted right there on the front porch.
I backed out of our driveway.
When I was far enough away from the house I stomped on the pedal like the true werewolf I was and I made my way madman style toward my own fury. She went back to the table and believed that our love was stronger than anything, and that only good things were coming.
Just got a new shipment of my novel Tollbooth from the publisher, Piscataway House. Happy to have some copies back on hand! I’ve been signing them and mailing them out of my apartment with some copies of lit mags that have been donated by The Idiom and others. I’d love to mail you a book.
follow the paypal link below.
Shipping to USA only
Synopsis: Jimmy Saare collects tolls on the New Jersey Parkway. He’s had a mental snap, as a result, is becoming uncontrollably fixated with the 19 year old Gena who works the copy machine at Officetown. Despite his wife Sarah’s impending pregnancy, Jimmy pursues his desire for Gena, unexpectedly becoming more entangled with the strange manipulations of an anarchistic teenager, Kid with Clownhead, who wants to start his own destructive cult when he grows up.
thanks for reading! Review copies are on hand too, if you’re a writer interested in doing a review of the book. Thanks.
*** continuing the serialization of Tollbooth***
click here to start at the beginning
Sarah was pregnant and driving through town. She still suffered from the occasional nightmare about my old car. The white noise machine I’d bought was no help.
I was happy she’d surrendered and slid back into the driver’s seat after so many years of absence, for convenience sake. She didn’t like the thought of being on a bicycle with our baby inside her. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that more in utero babies are killed by lightning strikes than by bicycles.
Ahead, traffic was frozen on main-street.
There’d been a horrible wreck by Dinosaur Liquor.
I got a phone call at work. She’d pulled into a plaza, ringing me up from the pay phone outside Fried Paradise. “Oh good, you’re still alive,” she said with relief.
“Yeah, still kicking,” I said.
“I see an ambulance on route 9. Traffic’s gridlocked. I got worried. But you’re fine. You’re fine.” Love is relief. Love is doubt. Love is a car crash that can’t kill you. Love is kissing a wound that will not close so that you both survive the night. “OK, I’ll talk to you later then,” she said.
“Wait,” I said, “Don’t go. Tell me a story.”
“A story?” she said. I could hear her light through the telephone line, “Well, let me think of one . . . ”
“How about that story about the girl who loved oranges?”
“Oh, well that’s an easy one,” she said. “There was once a little girl from New Jersey who was very sad because her daddy was gone. He’d flown the coop—”
“ . . . go on.”
“She would sometimes get letters from him from different parts of the country. Tiny letters. Gifts too. She remembered the first time that she got a package in the mail from the daddy.”
“What was it?”
“It was a wooden box, little—3 by 3.”
“What was in it?”
“Citrus,” she said. “He sent her oranges and it was the first time she’d ever seen one before and she thought it was a ball. She asked her mom to play catch with her and the balls that her daddy had sent her. But her mom just cried and cried.” She sighed, “The next day, she peeled one of the oranges for her and the girl ate it her playhouse, hiding. It was the best thing that the girl had ever eaten. Sweet citrus.”
“I meant the story about when I took you to the orange grove on vacation in Florida,” I said.
“Well, there’s many stories from the girl who loves oranges about oranges,” Sarah said. I sighed. “For instance, the next time my daddy sent me a box of oranges, I was three years older. I’d told him in a letter how much I liked the first box. The second box of oranges were dry and bitter. Nothing like the first. There were worms in the second orange I tried to eat. After that, they sat on the table, unloved—until the fruit became green and fuzzy white with mold beginning to rot in the heat. Then we threw them out. That was the last time I ever had contact with him.”
“Shhhhit,” I said.
“When I see an ambulance, I like to hear from you.”
It was nice to know that people wanted you alive.
“I’m OK,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere. Me equals strong as ox. Or cock-a-roach. Same thing, maybe.”
“Good,” she said. I heard sirens scream by in the background. “I need you, warts and all.” The line went dead before she could say she loved me. We’d been through many wars together. We’d been blown apart by land mines. We’d been machine gunned down out of the sky in Apache helicopters. We’d ducked under barbed wire and crawled through the mud and filth and hate. We sometimes forgot to say I love you. But, wars will do that to you.
I went in the break room and took all of José’s food out of the refrigerator. All of it. I walked it around back, shook it out into the weeds for the raccoons and deer to eat.
When the rain let up an hour later, at least half of the town had heard about Kimmy Simmons.
She’d just finished cutting the mayor’s daughter’s hair in Jake Annopolis’s International Hairport next to Food Universe. Kimmy had brushed the girl off, took the modest tip, realized that she had a soda in her car and decided to walk out and get it.
She dropped her car keys in a little puddle trying to get in her car. As she bent down to pick them up, a car rounded the corner by the gas station, hit the curb in front of the antique store. Kimmy heard this far off, was putting the key in the lock when the driver came into collision with the telephone pole. She turned towards the sound, one headlight still lit was aimed at her, she was between her own vehicle and the open door when the car hit her.
A Volkswagen Golf, not quite a Diesel Rabbit like Sarah’s nightmares. It was sky blue. It had a bike rack. When it struck the telephone pole the bike rack was damaged, when the car struck Kimmy Simmons’ Cavalier, pinning her, a bike flew backwards off of the roof of the car, it hit a red Oldsmobile, splintering the windshield.
Kimmy Simmons lost her leg.
Sarah nearly went back into the Mayweather. The details were so surreal and close to her nightmares.
Kimmy Simmons got a prosthetic leg, but still cuts hair in the strip mall even though she got a settlement too big to imagine. The driver was drunk, of course.
How could somebody that beautiful and that good get struck down over a bottle of Diet Coke and still come out of it smiling, cutting hair, wanting nothing but to be near all of the friends who she was guaranteed to see everyday because they all had hair and it never stopped growing.
Often, I looked at Sarah’s little orange bottles of pills. Lithium for a time. Then Prozac. Paxil after that.
Alone, I studied the small plastic containers in our empty house. Safe, except for the dripping faucet that I didn’t know how to fix. I shook the bottles, enjoying the sound of a baby rattle without the trouble. It calmed me.
I wondered if those little suckers would help me. Newspapers stuffed into wet sneakers sucking up the water. A shot of whiskey in a cup of lukewarm coffee. Soap flakes in the garden to keep aphids away from the roses. Miracle cures. We had no roses.
Would medicine improve me? Would it solve my complex problems within my standard issue wrinkle free, stain free, set it and forget it life? Would my worry vanish like lemmings toppling off a cliff into the thrashing waves some four billion feet below the surf breaking on sharp dark obsidian?
At times, my life and my thoughts got so heavy, I snuck away and thought that I’d have to eat a handful of Sarah’s pills just to keep from sinking completely and unmercifully into the swamp of my skull.
But I never did.
In a way, her pills were part of the reality of our love. I was afraid to get help, to see a therapist. I thought it would be like giving up.
I’d sometimes open the lid of her pills and look in for a long time. But that was as far as it went. If I went and got help, I feared that I’d lose her, because I’d lose myself.
Our lives were games of chess. We didn’t know how to play chess.
Been a little while, posting this, with plans to keep on posting Chapters from Tollbooth on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The book is serialized here on this website, so far we’re about 65 pages into the book … Thanks to all the peeps who have been following along and sending messages asking for more. Free is nice. The internet is grrrreat for that.
*** continuing the serialization of Tollbooth***
click here to start at the beginning
Sarah sat on a plaid couch in the rec room, shell shocked of course, but her lips were no longer thin and blue. There was some life to her eyes.
She looked up at me, “Thank god you’re back,” she said. There was a sign on the wall that said ABSOLUTELY NO TOUCHING ALLOWED. I sat on a plastic chair across from her, we held hands, hidden on the seat beside our thighs.
She was wearing a pink sweater with a kitten on it. A hand me down from her aunt. She was so upset about the sweater. She said, “They took my cassettes, and I’m in this fucking ridiculous sweater and I’m supposed to write down how I feel in this journal . . . they take it every night and read it. I’m in this fucking kitten sweater and I . . .”
I leaned over, grabbed her. She started crying. We hugged hard on the couch.
A big guy with a beard came walking over, “YOU’VE GOTTA LEAVE.”
I didn’t let go, he physically pulled me off Sarah. I was basically thrown head first out of the place.
I got in Diesel Cottontail and drove to the county mall.
Two hours later, I was back at the Mayweather. The guard said, “you’re not allowed back.”
I gave the desk girl a plastic bag for Sarah. It had something in it for her. A hooded sweatshirt. Black. Three wolves howling at the moon. It was supposed to be good luck. It had a secret “stash pocket” sewn into it. It was faux fur lined and you couldn’t tell. That’s why it was so expensive, the last of my paycheck. I slipped a cassette into the stash pocket for her.
Nirvana In Utero.
It’d just come out. I hadn’t even listened to it yet. The people at the home never found the cassette. Sarah couldn’t listen to it there but she told me that when she laid in her bed at night she clutched into it, imagining that when she got out, we’d listen to it together. It kept her going.
When we got married, our song was “All Apologies”.
After she was released, Sarah rode her bike everywhere. Even though I’d painted it from orange to blue, she wouldn’t ride in Diesel Cottontail anymore. But, good things came out of those bad events. We were drawn closer, our love got heavier than death itself. The crux of our relationship was my car. It had been a good thing to me, a good transport, I had lost my virginity in it. She wanted nothing more than for me to set it on fire.
Instead, we went for long bike rides to the abandoned railroad trestle, jumping off of it not quite certain if we were going to die or live. We took chisels to the concrete wall of the dam, carving our names in it. When we came out of the sandpits there was a cop parked there. We hid in the honey suckles for hours, filling our mouths like humming birds would. Sarah and I rode away down the wildest hills to where the electric lines hummed over nothing but our youth dissolving everything else in a throbbing pink bonfire.
Sarah said her favorite song was “Moving in Stereo” by the Cars.
“That song where the girl comes out of the pool in slow motion? What was that movie?”
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” she said, “But I loved that song for so long. I only saw the movie last year.”
I said my lucky number was 77.
She said, “That’s the year I was born.”
“Best year ever.”
We waded out into the cold, brown Cedar Creek, determined to prove that we would live forever. When we climbed out we had a leech on each shoulder. We clawed them off, tossing them into the mud. “We should follow the train tracks until we find a dead body,” she said, finally capable of joking around again. I said, “They’re always in the blueberry bushes.”
“Shoes knocked right off ‘em.”
We fell in deep love at other people’s parties, on couches completely alone surrounded by a hundred thousand wayward kids.
She liked to cut the cores out of apples and smoke weed at sunset while the bats flew around the apartment complex and our laughs echoed off the gutters.
“I wanna learn how to play the piano, build me a piano, Jimmy.”
I found her a Casio with a blown out speaker on bulk trash day. For a little while she tried to play it, but never learned any chords. She tried to sing too. She had the most beautiful shaky voice and used to finger those chords while we drank bottle after bottle of Seagrams gin in my mother’s basement. She was a true angel, “I’m all alone in the world but I had you to save me.”
Underneath the water tower we both felt like the full moon was in our eyes even though it was hidden behind rain clouds holding out for morning. She spread out a blanket and let me climb on top of her. I knew that it wouldn’t have happened if not for the circumstances of the previous months. A piece of glass pushed into my knee while I pushed inside of her. We were eighteen.
Right then my wisdom felt light as a feather, the wind came up out of nowhere. I’d wanted nothing more than to be eighteen forever underneath that water tower—inside Sarah for the first time. That glass in my knee, even.
We took our flea market junk heap bikes down steep hills. I hit a brick, flipped—broke my arm. That’s how I became a bicycle casualty.
But she kneeled like such a princess never should, kissing my cast, signing her name, a heart, an arrow, a swear about forever. I Imagined my broken bone. I imagined all of her broken brain circuits misaligned after her mother’s funeral.
I should’ve been taking college classes, but I didn’t want to leave Sarah.
“Even if the future doesn’t mean as much money, I don’t care,” I said, “as long as I have you I won’t need money.”
“That’s fine,” she said.
We were the ones in the back of the movie theater, back as far as we could get, the worst showing of the worst film, empty seats, but she was a cheerleader and liked to be enthusiastic about her boyfriend in the darkness. For every fuck she carved another notch into my cast, when it came off it looked like havoc, all those notches.
She wrapped her arms around me the day the cast came off and I carried her for miles.
I dumped gin into her until she finally climbed inside the Rabbit for the first time since the tragedy, “It’s silly, it’s just a car . . . “
We drove Diesel Cottontail out onto the frozen bay. It used to get cold enough to do that in Jersey.
I killed the ignition, and we sat in the darkness, snow falling. We sang to the radio, making up our own words. She told me that she thought it was all worth it, “to be here with you.” I didn’t see how she could mean it, but she meant it. She put her head on my shoulder.
We fell asleep—woke to the reflection of the sun off of the ice. That was the day the bay thawed. The ice had been cracking for some time, no one thought about it. Ted drove his dirt bike out that afternoon and lost it into the water below, he nearly drowned.
The ocean takes a lot.
Went and saw Neutral Milk Hotel last night in Jersey City, Nj at the same old Lowe’s movie theatre where my wife and I got married in May, 2013. The show was great, Jeff Magnum sang all of Aeroplane Over the Sea. There was singing saws, moog synths, horns galore and plenty of sweater wearing freaks in the audience. I didn’t even have a beer, that’s how in awe I was of the whole thing. I was sober like a 17 year old (but even then I was drunk at shows!) I always wanted to see Neutral Milk Hotel play live. I’m really surprised that it happened, especially in such an intimate venue. Got them crossed off the list, now looking forward to the next show we have tickets for, Arcade Fire in Brooklyn in August. (I need to see some shows before then obviously)
Blurbs for ‘Everything Neon’
Other news: got some great blurbs for my collection of poetry Everything Neon (release date Feb. 20th or thereabouts). Everything Neon is a full length, 170 pages, writing which mostly focuses on my 8 years living in NYC and spending time with my wife Spout. The poems were written between 2012-2013, and it’s my hope that the collection is enjoyable for fans of poetry and for peeps that aren’t sure if they like it at all, yet.
Two quick testimonials:
Here’s one from Writer’s Digest editor, James Duncan
“Reading Bud Smith’s poetry is like waking up is someone else’s apartment and walking room to room picking up the alien items so strange and yet so universal, a nectarine like every other you’ve eaten except this one is tied to someone else’s life, someone else’s story, and the stories roll on, page after page of his book, item after item, picking them up, listening, setting them down, intimacy and commonality. Bud’s poems are little blueprints for surviving life’s epiphanies and doldrums, and his stories are your stories told in ways that you’ve never imagines to tell them and yet they become clear as consciousness as his words scroll across the page—yes, yes, this is how it all happens…”
— James Duncan, editor at Writer’s Digest, author of the book The Cards We Keep
And another one from one of the baddest assed poets around these days, Kevin Ridgeway, author of All the Rage
“Bud Smith writes poems that punch you in the face, make you laugh out loud, fall in love and break your heart all at the same time. This collections paints a vivid picture of life in Washington Heights, NYC that is electrifying and triumphant. It is an amazing achievement. It reminds me of the rock concept albums of the 1960s and 1970s in its mastery. Most of all, Bud Smith’s voice as a writer always comes off like he is the most sincere man in the room. And you want him, and his words, in your corner.”
–Kevin Ridgeway, author of All the Rage (Electric Windmill Press)
Really looking forward to share the book with y’all soon. I just got an invite to do some readings at AWP in Seattle, Feb. 28th-March 3rd. And I’ll be doing a bunch of readings in NJ and NYC, including one this weekend in Toms River. I have a proof copy of the book already and am trying out poems on peeps in the audience to see how the poems work in a live setting. So yeah, that shit it fun.
Real happy/humbled to see another write up on my novel tollbooth …
The write up was from an editor at the magazine JMWW named Micheal Gilan Maxwell, a great artist, writer and musician. He said:
“Bud Smith’s 2013 release Tollbooth is one of the most entertaining, refreshing and compelling novels I’ve read in a long time. The protagonist, Jimmy Saare is a toll collector on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. It opens with Jimmy saving the lives of a mother and daughter by pulling them to safety from the flaming wreckage of their vehicle after a horrific accident. It’s Jimmy’s second day on the job. Although this is a real event in the life of Jimmy Saare, toll collector, it’s also an important piece of metaphorical foreshadowing.
The story takes off from there like a bull exploding out of the chute at a rodeo, twisting, turning, bucking wildly and it doesn’t stop until it’s over. Tollbooth takes the reader on a wild ride through the interior psychological landscape of Jimmy, his hallucinatory break with reality, a marriage in the midst of crashing and burning, an impossible obsession with a nineteen year old sales clerk and his involvement with a bizarre cult and the exterior physical landscape of the Garden State Parkway, coastal New Jersey, strip malls, Iceland, and a commercial fishing trawler all the way to the gates of Hell and back again on an unexpected path to redemption.”
You can read the whole review here
The book seems to keep having a life, carrying on and on. I’m thrilled to see that. It sucks when a book comes out and no one wants to read it. Truth be told, I just talked to the publisher of the book and they said that there are 8 more review copies available. So, I’m looking around to see who would like to read the book with the intention of writing a review for a magazine/newspaper, or amazon & Goodreads. Contact me if you’re interested.
Thanks for readings and all that. Hope your week is going good. I need some coffee.
I set up a book giveaway for my novel Tollbooth, out from Piscataway House. The giveaway will last 30 days, enter to win with the click of a god dang button. We’re giving away 5 signed paperback copies. I hope that you win one.
Check out the contest here
If you’re not sure what’s up with Tollbooth, read here
Other comments, question? Hit me up down below. Also: wanna know more about having your own contests? Leave a comment.