Tales of Ordinary Sadness is a collection of fifteen short stories by Neil Randall, and its title is a reference to Charles Bukowski’s short story collection, Tales of Ordinary Madness. Sadness certainly is the theme of the collection, with each story acting as a study in the more depressing areas of modern life – this is a writer not afraid to deal with addiction, abuse, poverty, or disease. Randall provides an uncanny insight into the pitiful conditions of working class Britain in the twenty-first century, exploring how things got so bad. Continue Reading…
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Goetleib, the undisputed arbiter of taste and opinion, was sitting cross-legged in his armchair with a book clamped open in his left hand. He licked at his elongated snout with the thin whip of his tongue. His brow wrinkled suddenly, severely, and he mused out loud
– Gah! I wish Mancuso hadn’t used dashes instead of quotation marks, no, oh my, no, no, no, no…
He turned another page in the book with a flick of his foreclaw and turned to type up what he just said aloud – ‘I WISH MANCUSO HADN’T USED DASHES INSTEAD OF QUOTATION MARKS…’
Very soon (20 pages in, in fact) he became bored of Mancuso’s book, distracted by more of his own puerile thoughts, thoughts about tearing open termite mounds and feasting on the juicy worker bugs inside – and then he remembered he wasn’t allowed to eat insects anymore and the mudhook of sadness sunk itself deep within him.
He sniffed his hose-nose hungrily and braced the book shut before tossing it on the crackling hearth. Goetleib then went about justifying himself to the empty room.
– Poorly copy edited, too much supernaturalism, yes, no unity of effect, no sense of the swelling, impending terror or suspense I’ve come to expect, and then there’s the dashes instead of proper punctuation, no, no, no Mancuso! But the main problem with this book, yes I’d say its main fault, above all else, is that it isn’t written the way I wanted it to be written…
He gave a leonine stretch and was left amused and content by his own corrosive tone – after all, his career was over before it had even begun and he had nothing to lose.
Goetleib had an urge to interfere with himself but remembered that he wasn’t allowed to masturbate anymore either. He suffered from a retrograde disorder that meant when he ejaculated his bladder-sphincter would contract and release semen through his urethra, the path of least pleasure. Goetleib’s dry orgasms were frustrating and made him irritable and rather irrational. This went some way in explaining his scathing condemnations of almost everything he was asked to review.
There was a colony of ants obstructing his ejaculatory duct. They’d survived digestion and set up camp in various pockets of Goetleib’s lower abdomen. The irony was not lost on him, the near-constant pelvic distress serving as casual reminder.
It seemed poor Goetleib wasn’t allowed to do any of the things he enjoyed most, apart from ruining the reputations of writers and musicians that is! He was left cooped up in his deciduous forest home. It was a tragic life in a way.
He often felt the insects milling around inside him and when he thought about the amorphous domes and the supercolony of undigested ants, the desire to masturbate subsided.
He strolled around the grasslands of his estate still very pleased with how he’d dismantled Mancuso’s book so clinically. The anticipation of seeing his critique published gave Goetleib a strange rattle of joy in his testicles. He went up to an easel where he’d been painting non-descript images with his own smeared faeces and took in a smug lungful. His eyes were bathed in tears. Goetleib knew he was a genius.
Around mid-day, his frustration would intensify. It would become too great to ignore, Goetleib decided he would go about committing suicide. Killing himself at this stage of his career would set him in good stead for the future. People might even come to the conclusion that Mancuso’s book had driven him to self-eradication. Goetleib hoped that this would be the case.
He hurried to the drawer in his kitchen and pulled out a long wire extension. He lassoed one of the overhead beams and yanked on the chord until it went taut. Goetleib then mounted his chair and placed the wire over his head. It drooped loosely around his neck. He tightened the ligature and kicked away the chair.
Old Goetleib hung for around 20 seconds, swinging back and forth like an insane ant-eater shaped chandelier, but his hardwood neck refused to break. He felt his penis hard and was suddenly very aware of just how hard it had gotten, before the weak slipknot in the wire unfastened and sent the desperate critic crashing to the floor.
He nursed his garrotted throat for a moment then felt something happening between his legs. Goetleib felt lactescent sperm rise in him, through a different tunnel, a different path – a path of pleasure! – and he collapsed again as it gushed forth in an ridiculous cascade. The ants had been dislodged from his ejaculatory duct and were now parachuting from the widened and raw japseye. Goetleib looked at the puddles of screaming ants in their milky pools of DNA. He leaned over a tiny troupe of disorientated insects and sucked them up through his hose-nose. He sat on his rump and savoured the taste of the ants and cherished his voided testicles. Goetleib found that now he couldn’t stop thinking about Mancuso’s book…
“Imagine,” he said with a look of genuine sadness, “all the billions of people who’ve lived through this mundane life without having ever been retweeted by someone famous.”
Melissa stared at him, jaw agape.
“I’m serious. Look at these poor saps.” Carl gestured around the bar, which looked just like any other bar in any other city in America. “To think that even ten years ago they’d go through their miserable existences without the possibility – I mean, like, a real possibility – of interacting with a celebrity.”
She looked down at her phone for a few seconds and tweeted:
“Imagine all the billions of people who’ve lived through this mundane life without having ever been retweeted by someone famous.”
No room for a good hashtag. Simple and to the point. It’d be good for a few retweets, and maybe half as many favorites.
When she gave him no reply, he asked her, “Did you just tweet that?”
She thought about saying, “Check your phone, Carl,” but instead just nodded.
“That’s what I’m saying. Exactly. We live to tweet, live to talk about the most minute fucking details of our life.”
Melissa looked him in the eye and said nothing.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that, not at all. As you well know, I enjoy it as much as the next guy. It gives meaning to our lives where there’s nothing else. And why? Do we really give a fuck about what our friends think or some random fucking guy? Maybe, but we care a hell of a lot more about fame. That’s what it is, Mel. Fame.”
Melissa looked him in the eye and made a “bleh” face. Then she looked back down at her phone and tweeted:
“Is fame all that matters?”
A stupid tweet, yes, but with 3,678 followers, someone was sure to answer, and their followers would see the answer and follow Melissa, and somewhere down the line they might buy one of her paintings. Stranger things had happened.
She looked at the previous tweet and saw it had been favorited twice and retweeted five times. Not bad. Maybe it would go viral and she’d sell a ton of paintings.
“It’s like, why do you tell the world what you have for dinner? Why bother with the witticisms and puns that would get you a slap in the nuts if you’re out with your friends? Why? It’s the lure of fame. That’s what it is, I’m telling you.”
After again getting no verbal reply, he continued: “It could – theoretically – happen to anyone. They could just blow up now. It’s not like it used to be. You could post a fucking picture of your dog and the next day you’re Justin Beiber or that Korean dude.” He took a sip of his beer, waiting for her to name Psy, but she didn’t. “I mean, of course that’s the big dream. That’s like when you used to call in after a TV gameshow and try to get on and win a million dollars or something. But it’s so much more obtainable. I mean, scale it down, and what’s in reach of the average guy, without bothering with the long odds?”
“Haven’t heard Gangnam Style in a while. Feel pretty good about that.”
The “billions of people” tweet was approaching double figures for both retweets and favorites.
“Validation. That’s the word I’m looking for. People can get validation and they can get it so much easier than they used to. I knew a guy who tweeted at an A-lister – a fucking A-lister! – and she tweeted him back. It was just like ‘Thanks,’ or something, but that’s big, Mel. That matters to people, and they can get it. We’re not talking rubber stamp autographs or a typed message from a publicist or assistant. This is actual communication with the gods. This is prayer but real and with answers.”
11 retweets, 9 favorites, and only 4 minutes old. Melissa, pleased with herself, kept the ball rolling:
“Tweeting celebrities like speaking to your god and actually getting an answer. #barwisdom”
“You used to have to move to Hollywood for that shit. You had to move heaven and earth to meet Brad Pitt or someone, and now you just get on your phone. I mean, it’s total bullshit and everything. Like they give a shit except that it makes them look like they care. And they don’t have to risk getting stabbed by some psycho.”
“Psy,” Melissa said. “That ‘Korean dude’ is called Psy.”
“Yeah,” he said, spurred on by what he mistook for enthusiasm. “That guy has like millions of followers. If he tweets your name or, better yet, retweets you, that’s big. That’s visibility. Even the minor celebrities or people who work for big magazines and stuff, they have a lot of people reading their shit, following their every word. They have power, man, and that power is within the grasp of everyone that uses it. By proxy, you know. They can make you one of them.”
“A tweet can, with luck, make you a superhero. #barwisdom”
Carl looked disappointed that Melissa was staring back at her phone and smiling at it, rather than at him, but he persevered. “Okay, so that’s unlikely… I mean, that’s the dream for these people. I got a retweet from Neil Gaiman a couple weeks ago for some charity drive. The guy has almost two million followers and only one more started following me immediately after that. It shows that the reality isn’t so glamorous, of course, but still they dream.
“It helps when you see these people talking to or about each other. Like, Zach Braff tweeting the other guy from Scrubs. His friend, the black guy. They’re friends in real life and when they tweet each other you can see that and interject your own opinion, and they’ll reply to you sometimes, like one in a thousand times, and you’re actually – literally and legitimately – a part of their conversation. I mean, can you imagine your grandparents like walking up to Frank Sinatra and I don’t know, one of those actresses – like Marilyn Monroe or something – and just talking with them out of the blue. Interrupting their conversation and becoming a part of it? Changing the course of the dialogue?”
“Tweeting @zachbraff today’s equivalent of starting conversation with Frank Sinatra. #barwisdom”
With only 12 retweets and 9 favorites, the momentum was dropping and Melissa knew her words were not about to go viral. In the coming hours she might gain a follower or two, and the numbers would slowly increase, but she was not destined for stardom just yet.
“It’s amazing. It takes so little effort.” He paused and sipped his beer again. Melissa was politely flicking her eyes up from her phone but now she looked depressed, whereas before she had smiled periodically. Had he really said “the black guy”? That wasn’t cool. He decided that was why she now looked so upset, and tried to put a more positive spin on things.
“I mean, this could really help people if they only knew about it. I mean, a lot of them do, but not everyone. You could probably prevent a suicide by having Kanye West thank them for their support or something. Get celebrities to reach out and speak to more of their fans, and get those depression hotlines telling people to reach out to their heroes for support. Mel, I think this is a killer idea. I gotta write this down.”
Carl patted his pockets mindlessly and looked around for a pen and paper. He was silently chastising himself for having said “Kanye West” as such a deliberate attempt to make up for the “black guy” remark.
“Use your phone,” Melissa told him, embarrassed by how drunk her date looked, as he wobbled atop his barstool.
“I’m doing this ‘no phone’ thing at the moment,” he explained.
“You’re kidding me…”
“No, I’m serious. I mean, I think we use this stuff way too much and this reliance upon technology probably isn’t that healthy. It’s just an experiment really, to see what happens. Actually I quite enjoy it. It gets inconvenient sometimes – like now – but mostly I find myself looking around at the world more, like thinking about stuff instead of just playing Candy Crush, and talking with people. It’s liberating.”
He had her attention now, that was for sure. Melissa was looking Carl in the eye, waiting for him to continue. He knew it was because he’d talked about Twitter all night and seemed like a hypocrite for not having his phone with him.
“I mean, I’m not saying that phones are a necessarily bad thing at all, or any other form of technology for that matter. It’s just a personal thing. An experiment, like I said. I want to see if it helps me grow as a person.”
Melissa lost interest again and her eyes dropped to her phone. Carl retreated into his beer and planned a way salvage the conversation, while she checked and saw that her latest tweet had earned her a retweet by Zach Braff. Her face lit up and she told Carl, “I want another drink. I’m buying.”
Shocked out of his deep, drunken thoughts, Carl stared dumbly at his date and for the first time that night was speechless.
Melissa ordered another round and then told Carl, “I’ll tweet your idea to you. Then you can work on it in the morning. Unless it goes viral in the night and someone steals it.”
He laughed as their drinks were set down in front of them. “I don’t even remember what I was going on about exactly,” he admitted.
This story is include in the collection, 6 Stories, by David S. Wills.
a short story
Christine and Jason went to a new friend’s costume party dressed as grizzly bears. They learned to mimic a bear’s loose, muscular, pigeon-toed gait, and they artfully constructed outfits from shaggy fake fur. The couple spent much of their free time preparing for the party by sewing their costumes and watching videos of bears on the internet together. Jason had never seen one outside of a zoo, and Christine liked to remind him of the many times she had seen bears in the wild on backpacking trips. Christine was proud to know more about bears. Continue Reading…
One of the great mysteries of the Beat Generation is that of Alene Lee. She is, or rather, was, an enigma. Jack Kerouac wrote about her (as Mardou Fox in The Subterraneans and Irene May in Book of Dreams and Big Sur) but the depictions he gave weren’t particularly accurate.
Lee guarded her privacy and so for many years little has been known about her. A few photographs exist, and there are some references to her in a few books (with nothing in the books specifically regarding the women of the Beat Generation), but not a lot was known until recently.
In Beatdom #4 Steven O’Sullivan wrote a fantastic essay about her, after doing some extensive research. You can read that essay here for free.
After reading the essay, Lee’s daughter contacted Beatdom and offered us some never-before read work: An essay about the life of Alene Lee, some excerpts from the writings of Alene Lee, and an entire short story by Alene Lee.
These were all published in the sixth issue of Beatdom, and comprise the largest published collection of Alene Lee material anywhere in the world.
You can read all of this in the most recent issue of the magazine, available for free here.