Something like. Like track ballast. Igneous, dense and heavy. No, weighty. Full. When you were young you had a friend who lived near the freight line. Ballast would appear in his backyard. Once when you visited you put coins on the track, waiting for a train to come by and warp them into smooth, useless flakes. Like the ones he’d brought out in the school playground at lunchtime. While you hid in the bushes by the track you thought of your mother and this waste of money. This literal sheering of cash; it made your palms sweat and your ears drum. Made you want to piss. But the train didn’t come and when your mate suggested following the tracks to the signal hut to throw stones, you were quick to hop up and pocket your coin, a fifty cent piece, now worth more than the five and the oh on its face.

Coin in your pocket, you followed your friend. You kept an eye out for the train, an ear out for its approaching rhythm; dogs barked at you from backyards. Eventually you arrived at an old hut. The door was kicked in and each wall had a scribble of graffiti on it. Every window was already broken but, even so, it was a thing to throw rocks at. The scrub around the signal hut sprouted from small pebbles. Before long, you were scooping them up in handfuls and catapulting them into the air. Of course, soon, your mate threw the coin he was ready to let the train press flat. Threw it at one of the broken windows but it curled sharply and missed the hut altogether, tinkling as it landed on the other side. He turned to you, as if expecting you to do the same with your coin, but you grinned and hurled another handful of pebbles at the hut’s roof. Continue reading


In late 2004 and the early winter of 2005, Richard Cooley left approximately 100 voicemails on the answering machine of Patrick and Nancy Boson as the depraved dog groomer Rory Thibodeaux. Despite a majority of these voicemails being left in a state of glowing intoxication, they create a cohesive, thrilling narrative about one man’s lonely quest to wash, trim, and masturbate Henry, the Bosons’ fey and cowardly Papillon. Cooley has known the Bosons for years.

         The normally unassuming Cooley, who is a high school music teacher in Lake Charles, found solace and refuge in Rory Thibodeaux, a caricature of savagery and lust, perversity and contempt, gleeful amoralism, and a nostalgic entrepreneurial spirit.

         These selected voicemails have been transcribed by Mr. Cooley’s close friends in order to preserve a doubtlessly unique era in his life. With the resolve of a new year, he has decided to quit drinking “once and for all.” Naturally, this means the death of Rory Thibodeaux, who will be mourned, most of all by the Bosons. They looked forward to each new chapter of what would become a transnational, then transglobal, epic, often shooting tequila or sharing a marijuana cigarette as the recordings played back. For both the reticent Cooley and the more sociable Bosons, Thibodeaux’s misadventures served as a singular distraction from the anxieties of modern American life. Continue reading


The smell was almost pleasurable, in the wholesome, natural way that the smell of sawdust or rain is. I rested my hands on the glass barrier separating me from the room of dirt. I had read that it weighed over a quarter million tons and the first thing I thought about was the building’s structural integrity. Now, actually standing in front of the Earth Room, my mind drifted from Manhattan’s lower east side to some hazy midwest destination, of corn and other basic agricultural staples growing out of dirt tilled over every day, of young children with muddy feet running through a backyard, of retirees lovingly examining their gardens under bright blue skies.

Adam had told me it was called the Earth Room, one of those ambitious art pieces that radical schools so adored in the 20th century’s last decades. It was just that; a room full of earth, dirt, feet of it, layers upon layers contrasted with the stark white walls that held it in. It was located on the second floor of a loft that we had had some difficulty locating. A permanent exhibition. I ran my hand along the surface of the dirt and was disappointed when it was clumpy and not fine and smooth. I stepped back from the opening and let the people behind me have a look. Continue reading




My aunt spoke to me quietly, in a confused and troubled tone, on the landing of the stairwell in my grandmother’s house, which was inexplicably crowded.
__I know you’re sad and you have problems and things, she said, but please do not bring them to Twitter.
__A tall, thin creature with a human head and the body of an iguana walked slowly past us up the stairs.
__My aunt waited until the iguana man was out of earshot then whispered, It’s just, then paused. Nevermind, she said, visibly struggling to hold back tears.
__I noticed paintings on the walls behind her. They looked antique, but had shiny new price tags on them.
__Running, she said. Or basketball? What about basketball? You used to love playing basketball, she said. Continue reading



Pablo Escobar comes to pick me up from my house at 11:30 on the dot, just like we planned. He’s always busy, so he values punctuality. Even with his schedule, he always finds some time to spend with me. He drives up in a brand new Rolls Royce with bulletproof tires.

“Do you like it?” he asks sheepishly, diverting his gaze.

“It’s a bit… much. But yes,” I answer. “Let’s take my car to lunch instead.”

He looks downtrodden for a moment, but perks up quickly. “That will be lower profile anyway,” he says warmly.



Pablo Escobar is playing the new Selena Gomez album from his phone, which is connected to my car’s stereo by a crappy aux-to-cassette converter.

“Whenever I’m with the rest of the cartel, they don’t like to listen to music like this,” Pablo quietly remarks.

“That’s why it’s good to have a friend you can be yourself around.”

Pablo smiles as he bobs his head to the beat. Continue reading


Something goes wrong under earth’s crust. If it doesn’t get fixed soon, everyone will face “dire consequences.” That’s what the politicians say the scientists said. The scientists actually intoned in their reserved scientist way that “a severe likelihood of as yet unclear tectonic abnormalities, causing societal detriment will, in all probability, occur at some point in the immediate geologic future.” “Consequences?” you think, “that sounds a little abstract.” “That’s what the scientists are saying,” everyone tells you.

When you did bad things as a boy, your mother yelled “consequences!” “Henry!” she’d go, “If you don’t stop hitting yourself there will be consequences!” “Put down the hot curling iron! Stop burning yourself with the hot curling iron!” “No more Pez before dinner!” “Young man! Consequences!”

A consequences can be no TV. No Xbox. Strangulation with a tie-dyed scarf. Additional dishwashing. A devastating earthquake that fissure the continents. “Variety can be the spice of life,” your mother told you. Variety, you think, can be quite confusing.

You enjoy doing the same thing day after day. You don’t enjoy being told what to do. You like to be liked. You don’t like yourself. People who don’t like themselves, you understand, become artists. You will be an artist. Your friends engaged with art tell you, “Henry you aren’t engaged with art.” You retort that academia is stifling. You drop out of college. “I felt stifled,” you say. You decide art people are deluded. They don’t know anything about the planet’s suffering. You want to be on the front lines when the world crumbles. That’s where you find your material. “The earth is round,” the deluded fools tell you, “how can there be a front line?” “I’m moving to New York,” you say, “I need a city that understands metaphor.” Continue reading


Henry shuts the door behind him.


He is Professor of Graphic Novels at our college.




Rather than unfollowing his ex-wife on social media, he has stopped using social media. “You should focus on your work,” his sister says over Skype. “Maybe adopt a dog?”




One of his students presents him with a reddish puppy. Henry loves it, welcomes it into his life, buys it a bed. He notices it still has a tag on its leash. The tag is pink. The tag reads:




Henry removes the tag but does not discard it. He renames the dog Death. Continue reading


The air in our clearing was syrup thick. It clung to our sweat-kissed khakis like high-fructose golden treacle. The faces looked identical in the waning daylight—clean shaved, baby faced, white, growing jowly with each year that passed away from the baseball diamond.


Our men hauled loads.


They see both oceans.


They never speak.


Our women keep council.


They weave, budget, and make the town work.


Our women handle conversation like trawl and spackle, warm and enveloping until you’re out the door and these pleasantries flake off into rust like salt caught inside a wheelwell. Continue reading


Many of the greatest merchants in ancient Egypt had one simple secret to their financial success: they ain’t go for no bullshit.

With that in mind, I started working down at the local cannery in 1985.

I needed a job and I didn’t want any BS about it. I held fast to the belief that one day, with enough hard work and perseverance, perhaps I too would become among the most wealthy men to walk the Earth.

I stopped by the front desk and tipped my cap to the receptionist. She shuddered and pretended to take a phone call.

I asked what kind of work needed to be done at the cannery.

“Can things, mostly,” she said with a scowl.

“Well, I CAN do that,” I said, winking so hard I fell over.

Great. So I got the job. Now it’s 10 years later and I know everything there is to know about canned goods. I know what goes in the cans, I even know what goes outside ’em. I know how to open the cans, I know how to close ’em. The only thing I don’t know is how to get paid more than minimum wage for my hard labor.

So I march back up to the front desk and clear my throat. The receptionist puts down her newspaper and slides her bifocals to the edge of her nose.

“Did you hear about this new movie Toy Story?” she asks me.

I say of course I have, it’s 1995. Continue reading


“It says here you worked in a call center before.”

“Yes, sir,” Leonard said. He stared at a large potted plant in the corner of the office.

The interviewer kept muttering “Good, good.” He kept staring at the resume.

“Definitely learned a lot there,” Leonard added, trying to pry his eyes away from the plant.

“Yes? Excellent,” the interviewer said. Then back again to “Good, good.” His muttering was barely audible.

Leonard tried to turn his head. The skull would move, the neck, the tongue, the nose, and so on. The eyes would not. He would twist his head away from the plant, but his eyes remained preoccupied with the small tree.

“Would you describe yourself as detail oriented?”

“Definitely,” Leonard said. He examined the cracked terracotta earthenware. How long until the pot exploded under the weight of its own soil?

The interviewer cleared his throat. Leonard was sure this was the part where they should look eye to eye. “Hold his gaze,” Leonard thought to himself. “This man is dangling part time employment in front of you, hold his gaze.”

But he could not pull his eyes from the potted plant. It wasn’t his fault. It was the drugs. Continue reading