ULA 5th Anniversary!
Today, October 8, is the five year anniversary of the founding of the Underground Literary Alliance. It began with the signing of a paragraph-long petition protesting a Guggenheim grant to millionaire author Rick Moody. Today the ULA's membership stands at 35 talented writers who aren't afraid to make some noise in the literary world.
Here's a brief rundown of the ULA's accomplishments & activities over the past five years:
*Invaluable press coverage in dozens of high-profile media outlets, including three shout-outs in the New York Times.
*Debates, protests and confrontations with literary insiders like George Plimpton, Dave Eggers, Rick Moody, etc.
*Grassroots efforts to help zinesters in need get back on their feet.
*Published four issues of Slush Pile, our communal zine.
*Published lit-muckraking Monday Reports every week since late 2003 at our website.
*Hosted at least one action-packed literary reading per year in major cities since 2001.
*Now we've launched a nationwide sales campaign to get six ULA-related books into stores and in front of readers.
Not too bad for a group that started as a handful of broke zinesters from Detroit!! Today, in lieu of birthday cake, we offer you a short story from one of the ULA's most unique writers. Enjoy!
by James Nowlan
There stands Sam, on the mantel of the chimney that is seldom used since my spacious villa finds itself in a fairly temperate climatic zone which is lucky for him for it keeps him from being exposed to heat that might very well hasten the deterioration of his stuffed self and I wouldn’t want to see him rot and have to get rid of him since he was my first love.
We first met on a farm, one of the few in the rural region that I grew up in that hadn’t been given over to the ugly industrialization of agribusiness and where one could come in more direct contact with the elements that are sacrificed to sustain our lives. I don’t really remember much of this first encounter other than me and Sam rolling playfully around in the mud together; I guess it was just one of those special pastoral moments that gets cut and spliced by memory’s emotional editor so that it comes out as a commercial for bucolic bliss. Later episodes, me raising Sam and weaning him from his mother are so confused with the numerous snapshots that were taken of us at the time that I can’t distinguish memory’s images from the photographic.
The first day that truly stands out on its own is the fatal day that was to change our destinies; the 4h contest. I or I think maybe it was my parents had had the cute idea to dress up my entry as our nations symbol, Uncle Sam. Undoubtedly as a symbol of defiance towards recent attacks to our freedoms (can freedom be plural? Isn’t it an abstract noun? Okay maybe if you’re talking about constitutionally mandated freedoms) and values. Sam seemed to understand prancing pridefully along and even rising up on his hind legs to walk upright. A photographer for a national magazine happened to be on hand and caught a picture of us, Sam with his snout in the air star-spangled top hat and blue sequined tailed jacket, me beaming in my worn overalls and the picture made national headlines with the caption ‘‘Patriotic Piggy’’.
A few days later the phone rang with an offer that exceeded my wildest dreams. I was to be an actor in the spectacle of Eurodisney’s mainstreet parade. The farm boy with the star spangled hog come to proudly show the colors of his country in France. I was ecstatic about the idea of going to a place that was at the time so close to my idea of the cultural center of the universe, of course I would have been happier going to Orlando or better yet to the original Disneyland in Anaheim which though rather rundown is a more personal product of Walt’s genius but I was more than enthused by what I had been offered.
When I landed at Charles De Gaulle airport the welcome agent offered to take me on a tour of the city of lights. I thought it was one of the lands of Disney so I said of course but when I found out she meant Paris I demanded emphatically that me and my pig be taken directly to the magic kingdom to roam about soaking up the ambiance. I then led Sam off to his sty and then retired to my room in a theme hotel made up like a dude ranch. I woke up early the next morning and after putting on my coveralls and straw hat ran down to get my companion out. We then spent the first part of the day welcoming the crowds come from around the world to see this monument that America had offered to Europe. After the parade me and Sam had some burgers and some fries and then spent the afternoon like the morning. And so it went on and would have continued if it wasn’t for a strange group who had been hatching dark plans for me and my pig before we had even arrived.
Most of the other employees called them the Calartians after a school that they had all gone to that had some obscure connection with Disney. Someone once mockingly said that they were even more Saint Germain de Prés than Saint Germain de Prés and though I didn’t understand it at the time now the memory of their black clad beret wearing gitan smoking selves makes me smile instead of filling me with dread like their presence did at the time. They seemed to have some sort of special knowledge or power and what exactly their jobs were was hard to tell, they appeared to be there as a sort of malevolent presence. If I had known what they had had in store for me I would have taken the first plane back to Iowa.
The first contact I had with one of their number was the last. I was sitting in the cafeteria one morning eating my wheaties when I looked up to see the pale face of one of the few attractive female members of their clique staring intently at me. I was hypnotized by her large violet brown eyes. When I snapped out of the trance I don’t know how much later and she had vanished leaving me to wonder what had happened (from the medical examinations conducted later it was surmised that she had spiked my breakfast cereal with a heady cocktail of drugs including ecstasy, LSD, methedrine and several artificial opiates). Anyway I finished eating and hurried off to find my co-star.
I don’t know what sort of mind control technique this woman had used on me but several hours had passed and the parade was just beginning. I skipped out to catch up with the departing floats and costumed characters not really noticing the heady euphoria that was overtaking me. As we frolicked before the gathered vacationing families of the world I felt overcome by waves of joy emanating from the spectators. I remember looking at the twitching tail of my piglet and feeling an uncontrollable love for him and thinking that I must show the beauty of this love to everyone.
I woke up in a holding cell wondering how I got there. None of the police spoke English and I wasn’t able to get an explanation for my presence there until the translator arrived. He seemed overjoyed to meet me telling me not to worry and saying what a hero I was and that they would find a lawyer to get all of this sorted out. Then he had a call on his portable that he had laid out before him on the table and answered with a strange change of accent that made his voice almost unintelligible for me. He said, ‘‘yes I’m here with him now the american pigfucker yes I’m sure he’ll be glad to tell his story to your paper as soon as he gets out of here’’.
After that everything passed in a blur; signing the papers to get released then meeting with journalists, trying to explain what had happened, authorizing the distribution of the pictures of me and Sam copulating in front of the shocked crowd. Before I knew it I was rich and famous living in luxurious hotels dining in the finest restaurants, screwing vogue models on silk sheets while my pig pranced joyfully about. I tried reading some of the articles about what happened and they talked about scatological street theater protest and I didn’t understand a word of it. The agent that had been found for me advised me to only give prepared interviews. It seemed that the less I said the more they read into it.
I was soon contacted by a then famous artist Martin Gros who requested that me and Sam participate in one of his performance paintings. Large canvases were to be set out and me and Sam were to strip naked and engage in our amorous frolics upon them after being splashed with a special shade of paint called ‘‘Martin Gros Red’’ that supposedly resembled the shade of the blood that jets from the neck of someone who’s been freshly guillotined. I have one of the canvasses hanging now in the same room as Sam to remind me of that day which was to be one of the last joyful ones of our life together.
To get myself in the right mood I had taken the same drugs as the first time and afterwards I had to spend several days in my spacious hotel suite to recuperate. I was awoken by a knock at my door. It was a pink and pudgy girl with pointed ears and turned up nose. She had come to tell me about the coming armageddon and the saving grace of our lord Jesus Christ. I don’t know how she got into the hotel (maybe the security was drunk) or why I let her in (the drugs must have still been affecting me) but we sat on the sofa and she showed me some naively drawn photos of the end of days and the earthy smell of her got control of me and I sadly took advantage of her. She left weeping several minutes later and I felt a pang of regret that the photo numeric perfect bodies of the top models had never been able to solicit from me.
In spite of these feelings I had almost forgotten about her a month later when the call came. Apparently the lord had willed offspring upon us (glory hallelujah). She wished to know if I intended to do my christian duty and marry her and I was surprised to hear myself agree. For the third time in less than a year my life was completely changed so fast I felt as if I had been in car wreck. We moved into a small bungalow on the outskirts of Paris and spent our days going door to door to convert the unemployed so that they would take that miserable minimum wage job just like God wanted them to do.
We were often spit on and insulted and occasionally physically assaulted; sometimes welcomed in by some tragically alcoholic individual who would invite us to have a drink with him and then spit on us insult us and attack us when we refused. But soon my wife was too large to get through the gates and doors of those who needed to hear of the approaching apocalypse and I made this sad circuit alone as she sat at home with the pig who bit her hand whenever she tried to pet it and gave me a look of sullen betrayal when I came back.
I wasn’t too successful in finding new soldiers for the end of days so the church let me go and we had serious money worries. We had just about run out when a call came. It was Martin Gros. He had been following the story of my life since my fall from fame and had a new project for me. A documentary that was already presold to french television and for which my share of the receipts would take care of my little family for the rest our lives.
The film was planned as a sort of counter propaganda against the aggressive pimping of the American dream by the numerous rejects of the American elite in Europe at the time. An american couple reduced to abject poverty would be forced to slaughter and eat their family pet (my unfortunate pig) in order to survive. The camera followed me to the local dump where I searched for garbage to feed to Sam and observed the progressing obesity of my first love and my second.
The final scene was difficult and it would have been impossible if it had not been for the wise tragic look in Sam’s eyes; knowing, understanding and forgiving as I slit his throat.
A crew of work men have come and gone and Sam is now in a specially constructed humidity and temperature controlled glass case that is guaranteed to preserve him for decades so he can look down beneficently on my children and grand children as they squeal and prance about on the carpet their round pink cheeks, upturned noses and pointy ears twitching joyfully. Which is only just, since it is he, my patriotic piggy, who has made this, our beautiful life, possible.
James Nowlan is an ex-pat writer living in France. His novel, SECURITY, is coming soon from ULA Press. Click here for more info about James.