Hey all. Welcome to this week's Underground Literary Adventure. As some of you might know, Wred Fright hosted ULA and Underground writers in Cleveland last week for the three-day F! Independent (FILF). Over the next few weeks, various participants in the festival will share their experiences on this site. The first report comes from Jelly the Clown (Eric Broomfield). After that, we have a short story from one of my favorite underground writers, Karl Koweski. Enjoy.
Eric "Jelly Boy" Broomfield and the Attack of FILF
The ULA is a family.
Road Tripping for literature.
Standing up for sanity and the imagination.
The Cleveland three-day festival was heard loud and clear in a bookstore basement, a coffee house that served beer and in Pat's bar at the Flats industrial wasteland blooming underground. The writers and bands came together and were gratiously hosted by Wred Fright and Mrs. Fright. Plenty of food and friendliness to go around the Underground for readers and people with ears. The circus came to town in the form of words that reached out and grabbed at real magic.
Frank Walsh, Pat King and I came up from Philthadelphia to see the FILF of Cleveland. Ken from the Dad Of Rock put us up the first night. After a glimpse into his consiousness we knew things would be better than expected. Wred Fright, being the conduit ended up hosting headquarters for the next few days. Edna Million Jessica Disobedience captured my imagination with dreams of the old times before television and circuit board highways. We all traded zines, pipes, eyeballs and knowledge.
Proud to say that Ms. Edna Million became a human blockhead nail up the nose and learned the legacy of the Carnie Code to carry around the world. Glass walking acordian playing burlesque tatooed zinester trickster of the ULA, is now ready to weave a circus tent with her words.
I was proud to perform with the Dad Of Rock. It was a breakthrough for the Jelly Boy who took his skulled sword and shoved it down his throat. No, he's not a cock sucker. He's just a circus goat. We put the zygote in the boat and pushed it down the river.
This Friday, July 14th, the Hydrogen Jukebox presents Carnivalution, another ULA-affiliated event. 3819 Hamilton Street in West Philly. 8pm for a five dollar donation. With very special guest The Enigma, the blue-horned puzzle-piece human marvel sword swallower with a chainsaw. Frank Walsh and Pat King will read and the Clowncentric sideshow will give birth to a naked, fully-grown clown woman named Bitterness, through the man-sized dialated vagina dentada of Snarleena Parana. Not a show to be missed if you can help it.
Power to the ULA
By Karl Koweski
At work, Larry looked paler than usual; a fact I attributed to a heavy intake of alcohol rather than night shift employment and a healthy aversion to the sun.
When I asked him for a pull from whatever bottle he had hidden away he treated me to an undeserved sneer.
“Ain’t been drinking. I just ain’t been sleeping, neither.”
I wasn’t buying it. Walking exhaustion came with the night shift program. You just washed down a handful of yellow jackets with three cans of Red Bull and you’re good to go. I’d been around booze since conception. He had a bottle stashed somewhere and from a whiff of his pastrami-inflected breath, I surmised he was rocking the vodka.
“Come on, man. All I’m asking for is a couple long deep swallows. It ain’t right, you getting greedy on me all of the sudden.”
“First of all, I have every right to be greedy after you and Harley drank sixty dollars worth of my liquor without so much as a ‘fuck you, see you later’.”
“Hey, now, I’m the one who brought the chocolate flavored cigars.”
“And, secondly, I ain’t even got any liquor tonight. The fucking fumes from the rubbing alcohol would probably knock me out, right now, which ain’t an option cause we still got another six hours of pretending to work ahead of us.”
I guess I sulked. I might have even pouted. I knew for bedrock fact I wasn’t getting drunk.
“I don’t see you bringing any booze,” he added.
“I’ve got my money tired up in the football pools. You know this.”
“Anyway, it don’t matter. Except for napping my car at work, I ain’t slept a rightful wink in five days.”
I raised an eyebrow. Would I have to start pestering him for crystal meth? Cause an addiction is not an addiction if you don’t have to pay for it.
Apparently I left my poker face at the house. “And I’m not on the dope,” he said. “I can’t sleep cause my goddam trailer’s haunted.”
My eyebrow, all ready raised to full mast, managed to climb an inch higher on the flagpole of my forehead and wavered there. A flag of utter disbelief. I don’t think my eyebrow had ever reached such heights before. And I’ve heard some bullshit in my time.
“I don’t give a fuck you believe me or not. I’m the one gots to live with it.”
“No, Larry, I... uh... believe you. I’m just thinking I should investigate. You know, on a professional level and shit.”
Harley finally answered his cell phone on the eighth ring, the fourth time I called.
“It’s three o’clock in the morning,” he hissed. “What the fuck you want?”
“I’m at work,” I said by way of explanation. “So it’s like three o’clock in the afternoon for me.”
“You’ve got five seconds to say what you gotta say. And it better be good. And even if it is good, I’m still gonna slap your mouth come tomorrow.”
“Ok. Take a wild guess what Larry just told me.”
“That he likes hog-tying midgets and blow-torching their feet?”
“No. What? No. Even better, I think. He says his trailer’s haunted.”
Obviously, Harley was blown away by this nugget of information. It took him a full minute to respond. “How the fuck can this not wait til morning?”
“Look, man, this is a golden opportunity to get back at Larry for letting us drink all his liquor and trash his trailer. He’s pretty spooked about this haunting. I figure I’ll go over there and you can hang around outside. When the time’s right you can make some ghostly noises and shit like the phantom of the okra. Rattling chains and what not.”
“Fuck that. I still got buckshot lodged in my legs from the time you talked me into getting on old man Alldredge’s roof with a slide whistle and high beam flashlight, pretending to be a UFO.”
“Oh yeah. Ha ha. Good point,” I conceded, noting that he still held me at least partly responsible for the Cullman County Alien Visitation Fiasco. “We’ll just go over there and get fucked up again like we did before. You can bring a bottle of Bacardi, maybe. Worse that can happen is that we make contact with the other side... of consciousness.”
“Worse that can happen is I get alcohol poisoning again. My weight training routine’s still fucked. And somebody puked on my cell phone; fucked it all up.”
“Well, bring some Hennessey, then. We’d’ve been all right if we’d just stuck to cognac.”
“I ain’t got money for liquor.”
“You got money for steroids. It’s the same thing; in fact liquor enlarges and enhances your liver just like a steroid.”
“What are you bringing? Cigars?”
“My expertise for one thing. Anyway, I told you. If Alabama beats the spread I’ll be good. And if I get a 5 and a 2 lined up during the end of any quarters I’ll be real good. Hell, I’ll be bringing fifths of Wild Irish Rose for everyone. In the meantime, I’m gonna hafta ask you to bite the bullet and bring me some goddam booze.”
“All right, fucker, I’m in. But I’m still gonna slap your mouth.”
“Friday night, then. And wear some normal fucking clothes, all right? It’s just gonna be us guys and ghosts and none of us are interested in seeing your musculature. So leave your Under Armor at the house, deal?”
“I see I’m gonna hafta slap your mouth two times.”
Undaunted, I called Nick’s house next. He answered with the quickness of the terminally needy. “What up, Buttercup?”
“Shit, chillin. Me and Dan’s smoking a bowl, listening to some tunes. What are you doing?”
“I’m working... I’m always working.”
“That’s tragic, man. Like a fat woman with small tits. Tragic.”
“Listen, Nick, how would you like to see a ghost? ... Hello? Nick?”
He refused to answer his phone the next twenty two times I called. I had to stop by his mom’s house after work.
“We got disconnected,” I offered weakly when he opened the back door.
“I hung up on your ass. What the hell’s wrong with you? You know about my incident.”
In the bedroom Dan laid unconscious in the corner with neither pillow nor blanket for comfort. The magenta lava lamp reflected against the bald spot insatiably devouring Dan’s dome.
Nick, drunk and stoned to the point of terminal hippiosis, did not look pleased to see me.
I quickly explained the situation, adding “look, man, there ain’t no ghosts, ok? Larry’s like this cause it’s a biological fact he can’t go two straight hours without jerking off. Those dark circles under his eyes – it’s the result of chronic masturbation.”
Nick glanced at the bruised skin beneath my eyes. Wisely, he held his tongue. “If there ain’t no ghosts then I don’t see why I need to go over there. I can get fucked up just as easily here.”
“Well, because Larry thinks there’s a ghost, see. And we have to prove him wrong. And since you’ve seen that movie White Noise and given what happened at the cemetery, you’re the closest thing we have to an expert. You know what’s needed to investigate this shit. Like barometers and magnetic compass readers and those green night vision cameras like the kind Paris Hilton films her fucking with.”
“Yeah, but I don’t actually own any of that shit.”
“But you always have good dope. And wouldn’t you like to get chemically and herbally deranged without that bald-headed albatross hanging around your neck?”
“Dan can’t go?”
“Hell, no. I hate that sumbitch. Always talking trash and trying to mooch off everyone. I can’t stand him.”
“All right, I’m in. Just as long as there really ain’t no ghosts there. I don’t think I could take another encounter.”
“Heh heh. Nothing to worry about, Nick.” Silly bastard.
Nick picked me up the next evening. Though I only lived a mile or two down the road, I insisted he drive. For one thing, I didn’t have much gas in the Dodge Neon and I wasn’t about to spend $2.50 for a gallon of anything, except maybe real cheap whiskey. As we approached Larry’s trailer I was reminded how forbidding the trailer appeared at night, surrounding by twisted scoliosis trees, creating a sort of cavern from which no road or neighbor could be discerned.
“I can see why Larry might think his place is haunted,” Nick muttered.
Had I not been seated beside him, he’d never have made it any further.
“If it’s haunted, then it’s by the ghosts of binge drinkers past,” I offered weakly.
It came out sounding silly, but I thought something needed to be said to cut the tension. Nick and I started off the evening at odds. It began with Nick having the nerve to approach me empty-handed, not so much as a lone joint nestled in his pack of generics. Our war of wills continued with a trip to the liquor store, a disneyland of malt beverages from which he exited bearing a twelve pack of Coors Lite.
“What the hell’s this,” I sputtered. “I use to drink Coors out of my sippy cup when I was three years old, watching Tom and Jerry. There’s not even enough bullets there to protect us from the indians of sobriety, cowboy.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s plenty here for me.”
“So that’s how it’s gonna be, huh?”
He didn’t answer. But I knew that’s how he wanted it to be.
Harley’s truck was parked next to Larry’s beat-up Honda. Larry often brought Honda magazines to work, catalogues of high performance components that would help him realize his Fast and Furious dreams one cost prohibitive piece at a time, but so long as I’ve known him I’ve never seen Larry add anything more than a CD holder to the Honda’s sun visor. The kitchen and front room lights blazed. Music blared loud enough to frighten even the most hardened phantom. Nick visibly relaxed. The atmosphere was more Animal House than Amityville.
“I hope Harley’s got his shirt on,” I said. I didn’t want to have to compete with his muscles for conversational supremacy.
We let ourselves in finding Larry and Harley sitting on the couch with a decently heterosexual space between the two of them. They passed a bottle of malibu rum as a pirate movie played mutely on the television.
There were no spinning plates, no apparitions shimmying on the kitchen table, or any other paranormal activity I associated with haunted trailers. Nonetheless, I was scared out of my wits.
“Why the fuck are you guys in your underwear? And why is it so damn hot in here?”
The front room was like a sauna, you could practically see the moisture condensing on the walls. My mind reeled with the heat. Nick acted as though finding two guys sitting around the trailer in their briefs was the most natural act in the world. He set down the beer on the crooked coffee table next to an ouija board fanned open like a porno mag. He pulled off a can from the tab ring and cracked it open, drinking it down like Gatorade after a grueling basketball game.
“The central air unit’s broke down,” Larry said. “Wooten’s suppose to come out here and look at it tomorrow or the day after.”
Harley was a bit more antagonistic. “What’s wrong with sitting around in your skivvies? You not sit around the house in your underwear?”
“Then what’s the difference sitting around in your skivvies among friends? It’s fucking hot in here and it’s not like we’re beating bongos naked here.”
“I know. I know. It’s cool. It’s not like you guys are watching Brokeback Mountain or anything.”
Nick really didn’t have a problem. He immediately stripped down to his Snoopy drawers. Harley passed him a bottle and he took a baby nip, quickly passing it back. I stood there, fully clothed, sweating and uncomfortable and painfully sober.
I placed a handful of chocolate flavored cigars next to the Coors. Still, no bottle was forthcoming.
“You know, when Jesus turned the water into wine, he didn’t ask anybody else what they could contribute. You should be more like Jesus.”
“Jesus probably didn’t judge his friends so harshly for sitting around in their skivvies, either,” Harley said.
“All right, goddammit.” If that’s what it took to get some booze around here. I took off my shirt and mopped my face with it. I unbuckled my belt, kicked off my shoes and stepped out of my pants. Fortunately, I wore an old pair of Hanes boxers. Fifty percent of the time I went without underwear depending on whether or not the wife felt like washing clothes. Really, I approached every aspect in life arbitrarily. Seat belts, for instance. Sometimes I use them, sometimes I don’t. Same with underwear. It all depended on what I thought my chances of a collision was during any given day.
The moment I stripped down and sat at the coffee table, Harley passed the rum and I took a long swallow.
“There won’t be no mixing liquor tonight,” Harley said. “That’s what fucked me up so bad last time. Mixing liquor.”
Bullshit. What fucked him up so bad last time was his inability to hold his liquor like a man.
“I can’t handle liquor,” Nick said. “It gets me violent. I gotta stick with the beer.”
Violent? Did he go home after a night of tequila shots and beat the shit out of his stuffed unicorn?
All this good material and I had to hold my tongue because Harley was looking at me like he might revoke my liquor privileges if I stepped out of line.
As the liquor settled into our skins, Harley clicked off the music and the television. He shut off all the lights, dousing the bug zapper last. With only the mulberry-scented candle flickering, the trailer took on a sinister aspect. Then again, considering I was five years old the first time I watched The Exorcist, my favorite strip joint would make me uneasy if the lights were dimmed too far.
We crouched closer to the ouija board, scrunching as close as I could without actually touching thighs with the person next to me.
“Do you all know how to use the ouija board?” I asked. I couldn’t help but think my expertise in the paranormal was at least marginally undermined by the fact I was stripped down to my underwear.
“Oh yeah,” Nick said. “We’re all occultists from way back.”
“That’s what I thought. Basically we put our fingertips on that pointer thing and pass around the bottle with our free hands. Then we ask the ghost some invasive questions.”
“Shouldn’t we be doing this in the room Larry thinks is haunted?”
“Fuck that,” Larry and Nick said with eerie synchronicity.
“That’s not a good idea,” I warned. “When investigating a haunting, it’s always best to keep your distance from the actual site.”
“Why are you talking like that? All professional and shit?” Larry asked.
I dismissed the question out of hand. Our hands touching the pointer trembled. This I attributed to the anabolic steroids coursing through Harley’s bloodstream, my own nervous system twisted by too many psychedelic drugs in my youth, and raw unadulterated fear on Nick and Larry’s part.
“I am speaking to the spirit residing in this broken down house trailer,” I spoke to the spirit residing in the broken down house trailer. My voice wavered as though I were an under-aged punk hitting up the liquor store clerk for a sixer of Schlitz. “Can you tell us your name?”
The pointer clattered but remained stationary. The tin walls surfing waves of heat crowded in around us. The sweat stench cloyed my nostrils and mouth. A vague sense of suffocation lingered.
“Can you tell us what you want in this piece of shit trailer?”
I tried to keep my eyes focused on the board. The darkness around us swirled with what could only be a legion of phantoms waiting patiently to do whatever it is phantoms do.
Suddenly the pointer shifted violently, coming to a momentary rest on the C.
Seated directly across from me, Larry’s eyes bugged out of his narrow skull. The pointer shot over to the O, then back to the neutral center before lancing back to the O. I couldn’t sense any pressure being applied by our fingers yet the pointer moved like a dowsing rod to water. It tagged the R next and then the S. After a brief pause, the pointer went from the L to the I, then the T to the E.
“Oh hells no,” Nick sputtered. “Ain’t nobody getting my Silver Bullets. Dead or alive.”
The bedroom door rocked shut, reverberating through the entire trailer. The pointer jumped off the board. The rum, the precious rum, fell over. The contents gurgled onto the dirty carpet like blood from a corpse heart.
It emerged from the periphery of my vision. A white specter with arms out-stretched. At the angle I was seated only I could see it. A ghost. A goddam ghost with a taste for the hops of the variety provided by Coors Lite.
I screamed and broke for the back door. I ran all the way home. A two mile gauntlet of neighbors and acquaintances. The summer breeze chilled my sweaty flesh. And I ran as if the phantom of Larry’s broken down house trailer were giving chase even though common sense told me the ghost likely lingered behind, keeping company with the scared-to-death and mostly unclothed remains of Harley, Larry and Nick, drinking the Coors Lite.
It wasn’t until I returned to my own house trailer, standing in the kitchen, bent over with my hands on my knees, dry-heaving from fear and exertion, trying to ignore my wife demanding to know what happened to my clothes, that it occurred to me the spirit with its dodgy hairline and woeful lack of height and dignity resembled none other than Nick’s friend, Dan.