I started out writing short stories and really came up with only one real masterpiece, The Steam Tunnels, which is a Huckberry Finn-style adventure set in the early days of garage rock, just as skateboards were giving way to electric guitars. I put all my best short stories on smashwords, most of them for free, including the first, which was titled East Village and concerned the life of a speed freak named Yukyuk, all based on a true story.
Most of my fiction was either solo profiles or male-bonding buddy-type bromance stuff. Maybe because the first love of my life ended up falling in love with my best friend, which led to many months of a monk-like existence while I hung out with the happy couple, leading us on adventures while I played Butch Cassidy to Larry’s Sundance Kid.
My first real puppy love held on many years and it wasn’t until I was starting graduate school that my full attention was diverted by another female. We ended up moving to New York City together fresh out of graduate school. I found a job with Leo Shull’s sleazy Showbusiness Newspaper and was making less than $150 a week, but that was ok because there were two of us and we had a wonderful sublease in Chelsea with a balcony overlooking the Empire State Building. That, however, was a three month deal, and once the term was up, so was my tragic love affair. Big cities have a way of doing that to young couples, I imagine. Lots of distractions and plenty of opportunities.
The night when I finally figured out I had to let go of this attachment because the thrill was obviously long gone on her end, I sat down and wrote an angry hostile letter that positively dripped with venom because I felt I’d been strung along for months while she secretly dated her new dude. I think pretty quick on my feet and can come up with some pretty terrific negative energies with I want to channel those vibes. I never sent that letter. It’s still in the file here along with almost every other letter I wrote to her or she ever wrote to me. (Yeah, I went around decades ago collecting my correspondence back from almost all my friends.) Oh, and I also tore her picture in half in a frenzy and threw the two pieces in the garbage can. But then a funny thing happened. Like a drowning man, I started flashing on key moments of our history together, suddenly remembering tiny details that had happened years before. I wrote another letter just listing this sudden flash of memories. I guess that’s what was needed to purge the negativity and it worked. The letter was 1,500 words long and written in less than a half hour. When I was done, I carefully retrieved the torn picture and painstakingly taped it back together as best I could and then stashed it away in my enormous archives. The next day, I typed that letter up as a short story and sent it to the New Yorker, the only short story I ever submitted to them. It came back a week later, but the reader had put encouragement on the standard rejection slip: “Try us again.”
When I taped that rejection slip to the wall overlooking my desk, Mark Bussell, who was working on the launch of American Stage Magazine with me, said it looked “pathetic.” Within a few days, however, American Stage would go down in flames after the Circulation Manager discovered the Publisher had totally rigged our advance sales survey, and instead of a 7 or 8% sub rate, the real returns were under 2% or something really awful like that. So I was out of a job, out of work, and out of love, or almost out of love. It’s taken me over 30 years to actually open the file on this and read that story again.
Many weeks later, while I was out of town on Christmas vacation, my old girl friend and her new boyfriend snuck into my apartment using the set of keys I had given her and never taken back. The reason? She wanted to take back the one big gift she’d given me, a painting. And boy this was one wamm-doozle of a painting, probably the best she’d done up to that point. I have a pretty good eye for art, even though I was a total novice when I met her. Thanks to her, I got a pretty good education in modern art by the time I got to New York City.
I remember pounding the pavement with every step as I marched to her pad in another complete frenzy. I wanted to take that painting back as I felt like my child had been taken away. I never did get it back though. But maybe someday it will return. It did encourage me to start collecting other great paintings and now I have a very solid collection, worth real money, not that I would ever sell my art collection.
And that short story is sure a lot shorter than I remembered. But it still holds power and makes me think I should write short stories about my other two great loves, Claudia, the gem I let slip away, and Stacy, who I married and had two incredible boys with. I certainly envy those great love affairs that stick together, like the one Guy Maynard snagged. But it just wasn’t in the cards for me. At least not yet.