fiction by Jason Edwards

I was sitting at home, watching a taped re-run of the 2010 VMAs, and I found I was thirsty. I got up from the couch, didn’t bother turning off the TV as I’d seen this tape a hundred times before (it was starting to show signs of wear, of stretching, blue and red and green lines across the picture in places. I bet if Nicki Minaj were to work with one of those hipster producers, they’d love the effect). At my front door, I eschewed the leopard print high-heels for some flippity-floppies, and left my rented domicile. I didn’t bother locking the door. Yolo.

The 7-11 is only a block from my house, and I do sport mad swag, but I didn’t fear any uncouth comments from the neighborhood denizens. My weave was perched, purple and gold glitter, expertly atop my crown. My jean jacket hugged my curves like Drake hugs lyrics. My strut did things to my butt that marshaled respect, not cat-calls. And so it was: I arrived at the goal of my brief sortie, and I entered the place, twerking like a coaster.

Behind the counter, a down digga Crucian name of Raja Mahn. On the PA, Waka Flocka, which meant Raja’s boss, a racist, was gone for the day. Not that I cared. Racists don’t step to when I break the scene. But I always feel bad for Raja, off the boat and working for a wheat thin. Then again, bad job better than no job, as the float-brothers say, and it’s not like Raja can work a pole, trap a baby daddy and get some government, buy him formula and blank video tapes. More power to him, and for solidarity I raised a left fist as I made my way to the 4-Loko. Raja never stares at me ass. Maybe he sweet.

Grabbed the can, really, and spun on my toes (purple and gold glitter, polish to match my ebony tiara) and considered beef jerky. Does it have pork in it? Should a queen of my demeanor eat of the pig? My mother ate of the pig, and looked what happened to her. Flat broke, don’t know who her children’s father is, I should say are, riding the bus every place and so damn skinny she was always knees and elbows. Naw, I said to myself in my quiet voice. I chose Slim Jims instead.

I went up to counter, forgetting for a second my flippity-floppies and walked on my toes like I was in da club and pretending to be Tay-Tay so I can get some baby drank. My own fault. I was already thinking about the 4-Loko coursing down my throat, grape and that alcohol bite, heady fumes cascading up and down my sinuses, rendering a sister cloudy and not unhappy with her brief pinprick of an existence in the universe’s vast eternal nothingness. As if. As if I was down at AppleJacks with Gucci Mane all in my lobes and Raja my standby, purchasing overpriced potables for me to guzzle before I gargle. As if, as I said.

Mahn rang me up, shy-like, but I already had my pickles and limes in hand to pay. And then he said, in that island voice “We now take EBT” And he pointed at the front door, where there was probably a new sticker sign saying the same thing.

In a perfect world, the PA would have screeched to a stop, like a piano player in one of those old Oaters freezing when the uncouth gentleman larger than his horse stomps through the saloon doors. EBT. Electronic Benefit Transfer. Fancy for foodstamps. This big-ass adam’s apple havin’ dark as 97 cent cacao bein’ Goodwill bought FUBU-wearin’ for the man workin’ lips like a coupla tuptus boy motherfucker thinks I’m on the welfare? I didn’t know whether to laugh in his rat-zombie face or swing my hand around like Jackson Tyson Jordan Game 6 and slap that black off his pan. Break a nail if I did.

Instead, I went Socrates on him. I said “How’s EBT going to pay for alcohol, brother?”

He just blinked a few times. “Alcohol?” he said.

I held up the 4-Loko. “What do you think this is, baby ap-ser-in?” I can cop a hood accent when I need to.

Raja looked baffled. “But this is not alcohol. Children come in here all of the time and buy this.”

I just shook my head, counting out coins for my drank and my jims. “Methinks you’re the victim of some faulty logic there, Smullyan. The crime’s not in the buying. It’s in the selling.” Slapped my change down on the counter and turned to the door. Didn’t care if it was exact. Home slice can keep the pennies.

“Smullyan?” he said, as I was leaving.

“Less digga mo’ periodicals, rain man,” I said, and left.

Strutted my stuff down my block and to my place. Nice day, so I sat on the stoop steps and sipped my simple spirited libation. I could hear my TV through the window, three floors up, VMA tape still playing, a commercial for Pepsi or Fritos or Chrysler or something—I can never tell that trailer park shit apart. This was the point on the tape where I usually turn it off, because the next part was where that stimple maphro wins the award for video of the year. In a meat dress (and you know there’s of the pig on it).

But I let it play, sitting there, the sun bouncing around brownstones and even the one tree half a block away still standing. A few rats walked by, didn’t say a word. A car drove past, with nary an acceleration or deceleration and its bass wasn’t too loud to drown out my thoughts: poor Raja. Maybe he sweet, maybe not. Maybe he thought he was being nice, offering up the EBT, maybe that boss told him to tell everyone. And I maybe I should have been more angrier at him, but if he’s selling Sparks to babies, he’s got more to worry about than using foul vocabulary in front of a queen.

Sometimes you just got to let folks be. Isn’t anyone who can harm you that you didn’t hand the weapons to yourself. One of the Martins said that.

Panorama City– review on Goodreads

Panorama CityPanorama City by Antoine Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are two connotations of the word “idiot.” Panorama’s Oppen is not the willfully ignorant idiot, the one who holds intelligence in foul regard and ironically is proud of his stolid foundation. Oppen is the other kind of idiot, the one who’s guileless, more innocent than merely stupid. He’s the village idiot (his aunt’s words) and his “adventures,” although confined to a few small places, are a kind of modern picaresque.

Oppen doesn’t tilt at windmills, exactly, and is closer to a Sancho Panza assisting others as they assail pointless endeavors. He’s a fool in as much as he doesn’t understand the people around him are fools as well, trusting in their own trust in themselves. But unlike most of them, he’s no hypocrite, and his earnestness is genuine.

Antoine Wilson’s novel is almost as simple as his main character, and through those simple eyes we see how rural American and big city America is more or less the same when it comes to people and their small-world aspirations. The novel begins with death and ends with new life, a nice backwards trajectory, with the main character’s time in-between spent in a sort of purgatory as he finds a way to re-assert his own small-world aspirations.

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Swimming Home– review on Goodreads

Swimming HomeSwimming Home by Deborah Levy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me 28 days to read a book I didn’t enjoy. It took me about 18 hours to get through Swimming Home, so what does that say? One thing it says: short book. “Slender” is the word I see other reviewers use. Somebody’s probably got something to say about modern attention spans and novels these days, although I wonder if it’s more a matter of readers being smarter than they use to be. I’m rationalizing, trying to justify the book’s brevity, to justify my enjoyment of it. I don’ know the author very well, so who’s to say: in another writer’s hands, there would have been more back story, more history. And that would have been a different novel.

Five people on holiday, each a stranger to the others thanks to the strangeness that intimacy breeds. And then another stranger arrives, stranger than them all, and a new intimacy opens everything up. A tried and true formula, with two possible outcomes: the solid foundation survives, or the crumbling foundation founders. This is a short novel, so you can probably guess the ending.

There’s language and emotion, but not too much to get in the way. There’s economy of scene, nearly but not quite absurd. Maybe that’s how they do things in Europe these days, maybe I’m not worldly enough to know how vacationing Englanders behave in southern France. It was a bit alien though, and I was able to keep the characters at arm’s length enough to keep from being absorbed. A short novel, too brief to immerse yourself in, despite all the obvious symbolism.

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Narcopolis– review on Goodreads

NarcopolisNarcopolis by Jeet Thayil

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For the sake of brevity, so you can skip my review: did not like this book. Did not enjoy it. Don’t like dream sequences, stream-of-consciousness rambling, random imagery catalogs, pointless meandering. But that’s just me, and if pointless meandering is your cup of tea, you might enjoy the book. No, really: there’s definitely an expertise here, a sense of balance. Some people don’t get “abstract” art (I’m one of them) but we at least recognize that a defter hand than our own created the piece.

Which is not to say, strictly, that Narcopolis is merely “abstract.” This is neither Finnegan’s Wake nor simply the nightmare chapter from Ulysses. There are stories here, of a sort, narrative, as it were. But for me, it’s all a little too self-indulgent, too drugged up and defecated and…. and here only the “F” word will do, which I hesitate to use in this review. But no other synonym suffices.

Maybe I can’t identify, and that’s the problem. I have no perspective on this kind of degradation, very little interest, even, and certainly no patience. I’d love to go back in time and give my younger self, the one who enjoyed Trainspotting, this book, and see if I would have liked it more then.

This book was shortlisted for the Booker prize, which says more to me about the judges than the prize itself. I shouldn’t judge. I should allow for their greater wisdom, insight, patience, and most of all, independence. They’re not picking books strictly as a list of recommended reads. So be it. That I decided to read through the list was my own folly, and, I am realizing, an arbitrary one at that.

Which is my take away. This book took me way too long to read, because I couldn’t get into it. Readers talk about not just what a particular books does but what the art of reading, in general, provides. And this one provided me a reminder: I don’t have to read every darn thing, not even the ones I said I would read, if my reasons for doing so where based on nothing more than a whim.

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Why Do I Hate Out and Backs?

Posted at The Loop, the blogs at Runner’

There’s this really great running trail in Shoreline, the Interurban, blacktop paved, wide, well maintained, with pedestrian bridges over a major intersection. I end up running along it three or four times a week, depending. Going south to north it’s a very gentle climb, making it easy to run both ways. But for some reason, I can only ever run it one way at a time.

I really despise out-and-back routes, and I’m not even sure why. The Interurban would be great for an out-and-back, but I end up taking sides streets for half the run, in order to create a loop, and this despite some pretty tough hills along those side streets. If I’m feeling creative, I’ll run up the Interurban, switch to a side street, then come back on the Interurban to the point I was on it before, then switch to another side street, creating a kind of figure-eight loop.

And although I said I’m not sure why I can’t bring myself to do out-and-backs, I have my suspicions. I think it might have something to do with GPS mapping—I have one of those Nike+ watches, and I love looking at the maps of my runs after I’m done, especially on a brand-new route. But if I’m going out for a 5 miler, and I’ll end up on a loop I’ve run dozens of times. So why should the map matter?

I can recall, five years ago when I started running, I ran for time, not for distance—the goal was, for example, to run for 30 minutes, and I always ran an out-and-back: 15 minutes out, 15 minutes back (20 back if I pushed too hard on the first half). But then I switched to mileage goals, and I’d create routes using an online mapping tool. Some of the tools would get wonky if I tried to create a way-point on a street that already had a route marked on it. That’s my excuse.

I’m writing this to see if you commiserate. Does anyone else had out-and-backs like I do? Just today, as I was heading home on the last half mile, I avoid a blind intersection by taking a side street, which put me on a street I had already run today for all of one block. And I cringed the whole time. Anyone else suffering from this ridiculous psychosis?