Roy Hurns has eight months until he can collect his pension but there are only 122 days until the end of the world. Y2K.
Daddy walked out years ago and Momma’s dead. No one left on this earth cares about Roy, and why should they? He’s a fat, forty-two-year-old, post office employee that lives in a trailer filled with every As Seen On TV product you could ever want.
(But wait, there’s more!)
Roy Hurns has an obsession, an affliction. He has the overwhelming need to prove to his dad that he matters, that he did something. No matter what it is. For the first time, he might be figuring out what makes him tick, what keeps him alive, what makes him feel powerful, effective, forceful.
We are, all of us, disintegrating at the speed of time. Why not go on our own terms? Why not exercise some level of forethought, some dimension of control? We go circumscribed and hog-tied into tomorrow. But not today.
This fable is a look into a dystopian worldview that manifests itself over and over again in the lives of those waiting for something like purpose to grab ahold of them and haunt them like hell. This is a story about the byproduct of bitterness and false expectation. A story about a man who is learning that, unless you find the thing that haunts you harder than hell, you eat, work, sleep, then die.
I was on an international flight to the Ukraine in July of 2017 when the bones of this story fell into place. As it goes, I was in the perfectly wrong place to be writing anything, surrounded by coughing foreigners over the Atlantic with about seventy small headrest TV screens playing everything from The Godfather to Keeping Up With the Kardashians. For the rest of the flight I jotted down notes in the margins of a paperback I had picked up from an airport kiosk in Chicago. To that paperback, I say thank you; I’m sorry I cannot remember your name.
The constant themes of naivety, repetition, irreverence, and spectacle horror are what kept me invested in the story while putting it together. This book was a chance to take a stab at framing our daily, American hypocrisies. A chance to poke fun at all the things we do when no one’s watching, shining a light on our proclivity for ritual, highlighting our superstitions; these motifs ground this narrative to the bitter voice of the narrator. I wanted Eat Me to be a constant attempt to nail down a movement of thoughts; it’s not meant to be a dissertation. There’s no art in perfection, I wanted it to be a little messy. I wanted to write what came out; form be damned.
For me, there has to be an uphill battle for each character; there has to be an exhausting aspect to the way I deliver the work. I’m not interested in creating a world you can escape to. I want to show you a prison, maybe a prison you’re already in. I want to dive headfirst into the most human parts of us, our ability to judge, hate, cover our eyes. There’s something so familiar about these things, the things that make reality TV so entertaining. I wanted to draw from our need to establish the moral high ground; then I wanted to level the playing field.
Taking my own experiences and the experiences of those close to me, I made a court room, a place where nothing is safe. Eat Me is supposed to be all the things life is naturally; dark, humorous, conflicting, sad, dirty. It came out just the right amount of each of these for me and I’m glad to have it out of my head and into your hands.
I so respect the archaic writing style of old religious texts as well as many who teach from them. Pulling form from big tent revivalists and fire and brimstone preachers offers what I believe to be a rich dimension to this book. There’s something so inherently familiar about these old rhythms. Throughout the book I use them to enforce the cyclical nature of dread and self importance. The reincarnation which is the passing down of traditions and practices. Looking at what we value today and holding that in contrast to ancient speech was a way for me to see fear in a new light. The fear of missing out, the fear of disappearing. More of the intensely familiar.
So much of this book is me holding no bars, cutting at the things that made me. I was looking for that bitter narrator to influence the minimal cast of victims along the way. For me, what you write isn’t yours; it’s anyone’s who reads it. It’s my chance to suck you in then suck you dry. I wanted it to be a violating experience at times. I wanted it to make you laugh when you shouldn’t.
Tear it up, burn it, use the margins to write your own book. At the end of the day it’s a story. Grotesque, bitter, exhaustive, hilariously depressing - it’s a story.
Lenny’s Palace Chapter 20
Laid out on the lines that make up the open 24-hour signs at highway gas stops, static becomes static. Wood boards become a choir of hissing arthritic joints and a lady surrounded by tobacco and lottery tickets makes eyes at strangers stranger than her. Living the byproduct of a West Memphis life, working the convenience store her Daddy died to keep alive.
A faithful formation of laden shelves trap dust beneath them and hold processed foods at eye level for you. A woman with no lips, just jaundiced teeth, not dissimilar to the skin around her mouth, walks bags in hands and head down. Her hair hangs to the small of her back while corduroy and glasses cover her frame. Ribbed edges purse her face and wrinkles accompany eyes that are sure. She’s too beautiful to remember me I think, but I’ll always have the woman with no lips, clutching cold plastic with chapped white knuckles, wishing the world by under the lights of a 24 Hours sign. Looking for a place that will let her sing. Waiting on the world to end, with her in it. Praying for rapture, old as sin, doing her best to go blameless into death.
Outside on the street is a different woman. A woman with red ivories from wet red lips, a real lioness of the American midwest. She’s got six kids, one in her teeth, trying to prove she loves them by making them hold hands when they cross the street. And in the street next to that lioness is a man who can’t even see anything real past his own nose, cause he’s swaying like leaves, cool-eyed, blasted on some kind of upper and fingering for nicotine. Stairs look like mountains to move for him. His cool eyes shut to heave in and out, sanctimonious like witchcraft. He would tear through the woods like a demon and look over the hill ahead letting the leaves control his breathing if he could just get clean.
He’s learned something so many other people learn at a young age in places like West Memphis, that you don’t have to leave to get away. Turning his kicking carcass into his very own opium den, popping pills that will take him to happier places. Looking at all those alfalfa desperadoes becoming the dirt they till. Making garments from squirrels, and raccoons, and migrating grocery bags. Wishing he could be something other than someone comfortable in the swaddling arms of his heroine. Wanting ease of sleep. Wanting the threat of certainty. Wanting to be beneath the street and above something else he can’t quite finger. Sometimes this makes him happy, but all those moments wick off his skin leaving gooseflesh for him and whoever finds his body.
And all that pain that is his, is just his. Like anything that consumes you or me or anyone else, it’s yours, more than anything else. And that redemption you’re looking for. That redemption means nothing when you’re looking through spotted windows at a smoldering world. Air that’s so thick you’ve got to hold your breath all the way to the car so you can drop off your handfuls of prescription bottles. This place is every place, where the recreational mimics the righteous. None of it is poison. Just a childlike faith in a father-like justice. A supreme hope that all our ducks are, in fact, in a row on the other side. Our shot at a cosmic Yahtzee.
No amount of crocodile tears, no amount of shaking fists at the great totem, sprawling out in artificial anguish, is going to change you. You’re just counting Mississippi’s under the glow of a blood moon, looking for peace and riding this squall till you calm down for God’s sake. A violent distance between you and where you want to be. Communion with whatever divinity that’ll take you tonight.
That was Momma. A little bit of everything, in every place. Chapped lipped, floating in and out of convenience stores, smiling at friends she hadn’t yet met. Clinching grocery bags and prescribed rattles. Seconds away from redemption, seconds away from the thing that consumed her. The fact that she would one day be consumed. By a cosmic Yahweh.
But she would still sing down at Lenny’s palace. And there’d be about four people sitting around. She’d get up on the little stage in the corner and belt out old things. Never hymns. She never thought I knew. And she never thought I saw either. She’d be painted up like a doll with tremolo in her voice and in her legs as she leaned against the piano for support.
She wasn’t absolutely beautiful, not absolutely talented, but she was there to try her hand all the same. She was like a flower that bloomed once a year with no one around to see it. There’d be moments where I would daydream her lighting up in flames and soaring into the sky like a dry leaf in a summer fire. Slow at first, then quick. She’d burn up from her head down to her trembling toes and float through the ceiling at that place, and I’d sneak in to listen to it. And no one would remember. Not even her.
I’d hang there by the music box with milky eyes turned dead to the reflection of people in glass. Unvisible. Watching Momma from a shadow, listening to her sing, then watching her sit at the bar where someone might say something. Under the influence of more than Merle Haggard, I’d keep myself upright, melting into my seat like some kind of tapeworm swelled with drink.
Lenny’s Palace was laid out in three parts. The first being an open room with less smoke than you’d imagine hovering inches off the tiled ceiling. This open space would be littered with various types of people at various times of the day. I happened to be one of the pieces of trash there this day and had the pleasure of watching people come in and out aimless like tumbleweeds.
It’s not a big room. There are a few plastic tables, the kind of tables you can break down and carry out with you. There’s dust on the legs, and the hinges haven’t been touched in something like fifteen bar years. The second part of Lenny’s Palace is the actual bar. A “Lenny’s Palace” neon sign hangs above the hard liquor and illuminates the rolls on a smoking bar wench named something like Susan. If there’s a king or queen of this place, they’re surely dead.
The third part of Lenny’s Palace is the corner with the music box and a dozen chair orgy happening behind a half slung curtain. Mops and brooms with as much dust on them as the cheap plastic folding tables lean against the only walls in this palace that don’t have a distinct yellow nicotine sheen. This is where the wooden table is, holding two empty glasses and one more on the way. This is where I am. The only one here with pretty pink lungs. The only one catching a buzz off of two drinks.
I’m lost in bitters, squinting at ladies and gentlemen. Anyone who is here is gone. It’s 3 A.M., and everyone sways together. Strays together to the sound of the witching hour. I take my perch on the wall and watch people fall into place at the bar or in their seat at one of those plastic folding tables covered in dust and spilled drink. Everyone still swaying under the weight of inebriation taking hard looks in every direction. The only conversation left is between a man and woman at the far end from me, and it’s only muffles and occasional drunken laughs made loud by the silence of a room attempting to hold their money's worth of liquor inside of themselves. Susan, or something, walks to the front of the place with the confidence of a decade made habit and switches the neon sign off. She returns to the bar with the same conviction and starts to break silence with the clinking of glasses returning home. This is a sad sound. Topsy turvy to this last of carafes as my squinted eyes take aim at the door. The lady at the bar staring me out the door.
Once I’m outside, I only have one hundred feet to contend with before my motel room. The motel room I buy once a month to live somewhere other than in the trailer with Momma. Somewhere other than a wall away from someone who can’t remember my name.
You can lay on your bed in a motel room, lives oblivious of your own moving like an ant farm all around, just sheetrock away. All you hear is the muffled sounds of footsteps, or the occasional laugh, or fall, or scream. Rooms with little lives inside, surrounded by curtains and wallpaper, covered in various types of discharge. A place where black lights make constellations on bed sheets.
The big dripper.
It’s time to concede, but this thousand pound head doesn’t agree. This room is where I start my death rattle, my last confession to God and Satan and all their puppets. This room is where I leave the burden of abandonment. A demon the size of West Memphis.
Each thought is a cat to skin here. Hook under the pelt, whip it back, allowing the flesh to flap against the wind. Nerve endings white and sprawled out under pools of unset blood like the downtown that ate The King. There are plenty of ways to skin a cat, but fewer ways to make it taste good. This is the place I retreat to when it’s time to forget what lies in wait on the other side of the river. Nineteen miles away from my room at the Rodeo Inn.
The Midwest gave way to herds of motels in place of the buffalo and we had forests of dollar trees and double trees and other strip mall amenities, but Crawfordsville is still small and close.
I used to have hair; I don’t miss it anymore. It’s long gone, and the hope of its return is appropriately overshadowed by the realization that some things just don’t come back. And tonight could be my night not to come back. Tonight could be my made for TV death, if I weren’t so afraid of being found all over a motel bed bloated, ripping at the seams. Making rigamortis look repulsive. Sending streaks of bile and fecal matter up my back and down my legs. Another one of my hand-me-down phobias. The sopping reality that is curtain-call.
But what would happen to Momma? How long does a woman like that last in a world like this? Is her only purpose to give me something to do? To keep me busy while I decide whether or not to stick around for the fourth quarter?
Momma wore a slouch behind her saddlebag breasts and had painted on eyes like a doll, or a demon. All the lights in Hades couldn’t set sparks to her coat tails as she scratched lines in the walls of the garden of Eden. She was alive, clinging to memory like a cornered animal. Losing it all the while. All the time Alzheimers ate at her, replacing me with the television hosts she spent more time with. Confusing my face with Ed Sullivan. Turning me into Johnny Carson when the lights were dim. She was old then, and kicking harder still, Pall Malls and all. Because she deserved it, every good thing. Every bingo, every gold star, all the redemption that could ever be.
A once white muumuu hung onto her body and carried stains from a hoard of TV dinners. She had plastic covers on the couch to protect you from feeling comfortable and a sea of brown shag carpet that made your feet itch through your shoes just by looking at it. Momma, she’d chameleon herself into the chair directly in front of the television sitting on stilts. When she’d see me, she’d smile revealing her ever greying teeth beneath exposed roots. And I would perform a fake smile that made my cheeks hurt so bad I’d have to rub my jaw when she wasn’t looking.
Leave it to Beaver filled a void left by a child loved and lost, like the man that was loved and left. And I would try so hard to stick around in that pale pink double-wide, but there was a haunting in that place the moment Dad left to go fight in the war, and teach Syrian children to read and help negotiate a treaty agreement between the Koreas, or whatever. But hear me now, there are no haunted houses, only haunted people. That haunted person sat, wearing holes in a recliner. Smiling without lips.
I’d make myself at home as well as I could, noticing more TV dinners peaking from beneath the couch with burnt out Pall Malls in the place where the mashed potatoes are supposed to go. Here it is. A scene for a shudder. Vast forms moving fantastically in the curtains that are all kinds of yellow now. Everything is burned, but the smog lingers on the ground as if the earth is simmering. Just more smoke from a last cigarette. Just for me, the machine grinds to life and stares from molten depths with the dark charm of false hope. The rare moments of lucidity telling me to stick around for the end of something. This house, my very own black Spain, where blood screams like warpaint, and we escape the chill of mortality one TV dinner at a time. Life begs to be tamed in the fourth quarter. During reruns of Father Knows Best.
Rumors of redemption, stories of a shortcut through that violent distance between what we want and what we are. These are the lessons Momma passes down now between spoonfuls of cream corn. The downhill game, where you learn how to be forgotten, one loss at a time. Teaching me to accept my mediocrity. Teaching me to be ok with the fact that some people were meant to be nine feet tall while we few small tread softly on roads as trapping and frail as the feet we martyr. That everything we think will make us something other than miserable is just rumor, egging us on to a prize worth the cuts on our soles and the souls we’ve lost to the pitch black where you find intermission. Curled up next to our monsters, counting their claws and imagining them as hand shadows on the walls to keep them from the weight of someone else’s saddle, still wild at the reigns of our own. She would teach me in silence, how to hold onto this life like the people at Brentwood Heights. And I thought I understood what she wasn’t saying.
Momma always had something held back, something weighing at the back of her eyes. Eventually, she started asking for Dad, and then for someone else who didn’t have a name yet, she said. She started asking for someone who never got a name. That’s when I knew it was bad.
Still, no one sees me. An unseeable something. Something learning to lie, learning to want to be something greater than me, learning to want to be something made for TV. Not even Momma remembers her husky baby because she has so much Alzheimers that she only knows Bob Barker’s name. She can only remember that someone she used to know liked going out for ice-cream at the Icehouse. She can almost remember that someone she loved liked extra syrup on his waffles. And I’m glad Momma didn’t die knowing that I had become unvisible, immortal in West Memphis. I’m glad she died thinking I was just the neighbor who checked in on her every single day because I was so lonely that it took my breath away sometimes. I’m so glad she died with her nice neighbor, and Bob Barker, and Ed Sullivan, and Johnny Carson by her side. Her there, nightly, in a big comfy chair. Eating a TV dinner. Talking about someone she loved and lost.