Campers & Travelers (excerpt 1)
Campers is a book in progress. Or process. Either will do right now. I’m sharing to share. Tomorrow these same pages may read differently. Or they may disappear. Enjoy.
I’d been working since before midnight and was about to fall over. Of course I couldn’t fall over unless I wanted to sleep in the gutter between buildings. Plus it would be good of me to clock out before I fell over. Not to mention that I had plans that didn’t include falling over. Later there would be time to fall over. First there were plans to keep.
I walked up the street to see Marcus, give him my story and tell him I quit, which was ironic since the writing gig didn’t pay. So it wasn’t like I was really quitting anything. Actually I was buying my time back, or taking it back. I tried to quit once before but Marcus kept me on with another story, or I kept myself on with another story. The problem was that I liked stories, or stories seemed to like me. They came out of nowhere and hit me in the face like a jackboot, which is how this one had come to be – a story of a Nazi who wanted to be mayor of his little bumpkin town about 15-miles outside of Centre, then decided mayor wasn’t good enough. He wanted to be governor. That’s where we were now.
Most people didn’t like Marcus. He was more toad than person, big round neck covered in hair that shot straight up his face like a beard growing from his chest toward his eyeballs and not the other way around. He was the kind of guy you couldn’t take too seriously, which was the only way I could tolerate him.
His office was a mess of dust and smells. All sorts of smells and none you wanted to take home with you. Occasionally a touch of citrus would waft through that was almost pleasant until you realized it was the aerosol he used to freshen his tattered loafers.
Marcus leaned over a dish of lo mein and grunted.
“What do you have?” he asked.
“About 1,200,” I said.
“Is it any good?”
He took my pages, thumbed through them briefly and flicked them back across the desk, then sucked hard lemonade through a straw.
“You usually start stronger than that,” he said. “You played baseball, right?”
“We’ve discussed this,” I said.
“Sure,” I said. He shrugged.
“I hate baseball. Bores me to spoons.” He leaned back in his chair, fanned his arms out to encompass the bare walls that made up the basement office of Centre’s last independent paper, a rag called The Null which had gone from a semi-proud weekly to a fledgling bi-weekly to a joke of a monthly within the last year. It would be dead soon. Marcus liked to brag that he’d already picked the urn.
He leaned forward, a mass of air and warts. “This isn’t very good,” he said. “In baseball terms, it’s a wounded duck.”
“It’s been tough with work,” I said.
“You’re not performing surgery, Elliott. You mop floors.”
“I’ve been working doubles.”
“That’s not my fault.” He tossed the pages at me. “I don’t have time for this.”
“I had a deadline.”
“Which you missed twice. Didn’t you ever have a deadline up on the hill?” He nodded in the direction of the university. He hated the university. Most locals hated the university. It didn’t matter how much money it brought back into Centre, how full the streets were on fall weekends when the fabled football team made everything seem pregnant and drunk at once.
I started to answer when his phone rang. He barked hello into the receiver made a few noises and hung up.
“Was that your wife?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Which one was it?” I asked. “
“It makes no difference. A woman will always try to fix you. I’ve had three of them and they’ve all tried to do the same thing. Do I look fixed to you?” He looked at my pages again.
“I told you, about 1,200, give or take.”
“And not a good one in there?”
“Maybe a few.”
“The key, Levrek, is to put them all in the same sentence, then follow with another sentence that does the same thing. I know you understand this because your last piece was almost good. I need this one to be better. Are you capable of better?”
“Not when no one wants to talk,” I said.
“Sure they do. They’re running for office. All they do is talk.”
“Everyone’s on message,” I said.
“Who? The Nazi? The Libertarian? Whose message are they on?”
“He’s been tight ever since the last piece,” I said. A. Wes Arden was The Null’s pet Nazi. He was a local bigot who fell into money, which is where the story started three months and two articles ago when he enjoyed the press and said anything that fell out of his mouth. Then he actually started to bump up in the polls.
“He thinks he can win,” I said.
“Does that surprise you?”
“I don’t think he used to care.”
“Where’s that story?”
“You’re missing the point, Levrek.”
“What do you want?”
Marcus let out a ping sound, a tire suddenly expiring toward a pancake. “Hell with it,” he said. “No one reads this paper anyway.” He pushed his chair away from his desk and rested his head in his hands, then looked at me in a glazed sort of way.
“How do you pull words out of the nuts you trail around? The lunatics that follow you home from the bus stop? Your normal beat?”
“It’s just there.”
“What’s this then?”
“You’re afraid to work. That’s all. I’m sure you clean a heck of a toilet across the street as nighttime janitor, but you can’t just expect dead words to shine. Do the nobodies that read this rag care about the junky vet’s take on global warming? The broken nosed hobo’s view on immigration? No. So do you think they care about the Fascist’s idea for bringing the information age to their shack in the Alleghenies? Hell no, Elliott. They want a circus. Bread and circus. So give them the circus and let someone else take care of the bread.
Tags: campers & travelers