brendan halpin

I’ve recently decided to give away all of my writing that’s not currently under contract to a publisher. Novels, short stories, whatever. If I write it, I’m making it available for free. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’d like to share my personal and political rationale for this.


I love to write. I also need to write. I fully believe that engaging in creativity is essential to having a fulfilling life. And writing is what I’m good at. Well, that and cooking.

And I hate marketing. I’m a bad salesperson and have never felt fully comfortable asking people for money.

And, of course, the publishing industry is done with me. I had my shot and got a lot of books published in the years 2002-2012, so I can’t really complain. Part of this is age discrimination, part is my underwhelming sales record, and part may well be a sincere belief that my work isn’t marketable anymore. This is entirely possible! My sensibility is not what you’d call mainstream, and for whatever reason the work I was doing ten to twenty years ago was able to appeal to people in publishing in a way my current work can’t.

Whatever the case, trying to get my work noticed by publishing professionals saps the fun out of what is otherwise a very fun process for me. I know my work is good, but wow is it discouraging to query 16 agents and get 4 rejections and 12 ghostings. And even getting an agent might not be a win—I’ve had agents for most of the last 10 years who couldn’t sell a thing I wrote.

So—the publishing industry is done with me, and I’m also done with it. And I’m actually fine with that. After 7 years in the part-time wilderness, I got a full-time job last year, and my salary is modest, but I’m able to (mostly) pay my bills, so I’m no longer hoping that one big (publishing) score will magically pull me out of penury. Now I get to just have fun!

My friend Emily had a similar publishing drought and recently got her historical novel The Lioness of Boston published. (It’s good! You should read it!) And she’s spent the better part of a year hustling. Visiting bookstores and bookgroups and networking and going to conferences and doing all the things an author needs to do to move copies.

She’s very good at this stuff. I’m not. (Like when a publisher arranged a networking dinner for a bunch of writers and librarians at the ALA conference years back and I said how much I hated a book that was popular at the time, and the librarian at the table said, “I gave that book a starred review in Booklist.” OOPS!). And even if I had time to do all those things, I don’t want to. I have no desire to hustle.

Also, when I was regularly getting published, I found myself constantly defining success upwards. Which brings me to the


though of course the personal is political and vice-versa. When you measure the success of your art by how much money you make from it, the problem is that you can almost always define success as what’s happening to someone other than yourself. Here’s an example: for about two years, I made a sustainable living from my writing. And rather than being like, “Ha! I’ve made it!” I was constantly comparing myself to other people. So instead of happiness, I got envy. Where’s my bestseller? Where’s my movie deal? My book is as good as or better than books by clowns who are having more monetary success than me!

I have heard that there are people who can avoid this trap. I was not one of them.

Defining success in monetary terms sucks, but also it’s a way that we reinforce the structures of capitalism in our minds. Even if, intellectually, you recognize that capitalism has poisoned the earth and our minds and made life measurably worse for everyone in the last few decades, you buy into it the second you define success in terms of money.

Ultimately, for me, success in writing means that someone besides me reads it and hopefully likes it. Money devalues this. This started with my first book, It Takes a Worried Man. It was a commercial disappointment, selling “only” 5000 copies in hardcover. Thousands of people read my book, and I walked around feeling like a failure, and like those people who engaged with my work didn’t matter because there weren’t enough of them.

That’s what capitalism does. It devalues people. It devalues the part of art that’s essential, which is the human connection it fosters. Now, no disrespect to anyone selling their art as I did for many years—it’s just that I’m in a place in my life where I don’t want to and don’t have to. So I’m not going to.

Have fun. Give stuff away! Connect with people! Go grab some free books!

Old friend Seamus Cooper, author of The Mall of Cthulhu, stopped by yesterday and dropped off a story in manuscript form. “A little break from my arcane studies!” he said before disappearing into the night. I present it here for your amusement.


I had a three-hour solo drive to do, so I went to the ol’ Libby app to grab an audio book. Ah, here’s Bob Dylan’s The Philosophy of Modern Song! With narration by a passel of respected celebrities!

I’m not a Dylan cultist, but I do know he’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of (American, at least) popular music, and he has written some great songs, so I thought it would be entertaining to hear a well-informed master of the craft give some insights into various songs.

WOW, was I ever wrong. Here’s the format of the book: Dylan recites what amounts to some kind of prose poem about the song. So instead of the economical beauty of song lyrics (because I guess nobody wanted to pay to clear them) you get this messy, overlong word salad.

And then, if you’re lucky, he’ll tell you something about the artist, or the song, or he’ll elaborate on the theme of the song a little bit. These bits are far less painful than the aforementioned prose poems, but they’re incredibly uneven and unfocused. The whole project is basically Dylan free associating on a song, and because of the aformentioned encyclopedic knowledge and songwriting talent, sometimes there’s a gem in there. But mostly not.

The physical book is a beautiful object, and with the holidays approaching, I know some folks will be tempted to give this to the music lover in their life.

Don’t do it. This is a terrible book, and there is better music writing just about anywhere you want to look. (Season one of the Cocaine & Rhinestones podcast, for example, or the annotations done by randos on, which at least sometimes shed some light on an obscure reference). Do some digging and find someone who is actually going to deliver what this book promises. Or just, I don’t know, buy a Dylan bootleg or whatever.

This is a sloppy, halfassed project that doesn’t deserve your money or your attention. I made it through less than a quarter of the audiobook. Which means the combined talents of Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Alfre Woodard, Sissy Spacek and Oscar Isaac couldn’t keep me engaged.

Everybody else in my house is sick, which means horror movies on the big TV for me! This week’s selections go from the sublime to the ridiculous, and if you think you can tell which is which just by the title, you’re absolutely right!

When Evil Lurks is an Argentinian horror movie about a sort of epidemic of demonic posession? Maybe? Of which the rules are totally unclear. Don’t kill anyone who’s possessed because then the demon will get out and go elsewhere, but also it sometimes does that anyway.

The movie follows two hapless brothers who inadvertently unleash a new outbreak of possession and then spend the rest of the movie trying to fix it. It’s a scenario that could be played for laughs, but it’s not—it’s played totally straight, and you get some shocking deaths, some great suspense where you don’t know who’s possessed and who’s not, and a final scene that continues to haunt me.

It’s an excellent movie, and if you like horror movies at all, you should see it.

Wish I could say the same for Frankenhooker. Don’t get me wrong—this one definitely has its moments, particularly at the end when it kind of flirts with feminism. (No, really!) And the entire sequence of the title character running amok in Manhattan is great.

But man, does it take a long time to get there. The first half of the movie is pretty excruciating—not really funny, not really scary. I feel like, even in the horror community, horror comedies don’t get as much respect as “serious” horror movies, but bad horror comedies like this show just how hard it is to do a horror comedy well.

Anyway, I feel like this is one of those movies that everybody has seen, and now so have I, so if you’ve got a lil’ obsessive streak in terms of keeping up with the horror canon, it’s an okay way to spend 90 minutes. Otherwise, avoid.

#Review #movies #horror #shudder

The Netflix show, not the anti-reproductive-freedom Sex Pistols song. (How did John Lydon end up a fascist? Real head-scratcher!)

Anyway, Bodies actually concerns one body that is found in four different time periods and investigated by four different detectives. The performances are top notch, the script is smart and convoluted and features a number of those WTF twists we expect in a time-travel show. (Yes, Futurama fans, a character in this show does in fact do the nasty in the pasty and thereby become their own ancestor, just like Fred Ward in Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann).

But what I’d really like to talk about is the moral courage this show displays. This is gonna involve some spoilers, so…


Oh, wow, this is a gloriously awful movie. Christopher Atkins (star of The Blue Lagoon, A Night in Heaven, and The Pirate Movie) and Michelle Johnson (of the execrable Blame it on Rio as well as Waxwork and Death Becomes Her) star as a TV reporter and her cameraman who investigate a series of bird attacks.

Said bird attacks mostly consist of people being in rooms with a bunch of pigeons flying around. The pigeons fly, the people cover their faces with their arms and scream, and then there’s a closeup of a real pigeon pecking a fake face or a fake pigeon pecking a real face.

There are long sequences with secondary characters trying to hide from murderous pigeons, and there are a few decent set pieces, and if you’ve seen Hitchcock’s The Birds, you know how this ends.

A lot of low-budget horror movies achieve cult status because they’re charmingly inept, but that’s not really the case here. I mean, writer/director Rene Cardona Jr. clearly didn’t know how to build suspense or write a coherent script (which is surprising in light of the fact that he directed 99 movies in his life and this was 25 years into his career), but the actors are competent across the board, and while the dialogue doesn’t exactly sparkle, most of it isn’t laughably bad.

And while the gore isn’t spectacular, it’s serviceable, and it is fun to root for the killer pigeons. It was on Freevee and worth every cent I paid to watch it!

#review #movies #horror

So I read Schrader’s Chord by Scott Leeds over the weekend. It’s a horror novel about cursed records that open a portal to the land of the dead. I’m a music nerd with a soft spot for stories about forbidden texts (or, in this case, records) filled with dangerous arcane knowledge. So this should be right up my alley.

The first half works really well, as we meet some winning characters, unearth some complex family dynamics, and observe the the terrible effects when people are dumb enough to do that thing you’re yelling at them not to do.

So far so good, but, for my taste, this one lost its way in the second half. I think this is a problem a lot of horror novels have—horror just works so much better in the short form that a lot of horror novels turn into action/adventure novels in the second half. So as our heroes try to fix what they messed up, we get some suspense, although not a lot—this is another problem with horror at novel length. It’s annoying in the extreme if you kill every character after we spend 400 pages rooting for them (lookin’ at you, The Ruins!) But knowing the author is too kind to do that to readers (Leeds reveals a strong sentimental streak early in the book that convinced me he wasn’t going to do that) kills the suspense.

So, ultimately, we get a lot of meh, and the presence of some recently dead folks helps kill the suspense (being dead doesn’t seem all that bad) and adds some comic notes that don’t quite fit the vibe of the rest of the book.

This is Leeds’ first novel, and I was engaged enough to finish even though the second half didn’t do much for me. So I think he’s got big things ahead of him, but, for me, anyway, this one wasn’t it.

#Review #book #horror

Content warnings: emotional abuse, severed hand

            Everything changed the day she found the hand.

            She was on her hands and knees in the loose dirt under the porch, the afternoon sunlight shooting through the lattice boards in waffle-cut patterns. She was looking for a rat. Or a mouse. Possibly a raccoon. In any case, something was dead under here, and she liked to sit on the porch with Bethany after Bethany’s nap, and it was becoming increasingly unpleasant because of the smell of something dead.

            She’d asked Alex to investigate. “Babe, this is the country. There are animals around. Sometimes they die,” he’d said

            “But they don’t usually die under our porch! And it stinks! Bethany and I can’t sit on the porch, and now the front hall is starting to stink.”

            Alex rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry we’re not living up to Candace’s standards,” Alex had spat out, slamming the door behind him and driving off to work. Candace was Emma’s mother, and while it was true that they weren’t living up to her standards and that her standards were impossibly high, this really had nothing to do with the rotting animal smell.

            So Emma decided she had two choices: wait until Alex got home and have another fight about it, or find and dispose of the dead thing herself. She had some latex gloves she used on those rare occasions when she had time and energy to do a deep clean. And of course a bunch of N95 masks she’d stocked up on during the worst of the pandemic. So she donned her gloves and mask and grabbed a dustpan and a garbage bag and prepared to scoop a dead animal into the garbage bag and solve her own problem. Descending into the basement, she opened the window that led to the space under the porch and crawled through.

            And then she saw the hand. It was a left hand, skin grey from decay, maggots eating patches of the flesh away. And it was large. Palm a basketball large. That was all her memory could reconstruct because she screamed in surprise and horror, and her scream woke Bethany up from her nap, so she had to scoot back into the basement, close the window, remove the gloves and mask so as not to alarm Bethany, go and wash her hands thoroughly because she did not want to touch her beautiful child with hands that hand been contaminated by proximity to their severed cousin. Finally she made it to Bethany’s crib, picked her up, held her, and cried.

            She’d found a hand. This was not the life she had imagined for herself. Then again, she thought,  very few people probably imagine they will one day find a severed hand. Soldiers, maybe.  But not Emma.

            When Alex had said, “let’s buy a farm and move to the country,” she’d pictured a charming old house amid rolling hills, a sumptuous garden, some chickens and maybe goats, maybe alpacas, friendly, low-maintenance animals, and she and Alex tired at the end of the day, not tired like they’d been after a day on Wall Street—an honest, clean fatigue brought on by the hard work of bringing life from the soil.

            The reality, though, was that the house was old, and would perhaps have been charming if Alex had done all the repairs and improvements he’d pitched when they looked at the house. But it was more dingy than charming. And Emma was alone with Bethany here in upstate New York, carless all day and a mile from her nearest neighbors and hundreds of miles from her mother’s support.

            “You two are codependent,” Alex had said. “You need to cut the apron strings and start living like an adult.” Which apparently meant alone with a baby in the middle of nowhere.

            Once she’d collected herself, Emma realized she should call 911. But first Alex. She needed to hear the sound of his voice, to be reminded that she was not completely untethered from reality just because something bizarre had happened.

            “Babe, I can’t talk” Alex said.

            “It’s an emergency,” Emma said.

            “Is Bethany hurt?”


            “Are you hurt?”


            “Is the house on fire?”


            “Then it’s not an emergency, honey. I’ve gotta go. We’ll talk when I get home,” he said.

            Well, that phone call was certainly a reminder of her reality, though maybe not exactly the kind of reminder she’d wanted. She used to dash off a Slack message and get five people to do things.  People had listened to her, taken her seriously, even if she was only pretending to be competent.

            Maybe Alex was right. Nobody was in immediate danger. Of course it was concerning to find a human hand under your porch, but an emergency? Was the hand going to come to life and kill her and Bethany? Extremely unlikely. So not an emergency then. Alex was right. She would not call 911 because it was stupid to tie up an emergency line for something that was not an emergency, and anyway, Alex would probably be upset if she took a step like that without consulting him. And then what would she do if they asked to search the house? Alex would definitely be angry at that. Best not to call. Best to wait until Alex got home.

            Still, there was the smell. The pungent, sweet smell of decay had been gross when she thought it was a raccoon. Now that she knew that a hand that had once called the end of a real person’s arm home was rotting under her porch, it was intolerable. It would nauseate her just to smell it.

            She knew she was irrational, as Alex often reminded her, but she felt that Bethany’s purity and innocence would somehow be tainted by inhaling the foul stench of the rotting hand. That Bethany’s entire future would turn dark when she inhaled the hand’s corruption. (of course Bethany had already inhaled the corruption, but that was when Emma hadn’t known. Everything was different now).

            She went out the back porch. The grass was high, of course, but there was no need to nag Alex about it, he could see high grass as well as she could. She would just have to be vigilant about ticks. So, though the temperature was in the 80’s, she dressed Bethany in a onesie, pajamas, and socks, and herself in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt she’d gotten at her old firm’s offsite meeting at Mohonk Mountain House three years ago, when she’d sat in a rocking chair on the wraparound porch and fantasized about escaping Manhattan for the beauty of upstate New York.

            She had no wraparound porch here, nor a rocking chair, but there was an old wooden bench left by the previous owners under an elm tree about fifty feet from the back door. It was in the shade now, so it would be cooler, but not exactly cool. She and Bethany sat, and she sang songs and read board books and nursed and it was actually quite a pleasant afternoon. Mostly. Because every now and again, Emma would remember why they were out here, would see the hand again in her mind, and would begin to worry.

            How had the hand gotten under the porch in the first place? Was it placed there by an animal? Some sort of animal that would snatch Bethany from the yard the second Emma turned her back? How would she ever be able to let Bethany enjoy the country if she had to fear that something out there saw her as prey?

            She scanned the yard, looked at the tree line, mentally preparing to fight…Wolf? Mountain lion? Bear?—to save Bethany. She didn’t see anything and realized that jumping at every movement on a day when the wind was causing tree branches to sway and shadows to jump was a quick way to lose her mind.

She realized there was a darker possibility. That The Hand was put here as a warning. That some In Cold Blood killers were trying to terrorize her before they came back in the night to kill them. As Bethany settled into a post-nursing snooze, Emma took out her phone, just barely within the reach of the house’s wifi signal, and searched for murders in the area, for news of people with their hands cut off, for examples of entire families found murdered in their beds.

The fact that she found nothing was not reassuring. Maybe the killers had dismembered someone who hadn’t been missed yet. Maybe Emma and Alex and Bethany would be their first victims.

There was a third, even darker possibility, but Emma would not let her mind go down that path. If she did, she’d be sure to say something to Alex, and he’d be sure to get angry.

Finally, Emma heard the crunch of the BMW’s tires on the driveway. Scooping up Bethany, she went running around the house to the front, meeting Alex before he got to the front door. At the sight of him, all of Emma’s pent up fear and worry and trauma came spilling out her eyes. She wanted to say things, to tell him about The Hand, to seek reassurance, but all she could do was sob.

Alex enfolded her and Bethany in his arms. “Whoa, whoa whoa,” he said. “Babe. What is it? What’s wrong?”

Emma tried again to get words out, and again she failed.

Alex pulled away from her. “I can’t deal with you when you’re hysterical,” he said, walking toward the house.

This threw the switch in Emma’s mind to “anger,” and the anger made her feel strong, strong enough to yell at Alex without thinking of the consequences. “It was a hand, Alex!” she yelled. “The smell. Under the porch. It’s a human hand! A rotting hand! Do you understand? Do you understand why I’m upset? Why I felt like being trapped in the house with the stench of rotting human flesh was an emergency even though the fucking house wasn’t on fire?”

Alex whipped around. “Don’t you swear at me. Don’t you ever swear at me,” he said.

The switch went back to “afraid,” and in a quiet, meek voice, Emma said, “I’m sorry. I just got so frightened, and so disgusted. I wanted to call the police, but—”

“Whoa,” Alex said. “But you didn’t, though, right?”

“No, I wanted to wait for you!” Emma said.

“Good girl,” Alex said, smiling. “We don’t want cops around here.”

“You mean you’re not going to call them?” Emma said.

Alex walked back to her and patted her on the head. “Hon. How’s that gonna look? If we tell them we found a body part. You know who the prime suspect is going to be? Me, that’s who. Because it’s at my house. They’ll start hounding me day and night, trying to prove that I cut off somebody’s hand and hid it under my own porch, and the fact that that would be an incredibly stupid move doesn’t mean they’ll stop. And you know how gossip spreads around here.”

She didn’t. She never left the house.

“Once word gets out that I’m being investigated for something like that, watch my business dry up. Watch Bethany’s life be a living hell when she starts school. You think people here will ever forget that? You think they’ll care that there’s not enough evidence to charge me? We’ll be pariahs, Emma. Think.”

She did. And she saw the wisdom of what he was saying. But still. Somewhere a body was missing a hand. Surely the hand was an important clue to bring someone to justice. Emma had seen cop shows. There might be DNA under the fingernails. Maybe that’s why the hand was cut off in the first place!

“But why? Why do you think it’s here?” Emma said. Put my fears to rest.

“How the hell do I know?” Alex said. “Maybe a vulture or a crow picked it up. Or a cat or something. I don’t know. Some kind of animal was going to eat it, probably got scared off by the sound of us walking on the porch.”

That was a good explanation. It was as nonthreatening an explanation as there could possibly be for having a severed hand under your porch. “Can you…can you please get rid of it?” Emma said. “I can’t stand the smell. And the…just the way it looked. It’s so gross, Alex,” she said, crying again.

He patted her on the head. “Of course, Babe. You and Bethany go out back and I’ll grab it and take it down to the lake and throw it in. And then we never have to think about it again.”




Except they did have to think about it again. Because Alex wouldn’t stop making jokes about it. First, on his way to remove the hand,  he’d come out of the basement with a garbage bag singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” And then, after dinner, he asked if she wanted to play a HAND of Uno.

And he kept this up all night. Singing songs about hands. Asking her after dinner if she wanted to watch a movie. “Here’s one—Michael Caine in The Hand,” he said, laughing.

“Alex, this isn’t funny to me. Please,” she said. “It was really upsetting to me, and I know it’s a joke to you, but it’s not to me. Will you please stop making jokes about it?             He rolled his eyes. “Lighten up, babe. You’ve got no sense of humor, that’s your problem. How are you gonna get through life if you take everything so damn seriously?”

She wanted to yell at him, scream at him, make him understand how much this hurt her, but she knew he wouldn’t understand. He’d just get angry with her for ruining a perfectly good joke.

She put Bethany down for the night and did the dishes, and then had a seat on the couch next to Alex. She hoped he’d had his fun, but she decided to try and steer the conversation in a serious direction just in case. “Thank you for getting rid of it,” she said.

“Well, I am pretty handy around the house,” Alex said, grinning.

“Honey,” she said. “Please. It’s upsetting to me. I mean, it’s gross and horrible to find a human hand, but also it just makes me worry. What did this?”

“I told you,” Alex said. “An animal. Did you see the gap under the lattice? Solid six inches. A lot of things could make their way in under that.”

“Do you think they we need to worry about something grabbing Bethany?”

He laughed. “See, this is why I was making jokes. You worry way too much! Bethany’s bigger than a hand, okay?”

“It was a pretty big hand,” Emma said.

Alex sighed, exasperated. “It was a big hand, but it did not weigh as much as Bethany. And it’s not...things that scavenge are not predators. You don’t have to worry about an animal.”

“What if it’s not an animal? What if it’s like...a threat or something?”

“What kind of threat? Like, it’s a pretty obscure message, if you ask me. It’s not like there was a note. Just a hand. Look. Honey. I know it was gross and I know it upset you, but you have to grow up a little bit and just get past it.”

Emma used to make six figures on Wall Street. She’d had her own apartment, a rigorous exercise schedule, bills that she paid on time. She was not a child. She stood from the couch. “I’m going to sleep in the guest room,” she said.

Alex sighed theatrically. “Great. I’ll expect an apology when you wake up in the morning.”




Emma lay in the guest bed, not sleeping. Was she overreacting? Was it childish to get upset over finding a severed body part? According to Alex, it was childish to get upset about anything, ever, unless you were him. And how was he so sure it was an animal?

What if it had something to do with the attic?

She didn’t know what was in the attic because Alex had told her in no uncertain terms that she was never to go up there. He’d also padlocked the door just to reinforce the idea. When she’d asked why, Alex had gotten very angry, but it had just seemed like a weird thing for a husband to do to his wife. “I paid the down payment,” she said. “It’s not fair that there’s a whole part of the house you don’t want me to go in.”

“God, I knew you were gonna throw that in my face,” Alex had said. His mouth moved like he was about to say something else, but then he’d taken a deep breath and calmed himself. “It’s just...not for you. Okay? It’s my attic. It’s private. Just because we’re married doesn’t mean you get to snoop around in my entire life.”

And that had been that. She’d pushed thoughts of the attic aside because who really wants to go in the attic anyway? But now, in the darkness, with the wind blowing outside and the old house creaking, scaring her each time till she reminded herself that the house always did this, that it wasn’t a serial killer, she couldn’t stop thinking of the attic.

What kind of warning was it, Alex had asked. But maybe he was running a drug business out of the attic. Maybe he was into things, sexually, that he didn’t want Emma to know about. Maybe that’s what the warning was about. Keep your hands off. Watch where you put your hands. That kind of thing.

It really was the only explanation that made any sense at all. Why would an animal drag a hand under the porch and not eat it? Why would someone want to terrorize them? People didn’t really do that for no reason except in the movies. In real life, there was a reason. And Alex knew what the reason was. Emma was sure of it. And, tomorrow, so would she.

Bethany got her up at 5 AM, and Alex yelled groggily from the bedroom that she needed to keep the baby quiet. The baby. That’s what he always called Bethany. Like she wasn’t a small person carrying half his DNA. Just a thing. Just like me, she realized, suddenly sure that he always referred to her as “the wife” when he was out of the house.

When he came down at 7, he said, “Are you ready to apologize yet?”

Emma just stared at him.

“I said, are you ready to apologize?” Emma didn’t dare refuse to answer a second time.

“I’m still upset,” she said. “And I didn’t sleep well. I kept closing my eyes and seeing—”

“Yeah, you need some medication, babe. Get the baby onto a bottle and start taking something. Because I gotta tell you, the sleep deprivation is making you a real bitch.”

She couldn’t storm off. She didn’t want to upset Bethany, and she certainly couldn’t leave her with Alex. So she just sat there. “I’ll see you at dinner,” she said.

“See? That’s what I’m talking about. I have to go out and work hard all day to support this family, and you send me out the door with that. You will start getting the baby weaned and onto a bottle today because I can’t live with you when you’re like this.”

Maybe you won’t have to, Emma thought but dared not say.

Alex left that house, and shortly after that, it was time for Bethany’s morning nap.

And Emma stood there, watching Bethany sleeping, and wondered if she was ready. She had looked at the lock many times. The screws on the hasp were superglued. The only way in to the attic was to break the hasp off the door frame, probably with a crowbar. And once she did that...well, she was confident that she and Alex couldn’t live in the same house anymore.

She played out the scene in her mind and found that, once she imagined Alex telling her he had just one simple rule for her to follow, just one thing he asked of her in return for all he did for her (but this wasn’t true. There were so many rules. So many things he asked of her), he would, at last, step over the line into violence. Emma didn’t know where this would stop, or even if it would stop. So breaking the hasp wasn’t just about finding out why the hand was in their house. It was a decision to leave. To escape.

Of course she could leave without breaking the hasp (and what if he had a surveillance camera up there that would ping his phone and bring him speeding home?), but she had to know what the hell was up there and why it had brought a severed hand into her life. Into Bethany’s life.

She ordered a grocery delivery. Alex would get the notification from the credit card app, but he wouldn’t think anything of it. She ordered groceries all the time. And then she just had to pray that a bedraggled young mother in tears could manipulate the delivery driver into giving her a ride somewhere where she could wait for mom to pick her up.

She packed a bag for Bethany. For herself, nothing. She didn’t want anything from this house.

“Your delivery driver is five minutes away!” the phone told her.

“This is it,” she said aloud. She went to the basement and grabbed a crowbar off the pegboard. She walked upstairs. Her phone beeped, the notification for a text from Alex. What the hell do you think you’re doing with a crowbar, it said. So he did have cameras here, watching her. If she’d ever voiced the suspicion, he would certainly have called her crazy.

She stomped up the steps. In her crib, Bethany began to cry. “Just a minute, sweetie, Mommy will be right there,” she called out. She walked to the attic door and looked around for cameras. She didn’t see any, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any there. “Watch this, you son of a bitch,” She said. She pried the hasp out of the door frame with a loud crack, splinters of the door frame flying. One of them got stuck in her cheek.

Opening the door, she marched up the attic stairs. She looked around. Her phone beeped twice. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING???? YOU ARE A CRAZY PERSON and YOUR DELIVERY DRIVER HAS ARRIVED.

Emma descended the stairs, grabbed Bethany from her crib, grabbed Bethany’s bag, and went outside to throw herself on the mercy of the delivery driver.



            Seven hours later, she put Bethany down in the portacrib next to her childhood bed and went to the living room to join her mother. Her mother had tall glasses of lemonade for them both, and Emma took a sip.

            “Are you ready to talk about it now?” Candace asked.

            “I guess so,” Emma answered.

            “So what was it? After all this time,” Candace said, “What the hell was in the attic?”

            Emma took a sip of her lemonade and looked out the window, seeing only the moths swarming in the beam of the outdoor floodlight.

            “Dust, mostly” Emma said at last. “It was empty. It always had been.”

#ShortStory #fiction

Went to The Sons of Italy hall in Watertown, MA for a Chaotic Wrestling show last night. There was a canine-related urgent care visit early in the evening (everything but my wallet is fine), so I wound up getting there late and missing sneering heel Ricky Smokes beating smarmy babyface Brad Cashew. (Am actually quite gutted about this because apparently they made the folding chair legal for this match, and also I think Cashew’s got the making of a great heel, but I don’t really care for him as a face. But I guess he’s got that hair, so…)

I also missed a couple of other matches—my friend Greg informed me that the heels were winning everything—and arrived just in time for….

…a contract negotiation. I’ve seen this gimmick on AEW before, and I assume they do it on WWE shows as well, and all I have to say to all wrestling promoters is this. This is boring as shit. A bunch of guys yakety-yakking for 20 MINUTES about what they’re going to do in 2 weeks is not entertaining.

And listen—I know there is a diehard contingent of Chaotic fans who go to every match and pay to stream the ones they don’t go to, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve been to more shows than the majority of the audience, and I do not give a single shit about who’s in what faction or whether The Unit is getting back together or whatever the fuck. Boring. Bad. I really would have been much happier if they’d skipped this part and let us out 20 minutes early.

A good thing about local wrestling promotions is that they don’t have to emulate the worst elements of the big-time promotions. I have no idea why Chaotic is doing this. I wish it would stop.

Okay, back to wrestling. (Finally! and I only went on for 2 paragraphs!). It was definitely the night for the heels as heel Paris Van Dale inexplicably beat the incredibly talented and athletic Flip Gordon. (Flip does a lot of flips. He’s great. He said he’s leaving independent wrestling—I hope this means he’s bound for The Show, because he’s got a big-time combination of charisma and ability.) Don’t get me wrong—Paris is fabulous, and has one of the best heel gimmicks I’ve ever seen. Basically she very much enjoys the attention that comes from being champion but is not particularly interested in wrestling. It’s great. Honestly the only thing I think she could improve is dealing with the hecklers.

There was a tag team match where God’s Greatest Creation beat Shot to the Heart. This was fun because one of the guys from God’s Greatest Creation had a large contingent of family and friends there, so there was a lot of crowd energy. Shot to the Heart, featuring fan favorite Love Doug, whose mullet is a thing of beauty, lost, and Doug accidentally tossed his shirt into the chandelier.

JT Dunn squared off against Trigga the OG, and it was a pretty good match that turned into a great match when friends and teammates of each wrestler stormed the ring and brought the action into the crowd and the ring—Chase Del Monte and the Broken Unit attacked the security guys, and lots was happening in the back of the room that I couldn’t see very well. I’ll tell you what I could see, though—Shannon Levangie diving into a crowd of guys from atop a 12-foot ladder. This was some spectacular shit, and I was really glad I got to see it.

I think Trigga deserves better than the jobber role he’s been cast in. He’s a really good actor and sells all the feud stuff really well, and he’s a good wrestler as well. I wish he’d get a chance at the spotlight. (I once watched him lose twice in the same night! Give the guy a break!)

The main event was Mecca vs. Ricky Holiday for the championship. Mecca was great—he played the coked-up madman to perfection. He’s a fantastic heel because he’s such a good actor. You never get the sense that he’s pretending to be an asshole. (Maybe he’s not pretending, but I like to give folks the benefit of the doubt). This one was a really good match that featured Mecca bullying the refs a lot until he was driven from the ring by the surprise return of Aaron “Evil Gay” Rourke!

He’s one of my favorites, so I was sad he didn’t really wrestle but happy to see him back. He also hyped his match vs. Mecca in Tewksbury in 2 weeks, which is fine, but the whole evening took on the character of a trailer for the next event. I guess this is how you keep fans hooked, but, as my friend Greg said, “what about the event we’re actually at right now?”


On Saturday I was in Manhattan visiting my older daughter and we saw Jackie Hoffman on the street. (You know, the annoying co-op board lady in Only Murders in the Building!)

We talked about how she has pretty much the perfect level of celebrity, because if anyone approaches her, it’ll likely be with a compliment, and it’s not like she can’t go to Trader Joe’s for fear of being mobbed by fans next to whatever uzu-related product they’ve just released.

My daughter then told me that fans consistently stake out Taylor Swift’s home in Manhattan, hoping for…a glimpse? Maybe?

Why do we do this? What is it that we hope celebrities, and artists in particular, can give us?

I think there are a few different motivations. One is simply that most of us feel disposable in some way (thanks, capitalism!), and so if we can be in proximity to someone who matters in this society, maybe we, by proxy, can matter too!

Or perhaps we just want to, on some level, thank them for their art which has meant something to us. This is what I did when I met Judy Blume. I could tell that she would have much rather had a normal conversation instead of me thanking her profusely for her work, but she was very kind and gracious about it.

Or we have a weird parasocial relationship with them, and because we know so much about them from their work and from social media and gossip sites, we can delude ourselves into thinking this is a two-way relationship.

Or, finally, and most disturbingly, we want more. They have seen into our hearts with their lyrics. They have given voice to feelings we had but never knew how to express. And then we want more. Romance? Friendship? Or just to be as memorable to them as they are to us?

But here’s the thing about artists: their work is what we get. We’re not entitled to anything else from them. What’s more, their art represents the best part of them. Whatever else you could possibly get from them couldn’t measure up.

Lemme give you an example. I saw a clip of Joey Ramone from MTVs 120 minutes in the early 90’s, and they asked him about Husker Du. He said he’d always thought that they were a Ramones ripoff band, but “I guess Bob Mould is a talented guy.”

In short, he was, in this instance anyway, a dick. (Also—Husker Du a Ramones ripoff band? I wanted to reach into the past and say, “Either you don’t know what they do or you don’t know what you do, or possibly both!”) This was disappointing, but it doesn’t ruin, say, “My-my Kind of a Girl” for me. Many of his songs reveal a charming sweetness and vulnerability. But maybe that’s the only place in his life where he let those qualities out. (Or maybe he was just having a bad night on MTV).

There are plenty of other examples. Even if Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole, there’s no question that he was one. The fact that someone made art that touched you doesn’t make them a good or kind person.

Which brings me to separating the art from the artist. I think we can, and we have to. We don’t have to admire Frank Sinatra as a human being to admire his astounding vocal performance on “In the Wee Small Hours”. We don’t have to want to hang out with Jack White to enjoy “We Are Going to be Friends.”

In fact, I think it’s a mistake to write off a person’s art because of their personal behavior. We’re all complicated and flawed, and I think we all hope that people will remember the best of us. Art is what allows us to connect with other people, and for many people, it’s the best, noblest, kindest thing they’re capable of. I think we all hope people will remember us at our best and overlook our worst, and I think artists deserve the same.

Three caveats:

Sometimes a person does something so evil that it erases any appreciation you can have for their art. Fair enough. This is why we don’t pay attention to Hitler’s paintings. I guess I’m talking about regular dickishness rather than true evil. (I recognize that this is a VERY fuzzy line and is probably different for everyone.)

Sometimes revelations about an artist’s life will make you see things in their art that ruin it for you. I can still listen to most Michael Jackson songs, but it makes me physically ill to hear him sing that he wants to love a pretty young thing. When Morrissey asks how he can smile at people who he’d much rather kick in the eye, I now can’t help wondering if he means Black people.

Also, if you’re financially supporting an artist who is using their money to actively do harm in the world, like R. Kelly before he was convicted, or J.K. Rowling now, then I’d suggest maybe you should spend your money elsewhere.

Otherwise, lets appreciate the art we get from artists and not expect or demand anything more.

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