Sunday, April 20, 2008


Simon should have anticipated his downward spiral into perversion, deviancy and sexual waywardness. He should have understood that his first job out of college at a used bookstore in a small historic town would lead to that. But he didn’t. Looking back, he realized there were clues he’d ignored, and incremental thresholds that had been crossed, which he’d also failed to notice.

He’d met the store’s owner, a skinny, almost hairless guy, what he would later learn to identify as a “twig,” in an East Village bar. There’d been a reading by Jonathan Ames, an author Simon had discovered his senior year at Rutgers College. Ames, now a Manhattan fixture, had, at one time, lived in New Jersey, and in his collection, I Pass Like the Night, he’d set three stories in Princeton and two at Rutgers. The reading had been over for hours. It was late. Very late. Simon had been drinking Rusty Nails, too many too fast, and he’d lost track of time. Even if he took a cab to the station (which he could ill afford but sometimes did) he could no longer make the last train, the one forty-two, back to New Brunswick. The crowd had turned over several times since the reading, but a man he recognized from earlier in the night lingered still and now he sat on a stool next to him. They started talking, first about Ames, and then about Fitzgerald, who Ames, they both agreed, was sort of similar to. They soon discovered they were both from central Jersey, and, after he bought the man a round, Simon asked him, with uncharacteristic directness, for a ride back to New Brunswick.

“Sure. If you don’t mind me touchin’.” This was Clue One.

Simon was an anachronism. He tried to dress like a Fitzgerald character. But he mostly failed. On a good day he could resemble Gatsby’s Minnesota narrator Nick Carroway, had Carroway swam the Sound separating the two Eggs, rather than boating it. Indeed, even on the driest autumn afternoon, the briskest winter night, his hat brims and shirt collars, his cravats and pocket squares were limp, infused with a mysterious humidity, and now he fingered his flaccid paisley ascot and looked at the man sitting next to him. He hadn’t noticed how, well, to put it bluntly, how hideous the man was. A testament, Simon thought, to the man’s charm, his charisma. His skin was red and raw with a sort of rippled texture. As if it weren’t one piece laid over the meat of his face, the frame of his skull, but rather composed of many little pieces, like scales. His hair, which was very thin, had been dyed black and was shiny and hard like the back of a beetle. He wore a hooded sweatshirt that was too small, with nothing underneath. The zipped front pulled tightly at his chest, which was partially exposed and redder and rawer than his face.

The man smiled.
“It’s a joke,” he said. “I live in Metuchen, ten minutes north of New Brunswick.”
“Oh, right.” Simon now recognized the name as the station stop right before his on the Northeast Corridor train line.
“Actually, I have a shop there. In Metuchen. A used bookstore.”
The man’s eyes though black and beady, twinkled. They made Simon think of both a rat and Santa Claus.
“Whazzy cold?" Simon was quite drunk.
“Excuse me?”
“Whazzit cald?”
“Between the Covers.” The man stared wantonly at Simon, “It refers, of course, to a book.” He watched as Simon’s last gulp of Scotch fluttered down his throat and disappeared beneath his ascot. “Not a bed.” Clue Two.

Simon was poor. His family, who’d been initially excited at his early acceptance to college (he’d been only sixteen), became disappointed, then angry, at his academic performance. Not so much his grades, which were mostly good, but rather the fact that it had taken him seven years to finish. They’d broken off his allowance the middle of year six, and stopped paying his rent the beginning of year seven. And now, having graduated, he no longer had a meal plan. In short, Simon needed a job. By the time they’d reached Simon’s apartment in the Hungarian section of New Brunswick, the man, whose name was Quentin, had offered Simon two weekday shifts at his store.

Simon and Quentin became friends. It was a friendship built, predictably so, upon books, which they would discuss ardently, barely breaking to ring up customers, who were treated, more often than not, like bothersome distractions. Their accord was further enhanced by a shared interest in American Modernism, which they discovered almost immediately. Specifically, Hart Crane, an esoteric poet who, though highly influential, was frequently condemned as being incomprehensible. Next to the register Quentin had hung a framed photograph of the writer, with the caption: A Young Hart Crane in Sailor Garb. And so, Quentin would rattle on about the dice of drowned men’s bones, and Simon would talk about the corridor of shells, and the ignored customers would feel like outsiders, like uninvited guests, and would leave without buying a book.

Despite his newfound employment, Simon, who owed his landlord months of back rent, could not afford meals with any regularity and Quentin, though never offering to actually buy Simon an entire slice, frequently passed on his crusts (which he didn’t like and had previously tossed) to Simon, who, like a sea gull, ate them greedily. This was Threshold One.

By Disko Troop

To read the rest of The Young Hart Crane in Sailor Garb, you must wait patiently for volume two of The Raconteur Reader, due out Spring 2009.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


HAIR OF THE YAK. This was something Lon Chaney, Jr. reportedly said as he sat groggy and still lightly popped in his make-up chair at 5AM. He sat there for hours as the hair from several yaks was glued to his brow and bridge, his cheek and chin, sipping Black Bush from a skinny silver flask the size of TV remote. Doug Mann, known the world over as Dogman, sat in a very similar chair as beauticians and barbers swarmed about him. The cumulative hum of five electric razors made his head feel like a hive and the points of a dozen Japanese shears and shark toothed thinners and finely stropped straights flitted and flashed in the bright, big-bulbed light of the vanity console, diving in every five minutes to sting his neck or nose, his ear. Dogman was being shaved. The process took almost as long as it had with Chaney, though it was, in fact, the converse, and Dogman had nothing to do but listen to Adia Kuznetzoff on a prop gramophone (its tin bloom pouring forth Faro-La Faro-Li in fine fettle) and reflect upon his life.

Dogman was surprisingly well adjusted. He fully accepted the way he looked. His mom had drank from the footprint of a stray Rott while she was pregnant with him and that was that. He had fond memories of his mother, a town beauty named Elsa, and the stories she read aloud while he and his brother Paul laid by the fire, he a bit farther from the flame than Paul (for his thick mat of hair rarely left him cold). She’d sit there with a glass of Merlot on a low slung fainting couch the same color as the wine and declaim old fairy tales like Snow White and Rose Red in which a tame bear is really a bewitched prince or The Golden Bird in which a talking fox is actually a man. Yes, Dogman had a clear sense of identity. In short, Dogman knew who he was. In his early teens, he had briefly thought himself a real wolf, which led him to attack several squirrels and the neighbor’s imported Tokinese (a small, walnut colored cat named Wong Mau) and eat them raw in the woods behind his house. But it was only a phase and had passed as quickly as Paul’s own somewhat bellicose interest in Boston Thrash or his Mom’s fleeting passion for Franklin Mint commemorative plates and wok cooking.

Dogman was home-schooled by a retired blacksmith named Serge, who was very old and maybe a wizard. He taught Dogman about shapeshifters and skinwalkers and totem magic and zoanthropy. He taught him about Lycaon, the king of Arcadia, who according to Ovid’s Metamorphosis, was turned into to ravenous wolf as retribution for serving the flesh of his own son to Zeus. He taught him about P’an Hu, who in many Chinese legends was a dog headed man that married an emperor’s daughter and founded at least one race. He taught him about the werewolves of Hungary the were-boars of Greece and the were-sharks of Polynesia. Serge loved Dogman and dreamed of also teaching him his ancient trade and passing on his tongs and swaggers and chisels. But Serge’s international lessons had made Dogman long to see the world and when he was just sixteen, Dogman left home and joined his first road show.

Initially, he slept in a crowded trailer with eight other performers, two to a bunk, and had been kept awake many nights by his bedmate, Simon the seal boy, who, though fast asleep himself, unwittingly beat his flat, finny flippers against his naked belly, over and over, with the greasy bonelessness of two slices of pizza. There were other frustrations: The Wild Men of Borneo put empty milk jugs back in the fridge and Chow Po, who had a second head on stalk of red muscle that shot from out his chest, never replaced the cardboard TP tube with a new roll. But Dogman’s star ascended quickly and soon he had a mobile estate all his own. The nicest on the lot. Its corrugated tin walls were fitted with dark, pine paneling and its hard plywood floor was covered with a soft brown shag so thick it reminded him of his own skin. And still he rose. Up. Up. Until he was more famous than any act before him. More famous than Joseph Merrick or Johnny Eck or even General Tom Thumb. It was then that he got the call.

A major studio was remaking The Wolf Man. Would he fly into Los Feliz for a screen test? Private jet? All expenses paid? And so he had. Initially it had been no more than stunt casting. Dogman as Wolfman. But his reading of the scene was so strong, his voice so rich, that everyone got excited about the possibilities. And with this excitement, came an increasing anxiety. Indeed, even the focus puller on the second unit camera crew was apprehensive about the shave. As an army of hair stylists and coiffeurs unzipped scissor wallets and clipper cases and wheeled carryalls filled with pricey badger-hair lather brushes and glycerin-based creams, Dogman waited taut and tense. Ever since prehistoric man first scraped a seashell across his cheek, shaving has been a part of the male experience. Not so with Dogman, but now, today, for the very first time in his life, Dogman allowed the thick wooly fur that covered his face to be cut.

By Jack A. Napes

To read the rest of DogMan, you must visit our website,, and purchase volume one of The Raconteur Reader.

Monday, January 21, 2008


ONE FINE BRIGHT DAY in early December, a homeless man appears on the front stoop of The Godlight Baptist Church in Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, where he is greeted at the door by the presiding minister. The smell that rises up from the man’s clothes, what the pastor would later refer to as “piddle,” is so strong it stings the preacher’s nostrils like a chemical and after reminding the man that "cleanliness is next to godliness” he re-directs him to the city's homeless shelter. The next day the man is back, this time coming through the rear side entrance, which actually places him in front of the congregation during Sunday service. His monstrous face, the pastor is reported to have remarked, looked human only because he wore glasses, and you knew that glasses belonged on a human face. An usher went on to say that the glasses were too big, resting loosely on his nose, so that when he jerked his head suddenly to the left or right, which he did frequently and inexplicably, they flew to the floor, leaving behind the face of a wild animal, a heinous beast. Needless to say, the parishioners are appalled. The service is brought abruptly to a halt. The first two rows hold their breath and pinch their noses. A little girl cries. The burliest of the church’s five elders, a former navy man, escorts the intruder, somewhat roughly, to a bus stop bench one block away. Throughout the course of the next month, the man visits the church a total of twenty-six times and eventually the pastor warms, impressed by the man's surprising knowledge of the Bible and his ability to quote heavily from its text. In a matter of weeks, the man gains the trust of the entire congregation and ends up fucking the flock out of thousands.

I stood on a ridge of clay and rock bleeding the final toke from a menthol King that had broken in my pocket and was consequently shorter on pleasure than normal. I stood there in the wind and cold surveying the job ahead. Bags of all different sizes, imprinted with logos and slogans, emblazoned with words of gratitude and smiling yellow moons and tiny red targets in six rows of four, found their way to the ten foot Cyclone that girdled the Middlesex County dump. The bags, amassed and pressed flat against the flimsy chain link, prevented the winter wind from flowing through it, resulting in increased resistance and, eventually, a knocked down fence. It was cheaper, Public Works had decided, to have someone walk the perimeter once a week and remove the bags, than to make repeated repairs. That’s where I came in. It was the only job I had managed to get since my release from a jail owned and run by the same county that oversaw the dump. I’d been briefly confined for selling a bump to an undercover at the bar where I had bounced. A Regular named Chuckie. Or Upchuckie as he was known. On account of the fact that his face looked like it had been hurled up in doughy, ruddy sploosh by his thick, horse-like neck. The last thing Upchuckie looked like was a cop. But so be it. A cop he was.

It was six days before Christmas when Simon called. At 38, my step-brother Simon was four years older than me and a tenured Comp Lit professor at NYU. We hadn’t spoken in three years. We weren’t close. Simon and me. Not that I didn’t want to be. Since the very day my mother and I moved into the semi-detached he and his father shared in Edison, NJ, I had loved, admired and glorified Simon. In fact, for six months thirty years ago we had shared a common obsession I had hoped would lead to a permanent alliance. It did not. It was the winter of 1982 when my brother and I first discovered The Sacred Writings. Two books the size of dictionaries housed in a cardboard slip case. I can’t remember who read which story first, but the silly coincidence of our addresses, we lived on a cratered wreck of a dead end street called Baker Boulevard, made us feel special, linked to its characters, and we read all 60 stories before spring. By summer I alone had started on the fourth and final novel, while my brother was lured away by a sturdy JV cheerleader named Gloria Scott with hair the color of dirt and red knees rubbed raw by the massive pyramid formations for which her squad was known and for which she invariably served, with her massive man back, as the bottom center stone. Simon quickly lost interest in Sherlock Holmes, and, as a consequence, me.

I realize now, it was the concert of Watson and Holmes, their brotherhood, coupled with my own interest in kindling such a connection with Simon, that I found so appealing. Ironically, I’ve never had a single companion of my own and have spent my entire life alone. Disinterested in female relations and unable to achieve any substantial male friendships, I’ve lived my life as a lone wolf, a rogue elephant, an odd man out. My brother, on the other hand, was neither attracted to this rather tender fraternal component of the canon, nor did he feel any desire to establish such an association with me and eventually our lives deviated in more drastic ways. Simon hopped onto the academic fast track, applying for early admission his junior year, leaving behind both me and Baker Boulevard, while my early literary exposure to opium and morphine embedded in me an interest in such things that finally took physical shape my senior year, when I put my first hole into the veiny underside of my ropey teenage arm. I drifted in and out of various migratory jobs: planting trees, picking fruit, detasseling corn, before settling in as the doorman for The Twisted Lip, one of the few full frontals in the state and arguably the finest twat and shot spot in all New Jersey. Then Upchuckie, the bag of toot, and jail. Now, of course, I work at the dump.

It was this winter, three decades ago, that was the subject of Simon’s phone call. Sort of. There was it seems, a thriving Sherlockian society on campus called the The Poor Folk Upon The Moor of which Simon, unbeknownst to me, was a member. He had since read the four novels, indeed had reread the 60 stories, and had subsequently written a respected monograph on Watson’s floating war wound which had apparently been awarded with publication and minor accolades. Simon stated all this in a dull, even voice, what I imagined was his classroom voice, but still provided no clue to why -- after three years, five days before Christmas, ten minutes past midnight -- he had decided to call. I certainly wasn’t foolish enough to think that Simon wanted to impress me with his Sherlockian homecoming, his return to The Sacred Writings. He did, however, want to meet. He would be in New Jersey visiting his father for the holiday (our parents had since divorced), and we agreed upon a Pizza Hut parking lot as the half way point between Baker Boulevard (where I no longer lived) and the mobile estate my mother owned in a respectable trailer park on route one. I have a plan, Simon said suddenly. To bleed dry The Poor Folk Upon The Moor. Then he hung up.

By Shinwell Porlock

To read the rest of The Poor Folk Upon The Moor, you must visit our website,, and purchase volume one of The Raconteur Reader.