I had heard of Literary Orphans for a good year before I made the connection that I should, perhaps, try to have something published in this wonderful literary journal. Some of my good writer friends have been consistently published in Literary Orphans, and the art in each and every issue has always struck me as brilliant.
For some reason I had put off sending material to editor Mike Joyce. I am not sure why; maybe because I had stopped writing short or flash fiction or maybe because the (almost literal) myriad duties of each and every one of my days had managed to wedge themselves in between me and my mission.
But a few weeks ago I found a small piece among my papers and I thought it would be a good fit for the journal. I sent it and it got picked up. The story is called “Bud’s Warehouse.” It sort of follows the same themes found in my collection Gears: movement or travel, young characters disenfranchised, transient, unemployed, addiction, despair, narrow window for opportunity…you know, the usual chipper fare I tend to serve up in my fiction.
On the surface “Bud’s Warehouse” may not seem much to a reader, but for me (as a reader) it’s a vital, quick voyeuristic look into a desperate moment that most people I’ve known have had to traverse: the sudden loss of a much-counted-upon “insignificant” blue collar-type job. And the empty days of despair and depression that undoubtedly come on the heels of this loss.
A long long time ago, around age 16, my friend at the time was a dishwasher at a nondescript pizza joint on the outskirts of Washington D.C. The restaurant was located in a tough neighborhood of a very tough county of Maryland, where we both lived. This was the mid-80s and D.C. and its surrounding suburbs were decimated by crack addiction and crime, so the pizza joint would get broken into at least two or three times a month. Its owner, an Iranian man named Mo, always repaired, cleaned up, and re-opened as soon as he possibly could, but one day after the usual robbery he came to the end of his rope. He’d had enough.
I had driven my friend for the beginning of his dishwashing shift at Mo’s and found the place in terrific disarray. This time around they had really done a job on the place, even attempting to burn it down. Mo was cursing America, cursing Washington, cursing drugs, cursing, cursing. He came to my friend and told him that it was over. That he wasn’t going to be opening up this time around. That he was through with everything. With America. And he cursed the city, the capital of the most powerful country in the world.
My friend’s job paid him, if I remember correctly, $2.15 per hour. We were 16 so that was quite some money for us at the time, if you added it up monthly. But for my friend, especially, it was necessary cash. His family circumstances would require another three pages, so I won’t get into that. Suffice it to say that economically losing this job was, for my friend, a gargantuan blow. There weren’t many jobs, even low-paying, dishwashing jobs, for 16-year-olds at that time. It was Reagan’s “Morning in America” remember? Everyone was prospering. Yea.
We both stood in a blistering November wind for some time, my friend trying to figure out what he could do next. Where he could go, even. And then we got into the car and swigged mouthfuls from a pint bottle of disgusting blackberry brandy. And we went nowhere. For quite a long time we sat in the cold car. Because there was nowhere to go. And nothing to say.
I still keep in touch with my friend, now a man doing fairly well for himself, considering the shit he’s had to endure in his life. “Bud’s Warehouse” is a little gift to him, in a way. But mostly, it’s a gift to you.
Please “thumb through” Literary Orphans when you get a chance. There is an armful of great, short fiction to be found there, as well as art, poetry, and other little gems from writers (and friends) like Susan Tepper, Anna March, Nate Tower.
I’m happy to live among all those names this month. Many thanks go out to Mike Joyce, editor of Literary Orphans, for taking a little piece about despair and addiction—two subjects that don’t necessarily brighten up a person’s day.