Paul Rogalus teaches literature and scriptwriting at Plymouth State College in New Hampshire. Three of his one-act plays have been produced in New York City, the most recent being Machine Head. He also hosts the Tuesday night open mics at Biederman’s Deli & Pub—the pinnacle of culture in greater-metro Plymouth, NH.
Meat Sculptures is Paul’s outrageous new collection of microfiction. The action begins immediately when the reader is introduced to Steve, the narrator’s friend who enjoys sculpting with luncheon meat (and loses a few pints of blood to the deli slicer in the process), and continues throughout as the reader is invited to join a bizarre cast of characters anywhere imaginable, but especially on wacky road trips all over the country and in countless dive bars where serious altercations are narrowly avoided, usually by perfectly-timed comic relief.
Meat Sculptures (ISBN 1-891408-23-2, $5.00) is
published by Green Bean Press,
P.O. Box 237, New York, NY 10013, (718) 302-1955, email@example.com
Three microstories from the book:
So there’s this place in Missoula, Montana, that serves free meals once a day to hobos and vagrants and stuff. It’s called Poverello’s. Cal and I used to go there almost every day that summer, and we made a lot of really grubby friends. There was a regular there that we nicknamed Owsley—because he seemed to have done more acid than anyone alive, and we figured that maybe he’d actually invented acid. And there was another guy named Jim that always wore a yellow construction helmet, and he looked like Lee Marvin in the movie Cat Balou. Jim never ever talked—not for like two months.
And then one day I was sitting next to Jim at dinner. It was lasagna night, with tapioca pudding for dessert. And Owsley was really strung-out—quivering—and he was frantically searching his pockets, and searching the table for something—and as Owsley was looking around the table, he started moving things, and by chance he moved Jim’s tapioca pudding. And Jim went nuts. He picked up a fork and waved it over his head, and then he leaned towards Owsley with it, as if he were going to jab Owsley in the neck. He still didn’t actually talk, but he started to wine, and then bay like a coyote—louder and louder—at a higher and higher pitch. And strung-out Owsley just started to laugh, and he kept saying, “Calm down, Jim. I’m not gonna take your goddamn pudding.” And then they both started to convulse—and Jim fell off his chair and hit the floor like a sandbag. Owsley just kept laughing and convulsing—and then he grabbed Jim’s tapioca pudding and ran out the front door with it.
The old guy sitting on the other side of me shook his head. “There’s always trouble on tapioca pudding night,” he said.
I was teaching Title One reading at the Thomas Edison Middle School in Boston. I had gotten the job because the original Title One reading teacher had been poisoned by one of her students. Some seventh or eighth grader had put copy machine fluid into her coffee, and when she got out of the hospital she decided that she didn’t want her job back for some reason.
Title One was a reading program for kids who had problems with reading. I had between six and ten students each period, seventh and eighth graders who had second and third grade reading levels. I found that they did better when they were reading about things that interested them: sports, or rap musicians, or anything pornographic.
My best student was a fifteen-year-old boy named Calvin. He was a quick-witted and very enterprising young man. He was a ball boy for the Boston Celtics. And he also had a second job—in sales. One day Calvin tried to sell me a handgun. I could tell that he had a real sense of pride in his work as he showed me the gun. It was a very nice gun. I didn’t buy it, but I knew right then that Calvin was going to pass my class. I never told the school administrators about the gun; Calvin had trusted me. That was important. And I let him know that I wasn’t happy about his being involved with guns; he knew that I was worried about him.
In June, everyone made a really big deal over graduation—from this middle school. Graduating eighth graders rented tuxedoes and bought elegant gowns; parents rented limousines for the occasion—all of this because it was assumed that most of these kids would never make it through high school. So this was their big day—their crowning achievement.
Calvin sought me out during graduation. He handed me a brown paper grocery bag—a “thank you” present, he called it. It was a VCR videotape. “It’s a bootleg porno video,” Calvin told me. “It’s my new line of work.”
“Porno?” I asked.
Calvin shrugged. “It’s what I do,” he said. “I’m not selling guns no more.” I nodded and thanked him. “It’s called ‘The Pink Lagoon,’” he said. “It’s my top seller with the white folks.” He smiled. “Lotta nekkid blond people runnin’ around on an island.”
I asked him where he’d be going to high school in the fall, and he shrugged and looked away. “Not sure,” he said. He had to survive. We both knew that survival would be a lot more difficult for him—that he’d most likely die before I would. A year of life in the inner city is equal to about two or three suburban years. Kind of like dog years. In a dog-eat-dog world.
Looking for Jack Kerouac’s Grave
Driving up I-95 north in Steve’s Oldsmobile, heading for Jack Kerouac’s grave in Lowell, Mass. It was all Ben’s idea. It was the anniversary of Kerouac’s death, October 21st, and Ben was pretty sure we’d see Bob Dylan up at Kerouac’s grave. Ben and me in the back sharing a gallon of red Gallo wine, Scarlette is up front with Steve, riding shotgun, rolling a joint—in her overdyed black hair and heavy black eye make-up. Scarlette is the bass player in Steve’s punk rock band Living With the Bomb, and like Steve she is dressed all in black, and like Steve, she doesn’t smile or talk very much. They are drinking generic beer out of white cans with only the word “beer” printed on them in black—like the cans labeled “food” in Repo Man. Steve takes a small brown bottle out of his suit jacket pocket, twists off the cap and takes a deep sniff. Then he hands it to me. “Amyl nitrate,” he tells me. “Also known as ‘Locker Room.’” He puts Social Distortion on the tape player and cranks it, and Rhode Island turns into a psychedelic blur.
Somewhere north of Boston Steve stops at a grocery store, saying he wants to get some bread. We wander in and stray off in different directions. Ben climbs into the frozen food bin and lies down on top of the fish sticks and tater tots, folding his hands over his chest like a corpse. A woman sees him and screams. I find an intercom for the supermarket’s public address system, and I start making grocery-related announcements taken from an Allen Ginsberg poem: “Walt Whitman to the meat counter please . . . Garcia Lorca to the melon section.” Somewhere on the other side of the store I hear Scarlette laughing.
Out in the parking lot, Steve takes four loaves of Italian bread out of his grocery bag, giving each of us a loaf to bludgeon each other with, “Kind of like a pillow fight,” he tells us. In a matter of minutes all of our loaves are smashed to smithereens. Steve pulls one final loaf out of his bag and hands it to me. “Here,” he says, “hold this with both hands while I do smite it with mighty blows.”
The police arrive just as we are exiting the parking lot, resuming our search for Jack Kerouac’s grave. Somehow we get lost, and wind up stumbling around what we believe is a cemetery. In reality it’s just some sort of public memorial to local war heroes.
Regardless, Steve is convinced that he has found Jim Morrison’s grave, and that it spoke to him. So he’s happy.
The trip ends at a bar in Boston called The Rat, where Someone and the Somebodies are playing garage-punk, and Scarlette has gotten us all in for free. Ben starts to complain about our never having found Jack Kerouac’s grave. “We weren’t supposed to,” Scarlette tells him in her husky monotone. “Graves are for dead people. We just needed a reason to move.” Ben bellows out his crazed, primordial laugh, and then he starts to dance wildly, out of control in his beat up hiking boots. We all do.
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