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Ben Newell
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stasis in the stacks     

 

by Ben Newell

 

 

 

As

a library clerk

at this

prestigious

liberal arts college,

I’m privy

to the reading tastes

of our students,

the pedagogical leanings

of our professors. 

 

And

like Custodian Carl 

in The Breakfast Club,

I too fancy myself

the eyes and ears

of

this institution,

a grossly overpriced

and overrated

institution—

 

I’ve been here

six years

and

in that time

Bright Lights, Big City

hasn’t moved,

nor Slaves of New York

or even

Less Than Zero. 

 

Stasis in the stacks,

frozen,

forgotten

and/or

ignored. 

 

Then again,

maybe I’m just

out of touch,

a Gen-X flunky,

shelving books

in my battered

Top-Siders;

 

they

could very well

be reading

the

electronic versions

of those seminal

Brat Pack texts;

 

which

doesn’t say much

for my job security. 

 

Not that

I

care.

 

I

came of age

in the 80s;

 

I’m disaffected

and

apathetic,

 

let ‘em

fire me;

 

I don’t even

want this

fucking

job. 

 

 

 

 

and you may prefer tennis and that’s perfectly fine

 

by Ben Newell

 

 

 

I don’t recall the title of the Carver piece

but it’s about a writer

between stories

and feeling

dreadful

because of it. 

 

So true, Ray. 

 

The problem

for many a writer

[great, good, mediocre, and lousy]

is an inability

to deal with downtime.

 

Because you can’t write

24/7.

 

One must

not do this thing

in order

to do this thing. 

 

But some

just can’t handle

the non-writing periods;

they resort to all kinds

of self-destructive endeavors. 

 

Not me, though. 

 

I’m all about self-preservation

at the expense of others.

 

Like now—

 

The brunette Chi-O

I lured into my car,

naked, bound, and gagged

on my basement floor;

 

my shelf-o-fun fully stocked

with syringes and Windex,

a little side something

to bridge that horrible gap

between poems. 

 

 

 




partyschool2.jpg
Art by Sean O'Keefe 2014

Party School

 

Ben Newell

         

          “. . . ending was too abrupt.”

          “Boy,” Hertz said, “is it ever . . .”

          And that was all it took; Hertz’s pointed nudge opened up the workshop, triggering a litany of critical comments regarding Randy’s story.     

          Marvin Starnes held his three-ring binder in a two-handed grip, angling it close to his person so that nobody in the semi-circle could see what he was reading—

Despite her running regimen, Alyssa always enjoys an after-sex smoke.  “There’s nothing like a cigarette—or two [laughs]—after a good hard fuck; I probably go through a pack a week . . . .

The copy was total bullshit.  Abby didn’t run.  And she smoked a pack a day.  But the photos didn’t lie. 

“Alyssa” was Abby, Marvin’s girlfriend.  The “Beaver Hunt” pictorial consisted of five photos:  Alyssa/Abby opening her legs, fingering her snatch, spreading her ass cheeks, sucking a dildo, inserting said dildo . . . .

Hot pics, for sure.  Marvin’s cock responded accordingly.  Still, his arousal was tempered by the fact that he hadn’t taken the photos.  He certainly had no objections to his girlfriend appearing in Hustler.  In fact, he rather liked the idea. 

What Marvin didn’t like was somebody other than himself taking those pics.  He envisioned Abby being manipulated by a sleazy shutterbug trading his photographic skills for nooky.  Or maybe an opportunistic lesbo who had lured his girlfriend to the other team, teaching her the ins and outs of proper pussy eating.   

Either scenario was troubling and deceitful.  He was genuinely pissed. 

“. . . find it best to write the ending later . . .”

“. . . step away, allow yourself time to recuperate . . .”

“Yes,” Hertz said, “excellent advice . . .”

Marvin had critiqued today’s piece early that morning in his motel room, this after a fitful slumber; twisting and turning, he couldn’t erase the scene from his mind, Abby posing for the camera, then paying the photographer in full. 

He wished he hadn’t even bought the magazine; it wouldn’t change what Abby had done, but at least he wouldn’t know about it.  The offending periodical had been procured near the end of his ten-hour drive to Louisville, an impulse buy as he had paid for gas at an I-65 truck stop on the Tennessee/Kentucky line. 

Now here he was on day two of the ten-day residency, his mind a muddled mess.  No doubt, his critique of Randy’s piece was a joke.  Incomplete and hardly insightful.  He didn’t even type the damn thing.     

He hadn’t called Abby since his arrival in Louisville; mainly because he was too overwhelmed; Marvin had needed to process this thing before the inevitable confrontation.    

Today, he thought, staring at the pics as his fellow M.F.A. candidates discussed the nuances of craft.

 

--2--

The metropolitan campus was on Fourth Street; a sign in front of the administration building read WELCOME MFA STUDENTS, explaining the biannual influx of weirdoes to all locals who bothered to read it.   

Cigarette jutting from his mouth, Marvin passed beneath the sign; his lanky legs carried him toward Broadway, eating up the pavement at a rapidly smooth clip.

The other students walked in the opposite direction; en route to the noon craft lecture, something about the merging of fact and fiction in the historical novel. 

Skipping that one was fine with Marvin.  He didn’t write novels.  And even if he did, he sure as hell wouldn’t write one of the historical variety.  Marvin hated history.  History and religion and politics.  Most of his stories and poems were about sex.  Sex and drinking peppered with low-rent existentialism.    

In general, his work lacked story.  Nothing much happened.  At all.  This had been a sticking point for his previous mentors who, by in large, were big proponents of story, story, and more story.  One such mentor was fond of pronouncing, “STORY IS KING!”

But, in the end, it was all a matter of opinion.  Marvin would rather veer from the norm and fail than adhere to the status quo and succeed.  Perhaps he had issues. 

Crossing Broadway, Marvin merged with the lunchtime pedestrians.  The historic Brown Hotel loomed to his right.  Most students stayed at the Brown.  Others, the writing poor, holed up in a Select 10 beside the interstate, subjected to the constant grumble of traffic and the stench of diesel.  The area wasn’t the safest. 

It reminded Marvin of home.   

 

--3--

“Jackson, Mississippi, huh . . .”

“Yeah,” Marvin said. 

“I’ve driven through Jackson,” the bartender said, “on my way to New Orleans.”

The bar was on Third Street.  Marvin liked the place.  It was cool and dark and, at least at this hour, quiet.  Hundreds of decals plastered the walls, stark black and white testimonials of the many punk bands that had played there over the years.    

Marvin tried to imagine the venue at night, during a show, wall to wall tattooed flesh undulating to screaming lyrics and distorted guitar.  He liked a lot of punk, but live music, of any kind, had always turned him off. 

It was the people, he reasoned.  Too many fucking people.

He finished his third beer.  Then, hoisting his backpack over his shoulder, he headed to the restroom.  The facility was a unisex job; like the bar proper, its walls were covered with decals.  The wall urinal was out of order, so he ducked into one of two stalls where he took a lengthy whiz; he could smell the asparagus he had eaten in the cafeteria last night.  Tonight was taco night. Marvin liked taco night. 

A lot of students complained about the food, but Marvin thought it was fine.  He ate much better at residency than he did at home.

Standing there, cock in hand, he read the writing on the wall, partaking of the generous helping of bathroom graffiti—

GO AHEAD

TRI-DELTA

EVERYBODY ELSE HAS

 

Ah yes, poetry, Marvin thought, shaking a few stray drops before flushing.  He paid his tab and stepped out onto the sidewalk.  Lighting a cigarette, Marvin consulted his ten-page residency schedule; there was a craft lecture at three o’clock. 

Hertz, a recognized master of the short story and winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award, was going to discuss the perils of the one-person story.  Marvin thought he might go.  He wrote a lot of one person stories.  Also, he needed to start knocking out his reports.  Students were required to attend four craft lectures and write a one-page report on each. 

Procrastination was the killer.  It was best to hit the craft lectures early in the residency so that you could focus on workshop.  Everything other than workshop was just busy work.  Admin wanted to keep everybody occupied; they didn’t want the residency devolving into a ten-day drunken orgy. 

Marvin was hungry.  For food and Abby’s explanation.  He was also tired.  Last night’s poor sleep coupled with his noontime beers had him craving a nap. 

Sucking on his cigarette, he moved through the city, homing in on the Burger King adjacent to his motel.  They were running the two-for-five special. 

Marvin could’ve gone to the cafeteria, flashed his student ID, and eaten for free, but he didn’t want to risk running into Randy.  Not after the inept critique he had submitted.  Randy was going to be pissed.  He was that kind of dude.  In this regard, Randy was like a lot of writers Marvin had encountered in the program.

Humorless.  In person.  And on the page.   

 

--4--

Marvin ate one Whopper and stowed the other in his little Styrofoam cooler.  Then he smoked some dope and took a shit.  Sitting on the toilet with his Hustler, studying the fine print, he realized that Abby had won $250 for her appearance in “Beaver Hunt.” 

Marvin wondered if she had gotten her check.  And, if so, how she had spent it.  Neither Abby nor Marvin saved money.  Not out of fiscal carelessness, but because they didn’t make enough to save; every cent went toward survival. 

Marvin was going to school on loans; he doubted he would be able to pay them back.  Eternal debt, he mused, flushing and washing his hands with a miniature bar of Dial. 

He stretched out on the bed with his old acer laptop and checked his email with bated breath.  Sure enough, Randy had sent him a message.  Marvin lit a cigarette before reading it—

Marvin,

I just finished reading—no, trying to read—your critique of my story.  Needless to say, I was unable to decipher your hastily scribbled gibberish.  Apparently you did not read the MFA handbook which states that all workshop critiques must be two to three pages in length and TYPED.  I wish I could say that your brilliant content made up for the poor presentation, but this is not the case.  Your insights were amateurish and completely lacking in focus.  As a committed writer and a student seeking a terminal degree, I expect my fellow students to motivate and challenge me to become a literary artist of serious consequence.  It is writers like you who give other writers a bad name.  Drop your outlaw pose and grow up.   

And do know that Hertz is aware of this.  I showed him your critique and he was not happy.

 

Shit, Marvin thought.  Hertz was going to ream his ass. 

How in the hell could a man concentrate when his girlfriend went off and let somebody else take her nude pics?  Hell, this wasn’t underwater photography.  It wasn’t like the project had required a high level of skill.  They could’ve had fun with it.  But Abby had chosen to share the moment with somebody else.     

Marvin got up and paced the room, running a hand through his oily hair.  He looked at his cell phone on the nightstand.  By calling Abby he ran the risk of a heated argument which could very well make him feel even worse.  Yet . . . .

He sat on the bed and grabbed the phone.  “Fuck it.”

Abby answered on the second ring. 

“How’s school, sweetie?”

“I saw the magazine.”

“Huh—”      

“Hustler.”

“What are you—”

“Don’t play dumb, Abby.  I’m looking at it right now.”

She didn’t say anything.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was afraid you’d get pissed.”

“Why would I get pissed?  I’m proud of having a girlfriend hot enough to be in Beaver Hunt.  Hell, it’s an honor . . .”

“You think so?”

“Of course I do, baby.  You’re the hottest chick in there.  It’s not even close.”

“That’s sweet.”

“I mean it,” Marvin said.  Then, “Who took them?”  

“Sheila.”

Sheila worked with Abby at Red Lobster.       

“You should’ve let me do it.”

“I’m sorry,” Abby said.  “I didn’t think—”

“I would’ve loved that.”

“I just wasn’t sure you’d be cool with it, and I’ve always wanted to do this.  It may seem silly to you, but—”

“It’s not silly, Abby.  No more silly than me trying to be a writer.”

“How’s workshop?”

“It’ll be alright.  I’ll survive.” 

“I miss you.”

“I miss you, too.”

The conversation ended.  Marvin poked a cigarette in his mouth and stepped out on the landing.  Traffic roared across the interstate.  He felt better. 

Still, there was Randy.  And Hertz . . . .

Marvin hoped Hertz hadn’t reported him to Admin.  The programmatic powers would love to send him packing.  No men.  Four women.  Ball-busters, every damn one. 

At least it was taco night.  

 

--THE END--




give me a hug, sweetie

 

 

Ben Newell


 

This morning

I spotted my 12th grade English teacher

pushing her buggy

through the produce section at Kroger;

she looked older and heavier,

yet not so bad;

I suppose she’s lucky

[or unlucky]

to be alive;

it’s been a long time—

 

I considered saying hello

but decided against this,

opting to let her go without a word

about my poems;

she would’ve only been proud

for a little while,

proud until she got home,

unloaded her groceries

and googled my name,

wondering what went wrong

while taking an extra long

shower.

 

 

 

camp blood

 

by Ben Newell

 

 

As an MFA alum I’ve been invited to a weekend writer’s retreat in the Alabama wilds;

the email includes an application and all pertinent information,

even a detailed map replete with photos of the secluded location;

this from a Director who blatantly censored my work,

refusing to explain and/or apologize;

I didn’t make many friends in the program,

but I did make quite a few enemies—

Now I’m off to the sporting goods store for a hockey mask,

the hardware store for a machete,

the diving shop for a harpoon gun.

 

All things considered,

I’m rather looking forward to the reunion.




dude, what’s her name?

 

by Ben Newell

 

 

He was my Tad Allagash,

prompter of the party,

getting me out of my apt.,

out and into the night.

 

Those weekends of misspent

young adulthood

found us drinking and

drugging and trying

to get lucky with

the ladies.  

 

But he was bad with names;

downright terrible;

I’m surprised he knew

his own;

constantly hitting me up

for this one or

that one—

 

“That’s Lisa.”

“That’s Abby.”

“That’s Dana.”

 

“Thanks, man,” he’d say. 

“You know how lousy

I am with names.”

 

Then he’d slink off

to work his magic.

 

Without fail,

the night would end

with him getting laid;

while I slept alone,

me and my flawless

fucking

photographic

memory. 


 

 

 

 

 

dana st. clair from waukegan, illinois wins a nissan pulsar  

 

by Ben Newell

 

 

 

A death row Ted Bundy

enjoyed

TV game shows;

he liked watching the

young women scream

when winning

a new car

or a trip

to St. Croix;

this took him back

to better days

when he was in

top form—

A syndicated respite

from confinement,

rooting for

the slender brunette

w/hair parted

in the middle,

hoping she would

have cause for

celebration

even when he had

seen the episode

before, three or

four times, a real

dud where some

dude wins.




safe and soft

 

by Ben Newell

 

 

 

I’m standing at the window

in my saggy underwear,

peeking through dusty blinds,

watching Roxy

walk across the parking lot

in the highest heels

I’ve ever seen. She leans against

her white Camaro,

removes one pump

then the other

in preparation for the drive

to her next trick.  Suddenly

she’s all aglow

as the white cruiser creeps past,

capturing her in the spotlight,

giving me a scare;

it’s late and I’m tired,

definitely not up

for a trip to jail, especially after

shelling out $180

to confirm

what my shameful history

has taught me about

gin and beer and erectile dysfunction;

one humiliation per night

is enough. Luckily the cop

doesn’t stop; like Roxy

the police have better things to do;

they can have

those mean streets, let them

fight the war; I never did

my best work

at night, anyway. 




the prick is mightier than the pen

 

by Ben Newell

 

 

 

I’ve been thinking seriously

about a career

as a webcam model,

that’s how much I hate

my present job.

 

Hell,

why not?

 

Lounging around this apt.

in my underwear,

drinking beer

and smoking cigarettes

and shaking my bony white ass,

a great gig for a writer—

 

Sharpening my craft

even as I exchange lewd messages

with the lonely fellows in my

chat room,

giving a flash of flesh

every now and then,

working them into a horny frenzy

yet always reserving

my most potent

and personal piece

for private.





 

 

 

The Right Book

 

by Ben Newell


 

 

          Four DVDs per checkout was the maximum number allowed. Frank wanted five, but he knew this wasn’t happening. Miss Turnage enforced library policy like a ruthless dictator. 

He placed his movies on the circulation desk and proffered his well-worn library card. The aging librarian regarded his selections with a grimace. 

“Oh, Frank,” she said, shaking her head in dismay, “this stuff is going to rot your brain. . . .”

Frank liked crime movies, crime and horror. Of course, such lurid fare was frowned upon by Miss Turnage.   

“You’ve been coming here for a long time. Not once have I seen you borrow a book; just movies, and the occasional video game.”

Frank shrugged. “I like what I like.”

“We have a great fiction collection. You’re missing out.”

 “You know I’m not much of a reader,” Frank said. 

“Not true. Everyone is a reader. Some just haven’t found the right book, yet.” This was Miss Turnage’s favorite slogan. In fact, she had it printed on a poster, printed and laminated, and taped to the wall beside the copy machine. 

“Maybe,” Frank muttered. 

“Well, at least give it some thought. Reading is a wonderful adventure. It can truly change the trajectory of a person’s life. Who knows, you might even get motivated and go back to school.”

 

 

Miss Turnage knew that he had dropped out of junior college during his first semester, knew that he still lived with his mother and worked part-time at Pizza Hut. Such was life in a small town.    

Enough with the lecture, Frank thought. Just give me my movies, so I can get the hell out of here.

As if she had read his mind, Miss Turnage did just that, sliding the DVDs across the desk and into Frank’s awaiting hands. He turned to leave.  

 “And don’t forget. The late fine on those is a dollar per day. That can add up fast.”

Frank had heard it all before. He didn’t say a word. 

II

 

 

A month passed before Frank, book bag slung over his shoulder, returned to the library. This time, Miss Turnage was working with Mr. Sellers, a bespectacled beanpole with bad teeth. Frank handed over his DVDs.

Mr. Sellers scanned each bar code, frowning as he peered at his computer. “These are really late.”

“Sorry about that,” Frank said. “I’ve been busy.”

 This piqued Miss Turnage’s curiosity. “Busy doing what?”

“Well, I got to thinking about what you said. All that stuff about books, and reading, and how important it is.”

“And?”

“I actually bought one.”

“A book?”

“Yeah.”

          “Did you read it?”

“I did.”

“Good for you, Frank. That’s wonderful.”

“It was a long book. And I’m a slow reader. But I finally finished it last night.”

Mr. Sellers smiled at Miss Turnage. “Looks like you’ve done it again.  Yet another convert.” 

“I never knew reading could be so much fun,” Frank said. “It’s like I’ve been in a trance for the past month. But in a good way, you know.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Miss Turnage said. “The right book will do that.”

“The main character was great.”

“I’m dying to know what you read.”

Mr. Sellers regarded his colleague. “You and me both.”

Frank placed his book bag atop the desk, unzipped it, and reached inside. When his hand emerged, it was clutching a trade paperback of some 300 pages.   

American Psycho,” he said, tossing the book atop the desk. 

Then he pulled out the Ruger .22 target pistol and opened fire. 

 

 

Ben Newell works in the reference dept. at a public library. His first full-length collection of poetry, Fuzzball, was published by Epic Rites Press. His short fiction has appeared in Alien Buddha ZineHustler FantasiesShotgun Honey, and others. He taught high school English for one day. 





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